Thursday, November 28, 2013

The Classroom Project- Classroom Supplies for Teachers Contest

I know what it's like to spend so many $ out of pocket for classroom supplies, so when I see an opportunity to avoid dipping into my hard earned cash, I like to share!

Check out this project. Why not even let the students help you write the essay/post? The deadline is Dec. 16th, so you've got time! After all, who couldn't use a Staples gift card?

The Classroom Project- Classroom Supplies for Teachers Contest

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

My 2014 Wish List for EdTech

It's the holiday season, so here's my teacher wish list of what I'd like to see happen in the edtech arena!

  • More focus on student driven learning! Yes, I mean interesting, relevant topics and approaches that engage students in not only learning, but also in helping them realize that they have a great big world of opportunity that awaits them, both in and out of school. Products that scaffold students along the way, encourage them to take bigger risks, and try out challenges just a bit above their "safe zone" score big in my book! Bonus points for platforms or games that do this and also add a place for reflection, so kids can connect their experiences of success to thoughts and ideas that will promote further success.  Kinda like something that might happen if Vgotsky, Csikszentmihalyi and Dweck got together! 

  • Tools that engage students in self regulation, reflection, and goal setting.  Whether it's a goal for their behavior at school and developing their own strategies to improve, or an academic goal, students are capable of reflecting, evaluating, and taking action. We often get in the way! If you're a developer and interested in talking more about this, let me know. I want to see more student reflection and less teacher judging... enough said!

  • Platforms that connect students to real-world mentors. In the assets based approach from the Search Institute, research shows that the higher the number of caring adults and interactions a student has, the better chance for success.  In my fantasy world, I would love to develop a tool that creates a mentor net: a group of people who virtually or in combo with f2f, help a middle to high school student create a path toward the future.  These folks could check in periodically to help a student stay on track toward his/her goals, and could recommend others that the student could include in their group of mentors. Students could also share and comment on each others' nets and encourage each other to keep working toward their goals. This platform could lead to internships, connections to college opportunities, or simply an inspiring conversation with a college student or industry professional. 

  • Tech and maker combos that allow kids to see the results of their coding exploits come to life in front of them. 3d printers are very cool and any kinds of hands on activity that allows trial and error exploration without costing a fortune are great! 

  • Tools that support overall health. Zamzee is a cool activity monitor that gets kids moving and competing against themselves and others in active play. I'd love to see tools like this incorporate self-reflection; perhaps a journal app to reflect how you felt after conquering those 12 flights of stairs? It would be incredibly powerful for kids to see the link between their self-talk, feelings of empowerment and their physical activity. Ok, I could be dreaming.. but.. 

  • More opportunities for partnerships between teachers, funders, and developers. I've had an idea that I've wanted to pursue for over a year and don't necessarily want to quit teaching. What if there was a partner match platform, where teachers could propose their ideas, get voted up or down by students and educators, and solicit partnerships with those who have what we don't  have: money, design skills, and coding skills!! 
What types of tools would you like to see in 2014? 

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Praise or Reflective Questioning?

I read a tweet this morning and can't recall who posted it, but it was something about the most important thing you can say to a child is that you are proud of them. Yes, I do believe in giving positive feedback, especially since some kids hear far too many negative comments in the course of a day.

On the other hand, I believe that it's critical that kids actually believe in themselves and take pride in their own growth. I want them to be able to stop in their tracks and bask in the afterglow of conquering a difficult challenge.

Maybe instead of saying, "I'm so proud of you," we can ask, "How do you feel after working so hard?" "Do you realize what a big accomplishment this is?"

When students come to me, glowing with pride, ready to share a story of success,  I ask them to stop for a moment and savor the feeling. I watch, as they stand a bit taller and smile so grandly. I listen intently to their story and then as they answer my question: How do you feel right now? I try to anchor them in that proud moment so that they can remember it when the going gets tough.

My goal in all of this is to reinforce a growth mindset. If you haven't read Carol Dweck's work, I highly recommend it.

 I want kids to know that the hard work and the satisfaction that comes with it is what matters.

And yes, I am proud of them, even  especially when they make mistakes, when they fall, get up, and try again.

I'd love to hear what you think!

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

PD in your PJ's! Join me for #RSCON4!

Do you like to learn in the comfort of your own home, sitting in your pj's with a variety of topics at your choosing? A free 3 day virtual conference, The Reform Symposium, #RSCON4 will be held October 11th to 13th in conjunction with Connected Educator Month. Don't miss this opportunity to learn with a global audience of passionate educators!

Here are my top 5 reasons for being a part of RSCON4 as a presenter, volunteer co-moderator, and participant: 

1) There are hundreds of sessions on a wide variety of topics, all focused on .. yep, you got it: students!
2) The conference is global: when you join a session, you have an opportunity to chat with inspiring educators from all around the world! You can make connections that might lead to future collaboration.
3) This PD opportunity is differentiated learning at its finest: you can tune in when you want, watch later as an archive, and walk out if it's going too slow, too fast, or it's just not what you need. You can even chat with others as you're learning without disturbing anyone. I love this format as I often learn as much from the other attendees as I do the presenter.
4) The event is both free and volunteer driven: no one has an agenda to sell me a product, pitch a tool, or convince me to spend money!
5) When I hang out with inspiring people, I am re-energized to do the work that is tough but so rewarding. 

Here are some helpful links, including one to my session: 

Facilitating “Wow” Learning through Humor, Novelty, Awe, and Fascination

Please join the conversation! I look forward to seeing you there! 

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Reflections on The Bammy Awards

Meeting Pernille and seeing Erin again were highlights of the weekend! 

Fun on the Red Carpet! 

It's taken me a week to get my thoughts together, and I thank Pernille Ripp, Angela Maiers, and Tony Sinanis who all wrote fabulous posts earlier this week. For those I am leaving out, I apologize! I know there must be more of you out there whose posts I read. I am still a bit exhausted from the whirlwind trip last weekend from SF to DC!
Much like our students sometimes find the written word a challenge, I found myself struggling to get my thoughts down, so I decided to share with AudioBoo. Don't worry, it's less than 5 minutes! Thanks for listening, and feel free to add to the conversation in the comments.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Celebrating our Moment in the Spotlight at the Bammy Awards

The Beautiful Bammy Statuette

Although I'm not a huge fan of awards in general, I do think it's critical that educators have the opportunity to share what is good in our vital profession. For the tireless hours that we dedicate to ensuring that students are successful, we deserve to be acknowledged for our excellence and commitment. As I write these words, I salute all of my fellow educators.

As a finalist for the Elementary School Teacher award, I must prepare my 2 sentence acceptance speech, though I expect that one of my incredible peers will win. I am so grateful and humbled to be nominated that I honestly do not care which of the five of us takes home the beautiful statuette.  I will share the theater with so many esteemed colleagues, those who I have been fortunate enough to know through my network on Twitter. Hugging old friends and meeting new ones will be a big part of the weekend, not to mention dressing up in a beautiful gown, and savoring the inspiring moments.  There is so much negative press, so much pressure on us to transform education, but this is our turn to bask in the spotlight (no matter how uncomfortable it might be for those of us who enjoy anonymity).

You can watch the exciting action live this year, so I hope you will join us in celebrating the fine work happening in schools across the globe. 

Please join me in offering heartfelt thanks to the team at the Bammy Awards for helping us spread the good word of our dedication and service each and every day. 

Watch the live broadcast and see us all walking the red carpet!

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

5 Things I Love about Kaizena

Some of you may know that last spring, I was the Educator in Residence for ImagineK12, an edtech incubator in Palo Alto, CA. ( And actually, I loved it so much that I am back again this Fall with 2 other incredible teachers!)  My role was to share my teacher perspective and opinions, talking about the biggest issues and problems tech could help to solve. One of the teams I met with often, and who solved one of my biggest problems, was Voice Comments, aka 121writing, now called Kaizena!

In our early sessions, I shared with Max and Edward that providing students with timely, personalized quality feedback on their writing was a huge challenge. My handwriting seemed to get more scraggly with the more essays I graded and I often felt like I was not doing my students justice. They were very open to working on solving this problem, and after much hard work and iteration, developed a fantastic product that allows my students to feel like I am, in their words, "sitting right next to them" as they listen to my feedback.

Now let's get to the nitty gritty: Here are 5 things I love about Kaizena

  • Kaizena allows teachers to highlight, annotate, record voice comments, and attach resources, links to lessons, videos, tutorials, etc  so that students can actually learn the skills related to the errors they make! mean actionable feedback? 

  • Kaizena allows students to respond with their own voice comments, so that there is a discussion with a feedback loop. Before this brand new feature was in place, I would have students email me answers to questions like: What did you hear that reflected something you did well? What do you need to improve on? What is confusing? What will you do for your next writing piece to improve? Now they can respond right after my comments to get clarification. 

  • Kaizena differentiates. Students can hear feedback, see feedback, listen at their own pace, and listen again if they missed something. My students loved the ability to pause, go back, and refer back to the recording later when they wrote their next essay. 

  • Kaizena integrates with Google Drive. Enough said! 

  • Kaizena listens to teachers. Not only did Max and Edward listen intently during our sessions, but they also reached out to hundreds, maybe even thousands, of  teachers, observed students using their tool, and worked very very diligently to be sure that they were solving the actual problem teachers have. 
If you'd like more information on how other teachers are using Kaizena, check out this post from my friend Karl.  

 Disclaimer:  I was not asked to write this post, nor do I have any material gain from promoting this company. I simply believe in the product and want to share how it helps give quality feedback! 

I'd love to know how you give clear, quality, actionable writing feedback to your students! Please share in the comments. 

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

5 Questions I Ponder


I'm going to give a warning here, that I might just be on my soapbox, spouting out questions, and appearing to expect easy answers. I don't believe in easy answers, but I do believe that we need to question the practices and status quo that keep us stuck, that keep us from bringing our learners into a state of flourishing. It's not enough to boast that we have, "raised test scores," but it's vital to know that our children are going forth with the skills, self-awareness, and confidence to make a difference in the world.

So.. I leave you with these questions that recur in my mind as I ponder what kind of school I would want for my own children ( now grown). 

  • If we know that early experience, attachment, and social learning are so important, then why do we pay those who educate young learners such little pay? We can’t expect those in early childhood education to take lots of classes and continue their learning when we pay them barely enough to live on.

  • If we know that movement is key to stimulating the brain and that most children are not getting the exercise they need, then why is school so determined to keep kids in their chairs all day?  There are creative ways to get kids moving and some wonderful traditions and rituals that can bring a community together. At the fabulous school, Anastasis Academy, in Colorado started by my talented Twitter friend Kelly Tenkely and her wonderful team, students and staff walk a mile together each morning to begin their day. (yep, on the right foot ;) Couldn't resist that one! 

  • If we know that kids need safe places in the community to hang out, be with friends, and stay out of trouble by pursuing passions and interests, then why do so many buildings go underutilized? Schools are closed during weekends and summer, but could they be community centers where families, kids gather to continue learning, innovate, support each other?

  • If we know that teachers are not coming out of teacher preparation/ pre-service programs with the skills and understanding to deal with the complex issues that students face, then why aren’t we changing these programs to include classes that address child development, working with families, and learning theory? ( Ok, so perhaps I am going by my limited experience of many of the teachers I have met who also claim that they were not prepared for the multitude of issues we face daily in the classroom) 

I'd love to hear examples of how we are doing things differently. We MUST be making progress in some of these areas across the nation, right? 

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Making a Positive First Impression with Parents

When I was a new teacher, and even when I had taught for years but had moved to a different school, I struggled with what to write in an introduction to parents. Should I get personal, or should I avoid any "touchy-feely" stuff to maintain my professionalism? I don't think there are easy answers!

I found it helpful to read other teachers' introductions, and for that reason, I share the, "About Me"  from my teaching blog here. I would have simply linked to the page, but my school last year kept teacher blogs private within the school community.

Hope this is helpful!

I am so excited to be in Grade 4 at **** School for my third year. We are going to have a wonderful year, exploring, discovering connections with ourselves, each other, and the global community.

Although it's difficult to capture all I would like to share with you in such a brief post, there are a few things that I would love for you to know and remember in our year together as teammates:
  1. I am here to listen, ask clarifying questions, answer your questions, and work with you in helping your child discover ways that he/she learns best.
  2. I believe that celebrating the strengths and unique qualities of students allows them to flourish and to build resilience so that they thrive through the toughest of challenges. You can read more on my personal blog, if you'd like to know more about my philosophy.
  3. I care deeply about the students in my class. I do my best to get to know them, but I don't know them as you do.  Please let me know when there is something happening that may impact your child's learning. I want to be proactive in supporting your child.
  4. I will challenge your child and work diligently to empower him/her to become an independent, responsible learner. I ask that you also encourage your child to step into a "discomfort zone" in order to grow. When students find success in taking on these new challenges, they often gain an extraordinary feeling of confidence. `
  5. I consider teaching to be an art and a science. In order to engage students in active learning, I must always be designing and redesigning the curriculum to meet the needs of the unique students in my class.
  6. I am a proud mom of 2 incredible children: Stefanie, age 24, who is attending graduate school in North Carolina and Nick, age 25, who graduated from MIT last year and works as a mechanical engineer in New Hampshire. Being a mother has profoundly impacted me in my journey to make learning in the classroom relevant and challenging for all children. My experience with my own kids has reinforced my understanding of the uniqueness of each learner.

I'd love to know what you include in your introduction to parents! Please share in the comments. 

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Taboo: When Teachers Don't Like Their Students

Listen here to this show.

It's that time of year, when teachers around the country are looking over their class lists, preparing for their first days of school, and often experiencing intense reactions, positive and negative, to the names on their rosters.

Let's face it. Kids have reputations, with their peers, neighbors, siblings, and with school staff. Unfortunately, even when I taught kindergarten, there were kids already known for their "challenging behaviors." From a 30 minute assessment period, as well as comments from their preschool teachers, some kids were already stamped with a big red mark on their placement cards.

Why do I write, "challenging behaviors"  and not "difficult kids?"

My answer is simple: Children are not simply the sum of the behaviors they bring into the classroom. Although we all know this, we don't always seem to remember this when those behaviors threaten to take our class down. We can feel like hostages, victims, and punching bags at times as we try every trick in our book to make headway.

I've been there, trust me. And I'm not saying there are easy answers. No sticker chart, stoplight system, or gummy bear is going to disrupt a pattern of behavior perhaps inadvertently maintained by many others who came before me. There are so many complicating factors and reasons why kids act the way they do!

I'm not saying, "Oh yes, I love them all," in that sweet sappy voice that makes you want to slap me. I do believe, though, that it's our job to find something to connect to, something we can find redeeming, so that we can begin to build a relationship with the student.

We recently talked about this very topic in the Taboo series on BAM radio. When the tough questions came my way, I found myself sounding a bit too idealistic and later a little frustrated that I hadn't spoken up more.
Because of that, I recorded my thoughts afterward on AudioBoo.

I know that I haven't given any easy answers. I wish there were some. But I do believe that talking about this topic is a first step. There are some tactics I employ to find ways to connect to students who are deemed as, "tough." I'll save those for the next post!

So, what do you think? How do you handle the issue of liking students?

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Snap Out of it!

Photo by Krissy Venosdale AttributionNoncommercialShare Alike Some rights reserved

I had a moment today that screamed, "Snap out of it!" to me. As I sat, waiting to donate blood at the Red Cross office (about 30 minutes from my home), I grew impatient. I had arrived at 1:40 p.m. for my 1:45 p.m. appointment and grew impatient as the clock ticked on..2:05, I turned and looked at the apologetic young receptionist, and smiled as she looked back at me and then at the clock nervously. I got the sense that she expected me to walk up and complain. She looked relieved as I smiled and turned to watch the tv.

I sighed and continued to watch Bobby Flay and his Muffeletta Throwdown on the cooking show in front of me.

"Chill out," I told myself. It's not like you're going to be late for something else or something more important.

As the clock neared 2:30, 45 minutes after my scheduled time, I wrote a snarky tweet about my wait, wondering why I had even bothered to make an appointment. Just about as soon as I hit send, I regretted it.

 "What is wrong with me?" I asked myself. Is there anything more important than what I was about to do? I could have "real" problems and be the person who needs that blood. A calm came over me as I realized how absolutely fortunate I was to be at that moment in time, healthy enough to share the gift of blood with someone who might need it. And yes, I did go back and delete my snarky tweet.

I changed my sulky attitude and bantered with the woman who took my history and the gentleman who drew my blood, talking with him about his daughter just about to start kindergarten. I spent an extra couple minutes past my recovery time to chat with the older gentleman who made tea for me in the "after donation" waiting area.

Why do I share this story? Perhaps to remind myself, and maybe others, that there are always times to "snap out of it" and realize that our worst moments could be someone else's best ones.

Life is good. There's always something to be grateful for.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Chromebooks in Class? A Practical Peek at the Acer C7 10

I don’t write reviews often, but when I do, there’s a good reason..

As I said, I’m not a big product review writer, though I do like to talk about the practical application of technology in the classroom. So, don’t think this blog is changing..I'm just taking an opportunity to satisfy my curiosity about the Chromebook buzz among educators.

I wanted to look at the question: Is an affordable tool like a $229 Acer C7 10 Chromebook really going to meet the needs of my students and what I do with technology in the classroom? And, mind you, I am not asking if it will meet “all” of my tech needs! Just wondering if it will meet enough requirements to make it a worthwhile investment.

Since I had the opportunity to review the Acer C7 10 Chromebook I thought: Why not? All I have to do is give an honest review and I can keep it? Sure! (On a side note, since I’ll be out of the classroom this year, I am pondering how I will decide who to give it to! I already have a laptop I love for personal use and think it only fair to have it in a classroom.) Got ideas on that note? Please share in the comments!

Here are the nitty gritty specs:
  • Intel® Celeron® 847 1.1GHz 2MB L2 Cache Processor
  • 4GB DDR3 Installed Memory
  • 16GB Solid State (SSD) Hard Drive

What are the pros/cons to this device I type this post on? ( and incidentally, make a lot of typos on as I adjust to the keyboard)

  • Obviously, the cost is a huge factor!  At a $229 price tag, this makes tech in the classroom simply more possible for the average teacher. If your school doesn’t provide you with enough classroom devices, ( or those that actually work!), head on over to, write up a grant proposal for a set of 4-5 Chromebooks and for $1,000-$1,200 you just might have a writing center for your classroom!
  • It’s simple and uncluttered..well, that’s a no-brainer, right? Want students to have few distractions, with google docs/apps and a browser? Well that’s what you’ve got!
  • Quick and easy set-up. Had it going, on the internet in less than 5 minutes. Maybe that’s just standard these days?
  • Fast enough to avoid frustration! I honestly didn’t expect it to be so quick in its processing power.
  • Battery life seems to be great so far, though the specs state a 4 hour battery life. In the classroom, this could be an issue, depending on the use. In my 4th grade classroom last year, we rarely had work times over an hour so charging really wouldn’t be an issue though I wonder how repeated charging impacts the battery life.
  • Lightweight.. at only 3 lbs. it certainly is easy to carry around!

And for the cons, well.. it’s not really fair to compare this device with my favorite laptop is it? Seems to me that would be like comparing a bargain model starter car with a luxury car. The concerns I have are with durability and length of battery life. When I slid my Chromebook out of the box, I thought: this feels like a toy. I wonder how it will hold up to the bumps and bruises it will inevitably suffer  in a classroom?
In the handbook, the battery is said to be able to be charged hundreds of times but will lose its ability to charge in time. Hundreds? That might be less than a school year if they need to be charged more than once a day. That said, I’d have to explore the cost of the batteries. You know how printers are great deals and the ink, well..not so much? That might be part of my consideration though certainly you shouldn’t need a new battery too soon, right?

Wherever my Chromebook lands, whichever students get to use it, I will definitely get their report back a few months down the road. Why not combine a product review/opinion assignment into a great learning opportunity? Stay tuned for the update!

Full disclosure: provided me with this product for review. The thoughts and opinions expressed are strictly my own. Feel free to shop their entire line of Chromebooks and laptops online.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Giving Students Voice and Choice with ProConIt

I've just discovered this tool for voting called ProConit and wonder what you think on 2 levels.

First, do you think students should have input into where they sit and/or who they sit with? If you have an opinion, feel free to vote and try out this tool ProConit!

Second, though I haven't read the TOS in detail, and am not sure if this would work with younger students, but it could definitely be a useful tool for high school/college students, or even preservice teachers. In fact, parents could even vote if there was an issue requiring their opinion.

As I said, I'm just learning how this tool works, so in case you can't vote in the embedded widget below, feel free to visit the link and vote!

Monday, July 22, 2013

Out of the Comfort Zone

Often when I run, ( and the running isn't that often ;-) ) I think about how I am not a natural runner, how I run because it pushes me out of my comfort zone, towards a feeling of accomplishment when I do something that a) I don't really enjoy b) I'm not that good at c) I feel a bit awkward with.
So why on Earth, would I run? Precisely for those reasons.

I run because it's another good way to exercise, along with Zumba, bootcamp, and cardio kickboxing. I run because when I do it reminds me of my students and how we often put them out of their comfort zones. This isn't a bad thing; in fact, I think it's critical to raise the bar, but so important to look at how we do it. 

Do we ask students to perform tasks at a pace that sometimes doesn't work for them, before they might be ready, before they've "warmed up?"  Do we compare them to the "sprinters" and the "distance runners" when actually they're just beginning to learn to run? Heck, some are just at the "learn to walk" phase, never mind running. 

The point is, we know that we're supposed to differentiate, but sometimes we only do that for the extreme cases, the kids who have IEPs, the kids who have the labels I despise so much but realize are necessary to get support services.

 Do we give the student who simply needs more wait time that pause before we move on and let another student answer? Do we make that wait time part of our classroom culture?

Do we allow enough talking time before we expect kids to sit down and actually produce writing?

I ask these questions because as I run, I play games with myself to increase my motivation, as well as my stamina. I give myself permission to walk if I need to. I set goals to run to that next yellow sign, black truck, house with the pink flowers. I scaffold myself and try to listen to what I need. Honestly, I absolutely hate the first 2 miles and though intellectually I know it will get better, I need to trick myself to keep going so I can get to that place when it gets easier. 

Maybe students are similar in their need for such tricks?

The joy of mastering a goal is even greater when we know it was a tough one to achieve. Why not help our students discover their own strategies to persevere when the going gets tough? 

Reflection is a practice I strive to include more often so that my students make such discoveries. I am curious, as I write this post, how you ensure that your students make these connections about what helps them achieve their goals, soaring or crawling through the tough stuff!

Please share so we can all learn from each other. 

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Don't Crash and Burn!

It's summertime and though it might seem strange to talk about burnout, it's a great time to evaluate and take some preventive measures. During high stress times in the school year: report cards, parent teacher conferences, pink slip time, and those long months with not a single holiday or snow day in sight, the last thing you want to be doing is fighting burnout!

I find that when the pace slows down a bit, I reflect even more than usual, and it is then that I see signs that I am growing weary. When the adrenaline leaves the body, (well, it doesn't actually totally leave, right, but you get my point), I am left exhausted each June, wondering how long it will take, or if I can even totally recover and be ready for a new school year. Sometimes I even ponder a new profession. Seriously!

Here are a few ideas to keep steady and prevent the crash!

  • Validate the exhaustion and take a break! Read the books you haven't had time for, turn off the computer and play with your kids, do whatever it takes to signal to yourself: it's break time!
Spending time with family, especially little cuties like my great nephew Oliver, renews me! 

  • Just as school resumes, don't get sucked into the hysteria of, "There aren't enough hours to get my room perfect!" Involve your students in designing and setting up the room. Of course, this depends on the age of the students and the culture of your school, but if the overriding principle is that your students "own the learning," then they should be partners in owning the space of the classroom. It's not the best view of the open walls ready for student work, but the only thing written on the board is the first day's agenda!
Bulletin boards and white boards are waiting for studentsd

  • Get peer support set up in advance! I have a huge network of wonderful educators on Twitter and a couple of live, local friends who can be there to listen to my struggles and vice versa. That said, take the conversation off the public feed when you've had a rough day! The last thing you need is stress over who saw your "ticked off" tweet. 
These lovely ladies join me in a regular monthly hangout where we share our joys and frustrations. (missing from the pic are Ann Ottmar and Celina Brennan who couldn't be at #iste13 with us :-( ) 

  • Keep a digital notebook to remind you.. of the times you've made a difference. With Evernote and other tools, it's easy to keep those pictures student draw for you, and annotate them with a little extra info so years later you will remember the details. In Evernote, I place a photo of that child with their note/drawing. 

  • And.. you knew this was coming:  Get active by doing exercise you love!  Find ways to continue the exercise into the school year. I found a great group of new friends when I joined a studio last summer. I schedule the classes in advance and put them on my calendar. These classes are then non negotiable: Zumba or cardio kickboxing at 5:30 means that I go on my way home, no questions asked! If I have to stop by Starbucks for an hour of refreshment and work time, then I arrive even more ready for my sweat. There is nothing better to combat stress than exercise. It doesn't have to be all or nothing either: just a 30 minute walk is enough to make a difference! 

My Zumba friends playing a joke on April 1st dressing up like our instructor, Deb.

  • Put a little awe or even aww in your life! Pictures of cute baby animals have a positive impact on cognitive performance. Research here.   Beautiful pictures of nature have a calming effect on me and help me remember times of inspiration and renewal as shown below.  
Nope, not a baby animal but pretty darned cute! 

Alright, I'm sure there are lots of other "burnout busters," but I'd love to hear from you! How you do keep  yourself renewed?

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Foster the "Do" : 5 Tips for Empowering Learners

Insights arrive when we surround ourselves in nature! 

My husband is a huge provocateur of my a good way of course. This morning, during our beautiful hike, we talked all things design, learning, usability, and psychology and somehow arrived at the conclusion that with kids and learning, it's all about fostering action that will lead them to success in adulthood.

 Yes, we must facilitate critical thinking and expose students to all- important principles, but the bottom line is this: the world is waiting for the action, for the manifestation of all of the learning they do while in and out of school. As educators we must get our students to not only "do" but to also believe that they are capable of acting upon and solving big problems!

So how do we ensure that we are fostering the "do" in our students?

Here are a couple of ideas that come to mind, especially as I  think about designing a do- oriented learning environment:

  • Make relationship a priority: It only takes a minute at the door with eye contact and a hello to establish that a student's presence in class is important. Of course there are students who are uncomfortable with this routine and some might say there are cultural factors to keep in mind. I am not dismissing these ideas, simply reinforcing that we can start off our time with students with rituals that show them how much they matter.  If they have a way they prefer to greet us, like a fist bump, why not try it out?

  • Ensure trust in the classroom by fostering a climate where mistakes are celebrated and enjoyed. In my class last year we made spoofs out of our grammar and spelling errors, inspired by the posters of, Let's eat, grandma! 

  • Listen...carefully.. to the messages, both through body language and verbally, that our students reveal in the classroom. If students are giving the indications that they are frustrated, don't rescue, but affirm that great accomplishments require a lot of sweat and moments of challenge. In my classroom, students could signal to me that they needed a brief walk outside to cool off and readjust. 

  • Reflect regularly, both individually and in groups on what is working in the classroom. By this I mean that students need to have regular reflection time, and educators/administrators do as well. I found that using tools like Haiku Deck fostered incredible reflections from my students. As my students reflected using a visual medium they seemed to build appreciation for their hard work!  
Here is a student's Haiku Deck reflection after she presented her portfolio of learning to our school community!

  • Build appreciation for others by celebrating hard work! Why not have rituals for spontaneous group celebrations like a quick play of a musical theme song or a group chant when a member of class has overcome an obstacle or worked hard for success? 
I could go on and on with ideas, but I am most curious about how you "foster the do" and empower your students. Please share! 

Oh, but wait, there's more!  I can't leave you without sharing this famous Yoda scene. Whenever I think about the idea of try vs. do, it comes to mind! 

Friday, July 12, 2013

Connected Educator Fatigue: It's Okay to Take a Break

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I'm the first one to vouch for the importance of being a connected educator. I love conferences where I get to meet my Twitter /online author and teacher friends up close and personal. I also take time to comment on blogs, share, and try to write when the self-discipline strikes me ;-)  Let's just say I have lots of ideas, half-written posts, and an enormous storehouse of writer's block excuses that get in the way of me hitting that "publish" button.

Sometimes, though, I feel signs that I am needing a break from it all, a time to refresh, take care of me and my face to face loved ones who share the ups and downs of everyday life with me live and up close.  

Here are the tell-tale signs that I need to take a step back:  

  1. When I read someone advocating for "sharing what is going on in the classroom," I feel a surge of panic and anxiety, with pangs of guilt because I haven't blogged lately. I do believe that I should share, but I don't think it should have such a profound way of inducing guilt. 
  2. When I see a friend tweet of a promotion, an opportunity, I feel envious or jealous instead of joy for them. 
  3. If I get an email or message from a friend, asking me to update a bio or participate in a hangout and I feel like running away.. far far away! 
  4. When I feel like the world just wants way too much from me and I just can't do it all. 
  5. When I feel a sense of panic after not replying to someone's email that same day! 

Below is a Haiku Deck I created to express the idea that it's okay to think before saying yes. It's called, "Beautiful No", a term shared by my wise mindfulness teacher, Dr. Amy Saltzman. I think that if I learn to choose more wisely the things I say yes to,  I will have fewer examples like those posted above.

How do you know it's time to take a break? I'd love to hear how you manage being a connected educator! 

Why I Choose to Speak Up..on the Difficult Issues in Education

Image used with permission from Bam Radio Network. 

You may or may not know that I am an occasional guest and a big fan of BAM Radio Network with the wonderful Rae Pica.  I've been a commentator on shows with not too controversial, yet still important topics like, "How to make it on a teacher's salary," "How to get kids energized and paying attention," and others that I can easily babble on about. If you've met me in person, you absolutely know that this former shy girl loves to talk when she has an idea!

But this time, the email invitation from Rae tugged at me..hard. She was asking me to talk about teachers cheating and other actions they resort to in a profession torn apart in the media on a daily basis. Honestly, I wasn't sure I wanted to get involved. What if others in the conversation or those not even willing to participate, judged me or turned against me?  As much as I wanted to say no, I couldn't do it, my inner voice was screaming, "Yes, you need to do it."

I invite you to listen to the short segment and think about where you would fall in the discussion.

Here are my thoughts, written just after the recording:

It’s 6:30 a.m. and I am on a call for a radio show to talk about controversial topics in education, and how we can participate in a meaningful dialogue. Rae, the most gracious and excellent host, reads a quote that I sent to her and BAM!, she’s asking me to elaborate.

Wwwwait.. I struggle..did she just say Joan or John, one of the other guests. Clearly my summer brain has taken over and I need just a sip more coffee. I should recognize my own words, right?
I fumble my way through answering Rae’s questions, listening as I note that the other guests sound much more articulate, awake, and spot on with their concerns and additions to the topic. I blame it on Pacific Time. 

I think John is  right about creating a narrative, Vicki is absolutely correct that we all speak from our vastly diverse experiences, Marilyn mentions being looked down upon for being a charter school teacher, and we all discuss the fear of reprimand or even losing our jobs as a factor in speaking out on the important topics in education. And this, right here, is one of my biggest reasons for speaking up: we cannot live in fear when we choose to speak and act with conviction about what is right. 

John mentions that we will need a lot of empathy in this process of moving forward.. I wholeheartedly agree, though during the conversation  I can't seem to put a sentence together! 

This makes me think that we almost need a rule book or a mission statement/agreement stating that we all understand: something to the effect that we are all wholeheartedly in the field of education to promote equity, reach all children where they are, push them to the highest levels they can achieve, etc. Something like an oath for teachers; doctors take one, right? Aren't we important in our students' physical, mental, emotional health? 

As educators and as human beings, we will have different opinions on teaching practices and pedagogy and even on how schools should work. But I hope, no, I do believe, that deep inside all of us is a passionate advocate for the children we serve. We can't advocate in silence. And we can't join together as a profession if we stay silent. Change comes from being brave enough to speak up and act. 

Whether you agree with my point of view or not, I'd love to continue this discussion, and I thank Rae for the opportunity to be among such passionate educators. 

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Ending the 4th Grade Year with Six Word Stories

Not a fan of ending the year with parties and movies, I wanted to do a few reflective exercises to help my students realize how far they had come in our learning journey.

I gave the following directions as I left students with my assistant teacher: Write 6 word stories, either individually, or collaboratively, that reflect what you have learned.

Of course, hands popped up and a buzz traveled through the room:

"Can we write about.. anything?" .. "Yes!"
"Can we do more than one?" .. "Yes!"
"Can we do one on our own and one with a partner?"... "Yes!"
"Can we write them on the board and sign our names?" "YES!"

By this time, my students realized that I was giving them some choice in sharing their voice. I left the room for a meeting, wondering what I would find upon return, 30 minutes later.

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, so I'll let these pictures do the talking.

How did you end your year?