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! 

Thursday, March 8, 2018

WHY or HOW do you do your job?

WHY or HOW do you do your job? 

I see the first as a question we ask ourselves and the second is a question others ask us. Especially these days with fear of our safety, demands and frustration growing in the classroom HOW do we do it everyday? WHY do we do it everyday?

WHY is a question I have been focused on as I reflect on who I am as an educator. WHY did I choose this career and WHY do I continue to move forward in it.
When I think of my WHY I could answer with all the right things like I want to make a difference, I love seeing curiosity form into amazing discoveries and a million other reasons, but although these are all true my real WHY has more to do with what I have experienced.


I was raised with kids and lots of them! My parents took in foster children my whole childhood. There were times I would wake up in the morning and run into the next bedroom to see if "new friends" had arrived in the middle of the night (which happened often). These children came from unimaginable places and had been through more in their short lives than anyone should have to endure in a lifetime. I came to understand and empathize with them. I also worried about them long after they left us. When they left us they often went back into the same awful situation they were pulled from. I knew that for a lot of them school would be there only safe place. It would be the place they knew they would get a meal, be warm and should be a place where they are loved and feel safe.

My WHY is also my brother who struggled with ADHD in a time when it was not accepted and worked with like it is now in schools. My WHY is my son who told me he felt like noone at school believed in him. My WHY is the kids who stop in every morning on the way to class that come to get a high five or sit and take a breath before starting the day. My WHY is a senior (who I had in a reading program 7 years ago) that brings me a coffee mug that reads "TEACHER, because Badass Miracle Worker is Not a Title".  My WHY is because I don't ever want a child to leave my room feeling like they don't matter and that they know there is always a safe place to stop whenever they need.

If you have ever seen the movie Girls Just Want to Have Fun with Sarah Jessica Parker (from the 80'S) there is a scene where she is a high school student introducing herself and she pauses and says "I love to dance" (which is what the movie is all about).  When I was a kid this was much more dramatic in my own head than it really is when I see it now, but that is what I think of everytime someone asks HOW I do my job everyday. I think as I do a dramatic pause "because I love to teach".

I think my love of what I do is apparent to most who know me especially my family. My 15 year old daughter has her first job and she told me the other day how lucky she was to have a job she loved....she works at a child care in an elementary school. Everyday I pick her up she talks nonstop about the kids and what happened that day. Even at 15 I can see her passion for kids and know she will make a difference in so many lives.

The HOW question I feel is a more difficult one to answer, because it is tough to put into words the feeling of seeing kids be curious, daring, innovative, successful and amazing. I know right now with school safety at the front of everyone's mind people are worried and so am I, but we can't live in fear. We have a job to do and it is more important now than ever. Kids are changing and the way we connect with them is changing. We need to change with the times or become irrelevant. So my HOW I do this job is I have found a tribe of people who remind me almost everyday how amazing and important our job is.

I was watching the news the other day and was completely overwhelmed by the students standing up for what they believe in in Florida. What they are doing is EXACTLY what I see as the powerful outcome of empowering kids. George Couros, Katie Martin, Dave Burgess, Jimmy Casas, A.J. Juliani and John Spencer are just a few of the people who I see as huge influences on where our education is going. Because of this I don't see WHY or HOW I could not love what I do!

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Sometimes You Just Need to Dance!

Sometimes you just need to dance! One of my least favorite subjects to teach is writing. I am not a great writer myself, it is not a passion of mine so I find it difficult to provide meaningful learning opportunities when it comes to this subject. I know I need to do better so I have tried new things. This was my favorite this year! We were working on sequencing so we made peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, which I am sure is a common sequencing writing project. Because I am flexible and go with opportunities as they happen when one of my kids starting singing Peanut Butter Jelly Time I seized the moment! Quickly I typed in the song title and turned up the volume. When I did that this video happened....there are so many fun things happening I couldn't help but laugh. And YES that is the worm happening in the background!!

The best part is the energy every time I played the song to announce writing time. In all my years of teaching there has never been this much excitement to write! Not only were they excited but they were motivated and engaged to write well once the music stopped. If we stay open and flexible great things can happen. I would've missed this great opportunity if I had stuck to my lesson plan.

My takeaway was always be ready to go with the flow and seize opportunities that get students excited about learning. In other words....Sometime you just need to dance!

Sunday, March 4, 2018

What conditions are critical to support learning and innovation?

For so long my classroom was taught around compliance and I never even thought about it that way. I have spent a lot of time refectly lately on who I am as a learner and who I want my students to be as learners. I learn best what I am self motivated, part of decision making, see my work as fulfilling and challenging and get to solve problems creatively all things Katie Martin points out in her book Learner Centered Innovation. If I learn best this way why would I not provide all these things for my students? A question I had not spent nearly enough time thinking about in the past. I am amazed at the difference in how my classroom culture has evolved when I plan keeping these things in mind.

This year I have tried to really change my mindset on how the student's in my class are learning. I loved the idea of teaching my students to be free thinkers and owners of their own learning, but in all honesty I had no idea what that would look like or how to provide that. Slowly by the use of Twitter, reading blogs and asking amazing eductors for help I have begun to understand more clearly what that means. A great example was just recently our students needed to learn about matter and to make things a little more difficult I had to teach it. In the past my grade partner would tackle science and I would take on social studies. The more we collaborated the more we felt the value in working together on both subjects. As a team we've talked alot about having a more student led classroom and this was a perfect opportunity to provide that! Each student was given a state of matter and would spend time learning about it and then give a 60 second elevator pitch on what they learned. After that they were grouped in a way in which one solid, one liquid and one gas were members of the team and instructed to find a way to demonstrate all three to the class. I was a little nervous about the direction they would take, but was completely blown away by what they came up with. Each group chose a demonstration along with an explanation of the states of matter. The best part was one of my reluctant learners, who seems uninterested in putting forth much effort in anything, was so excited about the project. He even said "Mrs. Erickson, this is the first time I have been excited about an assignment. I love this and want to keep doing it" followed by a "Science! Science! Science!" chant by the whole class. I think I found what my ideal classroom looks like!

Monday, February 26, 2018

Put Yourself Out There!

Put yourself out there! That is easier said than done as I have found out. The thought of blogging actually made me a little nauseous...and that is not an exaggeration. I have started 3 different blogs on 3 different blog sites, the first couple I never posted or told anyone about so they sit with literally zero views. That worked for me, because I felt like I had tried and that was good enough. I have spent the last year reading every book I can to help me be a better educator and once again I felt like at least I am trying. Only now, that I have committed to really blogging and focusing on myself as a learner can I say I get it! I didn't get here on my own though. The process was pretty eye opening. I reached out for help and became the student. When one asks George Couros for help and he says blog...there is no other choice but to blog. Since I felt like I asked for the help I had to follow through no matter how much I wanted to say forget it! The stages I went through surprised me a little. I was nervous and anxious just like what I see in my students when they are asked to do something uncomfortable. When I would ask questions I did not get direct answers just more things to think about, which is what I have come to understand is how we can spark curiosity and ownership in learning in our students. As I lost sleep and needed constant reassurance I decided it was time to make the leap and really put myself out there. I finished my first blog and shared it not knowing what to expect. When I saw that it was retweeted and the amount of views it made me sick at exaggeration. Once that feeling past I began to feel like I can do this and started to wonder what else I was capable of. I realized that my unpublished blogs and huge amount of reading wasn't enough. I have thought more about my relationship with my students, colleagues and myself, which has forced me to really look at how I can do better. What I have learned through this process is I want to give my students what my teacher (George) gave to me. Spark curiosity, stand beside them and watch amazing things happen.

As I watched George, Katie and A.J. during IMMOOC I am even more inspired to commit to the process of reflecting and getting out there. As I post on my blog and on twitter I put myself in a position for criticism. Our grade level has made changes and we have definitely put ourselves in a position for criticism. I am fortunate enough to have a group of supporters who remind me the risk is worth it, because I am doing what is best for my learners.

I loved the question during IMMOOC about what we can do tomorrow. Talk to kids! Give them choice! This year my team has taken the leap to give kids choices, which was pretty scary at first. That would be tough if we didn't talk to kids and get to really know them. Empowering them with choice and in their learning has been amazing to be a part of. I finally understand what was meant when I heard the phrase "student led". We have so much more to do, but that shift has been so incredible for us as teachers as well as for the students.

I am looking forward to the next 6 weeks as I push myself to even more uncomfortableness with the goal of being so much better for my kids! I am so grateful to have the opportunity to learn from some people I admire so much for what they do for education. There is a lot to learn from George, Katie, A.J. and John and I cannot wait to see where this journey takes me.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Curiosity...Passion...Change IMMOOC4

I think it is critical to spark curiosity and ignite passions in learners so we can not only teach them skills, but provide authentic learning opportunities to practice those skills and take them even further. This will happen when they are truly engaged in what they are learning. Tapping into students passions will result in them putting in more effort, retaining more information and work harder. I know for me I started college without a purpose or passion and my grades were definitely a result...a very embarrassing result. When I started my elementary education classes (my passion) my effort increased significantly and as a result I received grades I was proud of and curiosity in what I loved motivated me to go farther than I was required. By providing learning experiences that allow my students to learn through their passions it will encourage their curiosity to lead them farther. 

I can honestly say I have only recently truly embraced the evolving role of an educator. Each year I am excited to bring new ideas into my classroom, but recently my evolution has taken off. I think I have evolved more in the last couple of years than I have in all of my 19 years of teaching put together. As times and my students needs change I knew I needed to change as well or get left behind. At first I thought technology was the key to keeping up and I learned everything I could, but have come to realized a 21st century educator is so much more that being tech savvy. It has taken time, frustrations, failures along with successes and great change. I not only have embraced my role, but look forward to where it will take me. 
If we change the way we learn and how we see our learning we ultimately change the way our students learn. When we change that, they change the world.-Katie Martin Learner Centered Innovation
YES! I can not wait to see the amazing ways my students change the world!

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Authentic Learning Doesn't Have to Wait!

In Learner Centered Innovation by Katie Martin I was struck by a section in her book in which she talks about students having to wait until they master basic skills before engaging in authentic learning. So often I feel like students are held back because they have not mastered a skill that they could authentically practice if we as teachers sometimes got out of their way.

       We shouldn't make lerners wait until they master the basics to engage in authentic learning-I couldn't agree more!

She goes on to say what often is seen in schools:

   *Kids are held back from reading books they are interested in because the book isn't at "their level".

Our school uses the Accelerated Reading program to level and assess our students reading. I often heard kids say they were not allowed to read books they wanted, because it was too difficult for them based on the AR level and what I saw was disengaged reading that the students dreaded. One of my favorite times of the day is silent reading. My goal is to teach kids how to find appropriate books that they love and are able to determine on their own if it is a "good fit". I look around the room and see students engaged in reading and able to discuss a book they are interested in. It is so quiet and most are genuinely disappointed when we need to move on to something else.

    *Students are forced to practice their letters over and over before they can create their own stories. 

I have some pretty creative students who love to write! They may not be the best at grammar and sometimes there stories are a little scattered, but because they are writing and writing a lot those skills will come with authentic work that they are excited about doing. I feel like I would be extinguishing their flame of writing if I got in their way. I can guide them along the way instead of waiting until they have mastered specific skills.

    *In math, learners work on basic facts and rote computation before they can try and love complex problems.

My grade partner and I just had a conversation about this the other day. He came to me and asked what I thought about kids using their multiplication tables when they struggled with solving multi digit multiplication problems. My response was it depends... are you wanting them to demonstrate their math facts or multi step problem solving? We talked about it and agreed that although the math facts are important and need to be practiced that they would be able to use the table to help them so they could practice the process without getting lost in the math facts they were struggling with. As they were working through the multi step problem they were also practicing the facts they needed as well.

Getting out of the way of my students was a huge shift and not always easy. I at one time was so focused on basic skills that some of my students were not having the opportunity to participate in authentic learning. Yes, the basic skills are important, but I love that I can provide opportunities for my students to practice those skills along the way instead of stopping until they have them to move on. It is more meaningful and retainable if they actually use the skills rather than just regurgitate them.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

School Culture Matters

Creating a safe place for students to learn, grow and be a part of is crucial. At the beginning of every school year we talk about family in my classroom. We talk about how our class is like a family and how we actually spend more time together in a regular week that we do with our families at home. Also we talk about how we each play a role in that family. I want students to know they always have a place in my classroom no matter how many years go by. School culture matters!
There are so many opportunities to make our family stronger throughout the school year, but for me those relationships do not stop on the last day of the school year. We are in a brand new building this year that has 1st through 6th grade in order down one long hall. It is awesome because every morning our 4th grade team stands outside our door giving high fives and knuckle bumps to not only our classes but the class we had last year as they walk past and the class we had the year before that. Those students know that just because they may not spend the day in my class they will forever be welcome and they take advantage of that. Kids stop in throughout the day...every only rule is they need to read the room before walking in, which they respect. That means if I am in a meeting with either a student or adult they need to come back later otherwise they are always welcome. These relationships are built on trust and respect.

I love days when my own family can come spend time with my classroom family and one of my favorite is our Thanksgiving feast in November. My husband and 3 kids stop at a restaurant and pick up a full Thanksgiving meal then serve it in my classroom to the whole 4th grade. Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, but that is not the case for everyone. This is an amazing opportunity to connect with my students and they spend the rest of the year asking about my own kids as if they have known them forever.

Lunches are another great way to build culture. Student love to eat lunch somewhere other than the lunch room so we have days set up in which they can come eat in my room (5th graders get taco days and 6th graders get mash potato days) and on those days there is a classroom FULL of kids. I may  not have perfect state test scores, but I am reminded especially on these days how impactful I can be.

Connecting with students on the playground are some of my favorite times at school. We have a Wellness Wednesday every week that is amazing. It is an extended time outside at the end of each Wednesday in which the whole 4th grade including teachers play a large group game. The opportunities to teach students about good sportsmanship and bonding as a team are priceless. Yes, there is usually a winner, but it always ends with a handshake line and kids saying "good game". Us teachers wear workout clothes that day and any student who has been in our class recognizes the day and often stop to ask us what game we are playing that day for Wellness Wednesday. Many times I have kids say it was one of their favorite things in 4th grade.

It seems more important than ever that we are connecting with our students and creating a culture that is healthy, supportive and empowers kids. My goal is that each and every student that I have knows that they were valued and cared about not just the year they were in my class but forever.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018


Change is not easy especially when you know change is necessary, but what to change is not clear. I have been teaching for 19 years and each year brings new challenges and no two years are alike. I shudder to think about what my teaching looked like along the way at times. Worksheets, homework, round robin reading and the list goes on and on. I can honestly say even though each year I grew it is nothing compared to the last few years. I started to reflect on what was happening in my classroom and it was time to make some major changes, because I knew if I wasn't interested in what I was teaching it was a pretty safe assumption my students were not either. They were disengaged as was I, which left me wondering how effective I was being even though I kind of knew the answer to that and it wasn't good. As George Couros asks "Would you want to be a learner in your own classroom?" and I could have confidently say NO!

So now what? I am fortunate enough to have a grade partner who was feeling the same way. We started small with flexible seating and reducing the amount of worksheets we used (thank goodness!) and since have completely changed the atmosphere and mindset in our 4th grade classrooms including Genius Hour and flipping our math instruction. Engagement became our focus and then it was clear there is more than just engagement and that is taking it to the next level of empowerment. These changes have not always been easy as each time we take a risk it is met with challenges, barriers and at times criticism by our colleagues. It has also been difficult to choose what changes to make, because there is so much out there to choose from or create. Focusing on what will have the biggest impact has been an enormous challenge for me. Luckily I have had help and guidance, which led me to a book by Katie Martin Learner Centered Innovation.

In her book Katie talks about what a 21st century classroom looks like and if I was asked what that was not all that long ago I would've said technology and how to use it in the classroom. Now I have learned that it is so much more. She says "No longer do students need to access teachers for content, but they desperately need teachers that guide them as they develop the skills, knowledge and disposition to be lifelong learners and critical consumers". Our role as teachers has changed and so has our students. I want and need to provide a classroom that I would want to be learner in. It is still not crystal clear what that looks like all the time, but it is definitely getting more clear. I look forward to the journey I will take as I read Learner Centered Innovation and reflect on my own teaching along the way.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018


Last year I tried blogging for the first time and it fell short, so I tried again a few months later once again falling short of my expectations. I am hoping the third time’s the charm!
Last week was the turning point in my decision to try one more time. I have spent the last week trying to decide what I would possibly write about and who would even read what I had to say not to mention how it was going to benefit me as an educator. Many things happened this last week that brought clarity like I have never had before.
Our school district joins with 8 others on Martin Luther King day for a multi district inservice, a day I look forward to every year. What an amazing time to embrace education while sitting in a room full of more than 600 educators who have an enormous IMPACT on the lives of students and their families. We start the day with a keynote speaker I always hope will inspire me. We then breakout into sessions led by educators within the districts on many different topics. This year my role was bigger in the planning of this day, because although it was not at our school this year we will be hosting it for the next three years. Nerves and excitement have settled in as I look to the amazing things that will be happening within the walls of our brand new school next year. Not only am I a little nervous about what I will need to accomplish next year, I have to meet and introduce our keynote speaker to the entire group followed by presenting a session on Genius Hour with my grade partner. Our 4th grade team has just introduced GH to our classes with no other experience. In other words talk about a huge concept we had not yet seen fully through in our classroom. Nerves were getting the better of me as I drove into the parking lot that morning. As if that wasn’t enough two days later my oldest son, who is in the Air National Guard, would be heading overseas (deploying for the first time) until next summer. This was something weighing heavily on my mind that day on top of everything else. And as for all teachers, my life outside of school was affecting how I may perform inside.
As I waited to greet out keynote speaker, who I should mention has been a huge influence on me as an educator this last year, I was getting anxious about how the day would play out. Once I showed him where to go and get set up my amazing grade partner who knows me so well came in the room with my phone, which I had forgotten to grab, because of course I wanted a selfie with this amazing speaker. As I went to take the picture he said a few words that IMPACTED how my day would go. He took the phone and said “I’ve got you” and quickly snapped the pictures I was so excited to get. Now to him this was not a big deal. I am sure he has taken a million selfies with teachers like me and just needed to hurry things up so he could get back to work setting up, but as I contemplated what to blog about that hit me.  “I’ve got you” three simple words and the enormous IMPACT they have. It was followed up by humor and small talk with someone who kept it real that put me at ease.
That morning I got up a spoke in front of my colleagues, peers, and good friends that were in the crowd, which I never ever do, without a butterfly in my stomach. All that worry went away, because in those few words I felt like I had this. The funny thing was he was only referring to the picture when the words were said, but it influenced my whole day. The session about Genius Hour was great, but I found myself wanting to get back to our keynote speaker to learn more from someone who made me feel so comfortable and confident in an uncomfortable situation. That day was exactly what I want to give students! I want them to trust in me and want to be looking forward to learning more from me. I was the student that day and it was awesome.
Those words came back to me last night when I was on the ski hill with a student. I started introducing an after school ski club to my school a couple of years ago. I would highly recommend participating in something like this outside of school if you can as it has helped create amazing relationships. This student is very cautious and was extremely nervous to take on one of the bigger hills on the last run down for the night. His choice was to head in or take one last run down the hill with me and 2 other kids. He said he wanted to go and then no and then yes and then no and finally it was a yes. The other skiers went down quickly leaving us on the top of the hill. The fear was written all over his face and as we started down I looked at him and said “I’ve got you”. Wow those words are powerful! He followed me down and about half way turned to me and said he was rethinking this idea. I laughed and said there was no turning back now. He made it down that hill and pride replaced that look for fear.  As I got to school this morning he was one of the first kids to pop in my room to say good morning and beamed with pride when he told the principal how he had taken on a huge hill last night. The IMPACT those words had was amazing.
The IMPACT we have is HUGE and it comes when we don’t even realize it sometimes. I have seen many posts lately about people choosing a word that drives them and for me it would be IMPACT. Thank you to @georgecouros for the push to take another shot at blogging and being an HUGE IMPACT on who I am as an educator.

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