Saturday, March 25, 2017

Student Leaders in the Classroom

Where Do I Begin????

Dear Readers,

I have 100% embraced the idea of students teaching in my classroom. It provides them with countless opportunities to develop ownership over their own learning. You might be asking, HOW do I implement this? I can only speak for 7th and 8th grades, but I am sure it could be adapted to any grade level.

Building Relationships & Making Connections

It is essential to create a collaborative and safe classroom environment among all members of the classroom community. I started out the year by getting to know my students, establishing classroom routines and creating expectations.

I tried something a bit different at the beginning of this year in that I allowed my students to "set up" the classroom. This included stocking books in the book corner, filling the drawers with community supplies (and labeling them), deciding on and hanging up posters, choosing quotes for index cards, etc. 

My students know the classroom is our classroom and they have access to anything they need. In fact, one of my 7th graders probably knows where everything is located better than anyone. She is the "go to" person when someone is looking for something.

Creating Classroom Roles and Routines

As a Leader in Me School (Covey), classroom and school wide roles are an integral part of our culture. I implemented some basic roles to begin the year including attendance officer, Green & Clean, Jr. Trailblazers and librarian. As the year has progressed I have added more leadership opportunities such as Flexible Seating, Anchors of Appreciation (aka Thoughtful Thinkers), Reading Goal Bulletin Board and time keeper. 

As our roles were established, routines started to fall into place. I always leave a message on an easel or in Google Classroom to help them "get started". They independently do their roles if appropriate, on Mondays they #CelebrateMonday, on Mondays and Fridays they choose flexible seating and Thoughtful Thinkers, etc. Even if I am absent, they can start class independently. 

Mid-Year "Reboot"

Coming back from holiday break in January, we had a much needed "reboot". We updated and revised our expectations including what our learning environment should look like and sound like, in addition to what is better left in our heads. We have many conversations regarding proactive language, being empathetic and how we are positively contributing to our learning community. 

Getting Started

Giving our students opportunities to teach the class is an incredible way of giving them ownership over learning. When you have a strong foundation built on relationships, routines and expectations, it is more than possible. It takes patience, perseverance and practice! I tell them this, from all of us.

This is how I started:

  • They choose a "co-teacher" peer they want to work with. I give them the benefit of the doubt and unless they show me they are unable to work together I will let them teach with friends. So far, I have had minimal problems. A couple of reminders here and there.
  • The expectation is to come up during lunch prior to the lesson to prepare. If they choose not to, their opportunity may be lost for the day. I had this happen once.
  • Although they are the teachers, I will step in or if I am needed. 99.9% of the time it is to clarify instruction, not due to conflict or behavior. 
  • I set an expectation for myself to let them work it out, I keep an ear out and listen to everything, however have found when left to their own devices can work through most things. It is a fantastic, authentic way to practice collaboration, compromise, problem solving and negotiation.
  • They are expected to be leaders. I sit in the audience and they take over the "front" of the room. 

Expectations of my "Student Teachers"

They are responsible for:

  • Writing message on easel.
  • Writing "get started" message.
  • Deciding on flexible seating options.
  • Thoughtful Thinkers
  • Making sure attendance officer does his/her role.
  • Choosing groups and/or seat assignments if necessary.
  • Setting up technology needed.
  • Reading any text we will be discussing.
  • Creating anchor charts we might need.
  • Passing out materials.
  • Walking around to groups, checking in, listening, offering feedback, getting peers back on task.
  • Letting students use restroom or get drinks.
  • Supplying pencils for those who forgot.

They take these tasks for seriously. They even refer to each other as Mr. and Miss _________ . They will go up to them and ask Can I go to the bathroom? Can I get a drink? Can I borrow a pencil? It is so fun to watch. 

Handing Over My Plans

I will not lie, it took me a couple times to get in a rhythm of handing over my plans. My tasks:

  • Have to be a little ahead in my planning so I can anticipate which may be a good day for student teachers.
  • I hand over instruction they know or that we have already done. It is not brand new to them.
  • I had to make checklists of what to do in order to get ready for class, including writing out the message at first.
  • Get all materials ready for them (including highlighters, texts, etc.).
  • Anticipate any difficulties they may run in to, areas I may need to elaborate or clarify for the rest of the class.

Now that they have all had a chance to teach, it is much smoother for them to prepare. They are very confident! Even my quietest students are amazing as leaders! With the exception of a couple of students they have all stepped up to try it, some of them have taught several times.

To clarify, I do this with my 7th grade Language & Literature Class. In being completely transparent, I have not tried this with 5 classes in one day as many middle school teachers have. Being a literacy teacher, my schedule is quite unique. However, I would love to extend this into other classes. The content and grade levels are different through the day, so I am not sure of the logistics of how I would accomplish that.


I love that my students come in and say, "Who is teaching?" or "When can _____ and I teach again?" It is established that we are all teachers and learners. It is not assumed I will be the teacher, nor is it a question of whether I will allow them to teach, but rather when.

If you have the opportunity to try this, I highly recommend it! It is amazing to watch them.


Friday, March 17, 2017

The Influence We Have

Living in a Global Community 

Dear Readers,

I feel like I currently live in three worlds. 

Our Classroom

The first being my classroom. It truly is my second home. Every day is filled with teaching, learning, smiles, fun, discussions, informal conversations, reading, writing, painting, etc. You never know what might be happening at any given moment when you come through the door. It is a bright, warm, music filled, joy filled, environment my students and I have created together.

Together we have built relationships, made connections and created an agreed upon anchor chart of expectations. It consists of 3 components: What Should Our Learning Environment Look Like, What Should it Sound Like and What Things Are Better Kept in Your head. I refer to these frequently. Students have started to speak up when others are not following the expectations. It is wonderful that they hold each other accountable.

My students do not naturally know how to respectfully disagree with each other. It is something I teach, they practice, they teach, they practice, etc. I give them language to use and talk about perspective. We also talk about being open-minded and consider other ideas. 

Most importantly, we have recently been starting to dig into out argument writing unit which includes research, formulating a claim, research, writing a thesis statement, research to support that statement and analysis to support our evidence.

Every opportunity I have, I use it to teach my 7th graders there is "more than one side to the story". They do not have to agree, but I ask them to consider the other points. At times, students will look at me and ask, "May I change my answer?" My response is, "Of course! Sometimes the more research we have, we find out something that will cause us to reflect and reconsider our position."

They are at an extremely vulnerable age where they are learning how to collaborate and work with many different personalities. Some that are similar to them and those that are not. We use Covey's Habits and I often refer to, Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood. We must listen, process, reflect and make informed decisions. Another favorite is Find Your Voice which includes finding their own voices as well as helping others find theirs. My students consistently hear the message from me that they can do anything they put their minds to, if they believe in something they should stand up for their beliefs. There is power in being empathetic, reflective, resilient and a communicator.

We have such an amazing opportunity and responsibility to immerse our students in these social and collaborative situations under our guidance and coaching before they independently go out into the world.


The second being my home. I absolutely adore my apartment and everything about it. It is a place that I feel comfortable, safe and can relax. I am surrounded by my books, my cozy blankets, my pictures and everything else that makes it home to me. 

Walking is a huge love of mine and I never hesitate to pop the earbuds in and take a stroll through my neighborhood. I am literally 10 minutes from any place I need to go. Even Wegmans is within walking distance of me. 

I am truly fortunate to have two "homes" that I love.

Outside Reality

Being the news addict I am, CNN is my "go-to" in the evenings. That is when I enter the world I will refer to as "outside reality". I feel like I am in a constant state of worry. I think about:

  • My cousin and his partner who are raising two adorable boys and have a beautiful family.
  • Programs my grandparents, who I loved dearly, benefited from as they grew older and needed more care.
  • My future as an educator and how providing the best instruction possible could be comprised.
  • People I know who have come to the US for different reasons, under different circumstances and are now raising beautiful families and are significant contributors to our society.
  • Students whose families are in distress about whether they will be uprooted from their current lives.
  • The messages my students are attempting to make sense of that they are confronted with on a daily basis from social media, news media, people in powerful positions, etc.
  • The safety of our country. 


What messages are being sent to our young people? Are they being encouraged to be collaborative, open-minded, innovative thinkers who possess empathy for those around them? 

My hope is by teaching these skills and strategies early, they will become a part of them. As they head out into the world, they will take them with them and live in what is now a global community.

I wish you all a wonderful weekend.


Friday, March 10, 2017

The Gifts We Are Given

A Reason, A Season, A Lifetime

Dear Readers,

I have always loved the saying that people come into your life for a reason, a season or a lifetime. I think of them as gifts that are presented when the time is right. 

There have been situations I have experienced this past week, not only in my own life, but those of my students as well that have caused me to pause and reflect on why people have come into and gone out of my life.

Do people come into our lives for a reason? Season? Or lifetime?


I firmly believe that people come into our lives for a reason. It may be just a moment in time, perhaps a day, week or even hours. We all have these people. Maybe it is someone you sat next to on an airplane and made a connection with through polite conversation. Maybe it is the presenter at a conference that had an impact on your educational philosophy. Perhaps it is someone who reached out to you during a difficult time and made you realize things were going to be okay. 

I have had many of these types of individuals in my life. People who enter and leave in what seems a moment's notice. However the impact they leave is significant and profound. 

After my dad passed away, it was extremely difficult to function in a world that was turned upside down. I will never forget an act of kindness from a colleague. I received a beautiful card in my mailbox, saying that this person had lost a father as well and if I ever wanted to talk this person would be willing to. After a little while had passed and I was ready, I e-mailed this person and we decided to meet after school. I was waiting in my classroom and this individual came in, shut the door and said, "I wondered when I would be hearing from you." It is not someone I developed a friendship with nor do we have contact anymore. However, I will never forget that conversation and willingness to sit down with me and let me know I was not alone. It meant the world to me. 


People who come into our lives for a season serve a different role. They are there to help us a little bit longer. Perhaps months or years. Perhaps it is the person you meet while taking grad classes, but lose touch with when the program is finished. Maybe it's the person you room with in college, but life takes you on your separate journeys after graduation. Or maybe it's the person who helps you through an illness.

I have also had many of these individuals in my life. It feels like people who enter our lives at the beginning of something and then when it seems like we are alright, their job is finished, our lives move in different directions.

When I lost my dad to suicide, I thought nobody in the world would understand what I was going through. The pain, grief, anger, questions, etc. The emotions were so overwhelming at times I could not breathe. By chance, I met someone who was going through almost the same exact thing I was. That person had also lost a family member, just two days prior to my dad's passing. Same month, same year, same week. We were always in the same place at the same time. Especially the anniversaries. It was so comforting to have someone who knew exactly how I felt and that I could speak openly and freely with. Unfortunately, that person moved away, as life took us in different directions. I will always be thankful for the impact that person had on my life in coping with such a traumatic loss.


Then there are the people who come into our lives to stay. Whether it be parents, spouses, siblings, family members, friends, children, etc. They are the constants in our lives. The people who stick by us through thick and thin, happy and sad times. They love us unconditionally and we trust them. We confide in them, we respect them, we treat them like gold. The people we never want to lose and are devastated if we do.

My life has been filled with happy moments, but also very sad moments. At times, it feels as though I have lived several lifetimes. It seems as I have taken my journey, there are always people in the right place at the right time to help me overcome any obstacles I may face. I am blessed that every time I need someone, he/she suddenly appears. However, as I look back over my life, am sometimes astonished that people seem to come and go, but never stay.

As a result, when someone new enters my life, I always expect we will part ways at some point. I never really form attachments or rely too heavily on others. In my experience, they will leave at some point. Whether it be their choice, my choice or life in general.


In thinking about my own life and experiences, it made me consider the lives of my students. If our students live in environments where people care, are reliable and they feel safe, they will probably form deeper connections and relationships. On the other hand, if our students have a life of people coming and going, lack of consistency, abandonment, is there any wonder they have difficulty trusting and  building bonds with others?

It is natural instinct to want to protect ourselves. For those of us who have been hurt many times or do not feel safe with others, we often protect ourselves (such as pushing people away) before we give that control to someone else. Students who lash out, are more reactive than proactive and who seem distant, may actually be in survival mode. Do we take the time to get to know our students, really know them, before making assumptions about them?

My Wish......

My wish is for you and your students to all find those people who you are lucky enough to know for a reason, season or lifetime. 


Saturday, March 4, 2017

Our Purpose in Life

Living a Purposeful & Meaningful Life

Dear Readers,

A student highly recommended I read this book. My first question was:

"Does the dog die?"

"Yes, but he comes back to life!"

I believe it has been made into a movie, but to be brutally honest know nothing about the movie, I have not seen any trailors nor has anyone really talked about it with me. For this I am extremely grateful because I like to read the books first and then make a decision about the film version.

What is our purpose in life?

As I was reading, I couldn't help but think about having a purpose in life. I firmly believe everything in our life happens for a reason. Events, people, good times and bad are all connected in a way we may not understand until much later. Each of us was put here for a specific reason, although we may not know what it is. 

I truly believe that my main purpose is to be a teacher and learner, whether it be for students, adults, people in education, outside of education, etc. My love and passion for reading, writing, aquiring knowledge and educating others is what makes me ME. It is in every fiber of my being. It is what I am meant to do.

While some poeple set goals and think about where they want to be in the future, I live very much in the present moment. As a result of that, I really pay close attention to what is happening in my world including the people I meet, events that take place, the joys and sorrows. I am always making connections, seeing how the puzzle of my life fits together.

Not wanting to give too much away, the connections in the book were so insightful and meaningful. It really made me pause.

Living a Meaningful Life

In the book, the character realizes what he/she learns in one life prepares him/her for what he/she will encounter in his/her new life. 

After experiencing so much at such a young age, I often confront my life with what is this preparing me for? How will I use this in the future? As I reflect and look back on my life, I see the connections and how everything fell into place as exactly as it was supposed to, even if I did not know it at the time. 

Having experienced tremendous loss in different ways, I know the future can be uncertain. As I get older, I try and make my actions, words and choices meaningful in that they touch both me and others in a positive way.

Spreading Positivity

One of the greatest compliments people can give me, is when I am told that I make them smile, am a joy to know, etc. I have been told there is something "about me" when people are around me and my laugh and smile are contageous. I am not sure what "it" is, I am just me, but I am glad to know that I can be a bright spot in someone's life.

Happy Reading!