Saturday, February 17, 2018


Well, hello Austin! Great to see you again - I love coming to conferences to learn new things and connect with others. The more you attend the more you start to know people from around the country who are passionate about education and the energy is abundant!

This week is TCEA and I am thrilled to attend again. Last Spring, my co-worker Suzanne Barker and I submitted some proposals to present as Instructional Technology Coaches. Well, over the summer we were both fortunate to move to new roles; however, we still have a deep love for all things technology and purposeful use of such tools for learning. We were happy to learn our session for Professional ePortfolios was accepted and we get to share about something we love.

One of the things I love about blogging is jotting my thoughts and reflecting on experiences to solidify my learning. Even if no one else reads this, I've retraced my steps, reviewed my notes, and intentionally selected some of my takeaways from TCEA.

Anytime we attend a conference, we (those I attend with) always share out notes (LOVE Google!) and bounce ideas off of each other. I learn just as much from others as from what I hear myself. It is great to connect and expand your opportunities for learning while attending a conference (or from home if you cannot attend).

Often at a conference, I hear things I already know but needed as a reminder. Our school is fortunate to be recieving new furniture for next school year. This furniture is not traditional and designed to promote flexible seating. I attended several sessions on flexible learning environments as a refresher. A few things I thought about were repurposing spaces on campus, providing recording booths, incorporating vertical writing spaces for students, adding makerspaces (Lego Wall), space for movement, and providing Student Voice in designing learning spaces on our campus.

In a new role, it took me a while to find direction at this conference. I wanted to focus on what I could learn to enhance my learning and opportunities to promote learning as a leader. This was definitely different than attending as a teacher or as an Instructional Coach with a focus on technology. Fortunately there were some sessions with this focus. I was able to gain ideas on how to use technology with purpose to flip PD or staff meetings, as well as communicate with parents and students. For example, using Screencastify to share a new procedure with parents and EdPuzzle to share content with staff while gaining feedback on completion and understanding of the content, plus it could be completed at a time that works best for them. This also reminded me that while it is great to model these ideas for staff, to go slow and model only a few things often (instead of something new all the time) to solidify comfort and learning of the technology tool. Plus, keep it relevant, interactive, and to content that can be sustained over time.

Not all learning takes place in a presentation at conferences. Often I learn or connect while waiting for a coffee or between sessions from others. A good friend and I met for lunch and she shared a site whe heard about at one of her sessions: This site is helpful to gain insight and empathy for all types of learners. I was specifically interested in the 'Attention Issues' simulation. My eldest son and my husband have ADHD and struggle with daily life skills (organization, completion of tasks, etc) as well as communicating their learning and I wanted to better understand. After a session, I went back to my hotel room and participated in the simulation. It was short and quick but eye-opening. I almost cried and wished I could hug my son right away. Gosh, I thought I was distractable but if this is his reality I am amazed he can get through most things. No wonder he needs to decompress at the end of the day! I tweeted it and shared it with others in my PLN right away.

In addition, I gained a few tricks (triple click highlights a paragraph - what?!) and tips (Screencastify - adjusting the microphone volume) and reminders (using the Read and Write extension) and something new (Suggestion Mode in Docs - LOVE!). Woohoo!

Leaving work to attend a conference is hard. Especially in Testing Season. (sigh) However, it is so beneficial for me to step away and refocus. It is so important for me to connect with others and enhance my learning, continuing to grow and build my PLN (back on Voxer connected with another leader to bounce ideas). For me, I missed my family. I missed my campus. Yet, I reconnected with other educators that make me who I am as a learner and a leader. Those connections are necessary for me to keep learning forward!

Let Them Be Little

I noticed a post by a friend and coworker yesterday on Twitter:

I retweeted it right away but it made me think.

I have the awesome opportunity to observe students working daily in the classroom. My door is always open (unless I'm on a phone call or in a meeting) and I'm able to listen to the buzz on campus. I hear so many things. It is when you are able to watch and listen that you realize so many things that may not occur to you when you are busy leading the learning.

Several years ago there was a shift in expectations for kindergardeners. I was not a kindergarden teacher so I did not directly experience it, but it made an impact on my students as they grew to my grade level. The shift led to the removal of play in the classroom, which was devestating to so many of us as educators. We KNOW that play is needed. Play is when children learn life skills - how to communicate, how to share, how to empathize with others, how to take turns, how to experience winning and losing - all are necessary in life.

A few years ago our librarian began a Game Club after school. To an outsider, it may have looked like they are 'just' playing games but it was a discovery we made that often children do not play board games at home and do not have the experiences of taking turns, strategy of a game, or winning and losing as a good sport. I thought it was genius! In this club, each game had an adult moderating to reinforce important skils. Again, learning these important life skills as they continue to grow and develop are such a foundation of social and emotional learning which are needed.

When I was still in the classroom, the removal of homework movement had begun. At first I questioned it then I began to really consider it. As a teacher, what purpose did homework hold as a learning tool for my students? Did it reinforce skills we practiced in class? Maybe for some. But... for ALL kids? No. Did homework promote good work habits at home? Maybe for some. But definitely not for all kids. When the homework returned to school, did I do anything with it? Sometimes. Then WHY were we doing homework?! Hattie's research shows there is not enough of a benefit to homework. Then I thought... (after seeing ideas on Twitter and Pinterest) why not provide ideas of meaningful activities as suggestions for students to complete at home as homework. I did a choice board with things like follow a recipe (reinforcing following directions, measurement, reading) or play a game outside (exercise, following directions, communication) or write a letter to a friend (writing, spelling, grammar, communication) or read to someone in your family (or a pet - family is busy but pets are present) or create something at home and bring a video/picture to show the class. Sometimes we (the students and I) would come up with ideas to connect to our learning outside of the classroom. For example, a scavenger hunt of shapes in the real world - take a pic, draw a picture, cut out an image, make a list of all the shapes you see. This was much more fun but also didn't hold this heavy weight for my students who cannot complete work at home - we do not know every child's home situation. This is important to me! We may think we know but we do not know. Why assume every child has a parent who sits at the table with them every night to work? Some parents work nights, multiple shifts, do not speak/read English, or are busy driving children to extra-curricular activities. Remove the pressure, for everyone. Encourage play, rest, reading, conversations... not paperwork.

My son's principal spoke to parents at the beginning of the year when she first took the role at his school. Her speech made such an impact on me. Her sons are grown. She reminded us of what we already know, that time goes so fast. She said they will not have regular homework sent home. Instead, read, reinforce manners, play, talk to, and make memories with your children. They will not look back and say, I'm so glad my parents made me do all the homework. They will look back and remember moments that matter. WOW. Yes!!

As adults, we are always searching for balance. Why not help our children keep the balance they already have - work hard, play hard. Kids know when to play and have fun and smile. We need to be sensitive to their need for balance. I watched a bunch of kids on the way out to a field trip this week. They were SO excited - to ride the bus! Gosh, as adults I'm not so sure I feel the same way. They were filled with joy and smiles and laughter. I loved it!

Instead of focusing on if a child can read, write, spell, count at five in order to be successful in school, why can't we focus on reinforcing that balance and building those social and emotional skills to provide a foundation for further learning? To me it is NOT all about academics in life. It is about a well-rounded being and I want to let them be little for as long as they can.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

#ShadowAStudent 2017

Last year I learned about the Shadow a Student Challenge. School staff members are challenged to experience a day in the life of a student by following them from the first to last bell, participating in the student's day. My administrator supported several of us to participate last year (blog post HERE). This year, as I am no longer a classroom teacher, I felt it even more necessary to participate. I want to stay connected to classroom cultures, teachers, and students and I feel this is a nice opportunity to do so. The opportunity to shadow a student at another elementary school was my goal. After working at the same school for 16 years, I am learning how much of a bubble I was in (even while participating in collaborative meetings, conferences, and having grown a strong PLN). A few weeks ago I learned I had the opportunity to shadow a first grader at an elementary school I am fortunate to work with often. I shared with the teachers and parents what the #ShadowAStudent Challenge is plus the campus leadership shared the project with the staff so they would have some understanding of the reason I was walking down the hall in line with 7-year-olds.

The day began in a teacher's room because I was shadowing a teacher's child. It was fun to be one of the first students in the classroom. The teachers smiled and welcomed me, showing me where to leave my lunchbox. The students in class were very confused and giggling when I brought in my backpack and asked where I could hang it up. My shadow student knows me and he quickly helped me out. The students asked me several questions but followed procedures and were prepared for the day to begin. One of my favorite things was how the day began with pleasant music. The morning announcements had not yet begun but there was music playing that made me feel happy and welcome. The students on the morning show announced that I was there and explained why, which made me feel special and happy (and hoping that I wouldn't be a distraction). After announcements, the teacher allowed me to introduce myself and explain my project, then each student introduced themselves as we had Circle Up. Circle Up is such a wonderful way to begin the day. Everyone gets their voice heard in the room and connects, which is warm and inviting and builds a positive classroom culture.

First, we had Math. We did so many fun things!! We sang, danced, read a story, did a formative assessment activity, had a quick assessment, then played partner games. It was busy but with a nice balance - sit & listen, dance, sit & listen, move, sit & listen, work, sit & listen, play. Before I knew it, it was time for Writing! We took a bathroom break as a class and it felt good to leave the room for a different space to fill for a few minutes. We went to another teacher's class for writing, which was research about dolphins. Our group worked together to search books and a site for facts the teacher referred to as 'treasures', which made me smile and miss teaching first grade. Plus, it made research feel like an adventure since we were searching for TREASURES! A single word made a difference that transformed our activity to an experience.

Next, we returned to our classroom for read aloud and an optional bathroom break. Our teachers were great partners and the two classes moved seamlessly through the day as a group. We worked on some activities while students worked with the teacher on Student Led Conferences prep work (Student Led Conferences were the next day). I had a conversation with the students at my table about the conferences. They enjoy sharing their growth and learning with their parents, which falls in line with our district Portrait of a Graduate. The students and their words made me smile.

Before I knew it, it was time for lunch and recess. I was so glad because all this movement and fun made me hungry! If you have never joined first graders for lunch, you must! The conversations are informative and entertaining and I had a great time. I knew what to do all the time because I could understand the expectations from students' actions or their words to help me. Procedures are clearly defined and executed in this school, which made my stress and anxiety for doing 'the right thing' at ease. Recess was great - it was a beautiful, sunny day! I mostly walked around to stretch my legs and arms, but also snagged a swing for a little bit. : ) It made me aware that even though we moved and had flexible options for seating, I needed to have big movement (gross motor movement) time. This had never occurred to me before as a teacher. Providing movement is important but this time to really move, stretch, run, and feel the sunshine is super important, too.

The afternoon was a buzy blur of Personalized Learning Time and science, which was a combination of books, paper, games, songs, and more. The day wrapped up with Specials. I went to Music then PE (yes, I wore my tennis shoes). In Music, I had so much fun but was really comforted by the clear expectations in place. With such a short period of time in which to experience this art, the teacher was prepared and ready for each step seamlessly. We sang, danced, and use an app called Quiver to practice music knowledge and skills to secure. Next, we went to PE. Y'all. I'm a spectator. Despite my boys and their gifts in athletics, I am NOT an athlete and quite clumsy. I was nervous. However, the PE teacher quickly led us to a fun game and I had a great time (pretty sure I got my steps in!) The children were encouraging and we smiled, laughed, and had fun moving and playing (reinforcing important skills of sharing, taking turns, postive teamwork, etc).

The end of the day was there before I knew it. I had a Student Council Meeting on campus afterwards so I had no time to process or rest until later (thus this post sitting in DRAFT for almost a year...) however, it was a most amazing experience. Some of my take-aways were how much fun our students are. Just sitting and listening and getting on their level was so uplifting and eye-opening. Another was how music was such a happy way to start my day. It promoted an even more postive and uplifting atmosphere in the classroom. Procedures and calm, caring teachers helped me feel so comfortable, safe, and confident throughout the day. Lastly, movement - moving in the classroom felt different than moving outside in the sunshine and fresh air as well as different than playing a structured game in PE. Movement, music, and many smiling faces helped me get through my day. Had the supportive teachers and encouraging students not been there to build me up, I'm certain my confidence would have dipped... which led me to believe had I needed to secure any knowledge or skills, I would have struggled had it not been for the pieces put in place by these dedicated educators.

What a fun day! I'm so thankful to the teachers that opened their doors to me, for the teacher friend who allowed me to shadow her child all day, for the energetic, sweet first graders who were my new best friends for eight hours, and most of all that I am surrounded by these forward-thinking educators and allowed to have this opportunity to push on and continue to learn and grow.