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Archive for September, 2012

Teacher-Student Relationships–How’s the Team Doing?

School has been in session for several weeks. It’s a good time for us to think about how well we have come to know our students as individuals. A formative assessment on relationship building, so to speak. It is especially difficult for large teams to see the individual faces when 125 + students pass through the doors each morning.  Assessing how well the relationship building between our team and our students is going is an excellent use of  common planning time.  Positive teacher-student relationships are essential to a supportive and challenging learning environment (http://www.schoolclimate.org/climate/schoolclimatebriefs.php).

Try this during common planning time!

  • Each teacher brings a list of homeroom students
  • Homeroom teachers go down the list and put a star next to the names of students they know something personal about…
  1. How many brothers and sisters?
  2. Hobbies?
  3. Pets?
  4. How the student likes to learn?
  5. What responsibilities they might have at home–babysitting for siblings each night?
  6. What they like to read?
  • Trade lists until everyone has gone through each homeroom list and starred students they know something about beyond their grades.
Homeroom List with Stars

Homeroom List

  • Spread out all of the lists on a table and look at them
  • Identify which students no one knows beyond the seat they hold in the classroom. Also identify those students few  know.
  • Design a plan for ensuring each and every student has at least one adult advocate on the team who knows him/her well.  Think about the Donald Ducks on our teams–the children no one really knows at all.  Imagine how lonely the school experience must be for these children.  Some startling statistics:
  1. In the last 45 years, teen suicide have increased by 60% (http://www.who.int/mental_health/prevention/suicide/suicideprevent/en/)
  2. 85% of girls and 75% of boys report being stressed by the economy (http://www.stageoflife.com/StageHighSchool/OtherResources/Statistics_on_High_School_Students_and_Teenagers.aspx)
  3. Nearly a third of all teens report either being bullied or a part of bullying activity. (http://www.bullyingstatistics.org/content/school-bullying.html)
  • Some possibilities include:
  1. Goal setting with students
  2. Individual conferences with students once or twice a month to check in with how things are going–  these can be just a 2 minute conversation in the cafeteria during lunch or in homeroom.
  3. Community building activities
  4. Get to know you activities during class & sponge activities at the beginning or end of class

Building relationships with students needs to be intentional on the part of the team. Yes, they develop naturally with some students, and with others they need to be consciously cultivated with the teachers taking the lead. Positive teacher-student relationships, even with the hard to teach and reach students, are a critical component of a team culture that leads to higher achievement and healthier social-emotional lives of the students..

The Common Core: Start Planning As a Team–NOW!

45 states and 3 territories have joined the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) initiative.  Whether you agree with this approach to education or not, chances are it is coming to your school.  Middle school teachers who work with colleagues on a team have several distinct advantages in addressing the CCSS over those teachers who work in isolation:

  • The literacy standards are for every subject area; teams can develop a systematic approach across the curriculum to ensure their students master the standards through multiple practices in a variety of contexts.
  • Team teachers who meet regularly in common planning time can easily exchange ideas and strategies.
  • Team teachers can monitor the progress of their students in meeting the standards across curriculum areas; interventions can be quickly implemented when needed.
  • Team teachers can identify major skill gaps that affect many students and use flexible scheduling and grouping to craft focused and intense learning experiences that address those gaps.

What should teams do?

Here are 2 steps to get started:

  1. Familiarize yourselves with what the actual document (http://www.corestandards.org/) says.  At the very least, take a look at the anchor standards and self-assess how well you are already addressing them in your classes.  Be honest–now is not the time to say “Oh yeah, we do that.” when in reality it only happens once in a blue moon.  Make a list of practices, processes, lessons, and/or units you feel address these key standards.  When meeting about the Common Core, it is better to be prepared with specifics than to talk off the cuff. Specifics help us all be more articulate and less defensive.   The anchor standards for literacy and math are listed at the end of the post.
  2. Watch videos together like the one below that show teachers who have been piloting the Common Core Standards.  Have a conversation afterwards about what you observed: What surprised you? What validated what you already do? What do you need more information about?  What should your next steps be as you develop a team plan for helping your students meet these standards?

Collaboration is key to a sensible approach to integrating the Common Core into our teaching.

Anchor Standards for English/ Language Arts and Literacy standards for history/social studies, science and technical subjects:

Key Ideas and Details

1. Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.

2. Determine central ideas or themes of a text and analyze their development; summarize the key supporting details and ideas.

3. Analyze how and why individuals, events, and ideas develop and interact over the course of a text.

Craft and Structure
4. Interpret words and phrases as they are used in a text, including determining technical, connotative, and figurative meanings, and analyze how specific word choices shape meaning or tone.

5. Analyze the structure of texts, including how specific sentences, paragraphs, and larger portions of the text (e.g., a section, chapter, scene, or stanza) relate to each other and the whole.

6. Assess how point of view or purpose shapes the content and style of a text.

Integration of Knowledge and Ideas

7. Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse media and formats, including visually and quantitatively, as well as in words.*

8. Delineate and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, including the validity of the reasoning as well as the relevance and sufficiency of the evidence.

9. Analyze how two or more texts address similar themes or topics in order to build knowledge or to compare the approaches the authors take.

Range of Reading and Level of Text Complexity

10. Read and comprehend complex literary and informational texts independently and proficiently.


Text Types and Purposes*

1. Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts, using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence.

2. Write informative/explanatory texts to examine and convey complex ideas and information clearly and accurately through the effective selection, organization, and analysis of content.

3. Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, well-chosen details, and well-structured event sequences.

Production and Distribution of Writing

4. Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.

5. Develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, editing, rewriting, or trying a new approach.

6. Use technology, including the Internet, to produce and publish writing and to interact and collaborate with others.

Research to Build and Present Knowledge

7. Conduct short as well as more sustained research projects based on focused questions, demonstrating understanding of the subject under investigation.

8. Gather relevant information from multiple print and digital sources, assess the credibility and accuracy of each source, and integrate the information while avoiding plagiarism.

9. Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.

Range of Writing

10. Write routinely over extended time frames (time for research, reflection, and revision) and shorter time frames (a

single sitting or a day or two) for a range of tasks, purposes, and audiences.

Speaking and Listening

Comprehension and Collaboration

1. Prepare for and participate effectively in a range of conversations and collaborations with diverse partners, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.

2. Integrate and evaluate information presented in diverse media and formats, including visually, quantitatively, and orally.

3. Evaluate a speaker’s point of view, reasoning, and use of evidence and rhetoric.

Presentation of Knowledge and Ideas

4. Present information, findings, and supporting evidence such that listeners can follow the line of reasoning and the organization, development, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.

5. Make strategic use of digital media and visual displays of data to express information and enhance understanding of presentations.

6. Adapt speech to a variety of contexts and communicative tasks, demonstrating command of formal English when indicated or appropriate.


Conventions of Standard English

1. Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English grammar and usage when writing or speaking.

2. Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English capitalization, punctuation, and spelling when writing.

Knowledge of Language

3. Apply knowledge of language to understand how language functions in different contexts, to make effective choices for meaning or style, and to comprehend more fully when reading or listening.

Vocabulary Acquisition and Use

4. Determine or clarify the meaning of unknown and multiple-meaning words and phrases by using context clues, analyzing meaningful word parts, and consulting general and specialized reference materials, as appropriate.

5. Demonstrate understanding of figurative language, word relationships, and nuances in word meanings.

6. Acquire and use accurately a range of general academic and domain-specific words and phrases sufficient for reading, writing, speaking, and listening at the college and career readiness level; demonstrate independence in gathering vocabulary knowledge when encountering an unknown term important to comprehension or expression. grammar, usage, and mechanics


Standards for Mathematical Practice (content is by grade level):

1.   Make sense of problems and persevere in solving them.

2.   Reason abstractly and quantitatively.

3.   Construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others.

4.   Model with mathematics.

5.  Use appropriate tools strategically.

6.   Attend to precision.

7.   Look for and make use of structure.

8.   Look for and express regularity in repeated reasoning.

Stories To Inspire Reflection

Summer must truly be over–it’s Labor Day, it’s chilly enough to wear flannel shirts in the morning, and only two scrawny cherry tomatoes remain on the vine.  Time to get back to blogging!
This summer colleagues shared two inspirational resources:

  1. Through the Cracks written by Carolyn Sollman, illustrated by Barbara Emmons, and designed by Judith Paolini. It’s a story of how children of all ages literally shrivel up in school  and slip through the cracks into a nether world where they are silent, dejected, and angry.  Fortunately, the narrator and a brave companion find a way out by locating an engaging classroom where students are actively learning.
    An illustration from the book Through the Cracks

    An illustration from the book Through the Cracks

    2. Dave Puckett who wrote Mr. DeVore’s Do-Over was captured on video discussing his eighth grade experience that was the inspiration for his book.  Take time to watch the video below to see why Dave was not one who fell through the cracks!


Combined or singularly, these two stories make great discussion starters for…

  • Faculty or team meetings
  • Advisory time
  • Parent meetings

But more importantly, they should cause each of us to pause and reflect on the lives of our students and how they experience school. What will we do this year to ensure…

  • Each student feels invited to learn?
  • Our classrooms abound with active learning experiences that engage, inspire, and challenge?
  • Our schools are places of continuous learning for every member of the school community?

Wishing all of the dedicated educators and hopeful students a joyous year full of wonderment, excitement, and mind-expanding learning experiences!

Labor Day, 2012

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