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!

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Culture Club

Culture is such a large piece of a school.  Visitors can feel the culture of a school as soon as they step foot into the building.  School culture is no doubt such a large part because it encompasses the beliefs, perceptions, relationships, attitudes, and rules within the school.  These influence every aspect of how our schools function, lead to the social and emotional well being of our students, and our embrace of differences among our community.  With school culture influencing all of the above, it's obvious why it's a topic that comes up often.  

With culture being so crucial to our schools, what is our role?  It may not always be easy, but each day we have a choice in attitude.  We can approach the day being thankful of our blessings and enjoying the time we get to spend with one another....or we can let the external influence our day.  One of the most powerful ways I've found to put things into perspective has been the "circle of control".  
I have a tendency to worry about things that I can't control.  This is a great visual for me, and I use it in my classroom daily, as well.  It's important for us to model this for our students, too.  This also circles back to what my current principal said to our staff this year, "You are in control of the culture in our school".  Now, honestly, I must say this gave me pause.  As a teacher I always thought that admin was in charge of that...and I must say that as an aspiring admin I felt that weight on my shoulders.  However, this gave the power of control back to the staff.  I mean, wasn't she right?  Aren't we in control of the culture we cultivate each day?  Absolutely!  Each word we speak to our students, parents, and fellow staff members has power...has meaning...has influence.  We must not forget that we shape our own culture each day.  We can either enhance it or negatively influence it.  No matter what we do, you can be assured that it will be noticed.  

So what can teachers do each day to enhance the school culture?  
1.  Check your language - How are you framing your language?  Are you looking for opportunities of growth or are you stagnant?  Are you negative when speaking with parents, students, and colleagues?  Look for small, positives throughout the day.  Reframe your thinking....  
2.  Find your "tribe" - Look for those that support you, positively influence you, and are truly interested in your professional and personal well being.  Cultivate those relationships.  Spend time discussing your goals, their goals, and laughing together.  I truly believe in the power of's one of my favorites.
3.  Celebrate everything - Celebrate small accomplishments with your students and friends.  A student came in on time, but he is usually tardy?  Do a 30 second "happy dance" with the kid!  Changing subjects and having trouble during transitions?  Start cheering out the subject's name: "Give me an M", "Give me an A", "Give me a T", "Give me an H"...."What do you have?" FUN!  Engage others in celebrating together.  This winter, our school had a lip-sync battle between grade levels.  It was a fun event that got us laughing together and enjoying one another's company.  Why not spend 30 min. of investment time to gain a positive culture?  Believe's worth it!
4.  Invest in your students - Yes...I'm going to say it....You should try to attend at least one outside event for your students during the year.  I know, I have a family...a life....and you just can't do that.  I challenge you to find a way.  Take your own kids to a student's baseball game.  Enjoy some popcorn and soda together and cheer on a student.  Why not?  These are great ways to get your family out of the house and deepen the relationships with your families & students.  It doesn't just have to be games, either.  It might be a recital, choir concert, band, or another UIL event.  Any of these are opportunities for you and could be a special time for your family.  Talk to your own kids about the opportunities they could have to join in on these events.  My own son and daughter came with me just this year to some student's volleyball matches.  We got up, had some What-a-Burger breakfast, and cheered on some of my students.  I loved it, and my kids enjoyed it, too.  If you just can't make it outside of school, take an interest in your student's passions or hobbies.  Ask them about the scouts, a camping trip, or buy those Girl Scout Cookies!  Be present in their lives....your classroom culture will come alive!

So what can parents do to enhance the school culture?
1.  Be present - Are you a member of the PTA?  Do you volunteer when you can?  How about sending in those supplies when asked?  Have you offered to cut out laminated things at home?  Do you make sure your child's homework is completed?  Becoming involved, even in little amounts, truly helps build a bridge to the school and helps the culture of the school.  When teachers and students feel they have a partner in education, their likely to have less stress during the day.  Partnerships are important.  
2.  Be positive - Let's face it, gossip can hurt any culture.  While at the ball game, at a neighbor's house, or dinner it's likely that the conversation will turn toward school.  Whether it's the new program, new teacher, or new letter that was just sent home, you can bet school comes up.  That's okay!  Just remember, as you talk, that we are all human.  Mistakes may happen.  Errors in spelling on that letter sent home may occur.  Small ears are always listening...and children will take on your attitude or perception about schooling.  I can guarantee, though, that not one administrator, teacher, or teaching assistant went in to this profession to offend you or hurt a child's education.  We are there, every day, to partner with you in creating a bright future and positive education for your child.  Your child is a precious gift you share with us each day.  We value that....
3.  Ask - Simple right?  Ask questions.  Seek clarification.  Seek understanding.  It's okay to ask about your child's education, grades, or behavior.  As educational professionals, we strive to provide the best education experience.  Ask your teacher about anything that is bothering you.  Just remember that we are people too, and have 22+ students with 22+ parents who may be emailing and calling.  Give us grace as we are on this journey together.  Empathy goes a long way....

So what can administrators do to enhance the school culture?
1.  Share - Share with your faculty where your heart lies.  What drives your decision making process?  Share your vision, expectations, and enthusiasm for education.  You're the first point of contact for the teachers at the beginning of the school year, for the hiring process, and (hopefully) the first smile people encounter when coming into the school building.  Share your smile, share your love of education, and share your heart with us!  We need that!
2.  Build trust - Easier said than done?  Maybe, but I believe that trust must be extended.  I mean, the staff trusted you to accept the job offer, right?  They trusted you during that interview that you had a good heart, would be an exceptional leader, and would build that positive culture.  If not, they wouldn't have accepted the job!  So trust was extended to, now, that the person you offered the job to can do the job.  Set your expectations and trust that they will be met.  Now, of course, we all know that doesn't mean you'll never be in our rooms.  You must be in our rooms to see the great things happening, the wonderful empowerment of students, and to build relationships with the students and teachers. We know that....but trust is often a feeling that we get.  A feeling that you're there (in our rooms) to enjoy the happenings, to see the teaching, and to build upon the capacity you have...not to "catch" a problem.  Oh, and speaking of that, if there is ever a problem, we teachers like it when you come directly to us to talk about it.  Sending those "mass" emails never seems to work.  Frankly, the person you are intending the mass email for probably doesn't even know you're talking to them.  As my principal this year says, "It's about the action or behavior, not the person".  It's not personal...we are all here for the kids.
3.  Model - That's it!  Model what you want to see in your school.  Smile, acknowledge other's as they walk by, give people your time, be available, commit to having positive interactions with others....model, model, model!  

Whew...if you've read all of this, I want to personally thank you.  I know it was a longer post than I normally do, but I feel culture is an extremely important issue.  Thank you for giving me your time!  Now, go forth and culturize!  

*Speaking of which, I'm currently reading, "Culturize" by Jimmy Casas.  Have you read it?  My principal swears it will change your life!  :)

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Do You Know Your Students?

It's a simple question, isn't it?  But this questions goes much deeper into the culture of your classroom and school.  In fact, I believe this question looks deep into the relationships that you are cultivating with your environment.  So let me ask one more time; Do you know your students?

There are many answers to this question.  Some teachers might think of reading levels or math levels.  Maybe they even think of writing stages or phonemic awareness, but what I want to dive into is knowing your students as people.  Do you know what makes each child tick?  Do you know his or her strengths outside of academics?  I believe this is the heart of a classroom.  Without knowing what your students are passionate about or enjoy doing, how can you expect to form a true trustworthy relationship? 

As educators, we spend 180 days with our students.  To allow our students to feel comfortable to talk with us about anything, we must be accessible and make our students feel loved.  Here are some ideas to help build that classroom community:

  • Morning Meeting / Morning Circle
    • My class begins with sharing a "High Five, Handshake, or Hug".  We share out what's going on our in lives, new learning, our weekly events, and play a word game.  Here are some other ideas:
  • Share a Classroom Google Calendar
    • Create a classroom Google Calendar that all families can add to for the year.  You can add happenings for the classroom while parents add happenings for the students.  For example, parents can add extra curricular games and events that others (including yourself) can attend.  For instructions on how to create a shared Google Calendar, click here.
  • Share a joke or riddle of the day
    • I love using humor in the classroom.  In fact, laughing is my favorite!  So I love to share a joke or riddle of the day.  Sometimes I have to explain the riddle or joke, and that's okay!  I find that jokes and riddles often lead to discussions on synonyms, antonyms, or multi-meaning words...what great learning!
  • Have a routine
    • We have a routine for our morning meetings, thank to my friend Maci Johnson. Personally, I like routines and it helps me stay organized.  So here's my classroom meeting routine:
      • Mystery Monday:  Share a Mystery Doug video
      • Talk about It Tuesday:  Choose a topic relative to all students to discuss together
      • Would you Rather Wednesday:  Pose a question of "Would you rather... or ..." and ask students to justify or tell why for their choice.  
      • Think about It Thursday:  Show students a small/short video that provide a different culture or point of view & allow time to discuss
Enjoy those little matter the age, they are someone's pride and joy!  Get to know them!  They are a precious gift....