Sunday, September 27, 2015


"Excellence is the gradual result
of always striving
to do better."
- Pat Riley

When was the last time you saw yourself on camera?  Oh, I'm sure you are just like everyone have an extreme dislike for having your picture taken.  Right?  But what's even worse than that? Watching yourself on camera!

I can still remember sitting in my college practicum course and analyzing video of myself teaching. Talk about awkward.  I heard myself saying, "Um, Guys, and So."  I was embarrassed by my poor verbal skills.   I also watched as my students appeared bored and disinterested.  Then came the kicker, I turned my back to write on the white board and two students took that as an opportunity to share gum and pass notes.  

As a student teacher I thought I was pretty darn good, but after watching the video I felt pretty darn bad.

It was a real wake up call that I had room to improve.  I didn't want to be another classroom teacher. I had a desire to be a difference maker.  I wanted to be great.  After that moment of reflection I found myself taking my courses much more serious.  For example, I was enrolled in an oral speaking class. After reviewing the video, I took all of my professor's words to heart.  I knew I needed to improve.

After becoming a classroom teacher I discovered that it was not mandatory to videotape yourself. Obviously this was a good thing...or so I thought.

About three quarters into my second year I was preparing to be observed.  I wasn't worried, but I also wanted to be on top of my game.  I decided to get the video camera out and tape myself.  

I still remember sitting at home and watching the tape.  I felt good about my movement, I was pleased with my improved vocabulary, but I was still upset with my extremely quick nature of not giving wait time.  Each time a question was asked  I only waited a second or two.  

Watching the videos helped me.  

Recently I thought about the value of watching yourself.  A few things came to mind.  

Think of all the professionals that record in some way.
  • Athletes
  • Entertainers
  • Musicians
  • Law Enforcement
  • Actors/Actresses
  • Pilots
  • Doctors (operating room)
  • Trainers
  • Speakers
What are your metaperceptions?  How do you see yourself?

Why record yourself?  In many cases it is to give a different viewpoint, help yourself improve and analyze strengths and weaknesses.  The bottom line, watching yourself on camera is another opportunity to reflect.

Before you dismiss the thought of recording yourself, I ask you this, do you want to improve?  Do you strive to be better each day?  If the answer is yes, then I hope you'll be open minded to trying something new.


Monday, September 28th:  5th Grade Camp
Tuesday, September 29th:  No String Team (due to camp)
Wednesday, September 30th:  No AM assembly, I'll be at Mystic Lake
Wednesday, September 30th:  5th Grade Camp returns at 4pm
Thursday, October 1st:  AM Drill
Thursday, October 1st:  String Team 3:30 & 4:15pm
Friday, October 2nd:  Mid-Point of 1st Quarter

Articles Worth Reading:

Room 202 @Vroom6

The Right Stories @aaron_hogan

Videos Worth Watching:

#AwesomeGirls (4min)

Compliments from Miss Colorado (4 min)

Thank you notes by @JimmyFallon  (4 min)

Spread Kindness, Pay it Forward #RippleEffect (3 min)

Saturday, September 19, 2015

One-Size Does Not Fit All

"There is nothing more 
than the equal
treatment of Unequals."
-Thomas Jefferson

When I look back at my first year of teaching I often laugh at myself.  I still can't believe my students chased the train at Greenfield Village.  I still can't believe I had a class party at my house and two students climbed to the top of a pine tree.  I still can't believe those kids turned out so great in spite of my inexperience.

There was a moment in my first year where I felt thrown to the wolves (so to speak).  It was Spring conference time and I had a fellow staff members child.  I'll admit, I was a little nervous going into the conference.  When we sat down the conference started very positively.  We talked about organization and her daughter's interests.  I still remember sharing her dislike for math and her passion for writing.  But then came the curve ball.

My colleague (the student's mother) asked me how she was doing in reading.  I shared the data and talked about her comprehension.  She then asked me how I was pushing her.  I talked about our weekly meetings and the conversations we had regarding the stories we were reading.  The mom then asked me if I was teaching all the students the same way.  I stumbled...

Was she upset?

She then continued and talked about her daughters weaknesses and asked how I would be individualizing strategies to help her improve.  

I didn't have an answer.  I should have, but I didn't.  

After that meeting I sat in my classroom for a long time and thought about how I could improve as a teacher.

My first thought was simple, I had to stop teaching everyone the same way.  I felt that I was really strong at getting to know my kids, but I didn't use this information to teach differently.  If I was going to be a great teacher I had to create different paths for my kids, because, NOT ALL KIDS LEARN THE SAME WAY!  

As I began my journey to personalize more of my classroom, I quickly discovered it took more preparation and I had to release some control.

When I started personalizing instruction it began with a couple subjects.  I started with reading and writing.  My focus was small and expanded as I improved and grew more confident.

As I became more experienced in the classroom I got better at personalizing for my kids.  By my final year, rarely did my students all take the same could they, they weren't all learning at the same rate and pace.  

So I ask you, do you personalize the learning for your students?

No really, do you?

I've been to Edcamps, I've been to conferences.  What I hear over and over is that teachers are doing some Project Based Learning, some Genius Hour, some personalization.  But what I also hear is that educators still group kids by ability and put them in small groups.  Let me say this, if your centers have every student getting the same worksheet or same instruction, you might as well be doing whole group instruction.  Students are all different, they learn differently.  We as educators need to embrace this, and change how we facilitate the learning.

Here are my keys to getting started with Personalizing the Learning in your classroom:

1)  Pace:  Can we all agree that students will not learn at the same pace?  Let's accept this and create layers to our lessons.  If a student completes work quickly, we should not punish them with more work.  Let's adjust assignments and allow students to creatively learn new things.

2)  Place:  Do students all need to be seated at a desk to learn?  Flexible learning spaces allow students to stand if they have the fidgets or simply sit on the floor if they work best this way. Expecting all students to sit with their feet flat on the floor at their desk is not realistic.

3)  Voice:  Who is doing the talking in the classroom?  We begin to personalize learning when student voice is valued and encouraged.  Too often students are not given the opportunity to share, ask questions and teach others.  I learned long ago a student had a skill mastered if they could teach others.

4)  Choice:  Are students allowed to make choices in your classroom?  I hope so.  One of the keys to motivating student learning is through incorporating more choice.  This gives students a say in the process and adds relevance to their learning.

5)  Prioritize:  If you are still "covering" every single CCSS I feel the need to ask, how is that working for you?  As educators our goal is to have students LEARN the content, not to "cover" the content.  Once we prioritize and narrow our focus we are able to see the real learning in our classrooms.  

Two recent posts were hot-buttons for me when it came to this post.  The first by +Eric Sheninger, titled, Why Personalize and the second by +Jeff Zoul, titled, Homework: Give it Purpose or Give it Death!   These are MUST READS!

I challenge you to make learning different.  Let's stop the One-Size Fits All approach.


Monday, September 21st:  5th Grade Camp Parent Orientation 6:30pm at CAC
Tuesday, September 22nd:  Camp Counselor meeting 7:30am
Wednesday, September 23rd:  K-2 Assembly at 8:45am
Thursday, September 24th:  NWEA PD at the Jackson County ISD
Friday, September 25th:  Staff Meeting in Mrs. Smith's room 8am
Friday, September 25th:  Picture Day

Articles Worth Reading:

Something Tangible @thenerdyteacher

They Look For Me @Jonharper70bd

Videos Worth Watching:

Hilarious!  Kevin Spacey is amazing. (6 min)

#RippleEffect (4 min) shared by @awelcome

Prescribing Homework!  Wait for it... (2 min) shared by @Jeff_Zoul

Life on iPad (2 min)

Saturday, September 12, 2015

You Got This!

A new day:
Be open enough to see opportunities.
Be wise enough to be grateful.
Be courageous enough to be happy.
- Dr. Steve Maraboli

It never fails.  By the time you finish one school year you've grown completely attached to "your" kids.  You understand their strengths, weaknesses and what makes them tick.  The end of the year is really tough, you've invested so much in your kids that you often feel emotionally spent.

Years ago I finished one school year on an extreme high.  I had such a fantastic group.  I had leaders, comedians and truly a group of hard workers.  I loved those kids.  I remember meeting some of them in the summer for a team building exercise at Camp Somerset.  As I talked with parents and gave high fives to my former kids I had a sense that the upcoming year would not be as good as the previous one.

Later that day I drove home and listened to the radio.  A few songs played that stirred up memories. My overall mood was a bit down.

A few weeks passed and I happened to be at a local golf course.  I brought my boys along, not because they loved to golf, what they truly enjoyed was playing in the streams and looking for fish.  I was over by the putting green with my boys when a couple regulars walked up.  We laughed and watched the boys goofing around with their putters.  Then one of them said, "They sure seem different."  I chuckled and said, "You can say that again!"  For the next couple minutes we laughed at how different our own kids can be.  Then my friend said, "As different as they are we still love them."  

It was that simple comment that I remembered at the end of my first week of school.  Every class we teach is different.  The challenges are different.  The families are different.  The celebrations are different.  Yet kids are kids.  They need us.  They need our patience and love to help them succeed.

Most everyone is still in the beginning stages of a new school year.  If you have thought about your kids from last year then guess're human!  We all do it, we all think about the kids we had.

Here are a few things to think about:

1)  Every class is uniquely different.  Your students have hopes and dreams and need you to help them achieve them.

2)  Don't rush to judge.  If the first few days were tough that isn't necessarily an omen for the year. Be open minded and document patterns.  For example, do you have a student that struggles in the afternoon, but does well in the morning?  You may want to track this and see if you can discover patterns.

3)  Don't be afraid to bring in parents.  The better you get to know your students the more likely they are to be successful in your classroom.  Sometimes the best way to get to know them is through the parents.  This will also show families that you are invested in their child.

4)  Your first communication home should always be a positive!  If your first contact is a negative you will have parents on the defensive.  Find something to celebrate and start on a good note.

5)  Be patient!  Various articles state that routines are established in 21 days.  This is nonsense.  The true research shows that it takes sixty-six days for something to become a routine.  Check out How long it takes to form a new habit
This is not to scare, it is to remind you to be patient.

Starting fresh is not easy.  But I'm here to tell you that you've done it before and you'll do it again. You invest in kids.  You are passionate about changing lives.  You put your heart and soul into your work. And you know what... YOU GOT THIS!


Monday, September 14th:  NWEA Testing Window Opens
Tuesday, September 15th:  PTO Meeting at 7pm in the Library
Wednesday, September 16th:  First Early Release of the Year (2:35pm)
Thursday, September 17th:  School Board Meeting at 6:30pm (Board Room)
Friday, September 18th:  Drill in the AM

Articles Worth Reading:

Blaming and Shaming Teachers for low-level #EdTech Practices @plugusin

Time to bring Public Policy and Social Media together for Progress @MAStewartMA

ReinventED Kickoff Party @Kwadzki

Written with love on your 1st day of kindergarten @thomascmurray

Some dreams are not deferred @Jonharper70bd

7 Ways Happy Couples Deal With Disagreements Differently @marcandangel

Videos Worth Watching:

This is a MUST SEE!  #RippleEffect #PayItForward (4 min)

Social Media Revolution 2015 (4 min)

The Tale of the Wandering Piano Man (3 min)

Saturday, September 5, 2015

There's No Place Like Home!

These were the words of Dorothy as she prepared to exit Oz and head back to Kansas.  She couldn't wait to get back to her family and the friendly confines of her own home.

Day in and day out we welcome students into our schools and classrooms.  We educate, nurture and try to inspire.  Yet so many of our students probably wish to click their heels together and magically appear at home.

I wager this is for a multitude of reasons.  One way we can combat this is by creating an environment where students feel safe, comfortable and inspired.  This may mean redesigning your learning space. 

This summer at #EdCampLDR in Chicago I teamed up with +Erin Klein and +Tom Murray to discuss learning spaces.  Tom kicked things off with a picture of a graveyard.  He then substituted the grave signs for desks.  Amazing seeing the similarities of the two.  I began to reflect on how often I sat in rows and how in some ways I was dying a slow death or boredom and rigidness.

Fortunately times are changing.  Educators across the globe are seeing the value and importance of collaborative learning spaces.  I'm blessed to work with an entire building full of game changers. Check out some of these spaces.  I'll add comments and insight as I post the pictures. 

Fabulous open space in @WeLoveFirst.  Mrs. Archer has a little bit of everything, flexible seating, open space, an exercise bike, tubs with materials and her walls don't overwhelm.  This is a spot her students embrace.

Check out @RockandRead2nd.  Mrs. Nash has ditched the dinosaur computers and gone to a simple, clean and sleek laptop look.  A subtle, yet powerful redesign effort was put in to vary the height of seating.  This lends itself for movement, collaboration and joy.

Easily one of my favorite spots in the building is in Mrs. Kline's kindergarten room.  I love the spot where students can build and create.  On any given day I can come in and see towers, castles or other amazing creations.  

Organization and storage are essentials to any classroom.  Check out what Mrs. Soper has done to help with manipulative's.

Often times teachers try to tackle everything at once.  @Candy_Brugger has really done a fantastic job in her new classroom.  One area that stands out above all others is her reading nook.  I feel like I could spend an entire day with a good book back in this spot.  Note to teachers - a small redesign can be a nice way to start.

Have you ever been that person that has had great ideas, but you didn't know where to begin? Check out this space in @JulieOliver333 room. She has developed a nice collaborative area for kids to gather, work and connect.  What's really great?  It was on a super inexpensive budget! Julie is a master at using one persons trash and turning it into a treasure!  I really love how she brainstorms ways to adjust learning spaces.

A few weeks ago I walked into @ldpricha classroom.  Desks were piled up, boxes were all over and I looked at Lisa.  Her face said it all, "Where do I even start?"  I knew she had this! Check out her small group gathering space.  The colors are so inviting.  I'm proud of how far she came in such a short time.

What is one easy way to change the vibe of your classroom or school?  Paint!  Check out the color scheme in @MoffittMelissa classroom.  All to often I hear that districts don't allow teachers the autonomy to paint.  I say, "Why?"  Colors can help create an atmosphere where everyone feels welcome.

An essential in all rooms is a meeting area. These can be large or small, but having a spot where students can meet is critical.  I always enjoy spending time in Mrs. Laura Smith's classroom.  Watching her interact with her students in this meeting area is always a highlight to my day.

Let me ask, "Have you thought about ditching desks?"  Check out this space in @Suz_Gibbs classroom.  She has created a flexible, open environment where students have space and move about the room.  The colors and lightning are an added bonus!  Don't be fooled, this redesign took time.  Suzanne pours herself into her teaching and everyone benefits from her passion.

Do you have any students with the fidgets? @studiobree has the solution!  Check out this space with yoga balls, collaborative seating and a nice inviting space to come lay on the floor. Another fantastic spot to visit! 

I've visited rooms where it often feels cluttered and distracting.  What I appreciate about @HoltonThird is the simple, thoughtful approach of openness.  Mrs. Holton has a less is more approach to reduce distractions and allow her students to move.

I can easily relate to the "Guy's" approach in @BrJLenhart classroom.  I was also one that didn't spend a ton of time on patterns, lights and nooks.  I like how Brad has a cool design that gets people thinking.  One of my favorite spots in the school is to sit in the back of his room by the animals and just take it all in.

Short on money?  Have you put in the effort to write a grant?  I wish I had before and after pics of this room.  It looked nothing like this in early August.  Kuddos to @kolb_miss for taking the initiative to write a grant and have the foresight to redesign her space.  

Another common question I hear is, "How do you redesign with limited space?" @DeAnnaStruck faced this quandary last year with nearly thirty little ones in her room.  I applaud her for doing the research and developing a space that helped her be one of the four grand finalists last year for #classroomcribs. Check out her reading area!

How about spaces for small groups?  It hasn't taken long for @DelorSara to inspire and motivate her kids with a space that just feels like home.  Sara does the little things that excite her learners.

The last room to highlight in this redesigning 101 post is @JennyShearer2 classroom.  A few years ago it was, well let's say...ordinary.  Jenny has embraced collaborative spaces, gotten creative with seating and has developed an atmosphere that everyone loves.  Check this out! 

In days gone by our students would come to school, sit in rows and dream about the bell sending them home.  As an educator I know that we have fell short of the bar for years with our learning spaces.  Those days are quickly leaving.  I'm pleased to say that our Warner kids had a glimmer in their eye.  Watching kids walk in and open their mouth in awe was a cool sight!  I'm proud of the work the Warner staff has done.  

If you're thinking about redesigning your space here are a few things to chew on:

1)  Start small!  Don't break the bank with an entire overhaul.  Find an area and transform it.

2)  Write a grant.  Nothing shows initiative more than writing a grant.  

3)  Less is more.  Too often teachers fill every little space.  I encourage you to simplify your room and take away the distractions.

4)  What about seating?  If you can't redesign your room could you redesign your student seating options?  Think about it.

5)  Colors do a lot!  You'd be amazed what a little color can do for both the teacher and the student.

6)  Natural light is a blessing.  If you have natural light, I say, utilize it!  

7)  Get organized.  Nothing spells stress quicker than an unorganized space.  For your own health and well being I encourage you to start the year on a strong note and organize your classroom.

In the next post highlighting learning spaces and #classroomcribs I'll take a look at multi-purpose rooms.  How can these be changed so that everyone benefits?

Have you taken the #ClassroomCribs challenge?  Have you checked out the website and created a two-minute video showcasing your space?  Sharing is learning, sharing is healthy, sharing moves our profession forward.  I encourage you to check out and create a short video of your space.

As you kick start a new year, I have one question.  Does your room feel like home?


Tuesday, September 8th:  First Day with Students!  
Tuesday, September 8th:  Boo Hoo Breakfast in the cafeteria for our Warner parents (teachers, please remind parents of this event when they drop off in the morning)
Wednesday, September 9th:  Assembly for grades 3-5
Wednesday, September 9th:  Full early release
Friday, September 11th:  8am Staff Meeting in Mrs. Soper's classroom

Articles Worth Reading:

Charter Schools Are Unconstitutional  (interesting read) @seattletimes

Videos Worth Watching:

Wright's Law!  #RippleEffect (12 min)

Boys react to bullying...power of friendship! (3 min) #RippleEffect 

@JimmyFallon with Steve Harvey on the Tonight Show (8 min)

Risking it All! (11 min) #RippleEffect @E60

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Reversing the Trend

"Joy does not simply happen to us.
We have to choose joy
and keep choosing it everyday."
- Henri J. M. Nouwen

The young lady was full of vibrant energy.  She believed she could save the world.  Her student teaching experience was going well and she had already heard of multiple openings in several districts. Things were really lining up. 

Since her fifth birthday she had always dreamed of being a teacher.  Her memories were full of time spent in her playhouse as she pretended to be the teacher to her pets and stuffed animals.  The passion ran deep inside her.  She always dreamed of going to college and becoming a teacher.

The day began like most.  She arrived at 7:45am just ahead of her supervising teacher.  The routine was simple.  Check over the lesson plans, make a few copies and talk to the other teachers in the hallway.

As she walked out of the classroom she noticed another teacher that she had very few interactions with.  This wasn't by accident.  Each time she saw this teacher the mood was always negative, sarcastic and edgy.  She steered clear of the lounge whenever she heard the voice.

Hearing that voice triggered a memory.  It was her tenth day of student teaching and she was just starting to take some of the load from her supervising teacher.  She was really excited to get to school and set up her lesson.  It was going to be great.  

As she carried in the PVC pipe, Hot Wheels cars and small weights you could see the smile on her face.  She simply loved teaching!  With a hop in her step she headed to the door.  At the exact same time Mr. Thomas was grumbling towards the same door.  They reached the door at the same time.  He looked at her basket and supplies and shook his head.  He didn't hide his disdain or irritability.  She smiled, said good morning and hoped he would hold the door.  As he pulled his key out of his pocket he looked at the lock and began talking.  "Why are you bringing all of that stuff?" he mumbled.  She smiled and told him that she had an activity planned for the day.  His response cut her to the core.  "It won't make a difference." he muttered. Her smile left her face as she headed towards the classroom. Since that morning she tried her best to steer clear of him.

Her mind bounced back to the present and she headed back to the classroom and away from a possible interaction with Mr. Grump.

A few minutes later her cooperating teacher arrived.  She could tell when she walked in the room that there was a bit of tension.  "Elizabeth, everything okay?" the supervising teacher asked.  They sat down at a table and Elizabeth blurted out, "Why is Mr. Thomas always angry?"  Her supervising teacher asked what happened.  She told her about the past event and just his overall demeanor.  What happened next was a bit surprising to the student teacher.

"You need to understand that he wasn't always that way, Elizabeth.  We both began teaching together.  He was full of life.  Everybody loved Mr. Thomas.  Our principal at the time had leaned on him to be on a couple committees.  Parents wished for their kids to have him, and other teachers reached out to him for advice." shared the supervising teacher.

Elizabeth responded, "What happened?"

"Well honey, it didn't happen overnight.  In many ways we didn't see it, and it was occurring right in front of our faces.  Elizabeth, his change happened over a long period of time.  He gradually went from optimist to pessimist.  He grew more and more cynical.  He cleared his plate of all extra duties. He stopped participating at staff meetings and he became confrontational with administration and parents." the supervising teacher shared.

"Why?" asked a perplexed student teacher.

The supervising teacher shared a series of events that seemed to suck the life out of Mr. Thomas.  The events varied from confrontational parents to failed initiatives to feeling unsupported by his administrators.  Mr. Thomas became more and more cynical as time went on.  He had a sarcastic comment for just about everything and he appeared to be simply collecting a paycheck.

Elizabeth looked at her supervising teacher and said, "That will never happen to me!"

Her supervising teacher shared some wise words.  "Sweetie, I hope it doesn't, but you need to know that people don't enter education to simply make money.  Lots of educators feel helpless by the endless bureaucracy, constant moving target and the bashing that takes place in the media."

She looked at Elizabeth and told her how she stays positive.

Here is the key, Elizabeth, at some point you will feel yourself not feeling the same about teaching. At this point a few things need to happen.  

First, you need to believe that reflecting and understanding your feelings will allow you to reverse the trend.  Every day I make a conscious effort to not let myself get sarcastic and to stay upbeat.

Second, you need to have an outlet.  Some people have hobbies, others exercise and still some people just spend time with family.  

Third, try to connect with your colleagues.  When you work with someone for a long time you should be able to be honest.  I'm lucky enough to have two close friends that I work with.  These ladies encourage me, they challenge me and we support each other.  Too often educators go it alone and isolation can be their downfall.

Elizabeth looked at her supervising teacher and smiled.  She then said, "Do you think we should eat lunch with Mr. Thomas?" The supervising teacher smiled and said, "I like how you're thinking young lady."

This Week's Big Question:  What is one key for you to stay positive?


Monday, September 7th:  Labor Day, enjoy the final day of Summer Vacation!!
Tuesday, September 8th:  First Day of School!  8:30am - 3:35pm
Tuesday, September 8th:  2nd Annual "Boo Hoo" breakfast from 8:30-9:30 in the cafeteria
Wednesday, September 9th:  Full Day of School, Early Release begins the following week
Wednesday, September 9th:  Grades 3, 4 and 5 - 8:45am Assembly
Friday, September 11th:

Articles Worth Reading:

Join the 2015 #ClassroomCribs Challenge @ajjuliani

How to build relationships with students through personal stories @Angela_Watson

Which Mic Will You Choose? @Jonharper70bd

The Director's Chair @jon_wennstrom

Powerful Ways To Raise Healthy Kids

A Walk To Remember @danpbutler

Your Choice of Words @mattwachel

4 Questions That Will Change Your Attitude @marcandangel

Videos Worth Watching:

Pay it Forward?  (3 min)

E60 - Long Toss (What a cool story!) (13 min)

Beach Boys or Jimmy Fallon? (3 min)