Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Finding a Weekly Dose of Truth

This past year, I have invested a lot of time building my professional learning network on Twitter.  I use Twitter only for professional development purposes.  It keeps me fresh and on top of the cutting edge practices in education.  It’s also great having an opportunity to connect to well-known, respected educators and giving them a shout out. I feel so significant when they reply, favorite, retweet, or the most amazing- follow little ole’ me.  These people have increased their pool of followers near and far just by being a “tweet” away! 
When I got on Twitter, there were a handful of people that I knew I wanted to follow.
  One of those people was  Angela Watson.  I have followed her from the early days when she had a single website called “Mrs. Powell’s Management Site for Teachers.”  After taking a seven year hiatus from teaching in the early 2000s, her website was a life saver for me.  As the years have continued, I have been able to buy each of her books that she has published starting with “The Cornerstone.”  This book rescued me one year when I had 29 fourth graders!!  I needed all the help I could get to stay organized and on top of this class with 16 boys.
However, the book that has meant the most to me by Angela Watson is her book called, “Awakened.”  It is all about changing your mindset to become a better teacher.  Her encouragement and prayers have challenged me to choose joy each day, even when it gets hard.  
One other form of media that Angela uses that has helped me as an educator and a person is her weekly podcast called “Truth for Teachers.”  This podcast is recorded on Sunday night so that we teachers can wake up to an encouraging, engaging, motivating discussion early Monday morning. (Whew!  Mondays are hard!) Some of the most memorable podcasts for me have been “How to Approach Teaching with a Spirit of Adventure”.  This particular podcast helped launch me into what I hope the platform of this blog is built on.  Teaching is adventurous and exciting, but in order to keep up with educational reforms and, more importantly, our students; we must be willing to take risks.  Creating a chronical of risk taking successes and epic fails this coming year is my focus for writing.  I truly believe it is okay to fail.  I expect it from time to time.  I have found that my biggest life lessons have come more from epic fails than that of my stunning successes.  I want my students to realize that and my colleagues to run head long into risk-taking adventures.  Stay tuned for my adventures!
Another inspiring podcast was “You can Build a Positive School Culture No Matter Where You Teach.”  Angela had some wonderful educators like Hope King and Jimmy Casas to give a behind the scenes perspective of creating systems in your classroom and school to promote positivity among students and faculty.  I love how she made sure to address those who feel all alone with no support.  I personally have a great support system with my administration and co-workers; but I am glad we have educators like Angela who think  of those teachers who feel isolated and want to figure out how to make a difference!
Angela, thanks for all of your amazing work over the years!  You truly have been an inspiration to me and others I’m sure.  I appreciate your encouragement as a teacher and your faith as a believer!  I can’t wait to get my weekly dose of truth on Mondays starting up again this fall.  I hope others will join me by subscribing to “Truth for Teachers” by Angela Watson.  You will be filled with hope!

Here’s Hoping! 

Sunday, July 5, 2015

On Becoming a Pirate

In a previous post, I wrote about a wake-up call that rang deep in my heart and soul last year.  I shared why and how I refocused my purpose as an educator.  One effective strategy that I used was connecting with great teachers, both near and far!  I’ll share more about my dear near friends soon, but I want to focus in on friends that challenged and cheered me on through their publications.
While recovering from a serious illness, I was given the gift of time.  So what’s a teacher to do but curl up with some good books?  I perfected my guided reading knowledge by rereading “The Book Whisperer”  and “Reading in the Wild by Donalyn Miller, as well as other titles by my favorite reading gurus.  I have deeply appreciated the time and research these experts have poured into their material as they mentored me from afar.  
There are two individuals who particularly inspired me this last 
year during a tough season.  The first is Dave Burgess.  I downloaded Dave’s book Teach Like a Pirate last summer while reading Donalyn Miller’s books.  I’ve always have had a pirate spirit within!  My favorite movies have been “The Pirates of the Caribbean” and I’ll have to admit that I’ve dressed as a pirate a time or two, so I was immediately interested.  When I read the book last summer I felt challenged and refreshed.  It was one of those reads that stirred excitement to get back to my students.  However, that excitement was quickly tested with a challenging situation that  monopolized my time, energy, and passion.  From the onset, I was quick to realize that I needed to have a plan to stay positive and hold to my passion for teaching.  During the summer, I had written passion statements at Burgess’ recommendation in his book.  When I had really bad days, I was able to reflect on what I had scribed with a clear mind.  This helped me reconnect to my calling as an educator.  If I had not previously done this, I’m not sure I would have had the energy to summon my teacher spirit on my own.
TLAP also inspired me to return to what I know is effective teaching.  Burgess recommends many hooks to excite, invoke, and involve students in the content we teach.  I have held true to kinesthetic, auditory, and visual learning hooks, but I felt that I was leaving so much more on the table.  I kept thinking there is a better way to infuse creativity with true problem solving into my lessons.  I had done it before, but a few years ago there was a catch phrase that made the loop in educational academia which affected my practice as an educator.  This word had a huge impact on my lesson planning.  That word was R-I-G-O-R!  Please note, I emphatically believe that we should design lessons with rigor in mind.  I also believe the hooks that Dave Burgess recommends in his book will add high levels of rigor to our curriculum. 
I don’t hear this word as often as I use to.  Perhaps it is finishing its course through the circuit.  In my opinion, there is a fundamental misconception among teachers. Unfortunately, in my experience, rigor had been interpreted as creating assessments that asked hard questions in preparation for a standardized test.  I felt forced into a mold of teaching to a test.  This is not rigor! I have come to a conclusion that designing lessons which give students a choice to create and problem solve is among the most rigorous lessons.  Dave gives dozens of ideas on making lessons not only exciting and engaging; but yes, rigorous too.
I highly recommend Teach Like a Pirate.  I have become so impassioned by this book, that I have shared it with many of my colleagues.  I decided to lead PD by the Pool this summer using this book!  Cool, huh? That is the beauty of technology. We are using Edmodo as our platform to connect from our living rooms, pools, and beaches as a school.  I am making new connections and learning with my colleagues throughout our building.  I would not necessarily have to time to get together with these fabulous teachers without finding them online.  I have realized that there are educators near and dear who have felt the same waning of passion and enthusiasm due to the increasing demands of new standards, new tests, new evaluation systems, etc.  But- we are recovering by reading Dave Burgess’ book this summer and chatting online. I look forward to sharing with them throughout the year in real time; it will be a new support that I didn’t have last year. Many thanks to Dave Burgess!  Find him on Twitter @burgessdave!  He’s only a tweet away!
My cup runneth over with new relationships near and far.  I have another connection  to whom I want to blog about.  I’ve read this educator’s books and she has inspired me for years through her website and publications.  Most recently, she talks to me each week giving me truths through her new podcast called “Truth for Teachers.”  Stay tuned later this week to learn about this special mystery person who has kept many educators organized, energized, and filled with hope!!

Here’s hoping! 

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

A Journey for Hope

One year ago I found myself in the hospital battling a serious illness. I was perfectly healthy and suddenly I found myself in the hospital fighting fever, dehydration, lack of oxygen, and a dangerously low blood pressure.  To begin with, I thought I was experiencing a little springtime fatigue; or at worst, the flu.  However, what was brewing was more than I bargained for.  
I had contracted a bacterium that appeared to be a viral infection.  I was told to push fluids, rest, and it will run its course.   Unfortunately, it ran its course straight into my kidneys.  Within 2 days of seeing a doctor, I was in the hospital with a diagnosis of sepsis.  The bacteria had entered my bloodstream and began to play games on my organs and mind.  I’ll never forget hearing the diagnosis.  My father-in-law had died of septic shock just 2 years before, so pictures of my funeral began to swim in my head.  My husband and I locked eyes knowing the worst possible outcome of this illness, and prayed for the best.  
This illness began a season in my life that has led me to reflect and transform my thinking.  I remember lying in that lumpy hospital bed worrying about my students and their test scores.  Our state testing was just 2 weeks away, and I was in the hospital!!!!  I worried about who would be patient with Alonzo, my little ADHD comedian, to ensure he would focus during the test.  I worried about my 2 resource students that needed just a little more remediation before the big days.  I worried about all of my class in general.  How will they do without me?? Will they get the test prep they need?   It then dawned on me that I was sick- really sick, and I was worried about a test!!!  Years of teaching for high stakes testing had me more concerned about test performance than my own health.  All of a sudden, test scores, pacing guides, common assessments, and evaluations began to pale in comparison to this new challenge I was facing.
After several days in the hospital, I was determined to get back in the classroom with my third grade peanut gallery- fondly known for their antics, jokes, and silliness. Normally, I would have probably had “come on summer” attitude; but, I guess I craved what continues to drive me each day- TEACHING and LEARNING.  I needed to center myself in my life’s purpose and calling.
Unfortunately, my body had fought too hard.  It took the last 6 weeks of school plus the summer to recuperate. It was difficult to admit that I needed rest, but I would need every bit of my strength and energy for a special assignment that my administration wanted me to navigate.  This assignment has been the most challenging of my career as it has involved many specialists, long hours of meetings, and emotional draining.
            When the new school year began in August, I quickly realized that I needed to find ways to channel some frustrations and anxiety that were out of my control.   Coming from a religious family, I was taught to “feed my faith” when struggles come in life through devotionals, prayer, and connecting to encouraging people.  On a professional level, I decided to do the same thing- I was inspired by professional books, listened to educational podcasts, and made new Twitter friends by building my Professional Learning Network.  As I did this, my passion for teaching began to swell while dealing with a case that reeked of exhaustion and burnout.  I chose to focus on teaching and learning; not on circumstances.  In the face of the most difficult situation I've encountered professionally, I became centered and focused on why I became a teacher.  During this past year, my colleagues commented, “I don’t know how you manage day after day with the challenges you face.”
My answer is that I stayed connected to my passion of teaching, and did not let circumstances influence what brings me joy on a daily basis.  I’m not saying it was easy- it has been far from a Pollyanna picture.  I’ve had my meltdowns, venting sessions, and fought disillusionment with the system. However, I chose to stay focused on the big picture and remain positive which has launched me in a fresh pursuit of career goals and aspirations. 
In spite of the last 12 months, I have recommitted to my passion in the face of sickness and controversy.  I feel embolden to return to the reason I became an educator- to teach children the joy of discovery, a passion for learning, and a desire to create.  I recognized that I had fallen prey to the big bad wolf called “Standardized Testing.”  If we as educators fall into this cycle of following a test to teach; we forfeit the joy and passion that educating our youth truly is. I had become bored as an educator conforming to something I was not by teaching uniformity to my students, all in the name of test scores.    While data is important and has its place for an educational practitioner; it should only guide our instruction, not drive our instruction.  I am now determined to find a way to connect students to the standards every day in a way that ignites enthusiasm and promotes creativity.  I want to find my way back into a student-centered classroom.  My heart says it can be done.  What does yours say???

Here’s Hoping for an Incredible Journey!