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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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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Friday, September 21, 2018

Sensory Path #2

I'm here to say that a sensory path doesn't have to be expensive, elaborate, or hard. It can be cute, fun, and fairly easy. Today a crew from my school created our second path. Since we have two playgrounds, it seemed like the thing to do. Read about path number one and the finer details here

Happy hopping!

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Saturday, September 8, 2018

Our Sensory Path

Last spring or summer I saw a video on Facebook of a little person hopping his way along a colorful and creative path down a school hallway. The more I thought about it and the more I saw it reposted, the more I knew it was something that  my school needed. "We should do this," recently turned into "Can I do this?" and my principal gave me the thumbs up to take it on. 

I basically mapped out the path from the video I saw from Facebook on a piece of paper, which saved me a whole lot of creative thinking time. We only have one hallway in our school, and I can't imagine trying to walk my students to music or library in any kind of orderly fashion with a sensory path on the floor, so we put our path on the playground. Plus, all students can access it during recess time. I grabbed three teacher friends and this morning in about 2 1/2 hours we made it happen. I rolled. My friends followed and touched up my lines.

I think our students will love it. I can already imagine taking my whole class outside for a brain break. I also hope the path becomes a welcome break for those individual students who need a quick getaway from the world.

Grab some paint. Grab some friends, and you can have your own sensory path too!

P.S. FWI: It really wasn't that hard. I simply drew a map on a piece of paper. Then I used a small roller to roll it onto the ground. No taping or drawing the plan on the ground first required. (It helps that I have a very steady hand.)

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Sunday, September 2, 2018

Kristine and Christine

This post is a mishmash of resources that represent where my heart and head are right now in year 25 of my career. It's embarrassing and overwhelming to admit, but I've read some things in the last few months that have revealed some significant holes in my practice. Have I really been doing it all wrong all these years? Maybe I'm being slightly dramatic, but it's just confirmation that I must continually be a better version of myself. I'm confident the tools I'm about to share are going to help me get there.

Resource #1:
If you teach elementary children, read Kids 1st From Day OneDon't wait until your next break. Read it now. It is literally life-changing. I should probably reread certain sections of it before going to bed each night until the ideas become second nature. It's that good.

Resource #2:
Read this short post, Life After Clip Chartsby Kristine Mraz, co-author of the book you're going to read soon. I've never used clip charts, yet found this post to be another text that needs to be part of my nightly reading. She's challenged me to think about what I believe and to look closely at the practices that simply don't match up. Ouch.

Resource #3:
Read this post, Three Essential Social-Emotional Practices for the New School Year, by Christine Hertz, also co-author of your future favorite book ever. This post is meant to follow up Kristine Mraz's post, so do read them in order. It's enlightening, practical, and necessary and is already affecting my lesson plans for Tuesday.

Resource #4:
The first of Christine Hertz' three essential social-emotional practices is how to build awareness in our students of their social-emotional needs. The first step to building awareness is teaching children about their brains. She refers to Daniel Siegal's hand model. In Kids 1st From Day One, Kristine and Christine also talk about Siegal's analogy of the upstairs and downstairs brain. Both the hand model and brain analogy are concepts I want my students to know and understand sooner than later. So I've written two mini-lessons based on the resources mentioned. I want to offer them to you here. I'm not sharing because I think they're all that great. I haven't even taught them yet, and they're likely to need revision. I'm sharing because I think Kristine and Christine's work needs to influence more people. Period.

These two teachers and authors understand children in a way that inspires me. I'm humbled by their work and can only hope that my practice develops as a result of their influence. Please do take the time to seek out their wisdom. I think you will find their thoughts enlightening and worth your while.

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