being a teacher, new year

At the End of the First Week

There is nothing like the first week of school tired, it seems.  Well, perhaps it’s only contender is the first week with a new baby tired.  We drag ourselves home, hoping that dinner has somehow magically arrived, that our house is not a mess, that our own kids are doing well because honestly, all we can think of is when we will get to go to bed.

While I love the first week of school, I always seem to forget how exhausting it is.  How the excitement quickly morphs into an overwhelming sense of “there is so much to do…” How the only kids we can compare these new kids to are the ones we just had, and those kids had it all figured out…

So as I drove home yesterday, overwhelmed by this long list of what I needed to do this weekend in order to simply teach my 90 minutes on Monday, feeling like maybe I was not that great of a teacher after all, I remembered a few truths shared by others, experienced by me, every single year…

They don’t know us yet.

They don’t know our routines even if we have spent all week teaching them.

They don’t know our expectations and so they are trying to figure that out and sometimes we are not as crystal clear as we think we are.

They are just as overwhelmed at times as we are.  Starting school is a whole lot of new and for some, it is a whole lot of negative.  We might not see that yet, but that doesn’t mean the emotions aren’t there.

It’s okay to slow down.  Your best-laid plans were based on fictitious children and now that the real children are here, our job is to make our plans fit the kids, not the other way around.

You are not a bad teacher if you haven’t reached every kid yet.  If you are still forgetting names even though you just knew them.  If you thought the lesson would be amazing when you planned it and it turned out to be mediocre instead.  You are not a bad teacher even if you feel like one.

So last night, as my kids played and got their boundless energy out (where do they get it from?), I did a simple thing; sent notes of appreciation home.  As I looked at my class lists, I remembered once again all of the great moments we did have in class, all of the kind behaviors, the kids who tried, the kids who smiled, the kids who didn’t think my crazy ideas were totally stupid.

The times when it did click.  When it did work, rather than the times where I had to repeat, reteach, restate.

As I sent each note home, the excitement that had been hidden by exhaustion came back; the promise of an amazing year, the hopes that I have so carefully stoked all summer.  These kids are awesome, we are the lucky ones who get to teach them.

Perhaps, like me,  you need to be reminded as well?

I cannot wait for Monday.

 

being a teacher, new year

We Should Teach

White, Fuchsia,  Free Image

I asked, “If you were to create a genuine bill of promises for each child you will teach this year, what would it include?”

And while the responses were beautiful, they shone of promise, of high hopes for every child, of a community for all, not just those that fit what we have decided school should be like, I cannot help but wonder what happens to those promises when the day gets hard?

What happens when a child pushes our buttons?

When a child refuses to sit down, sit still, be quiet?  When they refuse to fit into the box we have created?

Because in that moment how we act says more about the classroom community we are building than any dream or promise we may have made.

The first time a child pushes our limits tells us more about how we define success than what we may have written down in our idea books.

So we should teach the way we would want our own children to be treated; with dignity, with respect, and with love – not just in words, but in action.

We should teach as if we are the determination between that child’s success and that child’s failure because sometimes we are.

We should teach as we would have wanted to have been taught when we were young.

And when a child inevitably doesn’t like us whether it is for a moment, a day, or a year, we don’t blame the child, jump to anger and punishment, but instead step back and try to see what they are really telling us.  What their actions are really pointing to.  Recognize how we are a part of the situation and the system that is causing this child’s pain.  And we should ask ourselves; what kind of future do we want? One filled with success only for those who fit into the boxes of school or success for all, even if they blast the boxes?

So this year we should teach with urgency, not just the curriculum, but the love, and realize that we truly hold the destiny of our nation in our hands every day.

But more importantly than that, we teach the children, and the children need us to see them for everything they are; wondrous, challenging, and deserving of our love, even on the tough days.

That’s my promise for the year.

 

being a teacher, Literacy, new year, Reading

Our ELA Curriculum Map for 7th Grade 90 Minute Block

As some of you may know, we are moving from a 45-minute block of ELA time to a 90-minute block.  I cannot tell you how excited I am for this to happen.  To actually have more time to dig in, to have fewer students so I can know them better, to be able to pull small groups more often and really support student growth – yes, please!  But with this change comes a lot of decisions.  We want to make sure students are engaged and challenged well within the 90 minutes.  We don’t want it to drag on, we don’t want it to be lecture.  So as the year starts to come closer, the ideas and aspirations we have had are starting to take shape and I thought it would be nice to share them here, in case others need some inspiration.

Last year we decided what we believe when it comes to our literacy work together and this is what grounds our decisions.  While the chart below is just the overarching theme, our original document discusses things much more in depth, such as the need for equitable practices and for creating opportunities for students as changemakers.

The overarching beliefs we function in are:

If middle school learners need… Then we will commit to…
Empowerment Giving them choice
Read/write every day Give them time
To have a voice Discussion/authorship/ownership
Developing/understanding their identity Reflection/guidance/exposure/structure
See connections to themselves and others Incorporate global/local topics and connect to other classes
Adult role models

Peer role models

Read/write/think/discuss with and in front of students

  • Opportunities for student learn with and from each other.
  • Teachers model/share their love of reading/writing in their own life.
  • Teacher is part of the classroom reading/writing community
  • Exposure to mentor texts
Visible/continuous growth Mini-lessons, explicit/targeted instruction etc., exposure to many genres and formats (balanced literacy), and goal setting.
Need personalized learning communities Small group instruction and conferring

My tentative schedule for our 90 minutes together looks like this:

  • 10 min = independent reading

  • 2-3 min = book talks

  • 15 min = mini-lesson (can be read aloud)

  • 20-25 min = work time (reading practice, conferring, small groups etc)

  • BELL BREAK – 3 minutes
  • 10 min = Grammar/mentor text work/free write

  • 15 min = mini lesson focused on writing or speaking

  • 20 min = work time (writing practice, conferring, small groups etc)

  • 5-10 min = read aloud/picture book read aloud/share/closing

Yesterday, I had the chance to sit down with colleagues and spend some time tentatively mapping out our literacy year.  Inspired by the maps in 180 Days by Penny Kittle and Kelly Gallagher, we thought providing ourselves with an overview of the year meant we would have a better feel for what to plan for.

This map is intended for 45-minute readers workshop followed by a 45-minute writers workshop.  We wanted to make sure that students had two different times to read within the 45 minutes, one chunk of time that was focused on reading for pleasure without any extra “work” attached to it, and one chunk of time where they would be working more on the skills of reading, most often within their own self-chosen texts, but sometimes in a text chosen by us.

We also wanted to make sure that students have time for meaningful embedded grammar instruction, as well as time to free write.

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We are a standards-based district and so we have 9 separate ELA standards.  These are not assessed every quarter but are instead assessed at least twice throughout the year so that students can see their own growth.  Here are the standards we have 5327283641122816.png

The students have not started yet, so all of this is aspirational.  I will keep updating it as the year progresses but thought I would share.

There have been a few books that have really shaped my thinking for the upcoming year.  They are

Troublemakers: Lessons in Freedom from Young Children at School by [Shalaby, Carla]

Troublemakers by Carla Shalaby

180 Days by Kelly Gallagher and Penny Kittle

A Novel Approach by Kate Roberts

Being the Change by Sara K. Ahmed

Write Beside Them by Penny Kittle

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Mechanically Inclined by Jeff Anderson

Notice and Note by Kylene Beers and Robert Probst

Passionate Readers by myself – weird to say your own book but this book holds my reading beliefs and also my ideas for how to reach our goals.

The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller

Book Love by Penny Kittle

The Reading Zone by Nancie Atwell and Anne Atwell Merkel

If you like what you read here, consider reading my newest book, Passionate Readers – The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child.  This book focuses on the five keys we can implement into any reading community to strengthen student reading experiences, even within the 45 minute English block.  If you are looking for solutions and ideas for how to re-engage all of your students consider reading my very first book  Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.      Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.

being a teacher, new year

Our Welcome Poster

Last year, I took a quote from a blog post I wrote and made it into a poster.  The quote was simple but a powerful reminder to anyone who walked into our room about the worth of the very kids that showed.  A powerful reminder to me on days where I felt like I was not enough.  A powerful reminder to kids when they felt that perhaps school was not a place for them.  The poster I made was small but hung proudly outside of our room all year.

This year, I needed a bigger poster.  Same message, but larger.  Something that would be harder to miss.  So my husband, who is my partner in everything, made me one.  I shared it on Instagram and Twitter and now others would like to use it.  So here you are

Feel free to use but please give credit.  And then believe it, every day, every kid, even when it is a hard day.  That would be the best gift of all.

Here is the link to the file, I just ordered a poster print through Walgreens.  If you use it, let me know, I would love to see it out in the wild.

 

being a teacher, new year

My Teacher Lesson Planner

Even though September is still far away, my mind has been on my classroom lately.  How can it not be when I am as excited to meet my new students as I am?  This is also the first year that I get to go back to block teaching, but this time in 7th grade, rather than elementary.  To say my mind is swimming with ideas as I sit by the ocean would be an understatement.

I realized that one of the tools I seem to need every year is a great lesson planner.  I have gone through many iterations, none that I truly loved, and yet, as I looked online I felt a little inspired.  You see, those beautiful lesson planners for sale are truly gorgeous, but…I need different things than what they offer.  I need a place to actually plan the different components of my class, a place to keep student birthdays, a place to put my data in when I have it, and so on.

Rather than purchase one of the very pretty, but perhaps not so needed, teacher lesson planners that I see advertised everywhere, I thought I would just make my own.  While it may not be put together for me, I can put this in a binder, add what I need, change the pages I don’t like, and truly make it work for me.

I figure the money I save by making my own I can use on books and scratch and sniff stickers.

So what are the components of my teacher lesson planner this year?  Feel free to use as your own, as some of these I have created and some I have merely found online.  These are the different tabbed components.

Student Checklist.  I use a very easy table that I simply type up every year with the list of student names.  Once I have done that, I can use the table for all sort of things throughout the year.  It ends up looking something like this.

Year overview calendar.  I like being able to see the year at a glance, so I was thrilled to find this school year calendar offered for printing by Vertex 42.  There are also many others out there that you can simply print.

Monthly overview calendar.  My school functions on a black/orange schedule, and while my day doesn’t change, it helps to know which day it is.  I usually print my own school’s monthly calendar but found this option online as well for 2018 and 2019.  This is also where I plan to place student birthdays on so I can make sure to celebrate them in style.

Weekly planner.  This is the document I am still working on as I continue to tweak my 90-minute schedule.  I will write more about this once the year is underway I bet, but for now, this is my working schedule and my weekly plan template. 

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Data section.  This is where I like to keep my rosters, my reading data, and also any IEP, 504, ESL,  or health notes.

Standards section.  Our standards have been tweaked every year, so I like to keep a printed copy handy rather than have to look it up each time.

Extra section.  Every year, I have a few paper copies of things I need to keep handy but they don’t really fit under a theme.  That’s where the extra section comes in, use it for notes, for copies, numbers, whatever you need.

All of these sections will be placed in some sort of color binder with some sort of tabs.  I know it’s not as much fun as some of the planners I have seen, but you know what, it works for me.

Be the change, being a teacher, first day, first week, new year

A Sign to Welcome Them All

I have been in my current classroom for three years, about to begin year number four.  Never have I stayed in one classroom for so long and so my room, well, it is looking like I have been there a while.  Everything has its place, everything is where it feels comfortable, but comfort doesn’t equal excitement, so in order to show off the excitement I have for this new batch of students, I want to change it up a little bit.  As much as I can anyway with all of our book shelves, with all of our tables and chairs. And where does the change begin?  Right as they enter the door.

One of the biggest components of our classrooms is the need for students to feel like they belong so I knew I wanted something to signal how glad I am that they, the very child they are, showed up.  I also wanted something to communicate that all children are welcome, no matter their identity, no matter how they view themselves or are viewed by others.  I kept coming back to a blog post I wrote in the aftermath of some of the hateful acts here in the USA and realized that I knew exactly what the sign should say.  So here it is, I am so excited with how it looks, feel free to use the saying but please give credit.  I used Jenna Sue Design on Etsy because I have used her before and love her style.

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Change starts with us and so does safety and feeling like you belong.  I am glad this sign will be the first thing students see when they come through the door of our classroom.

If you like what you read here, consider reading my newest book, Passionate Readers – The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child, out August 2017.  This book focuses on the five keys we can implement into any reading community to strengthen student reading experiences, even within the 45 minute English block.  If you are looking for solutions and ideas for how to re-engage all of your students consider reading my very first book  Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.      Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.