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Tuesday, March 24, 2020

This is Not Just an Egg

Hey there, teacher friends (and parents)! Here's a little encouragement if you are in the middle of transitioning to a distance learning (called continuous learning here in Kansas)...

About a month ago, I had a happy little accident with my breakfast. My eggs, which I used to cook hard or scrambled, were not quite done and I braved a whole new world (for me) and tasted the goodness of a runny yolk. 

You may laugh, but I am completely serious. Up to this point in my life, everything had to be cooked well done. People tell me this is why I don't like steak...probably true. Too much chewing. But I even recently managed to finish a hamburger that was slightly pink. This is progress, people. You have no idea.

Anyway, since I learned that I actually like my eggs over easy, it has taken some breaking of habits and learning a new way of cooking to get that perfect egg. 

In the beginning, I would often accidentally break the yolk. Old habits die hard. It took several times to remind myself, "Don't break the yolk!"

Then I had to try some various cooking methods. I tried steaming by using a makeshift lid, but because I didn't have a real lid and was using an upside down pan I couldn't tell when they were done. Cooked too long. Not long enough. I consulted YouTube for help and found a few good videos. I practiced. And I'm happy to tell you that I'm pretty good at cooking my eggs over-easy now. It doesn't mean I don't have a broken yolk now and then. It doesn't mean I'm perfect.

As I sat down to eat my eggs this morning and was reflecting on our first planning day for "continuous learning," the Lord showed me that this whole thing is a lot like my eggs. 

First, it was not a happy accident that put us where we are in teaching, but like or not, COVID-19 has made it necessary to venture into some unknown territory for teachers and parents (like me trying things that are not cooked well done).

Second, old habits die hard. We are fighting for some sense of normalcy and control. Listening in on my teacher friends who are still in the general classroom, I understand their frustrations and concerns. They want to "control" the learning their students will get in these final weeks of the semester. It is our natural tendency. We feel responsible for their learning. 

However, in this situation we control very little. As teachers, we can attempt to give students and families the resources they need to continue their learning. We can do our best to attempt to meet the various needs of our families, but that is all we can do. 

In all honesty, I feel for the parents and families right now. They are in the middle of uncertain times with any number of concerns (that do not have to do with school) and we are about to bombard them with expectations for their child's learning at home. 

Teachers - It is okay. Make the best decisions you can for your students in this situation. Do your best.

Parents and Caregivers - It is okay. Be patient with teachers who really do just want to continue partnering with you for your child's education. Do your best.

Third, this is a learning process for us all. Teachers--especially elementary--are really entering into the unknown. We feel badly that we haven't been able to teach and model how to use the apps and resources we are about to push out to families. We are learning new things. Trying new things. We are practicing. We will mess up (and break a yolk now and then).

However, maybe we will find something we really like along the way. Some new way of teaching that we will continue even when we can report back to our classrooms. For me...I'm creating a Facebook group page and Google Classroom for the purpose of sharing resources. Now why didn't I think of that before?

Teachers - It is okay. Try new things. Make mistakes. Learn from them. Try the next thing. Find what works best for you.

Parents - It is okay. Try new things. Make mistakes. Be patient when we make mistakes. Try the next thing. Find what works best for your child, your family.

So remember...it's not just an egg. It's not just continuous (or distance) learning. It's a process. And as long as we are all trying our best to do what is best for our kids, it is all going to be okay! 

Have a blessed day!

Friday, March 6, 2020

There is no I in Teach(ing)

Okay, you got me. There is an "i" in teaching. I also thought about titling this post "Teaching is a Team Sport," although it isn't really a sport either. But I think you get the idea...so let's get started.

First, hello there! It's that time of year when it feels like there is so much to do and so little time left in the school year! I'm looking at data and evaluating my interventions (again) to see what else I can try to reach the littles who haven't quite made the progress I hoped for. I'm preparing for Literacy Night...super excited to try a theme this year and hoping to really promote family engagement. More on that in another post. I've been helping with a huge grant application that would help us start an awesome after-school program (among other things). I've also been attending meetings, workshops, and all the other "stuff" that seems to happen this time of year. 

Okay, enough about me. Back to the main idea of this post. ;-)

Part of my master's program as a reading specialist included classes in instructional coaching, school leadership, and providing professional development. It sparked an interest in me on how to inspire, encourage, and motivate teachers so I can often be found reading, searching, or in this case, listening to things geared toward administrators. 

Tammy at Forever in First posted on her Facebook about an interview with Joe Sanfelippo (2019 Superintendent of the Year). She summarized his district's professional development growth plan which allows teachers to choose a personal goal and then gives them 4 PD days a year to work on that goal. My interest was piqued, and then I saw this quote: "We make decisions based on our best people, and that's what our best people want to do." 

Silent cheering ensued. Yes! Amen! 

I had to listen to this interview (and then promptly shared with a couple of administrators I know).

The professional development growth plan sounded just as amazing as I expected, and I certainly hope that it catches fire in my district. However, I don't make the professional development decisions in my district, so...there was something else that stuck with me even more.

Recognize, Acknowledge, and Extend.

Dr. Sanfelippo encourages those three words among the teachers and staff in his district. He wants everyone--not just administrators--to recognize when others are doing a good job. Teachers recognizing teachers. Notice what their colleagues are doing well. Then acknowledge it. Let them know you see them. Encourage them. And then, go tell someone else about it. Extend it by sharing it with others.

Can you imagine the atmosphere in those schools? Can you imagine the inspiration to be the best teacher you can be?

As I thought about this, I realized that I have tried to start this in my buildings in a way. I implemented some ideas from a pack of Staff Morale Boosters this year. We have a jar where people can write in "shout outs" for staff members to be read at the monthly staff meeting. I leave little notes and "gifts" around the building. I was trying to do that part anonymously, but I was found out pretty quickly. It's a great pack if you're looking for some ideas to boost morale--which it seems is often needed this time of year. 

Also, let me add here that I think it would be amazing to practice Recognize, Acknowledge, Extend all the time without having to use a "shout out" jar. And I plan to do better at this myself.

A tale of two buildings...

I work in two different buildings and have set up these "positivity jars" in both locations. 

Location A is completely into it. By the end of the month, the jar is overflowing. As soon as the shout outs are read, the jar has more in it the following day. No reminders needed. They are just "on it." 

Location B's jar sits empty for much of the month...until I send out a reminder to "spread the positivity." 

It is...interesting. I love the teachers and staff at both buildings. Both buildings are doing great things and would have plenty to "shout out" about. I don't want to speculate about why Building A seems to enjoy this more than Building B, but instead I want to think more generally when I look back over my 12 years of teaching in 2 different schools and districts. 

Some teachers are "team" players. 
Some teachers are not.
Some teachers are competitive.
Some teachers are "lone wolves."
Some teachers are resistant to change.
Some teachers are introverts.
Some teachers are extroverts.
Some teachers are confident.
Some teachers lack confidence.
Some teachers are overwhelmed.
Some teachers are busy (okay--that is all teachers--ha!).

I think we could probably keep adding to that list. 

The truth is that we are all different, and we bring different qualities to the profession. We all struggle. We all could improve an area of our instruction. But we are all also doing something well. I guarantee that. 

So take time to look around you. Who do you see? What are they doing well? It's too easy to focus on the negative or identify someone's faults. It's more difficult to look for the positive. 

Recognize, Acknowledge, Extend.

Be a team player. Spark inspiration in your building. 

Sunday, March 1, 2020

Blast from the Past.....FUNNY!

So, I was going through my files and pictures and trying to organize them a little better.  I came across these pictures from 2012 and it made me laugh.  I laughed so hard that my stomach started to ache.  Not sure if Crystal will find it funny, but I remember that day we both laughed a lot about it.  Here are the pictures and after looking at the pictures, I will share the story behind it all.

Taking in deep breaths before her attempt to blow up her first balloon!

After 15 minutes LOL!  Here is what she had on her first balloon!

WOW!  2 hours later!!!  :-)

So here is the story behind it all:

We found this cool idea from Erin at First From Franklin.

We came up with a list of fun things to do each day, typed them up, printed it and stuck it in the balloon.  If the student didn't have to move his/her clip down throughout the day, then they got to participate in what it said in the balloon the next day.  The kids were so excited about popping a balloon every day and wanted to make sure that they were following our rules so that they could do whatever was inside the balloon.  The following is what we decided to put in our balloons:

9th – Gum-we gave them gum to chew all day long
10th – Sunglasses-this was the day that we went to the zoo for our field trip, so we gave them sunglasses to wear to the zoo
13th – ink pens-they will get to write with pens all day
14th – lunch in the room with the teacher
15th – extra recess
16th – move desks-they get to arrange the room the way they want to for the day
17th – mystery readers (other 1st grade class)-they get to read with the other 1st graders
20th – kickball-we will have a kickball game between the 2 classes
21st – nature walk-they will go outside and take a walk and do a scavenger hunt
22nd – Movie Day

The best part about all of this is that I learned something about Crystal this year when we did this activity.  We were in my room after school and started to blow up the balloons.  I don't think I have ever laughed so hard in my life.  Crystal doesn't know how to blow a balloon up.  Bless her heart, she tries but it doesn't work!  LOL!
I was sitting there blowing up balloon after balloon and realized that she couldn't do it.  She was trying with all her might and blowing, making noises and turning red.  :-)  Needless to say, by the time I had all of my 10 balloons blown up, she had her one balloon halfway blown up.  I had to blow the other 9 up for her.
We had a fun time blowing up balloons and we did have a good laugh about it at Crystal's expense (Thanks Crystal). 

Hope all of you have a great week!  

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Makes you smile!!

After 23 years of teaching, there is always several changes that you see that happen in the teaching field.  There is one thing that always stays the same and it is how you care about the children and how they touch your heart.  I have a student this year that every day she leaves me a note on my desk.  Those little notes touch my heart daily.  

I tell all the students how much I love to come to school to see their smiles.  I wanted to share just a few notes that I received from her this last week.  She told me later that she wanted me to have those smiles she drew on the weekend so when I'm missing the students I can look at the smiles and it would make me think of them and their smiles. Even as so many things change in education, the one thing that never changes is how much we love these kids!

Hope you have a great week!

Monday, January 6, 2020

A little late, but a fun Christmas idea!

I know that Christmas is over, but I wanted to share what I used in the classroom before Christmas this year.  My co-teacher saw an idea of using the Grinch to motivate the students before Christmas to be extra kind to one another.  We started by reminding the students how the Grinch's heart was small and we wanted to work really hard to make it big before Christmas.  We talked about things we could do to help make its heart grow bigger.  The kids talked about being kind to other kids, teachers, and adults.  They also talked about how following rules and keeping the classroom clean would make his heart grow.  

Each day when they came into the room I would have the heart from the day before on the wall and a new heart to show if it had grown or if it had not grown.  They were so excited to look at it every day.   During the day, I would also make comments of how some of their actions were making his heart grow bigger.  Today was our first day back from Christmas break and I put up the heart he started out with, the heart that was in the middle of the time we started and his final heart.  They were thrilled and talked all day about how much they made the Grinch's heart grow.  It was a simple thing to do, but they sure loved it!  

Hope all of you enjoyed your break or you are still enjoying it if you haven't gone back yet!

Monday, December 23, 2019

Dyslexia Workshop Highlights

Good morning! I want to say "Happy Christmas Break" but I actually saw a post by a teacher who was headed to school today! Yikes! So I'll just say, I hope you are on Christmas Break or it is in your very near future. ;-)

I don't have a lot of plans for Christmas break. Our family is local so we will get together with them to celebrate. We have Christmas Eve services at church tomorrow. Today my only goal is to get some writing done. I'm over half way done with my second Bible study...really would like to have it available in the spring. Prayers appreciated!

Okay, on to what this post is all about. I know I already shared Kid Writing that I heard about through this workshop, but I wanted to share my other biggest takeaways as well. It was just too much information for one post--especially since I'm a bit long-winded. ;-)

The workshop was called Dyslexia: Help Children Who Struggle to Successfully Read, Write, and Spell, by Mark Weakland. I was drawn specifically to this one because it was advertised as providing helpful strategies for students with dyslexia and not just the science behind it (important, but I've already learned a lot about that). Mark Weakland did not disappoint--and neither does his website! Check him out at Mark Weakland Literacy. It was a workshop geared to Tier I instruction (so applicable to all, not just reading specialists).

  • Oral Phonological/Phonemic Awareness is so important. We started using Kilpatrick's one minute activities a few years ago. This year I administered the PAST at the beginning of the year and again in December to the students that I work with and I've seen a lot of improvement! These activities are found in Equipped for Reading Success (affiliate link) by David Kilpatrick:

  • The program that we use for phonics and phonemic awareness continues to impress me. Pathways to Reading has been around for a long time, but the strategies that it uses (Segment and Write and Old Word/New Word) are some of the strategies Mr. Weakland suggested (just by another name). He did give me some ideas for Intermediate teachers to do some Word Ladder activities with morphemes (instead of sounds) which was pretty cool.
  • Handwriting is important for students with dyslexia, from proper print formation to teaching cursive. I was excited to see our new handwriting curriculum, Handwriting Without Tears, as one of the suggested resources. Whoop! Whoop! 
  • Three things to prevent and correct reading difficulties: aggressively teach phonological awareness to an advanced level (this is the Oral PA activities and Heggerty as well), directly, explicitly, and systematically teach phonic and spelling patterns to a point of mastery K-5, and provide many opportunities for children to read extended text (adapted from Kilpatrick's Assessing, Preventing, and Overcoming Reading Difficulties affiliate link).

  • Read, read, read! Despite overwhelming research and evidence that children should be allowed time for independent reading while at school (Allington suggests 90 minutes spread throughout the day!!! Right...but can you at least get in 20 or 30?), the average student is only given 7 minutes a day to read independently at school. 🙁 Please, please, please make sure you are teaching students how to become independent readers and give them time do so. It can be done--even in K! Yes, you may have to get creative with one or two kiddos, but don't let that stop you from providing that time. Here's a blog post I wrote that links to a great lesson about three types of readers: pretender, dutiful, and engaged. 
  • Write, write, write! Reading, writing and spelling are all connected. Make time for independent writing as well. No sentence starters, no sentence frames. Let them write
  • Spelling is for Reading. Mr. Weakland feels very strongly about teaching spelling to help struggling readers. Abandon the test if you want, but don't abandon the daily spelling instruction. His points: daily instruction, effective sequence, teach to mastery (differentiate lists as needed), and teach spelling strategies.
  • Fluency. Repeated readings. Decodable text. Partner reading. Use poetry. Remember that for a student with dyslexia our goal is not necessarily to make them a fast reader, but an accurate reader.

And finally, I love this quote from the resource book he gave us...
"Knowing how important reading and writing are, the question then becomes "How can we program more reading and writing opportunities into our teaching day, especially opportunities that are authentic and engaging?"

Saturday, December 21, 2019

Let Them Write!

Hey there! It's official...Christmas break is here! It is hard to believe this year is half over already, but I was definitely in need of some time to rest, reflect, and get recharged for the next semester. Anybody else? 

If you've followed along with this blog for any length of time, you know that I went from teaching 1st grade to 2nd grade and then more recently into the Title I position at my school. As soon as I accepted the position, I decided to pursue my Masters Degree as a Reading Specialist (finished in August and passed the license exam--whoop! whoop!). I've also taken many opportunities to attend workshops about reading difficulties, especially dyslexia. 

I recently had the opportunity to attend a workshop, Dyslexia: Help Children Who Struggle to Successfully Read, Write, and Spell, by Mark Weakland. I was drawn specifically to this one because it was advertised as providing helpful strategies for students with dyslexia and not just the science behind it (important, but I've already learned a lot about that). Mark Weakland did not disappoint--and neither does his website! Check him out at Mark Weakland Literacy. It was a workshop geared to Tier I instruction (so applicable to all, not just reading specialists).

Anyway, one of the things that he shared was Kid Writing. WOW! I really wish I had this resource when I was setting up writing workshop in my first grade classroom years ago...

A little background for you... My first year teaching, I followed the "writing" in my basal series. As you can imagine, I did not see a lot of growth in my students' writing and I knew there had to be a better way. I spent that summer researching and found a wonderful FREE resource by Jessica Meacham. She has done a wonderful job of organizing the resources and is still sharing them for free! Her mini-lessons are fantastic for getting your writing workshop up and going in the primary grades. 

Let's get one thing out of the way. I'm talking about "free writing" where students get to choose what they write about. Copying sentences is not writing. Sentence starters and frames are not a bad thing to use occasionally or to provide scaffolding, but when I talk about teaching writing that is not what I mean. I'm talking about where we give students the opportunity to develop their own thoughts and ideas while using the sound symbol relationships we are teaching them. 

Let them write. Writing builds reading skills. Reading builds writing skills. Let them write. And read...a lot. :-)

Just look what can happen in Kindergarten when teaching kids in a writing workshop structure (this is from Kid Writing):

Some things I'm loving in the Kid Writing book that I wish I had known about when I was teaching writing workshop:

1. The magic line.
2. Teacher publishing for reading and rereading (and the way they explain it to kids).
3. Suggestions for putting high-frequency words in the room to help with spelling (and guess what? reading!). I haven't come across it in the book yet, but Mr. Weakland mentioned a "family tree" where the words that kids commonly want to use (i.e. mother, father, grandpa, grandmother, sister, etc.) are posted for reference. 
4. Assessments for identifying writing developmental phases.

If you're interested in the Kid Writing book, it is an affordable resource book. Check it out here

Hope you enjoy your Christmas break! And yes, in case you are wondering, I'm blogging a bit more lately. :-)

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