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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Friday, October 26, 2018


I finally just have to say it. I'm not a fan of the word "craftivity." If you're an elementary teacher, you probably know of what I speak. Somewhere along the line, a very creative and lovely teacher invented this word. It stuck. It spread. I'd like to point out some reasons why it hasn't done so with me.

1. It seems like "fake" art to me. Finished pieces basically look the same.

2. I've noticed that craftivities are often loosely integrated with language arts, and I understand the good intentions. Yet with the limited time we have, language arts doesn't need to be cutesy. Activities and crafts muddy the waters and steal precious time away from authentic reading and writing.

3. One of the advantages to art is that it demands a growth mindset. It's two for the price of one. Making the 3D cats in the picture below was a perfect opportunity to practice optimism, persistence, flexibility, and resilience. I don't see any of that taking place when students are asked to glue pre-cut pieces together.

I realize that craftivities are not ruining our students or their education, and my opinion is simply just that - an opinion. Yet there's always room to ask "Why?" 


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Sunday, October 21, 2018


Even though I tell my students that mathematicians love to count things, I also make sure to let them know the other side of the story. Sometimes there's literally just way too much counting. Sometimes counting is the last thing a mathematician should do.  

This year I have been emphasizing trust during math time. In fact, it might be my new favorite math word. Trust is the thing that can keep kids from counting when it would be inefficient to do so. Trust helps them recognize five-ness and ten-ness.  Trust helps them subitize. Trust makes them more efficient. Trust takes away some of the guess work. Trust helps them see that math makes sense. Trust shows them that numbers can be very predictable. Trust is a necessary piece of the puzzle.

I can thank Christina Tondevold from Build Math Minds for helping me understand the importance of explicitly teaching my mathematicians to trust. 

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Saturday, October 13, 2018

Celebration, Collaboration, and Learning

I've been saying for a while now that I'm in charge of my own professional development. I've never waited around for my district or school to develop my pedagogy and practices. In fact, with the very best of intentions, sometimes, just sometimes, district PD can feel like a drive-by shooting. Shoot lots of professional bullets and with crossed fingers hope to hit something good. Regie Routman says it like this in her newest book Literacy Essentials. "Much of what is called professional development in schools today is actually what one principal labeled 'random acts of professional development.'”

Regie counters that description with this statement. "According to research, to be effective and sustainable, professional development must be ongoing, composed of at least thirty to one hundred hours of time over the school year, connected to classroom practice, and geared to fostering collegial collaboration." I wonder how many schools can say that this is their story.

This year, with the wise leadership of my amazing principal and the backing of our leadership team, we're allocating two of our early release afternoons per month to 90 minutes of staff professional development. This excites me to no end.

My ever so smart instructional coach, Dani, and I are drawing wisdom from our experiences with The Idaho Coaching Network as we've thought through a PD arc for the year. The Network is a living and breathing example of how to develop a culture of celebration, collaboration, and learning. Check out some of the favorite strategies we've stolen from them that are essential elements of all our PD this year. (From what I hear, imitation is the highest form of flattery.)

We start with celebration. Always.

We developed Norms together. We focus and reflect on them each time we meet.

Every staff member has an interactive notebook.

We intentionally use and document effective strategies.

So even though each teacher is in charge of his or her professional development, schools have a responsibility to find the time and space to learn together. I'm so thankful to Regie Routman for spelling it out and to The Idaho Coaching Network for providing an example of what this can look like at  its very best. 

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Sunday, September 23, 2018

Glitch, Bummer, Disaster

Christine Hertz and Kristine Mraz are quickly becoming some of my favorite people. They are helping me beef up the social emotional ways I teach my kids. 

If you're unfamiliar with them, please please please read this post where I reference three things they've recently written that will likely transform your thinking and teaching.

This coming week I'm going to tackle problem solving in my classroom. I'll be using the following two charts that Christine and Kristine use.

Aren't those some brilliant charts? I'm going to combine them into one chart and build it piece by piece until we've learned about each problem over a three-day period. (I actually wrote three lessons that will hopefully help me do this efficiently and effectively.)

I love the language that Christine uses once the chart is complete and kids are having problems.

  • It seems like you're really upset about that. I hear you.
  • What kind of problem do you think that is?
  • Do you have any ideas of how you might solve it?

Have I convinced you to go read what Christine and Kristine have to say? Do it now.

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Saturday, September 22, 2018

Saturday Sayings: If He Could, He Would

"What's your mantra going to be?" That's what my secretary asked me the day I stood in the office and told my story - the one about a student's perplexing and frustrating behaviors. Haven't we all told that story a time or two? It's usually one that can't easily be resolved, but my secretary's question was the perfect response. She's heard my classroom mantra PD. She knows how strongly I believe in the power of words. And so began a quest for the words that would help me stay the course on behalf of this little person while hopefully preserving my own peace of mind. 

I turned to Kids 1st From Day One by Christine Hertz and Kristine Mraz who have been my guides on the side since day one of my school year. I'm in love with and challenged by the words they share from Katherine Reynolds Lewis. Can't behaving a certain way vs. not wanting to are two very different things. I can say from personal experience that the latter is an easy copout to embrace. 

Hertz and Mraz encourage teachers to believe that if a child could do something, he would. That mindset demands a different approach to challenges. Empathy and grace come to mind and maybe even a sliver of hope - hope that with the right scaffolds and supports, a child can be taught the skills necessary for social and emotional success, just like he can be taught to read or write. 

So my mantra? If he could, he would. 

I've been teaching long enough to know that five words aren't going to magically resolve any issues come Monday morning, but I know they have the power to change my mindset for the better. 

If he could, he would.

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