A Return and A Portfolio

These moms are laughing because I thought I would have time to blog on my maternity leave.  Or with a newborn.  Or a toddler.  2 and half years later here I am.  It was my evaluation year and I have to make a portfolio.  It was surprising to come back and discover I had previously posted almost 30 times.  I didn’t remember having that much to say.  And so much has changed since then.  I now teach 6th grade.  I began to specialize in math and social studies (although that will change with our new team assignments – LA here I come!)  I am in a really good place.  I love my new job and my new team.  Looking back at the last two years feel good – much was done and there is still much to do.  I continue to grow.  My personal reflection turned out to be 8 pages.  Take a look:

Self Evaluation for 2016-2017
Sidwell Friends School
Lesley Younge
Submitted July 21, 2017
2016-2017 marked my 11th year of teaching in the classroom and my 14thyear in the world of youth development.  It was my 6th year at Sidwell Friends School and my 2nd year in 6th grade.  By many markers it was a successful year, which I evaluate based on my ability to improve upon past initiatives, try new ideas, and see growth in my areas of focus.  Moreover I feel confident that I continued to contribute a great deal to my team, my division, and the school as a whole. 
I again taught math and social studies and was also a homeroom advisor.  As an advisor, I thought my connections with students improved from my first year and I was better able to address their individual needs while creating a safe community for learning.  Their openness in discussions and class meetings indicated their comfort with each other and with me.  It was a significantly more diverse class, and I found ways for them to bring their personal cultures and interests into the educational process, which enriched us all.  I remain a strict, but fair teacher.  I pride myself on my classroom management style and high expectations for behavior and self-regulation.  My primary interest is physical and emotional safety, which students do not feel if the teacher is not paying attention and does not wield some level of control.   I try to be celebratory in times of student success and let them know what I appreciate about them individually and collectively.   I was able to have meaningful conversations with most students around their areas of growth, whether emotional, social, or academic.  I hope they felt understood, cared for, and properly guided.  11-12 year olds are different from 9-10 year olds in what they need and will accept from teachers.  I am adjusting to what is appropriate for them developmentally and to the limits of my influence in this role.
Mathematically I grew as well.  The second year brings more comfort with the curriculum and the levels of learners in the standard class.  Our team met during the summer of 2016 to recalibrate the curriculum scope and sequence, and I was able to address almost all of the topics in a timely way.  There was a mix of hands-on experiences, group work, and traditional practice. Organization was a major focus and that brought clarity to my teaching.  I began using a notes format I found through betterlesson.com.  I felt these notes (to which I attached classwork) helped me communicate the topics, goals, and expectations much more clearly.  Students continued to need guidance on how to use the notes to review material and study for tests, but the work was organized and accessible. It additionally helped in conversations with parents.  When they were unsure about our studies, I could direct them back to their student and their work.  There was a reasonable amount of homework. I liked using Khan Academy for weekly, varied practice and included a problem solving activity.  Most other work could be done in class. I collected completed notes, work, and assessments, and I was able to give each student a portfolio of their work at the end of the year.  A next step is student reflection on the portfolio to which I hope to devote more time.  I will be able to adapt this system to the advanced class I will teach next year.
Differentiation and assessment continue to be areas of focus for me.  The notes system does allow me to set levels of work and individualize the classwork for each student. I need to do more pre-assessments and more intermittent mini assessments.  Time management of a 40-minute class is the primary hindrance.  It does not always feel fair to give students (many of whom were slower readers and processors) five minutes to complete an assessment task, and that was what we had if there was to be a lesson and work time too. With our homework conversation I did feel pressure to give students more class work time so that they would have less homework.  I sacrificed other things to do so.  I hope to improve the structure of my classes in this third year so that I can include these important elements. With a more advanced level class this may be less of a problem.  End of unit assessments came together nicely. I primarily used the ones from Math in Focus, which I will continue to do.  I hope our team can work this year on making common assessments.  Without them it is difficult to compare across classes and that will be necessary with two teachers teaching advanced math.
I often found that students had trouble applying known processes in new problem solving situations.  Even if similar problems were in the study guide, they needed more examples and more practice to be successful with them on the test.  I struggled with this because I do not believe in teaching them how to solve certain problems in ways that they just mimic and repeat.  Best practice involves taking the time to let students try on their own, work together, and then discuss and share methods.  The schedule made this challenging, and I know I did not offer enough guided opportunities for this work.  However, it was a primary focus of Lauren’s class so it will be essential to manage this better.  Additionally, this year I want to better match the kind of modeling I do to a process that they could generalize in novel situations.  I will use the bar modeling steps as a guide and Andrew has given us several resources that should help as well.  I find out department meetings useful and productive and feel comfortable bringing this challenge up for discussion.
My social studies teaching continues to evolve as I become more invested in and knowledgeable about social justice and global sustainability.  I would not say that these were primary interests of mine even five years ago, but now they are central.  6thgraders are extraordinarily interested in what is real and true about the world. I am proud of the curriculum we are developing that takes their interest seriously and gives them the tools to ask questions, conduct research, make meaning, discover passions, and take action.  I believe this focus is in alignment with the Quaker testimonies. I find ways to bring those into the classroom everyday, which brings joy and meaning to our work.
Our team is in alignment and together we are becoming experienced practitioners of global education.  Our travel to Boston to study with Fernando Reimers was a critical source of knowledge and resources to continue our work.  Our sustainable development trip to Malawi also gave us enormous perspective on the importance of this work and the skills our students need to make a positive impact on the world.  Next week we will process all of the learning we have done and determine how to best implement it. 
I was particularly proud of our Sustainable Development Goal research brief assignment and summit.  I developed the global brief assignment last year.  That all five classes participated was a major advancement we will likely repeat this year.   It was meaningful for students to discuss their research together and present ideas to their peers.  It provided a foundation we continued to build on throughout the year.  The United Nations SDGs have been a central piece of most  global education materials we come across.  We are right in step with recommended best practices to have students delve deeply into these topics and identify problems, partners, and sustainable solutions. Overall we are providing a highly consistent experience for 6th graders and this is also something we are invested in.  I think we are an exemplary model of collaboration, communication and collegial support within the school.
Green By Design went smoothly and was properly elevated as an end the year project.  The research portion improved empathy, and this year I was able to solidly connect the idea of single stories about Africa to student thinking.  In their work and reflections I saw efforts to see their countries and families in a multi-dimensional way.  We streamlined the math segment, and it felt more substantial.  The assessment materials for this project are outdated.  We will improve them this summer.  Additionally we need to make sure the technology/science aspect is better integrated into the experience.
Our Mapping with Heart project continues to evolve and my class’s work was featured on the website.  The research paper topic was renewable energy in other countries and was again managed very well by 6thgraders.  I provided more guidance on which print and web resources were appropriate, which helped.  I will continue to refine the resources we use to make sure all learners have accessible materials.  There are some technical clarifications (such as the definition of a megawatt) that would be useful, and I will include those next year.  The alignment with windmill making in science and reading The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind provides significant synchronicity, and I will continue to time those intentionally.  The culture scrapbook project and celebration are a nice part of the year and provide an opportunity to share our personal and familial selves with each other.  Our team needs to set clearer goals around the culture unit as it evolves to be an opportunity to undo ideas about “normal”, take alternative perspectives, and demonstrate respect for other people’s lives.
I am proud of how well we use the city as our classroom.  My background is in museum and out of school education.  It was my first love, and I am thrilled to work on a team where being out and about is supported.  The Doctors Without Borders refugee exhibit was exceptional and set the tone for our year.  Visits to the Building Museum and the Newseum enhanced learning as well.   We hope to continue to utilize the resources of Washington DC and to be flexible with each other so that we can take advantage of them.
Following the all-school service-learning grant last summer, I set a goal to restructure the 6thgrade program as a model of best practice.  We decided to focus on food justice.  There were some successes and a lot of room for growth.  It began with a central query for all students on which many experiences would offer insight: If there is enough for all, why don’t all have enough?  (This gem was offered by Stewart when he was still running Global Village.) The entire grade participated in the Oxfam Hunger Banquet.  We then hosted a speaker from DC Central Kitchen and raised over $500 with which we bought turkeys for their Thanksgiving dinners and made a monetary donation.  We also hosted a panel from Everybody Grows and partnered with them to grow seedlings, which were donated to community gardens in DC.  Global Village offered further opportunities to think about inequity and resource distribution.  There were individual class efforts, and classes went to A Wider Circle and Food & Friends or baked cakes for the Boys and Girls Club.  
The partnership with Everybody Grows has enormous potential that we hope to better develop this year.  We were unable to have each class visit the community gardens as we had planned.  There is a possibility of doing this in the fall when things are more flexible.  The spring was very challenging schedule-wise for all involved.  We will better coordinate with the science unit on plant growing to emphasis that application of knowledge.  A trip to a food farm would offer even more insight.  There is a lot of interest from other teachers about establishing a garden on campus and a container garden might be the best solution at this time.  Additionally we need to develop some final way for students to reflect on this work. I had my students wrote persuasive paragraphs on whether we could solve world hunger.  It was sufficient for this year, but I think we can do more, perhaps involving collaboration and art.
My work as the clerk of the service learning committee was very fulfilling and I look forward to continuing in that role this year.  Our presentation at the beginning of the year went very well and subsequent meetings with grade levels furthered the conversation in a meaningful way.  Our committee continued to be productive, and we had enjoyable meetings. It was a huge accomplishment to develop and present the ideas for the 7/8 service orientation.  Together I think we can successfully deepen that experience with little impact on teaching schedules.
I am involved with a number of initiatives this summer.  The prospect of Mac books for all students means that many aspects of teaching can and should evolve.  I am excited to learn from the 7/8 social studies team and develop better ways to document and assess our students thinking and learning using these devices.  Our 6th grade team will meet next week to further develop our social studies program and its interdiscimplinary connections.  I hope to continue our excellent work together as one of the 6th grade clerks.   Though time consuming, meeting by discipline weekly kept us organized and in line with each other. 
The global education and social justice grant work is moving along and will support both the 6th grade program and our plans for the 7/8 service orientation.  I feel we are moving in the right direction.  There is a lot of work to do and a long way to go, but we are doing what is right for us right now with an eye towards progress in the future.  I am disappointed that the Upper School was not supportive of our efforts, but hopeful that the new strategic plan will pull them along.   At any rate I will continue to tend the lawn that is the Middle School and ensure we are progressive in our efforts to weave critical service learning into the student experience.
This year will bring new challenges as I add language arts and advanced 6th grade math to my plate.   I am excited to develop and model more interdisciplinary models of curriculum now that I teach all three subjects.   This type of teaching is a strength, and I will be able to draw upon my past experience in the elementary classroom to maximize my and the students’ class time together.  I am grateful to work with people who inspire me to offer my best work knowing I will receive their support and best work in return.  We are able to be vulnerable with each other (rare in this environment) and can be sure that any critique is offered with love.  This is the most collaborative I have ever been, even under a co-teaching model.  It is the ideal work environment for creativity and self-improvement, and I look forward to what lies ahead.   

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