Friday, October 24, 2014

Academic FYI #5 Reading- Classroom Management- Parent Chats

A very wet and at times dreary week for us here at the Valley. I would like to commend all of you for your professionalism and compassion this week as we dealt with some unfortunate issues.

While the weather looks to be breaking it is still a good time to remember the relaxation a good book brings. Whether it be alone or in the classroom reading is critical to all our success as individuals and the district.

Happy Friday! Enjoy your weekend!

This week in the FYI:
  • A simple 6 traits Writing Rubric any teacher can use regardless of their discipline can use
  • A helpful and quick article on dealing with difficult students: 5 Tips for Teaching the Tough Kids
  • And just in time for sending progress reports home: one article on creating Positive Parent Conferences and one quick article on The Power of the Positive Phone Call Home

A simple, easy and time tested writing rubric for all teachers in any disciplines:

A helpful  and to the point article on dealing with some of the more challenging (I don’t love the term “tough” ) students in your classes in a very positive way:

We just sent Progress reports home and 1st term grades will be closing November 21st. You can expect that some parents will contact you or you will contact them well before the January 29th Parent’s Nights. Keep some of these tips in mind during your phone calls and Face to Face conversations:

Finally don’t forget to call or email home for the students who are doing great things. Those conversations go along way too.  Sometimes we are so preoccupied with the students who are doing the wrong things that we tend to forget about praising the ones who are doing things right:

Friday, October 3, 2014

London: A mixed bag of education

5am wake-up.. quick shuttle to Finnish airport... 3 hour flight to London... made a huge decision to hit the "check available seats" button at the check-in kiosk. Got the last window seat available in the last row with no-one in between me and aisle seat person. This was a small victory.

Shuttle from airport in London to hotel took nearly 1 hour and 30 minutes yet was only 20 miles away. As our guide pointed out, "the traffic in London is hideous." He was right.

Hotel rooms are extremely small. Wifi is slow and I need to buy yet another phone charger adapter because European outlets are so very different and less powerful then ours.

The schools we visited and the Department of Education in London:

Saw three very different schools:

  • one high poverty urban charter high school
  • one K-6 urban public school 
  • arguably the most elite private school in the country 
The inequalities in London schools was striking. 

Evelyn Grace Academy

This charter school in Brixton; one of the poorest and highest crimes areas in London does have an very impressive charter school going for it.

We were greeted by the staff here and given high school students as guides who were some of the most articulate young people I have met in a long time. 

The biggest take away here was the painted and stenciled statements I saw throughout the building. I was wondering if these statements plastered everywhere actually had a daily affect on students and if the staff were really behind them. I was pleasantly surprised to hear that the student who took me around let me know that these statements all work to enhance the administration's effort to push forward 4 common values they look to instill in students upon graduation: integrity, responsibility, accountability, and perseverance. 

The lightbulb moment for me was the fact that we work very hard on mission statements and goals for admin and teachers but what goals do the students we have for themselves. Imagine we had some specific statements plastered everywhere: in the lunchroom, on the way up to the 3rd floor, outside the gym, etc... that pushed the goals we want for our students. This is something I hope we can discuss more when we update our interior in blue and gold everywhere.

Here are some examples of the environment at Evelyn Grace Academy:

Statements like this posted throughout the school help to remind students of the larger goals of the school beyond just testing and grades. 

This was a device that read students fingerprints and let them know what they had in their school accounts for lunch. 

Student posters like this are strewn about the school. These are much like the ones we did for PAC night. This is a great concept to expand upon. 

I will discuss the other two schools we saw tomorrow along with my visit to the Department of Education and a very good debate we had between two of the top educational thinkers in the UK.

As a precursor here is a picture I took in the chamber at the most elite private school in England. This is my best impression of Winston Churchill who attended here. Same room they filmed parts of Harry Potter.

A striking resemblance. I don't know if that's a good thing. 
Feel free to insert joke in comments section! 

Thanks for reading! Enjoy your weekend! 

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Day 2 - Visiting Schools: Some great things but some things missing

Up bright and early this morning. 45 minute bus ride to our first school visit. Very windy. Very cold.

Have had some internet connect issues. That said the first rule of blogging is:  to make sure you are blogging. Everyday!  Easier said then done but I am back.

Keep in mind the Essential Questions to the trip:

What can be learned about the success of Finnish education and actually applied to the current learning structure we have at Assabet Valley to better student learning?

In discussions with colleagues from Massachusetts what are the possible parameters and ideas in setting up a Global studies program/academy for students at AV?

Arrived at first actual school. The Itakeskus Comprehensive School.  Grades 3-9. The first thing that catches my attention is the amount of students who ride their bikes to school. This is a lost art in the US. Not many kids ride their bikes anymore to school.

We are first greeted by the Principal and led to a very large teachers room. --- lots of action in here-- cubicles--- locked mail boxes --- seating-- --- lots of different teachers working amongst each other. The one take away here is that it lends itself to more collaboration simply for the fact that all teachers regardless of dept. are working in the same office area. However, I like the fact that our core depts. each have their own home base. I would like to work on the furniture in the teacher room in D200 though. The small table and chair set-ups could create a nice space for teachers who want to get out their own depts. or are out of their rooms due to other teachers in them. Definitely something to consider after the renovation project is over.

Teachers office above and teacher common area. Good opportunities for general inter-department discussions and collaboration here. Certainly some good ideas for updating room D-200. 

Teachers were very open to talking to all of us. Said they had little motivation or discipline issues overall. However, they were very honest about the pains of grading day after day. What thing that really stuck out was that they are called by their first name by students. I really couldn't imagine a 9th grade student saying "Hey Rob, can you help me with #7?"  That just sounds very strange to me. I think we in the US look at it as a sign of respect to be called Mr. and Mrs.

Which is interesting because teachers here are more respected as any other profession in the country. In fact, the common theme to both the schools I visited today was about respect, trust, and responsibility. The respect and trust between the teachers themselves, teachers and students, and admin and teachers was quite evident and obviously a big part of their success.


Keep in mind that while I am most concerned about take-aways (that is the whole point of Professional Development IMO; (To take something away that you can build upon in your own work situation) there are certainly things that I have learned here that I will leave.

I am very happy to report that a lot of the things we are doing and trying to do at Assabet Valley work just as well if not better then the Finnish schools.

Meeting the students 

We talked with 12 8th and 9th grade students at our first school in Finland. We were all immediately impressed by their english and calm and laid back way about them. But it was clear that they are just kids like anyone else.

I think a big part of their success relies in the fact that they are heavily involved in learning foreign languages at a very young age. Finnish students are learning german, swedish, and english starting in 3rd grade. Its impressive.

Side note: Finnish is one of the most impossible languages to learn and understand. Tons of consonants. I learned the word "kiitos"-- Thank you. That is all I needed.

Finnish kids view of americans? Originally they said we are sometimes perceived as arrogant because we "think we are the best." Yet when we asked about thief heroes and style they quickly said they learn everything from america and everything here is cool.  I had the opportunity to speak with some very intelligent 9th grade students at lunch.

Speaking of lunch this was another major difference and another sign of that respect and trust example they talked about so much.

Lunch was served in a cafe much like ours but students served themselves. Probably a scary thought to most of us in the US. All students in Finland receive free lunch. There were two main courses today: fish stew and a beet based soup (see below). There was also bread with butter, cucumbers, water, and skim or 1% milk.

 My lunch. Healthiest thing I've eaten in 3 years minus the large clump of the tastiest butter I have ever had. 

Students serving themselves in a Helsinki High School 

Again, all students served themselves and could get seconds or thirds if they wanted to.

After our visit with the 8th and 9th graders we moved to the upper school with 10,11, and 12th graders. Spoke with three students about a wide range of topics.

Some highlights:

  • classes meet for 45 minutes on average in the lower school with 15 minute breaks in between (students noted that they sometimes catch up on homework during these breaks) 
  • on average students stated that they have 1 hour of homework per night: some less, some more... I could not accurately say that they are any different from us 
  • students mentioned that they would like a dress code.. would cause less bullying and be easier day to day... I agree but was shocked to hear that 
  • students who move onto vocational schools do get a stigma attached to them-- this is something we continue to deal with back home 
  • boys are outpacing girls in English in Finland -- this is the ONLY subject they are doing better then girls in--- this is something we are seeing at AV too. Our female students are outpacing our males---- it is interesting to note that our QCC course taught by MJ has 11 total students (10 of which are females). Our new engineering program has 20 students (10 of which are females in the  once male dominated are of engineering.) 
  • In ten years at the high school the Principal said they have had ZERO issues with drugs with students.  
Some major take-aways from today:
- there is no magic bullet just learning the Finnish model
- Finnish schools are doing great things but so are we 
- while I attempted to look at Finnish schools in the light of being like Massachusetts there is no comparison with diversity we have 
- the biggest and most important take away is to continue to build trust between students and teachers and teachers and administrators. This is critical. 
- making students responsible for their learning is also huge. 

Leaving for England tomorrow bright and early. Got to be up at 5:45am. Seeing two schools in London and visiting the Department of Education tomorrow.

Good stuff to come. Thanks for reading.

Off to London tomorrow. Hopefully better wifi.

Some interesting pictures and thoughts....

 About 50% of the students in this Finnish High School drove their motorcycles to school ... 

The three Finnish students who were extremely open and honest with us regarding their studies and thoughts.... Very laid back, very low stress, kids just like any others. Biggest take away were that a lot of kids we talked to wanted to be teachers.  

 Even in Finland teachers have concerns about cell phone use. An interesting anti-communist historical poster in a German language classroom. 

Found this sticker on a teacher's classroom door. I wonder how this would be interpreted back home. 

   An Art class in this Finnish school. Several computers in the room for access to important art concepts and pictures. A simple yet important addition we can make at AV. 

A Finnish common area for students and teachers with a snack and beverage bar. We started something like this in the library a few years back. Something to look at. This was a good meeting spot for both staff and students. 

Although we are discussing education there can be no debate on just how different of a society we live in as this picture. This is one man without any fence, gate, etc... who solely guards the residency of the President of Finland.