Curriculum

During the 2016-2017 school year, I was selected to be a member of the N-12 curriculum alignment team for ELA.  Our task was to align our N-12 ELA program with common core standards.  Our middle and high school had already been working with common core standards for a couple of years and that made this work somewhat less onerous than it might have been otherwise.

Part of this work involved rolling out Atlas to our teacher population and to support our teachers in mapping their curriculum to the Atlas platform.  I had heard some poor reviews of the Atlas software before we began our work, but I found myself quite happy with the updated 2017 version of the software, finding it to be very user friendly.

I’m looking forward to the transition to standard based grading and have began to account for standards in all of my assessments.  I have a attached a PDF of one English assignment, along with it’s rubric.  This assignment is also differentiated by interest, allowing students multiple options for demonstrating mastery of each standard.

9 Option Dialogue Journal

Dialogue Journal Rubric (1)

Advisory

A student advisory program was introduced into the Middle School at ASFM for the first time in fall of 2011.  Since then, I have been an active supporter of the program as well as a contributor.  My background in the concept of advisory stems from my work in Connecticut charter schools where we effectively used advisory concepts to nurture relationships in the student body and between students and teachers.

My initial contribution to the program came through the introduction of the Circle of Power and Respect model that is introduced in The Advisory Book.  This became the standard paradigm through which we have trained teachers in advisory here at ASFM.

Later, I became the grade level advisory coordinator.  I only held this post for one semester while another teacher was away on leave, but I truly enjoyed the work.  I also gained some insight into the challenges that arise in regards to this program in our school.  The coordinators job is to create an advisory curriculum for the grade level teachers, but the challenge is different teachers are more or less successful with different types of lessons.  Some teachers like to use games.  Some prefer discussions.  Some like to let the students take the lead.  Others are uncomfortable with such an approach.  The true challenge is in creating something a lesson that is structured enough that everyone has a good idea of the expected outcomes, and flexible enough that teachers can tailor the lesson to their own preferred teaching style and for the personalities of their particular groups.

This process is organic and evolving and I am glad to be a continued support for our current advisory curriculum team.  It is a vital component of our Middle School Program that deserves much more attention than it often receives.

Schedule Change @ asfm

During the 2014-2015 school year, ASFM took a novel approach to professional development. Teachers were asked to create their own initiatives and to work throughout the year to develop those initiatives into something that could drive school improvement. I teamed up with four of my colleagues in order to explore the possibility of improving our school’s daily schedule.

This was a large undertaking that had basically two components:

1. Determine the best schedule for our school considering our own needs and logistical constraints.

2. Get everyone on board with transitioning to the new schedule.

In order to accomplish the first task we needed to research different schedule models, evaluate our own needs through collecting data from and starting dialogue with stakeholders, and then work with our administration to design a schedule that fit within our logistical institutional constraints. In order accomplish the second task we ran a pilot week with our new schedule and listened to feedback from teachers and students in order to create a final proposal that was ultimately accepted by our administration and enacted in the following school year.

It was a pleasure and a privilege to have been a part of this group and to have worked on something that has made such a widespread, tangible, and positive impact on our school.

I’ve attached our pilot week proposal and final proposal to this blog post. For a more extensive accounting of our process from start to finish, please have a look at my colleague Stephen McCarthy’s blog, linked here.

Scheduling-PLC-Proposal-Feb-2015

Scheduling-PLC-Final-Proposal-for-MSHS-Bell-Schedule

Digital Teachers

One of the most enriching aspects of my time at ASFM has been through my involvement with the Digital Teachers program.  Digital Teachers is what we call our group of teachers who work as a sort of technology integration task force, collaborating to increase innovation and technology integration.

Within the digital teachers program I have become proficient with Google Classroom and Google Apps for Educators.  I have worked on a task-force in the research and adoption of a new learning management system.  I have helped to organize a large scale professional development conference and twice presented at the same conference.  I have explored original approaches to learning such as maker spaces, design thinking, electronic portfolios, and breakout rooms, and I have learned extensively about design thinking and incorporated its principles into my lessons and assignments.

Its amazing how many possibilities exist today to radically transform learning.  2017 brings opportunities and challenges that I hadn’t even managed ten years ago, and it is exciting for me to incorporate innovative practices into my teaching and to anticipate the challenges that are to come in the future.

Mindfulness

When I was an undergraduate I developed an interest in Buddhism and mindfulness meditation.  Since I have become a teacher, I have always believed that mindfulness practices can serve students well and aid them in their learning and development.

I started teaching mindfulness practices to my students in 2011 after reading Mindful Teaching and Teaching Mindfulness: A Guide for Anyone Who Teaches Anything .

My initial efforts saw mixed results.  Some students really took advantage of the lessons and other students seemed perplexed as to why I was stopping their regular class programming to have them watch their breath.

Throughout the years, my approach to using mindfulness in the classroom has evolved.  I completed mindfulness curriculum training at mindfulschools.com, learning a greater variety of exercises and learning ways to increase student engagement.  I now no longer stop class in order to engage in a mindfulness exercise.  Instead, a punctuate my lessons with points about mindfulness at relevant moments.  For example, in my English class we read a novel where the protagonist is sick and hungry and is given a gift of a tangerine.  When my class reaches this point in the novel, I give each student a tangerine and we practice mindful eating, taking our time to enjoy and savor the tangerine as we imagine the protagonist of the story might.  I also share mindfulness practices on our school trip to Washington.  As we drive back to the hotel at the end of the day I ask students to close their eyes and to try to recall their whole day, from start to finish, as best they can.  I find that these little exercises are appreciated by students and, even though they seem simple, can be quite challenging, as well as rewarding.

I have also led several professional development sessions for teachers who are interested in Mindfulness, which have been well received.  As I continue to introduce teachers to mindfulness, I have become increasingly encouraged with the enthusiasm with which other teachers have taken up the practice.  When I first started using mindfulness in 2011, it was not well known by other teachers and regarded as something strange.  Now, more and more of my colleagues have taken up the practice with passion and I’m glad to see that the philosophy of mindfulness is becoming more and more infused into our lives at school.

Truly, we are all mindful people.  To me it’s wonderful when we acknowledge the mindfulness that we embody and assign a value to it so that it can be cultivated and developed to its greatest potential.

Washington DC

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From 2010-2016 I helped to organize and led an annual trip to Washington DC. This trip is one of the moments our students look forward to most in their time as students at ASFM. Almost every student in the eighth grade attends and it is a joy to watch students come together as a more integrated community, supporting each other, deepening existing friendships, and establishing new ones, all while immersed in a profoundly enriching learning experience.

It’s hard the understate the amount of work that goes into a trip like this. The school only sends nine teachers to watch over 150 students. This may seem like a high student to teacher ratio, but with students who are as mature and well behaved as the young adults at ASFM, this is a reasonable amount of adult supervision. Indeed, our tour guides, bus drivers, and the hotel staff often gives our students outstanding praise for their behavior.

But even with such well behaved students, the small number of adult chaperones creates an immense amount of work for each chaperone, and we are very proud of what we accomplish. In order to bring minors from Mexico to the US we need to generate notarized permission forms for each student. This means that in addition to providing all manner of details to parents and students and monitoring payments and permissions for the school, we also need to collect, organize, and submit a large amount of paperwork to the Mexican government.

Once the trip is underway, our itinerary is packed. We generally meet at the airport before dawn and split into our preset groups, dividing ourselves into three planes and crossing our fingers that we will make all of our connections. More than once a group has missed a flight and we have had to improvise in order to coordinate a new flight plan with the airlines, but we always manage to work it out.

One we are in Washington, we work hard to leave no stone unturned. Over the course of five days we visit all of the presidential monuments and war monuments, the Capitol, Arlington Cemetery, the Newseum, The Holocaust Museum, The Spy Museum, and as many Smithsonian museums as we are able. Basically, us teachers become shepherds for a week, herding our large group of students from one location to the next, constantly counting and recounting, monitoring our watches and guiding our groups towards making the most of their experience.

Upon returning from Washington the eighth grade students always seem more unified as a generation and more connected with their teachers. Students often report that the friendships they create during their Washington experience end up lasting all through high school and beyond. We try to keep the magic going as we close out the year with a project related to the trip. Students are asked to select something that could be a focus for a monument or memorial that isn’t in Washington already. Students then use the design thinking process to design their new addition to the D.C cityscape.

The eighth grade Washington trip has been both one of the most exhausting and the most fulfilling of my endeavors here at ASFM. Through this trip I have learned many important lessons on teaching and created many joyful memories that I’m sure will last a lifetime.