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So it’s been over a year and half since my last blog post, but A LOT has happened in that year and half! I intentionally stopped posting for many reasons. One very big reason was that we adopted our son, August!
This little boy has completely overturned our lives for the better. Fighting for something so hard, fighting for your family, will change a person. My views on life, relationships, school and leadership have been made much clearer after going through the process of finding our son. I made a video of our first month with August, if you want to check it out!
While enjoying every second of being a mom, I completed my Principal Licensure Program! My program actually started a week before August was born. We found out about August only six weeks before he was born so in that time, my husband and I talked a lot about whether I should postpone taking my classes or if I should forge ahead. It was almost a no-brainer; God has put in me the desire to serve a school as their principal and if I didn’t follow that path, I would not only be doing a disservice to God, but to my son.
And along with all of that, I intentionally chose (as I stated before) to stop blogging because I began to see that I was becoming way too outwardly focused. I cared more about the educators from around the world than the educators within my own buildings. I chose to become much more present in my actual life, as oppose to being very present in my online life.
(Disclaimer: I still see the very high value in being a digitally connected educator, I just also see the very high value in being a digitally disconnected one, too).
Through focusing inward, I got to be a part of some really cool projects. One project in particular, I am going to share in a series of posts that highlight the process that was taken to create a system within our school corporation called the RUP (Responsible Use Policy) Redirection Plan.
The first post is going to be about what even brought me to the idea of creating a plan like this, along with a brief overview of what it is!
When I taught 2nd grade, vocabulary was one of those things I tried to make exciting because, to many, learning new vocabulary words can be boring. Vocabulary, as everyone knows, is vital to all communication. Pronouncing, understanding, applying and spelling words is not only tested out the wazoo, it’s infused in everything we do. It’s ok to go old school when it comes to using things like flashcards and good ol’ writing the word and it’s definition down, but adding a little flavor can really enhance your student engagement!
Here are some fun ways to learn and work with vocabulary words!
(Some of these tools may not be new to you, but see if you can think of creative ways that you haven’t tried yet!)
- Create fun (really fun!!) and interactive quizzes utilizing images and videos to correspond with the vocabulary words!
- Have the students create quizzes to review with each day!
- Create a dynamic presentation that students can refer back to whenever they need!
- Have the students create an emaze for key vocabulary words including images and videos, then embed them on your classroom website or share them on social media!
- Have students share sentences with specific vocabulary words. You’ll have a transcript of all kinds of examples to share with the class.
- (Modified idea stolen from the incredible Matt Miller!) Create a story one line at a time. Give each student a number. Student with #1 starts the story with one of the vocabulary words and the rest of the group follows by the number they received. You can decide if each student needs to use a vocabulary word or if it should be every other student. This could be the entire class or just small groups. With smaller groups, you’d get more examples of vocabulary in context!
- If you haven’t already, create a hashtag for your classroom! When you introduce new words or just need reminders of other words, tweet the word, short definition and the class hashtag. You, as well as your followers (hopefully parents!) will have a running list of the words the students are learning!
Vocabla (Great for ENL/ESL Students)
- With the Google Chrome extension, users click on any word within the browser, find the translation and definition then bank that word to work with later!
- Great way to track what words your students are frequently looking up!
Pixteller (one of many poster-making sites)
- Create posters with the vocabulary words using definitions or the words in a sentence.
- Print and display!
- Post on social media!
Low-Tech Idea (Nothin’ wrong with a little pencil/paper action!)
(Small group activity-4 or 5 students)
Get a large piece of paper and put it at the center of the table (or floor). In the center, put the topic/unit/story you are working with and circle it. Stem the vocabulary words off of that center circle (one for each student in the group). There will be a round for each vocabulary word. Once the student is done with their word, either the students rotate around the paper or just rotate the paper. They will then do the next round with a different word. By the end they will have interacted with all of the words.
First round: Write the definition in your own words
Second round: Write a sentence using the word
Third round: Write another sentence
Fourth round: Draw a picture of the word (or a picture of one of the sentences)
Fifth round: (if needed) Circle the word in every sentence
What are some creative ways you are teaching vocabulary or working with new words? I’d love to hear your ideas!
I was lucky enough to be a part of a project at the end of the school year last year that gave students a platform to anonymously share whatever was on their mind. The idea stemmed from Connect, an anti-bullying program that is offered in our school corporation, with the purpose being to encourage more students and teachers to get involved in the program. What resulted, I think, was much bigger than we first expected.
We passed out a notecard to all 600+ students in the school and their teacher explained to them that the intent of this idea is to show everyone that they are not alone and that many are going through some pretty rough things. We received some pushback because some of the cards were revealing very serious situations, but our goal was for everyone to realize (teachers, students, staff, parents, etc) that we are in this to support the whole child. We are not just teaching the academic side of the student. When we interact with people, we are not just dealing with the side of the person we see in front of us.
This is the result. I encourage you to share this with your staff, your teacher friends, your students and really everyone!
This is why I am in education.
What if we start the school year letting our students know we are there for them, all aspects of them, and that we are in this together?
What if we started the year not just telling our students they are important, but by showing them?
What if this was the school year where you change your students lives?
Make this the best school year you’ve ever had. Make this the best class you’ve ever had. Make this the year where you focus on the human aspect of education.
We had our last SOLE class for the school year last Monday. In all 6 years of being in education, I have never had an experience quite like this. At the end of last year, our school was awarded a grant to move forward with a more personalized learning approach across our corporation. Because this is a pretty major shift in the way we ‘do’ school, we knew we had to take it slow. After researching the concept of SOLE, implementing this idea for our 6th-8th grade students seemed like a simple, but impactful start.
When I taught second grade, my philosophy was that, no matter a child’s age, they need to discover things for themselves. I believed that they needed to feel the discomfort of not ‘getting’ something to truly understand the joy of learning. Students are often told what to do and how to do it. In SOLE, students are not given anything, but their computers and unending support from their facilitator. It took this group a while to figure out how to learn on their own, but once they did, magic happened.
I have learned so much about who I am as an educator by watching these students. Their ideas and creations this year blew me away. They stretched themselves past where they thought they could go. They were given the freedom to follow their passions and really develop their ideas.
Most importantly, they learned how to fail, rework their ideas and keep going.
Because this is a pilot program, the kids have gotten a lot of exposure through our local media! The students were interviewed in December, did a live spot on the local morning show and were just interviewed last week by another local news station, ABC57!
This video really sums up what SOLE is all about! Check it out!
Teacher Appreciation Week should really be every week, right? We should show our appreciation to all of the people in our lives daily, but it sure is nice to dedicate a week to people who daily sacrifice so much to better those around them. Teachers are incredible people who selflessly and willingly give up their time to support their students. I could go on and on about how amazing teachers are and how noble a cause they have, but I want to take a second to share my teacher hero; the woman who inspired me to be the teacher I am today.
Everyone wanted Mrs. Hayes when they got to fourth grade. Everyone loved her. I mean, everyone. She always had a huge smile on her face and could make anyone feel like they were the most important person in the world. I was one of the lucky ones who got to have her as my teacher! I learned so much from her during that year and I knew she would always be special to me. She made the content relevant and made everyone want to learn. She shared her life with her students. She listened to what we had to say. It was evident that this was and is her life’s calling.
When it came time to choose who to do my student teaching with, I knew immediately that I wanted to teach with Mrs. Hayes. I have had many amazing years in education, but nothing will compare to my student teaching experience. I was so honored to be teaching and learning alongside my hero. She gave me confidence and helped me to believe in myself as an educator. She opened up her classroom to me and let me really become the teacher I wanted to be.
My last day of student teaching was absolutely unforgettable. Mrs. Hayes invited my extended family to surprise me, as well as, parents of the students, to celebrate my time with them. Each student wrote incredible letters to me. We all cried together because we knew that year was going to be something to remember. I have been lucky enough to teach some pretty amazing students in my 6 years in education, but that group will always hold a special place in my heart.
So thank you, Mrs. Hayes. You have inspired me beyond what I could ever tell you. You have made such a profound impact on my life. You are a phenomenal educator and person. Your students are so lucky to have you as their teacher. I can only hope to have the impact you had on me to one of my students.
Thank you from the bottom of my heart.
Take a second to tell the teachers in your life how much they mean to you!
After watching the PBS documentary ‘Is School Enough?‘ (a must watch!), I was so inspired by what I saw and excited about the direction education is slowly going. I have always been passionate about giving students a choice in how they show their learning and even more passionate about giving them a voice in their world. As I said in my previous post, our corporation is moving towards personalized learning. When I was in the classroom, this is what I strived for for my students. It is very different from the traditional way of viewing the classroom so adjustments are going to be made as we continue on, but I think if our focus is solely on the students, the adjustments should be welcomed.
At the beginning of the year I asked teachers when they preferred to meet and the general consensus was during their preps so I implemented Teach It Tuesdays for the Intermediate School and Work It Wednesdays for the Junior High. We meet twice a month (when there aren’t a million snow days) and each time is themed around different topics. We also do learning walks throughout the school with the sole purpose being to observe what students are doing and what they will be able to do after that particular lesson.
After being so inspired by the documentary, the Let ‘Em Loose Challenge was born! With the support of the principals in both buildings, I challenged the teachers to take one lesson or unit, give the students the outcome or goal and let them get to that end point any way they choose. Here is what I gave them:
Let ‘Em Loose Challenge!
Due date: Friday, May 16th, 2014
Challenge: Pick one skill, tell the students they need to master that skill, but they have to do it in their own way. Class time would be dedicated to the students working however they need to. At the end of a designated time period, students would have to prove they understood the concept in whatever way they wanted to; a video, a presentation, whatever they come up with! You would have check-in meetings with each student (daily, every other day, weekly, etc.), but they would be driving their own learning. You may have them show you in three different ways that they mastered it.
***Note: It may take the students some time to get used to being in charge of their own learning. Some may not even get it the first time. An involved discussion would need to take place prior to this challenge, as well as, a follow-up reflection.
Tips and thoughts for implementing this idea:
As a class, come up with rubric of sorts so they feel ownership in how the results will be evaluate
Let students figure out what works for them
Let the chaos happen (and watch it, it’s really cool when it works itself out!)
It will seem like a disaster for the first few days, but everyone’s figuring out how to do this
The students assume you are going to give them every step and when you don’t it will be very hard for some
Let students decide how they will show you they’ve mastered this, but brainstorm different ways prior to letting them loose
Ask questions to get the students to clarify why they are doing what they are doing
I then created a GoogleDoc that I shared with both schools where they had a chance to reflect on how the experience went for them. I encouraged them to have their students reflect as well! I’ve had conversations with some of the teachers who have already implemented this idea and it was so cool to hear what they had to say. One teacher said she asked her students what they thought of it once it was completed. She said many liked it, but there were some that hated it. Those students told her they would rather just be told what to do. That makes sense because that is how they have ‘done school’ thus far.
Another teacher said they didn’t know what to do while their kids were working; they felt useless. I completely understand that sentiment and explained that this is your opportunity to really get to know each of your students. Check in with them to see how they are doing. Have them explain what they are learning.
It can be frustrating because it’s a shift from the ‘normal’ way of teaching. The teacher should no longer be the center of the learning.
I encourage you to give this challenge a shot! Let me know how it goes!
I haven’t written a post in a very LONG time. There are many reasons for that, one being, I found myself writing a blogpost for the sake of writing a blogpost or because I felt like all the cool kids were blogging so I should be, too. My entire mindset and focus has changed from last year to this year and I feel that I am a stronger educator because of it. I’ve also struggled with the idea of self-promotion. I’m not saying that all blogs are about self-promotion, but I personally got caught up with the numbers last year; how many views, how many likes, how many retweets, how many comments, etc.
And to be completely honest, I haven’t had the desire to write a blogpost this year. No need to force something that isn’t there.
Last year, I struggled with getting to know a brand new school and a set of teachers, adjusting to a job that was just created that year and being pushed into a semi administrative role that gave me a platform to share my educational views. A platform that I hadn’t previously experienced.
And staying with my completely honest theme here, it went straight to my head.
I’ve done a lot of reflecting on who I am as an educator and really who I am as a person and I gotta say, I am so much happier this year than I have ever been in education. The people in my life deserve my undivided attention when I am with them. I love social media and all of the outlets we now have, but it can definitely hurt the real relationships in your life.
When you focus on what is most important, all the little things that used to bother you don’t have as much meaning.
With all of that said, I am hoping to start posting again! I want to share the things I have learned in my new role as Instructional Coach and some awesome things the kids I work with are doing as well!
***Honored to have been a guest blogger for A Platform for Good! Here’s my post!
What To Do When Your Students Are More Tech Savvy Than You
This is the first year 5th and 6th graders at Riverside Intermediate School are 1:1 with MacBooks. The excitement at the beginning of the year was electric! Students were so excited to have a computer where they could do school work, homework and projects. And the best part: they automatically understood that the computer was not their own and that they needed to follow all of the school’s rules when using it…Do you believe me?
Many of them were very excited, of course, but those first few months we had so many issues with students hacking into accounts, deactivating the administrative codes on their machines, illegally downloading games and music, and on and on and on. Students’ computers were being re-imaged (wiped clean) left and right. This created a lot of hesitation for the teachers to even want to use the computers in class.
I have always been an advocate for just coming out and saying what needs to be said. Those first few months, I went into many classrooms and just told the students what I knew. I walked in and said “I’m going to shoot straight you guys. I know you know a lot about computers. I know you have things on them right now that you shouldn’t. I also know you are sharing your knowledge with each other. It is time to use your powers for good and not evil”. After this happened I wrote a post called “They don’t know we know they know we know” where I outlined just what happened.
It can be very difficult for teachers when their students are more tech savvy. This can create a strange dynamic in the classroom, andis really changing the way we look at education, student learning and the approach teachers take in their lessons.
To me, this is the perfect opportunity to empower your students. When they are gifted in the area of technology, let them show it off!
Here are some tips for letting that dynamic shift create a more welcoming and open vibe in your classroom:
● Have open and honest conversations with your students. They need to know you are aware of what is going on, even if you aren’t completely sure.
● Have a modern-day ‘Show and Tell’ where the students share techie tools, websites or tricks they’ve learned with the class.
● Ask your students for help! They will feel so empowered that their teacher came to them that they will respect you so much more.
● Let students lead lessons. Often times, students learn best from other students!
My best advice would be to give your students a voice in your classroom. Students need to have a say in how they learn. By giving them the opportunity to choose how they complete a project or assignment, you are giving them ownership of their work. Celebrate what your students are good at and build them up! The great thing about technology is that it provides plenty of opportunities for creativity and ownership. Don’t shy away from it – embrace it and prepare to be humbled by your student’s knowledge!