Leading · Reflection · Teaching

Dear Rookie,

Before I get into why I’m carrying around this self-deprecating coffee mug, let me start with the story of how I earned the nickname “Sparkles.” 

One late afternoon 8 years ago, I looked at myself in the bathroom mirror as I prepared to go into school that same evening to greet and meet families at parent night. I had actually just returned home from school and needed to freshen up from hosting freshman orientation and from putting the finishing touches on my classroom. I thought I was ready for the first day of my first year of teaching and was feeling pretty confident, but life has a funny way of telling the truth. 

That’s when I noticed it. The glitter. It was everywhere. In my hair, on my forehead, dusting my nose… Everywhere the light touched, I sparkled. Somehow, when I reached for my hairspray, I had accidentally grabbed competitive-dance-grade glitter. You know what I’m talking about. The type of glitter that’s made to be seen by great grandparents sitting 200 feet from the stage of their darling’s dance recital. 

Like me, you’re probably wondering why I had such glitter in my cabinet. And that’s the thing… I have absolutely no clue. 

Thanks again, universe. 

So there I was, looking at my glittery self in the mirror with not enough time to take a shower or do anything about it. I was fresh out of college and looked the part, and the glitter took at least another ten years off my age. I could have panicked. I could have cried. After all, I had taken the time to shop for the perfect professional outfit for this night. I had spent countless hours decorating my classroom. I had printed my syllabus on Shamrock green paper, and strung up a beautiful  banner with my name. I had flawless plans for the first day of school; I had even thought to account for transition time. 

Now that I looked like a 14-year-old, wanna-be pageant princess, how was I supposed to trick these parents into believing I was qualified to teach their kids? And that’s when it dawned on me… I had intended to trick them all along. Let’s be honest. All of that planning and perfecting worked to trick myself, too, because glitter or no glitter, I really had no clue what I was doing. I was embarking upon unchartered territory — my first year of teaching — and much of my course was out of my control. It sounds crazy, but I swear that this one silly, glittery event changed the trajectory of my year and career. It was a moment of clarity, an epiphany of sorts. I realized in this moment that no matter how hard I tried, not everything would go as planned, and I had better make peace with that fact. 

You’re probably wondering how the rest of the story goes. I’ll get to the point. 

I went to parent night looking like a disco ball, and I told the truth. I explained that I was nervous for this first year of teaching, that I desperately wanted to impress them, and that while I was rehearsing what I would say to them that night, I had inadvertently sprayed glitter all over myself. I told them that I was mortified because I wanted to assure them that, while I may look young enough to be their kid, I was actually old enough to teach. I emphasized that I cared deeply about their children and considered the teaching profession to be the most important job in the entire world. And here’s the thing… By being myself and by being honest, I earned their trust and they believed in my qualifications. No tricking required. 

So that’s the story of how I earned the nickname “Sparkles.” The irony (we English teachers love irony)…  a word that’s typically associated with being shiny, and pretty, and perfect reminds me of my flaws and all that I learned during my rookie year. 

And why the mug? Because I’ve started a new job this year and feel like a rookie all over again. Because it reminds me of the story I just shared. Because it reminds me of these essential lessons

  • It’s okay to not be the expert in the room. 

  • Relationships matter most, and honesty and vulnerability go a long way in building trust. 

  • Lead by learning. 

  • When in doubt, crack a joke (preferably one where you’re the punchline).

  • It’s going to be okay.

Books · Community · Culture · Reading · Reflection · Students

Book Clubs: Civil Rights Connections

Note: This post was written for a previous unit I led with my 8th graders during historical fiction book clubs that centered on the Civil Rights Movement. Many things that we discussed in that unit continue to feel resonant to me, and listening to these student voices is important.

For the past couple of weeks, my students have been studying the American Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s. They have varying degrees of background knowledge on the topic – many know Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks, but few of them know many details beyond the biggest names and moments. In order to learn more, students are in book clubs reading different books related to this time period, including New Boy, Warriors Don’t Cry, The Lions of Little Rock and Revolution. Our classes are following the Lucy Calkins Units of Study for Historical Fiction Book Clubs. We are also watching a few documentaries from Teaching Tolerance to help them visualize what that movement felt like.

Last week, my students watched a documentary called A Time for Justice, which gives a basic overview of the Civil Rights Movement in about 40 minutes. I had students reflect on the video after watching, including a question that asked, “What personal connections do you make to this video?”

I was impressed and also saddened by some of their responses. I’ve included a few here.

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What struck me most about these responses is that there are still so many instances of injustice that happen today to which students connect. Even my 8th graders recognize how the struggles that African Americans faced during what we call the Civil Rights Movement are similar to those that many marginalized groups face today. Some of their connections are incredibly deep, painful even. Others note moments of injustice they see in their daily lives, even it is what we see as commonplace. Some made connections with amazing books they had read, like Dear Martin by Nic Stone and To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee.

As 8th graders, my students are still figuring out the world around them. But at this moment in time, it feels like we all are. I want to give my students a space to reflect on their own connections to the world, to express what troubles them about what they see in the past and the present. As I read through these, I also think of how much these students have grown over the past nine months. Maybe I can’t teach them everything, but I can help them feel like they are heard. After reading these responses, I will continue to give my students opportunities like this to reflect and make connections, and to share some of these responses with others who may not have similar experiences. Getting books that cover these topics is also important. I will keeping searching for titles that I can recommend for students to not only see themselves, but also to view others’ experiences and learn from them. Building empathy is one of the most important things I can do as a teacher in today’s world.

Culture · Environment · Reflection

Finding the Truth

When I visited my parents’ house a few weeks ago, I decided to do a little “Marie Kondo-ing” in my childhood bedroom. A lot of my work from college was still there, and one thing I found was a big accordion file of letters that the seniors from my student teaching classes wrote to me at the end of the school year. Some were sweet, some were pretty neutral, but one stuck out to me.

The first time I read it, I was so angry with the student. The words How dare he? crossed my mind. What does he know? Even as I started looking through the letters, I was searching for this one because I still thought that it was obnoxious. I was feeling a little bit of that glee you get when you know you’re right about something and someone else was wrong.

Once I found the letter again, I realized that I was the one who was so, so wrong.

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The letter wasn’t signed, but I had my suspicions which specific 12th-grade boy wrote it. I initially thought he was so self-righteous in trying to be philosophical by saying things like “instead show them not the key to the door, but the door so they may open it themselves.” Now as I read it, I completely understand this student’s sentiment. I wasn’t listening to my students as a naive 23-year-old. I was doing what I thought teaching was: giving information and having students repeat it back. Assigning work and expecting them to just do it, no questions asked. This letter is pretty spot on in terms of how much my beliefs in teaching philosophy have changed over the past eight years.

If I am being honest, this 2018-2019 school year has been incredibly challenging for me professionally and personally. I have more students to care for than I ever have before, and many of them seem to have more needs than in years past, or maybe I am just more in tune with them. I have experienced a lot of anxiety myself in the past year, which I think leads me to be more inclined to ask a student questions about their life, listen to their concerns, or just approach the work we’re doing with more of a sense of care.

As a middle school teacher, of course, my job is to teach content, but this year, I have been learning that teaching the whole child is truly more important than whether they can tell me what dramatic irony is. While I’m not always perfect at this, I’m trying to find ways to lean into the true needs of my students while still encouraging them to take steps toward academic progress. If one of my classes loves to talk, I try to spend some of my workshop time to build relationships and share stories about my life, while also listening to theirs. In my mind, building that rapport and trust while sacrificing some content means that I will probably get more effort from these students the next day. Sometimes this is true and sometimes it isn’t — this isn’t a perfect system, but it’s something I’m continuously working on.

Our district has been focusing a lot on social-emotional learning this year, and I have come to the realization that middle schoolers need that more. When I take time to listen to them, to give them choice, and to let them explore subjects that interest them, I know they are growing more. Teaching is a constantly-shifting practice, and I am trying to find the balance that works best for me and my students.

So to the student “not all that much younger” who wrote me this letter: thank you. Your words have helped me realize just how far I’ve come since I started teaching just eight years ago.

ASSESSMENT · Goal Setting · Reflection · Students

Alternate Exams: Turning Assessments Into Opportunities

Last year, our English I team made the revelatory decision to get rid of our traditional multiple-choice exam, and I will never look back.

With the help of my teammates (English I teachers at Dublin Coffman High School), Dr. Steve Kucinski (@specialkdchs) and Mrs. Shayne Bauer, I crafted this post.

The decision to change our exam was a long time coming. For years, many of us questioned and debated the validity of our district-wide multiple-choice exam, so when our district, which includes three high schools, no longer required a completely common exam and gave each high school the option to assess as they deemed appropriate or best for students, our team at Coffman High School jumped at the opportunity to do something different.

We made this decision for many reasons. Very few  English I teachers in the district could agree upon common reading passages that were appropriate for all (~1,200) of our students. Similarly, we found “difficulty in writing robust but reasonable multiple choice questions” (Dr. Kucinski). This was especially apparent when analyzing the data collected from these multiple choice exams. We continually debated the validity of the multiple questions and, therefore, our exam as a whole. Moreover, students’ grades in class after eighteen weeks of learning rarely matched their exam scores. For all of these reasons and more, our team didn’t feel that the current multiple-choice exam reflected the true abilities of our students.

While re-writing our exam, we shared many hopes:

  • We hoped that the new exam would provide the opportunity for all students to be successful.
  • We hoped that the new exam would more accurately reflect and celebrate the strengths of our students. Likewise, we hoped that it would help highlight areas in which students had room to improve.
  • We hoped that students would feel more in control of their exam score.
  • We hoped that the data gathered from the new exam would be more meaningful and easier to formulate future lessons and units from.
  • “We know that for many students, standardized tests are just a point of ‘doing school.’ As such, they merely want to survive them. We sought to change that.” – Dr. Kucinski
  • We hoped to “discourage cramming and mere memorization” – Mrs. Bauer  

Our team worked together to create what I would describe as an extended-response(written), evidence-based, reflection-heavy exam. We included in it all of the 9th grade English standards assessed throughout the first semester of the school year in addition to other questions about academic behaviors. To be frank, I do not think that our current exam is without faults. We’ve administered it three years in a row now, and we have tweaked a few questions each time based on the last year’s results. I’m sure we’ll make edits and improvements between now and giving it again next year, too. With anything new, there is uncertainty.

For students, our new exam provides these exciting and unique opportunities:

  • To reflect and practice metacognition
  • To revisit old work
  • To set future learning goals
  • To be honest about learning patterns and learning preferences as well as good and bad habits
  • To identify areas of growth and mastery as well as areas that need more practice
  • To review why we do what we do in English class  
  • “Increased awareness of standards” – Mrs. Shayne Bauer
  • “Ownership” – Dr. Steve Kucinski

Students, for the most part, appreciate the non-traditional approach and especially appreciate the week’s worth of time given to complete the exam. Though, there are a few students who ask, “Can’t we just take a test?” Students also appreciate the efficacy of knowing I can do well on this. Likewise, there is no guesswork (I don’t know what they’re going to ask me) on the exam or any double jeopardy (Well, I didn’t do well all quarter, so I’m surely not going to do well on this exam either). (Dr. Kucinski)

One of my students even took the time to email me this feedback in her free time: “I thought this year’s midterm was well made and smartly scheduled. It was not as stressful as other exams. I liked that it made you reflect on what happened in the first half of the year. I learned more about my strengths and weaknesses when it comes to reading and writing… I would like more exams like this.”

At this point, you probably just want to see the exam. Here it is:

COPY OF BLANK EXAM

And here are some student responses:

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Surprising Findings:

  • What students identify as their weaknesses (versus what we teachers identify)
  • What students are most proud of
  • Students fessing up to being lazy
  • Students not knowing where to find feedback and rubric scores on Schoology (LMS)
  • Students not understanding weighted grades and the distinction between the different grading categories we use
  • Students struggling to articulate what and how they’ve learned and where their deficits are (Dr. Kucinski)
  • Students not being okay with saying ‘I didn’t learn everything’ or ‘I don’t know how I know this’ (Dr. Kucinski)

Obviously, we know this exam is non-traditional. We’re curious to know what other educators think about it. Maybe you think this is a downright awful idea. This exam works for us, but could this ever be an assessment in your classroom?

Goal Setting · Reflection

#2019OneLittleWord

Beth’s word: connect

This is the fifth year that I’ve chosen a word to be my focus for the year. I struggled and went back and forth between several words this year (even as I write this I feel myself wavering). But, “connect” is a word that exemplifies several of my goals for 2019.

In my professional life, connecting is one of my main priorities as I work with teachers across the school district – some of whom I’ve not known well. My hope is that by building connections that trust and rapport follow so that we can have conversations about student learning. I am enjoying this new role that allows me to get to know colleagues who value reading and writing and who love working with middle school students.

I feel as if I’ve lost some of my connection to my fitness self. I’d like to get back to my yoga practice and to meditation. In 2018, I let other things get in my way and keep me from being fit and flexible. I miss the calm, powerful feeling of walking out of a studio or off my yoga mat.

Finally, with a daughter in college and one who is starting to think about that step, I want to continue to connect with them so that our relationships stay strong. I can always work on keeping strong connections to friends and family – both far and near as well.

Lori’s word: intentional

This past year was sprinkled with personal chaos and professional priorities that at times pulled me away from what is important in life.  For 2019, I am committing to be more intentional with my time, energy and love as I refocus on the work and life balance ahead.

In my office, this will mean using each moment of my day to be intentional about serving the people that matter most in my work, our students.  I want to be increasingly intentional about choices and decisions so that we can continually be better at educating and supporting students.  I will also be intentional with my time, making sure that I am keeping focused on forward motion and change that will be positive for my work and the work of my close colleagues.  Through this work, I will intentionally be joyful.

In my home, I will be intentional to be present, focused, and flexible at home with my children.  I will model a more healthy approach (I may have eaten away my stress in 2018.) to dealing with our lovely, chaotic, and busy life.  I will be intentional in fostering the relationships with my husband, my children and my parents.  I will live with intentional focus on family.

In my free time, I will be intentional in spending quality time with my closest, dearest friends.  2018 reminded me of how important friendships are and that they need a little nourishment from time to time.  I will serve my friends in the way that they serve and support me.

Here’s to a more intentional 2019!

Rita’s word: forward

Determining a word for this year was a bit of a challenge. A few words bounced around in my head, but none felt completely right. Eventually, I noticed that the words were connected; each would lead me forward.

This year I want to make choices that move me forward to my most fit self. I have drifted from the commitment to my health. As I look forward I know that I can find my way back to healthy eating, mindfulness and consistent yoga practice. I am excited to rediscover the confidence, calm, peace and strength that I believe truly define fitness.  

This year I want to make choices that move me forward to my happiest self. I am committing to prioritize things that bring joy. I often allow myself to get bogged down in the “business” of life and overlook the joy. I will be fully present and enjoy time with family and friends. I will reflect, pray and slow down to ensure that everything forward is filled with happiness.

This year I want to make choices that move me forward to my bravest self. I will take advantage of all opportunities for learning and growth. I will embrace situations that push me outside of my comfort zone. I will listen to learn and not avoid difficult conversations. I will allow my true north to guide me forward and lean into the courage this provides me.

2019 will be a year of happily moving forward!

Reflection · Teaching

The Emotional Labor of Teaching

I first heard the term “emotional labor” when I read an NPR article about how women in heterosexual couples end up completing not only the majority of chores in a household, but they are the ones who often notice and delegate what needs to be done (Harper’s Bazaar also has a great explanation of this). I was reminded of this article last month when talking to my mom, and realized that this idea of emotional labor is what tends to tax teachers so heavily.

As I neared the end of the school year, I kept thinking about this idea. How even though I was not doing an exorbitant amount of work — I was in the last unit of the year, so I didn’t have much planning, and grading was light since students were mostly working in book clubs — but I felt so incredibly tired all the time. What was going on?

Thinking back to the idea of emotional labor, I realized that had to be it. The buildup of nine months of constantly thinking, worrying, and caring about the 125+ kids in my care was taking its toll, along with a few other end of the year worries. I was still trying hard to reach those students who had been pushing me away or meeting me with indifference all year. I was trying to make sure all students were really making some modern day connections to the Civil Rights Movement through their book clubs choices. I was stressing about not being there on the last day of school (and not getting to say a final goodbye) because I would be judging a writing tournament out of town. I was anxious about getting my room packed up since I would be moving to a new one in the fall. I wanted all of my students to know that regardless of how the year went, I truly wished them well in high school and hoped that they could take some of what they learned from my class with them. That I wanted them to succeed. That they still have people who cared about them.

All of these emotions would repeat on a constant cycle over the last few weeks of school. I tried to maximize my time before school and during my planning period. What could I pack up? What could I get rid of? Which students did I need to check in with during study center? Whose parents did I need to contact because they hadn’t turned anything in lately and currently had below a 73%? Had I tried my best this year? I definitely didn’t do my best teaching this year. This thought cycle was exhausting. It reminded me of that line in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix when Hermione describes Cho’s mixed emotions about Harry, and Ron says, “One person can’t feel all that at once, they’d explode.”

By the time I got home every day, I would feel too tired to make dinner or work out, even though I would usually push through and get it done. I thought part of my lack of energy was because I ran a really hard, really hilly half marathon at the beginning of May that just wiped me out. Even though that was probably part of it, I knew the main culprit was really the emotional labor of closing out the school year. Even as I write this more than a week after school let out, I am exhausted still thinking about it.

When most people think of teachers, they think of how great it is that we get summers off. (Side note: we all know that most teachers spend time in the summer taking classes or participating in professional development; some even working another job.) After reflecting on this connection between emotional labor and teaching, I feel like I am finally starting to articulate why this summer break is so crucial to teachers, and why we keep coming back for it year after year.

Summer gives us a chance to rest our minds. We still think about those kids who sat in our classroom over the last year, but since we don’t see them each day, we have a chance to worry a little less about them. To entrust that the other adults in their lives are taking care of them, and as they get older, they are taking care of themselves.

Once we have a chance to rest our minds and (hopefully) let go of the worries from the past school year, we have a chance to read and plan for the next year like we never have time for during the actual school year. I try so hard each school year to read professional books while I am actively teaching my class — and I usually fail. Unless I will be using that book immediately in my teaching, it is really hard for me to compartmentalize new ideas in the “save for later” section of my brain while I have all of the normal parts of teaching running at full speed. Summer is the time when I can finally dive into professional learning and make the most of it.

I am not saying that other jobs are not challenging and those professionals may need extended breaks as well. From my experience as a teacher though, there is so much of that emotional labor that we are constantly holding in our minds that it is often hard for us to shut it off. I find myself thinking about students as I’m out for a run, or how I can tweak that new lesson as I’m falling asleep at night. I know I often feel like I am not doing enough for the kids that I teach. There is this notion that I can always do better, but in the chase for perfection, I know it is impossible to teach every kid in the way that I want. To give them the true attention they deserve. When there are more than a hundred of them on my mind each day, it feels like the work is never-ending.

And that takes a toll on teachers. This constant thought process that what we do could always be better is great for reflective growth, but if you’re like me, then you just look at all the things that went wrong. I am working on changing that mindset, but it is a process. All of these pressures coming from so many different angles really can be exhausting — and a big reason why it seems that emotional labor affects teachers more than most other professions.

As I begin this new school year with only a month under my belt, I am already feeling the force of this emotional labor. I have nearly 20 more students in my care this year, many with differing needs, and I am still figuring out how to make time for each of them. I am currently working on finding ways to make this easier — asking for help, surrounding myself with positive, supportive colleagues, and taking breaks for my own self-care. It’s no wonder why so many teachers burn out early in their careers; it’s a lot to handle. But when I am my best self, I know I can do it by relying on those around me, and continuing to take time for myself.

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

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?