Erica Dibello-Hitta

Imagine Life If You Couldn’t Read

Returning to school amounts to an act of courage for many adult learners.  As an adult education teacher I’m no longer surprised when students tell me that they never finished elementary school, or that they were discouraged from getting an education because, as a woman, they were just going to get married and have children.   I’ve heard many stories, but the most touching are those of students who have admitted that they cannot read.  I’ve learned that, sometimes, it’s not about the mechanics of learning to read.

Every semester I share with the class that I’m affected by glare, especially the glare of fluorescent lights on a white page, and that I have trouble concentrating on my driving if someone is talking to me.  If I’m driving to a new destination with my children in the car, I have to ask them not to talk to me.  Otherwise, we’re sure to get lost.  I only learned a few years ago that those are symptoms of Irlen Syndrome.  I’m lucky that I’m low on the spectrum.

People who have Irlen Syndrome have trouble reading.  They may see words move on a page and can’t understand how others learned to read when the text is moving.  Reading a text may cause them to get headaches or stomachaches.  The most common symptom, one that I experience, is that they get sleepy when they have to read something they are not interested in.  Interestingly, this does not occur when one reads for pleasure.  As an avid reader, I can attest to that.

People with severe Irlen Syndrome suffer in silence, sometimes all their lives, because they don’t know that what they experience, is not what the rest of us experiences as we read.  Every year I’ve had at least one student who learns that they, too, have Irlen Sydrome.  The good news is that using a simple colored plastic sheet (colored overlays) can often dramatically improve the reading experience.

If you’d like more information, please watch this video narrated by a teen  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9N5qbMFtKQ4  or go to the Irlen website: www.Irlen.com


Erica Dibello-Hitta teaches ESL 4 class and GED Prep in Spanish at Montgomery Adult School.  Her students never cease to amaze her!


Aly Martinez

Cracking Eggs – Making Messes in Math Class

Yesterday, as I was cleaning up nail polish off the wall, I wondered – as I often do – if I was in a secret Mr. Clean Eraser commercial. I spend a lot of time cleaning and you would too if you had three kids ages 6, 4, and 3. I’ve come to the conclusion that if making messes translates to success in life, my husband and I will retire at the ripe age of 40 on a tropical island.

Which brings me to eggs. My 4 year old daughter is an early bird and it has become her recent obsession to participate in cooking breakfast with me, particularly to crack eggs. Are we making cereal? How about I crack an egg? Toast? How about with an eggy on top? Peanut butter with apples? Should we put a “circle” egg on top? It’s official, this girl wants to crack eggs.

My immediate reaction was obvious. NO! Definitively, I never ever EVER want you near an egg. No thank you. Here. Let me crack the egg for you into a bowl. Then, you take this bowl and pour it into another bowl I’m mixing in. The look on her face said it all. Disappointment. One morning I got to thinking, why don’t I want her to crack an egg? And, it came to me. The mess. At all costs, I wanted to avoid the shells, the soupy yolk and egg white smooshed in her little hands, on my counter, and on my floor. And I wanted to avoid the wasted time. Even if I didn’t care about the n-1 eggs, I’d lose time in my busy morning making breakfast.

That’s when my daughter served me some wisdom. She asked, “When am I going to learn how to crack eggs my very own self?”. How could she ever learn to crack an egg properly if I robbed her of every single opportunity to try it herself? I mean, how many eggs did I break before I “mastered” it? Carefully removing slippery egg shell fragments from batter is a skill and me, well I’ve gotten lots of practice. If I remove all of the difficult parts of cracking an egg for my daughter and all she ever does is see me do it, will she learn how to crack an egg?

Back in the math classroom, I realized that this is a common phenomenon. When a challenging topic approaches in your unit, you might feel anxious thinking about the impending struggles. This concept is complicated! Kids are going to feel uncomfortable and they’re going to give up. It’s just too hard. The students need me to help them. I’ll just walk them through all the hard parts and they can finish it up at the end. But I wonder, how much do they really learn from watching the problem solving? From observing someone else reason through the obstacles? Are we not robbing students of richer learning by avoiding a mess?

So, I gave my daughter an egg. True story….she made a mess. Like, somehow she managed to explode the yolk from the inside using the grip of Wonder Woman and the scientific wonder of, “I wonder if I squeeze it…” I cleaned it up. Stayed calm. Gave her another egg. And MAGIC. She cracked it. Her hands were covered in egg white and there were egg shells everywhere in the bowl, but she improved. She learned. This summer we repeated this process over and over again. Today, my 4 year old cracks eggs like a professional chef. She is an old hat at it and frankly, is bored by the whole process now. She really only cracks eggs because I am so damn proud every time she does it. And, a few weeks ago my 3 year old joined her on the step stool and as if they knew I was planning a blogpost about it, my daughter taught my son how to crack an egg.

Which brings me back to the math classroom. I wonder if, as math teachers, we can all join in reflection about what messes we have been avoiding in distinct lessons. Is the reason students fall below our expectations because we have not set them up to experience the failure and challenge that a “mess” presents? Are students poor problem solvers because we’ve never given them authentic problems to solve? And if a student makes a mistake the first time, does that mean they will never understand or reach mastery? How many times did you fail at cracking an egg before you truly understood the nuances and delicate nature of an egg? And even if you met “mastery” of cracking an egg, can you make a delicious meal and still have “messed up” when you cracked the egg?

Messes get a bad reputation. From experience, I’m sure it has something to do with the ease at which they are created and the inverse exponential time period it takes to clean them up. Perhaps it’s time to think about how a mess with purpose can produce rich learning.

Not every lesson needs to produce a mess. But if we never provide opportunities for students to truly puzzle and attempt something challenging, what learning are we robbing them of?

Consider. What if you engaged in a problem that had no answer? What if you started planning the lesson wondering how much they might learn rather than how many students might not “get it”? What if we took some time to value the divergent solution paths instead of the “right answer”?

Here is what I know:

  1. Mr. Clean Magic Erasers really are magic. Thank you weird smooshy white sponge that gets all stains out of all things.
  2. When we remove obstacles from difficult content, we remove learning. Following steps may lead to memorization, but it rarely leads to conceptual understanding.
  3. Creating opportunities for students to make a mess takes bravery.

My Math Unicorn Call to Action is:

Let your students make a mess this week. Don’t avoid the hard topic. Take on that wordy application problem. Open the investigation door and the let the warm wind blow in. A mess is like a roller coaster. You can choose to scream the whole time or you let yourself sway with the ebb and flow of learning and emerging ideas and see where you land (hopefully on the ground safely!). BE brave and see what happens when you let your students do something you might not have ever thought they could do. Spoiler alert: Your kids will surprise you.



Aly Martinez is a math teacher and induction mentor. She has a thousand children, loves donuts and math, and will always accept chocolate if you offer it. She believes she will sleep through the night one day again soon and is an avid fan of coffee, legos, and her induction candidates.


PLC Perspective – Teacher response to the recent SLT Newsletter

Mr. Tom Winters recently sent out an SLT update to the entire district staff.  Below is one teacher’s response, from his/her PLC perspective.  We would love to hear from more teachers!


Our General Science 2 team has a fantastic and unified team of people.  The history is interesting going way back 15 or 20 years such that, in spite of the normal coming and going of talent, the underlying foundations of the team have persisted in maintaining a high quality professional team.  Stupid me, I thought all other teams on our site and across the district were like this and only recently in the last couple of years have I realized we’re more of an exception.  This realization has become evident as colleagues, district leaders, and our own site team come to observe what we’re doing which really surprised all of us in 8th grade science.

Here are a few things that have helped us maintain our friendships, professional capacity, and outlook to do our best.  (I only share these not to brag but to reflect that sometimes, there’s a gap between what we ‘get’ from reform efforts and what actually ‘gets done’ when teachers get back to their sites.) Each 8th grade science teacher willingly has internalized the following values/morals/ethics.  A few might be classified as soft-skills but each of these translates into a vision and commitment towards excellence.


  1. Humility – None of us on our GS 2 PLC believes that we’re better than our colleagues, much less perfect and we make fun of ourselves when we make mistakes.  The bigger the mistake, the greater the cause for celebration during PLC.  We hand out ‘monkey wrench’ diplomas during PLC and have them framed on our team wall.  We especially like share faults that our students catch and we find ways to reward each other and our students when they catch us making a mistake of action or omission.  ‘We know how not to do X, Y, Z, next time’
  2. Forgiveness – Today is the best day to make an improvement.  No baggage allowed, no ‘go backs’, and no gossiping about how someone screwed something up whether it was yesterday or a decade ago.  Each person on our team makes a sincere, immediate, and clear effort to make things right by apologizing.  Almost always, there’s a hug, a joke, or a funny moment.  When things go sideways, it stays in the team and everyone is 100% confident that nobody is going to go outside the team to gossip.


  • What we’ve seen is that lacking 1 and/or 2, it’s almost impossible to get anything done, regardless of the organization, team, or relationships among individuals.  Nothing will ruin an effort faster than arrogance and a ‘payback’ mentality.


  1. Charity – Show others you care by saying good morning, please, thank you, and I’m sorry every time, every day.  If you have something you created, you modified, you think someone can use, give it away.  No transaction, no ‘you owe me’, nothing.  Freely give of your kindness, your smile, talent, resources, etc.  We like to remind one another that we don’t own our classrooms, we don’t own the lab equipment, we don’t own the master schedule, etc.  It makes it easy to share.  We show charity by rotating the burdens of leadership, section assignments, and so on.


  1. Empathy – a principal always reminded us that ‘everyone has a story’ and in a high support / high trust relationship those stories are shared with food, snacks, and sometimes tears.  The fabric that’s woven among our team is strong enough that any professional tasks always pale in comparison to the human needs that we all have.  At the end of each PLC session, we close with ‘Happy Monkey Time’ so we all share some personal or professional success that was significant to us as individuals, no pressure to make any glamorous pronouncements, just honest personal successes and a highlight of the week’s most rewarding moments.


  1. Supported Risk-Taking – Sometimes it’ll be just one person from the team, sometimes two, sometimes all of us that are trying something new in either professional development, leadership, or instruction.  No matter who or how many, we all pitch in to make sure that person has every support possible.  Communications, materials, contacts, insights, and a feeling that they’re not alone or that when the process is over their effort is forgotten.  There’s a real importance to embedding that experience moving forward into our daily practice as a way of honoring what other people contribute.


  1. Individual but Public Accountability – There are regular checkpoints that we all have agreed to for materials, planning, sharing, supporting, revising, fixing, accepting.  These checkpoints were agreed to in PLC with full consensus and we openly share with each other when we feel we’ve missed the mark.  Nobody picks on anybody, nobody has hard feelings, everyone provides feedback for improvement with the realization that nothing we do is ‘one and done’.


  1. Self-Directed and Team-Directed Reflection – Similar to above but we have lots of ‘thinking aloud’ and ‘if we had no limits, here’s what we would do’.  These conversations allow full access to big vision items with pull-back to a tighter focus on the daily instruction.  I’d actually have to say that we rarely – almost never – look at our instruction from a ‘daily’ perspective.  We view our instruction through outcomes and interventions for success because it allows us to focus on the ‘how’ rather than the ‘when’.


  1. Continuous Improvement – Think Deming and the Toyota Way.  Lots of lessons we’ve embedded from those foundational models and here again, the concept of human capital as a resource to be developed is at the core of our interactions with one another.  Seniority, rank, educational degrees, financial status, religion, sexual identity, all take a back seat to the idea that all of us have chosen to be part of an active team that wants to improve what we do (relationships, instructional delivery, content mastery outcomes).


  1. Direct and Open Communication  — Some of us are super assertive, some are deferential, some are great listeners, some are always coming up with lots of random ideas, some are really good at ‘bean counting’… we openly accept and honor individual strengths by not only recognizing them but by eliciting contributions from those who have a strength that we don’t have.  We work really diligently to make sure our ‘bean counter’ checks NGSS standards, our random idea person generates innovative ways to approach content, our assertive person keeps us on track, our deferential person is listening and points out things we miss by going too fast…. Synergy has never been better exemplified but it’s always there whether we have ‘new interns’, ‘new BTSA’, or 20 year veterans.  Everyone works on improvement of what we do.


  1. Willingness to Volunteer – Whether it’s sharing a classroom, travelling on assignments, or covering a class on prep.  Our default position is yes and the ‘no’ only happens in extenuating circumstances. Nobody counts, nobody keeps track, everyone steps up for each other and for our students.


I share these with you because oftentimes, even with programs that have a great track record, or processes where things are clear and well organized, or in organizations with superb talent… the outcomes aren’t always easy to produce.  Over time, it’s made me realize that people have to be willing to ‘go in dumb and come out smart’.  Individual Humility –> Organizational Pride





October Trailhead, newsletter for SUHSD Teacher Induction

Dear Colleague,

Please click here to peruse the October edition of Trailhead, the newsletter for SUHSD Teacher Induction.  Inside you will find data on program participants, evidence of purposeful planning and examples of how to implement ELD standards.  You will also find links to professional development materials, updated SUHSD Teacher Induction calendar of events and links to all previous newsletters.



Katrine Czajkowski, Ph.D.


Program Manager, Teacher Induction

Leadership Development and Systems Innovation

Sweetwater Union High School District

(619) 407-4995


Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter. (Martin Luther King, Jr.)

Love and trust will triumph over fear and hatred.




Climate Conversations: Cross-Curricular Connections (from Sylvia McBride, CPH)


I just wanted to share this link with you: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/climate-conversations-cross-curricular-connections-tickets-37397962312

I’m sending this to you because you either teach a social science or science class, and/or you might know someone else that will benefit from the teacher resources shared. Or maybe you want to check out the OVEE online platform?

I am participating in a national online panel on climate change through PBS education. The reason why I wanted to share this with you is because it’s all online, free, and there will be some clips from the sequel to Inconvenient Truth (“An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power”) and “The Island President”  shown to the audience. Plus there will be discussion on how teachers handle controversial topics like this one especially in our current political environment.

The presentation/panel is directed towards teachers (especially Social Science and Science teachers) and there always are A LOT of awesome resources that are shared by other teachers around the country that might be helpful in the future. Some of you tagged on this email are so awesome about sharing resources that I wanted to provide at least one back!

The event starts at 4pm on Tuesday and lasts about 1 hour. Hope you can participate and thanks for taking the time to read this looooooong email from me. 🙂

Sylvia McBride

World Geography Teacher

CPH Social Science Curriculum Specialist and Dept. Chair

National Geographic Certified Educator

Twitter: @geomcbride2016



Free Stanford GSE online courses! Topics include SSI, Language Development in Math and Leadership

Free Online Professional Development Courses Through the Stanford Graduate School of Education this Fall

Starting October 3, Understanding Language at the Stanford Graduate School of Education will offer three online professional development courses sponsored by the Gates Foundation and S.H. Cowell Foundation to impact instructional practice, programs, and policy in order to create more meaningful learning experiences for language learners. There are two strands available for participants – one focused on instruction and the other on leadership. The courses on instruction are Constructive Classroom Conversations: Improving Student-to-Student Interactions and Integrating Language Development and Content Learning in Math: Focus on Reasoning. The leadership course is California Leadership for English Learner Success. To register or for more information, go to http://ell.stanford.edu/courses or download the informational flyer at http://ell.stanford.edu/sites/default/files/Fall2017_UL_onlinePD_flyer_webquality_v2.pdf.


2017 Guide Teacher Orientation: 8/31/17 (4-5 p.m.) in PDC

Are you an experienced teacher interested in serving as an SUHSD Guide Teacher supporting pre-service Student Teachers from universities throughout our region?

See here for information on the process SUHSD will use to identify and support Guide Teachers.

Interested applicants must complete and submit a simple Google Form, obtain a Principal Recommendation and attend a one-hour orientation meeting (August 31, 2017 from 4-5 p.m. in the PDC).

Contact Katrine Czajkowski, Program Manager for Induction, with questions.




I think we all remember a time when we felt like we didn’t belong. For me, it’s felt like that most of my life. A circle always trying to find my way in a world of square holes. Middle school was the worst. High school wasn’t much better.

I vividly remember my dad offering to drive a few of us on a field trip in 6th grade. I was so proud. Proud my dad was coming to our trip. Proud I was helping the class. And then, no one wanted to drive with me. And, when I saw all the kids piling into shiny SUVs, newly cleaned, not a ding in sight, I cringed when my dad pulled up in our beat up, rusted suburban. My teacher probably saw it in my eyes and asked me excitedly if she could go with us, maybe? I smiled sideways. We drove awkwardly to the zoo and I wondered the whole way, was she wondering why our car was so old? Did she wonder if I had enough to eat each night? Did she now know I was different too, just as all the other kids did?

I’ve had a lifetime to think about belonging. Recently Dan Meyer posed a question that struck a chord for me on his blog. He wondered if #mtbos, the math community (math twitter blogosphere) hashtag, was an unwelcoming one because of its obscurity as a name and an abbreviation. He noted people feel like it is an exclusive group where one must be invited and he got this idea not from nowhere.  In fact, there were tons of math teachers who applauded his boldness in saying what they’ve thought all along. His recommendation, let’s retire #mtbos and instead become #iteachmath.

It made a lot of sense to me. And then the tweets started coming. #mtbos is a family! #mtbos is just a google search away from understanding what it stands for. Fawn Nguyen posed a great counterargument here.

For those of you who don’t care or lose interest once someone says it has something to do with Twitter….hang in there. Here’s where I get back on track.

I am the hugest fan of Dan Meyer and Fawn Nguyen and tons of other people who are on BOTH sides of this argument. But I think everyone has missed the point on this one. This isn’t as much about the naming conventions. This has everything to do with what a community is and how we form a belief that we are also a part of it.

Take this example. Suppose I was advertising a party. Calling one “TBPITW” or “Party of the year”, I can’t say one is going to be more heavily attended over another, especially if a quick google search of the former would reveal it would be “the best party in the world”. The reality is people attend parties because they are invited. And then once the invitation is received, it’s up to the person to decide whether they want to go. Will it be fun? Do I have time to attend? Will I know anyone when I get there? Will I like the music they play?

In my first year of teaching I worked at a school that decided to change their math department grade level teams to PLCs. Do you think I joined a Professional Learning Community? Does changing the name of the group make it a community?

I’ve been a member of lots of PLCs. One’s that were effective, thoughtful, and transformed the way I teach and understand learning. I also was part of one’s that were effective, but thoughtless, and made me feel muffled and devoid of creativity. I attended meetings to both, but it was only in the ones where I felt seen and heard that I truly became a piece of the community. And in some meetings, it was harder and harder to speak up.

As a perpetual circle a square world, let me offer this advice to all communities searching for members and hoping to make change in the educational landscape at an individual level and a systems level:

  1. You, individual, I’m talking to you! You have a voice. Your opinion, thoughts, and ideas matter. A community will benefit from hearing about your experiences, your perspective and your take on how we teach students. Join a community and exercise that voice. Speak up. Don’t be afraid to agree or disagree out loud. Share your triumphs and laugh with your partners. Share your failures and lean on the shoulders of your community when it is hard to admit it didn’t work.
  2. You, community members, I’m talking to you! You aren’t a community if you are always going with the status quo. We are made of multiple voices, points of view and experiences. They all must be heard. Listening to opposing ideas is the crux of transformation and creating a space for all to be heard is a responsibility of each and every member. Reach out. Invite people to your PLC joyfully and with the same fervor, invite them to take the stage and hear their voice. Consider, how might their opinion or experience teach me.

Perhaps for #mtbos and #iteachmath, we need to ask ourselves, why do people feel like they can’t be apart of a bunch of teachers having fun talking about math? Are those teachers the same ones who are islands in their own teaching sites? Are they alone because they feel like they are circles in square holes? Who is listening to their voice? This is a party! If we want people to attend, we’ve got to send out invitations! And, TEACHERS, when you get that invite, don’t avoid the party because you feel like you won’t fit in. We’re teachers for God’s sake! We’re goofy, nerdy, and the most loving people on the face of the earth! Highlight what brings us together and find ways to grow with what divides us.

This life is…..teaching…..is far too hard to do alone. Buck up, teachers and listen!

Here is what I know:

  1. I got an invite to the party, and I’m going. And on Twitter, it turns out no invite is needed. The great @johnberray shared what #mtbos was when we first met and that was my “invitation”. So, #mtbos and #iteachmath, I’ll be at both parties! And when I get there, I’ve got lots of invites to send out.
  2. I want to attend a real party with Dan Meyer and Fawn Nguyen some day.
  3. If you want to be a better teacher, find a community and ask yourself, how do I honor the members of my network when we work together?

My Math Unicorn Call to Action is: 
Quite worrying about what you’ll say when you finally join Twitter. Just do it! Post something silly. Post a question you’ve been wondering. Join a chat. WHO CARE’s! Just exercise the wonderful circle voice you have in a world of squares. As it turns out, we’re actually all a bunch of circles. We just don’t spend enough time thinking about what we have in common. Rather we waste time worrying about what makes us different. Come to my party. It’s called #mtbos or #iteachmath or #beamathunicorn. You got this. Go find a party you want to attend!

Aly Martinez is a math teacher and induction mentor. She has a thousand children, loves donuts and math, and will always accept chocolate if you offer it. She believes she will sleep through the night one day again soon and is an avid fan of coffee, legos, and her induction candidates.