Sunday, May 30, 2010

Look What WE Did

A Professional Learning Community is a strategy for school change and improvement. The five major attributes to a PLC are: shared leadership, collective creativity, shared vision, supportive conditions, and shared personal practice. The optimal word here is shared. No longer can teachers close their doors and teach however they feel like it. In a PLC teachers collaborate in areas of first best instruction, assessment, intervention, and planning. Teachers must work together for the greater good - student achievement. In the book Raising the Bar and Closing the Gap (DuFour, DuFour, Eaker and Kathanek) it states that our ultimate purpose is to make sure that every child learns rather than every child is taught. 

We began implementing a Professional Learning Community at Tomahawk Elementary School two years ago. It was a paradigm shift for many of the staff members, especially, myself. Many that I have taught with in the past would not believe how much I have changed my thinking and philosophies due to PLC. At times I have been accused of going to the "dark" side. But for me I have finally seen the light. In order to explain I need to introduce you to one student, Osvaldo.
Osvaldo came to Tomahawk from Mexico with his mom and his twin brother Orlando.  In a "conversation" with Orlando and Osvaldo it was discovered through Orlando that they came to the U. S. because Osvaldo burnt down their house. When Osvaldo was asked if he really burnt down his house his reply was, "We poor. It not house. We live in box."
One of my first "teaching" moments with Osvaldo was during Reading Zone. Reading Zone is something I started for the students so they had a place to come to read during their lunch recess. Osvaldo's 3rd grade teacher realized the potential for this time to increase her students' reading achievement and she made sure that her students, especially, those students falling far below came daily. Students come to my office, sit on the floor, and read. It is a very casual time. I usually have at least fifteen students during each grade level lunch time. I read with as many as I can, but I don't always get to everyone every day. 

The first time I had Osvaldo "read" to me I opened his book and pointed to the first word - The, and he looked at me. "Do you know this word?" I asked.

He shook his head no. "Do you know any sounds that the letters make?" I continued to probe.

He shook his head no. "Do you know what this letter is?" I asked pointing to the - T.
He shook his head no. "Do you know the name of any of the letters on this page?" I pleaded.

He shook his head no. I sang, "I guess we will be starting at the very beginning. It is a very good place to start." He didn't get my joke or my reference to The Sound of Music

Osvaldo and Orlando came to Reading Zone just about every day and I tried to read with them both just about every day. There was a six-week gap when Reading Zone was canceled due to unforeseen circumstances. 

The other day Osvaldo came into Reading Zone with a Magic Tree House book, Dinosaurs Before Dark! It is a chapter book. It only has about 70 pages, but it is a major step in reading beginning chapter books because there is only one picture per chapter, if that. My first thought was, 'No way! Osvaldo can't read this book, but I will let him try.' "Osvaldo, you are reading Dinosaurs Before Dark?" I asked surprisingly.
"Yes, I am. This is first Magic Tree book," he replied with confidence.

"This is the first magic Tree House book. Let me tell you something that is going to help you understand this book and all the other 45 magic Tree House books. The main characters, Jack and Annie, found a magic tree house with tons of books in it, and when they point to a picture in a book and wish to go there the tree house takes them there. They always face some kind of problem, solve it, and return home where no time has passed."

"I know, Miss Cattyham, my friend tells me."

"Okay, Osvaldo, then let's do it!" I say with hesitation in my voice because there is nothing worse than listening to someone trying to read a text that is way too hard for them.

Osvaldo, happily began, "Chapter one, Into the Woods, Help! A mooon - s-t-er, A monster! said Annie. Yeah sure said Jack, a real m monster in Frog Creek, Pennsylvania. Run, Jack said Annie. She ran up the road. Oh, brother. This is what he got for spending time with his seven-year-old sister. Annie loved pre tend stuff . . . ." Osvaldo continued to read the first pages with a slight hesitation to sound out one other word he didn't know. Osvaldo, the boy who read at DRA (Developmental Reading Assessment) level 1 one hundred thirty days ago. Osvaldo, who didn't know a sound for a letter or even a letter at the beginning of third grade was reading and comprehending with accuracy and fluency a chapter book.

One might be asking, "What does a boy named Osvaldo have to do with a Professional Learning Community?" Osvaldo is a result of a Professional Learning Community. Osvaldo has a great third grade teacher who works hard at first best instruction. But all the teachers on the third grade team and all the teachers including Art, Music and PE and the rest of the Tomahawk staff had a hand in Osvaldo's success. 

LAS (Language Acquisition Specialist) and myself (Achievement Specialist). The three of us worked to improve first best instruction in her classroom. Osvaldo was given common assessments and put in a group depending on his performance on the assessment. Osvaldo participated in intervention during the school day planned by the third grade team. Osvaldo participated in third tier intervention on fluency by the MAP (music, art, and physical education) teachers the last twenty minutes of the day. Osvaldo attended after school intervention where students are placed in flexible groups based on specific standards. Osvaldo, also, participated in a special third grade intervention when data showed that the third grade wasn't going to make AYP (average yearly progress) as measured by the AIMS (Arizona Instrument to Measure Standards) that every staff member at Tomahawk planned and taught after school for eight weeks.
Osvaldo was tested on the DRA two days ago by the testing team. He reached a level 30. Osvaldo went from a level 1 which is the first level in kindergarten and reached level 30 which is the first level of a third grade reader. Osvaldo made three years of progress in one year. Osvaldo is 1 out of 998 students, but he is not the only one that has made the progress that he has made. 
Sometimes it is difficult for people to accept change. It is frustrating to have to do things differently and shift paradigms and philosophies. The rigor of a PLC is overwhelming at times, and there are days when I want to sit in my office and bawl, but I don't have time. A Professional Learning Community is work, but it WORKS! I have seen the results and so has Osvaldo! 

Look what WE did!

Paco's Perspective

We have to collaborate to keep Flip out of trouble. I have to come and get you when he isn't where he is suppose to be.

The Flip Side

That is not collaborating that is tattling!

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Birdie on the First Hole

I have spent the last ten summers in Bigfork, Montana with my younger sister, Caren. The beauty of Montana never ceases to amaze me. When we drive to the big city for groceries the sight of the mountains and forests takes my breath away. Eagle Bend is a golf course in Bigfork, Montana. It has an eighteen hole course and a nine hole course, and it is surrounded by Montana's scenic beauty. Eagle Bend is a very ritzy and expensive course, if you golf the eighteen. Caren gets a summer pass for the nine hole course which is very reasonable, so Caren and I "golf" every day. She golfs and I follow her around the course and keep score. Good thing I am crippled because I would never be able to play golf because I can't follow the damn ball.

Caren is an excellent golfer, of course, she is great at any sport she does, and if she isn't great at it she won't do it. She has a great drive and she usually doesn't hit from the women's tees. We go golfing everyday and everyday she smacks that ball down the fairway, and after every drive she says, "Did you see that one?"

And after every drive I reply, "Nope."

Sometimes she hits it off the course and she asks, "Did you see where that one went?"

I reply, "Nope."

One might ask, "Why go, if I can't see the ball?"

I really hate golf. I think watching golf on T.V. is as much fun as watching paint dry. But, I love the time I spend with Caren, and it is better than staying home playing hide-n-go-seek with the dog. Caren has played that course so many times that she could do it blindfolded, so she doesn't have to "concentrate"! There is really no pressure on her because I am the only one that sees (well . . . . knows) what she does. So we can talk the whole time. I think we solve the world's problems by the the sixth hole at least.

The first hole on the nine hole course at Eagle Bend is a par four. It is a straight shot to the green. The green is surrounded by hazards. There are trees to the right and a pond to the left of and behind the green. "It is a nice little pond. It is clean. It is neat. The water is warm and there is plenty to eat." ** The cart path is to the left of the green and follows along the pond, and in that pond there is a nest, and in that nest there is an egg, and the cattails grow all around, all around, and the cattails grow all around. In the trees to left a sound is heard. It's the trill of that damn red-winged blackbird. That blackbird hates me I want you to know. His goal is upon my head to put a peck, or is it the nest he needs to protect. In the trees, that bird lies in wait to swoop down and peck my pate.

Caren gets on the green usually in two. She walks down the left side of the fairway away from the pond. I, on the other hand, have to take the golf path. Everyday I think maybe he won't be there, but everyday he is there . . . . . . waiting. In my own little pea brain I truly believe he is waiting for me. Caren gets on the green in two. I hide behind a tree while she putts. When she is finished putting she shouts, "Okay! Run, Cathy, run!"

Every time I hear her shout, "Run, Cathy, run," I envision the scene from Forrest Gump where his girlfriend yells everyday, "Run, Forrest, run!" I replay the scene in my mind where it shows time passing and Forrest gets older as he runs, and he runs faster each time, and at the end of the scene his braces fall off of him and he is able to run without braces. I see myself zooming down the cart path, the wheels of my chair falling off, me running to the second hole freely with no handicap.

Reality . . . I ZOOM in my chair by the pond. The blackbird swoops out of the tree, flies across the fairway with only one goal in mind . . . . pecking my head! I try to duck which is very funny because I can't duck I can only shrug my shoulders. The bird attacks. I can't smack him because I have to drive with one hand, and I can't raise my hands above my head anyway.

One might ask, "Where is Caren?" She lying on the fairway giggling and between snorts she is shouting, "Run, Cathy, run!" or "Stop, I am going to pee!"

In that pond there is a nest, and in that nest there's a bed of hair, and in that hair there lies an egg, and the blackbird lies in wait, lies in wait, and the blackbird lies in wait!

Paco's Perspective

I hate birds. I don't like it when they are in my yard. The smell of bird repulses me.

The Flip Side

Bird? Did someone say bird? Where? Bird? Where?

** Yertle the Turtle by Dr. Suess

Saturday, May 8, 2010

M-O-T-H-E-R . . . . . nah . . . . . M-O-M

Does anyone remember that old song where the singer describes his mother by saying something that starts with each letter in the word mother? You know, M is for the many . . . . . . . The past week I have been trying to rewrite that song for my mom for Mothers' Day and I am doing a lousy job. It's not because I can't think of wonderful things to say about my mother. The problem is I can't think of clever words to match the letters of the word, mother, that go with the memories. My other major problem is I hate the word, mother, and I am sure it is because of all the, "Muther F this" and Muther that" I have heard. Over the years the word, mother, has been bastardized.

So I decided to use the word mom instead of mother, and I still can't think of clever words that go with the letters of the word, mom. But tomorrow is Mothers' Day and I have been thinking about writing this for some time. Even though I haven't said anything to anyone about writing this, I am one of those weird people that once I make a commitment to do something (even if I only made it to myself in my head) I have to follow through.

M is for the aMazing (see, I told you so) things she has done.

My mom raised with the help of my father four great kids. I know, there are moms that have raised so many more children, but I am not here to have a "My Mom is Better Than Your Mom" contest. Two of the four children she raised were handicapped. I am talking about raising handicapped children in the sixties when handicapped children were put in homes. I don't remember ever thinking I couldn't do something because I was handicapped. My brother, Brad, and I did what every other kid did. We went camping, rode motorcycles, went to summer camp, climbed mountains, and attended public school way before public law 94-142 (this law stated: all handicapped children had a right to a free and public education). My mom was the "You can do it!" cheerleader, and my dad was the engineer that modified everything so we could do it. I wouldn't be finishing up my thirty-first year of teaching school, if it wasn't for my mom who drove me to and from junior college every day. (Or my father who figured out a way for me to drive, so I could attend ASU.)

Besides my brother, Brad, and I my mom had two other children. My "sistahs", Caren and Chris. Two wonderful, loving women that have no comparison. I love getting together with my sisters. Chris is the kind, calm, loving one. Caren is the f-u-n one, and me, the NOT F-U-N one. Here is a conversation we might have:

Caren comes into the room wearing her country dancing "uniform" (see my story about Wrangler butts) and shouts "Hey, lets go meet up with some friends and go dancing!"

Chris replies in her Texas accent, "Anything y'all want to do is okay with me as long as I am with my 'sistahs'!"

I chime in, "Okay, I will go, but please don't dance on the tables this time!"

"Stop, being a pissypants! Are you going or not?" Caren chides.

Chris drawls, "Now, now, don't call your sistah a pissypants."

"It's all fun and games until someone loses an eye!" I mumble as I follow them to the car. I don't know how my mom did it, but she managed to raise three girls with completely different personalities. We were raised to be individuals and whoever we were was okay with our mom as long as we were good, honest people.

Like many others. I have fond memories of my mom in the kitchen. She made dinner every night. We never had fast food, and very seldom ate out at a restaurant. My mom was and still is a great cook. She is the queen of comfort food. My dad was a meat and potatoes man and he hated it when my mom "experimented". When Caren and I go to have dinner at mom's she always makes those meals that we loved as a child.

O is for the Other children she raised.

Our house was that house in the neighborhood where all the kids hung out. Not the drug house. Not the party house. Not the f-u-n house. It was the mom house. Our parents welcomed everyone and my mom fed everybody. My friend, Cheryl, called my parents other-mother and other-father. Brad had a friend whose family moved and he wanted to finish school in Phoenix, so he lived with us. When I became a teacher I was still living at home and I taught in the neighborhood where I lived, so many of my students would visit. My mom would feed them, of course. When I moved into my own place many of my ex students would continue to stop by my mom's house for a hug and a free meal.

M is for the Many times we laughed.

I have many memories of silly laughter with my mom. You know, those laugh until you pee moments. One time Caren made my mom mad, and I don't even remember what she did. I can only remember seeing my mom chasing Caren down the hallway with a cast iron frying pan. Of course we all followed Caren and my mom down the hallway because we just couldn't believe that she would arm herself with a frying pan let alone use it. When I turned the corner to the bedrooms they were both sitting on the floor laughing and shouting, "Stop, I am gonna pee!"

Those words were our mantra growing up. I can't tell you how many times I heard the words, "Stop, I am gonna pee!"

We were not a swearing family. I remember getting slapped by my mom for saying "frigging" and when I complained that I didn't say the actual F word she replied, "Yea, but you were thinking it!" One day after spending time at the mall hearing kids drop the f bomb right and left my mom came home appalled. She just couldn't understand why anyone would use that word and why there was such a love for it. So we decided to spend the day dropping the F bomb.

"What the F are you doing?'

"I am watching my F ing soaps."

"Can you believe what that F just said?"

"Do you want anything F ing special for dinner?"

"Please, stop before I pee my F ing pants!"

I never laughed so hard in all my life. There was a woman that wouldn't say shit, if she had a mouthful dropping the F bomb all day long. At the end of the day she said, "That was kind of fun, but now we are done and I better not here you say that again!"

I love my mom. I respect my mom. I admire my mom. I remember when I bought my own townhouse and moved out. I had been living there for a few months and I got sick. It was no big deal just flu or something. I remember sitting alone in the bathroom with my head leaning against the wall crying, "I want my mom!" As I look back on that moment I think that was kind of silly, but I also think it shows what a great mom she is because I will always want her in a time of need.

Happy Mothers' Day, Mom!

Paco's Perspective

I like that Mom lady! She loves to hold me in her lap and give me loving!

The Flip Side

Does she have treats?