Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Hang in there, baby.

Today was exhausting. I kind of anticipated that it would be. It IS the day after Halloween after all. 

But in my corner of the world, it's not just the holidays...it's everything.

This is my 13th year of teaching. I'm no rookie. I've actually been teacher of the year at one school and made the final 3 at another school. I had gotten to the point where I could just 'wing it' day to day and do a darn good job because I knew what my job was. I taught reading to fourth graders and I was good at it. 

I requested a transfer just before this school year started and as a consequence found myself in first grade. The last time I taught first grade was 16 years ago during one small part of my student teaching. After a year of second grade the rest of my years experience have been in either 4th or 5th grade. 

So here I am feeling like a new teacher all over again. So many of the skills and techniques I used for 4th grade don't even come close to transferring to these little people. 

To top it off, this is a Title I school with a high percentage of Spanish-speaking students. Of all the things I've received training for ELL/ESOL isn't among them. 

So what am I doing well??

  • I love my students. Perhaps this really is the most important thing, but I can't teach them to read by love alone.
  • I'm getting along great with my new teammates. Again, HUGELY important, but they can't teach for me - they're fighting their own battles.
  • I have high expectations for my little people. This a BIG frustration for me though, as I continue to fail to raise these guys up. Expectations aren't enough.
  • I'm persistent. I continue to pull myself up by my bootstraps and try again.
Looming in the back of my mind?
  • How do I structure my reading time so that students are engaged and on-task and learning to read and enjoying great books?
  • How do I teach 21 individuals during math time since whole group efforts of any sort have failed miserably?
  • How do I help them discover their talents as writers?
  • How do I manage the standards-based grading without going insane with the paperwork involved?
  • How do I get them to sit down and listen (for even just a few minutes would be okay with me!!)?
  • How do I teach the students to show respect and courtesy to one another?
  • How can I keep them from running in the hallway?
  • How can I help them realize that this is OUR classroom and when they break and/or damage our supplies and resources it hurts all of us?
  • How do I inspire them to want to learn?
Ignorance would be bliss at this point. At least then I wouldn't feel so inadequate all the time. 

Tomorrow is another day. I will focus on being present with my little people. We will enjoy a good book or two and share some writing. I will smile at them and hug them and tell them how proud I am of their hard work. 

Anyone else out there struggling with transition from one grade level to another? I'd love to hear about your trials and triumphs! Words of wisdom are appreciated too. 

Until then I'll just continue to hang in there, baby.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011


My principal offered me the microphone and I should have humbly waved it away and just said, "Thank you." However, I am a bit of a ham and couldn't resist the chance to address our faculty. 

I've worked at this school for only a month and a couple of fantastic co-workers nominated me for this month's Crystal Apple Award. I didn't even know what the award was when the AP was soliciting nominations. Apparently teachers write nice things about coworkers and the AP reads the nice things at the meeting and then a decision is made on which one person receives a lovely little crystal apple WITH their name engraved on the base. Sweet, right??

I was super surprised to hear the AP read one nomination for me, but then when she read the second one I seriously teared up. 

I approached the principal who offered me the microphone, which I took. So....what I said was something like, "I love this school, it isn't like this everywhere, I've worked at 5 schools, I love my teammates." Really eloquent. NOT.

What I meant to say....
     In my relatively short career of 13 years, I've taught at 5 very different schools. It is apparent when you walk into a building where the focus is. From the moment I darkened the doorway at this place I have felt the love for the children. It's everywhere you look, but it is especially evident in the way the adults treat the children. 
     I noticed teachers hugging kids in the hallway during the first week of school and figured they were just glad to see each other after the long summer break. But no, this happens every day still and we're five weeks into school. At dismissal, it is difficult to exit the building because the teachers line the sidewalk and hallways and hug kids as they leave for home. 

     The principal is like a rock star - the kids absolutely swarm him wherever he goes. They hug him AND most importantly he hugs back and he looks them in the eyes and speaks to every one of them. 
     I've had to step up my game in order to live up to the standards set by these amazing teachers and administrators. One of the things mentioned in the nominations was that I'd been working on weekends and even Labor Day to be ready for my students. I put in the time because I would hate to let these people down. I'm not doing anything special or different than any of these other fine educators - I'm just trying to be one of them. 
     So, I thank you for the award. I cannot put into words how much it means to me to be recognized by my peers, especially when they're rock stars.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Facebook Locally, Tweet Globally!

It's Sunday evening and like me, teachers everywhere are working on lesson plans and preparing materials for the upcoming week. As I reflected on my first two weeks with 1st graders I realized that I need to tighten up my literacy block - I had too much transition and lag time between activities as well as not enough movement for restless 1st graders.

In the process of reflecting and planning for the upcoming week, I sent out a Tweet asking for opinions on what I felt was slow progress in our Read to Self block. Immediately (like within 2 minutes!!) I received super helpful feedback from @qldteacher in Australia as well as from @MsHoughton in Seattle. Both were encouraging and informative. I tweeted back and forth with @qldteacher for a few minutes and she reassured me that her experiences had been similar with her first graders in Australia.

After sharing information with my Tweeps, it hit me how wondrous it is that when I have a question any time of day about anything I can simply ask and, more often than not, get immediate help and encouragement from a real person. Seriously amazing!!

In response to people who are resistant to the idea of using Facebook and Twitter, I offer this metaphor. Think about your kitchen. You probably have a spatula and a whisk. You could use these items for some of the same tasks - there's a little overlap in their usefulness. However, you wouldn't flip burgers with a whisk and you wouldn't beat eggs with a spatula. Facebook and Twitter can be used in similar ways, just as spatulas and whisks can be used for some of the same jobs.

Personally, I use Facebook for keeping up with people I know in the flesh. These are my close friends and relatives. These are the people whose vacation pictures I'd take a minute to look through and care about seeing how much little so-and-so has grown. I also have a group for former students so that I can continue to reach out to them even after they've left my classroom.

I use Twitter to know what's happening in the world. It's more of a professional learning network as demonstrated in my situation today. I follow a wide array of people on Twitter, although a majority of them are in education.

(Another striking difference is that when you're home sick for a day, Facebook is pretty boring because all those people that I'm friends with are at work like I normally would be. Twitter is still a happening place though! I've got friends in my Twitterverse from all over the country and several from other parts of the globe.)

I urge you to consider using both. What about you? Are you involved in more than one social network? Feel free to share your amazing experiences and uses in the comments!

My philosophy is: Facebook locally, Tweet globally!

PS: A huge "THANK YOU" to @qldteacher & @MsHoughton. If you don't follow them on Twitter, please do so now! :)

Friday, August 5, 2011

Jobs of the Future...So What?!

How did his parents prepare him for a job that didn't even exist when he was in school??
I've been bothered by something for a while. I've seen several YouTube videos (this is just one example) featuring clips of students who hold up whiteboards stating all these facts and figures about their technology usage and how teachers need to engage them and how they spend hours and hours reading electronic material and finally how these children are being ill-prepared for jobs of the future 'that don't even exist yet'. 

And that's where everyone seems to get hung up - the idea that kids today need to be prepared for jobs that we can't even comprehend or imagine.

What kind of message are we sending teachers with these sad videos? "Give up, you don't even KNOW what these kids are going to face??" 

My thoughts? Get over it. For hundreds of years society has been preparing children for jobs that didn't yet exist. 

Think about it. Did George Washington's parents and teachers realize they were preparing him to be President of the United States? The job of President didn't exist yet. 

Benjamin Franklin's parents wanted him to join the clergy, but he ended up working as an apprentice printer. He then went on to start the first public library, organize a volunteer fire department, experiment with electricity, and serve as a diplomat. How on earth could any teacher prepare a child for such an assortment of jobs?

Oprah and Bill Gates weren't specifically prepared for the amazing jobs they created for themselves. How can you prepare someone for their own company based on their own inventions and creative content?

Of course these people are huge, unique mega-stars, but what about common people? The best example of someone who currently holds a job that no teacher could have imagined is my husband. He works for an automotive marketing company. His job includes research, writing, training others, creating drive courses, surveying sites to determine their usefulness, logistics, human resources, ....and countless other tasks. 

He was prepared for this job in public schools in a small town in Western Kentucky. Throughout his years in school he sat in desks (with the seat attached to the desktop) in rows. He used paper and pencil for everything. He read from basal reading series and happily completed pages and pages out of the accompanying workbooks. He memorized times tables, colored pictures of the state bird, flag and flower. His classes were tracked and bad kids were paddled. His high school installed a DOS computer lab during his senior year. Before the computer lab was installed, he had typing class using electronic typewriters. Just before he graduated, the high school won a grant from somewhere that installed televisions in every classrooms - and he thought that was cool! All of this seems so backwards to us today....and yet...he is a successful, well-adjusted person.

This is not to say we should return to the past. I do not condone the use of basal reading series, nor do I think we should level all of our classes and return to the days of endless worksheets. 

What I do want to say is that we should not worry so much about whether our kids will be prepared for the future. Haven't they always been prepared? If the human race wasn't doing a good job of preparing its young for the future we wouldn't be here now.

I don't think about the specific JOBS I'm preparing my students for. I'm thinking about preparing my students and my own children for LIFE. I think that if we, as parents and educators, focus on raising responsible, respectful, creative, curious, intelligent, cooperative young people, then they'll fall into place where they are meant to be. Even if it's a job no one has ever heard of or imagined. 

I'm not giving up on students and I'm not going to be led to believe that I can't adequately prepare them for the future. Yes, we should embrace technology. We should expose students to the most current ideas and resources. We should challenge all students and help them discover their strengths and interests in the world. We need to step up our efforts in math and science so that our children will be able to compete globally. We can do it! 

Maybe I'll create a short video about all the awesome things we can do...

Friday, July 29, 2011

Why I was a Crappy Friend

As I drove home from attending two days of an education technology conference, I reflected on my time spent with friends this week. I worked at the registration table each morning and it was a joy to see so many friends - old and new - pass by. 

Last year was a hard year for me. I'd lost my teaching mojo. Despite the fact that I was working with my three bestest teaching pals and despite the fact that I have the world's best husband, I could barely get myself together to really enjoy my job at all. These fantastically understanding people kept me afloat, but just barely.

You see, I had a hole in my heart. And it was a big one. No matter how much love the people around me put into it, the leak was always faster. Oprah frequently talked about the Universe sending messages which would gradually get louder (and more painful) until acknowledged....I totally believe this now. I ignored the small messages over the last couple years and the Universe came a knockin' with its full force this year. Ultimately, it is my fault that I allowed this hole to grow (to form at all!)...but through this experience I have grown.

Flashforward to this week - I had lunch with a bestest teammate that I taught with at another school a few years ago and we discovered that we'd had similar experiences this year. I ended up buying her lunch and apologizing to her for being a crappy friend this year. Then it hit me...I wasn't ABLE to be a good friend to anyone this year (family included). She and I were both afloat on a sea of depression...paddling separately, barely keeping our chins out of the water. Neither of us was aware of the severity of the other's struggle - we'd only exchanged calls a couple times this year. I guess that should have been a sign for us both. When friends drop off your radar, you should probably check on them. This is a skill I'm working on.

Nothing cements my belief in teamwork more than my experiences this year. I was lost. My team held my hand and bolstered me every step of the way. They listened, encouraged, and dragged me along even when I wasn't being a good sport. I don't think I can ever repay them for walking through it with me.

With the start of a new school year fast approaching I find that my 'well' is once again full. I've been working with an awesome career counselor (I actually questioned my choice of careers this year!!) and she has helped me rediscover myself. I didn't need a new career - I needed to uncover the root cause of my dissatisfaction with my job and also how to keep my 'idea monkey' brain challenged. I uncovered truths about my situation, set goals, the planets aligned, I took the bull by the horns....etc., etc.!

Although I am sad that I will not be working with any of my previous bestest teammates this year, I am looking forward to finding bestest teammates at my new school. I know they're there....they are everywhere and I have mojo to share once again.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Inspiration from Unexpected Places

One of the great things about teaching is that we can draw inspiration from anywhere. Teaching is an art. And just like an artists, we teachers never know where the next amazing idea might come from.

One of the biggest drawbacks of being a teacher is that we rarely (if ever) have time to observe our colleagues in action. Seeing a great lesson enacted by a fantastic teacher is a treasure box of information, skills, and techniques. Even visiting another classroom for a few minutes can yield tons of ideas for my own classroom.

I have two children of my own and I have learned a few things from observing them in action. It has been fascinating to me to watch their various instructors in dance, karate, soccer, basketball, baseball, etc. Most parents are watching their kids...I'm watching the instructors! 

I've been taking my kids to the weekly programs at the library this summer. We've seen a magician, juggler, story teller, and a musician. These people are professional performers and the audience usually encompasses a wide range of ages...as in babies in laps all the way to 5th graders. The main thing I've noticed in all of the performances is that the show must go on...even if there are toddlers wandering around making noise, parents on cellphones, random comments from children. All of which stresses me out, but I have been inspired seeing these professionals carry on with their shows. It's such a great reminder for my classroom!

We are trained to wait for all eyes to be on us before proceeding because we all know good and well the kid talking in the back will be asking what the directions are before we've finished our last sentence. But is this really true? Do I really need every pair of eyes on me? A goal for this year is to train the students not only to listen during those few moments when instructions or information must be given, but also how to use their peers as information resources.

The next thing that I've noticed with these performers is that they naturally grab the kids' attention by just starting. The juggler played music and began juggling. The magician performed a series of simple tricks with interlocking rings. Now I know that we're supposed to begin with an attention grabber, but it's hard coming up with little tricks and songs and whatever else on a regular basis. However, having seen this technique in action several times this summer I think it is well worth my time to investigate attention-grabbing options.

Now, in the sports arena I've witnessed that sometimes you have to break inattention with physical activity. My son's first soccer coach was great at this. When the boys (all 5 or 6 years old) got distracted from the soccer lesson he'd have them run a lap. There was no yelling or irritation, just a sense that the players were mentally tired, they needed a break, so let them run. They loved running and laughed the whole way around the field, but when they returned (out of breath) they were much more focused on the lesson.

My son's karate instructors were amazing at creating structure, discipline, and natural rewards. Every lesson began with the same series of exercises - a routine. The goals were crystal clear and their progress towards the goals was evaluated at every class. Every student was held to the same expectations in terms of respect for their peers and the instructors as well as performance of the assigned tasks. Disrespect was met with discipline in the form of a quiet reprimand with the offender sitting quietly on the edge of the mat or running a couple laps. Time out was always followed with brief personal instruction and reflection over what happened to result in punishment and how it could be avoided in the future. Every class concluded with a game. Of course the kids didn't notice that the games were simply skill practice presented in a fun way.

My daughter was involved in her first dance class last fall. Again there was structure and discipline even within the class full of precious, easily distracted, tutu-adorned 4 year old girls. Class began and ended with a set routine. Students were expected to listen respectfully and practice the moves to their best ability. The performance (even after only a handful of practices) was joyful despite the fact that some kids went the wrong way and did the wrong thing. 

My take-aways from these varied experiences and venues is that structure, routine, and discipline are the keys to a successful classroom. There can be no excuses. If a magician can wrangle a group of 40 kids ages 18 months - 10 years old, then surely I can effectively manage 25 students in the classroom. 

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Did That Teacher Just Cut Me Off??

Reading this blog about driver etiquette caused me to consider "When is it okay to cut in?".

Of course, the knee-jerk reaction is "Never!". However, I find myself cutting in fairly frequently.

Here's my basic gripe: We would all get to where we're going safely and efficiently if everyone USED A LITTLE COMMON COURTESY and PAID ATTENTION while driving.

Sure there are signals and intersections and certain exits that are prone to back up because of the sheer volume of traffic. However, I believe that if everyone was paying just a little more attention to their driving, congestion would ease. My biggest concern with traffic back up on busy exits in particular is that  taking that last spot at the end of a line of cars hanging out in traffic could cause a major accident. I'd rather be considered rude by taking up some slack in an available lane than risk getting rear-ended by traffic moving at highway speeds. (FYI - I think Lexington, KY is the capital of backed up exits...thanks New Circle Road!)

I'm probably what most would consider an aggressive driver (goodness knows I've been flipped off and brake-checked by other drivers a few times). But do you know what my number one priority is on the road? Staying out of everyone else's way. That's it. I'm always on the lookout for ways I can ease the path of a fellow traveler. Generally that means staying out of the left lane unless passing, using my turn signals (religiously), going the speed limit (usually just a little over), and keeping an eye on my mirrors for faster traffic.

The most problematic situations I encounter are drivers who are:

  • Hanging out in the left lane
  • Driving well under the speed limit
  • Failing to use turn signals
  • Unaware of cars in the vicinity
  • Talking on the cellphone while driving
  • Texting while driving
  • Not keeping a constant speed
  • Hanging out in other drivers' blind spots

Drivers who are guilty of any of the above will be passed, even if that means passing on the right. I don't want to be near anyone doing any of those things. 

So, watch out...if someone with an educator plate cuts you off, it could be me. But don't take it personally, I don't - I'm just happy to be on my way and out of yours.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Yeeeehawwwww! Channeling the General Lee

Inspired by this weekend's road trip to Ohio and back I thought I'd share a handy driving tip.

First, my credentials: I have attended Bondurant High Performance Driving School, Skip Barber Racing School (3 day session at Indianapolis Raceway Park), BMW Club Schools (at Road Atlanta, Putnam Park, and Mid-Ohio), and Porsche Club Schools (at Putnam Park and Road Atlanta). I can heel-toe downshift, drive the racing line on a track, and most importantly AVOID trouble. Granted, I haven't participated in a driving school since the 1990's (they cost money and I have two kids now), but not much has changed.

The most important, number one thing you can do to keep yourself and everyone else on the road safe is to KEEP YOUR EYES UP!! 

I cannot overstate this. If you are looking through the cars in front of you then you are ready for that random piece of rubber that flies up in front of you or the jerkwad on his phone that you noticed miles ago was weaving. Too many people fixate on the bumper in front of them instead of looking beyond the cars they're following.

To see farther ahead, you can do several things. My personal favorite is to ride the left lane line. If there's a big ol' SUV or semi-truck in front of me I simply scooch (no, it's not an official driving term) to the left. You'd be amazed how far up the road you can see by moving a little to the left. You will know that the car five cars up the road hit the brakes even before the car just in front of you realizes it! You will see the cop sitting in the median well before the people in line in front of you! You will be READY for anything that transpires in front of you. 

This is probably a little warped, but I can't help but feeling a little smug when I see a situation occurring way down the road before the driver in front of me sees it. I'm able to take action (accelerate, change lanes, swerve, brake...lots of options here) and shazam! I'm on my way while unprepared, unfocused driver in front of me is left to deal with the obstacle. I imagine unfocused driver to be like the stereotypical Dukes of Hazard protagonist...shaking his fist as his car sinks into the swamp and I in my General Lee escapes....mwahahahahahaha!!

Looking ahead is probably the easiest thing drivers can do to stay safe. I urge you to practice it the next time you are behind the wheel. How far down the road can you see?

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Obstacles - just go! Part 2

On the trail again today. I had to stop and laugh out loud when I had the following epiphany:

Obstacles on the trail eventually wear down, get pushed aside, decompose, rot OR someone comes along with a saw.

This thought hit me when I noticed a very dead, very brown leafy limb off to the side of the trail. Over time the trees and limbs that block the path disintegrate back into the path or migrate off the path and out of the way as people continue maneuver around/over/under them. 

This method of gradual erosion works on obstacles that are of the movable, flexible variety. Those bushy, leafy limbs that are easily lifted or held down yield most quickly to a natural breakdown or are easily shifted aside. 

More difficult are the trunks of giant trees that lay across the path. These behemoths have lived for years and are not easily worn away. People will continue to negotiate the obstacle and it will eventually...after years and years...breakdown. You know these kinds of obstacles - day in and day out always in your way.

I've noticed over the last couple years of using the trails, however, that more often than not when there's a big tree blocking the path someone will come along with a saw and simply cleave the offender into pieces which are then easily moved from the path. I like this idea from the perspective of the person being impeded...not so much from the perspective of me as obstacle! 

In what areas of my life am I an obstacle to my own progress or to others? In what areas of my life could I be the wielder of the saw that provides easy progress for those who follow? 

What about you? Can you relate to the obstacle or the person clearing the obstacle? 

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Are Your Notes Safe?

It occurred to me that I didn't know how far back on one's Facebook page you could go. I feel like I have mine locked down very well in light of my recent 'friending' of students. But what about those posts from a couple years ago before I allowed students to be my friend on Facebook?

I had one of those "Uh-oh" moments where I began wondering if a student could scroll back through my history and 'see' posts that were prior to "Student Lock-down". Sadly, I haven't answered that question, but I did discover another area of weakness on my Facebook privacy settings. (Side note...I did find an interesting site, archivedbook.com, that allows you to review your posts from forever ago in one handy place. It was reassuring to read through my old timeline and not see any moral faux-pas.)

Notes! When I first began Facebooking I completed several of those chain notes where you fill in answers about yourself or create lists of 'interesting' information. Those were NOT locked down to students!! Thankfully, I'm a sane and decent person so there were no glaring stains on my character to be found in those notes, but there was information I'd prefer not to share with 10 year olds. I did what every person does to find the answer to a question...I Googled it.

To adjust the privacy settings for your notes you have to actually go to the individual notes. You can't adjust your settings for notes from the privacy setting menus that include everything else on Facebook (pictures, posts, birthday, marriage status, etc.). Here are the official Facebook directions in case you need to adjust your settings.

We cannot be too careful as educators. There are plenty of stories out there about 'Teachers Gone Wild' without Facebook exposing details that could be held against us in the eyes of our students or their parents. At this point I still feel that the benefits of 'friending' students on Facebook outweigh the potential consequences (with the exception of joblessness!). But as I've said, I think I've contained students to a chunk of information that I'm comfortable sharing. If you are a teacher and you have not recently looked at your privacy settings, I urge you to do so! 

Information about the picture can be found here.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Obstacles - just go!

I LOVE to run/walk/hike on the local nature trails. We've got a great park nearby that has several different trail options. Depending on the day, my mood, and the time I have available, I'll either do the 2.25 mile trail or the 4.2 mile trail.

I took the longer trail a couple days ago. The rainstorm the night before left everything beautifully damp and fragrant. Mushrooms were poking out from all over the place and with such variety I was distracted from the trail many times. I think I cleared the trail of EVERY single spider web that had been spun across the trail overnight. I had to stop and photograph the reptile eggs in the middle of the trail, as well as a little well-camouflaged frog that hopped out of my way, and an amazing white flower that looked like it belonged on the set of Avatar.

Plants and critters are welcome distractions from the trail, but due to the recent storms there was a lot of debris on the trail too - leaves, small branches, pine cones, piles of pine needles that had been washed into squishy puddles, etc. These are easy enough to maneuver around or over, but a couple times there were major BIG trees laying across the trail. I did what I always do - climbed over them. As I was climbing over one of these big ol' wet tree trunks it struck me how metaphorical the trail is. In our lives we encounter obstacles every day. Wouldn't it be great if we could simply climb over them and move along without emotional engagement with the obstacle? 

As I thought about obstacles on the trail some more it occurred to me that proceeding around/over/under tree trunks is effortless. You see it in the trail ahead of you and as you approach it becomes obvious where the path of least resistance is. It can be trickier. For instance, there was one spot on the trail that was completely blocked by a wall of leafy, thin branches (imagine the top bushy part of a small tree). This did not deter me. I dealt with the closest branches first holding them back with my hands and stepping on others as I passed through the leafy mess. I got a little wet with this one and imagined that I'd also picked up a few ticks, but otherwise I was able to go about my merry way in the space of just a few seconds.

Sometimes I walk with a friend, but we never consult each other on how to clear these obstacles. We just go. Whoever is in front leads the way and the other follows. We don't talk ugly about the obstacle. We don't have meetings before we try to clear the obstacle. We don't harbor ill will about the obstacle and we don't review our progress before, during, or after the obstacle.

I think I'll try viewing life's obstacles a little more like these trees that block my progress on the trail. Just go. Don't think too much about it and don't try to analyze it. The tree didn't intentionally block MY path. There's no reason to harbor any emotion whatsoever about the tree - it just is.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

VBAC - A Totes Unscientific Post

In keeping with my mantra..."I'm a teacher through and through. If I know something I want to share it." and "If you know better you do better."...the topic of this post is VBACs. For those who are uninitiated VBAC stands for Vaginal Birth After Cesarean. Startling topic, I know, considering my other posts have been very teacher-y, but the deal is I feel strongly about this and I'm gonna share it with you!

I was well-prepared for the birth of my first born. I had a doula. I read the granola-girl books on birthing and natural childbirth. I had a birth plan that did NOT include a C-section. But like so many things in life I wasn't really prepared....I just thought I was. (Sort of like your first year in teaching - you think you're ready, but you totally are NOT.)

My water broke at the doctor's office. Embarrassing considering I was sitting in one of those nice La-Z-Boy recliners with a fetal heartrate monitor on. I'm sure I ruined the chair. Like so many first time parents, my husband and I rushed to the hospital only to play the waiting game. Hours passed, progress was not made, the doctor got impatient, I was given pitocin. Not much of a surprise that I ended up (12 hours later and with NO pain meds - my choice) getting a c-section. Come to find out my little boy was face up. Such a common situation that can be remedied by a change of the mother's positioning and some walking - if only we'd known that was the case!

Pregnancy number 2 and I was determined to have a natural childbirth. After all millions of women have done this, right?? Seriously, women have had babies in fields and caves and rivers and all over the place WITHOUT even having a doctor nearby. I should be able to go to the hospital and let my body do what it knows how to do. My original doctors were unsupportive of this plan (surprise!). I changed doctors. I changed doulas also. I decided that I needed a more maternal influence instead of the young, hip one I had previously.

The new practice gave me the required, doctor-delivered 'VBACs are very risky' speech, but then the midwives took over my care and everything proceeded naturally. I had an amazing birth experience with my little girl. As in completely amazing. Like over the moon AMAZING. I went into labor at six in the morning, arrived at the hospital (a 50 minute drive, btw), had a baby by noon and a cheeseburger by one. (I'm so not kidding. My husband drove to Sonic and grabbed burgers for us. I had just completed a major athletic event after all - I needed to be replenished! The Sprite he brought me was the best-tasting Sprite EVER.)

Did I mention that I caught her myself??

I totally did. I delivered my own baby girl in the hospital bed on my knees. I felt her head crowning and helped her little body into the world. I wiped the blood from her scrunched up face and held her for her first cries. In fact, I was the FIRST person to know that she was a girl because we'd decided to let this one be a surprise.

Woman are amazing. Our bodies do astounding things! Sure there are risks involved in ANY birth and there have been risks for millions of years, but somehow the human race has multiplied. I just read an excellent and informative post today - it's loaded with real scientific-y numbers and in the end VBACs come out looking easy-peasy compared to having MAJOR surgery, er I mean to say a c-section.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Going Rogue

In my previous post, Are You a Team Player, I mentioned that I'd worked with the Super Team for two solid years. One of the traits we shared is that we looked for opportunities to include one another. This came naturally to us. It wasn't like we'd worked together for years (although I'd have liked that!). And it wasn't as if we were all best buddies outside of school (although I'd have liked that too!). I've worked on many different teams over the years and the most successful and enjoyable teams have included people who are inclusive and sensitive to the needs of the team.

I'd say I've spent about 75% of my years teaching on solid teams. The other 25% have been somewhat of a struggle. Some years you end up working with people who just aren't into the whole 'Team' mentality.

Several years ago another team I was on (totally NOT the Super Team) agreed on a cutesy Mother's Day project only to have Rogue teacher completely outdo us. Rogue teacher's students came out to board the buses carrying the equivalent Ralphie's fruit basket in A Christmas Story - their eyes proudly peeking out from behind a magnificent gift. Rogue teacher's 'twist' on our project put the rest of us (and our students) to shame. The team would have been more than happy to share and join in....if only we'd been invited. Rogue teacher sat in on the planning meeting when the project was discussed and said nothing. 

If you're a teacher you know what I'm talking about. Some teammates just don't get the Warm Fuzzies from working in a group. These people tend to stay quiet and on the sidelines in meetings. They contentedly sit back listening to ideas being tossed around and withhold comments. Frequently, in my experience, they've gone on to do the very thing that was discussed in the meeting, but with their own little 'twist'. (A 'twist' that makes the lesson waayyyy better!) Or they've gone in the polar opposite direction of the team leaving us wondering what happened to 'the plan' and feeling somewhat hurt by the departure.

Why don't rogue teachers share? I cannot say. Perhaps they don't feel supported by their teammates (Unsupportive naysayer teammates are a whole 'nother post!). If you're shot down at meeting after meeting it's understandable to feel discouraged. Maybe they don't think their ideas are good enough. Another (unlikely, I think) possibility is that they want some sort of glory from being the one who thought of something awesome.

Look, I'm cool if you want to do your own thing. One of the greatest things about our profession is that teachers are allowed to create and adapt lessons to help students learn the content assigned by the Standards. However, don't sit in meetings, nodding your head, withholding comments, agreeing by default and then take off in a different direction. I WANT to know what you're doing if you're one of my teammates and I'll tell you why.

You may be doing something that is:
  • way better than what I'm doing.
  • completely amazing that I've never seen or heard of.
  • the BEST way to teach the topic, but I didn't know about it.
  • something my students would absolutely LOVE.
You can be sure if any of the above are true and I get caught using your idea I will give YOU all the credit. (Shoot, even if no one catches me using your idea, you can be sure that I know where it came from and will never forget that my teammate influenced my teaching.) That's how I roll. Give credit where credit is due. What could be better if you're in it for the glory than having four or five teammates singing your praises for being the one who came up with the super amazing brilliant idea that we've all implemented??

If you feel unsupported by your team, hang in there. Keep offering ideas. Take an interest in what they are doing (even if it seems lame). If none of those suggestions works, close your door and keep on truckin' (I've been in that position too!). Cross your fingers and hope for some fresh, amazeballs teammates in the upcoming year.

If you feel that your ideas aren't good enough maybe they aren't...but I doubt it! You have to start somewhere. I can't tell you how many very LAME ideas I've thrown on the table to my teammates. And either my teammates have improved the ideas with their additions or they've helped me to see why the idea just needs to be tossed or sometimes put on the backburner for another year.

In my previous post, "Are You a Team Player?" I stated that I've never been in a meeting where an idea wasn't somehow improved by the input of others. I stand by that statement. It's how I work. I throw ideas around and expect people to help me flesh them out. I totally enjoy listening to other people throw around ideas too! That's how we learn and grow as professionals. 

Have you had rogue teammates? Do you have any tips for encouraging a rogue to join the flock (or at least share a little hay)? Do share!

Monday, June 20, 2011

Are You a Team Player?

When I was in school I hated it when a teacher announced that we'd be working in groups. It was awful. It generally meant that I'd have two or three slackers assigned to my group and then I'd do all the work. I do not recall ever being given instruction on HOW to work in a group when I was in school. I can now say I am a reformed group worker. One of the absolute best things about the last two years of my teaching career has been the strong support of my teammates and working in a group.

We were thrown together sort of randomly a couple years ago and I had no idea how we would pull ourselves into formation. Thankfully, we had a scheduling crisis trying to accommodate the varying co-teaching schedules for English Language Learners and Early Intervention Program kiddos. Initially, we had kids going every which way, but when our super awesome Instructional Coach suggested departmentalization all the blocks fell neatly into place.

You'd think we would have had a marathon meeting-of-the-minds to determine who'd teach which subjects and who'd host which co-teachers. But no. The synergy was instantaneous. The subjects just sort of fell into the hands of the people who could best teach them.

For two years now we've had the privilege of practically reading one another's minds. It was the kind of team where you could just pop in and grab what you needed out of the other person's closet. (Easy for me to say because my teammates were WAY more organized than me!) We even had nicknames for one another based on our strengths. How cheesy is that?? Better yet...we called ourselves the Super Team and named our folders on the shared drive at school accordingly. This year's folder was named "We Rock 2010-2011".

I've taught on a couple of good teams over the last 12 years, but it's been sporadic. In my experience, it is rare to be on a team with the exact same people more than a couple years in a row. Things change from year to year - people move away, teachers get moved to different grade levels and even different schools. Our team had a good thing going for two years in a row, but this fall I'm the one moving to a new grade level.

I know all the peeps in the grade level I'm joining and I've taught fifth grade before so there aren't too many surprises in store. However, I haven't taught with this particular combination of people. It got me thinking about what made a team great or not-so-great.

Here are my top five ways to be a team player.

Step 1 - LISTEN! Be open to the ideas of others. I am an idea person and tend to rattle off tons of ideas. I NEED teammates who can help me filter and then decide which ideas to act on.

Step 2 - Share. If you've got something awesome (or even something mediocre!) I might want to try it too! Hey, you never know...you could save a teammate's day by offering up a lesson. Is there anyone who hasn't rolled out of bed on the wrong side at least once during the year and ended up late to work then suddenly realized...'Hey...what am I teaching today?'?!

Step 3 - Participate. If you're in a meeting with an idea person like me, it could be difficult to get a word in edge-wise. (If you are like me...this is a HUGE skill for us to work on - we must learn to stop and listen more than we talk.) I have never been in a meeting where an idea on the table wasn't made better by others adding their two-cents. Meetings are only a waste of time when you don't participate. (Grading papers while everyone else talks doesn't count as participation.)

Step 4 - Use humor & kindness generously. There have certainly been times when teammates have been irritated with me (I'm flighty & disorganized) and I with them for whatever reason. The best way of handling those situations was always head-on with humility and a sense of humor. By first admitting confusion or concern and then addressing the situation frankly we avoided ever having arguments or tantrums. If you find yourself in the wrong, be humble and apologetic. Chocolate can be the healer of many wounds.

Step 5 - Keep your door open. (Unless you're doing something loud!) There's something about approaching a closed classroom door that is discouraging (and somewhat suspicious). It's one thing if ya'll are up in there having a dance off to a multiplication song, but during the course of the day it's nice to see open doors. It gives a feeling of 'Come on in - see what we're up to!'. The only reason my door is ever shut is because a student shuts it - usually when I'm reading aloud and there's noise in the main hall from classes going to recess. If you're in a room with another adult and the door is shut you are sending the message that you want privacy. That's completely understandable if you are having a sensitive conference or you've got some serious thinking to do, but you can't tell me that's the case every afternoon!

I have high hopes for my team this year. It helps that I've been at this particular school for three years now. I've gotten to know people and I've gotten to know myself better. You can bet I'll be following the five rules above in hopes of being a part of the best team ever!

If you have tips that you think are important for creating a Super Team, please share them in the comments! My top five is by no means exhaustive. ;)

Friday, June 17, 2011

I Didn't Join That Group....Did I??

Today's thought about befriending students on Facebook concerns groups. Soon after beginning to friend students I arrived home to find an open chat window on my computer. Several students I befriended had chatted with each other and another person who I was not friends with (another student, I presume) while I was away from my computer. I scrolled back through the chat to try and figure out why I had been included as I have not 'chatted' on Facebook for at least a year or two. I typically make myself 'offline' in the chat window.

Here is what I discovered. Once you are a friend of someone they can add you to the groups they create WITHOUT your permission. Students are fantastic at creating groups; this is the cyber equivalent of the clubs we used to create on the playground at school! Once the group is created the members can then have private chats which will pop up on your computer whether you're directly involved in the chat or not. 

The fix? Keep an eye on the left side of your Home screen. You'll see the list of groups to which you belong. If you see an unfamiliar group, click on it to check it out. Once you are on the group's homepage you can choose to 'Leave group' (see the right side of the screen). 

I've had to do this several times as students are quite proficient at creating groups and adding friends. My biggest concern is the scenario I described above with the chat window. Thankfully, the chat that was on my screen was harmless banter among kids. But what if it had been something darker?? As an educator it gives me pause to consider the information to which I am now privvy to just by being 'friends' with students on Facebook.  

Facebook & Befriending Students

I've been on Facebook for several years and I always maintained a strict "NO friending students" policy. However, I've changed my mind over the last couple months. 

My biggest reason for the change of heart is that Facebook is where the students ARE. They seem to be on here 24/7. It doesn't matter that Facebook's policy prohibits minors under the age of 13 from creating accounts. 

However, as an educator I have big concerns about my privacy as well as how involved I want to be with students in cyberspace. 

Facebook's privacy settings are sometimes difficult to navigate and it seems that there are MANY possible pitfalls.

For example, do you allow students to 'see' all of your status updates and posts? I don't. When friending students I assign them to a specific 'List' which I conveniently named 'Students'. They are allowed to see only the posts that I specifically assign to that List. 

How about your photo albums? Did you know that you can adjust privacy settings for every album? I didn't....until I realized that some of my newly friended students were commenting on photos that I hadn't reviewed in years. 

My point is - if you are a teacher and you are choosing to befriend students on Facebook, be smart about it. Check your privacy settings. Don't be afraid to click around and dig deep into the different menus! Set up a list and assign students to it so you can protect your status updates or be doubly-darn sure that you don't post ANYTHING that could be construed as inappropriate (remembering of course that we live in the heart of the Bible Belt and lots of people hold strict beliefs about lots of things!). 

In preparing this post I searched my county's website and Board of Ed site as well as the GA D.O.E. site. I did NOT find any specific mention of Facebook or social media in the ethics policies. I reviewed the online training materials and the only statement I found that could apply to Facebook or other social media is a vague mention about inappropriate communication with students via electronic media. 

Let me know if you find specific rules concerning educators and students on social media! I'm interested in the ramifications of this. I'm most interested in making sure we all stay safe and are able to connect with students in a way that's meaningful to them, but also professionally sound.