Saturday, February 13, 2016

Leadership Lessons

What I’ve learned…

For the past year and a half, I have been working as an instructional coach in my district. I’m responsible for providing instructional support for our K – 12 teachers.  Luckily, I am part of an instructional support team, which includes a data coach, a technology coach and our director.  Together, we are a strong team.  We brainstorm, vent, offer support and plan together constantly.  The experience of this position has taught me many things, mostly some important lessons about educational systems and leadership.

Lesson #1 – Sometimes we focus so intensely on the needs of students that we forget about the needs of the adults in our system.
Teachers pour their hearts, souls, money and time into their classrooms each year.  The amount of energy that it takes to make it through a school year is draining no matter how much experience a teacher has. Like students, teachers have basic needs.  They need to feel safe, secure and valued.  They need to know that their opinions are not only heard, but considered seriously.  As leaders, we need to inspire, motivate, appreciate, recognize and honor the teachers who make it all happen every single day for our students.  People matter and we need to spend more time building and maintaining the relationships in our buildings.

Lesson #2 – “What is best for students” has very different meetings at different levels of education and that’s ok.
As an early childhood educator, I am constantly defending what is best for students.  It is time well spent in my opinion. Of course, we all know that what is best for a kindergarten student is different from what is best for a 10th grader.  However, district leaders often discuss the broad picture and focus on a vision of what is best for all students.  In my K – 12 position, I spend a significant amount of time with the K – 12 leaders in our district.  We frequently talk about “what is best for students”.  Each person in our group defines “what is best for students” a little differently.  I’m learning that it’s ok.  Each of us brings a variety of experiences, passions and responsibilities to the table.  Each of us works toward our vision of “what is best for students” in the way that best suits the needs of our students.  As long as those don’t work against each other…it is ok. 

Lesson #3 –  We should all do some deep thinking about our efforts to make everything “consistent” and “aligned”.

Sometimes I think we spend so much time trying to make everything the same, aligned, consistent, that we end up limiting the possibilities for our students and teachers.  We end up discouraging innovation and creativity.  Don’t get me wrong, I value the power of knowing what was covered within the curriculum from one year to another.  However, I believe that our time would be best spent focusing on the needs of each student and helping them move along a continuum, rather than keeping the learning of each group of students in a the tidy box that we call “the grade level curriculum”. 

Each day I learn something new about myself, the people around me, the system and how I need to adjust in order to grow.  Carpe diem!

Friday, January 1, 2016

January Currently!

Happy 2016!!

I am so grateful for this time to be able to join back in with Currently to start the new year!

Listening -  I'm listening to football bowl games, but I'm not really watching now that my favorite team finished winning for the day.

Loving - The family time over the break has been a huge blessing for me.  Being a full time grad student, working full time and being a full time taxi for kid activities at night made for a crazy fall.  So, I have enjoyed every single minute of this "grad school free" break.

Thinking - I'm ready to take on 2016!  When you are a goal setter each year is an opportunity to work toward those goals, to learn and to grow.  My husband and I spent a lot of time over the break talking to our kids about setting goals, taking risks to try new things, focusing on doing the right thing, celebrating your own personal growth and respecting the goals and hard work of others.

Wanting -  We need a new couch.  Our couch is fine if you only have 2 people sitting in the room.  We've been looking for new couches, but I'm picky (and so is my husband).  We're practicing patience while we search for exactly what we want.  Then our old (perfectly fine, but not big enough couch) will be moved to our lake house.

Needing - Notice I said "practicing" patience above.  Some people are naturally patient.  Some of us have to practice it. Some people have none and don't know that they should try to get some.  I'm in the need to practice category.  I'm a get things done kind of person, who practices patience on a daily basis.  Some days are more successful than others, but every new day is another opportunity for practice.

One Little Word -   Faith is my one little word for this year.  Faith was my one little word a few years ago.  However, that year I was asking for faith.   Now, I am going to let my faith help me with the patience thing while I listen to the lyrics of Bob Marley's, Three Little Birds in my head.

Cause every little thing gonna be alright!

Sending Farley well wishes, since she has been sick for a few weeks.  
Visit her to join in the fun!

Happy New Year!
Carpe diem!

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Writing Workshop Wednesday - Week 3

Young writers learn to plan their writing because we teach them to plan.  Storytelling is part of the planning for narrative writing.  You can read my post from last week about storytelling here.

These are the steps I use to help writers learn how to plan a story.  Whether your writers are early elementary or later elementary students, they probably need reminders and extra practice planning their stories.  This is another one of the mini anchor charts that will be in a pack that I'm working on s-l-o-w-l-y. 

I start by showing students an example of how I planned in the same way to write a story of my own 
(my real adult writing in my real writer's notebook).  Then I ask students to practice thinking of a true story from their own life.  I struggle with the silence sit patiently, while I give them plenty of time to think. Next, I ask the students to turn to a partner to either tell the story across their fingers or we use a blank pre-made book and ask them to tell across the empty pages.  

I also created a graphic organizer to help my students sketch across the pages.  You know, so their story doesn't end up all on one page.  My Sketch Across the Pages is a freebie in my Tpt store if you'd like a copy.

This tired girl has to be at school at 6:45 in the morning to finish setting up for professional development.  So, that's all for now...

Happy writing!

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Writing Workshop Wednesday - Week 2

My brain is overflowing with ideas that I want to share with my teachers after attending the Summer Writing Institute at Teacher's College two weeks ago.  I will be posting about the things I learned a few times each month on Wednesdays for a while.  If you missed the first post, you can find it here.

One of the things I learned is that writers need more opportunities to practice storytelling. If they can think can it, then they should say it, before they write it. We need to teach our writers that it is part of the planning process.   

Young writers benefit from the strategy of telling their story across their fingers.  This helps them define the beginning, the middle and the end of the story before their words hit the paper.  

I have been working on creating small versions of the anchor charts I use with students, since my job requires me to be in several buildings each week.  The chart below is one example that will help me prompt students for storytelling.  All of them will be included in one product that I'm hoping to finish to add to my Tpt store soon.  

Another strategy in the planning process is to sketch the story.  The sketches of the story can be used as a tool to help a child verbally tell their story to a partner before they begin to write the words.

Storytelling is a strategy that helps our writers form narrative stories in their mind and clarify the details for their audience.  During my week at the Summer Writing Institute, many teachers asked if it was necessary to start with narrative units for writing. The experts at Teacher's College agreed that you should start with narrative writing.

Here are a few of the reasons to start with narrative writing...
1.  It values student experiences.
2.  It helps build a community of writers because stories are personal.
3. The ability to retell a story in a sequence is a foundational literacy skill.
4.  Narrative writing is a building block for other types of writing.

Happy writing!

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Writing Workshop Wednesday - Week 1

Last week, I attended the Teacher's College Summer Writing Institute at Columbia University. It was an amazing experience full of learning on so many different levels!  Each day was jam packed with things that I want to share with the teachers in my district.  That is part of the plan, but I decided to also blog about some of it here.  It may be just the next few Wednesdays or it may an effort to seek balance in my life I won't make any promises to myself or others about that.

On the first day of our time at Teacher's College, we talked about the importance of teachers being writers.  The presenter said if you want your students to be writers, then you have to be a writer yourself.  A real one...who writes adult things.  Apparently a grocery list and a thank you note don't count.

Earlier this summer, I began journaling.  I think it started because I splurged on a new set of my favorite pens.  They are Frixion erasable gel pens...DREAMY.  It was also an effort to help me reflect and sort through my reflections.

As a classroom teacher, I did a good job of modeling being a reader.  Daily, I shared my love of books and enthusiasm for reading with students.  My shelves were overflowing with stories that were inviting the little people in my room to love books as much as I do.

Modeling being an adult writer was different for me.  I frequently wrote newsletters, blog posts and samples of things I wanted to model for my students.  Bravely, I will admit that my students didn't really see my adult writing.  Well, there wasn't much to see at the time.  On the hamster wheel of life, I didn't make time to practice writing as an adult.  I wrote things for other people more than I ever wrote for myself.

Now, I am on a mission to change that.  Inspired by the writing workshop experts at Teacher's College, I now realize that I can jot my thoughts, release a story that I've been wanting to tell on paper, write a bit about something I learned, brainstorm my own ideas and share some of those with students.  I want my students to get to know me as an adult writer.  I want them to know that I'm developing my craft and bravely sharing it with the world...just like I want them to do.

Here is one of the journals that I have been filling up this summer.  At times, I fill a page with things I love.  Other times, I use the space to reflect on my goals.  Most of the pages have lots of writing, but below you'll see a few of my brainstorming pages. Now that I'm back from Teacher's College, I'm going to attempt a story that I've been wanting to put in words.

Grab a journal or a notebook that inspires you and your favorite writing tools!  
Write for yourself.
You'll be better prepared to share your love of writing with your students if you do!

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Currently - AUGUST!

Seriously, how did this happen?

It's August and I'm trying to cope, while I link up with Farley for Currently.

Oh, summer - I love you.  Hearing my kid laugh, staying up late to watch someone build Tiny Houses, having an empty schedule...oh, I love summer!

I'm leaving tomorrow for Teacher's College in New York to attend the Summer Writing Institute.  I'm excited to learn as much as I can to share with the teachers in our district.  I'm also freaked out that my suitcase might burst open on the scale at the airport.  

I took 2 grad classes this summer.  I'm working on a educational leadership certification. Both of the classes were jam packed with interesting learning and encouraged me to reflect on some improvements I could make personally as a leader and that the district could make in general. However, cramming what is usually a semester long 600 level class into 6 weeks is no joke. My brain is not feeling refreshed.  It's feeling kind of full.  Let me just tell you the major victory related to this summer of intense learning is that I did not drink Diet Mt. Dew once. In fact, I have not had a drop since January 1.  Go me!

I don't really want to learn to mediate, but I keep reading about how good it is for busy people to meditate.  If someone could just hit the off switch on my hamster wheel brain, then I could get started.  Focus on my breathing...I read that in a brain research journal this morning.  I haven't tried it yet.

This will be the first time in 17 years that I have not "set up a classroom" in August.  I thought I would feel kind of "free" from the mountain of laminating and open house packets.  But, my random act of back to school kindness this year is going to be to offer my "Slide on the Side Laminating" services to a few of my teacher friends.  Truth be told...I love cutting out laminating.  I also love to write on name tags.  My SOTSL business will be opening at the end of August and I can't wait to surprise a few of my best teacher pals!

Check out what everyone else is CURRENTLY doing on Farley's blog!

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Time for Tieks!

Oh happy day!  
I'm talking about the day the mailman delivered a package 
from Tieks and Stitch Fix on the same day!  

I confess that sometimes I let other people try trendy things out first (Pinterest, Instagram, Erin Condren, Stitch Fix).  I'm not even ready to talk about Periscope yet - unless it would help me spend more time with my kids somehow. I'm a review reader.  Eventually, I get on board if the reviews are good enough.

That's how I ended up ordering my first pair of Tieks!  I'll admit, I struggled with the both the price and the color choices at first.  Since I have never met an unhappy Tieks owner, I decided to go for it!
Then came the color drama.  There are so many beautiful colors to choose from at the Tieks Boutiek! My husband laughed when I whined to him about being torn between pop pink and cobalt blue.  He actually suggested that I just buy both if I really like them, which means he was unaware of the price.

Sensible me appeared right after I put pop pink in my shopping cart and I ended up buying matte black instead.  There are only so many days I can wear pop pink, right?  That's what I keep telling myself.

The folks at Tieks know how to do things right!  From the fancy box to the handwritten note inside, it is clear that customer service is a priority.  My daughter tried to snatch the "headband" off the box before I could take this picture.

So here they are, my new matte black Tieks!
 Almost too pretty to wear...incredibly soft leather, a carrying case for when I pack them in my suitcase and a cute little card!
Let me just tell you - yes, they are really as comfortable as everyone says they are!
I tried them on with jeans, a skirt and a dress - LOVE them!

I'm picky about my shoes and comfort is a priority.  I rarely wear heels, but dress up daily for work.  I've been searching for a pair of flats that had enough support and was comfortable enough for me to walk in all day.  Cha-ching!

I'm going to really put these Tieks to the test when I travel to New York for a conference later this summer.  I'll let you know how that goes in a few months.

For now, who knows where these Tieks will take me?
(Please excuse my rolled up yoga pants summer uniform.)

 I do know that I think pop pink might be callin' my name...

The answer is YES - Tieks are worth it!