Saturday, October 1, 2016

Saturday Sayings: Find Your People



There's a lot of talk about tribe these days. Last year I relied on mine. I was in a place of frustration and doubt, that in my eyes, overshadowed my 21 years of experience. 

When I couldn't see the forest for the trees, my tribe offered perspective. 

When I needed to vent, they listened. 

When I needed to cry, they let me and hugged on me as well.

But they never left me as is. 

They couldn't alter my situation or manipulate my circumstances, but they repeatedly spoke truth into my life, that at the time was nearly impossible to recognize on my own.

I remember a particular poignant and inspiring moment about halfway through the school year when my cousin Laurie offered me a completely different perspective to consider. It didn't change my circumstances, but it began a gradual work of healing in my heart and mind. Following this conversation, maybe within a month's time, I woke one morning after another frustrating classroom situation to a revelation of my own. It felt like a breath of fresh air. Again, my situation didn't change, but my burden felt lighter. Without a tribe that was offering me a different outlook, I doubt I would have been in the right place to receive my own revelation in a time when I needed it the most.

I told a group of new teachers at an orientation meeting this Fall to find their tribe. The same advice could be offered to teachers with countless years of experience. We must all find our people. Who are yours? 




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Saturday, September 24, 2016

Identity Day

Thursday was an exciting day in Miss McMorrow's first grade class. It was Identity Day. We all shared our identities, which I explained as our passions. I learned some new and valuable things about my kiddos. 





I wasn't exactly sure how to tackle the format, but I think my system worked pretty well. While the class sat on the floor, the presenter shared and then asked for questions. For the sake of time, the audience was allowed two questions. After every fourth presenter, the class was then allowed to visit any of those four, ask additional questions, make comments, and look more closely at any visuals the presenter brought. I put a limit as to how many kids could visit a presenter at a time for various reasons. Smaller groups equal better crowd control, and it ensured that all four presenters would always have an audience. I gave a signal when it was time to switch and visit another presenter. Then we'd repeat the process with four new presenters.

I have George Couros, author of The Innovator's Mindset, to thank for our special day. First off, his book is an inspiring one. Read it. Secondly, considering the time of year, I kept my version of Identity Day fairly simple, but I invite you to read how Couros' whole school participates in Identity Day here and here. His posts will help you catch the vision. 

This is the letter I created for parents.


From sewing to art to horses to Legos. These things motivate and inspire my learners. Now how can I use their passions in the classroom? This is my challenge.




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Saturday, September 17, 2016

Saturday Sayings: User Stories



Who are the users represented in your classroom? No doubt you have a unique set.

Here are a few of mine.
  • the active student
  • the special needs student
  • the advanced student
  • the reluctant student

I'm in a program this year called the Idaho Coaching Network which supports teacher leaders specifically in the areas of ELA and Literacy. The coaches have prompted us to think about our users when designing units. 

Who are my users? 
What will my users want to get out of this unit?
How do I best meet their needs?

Yet the most enlightening part of this conversation came when I was asked to consider user stories. Here is the user story template. 


As a (role) student I want (feature or practice) so that (benefit).


For example, when considering my active students, I wrote their user story like this:

As an active student I want to move and create so that I can learn and think better.

Each user has their own story, and the challenge is to keep their stories in mind when planning our time with those users. I believe it's worth taking the time to write their stories down and then think deeply how to meet their needs in a practical way throughout our teaching. I know I'm guilty at times of teaching to the elusive average student, who by the way doesn't even exist, while there are students around the edges who need an open door to content. They need a teacher who is aware of their needs and has provided a way to access the curriculum. As Couros suggests, it's wise to think about the learning from their perspective. 


Who are your users and what's their perspective?



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Sunday, September 11, 2016

PR is Real

Public relations in the classroom is a real thing, especially at the beginning of the year. It's hard to please everyone, but I work hard to make a good impression with parents. It's my job to get them on my side as soon as possible which often requires some sacrifice of both time and money, but I know parents notice.

They notice the phone call I make to them before school even starts.

They notice the personalized post card I send to their child before the year begins.

They notice the apple and note I give them at Back to School Night.

They notice the balloon I leave at their child's desk when they meet me for the first time.

They notice the fact that I update our class website daily and add pictures and descriptions of what their child is doing each day.

As the year starts and parents notice the extra things I'm willing to do to make them comfortable with this person who will watch over their child for the next nine months, I'm essentially making deposits to their account. In fact, before school even starts, their accounts are accumulating with positive reasons to trust me. Along the way though, when I make an error or there's some kind of misunderstanding or an issue arises and it feels like a withdrawal is being made, most parents are more likely to show an extra amount of grace because their accounts were already full. This is less likely to happen with an empty account or one running low on funds, and it usually results in a deficit.

So the little extra things we teachers do for the benefit of our parents during the craziest time of the year when there are already a million things on our plates are worth doing. Don't stop, teachers. Parents are important players in this game, and we want them playing for us and not against. 

What types of deposits are you making?



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Saturday, September 3, 2016

Wantability

Yesterday while reading Watch Me Throw The Ball by Mo Willems, the substitute next door slipped into the hall and quietly closed her classroom door, because there's only one way to read Watch Me Throw The Ball -- with enthusiasm! I actually considered the door closing to be quite a compliment, and it wouldn't be the first time a teacher's door has done that during one of my read-alouds. 

It's my job to make every book I read aloud come to life, even if that means people down the hall wonder why someone's screaming. "Oh yeah, Miss McMorrow must be reading to her kids again." Once I place that book into some basket on the floor or shelf, I want it to call the name of every little person who heard me read it. That doesn't happen without some passion from the first reader -- me.

I've been a believer of the importance of the teacher's role as a reading salesman for a long long while. This year though I've been throwing my weight into that role. I ramped up the number of daily read-alouds during the first few weeks of school. I checked out over 30 irresistible books from the library. I put 20 of them into a large box on the first day of school with a sign that said Do Not Open (until Friday). And I told the new teacher I'm mentoring about this all-important role she's taking on. If our students can't help but want to read because of how over the top we are about books and our love for them, they'll be more apt to try to be readers, even when it's not easy.

This morning I read a post by Kylene Beers that puts the exclamation point on the end of everything I've been thinking and doing. I love the way she talks about increasing "wantability" before increasing "readability." Read this post. It's short, brilliant, and worth your while.


Wouldn't it be really cool if all our school hallways were filled with the sounds of teachers reading aloud to their kids? Maybe we'd also have more classrooms filled with kids who want to read those same books themselves.


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Friday, September 2, 2016

Drive Them Crazy

My kids found this envelope hanging from the ceiling on Tuesday.


Dave Burgess would say that mystery and anticipation are effective teaching tools that we should use to hook our students. There's no reason why we can't drive them crazy -- crazy enough that they want to come back for more. That's the effect this envelope had with my kids. It's the kind of stuff they talk about at home. I know, because one of my parents even mentioned it.

So before lunch on Wednesday, I Dave Burgessed the  actual opening of the envelope just to drive them a bit more batty. (And yes, I just turned Dave Burgess into a verb.) Even though I could reach the envelope, I pretended I couldn't. "Sorry...guys...I...can't...reach...it." Reaching, grasping but no luck. (It was a fine performance.) "Stand up straight! Get on your tippy toes!" they called out. So once I miraculously got our envelope, I had to draw out the suspense a bit longer with a few more antics. I just might have silently read the letter inside, letting out a few gasps with a look of astonishment on my face before quietly folding up the letter and sliding it back into the envelope. Yep, I really did that, and their reactions were exactly what I hoped for.

I finally did read the letter out loud. Wednesday was National Eat Outside day, so it let them know we were going outside to eat lunch in the grass. 

I'm searching for more ways to Dave Burgess my days and drive my kids crazy! 



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Saturday, August 27, 2016

Books are Irresistible

This summer I had the privilege of hearing Dave Burgess speak about teaching like a pirate. I'd already read his book and was a fan, but hearing him in person brought his message to life. If you've ever sat in one of his audiences, you know what I mean. It's quite memorable. 

So this year I'm aiming to teach more and more like a pirate as I think of my students and how to bridge the gap between their motivations, interests and the curriculum. At the same time, I want to ramp up my sales pitch for reading. I always say the prevention of the summer slide starts on day one. 

On the first day of school, my students found a large box in my room with an important sign attached.


I actually didn't hear too much about the box throughout the week, but on Friday morning Kellen's first words to me were about that box. I also heard from some parents that it was a topic of conversation and anticipation at home. Score!


I made a big deal of the reveal. It was practically a Christmas morning moment. After the opening, I read a few titles to wet their appetite, like Dinosaur vs. The Potty or Vegetables in Underwear. (I was very intentional about the types of books I chose for the box.) The kids responded just like I'd hoped with squeals and laughter. I've a feeling there were some who might have been slightly disappointed that there wasn't indeed a kitty inside, but I'm hoping that my sales pitch is having an affect, even if I can't tell yet.

Then I tried some book speed dating with them. Although it wasn't a fail, it didn't go as beautifully as I had envisioned in my head. I cut it short but gathered some good information nonetheless. I definitely got a good feel for who my readers are. I also noticed those whose interest and stamina are weak. 

Next week, I'll begin reading those books for read-aloud. I imagine some of them will become future favorites, and even my reluctant little ones will begin to experience the fact that books are irresistible.


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