Wednesday, June 5, 2019

30 Things I Learned [About Teaching] Before Turning 30

If Taylor Swift did it, why can’t I? Turning 30 is weird for me, mainly because everyone says it’s great, but I loved my 20s SO much that it’s hard to imagine better! It’s the time I got my dream job...and in that same decade have been referred to as a veteran teacher. I’ve worked with many students in so many different ways. I have failed often and through constant reflection, I have learned every time. 


I learned to embrace change. Change is hard. It takes time and energy and it is vulnerable. Change, however, is inevitable. To look at change as a good challenge instead of a threat is in the best interest for students and will help maintain positivity. Change pushes you outside of your comfort zone, and allows you to grow.


I learned my time is precious...and so is others’. Too easily time can get away from us -- when it comes to a mini-lesson, a planning period, or even just the weekend. I learned quickly that time is always something I’m seeking more of. In working with other teachers, though, I also saw how important others’ time is. It made a difference when I sent a student 5 minutes late to speech. It mattered that one time the one student skipped their violin practice. It’s so important to respect not only my time, but others’ as well. 


Relationships are everything. If you listen to my interview on the Teach Better Talk podcast, I shared a story about a huge failure I had. With stressors of never-ending to do lists and a group of students that challenged me, I missed out on an opportunity to connect with a student at a time when they needed it. From that point forward, I promised myself that relationships always always always come first. 

I learned that it’s totally fine if I don’t know the answer to something that students ask. I used to think that in order to be respected by my students, I should know all the answers, and should be an expert in all content areas. Then I learned that in the right kind of classroom environment, students are constantly asking questions, seeking to learn as much as they can. By cultivating that culture of curiosity, it is impossible to know all the answers. When students are given the chance to find answers on their own, it empowers them. 


I learned my role isn’t harder or more important than others’. One of the cool things about going from a classroom teacher to a coaching role is getting the opportunity to see and understand a wide range of perspectives. In the classroom, I was so guilty of telling myself stories of how, “It’s harder for me because I have less plan time than certain teachers,” or, “There’s less pressure on certain teachers.” In working with all different teachers and seeing a school in a more holistic way, it’s clear to me that E.V.E.R.Y.O.N.E. is riding the struggle bus at times, and that if you perceive someone’s job as “easy,” (or at least easier than yours) then you either (a) Don’t know enough about it or (b) are frustrated with something else and are taking it out on someone rather than addressing your own issues. 


Getting involved outside of school makes everything better. Getting to know your students, families, and colleagues on a more personal level allows everyone to show more empathy, and it’s just FUN. Attend sporting events that you get invited to, go to the dance recital if you have time, attend the work party. Last year I took my class and their families to see Wonder, and it was such a great bonding experience for all of us. This year I joined the 7th graders to our overnight outdoor ed, and 8th graders all the way to DC! I got to know more students and teachers on a different level, and it makes coming to work each day so much more enjoyable. 


Taking on leadership roles is tough, but worth it. I remember teaching my first year, seeing another teacher run the RtI meetings, and I thought, “I will NEVER do that job.” I was scared that I didn’t know enough about the process and that it would take up too much time. Fast forward 2 short years, and I had an administrator ask me if I’d be willing to try it out. Surprised she had faith in me to take on such an important role, I said yes...and I learned SO. MUCH. Not only that, but I got to work with teachers on a different level and impact students in a completely different way. 


ALL kids are good...even that one. Time and time again it shows that the kids who need the most help ask for it in the hardest ways. This goes for “that one” student, or even when your class seems to be doing “everything wrong.” Were expectations clear? Is there something else going on making this student act this way? Most students want to do the right thing, and if you approach situations giving students the benefit of the doubt, it’s easier on everyone.  


ALL students are motivated by choice. There are so many ways to give choice to students. Let them choose what they learn, how they learn, how they show what they learn, or even where they learn! The first time I really implemented Personalized Learning was my third year teaching. I saw what empowered students look like. Because they were given freedom and trust, they were motivated to deliver. They not only exceeded my expectations in their day to day activity during this project, but in their mindset as well. 


I learned that students have awesome ideas. Over the course of my teaching, I have become more and more student-centered in my instruction. I ask their opinions, let them come up with things, and even give them a chance to write the rubric! The more I put on the students, the more initiative they take in their learning.


Connecting with other educators will make you a better teacher. Just about every great activity that I’ve done involved some sort of collaboration with other teachers. Isolating yourself closes you off to different ideas and perspectives.


EVERY student is so very different. Don’t make assumptions, group, or categorize students. Get to know them and what makes them unique, no two are the same! 


Judging other teachers is lame. There isn’t a right and wrong way to teach. I know something I used to get judgmental over was when teachers were really outdated in their practices. Then I thought about them like I think about my students. All teachers are doing what they think and have learned is best for students. Of course there are exceptions, but I’d like to believe in the greater good.


8th graders aren’t scary. Ok, so I never thought 8th graders were SCARY, but working with students that old was definitely out of my comfort zone. It took one lesson to realize that my fourth grade teacher sense of humor totally translate to a middle school. I decided to take the plunge and really get to know them and build relationships, and now I really LOVE working with 8th graders! 


There is only one kind of tape that works on walls.  Nitto Double Coated Kraft Paper Tape. It’s crazy expensive for tape, but the roll lasts the whole year, and the thing stays on the wall forever. This is not an ad, I’m just obsessed with this tape. 


If I HATE grading it, it’s not a good assessment. Grading is my least favorite part of teaching as it is, but there are certain assignments that I despise. Specifically the ones that take a really long time to grade, and it’s the same response over and over again, and I know the feedback will be overlooked. We should use assessment AS learning. Students need to be a major part of the assessment process, and it needs to be a true reflection of what they know and where they can go.


It is ok to say no. I hate conflict and tend to be a people pleaser at times. I’m also someone who geeks out when it comes to anything education, so I find myself saying yes to everything. Although I love being busy and having a voice, it took a toll on my mood and I found myself constantly just trying to stay afloat. When I get asked to do something now, I think about if it’s something that I value or if it would be beneficial to the greater good. THEN I ask myself...Do I have time to invest in this? If the answers are yes, I dive in headfirst. If the answers are no, I pass. 


Instagram is cool, but it doesn’t determine whether or not you’re a good teacher. The comparison struggle is REAL. Sometimes scrolling through these beautiful classrooms or cute activities makes me feel like a slacker...which couldn’t be more untrue. You do you! Instagram is JUST a highlight reel! 


I can’t please everyone. But you bet I tried! I’m super hard on myself. I put a lot of thought and consideration into all that I do, and tend be be a people pleaser. This means that when parents, colleagues, or anyone for that matter says anything negative about my choices, it’s really hard for me to hear. A way I’ve coped with this is through reflection. I reflect on WHY I made decisions (see 20).


If I made my decision keeping in mind the best interest of students, it was the right decision.  Don’t do it for the Gram. Don’t do it to cut corners and save time. Don’t do it to “look good.” Don’t do it because your colleagues did it. Don’t do it because that’s what the teacher’s manual says so. Make decisions for the STUDENTS. 


Snow days are still exciting. There’s just something about waking up realizing you can keep sleeping then snuggle up on the couch ALL DAY.  It never gets old. 


I learned that students feed off of my energy. Negative? Frustrated? Flustered? Excited? TOO silly? I’ve imposed my energy on my students plenty of times, and it will probably happen again since I’m a human with real emotions. I’m aware of my effect on students, and I work to stay positive. I don’t put down programs or activities, and I do my best to keep any negativity at the door. 


Kids remember that one time you did a cartwheel to be funny, but not the one lesson you prepared for hours. Working in a school with over 60 of my old students, I’ll often chat with them about their fourth grade memories. Very few have recalled a specific activity we did, but ALL remembered the funny things that happened in class. 


Email is not always the best way to communicate. It has a time and a place for sure, especially if it’s just an informative message for a large group of people. Discussing student behaviors or addressing any sort of conflict is simply not effective. Tones can be misread, and often times people say things in email that they’d never say to your face. Having a phone or face to face conversation can avoid a lot of miscommunication. 


We’re all in this together.  Teaching isn’t a competition! Ask for help and advice and collaborate with other educators! There is power in numbers and unity! 


Negativity is contagious. Surround yourself with positive people. It’s too easy to get caught up in complaining, and it’s just not helpful or productive. 


Technology is a tool. My first year teaching I remember thinking that good teachers use technology. I used technology constantly, and in ways that truly just substituted what they could be doing on paper. Technology allows for creation of previously inconceivable tasks, and it makes certain tasks significantly more convenient. That’s how I use technology now. 


School isn’t the only important thing. Everyone has lives outside of the classroom, and it shapes who they are and what they bring to school each day. This realization helped me grow relationships and has really changed my views on things like homework. 


I’ve learned to make checklists. This probably feels like how to be teacher 101 to many. I’ve always been someone who has a to-do list going in my head, but I quickly learned that there is just too much to remember. I then progressed to having 15 checklists in different places, which is also ineffective. Google Keep has been my life saver. Keeping specific checklists keeps me productive, efficient, and sane. 


Readers are leaders. I found how important it is to make time for professional reading. Whether it’s reading books your students are reading, teacher books, blogs, or Tweets, having that knowledge is so powerful! Start book clubs at your building, or talk about the books you’ve read with students or when connecting with other educators online.

Monday, April 22, 2019

What if...we organized our classroom libraries like the Amazon Bookstore?

If you know me at all, you know strolling down Southport is one of my favorite things to do. One stop I make sure to make every time I stroll, is the Amazon Bookstore. I'm in awe of how innovative (and how visually satisfying) the store is.

At first a lot of people I knew questioned the Amazon Bookstore because...wasn't Amazon known for its online platform that essentially put other bookstores out of business? Well as it turns out, the Amazon Bookstore is incredibly different from a Barns n' Noble, and I think that's why I always find the time to stop in. Don't get me wrong, there are still some haters, but for the most part, even my "purist reader" friends love this store.

I'm a reader. But I'm not the type of reader that never leaves a book in every room just incase, and you won't find me turning down a brunch with my girlfriends to stay in and read (FOMO). I've never maxed out my library card, and I don't have strong opinions about how reading on a Kindle or iPad just, "isn't the same" as a paperback book. That's my best friend...

I'm the kind of reader who almost always has a book to read, and one "on deck" book incase I finish. I don't really take risks in my reading selections because I know what genres I like, and I don't want to waste my time with a book I don't enjoy. I have a list of fun books that my friends recommended to me. I have a list of children's books that my students said I absolutely MUST read. I have a list of professional books that my coworkers SWEAR BY! I've pinned every, "Must Read Book List" on Pinterest, and then I have an ongoing Amazon cart of books that popped up as something I might like since other customers also bought it...or because the cover was really cute. I'm a social reader. I love reading, and I love talking about what I'm reading. I will have those moments where I stay up late with my flashlight on underneath my covers....IF I have a really good book. I also go through reading "ruts" because if I don't have a great book to read, I find other things to do.

When I was younger, these reading ruts happened far more often because I didn't know how to find a good book, or how social of a reader I was. Donalyn Miller would have called me a dormant reader. I know we all have those dormant readers in our class. I know as teachers, we try to make reading a social experience for our students. The Amazon Bookstore provides a platform for a social reading experience in a number of ways.

What if we took some tips from the Amazon Bookstore, and applied it to our own classroom libraries? 

  • Less is more. Amazon has way less books than your average bookstore. To this indecisive, "must read great books only" reader, that's helpful! In my own classroom library, I had bins and bins of books that "might interest someone some day," but many just collected dust. I noticed that the more I scaled down my book inventory, the more students would actually use the library. Tons and tons of books can be overwhelming for students who don't know exactly what to read! 
  • Make the books visible. Amazon has all of their books facing out so you can see the covers, rather than the spines. I realize this is difficult to do in a classroom, but making at least SOME of the books visible will help "sell them" to the students. Especially ones with pretty covers (I'm so guilty of judging a book by its cover). 

  • Use data to drive book your inventory. Amazon is a data monster in the best (and most dangerous for consumers) way possible. From ratings and comments to purchasing statistics, they know what their customers want. As teachers, let's make our students as addicted to reading as we are to Amazon!! We need to be sure that we know what our students want SPECIFICALLY! This isn't the same class to class, it's not even the same in September as it is in December!!  Click here to see a guide to using data to drive your book inventory. 
  • Tailor your inventory to your audience, based on interest. The Amazon store's inventory is different every time I walk in. Rumor has it, they readjust their inventory every 2 weeks, based on their charts (I can't find any research on this, but there has to be some truth to this because it changes each time I walk in). This is TOTALLY not possible as teachers, but we can have those certain sections of our library that adjust and change based on what our students need. Highlighting certain titles every few weeks?What better way to expose them to different books??
  • Provide curated collections of books. Amazon's curated lists are based on this data. That's how they organize their books. They cater directly to the consumers (so directly that they have a curated list for the interests of people who love Southport as much as I do!!!) Some of my favorite lists are, "Most-Wished-For," "If You Like...," and "Unputdownable." Check out some of my other favorite curated lists below!  Click here for a step by step guide on how to curate your own lists, pre-made curated lists, and book labels for possible curated lists. 
Can you infer that this street has an abundance of stay at home moms and Instagram influencers? Also, this is a pretty spot on collection... Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari is one of my favorites!!

Again, creepy spot on.
I've read 4.5 of those books, and 2 are in my cart right now

  • Give your consumers a voice. One of the coolest features of the bookstore is real reviews from readers. Of course, being the cynical person I can be, I know Amazon has thousands to choose from, and they pick only the best reviews to promote books in the store, so these particular signs don't sway my decision as much. I just imagine if they were more personal -- what if these reviews were from people I KNOW and trust?! You can TOTALLY give students this opportunity in your classroom!! And hey...if students have a bad review for a book...consider displaying some of those, too (more student buy in)!!

I'm not here to say that Amazon's brick and mortar bookstores are the most effective business model, and I also don't think it's feasible to mimic the exact strategy that Amazon uses to sell books. I do believe that at the very least, making some data-informed, student-driven changes to your library will reach more of your students. 

These changes don't need to be drastic, and they don't even need to take over your time. Click here to see my guide. Make small shifts. Put students in the driver's seat of making this change...and let me know how it goes!

Monday, January 7, 2019

I Teach Students

Right around this time a couple years ago, I was talking to my uncle about teaching, and he asked me, "What do you teach?" I responded by saying, "Fourth grade." His response was, "No you don't."

A little confused, I gave an awkward laugh, and just said, "...what..?" He corrected, "You teach STUDENTS." When he elaborated on it, I couldn't agree more with what he was saying.

I thought about that little first grader in the hallway, who asked me to zip up their coat because they already had their mittens on.

I thought about lunch duty (and cringed a little) and every milk carton I opened (but showed them how every time).

I thought about every time I'd give the ever so gentle reminder, "We WALK in the hallway!"

I thought about every Friday when we got bombarded with all of our old students coming by to say hi, and let us know how middle school was. 

I thought about the clubs I led: Business Club, TECHsperts, Yoga Club, Harry Potter well as all the other clubs that were offered by teachers in our school: Code Club, Math Club, Art Club, Gardening Club, Community Service Club...etc. 

I thought about my role as an RtI facilitator, and all of the meetings I heard how passionate my colleagues and I were about meeting the needs of all the students.

Now I am in a new coaching role at a middle school, and am completely out of the classroom. I do miss having MY OWN class from time to time, but I really feel like now more than ever, I'm able to see that I teach students.

My role as Student Learning Coach is to help increase student voice and choice in the classroom. I get to talk to, observe, and work with students and figure out their interests and what works for them. I get to work with teachers, and help them implement these strategies, potentially impacting over 900 students in our building.

Then I think about Social Media, and all the teachers I have connected with on behalf of students. I see Instagram teachers with hundreds of thousands of followers, and how incredible of an impact they can and do make.

I don't think this is a surprise to anyone -- we care about ALL of our students. We KNOW our role is much more than teaching content. Our job is pretty cool.

All I ask is that next time someone asks you what you teach, think about how you answer them.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

A Reflection on a WONDERful 2017 School Year

It has been such a WONDERful school year so far! As I reread through my previous Wonder post, it's great to reflect on the year. Not sure if I'm alone on this, but I always come into a new school year super ambitious. Then reality sets in a little bit, and time tends to slip away. I made a "bucket list" of goals, and I didn't complete each piece yet, but it's exciting to see what new ideas have come up, and what adjustments I have made. Here was my bucket list:

My Bucket List:
  • Wonder: Certified Kind Classroom Challenge
  • Precept Picker
  • Mystery Meet Ups
  • Classroom Community Service
  • Engineering Design Project
  • Incorporate Related Nonfiction Text
  • Kindness Ambassador
I'm going to start by sharing some of the unplanned twists and turns I took this school year. After hearing discussions from students and learning so much from the NCTE conference, I did some new activities that really helped build community. 

Unplanned Excitement!

Wonder Themed Halloween Costume!

Remember in my last post when I said I only got to dress up as a Wonder themed Halloween costume once?? Well, yet again I fudged the rules! Our theme this year was I DIYed my own Emoji...The kids (and families) loved it! 

Wonder Family Movie Night

OK, talk about HIGHLIGHT of the school year so far!! I invited families from my class this year and last to join us for a movie night at a theater nearby. The turnout was incredible! I booked one whole theater (the biggest one) for the class, and it was completely filled. The class was SO excited to be there, and it was so special to have the families see how special the story is, too. AMC made it incredibly easy to plan, too. I literally just booked the room. They waived the fee, and parents paid when they got to the theater!

Wonder Debates

I have to say, seeing students do this was a proud teacher moment. When I was in a grad school class a couple years ago, I saw this video showing Pinwheel Discussions. I immediately thought that it would be interesting to try something like this with Wonder. The whole idea of it really captivated me, but I had a hard time figuring out how to get fourth graders to do something this rigorous.

It's different from a book club, and in my opinion, more powerful. 

Here's what I did:

  • GOAL: STUDENTS lead a discussion to debate/share higher level thinking about the text: (ie. how their characters would respond in different situations, themes, etc) 
    • They have to empathize with the characters,  infer & provide evidence to support their thinking, build on others' ideas, respectfully communicate with one another
  • Students were assigned a role: Discussion Director or Character (Auggie, Mrs. Pullman, or Via)
  • Discussion Directors had to generate and ask questions to keep the conversation going. They worked as facilitators, ensuring each student gets a voice and that each student is providing evidence to support their thinking. 
  • Characters had to become experts on a certain perspective. They had to do research beforehand, analyzing character traits and providing evidence to support thinking. 
What do I LOVE about this activity? 
  • Students ran the show. Literally, I just facilitated. 
  • It required students to think on their feet! 
  • It gave students a voice! 
  • They felt accountable. Each student took their role incredibly seriously! 
  • Students were ENGAGED!! Every. Single. Student. BEGGED me to do the activity again, and had ideas of what they wanted to debate.

I'm SO sad I don't have any pictures or videos of this. I was observed for this lesson, so I didn't want to be recording the whole time. Not to toot my own horn, but my principal really loved the lesson, too.


"What's Your Story" Themed Literacy

With our Personal Narrative unit, I kind of had a "What's Your Story" theme to it (again, THANK YOU to my Advanced Learning Facilitator for helping my students with this so much). We watched a TED Talk, inferred from pictures from Humans of New York, and Skyped with a real-life Auggie! The whole idea is that everyone has a story that should be heard. Naturally humans tend to "write stories" for others, but that can lead to judgement and misunderstanding. Through this we discussed the power of sharing our stories, our perspectives, and taking risks when writing. The discussion we had, and the content of the stories was really incredible. I will absolutely be doing this again! 


Bucket List Reflection

Wonder: Certified Kind Classroom Challenge

The class has really enjoyed the different components of this. We designed shirts, and have been doing the kindness jar since day 1! Unfortunately we didn't win any of the contests yet, but it has been fun to be a part of such a special community.

Precept Picker

This has been a meaningful part of our weekly class meetings. What I love most about this is that it is a subtle way to give all students a voice. I love seeing what each student picks each week. If students finish early or if there's ever any down time, classmates get to post responses to the quotes. I look forward to seeing how their responses grow over the course of the year.

Wonder Mystery Meet Up

If you read my last post, one of my goals was to start doing mystery meet ups. So far we have connected with classrooms in 6 different states! Students are really eager to take on this challenge, and I love seeing how they work together! We've made so much growth with communication since our first Mystery Meet Up!

Classroom Community Service

I have not yet dabbled in this piece. Again, I struggle with asking families for money. Does anyone have any suggestions? I DID get this idea from the Facebook Wonder group:

For our Kindness Wonder Jar, instead of using marbles for each act of kindness, we use pennies. When we fill the jar with pennies, we pick an organization to donate to!

Engineering Design Project & Incorporate Related Nonfiction Text

After collaborating with our school's Advanced Learning Facilitator, she made some good points about students designing for the engineering design project...Their designs will probably be more thoughtful if they build their background knowledge on peoples' differences. I plan to do the design project at the end of the year now, and have been building their background knowledge throughout the year. I did an "empathy" themed guided reading week where students did activities that helped them empathize with people who have differences. We then read Nonfiction articles about adaptive technology. Here's a collaborative anchor chart we made. Does anyone have any other resources to help students empathize?  

Kindness Ambassador

I'd love to improve with this. Right now our school is doing a kindness challenge, so the kindness ambassadors have been the ones to remind the class of the weekly kindness challenge. They also keep an eye out for students who haven't been recognized for being "Wonderful" and write Wonderful Student cards for them (see previous post). Does anyone have any other ideas of ways to utilize kindness ambassadors best?

On a Different Note...

I'm working on some new TPT products. I made some Valentines (or really anytime "greeting cards")  for students. More to come, but here's a start!

TPT Bucket List: 

  • MORE Valentine styles
  • Wonder Brag Tags

Any Requests?? Comment below!

Looking Forward To...

  • Reading my students' Wonder chapters!! They're due this week, and they were SO excited to get creative with this project!! 
  • Engineering Project
  • More debating!!!