Thursday, March 21, 2019

Happy Birthday!

When I was little, I would start watching the mailbox for deliveries around St. Patrick's Day. Each year for my birthday, my grandmother would send me a ten dollar check. I would get mail from Grandma B and mail from Mama and Papa Rietveld and birthday notes from my cousin or far-away friends.

Today is my cousin's birthday. She is two days older than I am. When we were little she enjoyed lording that age over me. We'd be out to lunch with our Moms sitting in a booth waiting for milkshakes and French fries. Legs swinging against the spring-sticky red vinyl, she'd delight in teasing me for being the younger one.  Now I get to be two days younger!

My Mom has had a difficult diagnosis this week. It has reminded me to stop and appreciate living. To celebrate and connect. To leave a bit of the worry and fear and remember the now and the moments. My son and I are going to do just that next week for spring break.

Mom, Aunt Suzanne, Krystal and me 

I loved sharing birthdays with Krystal when we were little.  Now I revel in all of my friends' March birthdays! Can you believe 26 of them are THIS WEEK! It's a banging week for birthdays in my feed.

It's quite the cast in March: friends I work with, friends I've known for decades, former students, former teacher colleagues, several teacher rock stars, a few adolescent literacy experts, my childhood neighbor and a pretty spectacular performance poet. Four teachers in our English department here at Singapore American School have birthdays this week!

Today is the last Friday before Spring Break. Yesterday I wished my friend, Michelle, a happy early birthday. She and I chatted about the quarter's end. She's often on holiday for her birthday as it usually falls during our spring break. As they say here in Singapore "same same." I'm usually out of school for my birthday too. I can't wait to get the celebration started! Happy birthday and happy spring break, teacher friends!

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Smoke and Silence

Early morning dawns a few shades lighter than midnight blue. The sun has hit snooze. It won’t rise for another hour or so.

The apartment is a cool twenty-two degrees Celcius. The hum and huff of air cons the only sounds so far. I slide my feet into FitFlops and grab my school bag. It takes me a minute to rummage through my school stuff. My fingers find the front zipped pocket of my day pack. I unzip and pull out the wristlet that has key cards and my bus pass in it.

Bus pass in hand, I  step into the hallway and carefully close the iron gate so it doesn't make a sound. The hallway heat hits as I wait for the lift. In my condo, hallways are not air-conditioned nor are bathrooms or kitchens. Air con is its own story here on the equator. The lift is quick. I exit right and press the wall switch to unlock the building door. I step outside.

 The morning mugs me. Still air. Smoke hangs in the humidity. I can almost see it in the beams of the streetlights. 

Something somewhere is burning: palm crops in Indonesia perhaps.

It's been a heavy week here in Singapore.

I turn right out of my condo and walk toward the corner. The Esso station shines at the corner--neon and fluorescent light washing the cement sidewalk, I take a short-cut through the parking lot. My steps skirt the entrance and soon I'm walking out the otherside.  I look up to check the street for the bus and hear, "Good morning!"

A worker stands smoking in the exit drive. He smiles and nods. Strangers on the street here rarely speak to one another. It was a cultural shift for me (and not one that I adopted).  I return his greeting and it's not but a few seconds later when an Auntie sings out, "Morning!"

Oh! God winks.

My heart lifts. My steps lighten. The bus arrives.  Still savoring the sweet morning moment, I step up.

Monday, March 18, 2019

Revising Competencies

"Okay, let's color code these handwritten comments."

"What are you thinking?"

"Well, we're seeing a lot of comments about language, so let's make that a color--green?"

"Green works."

"And we know we are looking to revise for any pitfalls from the reDesign criteria--quantity, adjectives, measurable and such--so let's make that yellow."


"And blue--we've seen a lot of level shifting comments. Teachers want performance descriptors leveled up or down across the continuum so what about blue for that?"

"Sounds good."

"I'm going to write it on the wall."

And so it goes. I work on a team of three Curriculum, Assessment and Data Specialists. We are charged with designing and aligning tools and process across the learning system that is Singapore American School. Currently, we are working with partners to develop a set of competencies that will define outcomes for every graduate. Twenty competencies are organized by "desired student learning outcome" or DSLO as pictured below.

We have just finished feedback rounds. More than eighty faculty participated in the sessions. Those faculty, along with Ed Leaders and the Guiding Coalition (distributed leadership groups) gave us feedback on the competencies. Now we are re-reading the feedback, looking for patterns and revising the competencies based on teachers' input.  It is detailed writing work.

Should we reorganize where competencies are nested? Is Self-Directed Learning collaborative? What about the performance levels for skills? Do we scale back the ten levels we created and vary them based on the skill? What's most appropriate for learners and learning? When we say the word ___ what do we really mean? What does, for instance, formal and informal discussion mean to learners?

We ask a lot of questions as we read and read and talk and talk and decide and revise.

We try not to get too mired in single words.  This is, after all, just our next draft, our best thinking at this time.