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

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. 

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

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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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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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. 

Introverted student in a safe space with a book 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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