Thursday, February 23, 2017

Do Our Words and Actions Show What We Believe?

Dear Readers,

I recently started reading Start.Right.Now.Teach and Lead for Excellence by Todd Whitaker, Jeffrey Zoul and Jimmy Casas published by Dave Burgess Consulting, Inc. There have been several ideas that have resonated with me.

"Truly exceptional teachers and leaders move beyond beliefs, exhibiting specific, observable, and intentional behaviors that turn these beliefs into reality." 
(pg. 3)

It made me pause and reflect: do I turn my beliefs into reality? 

I Believe that All Students Can Learn

It is my responsibility to get to know my students on both a personal and academic level. As I make connections and build relationships with them, I also gain insight into what type of learners they are. I always consider the PLC questions:

  1. What do we want students to know?
  2. How will we know they have learned it?
  3. What will we do if they did not learn it?
  4. What will we do if they did learn it?

These questions guide my instruction, help me reflect and provide what the students need. Do I need to reteach? Do I need to go back further? Do I need to explain it in a different way? Do I need to use visual information? Auditory? Kinesthetic? What can I do to help them learn?

I Believe in Teaching the Whole Child

Before academics can occur, students need to feel safe, cared about and comfortable in their learning environments. Teaching middle school means being patient, understanding and willing to have tough conversations. I must meet the academic, social and emotional needs of my students. Teenagers have so much going on in their young lives, that one area can greatly impact another. 

I Believe We Are All Teachers and Learners

Recently, I allowed students to teach the class. I planned the lesson, however they were responsible for coming to me beforehand and preparing the room and themselves. It was a fantastic opportunity for them to take ownership of their learning, as well as allowing me to interact and engage as a student. 

We are living in a world where students use technology on a daily basis. When they come to me for help, I always direct them to peers. The more they can teach and learn from each other, the more invested they will be.

I Believe in Life-Long Learning as an Adult

One of my favorite quotes so far from the book is:

"One thing that all excellent educators know about themselves is that they will never know it all." (pg. 29)

I could not imagine my life without learning. In fact, I had a conversation with my 7th graders that I consider myself a student before a teacher. They see me in one setting, school, as their teacher. However, I spend more time outside the classroom engaging in professional learning. I feel I would be doing a disservice to my students if I was not constantly learning new skills and strategies for my toolbox.

I Believe in "Knowing My Stuff"

Another favorite quote is:

"Truly outstanding educators begin their journey along the path of excellence by knowing their stuff." (pg. 24)

My journey began as a speech therapist and then I was fortunate to obtain a literacy position. As a specialist, I have always thought more "clinically". If a student is having difficulty, specifically where is the break down? After I figure it out, what strategies can I teach him or her? 

If I expect my students to be readers, writers, thinkers, researchers and learners, then I need to model that behavior. A strength of mine has always been to see the big picture and how all the puzzle pieces fit together. I am able to pull from many different resources to best meet the needs of my students. 

It is an incredible honor when others ask me to share ideas, knowledge or inquire about something they are interested in doing. Dave Burgess reminds us that it is our responsibility to share what we know (Twitter Tip #127). LaVonna Roth also encourages us to "compliment and not compete". When I blog, share pictures or "show" what is happening in my classroom, it is with the hope that others see it as possible. If I can do it, I believe anyone can do it. 

I Believe We Must Teach Empathy

"They excel at the practice of teaching empathy, and they seek to truly understand those with whom they work and what motivates them. (pg. 21)

Empathy needs to be taught. Students traditionally do not just become empathetic on their own without some coaching and instruction. In a world where people are judged and stereotypes run rampant, it is essential we help our students see and feel through other people's perspectives. 

I have started posting scenarios to my students. "How would you feel if........" I see the carry over as we work through our Language and Literature Units. We also discussed character traits versus human emotions. Our students need the language to express themselves. As educators, we need to help them develop that vocabulary.

I Believe Learning Is and Should Be "Messy"

One of my favorite picture books is A perfectly Messed Up Story. The message the author sends to the readers is learning is messy! I always tell them the messier their "drafts" or their annotations in texts, the more thinking is happening. I will never show my students a final draft, I always show them the process and thinking I have done to get from point A to point B. Recently, I was reading a professional resource and was making notes in the margins. One of my students exclaimed, "Are you writing in your book?" I showed them how, if I own the book, I write all over it.

I will end with this quote:

"Learning can be a messy and difficult process, but then again, most things worth doing are not clean and easy." (pg. 45)

Life is not about being easy. It is about facing challenges and obstacles head on. It is about failing and getting back up to try again. It is about the journey.....the adventure......the process.........

I am looking forward to reading the rest of the book. I highly recommend it to all educators!


Sunday, February 19, 2017

Middle School Priorities

"Wait, you didn't get the donuts?"

Dear Readers,

We all have those moments of panic when we realize our wallet is missing. Maybe not all of us, but most of us. I experienced this at 6:30 AM Friday morning.

I did not complete my reading assignment so my consequence was to buy my 7th grade Language and Literature Class donuts. We took a vote on Thursday and I was going to surprise them with all 3 choices instead of the 2 most popular. 

Timeline of Events (Friday morning 6:30 AM)

  1. I left early so I could stop at Wegmans before work.
  2. I drove to Wegmans and parked.
  3. I reached into my purse and realized I had no wallet.
  4. I started panicking.
  5. I looked through my purse, bag, etc.
  6. I turned around and drove back to my apartment. (It is literally within walking distance.)
  7. I went inside and was looking everywhere. No luck. Now I was really starting to panic. I remembered that I had stopped at Wegmans on the way home from work the day before and had taken it out of my purse.
  8. I went back outside and was hunting high and low through my car.
  9. I dumped everything out of my purse and found my card carrier. I never put that in without my wallet. What on earth was going on? (I honestly thought someone was playing a joke on me. Candid camera perhaps?)
  10. I drove back to Wegmans and went in. I asked at the Service Desk if it had been turned in. Luckily a very kind person had turned it in. (Thank you to whoever that was.)
  11. Now 30 minutes later, I am off to work minus treats for my students.

Student #1

I get to school and students come up for lunch as they do every day. I said I did not have their donuts and proceeded to tell the story. I love seeing life through the perspective of a 13 year old.

Me: Tells story.
S: Did you bring donuts?
Me: I had no wallet.
S: But did you bring the donuts?
Me: No, my priority was finding the wallet.
S: Oh, so we don't get donuts?

Student #2

I proceed to tell the entire class. Here is the 2nd conversation.

Me: I had my debit and credit cards, but needed to find the wallet.
S: You didn't bring donuts?
Me: No.
S: But you had your debit card.
Me: Yes, but the priority was finding my wallet. I had other things in there.
S: Oh, so you don't have donuts today?
Me: No. I will have them after break.
S: Oh. Ok.


We must always remember to take a moment and see the world from our students' perspectives. Trying to put the "glasses" on with the "prescription" of life as a teenager. 

They really do bring such a light-hearted point of view. It makes me chuckle when I visualize their priority list compared to our lists as adults. They teach me to never lose my inner child. 


Saturday, February 11, 2017

Students Take Over Language & Literature

"Ms. Gross, nice job explaining that." 

Dear Readers,

I have an amazing group of 7th graders that I have the honor of teaching 7th grade Language and Literature to. They are insightful, thoughtful, funny, empathetic and honest young people. 

My room is always busy during 7th grade lunch. Whether it be students from our Lighthouse Team planning for lessons, catching up on work or just hanging out, it is one of my favorite parts of the day.

On Friday, my students introduced me to some of the television shows they enjoyed as children. I suddenly found myself watching Mickey Mouse Clubhouse "Santa" while two other students attempted to chase the characters on my Smartboard with the electronic pens. One student was laughing so hard he fell off his chair. 

Just the day before, I was telling them about an amazing mother I had met at the National Character Conference in October. She had lost her son in the Newtown tragedy. I had run to the bookstore to buy her book, on the way back grabbed a sky blue pen to have her sign my book. Upon producing the pen, she explained it was her son's color, the sky blue. It was meant to be that I had grabbed it to bring to her to sign the book. As I told this story, the importance of that pen to me, I saw tears in a couple eyes.   

They are at a wondrous age where they go from being silly to serious in an instant. There is so much depth to their thinking it is incredible.

What Do You Do With an Idea?

I asked a student if she wanted to do the read aloud to review central idea. While she sat in my "rolly" chair (that she loves dearly), I took a seat on the floor in the book corner surrounded by my students. It's always enlightening to put myself in their shoes, literally. She did a fantastic job reading to us, showing us the pictures, etc. It was so much fun to be the learner. 

Then, when we worked on a strategy to figure out the main idea, I had her drag the easel over with the example just like I do. I watched as two other students helped her problem solve to get it across the room. As we started to take notes, a student wanted to swap with me. I took his notebook and he took mine and we copied notes for each other. 

It was probably one of my favorite classes this school year so far.

Can We Be the Teachers?

Friday was a discussion and work day. Using the song "Popular" that we worked with last week, they were now given the task of analyzing the song and creating a lens (Falling in Love with Close Reading) on chart paper. 

When it came time to present, a student was talking. I said you may come teach the lesson if you like. He said, sure. I sat down and let him take over. 

Positive Reinforcement

As I was listening, he had the right idea. However, I kept saying, "Positive feedback. Give them positive feedback." He did attempt, even after I explained something he said, "Nice job Ms. Gross explaining that."

This led into a conversation about them teaching the class. I responded that I have no problem with them teaching. My expectations are:

  • They need to come up during lunch the day before the lesson and practice it, as well as discuss it with me.
  • As the teachers, they have to treat their peers with respect.
  • As students, they must treat their teacher peers with respect.

One of the students was extremely funny. 
He asked, "Can kids send students to the office?" 
I said, "No." 
He said, "But you can." 
I said, "Well, if I had to, yes." 
He said, "So a student can send a teacher to the office?" 
I said, "Well, I guess so." 
He said. "Okay."

Empowering Students to Be Leaders

If we want students to become independent, thoughtful, empathetic, global citizens, we have to give them every opportunity to practice. There is so much to be learned when they teach a class. Does it take patience? Yes. Will they do it "exactly" the way we would? Probably not. Does it take expectations and practice? Absolutely. 

I think about all they are learning. Listening and speaking skills, collaboration, time management, presenting information in a way people can learn it, knowing the material they are presenting, practicing or more importantly learning how to encourage, coach and empower others.

I have read many books and been to many workshops and conferences regarding teacher and school leaders. More recently, I have attended conferences with or about student leadership. It has transformed my thinking about the role that our students should play in our classrooms. 

It also forces me to experience what they do in my classroom. I got in trouble twice last year (in the same class) by two students who were teaching. Once was more talking and the other for getting out of my seat and chatting as I walked by a group of desks. The magic of this is, it is all done with respect and seriousness. I build those relationships with my students that they feel empowered to take over the class and hold me to the expectations I hold them to.

I am looking forward, over the next few weeks, to engaging in more of a student role in my Language & Literature Class.


Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Dunk Tanks: Not Just for Administrators

Our Students Have Their Own "Dunk Tanks"

Dear Readers,

My latest read, published by @burgessdave did not disappoint. As with all of his books, it resonated with me on several different levels. 

I may not be an administrator and my students may not be adult leaders, but I saw many connections to the social interactions they navigate on a daily basis.

As adults, we live in a world full of joy and sorrow, optimism and pessimism, sincerity and phony, kind and cruel. We face people who are consumed with jealousy, revenge, fear, insecurities and negative intentions. 

However, as we grow and experience life, we also accumulate tools and coping strategies to deal with the good, the bad and the ugly. We build support structures around us, learn how to handle negativity with grace and stand behind what we know to be true even when people say otherwise.

The stories shared in this book are of men and women, young and old, new and veteran educators, building and district level administrators. They are snippets of colleagues doing everything in their power to make others look bad, climb the "corporate" ladder at any expense and put themselves first. 

As I was reading I kept thinking back to the most important people I surround myself with on a daily basis and why I became an educator, my students.

Every day I watch my amazing middle school students as they enter a world of increased demands; socially, academically, athletically, musically or artistically. 

For what might be the first time in their lives they encounter others who say or do malicious things to tear others down and make them feel insecure, worthless or isolated.

As a middle school teacher, I need to teach not just academics, but social skills as well. I spend quite a bit of time, building relationships and having important conversations about bullying, language, intentions, etc. 

I know they look to me as a mentor, listener, problem solver, teacher, "safe" adult to confide in, etc. In order to be these things for my students, I need to live and model positive intentions as well.

My hope is, everybody finds it in themselves to remember why we are doing what we do. Children are the center of education and intentions must be toward the best interest of all students. 

They are our today. 
They are our tomorrow. 
They are our future. 
They deserve the best.


Saturday, February 4, 2017

Who Defines What is Popular Anyway?

Bringing Wicked Into Language & Literature

Dear Readers,

I have always enjoyed bringing song analysis into the classroom. It is especially powerful when it connects to the social lives of my students.

One song that I have used over the past few years is "Popular" from Wicked. Before listening to the song, I posed this question to my 7th graders.

What does popular mean to YOU?

Some of the responses I received in a Google Classroom feed included:

  • Have a lot of friends.
  • Wear the latest clothes.
  • Have the latest "gadgets".
  • Everyone knows them.
  • People want to be like them.
  • Pretty.
  • Plays sports.

I mentioned the following ideas:

  • Can possibly feel a sense of "entitlement".
  • Make decisions that perhaps do not have the same consequences as someone else.
  • Feels like others should be like "them".

Do you think I was popular? Why or why not?

I then asked them, do you think I was popular? I got a span of responses. A few included:

  • Yes because you are so "chill" that a lot of people probably liked you.
  • No because you seem "different" and people do not like different. (In other words I would want to do my own thing.)
  • Yes because you are kind and caring.
  • No because you seem like you would want to study. (In other words studious.)

I was very honest with them and shared:

  • I did not fit in with the people I went to school with.
  • I could not wait to graduate.
  • I was made fun of because of my curly hair.
  • I did "beat to my own drum".

What I thought was so interesting is what made me an outsider when I was younger has made me well-liked as an adult. 

  • I surround myself with as many positive people as I can. I have always had a few close friends rather than tons of acquaintances. 
  • I try and stay out of drama and gossip as much as possible. 
  • I can get along with MANY different types of people. 
  • I am very in tune with who I am, an outgoing introvert.
  • I am comfortable in my own skin and make decisions based on my best interests.

Who defines popular?

I had one student who said, "People." This question stumped a few of them, I am not sure they ever thought of the process as to how something or someone becomes popular, it just is. 

Do you think Glinda is being a good friend?

While they were listening, I had them reflect on whether Glinda was a good friend or not and why. I stopped at the first few lyrics and we talked about what it meant when she said she was going to give Elphaba a "makeover." I said, when girls want to give each other a makeover like that, you have to think about the context and what the truth is behind their intentions.

The consensus was that Glinda was not being a good friend because she did accept Elphaba the way she was, Glinda wanted her to change. If we truly care about people, we like them for who they are.


We spent last week focusing on many different topics including truth, perspective, manipulation, language and stereotypes. It prompted me to start my I Wish My Students Knew...... chart for the year. My first bullet is:

I wish my students knew I care about them and hope they make good choices.