Saturday, January 5, 2019

What Can We Do to Keep Shining?

Sometimes a school culture can feel a little toxic. The judgements, criticism, burn out, bad attitudes and some just bad days. We are at a time in education where everyone has an option on what success is and they are definitely not the same opinions. Schools are judged on test scores and rankings if they are low we are failing if they are high we are succeeding. But education is so much more than how students score on a test. So how do we stay focused on what is important....our students?

Get out in the halls in the morning to welcome students and high fives on their way out the door. The best part of the day is watching the mob of children head down the halls in the morning. That is my reminder of what I do and why I do it. Not to mention, what other job is out there where people are truly happy to see you each morning and show it. 

Welcome kids back when they have been gone and tell them you have missed them. If you have never said this to a child it try it! They are amazed that you would actually miss them. One of my kids said one time “What? You really missed me?”.

Find a place to recharge. I don’t avoid the teachers lounge because I am antisocial I do it because I need to recharge. My grade partner and I sit in my room in the comfy chairs with soft music playing and sometimes just take a breath. The best part is past students who stop in just to say hi and off they go. 

Meet kids where they are at but first you need to find where that is. We ALL have struggles (an argument at home, a sick child, worried about someone you care about, deaths in the family, financial stress etc) and so do our students. Check in with the kids as they walk in the door and pay attentions to sad or overly tired faces or that little body that is so excited they might explode. Listen to them! Build meaningful relationships. You have no idea then impact they may have. 

Find your tribe and lean on them when you need to. I have those is my building I know I can vent to and let it go. I have access to those who build me up, make me face my short comings, remind  me why I love what I do and encourage me to be the best I can. My tribe makes me stronger and more confident. My tribe is who I lean on even if they don’t know I am leaning on them. 

Remind yourself when others dull your shine it may have absolutely nothing to do with you. You have no idea the struggles people are facing so be patient, be kind and be understanding. 

I wish I had the answer on detoxifying things when they get rough but I don’t. The only thing I know I can do is detoxify my classroom and myself.  

Monday, December 31, 2018


As I look back at 2018 as many of us are doing today either writing it or just thinking about it all I can say is WOW! I feel like I have grown more in the the last year than in all my 20 teaching years added up. I have tweeted, blogged, collaborated, taken on The Grid Method and Mastery Learning, learned the value of empowerment and project based learning, but most influential has been the amazing PLN I have gained. All these things have transformed my mindset and my classroom!

I had no idea the value and learning that Twitter, FB, blogging and networking would have on me as an educator. I actually laughed and rolled my eyes a bit when I was first told these things would change how I teach and grow. It has left me wanting more....I want to learn more, read more, share more and do more with other amazing educators out there! A huge thank you AGAIN @gcourous!! Also to @jCasaTodd for sharing the value of student voice and encouraging me to share my own!

Taking the leap into mastery learning through The Grid Method (which if you haven't checked it out I highly recommend it!!) has opened my eyes to how much more I can do for my students. It has taken me out of the front of the room and given me the time I always wanted around the room with my students. A huge thank you @raehughart for introducing me to this!

Genius Hour (Passion Projects) has helped give all my students the time to explore the things they love. It has empowered them to learn through content that is meaningful to them and take it farther than I could have if I "required" them to do it. A huge thank you to @spencerideas and @ajjuliani for inspiring the opportunity for my kids! 

This year I have chosen to focus on things that make the most impact on my students, my classroom culture and myself as an educator. Too often in the past I was looking for the next best thing or a quick fix to raising student achievement. I needed to first focus on me and who I was a  teacher and a colleague. I needed to reflect often and make changes in myself to best meet the needs of my students. Then I needed to get rid of the dog and pony show and focus on  improving the experiences I gave to my students. Most of all I needed to learn to collaborate with those around me. I am much better with others than I am alone! A huge thank you to @charlieborak (who puts up with me and makes me better everyday...aka the best teaching partner EVER!) and to @NordstromErin ( Who reminds me to never give up and always remember my "Why")

All of these people above have become my PLN that I look up to and will be forever grateful for. 2019 will be a year to enjoy what I do and who I do it with! I look forward to what this year will bring to me and my students.

Monday, December 24, 2018

Lesson Learned

All of my posts to date have been educational, but this one personal. 

As I reflect on this last year the word that comes to mind is heartbreak. The first half of the year was spent worrying about my 2 boys as they served in the Air Force half way across the world. As we excitedly prepared for them to come home this summer our 17 year old nephew was rushed to the hospital and  spent 2 weeks there as we worried about his future. My son Caden, 19, had been home for a few weeks but reid, 21, and our other nephew were rushed home (3 excruciating days of travel for the boys I would not have survived without the support of An amazing friend and the 148th fighter wing) from Qatar to be with family during a very difficult time. During that horrific 2 weeks we also said goodbye to a childhood friends dad just on the floor below us. We lost my nephew Copper on Aug 9th and since  have struggled through hunting (which in our family is like the biggest holiday)and holidays grieving him. We have leaned on family and friends (every text, phone call, visit, prayer  and meal delivered lifted us up and eased the pain) through this time and thank you is not nearly enough. 

I always tell my 4th grade students that even at the darkest time if you look you will see light and that we have seen. The kindness, love, prayers and support we felt this year was absolutely amazing. We have grown closer as a family and cherish every memory we have of Cooper. Tears flow often and hugs are much more abundant. We take each day as a gift and not to be taken for granted. 

One of the most profound lessons I have taken from this year is be kind because you have no idea the battle someone is facing. I have had to work hard on smiling and being present when my heart is aching and the constant worry about how to help my husband, who had such a special bond with my nephew, 2 boys and the most tenderhearted daughter navigate through this year. I am more aware of others and the battles they may be facing. I truly believe when tragic things happen we can let them define us or change us. I chose to be forever changed...being more appreciative, kind, caring and understanding. 

2018 has been by far the most difficult year for our family but we are optimistic 2019 will bring brighter days and happier hearts. ❤️

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

We All Just Want What is Best for Kids

I have done a lot of thinking about how our school is made up of truly caring people with their own way of teaching kids. I may not agree with some of the approaches, but also need to be aware that my way isn't always the right way either.

We are at the end of a school year in which major changes have taken place. Our school has been given the precious time we all begged for to meet and collaborate once a week, but when given the time it was tough to agree on what that time should look like. There was resistance and frustration at times (actually a lot of times) because when a room full of passionate educators get together to talk about what is best for kids sometimes it seems the ONLY thing we can agree on is that we want what is best for kids. When I really think about it is that such a bad thing? We all want what is best for kids and this year we have been forced to really reflect on that through discussion, frustration and collaboration. 

I am pretty sure George Couros has a hidden camera in our school....or we are not alone in this area. Ironically on the very day we had a heated discussion before school as a staff I pulled up twitter to see a blog post titled "The Myth of the "Laggard". Now just to be clear I did not find this blog to be so interesting because I feel we have "Laggard's" on our staff, but those who seem to resist our goal of moving forward. I have tried to spend time (usually on my drive into work) thinking about the differences in our staff and how we can really come together regardless of teaching styles and personalities. Here are the question George says we need to address so I have in my mind as I think about those I see as reisters:

1. Is the practice in the classroom that we are complaining about hurting students in the present and future? (If it is hurting students, address it.)-NO! 

2. Are they resistant to change because they hate change, or resistant because they are doing something they believe is beneficial for their students?-YES to the belief they are doing something they believe is beneficial for their students!

3. Most important question…Can you identify the change you want them to create in their practice, and articulate why it is so important?-NO...This has not been made crystal clear!

Each and every one of my colleagues has their own strengths and I hope as we push forward to more collaboration that those strengths are shared and celebrated. Maybe someday we will all be working together in a way that no one feels the need to resist but rather accept and appreciate differences in the way we teach because in the end we all just want what is best for kids...even if it looks different in every classroom!

Friday, March 30, 2018

"What If"

As I finish up a book that has helped me see things more clearly one of the very last parts really resonated with me. Lately I have been thinking a lot about those kids who seem to have behaviors that get in the way of learning, but "What If" (thank you Katie Martin) we looked at them differently? Katie talks in her book about Captain Underpants, which is a movie I watched for the first time this year during a spontaneous lunch date with my class (I should not admit this but I giggled more than the students).  The boys in this movie are always in trouble for the antics they pull, but if you really look at who they are you see they are incredibly genius with their ideas.

Just recently I read the book Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt and had that same realization that "What If" we really knew what the underlying issues were. "What If" we took time to look past the poor behavior and saw the real child. In this book the main character has dyslexia and it takes until 5th grade for someone to realize it. Her poor behavior overshadowed her inability to read. Underneath her acting out and pushing people away she was an incredible artist and extremely intelligent. 

This past year I have embraced risk taking, but at times worry about taking the wrong leaps. What if I take some  leaps that harm more than help my students? As I reflect on Learners Centered Innovation, Captain Underpants and Fish in a Tree they all lead me to feel confident my risks are what is best for kids. By providing my students with more choice and empower them to own their learning I am preparing them for more than just school. I had one of those amazing teacher moments this week as we were talking in class one of my students asked me what would happen if one of them made poor choices. I was a little confused at the question so took a second and realized although we had gone over rules and consequences at the beginning of the year we haven't had any issues this year that require discipline in my class. At that moment I knew the risks were completly worth it. I feel as though my class has taken ownership in our room as a community and have had the opportunities to own their learning. This has resulted in less time or desire for poor behaviors. I am not saying my students behave perfectly, but I am experiencing a much different year than I have in the past. I know who my students really are better than I ever have, which allows me to truly differentiate.

Some of the risks this year: 

*Flipping math class using the Grid Method, which focuses on student mastery at the students pace
*Embracing standards based grading even though our grade is the only one doing it 
*Introducing Genius Hour
*Planning lessons around students interests and passions
*Taking risks, which include failing and succeeding in front of my students. 
*Eliminating homework
*More flexible seating
*Blogging and Tweeting (putting myself out there)
*Empowering students!

None of it was easy, but each one was worth it!

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Teach the Way I Would Want to Be Taught!

The way I see things is training is to teachers as teaching the content is to students. I have fully embraced being a student as I have navigated my way through new ideas lately. As I think about how I want to learn it directly correlates to how I should be teaching as well. I use to dread our inservice days and still do at times. There was nothing worse than Google training on the last day before Thanksgiving or learning how to use our Smart Boards on the last day before summer break. I was checked out and definitely unengaged. If we were expected to learn and use the knowledge I can assure you it was wasted on me and most of my colleagues. Last summer, I spent much of my spare time reading books, researching and planning on how I wanted this year to go. It was on my own time at my own pace and I learned a ton. I was highly motivated and felt ownership.   Because I see the value in the changes I want to making I am sitting on my couch on a Sunday writing this blog, I participate in Twitter chats and spend time connecting with other passionate educators who help me be a better version of myself. This school year there has luckily been a shift in how our work days are carried out. We spend less time in training and more time in collaboration.  We have a ways to go to completely embrace a culture of learning, but we are moving in that direction and it feels good.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Sometimes We Need to Add but Know When to Subtract Too!

I found myself completely overwhelmed with new ideas to implement in my classroom. I downloaded apps and registered for the newest and greatest ways to engage student learning. The result was TOO MUCH to do. Not to much content to teach, but too much time spent trying new things! I love learning and finding things to make my classroom better for my kids, but I had grabbed on to way too much, which became counterproductive and I was frustrated. If I was frustrated my students had to have been too. I have purposely slowed down and ditched some things as well as let some things that look cool go by. My misconception was that innovation was adding more and in reality that is not true. Coming to understand this was so refreshing. I realized I needed to pick just a few things to focus on and start letting go of the rest. 
"Innovation in education is not just about adding it's also about subtracting" by Katie Martin -Learner Centered Innovation
One of the major changes I made was to spend more time looking at myself and my practices in the classroom. Reflection on what I can do and what I can stop doing for my kids has led me to a place I am so excited to be. I can keep constantly reflection and adapting, I can keep building strong relationships with my students, and I can focus on meaningful rich learning experiences. I can stop focusing on the end result and rather focus on the journey, I can stop giving meaningless busy work, and I can stop answering my students questions and have them find their own answers that will hopefully lead to more questions.
As Katie talked about in her book too often success is defined by test scores. This is definitely a frustration as I have students pulled out to drill-and-kill or engage in less authentic learning experiences so they can perform better on tests. I battle with this because these are the students who desperately need to make a connection and go beyond the standards, but get held back from some of the meaningful learning taking place in the classroom.
A challenge I see in our school is the one size fits all curriculum. I feel very fortunate to be in school district that allows us to take risks and take our own path in how we achieve learning in our students. Our grade level began to step away from our given language arts curriculum, which included worksheets and reading passages the students had no connection to, a few years ago and a little at a time. We restructured our classrooms to provide more personal and authentic learning. We use picture books and the students own reading choices to teach skills and the result is a much better understanding and the ability to actually use the skills in their own reading. This year we have also taken a leap away from our math curriculum to teach in a student paced much more flexible way. This also includes reteaching and retesting to achieve a better understanding of concepts. I feel like there has been growth in motivation and learning.
Yes constraints are in my classroom and in my school, but that just means we need to get creative and be willing to take some risks! 

What Can We Do to Keep Shining?

Sometimes a school culture can feel a little toxic. The judgements, criticism, burn out, bad attitudes and some just bad days. We are at a ...