Together We are Fife. Fife We are Together

Started year 38 as an educator in the same district I started year one in 1984. Couldn’t possibly be a more different start. Or was it really that different? Might depend on how I view things.

That idea reminds me of this picture from the front of our brand new, beautiful Fife Elementary School. Does it read ‘Together We Are Fife’ or “Fife We are Together’? It sure does.

Some of the same stuff from year one to year thirty-eight? The night before the first day, for all educators, I believe, is a rough night. There is a lot of anticipation, nervousness, and excitement the night before. I always slept way better the after the first day, but was also always super tired the second day. More same stuff? Everything is new, clean, shiny, exciting. New relationships that will literally last a lifetime are being formed. Lifelong friends are being introduced. Words are being uttered that will change lives forever. Everybody is a learner. Opening a new elementary school really drives that home! Parent drop off, for example. The learning that occurred from day one to day two is unreal. Kind of a debacle yesterday at a school that was exactly 12 minutes old as parents were dropping off, then one day later, smooth as silk. Everybody learned, adjusted, grew. Nice work!

Different stuff? Let me think some more about that one. The examples in my head might seem different on the surface, but upon reflection, are simply variations on themes. Themes of caring, quality, learning, and safety.

Fife. We are together.

Together. We are Fife.

Same as it ever was. Onward.

Equity In Math.

A year ago, as schools were heading online, educators were redesigning an entire learning system, and a global pandemic was well underway, opportunities to read and write were moved to the back burner, out of sheer necessity.

Through a ton of hard work, thinking, planning, and executing, teachers have done an amazing thing. Kids are learning in new and different ways. In our TLI department, we now have a little time to reengage with reading and writing to learn and lead. Millions of excellent resources. Where to start?

Here’s where. Choosing To See: A Framework for Equity in the Math Classroom by Dr. Pamela Seda and Dr. Kyndall Brown, published by the always excellent Dave Burgess Consulting, Inc.

The equity framework focuses on 7 principles, represented by ICUCARE.

  • Include others as experts
  • Be Critically conscious
  • Understand your students
  • Use Culturally relevant curricula
  • Assess, activate, and build on prior knowledge
  • Release control
  • Expect more

If one was ever a teacher of quality, one has ‘teacher guts’. Or ‘teacher alarm bells’. This book engaged both of those reactions for me. Took me about 1/3 of a page to know I was in for challenge, growth, and learning. What I hadn’t anticipated was a wealth of outstanding learning techniques.

Two to share immediately. Both are described in terms of equity in math. I contend they could live in many content areas.

2 Minute Talks: Addresses 4 principles from the equity framework. Assess, activate, and build on prior knowledge, Release Control, Include Others as Experts, and Expect More.

Two Minute Talks

From the book, “…the instructional strategy Two Minute Talks involves pairs of students taking turns telling everything they know about the topic of the day in one minute. This strategy addresses the principle of Assess, Activate, and Build on Prior Knowledge because it reminds students of things they may have forgotten about the topic, and it builds background knowledge for students who didn’t previously have it. Two Minute Talks address Release Control because students get to direct their conversations about the topic by choosing what they want to share, rather than the teacher choosing for them. It addresses Include Others as Experts because students are learning from the expertise of their classmates. Every student knows something about a topic, and they each have the opportunity to share that information with others. It also addresses Expect More because it begins with the premise that all students have some prior knowledge, and it doesn’t allow low-achieving students to opt out. Because every student must talk for at least one minute, no one is let off the hook for engaging with the topic.”

Tiers of Understand Protocol (Joseph Manfre): Addresses the principle of Include Others as Experts.

  • Tier 1: Do–Complete the task
  • Tier 2: Explain the process to complete the task
  • Tier 3: Empathetically explain the thought process used by another student to complete the task.
    • Listen to the other person
    • Try to see how they could be correct–maybe you’re both correct. Math is not fixed, as there are many avenues to arrive at one solution, and solutions can appear in many equivalent forms.
    • If you believe the other person is incorrect, explain how you are correct, and/or how they are incorrect. It is the responsibility of the person with the correct answer to rectify the misunderstanding.

Tier 1 helps students begin the process of developing their own expertise.

In Tier 2, students deepen their own understanding about the problem as they explain to their classmates how they thought about the problem.

Tier 3 is where most of the cognitive work happens. When students have to explain their partner’s thinking, their own understanding is deepened.

Educators who care about kids. Educators who care about equity for kids. Educators who care about continuing to grow and learn. This book is for you.

Educators who are choosing to see. This book is for you.

4 interview questions for kids and teachers. And everybody.

It was just bugging me. Ever have something bug you, especially trying to remember something? It was just outside the edge of my memory. That idea of some cool questions to ask teachers. And then….BOOOM! Found it. From Driven By Data (Paul Banbrick-Santoyo). Questions for a new principal to use when firing up a new job at a new place.

However, I wasn’t looking for the questions for new principals. I was thinking about them in broader terms.

An activity to run with a staff, with a group of kids, with parents, with colleague administrators. Just change the relevant words in the questions. The goal is to find leaders.

Here are the questions.

  1. Who are the people you most admire in the school?
  2. Who are the teachers you look to the most as model teachers?
  3. Who do you work with most closely/trust the most?
  4. Who do you turn to for advice?

The answers to these questions, after asking a good number of people, can give the questioner some very helpful information. And some surprises.

Simple joy.

A normal thing, in the midst of unprecedented events, can bring joy. In our district, we welcomed 6th and 7th graders back into our middle school this morning. Joy. Simple and pure joy.

Why? These kids haven’t been in a school building in nearly a year. The building into which they walked this morning is brand new. Never had a kid step in it until this morning. I saw normal, nervous middle school kids, asking, “Where do I go sir?”

I also saw teachers with tears in their eyes. The normal thing of a first day of school, after such a long time away, produced tears of joy. “I’m so happy to be back with kids!” Direct quote.

Of course we have had school online. Still do, and it’s so much better in delivery and instruction than it was when we started. But there is something special about having a kid right in front of you, albeit 6 feet away, behind a mask, that makes normal feel special.


The building wasn’t just new to the kids. We have teachers beginning careers in this new building, with this being the first time they’ve had kids in a classroom!

New teacher with kids in his classroom for the very first time!

All in all, a great morning. Simple, ‘normal’ things, bringing joy.

We’ll take it.

Words of Wisdom. And Breath Mints.

Check out these real words of wisdom, from real teachers, doing real work, with real kids, as kids return to class in our hybrid model! Big thanks to Kendra Danielson for assembling all of the great WOW (words of wisdom) and big thanks to Elaine Smith for all the wonderful pictures!

My personal favorites are about relationships first, go slow, and breath mints.

Yes, we have fun in class. Critical part of learning, relationships, and bonding.

Top Tips About PPE (My Own and Student PPE)

  • Mask change for mid-day (thinker mask)
  • Come up with a mask and social distance signal for easy reminders
  • Treat everyone you come in contact with as if they have COVID. This mindset helps you remember to keep that mask on and stay 6 feet away as much as possible.
  • Your nurses are a great resource for any questions or concerns you have. Use them!
  • Have extra masks on hand for students who forget or need one that fits appropriately 
  • To make sure your room is well ventilated and aired out when cleaning/sanitizing chemicals are used.
  • Make sure students home masks fit, if not switch them out with school PPE 
  • Have extra masks on hand for your own use (I wear a mask but did not wear one for an extended amount of time and needed to change it out after several hours).
  • Mints – I have mints on hand to help with the hot and gross breath from the mask – I use mints to keep it fresh all day!
  • Learn to talk in small bursts as it takes time to build up stamina to wear a mask, talk, and breathe. Often found myself a little short of breath the first days back in class.
  • Find ways to take “mask breaks” for both you and the students.
  • Have a convenient spot to keep your PPE.
  • If you are using a shield, get the glasses kind! They are comfy, easier to see through and don’t fog up.
One dapper kid!

My top 2 tips about cleaning/sanitizing/disinfecting my workspace….

  • hand washing/sanitizer
  • REALLY REALLY have students use their own supplies
  • If you are really nervous — change your shirt/clothes mid-day
  • Wipe down your personal space often and thoroughly, especially your cell phones.
  • Sanitizing wipes are extremely helpful 
  • Use the spray district gives you and the microfiber or better still paper towels.
  • Be careful with the wipes-some have bad scents and the smell lingers. 
  • Keep disinfecting spray/towels near your workspace and put a reminder note by your door.
  • Keep supplies handy and easily accessible as it serves as a visual reminder to clean. 
  • Have your disinfectant in an easy access spot. Create a routine.
Another dapper kid!

I wish that I would have known….. 

  • If something is bothering you (not enough cleaning, too much chemicals etc..speak out right away,) let your buildings safety team/custodians/adm. know. They can’t help you if you don’t speak out.
  • How wonderful it is to be around the kids again! There was a lot of angst about returning, and there still is anxiousness, but being around the kids is truly the bright spot in all of this. Just enjoy being with them.  
  • How energy draining it is to teach safety skills on top of everything else, however you get used to it and you also get used to wearing the PPE. Sometimes you forget you have it on!
This wonderful teacher is wearing a shark hat. Because he’s awesome.

I did this and it helped so much…. 

  • Extra patience with everyone… students, co-works, schedules, all humans.  BE KIND!!!! 
  • Help and encourage each other. Have grace as we work through this, there will be some challenges.
  • I took the time to build a relationship with each student.  
  • Asked for better scented wipes. Stopped the overzealous chemicals. It was definitely a problem-my assistants and I were all reacting to this.
  • Communicate to the custodial staff about cleaning. Our custodian is working hard to make sure everything is cleaned and wiped down. 
  • self-care, self-care, and self-care!
  • I keep my own soap and lotion with me at all times — it helps with the dry skin from frequent hand washing and feels a little like home.
  • I also narrowed down my learning objectives, we only get a few days with the kids, so maximize rebuilding positive relationships and the high priority learning objectives. In doing so, I am learning to give myself grace this year. We simply cannot do it all!   
  • Take it step by step. Don’t worry about everything that isn’t working, it will come, just plan a little differently each day.
  • Let the kids just look around for a couple of minutes without bugging them to work. They have never been in your room and need a chance to acclimate. Several kids in my room had to adjust to what they thought was true about the classroom that I have been Zooming from all year. They needed time to not be distracted by the “go go go” mentality that we all feel so they could feel safe and settled.   
Can you sense the learning happening here??!

Other advice…

  • Stay calm and keep your mask on!!!! 
  • Take things slow academically. Many of our students have experienced major traumas during the pandemic (parents losing jobs, family members sick, etc.) on top of the stress of the pandemic.
  • Put building relationships first. 
  • You are going to need hand lotion… lol
  • Prep your technology stuff before your school starts. Plug everything in and work out the bugs. New social distancing might affect your ordinary spot and if you check it out early – you will have time to request tech orders or equipment needed before in person instruction.
  • Embrace yet another change and use the motto, One day at a time. 

And then.

In 2020, and in the years before, I set and mostly met, a goal of writing a blogpost each week.

And then.

March of 2020 happened. Our schools, like all schools, went to a full remote learning model. Seemingly overnight, all that we knew, had been trained for, all our experience, learning, and insight, was reset to zero. All of us were first year teachers. Not just first year teachers, but first year teachers with the additional challenges of a pandemic.

And then.

I learned that educators have grit. I actually knew that before. But man. Grit. Capital G. Took the impossible, and through relentless passion and drive, lifted a centuries old education system online. Glitches? Problems? Mistakes? Sure. Insurmountable. Not even close. Teachers would’t let it happen.

And then.

Our district will be welcoming kindergarten kids back into schools tomorrow. These are kids that have had kindergarten through a screen, seeing, singing with, laughing with, and learning from, a gifted person through a screen.

One of our gifted educators, along with a gifted student, created a series of protocol videos that are too good not to share.

We’re ready. Nervous. Excited. It’s September in February. Starting school. And while our experience was reset to zero in March, it didn’t leave us. We’ll go deep rather than wide with our learning. One of the toughest challenges for our teachers, as it always is, remains the desire to do more.

Please colleagues. Go slow. Love on the kids. Build on the relationships you have started online. If it’s the choice between 5 more arithmetic problems or laughing/crying/singing with your kids, laugh, cry, and sing.

We got this.

5 Great Ways to Let Kids Know You Care About Them!

Talking with some teacher colleagues last week. Relationships with kids was the topic. How do we show kids that we truly care about them? Got me thinking. There are lots of ways. Here are 5.

  1. Always greet kids with a smile. Learned this from one of my favorite teachers. No matter what had been going on in the seconds before he greeted me, the moment he hit me with a big smile and a warm greeting, I knew he cared about me. This reminds me of the idea, “Kids will not long remember what you said, but they’ll always remember how you made them feel.”

2. Always take the time and care to learn and pronounce kids’ names correctly. What the heck does it say to a kid when a teacher says, “Whew, that’s a tough one. I’m just going to call you Sam.” Yikes.

3. Go to kids’ events. Seeing a teacher in the stands, at events, means the world to a kid. You also get the bonus of being able to reference the event in number one above. “Man, you were on fire at your concert last night! You nailed that triangle solo!”

4. Apologize and be vulnerable when you know you’re wrong or have screwed up. Kids like teachers that are also human beings. “Ok guys, that was terrible. My fault. I’m sorry. Let’s take another run at that, and I’ll try to be better.” Do you know how much that means to kids?

5. Laugh with kids. Create memories and stories from their time with you in class. Former students, now full blast adults, love to stop me and tell stories from our classes.

Bonus item. Forgiveness > Punishment. Showing grace to a kid when he/she goofed up never, not once, came back to bite me. Deepens trust and respect. When it gets to the point where a kid can’t imagine going sideways in your class, you know that trust, respect, and relationships are rock solid in place. It takes work, but it’s fun work. Eventually you also gain the power of reputation. Don’t take that for granted, but it is nice to have.

5 off the top of my head. What are your 5?

Yeah, and?

Yesterday, during a window of time I try to set aside to read, I read this article. ‘Does Studying Student Data Really Raise Test Scores?’ Good article. Great quote, “Yet understanding students’ weaknesses is only useful if it changes practice. And, to date, evidence suggests that it does not change practice — or student outcomes. Focusing on the problem has likely distracted us from focusing on the solution.”

Again, good article, well researched, well written. With a conclusion that seems like it should floor one. Doing X didn’t change teacher practice.

This shouldn’t floor one.

Let me tell you about one teacher. In this case, she happens to be my wife. 31 years in the classroom. She now works with teachers and technology. She’s absolutely perfect in this role, for a variety of reasons. One of the reasons is that she’s got the experience and expertise to ask, “Yeah, and?” If she isn’t convinced that doing X will result in something being better for kids…then good luck with that. Once she is convinced, then watch out. She’s convinced that kids using technology as a tool, not THE tool, is good for kids. Good for their learning, experiences, growth, and potential.

I saw a great line yesterday from a superintendent’s resume. We see in lots of superintendents’ words, the idea that when kids leave school districts, they are prepared for life, careers, etc. This superintendent used the phrase ‘opportunity ready’. That’s a cool phrase and idea. That’s an idea a professionally skeptical teacher, with an open and growing mind, can use in assessing X. Will doing X, allow kids to be opportunity ready as a result? I also like the goal of being opportunity ready…rather than squeezing out a few more points on a standardized test. Seems more healthy in all regards.

Those of us with the great opportunity to work directly with teachers need to throw, “Yeah, and?” into our own work as well. Everything doesn’t work with everybody. Too many priorities means no priorities.

In our district, we are focus on 3 foundational documents and ideas. One, district strategic goals. Two, our instructional framework. Three, collective teacher efficacy. All 3 of which provide rich answers to Yeah, and? The work is connecting these 3 documents and ideas to rich practice, including, sometimes, changing practice.

Regarding the article above. It’s a good thing for teachers to work together, study data, learn where kids are struggling, design learning opportunities for kids, implement those opportunities, review, reflect, enrich, support, and so on. And this work will help kids if the teachers are convinced it will help kids, and are willing to do that which is necessary to help kids, including changing some practice.

Yeah, and?

A blogpost about another blogpost.

Katie Martin recently tweeted out a link to this blogpost by Trevor Muir.

Stop what you’re doing and read this blog. Not mine, Trevor’s. Read it, especially if you are a parent.

I read this amazing post. All of my educator and parent bells started ringing. And actually not in that order. My dad bells were clanging away with great gusto. Trevor is talking about my kids. My own two children.

Two regrets or things I wish I had done differently with my kids when they were younger.

  1. Let them fail more. Get grit. Let them struggle more and get themselves back on their own feet. Life requires it. Both kids got done with college and looked around and kind of said, “Huh. Now what?” Everything had been programmed to go to the next step…except after college. They both have had to figure things out on their own. It’s very hard for this dad to not just try to solve all their problems. I still struggle with that.
  2. Collaboration, creativity, communication critical thinking. I don’t know if it’s bad form to wholesale quote another blogpost, so I apologize in advance. Here’s a chunk from Trevor’s writing and thinking that hammered me. “Young adults struggle with confidence. I wonder if having kids take roughly 112 mandatory high-stakes tests between kindergarten and senior year, tests that only measure a sliver of who you really are and what you’re really capable of, but are the deciding factor for your future, has anything to do with it. I wonder if that has anything to do with skyrocketing anxiety as well?” Wow. I wish I had noticed how little opportunity they had in school to do the essential/soft skills.

I will no longer refer to these skills as soft skills. They are essential. It also turns out, based on my own kids’ experiences, that the work force is dying for employees with these skills. Especially the work ethic one. My kids both have great work ethic. I assume they get that from their mother. They are now 27 and 25 and have great lives going on.

What are we doing in our schools to give kids the opportunity to live, learn, and grow these essential skills? I feel like we are in our district. I do love the challenge is this great line from Trevor, “People struggle to communicate? Well, have we taught them to communicate? Or are they sitting in rows most of the time, not being allowed to talk.”

Every so often a lightening bolt arrives via twitter or a blogpost. In this case it came from both.

Thank you Katie and Trevor.