Monday, February 16, 2015

10 Things That Make my Teaching Life Easier {In no particular order}

1.  Planbook

I know I have mentioned on my blog many times - but that just illustrates how in love with it I am.  Honestly, I know I said this list is random; but Planbook has been such a life saver and TIME saver I may have subconsciously put it at number 1 for a reason!  I can do lesson plans from my phone, in bed, at the doctor's office...wherever.  You can see that I have a lot of specifics in my daily plans.  That's so  if I ever have an unplanned guest teacher - everything they need to know about the daily in's and out's of our day are there. I can easily email my plans to my colleagues and I am able to see my friend's daily plans {they have to give you "the key"} which is so helpful if I need a little help with where I want to go next or get ideas for how I want to teach a concept.

2.  A Great Coffee Mug

I have tried every travel coffee mug known to man!  This one is, by far, the BEST!  HA! You bet this makes my teaching life easier.  My coffee is still warm after lunch {I teach first grade - I don't get it all sucked down before lunch!} and you can drop this thing and it doesn't even get a dent...and no spills {No more coffee stained teachers guides, student work, clothing!}.  

3.  Instagram

I know it's nothing new - but it remains a constant in my life.  Need a quick motivator, either personally or professionally?  This is where I go!  Open the app and it's instant PD. {Professional Development/Personal Development}

4.  Friends
My teaching life is SO much easier with friends to talk with, laugh with, vent to, plan with, have professional conversations with, to LISTEN to me, the list goes on and on.  What would I do without my friends?  My students love them too!  I can't think of a better gift to give to my students then the gift of knowing their teacher is a human being!  It's these moments, when your teacher friends come in to sing to your class, your students will remember! {me too}

5.  Laughter
See above!  I don't know if you know this about me - I think I've blogged about it before - but I love a good practical joke, a costume to wake up my kiddos and put a sparkle back in their tired little eyes...if you're ever feeling like the burden of our profession is weighing you down...give yourself a good belly laugh {or somebody else} and that load will lighten just a bit.

6.  An Early Special
You probably don't have any control over this; but if you are ever asked for input on when your grade level wants their special {i.e. music, art, p.e.} I suggest the first slot! {If it's not TOO early}  Our day is broken up so nicely.  We teach for about 40 minutes {just enough time to get our day started and do calendar} then they are off to their special {and I can gather my thoughts for the rest of the morning}.  We also have a later lunch so we are able to really hunker down for reader's workshop. Our afternoon is a bit shorter with the later lunch which is also helpful because we all know their attention wanes as the day goes on.

7.  GoNoodle - Speaking of waning attention spans...our afternoons might be short, but brain breaks are a lifesaver.  Just think of yourself at a LONG day of professional'd welcome a chance to get up and get moving! Consider it an investment in your students' learning.

8.  Growing Our Village Together
Instagram, Facebook, becoming a lab classroom {letting others come in and watch you in action}, going into other teachers' classrooms, blogging, reaching out to others, encouraging others, opening yourself up to others...growing your village only makes you stronger.  You can't do this alone - nor should you.  You're not perfect - nor should you be.  The more people invested in your personal/professional growth and the more people you help or encourage - the better.  As nervous as it makes me; I like to open my classroom up to other teachers and I SO appreciate it when other teachers open their classrooms up to ME! Just as soon as I walk into those rooms I feel hopeful and validated. I see things that I do too and I think "okay, I'm doing that, they are doing that, this is good" or I find an idea that is just pure genius and nab it!

9.  A Cute Spiral Bound
I tried keeping notes on my iPad - it looked cool, it looked like I had it going on.  It just didn't work for me.  Instead, I have a cute spiral bound to keep my reader's workshop and writer's workshop conferring notes.  I this day and age I should be all "paperless" and "techie"...I tried.  It didn't work.  Add a cute notebook...and I'm all "Mistress of Note Taking"...

10. Prayer & Inspiration
I've always prayed but was pretty random about it.  I've made more of a concerted effort to pray before school {in the car - on the way} and after school {in the car - on the way home}.  It's more like a conversation and I do it while listening to Joel Osteen.  I realize this may not be your thing...but if there's something you can do in your car to find peace...I say give it a go. I don't even notice traffic now because I'm just chatting away ... thank goodness for "blue tooth" {which I don't have} I'm going to hope that the person in the car next to me thinks I'm chatting it up on the phone...but hey, who cares what they think!?!

It's easy to fall victim to a negative attitude - I have my ups and downs for sure!  That's why I seek out teachers who are able to hold on tight to why they do what they do and have made it their personal & professional mission to ensure that other teachers stay positive.  One of those teachers is Sarah, from A Rocky Top Teacher who posts Monday's Moment where she aims to inspire and motivate fellow teachers.

I did her sticky note challenge...

...which was just as much for those teachers at my school as it was for me.  Writing on those sticky notes and then sneaking them into teacher mailboxes just made me smile and I carried that warmth with me for the rest of the day.  Need to get rid of some stinkin' thinkin'?  Give it a try!  Check out Sarah's Monday's Moment for more ways to feel good about what you do!

What makes your teaching life easier?   I would love for you to share!  Who knows, you may just share something that makes a huge difference in a fellow teacher's life!

Sunday, January 4, 2015

How I Spent my Winter Break ~ Linky

Hey Everybody,

I hope you had the best break EVER!  I know I did!  I tried to incorporate a lot of laziness to our days off.  I just feel like during the school weeks we are so busy that we don't stop to smell the roses enough.  Case in point...

We spent some time in Chicago over break.  My family was practically a block ahead of me {who could blame them in those frigid temps?!?} as I kept stopping to really look at and appreciate the sights.  After a while, I heard my youngest say " I want to slow down so I can notice things".  

Other than our travels to mine and my husband's childhood homes, and our Chicago trip - we spent a lot of time just chilling and loving the calm.

Then, it happened - I woke up in the middle of the night and sort of felt my heart pitter patter and I couldn't fall back to sleep.  I realized, at that moment, that I had to do some teaching on Monday and that I didn't really remember what I had planned for it two weeks ago.

So, I went downstairs, fired up the computer and looked...just so that I could fall back to sleep.

I thought that would calm my overactive brain - but it didn't, so I might have watched a couple episodes of my newest Netflix addiction...

It was if you give a Moose a Muffin...

Then, I couldn't sleep because every time I closed my eyes, I pictured super freaky ghosty-demon things...oy...

So, I decided to watch some Shaytards...

I was introduced to this wonderful family of vloggers by Ms. T. {AKA - Journey of  a Substitute Teacher} If you ever need to readjust your outlook on life - this family will help you do that!


The highlight of our break?

We no longer have a vanity and a toilet in our living room!!!! WOO HOO!!!!!

Goodbye 80's bathroom...

All in all, I'd say our break was filled with a little bit of 'dis and a little bit of 'dat.  Which was perfect!

As we head back to work - I posted this on my Facebook page as a reminder to myself and others...

Here's the blog post I was referring to..

I'll leave you with that!!!

Happy New Year!!!!

Monday, December 22, 2014

Beginning our Math Workshop Adventure...

Well, the time is here - it's time for me to take the plunge.  I haven't really been dragging my feet - not totally, anyway.  Maybe just a little bit. Okay, I'm NERVOUS about this, people, I'm just plain 'ol nervous.  I'm not new to the workshop model. I have done reader's and writer's workshop for MANY MANY years.  I used the workshop format before it was even called workshop.  So, I'm not really sure why I haven't been teaching math this way.  

But now I am...

Well, at least I'm getting started with it.  Our last day before break was Friday.  My dear friend- couldn't-teach-first-grade-without-her pal, Barb and I met up at my school on Saturday {we sure do know how to kick our feet up and relax on our first day of break - right?} to pound out some of the details.  She's going to dip her toes in the workshop waters too.

I know it has to get really ugly before you see any headway.  It seemed like we spun our wheels a ton, but thanks to that preliminary work, when I got home I was really able to wrap my brain around it.

Chicken Scratches - Before
All Grouped - SmartBoard  - After

Currently, we use Bridges Math.  There are some really great pieces to this program - but....there are A TON of holes.  I've been hemming and hawing over how to fill these holes.  It seems like math workshop/guided math groups are the answer. 

I'm starting out with doing it three times a week and possibly more once I tweak and fine tune.  I'm going to run four "stations":

*WIG {wildly important goal} Work - students will practice their basic math facts a number of different ways. We'll really drive home the strategies we need to become fluent in solving addition and subtraction math problems.  This is something Bridges misses the boat on. They kinda went overboard on the whole "spiral model".  It seems that we are spiraling out of control and never really stick with anything long enough for my kiddos to see/feel success.  

*Workplaces - A large part of Bridges Math is what they call "workplaces" where students play a variety of math games.  Many of the games are great but some are either way too easy for my kids or too complicated for others.  Now I can plan which workplaces my groups will do - BRAVO!

*Work on Math {computers} - There are a whole slew of different web-based math games they can play.

*Guided Math Groups - This is where I'll be able to better differentiate instruction.

Right now, I'm looking through curriculum trying to decide which lessons will make good mini-lessons, which ones I should only teach to certain guided math groups, and which number corner lessons I want to incorporate into this instruction.  Number corner are additional lessons that I have such a hard time fitting into my day - but now that I plan on using them in guided math groups - I'm hoping I'll get to them more often.  So much to do, so little time...

To start, I plan on doing two groups each day - seeing my friends who struggle most all three days in a guided math group.  I'm really looking forward to getting this up and running.  I can only see good things coming from this adventure and can't wait to do a better job at differentiating my instruction!!!

Wish me luck!
Do you do math workshop/guided math?  Any words of wisdom?

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Writing Note Freebie, Pay it Forward & Some Randomness

Hey Guys!

We had today off.  We went to Frankenmuth...

We go every year.  This place is the happiest on earth.  My husband, AKA Clark Griswold...

...was in heaven.  If it weren't so cold outside I'd take a picture of our house.  It closely resembles the one above.  Let's just say, I wasn't able to blow dry my hair yesterday morning because I kept blowing the fuse.  All those lights suck up a lot of energy!

Yesterday was a half day of school for us.  Contrary to what so many people think - it wasn't a half day for the teachers.  It was our records day.  If you can believe it, my cards are actually almost done - now that's a miracle!  It must have been the cozy fire that put me in the mood to get things done...

This "fire" lasted 10 minutes on YouTube - it was our "timer" for our daily 10 minute snack time.

At the end of each writing unit I send a letter home with the "pile 'o writing" explaining what we worked on.  A bunch of you asked for a copy of it on Instagram.  I'm not sure how helpful it will be since it is specific to what I taught this trimester - but if you can use it, it's yours.

Click the pic to grab yours!
If you haven't entered my Pay it Forward giveaway, which I'm pretty sure you haven't since only 2 people have {insert really sad face here} if you could take a moment to do that, that would be great. When you enter, you have an opportunity to give a shout out to a charity that is near and dear to your heart.  You also have a chance to win 50 dollars for that charity - it's all in the name of paying it forward.  PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE consider entering.  It's super easy too - you get one entry by sharing the name of our charity in a comment and another entry if you give someone a hug! doesn't get much easier than that!  Enter {here}.

Alrighty - time to make the mashed potatoes.  HA! I'm totally kidding.  My husband does that.  Time to go see if I can lick the bowl...

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Data vs Professional Instincts

Have you seen this picture floating around the Internet and other social media?

I have and for me, it brings up so many emotions. I mean, emotions that are all over the board.  I'm thinking back to 16 years ago, when I first started teaching.  We weren't nearly as obsessed with data as we are today.  Not even close.  There were so many times that we solely went with our gut.  Does that sound horrible?

I'm willing to admit, back then we {speaking for myself} had very little data and that's not good either.  We knew our kids were growing, we had artifacts {repeated tasks, writing samples, portfolios} to prove it.  I know data has it's place but your instincts do too. Growth does not have to be identified on a data wall or in a database to obtain legitimacy.  Back then, you knew your students were growing based on a gut instinct? Yup. Sometimes.

I've been trying to find words for why that's not a horrible thing.  I think if you are a newer teacher your jaw might have dropped.  You might have tsk tsk'd me and thought, thank goodness I wasn't a teacher "back then".  Sometimes, there just aren't words to tell how and why you know - you just do, and it's better than any other way of knowing.  

Okay, let me put it this way.  Have you ever been at a conference or you're reading some sort of professional book and you learn a new professional word?  Take "scaffolding" for example.  I'll never forget when I first heard that word used in the educational setting.  I went "oh, I do that - what teacher doesn't?"  I just didn't know there was a word for it and now that I do, I'm still the same great teacher I was before I learned the educational jargon.  

The same can be said for knowing your students.  At least that's how I feel. I'm thinking of the days of yonder when I would put books in my students' hands, listen to them read and just know what type of miscues they were making {even thought I didn't even know the word "miscue" existed - I called them mistakes}.  I SAW with my own eyes that they were using the pictures for clues, I HEARD that they were cuing into the first letter of each word rather than stretching through the entire word and I noticed that they weren't reading for meaning "I walked my duck on a leash" - yup, no meaning there. I adjusted my instruction according to my students IMMEDIATE needs.  I took notes and most importantly I KEPT TEACHING.

Today, we do the same thing - but we don't always trust it - because it isn't coming in the form of a formal assessment. So what do we do?  We stop the presses.  Our classroom instruction comes to an abrupt halt.  And we assess.  One of those assessments for us is Fountas and Pinnell {a valid assessment and useful tool; don't get me wrong} and what do we end up finding out?  Yup, what our gut was telling us, what our professional instincts affirmed, that's what we are seeing on that assessment that took 20 minutes to administer. 

26 students.  20 instructional minutes lost per 26 students = 520 minutes.  520 minutes 4 to 5 times a year = 2,080 minutes per year.  2, 080 minutes per year = 35 hours.  That's a FULL school week. That's a lot of teaching....lost.  And that's only ONE of the many assessments we administer in our classrooms.

I know that many of us do not have a choice in the matter.  It's expected of us.  Administer the assessment so that we can decide whether or not you're worthy of teaching at our school.  I'm so sorry if that is your life.  I'm sorry that "those people" in your schools are putting as much value on the assessment as they are on the teaching.

Thankfully, I feel like my situation allows for me to balance both - at least for the time being; and I'm going to bask in that.  I'm able to assess at the beginning of the year and at the end.  In the middle I do whatever I feel best allows for me to understand where my students are performing.

Sadly, I'm noticing a new trend.  Teachers are no longer trusting their own professional instincts. To see my colleagues fall "victim" to testing and data collection is disheartening to me. I've seen so many of my friends paralyzed as professionals - they have forgotten that teaching is as much {if not more} an art as it is a science. I'm keenly aware that many districts are not like mine - who only require us to assess twice a year.  Yet, in spite of this understanding of professionalism, many are "stopping the show" to do more assessing.  I'm baffled.  I've thought so hard about why this might be.

All I can come up with is that they've forgotten that formative assessments, anecdotal notes and their own professional instincts are just as good, IF NOT BETTER, than the data they collect when doing a formal/summative assessment. It makes my stomach hurt to see instruction coming to a stand-still time and time again to perform senseless assessments. Data is necessary, I realize this.  It allows for us to dial down on skills and really pinpoint growth - but it's not the end-all-be-all.

I want my colleagues to dig deep into their memories and remember the days that they trusted their observational skills and their teacher gut and if you came into teaching at a time where you wouldn't know any can trust your inner-teacher too.  You've got one - I'm pretty sure you were born with it.  Don't let data drive what you do each day in your classroom; let what you see and don't see do that.  You've got it in you. No formal assessment can take the place of your professional instincts...

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Fourth Annual Pay It Forward Giveaway

Happy Sunday!

So, I started this giveaway four years ago.  Making this post for the past four years just makes me smile.  I wish I could give more but every little bit counts. This time of year can be such a blessed & happy time for people but it can also be a struggle.  There are so many wonderful organizations out there to give to and I enjoy learning about new ones during this giveaway. 

Here are the organizations we've given to in the past.  Maybe you'll find a new one to give to yourself! 

Three Years Ago:

Two Years Ago:

Last Year:

So here's the skinny - you enter the giveaway.  One of the entries requires you to leave a comment telling what organization you would like a donation to be given.  If you feel like sharing why this charity is special to you I would love to hear your story and it's a beautiful way to honor somebody special to you.  I know others out there find themselves thinking of others, especially at this time of year, so this might help them find a new charity to give to.  This giveaway is all about paying it forward.

Once I choose a "winner" I'll give 50 dollars in your name to your charity of choice.  

If you are a blogger and you'd like to start a similar giveaway I would be tickled pink to see that happen.  After all, that's the whole idea behind "pay it forward".  That's always been my vision for this - it would be really cool to see this spread!

Enter below!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Simple Little Somethings ~ For the Classroom

I thought I'd share with you some simple little somethings that I use in my classroom and love and I think you will too!

I've been using visual direction cards for years.  I just spruced mine up with this product from Ashley Hughes.  Some kids have a hard time following more than 2-step directions, others need reminders because getting from point A to point B can be tricky business.  These cards stop the "what do I do now" questions and help this teacher stay happy!

I have those little bins from Target all over my classroom.  They serve a couple of different purposes. They collect "junk" and they look cute!  I think I have one of these in every corner.  Pick up a pen, use it, instead of setting it down, plunk it in a bucket.  Easy breezy!

I might have these all around my classroom too.  One holds extra mittens for those kiddos who lose or forget theirs.  One holds extra headphones for listen-to-reading, another is used as our sharing sack.  Cute, colorful, cheap and oh so multi-purpose!

Beggars can't be choosers - and I am really happy that I get so many wonderful donations from parents.  But....I love a cute tissue box and have those EVERYWHERE in my classroom.  

I got my BOP this summer and I tell you...I LOVE this simple little pleasure.  I can take it anywhere in the room with me.  It's nice and loud.  Colorful.  Cute. One of my absolute favorite simple little something.

I'm a Tervis convert.  A sweet little guy gave me this one at the end of last year.  He said "Because you're so wise, Mrs. W."  HA!  I don't know about that, kiddo - but I tell you, this is the smartest beverage holder I've ever had.  I have since bought a couple more. One for water. One for coffee.  I can't use my coffee one for my water one.  I'm strange like that.  

I am very blessed and have so many books in my classroom.  I'm embarrassed to admit that, up until my handy dandy little "blue dot" basket idea, many of them were sitting in boxes - unused.  I tried to rotate books into bins, but often fell behind.  I haven't had a chance to sort them or level them but I really wanted them in my students' hands!  I decided a simple fix would be to put this blue dot label on bins, and put blue dots on all those books I haven't had a chance to level or sort.  Now those books are being read and loved.  Simple.

I use this gym floor tape for lots of things too.  It sticks to anything.  Doesn't leave a residue when you pull it off.  Just love it.  I use it on my books to level/label them.  I used the blue tape for my "blue dot" books.  If I decide to finally level/sort them, I can pull that tape off and replace it with a different color so that they can be leveled. I also use this stuff on the floor to designate where we line up.  On the carpet if someone needs a special little spot to sit during learning time.  Simple.

Hope you got some ideas!  

Happy November!
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