Saturday, August 27, 2016

Books are Irresistible

This summer I had the privilege of hearing Dave Burgess speak about teaching like a pirate. I'd already read his book and was a fan, but hearing him in person brought his message to life. If you've ever sat in one of his audiences, you know what I mean. It's quite memorable. 

So this year I'm aiming to teach more and more like a pirate as I think of my students and how to bridge the gap between their motivations, interests and the curriculum. At the same time, I want to ramp up my sales pitch for reading. I always say the prevention of the summer slide starts on day one. 

On the first day of school, my students found a large box in my room with an important sign attached.

I actually didn't hear too much about the box throughout the week, but on Friday morning Kellen's first words to me were about that box. I also heard from some parents that it was a topic of conversation and anticipation at home. Score!

I made a big deal of the reveal. It was practically a Christmas morning moment. After the opening, I read a few titles to wet their appetite, like Dinosaur vs. The Potty or Vegetables in Underwear. (I was very intentional about the types of books I chose for the box.) The kids responded just like I'd hoped with squeals and laughter. I've a feeling there were some who might have been slightly disappointed that there wasn't indeed a kitty inside, but I'm hoping that my sales pitch is having an affect, even if I can't tell yet.

Then I tried some book speed dating with them. Although it wasn't a fail, it didn't go as beautifully as I had envisioned in my head. I cut it short but gathered some good information nonetheless. I definitely got a good feel for who my readers are. I also noticed those whose interest and stamina are weak. 

Next week, I'll begin reading those books for read-aloud. I imagine some of them will become future favorites, and even my reluctant little ones will begin to experience the fact that books are irresistible.

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Saturday, August 13, 2016

Saturday Sayings: Reflective and Effective

My cousin Kevin, vice-principal and educator extraordinaire, has been asking the following question during interviews at his school. What is the most important quality of an effective teacher? His favorite answer is "reflective." I like it as well. A reflective teacher should never lose their effectiveness because they'll constantly be asking the right questions to that "better way." Our conversation about this particular teacher quality and my recent summer reads inspired me to venture into the new year with four reflective questions on my radar.

I can't help but think of the unexamined wallpaper that Donalyn Miller challenges teachers to think about in The Book Whisperer. No matter where the practice originated, whether I was taught that way, a mentor teacher suggested it, it came from across the hall, or it's the way I've always done it, I must ask "Why?" If the answer doesn't align with what's best for the children, then the wallpaper's coming down.

What if?
This question hasn't been part of my reflective repertoire  before, but I love the possibilities it offers for students and for teachers. It challenges me to think outside of my comfort zone and perceived limitations. What if (fill in the blank)?

What's best for kids?
It's really the bottom line, isn't it? It's why we all do what we do day in and day out. Todd Nesloney and Adam Welcome remind us in Kids Deserve It! that "Schools don't exist so adults can have jobs. Schools exist for students." It seems like the most obvious statement ever, but if I truly believe it, then my daily practice had better prove so.

What is best for this kid?
This question obviously takes the previous one to the next  level. I must remember that every child deserves to have this question answered on their behalf. There's no giving up on anyone.

There's such a varied number of questions we teachers could be asking ourselves. Whether I've listed your favorites or not isn't necessarily the point. The point is be effective by being reflective. Our kids deserve our best, and we must continually seek it. What will you be asking yourself this year? 

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Saturday, August 6, 2016

14 July Reads

I only read 14 books in July. A teacher conference, a trip to Oregon, and a week at church camp slowed me down a bit. I found some great reads though. I hope you find something here that you will enjoy too.

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My favorites (in no particular order):

Finding Audrey is a YA about a teen with an anxiety disorder. I definitely enjoyed the humor in this story.

Pax is juvenile fiction and a gripping book about a boy and his fox. 

What Alice Forgot intrigued me from the very start. It was hard to put down.

A Court of Thorns and Roses is YA fantasy and the first in a series. I found it very engaging.

The Innovator's Mindset is a powerful read for educators. There are so many nuggets in it and thoughts that I'm going to work awfully hard to push into my daily practice and pedagogy.

Kids Deserve It! is the perfect book to read before school starts. It's short but packed with practical and powerful ideas. Go get it!

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Friday, August 5, 2016

The Myth of Average

I'd like to believe I'm not a classroom drive-by shooter. The one who teaches in a way that resembles speedily driving by, shooting as many random bullets as possible, and hoping to hit something, like that "average" student, for example. I don't want to be that teacher, which is why I love the workshop model, providing strategies, allowing kids time and space to work independently, nudging learners while conferring, pulling small groups together to work on strategies, etc. 

Unfortunately, I can think of students, even from this past year, who were outliers of sorts for some reason or another. I can list off their names and see their little faces. I know I didn't reach them in the way they deserved. They developed new skills and attitudes during our months together, but they could have blossomed even more, and this pains me. 

This week I was provided the opportunity of watching a Ted Talk entitled The Myth of Average. The 18 minutes spent with this video were some of my favorite of the week. Honestly, the message is not necessarily a new one, but it's packaged so expertly and meaningfully that it won't leave me alone. I hope it continues to nag at me as I step into my classroom for the first time next week, as I begin to prepare for a new crew of kiddos, and as I think about repeatedly shooting every single one of my children straight in the heart each day they spend with me.  

Please allow yourself 18 minutes to watch this video. It will leave an impact that will launch you into a new year with students who are not average.

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Saturday, July 30, 2016


I can always tell when summer is pretty much over. It's when the corn is as high as an elephant's eye, and the corn around my parts is definitely just that. There's not much time left to cram in any last minute summer wishes, and to make matters worse, I'm about to add one to your list. The good news is that it won't take you much time and it will be worth every minute.

You've got to read Kids Deserve It! by Todd Nesloney and Adam Welcome. These two principals (the kind a teacher would be lucky to work for) have put together a collection of 30 inspiring short chapters that will both validate and challenge. I'm fairly certain you'll find yourself repeatedly saying, "Now that's the teacher I want to be." And you'll be wishing your best teacher friends were sitting within reach so you could hand the book over at your favorite parts and say, "Read this!" (That's exactly what I did.)

This is the kind of book you want to read when school is just around the corner. Guaranteed it will rev up your teacher engine and help you find your best teaching self before the little people arrive. Because as Todd and Adam say, kids deserve it!

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Friday, July 15, 2016

Be a Gas Station

When I asked my first graders "Do you have big dreams for your teeth?" Josie took my question to heart. Months later, according to her dear mother, she was still fervently brushing and challenging her siblings to have big dreams for their teeth too. Some students are like that. They're naturally inclined to love everything about learning. I think just maybe I could teach those children with my eyes closed. Then there are the tough customers who occupy a space in my brain 24/7, because I constantly struggle to find a way to engage their hearts. 

One of my goals this year is to be a better gas station. Josie was intrinsically motivated and independent in her learning. I filled up her gas tank when needed and off she'd go again while I cheered her on from the sidelines. Being a gas station is rewarding for both teacher and student, and it's a whole lot easier than dragging children along like a tow truck would. Being a tow truck is an exhausting job. I'd venture to say that it isn't much fun for the student either. Not to mention, it simply doesn't work.  

I discovered this brilliant analogy on Kristine Mraz's kindergarten blog. Everything on this blog is brilliant. I challenge you to read her thoughts, and regardless of your grade level, tell me she didn't have something to offer you. Especially read the post below. It's too good to pass up. (Click on the graphic.)

Let's park our tow trucks and build some more gas stations. Our kids deserve it.

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Friday, July 8, 2016

Finding Flow


I've experienced it in my room. It has a magical, satisfying feel to it. I've also experienced what the untrained eye might believe is flow but is actually a classroom of compliant students who are simply on task. It's all a masquerade. So how we do convert those on-task moments into ones where students are completely engaged? This blog post below offers some wonderful suggestions. It's an inspiring read. 

So wait no further. 

Go find your flow.

Click on the graphic to read the post.

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