Friday, February 19, 2016

20 Things We Should Say More Often

This year I feel an even stronger urge than normal to teach to the heart as well as the head, which is why I created this lesson. It was inspired by the Kid President and this video.

1. I showed it to my kids a few different times without providing any kind of forewarning about what was to come. I just wanted them to enjoy it and take it in.

2. Eventually we talked about how cool it would be if we made our own lists, and I asked the question, "How could we share our lists with the whole school?" I got a great answer - make posters.

3. I purposefully divided them into teams of 3 or 4.

4. Each team brainstormed their own list of 20 things we should say more often. Not every team got to 20, but I wanted them to at least reach 10.

5. Each team chose their favorite 10 from their list. 

6. I edited for free. (It saved me time with these little people. This lesson took several days anyway.)

7. After agreeing on some important requirements, each team wrote their 10 things on large construction paper with pencil.

8. Then they traced with marker.

9. We brainstormed appropriate and highly visible places throughout the school where the posters could be posted.

10. Each team wrote a letter to the person who would need to give them permission to use that space.

11. The teams delivered their posters and letters and up the posters went.

I loved this lesson for several reasons.

* It took a lot of cooperation. A lot!
* It required them to think about character.
* It allowed them to practice many different essential literacy skills.
* It was oozing purpose and audience.
* It's been an important foundation for teachable moments. ("Oops, that's not on our list. How would you say that differently?")
* I often use the lists as front-loading tools before conflict can even begin.

Thank you Kid President for the inspiration!

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Saturday, February 13, 2016

#FlyHighFri Podcast of Me

On the whole, I'm a fairly quiet sort, but in the right setting I have a lot to say about my profession. I wouldn't have ever thought that being interviewed on a podcast would qualify as "the right setting," partly because it never crossed my mind that it would ever be an option and partly because I think I sound much more intelligent on paper than out loud.

Low and behold though, I was surprised last Friday when I was nominated by sweet Simon Miller, a talented educator from Kellogg, Idaho, to be interviewed as an Inspiring Educator by Sung Lee for his weekly #FlyHighFri moment.

If you have 17 free minutes and are interested in hearing my voice and my thoughts on what I believe is important in the classroom, click on the graphic above. Then you might want to listen to future #FlyHighFri moments like I plan to. (And I can guarantee you won't want to miss next week's!)

P.S. Thank you Simon for so sweetly nominating me (you bless me completely), and thank you Sung Lee for celebrating educators. Regie Routman says that celebration is at the heart of her best teaching, so I believe in your crusade. By celebrating us, even though we're not looking for it, you remind us that what we're doing is beyond important and you nudge us to continue that work. Thank you for letting me be part of the celebration. It was truly an honor.

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Thursday, February 11, 2016

My January Reads

Here's a little look at what I read in January. I've included my Goodreads star ratings.

4 stars

4 stars (I'm a big Baldacci fan.)

5 stars

4 stars

5 stars

My favorite of the month was Everything Everything. It's a YA read and so clever. I highly recommend it. My second favorite was The War That Saved My Life which, I believe, is considered juvenile historical fiction. It's an engaging read with characters I grew to love. Happy reading!

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Monday, February 8, 2016

Do You have Big Dreams for Your Teeth?

I think I've done a fairly decent job over the years of covering all my bases when teaching dental health. The missing piece has been how to thoroughly convince little people that they really must take dental health seriously, which is kind of an important missing piece. I suppose I could have created some type of kid-friendly spreadsheet that parents checked off each night and returned to school for a sticker or prize, but that felt artificial. After some deliberation, this year I devised a plan that I think drives home my point in a real life kind of way that will hopefully stick for a long time. 

I started off my unit with a short slide presentation and a big question. Do you have big dreams for your teeth? 

My second slide showed pictures of teeth that were not in the best of shape and asked, "How did this happen?" 

I was planning on putting small groups to the task of writing down their thoughts, but my crew was struggling this day with things like cooperation and character, so individuals wrote down their ideas on whiteboards. Then I collected their ideas on the board. 

The third slide showed a perfect set of teeth and the question again of "How did this happen?" Individuals once more wrote down their thoughts which we then added to the board.

Everything we've talked about since has come back to these slides, pictures, and big question... 

Do you have big dreams for your teeth?

A mom recently told me that her daughter asked her older brother if he had big dreams for his teeth when he ate two scoops of ice cream instead of one. I think my plan might be working. :)

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Saturday, February 6, 2016

Regie Routman: My Hero

You know you work for an observant, caring superintendent when she posts a video to your Facebook page because she knows it's from your hero, Regie Routman. (How many superintendents can pull off something like that for one of their many teachers?) Anyway, I do love all things Regie. She's long been my favorite, and her thumbprint is on my pedagogy.

In this 24-minute interview, which I've listened to several times, she makes some challenging points, as she often does. I've made a list of my favorites (in black font) with a bit of personal commentary (because I have a hard time refraining). I'm certain you'll find your own nuggets from this video, so please watch here.

  • Principals have to know literacy and teachers have to be leaders.

Ahh, yes! I can hardly contain myself. This is what our students deserve - a school of teacher leaders and a principal who knows and understands literacy.

  • I look at literacy at, how do we teach children to read and write for real world audiences and purposes? How do we make this authentic so it connects with their life and their culture, and so that they are engaged in the work that we're doing?

This is the crux of the matter right here, and I'll admit there are still a few students in my care who I haven't reached yet. I haven't found a way to make literacy as authentic for them as it must be. I can say for sure that the answer will not be found in a teacher's manual though. Amen.

  • People don't get back to the basics of reading and writing until all else has failed. Why do we keep looking for a perfect program or curriculum?

Yes, why? The basics are tried and true. Regie's always been a proponent of this.

  • Schools have PLCs (professional literacy communities) going on but they were about data: here's where we need to improve data - but no one was showing teachers how. You can't raise expectations just by looking at data. You can't raise achievement just by looking at data.

The data, and the study of such data, is useless unless teacher excellence and professionalism is positively affected, and that won't happen by accident. 

  • If you're not knowledgeable you're going to be implementing with fidelity and we need to be implementing with flexibility. You can only do that from a strong foundational base of knowledge.

I've long held a grudge against the word "fidelity." I love how Regie replaces it with "flexibility." That's perfection right there, and she's completely right. If teachers have a strong foundational base of knowledge, then the word "fidelity" doesn't need to be tossed around.

  • When teachers see their principal coming into the classroom and celebrating them rather than "You need to improve on this" everything changes in that culture. Celebration is at the heart of my best teaching. It changes the culture of the school.

I've read Regie's last two sentences in various other contexts, so I know how strongly she believes this. I've seen their impact in my own classroom. When I have a classroom moment that's particularly powerful, it's usually one of celebration, and I think to myself, "Man, that was good!" It does indeed change the culture. Our classrooms and schools need more of those moments. 

  • If you have more than one major initiative going on at the same time, you're not going to make any progress. We have to slow down to hurry up and to really value that deep professional learning. And you're not just moving from one subject to another. If you're focusing on writing then you're focusing on writing for at least a year. 

Doesn't it feel like we're spinning our wheels at times? There's nothing deep about that motion. True professional development, which takes time and energy and focus, can't be spread thin like a barrage of bullets in a drive-by shooting. 

  • Teachers don't need a script. They need deep professional learning so they can take the curriculum and the standard and say "Here's what I know, not just in my gut and in my heart, but here's what I know through research and experience and collaboration."

We need to teach with eyes wide open, especially when there are so many mandates, curriculums, programs, etc, coming at us. Without the right expertise, we can't use those resources appropriately. The script is not the answer.

  • It's this commitment to professional learning of the highest order that's missing.

I'm in charge of my own professional learning. I believe the district and the school play a part, or should play a part in increasing my professionalism, but in the end, the buck stops with me. I must commit to an ever increasing knowledge base for the sake of every student who enters my fold.

Thank you Regie Routman for sharing your expertise and wisdom. We are better teachers because of you.

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Monday, February 1, 2016

A Flow Chart for Life

This is a little flow chart I kind of threw together one morning last week when I was feeling the need for another tool to help this crew of mine understand the importance of their words and actions and how to monitor them better. I quickly jotted it down before school and then created the poster above in front of the kids. Of course, I spent the rest of the day referring to it as much as I could. 

The next day, I created it again while the kids copied it for themselves, so they could have their own version at home. That gave me two copies in my room located in prime places, which I repeatedly returned to as much as possible as a group and privately with certain individuals. A week later and it continues to come up often throughout the day and hopefully will make a difference in life, not just in first grade. 

(Side note: One of my sweet parents told me that two of my girls were teaching their young church group how to draw the flow chart onto several valentine hearts that their group would be delivering for Valentine's Day. Now that's what I'm talkin' about.)

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