Friday, June 14, 2019

Summer Fun, Summer Learning

This post is week 1 of 8 in the 8 Weeks of Summer Blog Challenge for educators.

I often hear how I am so lucky that I have summers off. In a way that is true; however, the majority of my summer vacation is spent engaging in reflective practice and learning. Summer vacation provides me an opportunity to reflect, grow, and challenge my thinking of educational practices. I have time to rest and recharge. I am able to read professional books that I choose, attend conferences, and engage in professional discourse. Just like during the school year, I set goals to help keep me focused because let's face it, social media & #eduTwitter can be very overwhelming and cause me to lose focus on what I want to accomplish. 

Professional Learning Goals

1. Read a variety of educational books that focus on pedagogy, restorative justice, equity, and technology. Preferably I like to read professional books at the beach with sand on my feet, sun on my face, and the sweet smell of salt water in the air. 

2. Engage in conferences with other educators. This year I can only afford to participate in the free online conferences, such as the Teach for Tech Conference that will feature over 60 speakers and sessions! 

3. Participate in Twitter chats, such as #pd4uandme, to gain new insights into teaching to meet all learner needs. 

4. Continue to grow and develop a Facebook Professional Development group that focuses on a variety of topics, including a year-long book study of "Onward: Stories and Resources to Cultivate Emotional Resilience" by Elena Aguilar.

5. Provide Professional Development to educators within my district as a Google Trainer for Education. 

What professional goals do you have this summer? I'd love to engage in learning experiences with you via a Twitter chat or you can meet up with me and Laura Cahill to engage in learning units on Facebook! 

Friday, May 31, 2019

Thank you for trusting me....

Every day we wake up and send our kids to school. We have trust in the teachers and staff in the building. We believe that they will care for our children and keep them safe and teach them. We also want to know that you love our child as much as we do. We trust that you will give them a chance and forgive them when they make mistakes. That you will support them and teach them how to correct wrong-doings. That you will laugh at their jokes and show empathy when they are sad. That you will listen to them when they just need a friend and that you will do all you can to keep their whole selves safe

As a teacher-mom, I understand this trust and need from parents because I do the same thing every day with my own children. I send them off to school with the hopes that they will be safe and feel accepted, supported and loved. So today, I just want to take a moment and say THANK YOU

Thank you for trusting me with your children day after day. Thank you for communicating with me when you are worried. Thank you for supporting my role as a teacher in your child's life. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to know your child. Thank you for trusting me in such a way that I now have someone new in my heart. 

Just as there is a beginning, there is also an end. And at that end every year I cry. Great, big sobbing tears on the way home. Because I know that I will not see or hear from the majority of these kids again. I know that a piece of my heart is gone, but that they will always have that piece. I hope I have communicated this to them through my actions all year. I want them to walk out of my classroom at the end of the year with more confidence in themselves as a learner and a person. I want them to think of me every time they find a new book that they love. And I look forward to the days when they stop by for a quick visit-just long enough for a hello and a hug-because those days make my heart swell with love and gratitude. 

So, again, thank you for sharing your child with me day after day. It has been a valuable gift to learn and grow from your child. A gift I will never take for granted. 💕💕💕

Thursday, May 30, 2019

The Angry Student

You know the student I am talking about. For me, it was a boy in my class last year. Almost every day for the first two months was the same:

He walks in and throws his bag down, sits down, and places his head on the desk. A friend tries to talk to him and he yells at him to go away. He's angry. You can feel the energy from him and so can those around him. You have a routine in place for the morning. Students are to come in and get their supplies ready for the day and then read silently, while eating breakfast, until after announcements when they will switch classrooms. You won't have this student again in your classroom until after 12:30. How do you help this student restart, so he can have a successful day?

1. LEAVE HIM ALONE
Seriously. Leave him alone. Don't bother him. Give him a few minutes to collect himself. Do not reprimand him. Do not try to ask what is wrong. Leave him in peace for a few minutes. Then, when he has calmed, go to him.

2. INQUIRE HOW TO HELP
First, keep a calm, gentle tone. Then ask him what he needs to get on track for the school day. Does he want to talk? Does he want to take a walk? Does he want to sit for a few minutes before going to his class? Basically-what does he need to get back on track for the day? And, whatever solution you both agree to, you MUST make sure to uphold it on your end. This is an important step in building and maintaining trust.

3. OFFER TO LISTEN
Once he knows you will help him restart his day, ask him if he'd like to talk. Give him an option to say yes or no. If he says yes...just listen. No advice. No judgment. Listen to his words & validate his feelings. That's it. Build a trusting relationship by showing him you genuinely care and want to help.

4. ASK IF HE WANTS YOUR ADVICE
Once he feels validated, ask him if you can give him some advice, or if you can share an observation. But, again, ask him. Allow him to choose if he wants to hear it. If you do go this route be careful that your well-intentioned advice doesn't turn into a judgment of his behavior or lecture.

I know this works. I have had this student in my class. The one who shuts down and gets angry and pushes everyone away. I learned very quickly to leave him be. I was able to determine that the majority of his anger in school came from a lack of confidence. My partner teacher (she teaches math) would get aggravated because she said he was "too smart" to feel that way. I understand what she meant. He is a very bright kid. But, when he was in her class he would shut down, get angry, yell, run out of the classroom, or just be very disrespectful and mean to her when he would get to his frustration level. My number one rule for myself when a child behaves this way is that you never win by arguing with a child, so don't engage. If you want to come out ahead, you need to play the long game and put in the work to build the relationship.

Let's be honest, he started with these behaviors in my classroom as well. I responded by giving him time to adjust his mood, inquiring about the problem he is having, listening and responding to him in a calm and respectful manner, and offering help if he wants it. Then, slowly, he started asking for help instead of immediately getting frustrated. Next, he began to ask if he could sit with me to work. At one point he wanted me to read and affirm every sentence he wrote before he would move on to the next. Slowly, he developed the confidence to only come to me when he was finished. By the end of the year if he had a bad morning he wouldn't come in and sulk, he would walk up to me and say "I had a bad morning and this is what I need...." and sometimes I would need to intervene in other classes because I was the only one he would respond to in a respectful manner, even when he was angry. Unfortunately, the middle school contacted me within the first week of school asking for advice on how to "handle him." They didn't like it when I responded with "Walk away and leave him be. Give him time and respect. Gain his trust." By the end of the first month of school, he had been suspended two times.

The last day of school he gave me a letter-carefully crafted-thanking me for never giving up on him even when he tested my patience to the highest limits. He still comes to visit me. He tells me how he is doing in school. He still struggles with managing his anger. He told me just last week he hasn't yet met another teacher who listened and believed in him the way I did. This breaks my heart. I hope that he will find that teacher next year. And every subsequent year after that. I look forward to his visits in the future and I can't wait to see what he accomplishes. I know he can overcome these troubles. He just needs his teachers to believe in him. We can do that. Right? We can believe in the angry kid and give him a chance to learn positive behavior choices when frustrated.

What have your experiences with the "angry student" been like? Please share your reflections with me! 

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Let's Have Real Discourse About Real Topics in the Classroom

We are currently reading "Refugee" by Alan Gratz. This is one of the most powerful books I have ever read and my students are more engaged than I have ever seen them. This book has managed to hook the few reluctant readers I had left. But, more importantly, it has opened up a conversation in my classroom. A conversation about world-wide injustice and persecution. 

This week that conversation was sparked during a discussion on the word dissident. We talked about the literal translation when breaking the word apart: to cause others to not settle. First, we built background on what does it mean to settle. We listed things that we settle on every day in school, when we go shopping, at home, etc. Then, we applied it to current politics. What are laws or rules in place that we settle for, even if we don't agree with them? The kids had some great ideas to share. Each one of my classes came to the current law that was just passed in Alabama banning abortions. This allowed an easy transfer to the discussion of what we do when there is a law that we consider unjust-what can we do about it? My students shared many ideas, such as voting and protesting. That was when I connected to the three stories in our book. What are the consequences in Nazi Germany to go against, or be a dissident, to Hitler's laws? Repeat for Castro's Cuba & Al-Assad's Syria. And, then we were able to truly understand that a dissident puts everything they are on the line to fight against the unjust laws and practices in place.

This conversation fueled me as their teacher. While religion and current law issues came into conversation the focus was on understanding what we can do when these things happen. It was by far one of my favorite teaching discussions we have had with this book. We focused on our Essential Question: What are the consequences of being unconcerned with injustice and persecution around the world? Without this conversation, the following example of one student's thoughts never would have occurred. If we can't have honest conversations in class, where do they learn how to have this kind of discourse?
Who am I to take that away from them? I feel it is my DUTY to help them learn how to discuss "hot topics" such as racial inequality, abortion bans, police brutality, racial profiling, and other acts of persecution and injustice that occur around the world (and in our own country).


THEN, a student who is new to my school shared that she has always wanted to learn more about these topics, especially the persecution of Jews in Germany, but her teacher at her old school was more sensitive than me (her words) and wouldn't allow books on the topic-such as "The Boy in the Striped Pajamas" by John Boyne. I cannot get this statement out of my mind, along with how happy she is to finally be able to learn, discuss, and read about these topics. My response was that we have many books on our shelves, such as "The Librarian of Auschwitz" by Antonio Iturbe, as well and she is more than happy to check any of them out.

But, the fact remains that she was told NO by a teacher who felt the topic was too "sensitive" to be discussed in the classroom. This is unacceptable. We cannot let our fear guide what we allow our students to be exposed to in the classroom. If you cannot discuss the injustice and persecution that surrounded Nazi Germany, how can you discuss current issues that our students are currently living with? And, if you say that our students are not experiencing unjust practices, in education and the outside world, then you need to open your eyes and see that they are. Every single day. And if they are not experiencing it firsthand, they are seeing images of it on social media. It is IMPERATIVE that our children learn how to respond to these problems when they come up. Discourse must occur for students to learn how to express themselves when they see something happen that they know if inherently wrong and unjust. 

As I said before, my STUDENTS brought up the recent controversial law in Alabama that bans abortions. MY STUDENTS. Not me. Was I supposed to ignore it or redirect the conversation? I believe when we leave out these relevant discussions, we are in fact doing a disservice by our students by perpetuating the systemic racial and cultural bias in the system. These kids in our classrooms will become adults one day. They will be in charge of helping to select who runs our country. In turn, they will help decide what is just and unjust. So, why would we deny them the learning experiences of how to have discourse on "hot topics" and how to begin to problem-solve for solutions. Is it not our responsibility to teach them this? Or must we only teach EXACTLY what is stated in the standards for the test and ignore all else?



Note: Links provided for books & for ONE media website coverage on the recent controversy in Alabama. I suggest you research to learn more from a variety of sources & do not take my link as a "One and Done" share. 


Wednesday, May 22, 2019

It's a MONDAY of the worst kind

We've all been there. You go into school with plans to WOW the students with your lessons, and right when you hit the door....everything begins to fall apart. There's an assembly you didn't know about. Your colleagues are out, so there is no way to keep your current, daily schedule. You lose your prep period to cover someone else. The wifi is down. Someone took your cart of Chromebooks and now you have no technology. You are told to hurry and finish last-minute testing-on those same Chromebooks. Your phone is ringing nonstop with questions and demands you can't answer. Then, the bell rings and you are supposed to be "on" for the kids. Throw those pretty lesson plans right out the window due to lost instructional time or loss of technology you may have needed. This is what I call a MONDAY of the worst kind. After I make it through this day, I need to do it four more times???

You take a deep breath and put a smile on your face for the kids in front of you. Sometimes that is the hardest thing to do. There are times I cannot keep the farce and they can tell I am frustrated. And guess what??? That's ok! Teachers are human and it is important to model how to deal with these unexpected, frustrating issues throughout the day.

A colleague snaps at you in front of your class? Put a nice smile, nod, and say "I will be more than happy to discuss this with you at another time." Then, close the door and go about your business. You get upset and snap at a kid-which you immediately regret. APOLOGIZE. They won't think less of you, in fact, they will respect you MORE. Model how to handle conflict of all kinds.

When my pretty lessons go out the window I ask the kids what they want to do. I tell them the goals, what I had planned and why it will no longer work, and then we problem-solve together how to achieve those same learning goals with the new parameters. Sometimes this may be a shortened class period, a loss of technology that was needed, or some other interruption. It is healthy that they see us working through these problems in a healthy manner, so they can begin to do the same when they hit a roadblock in their life. There are times I may even model taking deep breaths to calm and get myself back on track. And, sometimes, we all take that break to meditate and refocus.

Yesterday was one of these days for me. Unexpected morning assembly that was ill-prepared and caused the entire daily schedule to change, then no morning rotations for my students, shortened class blocks before lunch, and then they came back from specials 20 minutes late and lost a lot of instructional time in the afternoon. So-we revised our day. One of my classes focused on a project we are working on, but we were unable to read. Another class took a benchmark that needed to get out of the way (again, no time to read). And, my last class of the day went through the lesson for the day with barely any time in class to work, which means another day this week we will have to move things around to accommodate what happened yesterday. The phone rang nonstop for the first hour of the day. And a colleague was out and students were unsure of where to go and what to do. It was a perfect MONDAY. And, you know what, at the end of the day everything was okay. We made it through the day and actually managed to accomplish some things. Was it perfect? No. But, neither is life. Did I manage to keep a smile on my face all day? Again, No. AND THAT IS OKAY. I am a firm believer that our students need to see us struggle, and then overcome that same struggle, in order to truly learn how to handle when their emotions get the best of them. And, let's face it, in 6th grade their emotions run their day.

What are your strategies for dealing with days like this? Where nothing goes right and yet you have a class of 30 kids looking to you for guidance and inspiration? How do you keep going and keep a positive tone in your classroom?

Saturday, May 18, 2019

Embrace Change, Make a Difference

Stagnant Learning or Stagnant Teaching?

As educators, we are quick to blame the students when they do not learn what we teach. What if, instead, we looked at our instruction? Do we provide learning opportunities for our students that are consistent with their needs and experiences? Are we providing learning opportunities that are stagnant or robust? If we are doing the same thing year after year, without any modifications or growth, then we are teaching in a stagnant manner. By doing so, how we can we expect our students to learn and grow in our classrooms?

Merriam Webster defines stagnant as not advancing or developing. When I think of this from an educators perspective I immediately want to focus on student growth and learning. I have to actively change my mindset to look at this from the viewpoint of: How am I advancing or developing as an educator? Part of being able to advance skills as an educator is to embrace change.

How do we do this? I believe that in order to become a dynamic educator, an educator who is continuously and productively changing, teachers must be willing to:

  • Participate in Professional Development opportunities with a positive mindset
  • Learn more about the culture and experiences of their students
  • Try new things [and sometimes FAIL]
  • Reflect honestly about student learning & engagement
  • Be open-minded when confronted with something NEW
  • Create and grow a Professional Learning Network

Each one of these things requires the TEACHER to focus on his/herself and beliefs in their own teaching practices. If we want our students to develop a love of learning, experiences provided to them need to be dynamic as well. Kasey Bell, from Shake Up Learning, does an amazing job of describing ways teachers can move from static lesson design to dynamic lesson design. 

How can embracing change make a difference in our classrooms?

Student engagement, motivation, and interest is a factor in learning that must be considered with every lesson design. Isn't our goal as teachers to help students LOVE TO LEARN? If not, it should be. Yes, of course, we have specific learning goals as well. But, what about those life-long goals? I tell my students and parents at the beginning of the year that my number one goal is for them to walk out of my classroom at the end of the year with a LOVE OF READING. That's it. That's my goal. 

So, how do we do this? We need to expand our own belief systems in what is "best" or "right" in the classroom. We need to research and observe and learn from other educators and STUDENTS. If we do the same thing over and over again what progress are we making as educators? How are we modeling a true love of learning if we never show that we are learners ourselves? 

Ways we can model a love of learning:
  • Talk about our own learning experiences, both past & present
  • Share learning outcomes from Professional Development
  • Show students how you take notes when learning by passing around a book you recently marked up or displaying notes you took in a recent meeting
  • Get excited about new things and share them with your students
  • Share your failures-OFTEN

What do all of these things have in common? SHARING. Share with your students, be authentic. Through that process, they begin to trust you when you ask them to try something new. They know you will do the same and it helps them feel safer to make risky decisions in the classroom. 

Creating a Culture That Accepts Change

With learning new things, comes failure. It is important when having this discussion that we focus on helping students accept failure as a learning experience and not internalize as a reflection of their self. 

Allow student autonomy. Provide a positive environment where students can share when they get excited about something new. Celebrate mistakes & failures. 

Get to know who your students are and meet them where they are. This may mean stepping out of your comfort zone. Don't let fear guide your actions. Take risks in teaching, so students can take risks in learning. If you want students to be accepting of change and to try new things, then as an educator you need to do the same. Accept their feedback and apply it to your lessons and units. When they see you learning and growing from them, students are more willing to take risks themselves and try new things. They become open-minded and begin to see that learning is a process and is necessary for life-long success. 

Jake Miller said, "Sometimes failing at something ambitious can be better than succeeding at something easy." I have this posted in my classroom as a reminder for myself and students. As they grow, learn, and fail, I too must do the same. In order for that to happen, I can no longer fear change. None of us can. Not if we want to make a true difference with our students.  

Sunday, May 12, 2019

My purpose...

What is my purpose in blogging? This is something I had to carefully consider before beginning to write and I wanted to share with you so you can consider your purpose for following your passions.

  • I have always desired to write. Being an author is my biggest aspiration. The only thing stopping me is ME. Time to end that.
  • I want to share my story. I want to inspire others to share their stories.
  • I want to share what wonderful things are happening in my classroom.
  • I want to learn alongside other educators.
  • I want to help others learn from my mistakes and successes in the classroom and in the teacher's lounge! 😉

Some of my posts may be personal reflections, others may share what is happening in the classroom, and sometimes I may just get on an educational soapbox to share my thoughts & ideas. If you'd like to join the ride...follow this blog and follow me on Twitter at https://www.twitter.com/readingin6th. 

What would your purpose be? What would you share? 

If you have a topic you would like to see me blog about, share it here! 

Summer Fun, Summer Learning

This post is week 1 of 8 in the 8 Weeks of Summer Blog Challenge for educators. I often hear how I am so lucky that I have summers off. I...