Saturday, June 28, 2014

Student Successes ~ Celebrate!

"Strive not to be a success, but rather to be of value." ~Albert Einstein

"Don't aim for success if you want it; just do what you love and believe in, and it will come naturally." ~David Frost

We all want our students to be successful, but what do we measure that by? Do we value the success of a good test score or grade over the personal growth and accomplishments of each individual? Success is not always measured in a straight line.

As part of the #MOedchat blog group, this week's challenge is to share a story of success from this past school year. I think it's important to celebrate success, and even what can seem like small successes can eventually build into amazing stories of change. I hope to take the time to STOP during my busy day to celebrate successes more next year.

One celebration of success that I would like to share from this past school year was of a young girl that joined my class from Colombia, South America. She was visiting Iowa for a year to stay with her relatives, learn more English, and take part in her own "family cultural exchange" program which meant that she would be leaving her school, her friends, and her family for a whole year. While it's fairly common to have high school foreign exchange students, I'm not aware of the prevalence of this practice among 10 year olds.

We met at our annual Meet the Teacher Night the week before school began. Accompanied by her aunt and uncle, she was definitely timid and spoke no more than a simple, "Hello." I knew she probably had some English exposure at her school in Colombia, but I honestly couldn't judge whether or not she understood me, but I managed to show her where her desk was and a few things she might want to know for the first day of school. A few hand gestures and smiles later, I felt an overwhelming feeling that I should have chosen Spanish as my foreign language class in high school (Sigh).

It took some time, but she slowly came out of her shell. She made a lot of friends, shared her love of music & singing, and learned a lot about the English language. While her writing (often full of incorrect verb tense and incomplete sentences) lacked the sophistication of many of her peers, she gained confidence in sharing her work with the class. And while she wasn't the most fluent reader in the room, she enjoyed reading and talking about her books with her friends. 

The growth and accomplishments that this young girl achieved during her 4th grade year in America were admirable. Even though I don't see test scores as the most important thing in education, but rather just one piece of a child's educational learning puzzle, I was pleased and amazed to learn that my young Colombian student earned a high enough score over four categories (listening, speaking, reading, & writing) to be eligible to exit the ESL program at the end of the school year. It's those less-known successes that resonate with me ....a child that makes growth despite big challenges.

It was hard to say good-bye knowing she wouldn't just be "down the hall" in the next grade this fall. The fact is, she's a few thousand miles away and I may not ever see her again. The experiences we shared and the successes she achieved will still hold a special place in my heart for years to come. Her smile and enthusiasm filled up the room, and that is what I'll remember (and miss) most about her. 

Monday, June 23, 2014

The Winds of Change

"When the winds of change blow, some people build walls and others build windmills"
 ~Chinese proverb

CHANGE - does it cause you to build a wall? Are you trying to keep it out, prevent it from happening, or hide from it? Or, does it cause you to build a windmill? Are you the first one to jump into the path of the wind, let it toss you around, fly a kite, or change course? 

Just as the wind can be a soft breeze or a fierce gale, change can be received with either a warm welcome or an annoyed resistance. While I might not be happy with every change in my life or my career, I'm usually one to welcome change. I like trying new things, suggesting ideas to make things different, and taking advice from others. I enjoy attending PD or workshops that have practical ready-to-use ideas that I can implement right away, reading books that inspire me to change the way I do things for the better, and finding awesome ideas online that I can use with my students. I'll also admit that sometimes I want to change things so much that I try to tackle it all at once and get overwhelmed.

As I've reflected on the peaceful picture of the wind turbine above, I've generated a few thoughts and questions based on this topic of change. By recording them here, I hope to challenge my own thinking as well as anyone else who has opened this post.

1) Wind changes direction
          When the winds of change turn you in a different direction, what is your first response? Do you quickly turn the opposite direction, cross your arms, and state that there's NO WAY because "this is the way it's always been done?" Or do you give it a chance? Are you too quick to make a change without asking questions, learning more, and taking time to reflect? How are we teaching our students to deal with change? Each change you make is like a gentle breeze, pushing you in a different direction.

2) Wind can push you
           Fierce wind can push you and catch you off guard, especially if it's unexpected. But, it can also be a sign of a challenge. Just as it would be difficult to keep your hair looking perfect on a windy day, it's also usually difficult to meet challenges head on without some creativity, support, and persistence. Change isn't easy - do you see change as a pain or nuisance, or as a challenge that you're ready to meet? Are you the type of person that supports change? 

3) Wind is powerful
            Even some of the hardest rocks cannot resist the erosion of the wind over time. Wind is powerful, and so is change. It can allow us to mold ourselves into a newer, better, version of what we were before. It can allow us to reach higher, but only if we allow it. The wall you build may not stand up to the wind, so ask yourself if the wall is necessary in the first place. What change would you like to see in your life? What change would you like to see in your classroom?

I'm looking forward to discovering the changes that will come my way as I open new windows and learn how I can make my classroom an even better learning space and community for my students to grow and be challenged.

Friday, June 13, 2014

I Love Being in Education Because....'s what I've always wanted to do.

Hidden between the buckets and ladders in my childhood home garage lies the evidence of a young girl's free time fun: playing school. With chalk in hand, I used the black drywall paper garage walls as my chalkboard. I was the teacher, and my "invisible" students provided me with hours of entertainment. Although it's been many years, the sight of this garage wall still brings back memories of a simpler time - a time when I realized that teaching was my destiny.

6/13/14 - As I walked through the garage of my childhood home, I saw the wall and immediately
went to grab my camera, capturing the memories of nearly 30 years ago & inspiring this evening's blog post. is new and different every day.

Some days you can't even imagine to guess what will happen within the four walls of a classroom. Even with the most organized, thought out plans, teaching children can be surprising and therefore flexibility and patience is often required. The things children say, do, and need are different each day. My 29 students this year definitely kept me both busy and entertained. It's only been 11 days since the school year ended, and I can honestly say as I do most years that I really enjoyed teaching this group of fourth graders.

I try to always remind myself that each year and each group of students is different, so teaching the same thing the same way is not truly effective. Great teachers don't teach the same year over and over again, they teach each year with a brand-new perspective. allows me to inspire and be inspired.

Who will walk into my classroom this fall? What will they remember the most? How will I touch their lives and what impression will I leave them with? What will they teach me about myself?

I can't wait to find out.

Monday, June 9, 2014

The Importance Of Connecting

Connecting with Students:

It starts from Day 1. The connection you make with each student will set the tone for the whole year. Talking with each student, learning what they like to do outside of the classroom, and knowing their strengths & weaknesses can help you as a teacher make the best learning experience for each student. Students want and need to know that you care and that you want them to be a part of your classroom family. Each student brings something unique to the classroom and it's our job as teachers to help them find their special spot in our year together.

Connecting with your Team:

Over the years I have had 6 different teachers as a part of my (3-classroom) 4th grade "team" and am welcoming yet another new team member this fall. I am fortunate enough to have worked with energetic, supportive, and creative team members that have collectively helped create a positive atmosphere in which to work each day. Through many meetings we've shared ideas, worked through student struggles, analyzed mounds of data, planned great lessons, and supported each other personally as well as professionally. It has been such a comfort to know that there are such great teachers right next door, as well as in my building that are all working together to make it the best school it can be.

Connecting Beyond our 4 Walls:

After participating in my first Google+ Hangout (GHO) with instructors from other states last evening, I was so excited to dream of how I could use this technology in my classroom next fall. I guess I must be living under a rock since I didn't even know this was possible. Using GHO or Skype would be a great opportunity to connect my students with other classrooms, authors, organizations, and more. With the connections I've already made across the country and the world, I'm sure there will be some great connections we can make to allow our learning become more real, authentic, and memorable. Now, I just have to work on brainstorming some wonderful ideas. :)

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Liebster Award

There's a special award going around the blog world right now called the "Liebster Award".  It's an award that bloggers give out to each other to help promote other blogs, especially new blogs. I was pleasantly surprised to find out yesterday that a fellow blogger & Twitter friend, Michele Knott (@knott_michele) from Mrs. Knott's Book Nook nominated my blog for a Liebster Award. Thank you, Michele! Here's what it is all about:

Here are The Liebster Award rules:

1.         List 11 Facts about yourself.
2.         Answer the 11 questions put forward by whoever nominated you.
3.         Ask 11 new questions to 5+ bloggers. They must have less than 200 followers on     Bloglovin’ (or their preferred method). You cannot re-nominate the blog that nominated you.

4.         Go to their blogs and inform them that they have been nominated!

Here are 11 facts about me:
Facts about me:
1) I have always wanted to be a mom and a teacher, so I’m enjoying my life.
2) If I’m not at home or at school, it’s likely I’m at the pool watching my kids swim or compete for their club or school. Both my girls will be on the same high school team this fall, and I’m really looking forward to that after 7 years of dedication to the sport – (proud mom).
3) I enjoy swim meets better than track meets. This season was really cold & rainy.
4) I enjoy taking pictures and making scrapbooks. I need to catch up though!
5) I’m from the Midwest – grew up in Nebraska, went to school in Missouri, and now live in Iowa.
6) I started running last year and ran a 6K and two 5K’s. I never thought I could start running when I hadn’t run ever before.
7) I was a cheerleader in high school and that experience helped break me out of my “shy” shell.
8) I earned my Master’s Degree in Curriculum & Instruction with an Emphasis on Reading. It was an online program which worked really well for me as a busy mom.
9) I love chocolate.
10) My husband and I didn’t realize that we gave both of our daughters first names with the same amount of letters and first & middle names with opposite initials, until someone pointed it out after our second daughter was born.
11) I never realized how much I could learn from Twitter & all the connections I’ve made that will help me impact my love for learning and leading.

Now, here are the answer's to the 11 questions asked of me by Michele Knott:

How many library books do you currently have checked out?  How many books do you have on hold?
Both zero! I just checked back in a stack of books that I had checked out for my class, and that was about 6 books. I have a few books at home that are on my TBR (to be read) list so I haven’t browsed the library for a while.

How do you decide which books to buy?
Recommendations from others & authors of books I already own in addition to suggestions I see on blogs or Twitter.

Book judging.  How do you disagree with people who have major book love for something you don't like?
I’m okay with that. It doesn’t mean that I have to read it or like it. I just don’t read it myself.

Who are some of the new authors on your radar? 
Not new authors, but new to me – Todd Whitaker, Christopher Lehman, Eric Sheninger

What professional books have guided your practice?
Many over the years, but the one that stands out to me from this year is Teach Like a Pirate by Dave Burgess. It has renewed my energy & passion for what I do, even on the hard days.

Kids say the darndest things.  Any stories you have?
I should write these down as they happen as it’s hard to remember! I had a student this year that “overshared” many personal things, which was awkward. I had another student that had funny and entertaining things to say constantly.

If you weren't teaching, what would you be doing?
I would probably do something where I wouldn’t have to “take work home!” Or, I would probably be selling something – it seems like I’m a sucker for buying all these items that my friends & family have in their home/catalog parties. I might as well sell it myself! J

Money isn't an object... what do you do???
Travel to places I would like to visit, and attend all the expensive conferences I only dream of going to!
It seems to be movie writers can't come up with anything new so they turn all good books into movies.  

What book do you think should be made into a movie next?
Not sure - most of the recent fiction books I've read already have been made into movies!

We just finished out a school year.  Looking back, what was the best thing you did?
One of the best things I did was try to incorporate more technology into my lessons. I hope to continue that next year and use new tools to help my students create, connect, and share what they’ve learned.

If you had an extra 3 hours in the day, and reading could only be dedicated to one of them, what would you do with the other two?
The other two hours I would be spending more time with my husband and kids, relaxing, and trying to do some things just for myself for a change!

And.....finally, here are my 5 nominees and 11 questions for them, if they choose to accept this award!
1) Elissa Thompson @mrstsmg from Mrs. T's Middle Grades
2) David Grossman @tkSciGuy from Connect, Create, Own
3) Deb Martin @dkmartin69 from One Room Schoolhouse
4) Jennifer Priddy @jnpriddy from The Power of Priddy
5) Bob Deneau @itechbob from Technology that "Actually" Works

I appreciate each one of  these blogs listed above for their relevant content & interesting ways of connecting to things that I care about and can relate to! Ok, one of these "may" have more than 200 followers, but their following #'s must have just exploded since it appears they just started blogging! So, I bent the rules. :)

Here are your questions - I look forward to seeing your answers!

11 Questions for New Bloggers:
1) What made you decide to become a teacher?
2) What children’s book is your favorite?
3) If you went back to school, what degree or endorsement would you persue?
4) If you wrote a book, what would it be about?
5) What website, app, or other technology tool could you not live without?
6) If you were given $500 to spend on your classroom, what would you buy?
7) What teacher was your favorite and why?
8) What is the name of a book you are currently reading?
9) Describe your ideal classroom space.
10) What would you be doing with your life if you weren’t teaching?
11) Why did you decide to start writing a blog?