September 23, 2019
Holy moly! The year is already flying by! It's been a month since my last update already. BUSY!
Before students arrived, we had two days of faculty in-service. During that time I presented for about an hour on the Responsive Classroom model of engaging students to de-emphasize their stress, tension. and anxiety and to get them learning ready. Let me tell you, taking away your colleague's coffee as they are walking into the library is NOT a way to win fans. But I know they were feeling angry and frustrated with me, much like many of our students are coming into school. I walked them through a proper Morning Meeting which is a great way to get kids talking, thinking, moving, and having fun before bringing them into an academic mindset to start their day. It's a phenomenal community builder.
Along those same lines, I hosted a national Twitter chat for teachers (#hacklearning) about the important of being trauma sensitive in our classrrooms. Our students are walking in carrying a boatload of ugly garbage with them. It's hard as adults to remember that stuff that looks easy to manage really weighs heavy on younger hearts and minds. We aren't raising "little adults" here. We are raising children. They don't come equipped like your laptop with a program to understand and manage every problem and task that comes their way. We need to do better in our schools for our kids. They are desparate for skills we never really thought about teaching before. So we are. TES is committed to that growth in social emotional learning.
Most recently, I spent an hour with a social worker, Moshe Freid, from Brooklyn doing a podcast about the connections between teacher evaluations, student performance, and social-emotional learning. It was a wide-ranging conversation despite the narrow focus we tried to have. You see, social-emotional learning permeates everything we do as educators. Students need us to help guide them through the challenges of everyday life. They lack the understanding and skills to help them self-regulate their responses. They lack healthier choices and ways to communicate their frustrations.
Still one more major professional development task ahead. In early November I will be in NY co-presenting to a group of a dozen elementary school principals about these same topics as they fit into the concept of "classroom management," a term I hate. I hope they take away the idea that "managing" and "leading" are differnt concepts. Under the management concept, 'underlings' are presumed to know what they are doing and simply need to be told. But we work with children. (And, frankly, you all can tell me about your experiences with new members in the work force and their abilty to independently handle the tasks given to them. I'm sure you've got stories.)
That's a lot to say and NONE of it has anything to do with your children and their year so far. On the other hand, everything I mentioned so far represents a ton of time working with colleagues and learning from experts about how to make your child's year successful.
But, to summarize these first couple of weeks:
* beginning of the year assessments are done
* with assessments finally done, we can finally begin serious, across-the-board, full-on, all day, real, focused teaching!
* after-school clubs start September 30
* Mrs. Ventresca has started a new Friday routine with her 6th Graders - "Coffeehouse" discussions. A time for students to relax a bit but dig into some really important and deeper conversations about books, school issues, and life. The first one was pretty amazing!
* Morning Meetings with our Third Graders in Miss Coppolino's room is going very well. They are an amazing bunch of kids!
* Mrs. Leonard is beginning our first class novel this week, Because of Winn Dixie - just a fabulous book we are excited to share with our students.
* Mr. Cerullo has students thinking about plot diagrams (story maps) on a whole new level. They are demonstrating their knowledge and understanding of basic story structure by designing a visual model in MineCraftEDU.
That's it for now. As always, if you need anything, email me! I'll see it quickly. If a call is needed, we will get that done, too! But email is always the best first contact point for me.
HAPPY 1st DAY OF FALL, EVERYONE!
~ Mr U
August 22, 2019
There is nothing quite as sad as a quiet school building. As a sit at my desk looking at classroom rosters, the silence is bothering me. I've already had conversations with Mrs. Wroniuk, Mrs. Lank, Mrs. Leonard, and Mr. Cerullo. I've said a brief hello to Mrs. Pine and Mrs. Stein. I *do* actually have work to get done. Still, the silence becomes a distraction.
School is an unusual paradox. On the one hand, *ALL* learning is social. You haven't learned anything if you aren't able to share it. At some point, using and sharing that knowledge becomes interactive. Even if you do research, design, and develop a new product, a piece of art, or - well - anything, until it's shared, it's not memorable or real. It's still really only yours. That's a lonely place to be.
So, school is social. But teachers often spend the day asking students to quiet down. We ask students to "work independently." There is definitely a time and place for that. At some point, though, we share what we learn, and learning becomes social. The challenge then becomes, how do we teach our students the skills that underpin all of learning - the social skills. How do we teach them to disagree, without arguing; critique, without critisizing; listen to understand, rather than respond; compromise & share for the betterment of all, rather than demand and hoard for the lesser success of an individual?
"Social-emotional learning" (SEL) founds like another edu-buzz word. As someone emersed in SEL (and trauma informed school learning, another rising buzzword), I often think about how I am expressing myself to others. Do I sound like the crazy sky-is-falling, doomsday folks shouting on a Manhattan corner? Do I sound like a "nice but slightly odd guy"? Or do I sound like I know what I am doing, and what I am doing is a good thing and the right thing for our children? As an educator, I certainly hope it's that last option!
We can talk all we want about what the problems are in society. We can talk all we want about who is to blame. We can talk all we want about who should fix it. The unvarnished truth is that our children live in a world that was not our childhood of the 80s and 90s. The simple reality is that our children are exposed to more and more information and events but get less and less support understanding what those things mean. The undoctored look tells us that what the problems are, who caused them, and how we should fix them means absolutely nothing, because our children are facing them while we dance around and argue our non-sensical questions.
SEL is a need. Our children have gaps in navigating the social world. For whatever the reasons those gaps exist. Why they exist is irrelevant. They need to be looked at and addressed. Coming into this school year I hope to make an impact on your children's academics in ELA, yes. Of course, I do! More importantly, I hope to make an impact on their hearts and on their abilities to work together. They don't need to be best friends to be respectful. They don't need to like each other to make the classroom a dynamic learning place. They do need the skills to self-regulate, be self-confident, and become self-aware.
This starts with building an environment in which your children feel like they belong and where their voice & experience matters and is significant. That's my goal this year: BELONGING & SIGNIFICANCE. Your children already mean a great deal to me. I know because sitting here in this lonely office in this quiet school, I miss them. The school doesn't feel right without them. Their voices, their ideas, their stories, their realities & experiences mean a lot to me. I look forward to having them back so that my world isn't quite so lonely and, perheps, their world will become a little more welcoming with a little steering in the right social-emotional learning direction.
See you all in two weeks!
~ Mr U
July 31, 2019
Believe it or not, I'm already gearing up next year. Yes, first I celebrated Harry Potter's birthday and the feast day of St. Ignaitus, one of my favorite Catholic saints (but a story for another time, ok?). I've been thinking about the complexity of teaching students to write. Formulas are great on math, but cookie-cutter molds (a routine, repeatable formula) isn't always good in writing. Students need their own voice and style. To do that, they must practice using a formulaic response method. They must get comfortable with the process and routine of writing for different purposes. But then they need to know the rules. They need to be comfortable with and confident in breaking those rules to find that voice and style. This requires them to think about deliberate choices they make. Writing isn't about responding. It isn't about text evidence. It's about delivering a message. Doing so requires very deliberate choices. Those choices are added to and deletedand even morph as the rough draft becomes Draft 2, then Draft 3, etc. through the writing and revision process.
So, how do we do that?
Students need opportunities to write - a lot - in order to craft a message. First drafts are, by definition, bad. They have to be. We are just getting ideas onto paper. The ideas aren't always well developed. Sometimes key ideas are overlooked. Sometimes they are out of sequence. As we read it over and over and listen and listen again to it, we catch more and more mistakes and weak points. Think of the last time you had to send an email to a boss or colleage. How many times did you re-read it before sending it off? Did you change words to make a particular point stronger? Did you delete ideas that weren't really important? Did you add things that you hadn't thought about in your first draft writing? But kids have a hard time reading their own writing as it is written rather than reading and hearing it as it sounds polished in their own heads.
How do we fix that? They same way you often do: hey, can you read this for me?
In the picture we are doing a Fishbowl Feedback activity in Mrs. Ventresca's 5th Grade classr. Students seated inside are reading selections from their writing. The other seated members listen attentiviely, think about the writing selection and their thoughts ~ what they liked, what connected to and resonated with them, and what was still confusing. Sometimes they even offer word choice suggestions so that the author has a just-right word to capture the just-right sentiment. Sharing our work is SCARY! No one likes to be told "I don't like it." But saying that is being critical, not offering a critique. So, we talk about helpful, positive feedback versus negative, disrepectful feedback.
The people on the outisde listen and take notes. Maybe they'll hear something that can make their own work stronger.. After the inside group goes, the two groups switch. (Usually there are only 2 groups of 4 working to together.) Through the process, we will have heard 8 pieces of writing and gotten 3-6 pieces of feedback for each one. That's a LOT of feedback from your peers to help you get better. When you factor in all 8 students, that's 24-48 pieces of feedback being shared. *THAT* is a lot of writing feedback for everyone to share and use in their own work.
On top of all that, we grow as a community. We learn that *everyone* has weaknesses and strengths. WE begin to see each other has resources for help when we are struggling. When we do, we improve the morale of the class, share the strain of writing (it's hard!), and grow in respect for one another's talent. What a great way to strengthen a classroom family while also improving our writing skills.
Writing, sharing our writing, critiquing our writing, and re-writing is a community effort. Any author will tell you that they didn't do it alone. The sooner we can get our students to work together more effectively, the stronger everyone's skills become and the better, braver, stronger class we grow!
July 26, 2019
I'm almost done with my baseball umpiring season. This year, come the end of Sunday, July 28, I will have done 65 games for USABL and another 20 or so for Little League. In addition, I've spent another two dozen days and nights at the fields on my days "off." That's a lot of time spent around competitive athletes and recreational just-for-fun players. I've called games for 7u to 18u and even 18+ games. I even called balls-and-strikes for a former MLB pitcher this year!
I've read a couple of GREAT books (Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson and Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo). I've also started and stopped a couple of teacher books that I haven't had the focus to digest yet.
I've done 4 days of teacher training in NYC. I've only made it to the beach once. And I've fallen out of the good habits I had in June when I was walking 4-5 days/week for 3-5 miles each day.
Lastly, I've been preparing my oldest son to head to Europe for nearly three weeks to see Vienna, Prague, and Rome.
Why mention this? For only this reeason: I *could have* gotten up and gone to the beach more often. I *could have* read more books. I *could have* done a lot of things differently in July. As I look back, I don't regret things I've missed...or ignored. But with a month to go and baseball no behind me until the 8-week fall season, maybe it's best to regroup, refocus, and reprioritize what needs doing. I could check my class roster, for example. I did. No information yet. I could focis on my diet & exercise routine better. That's certainly a personal challenge. I have a few goals - a couple of house hold projects, for example, like taking down the past popcorn ceiling and respackling, priming, and panting that room.
Mostly, I just want to finish resting. Or start. It's great to by busy. I love what's kept me occupied since school let out. But now it's really time to get back balance. A quieter pace, better sleep, smarter dietary choices, improved exercise rouitine, and more reading. What you prioritize is where your focus and energy go. Having goals in each of those areas helps keep the focus where I want it and crowds out the nonsense. Someone will always be making demands on my tme. But by and large, I control to whom I give into those demands.
Wha's your priority for the next 5 weeks? What are you committed to? Whatever is on your TO-DO and Wishlists, I hope you focus hard on them. I hope those priorities push out the distractions, help you think more clearly, and energize your body and mind to do more positive work. But if you haven't had the summer you wanted, then join me. Let's have a great August together!
~ Mr U
Holy cow, we are just 7 days away from the end fo the year! I know I mentioned this last month, but I am truly grateful that you send your children to Tuckerton Elementary and that I get to work with them. They are AMAZING people with depth and kindness and character and goodness.
While I am sad to see our 6th graders go (but oh, the memories we made!), I am already excited about September and seeing my returning 4th-6th graders, and meeting the new 3rd grade class. Each year they come back changed from the summer. That, for me, is one reason September is one of the best months of my year.
As we finish the year and the craziness ensues, I wish you all a fanstastic summer. Thank you for the memories and for your children. They are the greatest gift in a profession that has many.
See you in September!
~ Mr U.
Well, the NJSLA (formerly PARCC, formerly NJASK) is done. And while 6 weeks remain, there is a ton of learning still to do.
I wanted to share with you all how much fun I've had working in my new position this year as a 3rd - 6th grade ELA basic skills teacher. First, you have amazing teachers here at T.E.S. I cannot begin to tell you how much I've learned about activity & lesson planning, instruction methods, and classroom leadership. I thought I knew a lot, but WOW! Just so much more out there, and so many personalities to implement it all. Just an amazing journey.
I also wanted to comment that learning alongside all of your children has been mind-blowing! Not only did I work with 'my' groups of students, but I got to work with everyone in 1:1 or mixed groups. It was fascinating to see and hear the inner workings of the minds of so many grade levels. They have made me a better teacher for sharing so much of themselves.
Have a great end of your year!
~ Mr U
Welcome back from the Winter break. I am very happy to be back and with my students again. I love to see my family and travel to visit friends. After a week or so, however, I get a little anxious and want to get back working with my students!
Just before break I hosted a surprise 75th birthday party for my Mom. We had a blast and my Mom was very surprised, especially when she saw that my cousin had come in from Rhode Island and my brother had flown in from Austria! I love them both, and it always makes me happiest when we are together.
Over the break I made it into NYC to meet up with friends, spent some time on a few Twitter chats for educators, and worked on some Little League umpire training. Didn't have a lot of free time otherwise.
Hope you had a relaxing and fun break for yourselves and your families!
~ Mr. U
As we approach the end of September I've been reflecting on the extraordinary people our children are. Some are resilient in their focus in school while home is in a bit of turmoil. Some have walked in determined to make this their best year. Others have set goals to be a better friend to classmates. Still others are on a quest to achieve something elusive: mastery of math facts, reading a certain number of books, writing with fewer mistakes and better details. Their needs and dreams vary as wildly as their personalities!
In my new role as the Basic Skills 3rd through 6th Grade ELA teacher, I'm privileged to see the growth and maturity across ages and grades. Oddly, while the student changes, there remains a constant through time and grades: passion! They are an impassioned bunch of students. No, I don't always understand those passions - YouTube, Fortnite, tricks on skateboards. But make no mistake, they are passionate! These passions feed their energy for discovery.
"Discovery." That's teacher code for "learning." When we can feed their passions, they *want* to discover - or learn - about their world and how it fits together. Fortnite isn't just about playing the game. It's about strategy. It's about not giving up the first time it goes bad for you. Tricks on skateboards is about learning physics and math. YouTube isn't about watching videos. It's about making presentations engaging and meaningful. That's LEARNING.
And I'm really enjoying their learning journey so far!
~ Mr U
As usual, the last six weeks of 6th grade was a whirlwind. I am honestly not sure how everything that needed to get done actually got done. But I am grateful for the steadfast hands and friendship of my colleagues who kept me motivated and driving forward. We will add this year's adventure to the long list of reasons I love T.E.S.
I am very excited to announce that I have been slotted into a new position for the 2018-2019 school year! For the first time in my teaching career, I will not be a classroom teacher. I am will be joining Mrs.Mulholland as a Basic Skills Teacher in grades 3-6. While the news was unexpected, as I've settled into the idea, I am growing increasingly energized by the opportunity to impact students across multiple grade levels in my area of expertise - English / Language Arts. I receive the added gift of being able to work with 4 incredible teachers with tremendously different teaching and classroom management styles.
LEARNING is ENERGIZING. Deepening my knowledge of the ELA curriculum, broadening my repertoire of teaching tools and student engagement techniques has me READY right now to jump into September!
Some summer relaxation...well, uh, sorta.
The day after graduation we started a massive home renovation endeavor. We gutted our entire kitchen and ripped up every floor in the house except for the two bathrooms. In about two weeks it was done but for the kitchen backsplash. As a dear friend used to say: "HOLY HANNAH!" That was an experience. If you've ever done something as foolish as this, you know that the projects you start with are not the only ones you end up with. So, now I have to re-drywall a room in which we took down wood paneling and build headers for five bedroom closets where disgusting floor-to-ceiling doors once hung. YIKES!
Here are a couple of pics of how I spent my first two weeks of summer break.
The AFTER photos:
And this is our living room, before the fresh coat of paint and baseboard.
It hasn't been all bad, though. Just before the end of the year, I saw my oldest boy, Thomas (pictured in the old kitchen, too) lead the cadence for his color guard in the Barnegat Memorial Day Parade and receive a medal for his work in the Navy JROTC program at Barnegat. He received a promotion as well, jumping a couple of command positions due to his leadership. Very proud of him!
(Sorry for the 90* rotation. Not sure how to fix this in OnCourse!)
I also got to umpire a game behind the plate at First Energy Field in Lakewood. No, it wasn't a BlueClaws game, but it sure was an incredible experience being in a minor league park and calling a game!
Just after July 4th, Barnegat LL's 9U tournament began. I love this tournament! I love watching all*star caliber ball, passion for the game, and laughter on the field as these kids play the game driven by a deep love for the sport as well as a deep respect for each other.
And though oriented the wrong way, this picture ^^^ moment moved me deeply with the National Anthem ringing in the air. Just a gorgeous opening day on Saturday, July 7!
A lot more baseball to come in this tournament, as well in USABL where I recently started umpiring. Four days of a professional workshop the first week of August in NYC. Mr Calderwood's TeachMeetNJ 1-day tech conference in Toms River. Tutoring 3 students. And those looming home projects!
No quiet summer here :)
Can't wait to see you all in September!
~ Mr. U
Connect with me:
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