Uncommon Feelings about the Common Core

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Common (adjective) – occurring, found, or done often; prevalent.

Core (noun) – the central or most important part of something.

It is hard to think of two more basic words than common and core. As a young student in Ms. Lozinski’s English class I would have been asked to be more creative and imaginative in my language usage to avoid boring the reader in my writing. Yet, when placed together, no two words are more emotional in recent education conversation.

Since its inception, the Common Core has been criticized from all fronts. Teachers say the goals are unrealistic and unreasonable. Parents preach that schools are removing the fun and making learning environments too results-driven. Politicians are suggesting changes and government action against the list of standards. Most recently, a report stated that colleges need to start making changes in preparation for students educated in this “new era.”

I am going to share an uncommon view: the common core is not all that different from what great teachers have done for decades.

Common is exactly what the expectations in the Common Core are; common in classroom across this country and others. It is common in the classrooms of rural and urban communities where students are instructed to not just do, but think : in elementary school classrooms where children bake to learn what math actually is instead of memorizing facts, in middle school classrooms where students explain reasoning to understand how to learn and not what to learn, and in the high school classrooms where deep research is required to make an argument. These skills and lessons were taught long before the Common Core was in the news and will continue to be taught long after it disappears.  Classrooms that encourage students to think differently and deeply will always be the most successful.

As parents, educators, and politicians argue about the Common Core and debate about its effectiveness, I encourage my teachers to continue doing what they got into this profession to do: teach students in the best way possible. Sure, the language around the standards has changed and students are now expected to learn different concepts in younger grades, but weren’t they always learning that in the best class?  Didn’t great teachers always try to teach more than what was expected? I know that the great teachers who made me the man I am did.

The best part of the Common Core is that it assumes that every student in America can succeed. Whether you live in the suburbs of Chicago, the rural areas in the South, or on Dyckman Street, a fifth grade student prepared for success should be able to do the same thing. At Inwood Middle School, we aren’t scared or angry about the Common Core. It is the confirmation that good teaching encourages all students to read thoughtfully, write convincingly, think critically, speak up and speak well.  At Inwood we will continue to make following the standards common, so that our children won’t be.

By Ryan McCabe, ryan.mccabe@inwoodacademy.org

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Fractions, Decimals, Volume and More

Inwood Academy admissions lottery gives preference to students who do not speak English as their first language and, as you can imagine, they need extra help with grasping mathematical concepts presented to them. They are highly motivated students so with the right tools and resources they have every chance to succeed.

With the use of tablets, my fifth grade students can access online resources, such as Khan Academy, ST Math, Ready Math and several others, that can help provide quick, on the spot intervention. All we need are 6 Samsung Galaxy tablets and we will have enough to provide my students with online instruction in the topics they find most confusing. They will be able to better learn concepts such as equivalent fractions, decimal operations, volume, and more.

The use of technology in my classroom will help my students become more engaged and develop a love for math.

Please support my project on DonorsChoose. If you can help me get this project funded before September 9th, our students will be able to use these tools after we complete all initial assessments.  The good news is that we’re past the mid-way point.  If you’ll support this cause, I’ll help answer your most challenging math dilemma. 🙂

By Jose Grullon, jose.grullon@inwoodacademy.org

 

Reflections of a First Year Principal

Recently I was reading the blog of a colleague where she revisited some of her reflections from the end of her first year as the principal of small Charter School. Her thoughts caused me to reflect on the past twelve months of my life. I learned more about myself as a learner, teacher, husband, father, friend and person during my first year as principal than I probably had over the previous decade in education. This year was exciting and fulfilling, long and difficult, and ultimately the most rewarding of my career. It took someone else’s words for me to reflect in a meaningful way and find the true learning experiences from the past year.

SONY DSCStudents love a school where they are challenged. There were several points of focus at Inwood Academy this year that had to do with instruction. We were trying to decide what model would engage our students and set them up for future success. We experimented with our instructional model and worked to create an environment that challenges students to think rather than memorize and repeat; they responded overwhelmingly. The classes where students were most engaged were not always the most fun, but they were the most challenging; they forced students to work hard to get the right answers. These are the classes that teachers will continue to build at Inwood Middle School.

A team of educators is more important than a group of talented educators. I had always been under the impression that natural talent is the best thing that a teacher can possess. Coming from a sports background, I felt that if I had talented educators I could do amazing things. For the same reason that the most talented team doesn’t always win the championship, a unified team is more important when trying to improve student learning. Teachers working in isolation cannot achieve much regardless of their talent in that subject area. This year I found that I need to focus on building up the team instead of the individual.

Positive recognition is great…until it isn’t. I love to make chili. It’s one of my favorite things in the world, but I only make it a few times each year. I find that the more I make chili, the less special it becomes and when I eat it a few days in a row it starts to become something that doesn’t mean as much. Recognizing effort and success has always been a weakness of mine. I was never the type of kid who kept a second place trophy and as an adult I have often downplayed awards for effort. Moving into the role of principal I felt it necessary to show staff and student appreciation through constant positive reinforcement. Because of the frequency of this recognition it started to mean less than it should have. There is a way to show an amazing staff (which is what we have at Inwood Middle School) that they are appreciated without constantly telling them how great everything is.

staff group workFollow-through is the most important thing. As a teacher I was able to design lessons and control the outcome so much that often my work in the actual lesson wasn’t even essential to success. As a principal, the planning isn’t as important as the follow through. When planning a lesson with a teacher to engage a rambunctious group of students in a difficult task, the feedback after the lesson is more important than anything. If I have a meeting about setting up a plan for an individual student that needs additional support, I need to make sure that I put twice the time and effort into the execution of the plan. Support and trust are developed when someone realizes that not only are you there when things go bad, but also as they begin to get better.

I experienced a typical first year as a school principal. It doesn’t matter what kind of teacher you were, what experience you have, how many hours you put in, or what type of support network you have, the job of school principal is not something that comes naturally. The ability to make unnatural decisions instinctively is something that will come with time. The ability to build a network of educators who work together with the proper administrative support will come with experience. The one piece that I do possess, and probably always have, is the love for this work. Every single hour, every difficult day, every long night is worth it every day at 7:15 AM when the students walk through the door. As hard as it is, my first year only confirmed that Inwood Middle School Principal is the greatest job in the world.

By Ryan McCabe, ryan.mccabe@inwoodacademy.org