Saturday, March 31, 2012

Dear New Principal

There you are with all of your hopes and dreams, your expectations, your trepidation, and a staff waiting eagerly to see how you are going to run things.  Will you be someone who comes in like a mouse or will you slug us all with your hammer of power?  What the future holds we can only guess but I know there are some  things we would love to say.

First, be kind.  We are new to you and we may need an adjustment period.  We know you have many changes and visions for our school but take some time to get to know us first.  Figure out the dynamics of our school and see what really works before you start to change and dismantle.  There are many powerful things happening that would be sad to see destroyed.

Second, know your way.  We want to be led by someone with a vision, someone who has convictions.  And yet, make sure your vision doesn't cloud your judgment.  Does it fit with our culture?  Does it fit with the community we get to call home?  Does it fit with us and you and all of the kids?  If yes, then go ahead, if not, then perhaps discuss, reflect and reevaluate.  For whom are these changes being made?

Third, make it about the children.  We have always been focused on the students and want to stay that way.  So get to know them as you get to know us, make yourself visible and always keep their interest in mind.  Trust me, the children would rather not be tested more or discussed as mere numbers on the wall.  They do not care what standard they are being taught right now but instead whether the curriculum is engaging, relevant and allows them a choice and voice.  They are complicated, delicate, curious beings that we are privileged to work with.  Relationship first, then we can get to the academics.

Don't exclude us but think of us as your team.  We want you to be successful as much as you want us to stay that way.  Believe in us and our crazy ideas.  Push us to do new things but know when to hold back and perhaps even hold our hand a little.  Trust us as professionals who do really want what is best for the kids but sometimes need some guidance.  Bring in new ideas but one at a time, let us figure out one before we rush into something new.  Don't micromanage but believe in our judgment and also in our dreams.  Make friends but don't create cliques, we are a family here and yes we may disagree but we take pride in who we are and what we create.  Trust us as professionals and defend our decisions if you agree with them.  Don't lose yourself in trying to please everyone.  Be fair but listen to all the sides, don't take sides whenever you can.

Don't punish when it doesn't fit the crime, whether student or staff.  Push us to excel and give us someone to look up to.  There are many leaders in this school but look for new ones as well, there are people here who who have such incredible ideas but never can find the words to share them.  Tell us when we do well, tell us when you notice something and do the same for the kids.

Welcome, new principal, I don't envy your position but we are excited to have you.  We hope you are everything we have hoped for.


Friday, March 30, 2012

What Happened to Our Dreams and Expectations?

Image from here

I am reading the local paper about the growing achievement gap between minorities and as my heart grows heavy, my mind starts to spin.  What happened to our expectations for all of our students?  What happened to having the same dream that ALL students can achieve, even those that face special disabilities, crippling poverty or lack of parental support?  We, as teachers, are supposed to be the last bastion, those that choose to believe in all of our students, no matter their race, their background, their belief in themselves.

I look inward and wonder when was the last time I asked for a file for a non-minority student that transferred in?  When did my own assumptions cloud my belief that all students can achieve and that I just have to set the bar high enough and then support, encourage and challenge?  That every year the slate should be wiped clean when they enter into my room, and yes, I may stare at those pages of past behaviors and troubles but that they should not be come my roadmap for the future?

I pledge again to believe in all of them.  To set the expectations high and to support them where they need it.  To look past color but not become colorblind.  To see the whole child and not the papers that follow them or the path they chose before.  To defend my students from academic prejudice and grow along with them.  One young man in the paper said that if perhaps he had just had someone believe in him, told him he could have done it, his path wouldn't have lead to jail.  Perhaps he is right, the path cannot be changed, but at least I am willing to do just that; believe in all those children.  Will you believe with me?

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

I Hope You Have a Home

On Saturday, my mother got the call we had all been dreading.  Come home, it is time, she is ready.  My 98 year old grandmother had taken a turn for the worse and now had told the world that she was ready.  A plane ride later, and a vigil kept and mormor is slowly slipping away.  We get reports through emails and phone calls; no news, it just gets worse, she is ready to go home.  

My family is not one seeped in religion, in fact, hardly anyone believes in an afterlife.  So when my grandmother speaks of home, she does not speak of the heavenly version, or the eternal one, but the one where my grandfather is.  As some of you know he passed December 14th, 2011 after 62 years of marriage to my grandmother.  In those 62 years they spent one night apart, one night, and they hated it so much they never did it again.  So home to my grandmother is wherever he is, wherever they can be together.  And we wish nothing more for her than that she gets her wish even if it means leaving all of us who have looked to her for comfort, wisdom, and eternal optimism.  Home is no longer with us.  It is and always has been wherever morfar is.

So although it may be selfish, or it may even be cruel to others, I look at my own relationship with Brandon and I realize that he is my home.  That wherever he is is where I need to be.  And I am comforted that someday I will be in that same position, I understand what it means to be done with life so that you can be with the one you are supposed to be with.  I understand when my mormor wishes for peace, saying she has lived enough, that she is ready and that we will be ok.  

So in the end I wish nothing more for anyone, that they too have someone to come home to after a long life, after a lot of life.  I hope you have a home.


Saturday, March 24, 2012

When Students Tell You They Are Bored Can We Blame the Students As Well?

I am in a conference trying to figure out why a child seems less engaged, less into it, and just not all that excited about school.  So far the conversation has been rather one-sided, meaning me speaking and being met with lsilence.  Finally I ask, "Are you bored?"  And the student looks up and says, "Yeah."

I think that has happened to most teachers, a bored student, but what may not have happened to many is for that student to have the guts to tell you.  I know I was incredibly bored throughout many classes in my school days but I never did tell a teacher since I figured nothing good would come of it.  And I may have been right because my gut reaction the moment I was told was to get frustrated.  How can you be bored in my room? We do so many exciting things!  And yet, I bite my tongue, nod, and go home with a head full of questions.

I have a classroom full of noise, ideas, and engagement. It is something I work incredibly hard for and I am very very proud of and yet, it can also be boring.  There are times when the base needs to be built for our further exploration and I have to talk.  I try to make it engaging, I try to make is student-centered, and yet sometimes I can't.  It gets better every year but still; but yes I can be boring.  So these thoughts follow me home and I ask my husband what I should he do since he acutely suffered from school boredom.

His thoughts stopped me; "Maybe it isn't you?  Maybe you do everything you can and that child needs to step up too.  Maybe boredom is a two way street and you can only make it so exciting but if the student is not ready or wanting to be engaged then it doesn't matter what you do."  I immediately started to defend the child and lament that it must be me until I realized he may be on to something; perhaps we as educators can only do so much.  Perhaps we can only engage and excite until a certain point and then the student has to invest as well.  Perhaps we cannot change every student's perception of school no matter how many things we pull out to do.  Perhaps, we are not the only ones with control in our classroom?

So I turn to you; what do we do when students are bored?  After we have changed the curriculum, the approach and the task?   What do we do when a student-centered learning environment is not enough?  Do we dare tell the student that they too have to invest?  That they have to make an effort to be interested or else school will be infinitely boring no matter what we do?  Do we dare put some of the responsibility for school engagement back on their shoulders?  Or is that taking the easy way out?

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Stop Telling Me Technology Engages

Image from here

Not too long ago when I brought up my dislike for the cost of Smartboards working in a budget crunched district, I was told that there was no way I could dismiss the improvement of student engagement that it has created in my classroom.  I met that statement with raised eyebrows and then shook my head.  The Smartboard or whatever technology tool I may be using is not what increases engagement in my students; the content is.  The tool does not engage; the learning does.  Because if the tool is the only thing that engages then I would say we are in serious trouble.  If the tool is the only thing we use to keep those kids tuned in and invested then we need to do some serious re-thinking of our curriculum and delivery.  

So while districts can flaunt all of the technology tools they so happily purchase with or without teacher input, we cannot tout that our engagement level goes up just because of that purchase.  We cannot say we are now 21st century districts, since in all sincerity this is the 21st century no matter what tools we have.  Sure kids may be looking at the board or screen more when we have more technology, but how much of that is training or simple politeness; a feigned interest or hope that something engaging will show up on that screen?  How much of that is because all of them are facing the board rather than in pods?  How many of them long for getting out of their seats and do something rather than watch one person direct the learning?

So don't tell me that putting a Smartboard in my room increases student engagement, in fact, please run any technology purchase by me so that I can investigate and dissect it.  Don't tell me that my students are eagerly anticipating their turn to click the magic board, that wears off after the first couple of days.  Tell me instead that the curriculum we teach is worthwhile, that the learning that we DO is engaging, that my students are engaged because they choose to be and I put enough thought into what I am teaching to realize that.  Tell me that and I will agree; the tool does not create the engagement, we do.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Some Celebrate Test Scores - I Celebrate the Students

Once in a while the celebratory emails go out detailing how we are beating our districts' average in test scores, how our school has grown as measured by these tests, how our students are progressing.  And sure, those are reasons to celebrate but I prefer to celebrate for other reasons.

I celebrate that student that raises their hand with a differing opinion because more participation is their goal.

The child that steps back and lets other take on a leadership role even though they know just how they would do it.

The kids that know when to laugh, when to care, when to try, and when to do it all at the same time.

I celebrate the shy boy that becomes a leader with a new tool and stands behind his discovery, eager to show others how to do things.

I celebrate the class that continues to work, unfazed, even if I step out of the classroom to take care of something.

Those kids that groan when school is over and cheer when they hear the plans for the next day.

The student that asks if they can pose a blogging challenge because they know they have a really good one.

I celebrate those kids that look their parents in the eyes and tell them how much they have grown but that they are not there yet but they have a plan to reach their goal.

Those kids that tell me when they mess because they would rather tell me the truth even if they get into trouble over it.

The students that notice when someone is absent and wonder where they are.

I celebrate the community, the challenges, and the growth that I see every day, every week, and every year. As middle school sneaks into our futures, I celebrate these kids that have so much to give, so much to offer, and so much courage to keep trying.  

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Is Teaching Killing Student Self-Reliance?

"But mommy, I can't!!!!"  Thea is struggling to put two pieces together for a game, I look at her patiently and urge her to try again, try again.  As parents we are slightly bewildered by the "I can'ts" we hear every day; little things such as getting socks on, or big things seem an insurmountable challenge for our 3 year old turn into cries for help and yet with diligence we urge her to move on, to try again, and to figure it out.  We are trying to raise a self-reliant little girl that faces challenges with relish rather than hide from them.  We want her to have faith in herself, in her abilities, and to also have courage.

I go to school and see the same thing; "I don't get this..."  "I can't do this..." can be heard on a regular basis and I know I am not alone. So I made one of my goals to teach self-reliance, to teach courage, to teach willingness to try and fail.  To urge these students patiently on, to identify the problem and figure out how to solve it. Sure it would be easier if I would just do it for them, but what does that teach?

So I ponder, what if we as teacher removed ourselves from the equation?  Set up a problem or challenge for the class and then stepped back to see what would happen?  Since the beginning of the year this has played out in my classroom; here is the challenge, you have the skills, now solve it. While some may claim I do not do my full job then, I would say that I am preparing students to be independent thinkers.  To trust in themselves and their own abilities, to be problem-solvers, intuitive thinkers, and to not ever be afraid of something not working.  The result?  Students who try first and then turn to tools, to each other to figure something out. Students ho discuss solutions and challenges with themselves and each other.  Students who know it is ok to pull out a piece of scrap aper, try something, throw it out and try something else.

When we over-prescribe and over-explain, we rob students of the pleasure of accomplishment. Sure they will still get from point A to point B, but the satisfaction of true learning will be diminished. When I tell my students that I have a challenge for them, and yes that it may be difficult but not impossible, I get some trepidation, some wavering and then it turns to determination, to a "we can do this" moment.  That is what learning should look like.  My students have become more self-reliant, more courageous learners, more willing to take a risk and figure something out. Sure they still ask for my help, but it is with pointed questions and tried pathways.

So can you step back, can you let them try without giving out all of the steps?  Can you teach them overall skills on how to attack problems and then let them customize to each situation?  It takes guts and it takes courage, and it also takes an enormous belief in your students.  I think they deserve it.

Friday, March 16, 2012

The One Word that Defines Us

Image from here

If there is one word that sums up my classroom management it is "Represent."  It is the word I leave hanging in the air behind me if I have to leave early.  It is the word I write on the board if there is a sub the next day.  It is a word we discuss, we make our own, and in some ways it ends up defining us as a group.  It is not indoctrinated, neither are my students punished if they fail to live up to it.  It just becomes a hole system, without us even being aware of it.  No rules posted, no heavy-handed discussions, just the word and all of the meaning it has.

According to the dictionary one of the many meanings of the words is To stand for; symbolize and that is exactly what it means for us. When my students are on their own they still represent the community we have created, they are carriers of the message we have chosen to nourish; tolerance, respect, politeness, and engagement.  When we go anywhere we represent our community, our school's values and those of our parents.  We symbolize what we strive to be, we stand for being upright citizens, humans beings with empathy who know how to act.

Yesterday, a teacher paid me the biggest compliment I could get, "Your students just seem to get it, when they are asked to clean up they do it right away and they do it as a group."  I couldn't be prouder.  They do it as a group, they take care of where they are, even when I am not there.  I don't force the word, it comes up naturally throughout the year and we never define it formally, but it us and it is who we choose to be when we are engaged in school.  It s what we choose to do whether spoken or not.  I could not be prouder of these kids.


Thursday, March 15, 2012

Getting Ready to Student Teach; Just a Little Advice

Wordle: student teacher

I am one of the lucky few that got a job at the school I student-taught at, something that I had hoped and wished for over several years.  My desire to be at this school was multi-faceted; excellent staff, a dedicated district, and a diverse student population.  So the day I received the phone call that, indeed, a 4th grade job was mine, I was over the moon.  And yet, this didn’t just happen purely because I was lucky, I had put in a lot of work to put myself in this dream position so I want to share a bit of advice for those new student teachers or those soon to be.

  • Research your school.  The school you student-teach at should be a school that you would like to work at.   Do you homework, meet the teachers and figure out the school's presence in the community.  I had known for several years that West Middleton was where I really wanted to be so I also did practicums here, thus establishing a relationship 2 years before student-teaching started.  It was through the relationships that I found my mentor teacher and classroom I would be in for 6 months.
  • Get to know your teacher before you start.  I met with my incredible mentor, Kathy, before my placement was settled to make sure we would mesh.  I wanted to really be in a community of learning that I would grow and be challenged in and also with someone who I would form a relationship with.  While you certainly don't have to be become life-long friends, you do have to like each other otherwise the kids will notice and learning will be disrupted.
  • Treat it with respect.  The first time I met Kathy I called her Ms. Hiteman; we were not friends and I did not feel that I had earned the right to call her by her first name.  This means something, so even if your initial contact is through email, use their last name and title, then when they tell you to use your first name you know they feel ok with that.  This goes for anyone you meet, take a cue from those around you and treat them with respect.  You never know who will be your next boss, interviewer or team mate.
  • Be passionate.  Being a student-teacher is hard work but you have to be excited.  These are the big leagues; you finally get to do what you have been training for and hopefully in a setting that suits you.  Be excited to come to school and it spreads to others, trust me people notice when you bring passion to the table and even new ideas.
  • Clear your schedule as much as possible.  Student-teaching needs to be your job, and yes this is coming from someone who worked full-time with an 18 credit load through college.  I still worked during student-teaching but it was on the weekends.  You may not be getting paid to student-teach but you should treat it like a job; this is an investment in your future and you need to be available for all of the extra work that teachers do even during summer if you student-teach in the fall.
  • Have a personality but don't let it overtake you.  Don't be bland, be nice, speak your mind, but do it with respect.  You do not know the school as well those who work here so bring your personality in but know when to put a lid on it.
  • Be invested.  Take the time to get to know the students, treat them like they are yours, because they are, and grow with them.  The mark of a great teacher is someone who forms a connection, so be great.  And this isn’t limited to just the students; get to know everyone, they will also be the ones deciding whether or not you fit into their school and believe me , word travels fast.
  • Reach out to others.  You may just be with one teacher through your whole process but establish relationships with others in the building, ask  them if you can go to their room to observe, volunteer for committees, and establish a relationship with the principal.  I was able to get a written recommendation form mine because I reached out and asked him to observe me.
  • Take initiative.  When I student-taught I took initiative to create new math reviews, graph data for assessment purposes and learn more abut the math resource position.  All of this ultimately led me to land a maternity leave position as a math resource teacher which then led me to my classroom job.  Had I been a wallflower and not done these extra things none of that would have happened.
  • Be yourself.  While this is a long job interview you cannot fake your personality.  Stay out of drama, again be nice to everyone, and be deeply interested in the school.  If your personality does not fit with the school culture at least now you know.  Be critical of what you bring to the table and know when to look inward rather than out.
  • Listen to the advice you are given and then actually use it.  I was not a great teacher when I student-taught and I knew it.  Be humble and take the advice that others so diligently give you; this is your chance to really grow.  Know when to ask for help and know when to change something.  Listen when someone speaks and know that it is not easy for them to point out flaws, but this is how you will  grow.  Ultimately knowing how to listen and take criticism is a life-skill you will need the rest of your career as well.


Monday, March 12, 2012

It Takes One

"Here you go, you can have this one."  A little boy gives a train to Thea and she eagerly grabs it from him.

"You can also have this one," he says and once again happy fingers snag the train.

Another little boy approaches the train set and Thea turns to him, "Here you go, we're sharing."  And with that, 3 happy strangers each with their own train piece playing alongside each other.

It takes one child to start a behavior.  One child who shows others what to do or not to do.  One child to be the leader; right or wrong.  That child can choose to bully or that child can choose to lead.  A choice to think something is "cool" or not, a choice to accept or reject.  Sometimes the choice is made deliberately, other times it is matter of timing, comfort and perhaps even manners.  

It takes one adult to start a behavior, to set the precedent, to take their mood and view and influence others. It takes on adult to either welcome or dismiss ideas, new people, or even students.  One adult to show what to do so that others may follow.  Are you that adult?  And if yes, how do you lead?

Friday, March 9, 2012

I Must Apologize Beforehand - A Serial Apologizer Apologizes

Image from here

I have to start out by saying I am sorry for what I am about to post.  It may offend, it may irk you a little, so thus the apology beforehand.  See there now you are disarmed and perhaps it wont really be so bad, after all, the apology has already been given.

I am serial apologizer.  Not for my life really but for the way I teach.  I don't flash the way I work in my classroom, which sounds ludicrous since I blog about it, but if you catch me in conversation, I am not one to tell you that what my kids do is pretty spectacular.  That the kind of community I am part sometimes makes me deliriously happy.  That I am so proud of all the work my students do, of the risks we take, and the mountains we climb.  I don't flaunt it because that would be too offensive.

And yet, for every time I hide what I do.  For every time I don't stand by the choices I have made in case I may offend someone, I chip away at my own desire as a teacher to be a world changer.  My own world, the world of my students, and perhaps even the greater world outside of my room.  For every time I wrap my teaching philosophy in apologies a little bit of it gets duller, less fantastic, until I wonder what I will be left with.

So why is it I feel the need to apologize?  Because I am different?  Because I have opinions?  Because I vehemently believe that the focus has to be on the needs of the students and not that of the teacher?  Because I believe in honest communication and not veiled lingo?  Because I believe that you have to fight for change from within in any way you can and give your students that voice?  Because I believe that we have to get the students involved in their own education so we don't lose them, after all education should not be done to them but with them?

I am not sure, I am sorry, I really don't know  But it is making me think that I need to stop.  I am starting to think that I need to stand by what I do a little taller, a little prouder and not diminish the choices I have made.  The choice to be different in an otherwise cookie-cutter educational system because it is what I believe in.  The choice to throw away punishment, lecturing, homework and grades as much as I can and instead focus on knowledge, exploration and the need to fail over and over again.  The choice to change, the choice to not do it the way I was taught, and the choice to take risks.  After all, it is working, I am sorry, but it is true.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Some Thoughts on Collaboration and Student Choice

Battle Hymn of the Tiger MotherImage via Wikipedia

I started out on this student-centered journey knowing  that I had to offer my students more time for true collaboration, not just teacher-chosen ones, as well as give them control in the classroom.  I started out dreaming not quite sure what it would look like, what the products would be and whether the  learning would even be enhanced or would suffer.

Now 19 months into the journey, I have made some humbling realizations:
  • Not all units lend themselves well to choice but it is doable.  It can be a challenge to cover the material you feel you need to cover in a textbook for example, but you can.  I have spent many nights thinking up how I could possibly engage my students in this without just lecturing and it takes time.  That time is well spent though when you see the students light up at what they will be doing.
  • It also gets easier.  After a while your brain switches from "How will I present this" to "How will the students work with this?"  It is a subtle difference and you create a toolbox of ways.  Also, if you include students in the planning process you have many more ideas, so that's leads me to:
  • Include the students!  When I have been stumped over how to make a unit more engaging I have brought it to those it will effect the most; the kids.  It does not have to be a long conversation but just a brainstorm.  It is amazing to see what they come up with.
  • Trust the students.  There have been combinations of students that I have shuddered at inwardly and in the end they created beautiful projects.  There have also been combinations where we needed to have some serious reflection on whether or not it worked.  The big thing is including the students that it involves, don't just make the decision that a partnership doesn't work.  We are too quick to decide what collaboration looks like, let the students in.
  • Be honest with the students.  I have very high expectations for projects and I have called students out on poor work quality.  There is a way to do this though without creating a "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother" scenario.  Ask them to evaluate their own work, it doesn't even have to be done, and have them take time to reflect.  Point out what you see as a possibly gap and help them out.  Not all students can just create at the drop of a hat.
  • Scaffolding at various levels.  Some students just need an idea and they fly, others need hand holding and even a cheer or two before they get off the ground, and some are just too boxed in to even know where to start.  Get to know your students and their work style, scaffolding at its best simply.  Invest the time in relationship building and you will see direct results in their output.  
  • It will not always work.  I have had some epic ideas that turned out absolutely ludicrous.  Or ideas that got to be so complicated that the students lost interest.  There have been times where it hasn't been a fun , engaging work environment or where a project has taken too long and the interest level is near zero. That happens.  And yet I don't give up, I keep going because I see how invested the students are.  I see how excited they get to use their hands and their minds, to explore on their own with guidance from me, to learn from each other.  
So to choose and to have a voice are the dreams I have for my students.  I see how invested they get in their own education, and that is something lecturing can never do for them in my room.  Education no longer is something done to them, it is something they take a part in, they own and manipulate.  We always talk about how we are shaping the future but the future doesn't just include absorbing information froma main source, it means taking that information and using it to bridge new things.  To manipulate learning, to shape and form new ideas.  And that is what student-centered learning does for me.

    Monday, March 5, 2012

    A Couple of Ideas Before Break

    Image from here

    March in the US means spring break is fast approaching and so are the students yearning for vacation.  So what is a teacher to do when the learning cannot stop and neither can the teaching.  Well I created some projects that yes, cover the standards, and also keep my students on their toes.

    • The Grand Canyon Challenge.  I have wanted to incorporate Google SKetch Up for along time in my classroom and now finally have a chance.  In this extension for a landforms science activity students have become structural engineers that have to get a large crate from one side of the Grand Canyon to the other every day of the year.  There are limitations of course, such as a no fly zone, and the students have to ultimately sketch their concept in Sketch Up.  I revealed this today and the kids were stumped and excited.  Final product:  3-D sketch to be judged by my husband and presented to the class.
    • The Slavery Research Project Prezi.  Prezi is another tool I have wanted to show my 5th graders and this delving into slavery comes as integrated social studies and reading activity.  We have been reading "Jump Ship to Freedom" and the students asked, yes asked, whether they could do research on issues surrounding slavery.  So for the last 2 weeks the students have been very hard at work researching (nice way to discuss Sweetsearch and other internet searching tips) as well as creating their Prezi and their presentations.  Final product: students present their research and are videotaped so they can critique themselves.
    • The Superheroes Writing Project.  Stumbled upon this brilliant idea from TES and then adapted it for my own use.  We have been discussing authors' tools and this exploration of superheroes through comic-books gives us a chance to really work on creating a character, creating a setting and a plot development.  I have never had students complain to me before about not having enough writing time, now they do.  Final product:  Superhero and villain dossier, detailed setting description as well as mini plot development with illustrations if they choose.
    • Readers Theatre.  We have 1st grade buddies that we do a lot of fun projects with and this month we are working on readers theatre with them.  In the end students will film their productions and perform for each other, the filming is for their parents to see.  Natural way to practice fluency and expression at all reading abilities.
    • Mini projects in general.  I am trying to come up with more movement in my classroom right now as well as mini challenges.  Students are currently bringing in spaghetti, marshmallows and toilet-paper tubes for some mini challenges we will be doing as well.  
    We are finishing up several units before spring break affording us the ability to come back and get immersed in new stuff.  I do like to wrap it up a bit before break because after it the year just seems to disappear.

    A couple of notes:

    • I am sharing my superhero lesson plan but it is a work in progress and I am adding to it as I teach it.
    • Prezi cannot be used without email addresses so I have students use my account for it, however, if they have emails you can give them individual accounts for free.
    • Google Sketch Up does give out free educator licenses for their Pro version, which is awesome, so take advantage of that!
    • Many of my ideas come from the people I am connected with; my inspirational husband and my PLN so thank you.


    Saturday, March 3, 2012

    Our Limited Words

    Image from here

    One of my dear friends posted this as her Facebook status last night, I immediately asked her if I could post it on my blog as well.  Thank you Amy.

    "For whatever reason, I keep losing things!!  I will walk around the classroom, put down a coffee cup or teacher's manual absentmindedly and then have to search for it.  One of my students recently made an interesting comment as I was walking in circles looking for my misplaced items.  She told me that if our steps were numbered, and if we were only given a limited number of them in our lifetime, then we wouldn't want to waste them.  I guess my walking in circles made her think I was wasting my precious steps!  She didn't have a solution for me, but she did make me stop and think.

    Although she spoke of steps, I thought of words...What if we were only given a limited number of words in our lifetime?  Do we choose them carefully?  Do we use our words to encourage those around us...inspire our family, friends, and students...brighten someone's day?  Or do we use words that could hurt others without intending to do so?

    I know I will waste words now and again, but I plan on trying my best to use them wisely from here on out...just in case my student is correct and they are limited."


    Friday, March 2, 2012

    Don't Tell Me You Read My Blog

    Today I was flustered.  Absolutely gobsmacked, probably would have turned bright red and almost tripped over a chair flustered.  My retiring principal was giving a building tour to a principal candidate and stopped by my room.  The candidate then told me that he reads my blog and had also seen my students' webinar.  For some reason this stooped me in my teaching tracks.  The blogger Pernille would have had all sorts of scrupulous questions to ask about the candidate's viewpoint of technology integration, global connections and student-centered learning.  The real Pernille didn't know what to say other than, "Welcome, this is our room and these are my kids" and then pretty much went on her way.  Yikes.

    The thing is, when I blog, I don't really think anyone reads it, and yes I know how stupid that sounds, but perhaps if someone reads it they are really far away and I will never meet them.  It is much easier to imagine no audience or one very far away such as in Antarctica or somewhere else remote.  Somewhere where our paths will never cross.  Of course, this is stupid of me to think as I can see where people visit my blog from, but still, to meet a "reader" face to face left me believing that I am very much an introvert.  and definitely not as cool as the person who blogs here.

    And yet, something I do take pride in is that I know that whatever that candidate has read on my blog, it is how I feel, it is how our classroom is, it is how I am as a teacher.  The qualities of utmost important to me on my blog are transparency, honesty, and realness.  There are things that are magical in my classroom but there are also many that are works in progress or that blow up in my face spectacularly.  There are days where we are in a groove and others where I feel like I am lecturing to a door.  Days where I feel I made a difference and days where I feel I had a negative impact on a child.  But I blog no matter what, I blog whether it makes me look good or not.  I put it out there for others to nod their heads and think they are not alone.  There is a filter but only when it serves a purpose otherwise I do really put it all out there.  

    So if you ever happen to walk by my room, come on in, introduce yourself and feel me out.  Let me know you are in the neighborhood and really curious.  Let me know that my students sounded loud and engaged and you thought you would check it out.  But whatever you do, leave the blog out of it for now, don't tell me yet so I can let my guard down, let us settle into a conversation, feel each other out and learn a little bit.  leave the blog out so I can share some of my secrets not thinking you already know them.

    Thursday, March 1, 2012

    I Have Managed

    Image from here

    This year, I have managed
    • To go without rewards and still have students work hard
    • To go without punishment and still be respected by my students
    • To shift the focus from "what's my grade?" to "what are we trying to learn?"
    • To have 23 responsible students that are learning to self-advocate
    • To not teach to the test, in fact, we really don't do tests but show our knowledge in a  different way
    • To teach study skills without boring students to tears
    • To share responsibility for the room
    • To have hands-on learning and still cover all of the standards
    • To see growth in all of my students and even better to have them recognize it themselves
    • To have students groan at the end of the day because they don't want to stop their work
    • To have students discuss without raising their hand
    • To not manage my students but have a classroom where we each know our part and responsibility
    • To expand my family by 23 students and change
    What have you managed?  How can I help?

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