Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Sept 22 - Day 22

What does your PLN look like, and what does it to for your teaching?

My professional learning network is composed of my co-workers from my school, from other middle schools in my district, and from educators world-wide. I love being able to connect to the biggest and hottest names in education.  I have a number of social media outlets for interaction with other educators, and I actively look for new ideas to increase engagement and critical thinking in my classroom.  I want the best for my students, and the best ideas might come from someone else. 

Constant interaction with other educators keeps my classroom experience fresh and new -- as possible as I can make it.  The best part is that education has now created an classroom environment where we are ALL learners along a path. 

Sept 21 - Day 21

Do you have other hobbies/interests that you bring into your classroom teaching? Explain.

I'm a writer and a life coach.  Those are easy to bring into the classroom.  My life coaching is based on asking questions to help clients move from where they are to where they want to be.  I can bring my real world experience as a writer (articles and children's books so far) into the room.  My articles are for a belly dance magazine, which has been another hobby for years. I'm also a musician, and that has many logical and creative parallels to language arts.   I do as much as I can to remain transparent to students. They need to see me as a real person. 

Sept 20 - Day 20

How do you curate student work–or help them do it themselves?
I have a website  (tinyurl.com/harandaLA) where I put anything I find or create. It's a way that I can ensure that students, teachers, and I have access to what I've found and created long-term.  I may not always be at this school or this district.  Heck, I would love to move to Colorado....and I want my information readily available.

I've also used Diigo, but I'm not good at managing it.  It's a valuable tool that requires more thoughtful planning for it's use.  Sometimes, I can think about efficiency on the fly, but sometimes, I need to tweak as I go.

Our district also believes in digital portfolios, which is wonderful. Kids can create a Google site and updated it throughout their school career.   I think it rocks, and I wish that it had been available to me as a kid.

Sept 19 - Day 19

Name three powerful students can reflect on their learning, then discuss closely the one you use most often. ???

I think this actually means three powerful strategies that students can use to reflect.   I have students write in blogs and in their journals.  Several times a year, I ask them to give me what they believe the 30 goal, the 30 week goal, and the 30 year goal is for this unit.  It makes them think ahead and look through different lenses at the expectations for their learning. I learned it as a "megaspore," but I kinda hate that name. 

Lastly, I have students create a Google doc for conferencing with me.  We have private conversations about their learning and about their goals for the year.  This is one of my favorite tools, but it is incredibly time intensive. It requires a lot of time and typing to have a conversation with each child. I'm hoping to continue to refine my usage in order to become more efficient. That's a work in progress.

Sept 18 - Day 18

Create a metaphor/simile/analogy that describes your teaching philosophy. For example, a “teacher is a ________…”

A teacher is a world-changer.  It's why I got into teaching and returned to teaching after a career in corporate.  I wanted to change the world.  I get to do that with about 130 students every year. Plus, I connect with them via social media and keep in contact after they leave my class.  They matter, and it's important that students know that.  They may not get it anywhere else but me, so I have to be the world to that child.

Sept 17 - Day 17

What do you think is the most challenging issue in education today?

Time - teachers simply do not have the time to create engaging lessons, build relationships with each student, differentiate for each student, and provide meaningful work with meaningful feedback. I've been working 10 hours a day at minimum, plus weekends since school started.  I also started working in early August, and I am feeling less stress ONLY today. (It's the 6th week of school...)

We work about 2000 hours in 40 weeks, where as most of the US work force would work 2000 hours in 50 weeks.  Think about that. 

The really terrible part of this is that great teachers either run themselves ragged or completely burn out because of the time crunch.   

I'd love to go to a year-round (sort of) schedule where we taught for nine weeks and had 2-3 weeks off. We could get grading completed and develop plans AND still have some down time.  This schedule wouldn't eliminate a summer break, only reduce it some. 

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Sept 16 - Day 16

If you could have one superpower to use in the classroom, what would it be and how would it help?

This is great - I would possess the power of the Vulcan mind-meld.  I would take all the things I know and just pass them on to my students. They could start out with so much more information and understanding of experiences.   However, it might take their freedom of choice and the freedom (and, dare I say, privilege) of failing.  Failing is an important lesson and learning tool in life. Failing is sometimes very good for all of us. 

Can I just have the superpower of having all the money I want?

Sept 15 - Day 15

Name three strengths you have as an educator.

I think one of my main strengths is my passion for my subject area.  I don't just teach language arts, I LIVE it.  I write for other areas of my life, including children's books and articles for a global magazine. I'm in a writing group of acclaimed writers who meet monthly, and I have a writing buddy who I meet with on Sunday mornings before church....most of the time. :o) I try to keep up with several blogs, and I've always got a few books that I'm in the middle of reading. 

Another strength is my passion for learning. I am a bit obsessive about continuing my learning, and I think that is a good role model for my students.  I don't always take extra classes and workshops for them, but they always benefit.

Finally, my concern for life, learning, and loving is greater than the day-to-day paperwork, logistics, and grading that can bog a teacher's day.  If you don't have that, then you fall prey to burning out after a few years. 

Teaching is not for the faint of heart, those who are satisfied with mediocrity, or the lazy.   At least, you can't manage that way in one of the best schools in one of the best districts. And you certainly can't live with middle schoolers daily.  But I love them. I love them courageously and exuberantly - and I love them on weekends, in the summer, and in the evenings when they need me. 

Sept 14 - Day 14

What is feedback for learning, and how well do you give it to students?

We have conference notes in Google where we have virtual conversations.  I'm not always perfectly clear on any corrections they need to make to their writing.  After the first conversation, I start to highlight errors. Students have the choice to make corrections as they see fit. 

I like to give narrative feedback with corrections, suggestions, and affirmations. It's important for students to know what they are doing well as well as what they need to rework. 

Sometimes, I simply ask them questions. This allows students to critically evaluate their work and acts as a model for their own future of self-questioning and evaluation. 

I'd like to get better at helping them with the little things - commas!  Geesh, that seems to be a never-ending source of confusion for them. Every year, I tweak my lessons on sentence structure and comma usage.  I get better every year, but I haven't found that golden nugget of information that clears the cobwebs for every single student. I may never find it, but at least I'm always striving forward. 

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Sept 13 - Day 13

Name the top edtech tools that you use on a consistent basis in the classroom, and rank them in terms of their perceived (by you) effectiveness.

1. Google drive and Google docs - I used these most often with my students. Google apps have improved my ability to help students with organization and writing. I use Google's sites and Blogger (obviously) in the classroom.  Their products are great for teachers.

2. Penultimate - I love this tool.  It helps me with record keeping and grading with rubrics.  I can email copies to students and still retain the originals if parents or administrators should need to see them.

3. Notability - I am using this tool for myself, but it has a lot of applications for student use.  

Sept 12 - Day 12

How do you envision your teaching changing over the next five years?

Our district has funded our students with ipads, so I am every excited about how teaching will change.  I will be able to work with students quickly and efficiently knowing exactly what technology they have access to.  

I see my lessons as more student-directed and requiring me as a facilitator and collaborator.  I am OVER the days of being the lecturer.  I hope that I will become more efficient in providing relevant feedback for students to improve their writing before they turn in assignments. I also hope that I will be meeting each student's individual needs in a more meaningful and impactful way. 

Friday, September 12, 2014

Sept 11 - Day 11

What is your favorite part of the school day and why?

One of my favorite parts of the school day is our club day and lunch.  On club days, I have meditation music playing, and I often talk about meditation techniques.  We also have students who come in for quiet reading or creative writing, which I need to participate in. I turn out all the lights, and we have light coming in from a large window.  It's really relaxing.  

During lunch, I also have the lights off.  Right now, I have a couple of girls who come in to practice a dance routine they want to do in our talent show.   I also have students come in on their own for tutorials or quiet time/study time. 

I like this time because the lights are off and it is quiet.  If I need time with one or only a few students, this is it.  It's personal and low-key. 

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Sept 9 - Day 9

Write about one of your biggest accomplishments in your teaching that no one knows about (or may not care). #reflectiveteacher

I think one of my biggest accomplishments is taking non-readers and non-writers and creating readers and writers.  During my first year as a full-time teacher, I had a younger cousin in my class.  He didn't want to read, but I knew (back in the dark ages) that daily reading was key to a student's growth in so many ways. I told him he could read a cereal box for all that I cared, but he WOULD find something to read....because both of our mothers wouldn't have it any other way.   By the end of the year, he read Jurassic Park or some other nice, solid text. He became a reader, graduated from college, entered the Navy, etc. 

In reflections, letters, and journals, students write about how they didn't feel like they were writers, but how they left my class knowing that they would be successful in the future because they had the tools they needed.  That's all I can hope for.  I even tell students that's what I want - for them to be successful and confident that they can do the reading and writing asked of them in the future. 

The most important thing a teacher can do is to instill love, passion, and confidence in a student. And it comes back to you when students ask for help several years later...to interpret text for a test, or editing their college entrance essays, or to say hi on Facebook.   My heart swells...

Sept 7 - Day 7

Who was or is your most inspirational colleague, and why? #reflectiveteacher

I've been thinking on this post for a couple of days.  One of the downfalls of doing a challenge like this is that you get a prompt each day, but you might want to take more time to ponder for some deeper meaning.  I shall write about the top inspirational colleagues.

My mom - My mom has a way of talking with kids and parents that lets them know she loves them, but she won't take BS from them in a way that they feel they are coming out on top. Her students remember her for decades afterwards.  I want my students to remember me.  She was using strategies 20-30 years ago that some people think are new and innovative. 

Lorice - Lorice has a quiet, Godly soul. She never gets impatient or raises her voice. She has excellent class-management with 6th graders. Her style is not my style, but I try to be more like her.  I have a note to remind me to always remember compassion and to speak with kindness. 

Julie - Julie is full of purpose and intention with everything she does. I admire that most. And her room is orderly and spotless.  Totally not me. No matter how many times I clean, it seems like my room and my desk are in some constant state of chaotic disaster.  

Jessica - Jessica is a squiggle, and even more squiggly than me!  Her ideas are brilliant and engaging. She is an amazing teacher who brings the best humor and sarcasm into class. 

Sept 8 - Day 8

What’s in your desk drawer, and what can you infer from those contents? #reflectiveteacher

I have a lot of seemingly random junk in my drawers, but everything in there is from a time that I needed it. 
Infer ->        I like to have things on hand "just in case."   I also like to have everything I  might need so that I won't have to ask others for something and/or I can offer it to someone if they need it.  

Infer-> I like to help others, but not ask for help.

Sept 10 - Day 10

Share five random facts about yourself.
1.  When I had long hair, I put my hair in a scrunchy at night to sleep. My scrunchy HAD to match my pjs...I couldn't sleep if they didn't.
2. I'm very sensitive to caffeine. I stopped drinking sodas, and I don't like coffee. Iced tea (unsweet) is about all I do, but I drink it every day at school.
3. I have a LOT of passion, but no self-discipline. I have to take advantage of moments of inspiration and energy.  
4. I like to have a buddy help me on things I want to do consistently. I have a writing buddy every Sunday morning.  I have a walking buddy (we took a brief hiatus) to walk with in the evenings. I need a cleaning buddy if anyone wants to volunteer!!!
5. If I had all the money in the world, I would probably still teach. I could just hire people to help with the other parts of life.
(Extra 6 - I'm not a fan of long summers. I need the time off, but by the end of July, I'm depressed and going crazy without an external routine.)
Share four things from your bucket list.
1. I want to go to the Mediterranean - Italy and Greece.
2. I want to go back to Scotland for a writing research trip, especially Unst.
3. I want to live in Colorado or New Mexico.
4. I want to work for an elephant refuge. 
Share three things that you hope for this year, as a “person” or an educator.
1. I hope I am a far better teacher this year...it's my goal ever year, and I love how I grow.
2. I hope to get my daughter transitioned from online high school to living on campus in college.
3. I hope to get back to incorporating more exercise into my life again.

Share two things that have made you laugh or cry as an educator.
1. The death of a student or colleague.
2. Innocent student mistakes in writing or pulling pictures that are ALL WRONG!!!!!

Share one thing you wish more people knew about you.
1. I worry a lot and think and rethink and rehash conversations and events to determine if I really said or did the right thing.


Sept 6 - Day 6

Explain: what does a good Mentor do? #reflectiveteacher

Well, I hope I have this in the bag....my mentee just told me I was awesome!   I think a good mentor shares, offers suggestions, provides feedback, and allows the mentee to grow.  

I'm REALLY BLESSED in that my mentee wants to make sure that she offers me something in return.  I mentioned that in another blog post with pictures. 

A good mentor shares - shares information, materials, tips, tricks, stories, and love. I'm at a point in life that I'm old enough to be the mother of our new teachers. I'm ok with that because (despite my own mother's fears) I'm comfortable with being a mom and mom-figure.  

Maybe not all mentor/mentee relationships are like this, but I'm very happy to be a mentor this year. 

Sept 5 - Day 5

Post a picture of your classroom and describe what you see--and what you don't see that you'd like to. #reflectiveteacher

The rocker chairs are for the kids - it's meant for wiggling, young bodies. They love them.

 Colors!  Above the board is all my word stems and roots.  It's a good reference for them.  The "What's App?"  board is a place for technology references. I have the icons of several apps already posted, but this will be a place that students can also help me with. They can share new, fun apps and put them on the board.

 Attitude plays a huge part in life.   I'm thankful for my smartboard, but I sure wish I had more chalkboard room.  I am adjusting to not being able to write on a separate space like I used to.   One thing that I try to do is to always adapt and to find the benefits of whatever situation I'm faced with .

 I love this corner.  The big round table is one of my favorites for groups.  I put the purple background behind a bunch of found and created writing tools, mainly the Write Traits. We are the cougars, and I inherited the big cougar from a teacher.

 In this picture, you will see some mini-posters students created about close reading terms,  expert areas that students signed under, and thinking maps.

More stems, writing prompts, and my MENTEE, the awesome Mel.  It's her first year, and she wants to make sure that she gives back to me in some way.  How awesome is that?   It was late in the afternoon, after a department meeting, and we had just finished catching up.  On the right, you will see an antique lamps from my family and a fabric and cork board divider I set up to pin quotes or student work on.  There is a LOT of color going on in my room.

You can see my purple and lime green baskets on our larger tables.  I can't wait until we get new furniture.  Our district is really blessed, and I am fortunate to have good building materials and supportive administration. I'm getting new modular furniture!!

What you don't see is how I manage to fit up to 29 bodies in the room plus backpacks. It gets crowded, and we try to make adjustments every single day.   I did not take a picture of my supply table beneath pink curtains or my pod of computers. 

My room is always part of who I am, and I enjoy being in it. 

Sunday, September 7, 2014

I didn't forget - I just had other things requiring my time

I didn't forget to post for the 30 day blog challenge, but so many other things required my time. I have worked all weekend.  I even stayed until 5pm working on Friday.  

But, here is an interesting link to ponder.  I wanted to capture it here, as well as offer it up to the larger world.


I promise I'll be back on the challenge tomorrow... with pictures.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Sept 4 - Day 4

Respond: what do you love the most about teaching? #reflectiveteacher

I'm so glad this is an easy question tonight, and I'm VERY glad that I created draft posts with all the prompts for the whole month in advance. I'm BEAT this week, but I figure that I'll be at full-steam next week. :o)

I love to see kids' minds at work. I love to see their enthusiasm. I love to hear them groan when it's time to put away our books from reading. I love reading their reflections on the projects they did and the growth they see in themselves. 

I love that teaching requires me to be a constant and ever-improving learner. I love that I can make a difference in a child's and a family's life. I love when we've identified strategies that really work and student begins to see him/herself as successful. 

I love working among dedicated, caring professionals. I love spending my day with other people who come to work with enthusiasm for encouraging others. I love that I model what I love so that others can follow in my footsteps. I love that I'm allowed to take risks and try new things. 

I love making a difference in the world. And I love the hugs, the "hi's" and "byes" and "thank-yous." 

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Sept 3 - Day 3

Discuss one observation area you'd like to improve on for your teacher evaluation. #reflectiveteacher

Well now, how convenient is this prompt?  Today, I met with my observing asst. principal to determine the one area in which I will focus for improvement. We discussed my desire to improve learning design, specifically in the area of scaffolding. This dimension of design will allow me to facilitate the learner's conceptual development and understanding as they construct meaning of the world.

Here are the areas

Growth measures
  • Utilizes individualized and collaborative learning strategies
  • Facilitates the learning of new content
  • Facilitates the connection to prior learning and experiences
  • Engages learners by using brain-based strategies to help learners deepen understanding of content

  • Facilitates engaging, self-directed, and collaborative learning experiences
  • Facilitates learners’ construction of new meaning and leverages learners’ personal experiences and interests
  • Considers and responds to the needs of all learners (LEP, GT, culturally diverse, etc.)

Looking at this area of growth, I think it will fit in with my plan to implement a ROLE environment in my GT classes. 

I like our new appraisal world-view and system. It encourages educators rather than punishes them and accounts for our diversity and brings differentiation into our lives, just as we take differentiation into the classrooms for our students. 

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Sept 2 - Day 2

Write about one piece of technology that you'd like to try this year, and why. You might also write about what you're hoping to see out of this edtech integration.  #reflectiveteacher

Off the cuff, this is an easy prompt - our students are getting ipads this year. Each student!  I've had an ipad for 2 years now, courtesy of CISD; however, this will be a new experience with every student having access every day (more or less).  

The 1:1 ipad program will allow me to nudge students towards ownership of their education.  I can conference with them via Google docs and individualize their instruction.   It's a big undertaking and a huge shift in education mindset, but it is right for students. 

Looking at apps and programs, I plan to utilize Remind.com in a much more efficient and useful manner. I will also be working with Blackboard again.  The transparency takes time and effort, but when did the position of "teacher" become "hoarder of knowledge?"  I have felt that my purpose has been to share what I know with others, as a teacher and otherwise.  The students I teach are stepping into young adulthood, and time/knowledge management is going to be key for them in life. 

I can't wait to get students using Notability. It has so many great uses and so much potential for use in the classroom.  I'm hoping that I can help students learn how to take notes effectively with it. 

Here's something to put a spin on this post - I hope students teach me more about the different apps they are using. I had a student work with Pic Collage, and because we had to work together to help her solve a problem, we both learned.  

Yes indeed, I love my job.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Sept 1 - Day 1

Write your goals for the school year. Be as specific or abstract as you'd like to be! #reflectiveteacher

Day 1 and it's time for a 30 day blogging challenge. I'm usually great about starting, but I tend to falter and peter out after a while.  So, I created a week's worth of draft posts with the topic already copied in. One goal (not listed below) is to model reading and writing and to continue long-term challenges, like this, for my students and colleagues.)

Goal 1 - develop my classroom into a ROLE environment. That includes more student self-direction and narrative feedback from me. I hope to eventually get to a point where students assign their own grades by defending their work and providing evidence of the learning.  It won't be passive.  A major component of this will be to provide student with meaningful feedback that helps them grow and does not merely point out their failures. 

Goal 2 - more organized planning, posting, and communication. Parents and students are connected, and they have full lives. They ask for communication, so I will work to have that available. And that's not just for parents and student - this will be a task that directly benefits me. 

Goal 3 - Employ Habits of the Mind - there's a list. It's good.  See my flags?  Flags and sticky notes are your friends and my idea of fun.

Goal 4 - I want to use the flipped model even better. I want to be consistent, and that will help build and curate a knowledge base that students can use, even when they've left my class. This means that I need my planning completed and that I use my time to front-load units.  

Goal 5 - I want to grow my took kit of formative assessments (many found in the Learning Framework glossary). I will also continue to grow the use of Conference Notes with students so that they always find it a go-to project and tool.