Thursday, May 28, 2015

Student Mobility

Over the last decade Title buildings have seen a steady increase in mobility due to a variety of factors.  As a table of principals, we were charged to come up with a common definition of what exactly is mobility and what are the two biggest contributors to an increase in student mobility?

What we quickly realized is that while we all had somewhat of a similar definition, the time span of what that entailed was interpreted differently.  While some groups discussed the over-arching topic of mobility and student transition, others honed in on what that looks like at the building level from the minute they walk through the door.

In order to reflect on how to assist families in a seamless transition, hard conversations need to occur to evaluate whether the program or method we have in place is effective and consistent from family to family.  As you reflect on your own building, do you have the right people as the first faces families see?  Are all documents translated into various language to meet the needs of your diverse population? Do all families receive the same treatment if they arrive in October versus the first day of NeSA testing?  Do all families receive a building tour?

As the school improvement team reconvenes this summer, one thing we will tackle is generating a mobility plan that involves all hands on deck.  The purpose is to ensure that when families walk through our doors they will know that we are elated that they're child is joining our family and that the processes we have in place help us build positive relationships with our families, rather than be a barrier.

As I think about building-wide PD for next year, one book that I will pull back out and re-read this summer is:

We will use this book to help frame our conversations to ensure we're not leaving a stone unturned from the student's placement to family connections to communication with the student's previous school about achievement and learning style.

As we embark on this journey to serving our families in a greater capacity, is anyone else in the same boat? Does your school have a mobility plan? If so, what do you believe are the most essential components?

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Childhood Trauma...It can't be THAT common, right?

Recently another educator shared this TED talk.  Nadine Burke-Harris refers to childhood trauma as,"things that are so pervasive that they literally get under our skin and change our physiology."  As she continued her TED Talk,  I reflected back on my thoughts about what exactly is childhood trauma? Of course extreme situations come to mind, but unfortunately, many more children are subjected to more trauma than we think.

She continues to explain that many students were referred to her for other issues that typical referrals are for (ie: ADHD).  Through her research and persistence, came across this gem Adverse Childhood Experiences.  The statistics are staggering.  Simply mind blowing.

Through these adverse childhood experiences, many biological components are compromised.  This results in an increase in at-risk behavior and irresponsible behavior.  The term multiple exposures rings true when it comes to teaching kids in poverty.  As I sit back and reflect on some of the kids/families who I have encountered and continue to work with that probably have high scores on the ACE assessment, I immediately began to think about how we could prevent toxic stress in students during the school day or how can we expand our realm and provide/refer families to community service providers?

Schools are no longer secular entities and cannot continue to be.  As intertwined as schools are with the community, today's learner needs to be connected with multiple resources at the school level.  We have a great start with the backpack food programs and in some schools, school-based health care facilities.  Many districts are seeing the need for more mental health support and have integrated that into their menu of services.  So, what is your school doing to combat early adversity and what positive changes have occurred?

Thursday, February 12, 2015

More Than Academics

School IS more than academics.  While we are beginning testing season, we must stop and remember the real reason why we're here.  We are here, to cultivate leaders for tomorrow and leaders must know more than their math facts and how to analyze a novel.

This week embarks Blumfield staff on Chapter 2 of Teach Like a Pirate.  It is a controversial chapter and one might ask, "why open that can of worms?!" As I sat there with my fireplace crackling after I finished the chapter I thought, "why not?!" Here was the quote posed to staff, with a very broad "let me know your thoughts" attached to it:

Now if you're in a school that makes leaps and bounds in terms of growth on the state assessment, but still doesn't meet AYP, the looming consequences can seem daunting.  Rather than focus on the "not met" part, we choose to focus on the positive relationships we are building with students, the self-esteem that we are building inside of them and the day to day wins we see them achieve.  As an end result, we have 400+ kids who LOVE Blumfield just as much we LOVE them!

Blumfield staff and students spent the week celebrating Random Acts of Kindness Week.  With the hustle and bustle February brings and with conferences this week, staff was reminded it was RAK week by a 6th grade student.  She inspired staff to continue the theme throughout the week as YouTube videos were discussed, stories were shared, students wrote inspiring quotes and taped them to the hallway walls and everyone worked a little bit harder at being kind to one another.

As we close out this Random Acts of Kindness Week, a Blumfield alum made the local news (see the clip here) that embodies why we do what we do on a daily basis.  I am truly lucky that I get to work with students like Harley each and every day as they remind me so often that life is more than just academics.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Implications of Poverty in Today's Educational World

Still at the Title 1 Conference...I attended a session today by someone I had never heard of before, Tammy Pawloski (Here's her website) love the southern drawl!> Quite a bit of what she said was validation of what I already knew, but for some reason when you hear it at a conference outside of your day in and day out routine it can ring a different tune.  She also shared a few resources {see below} that would be incredibly valuable if you, your school or district is embarking on understanding just what poverty is and how you can use it as a challenge and not an excuse in helping to close the gap.

Anyway, here are some mind blowing stats that I just had to tweet out (@betsygomez03) about poverty and strong teaching.  During the presentation I couldn't help but think, "how did we as a society let it get THIS bad?!" Along with that was a million thoughts of what I could quickly do once I got home to help ease the stress along with some long range planning ideas I could tinker with (sorry I do not have the sources cited as she talked WAAAAY too fast, but if you visit her website, I'm sure you'll find them):

-Kids in poverty are 5 times more likely to drop out of school
-2 years with an effective teacher cannot remediate 1 year with an ineffective teacher
-Students from disadvantaged backgrounds make greater gains with strong classroom teachers (ie: the teacher is the single most important factor!)
-43% of a student's academic performance can be traced back to the teacher (quality/relationships)
-High quality teachers + positive relationships = 31% fewer discipline issues
-9 out of 10 success stories of students getting out of poverty point right to influential adults

and if your mind isn't blown quiet yet, here's the one that will do it:

The first 5 years of a child's life in poverty are more influential than 
gestational exposure to crack cocaine.

I know you're saying, "whhhhhaaaaaaat?! How can that be?!" Well when I reflect on some of my children at schools I've work(ed) at and the situations they come from, some have been clearly traumatized to the point where we as the school need to take care of some mental health issues WAY before we can even attack mastering grade level appropriate prefixes and suffixes for the NeSA. 
Where do we go from here? I'm pretty sure I'm headed back to hug every single one of my 400 little children.  I am incredibly fortunate that the staff at my building GETS positive relationships.  It is just who WE are and we will continue that crusade.  We need to continue our efforts to build capacity in our staff.  THEY are the ones who make the most difference!  Also, we need to expand our repertoire as much as possible in the area of community resources to help assist our families (and to reduce stress!)

Now for the she shared was  It is kind of like a choose-your-own-adventure poverty style if that makes sense.  I found myself holding my breath with my heart racing {Disclaimer: do not do it right before bed like I just did!} and finding myself literally stressed!  Luckily, I have the strategies and resources to calm myself back down.  Pawloski talked about how many people in poverty do not and thus, live most of the day in the high stress zone.  So. Sad.

Another resource she shared was (if you Google SAIPE you'll run across it too).  This resource allows you to look at poverty across the nation, your state, district and down to your school.  This is especially important for people who are visual and need to see that yes, poverty does exist, even in places where you might not think it does.

So, the question is, what are you or your school doing in the 
war against poverty to help students rise and become successful?

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Number Sense Here WE Go!

I'm attending the National Title 1 Conference here in Salt Lake City.  Looking through our classroom-based assessments, NeSA scores and MAP data, one area that students REALLY REALLY struggle is in...yup, you guessed it...MATH!  As we drill down a little bit deeper, students are simply not doing well in the area of number sense.  It is the basic foundation for mathematical skill, how can that be?!

Well, as I sat and dwelled on it during the presentation (Number Sense Across the District: Number Sense PD for Teachers) I wondered where did we go wrong? I mean our K-2 teachers have calendar time on their schedules, when I do walk-throughs they are following a calendar routine, teachers teach the district math program with fidelity, etc.  What I didn't conceptualize is that number sense is more than JUST a calendar routine.

As I sat there reflecting and envisioning where we might go from here the presenter (Jessica Shumway--author of Number Sense Routines) made one statement I probably never will forget:

If students do not have a strong foundation, by the beginning of 2nd grade mathematics will 
be difficult for them for the REST of their life.  

Thud. Audience silent. So where do we go from here? Well, to start the book that has been on my bookshelf in my "to read when I have time stack"...

will be opened the minute I get back.  I have been spending the rest of tonight brainstorming where we will go and how we will get there with using the most valuable resources I know: 
my teaching staff.  
Stay tuned, exciting things are about to happen at Blumfield Elementary in the coming months...

Bringin' Family Game Night Back!

I recently ran across this article talking about the importance of family game nights.  I have many memories of Jiffy Pop and sitting around the kitchen table playing games with my family.  I'm sure you have some, too!  What I find interesting is that even though it is "just a game" there are many skills that students (and adults!) can practice while playing: concentration, sharing/taking turns and strategy to name a few.  Click on the link to check out a few of the games that you could play with your family during a family game night.  Happy gaming!