Monday, July 6, 2015

If you can't say anything nice...

Wise words, yes?  Simple, but so true.  It's something few teachers will talk about in public.  We fear that others will judge us harshly for not "doing it for the kids" or treating it like a paycheck with summers off.  It couldn't be farther from the truth.  With every profession, there are challenges and emotional implications- there are just different forms and how they are perceived by others.  Only a few professions are seen as a public service, which is why we bond so easily with police, fire and other workers who are there to help others.  Clearly I am not saving lives in the same manner- I would never make THAT claim.  However, when community service professionals struggle emotionally, want better conditions or pay- politics get in the way.  The business of education can get in the way of what truly matters.

My confession comes easy, but the implications are huge.  I'm a chronic over-achiever and for most of last year, I felt like a failure.  I had the hardest year of my teaching career... I struggled to find the joy in a profession that I love.  I contemplated quitting so many times.  My half-hearted joke was that Costco sounded like a great alternative!  You check in, do your best, and then go home to your family.  The emotional entanglements were minimal.  There was pressure coming from every direction- new curriculum, political (both sides of the aisle), public perception, expectations, colleagues, parents, classroom behavior, time management, my family... It was the perfect storm of things that I had very little control over. Why did I stay?  My kids- biological and the 23 on loan for the year. 

My sons needed to see me struggle, cry, manage and pull myself back up from the brink of emotional despair and giving up.  My husband even wanted me to take a break, but knew that I wouldn't.  That I couldn't.  My husband and I have never sheltered them from the joy and heartaches of our jobs.  We talk honestly about our day every night at dinner.  My family became part of my classroom world, asking about my students and celebrating with me at their successes.  They also gave hugs when I felt defeated because I couldn't "fix" their issues at home or even friendships.  I could only give coping strategies- hoping for the best.

My classroom children were like my own. I taught them, mothered them, taught them greater independence and tried to foster a sense of family and community.  This was new for many of my students.  We hugged often.  That was what got me through the toughest days.  Without a word, my sweet babies would give me a pat as they walked by and hugs before lunch, after lunch, and then again before leaving for the day.  We formed a strong emotional bond- much like family.  We got on each others nerves, but we knew that we were in this together and that I had their backs- no matter what.

My class taught me so much.  They will probably never know how much.  I learned perseverance, compassion, love, patience and empathy... the list goes on and on.  I grew as a teacher.  I grew as a human.  I am stronger than I ever thought that I could be.  I had to bring my A-game each and every day.  It's now who I am.  My toughest class made me a better teacher and mother.  I didn't know that I could be this person.  Is it cliche to say I was reborn out of the fire? 

I'm excited about the new possibilities.  I just got home from a week at the Teachers College Reading Writing Project in New York.  My head is still spinning, but I have perspective.  I will rest and enjoy my home-life for another month and then think school (you know I will still make random lists for the fall- it's who we are!).  I also want to write.  I've missed my blog and the cathartic experience that writing provides.  I'm also headed back into my art workshop to create.  It's my soul work.  It's time to recharge. 

I wish the same for you.  I wish you rest and a time to remember who you are.  Thank you for reading and happy summer!

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Science, Art, and Testing Technology

Tomorrow night, my school has the yearly Discovery & Art Fair.  With new interest and passionate leadership, it has grown over the last few years.  It started as a quiet little gem and has now expanded into a seriously cool event for families of all ages.  In the past, I took the lame route and put up some art based on math or some kind of boring seasonal project.  This year, I stepped out of my box and ACTIVELY thought about what my students could share with the school community about their learning.

First graders study life cycles of animals.  After our research, reading, and the writing phase of our amphibian unit... We celebrated by creating salamanders out of salt dough.  On the day we were to start, I had four students out sick.  Ugh!  So, I had a spur of the moment idea- use the iPad on a stand to record the directions!  I was even able to email it and send home some dough for two students.  The others watched the video in school and then created their salamanders.

I'm a photographer, so I taught my students to take pictures of our learning.  That day was no exception.  They love it when I post them on our classroom blog as a Wordless Wednesday feature!  During this time, I was also preparing for a technology training that I was giving to some colleagues.  Brainstorm!  Why not pull together ALL of the visual displays of our learning and display them for the fair?  Just to be fancy, I learned how to make a QR code that would link to the video of my teaching.  I love it when things come together!

Here is what the display for tomorrow looks like:

Making the QR code took exactly 5 minutes, including installing the free app!  

To make the video, I just used an iPad on a stand, then uploaded it to a secure channel (nonsearchable).  Using the app, this little cutie popped up:

Will I use this all the time?  Probably not with first graders, but you never know.  I only use technology to enhance student learning, not for the sake of using technology :)

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Technology for Lower El in 30 Minutes

I've been gone from the teaching blogosphere for a while now.  I'm being challenged more than ever before and working harder than ever.... as a result, my own writing has taken a backseat.  Besides my work in the classroom, I serve on several committees and am a district trainer/host for literacy and technology.

I just finished a technology PD last week that is already changing the way I am teaching my students.  I though I should share since I've been neglecting doing what I love... sharing with my fellow teachers!  This PowerPoint is focused on what your students (and you) can do with technology in 30 minute blocks of time.  Lower el is often crunched for time (or has limited access to the technology because upper el needs it more often!).  I hope you enjoy as much as the teachers in my district did.  Please let me know it you have any questions!

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Lesson Planning: Computer vs. Paper

My lesson planning has evolved over the last seven years...

When I started teaching kindergarten, I was a long-term sub job that lasted over 1/2 the year.  She did her plans in a plan book, so I just used her system.  I was always confused and found that I was in over my head (I had 31 kinders and an aide for 2 hours of the day in a full-day program).  This was before readers and writers workshop, and anything that wasn't play-based.  I mostly organized the day's materials.  Sad, but I learned as I went along.
When I was hired for a kindergarten position, I made it my mission to learn EVERY benchmark and expectation for my littles.  I integrated the standards into my lesson plans, which were incredibly detailed.  This was the most amazing learning experience.  That practice got me on the report card committee as a first year teacher (again- a great learning time for me).  I still wrote them in a plan book, but transferred them to digital after.  I did some long range planning in the book.  I  used a table format in Word.  This allowed me to keep many of the things that we did each day, at the same time, the same.  I was also able to cut and paste the benchmarks.  I would highlight them on the original state document in order to make sure that all were met.  It looked like this:

By my second year, I stopped using the paper planner.  My principal appreciated reading the standards, but after my first few years.... we both stopped :)

When I switched to first grade, I pulled out the standards again for the first few months..... then stopped because there were so many in one week that it was more than 1/2 of my plans.  I was also the only one who did this.  It was time that I trusted myself and my attention to the goals for my class.  Keep in mind that I was using Lucy Calkins for writing and had a set plan for reading from our ISD, along with a new math program- no need to write it out in detail.  My plans changed to this last year:

This year, I'm entering in to a new chapter.... the Erin Condren Teacher Planner! I've been using the life planner for a few years and L.O.V.E. it!  I like to write things down and make lists - even if I'm about to cross it off!  So much of my lesson planning is done for me.  I write directly on the teachers editions when I make changes and/or add in extras.  My writing is all over everything.... I feel bad for the teacher who will someday take my place!
Here is my Condren Planner for next year:

I need to get on that daily planning!  School starts September 2nd!
LOVE the plastic insert pages for the necessities of planning.  The pouch is perfect for tiny notes and receipts!
I'm coming full circle.  With confidence and knowledge comes the ability to simplify and focus on what matters most at work- actually TEACHING.

Seriously fabulous, right?  As a thank you, they even send it with a $10 off coupon- which I used to buy my Life Planner for this year.  If you are interested in Erin Condren designs, check it out HERE

*This post was not sponsored in ANY way.  All opinions are my own.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

What I'm Reading Wednesday- How's It Going?

It's been one of those summers.... filled with house projects and family.  Although I took a break from my teaching blog, I was still reading and thinking about writing.  I was stretching myself as a writer by starting another blog- just about my other hobby (trashy treasures!).  I needed to be living a "writer-ly life" in order to better connect with my students in the fall.

I try to read one professional book every few months, depending on my interests and needs.  For this series.... they are stacked :)  This is the book I brought home this summer:

Link to Amazon 
 My copy of this book was missing for about 2 months.  I even sent out "wanted posters" to the staff and verified my Amazon purchase.  The last week of school, my mentor teacher handed it to me (sheepishly).  She didn't even remember borrowing it.  I knew I wasn't crazy!

I know when I'm reading a great professional book when I write all over it and use multiple colors of highlighters and pens.  That means that I went back a few times to read a portion.  The permanent post-it.... I'm making something out of those notes to share with my teaching partners!

Here are some of my big take-aways....
  • We teach the WRITER, not the specific writing. We should be teaching students the things that they will carry through in other pieces, not just fix this one.
  • We should be able to specifically name what we taught the writer (and share the language of writers with the students).
  • There is a structure to an effective conference.
    • conversation about what the child is currently doing as a writer (research & decide what to teach)
    • conversation about how the child can become a better writer (teaching, and trying it out)
  • Sometimes, there are predetermined goals, but it needs to focus on the students specific writing.
  • We need to teach the purpose and model how to have an effective conference with expectations.  Students need us to give them the language (they don't naturally have it).  Practice conference conversations.
  • Carry mentor appropriate mentor tests and student samples in plastic (that can be revised/ edited with dry erase).  Then the student can see how the teaching applies to more than one piece of writing.
  • Research you writer!  I'll be making a cheat sheet to carry with me, using these questions to help prompt my inquiries:
Notice the post-it.... I'll condense and make it my own!
  • Only have ONE teaching point.  We cannot expect students to use more than one tip at a time.  We only have 5-7 per student, so make sure they can do that ONE thing great.  Chose the biggest bang for their writing buck.  There is more time on another day!
  • Balance student-directed needs and teacher-decided goals.
  • Share what you "notice" about their writing and help them to clarify what they want to learn.
  • Use post-its to remind students of teaching tips from the conference, as they may not be ready to do it at that exact moment (maybe 10 minutes later).
  • Confer EVERY DAY!  If students are writing for 35 minutes, set a goal of 5-6 conferences per day.  Teachers should also take a lap around the room to monitor behavior.  just knowing that you are present will squash many behaviors :)
Happy reading!