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.


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.


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 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.


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?


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!


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!