Friday, January 4, 2019

The Gift of Affirmation

Christmas break has been a much needed gift for this teacher who doesn't believe in counting down the days yet really struggled not to count down the days. (That's another story for another day.) So against my lower back's better judgment, I've literally lived on the couch for two weeks and read sixteen books. Call me crazy or amazing. Either one. 

But long after I've forgotten the characters and plots from the many books I've inhaled (which doesn't take long), I will remember with fondness the email I received on the morning of January 2nd from the grandmother of one of my students. As a past elementary teacher and principal, she's been following our classroom journey and watching her grandson's growth, both emotionally and academically. And among other things, she wanted me to know, "You are the teacher I would love to have hired for my school." 

Affirmation. It's a priceless gift. 

Though I, like all teachers, basically put my life on hold for nine months in order to teach the little people in my care and do it without an expectation that the world will acknowledge my sacrifice or expertise, it is so gratifying to be noticed. Affirmation encourages, sustains, and even heals. In fact, it leaves behind a much longer list of beneficial adjectives than I have space to mention. Maybe that's why Mark Twain once said, "I can live for two months on a good compliment." 

I'm hoping I can stretch mine into five. 

As much as I yearn for affirmation, I understand the need to give it. My superintendent is accustomed to hearing from me when I want to brag about the amazing people at my building. She's not the only one who's received emails regarding my principal, instructional coach, or even custodian. I've made it a practice to speak up about the excellence I see. (It's when I'm quiet that, well, there might be a problem.)

I say all this as a challenge to whomever might be taking the time to listen. Notice. Speak up. Call out the greatness, and why not share with the boss while you're at it? That person doing her thing with excellence most likely isn't looking for a pat on the back, but if she were to get one, she might just have found the strength to continue on for another two months or possibly five.

P.S. As I was writing this post, I was reminded of one of the mothers of a previous student. She's an expert at affirmation. She regularly sends me stories - stories of how my words and love from over two years ago still impact her daughter. Wow, am I blessed. I hope to be more like her someday.

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Saturday, December 22, 2018

Celebrate and Celebrate BIG

This is just one of those years. I'm surviving but don't always feel like I'm handling my challenges gracefully. I take them to bed with me. They're there when I wake. It can be consuming at times. Though I purposefully look for the beautiful in each day and take notice of what's going well, I recognize the need to be more intentional about the space my thoughts inhabit.  

Recently I found myself reflecting on the word "embolden." Though I only knew its meaning in general terms, it felt like a word I was meant to embrace. I looked it up and found I was right. 

As a Christian, I am well acquainted with the story of David. Though he was greatly distressed, the Bible says he strengthened himself in the Lord. I'd like to think he emboldened himself. Though there are many people on my side, cheering me on, reminding me that I'm the teacher God is with, sometimes I simply have to embolden myself like David. 

Personally I know what encourages, fortifies, heartens, invigorates, emboldens my teacher heart - celebration. 

So Tam, be emboldened. There is no such thing as a victory too small. Recognize and celebrate each one. They will be your lifeline when it seems like you're simply surviving. As Wendy Hankins says, "Celebrate and celebrate BIG."

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Wednesday, December 19, 2018

How to Prep For a Music Program

My class sang their little hearts out at our Christmas music program today. I was so proud of not just their singing but their behavior. It's obvious how very amazing our music teacher is. She pulls the greatness right out of them. Even though she's as wonderful as they come, I know she appreciates how classroom teachers support her. And I feel like it's my responsibility to do just that. 

Before our program rehearsal, I intentionally prepped my kids.

1. We watched this short video of a children's choir from America's Got Talent.

2. I asked the kids to notice what the performers were doing and not doing.

3. We created the following anchor chart. The ideas totally came from them.

4. I took the chart with me to the rehearsal and the program.

The moral of this tale is be intentional and clear about expectations. We can do so without telling. Use mentor texts (yes, videos are mentor texts) when applicable. Let kids notice. Document what they notice. Make sure the chart is visible.

And doesn't it seem obvious that our music teachers would love us forever if we all took fifteen minutes to do something like this before a performance? I think so.

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Saturday, December 15, 2018

To Wait or Not To Wait

Teachers, we can do better when the recess bell rings and the kids line up. Here are all the reasons why I believe it's wise and professional for teachers to walk out the door the second the bell rings instead of wait three or so minutes for them all to line up and then walk out the door.

1. It's good modeling. - I teach my first graders that when the bell rings they should say, "See ya!" to whatever they're doing and hustle to the classroom. I should be modeling the same behavior. Why should they hustle if I don't?

2. It's not my time anymore. It's theirs. - When the bell rings, my time is over. Period. If I'm not instructionally ready for them, I need to make adjustments to how or when I prepare. It's their time now.

3. It's preventative. - Bad things happen in an unattended line. Proximity will prevent most of the problems that might have occurred if I weren't present.

4. It's professional. - If I'm not out there, who's actually watching the children? The duty person can't. She's doing 12 other things while at the same time trying to get back to her classroom and her own children. Legally speaking, I have a responsibility to be present.

5. It allows me to teach. - All the stuff that happens in an unattended line follows the class inside, leaving me poor behavior to fix and conflict and drama to resolve when I should actually be teaching. Talk about frustrating.

6. It saves time. - There are four times throughout the day when the bell rings and kids line up. If I wait to go outside during each of those times, how many instructional minutes have I wasted? It might not seem like much, but it adds up fast. (A new teacher once spent a day observing my classroom. She noticed how quickly I got outside and brought my class in. She did the math. According to her numbers, I saved about 20 minutes of instructional time.)

If we stop to examine the wallpaper, we'll see that there are way too many reasons why the norm of waiting inside after the bell rings is not best for our students. Don't wait inside simply because that's the way it's always been done. If it's the norm at your school, be the change. Start on Monday.

This Seems Really Obvious To Me

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Saturday, December 8, 2018

Finger Flashlight Friday

Thanks to the Units of Study in Reading from TCRWP (Teachers College Reading and Writing Project), there's something called Finger Flashlight Friday in my room.

I bought mine last year on Amazon. A few died, so I just restocked for less than $6.00. It's a great deal.

As I mentioned, TCRWP inspired me to use them. They come in very handy in the first-grade reading unit, Word Detectives, which I just finished teaching and would highly recommend. Now the flashlights come out every Friday during reading workshop. As one can imagine, they're a hit.

And because I own a soap box about most things educational, I have to say something about reading workshop. To my knowledge, there aren't many basal teacher's manuals that:

  • stress or make time for independent reading. 
  • recommend children have their own baskets or boxes full of books.
  • plan for teachers to sit down in a community space with the children at their feet and teach a short mini-lesson on how to be a better reader before sending the children off to read by themselves.
  • Every. Single. Day.

I'm going to refrain from quoting all the gurus who explain why daily independent reading is a game changer. Instead I'm here to say, whether the basal says to or not, every child in every elementary classroom should experience a reading workshop every day. Period. Yeah, hang around me long enough and you'll know I'm not a basal fan, but this post isn't about bashing basals (at least not this time). Instead I'm calling all teachers to know what's best for readers and make instructional decisions based on them. Manipulate the basal to fit what's best for kids, not the other way around. 

Feeling Feisty

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Friday, November 2, 2018

Commonly Held Beliefs

This summer I read Regie Routman's newest book, Literacy EssentialsThe book overflows with poignant stories, quotes, research, and suggestions. I found myself especially drawn to the chapter titled Embedding Professional Learning. Her wisdom helped launch my school into the year with a focus on learning and growing professionally together in a new and refreshing way. Regie has perfect timing

We began the year with this quote in mind from Regie's book. "Perhaps more than any other dynamic, positive and lasting change in a school accelerates and takes hold only when the principal and staff come together on commonly held beliefs that align with research-based practices." Based on Regie's work, my brilliant instructional coach and I designed three PD opportunities that led our staff to create six to seven common beliefs for reading, writing, and math.

For example, following a DBI on balanced literacy (borrowed from our generous Idaho Coaching Network friends), staff members individually brainstormed their reading beliefs. Vertical teams then created posters of their common ideas. Each person used sticker dots to vote for her top six beliefs. After some revisions, staff members had the opportunity to provide feedback.




The final beliefs for all three areas are now on our wall where we will be able to intentionally interact with them throughout the year. I'm excited to see where these important building blocks lead us.

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Saturday, October 27, 2018

Saturday Sayings: Lead

Today's Saturday Saying comes to you from my cousin, Kevin Roberts. Once upon a time he was my earth science teacher, but he's been one of Meridian Middle School's assistant principals for many years. He's gracious, tender hearted, and abounding in practical wisdom. He dances a mean polka, and he's one of my favorite Father of the Bride speech givers. I always enjoy our educational conversations whether in the kitchen at church camp or via text messages, so I'm especially honored to share this space with him today. Without further ado...

I was reading some Bob and Maria Goff Saturday morning and was reminded of a lesson my friend and mentor Gerald Bell taught me years ago on the dirt track at Meridian Jr. High. It struck me that I used the lesson again yesterday with a student and that I implement it all of the time as a tool in my administrator tool box.

On that day Gerald, a world class athlete and former member of the Canadian Olympic team, watched me run an interval with the boys and in my youthful enthusiasm I pushed hard and crossed the finish line first. Gerald approached me gently and suggested that a better strategy is to push them, but not beat them. Then he modeled the strategy for me and I enjoyed using the strategy with him while running with our team. I discovered that the satisfaction of pushing them and watching them improve was so much greater than having them think I was faster than them.

As an assistant principal part of my job is to help students identify the reason they are spending time with me. But I don’t beat them to the finish line, I lead them to it. Like running intervals, this can be hard work and it may require repetition, but it is rewarding and worth the effort.

Grateful for my teacher, my coach, and my friend. 

Gerald, thanks for pushing me to grow and learn, even after all these years.

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