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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Thursday, June 20, 2019

Top 10 Last Day of School Dos and Don'ts



The last day of school is one of the most emotional times of year.  Of course you're eager to have several weeks off.  But you're going to miss your kids.  Not all of them, but at least a couple AmIright?

Here's how I facilitate a great last day:

1.  Reminisce.  I'll admit, I didn't do this on the last day this year (but I did it over the course of the last week in a variety of ways) and it's my one regret.  Sometimes I collect these ahead of time to share on the last day.  This year it was a quick freewrite for students to write their favorite thing from June.  

2.  Reflect on what they've learned.  I do portfolios of students' work that they have a hand in assembling.  I also print a few photos to stick on the front cover (I used to do more all over the inside, but nowadays we have classroom websites with "all the photos" so I am more selective and just choose a few).  These are usually completed the last week of school, but I like to make them leave them at school until the last day in case we have time to highlight parts of them. 

3.  Keep a small part of the routine.  A little normalcy on the most hectic day helps them feel safe.  Of course you're not going to teach math and science and reading and spelling.  But if you do morning meeting, you probably want to pick this routine to do on the last day.  We'd been practicing the "electricity greeting" for the past 5 days.  We all hold hands in a circle.  I initiate the "electric pulse" by giving a squeeze to the person's hand on my right, and click the stopwatch with my left.  Then I hold the person's hand on my left as the "pulse" travels around back to me.  The 23 of us made it to 12 seconds today! 

If you have calendar time, of course they want to see their countdown to the last day of school come to a conclusion.  We also sing for summer birthdays, so I wanted to include this in our last day.  We didn't do the WHOLE calendar routine, but enough of it to create a sense of a school day. 

4.  The opposite:  Make time for "loose" time if your students can handle it.  I had such a lovely, cooperative class this year.  So for morning work I had them autograph each other's portfolios.  They loved it, and they could handle walking around without being micromanaged in terms of how many people at one desk at a time.  Do what makes sense for your students, but try out "loose time" in a safe way. 

5.  Dismantle.  Not only does it help me to have help cleaning, packing, and taking down things around the room, it also helps provide some closure for kids.  It helps them see the process involved in permanently leaving a space to prepare it for new people.  I feel like learning to cope with letting go of a physical place is a life skill.  This year the kids helped hand out papers that were hanging up on the penultimate and final day of school.  They cleared out their desks and ripped off their nametags.  Some even helped me sort classroom supplies (others needed extra time shelving their library books.  One young darling said to me when I opened his desk and gave him a tired look before helping him, "I'm not good at cleaning."  Yeah...I noticed.  All.  Year.  I'm going to miss that one the most). 

6.  Awards.  I give a different award to every student (occasionally two will get the same award, but I try to differentiate my delivery of the award).  I explain, "I know what it feels like to see someone else get the award for great artist and think, but I wanted that award.  And guess what?  You're probably a great artist too!  It's just that I thought of this other award for you.  And my opinion is just one person's opinion of you.  In your life, other people will notice other great things about you and that's okay too."  Although I don't say so in my speech, I try to avoid awards with "best" because again, I might think Katie is the best artist who is also my best math student.  And Kevin might struggle with SO many things, but art is his strength so I give him the art award. 

Although I actually give out my awards a few days before the last day (with parents present) our school does a whole school assembly for awards on the last day.  It's a half hour long during a 3 hour half day, so it helps us with a little down time (I can stuff report card envelopes). 

7.  Celebrate.  We play music as a whole school and dance in the cafeteria after the awards.  Then we dance to music again 10 minutes before dismissal (and the class "moving on" to middle school parades through and high fives us). 

This year for the first time I served ice cream for breakfast.  It was unplanned, (I had it left over from an event that fell through) but they LOVED it. 

8.  Debrief with your colleagues after.  We have our staff party on the last day of school, which I love.  But if you don't, at least spend some time debriefing with a bunch or even just one.  We have a lot of "movement" this year in terms of retirements, layoffs and people being "bumped" to other schools in the district.  Not only did I want to spend time with those who I knew were leaving, I also learned about a couple that people kept secret until the last day!  And I heard a little more about probably newcomers for next year and who has their eye on which classrooms in the future.  It was a VERY informative party. 

9.  Give.  I give cards or gifts to support people at school as well as my students.  I don't know how many others do this, but I feel like showing your gratitude keeps things warm and collegial.  No one expects a lot, but small thank yous go a long way. 

For the kids, I gave them bubbles, which I do every year.  I like gifts that will amuse them but are still disposable enough (I am a bit of a recovering hoarder so I understand the struggle).  Sentimental kids/parents can keep the gift tags I personalize. 

10.  Thank them.  Often students will give you gifts on the last day, so have your note cards ready to write out thank you notes! 


3 Point Bonus:  Here's what I do NOT do on the last day.

1.  Take time to share what we're doing over the summer.  We have a very diverse population in terms of socio-economic status.  Some kids travel across the Atlantic and others run around their trailer parks.  It started to feel divisive to share our plans, and we have so many other things I prefer to do so I just don't bother with this.

2. Wash desks.  Washing can be messy if you're being thorough, and honestly I feel like time is better spent taking things down or packing things away because it makes a better visual impact that the space is finished with its purpose (educating the outgoing kids).  I feel like if I wash a desk I'd like to be around to enjoy it tomorrow so that sends a backwards message to them.  I wash them after the custodians do the floors and set them out for the next class. 

3.  Party.  I like to have parents in for a party a few days before the last day.  For the last day, I want the kids all to myself one last time.  So although I do celebrate in a small way on the last day, it's not an hour long party. 

What are your biggest Dos and Don't for the last day of school? 















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Sunday, June 16, 2019

Summer Professional Learning Goals for Teachers



Do you have any professional learning goals this summer?  I'm participating in a teacher blogger challenge from Hot Lunch Tray.  This post is week 1 of 8 in the 8 Weeks of Summer Blog Challenge for Educators.  I am taking a "meat fork approach" to my summer PD with an online course and attempt into online planning.  Points to you if you can tell from that reference what show I'm recently binging.  

Over the past 2 years I have been taking a few graduate courses and the one I'm currently finishing up is all about Anchor Charts.  I am loving this course.  I feel like I'm getting PD for browsing fabulous teacher blogs and Pinterest.  Of course, I'm learning actionable steps and reflecting on how I apply what I've seen in my own teaching, but it's one of the most fun courses I've ever taken for graduate credits.  If you want to look up this course here's my affiliate link for Advancement Courses.  I already have a master's degree and although I don't currently have plans to get a second, my district does offer salary advancement for taking graduate courses.  If you're not sure if yours does too, look into it! 

Another less formal way I plan to develop my teaching is trying online planning through Google Drive.  I've used the LMNOplanner for a couple years because I love the look of it and it's more streamlined than many of the others on TpT.  This year our principal is retiring so I'm not sure what our next principal's expectations will be for planbooks.  Our current principal hinted we might want to look into online planning in case she likes to collect them.  So I'm looking into the process of using Google Slides.  I already looked at A Modern Teacher's videos for setting up an online planbook, and I think this is where I want to start.  I tried Planbook.com and didn't like the feeling of putting all my work onto their system.  I feel like Google isn't going anywhere so it's a more long term, secure storage space.  I don't know if the LMNOplanner will work on Google Drive, but I'm going to give it a try!  

I think that will pretty much be it for my summer professional development because I will be traveling.  I kind of want to recharge and reset before finding out what my new principal's expectations are.  I have a few hobbies I'm pursuing as well, but that's a post for another time.  Are you planning any summer PD? 







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