Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Educon Encienda Presentation

Processing and reflecting on Educon has been high on my to-do list for the past two days since we got back home. Unfortunately daily life and the exhaustion that always follows Educon have kept me from doing so. For the moment, here's my Encienda presentation from Saturday. This is an Ignite-style presentation - a PowerPoint with 20 slides that auto-advance every 15 seconds. For reasons I don't completely understand I've found that I really enjoy putting together and presenting this style. Of course, now that I watch it there are so many things I would change. The big idea is still one I believe in however.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Educon Session

Big Day Ahead

After all the fun yesterday of seeing folks again and the panel discussion at the Franklin Institute making my head hurt by the end, it's hard to believe that today I've got to do an Encienda presentation (sometime around noon) and lead a conversation on the patterns in our thinking (at 1 pm).

The links above will take you to the Educon site if you are interested in joining us virtually. I'll get stuff from these session posted here sometime soon as well.

As always I'm having a tough time deciding where to be today (aside from my own sessions, of course). A good night's sleep helped but I've still got a lot of processing to do from last night and am sure to be compounding that in the next few hours.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Educon 2.4 Here We Come

In just a couple of days we'll (my husband and I) be in Philadelphia for Educon 2.4. This will be my fourth year attending and his third. It says something significant about Educon that we attend together (and last year even led a session together). We both attend multiple conferences each year but there is no overlap outside of Educon. He is a college professor and I teach first graders. Our professional lives are not that different but our conferences often are. Educon works for us both.

I'll be leading a session at 1:30 on Saturday about the patterns in our thinking. It's similar to the presentation I gave at the National Council on the Social Studies annual conference last month, but tailored for this crowd and this structure.

The folks running Educon (mostly students at SLA and some parents) do a fabulous job of streaming the sessions live. So if you can't be there but are interested, check out the Educon site Saturday afternoon and join us.

During lunch that day I'll be doing an Encienda as well. These are five minute highly structured presentations. You create a twenty slide PowerPoint that auto-advances every 15 seconds. This will be the third year I've done one of these because I've found I love this style of presentation. This year's focus is on giving students meaningful choice in school. More and more I've noticed that most of the choice we offer students is pseudo-choice at best. I have no idea if the Enciendas will be streamed but they have been great fun to watch and give in the past.

If you'll be in Philly I look forward to seeing you. If you can't make it, checking out the streaming this weekend will be well worth your time.

Monday, January 23, 2012

The Flip Side of High Expectations

I've been mulling something as a parent that was highlighted today as a teacher as well.

We ask more of kids than we do of ourselves.

As a parent, I've noticed that I often tell my children not to use a certain tone in frustration or anger even though I use a certain tone in exactly that manner. I require that they talk with me to work through a problem, even though, when in their shoes I might want some cooling down time before having such a conversation. I tell my daughters they have to answer me when I ask them a question or say something to me to acknowledge me but I don't always respond to them when they speak to me.

I was in a classroom today while one of our astoundingly wonderful counselors was talking to the students about what to do when they are feeling grouchy. As they all talked together I realized that students don't have a lot of options in school when they are upset. A teacher might let them take a break from things but they can't listen to music, take a walk, talk it out with someone, or any of the things we do to help us cope.

My students are six and seven years old. My daughters are eight and five. Why do I expect them to have more control of themselves than I have of myself? Why do I not offer them the same options I want when things are rough?

I don't have an answer to those questions nor a quick response for the future. As seems to so often be true, this is something I'm going to have to keep thinking about.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

From the Mouths of (Slightly Older) Babes

A former student of mine, now a third grader, had a rough day yesterday. Apparently at one point she ran away, out of the building. An instructional assistant followed and the young lady proceeded to roll around on the ground.

The IA asked, "Do I need to take you to talk to the principal?"

The student stopped rolling, whipped her hair back and replied, "The principal can come and talk to me!"

When our principal shared this with me today, I cracked up. As did she. However, it got better. She searched out this student today (having not seen her yesterday) and asked, "I hear you made a comment yesterday that I might be interested in..."

The student looked sheepish, whipped her hair back (of course), and said, "What I MEANT was 'Could you please go get the principal so I can talk to her because I'm having a hard day.'"

I love this girl, as exhausting as she may be, and I love my principal because she loves this little firebrand too.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

From the Mouths of Babes

Comments overheard today, a typical Wednesday:

A girl having a rough day, she was tired and cranky, complaining on the walk back from lunch: "I'm just having a hard day at school. People are being mean to me. Blah, blah, blah."

Several boys having a conversation at dismissal: "I have a collection of skinny jeans. Do you know what color is the only one I don't have?" "What color?" "Red."

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

My Word for 2012: Listen

I've seen a number of posts lately identifying one word for focus in 2012. Unfortunately I can't remember who has written these posts because they wrote them right at the start of the year. Unlike those punctual people, I am two weeks into the year before I can figure out what 2012 means to me.

My word, now that I've determined it, is 'listen'. On Friday I had a surprisingly long conversation with a student that required a lot of  waiting on my part. (At the end of the conversation my intern looked at me and said, "That is the most patient conversation I have ever heard.") By listening, really listening and not jumping into the silence, I was able to better understand the situation with this student.

This weekend I found myself doing something similar with my daughters. They don't require much silence, unlike my student, but really listening to them is not always easy for me.

Listen, it's a powerful word for me at the moment. I am trying to focus on listening to my students, my intern, my daughters, my husband, my co-workers, my family, my friends. I have a lot to learn from all of them and that requires listening. Listening is also a sign of how important they are to me.

I'm taking this word internally as well. I am halfway through a 28 day cleanse.* I am listening to my body better than I have ever done. Listening to it will help me make healthier choices about food, exercise, how I spend my time, and a whole host of choices I make.

Growing and improving as a person is a challenge and one that requires a lot of focus and reflection. I believe that listening will help me grow and improve emotionally, mentally, and physically.

The 28 day cleanse I am doing is focused on not eating foods that are overly processed or that often cause reactions in people. At the end of the 28 days you gradually add back in those things: dairy, gluten, wheat, alcohol, sugar, to see if your body reacts to them. I don't know if I really believe in that aspect. I did this as an extreme change in eating habits in the hopes that it would help me make healthier choices long term. No way to know that yet, but I have high hopes.

Image from By The Bridge on flickr

Friday, January 13, 2012

My Nerdy Book Club Guest Post

My guest post, Supporting Pre-Nerdy Readers, is up on Nerdy Book Club. I wrote about a couple of things I do at the start of the year to support my first graders growth into nerdy readers. Interestingly enough the one comment already there is from a high school teacher connecting what she does to what I describe. While, in theory I believe that good teaching is good teaching, it's still always surprising to me to realize how similar my first grade classroom can be to middle, high school and college classrooms. I hope the comments continue and keep pushing my thinking about this.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Great Blog Title: Nerdy Book Club

I try not to add feeds to my google reader very often. I don't know how many feeds I follow (some no longer post so the number isn't as meaningful as it could be anyway) but it tops 200. The bar to get added has gotten higher and higher over the years. I do delete feeds but not as quickly as I've added them.

The most recent addition to my list is Nerdy Book Club. The site is coordinated by three teachers, people actually in the classroom! One is Donalyn Miller, the author of The Book Whisperer, a book that is still on my to-be-read list but that I have heard raves about for some time now. I need to get it read soon because I'll get the chance to hear her speak at the Language and Learning Conference at GMU in March.

Last week the lovely teachers at Nerdy Book Club put out a google form inviting folks to write guest posts for the blog. I had an idea for a post I thought would be a good fit so I filled out the form. I didn't expect anything to happen too quickly so it didn't feel like a huge investment. Well, within a couple of days I had heard from Colby Sharp, another of the teachers coordinating the blog.

Long story short, my post for their Pay It Forward Friday about how I start the year with pre-readers and help them become independent lovers of books will be up on Friday. I'll link to it then but the site is worth checking out anytime.

Simple Communication

I'm in my 14th year of teaching. There are a lot of things I have worked hard over those years to hone, reflected on to improve, strived to perfect, but in all that time I have stunk at communicating with parents. I know that part of the reason is concerns about a language barrier. Many of our families do not speak English, or only speak it a bit, so phone conversations can be a challenge.

One thing I've done for several years is send postcards home to my students. Several times a year I will write to each child after they've had a great day, worked really hard at something, or done something extra kind. I will mail the card to them, knowing that their parents will see it. I think that's my greatest success when it comes to communicating with families.

Sadly, that doesn't seem like enough after all these years. I have a daughter in school and I know, firsthand, how important it is to hear from the teacher about what is going on with kids. It has been, for a number of years now, a goal to improve in this area and it has continued to remain stagnate.

Yesterday we were exploring fractions and trying to understand what the top and bottom numbers mean. It started slow but before too long several students were really digging deep, asking great questions, and noticing important things. We're not fully there with fractions yet but we made significant progress yesterday thanks to these kids.

These were not the kids one would have expected this from. I was astounded by their perseverance and their deep thinking. So as soon as they all went home I got on the phone. I left two voice mails (I hope the parents get those messages - phone numbers change so often for our students it's impossible to be sure) and talked with one mom. When I identified myself to her I could immediately hear her resignation and preparation for bad news. I told her what a great job her son had done and she said, "Really?" We continued to talk and the change in her was immense. She is not accustomed to hearing good things about this child.

That's on us as a school. He is a student who struggles with self-control. He has trouble staying focused on just about anything. However, he is smart and funny and has a ton of potential. I hope his mom knows that just because he is her son and she knows him. I hope we haven't colored her picture of him so significantly that she can only see the challenges.

My new goal is to make three positive phone calls home each week.Stating it here will make it just a bit harder to ignore. (Plus, I think it's possible the intern working in our room will read this and then I will have to stick with it!)

I want parents to know that we see the wonderful things about their children. If they already see those things it will simply reinforce them. If they are having trouble seeing those things maybe my words will help them focus.

Monday, January 09, 2012

Zen Snowfall

After an absolutely beautiful Saturday in which I wore a sleeveless dress and my girls both wore short sleeves, all of us outside without jackets and quite comfortable, today we had some snow. It was one of those practically perfect snows, big fluffy flakes. The snow settled on the trees and bushes, but very little on the ground. It truly was a winter wonderland.

Sadly it started just about the time the students left so we didn't really get to enjoy it together. I'm especially sad that they didn't get to see it through the window on which all of their snowflakes are hanging. I did take a short video as I was unable to capture it in a photograph.

Sunday, January 08, 2012

Need to Move

My husband, our daughters (8 and 5), and I started a family fitness class tonight. Four families were there with kids ranging from four to early teens. We did some activities/games inside and outside (as the weather is decidedly un-January-like). It was not an intense workout but it was certainly good exercise.

We did a couple of things I want to try in my classroom. One was a partner game of sorts. One person is the 'coach' and the other is the 'athlete.' Each person holds out an index finger. The coach moves (watching out for others in the room) and holds out their index finger and the athlete follows and touches their index finger (like ET). This continues with the coach moving slowly and holding out the index finger at various levels and angles. Then the partners switch. (I don't think I'm explaining it well but it was great.)

The second activity was individual. We walked around the space like ninjas, stepping as quietly as possible, toe to heel. At each step we balanced on that foot for a bit before taking the next step.

In my classroom we often spend some time getting our wiggles out with music. I have noticed that those kids who most need to wiggle often don't, they just stand there. I think this week I'll try these two activities and see if it manages to get everyone involved.

Monday, January 02, 2012

A Fresh Start (or so it feels)

I will be heading back to school tomorrow after a week and a half off. A week and a half during which I thought very little about school. I had a wonderful time with my family, including my parents and sister. It's the most family focused I've been in quite some time and it was totally worth it.

My husband asked tonight what my plans were after our girls went to bed. I shrugged, thinking of my huge to-do list. He chuckled and asked, "What are you teaching tomorrow?" (He, as a college professor, doesn't go back for a couple more weeks although he does have a conference this week.) I realized I had no idea what I will teach tomorrow and that wasn't even on my mental to-do list. Time to get back in the swing of things.

There is an intern who began in my classroom before the holidays. His time there was sporadic and brief so I really think of him starting with us now.

I love working with pre-service teachers for a lot of reasons. The biggest one, I think, is that it pushes me to be at the top of my game. It requires me to reflect on what I am doing, the choices I am making, the language I am using, everything about my practice.

So, for the sake of my students and this wonderful intern I'm pulling myself out of the wondrous bubble in which I've been living and begin to pull my focus back to a job I love.