Thursday, March 26, 2015

Mentors

This morning I read a terrific blog post on Nerdy Book Club by Mark Overmeyer. (HERE) Reading it, I was flooded with memories of reading mentors in my own life. My parents were, of course, mentors. They read before bed every night that I remember growing up. I had teachers who would recommend books, slipping them on my desk with a whisper. I had friends who I could talk to about books. Even extended family members who would ask me what I was reading when I saw them. Books surrounded me growing up and mentors were plentiful. My siblings didn’t read as much as I did, but they still read. Mentors are important.

Anyone who follows me on social media would know that I am still a reader. I take a ridiculous amount of photos of what I’m reading. I post photos of books, share the number of books I’ve read over a break, share photos of “to read” stacks. A friend recently commented to me last summer that my posts made her laugh, why all the photos about books? I shared my reasons with her then and will with you now: I know some of my students – current and former – don’t have people in their life that value reading. I am trying so hard to be that mentor for them.

Connecting to my students through Instagram. 
With every fiber of my being I believe that a love of words has changed my life. Because I’m a reader, school was easier for me, even when it wasn’t. While being able to fly through a book and inhabit an imaginary world on a moments notice didn’t always help me as much as I’d like in geometry, the ability to read and write well does pay off in school in all subjects. Being a reader and writer makes it easier to access information and convey what you are thinking about it. The love of words and learning took me into college where I became a history major. The desire to connect to children and teach them to love literature like I did, found me wanting to switch majors to education in my senior year. (I ended up graduating with that degree in history and headed right into grad school for a Master’s in Education.)

While I firmly believe a love of books and writing made school a bit easier, that isn’t even the main reason I want my students to find the same passion. I think people who can disappear into a book, shed tears for a beloved character, or have their heart race with trepidation as a character faces a challenge become more empathetic as a result. I’ve had a blessed life and it would be easy for me to simply turn a blind eye to the plights others face, to say they need to just work harder or be smarter. I’m from a small town that is pretty quiet with not a lot of diversity. It would be easy to be ignorant. Books have opened up the world for me. I think they’ve made me more aware, caring, compassionate, and curious.

Books, and writing, have also strengthened bonds. Many friends have become closer because we can talk about books together. Parents of my students grow to know me because of what I read and write. My students know me better because I’m vulnerable as I share my life with them through my writing. It allows them to feel safe in sharing themselves with me. And we forever have the bond of being readers and writers in our beautiful classroom together over the course of that school year.


I don’t take lightly being a mentor to my students, or to my own children. If I can help shape their life in our year together, if I can impress upon them the importance of reading and writing, I feel like I’ve done my job. If I can help them fall in love with the written word like I have, I think I have helped set them on a path for their lives that will make a tremendous difference. And, after over fifteen years of teaching, I know that sometimes I will see the impact of my teaching right away, and sometimes I don’t see it for years. That doesn’t stop me from trying. Teaching is a job that doesn’t have a beginning or an end. Being a mentor is something I take to heart. I work hard to be that within the walls of our classroom and extend to my life outside of the classroom as well. If we can just find that one book, help them write that one piece that touches their heart, it can impact their lives forever.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Feed The Rabbits

I’ve been thinking a lot about a certain motto lately…

Feed the rabbits, starve the snails.

A friend shared it with me years ago. She said it was the motto her school district lived by. Feed those teachers that were wanting to learn more, do more, be more. If there were “snails” that didn’t want to change, you still offered them opportunities, but you made sure you truly fed those rabbits to keep them going.

I’ve thought about that phrase many times since. I do feel like we are in a profession that tries to feed everyone equally at times, no matter if they are a snail or a rabbit. That can be frustrating. I think, then, that’s when you look for what else can feed you.

I thought of that this past week. I was conferring with a group of higher ability students. We were talking about how they had pushed themselves this year, how they had found their own desire to learn. Listening to myself, I was reminded of the importance of learning.

I think I can be a rabbit at times and, when discouraged, I can resort to being a snail. I have found that I am, of course, happier, when I am pushing myself. If you find yourself in the same boat, here are some things “feeding” me professionally at the moment:

  • Twitter. Whether it is just connecting with other educators, participating in Twitter chats, or sharing out what my students are doing, Twitter is a big part of my professional learning.

  • Voxer. I am part of a group on Voxer – an app that allows you to leave voice messages (and photos and texts.) It’s similar to a group text, but somehow I like it better. My group talks about what they are reading and learning about almost daily. They keep me motivated.
  • Reading. I tend to be a binge reader. I read a little each day, but when I have time off, I tend to take a few days to really read. I’m on my fifth day of break and have read three professional books, four middle grade novels, and seven picture books. I won’t read as much this weekend, so I’m frontloading my spring break reading.

  • Conferences. Yes, I’m on spring break and yes, I will be spending the last three days of it at a conference. I cannot wait. Michigan Reading Association’s annual conference is this weekend and I will be driving five hours each way to join friends in a weekend of learning, book sharing, and fun.

  • Podcasts. I love podcasts, but almost all of mine are around literacy or classroom practice. My current favorites are Let’s Get Busy, Techlandia, and The Bedley Brothers. I listen to them while I walk Rosie and always come home with new ideas.

  • Time. I also find that giving myself time to do what I want gives me more energy when I return to teaching. Education, reading, and writing could all be considered my hobbies, but I know I need downtime as well. For this reason I have carved out time this week to really relax. We didn’t go anywhere for our spring break this year, so I have organized closets, spent time with family, and stayed at home and done absolutely nothing at least once. It has been glorious.



How about you? What do you do to keep yourself motivated and growing professionally? Do you fine it harder to be motivated at certain times of the year? I know February is tough for me, but spring brings new energy. Take care of yourself and have a wonderful week.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Celebrate this Week - Biography Presentations


I love Ruth’s reminders to celebrate each week on her blog (HERE). 

This week I am celebrating research projects. Honestly, I don't know if my students from three years ago would list research as one of their favorite things they did, but my recent classes probably would. Once I began shortening the length of our units, offering a ton of choice, research became fun. 

When faced with PARCC testing until Monday, Spring Break starting Friday, I wondered what to do with my week. It was too short to start a new in depth unit, but I didn't want to waste any more days. Glancing at the bins of picture book biographies in our library, I asked each child to grab one, take notes, and figure out how to present to a small group about their chosen subject on Friday. What followed was three days of research, posters, Prezi projects, iMovies, Padlets, blogging, some costumes, and more. 

This morning three classes - seventy-eight children - all presented in their homerooms at the start of their day while I raced around and tried to hear them all. I was so proud of these kids for their hard work this week, for their engagement when I know their brains wanted to turn to vacation, and for their sweet notes to me on what they learned. My heart filled up with love. 

Please check out some of my sweet students in the video below. 


Students - if you are reading this, have a wonderful break. You have earned it! 

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

March Book Madness Round 2

Today during my second class I had to make a copy for someone at the copy machine next to my room. Walking back in, I noticed that my son, Liam, was standing at the first bookshelf looking for a book. Smiling, I asked what he was doing up on our floor. He explained he needed a book from the March Book Madness books. We looked for it and realized it was checked out. One of my fifth graders came over to talk books with him and he left with a book and several recommendations.

I moved over to confer with a student who was working on their biography presentation. They had chosen to create a Prezi and were trying to remember how to add a video. All of the sudden I heard Tyler exclaim.

I glanced up and asked him what was wrong.

He said he remembered I had my eye doctor appointment the following morning and that my mom was the substitute. He looked almost panicked. Would she – my mom – know the winners from Round 2 of March Book Madness?

I had to laugh. I reassured Tyler. The winners should be posted at 8 am EST. I would come into our building before I headed to my appointment and record the new winners on our bulletin board.

With all of my students appeased, we returned to work.

I am beyond grateful to my friends for creating this amazing and engaging activity for my students. It has gotten them rooting for books, discussing books they don’t know, and talking to students at other grade levels. It even got them in trouble last week when they were checking out the new results on Wednesday morning when they were supposed to be hurrying to their rooms for their PARCC test. J There aren’t many activities I’ve done that has had students messaging me at home, campaigning during school, and creating to read lists with deadlines.


Are you participating in March Book Madness? If not, feel free to join in HERE!  


Saturday, March 14, 2015

Celebrate This Week



I love Ruth’s reminders to celebrate each week on her blog (HERE). This week my celebrations are all over the place.

Rosie
Our sweet pup wasn’t feeling well this week, but a visit to the vet got her on the road to recovery. I love our local vet and how they are so kind and caring to every animal. I love that I can call them up and they willingly share their expertise with me and never seem rushed. We are so blessed to have them. 


Engineering Open House
Chris went with Liam on his class’s field trip to our local university this Friday. They were attending their Engineering Open House. A open house put on by the  engineering students to showcase all that they have been working on. Chris was a student at this university – in engineering. He never volunteered to work the open house, so I thought it was high time he attended. He had a great time and got to see Liam with his friends, which is always fun to watch. This is a pic that Liam’s kind teacher sent me. I wasn’t sure if the kids were allowed to be photographed online, so I did blur out their faces. J


My students
I love coming home like I did tonight and seeing messages from my sweet students. I love even more that they think of me when they are away from school, that they want to share what they are doing with me. This makes me realize just one more time how lucky I am to have the job I do. I get to work with these kids daily! 
 


Solo and Ensemble Contest
Luke participated in his first solo and ensemble band competition today. As I walked with him up to his middle school early this morning, I noticed that he was quieter than usual. I asked him if he was nervous and he said, “Very.” 

I explained what would happen, reminded him that he was ready. 

He said, “How would you know about this?”

I laughed. Preteens are so focused on their own lives that they forget. I reminded him that I did this for seven years in school. He laughed, nodded, and went in. He and his friend did an amazing job and got a Div 1 rating. I’m so proud of him for doing something hard. 


Taking Time
Last week I felt down. I felt out of shape, my eating was horrid, and I just felt like I wasn’t taking any time for me. This week I vowed to change that. I tracked my exercise and eating all week and made an effort to move. It paid off, not just in loosing a few pounds, but I feel so much better. Not looking long term here, just one week at a time. But I loved getting out and moving today. Looking forward to another week of the same ahead. 

Awesome bike ride today! 


Hope you all have had a wonderful week and are getting to enjoy some springtime weather! Have a great week.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

The Pitfalls of Social Media

I love social media. The amount of time I spend on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram can attest to that. I have seen so many benefits; it would be tedious to list them all. I’ll just say that my time on these three sites alone have brought me closer to family, friends, and students. It has allowed me to form new friendships. And, through Twitter, I have experienced a great deal of professional development for free while being allowed to stay home with my family.

I’m a huge fan of social media.

But, you knew there had to be a “but”, there is a downside. I often caution my students on their use of social media. I talk to them, remind them that what they share is out there and they cannot take it back. Tell them to guard their identity. I worry constantly that they will do or say something that will haunt them forever. I fret over mistakes they have not made, but are in reach, taunting – and frightening me with the possibilities.

I have seen the mean side to the internet. People gain confidence behind their screens, fingers ready to type. They say things they never would in person; at least I hope they wouldn’t. They are quick to vilify, quick to judge, quick to jump in with the angry villagers.

The internet brings us closer, the internet tears us apart.

Yesterday I arrived home and glanced at Twitter and Facebook. I learned I had missed an uproar on Twitter involving an author I happen to admire. Andrew Smith writes amazing young adult novels. I have met him and found him to be kind and generous. It seems he had given an interview recently and some in the book world took umbrage over some comments he had in regard to women. Before I got too upset, I went and read the interview. And then I reread it. And I was more confused than before.

As a woman and, I would say, a feminist, I wasn’t offended by the remarks. But, and here’s the thing, I think it is ok if you were. The way someone interprets what someone else says is personal. I would have zero issue with people asking Andrew about his remarks. I would have zero issue asking for clarification. But that isn’t what happened, or it isn’t where the discussion ended.

As humans, we are fallible. Emotions run high and we screw up. When social media is involved, it seems that we can get a false sense of our own “rightness” as others join in, and then, before you know it, you have formed the angry mob of villagers. I think that is what happened yesterday. As a result, an amazing author closed down his social media accounts and students lost a voice online that they connected with.


I teach digital citizenship to my students every year. All. Year. Long. I don’t think we can teach it enough. One thing I try to remind them, again and again, is to remember there is a real live human being on the other side. A person who has faults and strengths. A person who struggles with insecurities. A person who has cried and laughed, loved and lost, found friends and lost others. I try and remind them that we would be kinder to each other if we were sitting down over coffee (or soda, in their case). If we knew what baggage each person carried. And my reminder to them, each and every day, is to lighten the baggage of every person they meet. To ensure they do not add to it.

A good person was treated horribly yesterday on social media. And, quite possibly, it was by other good people who felt justified in what they were doing, but went too far. Way too far. This happens far too often, and not only by children, but also by so many adults too. We have but one life on this planet. Are we going to spend it spewing out poison or are we going to try and leave it a little better than we found it? You don’t make the world better by tearing down another person. You only make it better by offering them a hand, pulling them up, and beginning the conversation. I wish that had been the case yesterday on Twitter. We would all have benefited from that.
 
Imagination Designs
Blog design by Imagination Designs Images from the Just Because kit by Laurie Ann