Tuesday, September 1, 2015

My New Year's Resolution: Getting my House in Order

My school year begins in May. Well, planning for my year begins in May. Right there before we break for the summer I have some time to reflect on my year and my practice while it is still fresh in my mind. I enter summer break thinking about what I want to continue to do, what I want to do better, and what I want to stop doing the next school year. I make plans for books I need to read and classes I need to attend in June and July. Pretty standard practice for most teachers I know. 

That's most years, but not this year.

This year in May I was wrapping up my second year as a Teacherpreneur and trying to figure out how I was going to manage coming back to my library full time without my partner, Kelly. Although I was looking forward to taking complete responsibility for my program again, the benefit of our daily collaboration and division of labor was going away. I also decided to sell my house and make plans to move. The majority of my summer was spent fixing and cleaning and throwing away and negotiating, leaving very little time for professional development. 

Somewhere along the way I made a connection between the moving process and my teaching. After thirteen years I feel pretty confident in my practice. I know I want to continue to grow and add new things, but I also know I need to maintain what I have. So before I move on to another new strategy or program, I will be making time to fix and clean (and possibly throw out) my current practices. I'm making a conscious effort to get my current house in order before I expand into a new one.

Here's a few things I'm working on:

Managing my time: I love to write, but I waste too much time on emails. I read an article this summer about 5 sentence emails (http://www.fastcompany.com/3014857/leadership-now/why-every-email-should-be-5-sentences-long) and I've adopted the practice. I shared the article with my colleagues so they would understand my shifting philosophy. So far the response has been positive. 

Online scheduling: I have no idea why I held on to a paper schedule for so long. I started using YouCanBook.Me (https://youcanbook.me/) which allows my teachers and administrators to schedule their own classes. Again, the response has been positive.

Sharing the wealth: I've always been quick to volunteer to implement a new idea or to lead a group. However, I've realized I have too much on my plate already and frankly it's not fun anymore. So, I've been looking for ways to elevate other teachers in to leadership roles at my school and within my networks. There are so many people just waiting to be asked to fill a leadership role. This approach has helped me build relationships and promote the best practice of others. Win-win!

As teachers with experience, there are all kinds of things we do because it's what we've always done. I would urge every teacher to be reflective of not just the outcomes of their work but the what and why of their work. What are you still doing that you could do better or not at all?

Monday, April 20, 2015


It's April and I'm already thinking about next school year. It's pretty normal really. This time of year is the "transfer period" in my district, where teachers can apply to move to another school or position. I considered it. Briefly.

I have a couple of things I'm changing for next year that I've committed to and have begun the process of taking action upon.

Making my library media center a more student-focused space. Currently my space is set up to be the most convenient place to hold faculty meetings. That's nice, but that only accounts for 1 hour each month of the approximately 160 hours my colleagues and I are on campus. My kids are there every day, 6 hours a day. I've been looking in to learning common spaces. I can see a space with more kid-friendly seating, whiteboard tables and collaborative space.

Learning how to meet the needs of ALL students. My toolbox for working with special needs students is limited. This summer I will be taking some professional development courses and researching ways to support ASD students. In preparation for that, I will be spending time with my ESE resource teachers to get feedback on trends at our school and recommendations for areas of focus for my learning.

Amplifying the work and voices of others. There are so many incredible things happening in classrooms all around us every day that we never hear about. I've been presented with an amazing opportunity to pursue a passion of mine and be a Coach with the National Blogging Collaborative.  (http://www.nationalbloggingcollaborative.com/) This work will not only spur me to write more often (and therefore be more reflective about my practice), but encourage others to write and reflect and share their work as well.

I would welcome any suggested resources you may have for supporting any of these goals. Feel free to comment here or send me an email: juliehiltz@gmail.com.

"David Jakes on Change 2" by Ann Truss is licensed under CC by 2.0

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Start With a Question

My attempt at #AprilBlogADay has become more of a #AprilBlogAWeek. However, I'm going to keep at it and try to finish strong. Fingers crossed.

As I'm sitting her processing the events of the last week and planning for my week ahead, I am struck by the reality that I have more questions than answers. That's not unusual, but at this point it is interfering with my ability to really focus my writing.

Going with my gut, I'm going to just put those questions out there and see what kind of discussions I can get started. Maybe I'll inspire someone else's writing?

  • If good teaching is good teaching, why does most professional development look like the "sit and get" that we're discouraged from using with students?
  • In that same vein, what would PD look like if we used the same teacher evaluation rubric to rate the presenters?
  • Why are we still paying teachers by the hour? (Is this just my school district?)
  • What if unions and school districts provided job training and placement services?
  • What if teachers were provided with PD on how to build professional learning networks in addition to traditional PD?
  • Why are we trying to teach 21st century learners using 20th century school day schedules and teacher assignments?
  • Why do certain politicians still perpetuate the myths of "failing schools", "bad teachers that can't be fired" and a "broken education system"? 
  • Why aren't teachers including in the hiring process for colleagues and administration? (Again, is the just my school district?)
  • Why does 5.5 hours of student contact time sometimes feel like 10 hours of Broadway stage time?
  • How is it possible that watching a student take a test for 80 minutes is more exhausting than teaching a student for 5.5 hours?
What are the questions that are plaguing you?

Monday, April 13, 2015

Time to tidy up.

I've missed writing the last few days because I've been working in the yard. In fact, I've spent most of my free time the last few months working in and around my house since my husband and I decided it was time to sell. All of a sudden my comfortable house (or perhaps it would be more honest to say the house that I had become comfortable in) was in need of a lot of work. Flooring needed replacement, walls inside and out needed paint, landscaping needed trimming and closets needed to be cleaned out. I began to wonder when everything had gotten so out of hand.

How could I have let this happen?

It was quite easy actually. Time passed and my family got comfortable with where we were. As long as no one was in danger, it was easier to adapt than to repair.  We learned to walk around items out of place in the garage and ignore the cracked floor tile in the kitchen. Sure the house would have looked nicer with a new paint job but it was good enough. Until it wasn't good enough for someone else who might want to buy this house. Now we have a problem.

As a teacher I have some of those same problems in my classroom. This far in to the school year the bulletin boards are starting to show their age and some furniture is not quite in the right place. There are some stacks of equipment to be repaired and to-do lists that are waiting to be done. I would never open my media center in August looking like it does today but I'm at a place where I've come to accept it because there are only so many hours in the day. I'm comfortable.

I'm sure I'm not the only teacher that finds themselves in this position and that's OK. In April many teachers' classrooms look lived in and they should. Thousands of students and teachers have been teaching and learning for three grading periods already. But we have one more grading period to go so beginning tomorrow I think I'll make the effort to try to get things looking a little better. I may not have more than 5-10 minutes every day to work on these things, but it's a start.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Mutual Benefit Requires Mutual Consideration

Mary Fernandez is retiring in June. She has been my principal and mentor since 2004 and one the primary factors in my personal and professional development as a teacher leader. Mary has always been focused on creating the conditions for success. Understanding that students benefit from effective teachers, she has worked hard to put us in the best possible situation to be successful. We've been encouraged to take on leadership roles both on and off campus, take responsibility for our professional development and exercise autonomy in our classrooms. As teachers we hold each other accountable. Together we have built a collegial professional community.

I have known about her retirement for several years now but my anxiety is building as I await the announcement of her replacement later this month. The problem I have is within my district administrative hiring decisions are like a box of chocolates- you never know what you're going to get. Principals and Assistant Principals serve at the will of the school board. And while I respect the authority of the school board to make those administrative appointments, I am disappointed that these decisions are made without the input of the parents or teachers that principal is assigned to serve.

To me it's the next natural progression in education reform. If you want teachers and parents to be collaborative partners with schools then those groups should be able to have input on who becomes the instructional leader for the school. The teachers and parents at my school know the students and their needs. They know the community and its expectations. We also know what the kind of empowering administrator we want so we can continue to learn and grow as professionals.

Whoever the new principal is I will welcome them with open arms and an open mind. I will do the work required to support their transition and build relationships. I will be transparent with my work both inside and outside of the building. I just wish I had a say.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Take a Field Trip

My school is practically buzzing this week as two of our grade levels prepare for field trips. My second graders have been studying animals and their habitats for their trip to the Lowry Park Zoo and my son and his fourth grade peers are getting ready to immerse themselves in Florida history at Cracker Country (http://www.crackercountry.org/). I love to see the kids getting excited about learning and I've been extra busy in the media center this week finding books and other resources for the teachers and students. 

It reminds me how excited I was when I was in school for Field Trip Day. Not only was it a chance to have an adventure off school campus, but it made learning even more fun and relevant. I loved to read, but I needed to see and touch things. Preparation usually included stern warnings about being on your best behavior and requests to wear special clothes. It was a small price to pay for the opportunity to eat a bagged lunch outside of the noisy cafeteria and see the more informal side of my teacher's personality. 

During the last two years as a Teacherpreneur with the Center for Teaching Quality (teachingquality.org) I have had the opportunity renew my love affair with field trips. I've been working more closely with new and established media specialists throughout my district by visiting their school sites. I get excited every time I have the chance to go to a new school because I know I'm going to learn something new. I've taken hundreds of pictures and incorporated many of the ideas I've seen. It has challenged my thinking about how I use the space in my media center and what I'll do next year.

It hard to work as a media specialist sometimes because of the isolation. I'm the only one of "me" at my school. I can visit other teacher's classrooms for ideas and inspiration but it's not the same for me as being in another library space with another library teacher. Next year, as I return to my full time media specialist position I hope to find ways to continue to visit other spaces in other places.


Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Going on the Record

Today I had the pleasure of meeting two fellow advocates for public education: Major General George W. “Nordie” Norwood, U.S. Air Force (Ret.) and Major General Don Infante, U.S. Army (Ret.) at a press conference for Mission: Readiness. From their perspective, increasing the graduation rate for Florida students through a high quality education serves two purposes: increases the number of  eligible candidates for military service (currently 71% of young adults ages 17-24 are ineligible for a number of reasons) and supports the retention of military personnel whose children attend public schools. Both of these gentlemen understand the challenges that we are facing as educators, particularly with regards to the potential high stakes penalties based on the new Florida Standards Assessment. 

While I would never assume to speak for all teachers, I was asked to speak AS a teacher on this subject. The following is an excerpt from my comments.

 As an elementary Media Specialist and alum of Florida's K-20 public school system, I am honored to be here today with these distinguished military leaders to discuss the importance of high quality public education for Florida's future. Over the last three years I have been involved with implementation of these College and Career Ready standards in my classroom, my school, my district and with teachers across the state. The Florida Standards have resulted in not just a shift in how students learn but how teachers teach.

The process of real learning is messy and rarely linear. Under the Florida Standards, teachers are encouraging students to really dig deep and problem-solve in new and challenging ways. With guidance, we are helping our students work through the productive struggle of acquiring new skills and applying their knowledge in different contexts. Our lessons are designed to mirror real world learning experiences by making sophisticated links between multiple subject areas, standards and skills. Students are learning how to communicate more effectively through active listening, critical analysis and developing persuasive arguments. They are collaborating, creating and sharing their work through the use of technology in new and meaningful ways. These are life long learning skills will serve our students well no matter what career path they choose.

These higher standards for English language arts and math are being fully implemented in all grades this school year and I have seen the difference this approach to teaching and learning has made with my own child. By moving from the previous standards that were a mile wide and an inch deep, his teachers are able to spend more time developing a deeper understanding of more complex and challenging concepts. At the expense of his own personal frustration sometimes, his language arts teacher is assessing his understanding by pushing him to not just choose a correct answer but to explain the "where" and the "why" of his choice. His math teacher is able to help students understand multiple ways to find solutions to problems and has the time and space for students to share their own methods as well. As was intended by the standards, his fourth grade teachers are helping him build a solid foundation for learning that will continue to grow as his makes his way through high school.

As teachers we are devoted to our students. We want them to experience the same pride and joy we feel when are successful. We want them to continue to wonder and explore. We want them to own not just the learning process but the outcome acquisition of knowledge for themselves and their peers. The reality is we're not quite there yet. The implementation of the standards has not been without struggle. As I said before, real learning is messy and teachers have been learning right alongside their students during the transition. We have been developing, questioning and refining our teaching delivery and practice and will likely continue to do so for the next few years. There continues to be anxiety surrounding the delivery of the Florida Standards Assessment and the associated consequences for students and teachers based on those outcomes. I appreciate that our legislature is currently in the process of negotiating a bill that would delay high stakes accountability until the test has been validated.

I have a genuine love and respect for the students, families and colleagues I have the privilege to work with. I believe, as do my colleagues, that we have a duty to provide the highest quality public education to all ensure the success of all students. It is going to continue to take hard work and time, but I believe that proper implementation of high standards for all students are a part of that success. All that I ask is for is patience, and the continued support of our state’s parents, community members, administrators and policymakers as our students and schools continue to make this transition.

I’m pleased that our distinguished military leaders are joining many educators, business leaders and others in urging our state leaders to keep the implementation of these standards on track in a reasonable and judicious way.