Thursday, April 21, 2011

Who's Doing It?

As is usually the case when I'm not in school I've taken some time today to catch up on all of the interesting blog posts and Tweets since last weekend. And, in what seems to be sort of a natural move as I come to the end of any experience, I've been reflecting upon what I've learned this year and what I'm going to do next. Even though my future may seem a bit unsure there are two things that are definite (well, definite barring anything REALLY crazy that might happens):

1. I will be a teacher next year in the same school district.
2. I will still be facing the same curricular and testing requirements from my district and the state.

Here's what I've learned and either want to continue doing or do more of in my classroom:

1. I have learned the importance and value of a PLN and will continue to follow and learn from this group. One way I would like to improve this is to find people with differing opinions to follow so that my thinking is pushed.

2. My kids have shown me how important it is to have a genuine audience for one's writing, and their enthusiasm and excitement for blogging has reenergized my writing instruction. I will definitely continue this next year.

3. Blogging has also taught me how important connections are for kids, and we have made connections around the world to help develop the communication skills. Next year I would really like to move beyond blogging and do more with Skyping to help my kids developing their speaking and listening skills as well.

4. The blogging and little bit of Skyping has been cool, but just like Mrs. Ripp said here I would like to do more with my teammates (whomever and where ever we might be next year) to develop those face to face connections.

5. I've really revamped my reading instruction. While I still complete the required Core reading program, I've done a lot more to show my students how these reading skills are important to their real lives rather than focusing on the story for the test. I've seen results on the selection tests so I'll continue this practice next year... of course I'll want to change it up, but I'm sticking with this new method.

6. I've utilized a class wiki to get my kids away from worksheets and involved in more meaningful discussions about their reading skills. We're getting there, but I still need to learn more about teaching kids how to have those meaningful discussions.

7. I've dabbled in Daily 5 and adjusted it in a way that fits what the rest of my team is doing. Next year I'd really like to move completely away from the five day planned guided reading groups to completely flexible groups.

Finally, here's the biggest change I want to make:

I've dabbled with kids having more choice in the classroom and using a variety of technologies to showcase their learning. I've been trying to get them to be more active participants in their learning. But in the end I always come back to my "old ways of doing things" because I'm not sure how to manage the independent active learning in a way that will allow students to timely complete work and be prepared for the required assessments.

I'm trying - I really am. I'm just not always sure what I'm doing or what it should look like. We didn't learn about this kind of teaching back in the early 90s (sadly, I don't think the student teacher I just had at the beginning of this semester is learning it either), and I can tell you that the classes I'm looking at from a variety of sources aren't providing guidance in this area, either. I've found two thanks to my involvement in PLP, but despite what everybody in the general public thinks about teachers' salaries, I'm not sure that I'll be able to participate.

This is where I need your help! Who is teaching this way in a public school classroom with curricular and testing constraints? I have seen really cool examples from charter schools and private schools, and I have thought about proposing an out of the box idea for cyber-charter to my district. But that won't happen next year, and I don't want to wait.

I want to know how you put everything that we talk about on Twitter chats, on our blogs, at TED events into practice in your classroom. We're talking about what needs to happen to education, now I want to know who's actually DOING it. I would love to learn from you so I can become a more effective lead learner for my students.

Bring on your stories - successful and not so much because I'm really ready to take this next step.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

It's Hard to Be Positive

I like to try and always look on the positive side. I wouldn't say I'm the eternal optimist. I am realistic, but I don't see the point of dwelling on the negative. But lately being positive is getting harder and harder.

I'll be honest, there is nothing I can do about any of this negativity. I have no power to hire more teachers, prevent furloughs, or fix the budget problems. I can't assign people to buildings or grade levels or tell teachers what grade or subject they will be teaching next year. As much as I want to, I cannot wave the magic wand and stop all of the stupid cancer from eating away at people who are important to me. Since I'm not a handy-girl, I won't be fixing the leaks, replacing roofs or building new homes. And unless I win the lottery, there won't be any quick fixes for these problems. I can't do anything about any of this stuff, yet I can't walk away from it. It's at home. It's at school. It's online. The negative is everywhere.

It's like a rocking chair you can't reach in a breeze. It just keeps rocking and rocking, and there is nothing you can do about it.

What's most upsetting about all of this is how it's affecting me. I know I'm not myself, and I know that because of that I am not as patient with my kids. Granted, this LONG stretch without a break has them ready for a little vacation, too, but they don't deserve me being short for no reason. Just like me, they can't do anything about any of this so I shouldn't take it out on them.

So what can I do? My theory has been to try and do what I can to deal with things, but I'm writing today to remind myself of this. I can take my dogs for a walk with some great music playing and escape for a half hour or 45 minutes. I can keep trying to cook new and yummy foods and take care of myself physically. There are lots of uncensored Comedy Central specials to stream on Netflix and tasty beverages to be hard, and thankfully there are wonderful friends who love to go out and have fun with no mention of anything but good times.

And in the end, when all is said and done, I will focus on the people I care about and the students I love to teach because, like I've said before, these relationships are all that matters.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

It's Been A While

Things have been crazy around here in good and bad ways. I've had state testing, progress reports, PLP projects, trying to select elementary social studies resources, and big changes and stressful times at work. It hasn't left much time or interest for blogging. The past few weeks when I've come home I've just wanted to put all of that out of my mind. But I'm ready to get back to it, and I have two things that I really want to share from the past few weeks.

Amazingly, it was already the end of the marking period, and I had the opportunity to reflect back with my students about their writing. Once again I had the same positive experience reading their work while I was completing their progress reports, and they did show growth. But I found that they did not make as much growth as they did last marking period. I attribute this to two things. First, we took two days a week away from our writing instruction to do a double period of math class. It was necessary to finish all of the math anchors before the magical test date, but I do believe it impacted my students' growth in writing. The other issue is that we spent approximately 5 weeks doing test prep and taking the actual assessments. When everything shuts down until all students complete the test, you can't work in any instruction or practice. It's obvious to me that my students didn't grow as much as they did in the 2nd marking period simply because we didn't have as much instructional time.

My other news is definitely more positive. As an elementary teacher I don't often have the chance to keep in touch with my former students through high school and college. Among the small group with whom I have kept contact there are two brothers I've remained close to. The older brother has been talking about buying a pizza truck and starting his own business for years, and his plans finally came to fruition on April 1. He, along with his brother and 2 friends, have opened University of Pizza and are doing business on the main street in town.

On Saturday my husband and I had the opportunity to stop by and give their food a try. Let me tell you, it was DELICIOUS and well priced. Even better than the pizza was seeing my four former students. While I don't have children of my own, I know what I felt on Saturday is exactly what a proud mom feels when her kids do something amazing. I am so proud of these boys, and I feel honored to know that I played just a very small role in what I'm sure will be a successful enterprise. Talking with these guys was exactly what I needed, during these very trying times, to remind exactly why I am a teacher: it is all about the kids.