Monthly Archives: May 2016

My Classroom(s) Through the Years

Through my seven years of teaching one grade level (third) at two different schools, I have had four different classrooms and probably hundreds of different classroom arrangements.

My first year of teaching!

I was hired two weeks after the school year had started. I had three giant whiteboards! I redecorated my door with my students’ names every month, which I now know was silly. I dearly miss my row of cabinets and countertop, along with my walls that I could staple all over.

 

My Second Year: This year was very eventful. We started a school, moved into a temporary location in a strip mall (with no windows and one bathroom for 600 students.) I made myself a fake window. I didn’t even have a whiteboard or curriculum or anything. Then in January we got all packed up and moved to our brand new building. I got all unpacked and taught for four months. Then in June, I repacked everything and moved it to the gym because my upstairs classroom was going to be turned into a middle school science lab. My new classroom was going to be in the new wing of the building that had not even been built yet.

Third Year:

So we started with everything in the gym and a brand new, somewhat hastily built, classroom. I vacuumed it myself (feeling like a ghostbuster.) Then I got everything into my room and unpacked. At this point I realized how much I liked great floor spaces for kids to work on, so every time I rearranged my desks (which was often) I always did so with floor space in mind. *foreshadowing*

Fourth Year:

Still desks, but lots of floor space. This would have been the first year I would have gotten to leave everything as it was over the summer and start the year “normally” except for the fact that over the summer I decided to go…

DESKLESS!   Year Five:

So about a week before school was supposed to start I decided to try to persuade my principal to let me go deskless. I had a 25 page proposal with research and everything. Even without all the desks, I still moved the furniture around several times through the year 🙂 We did standardized testing in other classrooms this year so I didn’t have to worry about that.

Year Six: My room was not bad at all when I returned from the summer. I reworked the desklessness several times through the year. I started with the whiteboard kidney table at the floor and then moved it to be my desk that students can sit at one side. I also got a couch that was very popular.

We had to do standardized testing in my room, so I had to get many of my desks back for those few months, and afterwards I did a hybrid version of my classroom. This particular group of kids did not take to my room quite as well as the group before, so the hybrid was just as well.

Year Seven:

My group of kiddos this year has really struggled with self-control and making good choices when it comes to where they sit. My classroom is really all about them, so it was in their best interest to get many of my desks back, have some days where they choose their seats and some days I choose for them. My kiddos that need a little more structure have permanently assigned spots and are thriving in them!

Even with desks, I still treat my learning environment as a living, breathing, part of my instruction and planning. It has a huge impact on my students every day and should be treated with as much respect.

1 Second Everyday

I found this super fun app, 1 Second Everyday. It reminds you to take 1 second snippets of video every day and then mashes them together. You can also 1 Second Freestyle and just take any 1 second snippet you want. Here is a video I made using the app: 16 seconds of field day:

Maximum Reflecting

I had the absolutely humbling experience recently of being nominated to apply for Colorado Teacher of the Year for by one of my former student’s parents.

The application is absolutely enormous and overwhelming. It consists of seven essay questions, three letters of recommendation, several signatures, a youtube video, a headshot, and a partridge in a pear tree. Okay I’m kidding about that last one, but it feels that way.

From the time I was nominated until the time the application was due was only about two and a half weeks, which normally would have been plenty of time. Except that it’s the crazy last two and a half weeks of the school year.

So I figured, even if I don’t have time to complete the entire application, some of these essay questions are really good things to think through and ponder as an educator. (But then I started and got really excited and decided to apply anyway, despite the crazy time of year.)

So I’ve been reflecting and I wanted to share with all of you! Now that it’s summer and we all have a little time to breathe, yall should think about some of these topics as well. It’s good to reflect every once in a while.

Happy Summer!

~Christie

PS- I had my sister take my headshot for me (because I’m 28, I don’t have headshots lying around.) Here are some of the head shots I decided not to use for obvious reasons 😉 Enjoy!

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Technology: a Rising Trend

What do you see as a national trend in education today and how would you address it.

National Teacher of the Year

As the 2017 National Teacher of the Year, you would serve as a spokesperson and representative for the entire teaching profession. What would be your message? What would you communicate to your profession and to the general public?

I think the scariest phrase in teaching should be, “We’ve always done it this way.” Education needs to be fluid and dynamic. I am thankful to not be teaching in a one-room schoolhouse with my kids reading off of hornbooks. By doing everything the same way year after year, we are doing a severe disservice to our students who are growing up in a much different world than any of us grew up in. We need to be growing and changing to keep up with our kids; we need to be lifelong learners.

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Ms. Frizzle said it best, “Take chances, make mistakes, and get messy.” My message to teachers everywhere is to do just this. Be willing to take risks and try new things in your classrooms. Do whatever it takes to reach and engage your students. This comes with a message to administrators: cultivate a school environment where risk taking is encouraged. Too often teachers are afraid to deviate from the norm because they fear failure. This is exactly the kind of fixed mindset I’m trying to keep my third graders and other teachers away from. Failure is a good thing. Mistakes are proof that you are trying! Innovation is leaving something good for something that might be better.

I am demonstrating this through my deskless classroom. In the past, whenever I rearranged my students’ desks I always tried to get the most space possible so that my kids could work on the floor in small groups. Then I started thinking about what my room would be like if I got rid of some of my desks. I did a ton of research, wrote a proposal for my principal, and made a speech to my students’ parents at back to school night. I was fully prepared for my plan to fail and my kids to go crazy without the structure of desks in my room. Fortunately, I was pleasantly surprised and my deskless classroom worked great. It gives students the opportunity to make good choices and teaches them how to learn from their bad choices. And I don’t have to spend tons of time making seating charts. I’m so glad I tried something new and took a risk.

The Teaching Profession

  1. What do you do to strengthen and improve the teaching profession?
  2. What is and/or what should be the basis for accountability in the teaching profession?

The best thing I can do to strengthen the teaching profession as a whole is to become the best teacher I can be and then share the knowledge and strategies that I have gleaned with my fellow educators. Improving myself is a goal I actively work on by reading professional books, attending conferences, and connecting with other educators on social media. Next I do what I can to help other teachers improve, including those in my school and around the world through the Internet. I love teaching teachers, and one way I do this is through my blog. I write about when things in my classroom go well, but I find it even more meaningful when I blog about my failures in the classroom. This models growth mindset and allows others to learn from my mistakes.

One example of a “face palm” teaching experience that I blogged about entailed my attempt to bring another new technology into my classroom. We were using a new quizzing app that was still in beta testing mode. As I’ve mentioned above, I’m always very excited about incorporating brand new tech into my instruction, though I fear this time I may have jumped the gun. The app was very glitchy and it malfunctioned not once or twice, but repeatedly until I had to wave a white flag of surrender and give up on the endeavor entirely. Although this was a frustrating situation that I did not enjoy a the time, sharing the experience on my blog allowed me to show fellow educators that perfection is impossible and we all must roll with the punches as teachers.

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Along with sharing my thoughts on the teaching profession, I strive to get new ideas from other teachers too. Participating in Twitter chats allows me to converse with other educators whom I would never have had a chance to meet otherwise. Although it may seem like Twitter is far from professional, it has become a platform for many teachers and brilliant minds in the field to come together. It also creates a direct communication pathway to the authors of many amazing books, including those about education. One of the many writers that I’ve been in contact with is the author of Teach Like a Pirate, Dave Burgess. This book is a foundation of my teaching
philosophy as it focuses on maximizing student engagement. I may or may not have squealed with glee the first time Burgess retweeted me. Without Twitter, it’s unlikely that I would be able to exchange ideas with an author that I hold in such high regard. Making Twitter part of my professional development has both improved my own teaching and allowed me to improve the teaching profession all over the world.

In the comments of my blog or during chats on Twitter, I get a lot of push back from teachers for adding more to their already full plates. Likewise, administrators can mandate professional development, reflection, and required reading all they want, but if teachers don’t want to or don’t feel it’s necessary, they won’t get anything out of it. So my encouragement to teachers is to take the initiative! Go above and beyond. Do whatever it takes to be the best you can be. Don’t settle for good enough. It may seem like a lot of work, but the end result is so worth it.

Who can best see whether teachers are taking these steps to become more effective? I believe that accountability for teachers should fall on the shoulders of the administrators in their buildings. Nobody can know what is going on in individual classrooms and schools better than the principals charged with leading them; this is authentic accountability. Administrators should not just be the iron fist of the school, mandating legislation and curriculum inflexibly. The role of administrator is extremely important, and their leadership dictates the tone set in the school. There needs to be real coaching relationships fostered between teachers and their evaluators and a level of professional trust built. School districts and the department of education need to have trust in their principals as well.  True growth will come when the community of educators in a school trust each other and strive to always improve.

 

 

Education Issues and Trends

  1. What do you consider to be the major public education issues today? Address one in depth, outlining possible causes, effects, and resolutions.

There are many difficulties facing public education today. Insufficient funding leads to large class sizes, which makes differentiation impossible. More and more high stakes testing is creating toxic, anxiety ridden classroom environments. Students are also impacted by societal epidemics like poverty and obesity. The odds really do seem stacked against our kids, but that’s all the more reason for fighting. And while those issues have a great influence on education, the one that I think has the biggest impact on our students directly is bullying.

Before I launch into effects and possible steps to reduce bullying, I think it is very important to define it and educate students and parents about it. Bully is a word that is very often thrown around without understanding the weight of the word. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard parents say, “That bully stole my child’s pencil.” That is not what true bullying is.

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Oftentimes, the word ‘bully’ gets used when people are really trying to say ‘mean’ or ‘rude.’ When a child says something that hurts another child’s feeling inadvertently, that is considered being rude. If they said or did something on purpose to hurt another child’s feelings once or twice, that moves over to being mean. This also includes plain old conflict with others. Everyone has to deal with conflict daily, even adults. Saying or doing rude or mean things is not acceptable, but there needs to be several things happening in order for those behaviors to cross over into bullying. Bullying is defined as intentionally aggressive behavior repeated over time that involves an imbalance of power. This can include verbal, physical, and cyberbullying.

There are numerous causes for bullying. Students may experience aggressive or violent behavior from family members at home and this may manifest into their school lives. Sometimes students really want attention and don’t know appropriate ways to get it, so they resort to preying on other kids. Struggles with executive functioning skills may lead to an inability to regulate emotions and the smallest thing may tip some students over the edge.

There are several ways we can fight this epidemic that rages rampant in our schools today. The first is directly teaching character education. As adults we sometimes forget that things we find to be common sense still need to be explicitly taught to our children. Self-awareness and reflection are hugely important life skills. We need to know to stop and think, ‘How am I feeling about this?’ and understand that however we are feeling is okay. We need to be able to regulate our emotions and know when we need to take a step back from a situation. We need to be able to see things from other points of view and think about how our actions and words are impacting others. We need to be able to handle conflict appropriately, because conflict happens every day. This kind of instruction is not included with my reading basal program or my math teacher guide. But these skills are so vitally important to help kids navigate social skills and conflict.

There are many great resources and curricula for character education. With my kids I use Have You Filled a Bucket Today? We also need to talk to kids about their self worth, because if they are gaining their worth from others and feeling bad about themselves, that can be a recipe for disaster. To use the language I use with my third graders, bullying is about dipping into someone else’s bucket to try to fill your own, making others feel bad to feel better yourself. But that is not how it works. The best way to fill your bucket is to fill other’s buckets.

Overall, I think we can address this serious issue by simply addressing it. Too often it just gets ignored because teachers don’t know how to handle it or don’t have time. Character education gets put on the back burner to make room for standardized test preparation. It is our responsibility to prepare these kids to be fully functioning adults in society, and I can’t think of anything else that would be more important to teach them than how to have good character.