iteach5m

Reflections and thoughts on teaching and learning.

The Best PD Ever!

“The Most Valuable resource that all teachers have is each other.  Without collaboration our growth is limited to our own perspectives.” by Robert John Meehan

The Best PD Ever!   Those aren’t words that usually go together.  I have seen my share of professional development topics and presentations over the course of my thirty years as an educator – some good, some bad, and many somewhere in between.  However, this year I truly experienced the best professional development opportunity of my teaching career.  When forming groups for our district tech PD,  I decided to take a leap of faith and go outside my comfort zone when choosing a partner for our PD TECH group.   I could have partnered with someone from my school, but I always encourage my students to think differently and try something new.  How could  I continue to ask them to follow my advice if I didn’t practice what I preach?  So, during the initial planning phase of this newly formed group, I sought out someone new.  As I listened to the High School art teacher across the room’s  ideas and thoughts, it led me to think that we had a lot more in common than I thought.  Maybe, a high school art teacher and a fifth grader teacher could offer each other something?  Amazingly, she was feeling the same way.  Now, we consider it fate that we joined forces.  We learned that we shared many of the same thoughts and views about teaching and learning.  We challenge and encourage each others’ thinking and push each other to try new and interesting lessons and ideas.  We support and defend each other when trying something new.

This collaboration led us down many avenues.  We taught a class to our fellow colleagues called – CREATE CONNECTIONS.  However, the strongest connection was the one we forged together along that journey.  In presenting professional development to others, we were the recipients of the most powerful and valuable resource teachers can receive and that is the gift of sharing with one another.   As mentioned in the quote above, our perspectives and ideologies extended beyond our own limitations.  The force and source of our collaboration energized my teaching and encouraged me to try new and innovative ideas, as well as challenge my comfort level.  I wish that everyone could experience the gift of such a valuable friend.  I encourage every teacher to value, connect and seek out the resources right under their noses – their colleagues.  Broaden your perspectives, look outside your circle of friends, collaborate with another teacher.  You will not regret the decision.  I feel blessed and fortunate to have met this amazing woman and colleague that I now call friend, soulmate, and my best PD ever!  Thank you, Karen!

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The Best Time to Shine…

It was two days before winter vacation and all through the classroom, students were learning and sharing… the best time to shine!

Yes! What a novel idea!  Learning and sharing, working and writing before vacation time?  A few disgruntled parents took to social media to complain that their children had a project due two days before winter break.  (No one mentioned that it was assigned a month ago.)  Well, I disagree.  Why shouldn’t students be working in class before winter break?  We have over ten days off – that’s the time for a break.

Anyone who has every spent any time with children knows how hard it is to keep a class focused during holiday season.  I want my kids to continue to stay engaged and active.  This time before winter break was perfect for a long term assignment.  Complete the work BEFORE the break.  Work hard; then play.  That’s my philosophy.

My students love to learn and enjoy the challenge of learning and exploring new information and ideas.   I capitalized on their lead.  They were excited about their assignment, so much so that many of them came to school early or stayed after class to work on their project.  This project was theirs to complete.  They could do it!  I had faith in them.  I set the bar high, but not too high that they wouldn’t be successful.

Today, I listened and observed my students sharing their projects and investigations with each other and the other classes in our school.  I knew I made a wise choice.  My students couldn’t wait to showcase their work.  They wanted to see what their classmates had done.  They were proud of the effort and care that was taken to complete each part of the assignment.  The quality of their research, creativity, and originality were top notch.  Everyone marveled at how each person’s project was unique. Every student put their own “stamp” on this assignment.  They met the expectations with flying colors.

Today was a blur. The day flew by so quickly. And…

All through the classroom my students were learning, not a student was bored or wasting their time.

It was the best time to allow them to shine!

 

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Have You Seesawed Today?

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Seesaw – The Learning Journal is a must have for any classroom.  This is my second year using Seesaw with my students.  I love it so much that I became a Seesaw Ambassador.  Two of my colleagues have become Ambassadors as well.

The power and possibilities of using Seesaw are only limited by your creativity and imagination.  Seesaw allows our students to share their work in a safe environment. We choose whether we want to have an Individual or Class Sign In.  Since grades 3 – 5 have 1:1 iPads, we use Individual Sign In, and Grades K – 2 use Class Sign In mode because they share iPads.   Students and teachers make decisions about what to add to individual Seesaw accounts.  It’s as easy as a push of a button or two.  We recommend starting out small – take some pictures and post them to student accounts.  Have your students take a picture and add their own work to Seesaw.  Check out the Seesaw website for a ton of great ideas, but here are some we have personally used:

  • explaining students’ math thinking
  • sharing writing samples
  • recording students’ reading
  • showcasing “best work”
  • reflecting on the week or a specific assignment
  • setting goals for a marking period, unit, or topic of study
  • adding movies and stories
  • sharing a “snapshot” of what happens in the classroom
  • recording a sample of students practicing their musical instrument
  • submitting an assignment and having students respond in Seesaw
  • sharing a link with your students
  • annotating a picture
  • labeling a map or diagram

Growth and progress are documented in a fun and easy way.  Stories, movies, projects are stored inside Seesaw – no more worrying about having enough memory or trying to search email for each student’s work. It’s all right at your fingertips.  Seesaw even has folders to help you organize the items.  Seesaw plays very nicely with a ton of other apps.  You can easily add items from PicCollage, iMovie, Tiny Tap, Shadow Puppet, Keynote, and even Google Docs and Pages!

Parents can be invited to view their student’s Seesaw Journal.  We love seeing their comments and the feedback has been amazing.  Seesaw has given our parents a glimpse into  our classrooms.  Items added to a child’s Seesaw account can be a great discussion starter at the dinner table.  The question, “What did you do at school today?” takes on a whole new level when a parent has a specific item for a reference.

Teachers can comment and respond to student work, as well.  Students can share their thoughts and reflections on items they post.  Kids and teachers alike at our school have turned Seesaw into a verb- “Don’t forget to Seesaw that project.”  “I’m going to Seesaw this picture.” “Are you Seesawing again?”

We can’t wait to see what you can imagine and create using Seesaw.  The possibilities are endless.  Well, what are you waiting for?  Get started! Start Seesawing!

 

 

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Take Time to Tweet

Why Twitter?  My colleague and friend, Karen, says that Twitter follows the laws of the universe.  It’s there for you when you need it.  You will always find something that applies to you.  Whether you decide to spend a few minutes a day or dive in for a longer visit, I can guarantee you will find something tailored just for you!

I started following Twitter last year when I was trying to figure out what my daughter was posting.  (Yes, I am a stalker mother.)  Her posts were harmless and fun, so I started exploring.  I noticed that many educators were on Twitter.  What was all the fuss?  What could it do for me?

I tiptoed very slowly at first. Where to start?  I searched for bloggers or apps I followed. Then I found them on Twitter.  Monica Burns, Seesaw, and Pernille Ripp were some of my first follows.  From there, I spread my wings and dove deeper into the world of Twitter.  I was a “lurker” at first – watching posts flow into my feed.  I followed some other folks and found that there really was something for everyone.  No matter when I went on to check my feed, there was at least one post that applied to me or my teaching.

This past summer after attending the ISTE convention, I was determined to figure out how to get more involved in the Twitter World.  Susan M. Bearden and the app she created, TweechMe, was instrumental in helping me figure it all out.  I learned how to follow someone, send a tweet favorite a tweet, Retweet, reply and so much more.  All throughout this journey, I would find an article, a suggestion, an inspirational quote or comment that inspired me or related to my teaching practice.  It was Professional Development whenever I wanted.  And it was good and practical advice.  It energized my thinking.

Twitter chats were my next challenge.  Someone has said, that participating in a Twitter chat is like drinking from a fire hydrant.  Yes, it is, but I wanted to take at least a sip.  I sputtered and stumbled at first and felt a bit overwhelmed by the tweets flowing past me at rapid speed.  But once I realized I just needed to get a taste, not guzzle the whole thing chats became an integral part of my Twitter experience.  TweetDeck was a great resource to help me figure out how to jump in and join chats.  I also stumbled upon #NT2T (New Teachers to Twitter) and #satchat.  These two chats got me totally hooked.  From there my addictive personality took over and I started checking Twitter more frequently, interacting with others, and sending out my own original tweets. Twitter is my new learning experience.  It helps me remember what it is like to be a learner, while continuing to enlighten and encourage me.

My goal for this year is to spread the word about Twitter and convince my colleagues and others to jump into the world of Twitter.  So here I am- spreading the word.  Give Twitter a try.  You’ll be glad you did.

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The Frustrations of SGO

Forgive for me for venting, but I am a frustrated teacher.  How did I get to this place?   That’s the question I kept asking myself this week as I was attempting to the complete the requirements for my SGO’s or STUDENT GROWTH OBJECTIVES for this year. When did this need to document and prove myself get out of hand?  How could anyone think that writing these two objectives would enhance my teaching practice?  What was the thought process that went into requiring them?  Was there even a thought process?

Student Growth Objectives.  I have been writing student growth objectives since I started my teaching career.  Just not in the way I am now required to do as part of an evaluation to prove my worth.  My students’ growth and improvement are always at the forefront of what I do.  I always have my students’ growth in mind when I am planning my lessons.  I have my students’ growth in mind when I am teaching a lesson.  And, I have my students’ growth in mind after the lesson ends and I am reflecting on it looking for ways to improve for the next lesson.   Every good teacher is evaluating and re-evaluating what they do to ensure that their students are making progress and learning.  This happens over and over again in the classroom. Day after day, lesson after lesson, student by student.

How can two examples or two assessments fully encompass all the learning that occurs in any classroom?  What about the differentiation I provide for those students that need it? How do I show that in an SGO?  What about the learning that takes place without a formal assessment? What about that sidebar conference or before or after school help session?

In the hours taken collecting data to prove I’m doing a good job, how about letting me use that time and do my job?  I could use that time to plan lessons on how to reach the student who didn’t understand a concept the way I taught it.  I could find a book that would interest the student who is a reluctant reader.  Anything would be a better use of my time.

I watched as the new teachers to my district struggled to choose the perfect item to have as their assessment, worrying that a poor choice could make or break their career.  I saw their exhaustion and frustration as they scrambled to add one more thing to their already overfilled plate.  All they really want and need is time in the classroom working with their students, time in the evening to organize their thoughts and plan their next day, a moment to regroup and refresh.  Time to connect with other educators and learn from each other. The same thing that all teachers want and need, but are not provided because we are under a constant microscope.  We constantly have to prove our self-worth using data that will make us a number at the end of an evaluation.

How did we get to this place?  I am not really sure, but I know we need to move away from the place we are in  and allow teachers to teach and students to learn.  We need to be allowed focus on providing our students with the best possible environments to learn.  We know how to do that.  We have always known how to do that, even without proving it in a formal Student Growth Objective.

For now, I have completed my SGOs.   The pre-assessments were given and are tucked away in a safe place.  I will get them out in March when I have to complete my post-assessment.  I will “prove” what a good teacher I am by the progress my students made on these two isolated items.  Until then, I am going to do what most teachers do, get back to what’s really important – my students and what they need to be successful.  I will be that good teacher my students and parents already know I am and will be for them.

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The Power of Connecting

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Create connections.  What does that really mean?  “Being connected is about getting to know new people who can stretch your thinking but also sharing knowledge to help make schools stronger than they once were.  Being connected is about sharing best practices.

No one person is smarter than the collective ideas and thoughts of everyone together. Individually we may have expertise, but that expertise is made stronger through connecting and sharing with others. (DeWitt, Peter – 15 Reasons Why Educators Should Be Connected, Link: http://corwin-connect.com/2015/03/15-reasons-why-educators-should-be-connected/?utm_campaign=shareaholic&utm_medium=email_this&utm_source=email))

I always felt that I made positive connections and shared with others, but I tended to play it safe and work with those in my immediate surroundings.  However, in the process of planning for professional development, I made a conscious effort to connect “outside my comfort zone”.   What if I partnered with someone I didn’t know that well?  What if I branched out and tried something new and different?  What if a fifth grade teacher and a high school art teacher had something to share with others? Well, it was worth a try.  Instead of joining the colleagues I worked with every day, I chose someone from across the room, someone who was sharing ideas very similar to mine.  The minute I sat down with her, I felt like a met my match.  She had already sketched out ideas and made a list – just like I had done.  Her “wheels” spin as fast as mine do.  The more we talked, the more I knew that this new partnership was going to be a “game changer”.

As we have gotten to know each other during the summer, we have found many more similarities than differences.  We compliment each other.  We work well together.  We challenge each other’s thinking.  Together, we are an inspirational whirlwind – look at there’s always something brewing.

We are a symbiotic pair.  We both benefit from our collaboration and newfound friendship.  The power of our thoughts and ideas increases, grows, and develops.  I am excited to see where our journey may lead.  Thank you Karen, for traveling with me!

Reflecting, sharing, and collaborating are at the core of good teaching and learning.  During this year, we hope help each other to tell our stories.  As you head into the start of a new year, create some new connections.  When sharing thoughts and ideas, make sure you add some new chapters to your story.  Look outside your “circle”, connect with someone from across the room, widen your horizons, and remain open to new possibilities.  As this new year begins, challenge yourself to try something new, create a new connection. Who knows where it will take you?

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The Teacher I Am Today

IMG_1408Yesterday, I had the pleasure of having lunch with this wonderful group of women.   These women are intelligent, kind, funny, brave, strong, independent, and amazing.  Who are they?  For many years they were my colleagues, teaching alongside me. Along the way, we became friends.  Today, all but one is retired.  They were there when I was getting started as a teacher.  They were the “experienced” ones and I was the new teacher.

Coincidentally, later that afternoon I was scheduled to welcome the new staff to our district.  One of the reasons I felt compelled to volunteer to greet our new staff was because of these ladies.  I wanted to give back what they had given me.    These women played such an important role in shaping me as a educator and human being.   They were the veterans and experienced ones.   This year,  I will be  the “veteran” teacher in my school and I hope I am able to do for others what was done for me.   They taught me what it means to be a teacher by their words and more importantly by their actions.  I was blessed to have such wonderful role models and guides.  Each one taught me something special and unique.  They weren’t assigned to be my mentors, but they “took me under their wings” and contributed a piece to my puzzle.  I learned so many things from my unofficial mentors – organization, parent communication, classroom management, interacting with peers, standing up for myself, identifying learning problems. pacing my lessons, connecting with students, loving my job – the list goes on.  They helped me develop my core values and beliefs about teaching and learning.  They taught me the importance of asking questions, getting involved, showing confidence, and respecting others.  They celebrated my successes and stood by me in difficult times.  I learned that a good teacher is first a good person.  I learned a good teacher is always a learner and lover of knowledge.  I learned that if I did what was in the best interest of my students, I was making the right decision.  So today, I say thank you to the “retired” teachers.  Thank you for sharing the best of you with me.  Thank you for making me the teacher I am today!

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Summertime classroom

Well, it’s almost that time again, so I decided to pop into my classroom for my annual inaugural visit. I love coming to school in the summer when no one else is there.  Even after almost 30 years of teaching, there’s something magical and serene about being in my room.  I still need to spend that first day sitting at my desk, looking around, twiddling , my thumbs, pondering the thought of a new group of students, another new year.. I “putter” around a bit, but nothing actually gets accomplished that first day.  I love the quietness and opportunity to reflect.  The classroom is filled with empty  desks spread out into rows, but they won’t stay that way for long.  The challenge this year is – where to put everyone ? Six more desks than last year.  Who will be sitting in those seats? What will this class bring to the table?  Will they love reading and writing? What should we do that first day?

I start to unpack a few boxes, rearrange some furniture, dig through my closet and find all the items I hastily tossed at the end of the year.  You’d think by now, I’d be better organized.  I come across pictures, notes, and letters from last year’s class.  I reminisce a bit – it’s always time for them to move in to middle school.  My thoughts linger on certain ones- how will they fare? I worry about some in particular, others I know are up for the change.  They are still “my kids”. However, I know they always come back those first days of the new year to touch base and share their stories.

I move a desk here and there and then get distracted by something else.  I dust off the shelves in the library. I unpack another box or two, move one pile from one part of the room to another making way for a new crew.

It’s not long before the heat gets the better of me, and I decide to call it a day.  I know there will be many more visits before September.  Today was my day, just for me.  It’s one of my most treasured days- I still get excited that I’m really the teacher in this room and can’t wait for another year filled with adventure and learning new things.

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Twitter Chats to Try

For Our Create Connections PD Group!  Can’t wait to get started in September.  Here is a list of some Twitter Chats you may want to give a try!  Jump right in and follow along.  Don’t forget to add some of your own thoughts or ideas.  Let me know how it goes!

Create Connections using Twitter Chats – Sheet1-1

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Hello world!

My first post on a new blog!  Can’t wait to share thoughts, reflections, and ideas with others!  Ready to connect and challenge my thinking.


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