Thursday, July 31, 2014

Blowing Chunks

Our society has become obsessed with the "chunk of information."  Chunking has its place. Without chunking, I wouldn't remember my phone number, my social security number, or how to spell the word "restaurant."  Chunking is a great strategy for emerging readers who are trying to make sense of how all those letters form bigger words.  


I sometimes feel like a lot of people now prefer chunk over substance.  I'm not being a hypocrite here.  One of those people is me.  Look, if you can send me a text instead of calling me, please do.  "Just the facts, ma'am."  What day of the week does a T.V. show that I like come on?  Who knows, I watch it in chunks of three episodes at a time (or maybe a whole season without leaving my bed except to find cookies, don't judge me) because I don't want to wait until the next episode.  Like Veruca Salt would say "I want it now!"

Also, I am a magazine addict.  There, I said it.  I've gotten a handle on it though because I don't buy them anymore.  I will gladly take them if they're donated.  I get allergy shots every week and I have to sit for 30 minutes so I read theirs for free.  Or, and I might be the ONLY person in America who does this, I look for the longest line at the grocery store and binge as much gossip as possible while I wait.  Here is what I have noticed.  In many of these publications (read: not highbrow, don't judge me) the articles are getting shorter and shorter.  Often, it is a lot of pictures with a highlighted box of information. One "chunk," if you will.  I find this alarming.  

Look at any news channel.  Scrolling along the bottom of the screen are chunks of information.  I have seen people at the gym (I mean, I go a few times a year, whatever, don't judge me) who watch the news channel intently, without sound, just to read the chunks.  

We have reached an amazing time in our society when one can very easily become over saturated, overstimulated, and overwhelmed with information.  I think it is natural for it to be chunked, mostly for time management.  However, just because you decoded the word with chunking doesn't mean you don't keep reading.  That's where I become concerned.  

I had the privilege to present and work with a group of new teachers today and one part of our discussion focused on some great read alouds.  Two books that I love and have read to my students are "Where the Red Fern Grows," and "Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of Nimh."  Both of these books are long.  Both of them are challenging reads for 5th graders and contain a lot of mature discussion points and top notch vocabulary.  However, part of what my kids have loved about these novels is how invested they become in the story.  The intricate details that move the action and intrigue and delight the reader/listeners is what they crave.  And the accomplishment that they feel at the end is akin to an adventurer who now has a unique story to share.  I want to instill that passion in them because I know that they are going into a world where the chunk has become acceptable and, perhaps, even normal.  

I realized as I was talking to the newbies today that I am a passionate teacher but at the heart of my instruction is the love of reading.  Reading ability carries over into math ability and content areas.  And to become better readers they must practice that craft and read, read, read.  Not chunks, but whole books that will challenge them, engage them, and push them on a path of self-discovery. (Granted, they read it in chunks but the chunks go together to make a whole, you follow?)

I don't think chunks of information are all bad.  However, are they helping me grow as a reader or just allowing me to move on and not challenge myself, exercise my inquiry, or explore new content, ideas, or characters.  

For my kids and for every reader, I hope that you ensure that your reading has substance sometimes.  Find a balance.  Model it.  And, occasionally, you can still get chunky. 

(don't judge me)

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Ice, Ice, Baby

I am honored to have been asked to present to a group of new teachers tomorrow.  I typed this up as part of my presentation but I thought it would be a great blog post too.  I can't wait to share my "Year 3 wisdom" with them and I'm excited to see where these new connections will lead us!



Hey New Teacher, I was in your shoes and I'm going to "keep it real" for you.  Your first year is going to be tough.  There will be days that you are feeling overwhelmed, unsupported, and unsure of your decision to enter this wonderful career.  And that's O.K.  Seriously, you're not the first new teacher to feel like this and you won't be the last.  However, the first thing I need you to do is: 


Wait, wait, come back New Teacher! I didn't mean stop teaching.  No, you have chosen the best profession.  You are shaping our future, modeling the culture of your community, and you are VITAL.  YOU, my friend, have the most wonderful task on earth with the greatest benefits.  So don't stop teaching.  But do:

  • STOP thinking you are by yourself.  You're not.  Find a teacher buddy.  If you aren't sure who, just ask.  Or, go peek into classrooms and see which one you would like to be in.  Go ask that teacher for some time.  I bet he/she will be happy to give it to you. 
  • STOP comparing yourself to the veteran teacher down the hall who has so many plaques outside their room that it looks like a second doorway.  Or the male teacher with the cool socks that all the kids look up to. Or the amazing teacher in that book you just read (because I know you want to hone your craft and that is a great way to do it.)  You don't expect your students to walk in on Day 1 knowing it all so give yourself a break too.  Mistakes will help you grow. Asking for help is not a weakness, it's a sign that you care.  
  • STOP letting school consume your entire life.  Now, I understand that you will need to stay late and take some stuff home.  That's ok.  As you grow you'll find routines that help you manage that stuff.  However, if you don't remember to have some "You" time, "You" will burn out and be no good to your kids, your school, or yourself.  Let some things wait. Go see a movie. Be the teacher that cares, but not just about the kids, about yourself as well.  Everyone will benefit. 


Not only do you have an AMAZING RD2 Mentor but there is a whole world out there full of teachers who are growing and experiencing some of the same things you are.  Not to mention, there are teachers in your building who would love to try something new and hear the fresh perspective you can bring.  You were hired because you have a unique quality that they wanted, so make sure to bring it! You don't have to do it alone though.  With technology, you can even find a friend in another state or another country.  Twitter has a vast network of educators that are looking for collaborative opportunities.  Or, chat with your IT person or librarian.  You have lots of people and resources that are there to help you succeed.  PLEASE use them.  You aren't alone and you don't have to be alone.  Your kids will thank you for it and everyone will benefit. 


I'm going to be honest.  This was a tough one for me.  I walked in thinking that I was going to be the most special, amazing, awesome teacher.  I was going to write all my own lessons with a fresh perspective and chock full of creative energy and learning fun.  I had big expectations of myself and I just didn't listen when others tried to share their lesson plans with me.  I could do it all!  But I couldn't.  I don't think anyone can.  Listen, really listen, when other teachers share their methods.  Listen when they make suggestions, and listen when they tell you what didn't work for them.  That doesn't mean you aren't awesome (I am!) but it does help you to find what works best for you.  That was the worst thing to hear in my first year but it's true.  However, "what works best for you" is something you learn over time. It's a process.  Allow the aid of your PLN (Professional Learning Network) to guide you so that you can realize the full potential of all that awesomeness.  

And, last, but possibly most important, LISTEN to your students.  They are the reason you work so hard and give so much.  And they totally make it all worthwhile in the end.  Please listen to them because they love you so much and they will tell you everything you need to know.  Listen to them, not just when you ask a question, but when they are talking to others, reading out loud, or sharing during Morning Meeting. The more you listen, the more you will hear and you will create a community that will last a lifetime.  Everyone will benefit.   

So, New Teacher, go and enjoy your 1st year.  When in doubt, just stay cool... think of Vanilla Ice, Ice, baby. You got this. 

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Calling all wizards, fairies, unicorns, students and other magical creatures

Maybe my next classroom tool should be a wand. 

I was having a great chat with a friend today who is a new mom.  Somehow we started talking about Christmas and the Jolly Elf himself, Santa Claus.  She wasn't sure if that was a tradition that she felt comfortable continuing with her daughter.  Here's the thing: 

  • I'm not a mom
  • This isn't about Christmas or how you celebrate or don't
  • I'm not suggesting we have Christmas in school 

I totally saw where she was coming from.  She wants her child to know that presents are something that are given by people who worked hard for them.  Plus, she doesn't want to lie to her kid.  Here's the thing, though. Isn't the line between imagination and lying pretty darn thin?

It got me thinking.  What's wrong with a little bit of magic?  Can educators do both?  Give the facts but throw in a little magic too?  I would like to think so.  

Later, I got on Twitter (because that is what I do now) and I read that someone was in need of a unicorn for his 4 year old daughter.  It's what she requested for her birthday.  Why not?

Kids SHOULD be encouraged to play, create, fantasize, dream, invent, and expect the impossible.  Life is going to rain down upon them in a fury of decisions, bills, and responsibility.  Let them have this.  Foster the fun of being a kid.  

I say bring back the magic!  It isn't a lie if you hold your fingers crossed behind your back, promise. 

Monday, July 28, 2014

Happy School New Year!

Happy School New Year!

I mean, really?  Why isn't this celebrated?  In our society, we all pay for and benefit from public education.  We should be celebrating the 1st day back to school!  It isn't just about new clothes, cool lunchboxes, and a Spiderman backpack (ok, maybe a little).  It is a time for students, parents, and teachers to reevaluate, resume, and reset to a new year full of potential and huge growth gain.  

I just commented on a fellow blogger's post (@ChEdTN) and it got me thinking that teachers need to change our image.  Of course summer is awesome.  However, if school is full of amazing opportunities, hands-on learning challenges, and world-wide technology connections, shouldn't kids be lining up to get back in?

So I'm making some goals: 

1. Make my classroom a place that oozes excitement and allows inquiry so that kids can't wait to come back. 

2. Encourage everyone to say "Happy School New Year" and not long for the days of no alarm clock.

3. Use my new connections to invigorate my room, my school, and my parents so that they can't wait to come in and visit. 

I think I better stop there.  These are pretty lofty.  But I think with your help we can do this.  My kids deserve it and so do I.  Let's make this happen!  If it works out, it might be so successful that they make "Happy New School Year" Day a National Holiday. Wait...

#2:30 #blogadaychallenge #blogamonth #July

Sunday, July 27, 2014


Oh, how I love the hash tag! It has become my new best friend.  Plus, I have what I like to think of as a "flair" for sarcasm and that little # can let me be as witty as I want to be.  Or at least I think so!  

On the other hand, it can motivate me.  

I recently became slightly obsessed with twitter chats.  I'm going to indulge it for a couple more weeks since I can play with my schedule right now.  I know once my alarm starts going off again at 5:00 a.m. my attendance will dip drastically.  For now though, these have become my new hangouts:

  • #ruraledchat (I'm not rural but they're awesome so they don't mind)
  • #satchatwc (I'm not West Coast but I do like to sleep in on Saturdays)
  • #sunchat
  • #NT2t (This time it does apply)
  • #slowchated
  • #caedchat (Wrong coast,I lurked it)
  • #nbtchat (No Box Thinking)
  • #weirded (Do it, and buy the book)
  • #whatisschool
And there are about a gazillion others.  I want to get in on #SCed but I just can't stop watching True Blood (even though it is really letting me down, but that is a whole other blog post).  

And here is the thing about all these chats... they are full of educators! Full of big ideas! Full of people who just want to live, laugh, and learn.  These are my people. And, today, I got motivated by this little # to do the 30 day blog challenge.  It's perfect timing because I just started it yesterday and the best way to make anything great is to make it. 

So, here we go. #Day1 #nopressure #Itsgonnabegreat #pleasefollow #andcomment 

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Dear Future Me:

"This is it. This is how it all began."

That is what I am going to say one day when I look back and try to place a finger on how the most exciting journey in my life began.  I didn't realize I was even planning a trip.  I didn't go out and buy new clothes, check Google Maps, or even get fancy new hot pink luggage.  It just happened.  And isn't that when you have the most fun?

When I started this career, this whirlwind, this profession, this calling, this mission, this most important and necessary way to spend my days, nights, and dreams called teaching I had no idea just how much I needed it.  I didn't let teaching discover me until after I had already gone to college once, had other jobs, enjoyed personal success, floundered through personal failure, lost loved ones, bought my own things, house, and car.  So, I thought I was ready.  I could manage adults, surely, I could manage children.  

Here's the thing: My first year was hard. 

There was so, so, so much to love: 
  • Kids are hilarious
  • Discounts at garage sales
  • Being incredibly proud to tell people what I do for a living
  • Dance breaks
  • Watching a child grow with confidence
  • Hearing a child say "Thank you," or "I'm sorry," and knowing that they learned it, in part, because of you
I wrote 74,382 more bullet points, but I think you get the gist.  I knew I was where I wanted to be. I loved my classroom, my co-workers, my school, my students (even the challenging ones).  

However, I didn't realize how tired I would be.  I didn't realize how much I needed to reflect at the end of the day and how much hurt I would take home for the students that needed more than I could give (legally, financially, emotionally, academically).  It was hard for me to talk to other people that haven't been in the classroom because I knew they wanted to help but I just felt insulted when they made suggestions.  It was as if they didn't think I was good enough.  I left school every day feeling like I had failed someone, including myself.  I didn't have anyone to talk to because I didn't want to seem negative.  I loved it. It was killing me. 

Thankfully, I made it.  My first summer recharged me.  I read books that got me inspired again, felt encouraged by my end of year student and parent comments and started Year Two at full charge.  Things were great!  I was feeling more confident.  I wasn't feeling like sneaking out of the window or crying in the bathroom.  I took risks. I used technology to connect and not just as a research tool. 

BUT, there's always a BUT. 

I wanted more.  I wanted to find a way to keep that excitement going, push myself, have professional discussions, LIVE LIKE A TEACHER, and not drive my friends and co-workers crazy.  Then, it happened.  I was asked to travel with a team from my school to some convention called ISTE 2014.  Talk about a technology alarm clock.  

And, BAM! Here I am.  In one month I have "traveled" across the globe, begun forming an amazing PLN (Professional Learning Network), and found thousands of ways to be inspired.  

There were moments in Year One that I thought I was done.  I didn't think I was good enough.  Year Two built my confidence but I still always had that feeling that my proverbial "skirt" was stuck in my tights.  

In one month of using Twitter as a tool, instead of just a social media button on my phone that I didn't quite understand, I have come to love my voice.  I'm not just proud of myself and the best practices that I am doing and have discussed with others.  I am proud of this profession and the amazing people that are working for our future generations.  The power of "breaking down the walls" as I have heard many times in varied education forums isn't just for our students.  We can become empowered as well.  I chatted with multiple administrators this morning in the #NT2t chat in a way that I haven't felt confident doing with the ones in my own district.  And, for the record, it's not them... it's me.  Or it was.  I'm ready now.  

So, Year Three.  It's coming and it's going to be ELECTRIC!  I can barely contain my excitement to spread the word.  I know what to ask for.  I'm returning with a bookshelf of great ideas, the power of limitless blogs, and I even got a Google Educator certificate.  PD because I was passionate.  Maybe that will work on kids too...

So.  Here it is.  This is my blog.  I'm going to push myself to grow, learn, inspire, create, and TEACH.  I'm nervous.  It might get overwhelming.  I might have veteran teachers get annoyed by my enthusiasm. I might even have to defend my beliefs.  It's going to be ok.  I've got a growing PLN in my Pocket (that's an App and I know that now). 

Like I said, it's been a month.  I feel like a baby giraffe with wobbly legs and I barely know what I am doing.  However, I now see where I am going.  And I'm building up my toolkit so I can get there.  

Dear Future Me: This is where it all began, I can't wait to see where it goes.