Tuesday, June 11, 2024

A Description of My Day and Classes in the 2023-2024 School Year

I think I had my classes planned since July of 2023.  I am a planner, and I love writing lesson plans - for the first three weeks of school.  After that, I feel like I am creating fan fiction.  Plans have to be flexible to allow for assembles, beginning of year benchmarks, and of course, student absences.  Still, I am a planner, and I always have a plan, no matter how many times I have to change it.

This year I decided to support of schoolwide goal of improving reading comprehension scores. (Isn't improving reading and math scores always the goal?)  In doing this I abandoned digital and media literacy lessons and focused on character and plot development, along with some vocabulary to reinforce understanding of the literature.  Plus, I love doing novels with the kids.  I like doing books that make them think.

My day starts at 7:30, with hall duty from 7:35 to 7:40.  I enjoy starting the day by greeting the kids, teasing some of them, complimenting others, and generally welcoming all the kids that go past my door.  Some days I am the traffic cop, but most days are fun.  I have only been knocked over once.

The day is divided into eight periods of 50 minutes each, plus an hour and ten minutes of lunch and an exploratory period. In years past, I had 8th grade, 7th grade, and 6th grade classes in the morning and had the remainder of the day for library activities. This year my principal flipped the schedule so that I had classes 4th, 7th and 8th periods during the first semester and 1st, 2nd and 3rd periods the last semester.  I believe I like this year's schedule better, in terms of class management but I think for library management, the old schedule was better.  Nonetheless, I will take the schedule as it comes.

Unwind by Neal Shusterman was the novel studied by 8th graders. I think this was fairly well-received.  Those who choose to listen and read along as I read the books seemed to get the most from the novel.  I supplement this book with The Hunger Games movies, tying all this into a dystopian fiction unit. Besides character and plot development, we also work on comparing and contrasting the stories, Another skill we work on is awareness of nonverbal cues in media.  The supporting cast in The Hunger Games movies are excellent at conveying the unspoken word.

Seventh grade is a difficult group to gauge. As a general rule, their attention span is comparable to a gnat's.  I have started this year with When You Reach Me for three of four grading periods. The last nine weeks the class read Fuzzy Mud by Louis Sachar.  When You Reach Me is an excellent novel, but Miranda's internal dialog drags on a bit for these kids.  I can feel myself losing them. Fuzzy Mud has similar issues with a 5th grade female protagonist.  My fourth nine-weeks kids also read Ghost, which I thought would appeal to a group of jocks who ran track.  I have not found a magic bullet for 7th grade.  If any of you have suggestions, I am open.

Wolf Hollow is my novel of choice for 6th grade.  The kids love the book, but my big problem here is that kids hear what happens from their older siblings or friends.  I feel like I need to find a new historical fiction to use with this grade.  Again, suggestions are welcome!

Reflections on the 2023-2024 School Year: Culture and Professional Development

 I. Introduction

Today is the teachers' last day of 2023-2024 school year.  With the exception of the laptop I am using to write this, all items are packed away, waiting for classroom preparation in August.  This is a quiet and desolate time in the library and the perfect time to reflect on the school year.

II. Professional Development

Professional development was a crucial part of the past school year.  Math scores on the end of year test of 2021-2022 students were deficient, and the state board essentially placed our school on an improvement plan.  The administration utilized several instruments to determine how to raise our scores, and high among the results was a need to improve school culture.  Our professional development for this school year focused on improving the ways in which we related to our students and each other.

Our first training was held in July when our leadership team attended a four day training held by the West Virginia Department of Education.  We heard many good motivational speakers, including Jimmy Casas, but the meat of the training was geared to developing our school-wide plan.  We worked as a team to include ways of improving our relations with students and raising morale of the faculty, working in many of the strategies we learned.  We planned a virtual open house, where the staff would work in teams to deliver a supply-filled backpack to every student in our school. Generous nine weeks and semester rewards were also planned. Recognition and reward activities were scheduled for all students and for those meeting certain benchmarks.  

 In a nutshell, our goal as a faculty was to make connections to all students.  I think as a whole this was a successful initiative. (The good news about being on an improvement plan is that it comes with a bunch of money for supplies, training and stipends. Much easier to maintain positive relationships when the money is avalaiable!) 

In August our entire staff was invited to a two and a half day seminar by Jimmy Casas and Joy Kelly.  This seminar was a gamechanger for many, including me.  I have always thought of myself as an empathetic person, but I recognized many areas in which I could improve.  One practice I adopted was asking each student in each class at the end of the quarter to gauge whether or not I was fair to them and whether they felt I cared about them.  I let these two ideas guide me through each of my classes.  At the end of each nine weeks I had mostly positive comments, but the few negative comments I received (correcting the wrong student for misbehavior, mostly), show me that there is plenty of room for improvement.  Another idea I want to incorporate is a more private way of redirecting behavior.  I have made a few strides in this area.

Representatives from Insights Discovery joined us during one of our staff development days in August.  We each received a personalized packet based on the survey we completed towards the end of the last school year.  My result: green.  Nurturing, compassionate, mothering.  I found this interesting.  I was sure I would be a red: competitive, demanding, strong-willed.  I think if I was the same person I was at Brookhaven, I would be a red.  Here, I am much more relaxed and willing to take a backseat.  I don't feel the need to be in charge; those in charge are doing quite well, actually.

          This summer I am taking a timeout from organized professional development.  It is hard for me               to step back.  We have a joint staff development with another school the first Friday of summer             vacation.  This would be an important session to attend, but because of health concerns the last             semester, I am dedicating the summer to me.  I will regret not hearing Jimmy and Joy's                            presentation on behavior, and I will certainly regret not being part of the initiative for the school             merger, but I am proud to be putting myself first.  Apparently, I have a problem with that.

I hope to rededicate my energies to library professional development.  I have let that slide for several years, focusing instead on middle school pedagogy.  I recently heard from Charlotte Chung, an elementary librarian from my former district.  She is hoping to form a state AASL chapter.  I am thrilled.  I feel like someone is ready to take on my fight.