Saturday, November 19, 2016

Saturday Sayings: It's Not Always Easy

It's not always easy, but it's important. 

I mysteriously created this saying this year. I decided it was smart enough to repeat, so my students hear it often. In reflection, I'm realizing that maybe in the past I've given my students the wrong impression. 

Have I inadvertenly caused them to believe that working with others is easy? 

Doing the right thing when no one is watching is a piece of cake? 

Listening to their heart will always feel natural? 

These are huge misconceptions, based alone on the fact we adults manage to struggle with these same issues.

Yet I'm not letting them off the hook. I'm still going to teach my students about integrity, cooperation, character, mindset, and numerous other qualities. I'm raising the bar high, helping them exercise and develop the right muscles for doing the right thing even when it's not convenient. Though a few already make it look kind of easy, I know life will challenge them all and hand them all sorts of opportunities and reasons to not do the right thing. It will take years of practice to get this right, so we'd better start now. 

But I'd better let them know something and repeat it often.

It's not always easy, but it's important.

P.S. If you'd like some new Christmas music, check out the CD my cousin and I have recently released here.

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Sunday, November 13, 2016


Whether you like it or not, it's almost that time of year when Christmas music becomes the norm. If you're one of those people who enjoys a change of musical scenery for one month out of the year, you might be interested in adding this CD to your Christmas collection.

Evermore is my cousin's and my latest Christmas CD. We're both teachers who love to teach and sing, and we'd love to share our singing with you. This album features well-known Christmas songs as well as some worshipful music that we've written. 

You can download the CD here, but if you'd like a real copy, we'd prefer to send you one instead of using the CD site. Just let me know, and I'd love to make that happen. 

Merry early Christmas!

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Saturday, October 29, 2016

Saturday Sayings: Just Because it Works

"I have no original thoughts of my own." I periodically borrow this phrase from my cousin David. I suppose those words are not altogether true, but I do often rely on the wisdom of mentors who seem way smarter than I could ever be. Having said that, the phrase below is actually mine. 

Just because it works doesn't mean it's good for kids.

I'd like to define "works." I imagine most stakeholders would equate "works" with acceptable test scores. If the numbers are good, then the instruction must have been also and kids are in good shape for the future. Herein lies the misconception. If children score well but the methods used don't inspire them, then it was definitely not in their best interest and they are essentially no better off than before instruction began. 

I believe it's possible to drag a class of students to good scores while leaving them blind to the joys of learning. I could most likely spend the majority of my day killing and drilling my students to good fluency reading scores with pure phonics, isolated sight words, decodable reading passages,  meaningless worksheets or activities, and then topping it off with pointless homework without them really ever learning the joys of time spent listening and interacting with amazing read-alouds or reading independently or in partnerships or in book clubs with real live books in their hands. These students might get good fluency scores, but they won't be in love with books and most likely quite the opposite will be true.

As Burgess says, building a love of learning in our students takes priority over anything else, and our instruction must reflect that. What indeed are we nurturing? 

Great test scores or students? 

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Saturday, October 22, 2016

Saturday Sayings: Building Bridges

I'm a bridge builder. When I tell my mathematicians "Don't let yourself freeze up. You have strategies you know how to use," I'm building a bridge, since I'd already used that same language in reading workshop. When I say, "Christopher, thanks for throwing away your candy wrapper. Our new clean-up crew will so appreciate how you take care of trash," I'm building a bridge because the day before a crew from our class spontaneously started cleaning up the playground at recess. 

My day is a giant web of bridges. I'm constantly making connects between ideas, words, actions, learning, and even students. These connections add invaluable layers of meaning to the learning, inviting all participants to cross over to new understandings and application. In other words, bridges increase sticking power.

I'm intrigued by the realization that though building bridges is pivotal to my teaching, I'm rarely intentional about it. I've never written these connections in my lesson plans. Nor have I jotted them down on my palm for easy access before the day begins. (As if I'd ever write on my hand.) I seem to create connections subconsciously. It happens in a split second. In the moment, I seemingly know what connection to make and how to make it, like I did in the above examples. This happens all throughout the day. 

I don't want to give the impression that I'm a master at connections and have no room for improvement. Intentionality is a must, so I should be challenging myself to view bridge-building in a more purposeful context. I would imagine we all should think more purposefully whether making connections comes naturally or not. If recycling ideas and content in repeated and sometimes unexpected ways helps make our teaching stick and increases student understanding, it's something worth thinking more intentionally about.

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Saturday, October 8, 2016

Saturday Sayings: Cool to Ask Questions

This year I'm part of a cohort of Idaho teachers called The Coaching Network. We met for the first time in early August for three days of professional development. As I sat and soaked up all I could from our four coaches, I also took mental notes about the quality teaching strategies they were using. I'm learning from all four coaches, but I found myself latching on to a consistent strategy used by one of them in particular. She repeatedly said these words:

What questions do you have about...?

Pretty much, without fail, she would ask that question after she finished teaching or giving directions. The frequent use of this phrase let me know it was cool to ask my own questions, to ask for clarification, or to admit a misunderstanding. 

I also made note of her wording. Whereas in my classroom the phrase would sound more like, "Do you have any questions?" there is an element of intentionality in her wording that though subtle, seems important and powerful. The assumption is that asking questions is not only welcome but expected. 

After hearing her ask this question repeatedly throughout our three days together, I made myself a goal to do the same for my own students. I can say I've done a fairly decent job and plan on making it a habit, as it is with my coach. When given the chance, even first graders have insightful questions to ask, and learning that it's cool to ask questions is the message I want them to hear loud and clear. 

P.S. I now have a Facebook page. Click on the graphic to come say hi. :)

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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? 

P.S. I now have a Facebook page. Click on the link to say hi. :)

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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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