Saturday, February 26, 2011

A Month In A Nutshell

To be quite honest, I'm not even sure what happened to the month of February. So many things have happened that my head is spinning. Here's what I've learned in these last few weeks:

- Having a student teacher is very hard, very rewarding work. If you're thinking that you should mentor a student teacher just so you have some time to get caught up, get ahead or have a little free time, please don't do it. You'll be doing a disservice to your student teacher and your students.

- Young people today are not given nearly enough credit. I posted about THON in my last post, and last weekend I spent 46 hours with some of the most amazing college students you might ever meet. Please take some time to visit their sites and see what it looks like when 15,000 college students come together FTK (For The Kids) and raise $9.56 million! I am honored to have been a guest of a Four Diamonds Family, humbled to be part of this amazing weekend, and motivated to do more for all kids who suffer from this horrible disease.

- We all need to make sure we communicate openly and honestly with the people we love, are friends with and work with. When you don't understand what's going on in a situation because there's been limited communication just one small sentence can be devastating. Even when you find out that things aren't as bad as you thought the miscommunication leaves lasting effects.

- If your student or child ever says or writes ANYTHING that raises even the slightest little red flag in your mind, tell somebody. Tell your principal, tell your guidance counselor, tell anybody so they can check into it and get that child the help that he or she needs.

- Sometimes we teach our kids really silly things in the name of "fidelity" and "consistency". When I feel like something is .... is worthless the word I really want here???... presented in a way that is not meaningful to my students I need to be confident enough to change things up to make it meaningful to my kids.

- Even if it doesn't perfectly fit into my curriculum (as I was told by some people), just talking with another class over Skype is a wonderful way to help my students practice their listening and speaking skills. It was very eye opening to see how much work they need in those areas!

- Giving kids the opportunity to be self-directed in their learning is scary, hard, exciting and uplifting all at the same time.

- I love that I was welcomed into a colleague's classroom yesterday to learn more about Edmodo! I've seen many people tweet about it, but I hadn't had the opportunity to research it myself. It was also pretty powerful to hear how her message about social media and to see how confident my students were in the tech lab. It was also exciting to talk with her about how we both might use it in our classes.

- As part of our PLP group we have been working very hard to begin developing professional development for the rest of our faculty. It was very rewarding to hear that our teams' thoughts were on track with what the rest of the faculty believes are our technology needs, and I'm very motivated to provide a lot of meaningful opportunities for our teachers.

- It's so frustrating that so much of my life as a teacher and what I do in my classroom is controlled by people who have not stepped in schools since they were 18 and by people who think they can do whatever they want with no repercussions. But I need to keep focused on the kids because that is what remains the same every, single, day - it's always about the kids.

- It's funny how confident I am in many situations and how completely chicken I am in others. I almost didn't book the hotel for TEDxNY, but I didn't let myself chicken out. I know I'll be thankful to be there next Saturday at this time. Right now, I'm still feeling a little ill when I think about trying to find my way around NYC all by myself!

So, that is February in a nutshell - quite a lot for the shortest month of the year. What did you learn in February?

Monday, February 7, 2011

A Little About Life

Even though my blog is called Teach 'n' Life I haven't spent a lot of time talking about life. With a very important weekend coming up, I thought I'd take a minute to talk about something very, very important to me.

I have to say that I am not a survivor of childhood cancer, and none of my students have ever suffered from any of these awful diseases. But the fight against childhood cancer is a fight that is near and dear to my heart. When I was in college I was a member of the national service sorority, Gamma Sigma Sigma. After graduation I was looking for a way to continue volunteering, and one day while perusing the Internet I came across an ACS camp called Camp Can Do. Camp Can Do is a pediatric oncology camp for kids ages 7 - 17 who are currently going through treatment or have been off treatment less that 5 years. While I didn't get to volunteer the first few summers after I discovered camp I was finally able to spend a week at camp in the summer of 2003.

It changed my life.

"It must be terribly sad," they say. "I don't know how you do it." It is terribly sad. Every time we lose a camper, my heart breaks in two. These kids have every reason to be angry, to be bitter, and to expect everybody to do things for them or give them things. They have had to say goodbye to friends who have died and they've had to undergo treatments that would bring the biggest, strongest men to their knees. But despite all of these experiences, the lessons these kids teach me more than make up for the sadness and heartache that comes with the loss and the illness. These amazing kids exude hope, compassion, love and understanding. They want nothing more to give back to those who have helped them and their families. People often ask how I can possibly spend a week away from home with these kids. My question in return is, "How do I NOT go to camp?" My week at camp fills my heart and soul and opens my eyes for the year to come. Talk about filling up my cup!! It definitely runs over.

So why am I telling you about this now? In 11 days I will be traveling to State College, PA to Penn State University to witness my first THON. A post explaining what THON is would take another three hours to write, so I invite you to visit THON's website here , visit their YouTube channel or watch the promo for the upcoming weekend below. The amazing thing about THON is that unlike St. Jude's, where kids only benefit from the free treatments if there is a research study into which their diagnosis fits, the Four Diamonds Fund provides financial support to every single child going through treatment at the Penn State Hershey Children's Hospital. It also funds continued support for research being conducted at the same facility.

As you read about THON and watch the videos you have to understand that this is completely student run, and since it's humble beginnings THON has raised over $68 million for the Four Diamonds Fund. I'm certainly not asking that everybody make a donation to THON, although that would be awesome, I'm just asking that everybody take a minute to think about the amazing kids all around us who have fought this terrible disease (there's pink everywhere - but where's the gold?) and to think about all of the amazing young people who give their time and talents to make THON happen.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Opportunities Abound

When I read a post on the PLP blog and picked Opportunity for my word of the year I didn't have any idea what an impact it would have on me. Just two days into the new year I knew I picked the right word, and one month later things have not changed.

Yesterday I had to opportunity to represent the faculty of our new building by serving on a panel to interview the principal candidates. While I've had the opportunity to participate in interviews as part of my internship program, I was quite honored to be selected. It was interesting to hear all of the candidates speak and exciting to be able to give my input. I'm excited to see which candidate(s) will move on in the process, and I look forward to working with any of them to create an amazing new community of learners.

This past weekend I had the opportunity to reflect upon my students' learning throughout the second marking period. I was excited to see how their writing had improved and to see the growth many kids made towards our reading benchmarks, but at the same time I am not happy with the assessments I used for my content areas. I continue to reflect upon what I can do differently to make this learning more purposeful. It shouldn't just be about regurgitating facts for a test or quiz. How do I balance my beliefs with a need to "get 4 grades per marking period" for our progress reports? Here is my opportunity to learn and grow during the third marking period.

The weather has provided me the opportunity to get caught up on all of the housework that I skipped this weekend while working on progress reports, but I've been a little distracted from that task. That's because another opportunity popped up in my inbox this morning. This email's subject line was "See you at TEDxNYED!" I'm honored, humbled and excited to have been accepted to attend TEDxNYED. There are several people from my PLN who will be attending so I am very excited to meet with them in person. I'll admit, though, that I am also completely and utterly terrified about this opportunity. I am probably the farthest thing from a city girl you will ever find so the thought of going into the city, navigating around the city, and getting back to my train has me about sick to my stomach. But that's the thing about opportunities: the good ones always help you learn something. Sometimes that something is WAY outside your comfort zone, like navigating NYC will be way out of mine, but what I will take away from attending more than makes up for the fear I'm feeling about the trip.

So January ends and February begins the same way the new year rang in, with opportunities to learn and grow everywhere.