Education

That time of year.

If I needed any more proof that it is “that time of year” I could utilize the fact that I have not been able to force myself to sit down and reflect in writing for almost 3 weeks.

So much for my twice a week (once at the least) goal. I guess goals can be revised, rewritten and restarted!

Teaching 4 preps for the first time since my first year of teaching (this is year 6) has been one of the best parts of my day, and also one of the most stressful parts of my day! Gone are the days of making sure I have everything I need in the morning and being set for the day. Now I make sure I have everything I need until 9:15, then everything I need until 12:30 and then everything I need until 2:45. The planning, material gathering and reflection are at an all time high for this teacher, but it has been so invigorating in the process.

I assigned/taught/graded my first “real” writing assignment in 5 years and MAN did I forget what it was like to grade writing! Thank goodness for rubrics, but STILL. I definitely did not manage my time well this past weekend. ELA teachers, your dedication, self-discipline and perseverance are not going unnoticed!

My 6th graders have worked together with their learning teams to explore area concepts, teach each other about scientific investigations/experiments and discovered the similarities and differences between accuracy and precision.

My 5th graders have completed online simulations where they utilized the scientific method, learned how to choose measuring tools for the most accurate and precise measurement, created structures to test during a model earthquake inquiry and learned to model multiplication with an area model and a generic rectangle with partial products.

The level of focus and dedication the students display on a daily basis provide the added motivation for me when curling up on the couch with my golden retriever watching football or The Voice sounds so much better than planning and grading.

But it is that time of year.

It is that time of year where there doesn’t seem to be enough coffee in the world. It’s that time of year when the papers in the “to grade” pile are stacked higher than the papers in the “to complete” pile but definitely not has high as the “to pass back” pile (seriously–when do you all have time to pass things back?)! It is that time of year when we as teachers feel like we spend more hours taking to our students families than our own (especially if you have fall conferences). It is that time when we start thinking “I guess we will sleep in June” (because the weekends are NOT enough time to “catch up”).

One of my sisters is in her first year as a social worker and works for an agency that partners with the Cleveland Metropolitan Schools. I have had similar conversations with her trying to prepare her for the long late fall early winter days! So while I just sent her a Starbucks gift card to help in the short term, I had to remind her in the long term what while it is “that time of year” it is also that time of year to recognize the progress students have made. It is that time of year to reflect on just how much you really have gotten done in your curriculum or meetings. It is that time of year to remember how you have developed as an individual and a professional. It is that time of year to keep doing your best for your students, but also that time of year to keep doing your best for yourself.

Don’t forget to stop and take time to nourish your own spirit. For me, this comes in the form of spending time with my family and friends, going to bed an hour earlier (even if that means I have to wake up an hour earlier to finish the left over plans), taking an extra long walk with my dog and being okay with the “to grade” pile taking an extra day to shrink.

Enjoy “THIS time of year” it only comes around once with the kiddos you have now!

-AMR

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Education

Thankful.

If you are hoping for a life-changing, earth-shaking, mind-blowing blog post today, I hate to disappoint you, but this is likely NOT going to be it. I was fortunate enough to spend all day yesterday and the first half of my day today with my 6th graders at Heartland Conference Retreat Center for 6th grade camp and it is by far one of my favorite experiences of each year.

In our district, the 6th grade teachers (and a few other staff members) from each building are allowed to take students on a 2-night, 3-day camp experience, and words can not do our trip justice. From the moment we arrive on campus, the Heartland Staff takes over and makes the experience as enjoyable and smooth as possible. They lead our students through courses that we select (this year- survival, team challenge, reptiles and amphibians, mammals, pathfinders and archery), afternoon activities and evening activities (this year- Wacky Olympics, a dance party, campfire and a night hike) and we get to enjoy bouncing around from class to class and observing our students learning and problem solving together. While these days are beyond exhausting, they are more than worth it!

I love being able to sit back and watch my kiddos experience things for the first time. Whether it is holding a bearded dragon, petting a chinchilla, climbing the indoor rock wall, building a shelter in the woods or learning how to build a fire, the level of engagement and joy are impossible to document to their fullest extent. The school I teach at is in a district that is considered affluent, but our building is classified as a Title I school with more than half of our students receiving free and reduced breakfast and lunch daily. The average socio-economic status of our families is the lowest in the district, while our ethnic diversity is among the highest! Our students are dedicated and determined students who practice our 7 virtues (respect, responsibility, self-discipline, honesty, perseverance, giving, and compassion) daily, yet do not always have the same out of school experiences and opportunities as their same grade level peers at other buildings around the district. 6th grade camp allows our students to experience activities they may otherwise not be exposed too, and I am so fortunate to be able to facilitate and be a part of their learning in these situations. Their smiles tell a better story than I will ever be able to.

The hardest part is choosing which pieces to share with you!

 

Education · Teaching

Teaching Collaboration.

Collaboration is vital in the world of education from both the teaching and learning perspective.

As I reflect on my first 5 (and 3 months) years of teaching, there are so many interactions with colleagues I am thankful for. There are so many co-workers and friends who have, because my collaboration with them, led me to be a better thinker, learner and teacher.

The ability to collaborate is one that is held in highest regard in the workplace (and in the classroom), yet I don’t remember at all being taught how to collaborate. This could be because I have a horrible memory of my childhood, or because when “we were kids” collaboration came more natural for whatever reason (I blame technology and the ability to be enthralled with an individual activity or in front of a screen). This year, I have tried to have all of the sections I teach (5th grade science, 5th grade math, 6th grade science and 6th grade math) all be centered around the nature of collaboration.

This was not as easy of a transition as I thought.

Little did I know, I had to teach my students how to collaborate effectively. I like to think with enough time to plan and enough resources (and time to study the material myself) I can teach just about anything. Then the first few days of school hit and I realized, well, this is new. I wanted my kids to work and learn together almost ALL the time, but I had to teach them how to do that. I had to take a step back and think about what my goals for collaboration were, and how slow was I willing to go content wise these first weeks of school to build the collaboration aspect of our learning community.

Thankfully, my school district was a step ahead of me. Our district adopted a new math program for 6th-12th graders that is TOTALLY focused around team learning and collaborative groups. CPM might have saved me. CPM is a math program based out of California, and they envision a world where “mathematics is view as intriguing and useful, is appreciated by all and where powerful mathematical thinking is an essential, ,universal and desirable trait; and where people are empowered by mathematical problem solving and reasoning…”. Their program is based around students working collaboratively in teams (because 4 brains are better than 1) and provide teachers with more tools, professional development and guidance than I could ever imagine to help embed collaboration in each and ever lesson. I will admit, I was apprehensive to make such a strong overall shift in classroom structure (we have always worked in teams problem solving, but that has not typically been the DAILY structure or expectation in class), but I have never been more thrilled with the progress a group of students has made in the first 3-4 weeks of school as I have seen with my current group of 6th graders. Each and every one of them is now committed to working as a team.

The great thing about this curriculum switch, is that it made it even easier for my other class periods (especially the ones with my 5th grade– I can tell them “I just want you to be prepared for 6th grade) to take on more of a collaborative learning approach. While we still have a long way to go,  I am so proud of my students in how quickly they have learned to work and learn together in ways they are not used to. I am energized and excited to see what the next 7-8 months have in store for my team of learners (including myself)!

-AMR

 

 

Education

Let Kids Be Kids

9 days down, and many more to go!

I now know why writers keep a journal with them at all times — I have had to jot down a list of things I want to reflect on and write about during these first couple weeks of school, but time seems to fly by (or when I do have time, all I want to do is take a nap….or binge watch Game of Thrones….do we really have to wait until 2019?!?!)!

Flexibility is the name of the game when it comes to teaching, which can be comical since most teachers I know thrive with a schedule. The first 9 days of school were all about scheduled flexibility. We are finally settling into a routine, and it is a routine that I am thrilled with. I was a little nervous at first looking at how our schedule was pieced together, it seemed like it would be very choppy with a lot of breaks throughout the day. This schedule is exactly what my students and I (hopefully my teammate too) need.

We have four solid instructional blocks that are packed with meaningful conversations, discussions, inquiry, collaboration, reading, writing, and learning. All because we have time in our day when our kids can be kids. We have time in our day where our kids can enjoy being together, can enjoy giving their brains a quick break and in turn can enjoy learning.

In the first 9 days, I have witnessed a group of 2nd, 5th and 6th graders playing together happily outside. I have witnessed sixteen 10 and 11 year olds play a huge game of duck, duck, goose. I have witnessed 20+ 5th and 6th graders huddle together to watch and protect a toad (and move in their huddled circle to keep the toad inside.

In the first 9 days, I have also witnessed teams of 3-4 students work together to extend and analyze mathematical patterns. I have witnessed these students represent the pattern visually, in words and with numbers. I have witnessed students work in pairs to complete an online simulation to help them practice collecting and organizing data. I have witnessed students helping their neighbors write eight or nine digit numbers in expanded form, in word form and numerical form when they were struggling. I have heard students apologize for accidents and mistakes. I have heard kids say they are happy to be in class. I have heard kids say they can’t wait to be able to read and I have heard kids say they wish they could keep playing their math games. I have watched students show compassion, giving, honesty, self-discipline and perseverance.

My heart has been overjoyed with what I have been able to witness from my students so far this year. I look forward to the year to come, and how much academic, social, emotional and personal growth I am going to witness in my students, and in myself thanks to my students.

The kids I get to work with every day are awesome. I am so blessed to be able help them continue to learn, grow and play in a place where they feel welcome, safe and happy.

Here’s to 2017-2018.

-AMR

 

Education

Three down!

“The most important day of a person’s education is the first day of school, not Graduation Day.” – H. Wong

I was hoping after the first three days of the year, I would have something amazing and profound to share, but it is difficult for me to put these first three days into words.

This year, I felt like we were able to hit the ground running. (Of course it helps that my teammate has taught all of the 6th graders on our team before, and I know them decently well!) The first three days were filled with smiles, laughter, teamwork, reading, vocabulary development, conversations, investigations and collaboration. I could not be happier.

On our very first day of school, both my 5th graders (pictured below) and 6th graders were able to generate a list of mathematical questions that could be answered by analyzing an image, using prior knowledge and estimation skills. For this activity, we used the image from day 41 of Andrew’ Stadel’s Estimation 180. Estimation 180 has been one of may favorite ways to encourage students to communicate with each other about mathematical reasoning and allow them to become more comfortable justifying their thinking. Last year, I used the Estimation 180 tasks in a whole class activity modeled after the style of a number talk. This year, collaboration is one of key components in my classroom, so I modified how I used Estimation 180 with teams of students. It put the biggest smile on my face, when students took it up on themselves to use tools while working together as a team to answer some of the mathematical questions that were proposed. (Remember, this is day ONE of the school year). They got right out of their seats and walked up to the board to start making measurements and sharing their reasoning. This requires a huge “Thank-you” to their teachers prior, who instilled in them the skills and confidence necessary to jump right back into thinking and learning.

Day 1 Math Teamwork

On day two, we began our first hands on science activity. We modeled on the SMART Board how to set up our science notebooks to introduce to students how their notebooks were going to be organized. Then both the 5th and 6th graders used their sense of sight, smell and touch to make observations about each sample. The teams then had to come to a community consensus, just as scientists do, about their theory as to the contents of each sample. The strawberries, bananas, carrots and sweet potatoes were correctly identified and agreed upon, but the spinach and blackberries stumped most of the 5/6 scientists!

All in all, the first few days were a beautiful balance of relationship building, schedule learning, and content instruction. I was on the verge of tears multiple times during the first three days, in the best way possible. Nothing will ever be better than beginning of the day, middle of the day and end of the day hugs and the “thank yous” kids share for various reasons.

If the first three days are any indication how the rest of the year will unfold, I am in for one of the greatest rides of my life. I am truly blessed to have had such a smooth transition in to year 6!

Side Note! So excited to share the solar eclipse with these awesome kiddos on Monday!

-AMR-

Education

Love is the Answer.

I have spent a great deal of time this weekend processing how I could synthesize my current thoughts. With everything going on in our nation, in-particular the sickening and angering events in Charlottesville, I find it very fitting that I began reading a book yesterday about “fueling your life, work and team with positive energy.” While by no means, am I going to attempt to ignore the horrible acts and disgusting sets of beliefs that are too prevalent and real in our nation, I would be doing a disservice to my time spent reading and reflecting on The Energy Bus if I did not try to channel positive energy to help myself, and the people around me continue forward.

For those of you that are not familiar with Jon Gordon’s book The Energy Bus, the story follows a man for two weeks who is “down on his luck” and for lack of better words, his life (work, home, marriage) is in shambles and he is on the verge of disaster. During the story, he learns 10 rules “for the ride of your life.” Through his journey, he learns how positive energy can turn his life around and allow him to reach the goals and visions he has set his sights on. I could go on and on about my favorite parts of this story, and to be honest, I probably will– so be prepared for a few more Energy Bus posts as we head into the first week of school!

Jumping ahead in the story quite a bit, Rule 8 for the ride of your life is to “Love your passengers”. The message of this chapter is that all any of us really want is to be loved. Us as adults, employees, leaders, bosses, husbands, wives, sisters, brothers, daughters, sons and friends have a desire to know we are loved. Our students, the loud ones, the quiet ones, the gifted ones, the at risk ones, the boys, the girls, the calm, the fidgety, the well-fed ones, the hungry ones, the well rested ones, the exhausted ones, the oldest siblings, the youngest siblings, the only children they ALL simply desire to be loved. As Joy is teaching George in chapter 26 she reminds him that “Enthusiasm is important. But love is the answer. To really, really and I mean really tap the power of your heart and lead with positive, contagious energy you must love your passengers” (Gordon, pg 114).

Our passengers may be the students we have the honor of teaching this year, our passengers may be our co-workers (old or new). Our passengers may be our family members, our passengers may be our neighbors. Our passengers may  be people we have similar positive life values and views with, or our passengers might be individuals that surround us who choose to feed into the negativity, judgement, racism and discrimination that plagues our society. Whoever our passengers may be, our job is to share our enthusiasm for positivity (I would also argue and advocate for sharing the position of justice and equality) through an outpouring of love.

So when the days get long, the lesson plans seem to never be finished, the stacks of homework and assessments to grade seem endless and time to relax with our family seems scarce, take time to remember how positivity and love can make all the difference– because “thoughts are magnetic. What we think about, we attract. What we think about expands and grows. What we put our energy and attention on starts to show up more in our life. And the energy we project through our thoughts is the energy we receive” (Gordon, pg 42).

My daily gratitude goes out to my principal, Liz, for having a personal and professional focus on positivity, and purchasing Jon Gordon’s The Energy Bus for our building leadership team.  To my new teammate, Brian, for encouraging me to start reading again (more importantly motivated me to start reading The Energy Bus  yesterday). And to  one of my co-workers, MaryAnn, for reaching out to talk about the important aspects of positive energy and the “sticking points” we face while trying to life life with a positive outlook. Thank you for leading me with your positive energy!

-AMR

Education · Teaching

Future.

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Today, I spent 3 hours with 28 wonderful colleagues (25 teachers in my building, our principal and 2 instructional coaches in the district) talking and learning about literacy and how we can incorporate the elements of a balanced literacy framework in our classrooms. That in itself is worth a conversation all on its own. We are less than a week from the 2017-2018 school year being in full swing, and such a large group of teachers chose to spend time learning together instead of relaxing by the pool, taking an extra nap, or lets face it, writing lesson plans.

One of the first tasks of our morning was to remember our “why” for teaching. We were then prompted to write our sentence, phrase or word on a label to keep as a constant reminder throughout the school year. (A fitting task seeing as one of our goals for the day was to understand the hierarchy of written language– from meaning, sentences, phrase, words all the way down to the formation of letters). We couldn’t narrow down our “why” to a phrase or a word unless we had fully developed the meaning behind our “why”.

My why is “future” for more reasons than one. Yes, our students and young people are the future of our nation. But more importantly, EACH AND EVERY ONE of our students’ individual futures are so incredibly valuable.  What motivates me each and every day is the fact that all of those 10, 11 and 12 year olds I have/will have the pleasure of teaching and learning from are full of potential and I am honored to be able to help cultivate that potential and help them realize what they can become. Our principal uses the phrase “every child needs a champion” repeatedly in her messages to us throughout the year. (If you have never seen Rita Pierson’s TedTalk “Every Kid Needs a Champion” take an 8 minute break and watch it now). I couldn’t agree with this statement more. Every kid needs a champion. To be their champion, that means I care about their past, their day today, tomorrow, next week, next month, next year and the years to come.

-AMR