Saturday, December 30, 2017


I have realized over the years that we do a lot of things without really understanding or knowing where they came into practice. For several years, there was this meme called "Currently" that everyone was super stoked to participate in on the first day of each month (and honestly it is the only thing that kept some of us blogging regularly!). I remember one year for January, the bottom portion (which always changed based on the month), was to select a OLW (one little word) to guide us for the upcoming year.

I have done that since, even when the Currently trend stopped. I had no idea, however, that this wasn't something Farley had just come up with. There are a couple of pretty big movements surrounding the concept of selecting a word to guide you through the upcoming year. I either haven't paid very good attention or have been too distracted by other things in life to really realize where the origin of this idea may have come from.

Last night, however, on Twitter, I saw a trending hashtag (#oneword2018) that a friend of mine had posted about and I dug a little deeper and realized how big this concept actually is. The site I kept seeing was so I checked it out. (There is another site that does a One Little Word challenge but it involves monthly journals and whatnot and I have never been into that scene. The word is just for me as a guiding tool, nothing more or less.) 

At any rate, I already knew what my word for 2018 was going to be when I saw the posts in my Twitter feed.

Let me back track a moment: when I first discovered this idea of the one word, I didn't really put that much stock into it. I did it because it was part of the meme and sort of left it at that. However, last year, knowing that I had some big decisions I needed to make about the direction my career was going in, I was a lot more thoughtful about the word I chose. I even had a background made so that it was on my iPhone screen and I would see it multiple times per day. That really helped me keep that word at the front and center of my life and I do think it helped me make some tough decisions even when sometimes it is easier to say you'll do something and then conveniently find a reason not to follow through.

My 2017 word was inspire. I had to inspire myself to follow a path I know that I belong on. This continues to be something I take seriously. I have some decisions in front of me right now that I need to find my inspiration to act upon. But I also selected that word because I wanted to find my passion to inspire my students and colleagues again. For me, that meant changing schools and making a tough choice to leave a place that meant so much to me for so much of my life. I honestly can't say if I would have found the courage to take that step if that word hadn't been guiding me.

That leads me to my word for 2018. When I saw that trending hashtag last night, I already knew what my word was going to be. I just needed to boldly proclaim it. While the word is for me and for me alone -- basically meaning I do not owe anyone but myself justification for what word I picked and why -- I find that proclaiming it gives it power. It also holds me a bit more accountable to put it out there in the world, even if that is only on Twitter and here on my oft-neglected blog. 

So there you have it. My word is enough. All of these years later, I still have to remind myself I am enough. That the choices I make and the direction I'm trying to lead my life in is enough. It has to be. I have given 100% to everything I have put my name into and that has to be honored. I feel like I am finally in a place where I can do that.  

2018 will be interesting. I will finish my doctorate. I will turn 40. I will discover if the road I am trying to travel on is the one I should be on. In the spirit of making sure I see this word multiple times per day, I have already set my phone background to show the new word. I also ordered a ring on Etsy that boldly proclaims "I am enough" (you may have seen the ads floating around FaceBook; trust me when I tell you the Etsy ones are way better--and cheaper). I will wear that ring daily as a reminder. Everything I give has to be enough because it will always be as much as I have to offer in that moment.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Happy Holidays

We made it through the craziness that is teaching in December. My intern's last day was December 8 and it was, by far, the worst day we had all of the year so far. The kids were just awful, not listening and being so disrespectful to her and a guest in our room. :| It made me really worried for the last two weeks before break began...but interestingly enough, they were fine. They really mellowed back out once it was just them and me. The last days before break, I was nervous about because they are excited and they aren't interested in learning (and let's be real, most teachers are exhausted and not real interested in teaching either). 

My new school is an elementary on the bottom floor and a middle school on the top floor. Thus we share an auditorium which is super nice to have available. On Thursday, December 21, we had a lot of parent volunteers who watched the kiddos in the auditorium for 90 or so minutes so that the staff could have its annual luncheon. I have never experienced something like this in all of the years I have taught and it was pretty cool. First to know that the kids were all supervised and contained in one area but second to be able to socialize with people I NEVER get to see because we aren't on the same team or schedule. It was really nice. 

Friday went by in a blur (we had a half day). We had art that morning so I really only had my students for about two hours total that day because of lunch and recess too. It was a nice way to end the year with them. 

I have relaxed and relaxed some more since we've been out. Of course with having school right up to the week day before Christmas, things were a little crazy but I finished my wrapping and such on Friday afternoon. The Youngest's birthday is December 20 so we took her out to dinner on Friday and that was the last time I have left my house. The Husband had some errands to run on Saturday so he did all of the holiday food shopping so I didn't have to battle the crowds (I have huge crowd anxiety--I have had panic attacks at hockey games when we have been stuck in a big crowd -- yes, he is a saint). 

We had a beautiful Christmas and I have read several books since we have been on break. It has been absolutely marvelous. Mostly because I know once 2017 goes to bed and we welcome 2018 in, I am going to be insanely busy finishing up my data collection and writing chapters 4 and 5 of my dissertation. Graduation comes in April and I am so ready. 

I do not know where this journey is going to ultimately lead me, but I am hanging on for the ride and grateful to have made it through another year. 

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

The Difficulty with December

Why is it necessary to teach during the month of December?

Can I get an "amen" on that??

For real. My district gives us the day before Thanksgiving off as a "conference exchange day" which is basically how they pay us for conference nights. I'm not complaining. I love that extra long weekend. But coming back from that super short week and having multiple five day weeks is basically torturous.

Don't get me wrong. I love my job, I love my students. This is definitely my passion and calling. BUT trying to keep kids engaged between Thanksgiving and the last day before winter break is incredibly difficult. You've seen those memes about December lesson plans: Scrap kids off the ceiling. Repeat.

Unfortunately, it is not too far off the mark! My students are already pushing it because they just can't contain their excitement. (And I mostly forgive them because they are 8/9 and they are adorable.) I can't even imagine being a kinder or first grade teacher and dealing with December. :|

Firstly, the kids are exhausted. The Thanksgiving Break just makes that more obvious. We are all just plumb DONE. We need some time to rest and recharge. The kids need it and so do the adults. [I have decided teaching is the fall is the worst thing because you have so much choppiness with conferences, marking period breaks, and then the holidays. The second half of the year is so much smoother once all that mess is over.] 

Secondly, *I* am exhausted. I remember being a student teacher and right before Spring Break telling my class I understood they were tired because I was too. My CT was super pissed at me about that and yelled at me for it later. She said I needed to be a professional. Well screw about being HUMAN and HONEST? It's not like I said "I understand you are tired so let's just screw off for the next few days!" I don't think admitting that you've reached a limit is bad. I DO think it is bad if you reach a limit and then give up and start slacking off. But honestly, I feel like my class pushes through harder for me when I admit that I'm tired and wanting a break too. They are little people but they aren't idiots. They understand. (Ever hear of empathy??)

Thirdly, there is so much craziness that goes on in December that can mess with schedules that everyone is off kilter and it just adds to the craziness that is December by nature. Field trips, class parties, music programs, etc. just totally throw everything off schedule and it can be super hard for the kids to come back from that. (Especially with a teacher like me who likes a schedule that is almost 100% the same from day to day. The structure is good for the kids AND me.) 

So I think we should just cut our losses and forget about school for the month of December....or at least past the first week. Give me a four week winter break and I would GLADLY teach until the middle of June in exchange for it! 

Somehow, I do not think this idea would be popular with most people, but I would love it! Time to relax and really enjoy my family and prepare for the holidays without scraping kids off the ceiling at school sounds perfect to me.

Thursday, November 9, 2017


November is always a time when we turn our minds to our blessings and things we are thankful for. It has been nearly a month since I last wrote. I am very busy, very overwhelmed and blogging has taken a back seat (as it always has).

But I had to take a moment and post. Last school year, I was so unhappy. I had finally reached the finish line at Former School. In September, 2016, The Husband told me, very sincerely, that he was waiting for me to figure out I had outgrown Former School. Truth be told, at that time, I kind of scoffed. I was still so convinced it was where I was needed. As the year went on, however, I realized he was right. It was time. I was not appreciated and I was not valued. At all. I did so many things for everyone and never received that same courtesy in return.

It was time. In March the internal postings came out and I had a decision to make. I had to put my money where my mouth was. It was scary. I really had no idea what I was going to find out there. Someone actually told me that I couldn't guarantee that I would find what I was looking for if I left. I told her that she was correct, but I could also guarantee that I wouldn't find it if I stayed. I had given my time. I had done enough. It was time to go.

I had two amazing interviews. I left the second one (for my first choice school) with such a good feeling, but I didn't want to bet on anything until I saw it in writing. I felt such a strong and good connection to the principal and I was not willing to believe that I had imagined that connection.

I hadn't. Fast forward several months. We have finished our first quarter of the year. I have a great group of students and I love the staff that I work with. For the most part, they share my passion; they see outside of themselves and want what is best for kids. That is all I want too! I have always said it isn't about me, it is about these young people.

I was told something today that just warmed my heart so much. One of my new colleagues told me I was a breath of fresh air because I see the bigger picture and I will push my kids toward that bigger picture. I have friends there and people that I already feel so close to. These are my people. I DID find what I was looking for and I am so, so glad that I took that leap of faith and sought out what I have been longing for. 

Has it always been easy? No. But I would not change it. I am so much more fulfilled than I can ever remember being. It has been a true blessing and the recharge for my career that I needed. 

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Reading Improvement Plans

For quite some time, the state of Michigan has been debating how to handle third grade reading proficiency. Any quick internet search would yield a wide array of research about how vastly important it is that students are reading proficiently by the end of third grade. There are studies that show that prisons are built based upon the reading achievement scores of 3rd and 4th graders. Anyone who teaches in a grade higher than third also knows how much more intensive reading becomes in the upper grades; students are asked to read and digest more complex and rigorous texts the older they are and if they aren't reading on grade level, this task becomes not only frustrating but can feel impossible for the student.

This is my 12th year in the classroom. I have had 4th grade six of those twelve years. I know how incredibly frustrating and disheartening I found it to be when these fourth grade students came to me reading at a kindergarten or first grade level. The text is so much more dense in 4th grade and students are asked to DO MORE with the text in 4th and 5th grade. It is really unfair to the students to be allowed to push on to the higher grades when they can't read and haven't had any intervention whatsoever. 

I don't know if this is true or not (I honestly haven't bothered to look into it to find out), but I was told that a year or so ago, one of the high schools in my district added a 9th grade reading class because so many of students were entering ninth grade scoring at a BR level on MAP. That means their lexile is so low that it couldn't give them a numerical score. BR stands for "beginning reader." In ninth grade! Personally, I find that to be criminal. No student should just be passed along through the years when it is so very obvious that they are not a proficient reader (we have been using MAP since 2009-2010 at least so no excuse to continue to let these kids move forward with no intervention and just passing them on).

That said, before I continue, let me just reiterate something I have said for many years. I am not like other people. I do not look at things the same way other people do. I think this has always been true, but it is especially true since earning National Board Certification and traveling around the country (and a little bit of the world) to see educational systems in other areas besides West Michigan. Now that I am almost finished with my doctorate in education, I definitely see myself on a different level than most of my colleagues. I do not mean this to sound like I think I am better than anyone else. Believe me, I am not. I have flaws, I am definitely not perfect and I still screw up. Sometimes I screw up pretty big. I am still working to improve every day and be the best teacher I can be for my students. The reason I consider myself on a different level is because put all of my experience together along with my vastly different perspective and you get a very different outlook than most of my colleagues have. (Again, let me be very clear, this is not a slight against anyone I have ever worked with. I have had the absolute joy and pleasure to work with some absolutely amazing educators who give the best of themselves to support students. Our perspectives are just very, very different and that is all I am saying.)

With all of this said, a final version of the third grade reading law was passed in October 2016 and that spells big changes for us this year. Here is a short overview article of the new law. Over the past two weeks, we have had Dibels Deep training, have administered the test with our students and have prepared to write our IRIPs (Individual Reading Improvement Plans). I have 26 students. 19 of them have to have an IRIP because they are below the 60th percentile on the MAP. I have colleagues who will be writing IRIPs for their entire class, which is pretty overwhelming to consider.

I have many friends across my district that I have met over the years, whether or not we have ever worked together. I have heard a lot of grumblings about the requirements and that they are stupid or how they will be gone in a year or two. I don't necessarily like having to do this extra paperwork, but I don't think this process is stupid. I think it should have been in place long ago. If you're worth your salt as a teacher, you are already doing this sort of documentation anyway because you need to be able to show where the student is performing in order to know how to instruct them in a way that will fill in those gaps.

I am blessed right now that I have a student teacher. She is almost in full control (one more week and she will be), so I have been assisting her but also quite honestly spending time working on analyzing my data and determining our next steps. I know not everyone has this luxury, but I would find the time to do it anyway after my teaching day if she wasn't there...but I can't teach my students well if I don't know what their deficits are. It is as simple as that.

I spent a lot of time looking at where each student who needs a plan is by comparing their Dibels Deep data with their MAP data with classroom assessment data to determine the group to put them in for intervention. I came out with 5 groups. Now I needed to rearrange my schedule to fit each group into my intervention rotation. This was going to be impossible because they are supposed to be seen 3 times per week for at least 15 minutes. With 5 groups, there was no way I would be able to do that with only 4 thirty minute intervention blocks during the week (my 5th day is taken up by a 2nd step intervention -- how our brains work, learning about empathy, etc-- with our social worker).

So I looked closely at my schedule and decided I needed 45 minutes for intervention rather than only 30 so I could rotate through my groups. I am planning these groups as if my student teacher won't be there (because let's be real, she won't be around forever). I do have an interventionist who comes in for two of my 30 minute blocks so I can also utilize her to ensure that all of the groups are seen three times per week. Because my student teacher was side-by-side with me as I planned this and walked her through my thinking process, she will sit side-by-side with the interventionist to teach her how to do the new intervention blocks next week when we begin.

I'm actually pretty excited about it, even though I know most of my peers probably aren't. This goes back to that differing perspective piece. I teach in small groups for most things because I know the kids need the 1 on 1 face to face time....and I adamantly disagree with having an intervention group have 8 kids in it, especially when those students all do not have the same need (for example, the reason I have five groups is because I have a group with only two students in it because they have a similar need, I also have a group of 5 because they share similar needs). While it all probably feels like it's a ton of extra work....we should be doing this work and documenting it anyway. This reading law just forces us ALL to be accountable and show that we are doing everything we can to help our students gain reading proficiency that they collectively haven't been gaining (less than half of the third graders in the state showed proficiency on our state testing in 2015-2016).

So while I'm not necessarily excited to spend hours of my own time writing up these plans...I will do it because I know once I have a path to guide every single one of my students on, we will all be better for it. I don't have to write IRIPs for my higher readers but I am still going to document and provide intervention for them so that they aren't just flying in the wind with no support either.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Field Trips

Sometimes it is necessary to take students away from the school building for other educational experiences. Sometimes I hate these experiences because they are so nerve wrecking--I'm always afraid someone will get hurt or lost.

Today the third graders went to Art Prize. This is an annual art exhibit in our town where some of the businesses in the downtown area host pieces of art. It is wicked cool but I have NEVER been down there in all nine years it has occurred. I have huge crowd anxiety and thus I avoid it because I panic around too many strangers. I agreed to go on this trip however, because it was going to be a Thursday morning and hopefully not too awful.

We also had a program at the Public Library first which was really cool. Kevin Kammeraad was there and did a presentation. Super fun and my students realized there is someone even weirder than ME out there haha

After that presentation, we had lunch on the lawn of the library which was really fun. (You definitely learn something new about your students interacting with them away from school!) Then each class split up to walk around and view art. One of my students got sick so we didn't do as much exploring as we may have liked and we definitely avoided one of the main streets because it was SO crowded. But we had a great time. 

I had my students pair up so they each had a buddy and my student teacher was at the end of the line so we could keep everyone together. Two of my girls decided I was like the mama duck and they were like my babies because they were just following me around. 

It reminded me why third graders are so fun. :) 

Monday, October 2, 2017

Literacy Coaches Network (LCN) - Meeting 1

Last year, at Former School, we had a literacy coach from the intermediate school district working one day per week in our school. Her and I got connected and worked together a little bit. She told me about this group called the Literacy Coaches Network which meets throughout the school year to support literacy instruction in our classrooms. Fortunately you do not have to be a coach to be part of it (I would say at least half of the people in the elementary division of it are classroom teachers). I only attended one meeting last year but I made it a point to join again this year when the notices came out and if the first meeting was the only one I went to this year, I would definitely have gotten my money's worth!

It's structured so that you begin with a short general session (less than one hour) where we discuss the overall concept guiding our work for the current year. This year that is moving from looking at data to looking at the impact of using that data to guide instruction. 

Then you break out into various sessions. You sign up for your sessions when you register. I chose to attend a session called K-3 and 4-5 Essentials. Michigan has a new reading law that focuses upon K-3 and being proficient in reading by the end of third grade so this was a session I knew I wanted to be part of (and this was the very part where I feel like I got my money's worth from just the one session!). 

After that breakout we had a spotlight session with a district sharing what they are doing that has been working. It was actually really informative to hear this particular district talk about their challenges and what they are doing to overcome them.

There is a lunch break after that followed by the second breakout session. I chose to attend a session called Academically Productive Talk, which was also super informative.

After that final session there is a short networking time and then time for teams to meet to plan and whatnot. Since I am the only one from my school who attends, I am able to leave at that time if I choose to do so.

I'd like to share a bit about each of my breakout sessions because they were so informative and helpful and I left feeling like I could really go out and use what I had learned to impact my kids (which directly correlates to the opening session on impact, so bonus!).

Academically Productive Talk
I'm going to start with the second session first, on Academically Productive Talk. I selected this session because my students are not active talkers about academics. They are social beings, to be sure, but they do not know how to speak to each other in an academic context. I know how absolutely important it is that they are able to do this so I selected this session to get some tips and tricks. 

We did some brainstorming about the types of talk we think we see in our classrooms now and how our classrooms might be set up to support those types of conversations. Ideas ranged from partner sharing to circle discussions to sitting on a rug with everyone facing each other to having desks arranged in a big circle. We also talked about why talk is important. The facilitator is a science person so we looked at it through the  lens of a science teacher but you could apply it to any disciplinary area. 

We looked through the Talk Science Primer and how there are appropriate talk formats depending upon the situation (whole group, small group and partner talk). The primer is a really good resource. It is geared for science obviously but it would apply to any academic talk situation.  I am super excited to learn more in this session the next time because I want my students to know that they SHOULD be talking in class about academic content and that they will learn so much more if they are engaged aloud with what we are learning because it will allow them to process the information better.

She also told us about the book Academic Conversations by Jeff Zwiers and Marie Crawford which I ordered and am excited to dig into. 

K-3 and 4-5 Essentials
I can't say enough how much I enjoyed this session and how deeply it spoke to me. Our work is really guided by this document that lists the essential practices that should occur in every early literacy classroom. (There is also this companion document which discusses the essential practices in literacy for fourth and fifth grade.) 

For this session we really focused on standard 3 which is about small group instruction. We talked about grouping strategies such as leveled groups, need based groups (from diagnostic data), interest based groups and paired or partner reading groups. At one point they said if you always use leveled groups, your students will never be exposed to grade level content. This is not true for me and I was kind of bothered by the idea. When we had time to work with our table group to discuss this, I mentioned my concern about it and one of the other ladies said she felt since my groups are leveled BUT I also insist upon teaching grade level text, it isn't the same as what the facilitators of the group were suggesting. That made me feel a bit better because of course I level my kids, but it also got me thinking about how I could change things up a bit to make a bigger impact while having kids work with peers outside of their group.

I am STOKED to give this idea a shot during this next literacy cycle (which conveniently begins this week!). Here's what I am going to do:
  • Continue my leveled reading groups but switch the days I am working with each group. Previously I had Group A and B on the same days. These are my lowest readers. Starting this week, I will see Group A and Group C  on the same day (lowest readers and the bubble kids) and Group B and Group D on the same day (almost bubble kids and highest readers). 
  • The groups will be run separately but on the days they do not meet with me, they will work with a new partner from the other group to complete their vocabulary and their word work. Basically I am pairing kids in a way that will allow the lower readers to have a support person who is a bit of a better reader while they navigate the grade level material together. This should allow the higher of the two readers to gain skill as they may need to explain to their partner what is going on, but it will also hopefully allow the lower of the two readers a boost up because they are able to process their thinking through talk and will hopefully get more out of each activity. 
First of all, I can't believe I have NEVER thought to do this before. As I was brainstorming it, I had a moment where I literally wanted to smack myself in the forehead like "really?! How have you NEVER come up with this before?!" I will give myself a little grace on this because with the way our learning blocks have been structured in years past, I would have never had the time to do it anyway!

In addition, since we have a dedicated intervention time four days per week, I can use the Dibels Deep data we will get next week along with my MAP baseline data AND data from our bi-weekly story tests to make strategy groups that I can pull during intervention time. This means I don't have to disrupt my usual reading group time but can get some bang for my buck with pulling the groups for 5-10 minutes during the intervention block too. 

I got all of that from a 2 hour session! WELL worth the measly amount of money it cost me to join this year. I am so excited and cannot wait to try these strategies out along with my small group reading practices and see how it helps boost my students' achievement in reading.