Saturday, January 26, 2019

Observe Me - Come & See

Observe Me - Come & See

Classroom observations - oh, man.  These can elicit fear in educators all over the world.  From scheduled to unscheduled observations, teachers feel the stress of other's evaluating them.  No doubt, when anyone feels someone is evaluating or judging them, it causes emotions of frustration, worried, and possibly anxiety.  But, why do we, as educators, feel this way?  Why do we look at getting feedback as a bad thing?  Getting feedback and using it to reflect upon our practice are the extremely important keys to professional growth.  

If you are wanting to try something new in the way of getting feedback on your professional practice or craft, try reading about the #observeme movement.  The #observeme movement involves inviting professional feedback on specific items that you want to grow in - identifying your areas of work, working on it, and asking other for feedback on it.  

I LOVED getting feedback on specific parts of my classroom and knowing what other's wanted feedback on.  Not only can other teachers give feedback, but parents, admin, counselors...anyone can offer feedback.  


Get that feedback....Get better....Give your best everyday in your classroom!  Kids deserve it!

Thursday, January 3, 2019

Core Beliefs

Welcome to a New Year!

Welcome back to a fresh start!  I’ve found that as this time of the year, teachers often want to take a good look at their procedures, routines, lesson planning, and classroom development since the beginning of the year.  If I’m speaking to your heart, then keep on reading!  I’ve got an idea for you!

You might be thinking:
What do I need to do to get my students more engaged in the learning process?
What will get my students excited about learning?
How will I make sure my classroom runs smoothly?
What key learnings do I need to focus on this semester?
How can I circle back to my procedures and routines?
How has my class developed over the last semester?

One area I have found that can help me focus and find answers to the above questions is looking long and hard at my core beliefs.  Core beliefs are how people see themselves, others, the world, and the future. 

Identifying your core beliefs can help you refocus your classroom.  This is because every decision you make, you can ask yourself, “Does this align with my core beliefs?”.  Aligning your procedures, lesson plans, and routines to your core beliefs will help you stay focused on your students and your ideal learning environment. 

What are some ideas for core beliefs?  Let’s look at one large company and it’s core beliefs.  As we do, ask yourself, “Does this align with what I think of about this company?”.
Google Beliefs:
1.    Focus on the user and all else will follow.
2.    It’s best to do one thing really, really well.
3.    Fast is better than slow.
4.    Democracy on the web works.
5.    You don’t need to be at your desk to need an answer.
6.    You can make money without doing evil
7.    There’s always more information out there.
8.    The need for information crosses all borders.
9.    You can be serious without a suit.
10.Great just isn’t good enough.
As I read through Google’s core beliefs, I found myself thinking that some of those could be my beliefs as a teacher!  I mean, all I needed to do what change “user” to “student” and I had my belief summed up…focus on the student and all else will follow.  Isn’t that what we should be doing each day?  All of your decision should be focus on the student…not us as teachers/leaders/administrators.  It’s likes someone asking you, “What do you teach?”.  If your first response is “writing”, “math”, it doesn’t present with a student-first answer.  My thought is “I teach students”…individuals.  I need to look at each child individually, independently, and authentically. 
If you’ve never looked at or thought about your core beliefs, now is a great time to do so.  It’s a new year…a new outlook.  Think about it.  Write down your beliefs.  Hang them up somewhere where you will read them every day.  Heck, make a classroom “core beliefs” poster with your students.  Identify what your class believes in each other!  What a great morning meeting lesson!

Here are my core beliefs:
·      Decisions and actions should be focused on the student
·      Everyone can embrace & drive change
·      Every action should build open, honest, & trustworthy relationships
     Collaboration is collective genius

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Writer's Workshop 1st Week

Gathering Those Ideas

Every classroom in August will be getting ready for the incoming excitement
and chaos of the beginning of the year.  Throughout the first weeks in August,
teachers will begin thinking about the first two weeks of school. Oh, how tiring
those days are...the days seem shorter as you try to physically cram every
part of your to-do list together. Your shoulders slump, your feet shuffle, eyes
glaze over, but your keeps going & going & going: never giving up
on adding to your "to-do" list. But it’s with much excitement that teachers plan
those first two weeks. I’m going to focus, today, on those first two weeks of

First, let me start by saying that I hated writing during my schooling.  In fact,
I would say that it’s my second to last favorite thing to teach in class (history
is my last...yuck...sorry to my mother-in-law who taught US History).  In fact,
in the past, I’d often look at my husband, then boyfriend, sideways when
he’d turn on the History Channel during our dating years. I mean...what in
the what? Ha. Now, back on track.  Due to writing being blah for me as a
kid, I have tried very hard to make writing “fun” in my classroom. I use lots
of colored pens, colored pencils, music, and colored paper throughout the
year of writing.  But it’s those first two weeks that set the stage for the entire
year. And if you approach writing like I did the first few years of teaching (blah),
you’ll see the blah results of it. However, in the last 8-10 years of my teaching
I transformed how I approached writing with my classroom in the first two
weeks, and I saw great effects of that.  

Here is my “formula”:

*Decorate in the classroom - YES!  You heard me...don’t send those writer’s notebooks home to be decorated there.  BLAH! No one wants to sit and do “homework” like that the first week one (student or parent).  And parents don’t have extra pictures just lying around for the kids to cut up...come on! So, over the summer, I would hit up Michaels or Hobby Lobby or WalMart for 12x12 scrapbook paper that was on SALE!  The best place I’ve ever found (price and quantity wise) has been Michaels.  Buy some fun designs & colors. I often found a pack of over 100 sheets for $10 at Michaels (on sale).  I usually buy three packs to have plenty of choice in my room. Then I ask for parent donations (at Meet the Teacher Night) of stickers; both letters and images.  Anyone can find stickers at HEB, WalMart, etc.  The first day we talk about what a Writer’s Notebook is and how it’s really a place to house our treasures and memories.  The second day is decorating day!  I let each kid pick out two pieces of 12x12 scrapbook paper to decorate their notebook.  I show them how I cover both the front & back cover like I’m wrapping a present….a present to myself.  (Yes, I know...cheesy, but you need the kids to buy in to this.) I use duct tape and stickers to complete the look.  Let them use glitter, shiny stickers, smelly stickers, glue, tape, feathers...whatever you have!

*The 3rd day of school I talk to my kids about storytelling.  I explain that when a writer writes, that it’s a form of storytelling.  We, then, chart out what makes a good storyteller. Typically, students will say things like excitement, humor, voice.  I really try to focus them on the “explaining” part of storytelling and how a storyteller talks to the audience. I give each kid a half of a manila folder.  We tape those half folders into the very back of the writer’s notebook. This will be called our “Catalog of Ideas”. Next, the students sit all around me with their “catalog of ideas” open with a pencil.  I explain that as I tell my story that they will have ideas of their own memories that come up. As that happens, instead of raising their hands and telling me about their stories, I want them to write down a quick-few-worded phrase about the memory.  This will remind them of the story. My hope is that when I finish my storytelling that each kid will have 1-3 things written down on the “catalog of ideas”. Now it’s time for the storytelling. This is where you have to sell it, people. You have to get into it.  You have to run, skip, talk loudly, whisper, make faces, make noises...I mean all of it. If you have a bird in your story, then you should shout “CAW CAW, CAW CAW”! You are a one-man show at this time. SELL IT! Next, have kids try doing the same. BUT remember...they have to SELL IT now.  So if a kid starts boring you...remind them of what good storytellers do! As other kids are sharing, the audience should be writing down memories in their “catalog of ideas”.

*Guess what we do on day 4?  THE SAME THING as Day 3. Why?  To get
more and more ideas going, people  I mean, I want up to 10 ideas on each
person’s “catalog of ideas” folder be the time we are done.  Emotional stories,
stories of a water park, stories of trips, hurt stories (a time you injured yourself),
a time you were peer pressured, a time you babysat, a time you goofed up….
all of it!

Day 5….take one entry.  Using the catalog of ideas, have the students pick one
idea to write about.  Do you care about spelling...nope. Do you care about
capitals...nope. Do you care about writing...yep.  This is where I establish
my “your pencil is talking, not your mouths” and my music playing. I, personally,
like Vitamin String Quartet.  If you don’t know them, they are great at
turning popular music pieces into elevator music.  :) We write for about 15 min.
and then share out.  While people are guessed it, we are writing
down ideas we get into our “catalog of ideas”.

Want to know more about Writer’s Notebooks?  Click here.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Follow Your Heart

We've all had times in our lives that our hopes or dreams haven't become reality.  It's part of life...not a part that I particularly enjoy, but a part that truly teaches us resiliency and grit.  When we are in the midst of one of these life lessons, it's hard to see the light or lesson before us.  

In 2014, I finally began to work towards my Masters in Educational Leadership.  Throughout my teaching career I had always thought I wanted to be in administration.  During my degree program I was able to step out of my comfort zone.  I was asked to video myself, teach lessons to teachers, and provide professional development to educators.  During this time, I truly loved working with other teachers to share ideas, problem solve, and help teachers learn new skills.  However, I had decided many years before that my goal was to be an administrator...right?  I felt that I needed to stay on the path that I had chosen.  Fast forward through a few hard times and decisions (because I wasn't ready to listen to the lesson I had learned), and I'm finally opening my mind to where my heart has been leading me.  I am super excited to be moving to be an Instructional Partner and to be going in the direction that is really feeding my soul; helping other teachers.  

So what's my point?  Well, my point is that even as adults, we can change directions...change dreams....listen to our hearts.  Although you may have already known this, it's taken me a while to learn it.  AND it's a lesson that I share with my own children and students now.  If we, as adults, don't open up to our children and share our life lessons, then how can we expect them to be resilient as they grow up?  My point is...have you shared a time when you followed your heart or when you learned a life lesson?  If we never share our hard times (within reason) with our children, then they begin to see our lives as perfect....and don't know we have hard times, as well.  It's important for our children to see that we overcome obstacles every day.  We aren't perfect, and it's okay to be vulnerable with our little ones (again, within reason).

Follow your dreams.
Listen to your heart.
Know that your honesty will mean so much to others.

Monday, May 7, 2018

Next Steps...

Throughout my years in education, I’ve been fortunate to work with amazing educators & families. I’m excited/nervous to announce that I will be an Instructional Partner next year. While stepping out of the classroom is scary, I’m super excited about working with teachers and helping them hone their craft. 

So what is an Instructional Partner?  I will be entrusted to positively impact student achievement through the support, training, coaching, and mentoring of teacher's and staff.  I'm excited about this position!  I've loved helping teachers for years, and students my entire life!  Recently, I've truly felt that helping teachers has been feeding my soul.  It's an amazing feeling.  

I'll also be able to co-teach, be a resource for other teachers, and support the implementation of innovation within the classroom!  

I plan to continue to blog my learning.  I appreciate all of your support and love throughout this process.  

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Rethinking Math Menus

First, let me begin this post with saying that I love teaching math.  I remember, at a young age, sitting in the office with my stepdad.  He'd tutor me every Saturday morning and reteach the concepts that I didn't quite understand from the week before.  We'd use a dry erase board and different colored markers...which is probably what I loved the most.  I remember him trying to explain the reasoning behind the math concept without making me just memorize the information.  Math class...the feeling of not understanding and the way I felt shy about answering questions.  Ugh...and I dreaded those timed multiplication tests every day.  Man...those stunk!  (*and I still, to this day, hate them)

Fast forward to current day and I love math.  I love teaching it.  I love explaining why it's important and the many uses for it.  I love using body movements to get the kids up and "doing" math.  I love math!  So when I went to a conference that had "a new way to look at math menus" I just couldn't pass it up, and I'm sure glad I didn't.  Here are some of the take-aways I had from the session that I wanted to share with you. 

1.  Notice and Wonder - Two simple words, but a powerful way to have students truly examine the problem before beginning to work it out.  The idea stems from the typical time in every math class where you dive into a story problem.  You may use CUBES or FISH or some other type of problem solving strategy.  But what it comes down to is a child looking for number and "clue words" to circle.  Right?  This strategy tries to break us away from that idea.  Instead, give the students just a picture from the story words, no question.  Ask them, "What do you notice or wonder".  Let's try it:
What do you notice?  Did you notice that some numbers are whole numbers and some are fractions?  Did you notice that there are letters and numbers?  Did you notice that the picture is a number line?  How about least to greatest?  Did you notice that some of the lines on the number line are smaller than others?  How about noticing that there is a space between some numbers and no space between others?

Now wonder....wonder what type of question could be asked with this picture.  What could you ask a friend about this picture? 

These are some of the ideas you could use this simple number line with in a classroom. 
Next, you would show the actual question and see how the students would use what they have noticed and wondered to answer the question. 

2.  Create a menu that allows students to practice a skill and extend their thinking without having to create center after center.  In this model, students are given a GUIDE sheet to "guide" their own learning through purposeful work.  GUIDE stands for "games", "using what you know", "independent work", "developing fluency", and "expressing math ideas".  I created a "MUST DO" and a "MAY DO" column for each part of the GUIDE.  My students use the GUIDE as a true guide to what they are doing for the week and to turn in (the back of the sheet has specific parts to complete).  While my students are working from the GUIDE, I'm calling math groups to teach the lesson in small groups.  With teaching the concept in small groups I can personalize the lessons, correct misconceptions, and address any questions my students have.  Each small group lesson ranges in length (time), but I do have a timer to help me keep on schedule.  I adjust the small groups based on pre-assessments, which helps group students on the same understanding level. 
Here are some links to the GUIDE sheets:
Example 1
Example 2
Example 3

I certainly hope you found something useful and can take something new into your classroom!  Enjoy!

Sunday, March 4, 2018

A Chance for Change

Perhaps one of the most exciting parts of being in education is the opportunity for change.  Education is such a progressive field of work that people continuously grow.  You just can't stay the "same" in our field.  New students, new circumstances, and new curriculum standards lead educators to change constantly.

In this ever changing field, creating a learning network is essential.  What are the options for educators wanting to learn while working within our schools and districts?  Here are some ideas for those wanting to reach out and learn.

1.  Blogs: Other than mine (ha ha ha), there are tons of educational blogs to follow and learn from out on the web.  Here is a list of a few that I truly LOVE:
Joy Kirr  - Author of "Shift This" has wonderful information to share! She even has a list of new bloggers to follow!
Connected Principals - Even if you aren't wanting to go into administration, as I am, you can learn the "why" behind many changes and ideas in education.  Check it out!  Some wonderful bloggers on there, too!
TeachThought - Here you can find many options to read that all encompass educational ideas.
Jimmy Casas - Have you begun reading "Culturize" yet?  If should!  Oh, and follow this guy!  He's the author and totally leads with passion!
George Couros - He's written a great book called "The Innovator's Mindset", and is so fun to listen to!  I was able to hear him speak this past August, and it was great!  He has great insight into the evolution of education and keeps it real for you!

2.  Twitter it Up:  Even if you do not want to Tweet (but I bet you can't resist), you should have an account.  You can follow some wonderful educators, districts, and companies on Twitter.  People tweet their blog posts, ideas, and share great resources on Twitter.  I even follow someone who is dedicated to incorporating Google into the classroom!  There are chats that you can join in almost each night dedicated to educational topics.  Online learning was never so easy!  Still need reasons, check out this post on "Why Twitter Matters" for educators.

3.  Facebook - Facebook has tons of pages you can like and follow.  I love to see ideas and questions come up in my feed.  I can offer suggestions or learn from other through these pages.  Sometimes you can find groups that are near you or in your state that are specific to the learning standards you're teaching.

There is one resource that I have yet to online (virtual) book club for teachers.  However, I feel that you could easily facilitate this via Twitter.  I just feel it would be great to share those "ah ha" moments with others reading the same literature.  But, that's just me!

Do you have other ideas?  Share them with a comment....I'd love to learn from you!