The Right Work, The Right Direction

Today was a HUGE day! At least I think it was. Today was a district professional development day. We were fortunate to have a large chunk of time together as a building staff on this very rainy Michigan morning following a long weekend.  And boy did we jump in with both feet.

One of the things that I always try to keep in the forefront of my mind when it comes to teaching and learning is, “Am I Doing The Right Work?”  One of the many parts to this work is understanding exactly what the work is. And by “work” today I mean standards. What exactly are the standards that my students need to learn?  Where are they in my teaching materials?  Are they in my teaching materials?  If they are not, what am I going to do about that?  What do the standards in the grade before me look like?  And where are students going after they leave me?  Am I getting them there the best way possible?Having and understanding that global view is priceless.

So we began this exact work today. Together. Looking at the learning progression of just one part of one strand allowed us to frame our minds for “the right work” and the “right direction”.  And it got messy. The best kind of messy. The kind of messy that makes you take deep breaths, sigh, walk away, come back, and challenge each other. The good work. The right work.

Kind of ironic that it was a muddy Tuesday. This was the picture that I shared with the staff at the end of our standards analysis. The right work  gets messy before it gets pretty.  To quote the book Holes, “The first hole is the hardest.”  Start digging!

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At The End Of The Day…

Some people reflect on their day on the drive home. Some quietly meditate.  Some talk it out. There are many possible ways to debrief the day.  No matter what way I happen to debrief the day- I always ask myself the same question?  Who or what did I encounter today (good bad or indifferent) that I can learn from? Many times it is looking at things from the perspective of a child, a parent, or a colleague.

Is there something that someone has said or done that had a profound impact on the way that I view things?  Absolutely!  Here are two that I think are noteworthy:

A really smart lady  that I know has a great line- “It’s not dropping the ball as long as you pick it up on the bounce.”  This is a reminder that I keep in my hip pocket when I feel like I am going in a million different directions. It’s all about the bounce!

Another really smart lady has taught me the true meaning of “Seek First To Understand”.  This is her mantra and she lives by it, and I believe that it was her dad that instilled this value in her.  Thanks for the reminder as sometimes we get lost in the moment and need to take a step back.

Thanks ladies!




Moving Forward

We just completed grade level Data Days at our school.  These days are some of my favorite days. They are long, exhausting, but invigorating.  Not everyone feels that way, but I do. These are the days where we get to talk about kids, and teaching, and learning. We pour over online assessment data and classroom based assessments. We talk about what is going well with instruction, and what we need to look at differently to meet the needs of our learners. We celebrate the gains, and make plans together. We look at data upside down and right side up.  Chart paper covers the walls. It is like one giant puzzle with a million moving pieces. Sometimes we leave the meetings with more questions than answers. This is the good stuff.  These are the conversations and plans that change the teaching and learning that happen in our classrooms.

What I love even more are the conversations that come in the following days. “Hey I’ve been thinking about trying this?”  Or,  “What are your thoughts about this?”  “So if I look at this standard this way…?”

This is how I know that we are moving forward with our teaching and learning. The good stuff.

Turning The Table

“Miss Schwartz, what don’t you like about your job?”

This question came from a third grader last week. She sees me daily for all kinds of support. That day we were working on math. But she threw me a curveball.

I looked at her, and paused, allowing myself adequate wait time to think.  I knew what my answer was, but I wasn’t sure how to phrase it for an eight year old.

The answer was just a few feet away sitting in organized piles on another table. My answer is time.

This was going to be a tricky conversation with this all too wise third grader, because my answer of “time” is exactly what she struggles with in her world. She can name it precisely. It takes her longer to do things in all aspects of her life and that is what we work on together. More time is not what she needs, managing the time she has is her goal. Creating some strategies that she can develop to help her overcome the clock.

My struggle with time is different. I can manage time. I get things done (mostly), I can clear my piles. But sometimes I would like a bit more time.  Time to sneak in a few more groups, time to sneak in on some old friends….

After sufficient wait time this is what I said.

“There isn’t anything that I don’t like about my job. It is different everyday, never the same.  I wish that I had more time to work with kids and teachers because that is what I love.”

She looked at me with her head tilted, “Miss Schwartz, today I feel like I was your therapist. I have a book at home that has some quotes in it that I think might help you.”

She forgot the book, she didn’t have time to put it in her backpack. Maybe on Monday she said…

We will both keep working on this.






Getting messy!

Today kicked off a series of 5 Data Days with Young Fives-Fifth Grade teachers in our building. And my head is swirling. A good swirl mind you.

My Data Advisor partner Ranae and I kicked off Day #1 with the third grade teachers.  And it was awesome!  It was a day filled with numbers, data, conversation,  questioning, frustration, grappling, celebrating, curriculum, standards, planning, bright spots, wonderings….I could go on forever. The day was filled with conversation and planning about  teaching and learning and how to grow our learners.  Best day ever!  Can’t wait for Day #2.


How Do You Decide?

Think of your hand when you are faced with making a decision.

First, configure your fingers to make the sign language letter “Y”.  This is to remind you of what your purpose is- “THE WHY”(or Y).  


 Hold this “Why” close to your heart.  Your thumb will be closest to you right now. 

Think of your thumb as those that will be affected most by the decision. At school I consider, “How will this decision affect children and the adults around them?”  The ones closest to your heart.

Think of your pinky finger as the finger that is the furthest away.  “How will this decision affect the people furthest away from the situation?”  The custodian, lunch/recess, office staff, bus drivers, community members, etc…  Did we consider all of the possible players?

Think of your pointer finger as yourself.  Well, because you have to think about how this decision will affect you- for better or for worse.

Think of your longest  finger as, “What are the long term effects of this decision?”


Think of your ring finger as the commitment finger. “What will the commitment be for all of those involved? Is it within the realm of possibility?”

All of the “fingers” play an integral part of the hand and are connected beyond measure. Consider all possibilities. 


Like a kid in a candy store…

By no means am I a psychometrician or certified data analyst.  But I love looking at student data. Right now we are in the midst of i-Ready testing for upcoming grade level data meetings. As the i-Ready scores have started to trickle in for reading and math I will admit, I’m intrigued. I am a data nerd. The people I work with know this.  It is like a giant puzzle to me.  Are our students growing?  How do you know?  What are we doing that supports that growth?  What are we missing?  Where do we go from here?  So here I sit, with reports surrounding me, highlighters, and sticky notes.  In my job I have watched these kids over time and have seen how far they have come, and what is yet to be. It’s pretty cool to watch.

I also know this.  That data is one piece of a really huge, complex puzzle. It is a snapshot of a student that is a part of a larger picture.  That picture is made up of many other parts that some tests will never be able to measure. And that is pretty cool too because we get to discover all of those other pieces when we are getting messy with learning in the classroom, when that lightbulb goes off, when students catch their stride and take off, when they put their heart and soul into a project all by themselves. It is a teachers absolute gut level feeling about their students.  These things are not always quantifiable with a score, a margin of error, standard deviation, or able to be graphed. It is pure heart, and pure gut.

So off I go to look at these numbers and puzzle over them I leave you with this t-shirt that I think I might need: