Sunday, August 7, 2016

Riding the Pre-Planning Roller Coaster:  Part 1

This year I switched high schools, and that always adds a certain spice to the week of pre-planning!  I moved into my room the day before our official pre-planning began to get a jump start on things.  I was still pretty panicked last Monday when my room looked like this:

But somehow I got it all unpacked, and I am thankful  to my son  for helping me move into the school and put up posters and bulletin board material.   When we were  done Monday, the room was put together minus a competed bulletin board that I will  talk about more in the “part 2” blog.
In my experience, pre-planning can be an emotional roller coaster, and this year was no exception to that; maybe even a magnified version of it.  In this blog and the next blog, I will highlight my high day and my low day starting with the former for a positive reflection. 

Wednesday, August 3rd

I was a bit worried about this day because it started out with not leaving in time to avoid traffic; in the Atlanta Metro area a simple time difference of 5-10 mins can destroy the whole drive.   I was late out the door at 7:20am, but because school had not started yet this week, 4.5 miles only took me 20 minutes.  Yep, that’s right – traffic is a beast here!

I got to school by 7:40am and got upstairs to my room.  We were due for an all staff at 9:15am, so I was happy to have some quiet time  to get some paperwork out of the way.  I began with a list of “beginning of school” tasks that I had to get done including viewing videos for staff expectations.  I ended up getting two of those done along with the quizzes they give us at the end.  I discovered I had not paid enough attention to the bookkeeping video when it became apparent that I was going to fail the quiz they gave me; that one became a recovery quiz after re-watching the videoJ 

At about 8:30am I started a shared dropbox for my Algebra 1 team that I would be leading.  All of us are new to the school, but I have taught Algebra 1 or Algebra 1 type courses in the county for years and led them off and on, so my department chair selected me to lead.  I started loading up the dropbox with last year’s Unit 1 calendar and successive materials to compliment the topics we were starting with.  I realized that I wanted to tweak the calendar from last year, so that engulfed my next hour of time before the faculty meeting.

At 9:15am our faculty meeting began.  I found out that my new principal likes to call all new teachers down to the front of the auditorium and have them introduce themselves to the staff along with what we are teaching this year and something fun about ourselves.   Because I am a shy person who does not like to be anywhere near the center of attention until I feel comfortable in my surroundings, this was definitely not something I was excited about.  Still, I pushed through with my name and what I was teaching and declared myself the crazy cat person that I am.  I was one of the 1st to talk, which exacerbated my nerves.   I honestly think I would have said more if I had been at the end of the line.  Note for next new school should there be one.

Our school hires out consulting for professional development (PD), so the consultant was there to lead us after that with discussion of rigor and engagement in the classroom and how they come together.  He is really engaging to work with, and he had us up and moving around meeting each other and sharing ideas based off of quotes he provided, so that made the learning beneficial – no one wants to sit and listen that long.  What I liked about this the most is that he was modeling what good instructional strategies:  sharing ideas, movement, active learning, etc.  That is what is expected of us, and I am glad that our school provides us that model.  Best of all, our administration learn right along with the teachers in the process; they do not lead the leading.

At 10:30, the all-staff meeting was over, but those of us who were content PLC leaders had to stay for a learning session to open the year with; also lead by the consultant in the all-staff meeting.  This time he had us rate ourselves around the room with how well we felt we had mastered certain PLC strategies the year before.  I found myself deciding that content pacing was my most mastered PLC strategy, and utilizing data my least.  He had us freely volunteer our experiences, and I openly shared some of mine along with many others in this smaller staff environment.  I was so happy to see that my new colleagues were open to discussion and willing and able to contribute until he was ready to move to the next topic.  I took away some great thoughts and ideas for improvement as a PLC leader.
At 11:30am the PLC leader meeting was over, but my department chair and I elected to speak with one of our assistant principals who had asked us to lead 90-minute sessions in RTI Math Strategies on professional days this semester.  We needed some clarification on exactly what this could look like and how much room we had to turn it into overall strategies for more math teachers and subsequently, their students.  We had some great conversations about reaching out to our middle and elementary school feeders for resources for the RTI component.  Working with these teachers is something that should be done anyway, and this would give us just the right launch pad to do so.  Of course, I added in the opportunity to introduce the MTBoS to our math teachers as it is an infinite and ongoing real time resource for math teachers.  

By noon I was back in my room.  I had brought lunch as there was a scheduled meeting at 1:15 for co-teachers, so I wanted to do a working lunch.  I checked email and checked my list from the morning checking off some completed items and then furthering the list for the next day.  I had scheduled to be at my old high school at 3pm to give my former colleagues some PD on MTBoS and Desmos.

At 1pm I discovered that the co-teaching meeting had been cancelled.  I was happy to have the extra time to get a few more things done.  The teacher that came by to tell me the meeting was cancelled was one of my co-teachers, so we ended up chatting about the course and sharing our experiences with previously teaching the course and things to think about incorporating.

I then worked on the syllabus for my honors class by editing a common one sent to me by the PLC lead for Accelerated Algebra 2.  We had our team meeting the first day of pre-planning, so I was feeling pretty good about having those plans under my belt.   Our Algebra 1 team meeting was Thursday, so I started working on a starter syllabus for us to discuss and edit together in our first meeting the next day.

This took me to 2:30, and it was time to pack up and get across town to my former high school.  I arrived just before 3:00pm and in time to see my colleagues from the past 4 years and say hello.  One of them asked me for advice on pacing the senior level pre-calculus course, which I was happy to give and glad I could help.  I then went to my former department chairs classroom to set-up for the session.
Most of my math colleagues in the school were there, and they naturally sat with their PLC buddies which was what I was hoping for.   I had constructed a sheet of instruction and resources to get started with to get involved in MTBoS.   Most of them were already on Twitter, but they had not used it professionally.  I had a list of people for them to start following that I chose based on what I knew of my colleagues from working with them the past 4 years; I wanted it to be a “best fit” to start.  We spent a good 10-15 minutes having them start following the handles I had provided.  After that, I introduced them to the “Exploring  MTBoS” site as a resource for being involved.   Next, I had a list of blogs for them to bookmark on our work laptops for easy reference at school.  I had listed the blogs with the courses that the authors typically taught.   We spent a good bit of time exploring blogs and I offered what I knew about the authors.  They were astonished at how I knew all these people without ever meeting them, but soon they would too I told them.   One colleague completely connected with Meg Craig’s resources – I am not sure he explored many other blogs that day; that was his perfect resource fit!  I showed them a few tricks for navigating posts and posting professionally on Twitter, and then we wrapped up the MTBoS.

I then moved on to talking about Desmos.  Some of them had worked with Desmos, but no one knew about card sorts; hence they had not discovered!  I gave them a copy of the handout that I had received in Sara Van Der Werf’s session in Minneapolis a couple of months ago, and they each signed up for an account.   We did a couple of card sorts together, and I told them that Desmos was a learning work in progress for me and to let it also be for them.  By the end of the session, some had discovered things that I did not know and were showing me; awesome!

We finished at about 4:15pm.  I could not believe how engaged they were, but then again I had to remind myself that I had been that way all summer getting into the MTBoS and looking at Desmos.  As I have mentioned in previous blogs, we have not had a lot of good, content-rich PD in our district for a long time; all of us were hungry for new ideas. 

After the session, a couple of my colleagues and I went out to dinner.  All three of us are teaching Algebra 1 support again this year even though I am at a different school.  We reflected upon our past experiences and had some great discussions about new plans and ideas to implement into Algebra 1 support this coming school year.  We made the commitment to stay in touch and meet up often for collaboration as well as relaxation with a nice dinner out.

I got home about 7pm, but I still had so much energy from all the positive interactions  and resulting ideas shared at two different schools with so many different people.  I browsed Twitter of course and posted the picture  above of my colleagues and I working at my former school on Twitter;  I put in to the tweet “together we are better” and it is just simply the truth. 

To me, it was the best kind of pre-planning day I could have had.  Getting critical planning tasks done, attending meaningful PD at my school, delivering meaningful PD back to some of my area colleagues so they had good resources, and dinner with good friends.  Who could ask for anything more as a teacherJ?

As teachers we need these days to counteract the stressful ones, and we need to reflect upon them to help us remember what keeps us going.  Inevitably there will be the days when we want to give up or at least pull our hair out.

So sets the stage for next blog:  The Pre-Planning Roller Coaster – Part 2


  1. What a positive way to end your day! I'm so glad your PD was well-received!

  2. Thanks-it was amazing! I am glad they found resources and found it helpful.