Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Interviews

Today I had the opportunity to interview for some internal transfer positions within my school district. The process has changed since I transferred to my current school. It used to all happen behind the scenes (you bid on jobs, ranked the jobs by preference and then were awarded based upon certification and/or seniority). These days they do the interviews with a short demo lesson. A few years ago, to be totally honest, I thought that was weird....why do I need to interview for a job I already do?!

But I was young(er) and dumb then. Now that I've gone through the majority of a leadership program, I absolutely appreciate this process. First because it really allows principals to try to select an internal candidate that is a good fit for the position they need to fill but also because the way the transfers worked before, neither the candidate nor the principal really had any idea about each other. What if you bid into a school and got along with no one?? That could be horrible. At least this way you have an opportunity to meet the principal and ask and answer questions. 

Today I had an opportunity to interview for a 4th grade ESL position and a 4th/5th split position. The latter is not an ESL position but it is in an ESL school. They are also 1:1 ipads and my first choice. 

Full disclosure: I think I am a terrible interviewer. I have never really had to interview for a teaching job before. I got my first job as a teacher through a recommendation and an email! I was a long term sub. It was supposed to be a 4 week long assignment, basically from the Monday after Thanksgiving to winter break. It lasted the rest of the year. :) The following fall I did another long-term job and then had a pseudo interview for my first contract job...but the principal later told me I was hired before I walked in the door, it was all a formality.

Thus to go into a real interview like this was intimidating, even for me with 11 years of teaching. Fortunately I shared my nerves with the first interview team and they put me at ease. They asked me some good questions and then I presented a demo lesson (I used this lesson - I found the story with the book on youtube and then we did the close read and interactive notebook part).

My first choice school was my second interview and I think it went really well. I really liked the principal a lot, and I think she liked me. She seemed to. She was very affirming and they asked me several good follow up questions too. I don't know if it was because I had already had one interview (and the questions weren't identical for both), but I was so much more at ease. I'm kind of glad my first choice school was the second interview. I basically had a practice run first :) 

I would LOVE to be a part of that school. First of all because they are 1:1 ipads which would be a dream come true, second because there is so much I could do being back to what I know best (I've taught 4th grade most of my career). There are so many programs I have used before or am using now that they use at that school too. I have to admit the longer we talked, the more drawn I was to this position. It doesn't mean I will get it, but I am hopeful because I think this is the type of school where I could really shine....shine in a way I feel I can't do where I currently am.

There was no information on how long it would take them to tell us whether or not we are awarded one of the positions we interviewed for, but I'm hoping it won't be too long. I truly think transferring to this school would reignite my creativity and passion in a way that I haven't felt in several years. I would also have a large team (three 4th grade colleagues and three 5th grade colleagues). A real team is such an appeal to me since I really haven't had one in many years.

I'm excited and hopeful and nervous all at once. I'm praying that this is the one for me. I really think just talking with the principal and how at ease she made me feel, I would fit in very well with her and the staff at her school.


Thursday, April 6, 2017

As the World Turns (Upcoming Changes)

Just so you know, I am not talking about the daytime soap opera :)

I did some cleaning up on the blog today. I reverted almost 90% of my blog posts to "draft" status. I went from 1059 published posts down to 135. I kept pretty much everything from last school year to now along with my most popular posts (like Words Their Way--which has an unbelievable 83,000+ views!-- and Navigating Reading Street) active so you will still be able to see those.

Why did I decide to do this? Partly because some of my earliest posts were written by someone I no longer identify with. I have changed and grown so much over the life of this blog and while I didn't delete anything I have written, I have just chosen to keep them just for myself. There is enough negativity in the world and my 6-7 year old rantings do not need to add to that :)

Another reason is because I am planning to make some changes. I have been with my current school for 7 years. I went to school there as a kid, I student taught there. I have a ton of history and memories with the neighborhood and the families. I LOVE my students--even the challenging ones!--but I have been increasingly unhappy there and it is time for me to move on. I'm not sure what "moving on" will mean but I have applied for an internal transfer and several principal jobs.

Yes, I did just say I applied for a principal job. If you had asked me a month ago if I wanted to be a principal, I would have scoffed and given you a resounding NO as an answer.

Alas, I wonder if this is why I am so increasingly restless. Maybe I need to sit on the other side of the table. Maybe I need to have a broader perspective in the educational field to truly appreciate the path I am trying to take. I don't really know. It could be as simple as changing schools. That might be all I need. Again, I really don't know. I just know that I am not happy where I am and life is too short to be unhappy. With that said, I know how important and impactful a digital footprint can be and thus, I have elected to hide posts I do not believe represent me appropriately with where I am currently in my professional career. 

I have always been forthright, honest and vulnerable on this blog, even when I was more or less anonymous. Since I no longer am and I have people all over the country I am connected with, I do not want my former self to be aligned with who I feel I am today. I am SO not the same person I was when I began this blog nearly 7 years ago. I have changed so much personally and professionally and I didn't feel it was in my best interest to hold on to that former self that started this blog.



Saturday, March 25, 2017

MACUL 2017

On March 16, I attended my first MACUL (Michigan Association of Computer Users in Learning) Conference. I only attended the one day but man...I left with my head and heart jam-packed with awesomeness.

Keynote

First and foremost, the keynote speaker on Thursday was Sir Ken Robinson. Who doesn't love a man with a British accent?? Not only is he incredibly smart and has the right ideas about education, but he is also incredibly witty. I don't think I have laughed so hard so early in the morning ever. Not to mention the man got a standing ovation before he ever opened his mouth. The thousands of educators who flocked to Detroit for that conference knew that they were in the presence of greatness.

Two years ago, we read his book Out of Our Minds: Learning to be Creative for one of my doctoral classes and I was just blown away by how much I speak the same language in terms of how we "fix" education. As soon as I saw that he was the keynote, I knew I had to go, even if it was just for one day. My time was surely not wasted. This man knows that American public education is not going downhill...we have systems issues. Big ones. He also pointed out, however, that when we, as classroom teachers shut our doors and do what WE know is right, despite what we are being told to do, we ARE changing the system. I loved that. It is very true.

Incidentally, Sir Ken has a new book out called Creative Schools: The Grassroots Revolution That's Transforming Education which you can believe went immediately on my wish list. Pretty much everything that man says, I totally agree with.

If Sir Ken had been the only session I went to the entire day, it still would have been worth the 3 hours of travel and the money I spent to go. He was so inspiring and a great way to begin the day. Fortunately, he was not the only goodness I experienced.

BreakoutEDU

I went to a session on BreakoutEdu next. I have to admit, I have heard many people speak about BreakoutEDU in my PLN on Voxer but I hadn't ever really paid that much attention. to be totally honest, I found myself thinking "what is the big deal with this breakout stuff?? It can't be all that they claim it is." Well, believe me, once I saw it happening, I was hooked and realized that I had been missing out by not paying more attention!

If you've been living under a rock, like I apparently was, and don't know already, BreakoutEDU is an interactive games platform that allows students to work in groups to solve a series of clues in order to open a locked box. Once all of the locks are unlocked, the students have "broken out" and achieved the mission. The presenter demonstrated for us by putting us into four groups and having us complete a Breakout session ourselves. I went to the Minecraft group because my own kids play it and I figured it wouldn't hurt me to get involved in what they care about. My group actually finished our breakout first (in about 15-16 minutes I believe) and it definitely required teamwork and the ability to listen to the ideas of everyone in the group.

The best part is, once you purchase a kit (or make your own, which is only about $20 cheaper to do), you can sign up on the website to get access to tons of games for free. The games are all standards based too which is even better. I love it for team building, cooperative learning and critical thinking because, at least in my group, you had to solve the puzzle to open the smaller box in order to get the materials needed to solve the last two puzzles. We would have never completed the challenge if we hadn't realized we needed what was in the smaller box to open the other locks.

It was great fun and I am definitely planning to purchase a kit of my own and try it out with my class. I think it would make a great Fun Friday team building activity. In the future, of course, I could absolutely see using some of the games in the games library to enhance curriculum by having students solve problems based upon a learning unit to complete the breakout.

'Appy Hour

I went to another session called 'Appy Hour where we learned about a bunch of different apps that are useful for teaching and learning. About half of them I had already heard of (such as Remind and SeeSaw) but there were some other ones I learned about that I hadn't ever heard of. The best part of this session was that they shared the presentation with us so that we were able to follow along and click on the links to the various apps so we can try them out on our own.

I am definitely going to give EdPuzzle a try. I think it will be super helpful and engaging for the kiddos as review for concepts they are struggling with.

HyperDocs

The last session I attended was on HyperDocs. Holy cow. I have been missing out on this goodness! I had heard someone speak about them in my PLN awhile ago but didn't know what they were. This session definitely gave me a lot of food for thought.

Basically, HyperDocs are Google docs that are embedded with hyperlinks. The hyperlinks can link to videos, pictures or articles for the students to read. They use the information contained in the links to learn and complete an assignment about a topic. The topic can be about anything: you can have HyperDocs that are grammar focused or HyperDocs that are about tornados.

I think the best part about learning about HyperDocs is that the folks who are creating/using them are so willing to share their docs with others. There are TONS of already created HyperDocs that folks will let you use/adapt for free. How awesome is that??

You can learn more about HyperDocs by visiting the HyperDocs website or buying the The HyperDoc Handbook: Digital Lesson Design Using Google Apps book.


All in all I am so glad I went and also sad that I have never gone before! Fortunately, next year it will be hosted right in my hometown so I will definitely be able to attend it again. Useful and relatively cheap for a conference of its size.

I enjoyed it so much and am grateful to have so many takeaways to bring back to my classroom that I can use almost immediately. 

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Restorative Practices/Restorative Justice

Something that has been on my heart for a long time is the concept of Restorative Practices. I work with challenging students. That simply means, these little guys (and girls) have a lot stacked against them before they ever walk in the door: poverty, parents who forthrightly tell us they don't have much education, etc. It's HARD to be those kiddos.

But you know what, there is a reason why my heart belongs to my school. I was them once upon a time. Seeing them grow, learn and become amazing citizens is truly the most amazing thing I could have ever done with my life. 

About two years ago, I learned about Restorative Practices (also referred to as Restorative Justice) from a colleague. She had gone to a training and talked so highly of the idea that when a mini-session came along, I knew I had to go. And boy did it change everything about my teaching life! 

Especially last year with my largest class ever and some extremely challenging students, I am absolutely convinced that Restorative Practices is what kept me sane and allowed me do still do good work with my students. 

This past winter break, we had another installment of Edcamp Voice on Voxer and one of the groups was on Restorative Justice. We have since renamed ourselves the Restorative Justice League and it has spawned a twitter chat on Sunday nights and a facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/TheRestorativeJusticeLeague/). It is also, by far, one of the most active groups I have on Voxer. We are a group of educators and trainers who are that passionate about this topic and helping to restore relationships between students, students and teachers, and teachers and teachers when things don't go well (which in life...things are gonna happen, right?).

The reason this is on my mind so much right now is that my 15 year old (often referred to here on the blog as "Middle Child") got suspended from her high school yesterday. Before I share this, let me point out that I am not complaining about her suspension because I think she shouldn't have been punished. (Believe me, she has not had a stellar weekend because we do NOT play that way in our family. No way.) I am complaining about it because I do not think the punishment fits the crime. At all. I would bet you will probably agree with me by the end.


I have been plagued by this illness for months. Thursday night, it was diagnosed as another sinus infection (I believe this is the third or fourth one since my grandson was born last April). Thus while I really wanted to stay home on Friday to rest, I went to school because a) I had already been out of my room for 2.5 days that week due to WIDA testing and a meeting and b) Fridays are so easy it wasn't going to be too hard to suffer through it. But let's be honest: I felt horrible. I probably also looked horrible. As I was taking my class to art, we stopped for a restroom break and I leaned my head against the wall and closed my eyes; I was so drained I could have literally fallen asleep right there, propped up against the wall. So yeah, I felt like I'd been run over by a bus and then tossed over a cliff for good measure.

So imagine my surprise when I check my email during our Junior Achievement presentation and find an email with the subject line that reads [name of child] OSS. I already felt like death and then I get this email telling me my child has out of school suspension. A kid who has never been suspended in her life. What the actual horse hay is up with that??

I click on the email and discover that she got suspended because she was caught trying to steal from the cafe during lunch. Needless to say I was completely dumbfounded. I couldn't call the school back at that moment because I was with my own students still and had to wait until last recess. I also discovered I had two voicemail messages: one from the dean who sent the email and one from Middle Child's social worker. After getting the entire story, and being told this sort of offense would normally result in a 2-3 day suspension (!!!), I was just dumbfounded. 

I am 100% behind the idea that stealing is NOT okay. Ever. Especially not when you have the money to pay for the item you tried to swipe. BUT I also think 2-3 DAYS out of school for trying to steal a treat that cost less than $1.50 is the most asinine thing I have ever heard of. 

This is where the school could have employed Restorative Justice instead. Here is a nice article that can break down how to deal with things "the old way" versus the "Restorative Justice" way. Personally, I am a huge fan of the Restorative Questions:

What happened? • What were you thinking about at the time? • What have your thoughts been since? • Who has been affected by what you did? • In what way have they been affected? • What do you think you need to do to make things right? 

Had my child's school used these questions and really gotten to the bottom of the motivation behind the attempted theft, there would have been no reason for a suspension. Especially because I was told the reason it was only 1 day was because she is a special education student. Regardless, suspending a child, putting them out of school for 1-3 DAYS over an item that is less than $2 in value is not going to teach the child a lesson. What it is going to teach them is that if they do something bad, they will be at home. What middle class teenager whose parents are not emotionally screwed up doesn't want a 'free vacation' from school?! 

If she was from a home with parents who yelled and screamed all day and parented with violence, the suspension would probably scare her silly, but it would still be the wrong punishment. How does sitting at home for a day (and believe you me, she won't be sitting at home enjoying an extra day off), teach a person not to steal? IT DOESN'T. 

What should have happened? First, a thorough discussion and reflection using the questions above. Second, an apology to the person she harmed (in this case the cafeteria staff and the school administration). Third, mandatory community service at lunch for a week: cleaning tables, picking up trash, sweeping or whatever else needed to be done. That community service would be way more impactful than being sent home. 

I think this bothers me so much (aside from the fact that the punishment does not fit the crime) because there are so many parents I know who wouldn't do anything to the kid at home. It would truly just be an extra day of the weekend to screw around and be away from school. For a child like mine who has severe anxiety, its not a punishment to have another day off. Since I am an educator and don't condone the idea of taking things that don't belong to you, I think having the student serve community service is much more effective. First of all, they won't miss out on instruction and second, they have to be at the scene of the crime and working off their debt until it has been rectified. That, to me, is what would "teach her a lesson" rather than having a day at home. 

Sunday, February 19, 2017

How to be a Marigold

I listen to a lot of podcasts and do a ton of reading in the educational sphere. In today's age of social media and technology, there is really no excuse for not bettering yourself professionally because so much information is at your fingertips at all times.

Awhile back, I heard about the concept of being a Marigold. I swear I heard Jen Gonzalez talk about it on her Cult of Pedagogy podcast, but I can't find the actual episode that I heard it in (short of going back and listening to them all to find it). 

In short, she notes that marigolds are the perfect garden companion plant because "If you plant a marigold beside most any garden vegetable, that vegetable will grow big and strong and healthy, protected and encouraged by its marigold. Marigolds exist in our schools as well – encouraging, supporting and nurturing growing teachers on their way to maturity" (Jen Gonzalez, 2013). 

This past week, my TA (teacher's assistant...one step down from student teaching) told me that in their seminar class, which helps them unpack and process what they are learning in the classroom with their cooperating teacher (CT), their university supervisor was talking about finding your marigold. She said the supervisor asked the group (of about 12-14 TAs) to raise their hand if they thought their CT was a marigold. There are 5 TAs in my school and she said she was the only one who raised her hand :)

Now, I am not knocking my colleagues at all. Everyone approaches the mentoring role in their own way. I had three CTs of my own and none of them were stellar. I mean, they weren't horrible (well, one was) but I learned what not do to from them as well. So I have vowed that whenever I have hosted a student teacher, I would be sure to be as nurturing and uplifting as possible while also sharing the realities of what it means to be a teacher in today's world.

And let's be honest...it isn't always cupcakes and flowers. Sometimes it is downright crappy. Long hours, little pay, total disrespect from most of society. It can get old sometimes. But then, you have those moments when you FINALLY reach that tough-to-reach kid and it makes it all worth it. Or a parent thanks you for being your tenacious self because she knows you are fighting for HER child in a way she doesn't know how to do. Those are the moments that keep me in the profession...because I know that despite the downs that come with the job, the ups are so much more powerful. 

Teaching is truly a calling. It is not "a job" and should not be gone into without a solid understanding of the battles you will face politically (especially now). 

To me...that makes being a marigold even more important. I am realistic with my interns. I tell them that sometimes teaching is really kind of horrible. But mostly, it is awesome. You get to do something different every day, every year because the kids are different, the parents are different. It is never the same from day-to-day and the opportunity you have to grow and make a difference changes too. That's pretty powerful. 

How do you get to be a marigold? Be positive. Be affirming. Be genuine. Most of all, be honest. Some days are hard and that is not only normal but it is also okay. No one is perfect. Everyone (even veterans like myself) still have room to grow. Nurture those new teachers; give them an uplifting boost when they are struggling, give them guidance when a strategy they tried didn't work, suggest a new technique if you think it will help them. Don't tell them they are doing everything wrong, that will help no one. Be a listening ear. Be supportive. Most of all, be a friend. Don't talk about them behind their backs, don't stick your nose in their business if it doesn't concern you. Sometimes just being there, being real and honest is all that those upcoming teachers need.

Be a marigold, not a walnut tree.


Sunday, February 5, 2017

Are you Listening?

Back in the fall of 2013, just before I earned my National Board Certification, I became a consultant for Thirty-One Gifts. As a teacher it was just natural to sell the bags that I had found so much use for. Very quickly I promoted up to senior consultant with two girls selling under me and I earned my way to their National Conference in July of 2014.

While I ultimately decided that selling bags wasn't for me (mostly due to the fact that I began my doctorate and had zero time--or real interest--in holding parties to sell the product required to stay active), there is something that has stuck with me since that conference. Surprisingly, it keeps coming back up. 

There were many speakers during the event. I can't remember most of them (although LeAnn Touhy of The Blind Side fame sticks out as does Lisa Harper), but many of their words stuck with me. One of them said the most important question to ask yourself every day is 

Are you listening?

Doesn't seem that profound, does it? But it is.

Especially in our current politically divided time, listening is even more important. You should, at the very least, believe that children are listening. They are probably better listeners than adults are because they do not have as many things distracting them on a daily basis. Children absolutely listen to things we say to them, to each other and to what they see on television.

Last weekend, I was in Los Angeles, California attending the 2nd Teacher Powered Schools Conference. It had been raining cats and dogs before I got there but was beautiful while I was there. Sunny and between 70-75 degrees the days I was there. It was fabulous for a teacher from the midwest to experience that in the middle of January! 

I'm also very fortunate that my cousin, known affectionately as SuperDan (because, well, he IS super), lives in LA, not even 5 minutes from the hotel the conference was at. He was very kind and showed me around the city while I wasn't immersed in the conference. (It isn't very often a Michigan girl can claim to have had a dissertation committee meeting from Malibu beach, huh? But I did it!)

On Friday, January 27, we were at his apartment getting ready to head to Malibu when I called the teenagers back home. Middle Child has Asperger's and worries incessantly, especially about me. (It probably doesn't help that I have traveled more in the past three years than I have in her entire life.) So I sat at the dining table and called home and had a few minute conversation with both teens separately and then hung up to get ready for the beach. SuperDan commented that he could tell that I actually talk to my kids. 

I was kind of taken aback by that at first and asked what he meant. He doesn't have children but says he pays a lot of attention to people who do and how those kids interact with other adults. He said the fact that I had a two-way conversation with both of my teens, where it was obvious they were also responding and asking me questions too, was refreshing because so often he sees kids/teens who do not know how to really hold their own in a conversation.

I hadn't really considered that perspective before. I suppose, as a teacher, who gets paid who talk all the time, it is natural for me to have conversations with children. But, the more I have thought on our conversation, the more I have paid attention to what is going on around me. I have noticed my own words more as I speak to my students, but also how they speak to each other. 

Naturally this brought me back to those profound words: Are you listening? 

Today the words came back again. I was at the grocery store. Terrible place to be on Super Bowl Sunday, right after the church hour. (What was I thinking??) It was very busy and crowded. I was in no hurry though so I didn't mind much. As I was pushing my way up and down the aisles, I noticed a little boy, probably between 14-18 months old standing up in the basket of the cart being pushed by--I assume--his dad. As children this age are prone to do, he let loose a string of adorable non-words as he gazed out at the store around him. Had this been my child, or my grandson, I would have talked back to him, perhaps replying with something like "Really? What are you talking about?" or even "Goodness, tell me more!" to let him know that his practice talk is a good thing.

What I heard instead was "hey, no one is talking to you, be quiet." I'm sure you have figured out if you've read this blog for any length of time (or you know me personally), that it is pretty difficult to render me speechless. But this statement did. Now, let me be very clear: my intent here is not to shame this father or act like I am somehow superior to him. I just believe I am in a position to notice these things and in light of recent conversations and experiences am more sensitive to someone speaking to a child like this.

Have you ever reflected on a lesson or an interaction with a student and wished you hadn't said something that you did? Maybe you were unintentionally sarcastic or what you meant to say came out sounding so much ruder than it did in your head. We have all experienced those things before. And I would bet that you could name several occasions where someone's careless speech has made you feel bad. You probably wouldn't even have to think very hard about it. Words cut deep a lot of the time. (So much for that childhood saying of "words will never hurt me"....all lies. Words DO hurt.)

As it stands, this interaction with the little boy and his father that I observed from afar just brought this all back to the front of my mind. How often do we say things to our children--or each other--that we really don't mean because we aren't present in the moment? Because we are distracted by whatever we are doing? Because we are too caught up in whatever frivolous thing has caught our attention? 

I go back to my previous point. You should, at the very least, believe that children are listening. They are probably better listeners than adults are because they do not have as many things distracting them on a daily basis. Children absolutely listen to things we say to them, to each other and to what they see on television. 

While this little boy has likely already forgotten this exchange, what if he was four? Five? Seven? Twelve? Whether we like it or not, kids are listening. They are learning how to be good human beings by the examples they see around them. If they are always shushed or admonished for speaking, they will remember. They will suffer for that.

As I think back on my career, I can readily recall the children who are obviously spoken to like people and those who are spoken down to. It is very obvious by their interactions with their peers and the adults around them. 

Perhaps if we adults stopped being distracted, lived more fully present in the moment and were a bit more careful with our words toward our children, they would all grow up to be better people. Chances are...so would we. 

Are you listening? 

Saturday, February 4, 2017

STEM Goodness {Video}

Hi friends! Happy February!

The past month has been a whirlwind to say the very least. We have been keeping ourselves pretty busy in 3rd grade. I have enjoyed a weekend away in Los Angeles for the 2nd Teacher Powered Schools Conference and not enjoyed a cold both before AND after the conference (fortunately it was gone while I was away--must've been the sunshine and warm weather!). 

At any rate, recently I had a Donor's Choose grant fully funded and we got our materials just before I went on my trip to LA. I asked for a STEM bundle that includes 8 different kits from Lakeshore Learning. 

This past Friday we did our first STEM challenge as part of our Fun Friday (it was still fun but they were also learning -- win/win!). The kids are adorably hilarious as they test their design. They literally cheer when it doesn't fall down after the required 20 seconds. (I was surprised it held up because if you look carefully it does almost topple when they put the last figure on.)

Check it out: