Classroom Libraries · co-teaching · Culture · Literacy · Reading · Reflection · Students · Teaching · Uncategorized

Taking “A Novel Approach” to EMPOWERing Students

img_3133Taking “A Novel Approach” to EMPOWERing Students 

Introduction

This year, I read both Empower: What Happens When Students Own Their Learning by John Spencer and A.J. Juliani and A Novel Approach: Whole-Class Novels, Student-Centered Teaching, and Choice by Kate Roberts, and these books inspired me to make huge changes. Most notably, Deborah Maynard (intervention specialist) and I used these two texts to collaboratively make changes to our end-of-the-year unit surrounding The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet.

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A Novel Approach

Over the last few years, we have made some gradual changes away from whole-class required reads for many reasons, but The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet has always remained a staple of our English I curriculum.

The Debate:

Whole-class texts: Independent reading:
“Believing in teaching whole-class texts–long or short–suggests the belief that struggle is productive for young readers, that kids that kids need to read great books, that focusing on a common text builds strong and literate reading communities, and that students benefit from controlled questions and activities led by a proficient reader (the teacher).” “Choosing to focus on independent reading shows the beliefs that reading ability matters, that kids are going to benefit most from having experiences with great books that they can read on their own with strength, and that knowing the skills it takes to read any book will help them to build greater independence. This also suggests a belief that choice in reading is essential in building a strong reading life and that often our very identities are in part shaped by the books we have read.”
Both excerpts are from Kate Roberts’ A Novel Approach: Whole Class Novels, Student-Centered Teaching, and Choice

I personally tend to value independent reading over whole-class novels, but Roberts’ book provided great reminders of the importance of mentor texts, shared experiences, and modeling. Plus, it merges the best of both worlds, so it gave me fresh ideas and new energy going into 4th quarter, the only quarter that I still teach a whole-class novel. For the last few years, I’ve tended to focus on all the negatives of whole-class novels and all the positives of independent reading, but Roberts’ merging of the two provides a unique balance that allows time for both types of instruction and celebrates both types of learning.

Empower

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Deb Maynard and I both took a course led by Steve Kucinski (@specialkdchs) and Kristy Venne (@KristyVenne) surrounding the book Empower: What Happens When Students Own Their Learning. I took photos of the pages that resonated with me the most.

 

With this in mind, PLUS the ideas presented in A Novel Approach, we ultimately decided NOT to get rid of The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet altogether, but instead, keep Romeo and Juliet as a mentor text, teach the reading skills required to tackle such a challenging read, and help students apply those skills to their independent reading books.

Screen Shot 2018-05-06 at 2.33.38 PMIn addition to allowing students to purposely pair choice novels to The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet, we gave students choice in writing prompts, and students proposed summative celebrations of learning rather than us assigning and requiring the standard compare/contrast essay that we always have.

You can read more about how we introduced the new unit and unique expectations to students and families here.

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Throughout the unit, Deb and I read contemporary YA novels, too, and modeled all of the thinking and writing that we asked students to do.

We modeled thinking that we actually do when reading any book for any purpose since most of our students were reading different books than us and each other.

Taking the journey with students helped us to better know what skills were truly necessary, what work was especially hard, and what challenges most students would face.  

Critical Questions

1. What decisions are we making for students that they could make for themselves?
2. What changes should be made to inspire students to build independence and take ownership over their reading lives?
3. How can we make this shift:

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WHO – Deborah Maynard (intervention specialist) and I co-teach English I all day (five 48-minute periods).  We worked together to make all of these changes to our teaching routines and strategies and to make changes to our unit expectations and assessments in order to empower students to take ownership over their reading lives. Hear more about WHAT and WHY here: 

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WATCH VIDEO HERE!

WHERE – Dublin Coffman High School, 9th grade, English I, inclusion

WHEN – 4th Quarter, 2018; The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet Unit

HOW – surveys, flipgrid reflections, online discussions, observations

LIMITATIONS – It is difficult to quantify and calculate things such as empowerment, engagement, interest, and rigor, so we’ve had to rely on our observations, and have done our best to encourage students to be 100% honest in their survey responses and flipgrid reflections.

 

Because our unit in its entirety and our Action Research Project involve so many parts, I am going to break all of that info into multiple blog posts. Plus, we haven’t even finished reading Romeo and Juliet, and students are just now starting to work on their summative celebrations of learning, so stay tuned! More will be coming in a week or two, and I can’t wait to share!

Leading · Literacy · Reflection · Teacher Leadership

Staying Calm: The Dublin Literacy Conference

Friday, February 23

The day was almost here! This year, I was the Chairperson for the Dublin Literacy Conference. We had been working toward this day for months, and today was the day that I would really dig in with my co-chair, Marisa, and get all of the final details worked out. We met for breakfast and discussed what we needed to do for the day – we would get the participant packets organized and she would pick up two of our authors – Kate Roberts and Chris Barton – that afternoon when their flights got in.

Or so we thought.

Later that afternoon, as we were chipping away at the participant packets, we received notice that Kate Roberts’ flight was delayed. Okay, we thought, maybe she’ll still make her connecting flight. No big deal.

Then Chris Barton’s flight was delayed. We weren’t panicking just yet, but we were a little more on edge. He got on another flight set to land around 7 p.m. in Columbus, so we breathed a little more easily. He would miss our author dinner, but would make it for Saturday’s conference.

Soon after that, we learned that even with the delay, Kate made her connecting flight, and was on time for her arrival in Columbus. Marisa left to pick her up, and I kept working.

After another hour or so, I was finished with the preparations for the conference the next day, and I went home. On my drive, I debated whether or not I should go for a run, since I had about and hour and a half before I needed to leave for dinner.

As soon as I got home, however, everything changed. It turned out Kate was getting over the flu, so she wasn’t going to join us for dinner so she could rest up. Then I needed to head to the hotel where the authors were staying to give them some missing paperwork. With no authors planning to attend the dinner, we decided to cancel. I called our accommodations committee member, Aleia,  and set that plan in motion.

But wait! Chris Barton was going to make it by 6 p.m., so he could attend the dinner. I had to quickly call and reverse my previous request – the dinner was back on.

After that chaotic hour (needless to say, I didn’t get that run in), I headed out to dinner a little early to make sure everything was set with the restaurant. Our committee members started arriving, one of our presenters, Olivia Van Ledtje (@theLivBits), and her mother also joined us for this dinner. Marisa had picked up Chris from the airport, and they made it to the restaurant. Everything was running smoothly now.

…until we learned that George Couros’s first flight from Vancouver had been sitting on the runway for over an hour, waiting to be de-iced. We knew the weather wasn’t the best in parts of the United States, but we hadn’t accounted for snow storms in western Canada. George wasn’t going to make his connecting flight in Minneapolis, and couldn’t get out of there until the morning. This didn’t work for us, seeing as he was supposed to start his keynote the next morning around 8:45. We needed a new plan.

Could we Skype him in? Could he fly to another city a couple of hours away and someone could go pick him up? Could we switch our morning and afternoon keynotes? Linda Sue Park’s flight had been delayed, but she was still scheduled to arrive that evening. This seemed like our best option.

One of our committee members called Linda Sue at dinner that night, and she graciously accepted this change of schedule. Granting now that all flights arrived on time from here on out, we would be in good shape.

 

Saturday, February 24

As people arrived the next morning, we simply told them that the morning and afternoon keynotes had been switched, and no one even seemed to mind. Everyone was still going to get what they were promised, just in a different order. The committee kept joking that this whole process felt like a wedding – we would deal with mayhem behind the scenes, and our guests would be none the wiser.

And after all of that chaos, with all of our flexibility, the day went off without any other issues. Linda Sue gave a beautiful keynote in the morning, which inspired educators as they went off for a day of learning. George made it in time for his keynote and spent some time autographing through his scheduled lunch. Everyone was thrilled that they were able to experience so much, and learn from our authors and other presenters there. As a committee, we felt so grateful that our featured authors were incredibly flexible and enthusiastic throughout the day.

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Since the Dublin Literacy Conference a month ago, all I have heard was positive feedback. Everybody loved the day – the keynotes, the featured authors, the teacher presentations – everything learned was valuable and participants felt like they could use the skills and knowledge they learned in their classrooms the next day.

As for me, I learned a lot about staying calm under pressure and relying on a team to help out in any given situation. Though I was the Chairperson for the day, I could not have done anything without my amazing conference committee. They took care of details I didn’t even notice, and they helped keep me grounded when things seemed to be spiraling out of control. I am so proud of the work we did for that day because it seems have had such a positive impact on everyone who was there.

I can’t wait to do it all again next year!

blogging · co-teaching · Culture · Environment · Leading · Reflection · Students · Teaching

It’s Not About the Donuts: When the Learner is the Teacher

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My students teach me so much. I mean that. I feel like I’m always apologizing to my 1st period class.

I’ll use today as an example, but first, let me back up a step.

We have been working on persuasion. We studied the rhetorical devices (repetition, parallelism, analogy) used in Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream.” Students practiced using those devices in their own writing. Students performed persuasive skits using ethos, pathos, and logos. We then analyzed Super Bowl commercials for persuasive techniques. Now, students are embarking upon a journey to practice persuasive writing and argumentative writing which we spent Monday distinguishing.

Here is a list of differences that  students generated:

Persuasive Writing Argumentative Writing
  • Aims to get readers to believe you opinion
  • Supported with persuasive techniques
  • Informal
  • Supported with facts and statistics
  • Involves two sides
    • counterclaim/rebuttal
  • Involves research
    • Investigative
  • More formal

Tuesday, we officially started our persuasive writing unit. We told each class that they’d work together to write and publish a blog, so each class period voted on a topic. Our desks are in groups of four, and we asked groups to discuss the topic and then craft claims. This caused quite a bit of fun, healthy debate, but in each class period, we were able to come to a decision.

  • Period 1: The driving age should be lowered to 15.5, and teens should be able to get their temps by 14.5.
  • Period 2: Dublin Coffman High School should start at 9:00AM (instead of 7:55).
  • Period 3:Schools should never completely block social media use nor search engines, but these technologies should be heavily monitored.
  • Period 5:Dublin Coffman High School should adopt an open campus schedule like colleges.
  • Period 6:The legal drinking age should be raised to twenty-five.

We showed students a model from last year as well as the requirements of the assignment.

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We have 7 groups of desks in our classroom, so we decided to have groups volunteer to complete different parts of our persuasive blog post, so three groups chose three different persuasive techniques, three other groups claimed the rhetorical devices, and one group found media to include. This all happened on Monday, and it was AWESOME. It went so well, in fact, that I emailed our literacy coach to brag. I just knew that she’d be so proud of all the modeling, scaffolding, and most importantly, learning happening in our room.

Fast-forward to today. I enter 1st period with 1 goal in mind. I want the whole class to collaboratively work on piecing together the parts of the blog that groups crafted separately yesterday. I tell them this. I stand at the board and ask students to help me outline our blog. One student helps me do this. One student. One. So, we are not off to a great start when it comes to collaboratively writing a blog post, but I have high hopes for the next part. I ask a student from each group to get on a shared Google Doc. I ask them to copy and paste their group’s work from yesterday into the document. This takes longer than expected, and as I look around the room, only the 7 students logged onto the document are engaged in organizing the blog. The other 20 are not interested in what we are doing no matter how hard I try to redirect their attention to what is happening on the projector. It doesn’t take me long to realize that THIS IS NOT WORKING. It’ll be torture to continue this for another 30 minutes, and I definitely can’t continue this all day long, so after 10 minutes of this unbearable struggle, I abandon ship and QUICKLY come up with an alternative.

I tell 1st period, “I’m sorry guys, and I’m sorry again for having to apologize to your class period so often, but this is not working like I imagined it would. I really wanted us all to craft a blog together, but this is just not going well, so here’s what we’re going to do. Students currently on the Google Doc, make a copy of the document and then share your copy with the rest of your group that you’re sitting with now and that you worked with yesterday. You’re now going to work in teams of just four rather than as a whole class. I want you to act like you’re a real editing team for a real blog. Turn what you and your classmates came up with yesterday into a cohesive blog. The best blog of the class wins donuts tomorrow, and I’ll also publish your blog to my real blog. You only have until the rest of the period. Ready? Go!”

And just like that, all students are involved again, and many are more invested in their writing than I have ever seen before!

… and then we run out of time.

Darn.

I’ll have to give them more time tomorrow….  

BUT, at least I know what to do 2nd, 3rd, 5th, and 6th period because I have learned so much about what not to do during 1st period.

2nd period enters, and so does my co-teacher, Deb (she was in a meeting during 1st period). I get the students all set up to use the entire period productively in groups of four, and I use the same incentives of donuts and the most authentic audience I can conceivably provide on the spot(this blog). I fill Deb in on the debacle of 1st period.

We watch second period closely. We celebrate. We celebrate because we’ve been reading Empower: What Happens When Students Own Their Learning by John Spencer and A.J. Juliani, and therefore, we no longer want to make decisions for our students that they can make for themselves. Our conversation goes something like this:

“This is going so much better than last period”

“This is good. I like this.”

“They’re struggling, and struggling is good.”

“They’re having to use each other and their resources instead of us. ”

“You’re right! Remember last year?

“We gave them a blog template to fill in. That was dumb.”

“We designed their blogs for them and removed all of the creative fun on accident”

“Look at them arguing over titles and fonts this year.”

“They’re really getting into it!”

We continue to watch closely. We circle the room. We listen to conversations. We mostly try to remain hands-off so that students figure it out on their own. Toward the end, we start to peek over shoulders. Many of the blogs don’t look like blogs at all. They look like a bunch of copied and pasted elements lacking any cohesive whole. Even the blogs that look like blogs don’t really read like blogs. We troubleshoot, and we try to explain this quickly before they head out the door.

3rd period enters.  We know what to do now. We explain everything just as we did last period including the donut incentive and semi-authentic audience deal, but this time, we get them set up for even more success than our 1st and 2nd periods by showing the model again and emphasizing what the end product should look like. We watch closely. It’s going well but not perfectly. I notice that some groups are totally engaged. I pick up on the fact that some students really want to win the donuts. Some students really want to show up on my blog. Some students just want to win. Some students are not engaged. Some students are letting their group members carry all the weight, so Deb and I chat.

“This is going pretty well, but it could be better. Why aren’t all our kids empowered?”

I think about the Empower book again.

What decisions are we making for students that they could make for themselves?

“Next period, let’s let students pick their own groups. I don’t think we’d see the lack of engagement if we let them pick their own groups.”

“Let’s try it!”

5th period enters. We really know what to do now. As students walk in, we tell them to choose their own seats and to choose wisely because they’re expected to communicate well and work collaboratively. We show the model and explain expectations. We incentivize with donuts and a chance to appear on this blog. Groups are working fanatically! Everyone is engaged. This is what teachers dream of.

I watch closely. I keep thinking. I start to worry. I’m a worrier. This is going well… right? I’m not just imagining it, am I? It took a lot to get here. I bribed kids with donuts. I’m pretty sure that’s a huge pedagogical NO-NO, but I was desperate, and desperate times call for desperate measures. They look engaged. They even look empowered. I wonder what would have happened if I had never mentioned donuts, but I can’t renege on that now.

6th period enters. Despite my worries, we do everything the same as 5th period because it worked and because I can’t offer donuts to 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 5th period without offering them to 6th period. Deb and I stand in the middle and watch closely. There’s no doubt;  they’re engaged; they’re empowered. They’re working so hard, and they’re learning so much. They bell is about to ring, and one group is arguing. I listen.

“We should NOT have all of our names in the header.”

“Yeah, then all our names show up on EVERY page!”

“Yes, we should! It looks good!”

“No, we shouldn’t. It looks dumb!”

[warning bell rings]

“Mrs. Belden will just remove our names anyways.”

“Yeah, because we’re going to win and make it on her blog.”

“Well, we’re NOT going to win with our names on EVERY page!”

“Yeah, remove the names so that we can win the donuts!”

“We’re not going to win guys. We’re NOT going to get the donuts!”

“YES, we ARE going to win the donuts!”

“Guys, we did really good today, AND IT’S NOT ABOUT THE DONUTS!!!”

“Yeah, IT’S ABOUT THE JOURNEY!” [boys exit in fits of laughter]

The room is empty, and I’m sitting at my desk smiling like a fool because they have NO IDEA what a journey the day has been.

WINNING BLOGS:

Goal Setting · Reflection · Teaching

Getting Unstuck

Happy New Year! The time for resolutions! Right?

Maybe.

By the time second semester hits, I’m usually feeling two conflicting things simultaneously: a new spark of hope for the future and a stinging realization that I have gotten stuck in certain habits.

Last week when we returned to school after winter break, I was ready. Kids were going to find books they love for our independent reading days! My new strange and mysterious short story unit would engage and excite students!

Then I realized I still had more than 100 narratives to grade. Then we had a snow day. And then I came down with the stomach flu and missed two more days. Then we had an early dismissal due to an incoming winter storm. Things started to feel out. Of. Control.

Needless to say, my new semester wasn’t starting off with the bang I was hoping for.

After the chaos of the first two weeks back to school, I need to get myself and my teaching in order. So this weekend, I am dedicating myself to getting unstuck. There are four things I am going to focus on to help me in this process.

#1: Catch Up

With all of the craziness of this past week, I realized that I still had about 20 narratives left to grade, along with new assignments that students turned in this week. My first order of business will be to get these graded. I know that I cannot always be on top of my grading pile, but it’s manageable enough right now that I can tackle it over this holiday weekend and get it finished. This will help me to feel a sense of calm when I walk into school on Tuesday morning, ready to focus on the week ahead, instead of looking behind to what I didn’t do.

#2: Refresh New Procedures

Much of this will have to happen once I get back into the classroom next week, but I am going to start this weekend by creating a new seating chart. I want to try randomized seating so students have a chance to sit by other kids they may not know so well, while also helping with classroom management. I tend to be a little lax in seating and let kids sit where they want, but it’s turned into a bit of chaos in certain classes and lending to this feeling that I am “stuck” constantly redirecting. When students come back this week, I’ll refresh procedures such as how to put the laptops away correctly. How to pick up after yourself. I feel like I shouldn’t have to do this with 8th graders, but if I don’t show that it’s an important expectation (like I haven’t been doing), then the students won’t see it that way either.

#3: Setting the Intention to Be Reflective

I am really good at being reflective for short periods of time. Last year I dedicated a whole journal to reflecting every day…and then wrote in it five times. This year, I am going to try again. Maybe not with a specific journal, but perhaps in spurts. As I was reading NCTE’s Voices from the Middle December 2017 issue, I came across the article “How to Think, Talk, and Write Your Way into Better Teaching*” by Allison Marchetti and Rebekah O’Dell. The first thing they list in this article is to “choose a notebook” as a catchall for all teaching-related notes and reflection. When I have done something like this in the past, I have been successful. Somehow, it’s gotten away from me this year and I want to go back. This may not only be about reflection, but it will play a part in my intention to be reflective. Also, writing this blog post, and continuing to write is another way I vow to be reflective this year.

#4: Planning Goals (or at least thinking about it)

I want to try new things. I want to be inspired. I want to make time to learn from others, either in person or from educators who write about their experiences. In the first half of the year, I dove into professional development a little too deep, and started to drown. In December, I took a step back, let myself breathe, and trusted myself to do my best. Now that I have taken that step back, I’m ready to dip my toe in again. I returned to browsing Twitter last week to see what people are thinking – about education and otherwise. It’s not such a bad place after all. I picked up a quick professional book to start reading this weekend – Disrupting Thinking by Kylene Beers and Bob Probst – because I know their thinking will help spark ideas in me. I also know that anything I read in this book is something I will be able to start working into my classroom immediately. This is a starting point for me to think about planning new units, or trying something new within an existing unit.

My main goal after all of this is just to feel a little better about who I am as a teacher. What is my purpose, and how I am I being intentional about my teaching practices? I may not always have everything under control, but when I have the time, I want to pause and be productive moving forward. Hopefully after this weekend I will feel a little less stuck and ready to move again.

Goal Setting · Reflection

One Little Word

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Several years ago, Rita and I (Beth) discovered the “one word” movement. We decided to use it with our students as a way to focus and set a goal for the new year. It’s different than setting a resolution that can easily be broken, and we found that it had more relevance and meaning for students. It also gives one a chance to reflect on the past year and to see if/where changes can be made. At the start of the new year, we thought we would share each of our #onelittleword2018 as a way to recharge the blog.

 

Beth’s word: Gratitude

2017 brought many changes and opportunities for me. I was blessed with a new teaching partner, my older daughter was accepted to several colleges (a decision hasn’t been made), we said goodbye to my mother-in-law, and I expanded my personal yoga practice to include becoming a certified yoga teacher. The year was also fraught with struggles and uncertainty.

In 2018, I want to focus on gratitude. There are so many things in my life to be thankful for and to develop. I am lucky to have a tribe of teachers who are beginning and developing their yoga practice on Friday afternoons with me, and I am so grateful for their trust and commitment. As an educator, I am blessed with a strong learning community and with mentors who can help me continue to grow and learn. While trying to develop as a writer, I feel appreciative of the suggestions and feedback provided by this group of women. Finally, I am surrounded by a family who loves and supports me in every endeavor I try. I especially feel grateful for my older daughter and the adventure she will embark on this year.

There are times when gratitude isn’t easy to “find”, but my plan for the new year is to always look for the positive in situations and to remember to be grateful for what I have. I am truly blessed and hope to be a person who others see as one filled with peace and thankfulness.

 

Rita’s word: Faith

I have been thinking about my #onelittleword2018 since the middle of December. 2017 was a year of change and challenge and I was searching for the perfect word to guide me through 2018. As I opened my present during the Bannan family Christmas exchange, there it was at the top of the beautiful bracelet my sister-in-law chose for me.

2018 will be a year of faith. I will have faith in the OSU James Cancer Hospital doctors (and their positive prognosis) as they treat my mom’s Multiple Myeloma with chemotherapy and a stem cell transplant and am so excited for her to be feeling better soon! I will have faith in the constant support of my people and heed their reminders to take care of myself in the midst of caring for others. I will have faith in my family and remember that the hard times are often the times that bind us together. And finally, I will have faith in myself and I will continue to be successful in my journey to a more healthy me – both physically and mentally.

Faith makes all things possible…” (Dwight L. Moody) I am so excited for all of the possibilities that 2018 holds!

 

Rachel’s word: Unwind

I have noticed recently that even when I have a little down time, I am not able to fully let myself unwind and relax. Teaching can be stressful and I tend to let little (and sometimes big) problems consume me at all times, even when I’m home. I dwell on moments, or things I should have said, or what I could do to be better. Growth and reflection are important, but I let anxiety take hold instead of finding a positive way of moving forward. I am attempting to leave work at work, and unwind when I am at home to focus on self-care and personal growth goals. I need to take care of myself so I am in better shape to take care of those around me, including my family and my students.

To help me achieve the goal to unwind, I have started a bullet journal as a place where I can track parts of my day as well as other things that are important to me: books read, time spent crafting, meditation, and my marathon training. Since I am running my first marathon this year, I am going to need to find time to relax and unwind  from the stress that training will take on my body. I plan on leaning into hobbies I enjoy, like knitting and reading, and using my time most effectively at school so that I can come home and (hopefully) feel guilt-free.

 

Lori’s word: Joy

Today, as I think about a new year and new opportunities in family, faith and education, I am thinking about joy.  There is no doubt that this fall was a crazy one in my household.  We have a 1st grader and 3rd grader who are active and getting more involved in their own things.  My husband and I  are both educators and I started a new job in administration this year.  This means new responsibilities, new challenges, new work hours and routines.  At times, as my family adjusted to our new “pace”, it seemed hectic, fun and unsettling all at once.  As December approached, the Christmas season reminded me to be grounded in Him and find joy in all aspects of life.

As we enter 2018, I pledge to find joy in all that I do.  I will find joy at work and at home. I will find joy in comfortable and uncomfortable situations.  I will find joy in calm and in busy.  I will find joy in my children, my family and my friends.    I will find joy even when the world seems unjoyful.  I will recognize that joy comes from within me and I will model that for my children.  I know that joy will not always come easy, but that it will provide peace and appreciation for this wonderful phase of life.

 

Corinne’s word: Discipline

As I enter the twilight of my first career, I am getting closer to the dawn of my new one.  2018 brings the challenge of figuring out just where and how I will experience that dawn! I have made brainstorm lists, and had many conversations with my family and friends.  Unfortunately, up to this very moment, I have no idea what my next steps will be.  

Since I wasn’t blessed with patience, I recently enrolled in a ministry leadership class, hoping that the experience would give me the inspiration, the discipline and the structure I need to hear what God has in store for me. One of my assignments for the month is reading a book entitled, The Real Deal, and my most recent reading happened to be about having the discipline to listen for God to lead me in the direction He has chosen for me. What an important and affirming assignment. Anyone who knows me well knows that listening and waiting are difficult and that I will need to tap into my most disciplined self, but I am trying.  Tomorrow is the first day of my new routine, one that will require me to have the discipline to rise early enough to exercise, clear my mind, and open my ears before I begin the busy day at school.

I am waiting and grateful for the opportunity of #onelittleword2018.  It provided me the chance to make my routine public and to challenge myself.  One thing I know for sure is that I love a challenge!

 

Kara’s word: Play

“You play, you win, you play, you lose. You play. It’s the playing that’s irresistible. Dicing from one year to the next with the things you love, what you risk reveals what you value.” – Jeanette Winterson, The Passion

This passage of my all-time favorite book struck a chord with me years ago, and I haven’t been able to get it out of my head since. I can apply it to many aspects of my life, but I can especially apply it to teaching. To me, it means that all of life is made up of one decision after another. You can stay the same by folding and playing it safe, or you can take a risk. Simply playing is unavoidable, but weighing risks and imagining rewards is invigorating!

Teaching is like this — one decision after another. Is everything ready for tomorrow’s lesson? Do I need to make any changes based on how it went today? What about next week? Next month? Next Semester? Will I teach that content and those skills the same way that I did last year? What needs to stay? What needs to go? Is there a way that I can teach this better? Weighing the risks and rewards of making changes inspires me. Play keeps me energized.

Is trying new things a lot of work? Absolutely. Do I get worn down? Sometimes. Am I flirting with burnout? Hopefully not, but honestly, maybe. My point is this: students are worth risks. And as overwhelming research proves, children learn through play. I’m sure adults do, too, so students deserve teachers who keep playing. I’d rather risk burnout, knowing that I’m trying my absolute hardest to be the best teacher that I can possibly be, than fold.

Don’t get me wrong, sometimes the temptation is strong to turn on autopilot and coast, but who reaps the rewards of that? So I keep asking myself these questions: What if? What if I could make this better? Teach this better? Do this better? In 2018, I intend to play.

Goal Setting · Leading · Reflection · Students · Teaching

New Year’s Resolutions: Goal Setting to Ensure Work-Life Balance

Balance

It’s that time of year!

(and I’m not talking about the winter holidays)

If you work in the education sector like me, August is when the “new” year begins, and it’s the month that holds the most promise for change. Hopefully due to taking the time to temporarily power down and recharge over the summer, it’s probably also the month that you feel the most energy to make changes happen. And if you’re anything like me, as you’re rebooting for the upcoming school year, your mind is constantly racing with thoughts such as, “This year is going to be my best year yet! I’m going to do this differently… and this differently… and this… and this…”

I’ll admit that I’ve earned a reputation at Coffman for being a “yes-woman.” I’m the type of person that is inspired by new ideas and driven by change. I’m the type of person who will try anything if I think it will benefit my students’ learning. I have a hard time saying “no” when asked to lead or advise a student group/club. When approached by like-minded colleagues who love to “take a risk,”  my standard answer is “Let’s do it!” I once stayed up until 3AM creating a new grammar lesson for the next day simply because I was introduced to Pear Deck the day before.

Some of this I’m proud of. I want to be a teacher who isn’t afraid to make a change if it is what’s best for students. I’m actually really proud of many of the changes that we’ve made in the five years that I’ve been teaching English I and Honors English I. Looking back, though, I know that staying up until 3AM to use some new technology that I’ve stumbled upon is pretty silly.

I’m entering my 6th year of teaching, and though I’m inspired to make important changes and am as confident as ever that I’m about to have my best year yet, I’ve come to realize that I’m not the energizer bunny (at least not any more). I’ve also learned a LOT about work-life balance because a lot has changed in five years; I’m now married and have a house, a dog, and two daughters. Because “life” happens, I’ve been forced to come to terms with the fact that I can’t be super-teacher, AND super-mom, AND super-wife, which has been difficult because I want to be it all and do it all well. Every single day, I continue to learn how to navigate these three roles with balance and grace.

I’ve spent a lot of time this summer reflecting on my first five years of teaching. Most of all, I just keep thinking about how many of us know (but may be too stubborn to admit it) that there simply aren’t enough hours in the day to do it all. So, my “New Year’s Resolution” is to be intentional with my time, and I’ve come up with 3 goals to ensure that I am.

Here they are:

GOAL #1:

I promise to provide time to my students for meaningful reflection on a weekly basis.

I’ve created this goal based on my current levels of confidence within the workshop model. This is one of those changes referenced above that I’m especially proud of  (our team has switched to and embraced the workshop model). This is important to note, as I’m sure that learning how to be especially intentional with my time each class period has simultaneously inspired me to be intentional with the time I spend throughout the day and outside of school, too. In order to limit my lessons to 15 minutes or less, I constantly reflect on these questions: what is truly important for students to learn? How can I make the most of every second of my instructional time? If students only have 25-30 minutes to practice, how should they use each minute?

Last year, I focused on keeping my mini-lessons mini to make time for meaningful practice, but I still struggle with the reflection piece. We often run right to the bell, and when I do remember to stop class with a few minutes left, the reflection that I’ve come up with often feels forced and inauthentic; therefore, if I’m being truthful, I haven’t found much value in this part the workshop model yet. I’m not giving up on it because I know that reflecting is such an invaluable step in the learning process. When expressing these challenges to a colleague this summer, she suggested that I just take baby steps and commit to making time to reflect with students once a week rather than every day. What a brilliant idea! So, my initial idea is to make 15-20 minutes on Fridays sacred to reflecting (but if the day of the week must change, I am flexible, which is why I wrote my goal above to state “on a weekly basis”). I’m looking forward to this flexibility, and I’m not overwhelmed because we will have plenty to reflect on during any given week.

 

GOAL #2:

I will sweat at least twice a week.

I know this one sounds weird, but hear me out. I HATE to sweat. I always have. I do not enjoy exercising. If you know me, you know this, and therefore, you also know that this is a BIG deal because you know that this is twice as often as I’ve ever worked out in the past. I wrote my goal to say “sweat” because I feel better after (I don’t feel good about it before or during) sweating, and I swear my food even tastes better! My aversion to sweating aside, this one will be difficult for me to achieve because every time I try to get out of the house so that I can actually exercise, I think about all of the other things I should probably do instead.

I obviously know that this goal has huge physical health benefits, but to me, this personal goal is more about mental health. I’m clearly self-aware and reflective and have learned that it is so very important for me to make time for myself. I’m moderately confident that I’ll be successful in mastering this goal because my sister recently inspired me to try System of Strength with her, and I am now addicted to their “ebb and flo”(hot yoga) classes. My addiction comes from sweating + meditation + sweating + challenge + sweating + time to myself. Did I mention that it’s HOT?

It has taken me years to believe it, but I deserve to give this time to myself. As one of my all-time favorite sayings goes, “you can’t pour from an empty cup.”

 

GOAL #3:

I will read to or with my daughter every evening.

This should be the easiest, but if I’m being totally honest, sticking to this goal worries me the most. First of all, let’s talk logistics. This is a daily goal, which I’m just not sure will actually be possible. Like, what if I’m traveling without her? Logistics aside, I have now officially committed to playing a part in the bedtime routine every. single. night. The thought of this alone is pretty overwhelming and exhausting.

Some of the reasons behind this goal are obvious. I’m an English teacher. Of course I want to instill a love of reading in my children. The gift of literacy is undoubtedly invaluable, but for me, this goal goes beyond all of that. Most of my fondest memories related to reading involve my dad, a backyard hammock, and hours of time spent together. My parents are divorced, and I didn’t get to see my dad often, so that time was precious to me. I equated this activity to a direct reflection of my dad’s love for me.

Because of this, it breaks my heart that when Delaney asks if we can read some books together, I sometimes struggle internally to say “yes.” I don’t like that I’ve busied my life so much that I feel like I don’t have the time to read to my daughter. One day I do want my daughter to recognize that I’ve found a job that I’m so passionate about, a job that I truly believe is one of the most important in the world, but that time isn’t now. She’s three years old. She doesn’t understand, and she shouldn’t have to, so this goal is as simple as saying, “YES” every single time she asks me to read to her.

Another one of my favorite quotes inspired this goal, and I think it is especially applicable to teachers and fellow workaholics: “If you want to change the world, go home and love your family.” – Mother Teresa

Time. It’s life’s most precious commodity. Time given to students. Time given to family. Time given to yourself. How are you going to be intentional with the time you spend this year?