Friday, November 22, 2019

Just making it through the day....Random thoughts about the start of the year

Sometimes I feel as if I am in this never-ending cycle of too-much-to-do and not-enough-time. Because of this, my writing has taken a seat for the first of the year. This disappoints me. I had a goal to write every week about what is happening inside the classroom, and -TRANSPARENT MOMENT-that hasn't happened.

What's a teacher to do??? Keep going. Persevere. Sometimes those words are exhausting and that has been where I was for the entire first quarter of school.

Things are slowing down now. Less change is happening. That's good.

I made it through the content portion of my ISTE coursework. Now on to the portfolio. SCARY.

I led my first ever 15-hour Professional Development that I co-created with another teacher in the district. It was amazing. Still working on it. That's ok. I can manage that.

Have officially -not officially- made the switch with my curriculum that admin wants. That admin required 4 weeks into the school year. There went those routines.....right out the window. Still working on implementing the new parts. Some of which showed up yesterday. *Sigh*

Focus is so much on test scores at times I begin to doubt we are focusing on the kids. That's when I get upset. My students are more than a test score. But, I keep building relationships and focusing on the growth my students show with their confidence, effort, motivation, and academics. Just keep teaching....Just keep teaching....Just keep teaching.... (Yep, I borrowed that from Dory! 😜)

Keep plugging away. Knowing that after Thanksgiving Break I will be incorporating new curriculum and being a model classroom for AVID....
I can make it work. I have enough time in a day right????

Make time. I will not take away their reading time every day. That's a non-negotiable. It is valuable and needed to give them time. When we don't we get conversations like this one that happened yesterday with a student:

S: "Nyxia" was such a great book! 
Me: I agree! I'm glad you liked it!
S: But, I'm confused about why we read it. We didn't even write an essay when we finished. 
Me: We read it for fun. 
S: That's weird. I don't understand why we would do that. 
Me: 🙄😭

This reading was in an optional book club that met once a week before school. The student still couldn't understand the purpose because there was no essay attached to it. She loved the book and is currently reading the next one, yet still questions why we would read without doing work with it.

Ranting for a moment....again ➩ We are slowly killing students' love of reading. I hope to bring it back and I hope at the end of the year she can reflect on this conversation and know that reading-without an essay-is valuable and should happen more!

I will be writing more now. I plan to take that goal from the beginning of the year and start fresh again! I'M BACK. And better than ever! 

I will do a few reflection posts soon about ISTE and the work we've been doing in the classroom. (I plan on it, but it's not a promise because....hey...I am human too!)

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Saturday, August 31, 2019

A New Year

Before we know it, summer is over. The sound of cicadas fade. The warm, humid days fall to cool, crisp days. It's time to trade the flip flops & swimsuits for sweatpants & hoodies. It's finally autumn. And with that autumn feeling, comes the start of a fresh new school year. New clothes and supplies, fresh hair-dos, nervous smiles, and butterfly dances in bellies as the students walk in the classroom for the first time. A smile. A "Hello! I am so happy so see you!" and a reassurance that this year is going to be great! It's that moment that makes a difference for the rest of the school year.

That first glance, first communication, sets the stage for the relationships that will be built. The trust that will either allow a child to fail or succeed. What do you do at this moment?

The sage advice provided to new teachers is always the same: NEVER SMILE BEFORE DECEMBER. Only focus on rules and teamwork for at least 3 weeks. Don't worry about the content. Practice. Practice. Practice. I used to believe in this mantra whole-heartedly. Through the years I have realized it is an awful way to establish the tone for my classroom. 

Don't get me wrong, rules must be taught, or rather, modeledPre-teaching is necessary at times. But, can't we teach these "rules" authentically? Not provide an entire list for students to read. It starts our year off with the mantra of "Don't do this. Don't do that. And if you do, this is the consequence." I've come to realize that's not a positive start to the year. It's all focused on behavior. So I haven't done it for a few years and this year I stepped away from it completely.

I may be the worst mentor ever. All the experienced teachers keep telling my brand-new partner teacher to not worry about content and to just build relationships with team building activities and that she needs to be super strict. [Hence: never smile before December. Why has this ever been a thing????] She asked me for advice. I said the exact opposite of what everyone else said. Poor girl. She must be so confused. I hope she is able to come to her own conclusions about what works for her. I know that will happen over time, and I saw her create her own balance of all the advice she received, so I know she will find her own direction and confidence soon!

On Day 3 I had a student ask me "What are the rules?" When I pointed out he must already know, since he's been following them it prompted a discussion of what behaviors students have been showing and how they already know what rules are necessary. And, that they are not really rules so much as they are guidelines on how we treat each other in a learning environment. This was a less than 5-minute discussion. It was the only time we talked about rules this week. And, guess what, the classroom ran smooth, kids were kind to each other and teachers, compliments were received from other teachers, expectations were met (at high levels!) and it was a hugely successful week!

So, if I didn't teach RULES all week and I actually SMILED, how did I get a successful start to my school year?

It's simple really. I pre-taught expectations before we did anything in class. If we were transitioning, I pre-taught what it should look and sound like, then we did it. If we were working in a group, I pre-taught group expectations. If we were walking through the room with Chromebooks, I pre-taught how we carry the Chromebooks safely and how we moved through the room in a safe manner. If we were sitting in alternative seating, I pre-taught how we share and take care of our seating items that are more "fragile." I used authentic learning opportunities to teach my students how we do things in the classroom behaviorally. I didn't review a syllabus. I didn't go over a list of rules. I didn't even brainstorm what rules should be in the classroom or what they look/sound/feel like. *gasp*

The world didn't fall apart. My classroom is just as well-managed at the end of the first week of school as it always is. I give reminders consistently and I am clear in my expectations. Just like I am all year long. And because of that, we were able to work collaboratively in digital formats and create learning cooperative groups WHERE NO CHILD WAS LEFT STANDING WITHOUT A GROUP. They chose their own groups and there was never a child in any of my classes that felt that they didn't belong in any way. That made my heart happy. I think it is important to note that this is the first time that has ever happened. And it happened in ALL of my classes. That alone spell's success in my mind.

It's not to say that the students were perfect, but really, what child is?!?!? They shouldn't be held to unreachable standards like that. Behaviors were corrected quickly and efficiently and were not repeated by the offender. We may be a little chatty in one group, but they will learn when it is acceptable to talk and when it is important to be quiet as they adjust to the learning environment being set in my classroom. It also tells me they need a lot of turn-and-talk opportunities and cooperative activities to be successful this year. I love that I already know this and I know it because of authentic experiences in my classroom and not because I spent the first-week focusing solely on behaviors.

I am excited about this school year and where it will take us. I have a sweet group of kids in my classes and I just know that this year is going to be amazing! [Even if I didn't review a syllabus or rules on Day 1!]

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Goal-Setting for the New School Year

This post is week 5 of 8 in the 8 Weeks of Summer Blog Challenge for educators.

Every summer I sit and reflect on what went well the previous school year and, more importantly, what didn't go well. I ask myself:

  • What changes are needed to my classroom environment to stimulate a safe space for all students?
  • How can I continue to accommodate all learners in my lesson planning?
  • What units of instruction received positive feedback from students AND showed evidence of high levels of student growth and engagement?
  • How successful was I in teaching all the necessary standards? 
  • What instructional challenges did I face on a regular basis? 
  • What will I do to continue my professional growth throughout the school year?
  • How will I engage my students in learning activities that encourage student voice and choice on a regular basis?
The act of reflecting on these questions allows me to plan and adjust my practice for the following year. Based on my reflections from the 2018-2019 school year I have decided to make some changes to my practice that will allow for more student agency and provide easier to navigate access to monitoring growth and progress. 

For the 2019-2020 School Year I plan on:
  • Continuing to build interest in reading by keeping daily independent reading time. This was mentioned by almost every student to keep (and some even wanted longer periods of time!).
  • Build interest in books by keeping a working recommendation slide deck that all students can access and add to. I used this in my Summer Learning Lab class this summer and it received great feedback from students, along with providing a repository of student-recommended books. 
  • First Chapter Fridays - I started this at the beginning of last year, but quickly fell out of the routine. I want to be consistent with this from now on; however, I am probably going to just focus on reading an excerpt from a book on Friday's that I feel will make students interested in knowing more.
  • Building and maintaining a Class Site that will update regularly and will act as the main hub of communication for parents and students on standards of learning and classroom expectations.
  • Begin to make the switch to Standards-Based Grading and building student portfolios. (There will be a separate post on this later that will share my process and collaboration experiences to build this experience for my students!)
  • Become an ISTE certified educator.
  • Continue to build facilitation and coaching skills that provide teachers with relevant, hands-on professional development experiences.
  • Learn and implement restorative practices by blending with culturally responsive pedagogy and maintaining a trauma-sensitive approach with my students at all times. 
  • Be consistent with allowing for student feedback and adjusting instruction to my student's needs! 
What are your goals this school year? 

Friday, July 5, 2019

Optimize Learning Through Classroom Environment

This post is week 4 of 8 in the 8 Weeks of Summer Blog Challenge for educators.

During the course of obtaining a teaching degree, we learn about the importance of the learning environment and how it has a direct impact on student success. Every summer I watch Teachers on Facebook and Instagram and Twitter post about what decor and theme they will be using in the new year. In fact, that's all I ever really see from August-September. But, is the decor really what is conducive to an effective learning environment? The obvious answer is no. Is it nice to have pretty things in your room? Yes. But, for some kids, this may be over-stimulating when teachers go over-the-top with their decorations. When I think of all the time teachers spend over the summer on decorating, I shudder. There are so many more valuable ways that teachers could spend their time that would have a positive impact in the classroom. 

If I am not spending weeks establishing a new decor theme in my classroom, what do I do to optimize the learning conditions in my classroom to provide an environment conducive to student success? 

  1. Clean, organized space with minimal distractions. Anchor charts are built with students and not pre-made. Walls are mostly bare, with some inspirational quotes in vinyl to encourage and motivate students. We build our decor together through text annotations, thought logs, Z-charts, and sketchnotes that we create in class.
  2. Cool, calm colors to stimulate a relaxing environment. Students have access to comfortable seating/standing options, so they can choose to work in the way that best supports them that day. 
  3. Books. I teach literacy, so let's be realistic. I have books. Lots of books. Is this an area that needs to be better organized? Yes. I am working on it this summer. I literally had books stacked all over my classroom. I know I had 2-3 students that were overwhelmed by this because there was no sense of organization. So, I am focusing on bringing in more bookshelves and organizing and labeling books to help students that need it. 
  4. Failures are celebrated and mistakes are a true part of learning. Through discourse, it is the norm to identify how thinking can differ and to learn to acknowledge and accept other points of view. Revisions are a normal part of our learning structure. Students learn that they will revise their work one or more times. It is not a condition of failure, but rather a condition of learning. 
  5. Safe. The classroom is a safe place to share our thinking, our faults, our experiences without judgment. There are multiple ways for students to share about topics that are important to them. They can share with me verbally, write a note to me, journal, blog, or communicate digitally. No one student is ever made to feel their thoughts and opinions are not valued. 
  6. Respectful. Students are respected. Their voices have an impact. I acknowledge their impact and show them that I want to hear their opinions and thoughts. Even if I may not always agree. Or if others disagree. It can lead to some stimulating, yet respectful, discourse in the classroom. This allows students to understand that they do have something to add to the learning in the classroom and that learning cannot happen without their engagement in the lesson.
  7. Goal-setting is integral to students tracking their academic progress through self-monitoring, assessment tracking, and feedback forms. Students reflect on scores and feedback so that they can make the desired changes necessary to show improvement. 
  8. High expectations push students to engage in higher-order thinking skills and extend past the imaginary mental boundaries they have set, so they can access the content at maximum levels of comprehension and application. Not trying is not an option. Our mantra is that something is better than nothing because when we try something, then we can receive feedback to lead us in the right direction. Doing nothing gets us nothing. 
I do not have rules in my classroom; however, I am aware that classroom management has a high impact on student learning. I set the stage at the beginning of the year that the only things required in my classroom are to be respectful and kind. Not a rule, but let's have integrity and do what is expected of us at all times. I hardly ever have to reprimand students for behavior. When they feel respected and like they are a contributing member of the learning environment, then they are more likely to give their absolute best in the classroom. 

So, do I spend months over the summer stressing out about my decor? No. Do I think about it some? Of course! But, it is not my primary focus. I want to maximize learning for my students, so I focus on increasing my own pedagogical knowledge in the summer, so I can return a stronger teacher with higher-content knowledge and application skills. Let's face it, teachers are the indicator of student learning, not the pictures on the wall. And, while the physical environment is important and should reflect a space that is comforting to be in, it does not have the largest impact on optimizing learning. Find balance and focus on the social-emotional environment within the classroom just as much and not just the physical environment to provide a space for students to learn. 

Friday, June 21, 2019

Dream. Inspire. Educate. How I became the Teacher I am Today

This post is week 2 of 8 in the 8 Weeks of Summer Blog Challenge for educators.

Dreaming of a Better Future

Growing up I struggled with trauma & poverty. It wasn't a guarantee that I would graduate high school, let alone go to college. In fact, no one in my immediate family had, so college was not even on my radar for a very long time. I never doubted I would finish high school. That was something I knew I would do just to spite those that said I couldn't. But, college? Never.

Until one teacher helped me see that there could be a better future for me. One where I could have a positive impact on children's lives. One that I had never even dreamed was a possibility for me. Education. Be a teacher. The idea clicked and at 20 years old, I was the first in my family to enroll in college. I thought I would teach British Literature, so I focused on literature courses and a few basics. Until at 21, I decided I needed to work more than go to college, so I dropped out of college.

Then, I had my daughter. She was my inspiration to get back to school because when I looked into her tiny face I KNEW I wanted more for her. In fact, I wanted to be a role model for her. I wanted her to grow up and see that with hard work and education, she can achieve her dreams. So, I set out to reach my dreams and enrolled in college again. While in school I became a substitute and through my experiences, I quickly realized that elementary was the right fit for me and that I truly loved being around kids in the 4th and 5th-grade classrooms that I was a regular substitute for. 

I worked so hard when my daughter was an infant. I subbed during the school day and focused on my studies in the evening. In fact, most of that time is a blur. There were many long, sleepless nights where I would work on school tasks while caring for a baby. It was more than worth it though

I completed my Bachelor's of Art in Interdisciplinary Studies Pre-k to 6 in under 2 calendar years thanks to Western Governor's University self-paced program and affordable tuition. Not only was I the first in my immediate family to achieve a college degree, but I also did it in an amazingly short time-frame AND with a 4.0! I realized education is my key to a better future, thereby ensuring that her future is better as well. I believe this is the beginning of my understanding of the power that education can bring to children who don't believe there are other options. I realized that education cannot be taken from me. It is the one thing I control. Which means that my students have that same gift given to them every day they come to school.

Inspiring Children to Find Their Passion

Through my passion for reading and education, I found a new love. A love of inspiring young minds to find their passions. I realized that without teachers who cared for me and pushed me past my own limitations, I would not be where I am now. I would not have taken Advanced Placement courses. I would not have gone to college. I would not think of education as a place I belong in as a profession. I would not be in a classroom at all. Now it is my turn to pass that same inspiration and belief on to others who doubt themselves due to their unfortunate circumstances. Our circumstances do not define us. What we make of them does.

Educators have power in words. 

It can be as simple as it was for me when a teacher said: "We need more good teachers. You need to go to college." The fact that a woman I respected and admired thought I would make a good teacher was enough to get my feet moving toward college. She pointed me in the right direction even if it did take many years from that point on. Without that one statement from her, I know for a fact I would not be in the classroom now. 

I try to remember this moment as much as possible to remind myself of the power that we have with our words. I tell my students about their individual and unique gifts and help them see how they can foster those gifts through education to have a bright future. A future that is successful in spite of the hardships and trauma they may endure now. I believe in them. And that is communicated daily. It is the springboard for their own inspiration.

Education is a Gift

Every person has the right to an education regardless of race, culture, gender, disability, or circumstances. I knew growing up that school was an escape for me. It was a way for me to shed the trauma of my home environment. This is a truth many of my students know as well. 

Once a teacher showed me that he believed in my academic ability, it became even more than that. Not only was school an escape from home, but school was also now a way out. I could be better. Do better. All I had to do was learn. So I did. And through that experience, I realized that while everyone attends school, everyone does not see it as the gift it should be. That has become my mission. 

I desire for every student in my classroom to come in and realize they are not a product of their circumstances. They are not the traumatic experiences they have lived in. They are creating who they are every day they walk in the classroom. I frequently tell them that the one thing no one can ever take from them is their education, so fight for it! Recognize that it is your right to be in the classroom, but you will walk out with the gift of knowledge that is all your own. No one can take that from you. Ever. This is the most precious gift. Believe in yourself. If I can help my students see this year after year then I know I am doing what I was meant to do. I want to inspire other kids as I was inspired. I believe in them and the future they will create. This is more powerful than any lesson I will ever deliver on content. This guides who I am as a teacher every day when I walk into the classroom. I can only hope that my students see my passion and belief in their abilities and use that to gain an understanding of what they can accomplish. 

What I Was Meant For

I realized that my true calling is with teaching literature. Let's face it, I love to read. That love and enjoyment of books carries over authentically to my students. It helps me inspire them to find their love of reading.

I also realized that I am definitely meant for intermediate/middle school grade levels. I love working with children when they are trying to find themselves and explore their identities. I am hoping that my impact will be larger because they will hopefully carry my lessons on education and my belief in their individual talents as they grow and become successful adults. 

I learned that through being a life-long learner, I can accomplish more than I ever dreamed of. By the time I was 28 I had a Masters Degree in Instructional Design. This was an idea that never seemed possible for me when I was growing up. And, because of that, I can help my students realize that they can make a change for themselves as well. 

What does the future hold for me in education?

I am also beginning to learn that I may have a calling for a larger impact. I enjoy teaching educators. I want to help others in the classroom meet the needs of their students-not just academically-but also emotionally. But, I fear leaving the classroom. I know one day I will. I am beginning to think it is what I am meant to do. But, I also know that the unknown is scary. There is even a part of me that worries I am not good enough to inspire educators to learn and grow for their students because of my traumatic past. After all, how could I teach them when I didn't even know I wanted to be a teacher until I was told? No one truly knows what the future holds, but I do hope that mine holds the ability to impact teachers in the classroom and the students in front of them. And, I am finally seeing that I can believe in my own abilities. 

My future as a learner is changing as well. I am considering a new journey into a Ph.D. The fact that I even put that in writing to share is monumental. It may take a while to gain courage, but it is there in my mind. I now realize it is something I can do. And that is what I want my students to understand. Education is there for them. The sky is the limit. They hold so many possibilities in their hands. All they have to do is BELIEVE in themselves like I believe in them! 

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Summer Learning Labs

This summer I am trying something new to engage my readers & writers in an attempt to lessen the summer slide.

Use Google Classroom to create an online-only learning environment. 
I sent home a sign-up for upcoming 6th-grade students the last week of school that gave students permission to participate. This form asked students for their ID number to be added to the Classroom and parents for their email address to be added to a Google Contact Group and connected to the Google Classroom for guardian summaries.

Collaborative Opportunities Provided
I have built-in many opportunities for students to share their reading experiences.

  • Google Classroom discussion questions are a great resource to engage students in discourse with their peers. 

Discussion Question created to share why they joined this
summer class and what they hope to gain from it!
Students then replied to one another.
  • NearPod's Collaborate Board is a great way to share information with peers and add images. Students can even like each other's postings!

Share a Beautiful Line of a book
you are reading right now
  • Kidblog also allows students to comment and give feedback on each other's writing pieces. 

Kidblog Dashboard 

I will be providing my students with a variety of challenges geared to increase interest in reading and writing, as well as continue to build skills. Some examples of challenges I will be providing my students:
  • Find errors in popular celebrity posts & correct the grammar. 
    • NearPod has a great Writing Do's & Writing Don'ts that I put on Student Paced Lesson choice that has students look at Social Media posts & provides opportunities for students to collaborate electronically. 
  • Correct meme's to have proper grammar. 
  • Take a picture of a book you are reading while outside.
  • Record a video of you sharing a Beautiful Line* from a favorite book.
  • Have students use Google Slides to build a slide deck of book recommendations.
Example Student Addition to Slide Deck

My purpose is to try to eliminate the dreaded SUMMER SLIDE. I have provided this opportunity for students that are beginning 6th grade and also for the students that are moving on to 7th grade. Kids work hard all school year, I hate to see them lose it over the summer! 

I also believe an added benefit for the students that are participating is that we will the opportunity to build relationships before the first day of school (with me AND each other). Students will also be familiar with the technology expectations and applications we will be using in class. I am hopeful that they will feel more comfortable when they walk into the classroom for the first time in late August. 
I shared a picture of a
trip to the library & was
able to have a conversation
about the library
& books with a student!
After I left a picture of my trip a student was
inspired to share the results of her trip
to the library as well! 

Private comments in Google Classroom allow me
to help students with technology before school starts
and build relationships by asking questions!

*A beautiful line is a line or phrase that resonates with the reader in a deeply personal way. It can also be a line that the reader enjoys because of the use of beautiful language. This idea was taken from 180 Days by Penny Kittle and Kelly Gallagher. 

If you have any ideas or would like more information about how this goes, please contact me!

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! 

Just making it through the day....Random thoughts about the start of the year

Sometimes I feel as if I am in this never-ending cycle of too-much-to-do and not-enough-time . Because of this, my writing has taken a seat ...