Thursday, March 16, 2017

Are you actually DEVELOPING with professional development?


I recently attended one of my favorite conferences, the annual Conference on the Young Years, at the Lake of the Ozarks in Missouri.  I have attended this conference multiple times both as a registrant and presenter, college student and teacher professional, and I always walk away feeling refreshed and revitalized to go back into my classroom and put what I've learned into practice.  However, the handouts, notes, folders, and materials I bring back each year, often end up on my desk, buried under the inevitable stack of assessments, lesson plans, report cards, etc. that pile up.  Now, don't get me wrong, I have every intention of implementing the new strategy I learned about or try out the new activity, I really do!  Don't we all?  But somehow life and other priorities get in the way.  Sigh.
This year, however, the conference coincided perfectly with a small comment from a student and a conversation with my district on professional development - both of which, have got me thinking... 
You see, the day before I left for the conference was one of those insane, "Will I make it through today without screaming, crying or at least drinking some wine?" kind of days... not only did I have a semi sick kiddo at home, packing to do and sub plans to make, I had three meetings on my schedule - 1. my weekly grade level collaboration over my planning time, 2. our building's PLC (Professional Learning Community) team meeting at the end of the day, and 3. our district's PDC (Professional Development Committee) meeting after school.  Three meetings.  One day. Oy.  

While I understand the value of professional development and actively seek out opportunities of interest, there is always a pang of guilt when time is taken away from my classroom and my students - time I could be teaching valuable lessons or information.Well, as you can imagine, three meetings in one day for a teacher meant that at some point I would have to leave my students with another teacher for a short period of time.  Since I am on two different committees this year, this happens frequently and my students are aware of the reason for my absence and the procedures for carrying on without me in a team teacher's classroom.  Early on in the school year, I explained the reason for so many meetings to my students - put simply in five year old terms - teachers have meetings throughout the year to help us learn how to be better teachers and take care of our students.   On this particular day, as we were nearing the end of the day, I reminded my students of my meeting and that they would be spending time in the classroom next door.  Suddenly, a student exasperatedly shouted out, "But you already know how to teach!  Why do you have to go?"
At first, I felt proud.  "My students think I'm an excellent teacher and don't want me to go!  Awwww!  So sweet!"  However, my next thought was...."Wait, why do I have to go?  Are these meetings really benefiting my teaching and my students?"  Hmmmmm.... Later that day, I went on to my third and final meeting where our district PD team began discussion on professional development opportunities for our staff and what we wanted that to look like.  You see, I am fortunate to work in a school district that not only recognizes the changes happening in education, but strives to support teachers so they are able to grow with those changes.   During our discussion, we looked at several blog posts by George Cuoros.  One the articles, "The Students are Paying Attention", resonated with me.  
In the article, Cuoros makes the point, "After professional learning days, educators should share what they learned, and what they are going to do moving forward with their students."  Teachers are often begging for professional development opportunities, but after receiving them, the follow through does not always happen.  So where is the disconnect?  Is there just not enough time to implement?  Is there not enough time to reflect and process?  Was the professional development topic not something the teacher was passionate about learning more information on?  Whatever the disconnect, teachers should hold themselves accountable to their students and be a model of a lifelong learner.  

This comment and this article combined have caused some inward reflection on the role professional development plays in my career.  What am I getting from professional development opportunities?  Are they ACTUALLY changing the way I approach my classroom each morning?  Or is just a wasted day?  From this reflection I have realized a few things...
1.  I believe professional development is necessary for teacher growth and in turn student growth.
2.  I believe not all professional development is created equal.
3.  I believe teachers should have a choice in their professional development opportunities - we differentiate student learning, why not teacher learning?  
4.  I believe teachers should be held accountable for their learning and growth - not to administration - but to themselves and their students.  
5.  I believe teachers should be active seekers of professional development opportunities that interest them and their personal and professional goals. 
After spending two days at the Conference on the Young Years, I knew I wanted to demonstrate lifelong learning to my students and show them something new I gained - incorporate something new into our classroom.  I challenged myself to find at least three pieces I could bring back to my classroom and IMMEDIATELY implement.  Even with the sessions that proved more difficult to incorporate, I was able to find something to reflect on and bring back.  
During the conference, there was a discussion of helping students be ACTIVE and INVOLVED learners.  Are we speaking WITH children, helping them expand their knowledge through genuine conversation and reflection?  My mind instantly went to the multiple assessments I had given to my students in the weeks prior to end third quarter - was I really spending time with students and discussing the results with my students?  Giving feedback?  As a professional presenter and learner - I crave feedback.  How can I improve?  What worked and what didn't?  Why am I not giving my students the same opportunity?  I decided I would create an "Assessment Self-Reflection" form to use with my students immediately after giving them an assessment.  This would be a way to open up conversation with my students on their learning in my classroom.  Did they really feel confident and prepared while being assessed?  As a teacher, I hope the answer is always yes, but what if the answer is no???  I can easily print this off and attach it to the front of the assessment for parents to have a better idea of what was assessed, their child's self-reflection, and any feedback from the teacher.  Get your copy by clicking the picture below!

The next session I attended was on technology use in the classroom.  While I am slowly venturing into the technology realm, I am nowhere near comfortable to teach others about it.  All I can say is I LOVE ADOBE SPARK!  I learned enough about it's capabilities through demonstrations and experimenting that I was able to create this fun little video of my students' writing!  I have many plans for this app in my classroom including social stories for a student of mine and individual student writing reports!  My kiddos were excited to be involved and see the end result as well!  I encourage you to try it out!

Finally, I perhaps spent the most time reflecting on my own session.  I presented on using hands on learning activities to teach ELA and math concepts.  While doing the prep work for the presentation and then reflecting afterward, my thought was, "Yes.  This is great, but what ELSE can I do?"  Maybe it's the perfectionist in me, but I find myself looking on how to expand.  I decided I wanted to encourage and support more hands on learning opportunities for my students and their parents at HOME.  How can I make learning more fun for THEM?  Yes, I send home a homework packet.  It's simple and quick but it's not.....FUN.  And not reflective of my classroom or how I believe students learn best.  This week we had Kindergarten Parent Learning Day.  It was a block of time in the afternoon where parents could come into the classroom and participate in learning activities with their child.  This was the perfect opportunity to show parents a simple hands on activity and discuss why those kinds of activities are important for their child's education.  

I used my Editable Card Games pack and typed up subtraction problems within 10.  I then provided the following mat to each student.  In groups, students took turns pulling a card from a bag (cute little bunny bags from Target Dollar Spot of course!).  The student would read the subtraction problem and use jelly beans to solve the problem on their mat.  

Parents enjoyed seeing the hands on approach and had fun participating in the activity with their child!  To grab this freebie - just click on the pictures below.  I added a jellybean card page for you to put your own equations on!  :)

Additional;y, I've decided I want to take control over as much of my PD as I can.  This summer, two fellow bloggers Deedee Wills and Reagan Tunstall, are offering a professional development opportunity in my home state.  I know this will be a beneficial PD day and something I will benefit from.  This is a great opportunity for me to grow as an educator and I am actually SUPER PUMPED about it!  To check out the conference information click on the link below!  

Whatever the professional development opportunities look like in your district, or building, or center, I invite you to self evaluate.  Do you have input in decisions regarding what PD is offered?  If so, are giving your input?  If not, talk to your principal, the superintendent, your the dialogue.  When you do participate in professional development opportunities, are you an active learner yourself?  Are you actively seeking information and content you can take back to your classroom?  Are you taking time for processing and reflection?  Are you given that time from administration?  If not, ask for it.

Professional development opportunities are meant to help us grow as educators.  When approached with the right attitude and supported correctly by administration, teachers can BLOOM and students will benefit. 

Today is a district PD day for us and I am going in with an open mind, positive attitude and inquisitive spirit...can't wait to see what the day holds!  

Sunday, January 1, 2017

New Year's Resolutions


I know everyone says this but I CANNOT believe it is 2017!  Seriously!  How did we get here?  Yesterday I had a little moment of disbelief.  I was shopping at the mall and in line at a register where a young girl was applying for a store credit card.  I overheard her birthday and the year was 1997.  And I thought, wait.  1997?  But that makes you like ten right?  Girl, surely you are not old enough for this.  Wait....Oh, nope that makes you 19.  19!  Time is flying by way too fast and I'm really starting to feel my age y'all.....

Anyway....2017 is here and with the new year comes new resolutions and fresh starts.  This isn't just personally for me, it's professionally too.  Over Christmas break, I spent some time regrouping, relaxing and rearranging my classroom, getting it prepared for the new year.  New centers, new name tags, new activities, new know the drill.  With all of this 'new', also comes a new attitude.  The first half of the school year is over and as we round the bend to the second half of the year I feel a fresh start is needed.  In fact, it's time for a confession.  I admit it.  The first semester wore me out friends.  Please someone tell me I'm not the only one!  I love doing what I do.  I.  LOVE. MY.  JOB.  But as we drew closer to December it was getting harder to LIKE it.  Class parties, endless meetings, paperwork, the excitement (and craziness of the holidays), those few students who had been happily tap dancing  on my last nerve, plus that 'pile of things I'll take care of over break' that had grown to maximum capacity......all added up and truthfully, I. WAS. DONE.  

So over break I did take care of *most* of that massive pile, but I also took some much needed time to just BE.  I took a step back and did what I wanted.  If that meant sleeping in, or drinking coffee and watching Gilmore Girls all day, or playing with my girls and not even thinking about school, it didn't matter.  I DID IT.  And I LOVED IT.  This much needed step back, gave me time to rest and clear my mind.  It also gave me an opportunity to think with a level head on some of the changes I need to make in my classroom.  While there were A LOT of ideas and thoughts around what I should change, there were three that kept coming back to my heart.  While I can change my centers, change my room arrangement, and change my schedule, the biggest change needed for the new year was me.  Here's a quick list of my New Years' resolutions for the next half of the year.

1. LAUGH MORE - If I had a goal of one thing I wanted to accomplish this school year, it would be that I want my students to love coming to school.  Yes, I want them to learn.  Yes, I want them to walk away capable thinkers and doers.  Yes, I want them to handle situations appropriately and be respectful individuals.  But first and foremost, I want my students to LOVE COMING TO SCHOOL.  Because truthfully, if students love coming to your class everyday, they will learn, they will become great thinkers and doers, and they will learn to be respectful.  So I want to have more fun.  Laugh more, play more, experiment more, be silly more.  Because students will remember how you made them feel above all else.  

2. SLOW DOWN - Let's face it.  There are A LOT of things we are required to include in our lesson plans every day.  Sometimes it's hard not to get caught up in 'fitting it all in'.  But is cramming information in really what's best for our students?  I find myself adding extra pressure on myself to follow the book and keep everything on track.  Sheesh I'm tough on myself!  Allowing our schedules (and ourselves) to be more flexible, following our students' lead and spending more time on difficult or student led topics is more beneficial to student learning.  Just remember, they are little and need more time and hands on practice to understand concepts we've understood for years.  I'm going to slow down, breathe, and take my time this new year. 

3. SMALL GROUPS - One thing that has become very apparent in my classroom this first semester, is the vast and varying needs of my students.  I am carving out time in my classroom schedule to spend quality time with small groups and individual students - targeting goals together, practicing skills and building relationships.  My goal is to practice engage in more intentional teaching and focus on  activities for small groups and individuals to help students meet goals and become more successful in the classroom.  I plan to do this through small math groups, student conferencing every Friday and using a classroom literacy aide more intentionally while she is in my classroom - shifting my focus from the whole classroom to more individual.  

The truth is, none of us is perfect.  Sometimes we get off track and the things we've always known and done have gotten pushed to the back.  Now is a good time for a fresh start and fresh perspective. :) What are you working on in this new year?  I'd love to hear from you!    

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Election Day Fun!

Hi friends!  Whew!  It's been almost two months since my last blog post!  Can you say CRAZY.  TOWN.  I forget how insane the first quarter of kindergarten can be.  I am finally starting to feel like I can breathe.  A little. 

What better time to get back into the blogging rhythm then the presidential election!  While my personal feelings regarding the election are preventing me from getting too pumped (I'm honestly thinking about fleeing the country...think Canada will take me?...) I have been excited to share the democratic process with my students!  Here are a few fun and easy ideas!

In a typical school year, my students have many opportunities to vote and express their opinions and choices in our classroom.  However, for today, my kindergarten team wanted to kick it up a notch.  We decided we would have all of our kindergarten students vote on their favorite cookie - Oreo or chocolate chip.  We set up a 'voting booth' in the hallway using old testing cubbies and hung curtains on them for privacy.  Then students from each class took turns making their vote.  The results will be tallied this evening and our kindergarten students will get to enjoy our yummy winner in the morning!  I'm secretly hoping Oreo wins!  ;)


While I was excited about the idea of the entire kindergarten voting as one (especially on a cookie...) I felt that I needed to do something additional within my classroom to help my students understand just how important the presidential election is and how long term the results are.  While scanning Instagram one night, I came across this blog post from Crayons and Cuties and I instantly fell in love!  Take home reading buddies has been something I have been wanting to start for some time now.  Students will be able to take home a special storybook character, along with several books starring that character, for a few days to read with their families.  I love the idea of putting literature into the homes of my students, as well as getting my lower readers excited about spending time with a book.  Jennifer's idea for an election to choose the class reading buddy for the year was PERFECT!

I started by choosing three characters by students would know and love - Elephant and Piggie from the beloved Mo Willems books, Clifford, and Bear from the Karma Wilson series.  I then created 'campaign speeches' for each of the candidates to explain why that candidate would be the best take home reading buddy, and why my students should vote for them.  

We discussed the importance of our votes being private and using our own mind to make the decision - not being influenced by what a friend is choosing, but using your heart and brain to make the best choice.  We used a collapsible writing center set on our stage as a make shift voting booth.  All of my students were very serious about their peers not seeing their answers and they were so proud to have the opportunity to vote in such an important election!  (P.S. Elephant and Piggie were the winners!)

After voting, we talked about how proud people in our country are for the chance to be able to vote for their president - not everyone has this opportunity and that's why we show our pride by wearing stickers.  Of course, then  we HAD to have stickers to show off how proud we were!  :)

We read My Teacher for President and discussed the qualities a president needs to be a good leader - which were very similar to being a good teacher.... ;) 

We also make an American flag snack....because why not?!  I found these blue Sixlet candies in the birthday party section at Wal-Mart!!!! #winning

We wrapped up our election focus by discussing our future and that anyone can be a future president.   You just need to be a good, kind person and work hard!  Can't wait to see where the future takes this class of sweet little Kindergartners!  Cheers!

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

10 Things To Do Before Back to School: #10

I know I know, I haven't posted my 10th thing to do before you start back to school.  Guess what?  It's because I've been doing it - FULLY.  The final item I have is remember to take time for yourself and your family.  

Back to school is not only hard on you, but your whole family.  My children don't get the well rested, refreshed mommy they had over the summer, they get the tired, worn out, overworked back to school mommy - and it's no fun for anyone.  I feel overwhelmed - with a to do list that never ends and the worry and stress of the upcoming year keeping me up at night.

While I know it's difficult (TRUST ME, I KNOW!) try to remember to take time to just have fun.  Enjoy a movie night, read a book that isn't professional development, take a day trip, eat the ice cream, laugh, and smile.  

This summer, leading up to the beginning of school, my girls and I enjoyed a trip to the Science Center in STL, some shopping, days at the park and evening walks in our neighborhood.  We also multiple movies nights and sleepovers in mommy's bed.  Whatever makes your soul happy, do it.  Life's too short not to!  You need it!  You will be a better teacher for it in the end!

Sunday, August 21, 2016

10 Things To Do Before Back to School: #9


As you get closer to your school year starting, it can be easy to feel overwhelmed and maybe even negative about the beginning of school.  The first day/week/month of school can be STRESSFUL for everyone involved and it's hard not to get caught up in our own little overworked bubble.   

I am fortunate to work in a building and district where everyone truly supports their teachers and comes together for the greater good.  Before school even begins, we come together to discuss the upcoming school year and get pumped for job ahead of us.  My district has a "Welcome Back" breakfast the day before school starts every year.  Teachers from all over our district come together and eat breakfast, catch up, and get excited.  This year was no exception.  We celebrated together a teacher who fought and survived brain cancer over the past two years and is now back in the classroom.  We celebrated a high school student who has won national honors with a speech he wrote.  We celebrated and welcomed new staff to our district and we look at our district's strategic plan so we know exactly where we are headed.  

I look forward to this breakfast every year.  Some view it as something else staff have to sit through before school starts, but I view it as an opportunity to celebrate a fresh start, another year, another chance to make a difference.  This year, my favorite part was when we were asked to write down why we were proud to work in the district we do.  For me, there are so many reasons.  Both as a teacher and parent, I am proud of the teachers our district has and the work that is done to take care of the whole child.  It's truly awe inspiring.  After writing down our thoughts, we took pictures and put them on social media with the hashtag #jr2proud.  It's so fun to look and see all of the reasons on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter why we are proud to work for our district.  

♥ My Kindergarten team is the bomb!!! ♥

No matter what you do or your district does to get pumped or excited, jump in head first.  Have a positive attitude.  Let go of what happened last year.  Look forward to the year ahead.  Maybe this will be the year you start feeling really good about teaching that concept that used to scare you.  Or maybe you join a new committee and you really start feeling like you are making a difference.  Not only do you NEED and DESERVE a fresh start, students and families do too.  Maybe this year, you'll be the teacher that child finally connects with, or that teacher a mom feels she can really express her concerns to.  What ever good is going to happen, is needs to start with a positive attitude.  So start your year ready to rock and roll rock star.  You got this!  

Friday, August 12, 2016

10 Things To Do Before Back to School: #8

The next tip I have for getting ready for back to school involves setting goals with students.  While students may not be in your classroom yet, you can begin to think about what you want your students' goals to look like, how you will track them, and how you will celebrate successes.  

Goal setting is the process of establishing an outcome (a goal) to serve as the aim of one's actions. 

It also gives students a clear explanation of where they are going and why you are doing what you’re doing in your classroom – a purpose for their learning.

Goals may be relatively close at hand (proximal) such as reading one chapter tonight, or more long term (distant) such as reading one chapter by the end of the current week. Proximal goals lead to higher motivation directed toward goal attainment than do long-term goals (Bandura, 1986). 

I have found that implementing student goals in my classroom dramatically changes student learning.   When students are a part of the decision making process regarding what they would like to work on, what the goal should be and what happens when they reach that goal, they are more motivated to work toward it.  

Here are some steps to help you get started:

1.Decide if you are going to have one similar long term goal for all students or individual long term goals.
2.Choose 1 – 2 goals that are TOP PRIORITY.
3.Decide how you are going to measure/track those goals.
4.Decide how often you are going to check on progress
5.Celebrate successes.

Choosing a long term goal with a student or class is important, but you should be able to break down that goal into smaller, short term goals.  

Long Term Goal: Every student will increase the number of sight words read by the end of the school year.
Short Term Goal: Max will increase the number of sight words read by ten by the end of the first quarter.

Deciding how and how often you will track student goals really depends on you and your students.  Typically I check student goals every other week.  Higher risk students are checked more frequently - maybe even once or twice a week - to be sure they are progressing toward their goal. 

The important thing to remember is that, although each student may be working toward the same goal (increasing number of sight words read) that can (AND SHOULD!) look different for each kiddo.  A struggling reader may focus on having the goal of increasing only two or three words over the quarter, while another may increase by 12.  It's important to make the goals challenging - yet attainable - for each student in your class.  Otherwise, students will not reach goals and their motivation to learn will suffer. 

I use my student goal tracking forms to set goals with my students.  They are very teacher and kid friendly!

To look at these forms just click on the picture below!

If you want to have a place in your classroom to track student goals and celebrate as a whole class, here are some things to consider.  Do you want student data and information to be displayed?  Do you want each student's goal to be displayed?  I personally don't like having individual student goals available for everyone.  That should be kept private and be a conversation between teacher, student and family.  I do, however, like to give students a way to see how their friends are progressing on their goals.  Students are great motivators for each other and it's an opportunity to teach children about supporting one another.  

In our early childhood classrooms, our teachers have done a FABULOUS job of making student goals exciting for their young students.  

This teacher has a space theme.  When students make their goal their picture is placed on Earth.  When they are halfway to their goal, they are in a rocket.  And when they meet their goal they land on the moon!  All students are working on the same standard (i.e. counting) but each student has an individualized goal to work toward so they can be successful. 

This teacher did the same concept with superheroes.  When a student sets their goal their picture is place on the board.  When they are halfway to their goal, they earn a superhero mask.  When they meet their goal, they earn a cape!  She even lets students wear a special cape in the classroom when their goal is met.  How fun?!

Breaking down larger goals in smaller tangible goals for students can prevent them from feeling overwhelmed and like they may never get there.  This teacher took the long term objective 'counts' and broke it down into it's precursors.  There are descriptions under each section that explain what a student must demonstrate to be considered meeting and a student places their marker or symbol underneath.  The goal is for students to visually see themselves progress across the standard toward the big goal.  

When students or your class reach a goal - CELEBRATE!!!  Have a class party!  Brag on your students!

I love bragging on exactly what students worked hard to learn.  Crowns or stamps that state "I know my letters!" are great ways to celebrate successes while communicating it with parents!

Whatever you do to celebrate, get your kiddos involved!   They worked hard!  :)