Saturday, May 23, 2015

Saturday Sayings: Time to Celebrate




I saw this on Twitter yesterday: 35 Things Every Teacher Should Do Before the School Year Ends. Number two stuck with me. 


2 - Celebrate success. Forget everything that you'd consider a failure, and focus on the successes in your class and at your school. Now, share them with everyone.

I needed number two. I've been feeling the burden of what I would consider failure in certain areas of school life. I want to be pro-active about those issues and develop some solutions for next year, and I'm bound and determined to do just that, but I can see how dwelling on it right now isn't the best option. I need a clear vision of all that went beautifully this year, so I can authentically celebrate with my students before I have to send them off. That's how I want to say farewell to the last nine months.  Celebrate.


Now, to share those successes with everyone.

  • I had a dreamy class.
  • It was Halloween before I heard a complaint or tattle about someone else, and they're still few and far between.
  • I never missed a day of beautiful things. I took three pictures of my students using their superpowers of character and shared them on my class website every night.
  • I eventually put the kids in charge of also finding beautiful things. They took this job seriously and were able to identify and celebrate each other. I shared those on my site too.
  • I shared videos of my kids talking about their math solutions on my class website to help educate parents about math instruction.
  • I often found my students walking around with books in their hands around school. How many times did I hear, "Can I take this book to recess?" 
  • I discovered ways to integrate the number line into unexpected math standards.
  • I taught place value and the power and friendliness of ten better than ever.

Anyone else feel like making a list? It's time to celebrate.


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Saturday, May 16, 2015

Saturday Sayings: The Lone Ranger



Writing instruction must be on my brain, because while perusing for the perfect quote this morning, I realized I had a dream about it last night. As is often the case, the particulars are hazy, but I do recall having a conversation with a young high school teacher about the importance of the writing his kids were doing in his non-Language Arts class. The CCSS truly does make this one thing clear. All teachers must be writing teachers. And wouldn't it be even more helpful if all teachers had a similar belief of what writing instruction looks like.

The Lone Ranger writing teacher is a common problem. An early elementary teacher has their work cut out for them if the writers they receive at the beginning of the year think that writing is filling in the blank ("I like to ____.") or writing letters to represent missing sounds on a worksheet. That teacher can make huge gains with those writers but can surely imagine how much further along they would be if they had arrived with a different skill set. Those young writers might then head to another grade where writing is solely directed by teacher prompts and topics. The writers will grow in that place, but they might lose a bit of their motivation or personal connection to the process. In the situation I've described, as writers progress from one writing environment to the next, I believe the disconnect between foundational practice can impede student progress. 

I am the last person to say that all teachers must be on the same page. In fact, that's one of my least favorite teachery thoughts of all time. I do believe in the importance of being on the same pedagogical page though. I agree with Calkins that vertical alignment and agreement about best teaching practices is vital. The CCSS is raising the bar for our writers, and I believe it's totally within their reach. They just need their writing teachers to step up their game and give them consistent excellent writing instruction from one grade to the next. Anything less is simply impractical.


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Sunday, May 10, 2015

Trust In Your Seed

I pledge allegiance to the flag
of the United States of America
and to the republic for which it stands
one nation
under God
indivisible
with liberty and justice for all.
I am full of greatness.

These are the words my class recites every morning. I introduced the additional last line a few weeks into the year, and my kids say it each time without fail. 

I wish I could sneak into their second grade classrooms on the first day of school next year to see if any of them automatically add that line out of sheer habit. 

I wish twenty years from now while saying the pledge at a special event, they find themselves reminiscing about first grade and Miss McMorrow's greatness mantra. 

I wish I could know how this deposit I've left in their lives will manifest itself well beyond first grade.


My cousin Laurie is good at reminding me to trust in my seed.  



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Saturday, May 9, 2015

Saturday Sayings: What It's Not



My district is wisely putting writing at the top of the list of practices to focus on next year. This has been needed for a long time now, and I'm excited and eagerly anticipating its arrival. Yesterday my staff spent about an hour thinking about this new initiative and the district's beliefs about writing.  We were asked to consider the implications for our own classroom practices. From what I could tell, teachers seemed ready to look critically at their writing instruction next year.  This is a great place to start.

As I walked away from our meeting, I wondered if at some point it would be beneficial to have a conversation about what writing instruction is not. Knowing what it isn't can sometimes help teachers filter out any old practices that really aren't beneficial to their writers. I immediately began making my own mental list.

Writing instruction is not:

filling in the blank (ie. Over the summer I ____ )
answering questions on a worksheet
prompt heavy
grammar exercises
focusing solely on conventions
publishing every piece
journaling
based on teacher topics
negotiable
limited to one genre
solely content area writing

I trust Calkins' statement about what our writers need.  I believe their skills will develop more rapidly when those things are in place. Without the right belief system, it can sound like a daunting task, but I believe it's doable when we know what writing instruction is and let the other stuff go.

(Feel free to add to my list.)

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Saturday, May 2, 2015

Saturday Sayings: The Instructional Leader



This week I sat through several screening interviews for the administrative position at my school. While taking notes, I wrote these words about my favorite applicant: She would make me a better teacher. Later I came to this epiphany -  I can't say those words about any of my previous administrators. 

Here's the crazy part. I never noticed. Not once did I feel any lack. In fact, two of my administrators in particular, were out-of-this-world amazing. I consider myself beyond blessed to have worked under their guidance. Yet I can't recall any moments in the evaluation process where I ever felt stretched or was given something to chew on regarding my practice. I don't believe they let me down though. What they did do, they did so well, that I was able to concentrate on my classroom and my methods. Their leadership gave me space to learn and grow and be a professional. I am forever grateful.

So what is the moral of this tale? I've been tossing that question around for a few days myself. I think Gentry provides the answer. When it comes down to it, I'm the one who knows my practice best. Though it would be ideal to have another set of eyes to help me see next steps on my trajectory of improvement, sometimes that's just not reality. Ultimately, I'm responsible for analyzing what I do from day to day, asking the hard questions, and pushing myself to the next level. I must be my own instructional leader. Having said that, it's a blessed thing when the administrator creates a culture where this is all possible.

(Please know that I'm in no way bashing administrators.  Like I said, I've been so blessed by mine. I'm curious though.  Have your administrators made you a better teacher? If so, how? I'd love to hear from you.)



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Friday, May 1, 2015

My Recommendations

If you are looking for a good book to read, I can give you some great recommendations.  Here's what I've been up to.

March
I just love JoJo Moyes books.  This one didn't disappoint.

Here's another JoJo book.  Although still good, The Last Letter From Your Lover was better.


April
I really enjoyed the unexpected twists and turns in this read.

Here's the book everyone needs to read.  I've already recommended it to several of my favorite people.  (Any Northwest people will definitely enjoy the fact that it's set in Seattle.)

Well, it was okay.

I've read every book in this series.

This YA book is similar to The Fault In Our Stars.  

It wasn't my favorite, but it was enjoyable.

Do you feel enticed?  I hope so!


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Saturday, April 25, 2015

Saturday Sayings: Be Cousin Laurie



This is the time of year when I can find something inwardly frustrated about various issues I've consistently talked about with certain little people that really shouldn't be issues at this point in the ball game.  My inward dialogue sounds something like this...

  • Seriously, troubles with b and d...still? (Then there's p and q and other random backwards letters.)

  • Come on.  You know which way a 3 goes.  (Or a 5, 6, 7...)

  • How many times have we talked about how writers and mathematicians aren't lazy?  If they make a mistake, they erase the wrong answer.  They don't just write the new over the old.  Sigh.

  • This number is a 12.  Not 20, not even 21.  It's 12.

  • Wuz - I think we learned that word in week three. 

This is the short list.  It's a good thing none of this ever leaves my mouth.

I have a cousin Laurie, and she has an elevated view of my abilities.  She's not shy about verbalizing them either.  I've known her to repeatedly brag: "She's the best singer I know."  "She's the best first grade teacher in the world."  And she's not about flattery.  Laurie really believes these things and a myriad of other ideas about me, regardless of the fact I don't see myself as anywhere near the ideal she sees. She's a cheerleader.  Everyone needs a cousin Laurie.

Recently I witnessed her boasting about me again.  I walked away with the realization that my job title is to be cousin Laurie to each of my students.  I should have an elevated view of their abilities.  I must see their strengths, work from their strengths, and never be shy about calling them out.  

This is my late-in-the-game pep talk.  As I draw to the end of the year, my inner dialogue is feeling the effects of almost nine months of teaching.  Not only am I battling the issues that certain students still struggle with, like the ones I mentioned above, but I'm affected by fatigue, lack of time, loose ends, a long to-do list, school business, a few not-up-to-par assessment results, etc.  It can be easy to forget my role as the cheerleader, the one who continues to call out the strengths of my students in every situation to the very last second of the game.  Here's to being cousin Laurie.


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