Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Summer Learning

Happy July! I've been quiet here on the blog for awhile just taking some much needed time to unplug a bit and put my focus where I need it to be. I anticipate that everyone is enjoying their summer break and also finding some time to rest and relax. :) 

Having said that, I did want to pop in and share some learning I've engaged in thus far in the summer. As is true since I started this blog six years ago (!!), I am always fully honest about where I am in my journey as a teacher, whether that is bad or good. The further I get into my doctoral program, the harder it becomes for me to unplug during the summer (I suspect that will be even more true summer 2017 as I will be elbows deep in the dissertation by that point). Part of this is because my program is year-round and there is no such thing as a "summer break" for me from this learning (to be fair I do get a week off in August--which coincides with my return to work so... doesn't really count). 

This summer, I am taking my required religion course and we are studying the Parables of Jesus. The reading is extremely dense and I have developed a new appreciation for what it must be like for my struggling readers. I learned to read in kindergarten. I remember begging my mom (who is also a voracious reader) to help me learn how to pronounce words I practiced stringing together. Once I learned that words actually held meaning, I was off and haven't looked back. I have never struggled to read...and now I am because the readings and interpretations are dense and can be conflicting and overwhelming. As a true lifelong learner however, I am secretly relishing the challenge because a) it truly is giving me a new appreciation for what it must be like for some of my students and b) the more I push my brain, the hungrier it is for more knowledge. (Yes, I am a nerd. Sorry if you didn't know before and are just figuring it out.)

In addition to the required summer class, I participated in the second installment of EdCampVoxer July 5-9. I even led a session this time on Student-Centered Assessment. I am writing a chapter for a collaborative ebook on Student Assessment and running that group and getting new ideas was so incredibly beneficial. My wheels were turning and spinning out of control, in a good way, not only for ideas for my chapter but also for how I'd like to change things up this next school year. 

I also joined a session on Growth Mindset and holy cow. What an amazing and dynamic group that was (and continues to be). I've learned a lot, had my mind expanded and am jotting notes and keeping track of different files so when I have time I can go back and pick things to read and/or implement in the future. Some of it will also be good for the upcoming dissertation, which is always a bonus.

I also learned about SeeSaw. We do not have a ton of technology in our school (hopefully that will change this fall) so I am not well versed in much of the EdTech out there. I do know, however, that my intention was to go to a portfolio assessment tracking system this year, I just had planned to do it on paper (and some parts still will be this way). However, now that I know about SeeSaw, I can utilize the iPods I have for my class and have the students upload and note things they are working on and we can share them with families in real time, which is exciting. 

Lastly, of course, my summer would not be my summer if I wasn't doing tons of reading! It's been more difficult to get in the reading at a rate I normally would as I have had to read some pretty dense books on history for my Princeton Seminar and of course, for class.

Below are listed books (click on any picture to go to the book info on Amazon) that I have either already purchased and plan to read or will be purchasing. Doubtful I'll get through them all this summer with the vast amounts of reading I am required to do for class and my seminar but I shall try!

I own this one. I have only barely scratched the surface of this one but it's quite good. The research is fascinating and I am always interested in knowing more about how our brains do their thing.

I own this one. This one was a very quick and enjoyable read about how to set up a classroom utilizing Restorative Practices rather than incentives and punishments. I picked this one up because we have been using Restorative Practices in my school.

I own this one. This one is brand new from ASCD. I participated in a free webinar from ASCD about this book and I'm super excited to dig into it. It is basically teaching teachers how to teach their students metacognitive strategies so that the students can really drive their brains (there is even an activity where the kiddos get to have a picture of them driving their brains as a visual reminder).

I own this one. This one I started to read and it's very good thus far. I am really hoping to have time to finish this one before school starts just as a way to self-monitor my own growth as a teacher.

I do not own this one but it is wish-listed. I have heard nothing but good things about this book and will be buying it at some point. It focuses on some growth mindset type of things and that is an area I am quickly become very passionate about. There is nothing more frustrating to me than having a 7 or 8 year old child who is already so checked out because they think they are dumb.

I do not own this one either, but it is also wishlisted. I was very lucky to participate in a chat with the author of this book last week and I learned a ton and am excited to read this book and learn how to help my students push themselves forward. 

Saturday, June 18, 2016

JumpStart Training

Gosh, it is hard to believe it has been a whole week since I left the JumpStart training in Maryland as a new CSP (Candidate Support Provider)! Time flies, huh?

It was a wonderful experience although a very long one.We began Thursday evening from 5-9 pm (!!!), went all day Friday (9-5 pm) and all day Saturday (9-5 pm). It was a ton of information to cram into our brains but it was amazing and I can definitely see how I would have benefited from being able to participate in a JumpStart as a candidate. 

We unpacked each of the academies that new candidates can attend as they go through the process. We networked, we planned and we sketched out some ideas of what we'd like to do here in Michigan. It's only a process for us because our network is emerging and because those of us involved in this are spread all over the state (thus communication is pretty important but not always timely).

I'm so glad I was able to go though. I learned a lot and I definitely know how to support someone else who is going through the process--one of the biggest takeaways I had was to make sure the candidate owns their own journey. I think this is a lesson we sometimes need to remind ourselves of with our students too; it can be so easy to just give the answer but when we require the person to find the answer on their own with minimal help (such as suggesting where they might find the answer), it is going to mean so much more to them in the long run.

It was a bit weird since I am not on the "executive committee" of our network and thus there are things they know that I do not in terms of what is coming down the line. Alas, I think that once the plan for our JumpStart is put into place, things will be better and there will be more open communication. 

Since I got back, I went in to finish my CA-60s and have enjoyed some down time the rest of the week. Can't tell you how nice that has been :) 

Finishing up my current grad class tonight and then a week of freedom. I have so much to do between now and July 24th but I am going to give myself this next week to just relax and enjoy since The Husband is on vacation and I have the week off doctor school as well.

I shall update when I return from Princeton at the end of July. Have a fabulous summer!

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

The End (almost)

It's unbelievable to me that tomorrow is my last day of school with my students for this year (their last day is Friday). This year was incredibly weird, challenging, exhilarating and fun all rolled into one. I had a super huge class this year and was on my own from mid-December to now with 30 kiddos. That's a ton of kids with no additional support!

We also had a ton of transition this year from a no-show teaching partner in August to a new colleague passing away to some transition within the last six weeks of school. Definitely one for the record books!

Alas, I am heading out a bit early this year to attend JumpStart training in Maryland Thursday evening through Saturday evening. I have so much to do before I say goodbye to my small fries tomorrow at 11:55 am! 

I'm happy to say I'm staying in 3rd grade for next year (unless something wild happens over the summer) and my former student teacher will be teaching with me next year. :) We will have a new partner in our 2/3 split but that person is not yet determined. 

I have an incredibly busy summer coming up along with many things I want and need to do for my own personal well-being too. I'm excited for what's to come but also very ready to kick back and just take things one day at a time as well.

It's very likely this blog will sit and gather some dust this summer (with some updates on this weekend's training and my Princeton trip in July) until I get back into the swing of things for the fall. I have a million ideas running around in my head of what I want and need to do differently next year but some time off to recoup and gather myself together is necessary first.

Until we meet again have a beautiful and safe summer!

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Summer of Success

Okay, I totally stole that title from our summer school program...but teachers are known for begging, borrowing and stealing....right? :) 

Alas, as we wind down this school year (only 10 student days left, 3 of those half days), I can begin to briefly turn my thoughts to my plans for the summer. Recently a long-time volunteer at our school who mentors a student for an hour each week asked me about my summer plans. I kind of chuckled and said "you know, usually I don't do much and this summer will be incredibly busy!"

I am actually starting my summer a tad early because I was invited to travel to Maryland the last two days of school to attend JumpStart training so I can be a National Board Candidate Support Provider. So that will be an incredibly amazing kick off to the summer. One evening and two full days of incredible learning that I can bring back to my district and surrounding districts to really begin a movement toward getting more teachers on board with National Board Certification. 

Much of the rest of June and into mid-July will be working on my chapter for the #EduMatch collaborative e-book. I'm SUPER stoked to be part of this exciting project. I may actually end up co-authoring my chapter since someone else in the group and I were chatting and we have a similar idea but from different angles. Once we actually begin writing, we may decide to collaborate on one chapter instead of each writing our own. It will be so super incredibly fun.

At the end of July, I am headed to Princeton for the Gilder Lehrman seminar on the Thirteen Colonies. I get to pretend to be an Ivy League student for a week, including a stay in the dorm (something I never did as a college student). I'm beyond excited for the workshop and the field trip they are taking us on (that is a mystery!).

I'll be home for a week after that and we're hopping in a car and heading to Florida for a week at Disney World (yes, during the hottest month of the year because we're crazy). I get to spend my birthday with Mickey Mouse :) 

More or less once we get home from that fun'll be time to open up the classroom for the fall! On top of all of that exciting goodness, there is grad school and being a mom and seeing my grandson as often as possible.

I am so excited about it all....especially because most summers we don't really do much aside from heading to our cabin. 

Sunday, May 22, 2016

International Exemplars

It is not a secret to most people who know me that once I traveled to Finland in March 2015, I have been more or less obsessed with the Finnish education system ever since. How do they do what they do so well? Why can't the US get it together to be more like them (specifically by dialing WAY down on the amount of testing we do)?

I get some push back sometimes...telling me how Finland is too small to be compared to the US, how it is not diverse so we can't compare it to the US in that case either. 

But I am fortunate enough that my current doctoral class is all about international schools and how we can learn from and emulate them. Of course, Finland is one of the countries we are looking at. And what is most interesting is the authors of The Global Fourth Way admit that while Finland is much smaller and less diverse than the US as a is possible to emulate some of their strategies at a state level because the entire country of Finland is very similar in size to many of the individual states in the US. (I also found it quite interesting that some of the states in the US actually have less foreign born residents than some places here aren't very diverse either!)

The pieces that resonate with me the most, however, is the commitment to equity. All students receive free universal preschool, parents can take three years of maternity leave to be at home during the most precious years and all schools are funded by the government (even the few private schools they have). Teachers are in charge of the curriculum...there is a trust there that they have prepared their teachers well and thus, the teachers can be trusted to do what they need to do. 

My favorite thing this quote "Accountability is the remainder that is left when responsibility is subtracted." 

Truer words have probably never been spoken. It is like most things....because of a few people taking advantage of the system, everyone else has to suffer. Quite honestly, I work HARDER to please MYSELF than I ever have for my bosses...because I am the one who has to sleep at night knowing whether or not I gave my students my all. I don't need some arbitrary accountability system to get me to do my job well...but others do and that's sad.

My second favorite part of this...teachers are respected. They are not scapegoats for bigger problems with the systems. They are treated as professionals and trusted as professionals. I know some absolutely amazing educators all over the US (thanks PLN!)...and I can tell you that all of them would continue to be amazing if the accountability systems we employ were to disappear. They would not stop being amazing because suddenly no one was watching them. When we lift teachers up, treat them well and pay them a living wage for their work....we might be surprised at the result we get.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Censorship & Teaching {Part 2}

On Saturday, I wrote this post about how the media often portrays teachers and how teachers might be censored from sharing their opinion about some things if it doesn't make their school and/or district look good. 

When I wrote it, I hadn't intended for there to be a "part 2" but I had an email from a very long-time reader about it. She didn't comment on the blog, opting instead to send me an email because she didn't want her name associated with her comments publicly.

She said that it bothered her that teachers, who are people first and employees second, have to be scared of sharing their own personal feelings on a blog, on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram or any other social media because they could face sanctions from their school district. She said "what about the First Amendment? Don't we have the right to Freedom of Speech?"

It's not a question I can really answer. I'm not a lawyer so I don't know what the interpretation of the First Amendment would be in a court of law. I do know, however, that many teacher contracts have provisions about representing yourself in such a way that reflects positively on your employer. (Don't quote me on the exact wording but it's something to that effect.)

In fact, ten years ago when I was finishing my undergrad, in our classroom management course, my professor shared that when she had been an assistant principal, she and her husband had a party. They bought adult-only beverages and they were bagged by a student from her school at the store. That student shared with his parents that the AP had bought those sorts of drinks and on Monday, she was called into her superior's office and written up because of "conduct unbecoming of a school administrator"...yes, for purchasing adult-only beverages on a weekend, on her own time, for a party she was having. She shared this story with us because even back then, before social media had grown to what it is today, you could be taken-to-task for conduct your district didn't think fit your position.

The wording is intentionally vague (from what I recall my professor telling us) and therefore can cover pretty much anything. 

If I recall correctly, I do believe my own district just recently passed a social media policy. It isn't because they don't want us to talk at all (at least I don't think it is lol). I have been told the "powers that be" in my district are aware of this blog and monitor it and that's fine. I don't write anything that I don't believe to be true and I'm definitely not dumb enough to come online thinking it's in any way anonymous and spout off about things happening in my district that I might not agree with. (I wrote on this blog for almost four years completely anonymously--not even once using my own name and guess what, they still figured out it was me.)

Let's be real, there is no such thing as a utopian district where everything is sunshine and rainbows all the time; anywhere that people work is going to have some things happen that people don't like or agree with and that's fine. I don't love every policy we have (and I guarantee that sometimes they wish I would just shut up already!)....but that doesn't give me the right to go online and rant and rave like I'm the queen of the world. NO ONE CARES if I don't like or agree with a policy. It's not up to me to like or agree with it. My role is to do what they ask me to do...because teaching IS a political job and your district definitely does not want their employees out there spouting off drama.

So my very long answer to her question is, because we are public employees, because whatever we do and say that is made public could even potentially be associated with our school and/or district, yes we do have to be careful of what we say and what we share.  I know that answer is probably going to make this reader mad and I'm sorry.

The fact of the matter is, with teachers being so scrutinized by the public anyway, why would you want to behave in any way that would give the media fodder for saying "see?! Those teachers...."? Why would you want to not only add fuel to the fire but light the match as well?

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Happy Mother's Day & Giveaway Winner

A truly happy Mother's Day to all of you out in the blogosphere....whether you are an actual mother, a foster mother, a stepmother or even just a surrogate mother to your students, you make a difference every day!  I hope you had a fabulous day and were pampered lots!

The Neon Kwik Stix winner is Lorena R! You will receive an email from Kendal at Pencil Grips to claim your prize. Thanks for participating!