IV. Teachers facilitate learning for their students. · V. Teachers reflect on their practice.

A New Year: Reflections & Goals

Every year is a chance to become better! When I first started teaching, I was surprised that I wasn’t the only one in the building there before August, already setting up, cleaning out, and preparing for a new class. Being a brand new teacher, it was obvious why I was there: I had a new classroom to de-junk; new management systems and procedures to create; new tools, programs, and protocols to learn; and a million things to wrap my head around. But as I enter into my 4th year of teaching, I’m starting to see why all teachers, not just first year teachers, have hours of work ahead in order to re-start a school year.

A teacher’s summer usually comes to a rude awakening when she enters her classroom for the very first time of the new school year, only to find every piece of furniture piled in 1 corner of the room. After days of rearranging and cleaning out junk you find that you didn’t know existed, your mindset shifts to the “list.” You know…the one that you made during the school year of all the things you would do during the summer when you had all that extra time that no longer exists. You start quickly prioritizing the list, knowing that you’ll never get it all done before the students arrive. Wait. THE STUDENTS?! Amidst all the paperwork and crazy beginning of the year deadlines, you have to prepare your room for your new class of STUDENTS. And then it hits you (particularly in the world of Kindergarten)- these are BEGINNING OF THE YEAR Kindergarteners….most of them won’t be able read or write, much less sit still for 5 minutes! Then you start digging into old lesson plans just to remember what to even teach the first week of school.  And all these stresses exist even WITHOUT changing other factors like school, grade level, teammates, and classroom. There are hardly enough hours to get your room ready for a new class, much less to get everything ready with improvements to the year before.

Experience definitely makes things easier. It gives you a structure to start with and a comfort level with the responsibilities of day-to-day teaching. But throughout the school year, little things jump out that need improvement in the classroom, whether it be an issue of management, organization, or instruction. And in the moment, it’s hard to make those improvements. That’s why there will probably never come a year when I don’t spend parts of summer thinking and planning for the next year. So I’m learning that the beginning of the year cleaning, stress, and preparation does get easier; it just doesn’t go away. You shift from thinking about how you’re going to create something out of nothing, to how you’re going to tweak something to make it better.IMG_8743

I want to hold myself accountable to yearly change, so here you have it: my first annual post where I will reflect on aspects from the last year, and set goals for how I want to improve them for the next! These action steps are works in progress…but as I put them in place and these aspects of my classroom transform, I plan to go into more depth, reflecting on these changes and sharing resources that might be helpful along the way!

 


1. Buzzworthy Work Bulletin Board

Rather than my current bulletin board with 22 clips holding up 22 pieces of student work, this board will now display pictures of student collaboration in action and QR codes with digital creations that students have made! I want to use the bulletin board in my room to showcase student learning, creations, and projects in a new and improved way.

2. Furniture: Out with the Old, in with the Innovative!

Over the past couple of years, I’ve been gradually de-cluttering my classroom and moving furniture to make more room for spaces that impact student learning. This year, I moved out a teacher desk and some shelving. With a more open room, I am excited to bring a Makerspace/STEM corner to my classroom, where old recyclables will be stored and reused and where students will get opportunities to problem-solve and create.

3. Wonder Wall/Friday Genius Hour

I still haven’t quite wrapped my mind around how I’m going to begin Genius Hour- a weekly time for students to pursue and learn about their personal passions- with my kinders; but I know that as the year progresses, we’ll get there together! I’m excited to create a Wonder Wall in my room, where students can post curiosities or questions they have. This new classroom feature can serve as a spring board for Genius Hour research, and also for whole class project based learning throughout the year!

4. Re-vamped Morning Meeting

As part of our school improvement plan action steps, our school is going school-wide with morning meetings this year! I hope to learn some new ideas to revamp this morning time my students and I use to start our day. Some ideas I’m already thinking about: Rather than always getting individual student responses around the circle, I’d like to incorporate more productive partner talk, so that we can cover more topics and have more discussion, with a little less sharing out. I’d also like to diversify our topics for discussion, for example: class mission/rules, compliments, concerns, what students are proud of/working on, feelings, academic goals, content review.

5. Homework

This year, rather than just using CMAPP (Wake County’s curriculum guide) as a resource for homework (worksheets), I have created a homework grid. The purpose of this optional grid is to provide flexibility/choice (16 tasks, all month to do it, pick the task you’re in the mood for), teach responsibility (students practice “school” skills at home to get better at them, and color the box after completion), and make homework and learning fun (tasks that get students moving and working on academic/social skills in play-based, collaborative, and family oriented ways). This homework grid will give students a resource to engage in practicing skills across the curriculum.

6. Nonfiction Leveled Readers for Research

As we work toward more voice and choice for students and more opportunities for students to research what they are passionate about, I need a greater variety of information sources for students to use. Digital tools are always great, and we have many at our disposal. But there will always be a place for books too! One challenge with K students is their (sometimes) limited reading skills. So this year, I hope to find some nonfiction leveled readers, varied in topic and also rich in information, for students to have as another research tool.

7. Easier + More Effective Data Tracking System

This one scares me, because it is a big undertaking! With K students, another challenge is conducting assessments: they usually have to be done one-on-one and take anywhere from 3-20 minutes per student depending on what is being assessed. It is a huge time waster and keeps classroom teachers from actually teaching the skills that need to be assessed. However as educators, we really need formative assessment to drive our instruction. My goal is to look at our quarterly curriculum standards, how they tie into the broad report card clusters that parents see, and for each quarter, to create a series of quick assessments/checklists that will drive our teaching and more clearly tie to report cards. As I figure out how to ensure that this new system aligns with district requirements, I will continue to share on how our new data tracking system goes!

8. Digital Portfolios

What if, by the time that each student graduated high school, he or she had a portfolio of work, all in one digital location, displaying both learning over time and showcasing his or her best work throughout the years? Rather than placing a grade on the child, a portfolio shows the potential and growth in any learner; increases motivation as students write and create for an audience; provides an opportunity for practical, 21st century learning; and saves student work collectively in a portfolio that can be shared with others. Our goal as a Kindergarten team is to have our students each creating their own digital portfolios through Google Sites, where they link their work (in Google or other forms of media) to showcase learning over time; and hopefully students will continue to add to their portfolios over the years as they learn and grow!

So here I go into year number 4! To my 2017-2018 batch of students: I am so excited to meet all of you, and to learn & take risks with you this school year!! Let’s do this!

I. Teachers demonstrate leadership. · II. Teachers establish a respectful environment for a diverse population of students. · IV. Teachers facilitate learning for their students. · V. Teachers reflect on their practice.

Mindset- Theirs and Mine

It’s amazing how mindset – a single word and concept – can be detrimental to teaching and learning, but can also be the reason for teacher and student success. Lately, I’ve been reflecting on mindset, how it affects success, and how teacher and student mindsets also affect one another.

My mindset- that of the educator:

Working many hours outside of the 8 hour day, taking the time to connect to a PLN of other educators, voluntary PD, educational reading and book studies by choice – all signs of an educator who is continuing as a learner, and consequently, an educator with the right mindset.  For some, dedicating extra time throughout the week to plan, share, and learn is a priority; but for others, these things are just “more to add to the plate.” So what’s the difference between the teacher volunteering extra time to learn and the teacher who refers to these same actions as “too much” or “overwhelming”? It’s a mindset.

Just to clarify, there are times that any job can become overwhelming; and teachers definitely experience this feeling at times throughout the school year. But when “overwhelming” turns into an excuse to avoid risk-taking, that’s when it becomes more of a mindset issue. My own mindset has been transforming from the beginning of my journey in education. To give a small example, when I started my student teaching over 3 years ago, I remember being initially surprised there was a weekly grade-level planning time (boy, did I have a lot to learn)…I assumed that teachers who had been teaching a while would just use last year’s plans to get them through each week. Those thoughts reflected my current mindset: not only did I have so much to learn about the importance of collaborative planning, but these thoughts also revealed my thinking that teachers could dedicate less time and effort to the job if they just re-used the same plans each year. Finding ways to save time can be very valuable for educators, but again, should not be an excuse to deny your students of the experience they deserve. Reflecting now and having learned so much since carrying those initial misconceptions, it’s scary to think where students today would be if we all just used “last year’s plans” every year. Sadly though, this detrimental mindset does exist; and there are teachers in our own district and beyond teaching today’s students with yesterday’s lessons and tools.

A big part of what has helped transform my own mindset over the years are other inspiring teachers and leaders constantly striving to #becomebetter. Educators are more likely to think and act with a growth, learner’s mindset when they are inspired by a leader who has one. The amount of hours we put in doesn’t define our mindset, but our thinking, along with the questions we ask ourselves, do. Every educator out there should be able to explain the steps they are taking to continue learning, and if not, then how do you expect your students to be a learner in your classroom?

So are we satisfied where we are now, or are we dedicating time to become better for our kids?

Their mindset- that of the learner:

The learner’s mindset is related to and affected by the teacher’s mindset. If you’re bored with a lesson, they probably are too. If you’re doubting your students’ ability to successfully reach your expectations, they probably are too. If you aren’t taking risks and learning more, why should they take risks and learn more? We have to model the mindset we want for our students. When teachers inspire a classroom culture of joy and innovation, combined with a strong sense of community where “mistakes” are part of the process, a growth mindset for learners will start to take shape.

I’m open with my students when I’m taking a risk with an activity they’re working on. And at the end of the lesson, after asking them to personally reflect on how it went, I often share my own “teacher” reflection with them: What went well with the lesson from my perspective? What surprised me? What would I do differently if I were going to teach this lesson again? In being transparent with my kinders, I’ve seen an increase in student self-esteem and less fear of making mistakes in the classroom. By modeling my own truthful reflections, I’ve also seen more honesty when they reflect on their success with a lesson.

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We all have someone along the way who helps inspire this mindset within us. Even as educators, we look to leaders who model this type of mindset. It is my hope that each day as I strive to model this mindset, I will inspire my students to take risks and become better too.

I. Teachers demonstrate leadership. · III. Teachers know the content they teach. · IV. Teachers facilitate learning for their students. · V. Teachers reflect on their practice.

A Whole New World: Being a Connected Educator

I set my alarm to wake up at 6 a.m. yesterday. Yes, yesterday was a Saturday, and no, I was not forced to do so. And as I sit here reflecting today, I can officially say that I GET IT –  I get why all of these other educators want to spend their Saturday together learning at EdCamps. Yesterday’s EdCamp Wake experience was full of amazing learning and connecting; and EdCamps, by design, set themselves up for these genuine experiences: attendees write down what they want to learn about, and sessions are generated based directly off of these ideas. These sessions are packed full of great information…we ask questions, share thoughts, and simply learn from each other! I attended sessions on podcasting, technology for young learners, and PBL, leaving with many takeaways in addition to takeaways gained through collaborative session notes and following the #EdCampWake twitter hashtag during the day.

But what resounds inside me most after yesterday’s experience is a thought that is in many ways new to me, and one I’ve kept coming back to for the past month: the value in being a connected educator and the excitement and learning that it brings.

We, as educators, are so much more powerful together than we are individually. Without sharing and connecting, we would each have to do all of the inventing and work ten times harder. And there is so much going on beyond the walls of just one school. During this day in age, connecting with those at your school in meetings/collaborative planning times isn’t always enough. The more people we connect with, the more fresh ideas we have access to. George Couros’ words resonate in my mind: Isolation is now a choice educators make.

So here are the ways that I am working to stay connected in the ever-changing world of education.

Twitter:

A month ago, I joined the Twitter world, and my biggest regret now is that I didn’t join sooner. I have learned so much from educators in my own school, in my district, and all over the state and beyond since creating a twitter account a month ago. How much more could I have shared and learned by getting on Twitter sooner? Outside from connecting with your own team and school, twitter is the first step to connecting on a larger scale. I have genuinely enjoyed expanding my PLN, spreading the #kindersCAN movement, and meeting and learning from so many awesome educators I never would have known, all through Twitter.

And another George Couros inspiration…

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Looking forward to starting our own Twitter challenge at WES, in hopes of increasing staff motivation to connect on Twitter and join in the fun!

Blogging:

2 weeks have passed since my first blog post, and here I am on post number 3! Even in this short amount of time, I’m realizing how little I was taking the time to sit down and ask myself the same questions I ask my students to ask themselves: How did it go? What could I change for next time? Where am I in my learning? When you look at blogging as a reflection, it’s a lot less intimidating. And really, people learn the most from hearing the thinking behind an idea or the challenges someone faced in an experience. Blogging connects educators on an even deeper level, as we take the time to share, read, and respond to one another’s personal reflections.

Awesome PD that doesn’t feel like “PD”:

Convergence. NCTIES. EdCamp Wake. These are the experiences that bring innovative educators together and inspire us to keep raising the bar. These are the moments that we get to learn together face-to-face, while building and expanding our PLNs with new educators we meet and interact with. In addition to connecting us, PD like EdCamp Wake gives educators the personalized experiences we want to provide for our students: it groups us together by common interests in what we are seeking to learn and opens up the floor to discussion-based wonders, questions, and sharing.

Connecting Classroom to Classroom:

We should never underestimate the value in class-to-class connections and opportunities for students. My kinders are currently connecting with kinders at nearby elementary school Underwood GT Magnet (teachers-Star and Tanya), to learn about community together as they seek to improve the community in some way. We’ve done a Google hangout, used Google maps to view and compare our schools, and have each student buddied up with a member of the opposite class to reflect and share with. (I’ll be sure to keep you posted on our kinder #20Time project and where it ends up taking us!) I share a little bit about this class-to-class connection to to say, that even just in these beginning stages of the project, it has been so exciting to see the meaning it has for the students and how they are so engaged in this authentic learning experience. Thanks to EdCamp there are lots of new ideas in the works for more collaborating across classrooms!

Reading:

This is my weakness…I’ll go ahead and call myself out- it’s that same old excuse of not having the time. But it ends here. I usually keep an ongoing list of all the books I plan to read to further my professional growth, knowing that during the summer, I’ll order them all and read them when I have time. But I know I’m missing out on learning by waiting till summer. So I’m MAKING the time, and I’m starting today. I can’t wait to connect with educators by reading their stories and their learning. And by taking this step, I open myself up to the opportunity for additional book studies with other educators.


This whole idea of being connected is something Kelsey and I just shared about at a staff meeting this past Thursday…in hopes that more would want to become part of this awesome, connected world of educators – a world that I am newly discovering. So one of my biggest joys this weekend was seeing 2 of our staff members, Hayley Parker (3rd grade teacher) and Sarah Kichefski (P.E. teacher), get twitter accounts and join us at EdCamp Wake! While our profession is all about the kids, our fellow educators are also teaching kids. So it’s just as important for us to spread the fire of passion and innovation to other educators, as it is important to implement passion and innovation with our own students. We want to increase the overall impact we’re having on kids. To me, our school is now 2 steps further from isolation with 2 new teachers on board to connect and learn more.

Being connected is all part of how we reflect on our practice. I used to make excuses about the time commitments of being connected, but in reality, we make time for what is important to us. Being connected is a new priority for me…and I can’t wait to see where it continues to take me in my teaching and learning!

I. Teachers demonstrate leadership. · IV. Teachers facilitate learning for their students. · V. Teachers reflect on their practice.

If we let them, #kindersCAN

A week ago today, I woke up refreshed from 2 packed days of learning at state-wide conference NCTIES. But racing through my mind, even more than all of the amazing takeaways I was ready to bring into my classroom, was the discovery of an audience I didn’t know existed. This year, NCTIES was different for me, because it was my very first time presenting alongside 2 wonderful educators and friends, Chris Tuttell (ITF-left) and Kelsey Clarke (K Teacher-center).

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The information we shared is near and dear to my heart, because it is something that I experience each day as a Kindergarten educator: the fact that #kindersCAN can do infinitely more than we may believe to be possible. So this audience that I discovered and referred to above, is the audience that rushed through the doors of our session that morning, leaving standing room only and wiping us clean of 2 days’ worth of handouts we had prepared. These were educators of young learners, like myself, who also believe that these littles can handle almost anything we challenge them with, given the right level of support. I believe in my kinders, but what I did not know is how many other educators in our state do too.

As Kelsey and I shared about the flexibility of our classrooms and how we incorporate technology throughout the day, I could tell from the start that we didn’t have to convince our audience that #kindersCAN…they already knew and believed that, which allowed us to connect with this audience from the start. They were here to gather ideas that would raise the bar for their young learners. And these educators didn’t stop spreading the love when our presentation ended. For the next 2 days, we continued to hear personal accounts of excitement about what we had shared, have since connected with many of these teachers to expand our PLNs, and are excited to welcome some of these very educators into our own classrooms so that they can see our kinders in action! My 2nd year at NCTIES taught me so much, giving me the inspiration to even start this reflection process through blogging; but more than anything, I still can’t shake the excitement of this inspiring audience on fire for their littles.

Did I mention that #kindersCAN also be the teachers? Seeing them showcase their work and the work of their peers was probably the highlight of the whole NCTIES experience.

 

My own journey with #kindersCAN has been in the works for almost 4 years now, since I started my student teaching in Kindergarten. The teacher that I learned from showed me what high expectations in a K classroom look like. She taught me that when you set the expectations high, accepting nothing less, they will meet you there or exceed your expectations. When I began teaching my first year in a STEM school, I took baby steps with technology, each time questioning whether such young learners could meet the challenge. If you’ve ever had a Kindergartener on a computer, logging in through multiple platforms, you also know the difficulties and frustrations that are involved (on the teacher’s end AND the student’s end). But each time I’d challenge them, they kept proving to me that THEY COULD DO IT! So why not keep raising the bar?

When I began at Washington GT Magnet the following year, our ITF Chris gave me the support I needed to grow in my confidence and belief that #kindersCAN! We would visit the ilab, a collaborative space for creating and critical thinking, to work on technology projects using different tools on the ipads and using Google. This was the year that I feel like I truly discovered what young learners are capable of, alongside my IMG_8155teammate Kelsey. And finally, this year, my 3rd year of teaching, is the year that all of the same tools I began using with my kinders last year have now become part of my daily instruction and my independent literacy and math centers. Something that I questioned they’d ever be able to do is now in a 15-20 minute independent center, and that concept honestly still blows my mind! This year I’ve also transformed my learning space to allow for flexibility and student choice; and they’ve proved to me that they can handle that too. The more that I have come to believe in them, the more that I have turned the control over to my little learners, giving them a more effective and authentic learning experience.

If you’re curious about what they can do, check out our presentation from NCTIES.

But I want to close with the “how”……HOW can they do it? Of course we now live in a digital world, where many of these young children have been exposed to things I probably never could’ve imagined experiencing as a little girl. But still, they are young, and for this kind of instruction to be effective, here are a few helpful tips I’ve learned first-hand that will help them be successful:

1. Let them play with the app before tying it to a specific academic objective. This will build confidence and allow them to click around, without fear of messing up a specific “assignment” you’re asking them to do.

2. Provide different levels of support. They should practice a new tool multiple times in an environment with support before sending them out on their own to do it independently. When we’re first learning the app, some students may need a kid friendly, step-by-step  “cheat sheet” to remind them what to do. Some may need a buddy to help. Some may need a modified assignment within the app to reach success.

3. Allow and encourage students to be leaders. Train them to turn to one another for help before coming to you. Teach the tool to a group of leaders who model first, and then have each leader work with a group trying it out for the first time. In an independent center, some students may need the support of a student leader for a while before they’re comfortable doing it alone. Using students as teachers has probably been most key to our success.

4. Have them reflect. What was difficult/easy? How can we use this app in other ways? How could we use it better next time? These questions hold them accountable and make them aware of their own success.

Ultimately, it’s not just about kinders. They may be the youngest, so in some ways, the most challenging. But teachers of all grade levels can take something away from our message, because if #kindersCAN, all kids can. So let’s keep learning so that we can let them.

I. Teachers demonstrate leadership. · V. Teachers reflect on their practice.

Taking it to the Next Level

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I’m done putting it off. No more excuses.

After listening to George Couros speak this past fall, I acknowledged and knew that some day I’d start a blog, but not yet. No time, fear of sharing, unable to commit to doing it well and consistently…all excuses I made in my mind. However, #ncties17 brought more inspiration. This time around, George googled me and actually called me out publicly, urging me to blog and consequently take my digital presence to the next level. And I think I may have talked myself out of it yet again had it not been for Kyle Hamstra, another amazing educator encouraging me to grow and learn through blogging. Finally, I did some thinking on my own this past weekend after an amazing, refreshing 2 days at NCTies. I couldn’t dismiss the thought that at the core of blogging is reflecting. And as a passionate and dedicated educator, am I too busy to reflect? That’s the question that sealed the deal for me.

But there are so many other reasons to start now. Along this journey of blogging, I hope to reflect on myself as an educator, learn from my personal growth over time, and build a digital portfolio, while also connecting with and learning from other educators. You will get a glimpse into my Kindergarten classroom of busy bees, my thoughts, and a little bit of my personal life, as I hope to get a glimpse into yours!

Ultimately, I hope to bring this authentic writing experience into my classroom, having my students reflect on their own growth over time while sharing with a larger audience. But the bottom line is, before my own students can begin this process (yes, Kindergarten students blogging…stay tuned for my next post on #kindersCAN), I have to try it and experience it for myself. So here it goes! I’m looking forward to becoming a better teacher and a better learner along the way.