Tag Archives: Sara Arranz

Sharing the Job That Empowers Us: Educating Our Students!

By Sara Arranz May 30th, 2014 10:00 AM

A good beginning is important for a strong ending. Every year, I make sure to start the school year by meeting each one of my students’ families. This introductory dialogue is the key to a successful year, and I really appreciate the information they share with me during that very first meeting.

You might be asking, “why is this contact important, and what should we talk about?” When you are talking with parents, let them know how much you care about their kids and how successful you want them to be. Offer your help and support unconditionally. But, do not forget to let them know their duties. In my experience, I must say that having a fluent and healthy relationship with my families at Cleveland has helped my students grow and achieve better results.

I’d like to share a few tips from my classroom that make me a more powerful educator and empower my families every day:

  1. Share your contact information with your families and provide them with your schedule and flexibility at the beginning of the year.
  2. Talk with your families about using the Internet and media to be able to receive and send messages.
  3. Share your expectations for the year with every family: classroom management, schedule, materials, homework, etc., and assure them that they can ask for help at any time.
  4. Make all those expectations visible in the room. Designate a board for their information. 
    Familias Picture_SA
  5. Display student work so that your families can see what their child is working on in class.Student Work_2_SAStudent Work_SA
  6. Ask them to sign a contract to “work by your side”. They must agree to the procedures that will help students to progress. This includes things like punctuality, homework, attendance, help at home, etc.
  7. Explain the curriculum and methodology that you use in your class (Creative Curriculum, Tools of the Mind, and Reggio are a few examples for early childhood) and discuss how that methodology transfers to their daily life and home.
  8. Send homework weekly; it does not need to be anything intense but it has to be something that families can relate to and help with. Offer your help with materials, resources, and ideas.
  9. Write a newsletter. it is important for families to stay informed about the activities that are happening every month. Always add your contact information as a reminder.Newsletter_SA
  10. Find a time to call, email or text to share good news with them.
  11. Send families pictures or videos of their children working, exploring, investigating and sharing.
  12. Invite your families to class for interviews. Allow them to share their expertise, read with students, or help out with a field trip or lesson. Students love to see their parents involved, and it reinforces the idea that “my parents care about me.”
  13. If a conflict arises, find a moment as soon as possible to converse with that family and resolve it. Remember and remind them that you are both “in the same boat” rowing to the same island – educating our students.
  14. Celebrate the joy of sharing a wonderful job. You are both educating their children, and it’s important to find a moment to smile and enjoy it with them.Families_SA

Finally, I would like to share part of my plan for next year. As part of my classroom “Innovation Plan,” I will be dedicating time during the initial weeks of the school year for a “School for Parents Workshop.” In these meetings, I will share information about expectations and procedures, discuss with them how to ask for help and where to find resources, and exchange best practices and new ideas.

In addition, I am so excited that next year we are going to start a home visits program where we will visit families in their own environment and context, making communication even easier and more accessible. Using these new strategies, I hope to build even stronger relationships with my families next year!


Innovation is Not an Option, It is a Must!

 By Sara Arranz April 9th, 2014 5:30 PM

As my former principal used to say: “Success is not an option, it is a must. I’ve carried this mindset with me to my current position, and I feel that I have to and I can do much more for DCPS. We need all students to be successful, and I believe that innovation is the answer.

When I went to California for my first trip as an Education Innovation Fellow, I kept the following lines from the DCPS Capital Commitment in my mind:

“Our five-year strategic plan, A Capital Commitment, provides a roadmap for building DCPS into a high-quality, vibrant school district that earns the confidence of our community. With this strategic plan, we recommit DCPS to providing every student with a safe, academically challenging, and inspiring learning experience by 2017.”

In California, we were exposed to teachers, leaders, schools, and communities who are changing their practice in order to improve results. We saw teachers who are creating well-organized and planned stations to personalize student learning. We talked and listened to leaders who are modeling teaching for their staff so that they can improve their teaching practices and reach new levels of leadership. We met with families who are involved in their schools so their investment can positively impact their children’s progress.

Been able to observe, listen, and live the innovation experience that I just described was enlightening and empowering. In fact, it was probably the best experience of my educational career. Now I am ready to see how our strategic plan at DCPS can take place in my own school.

Here are a few ways that I want to innovate in my practice to help my school achieve these goals:

1. Provide students with a safe place and develop a shared vision for our children. In our school community, both parents and educators want their children to be safe and free from harm. We want them to have a permanent family who will be there for them for the rest of their lives.

We have made a lot of progress on these goals in DCPS. Engaged parents are essential to eliminating the achievement gap, and we work with our parents to help them become powerful advocates for their children and their communities. As teachers, we can do more work directly with parents, helping them become leaders at home, in the school, and in their communities. I have seen different methods of this, and every teacher and school can find the one that fits their reality.

Ultimately, the parents in California and my parents at Cleveland have something in common: They love helping in the school because they feel they are showing their children they care about their success.

2. Keep course work academically challenging. Every student sees challenge differently and it is my job as their teacher to respond to what they need. By innovating with the methodology and personalizing the experience, I am able to teach to 20 students at their own pace. It sounds ambitious, but let me share one of my models that works: In a classroom, students rotate across differentiated learning stations on a specific schedule. Stations often include: (a) small group instruction by the teacher, (b) collaborative or independent practice, and (c) self- directed, online activities. There are programs online where students can find activities adapted to their level and follow their own progress by the offered data.

3. Utilize new online learning programs! Online programming takes us to the “inspiring” part of the learning experience that we want to achieve at DCPS. There are many companies working on these online tools, and they are creating data-based effective programs that will empower us, the teachers. A parent/care giver can educate his/herself and know more about his/her child’s learning. A teacher along with parents can present the world to his students by using the online resources available both at home and at school. This is why, again, coordination and communication with families is key.  If we are excited and responsible in how we use technology for learning, the future of education is ours to create.

It is OK to Try and… Fail!

By Sara Arranz February 12th, 2014 4:00 PM

We, as teachers, may have the lesson planned, the standards posted, the goals clear, the materials set up, and students who are ready to learn. Everything may seem perfect in the morning… but suddenly something happens and nothing occurs as expected.

Lets visualize the situation: You are at a station with your students and something is telling you, “This is not working, my students are not engaged, nor focused, nor motivated, and they need something else. But what?!”

It took me a while to realize that every time this happens, I need to change something different: the pace, time, method, strategy, material or location of that activity, and it has to be at that very moment, without any delay. We cannot wait until the end of the activity when this happens, and we must observe and use our creativity to change the situation.

Thanks to DCPS, I am one of the lucky teachers participating in this year’s Education Innovation Fellowship sponsored by the CityBridge Foundation. This fellowship exposed me to a book by Eric Ries titled The Lean Start Up, which outlines how to build and sustain entrepreneurial businesses.

Many of these lessons also apply to schools, helping me to verbalize those changes that I was already making in my practice. The changes taking place in my lessons were innovations, and they were happening constantly. We teachers are entrepreneurs, and we are creating new things every second. With this comes additional risk, and failing is OK. As Eric Ries says in his book, if we notice that a strategy is not working as it’s supposed to, we can always pivot and find a better one.

What is not OK is to claim that, if an activity planned did not work, it was because the students were not ready. We must find the way to get them ready to learn, and we are the ones responsible for motivating them by using different methods. We have to try and test, see and change, adopt when it works and adapt when it does not.

The best thing about this kind of method is that we are supported. There are resources out there waiting for us to use them meaningfully. New technologies are one of the best. While some might say, “I use computers in my classroom, tables, the smart board…and my lessons are still failing,” we are talking about two different things here.

When I talk about technology, I am focusing on:

  1. How we use these resources
  2. The control of the use of these resources

I am talking about blended learning. There are four main models, all of which incorporate a combination of teacher-based instruction with digital-based instruction. I just started to learn about this type of learning, and I already know that this is the way to improve both my practice and my students’ way of learning.

As Clayton Christensen, Curtis W. Johnson, and Michael B. Horn say in the subtitle of their book, “Disruptive innovation will change the way the world learns.” It may sound “disruptive” and extremely uncertain, but isn’t that what makes us entrepreneurs? so we must change the way that teachers teach in order to make our method the one that is most effective and successful.

Sara Arranz is a pre-kindergarten Spanish immersion teacher at Cleveland Elementary School.

Little People Who Make BIG Things

By Sara Arranz January 14th, 2014 1:30 PM

While I always have a plan for my lesson when I arrive in the morning, what I love most is that I never know where my class will end up.

Welcome to our little world at Cleveland Elementary, where early childhood classrooms use the Creative Curriculum. Students are the explorers, searching for and discovering the ways they want to learn. As their teacher, I am there to support them with whatever it is that they need.

In September 2013, I greeted my group of 20 four year olds for the first time by saying, “Buenos días constructores (Good morning builders).” That greeting soon turned into “Buenos días diseñadores” (designers), “Buenos días ingenieros” (engineers), and “Buenos días deliniantes” (drafters). I wanted my students to understand that they would be able to build and design their own lessons and that they were directing their own learning.  I wanted them to discover the world on their own, through action and hands-on activities.

Throughout the year, my students and I “built” our lessons together, crafting objectives, resources, and goals based on the natural pace of their learning desires and needs.  Our classroom became a “construction site” where tools and materials where strewn everywhere. Professional builders and engineers visited us on multiple occasions and shared with us their expertise. During one of these visits, an expert led us through an investigation of our classroom and around our school neighborhood to explore the area more deeply. At the end of our “never-ending” investigation, our class went to the Building Museum for a big celebration. The most amazing part of this trip was not only the discoveries of my students, but the fact that all of this was happening in Spanish!

It was not always like this, though. Moving from Spain to DC was a challenge for me, and I soon realized all the changes I would face both as a foreigner and as a new teacher in the district. What I did not expect was the support and benefits that I would gain as a public school teacher joining a district in the nation’s capital. Every challenge I encountered that year was turned into an opportunity for me to grow, not only as an educator but also as a person.

DCPS pushes me to plan well, work hard, and be accountable to my students, and that improves the quality of my practice every day. However, As an early childhood teacher, I would not have been able to make this progress on my own. I have the pleasure of working with another educator in the room, an educational aide, who understands what it means to teach Early Stages. He is the eyes that I need to observe me for suggestions, the colleague I need to discuss changes to my lessons, and the only other person who understands what my students need.

As teachers, we need these positive critics to encourage us to be more reflective in our work. I encourage all educators to develop a relationship like this with a colleague. In that way, we will all be able to “build” the future of this great nation.

Sara Arranz Ramiro is a pre-kindergarten Spanish immersion teacher at Cleveland Elementary School in Washington, D.C.