Friday, August 2, 2019

Focus and Goal Setting for Shut the Door and Teach



What will I take away from this blogging challenge?  This post is week 8 of 8 in the 8 Weeks of Summer Blog Challenge for educators. 

One thing I loved about this challenge was not having to think of things to blog about.  It was tough at times, but it also proved to me that I still have lots to write about.  All I need is a little discipline and direction.

But at the same time, I’ve taken some time to reflect about blogging and the world of Teachers Pay Teachers.  I don’t talk much about the business end of things here on the blog, but I’ve realized I’ve been putting quite a bit of energy into a lot of areas of the business:

  1. SEO for my blog posts
  2. Making my pins perfect
  3. Video creation for marketing
  4. Instagram community building
  5. Facebook prompt ideas
  6. Looking into the possibility of an Email list
And guess what?  As busy as it’s kept me over the past couple years, I’m just not enjoying it.

So I’m going to take a step back from the marketing.  Don’t get me wrong; I’m glad I did it.  I hope it pays off for me over the next year.  But when I think back over the last 10 years of blogging and TpT, the thing I enjoyed most was making fun items for my class.  So when I have creative time THAT is what I’m going to do. 

So I think this exercise in writing for someone else's prompts made me think about what I wanted to write about and in a greater sense what I want to DO.  I recently read a great article about setting 3 goals at a time each day (no more than that; and they can be carried over to the next day of course).  I think that spending time creating 1 fun product at a time will be 1 of my 3 goals each week.  One of my goals will relate more directly to my class, and the third will be a personal/family oriented goal.  I think this challenge helped me focus and prioritize on where I’ve been and where I want to go next year.  So thanks for a great challenge, HotLunchTray!
 







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Monday, July 29, 2019

Revisiting My Summer Goals


I've been asked to reflect on the goals I set at the beginning of the summer.  This post is week 7 of 8 in the 8 Weeks of Summer Blog Challenge for educators.  And it appears I re-prioritized (that's usually how I roll). 

To recap, the two professional goals I named were to finish my course on anchor charts and try an online gradebook (possibly Google).

My FIL's place.  Top left corner, anyway (it's an apartment).
The reason I reprioritized is because I have been traveling this summer.  Recharging and making time for family (especially when they live overseas) is important and as much as I love to teach and improve my craft, teaching is not my whole life.  So planning for next year has to wait until after my trip.

As for the anchor charts course, I'm nearly finished!  At first I thought I just got a lot of ideas to copy, haha.  But as I progressed through the course I was happy to find that I really was able to come up with some original ideas for my own new anchor charts. 


Other than that, I've been working on a few personal goals and hobbies.  I spent a good deal of time photographing products for my store.  I've been learning to create videos using that footage.  Stay tuned for more on that!

The hobby I've been working has been hand lettering! 
















 
I thought hand lettering would be a great hobby for a few reasons.  It's been a while since I've done any drawing, so I thought this would ease me back in.  It also seemed to complement the anchor chart course (I thought it would help me design some titles).  And finally, I thought it would help me build some fine motor stamina.  As I (and everyone else) do more and more work on computers and mobile devices, I struggle to write by hand for any extended amount of time.  I've enjoyed it so far, and I'm considering trying a more challenging book once I finish this one.

What have you been up to during your break from teaching young humans? 


 


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Sunday, July 21, 2019

Getting a New Principal: How to Make the Most of It



This post is week 6 of 8 in the 8 Weeks of Summer Blog Challenge for educators.

Getting a new principal can be scary.  What will he or she be like once “the honeymoon is over?”  Will your new principal’s educational philosophy differ from yours and more importantly, will they respect the differences?  There are many unknowns and that can make you feel anxious. 

The good news is, I think many new principals, like all professionals, at the very least start out the year thinking that they want to get along with people and do a good job.  They don’t all show it the same way, and although some are skilled at meeting new people, others may might rub you the wrong way on the first impression.  But I don’t think many start out desiring to be the conductor of a train wreck.  So if you’re a veteran teacher at the school, their personality may not allow them to say the words, “I need help getting started here,” they will probably appreciate your help.  And just like you do with your students, you’ll need to differentiate how you provide it! 

Here is my experience.  A week ago, at the request of my principal, I met with her for a one to one chat.  Her way of asking for help came in the form of some introductory questions about me as well as the school.  I personally appreciated that she gave us the questions ahead of time so I could be very thoughtful and honest.  So instead of saying “Everything is fine,” or blurting something out I regret about problems in the past, I could refine my answers.  And I realized that this was my opportunity to be an agent for change in my school.  By giving my new principal ideas about our strengths and areas for improvement for the school, I was shining a light on an area she needs to focus on. 

So I told her that although I don’t have all the answers, I had an idea about a topic we might want to discuss on an ongoing basis at school.  And that is discipline.  Our school used Responsive Classroom over the past several years.  And although I hope we keep some of the elements of this practice in place, I feel that it would be helpful to talk about some guidelines for conduct.  Not download something at random and adhere to it rigidly and with no compassion.  But start discussions about it. 

Was I taking a risk opening up and revealing our weaknesses?  Of course.  But it shows that I’m reflective about my professional practices and the practices of all teachers.  And I think there’s a very good chance she would figure it out by October anyway.  So it’s better that she can plan ahead.  She obviously likes to do that since she asked us to come in (voluntarily) over the summer to meet with her (as a bonus I learned we both like to take time to pre-plan over the summer).  So in the long run, I think she will appreciate the heads up.   

If you are getting a new principal and you are asked to talk about the school, do you know what you would say to help bring positive changes to your school community? 








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Saturday, July 13, 2019

Lofty Goal Setting for Teachers: Making Writers



Do you believe in small, attainable goals?  Or have you embraced the idea of a BHAG?  That's Big Hairy Audacious Goal?  Well, this post is week 5 of 8 in the 8 Weeks of Summer Blog Challenge for educators.  So although I tend to focus on the former, today I will explore the idea of an almost unattainable goal.

The first thing that comes to mind is to make my students into avid writers.  People who enjoy writing.  After all my years teaching fourth grade, I feel like I'm competent in teaching math with games and covering the content areas.  But I still struggle with teaching writing. 

For one thing, we don't have a set writing curriculum.  We have Journeys for reading comprehension, but it's not enough when it comes to writing.  So I look at the standards and I look at the teacher's manual and I feel discouraged.  I don't feel like I have a logical progression in place.

Sure, I teach writing.  The kids write in journals 4 times per week.  We do research in social studiesWe have science notebooks with prompts from FOSS.  And we keep writing folders.  It just that with the rigorous expectations in fourth grade getting ready for the MCAS, I feel like I have more work to do.  Whether or not MCAS helps elevate the rigor of writing skills acquisition, MCAS in an of itself does not motivate students to love writing (often it's quite the opposite). 

So how will I work toward achieving this goal?  I want to refine a year long trajectory with my writing units of study (the first trimester looks good so far; I have 2 to go and then need to go back to check over the whole year in context).  I'm finishing up a course on anchor charts and my final project is related to teaching the writing process.  I have a few units from Teachers Pay Teachers that I haven't tried yet that I'm eager to delve into. 

So I feel like I've broken my larger goal into smaller pieces.  But it's still an immense goal.  Getting myself organized is only part of the equations when it comes to getting kids excited about writing and feeling confident that they can do it.  I still have a month and a half to think about how I'm going to motivate them.  Any suggestions about fun ways to make writing more meaningful for fourth graders?








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Saturday, July 6, 2019

Are You Reaching Your Introverted Students?



What is your ideal working environment for teaching and learning?  This post is week 4 of 8 in the 8 Weeks of Summer Blog Challenge for educators.” The first few prompts were a bit challenging for me.  I would read the prompts, step away from the computer, do some cleaning or watch a video, mull it over in the shower, revisit it the next day, and repeat until the end of the week.  This was not one of those prompts.  I have a LOT to say about one very specific sticking point. 

I can sum up my working style in one word:  Introvert.  The ideal working and learning environment for me is a period of observation followed by isolated time and space to synthesize and create.  I've known I was an introvert since I first heard the word in middle school or high school.  But I never really appreciated how misunderstood we introverts can be until a few years ago.  My principal encouraged LOTS of collaboration between students.  I changed my teaching style to incorporate collaboration pretty much at all times (except of course for tests).  And sure enough, I started to feel like the days were slipping by.  Certain students who I most closely related to were not performing as well.  Under his direction, I was squashing my introverts.  And I felt a little lost in my own classroom.

It started with the desks.  I used to move the desks around often.  Sometimes 3 times per day.  For some activities, I wanted small group work.  Often I'd assign jobs within groups.  Other times we'd be in a circle for a whole class discussion.  And yes, there were times that I had the kids in traditional style rows so they could all quietly focus on their own work.    

He put a stop to that last one.

I knew he was wrong, but at first I went along with it.  Then once I noticed the negative changes in our learning environment I read Quiet:  The Power of Introverts.  I wrote a blog post about this book because it changed some things for me.  I knew that one style isn't better than the other, but I guess I didn't really know how to communicate it to people who didn't understand.  And my principal REALLY did not understand.  I think he saw introversion as something to be remedied.  This book reassured me that both styles are equally important, and that we all need to work together at times and do our own thing at times. 

So I once I remembered to "Shut the Door and Teach" I started looking for work arounds.  Although I don't have all the cute little furniture, I took cues from the "flexible seating" movement to covertly give space to the introverts.  The middle of the room had the groups he insisted on.  During reading, students could sit at a group with a partner to read together and discuss the book.  But around the perimeter we had quiet spaces (under tables, spread out in the library, and tucked into corners) and pillows for independent reading. 

During writer's workshop too, I kept the desks in groups.  Even though it felt like madness to me to have kids talking to each other while trying to write about an experience outside of school, they were physically side by side.  But I circumvented the physical proximity of groups by walking around saying, "Would you like a shield?"  Half the kids said yes.  The kids who still complained about others bothering them were free to choose a table at the side of back of the room.  The kids had freedom to practice and self assess their work in a quiet space, but if he walked in, he saw the groups he wanted and he saw a few kids working together which was important to him. 

Math was the trickiest to circumnavigate.  Once our district ran out of money for workbooks and I had created enough games to cover the standards, it was all group work all the time.  The result was that the stronger students started carrying the lower students, who never had the time and space to think for themselves.  Finding independent activities during math is my next challenge.  Science will be in a year or 2 (since FOSS uses so much hands on group work).    

The group work is great for some kids.  At least half of them, probably more.  However it's so important to make space and time for the introverts too.  We all need to learn to work in less than ideal conditions for ourselves.  But no one should have to do it for 6 hours per day.  Do you find your school embraces the extroverts like mine?  Do you have other ways to help out your introverts? 









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Friday, June 28, 2019

How Am I a Leader and a Follower as a Teacher?



How am I a teacher-leader and a follower?  This post is week 3 of 8 in the 8 Weeks of Summer Blog Challenge for educators.  I had a hard time with this prompt because I pride myself on NOT being a follower.  I didn't name my blog "Shut the Door and Teach" because I felt like I only get by by copying others.  Sure, I team up with my colleagues to plan and make sure we're in synch, but the word "follower" rubbed me the wrong way!  It took a while for me to revisit this term and come at it from a few angles to start to approach it. 

My first connection to the idea of being a follower was that I follow the interests and new trends my students bring to our class each year.  When Minecraft was popular, I used it to enhance our studies of natural resources.  When bottle flipping was popular, I used it as a way to practice the steps of the scientific method.  It doesn't always work out (Fortnite is not really school appropriate, for example) but often I find the children keep things fresh and new for our classroom and it pays to follow their lead.  And of course we love to dance to current songs at the end of the school year! 

Another way that I've been a follower is that of course, our principal sets expectations that we have to follow.  The district purchased Math in Focus and Journeys, so we are expected to follow those curricula (although I supplement plenty).  He also set policies about holding Morning Meeting as well as not grading homework (which I talk more about in the linked post).  My biggest takeaway from my time with our former principal (today was officially his last day) is to make every child feel a sense of belonging.  I didn't always agree with how he handled behavior issues.  But with Morning Meeting, greeting kids when they arrived, fun Friday lunches, the graduate parade on the last day of school, and Student of the Month assemblies to promote character, it was obvious that it was what he strived for above all else.  As I described in my Timeline of Teaching Development, he helped me develop a greater empathy for my students. 

Overall, I feel I'm more of a leader than a follower.  Of course I act as a team with my grade level partner, but because I have seniority (and was on the committee that interviewed and hired him) I feel like the lead teacher often times.  Our district doesn't have a social studies curriculum so we've used my regions units from the beginning.   I developed a to do list to help him set up and think about how to get started in his first classroom (it's free and editable if you'd like to download it).  Otherwise, when it comes to my colleagues and online learning communities, I am more of a collaborator than a leader or follower.  I get lots of ideas about teaching science and informational writing, and I share my math games and grammar resources.  Here on my blog, I write and reflect on my experiences teaching fourth grade, and I also read other blogs to see what others are struggling with and how they are improving their instruction.  On Instagram and Pinterest, I share photos and ideas and get ideas as I browse. 

So although there's a bit of a leader and follower in all of us, where on the continuum are you currently? 













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Saturday, June 22, 2019

Timeline of my Teaching Development


What has contributed to the educator you are today?  I'm participating in a teacher blogger challenge from Hot Lunch Tray.  This post is week 2 of 8 in the 8 Weeks of Summer Blog Challenge for Educators.  I feel like I could write a novel about this topic, but I'm going to try a timeline approach:
 
Age 0-10
When I was in first grade, my teacher gave us the prompt, "What do you want to be when you grow up."  I said an artist, a teacher, or a mom.  I loved school so I never wanted to leave it.  This experience taught me that school = SECURITY.

When I was in upper elementary, I taught a classmate a math concept by explaining and illustrating it.  My classmate said graciously, "You should be a teacher when you grow up!"  I thought of a few nasty kids in the class and answered, "No thank you."  This experience taught me: not everyone, but others besides me really do VALUE learning. 
Age 11-20

I was one of the older kids in my learn to swim class at the YMCA.  I wasn't bad at it, but I think they probably promoted me through the ranks a little quicker than they might have so that I didn't get embarrassed.  Either way, it boosted my confidence and I liked it.  So with a little encouragement from my mom, as soon as I was old enough I transitioned from taking swimming classes to teaching them and becoming a lifeguard.  I worked for and with really nice people there, so I double majored in psychology and elementary teaching in college.  This experience taught me:  CONTENT DELIVERY. 

My last year of college was tough.  After 3 years of being the top of my class, a bad practicum experience in a middle school (not elementary, like I signed up for) nearly ended my career before it started.  This experience taught me:  PEDAGOGY. 

Age 21-30+

It was hard to get a full time teaching job.  I took a "part time" job teaching preschool at a private daycare where they cared more about profits than what we actually did with the kids all day.  I was on my own in terms of curriculum and not paid for supplies or prep time.  I couldn't stay late to decorate or set up because I had to punch out.  This experience taught me:  PRIORITIES. 

Then I got a job in a public school with a consortium for the hearing impaired.  Although it was not a professional position, it was finally a professional setting.  I worked with a teacher who was enthusiastic and inspiring.  So different from my practicum and preschool positions.  Mrs. Swift, I would not be the teacher I am today if you hadn't shown me how to captivate a classroom full of children all day, every day.  Thank you.  This experience taught me:  FLOW over the course of a day, week, and unit. 

A year later I got a full time teaching position 100 miles away.  I finally got my own apartment and taught 7 to 4 at a charter school.  The school climate was draining.  Our dean collected our lesson plans weekly (the format came out to 10 pages per week).  We sent progress reports home every 2 weeks.  We started our mornings with a staff meeting followed by a whole school assembly.  Then we started every subject with a Do Now.  No talking allowed for at least 3 minutes.  We were on camera being watched by our dean.  They could flick on audio any time without us knowing.  If we were sick there was no substitute, although we did have 2 teachers in every room.  The neighborhood was so sketchy that the custodian walked me out of the building at 4:30 during the dark winter months.  If it rained there was no recess that day; the rooms were only big enough to hold desks, not play.  Our charter was to pass the state's standardized test, so if we didn't, we'd be shut down.  We were caught off guard the year we got laid off during the summer (no contract, no union) but unable to collect unemployment.  That was the year I sent out resumes elsewhere.  This experience taught me:  DISCIPLINE. 

When I arrived for the interview at my current school, I knew I belonged there.  It felt a confidence I hadn't felt before in a teaching interview.  My fourth graders that year had had 3 weeks with a teacher who took the reading specialist position, and by the end I loved them so much that I wanted to loop with them.  There were a handful of other teachers my age at the school, hired the same year as me (a month earlier) so I was part of a cohort of newbies that I have "grown up" with.  Although our first principal stressed a lot of people out, my horror stories of that charter school made this one feel like heaven.  She collected lesson plans like at my last job, but I got to use my own format.  Reports 6 times a year was nothing.  Having a union and a contract made me feel secure regardless of the state testing, sick time, and summer pay.  This experience allowed me:  SELF DIRECTED GROWTH. 

Our current principal is retiring, and has been even more relaxed than the first.  He doesn't collect plan books.  He cares more about Responsive Classroom than MCAS scores.  This experience taught me:  CHILD CENTERED TEACHING.

I feel like I've left so much out of this post because every group of children has taught me so much along the way.  I think I can sum that up with DIVERSITY, not just in a cultural sense, but also in abilities, personalities, needs, and interests too.  Getting married has taught me about BALANCE.  My colleagues have taught me about TEAMWORK.  I know I'm a better team member than I was at the start of my career, and that's thanks to the teachers at my current school.  So basically, the things that contributed to the educator I am today is: college, work, and family.  That's life, right? 






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