Category Archives: Things That Matter

A Letter to Myself in the Mirror

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As each year passes, I feel like the time goes by faster and faster.  We have 17 school days left – SEVENTEEN! It seems like just yesterday my kinders were walking into the room for the first time.

Earlier this year, I posted about managing a hectic personal schedule with my professional one and my struggles with shifting priorities.  This school year has been wonderfully chaotic, albeit overwhelming at times.  I took on professional responsibilities, married my best friend, lost my wonderful grandmother, and will welcome a bundle of joy this summer.  All of these experiences led to the need for more structure and kicked my OCD into hyperdrive!

One of the items on my full plate this year, has been a literacy class.  My hopes for the class were simple – be a better than usual professional development opportunity and be an addition to my literacy credentials.  “Literacy Beginnings” has been so much more.

Each session, we take time to reflect on new and old learning.  We reflect on things we have tried in our classrooms and shared with our colleagues.  We discuss our successes and our defeats.  It is truly a safe space where we all feel comfortable sharing our true and honest thoughts about education and concerns we have about teaching our children.  For our last class this week, we have been asked to think about all that we have taken and all we will take away from the course.

Throughout this school year, this class has served as a reminder for me.  More times than I’d like to admit I’ve arrived at class with concern or frustration.  I’ve needed the class to lift me up. And yes – some tears have been shed.  I’ve needed that class to remind me, with everything else happening outside of or linear to my teaching, that what I believe and hold true about teaching is valid.  That my passions have merit – even if they are different from someone else’s.

Dear Self,

These are things you KNOW in your heart, mind, and gut to be true:

  • Play is important. The second half of this year has been amazing!  Being fortunate enough to restructure the schedule for a sizable junk of sustained play has helped with their development.  They are blossoming socially and developmentally.  They are using their literacy skills everywhere.  Their love for learning and literacy continues in their play.  They are bringing their literacy into everything.  During this choice time – they are choosing literacy whether it is obvious or not.  They are creating lists in the kitchen center, designing maps and plans in blocks.  They yearn to put pencil, marker, pen, and crayon to paper in the art center.  They create their own story time in the reading center.  Reading is a social activity for them.  It is a way they are connecting with others.  This is so powerful. Enter their play more – the assessment can wait.
  • Meeting a student where he/she is is priority number one.  Taking a child’s age and maturity into account while teaching him is not an excuse.  Pushing for developmental appropriateness for my students creates a positive learning environment.
  • If it frustrates you and them – you’re pushing too hard!  STOP and ask yourself why?  Is it for the benefit of the children or someone else?  I know you feel guilty.  You’ve let others’ opinions seep into your bubble.  You’ve let whispered judgements about your students from people who don’t know what being in your class is like to affect you.  Do not let the pressures you feel push you to push your students before they are ready.  Do not halt their progress by skipping rungs on the ladder.  Do not leave them dangling. Look into your students’ eyes – are they broken?  No!  Fortunately, the excitement is still there as they put letters to match sounds they are hearing in words.  They feel success as they read their sentences to you – sentences they created, rather than copied.  Words they put forth with true effort rather than words that were pulled from them for someone else’s benefit.
  • All gains should be celebrated – even if the gains aren’t “good enough” according to someone else’s standards. Every child has grown – and at a different pace.  Keep in mind the district expectations, but do not let them defeat you.  Your students have a strong foundation that will help them succeed later in their schooling.
  • Continue to surround your students with love and acceptance.  They should feel capable and successful.  They should feel confident in their “expertness” and safe enough to fail.  We all know that success is built on top of failures.  Continue to show them that it is ok.  To take chances. To be brave.
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Is there a sliding scale of BEST?

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As the holidays draw closer and we are nearly half way through our school year, I’ve been reflecting on how things have been going.  What has been working – what needs revamping – what needs to be thrown in file 13 (a term I picked up for the trash can). This year already has been a year like no other.  Of course, every year is different because every child is different.  Adding to the ever-changing landscape of my career currently are variables of a more personal nature. So, obviously, this post is more personal.

For all the years I have been teaching (almost ten now), my students and my job have been a top priority.  I have been, and forever will probably be, guilty of bringing my work home – physically (books and plans and papers) and more often, emotionally.  Wholeheartedly, my kids are my kids – and always will be.  There have not been many moments where anything or anyone else took precedence.  I don’t mean this to sound like nothing else matters or that no one else matters.  There has just been a level of dedication I have been able to afford to my job. I have been able to come in early (ha) and stay late (way late) without worry of someone waiting for me to come home.  I have been able to spend countless amounts on my classroom and my students without the feeling that my savings account is more important.  I have been able to attend sporting events, birthday parties, and extra curricular events without it majorly affecting anyone else’s schedule. I have been able to go to work, for the most part, and be 150% present for my students.

Which brings us to this year – different from any other.  My personal variables are changing.  The outcome of these variables is creating a feeling of doubt.  I am questioning whether the best I am giving is really my best – or am I grading myself too hard because it’s a different kind of best?  Is there a sliding scale of best?

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Just 10 days ago, I got married.  What a wonderful day it was! It was the closest to perfect we could have imagined.  I began the school year in the middle of wedding plans and big dreams for my new group of kiddos. I also began the school year with heart breaking concern over my terminally ill grandmother, a new leadership role as grade level representative and taking on a new professional learning opportunity.  Plenty of irons on the fire – usually how I like it – frazzled and busy makes my blood pump and keeps my mind invigorated. This time, frazzled and busy left me feeling scatter-brained and self conscious.  I constantly was worried that I was forgetting something.  I had to leave post it notes everywhere for myself. I was constantly feeling like I was letting my colleagues and my students down because I just couldn’t focus on one thing or the other.  I could feel the personal drifting into the professional – and sometimes the personal felt more urgent.  And yet, I was so excited for the wedding. So excited for my new professional opportunities. So excited for what the future has in store for my life.

For the wedding, I was fortunate enough to be able to take 5 days off work.  During those 5 days, my students crossed my mind maybe 3-5 times. Many people told me before I left to not think about work at all, to not worry about the kids, to enjoy my days. And friends – I did not worry about work like I thought I would.  I did not think about my kids like I thought I would.  I thoroughly enjoyed the time I took for our wedding and the first few days of married life with my husband.  THIS. ROCKED. MY. WORLD.  For the first time, my job and my students were not taking precedence. Although I still LOVE my job and LOVE my students, I felt a shift. A shift from being EVERYTHING to one of MANY important things. And I feel horribly guilty.

When I think about the future life my husband and I have planned for ourselves, I see that this shift is here to stay. As I find myself taking on the role of wife – will I still stay as late at school or will I want to rush home to put supper on the table? When we have a family – will I bring home as much from work or will I be better able to compartmentalize work emotions? Even as I am typing the questions, I know the answers. What I do not know, is how to reconcile this within myself. I do not know how to not feel guilty over this.

How do you accept a different level of best?

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Once upon a story…

“Children need to be immersed in a listening and storytelling culture where their voices are valued and heard.” – Lucy Calkins

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From the beginning of my teacher training, I have been in love with and identified with the works of Vivian Paley.  Her books line the shelves of my personal library.  Repeatedly, I turn to these books as reminders of what my kinders are capable of and the importance of teaching them the ways they are meant to learn.

This school year, I am fortunate enough to take part in a literacy cohort just for kindergarten teachers in my district.  Upon entering this professional development, my expectations were cautiously high.  We all know that sometimes PD is just not what it should be.  Fortunately – I have hit the mother load of PD.  The instructors are knowledgeable, enthusiastic, and realistic.  This is a PD worth writing sub plans for!

The focus of the class is literacy – with a heavy emphasis on play. Yes, PLAY!  It is alarming how PLAY has become a nasty four letter word in our classrooms.  Before we all start asking the “How can I fit this into my day with this assessment and that assessment, etc.?” question, let me share one of the best parts of this PD.  We embrace what is natural!  Play is natural – not something extra that should be fit in to our days.  Standards are being met through play – each and every day.  I know that we all know the benefits of play.  But should you need a reminder, or documentation to prove the benefits:

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We are given time during each session to read (no homework) from several different books that are ours to keep!
We are reading:

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The most recent session, we focused on storytelling and creating thinkers in kindergarten.  We were reminded that the standards (Common Core) are not what we teach, but where our students are heading this year. Storytelling a grand vehicle to get our students where we need them to be.  We started off with an activity that asked us to created characters for a story – any characters we wanted.

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The next step was to join with a partner and create a story with both of our characters.  This was challenging – and fun.  We then shared our stories out to other partnerships.  What a fun time!  So many aspects went into the creating of the story:

  • talking about story elements
  • the relationship between the characters
  • sequence of events
  • dialogue of characters
  • addition of props depending on setting and mood

How many standards do you see addressed above?  So many!  The speaking and listening standards are obvious – but many reading standards are also addressed.  We then highlighted the standards we thought were addressed during the activity.

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Our instructors then used their characters and told their story.  After they were finished, we extended the learning by participating some word activities using language of the story.  Again, we were asked to highlight standards we thought were addressed during the extension activity.  Boom – foundational skills!

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Our children are natural storytellers – with or without props.  How many times have you chosen to stop a child from sharing a story for the “sake of instructional time”? Instead of stopping her, incorporate her story into the lesson!  Doing what feels natural and right for our children can be challenging when the expectations are increasing and we are made to feel like what is natural and right does not mesh with academics.  Arm yourself with these benefits of storytelling:

  • Students attain meaningful vocabulary
  • Students are exposed to cultural diversity
  • They play with the sound of language as they repeat rhymes and chants
  • Ability to visualize increases
  • Ownership increases – students become emotionally attached to what they are listening to, in turn producing motivation for remembering and retelling
  • Students motivation to read increases
  • As students learn to tell stories, they hone oral language skills and build self confidence
    • Oral language skills developed through storytelling lead to better reading comprehension
      (Generative Theory of Reading):
  • Children must understand the point of reading is to make sense
  • Children must become confident of their ability to make meaning
  • Children must recognize that reading can be fun

  • When these 3 things take place – comprehension takes place

 

Go forth and tell stories!

Want to incorporate technology?  Check out this post by Matt Gomez:
http://mattbgomez.com/33-great-apps-for-storytelling-and-creativity/

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#BeBrave and Use Your Teacher Voice

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The number one “rule” in my class is to Be Brave.  We talk about how being brave can mean different things.  Brave doesn’t always equate “superhero” brave.  In our class, being brave means doing something, trying something, or saying something – even if we are afraid. More and more, I find myself in a position where I need to practice what I preach with my students.

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Showing I can #bebrave – even though I’m afraid of heights

Many times, teachers are afraid to say things.  Afraid to stand up against a policy.  Afraid to disagree with a colleague.  Afraid to confront a parent. Or, even – afraid to say something that has worked for them. For many teachers, it is difficult to share accomplishments in their classrooms or professional lives.  I am one of those.  I never want to come across as bragging. “Tooting my own horn” is not really my style. Yes – I write this blog, and some could consider this blog as horn tooting.  In my mind though, writing is something that comes naturally to me.  My process isn’t to do something in my classroom to write about.  I write about what I’m doing in my classroom.  There is a huge part of me that takes a deep breath every time I click publish.  A part of me that isn’t sure someone will read it – other than my mom or sister! And then, someone does.  Someone reads it.  They like it or leave a comment or share the post. The validation feels good.  What also feels good is that I can share these things and not feel bad about it. I’m not bragging – I’m sharing.  Thank goodness for others that have shared along the way.  I have learned so much from them.

In my classroom, and perhaps your own, I encourage my students to feel confidence and pride.  To be proud of themselves when they accomplish something. To be proud of yourself = #bebrave.  Be brave and say “I’m proud” or “I worked hard” or “I did it”!

Today, I am choosing to #bebrave and use my teacher voice and say “I’m proud” and “I worked hard”.  Beyond the Stoplight reached out to me regarding my experience doing away with “stoplight” behavior management system in my classroom.  The interview was just published last night.  I am honored – and humbled – and proud to share it with you.

http://beyondthestoplight.com/2014/09/06/stoplight-spotlight-one-teachers-tells-how-she-moved-beyond-the-stoplight/

Use your teacher voice and share something you’re proud of!

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Fantasy Draft

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It’s that time of year friends – FOOTBALL! On Saturdays (and some Thursdays) you will find my television and attention focused on College Gameday on ESPN.  You may hear me yelling all the way from Charleston while watching my beloved Georgia Bulldogs.

Also during this time, I become the “commercial breaks” for my fiance and his Fantasy Football shenanigans.  The TV on Sundays and Mondays (and sometimes Thursdays) becomes his domain.  He bogarts all the internet bandwidth doing research and preparing his teams for the various leagues he has teams associated with. You may hear him yelling all the the way from Charleston while watching several different games across several different devices.

Yesterday was the first draft of the fantasy season.  Our evening was planned all around it. While I watched him focus on creating the best possible line up from the best possible players, I began to wonder about a different kind of fantasy draft.

If you could draft the ultimate group of people to work with – who would you choose? The available draftees could be anyone from history, literature, or your real everyday life.  Perhaps years experience would be taken into account but, stats would probably be things that cannot be measured with numbers, but with feelings.

So, here is my Fantasy Draft – I encourage you to share your own.

Extraordinary People from my Ordinary Everyday Life: Former and current colleagues that inspire me

The creativity of these three bring joy to school
Laura Bashaw
Crystal Mills
Katie Jones

The professionalism, integrity, and downright grit of these people keep me working hard
Kristi Meeuwse
Adriana Jarrard
Meghan Driggers
Johne Cobb

UGA’s finest mentors and people I strive to be like
JoBeth Allen
Andy Plemmons
Thomas VanSoelen

Characters I Wish Were Real People:   My favorites who serve as reminders of greatness

Atticus Finch – To Kill A Mockingbird
Scout Finch – To Kill A Mockingbird
Fern Arable – Charlotte’s Web
Charlotte A. Cavatica – Charlotte’s Web
Mufasa – The Lion King
Ellie and Miah – If You Come Softly
Professor McGonagall – Harry Potter
Mary Poppins

Authors/Illustrators I Wish I Could Talk to Everyday:  If only I could plan lessons directly with these people!

Mo Willems
Jaqueline Woodson
Frank McCourt
Kevin Henkes
Kadir Nelson
David Catrow
Patricia Polacco

People I Follow on Social Media: People I’d love to actually see each day

Matt B. Gomez
Pernille Ripp
Amy Night
Angela Maiers

 

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Mission ImPossible

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Five days after school let out, I found myself in tears in an auditorium at Westminster Schools in Atlanta, Georgia.  I felt as if someone had ripped my educator’s heart out and displayed it for all to see.  Such was the power of Angela Maiers‘ keynote at the iSummit Conference this year.

I attended the conference at the suggestion of my colleague.  Not knowing much about it, I was along for the ride.  Excited to experience something new, learn more about 1:1 iPad implementation in the classroom.  I expected to learn, but did not expect to be taking deep breaths as to not embarrass myself within the first 30 minutes of the conference.

Admittedly, I did not know who Angela Maiers was before the conference.   Her books, Habitudes and The Passion Driven Classroom, sounded vaguely familiar – though I have not read them.  The night before, I found out the theme of her keynote would revolve around Be Brave (my classroom’s motto for this year).  That is when the excitement began.  That is when anticipation built.  That is when I knew I could walk away from this conference with a fire lit inside me – even after the last day of school when the fire is petering out.

Angela is not only a gifted speaker, she is personable and down to earth.  She is warm and welcoming.  At her follow up session – she hugged me upon introduction.  She looked me in the eye.  She saw me.  All of these things are key points in her work.  Your students should be seen.  They should be heard.  They should know they matter.  She practices what she preaches.

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Walking away from Maiers’ keynote, I reflected on my own classroom this year and how powerful BE BRAVE was for us. I felt disappointed about not knowing of #youmatter and #choose2matter during this year.  My students really would have jumped on board with that. I have not “filed” it away for next year.  I am keeping it front and center in my mind – so I can work within myself over the summer.  So I can practice what I preach. So I can lead by example.  As Angela said: “We are not teaching the leaders of tomorrow – or leaders in training – we are teaching leaders now.” Our children do not believe in the word IMPOSSIBLE.  To them, everything is possible.  One just needs to try.  One just needs to be brave.

What does it mean to be brave? According to my haphazard, excitedly typed because I didn’t want to miss a thing, but didn’t want to forget either, notes:

1. Love yourself YOU MATTER What is your genius?

2. Be true to who you are – What is your superpower? Be someone else’s superhero.  What breaks your hear about the word? Act on that!

3. Be that – who you are – EVERYDAY.  DREAM AUDACIOUSLY!

4. Never, ever, ever give up – EVER!  Surround yourself with people who will not let you fail – who will not let you be comfortable.  Invite fear.  The riskiest thing you can do is stay safe. To sustain bravery, you cannot do it alone.

As I leave you with Angela’s TedTalk from 2011, I ask you – How Big is Your Brave?

 

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