Teachers for Teachers | Slice of Life: What is the State of Your Union? #SOL17
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Slice of Life: What is the State of Your Union? #SOL17

I have “state of the union” meetings in my family every weekend – typically on Sunday.  While a part of this time is sharing schedules and the juggling act each of us will perform in the upcoming week, most of the time is spent talking about the progress each of us is making on a project, assignment or something we are working on.  Things like finding a summer job, applying to college, building a bocce court in the backyard, refinishing the back deck or planning a family vacation are they types of things on the agenda for discussion.  It is a time to check in on these long-term goals to determine what is working well, what is not working and next steps.

I notice that during these conversations we rarely model, explain, or instruct.  We spend most of the time listening, asking questions and providing an alternative point of view.  These conversations help each of us figure out where we are in relation to meeting our goal or finishing our project.  When we take the time to reflect on our current position and why we are in that position, it helps each of us identify next steps in our process.  We then help each other map out a few next steps to move towards success.

What is interesting is that there is rarely only one solution or direction to move towards success.  There are typically many possible next steps.  The step an individual chooses is based on preferences, schedule, interests and strengths.  I find when each of us shares why we have or have not made progress it really helps us identify a path that suits our needs.  The feedback and reflection helps us determine a course of action that is real and achievable.

At times, we realize we need more information or need to learn a new skill to progress towards a goal.  Most times, however, we just need to identify our next steps and celebrate any steps we achieved in the prior week.  We write the next steps for each long term goal and post them on the refrigerator.  This allows us to check things off the list throughout the week and use it to reflect and set goals the next week.  It also reminds each of us what type of week the others are having – who might need extra help this week; who is traveling; who has a full load.

I have been thinking about these “state of the union” meetings in my work in schools lately.  Many of the reading and writing goals we are setting for students are long term goals.  Goals they will not independently meet in a day or week.  These are often goals they need to learn and practice for a month or more.  If this is the case, how do we plan our small group lessons and conferences to support our students in meeting goals.  Do we plan lessons that allow us to listen, observe and help our students identify next steps towards their goal?  Are we helping our students identify multiple paths to meet a goal?  When do we celebrate the progress each student is making towards a goal?  Do we balance their “load” by making sure they do not have too many goals in too many subjects at one time?  Are we honoring their voice in the process of learning by giving them the opportunity to decide how to meet a goal?

Schools are spending so much time learning how to write learning targets and instructional objectives.  Hours are spent debating the perfect verbiage and ideal way to post goals.  I personally want to spend more time with teachers and students planning how we can create time for students to meet these goals.  Teachers cannot meet goals for students.  We can teach skills and strategies to help them, but the student ultimately needs to meet the goal.  Learning takes time, reflection, revision, celebration and planning.  The learner needs to be a part of this process and we need to create time for them to engage in this process.  Learning is not something that happens quickly –it takes time.  Learning is not about a perfect lesson or articulation of a target, it is about many moments of imperfection and reflection on next steps towards that target.

I would love to say our family “state of the union” meetings always happen over a lovely meal, are leisurely and are never with disagreement or raised voices, but it would be untrue and unrealistic.  Learning is messy – even in a family.  I have learned for us that it is worth the time and the mess in the end.  We are engaged in each other lives.  We understand what is happening in each person’s life – the good, the bad and the ugly.  We are in it, together.  We are a work in progress.  I believe it must be the same in schools.  Classrooms are a work in progress.  I hope we redefine learning in schools.  I hope we focus less on perfect lessons and more on learning.  I hope we help our students keep their eye on the prize and celebrate each step towards their goal.  I hope we honor the learning styles of our students and provide multiple paths and next steps toward a goal.  I hope we slow down and let students know that learning is messy, exciting, hard, and rewarding.

Clare

12 Comments
  • Avatar
    Aileen Hower
    Posted at 13:09h, 06 June Reply

    I love this idea for family and how you have connected it to profession. All families need a state of the union meeting to stay connected. Ours is daily, to be honest. Not sure if that’s a good or a bad thing!?

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    Maria
    Posted at 13:13h, 06 June Reply

    “I hope we honor the learning styles of our students and provide multiple paths and next steps toward a goal. ” Such an important reminder for me. I almost always have a path towards a goal but stopping to listen to the child’s path is so important. When I am in a time crunch, I tend to rush conferences. I am learning less conferences and more conversations are better. Only took me 29 years but I’m still learning.

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    Chris Rayner
    Posted at 14:29h, 06 June Reply

    This post makes so much sense! We set goals with students, but we need to build in time to check in, adjust and celebrate.

  • Avatar
    Marilyn Yung
    Posted at 14:47h, 06 June Reply

    “I hope we slow down and let students know that learning is messy, exciting, hard, and rewarding.” Nice way to put it. Next year I would like to devote even more time to interaction with students around the room. I feel as if I have too much “sage on the stage” going on. I’ve been teaching long enough now that my classroom management skills allow me the freedom to move around more… and acknowledge the fact that learning can be messy and more social. We’ll see…

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    Lynne Dorfman
    Posted at 17:55h, 06 June Reply

    I want to read this post several times – it is that important! Students need to be part of the learning process and have rest stops along the way to chat with others, talk about their progress, any aha moments they’ve had, their problems and how they solved them or how they think they’ll solve them (multiple paths). Your close is powerful – so it down so kids can reflect on learning and view their learning as fun, messy, exciting, and rewarding. And, Clare, if you are building a bocce ball court in your backyard, Diane, Joe, Ralph, and I will visit you again next spring for a rematch!

  • Avatar
    diane dougherty
    Posted at 18:23h, 06 June Reply

    When we truly have a learning community, we are family too. Learning is frequently messy, but it’s always worth the effort to be sure all of us have a voice in our own learning and decision making. Thanks for connecting your family experience to the classroom experience. It helps all of us to remember that “we are in this together.”

  • Avatar
    Mandy Robek
    Posted at 18:31h, 06 June Reply

    Lots of great ideas here personally and professionally to think about. I love the last two paragraphs and really need to think more about the length of goals we are setting for/with students. Thanks for jump starting that.

  • Avatar
    Stacey
    Posted at 19:32h, 06 June Reply

    I love this idea for families and also for schools. What a wonderful way to communicate. It seems like a time that each of you can be truly understood.

  • Avatar
    Christine Baldiga
    Posted at 20:56h, 06 June Reply

    Our family meetings were always held on Sunday nights – chatting about meals and schedules and life problems. I miss those days!
    I love this line:”Learning takes time, reflection, revision, celebration and planning.” This needs to be shared with so many professionals. I will be coming back to this post for sure as it offers me much in the way of good practice.

  • Avatar
    Jennifer Laffin
    Posted at 23:31h, 06 June Reply

    Oh, how your words ring true with me today, Clare. I became an expert at helping my students set goals, but I really missed the attention to what needed to be done to meet those goals. As I think back to my school year, this was the same situation at my school. We set big goals — but didn’t have a plan to get there. You are a wise, wise woman. Thank you!

  • Avatar
    Tara
    Posted at 23:31h, 06 June Reply

    There was so much wisdom in this post that I have to return to re-read and think it through carefully (just got back from a field trip to the Bronx Zoo with the sixth grade!) – you make the best connections!

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    Lisa Keeler
    Posted at 01:50h, 07 June Reply

    So much wisdom here. Thank you for that. And I really love the practice of meeting for sate of the union conversations. I especially love that so much listening and responding happens.

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