Mustache Wednesday

Mustache Wednesday is not a thing.  Well, not yet.  Yesterday my 1st Grade class created it when one of my kids, for whom I make many accommodations to facility his learning grabbed one of my mustache post its for himself. I can only imagine what may have happened with other teachers with this slightly different child who had already been having a difficult day.  I let him have one.  Another boy started walking to get one, and I asked him to simply ask for it and he could have one.  It was the end of the day, we were getting ready to pack up and I really didn’t mind.

When the class is finished packing up early I usually put on music and let them dance to celebrate the day.  Yesterday while they were dancing they ALL ended up asking for a post it mustache.  By the time the song was over, all of my kids had them.  One of my kids said, “this is great, it is now Mustache Wednesday!” No matter who they were or how they had felt about their day, they were ALL excited about their day when it was time to leave.  The 8th Grade kids that picked them up for the busses all asked for mustaches to be like their 1st Grade friends.

It is the little things, small decisions that we make that often impact how our kids feel about school.  Remember that, remember how a little decision to have fun with something can change the perspectives of you kids about school.  Every day I love leaving knowing my kids are excited to come back the next day.  This is what school should be.  Kids, excited about what they do.  Sometimes it is about cool, incredible learning experiences, but other times, it is just about a decision to let kids be kids.



Embracing the Failures

I set out to tackle the Blog 365 Challenge.  I did so with no expectations other than I would be writing a lot, and that I enjoyed writing.  Also, I had recently started a second blog.  I wanted to make sure that I did not neglect the second blog while taking on the 365 challenge.  So, as is my nature, I decided to take on a double challenge.

For many months I have written daily, in both blogs.  I have grown dramatically from this incredible reflective experience.  What I did not plan for was how this time commitment would strain me as I continued to take on new and excited projects, finished my MSA, and try to incorporate many new ideas into my classroom.  Essentially, I have found that writing any every day is becoming a burden rather than a joy.  It is no longer simply benefiting my practice, but negatively effecting my ability to complete everything else, ultimately, trying to write two blogs each day is starting to hurt my kids.  Simply put, I am admitting failure in this adventure.


So what! Here is what this “failure” has brought me.  I wrote over 365 blog posts in less than 185 days.  Some of them I believe are truly pieces that encompass everything I believe as an educator, some are pieces that I have changed in my mind many times over.  I now have a reference library of over 375 posts about various topics that I can share and discuss.  I have made many connections, had the opportunity to present on blogging, and learned how to process my thoughts into more concise, focussed writing.  Most importantly, my blog has allowed me the ability to grow, reflect, share, and spread the value of being connected with many people.

My new challenge will still require me to write each day.  I am planning on adding to one blog, or the other, every day without a time limit in mind.  Overall, I will be able to focus more on what will help the kids I work with, while at the same time ensuring reflection on a regular basis.

Reflections on #TCRWP Saturday Reunion Part 3

My second session at the Saturday Reunion is one I attended for two reasons, I was interested if there were new ways I could actually be using all of these checklists, rubrics, and progressions to my kids advantage, and because my session last spring with presenter Brianna Friedman (Sorry I know there is a second name there I can’t remember) was absolutely incredible.  She was funny and opened up some ideas that I had never thought about before.

This session was no different.  While I was familiar with the rubrics, checklists, and information, Brianna opened up more practical ways to use the information so that it worked best for teachers.  The concepts that I have taken that I liked most revolved around how to use the rubrics and checklists with kids.

First, I love the idea of taking the rubric and developing focus groups for kids.  This gives you an opportunity to target their needs at the outset rather than continue to try and develop an understanding of what they know.  Getting started with this use of rubrics brings value to the assessment because it is a much better way of driving your instruction.  To do this most effectively, she suggested just creating a spreadsheet with the 9 components from the TC checklist/rubric and scoring each one.  This will help you identify similar writers to target focus groups.

The second, and my favorite use, is using student facing rubrics.  She showed a number of examples of explicitly designed student facing rubrics.  Unfortunately my camera shots were poor.  Ultimately, by using the information in the rubrics and making very explicit examples, a teacher can give kids the opportunity to see exactly what writing looks like their own, and what writing that has taken the “next step” will look like for them.

Overall Brianna’s session had so many great tips and ideas that are benefiting my young writers!

Reflections on #TCRWP Saturday Reunion Part2

My first session was with one of my favorite Teachers College developers, Shanna Schwartz.  She lead a session on developing struggling writers in K-2 that has had an immediate impact on my writing classroom.  This was by far the most exciting, “tweet-worthy” session during my day, but it was also incredibly useful.  Shanna started off by sharing a personal story about her children and their own writing.  She then went on to talk about the various portions of the brain and human thought required to write.   When we say we are struggling with math or reading, people usually look to pinpoint that struggle and move forward.  In writing we need to do the same, only it can be very tricky, because writing difficulties include so many different components.  If a kid is struggling with any one portion of what it takes to write, they will be a “struggling writer”.

The most important thing we can do, is to listen to what our writers say is the problem, then watch them with their writing.  If we can begin to identify what KIND of problem it is, then we can work to address it.  Not only are we able to identify the problem for ourselves, but we are able to help kids identify what they need on their own.

This session has immediately helped a few of my writers because they have taken some of these ideas and developed them into their own solution.  One solution she shared was giving kids that are distracted easily, “an office”, because many professional writers prefer to have that quiet place.  I now have four kids that have their own offices, complete with old headphones to keep from being distraction.  Three of them found ways to create their own space after seeing one kid get his own space.

Another great take-away was simply to celebrate with the kids who are “done.”  What did you finish? Really?  That is GREAT! Now let’s see if we can do another!  Instead of allowing struggling writers to say “I’m done” simply celebrate that small success with them, then move them forward.

There were so many great moments from this session (many of which you can find in the archives of the #TCRWP because everything I tweeted out was retweeted and favorited more times than you would believe!

Thanks Shanna for a session full of AMAZING ideas.

Reflections on #TCRWP Saturday Reunion Part 1

I chose to come to the Saturday Reunion separately from my colleagues because their transportation was not likely to make it to the keynote speaker, David Booth.  I am typically not a big fan of speeches in front of large crowds where thousands sit and listen to one person share.  This however, was a different case.  David Booth talked about a project he did where he discussed a Selkie (seal person) folktale with 1,000 different children.

His words were inspiring.  Instead of telling you what they meant, I will, in the fashion he shared, I will let you reveal your own understanding.

These quotes are mostly accurate but paraphrased from my memory and my tweets:

“We are all making our stories right now, each is different, each changes their story as we hear others”

“Everything is changing except the need to be heard”

“Don’t assess children’s comprehension, let them reveal it to you.”

“I love when they paint! Get the paint out, get the legos out, she wants to do!  She wants to make!” (David Booth talking about his Grade 1 Granddaughter.)

“I walked into a classroom and on their board it said, ‘Fierce Wonderings’ and I thought, I want to be in this classroom”

“There is a lot of joy in the messiness.  If it is so neat and simple for them, was it really worth teaching in the first place?”

“Do you have enough courage to give the kids time to grow and change?  Enough time to work in groups, record their conversations, develop and then replay their moment of power?”

“I don’t ask comprehension questions, kids do.”

“We never take a look at the world around us, who put those stones in place in the church?  What did he eat for lunch?   Did he get a bathroom break? I want School to represent a BIG world, a world bigger than the walls around us.”

There were so many other inspiring words, writing and stories shared from kids around the world, and funny comments that David Booth shared.  Instead of giving you what I think they mean, reveal your own meaning, determine your own questions.

Be Personal in the Digital World

For some strange reason people believe that the digital world is a recipe for eliminating personal interaction.  I disagree.  There is nothing about digital interaction and automation that requires the elimination of social interaction, if anything, the digital world has provided a means to increase socialization.

I am frustrated at times be the short sightedness of many when it comes to the use of social media and new digital tools.  While talking to a friend on Voxer who is a technology coordinator I heard one of the most insane statements I can imagine.  He repeated a comment by someone at his school that said, “put the computers away, let the learning begin” to which I had no response.  What an incredible lack of understanding of the world.  Kids live in a world where computers are always on.  They are always connected to the digital world.  Why come to school to turn that off?

The concerns include safety, and of course a worry about what can be accessed.  There is also a concern that devices take away from the personal interactions we have each day.  Automation and digitalization do help people avoid personal interaction, but they also connect people in new, meaningful ways.  I  have personally benefited from the social interactions, the personal experience that comes along with the digital world.

Rather than hold these back from kids, we should be embracing and modeling how positive social connections can improve your life.  We should be showing these kids how to keep it personal yet positive in the digital world, as they will experience many more digital connections than face to face ones over the course of their lives.

Celebrating #CEOct w/ Travis Phelps

Travis was one of the first people in the connected universe to hear me sing on Voxer.  He bared this burden well.  Since then, Travis has gone from someone I chat with on twitter, to someone whose opinions I value greatly.

He is an incredible educator.  Travis does something I am not sure I could do, yet so many people do it on a regular basis: he is a teacher, and he is also the assistant principal.  I don’t mean that he is a teacher in the “lead learner” we are all teachers sense, I mean Travis teaches middle school Social Studies and is also an Assistant Principal.

While Travis will enlighten you with great ideas, a desire to share and learn, and build you up by sharing your strengths, he is also very humble.  His self deprecating humor tends to make me wonder if he really does know how incredible he is, how important he has been to many people including myself.

Travis Phelps is a great friend.  He has been incredibly helpful in developing and growing my connections and inspiring me to try new things!  Thank you Travis!  You Rock!

Why Twitter is Only the Beginning

I personally found it weird when there was a month to celebrate Connected Educators and we celebrate it in a place that is exclusively for connected educators, Twitter.  Twitter is a great tool if you are using it correctly.  Engage, introduce surface ideas, build relationships, and share resources.  For these things, twitter is great, but if it is where your connected experience ends, you may not be getting everything out of it.

So many things that we talk about on twitter require a greater level of discussion.  They are complex, in-depth, educational topics that require more than 140 characters.  We only scratch the surface with twitter.

What twitter does, if we use it right, is open doors.  It opens doors to educators to connect in other ways to really have the conversations about topics they propose on twitter.  We still have to walk through.  Our job is not simply to see the open door and say “Look I can see what is inside the room.” No, our job as connected educators, and as educators in general is to go through the door and find ways to use what is inside to benefit the kids in our lives.

Twitter has opened many doors for me so far.  I have made a point to walk through as many as I can and bring what I learn to apply it to my school, to the kids I see every day.  Remember, twitter is a great tool, but connecting is not about the tool, it is about relationships, learning, and ultimately your growth and how it impacts your kids.

Celebrating #CEOct w/ @gustafsonbrad

I have followed Brad Gustafson for a while.  He is one of the people on twitter I cannot imagine not following.  So, when I met him outside of University of Pennsylvania Law School while waiting for the doors to open at EdCamp Leadership, I was a bit surprised.  This was my first real interaction with Brad other than asking a few questions.

He was a friendly, personable, and down-to-earth guy.  Then, as I got to spend some more time around him, I got the first taste of just how much amazing energy he brings to whatever he is  doing.  Brad is a spark.  He combines intelligence, creativity, and drive that I can only marvel to see all together.  Since leaving that day, I have connected with Brad through Voxer and from watching his latest creation (#30SecondTake Podcast – one of the best ideas for a podcast ever).

Having had the chance to listen to Brad discuss real problems faced by administrators is where I can truly say I have learned the most.  I am fortunate to have found a connection with Brad Gustafson and I look forward to the next chance I get to see him face to face.

Celebrating #CEOct w/ @casas_jimmy

Quite honestly, if you have never met Jimmy Casas, find out where you can, and go there! Jimmy infuses the room with an incredible energy that can only be described with the cliche of electric.  I have met Jimmy on two occasions, but I imagine he only remembers the second.

The first time I met Jimmy Casas was at EdCamp Leadership.  We walked into a session I was enjoying on Teacher Leaders and sat down next to me, stayed for about 10 minutes, and left having altered the learning of an entire room.  The second time I got to interact with him a lot more.  At the NJ PA ECET2 conference Jimmy presented two sessions, of which I caught the latter.  Every person in the room left inspired.  I can honestly say that my school year has been better because of spending that time in the session with Jimmy.

Afterwards, I was surprised to find that he was incredibly approachable and open.  One of the greatest qualities I noticed when meeting Jimmy was how easy it was to communicate with him. He embodies everything a connected leader  ought to be, and I am fortunate to have met him and had the opportunity to connect with him.