Wednesday, July 26, 2017

An Ocean of Possibilities

Live, Laugh, Love



Dear Readers,

I have always loved being by water. Whether it be an ocean, a lake or just the Erie Canal, there is something calming about it. I recently had the opportunity to spend some time in St. Augustine with a dear PLN member and friend, Valerie. I thank her from the bottom of my heart for an amazing weekend filled with laughter, friendship and fun. 


I love words. I also love alliteration. One of my favorite phrases is "Live, Laugh, Love". It is a reminder that we cannot change the past, we do not know what the future holds, but today is a present, a gift that we must embrace and live to the fullest.

Live


Sitting on the beach, feeling the soft breeze and the warmth of the sun, while listening to the crash of the waves was amazing. I was truly living in the moment. I was not thinking about anything, but how wonderful it felt to be on the beach at that particular moment in time.

We must live the life we are meant to live. Regardless of what others think or say. As I sat here in paradise it made me reflect on my life. I may not have always made the choices or gone down the "traditional" path as others, but I own my choices and am happier today because of them.

I have been told I am quirky and beat to my own drum and I am proud of that. I embrace my uniqueness and independence. While it may not be for others, it is for me. Walking on the beach made me think of life. I can take the same path to the ocean each time of I can choose a different one. Each wave comes in at a different height and speed. Sometimes the tide is in or out. 

Life is like the ocean, sometimes it is calm and other times it is rough. Some days it is predictable and other times it is not. I have learned to embrace both the good and the bad, the positive and negative, the highs and lows.

Laugh


Valerie was kind enough to purchase an umbrella and chairs for our excursions to the beach. One of the funniest moments was when we tried to figure out how to comfortably sit in chairs made with cloth. We laughed hysterically as we kept getting folded up in the chairs until we figured out we had to open them just the right amount so when we sat, they did not fold up completely.

I have often been told my laugh is loud and contagious. In fact, sometimes people laugh at my laugh and not the story that caused it. My students frequently start laughing just because I am, they are not even sure what they are laughing about!

Sometimes we just need to let loose and laugh. Just be ourselves and have fun. The picture above is not one I would normally post, however when I took it I felt so carefree. No make-up, completely natural curls, a hat (which I never wear) and a sincere smile. In fact when I texted it to a few people the first thing they said was, "You look so happy."

We have to remember to laugh, a lot. It not only makes us feel good, but those around us as well. 

Love

Love can mean so many different things to different people. Who defines what love is? We do! It does not have to be the same from person to person. The important thing is to love and embrace life itself and all that it entails.


Love is a happy place.

I adored being in the middle of a large space just sitting in the water, listening to the waves around me. I loved looking out at the openness of the ocean and seeing nothing. It was like looking at endless possibilities. I loved being in this moment.


Love is coffee in the morning with an incredible view.

I never, ever get tired of looking at the ocean whether I am on the beach or inside. I thoroughly enjoyed my morning coffee while looking out on this gorgeous view. 


Love is spending time with friends and pets.

While in Florida I was able to meet long time PLN member and friend Sean and his dog Pete. I was even luckier when we went for a walk, all four of us. 

May you all live life to the fullest, laugh until your side hurts and love with all your heart.

Warmly,
Teresa


Saturday, July 22, 2017

In Praise of American Educators: And How They Can Become Even Better

Dear Readers,

Dr. Richard DuFour had a powerful impact on my thinking as an educator when I saw him speak at a Solution Tree PLC Summit in Ottawa, Canada. He inspired me, he challenged my thinking and he gave me a different perspective from which to view my role and life as an educator. 

I am so honored to co-moderate and participate in a book study highlighting In Praise of American Educators: And How They Can Become Even Better.


A sincere thank you to Ken Williams (@unfoldthesoul), Dr. Rosa Perez-Isiah (@RosaIsiah) and Jace (@inspire0818) who have given their time, support and collaboration over the past month. I look forward to seeing everyone tomorrow as we begin our conversation!

Questions for Sunday July 23rd:

1. What has been the trend in the way the media has reported on the state of American education since 2002?

2. How can new legislation, media headlines, evaluation systems, etc. negatively impact a person's mental health?

3. "No generation of American educators has ever accomplished what our teachers and administrators are achieving today." (pg. 15) Reflect on this quote. What evidence is there to support it?

4. What are advantages and disadvantages of charter schools? Vouchers?

5. Creating competition through the use of charter schools, vouchers, testing, evaluations, merit pay and closing low performing schools result in consequences whether they be positive, negative or neutral. Share your thoughts or reflections on these practices.

6. How have reforms such as NCLB or RTTT impacted our current state of education?

Warmly,
Teresa

Friday, July 7, 2017

Shattering the Perfect Teacher Myth (Aaron Hogan)

What Myths Stop You From Thriving?


Dear Readers,


As soon as I read the first paragraph I was hooked. 

Myth #1: Teaching Expectations

"One of the most harmful myths education has come to accept is that the best teachers never or  rarely have behavior problems in their classrooms."

I teach middle school and a few years ago I had an "aha" moment. I made the assumption that my students should know this or should know that. It finally clicked, had I ever talked about certain expectations? How would they know if we did not discuss them? 

Aaron's recommendation to look at behavioral expectations as we would academics is exactly what we need to hear!  Adults should never assume anything about students. Each student, class, school or district is special and unique in their own way. 

A few questions I pose to students include:

  • What does a positive and productive learning environment look and sound like?
  • How are we contributing to our expectations of a positive learning environment?
  • What are we doing well? What do we need to change?
  • What am I doing well? What do I need to change?
  • What are our action steps to create that environment?

If we spend time reviewing or creating expectations with students, the academics will follow. In addition, if we want students to be leaders in the classroom, a solid foundation of expectations also allows for them to be the instructors of their own learning. The expectations are referred to whether I am doing the teaching or peers are.

Myth #2: Hook Your Students

"Compliance should never be our main goal. Engagement is the result of deliberate design, rapport, developed with students over time, and in an intentional search for inclusive classroom community."

When I first started teaching, it was my misconception that the teacher was the holder of the knowledge. I also think part of me thought if I was the instructor, it would help with behavioral expectations. At one time, I thought the ideal classroom was quiet and orderly.

You would never guess that about me now. In fact, I thrive as a teacher when my students are leading the class, there is constant movement and the room is filled with conversations. As my students and I discussed identity, I admitted that I saw myself as more of a learner than teacher, which they were surprised to hear!

In this chapter, the idea of "invisible people" is extremely powerful! There will always be students who will connect to us through our classroom, our personality, our interests or our instruction. We must never forget those students who struggle to fit in. Aaron reminds us to connect with those students, look for those students and give them the attention they need and deserve.

Myth #3: Reject Isolation

"The more I think about it, the more I believe our legacy as educators lies in building community over time."

In August 2014 I was introduced to Twitter. I hated it. I thought it was boring, I had no idea how to navigate it or connect with people and the only reason I even joined was because a friend set up the account and started my "following" for me. Fastfoward 3 years later and I cannot imagine life without it. I love what Aaron says about internet friends. I have made friends across the world that would never have been possible!

During the summer of 2016 I was introduced to Voxer by an "internet friend". Again, I was not super interested. Now, I cannot imagine life without it! While I struggle to participate in chats, I absolutely love the 1:1 conversations. There really is something special and personal about a person's voice.

As I read the story about being a 1st year teacher, it made me stop and reflect. I am probably considered one of the veteran teachers in years of experience. There are times when I need to stop and remind myself that teachers new to the profession need my patience, guidance and understanding. It is what I would have wanted as I started my career.

Myth #4: Imagine it Better

"Teachers thrive when they dream big with the ways they can upset the status quo and reimagine what's possible for their students."

As a Language & Literature teacher, I adore using novels, short stories or articles to teach and model perspective, empathy and tackle tough issues. It is imperative that students consider ideas different from their own to make informed decisions. As we proceed through the school year, I hear changes in their thinking and feeling towards different characters or situations as they become more empathetic.

In life, we are faced with triumphs and traumas, good and bad. I try to believe that people make the best decisions they can, in the moment, with the information they know at the time. Humans can be incredibly resilient. We have to model and teach our students strategies to pull from in the case of adversity.

For as long as I can remember I have asked questions. Sometimes they are welcomed and other times they are not. I encourage students to always ask what they are thinking and I will always do my best to answer them. I am not afraid to tackle tough conversations and will admit if I need to do some research to obtain an answer. 

Sometimes I hang a parking lot in the classroom for students to just jot down whatever is on their mind, related to class or not. It has actually been a fun way to build connections. I was once asked what kind of pizza I liked.

Myth #5: Value Vulnerability

"Mistakes are inevitable. We must be willing to own them and use them as the point of departure for productive growth."

It can be so difficult to admit when we need help. At one time I had such high expectations of myself, I was setting myself up for failure from the beginning. There was no way I could meet my demands I was placing on myself. It took a while, but gradually I realized I do not expect others to be perfect so why was I expecting the impossible of myself?

Over the past few years I have grown so much as an individual, as an educator and have really put realistic boundaries on myself. I no longer believe in perfection as the end goal, but rather focus on the journey and learning that takes place.

Myth #6: Everyday Every Day

"We don't have to offer some grand gesture to students to make our interactions memorable and meaningful. That's what kids deserve. To be valued. To be loved. To be known."

Students are going to remember the "non-teaching" moments they shared with us. I think about teaching my 7th graders how to wrap a box, doing Carpool Karaoke with my 1st period class or filling bean bag chairs outside on a windy day. I think about the day a student dropped a large hot chocolate in front of a classroom where teaching was happening and running back and forth to get paper towels, laughing all the way. I hope my students remember those days as fondly as I do. That is where we build relationships and make connections.

I was introduced to ANCHOR conversations a couple of years ago by Shelley Burgess and Beth Houf. I use the Anchors of Appreciation frequently with my students. I find it is a great way to privately acknowledge what I appreciate about them and their contribution to our classroom community. This past year, I had students create a system for handing them out to each other. While not perfect, it gave us a place to work from heading into this next school year.

My Hope For You

"I'm inspired by your dedication and honored to serve students alongside you."

A beautiful ending to a beautifully written book. Thank you Aaron for your honesty, vulnerability and inspiration. I thoroughly enjoyed every word!

Warmly,
Teresa






Sunday, July 2, 2017

Matryoshka Dolls

Reflecting on the Symbolism in Wolf by Wolf


Dear Readers,


A friend recently suggested this book to me. I highly recommend it for middle school students. 

The setting is during Hitler's reign and the young girl in the story, Yael, was held in a concentration camp. During her imprisonment, she was given a set of matryoshka dolls by a woman she refers to as Babushka. When it was time for her escape, Yael took only the smallest doll (it is referred to as the "pea" in the story) for it was the easiest to hide. Babushka referred to the pea as the child who was kept safe by the other dolls.


One of my most treasured possessions is a set of matryoshka dolls that a friend brought back from the Ukraine. She (The doll, but my friend is beautiful as well!) is absolutely beautiful. The colors, the details and the faces. 


Although she sits on my bookcase in my living room and I look at her every day, I had not opened her in a while. Reading about the dolls made me take her apart. It got me to thinking about the smallest doll kept safe and secure inside all the others.


I think of this small doll as our students. As our students get older, they face more life experiences, some much harder and more traumatic than others. Our students come to school with "baggage" we know absolutely nothing about.....until we ask. 

I pride myself on forming relationships, making connections and building a safe and secure learning environment. It is essential we get to know our students on every level in order to best meet their needs. 

I think of our students nestled inside our schools, much like the "pea" or the "seed" tucked inside the outer dolls. My hope is that our students feel just as safe and secure in their learning environments.


One of my favorite children's authors of all time is Patricia Polacco. If you are not familiar with her as an author, she writes from her own personal experiences. 

Her Grandma was very important to her. In the book, Thunder Cake, she helped Patrica to overcome her fear of thunder by baking a cake. Grandma used strategies to help her feel brave. By the end of the story, Patricia was no longer afraid of thunder and saw herself in a different light.

We can learn so much from this story. We can be the adult who calms our students' fears. We can be the adult who allows them to see how brave they are. We can be the adult who changes their mindset. We can be the adult to guide them into the world and help them realize it is not as scary as it may seem.

May you all be a guiding light for your students! May all our students feel safe, secure and loved in their learning environments!

Warmly,
Teresa





Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Making the Most of Our Life Maps

What Do Your "Maps" Say About You?


Dear Readers,


As soon as I started reading this, I made connections to how I might use similar concepts and ideas with my middle school students. 

"How is your current map impacting your actions and outcomes?" (pg. 6)

Being a Language and Literature teacher I have the incredible opportunity of using literature to teach perspective and empathy. Endless resources are at my fingertips and are constantly changing and updating. 

One concept my students often have a difficult time grasping is perspective. For our purpose, perspective is how an individual reacts to a given situation based on his or her past experiences. I love novels like Lost Boy, Lost Girl or A Long Walk to Water that flip flop between perspectives and characters. We have many discussions on how story elements impact one another, including how the main character(s) responds. 

The same can be true for real life. Each of us has our own unique map that has been shaped by our past. Those experiences influence how we react to others. As we learn and grow, new information integrates into what we already know to be true. 

I explain to my students the importance of gathering information, considering various outlooks and putting all that knowledge together to make informed judgments or decisions. Often when we debate, their initial claim changes or is at least reconsidered as they hear counterarguments. 

"Students and colleagues are constantly picking up cues about your beliefs and expectations." (pg. 10)

A mentor once told me, as I was going through my administrative program, that I will always leave an impression on people. It may be good, bad or neutral, but even the person sitting in the farthest back corner of the room will form an opinion of me. That being said, I can control my actions and words, however cannot control how people react to me. My intention is always to be confident, comfortable in my own skin and transparent. 

In the past, there had been times where I would allow myself to react negatively to other people. As I reflected on that, I realized it was also leaving people with an impression of me, that might not be so positive, when I engaged in the conflict circle or rose to the "bait". 

I use those experiences to talk to my students. I am quite open with them about presenting themselves as they want others to see them. We have had many conversations about negative reactions to social media posts, impulsively saying something about someone or making assumptions about others. In fact, we had a class norm "Some Things Are Better Kept in Your Head". I recall having a conversation with a student that although sometimes we want to say something to our best friend about someone who we feel wronged us, doing it while walking in the hall is neither the time nor the place.

"But you can always control your response to change." (pg. 20)

As someone who embraces change, sometimes it is difficult for me to look through the eyes of someone who does not. I thrive when I am challenged or am taking on new roles. Being a related service provider, I have always had a "revolving door" of students coming in and out of my room. Consequently, it also provided me many opportunities to work with various colleagues. I feel extremely lucky to have worked with so many students and educators over the years.

I remember when I worked at the high school, it was exam week in June and a social studies teacher came to me and said, "I heard you are really easy going." What she meant was, I was someone who would adapt as needed and go with the flow. She wanted me to change proctoring assignments and of course I agreed. 

Change in life is inevitable. It will always be there for good or for worse. The key is how we adapt to it. There are numerous times that I have consulted my students about a change that needed to happen whether it be due dates, schedules, etc. By sharing with them what is happening, discussing impact of those changes and showing them it will work out, I am modeling how to effectively deal with adjustments to what we thought was going to be.

As a young person, I experienced some rather traumatic events in my life. Although I would never wish anyone to go through them, they made me who I am today. I firmly believe everything happens for a reason and we are given what we can handle. As I went through different experiences, I knew that I would come out alright. I had shown myself how resilient I was in the past, so this time would be no different. Whether it be life changing events or daily changes, we are healthier when we can accept them.

"When we know what we should do, and choose not to do it, we damage relationships." (pg. 59)

I have posed this thought to others, "We have to accept people for who they are, not who we expect them to be." When someone has a reaction to another's response, I think he/she needs to look in the mirror and reflect. Am I upset because that individual did not respond the way I think he or she should have? Why am I really upset or angry?

Working with middle schoolers, there priority and mental space revolves around their social world. They are learning how to navigate relationships with family, friends, teachers, teammates, etc. As a trusted adult, I find myself giving them skills and strategies to help them function in these social environments. Sometimes they heed my advice, other times they choose not to, which is absolutely fine. However, I tell them the choices they make can impact friendships, positively or negatively. They have to be prepared for the outcome, whichever way it falls. 

In conclusion, I highly recommend this book! Whether you are a teacher, leader or administrator the skills and strategies will help you reflect on your maps. May you all embark on a wonderful journey!

Warmly,
Teresa

Monday, June 26, 2017

Hunger Games Comes to #tlap

Hunger Games Inspired Chat


Dear Readers,

The Hunger Games trilogy is never on my shelves, it is constantly being checked out by students. Many of them have read the books and/or seen the movies. In fact, I have found myself referencing the plot or characters consistently throughout my Language and Literature instruction, whether we are discussing character traits (such as President Snow and his need to exert power through control) or government (such as President Snow manipulating fighting among the districts). It has become a pop culture phenomenon.

A task I love to engage students with in 8th grade is to create their Ideal School Environment and the Worst School Environment. The ideal school is always depicted in bright colors, positive words or messages and smiling students. On the other hand, the worst school is usually in grays or blacks, has some kind of reference to a jail (such as bars on the windows) and frowning students. It reminds me of the capital vs. District 12. The images of pop culture transcend into our classrooms and student work.

As we have discussed and studied various types of "power", the students initial reaction is usually to choose the one who exhibits physical power. Then as we discuss different types of power, such as reading, writing, speaking and listening, their thoughts change. It reminded me of President Snow who tries to turn the districts against one another and forces participation in the Hunger Games with the ultimate sacrifice...death. While Katniss led people to a rebellion using the power of problem solving, collaboration, knowledge and words.

I love incorporating music, visuals and different types of media into my instruction. In the past I have used the song and lyrics Safe and Sound by Taylor Swift. We have used the video while playing the song and other times we focus on lyric analysis. 

Other songs from the movie:

Eyes Open (Taylor Swift)

We Remain (Christina Aguilera)


The Hanging Tree  (Jennifer Lawrence)


One of my favorite ways to challenge myself and connect to students is to bring their worlds into learning. I find pop culture, including music and movies, is a fantastic way to do that! It is an added bonus when it ties into literature as well!

I hope you join me for tonight's #tlap chat! The questions are below!

Warmly,
Teresa














Saturday, June 17, 2017

A Few Bumps Along the Way

Every Challenge Makes Us Stronger


Dear Readers,

It has been a tough week. My dad's birthday was last Monday and tomorrow is Father's Day. Even though he has been gone for over 11 years now, it is still a difficult month.  I remember meeting a woman once who had lost her daughter to suicide. She said that she gave herself permission to cry and feel sad when she needed it. In the beginning it was daily and over time decreased. Not being one to show my emotions publicly, that has always stayed in the back of my mind. It is normal to have sad moments and let ourselves feel them. I have definitely had my moments this week where I have taken that advice to heart.

I have always believed that people are sent into our lives for a reason. This morning I was putting groceries in the car and someone paid me the nicest compliment. Not long after that, someone gifted me with a random act of kindness. It was like they knew it was a tough weekend for me and I needed a little "pick me up". Isn't it funny how things happen when you need them?

My life has been filled with highs and lows, positives and negatives, traumas and triumphs. However, I believe everything that has happened to me has made me who I am today. I live very much in the present, I try not to dwell in the past, nor do I look too far forward into the future. It allows me to really live in the moment.  In Teach Like a Pirate by Dave Burgess, the "I" in PIRATE stands for "Immersion". On page 14 it states, "Your ability to completely give yourself up to the moment and fully "be" with your students is an awesome and unmistakably powerful technique." 

Transitions can be difficult for me, including ending the school year and heading into summer. However, fortunately my birthday is at the end of the month and always something to look forward to. Additionally, I have planned a big vacation this summer which is completely uncharacteristic of me, but it is a milestone birthday so why not? I also have work days already incorporated into my schedule. Going into the summer with a plan is essential for me. Especially those first few weeks off.

Some of my students have commented this week that they do not want school to end. I know it is for different reasons. Some like the structure and routine of school, some are very involved in the school environment (music, sports, clubs, friends, etc.) while others face uncertainty. Some see school as a safe haven. It is where they feel cared for, safe and loved.

While we celebrate the end of another fantastic year and look forward to sunny, hot, lazy days, let us not forget those who will be counting down the days to September.

I wish all of my students a relaxing and restful summer. May they all feel safe, cared for and loved. I hope they know how much I will miss them and look forward to seeing them in the fall.

Warmly,
Teresa

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

LAUNCH Day 2017

Put On Your Creative Thinking Caps!


Dear Readers,

After reading LAUNCH, I have implemented a LAUNCH Day at the end of the year. 

 

I gather boxes and purchase a few materials such as streamers, pool noodles, pipe cleaners and most importantly DUCT TAPE! I also scrounge up items I already have in the classroom such as stickers, plastic cups, tissue paper, markers, pencils, construction paper and wrapping paper.

 

Day 1 (L-A-U-N)





  • Getting into pre-determined groups.
  • Each group had a piece of chart paper.
  • (Modified "L") Think about something we have a need for in the classroom or something that would be fun to have for next year. (Jot down ideas and then share out.)
  • (Modified "A") Think about what materials you would need. How can you make something sturdy enough to be mobile and last through next school year?
  • (Modified "U") Open yours boxes, look at materials and think about what materials could you use to create something?
  • (Modified "N") Choose an idea and sketch a prototype!

Reflection: The students got in their groups and came up with both realistic and unrealistic ideas. Some of them looked around the room to see what we needed, while others were focused on what they wanted. They shared ideas and collaboration seemed to be going well. I heard some students offer their perspective to other ideas and why something may or may not work. Many wanted to start building before planning out the prototype. It was hard for some not to skip to the creating.

Day 2 (C)




  • (Modified "C") Today was really all about creating. The final ideas were a "materials" holder that would attach to the side of the desks, a pencil dispenser and a basketball hoop.
  • Students were trying out the different materials to see what worked and what didn't.

Reflection: Most of the groups appeared to be having fun. I saw a lot of smiles and heard a lot of laughter. I was picking up all kinds of scraps that had been discarded. Students were working together with minimal disagreements. I began to notice who was jumping right in and trying things out and who was sitting back and letting the others take the lead. I also noticed who was trying to look as though they were contributing, but upon closer examination were not really as collaborative as they seemed.

Day 3 (H)




  • (Modified "H") Definitely had some project fatigue today.
  • "Materials" Holder fell off the desk during the night. That was probably the biggest set-back. The students had a prototype that needed to be improved. They had to rethink purpose and function. 
  • Basketball Hoop: They ran out of duct tape. They had to problem solve using yarn and pipe cleaners. They also had to improve on their "hoop" as it was ripping when they threw the basketball in.
  • Pencil Dispenser: They had to figure out how to get the pencils to slide down because there was a hole in the box they were getting stuck on.


Reflection: Students definitely "hit a wall" when we started class today. They were frustrated for different reasons (as stated above) and I noticed communication started to break down. In one group, a student took over the lead, but was not allowing others to participate. In another group, one student kept trying to improve the product, but the rest of the group was just watching. In another group, two students were working on the product while two others were chatting. I went around and used the term project fatigue and explained exactly what I was observing. 

LAUNCH





  • The basketball hoop was functional. I even brought out a whiteboard so they could keep score.
  • Material Holders were created for four tables. Instead of hanging off the side, they are created to sit on the table. They even have a pool noddle to hold pencils (stick right through Styrofoam) or a plastic cup.
  • The Pencil Dispenser is functional. As students take pencils, more fall through.

Student Reflections:

  • Overall, they seemed to agree the "C" (creating) was one of the easier steps. Some also thought the "L" (listen, look, learn) was easy because they came up with ideas.
  • On the other hand, most agreed the "H" was the most challenging. They thought trying to improve on their products after the initial "building" posed many obstacles.
  • About 50% of the group enjoyed the task and proceeding through the LAUNCH Cycle, while others were wishy washy about their feelings.
  • A few said they would like to try it again, however would like to choose their own groups.

Final Reflection

  • I was able to tell liked the freedom of being handed a box with little direction, while others struggled not knowing exactly what to do.
  • I saw natural leaders in the group who dove right in, I saw collaborative group members who jumped in to help and I saw some who were more observers than participants.
  • I was able to witness collaborative skills and strategies by listening to how they responded to one another. I was also able to hear how they disagreed with one another, whether it was respectful or not.
  • I watched them deal with set backs in an optimistic and growth minded way, while others seemed to sit back appearing to give up.
  • I saw some of them push through the project fatigue and seeing it as a way to improve and grow.

May all you find that creative spark this summer!

Warmly,
Teresa