Friday, December 27, 2013

Content vs. Relationship: Part 1

I'll admit it. I sometimes fall into the content trap. You know the one... that paralyzing feeling that there are not enough minutes in the day to possibly teach all of the content you've been tasked with teaching, much less teach it effectively. You begin to panic. You notice your energy level turns up a notch- and not the good kind of energy level, either. That erratic, no-one-ask-any-questions-or-we'll-never-finish kind of freaky nervous energy. My son calls this "the dark side." I can always tell when I'm dipping my toes in the dark side because my speech begins to speed up, and I realize I'm talking WAY more than my students are. There's no discussion among them. There are no questions from them. There is no processing of information... for there can't be; I'm speaking like an auctioneer on opening day. Sometimes the content we teach (or the amount of content we must teach) gets the better of us.

Don't get me wrong- content is immeasurably important. Our student expectations and objectives (at least, that's what we call them in Texas) drive our instruction. BUT when we focus too much on content we begin to slowly lose sight of something else- the students. More exactly- our relationship with our students.

I know relationships are key. I believe it. I preach it. I do my very best to cultivate them; and yet... and yet- sometimes the content becomes the focus. This is almost always driven by fear. Fear that I'm not teaching every possible piece of information they'll need. Fear they'll show up in 6th grade unprepared. Fear that some skills needed from previous grades aren't as solid for some students as they need to be. Worried about reading fluency and ways to foster comprehension that are engaging and memorable. Need I go on? I'm sure by now you're making your own list of worries and fears that seem to greet us on a regular basis. So- even though I KNOW relationships are key- sometimes I shoot myself in the foot (great example of figurative language, by the way!) by not keeping relationships the focus. 

That being said, this past week I learned first-hand why relationships are key, why they matter most, and how when we focus on our kids- the return is better than awesome data; better than passing standards; better than any award we might ever win. When we focus on our relationships- we change lives. We make impressions that last well beyond the school year in our classrooms. And.. let's be honest... isn't that why we got into this gig called teaching to begin with...??? When we keep our relationships with our kids the focal point- we change lives; in more ways than we will probably ever know.

Part 2 will be published tomorrow.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Sunshine Blog

I've always enjoyed reading the Sunshine Blogs and have always associated them with "real bloggers" so I was quite excited to learn I was nominated! I began blogging this past summer after encouragement from my Twitter friend, Rafranz Davis; and while I am not always the most consistent, I do enjoy the process of blogging.... however, my favorite is to read others' blogs. I learn so much from so many talented educators through their blog, so hopefully I can give back the love and share a little about me! 
Here is how it works:
  1. Acknowledge the nominating blogger.
  2. Share 11 random facts about yourself.
  3. Answer the 11 questions the nominating blogger has created for you.
  4. List 11 bloggers. They should be bloggers you believe deserve some recognition and a little blogging love!
  5. Post 11 questions for the bloggers you nominate to answer and let all the bloggers know they have been nominated. (You cannot nominate the blogger who nominated you.)
My Nominating Blogger
My nominating blogger is Dana Ariss. I came to know Dana through the collaborative Global Read Aloud project both of our classes were participating in. Since then, I have followed her on Twitter and followed her blog. To me, she is the definition of passionate educator. Her zest for life is evident in every post, every email, every Tweet. Another attribute I greatly admire about Dana is her patience. She is always quick to give an encouraging word, a reassuring comment, and just has an easiness about her you don't often find in many educators (self included). 
11 Random Facts About Me
1. I read magazines starting at the back and work my way forward. Not sure why I do this, but the thought of reading a magazine front to end seems kind of boring.
2. I’m an introvert. Large social crowds where I know many of the people make me anxious; large social crowds where I don't know a soul make me happy, I think because I don't feel that there is any expectations of me and can happily people watch. Small social gatherings are when I'm at my happiest- socially speaking.
3. I visited Russia during the coldest winter on record, even to this day.
4. I could eat chips and salsa and/or french fries all day and think they are the best foods available!
5. I hate talking on the phone, and prefer to text. I know there are many that frown upon this- but I've always hated talking on the phone (except for my teen years when "No, you hang up first..." was popular). Texting allows me to visit with people throughout the day.
6. I'm hands-down the best procrastinator I know. I get the most done in the hour before the deadline. 
7. My newest daily must-have drink is Diet Mountain Dew. (Switched from Diet Dr Pepper.)
8. I taught for five years, then quit to take a job as Director of Christmas Education and then moved into the position of Youth Director for four years before returning to the classroom. 
9. This is my 11th year to teach. Sometimes I feel just as green as the first day I taught; other days I feel like a seasoned teacher. 
10. My favorite thing to buy is new pajamas. My family tells me I have too many as it is. 
11. I love eating frozen grapes.
11 Questions For Me
1. Why teaching?
I always knew I wanted to be a teacher. For me, there was no lightbulb moment. Being a teacher is just what I always knew I was to be. I find that I'm at my happiest visiting with students about their lives, hobbies, etc. and sharing new things with them. This year, I have the joy of seeing both of my children at school each day. It's awesome to see my own kids in my favorite place. 
2. Who or what is your greatest inspiration?
I'd have to say all of the excellent educators and agents of change I've met/follow on Twitter. I always value what Tom Whitby posts as a veteran educator who speaks his mind but is open to change. His ability to question practices we see in education, throw his own beliefs out there for discussion, and listening to others is huge in today's dichotomy of I'm right/You're wrong beliefs.
3. What is one new thing you have tried this year?
Combining Skype and Today's Meet= AWESOME collaboration and a highlight for kids (Thanks, Dana!!)
4. What would your ideal day look like?
This is a tough one, usually the day in my head and the actual events that transpire are wildly different. But, ideally speaking, everyone would show up in a good mood after a healthy breakfast with their family; no materials would be misplaced or hard to find during a rockstar lesson; everyone would work well together in collaborative groups; students would go home professing all of the new knowledge they learned during the day; I would happily go running or some other type of exercise; and go to bed early. 
Now... let's be honest. My day typically looks NOTHING like this... and actually I am quite thankful. If my days went as ideally as I'd like them to, I wouldn't appreciate the small victories in a student's progress, nor the effort and flexibility it takes to make the calling of teaching a fulfilling career. And I most likely wouldn't be the connected educator I strive to be because my students NEED all that I can possibly bring them during the school year. 
5. Who was the best teacher you ever had and why?
Miss Rebecca Cook, third grade. I remember her class the most with the fondest memories. I remember the fuzzy feeling of being loved and cared for as a student. She was young, and with no children we were her babies. She was always patient and optimistic. Even when we didn't do well- she would cheer us on and encourage us to do better. She recently won the REAUD Award for Excellence in Teaching- a very prestigious award in my area.
6. If you could live anywhere in the world other than where you currently live, where would it be?
Tennessee or South Tahoe- pretty landscapes, nice weather, and many visible fireflies at night.
7.  What is something you are looking forward to in 2014?
Warmer weather- spring is my favorite time of year both in school and out. 
8.  Are you an early bird or a night owl?
Depends on what I've left to do until the last minute. :) (Read Random Fact #6) Usually I like to be ready for bed by 9 and then read through blogs and flip through recommended websites till bedtime. With no alarm, I'm usually up for my first cup of coffee around 7AM. For me, that's early.
9.  What is your favourite band or music artist?
Tie between Van Morrison (I like old-school), Coldplay, and the David Crowder Band (although they are no longer touring together).
10. Why Twitter? 
This is an easy one!-- because it is the best at-your-fingertips PD and idea generator we have available. The cherish and value my Tweeps ideas and opinions on education, even when I don't 100% agree with them. I've learned through Twitter to connect more, to think big, and challenged to help my kids see beyond our four walls.
11. Mac or PC? Android or iPhone?
Currently have a PC but would love a Macbook. Just haven't made the leap. And hands-down iPhone. Couldn't do without it. I'm too accustomed to having the world at my fingertips.
11 Bloggers I’m Nominating
10. TJ Adams
11. Janamac
11 Questions For The Nominees
1. Biggest challenge you see facing today's educators?
2. If you could trade the grade level you teach for only a day, what grade would you choose (other than the one you currently teach or previously have taught) and why?
3. Best technology integration your students enjoy the most?
4. How many years have you been an educator?
5. What does your typical day look like as far as scheduling?
6. If you could take only one item on a trip for a week, what item would you take and why?
7.  Biggest love?
8.  What's your favorite food/ best place to eat?
9.  If you were/are an administrator, what is one thing you would want your teachers to know?
10. Why Twitter?
11. If you could live during any era, which era would you enjoy and why?

Friday, December 20, 2013

Stay Calm and Stay & Play On

Some ideas begin small. Others are epic with huge obstacles known upfront. Still, others roll upon us from the unexpected. I would describe the idea of Stay & Play as a mixture of the above. 

I began hearing about Stay & Play, a local effort to build a playground for our school, last year when funding for Stage 1 was reached, but-- and I cringe when I say this-- it didn't hold the same meaning for me as it does today. At the time, I didn't have the same awareness of students with severe physical needs as I do today. This school year, my class participated in a collaborative online project called Global Read Aloud. (Many of you are tired of me blogging about it, but I honestly cannot say enough goodness about this project... and the book we read as part of it.) Our class, along with thousands, upon thousands across the globe, all read the same book and met online through several venues to collaborate for #GRA13. The thing that made this project THE best project I've ever been a part of was the book we read- Out of My Mind by Sharon M. Draper. Not only did the main character, Melody who is severe disabled with CP, touch me- she touched my students, as well. We became more aware of those with needs. We started to get a glimpse of what it means to have such severe disabilities... for the individual, for his/her family, for his/her school. In trying to involve my students in real-world problem solving and use what we can for the betterment of community, Stay & Play became the perfect project for us to be a part of. After taking part in Global Read Aloud, we have a new appreciation for what's needed. Some may say a child seeing the sunshine on a daily basis is a basic right; for some, that's easier said than done when you have no where to go for play.

Stay & Play is a local effort being spearheaded by our school nurse, Kelly Meadows. It involves building a play ground on our school grounds in various stages with each stage being built after we receive funding for it.

Sounds simple. Right?... The unique detail of this project, and the reason I love it so, is that it isn't your typical school playground. Stay & Play will be a playground for students with disabilities. You see, our school sits on a huge (from our perspective), flat piece of land with a barren (but rather large) field area in the front that our students use as a "playground." While it isn't the best and most ideal, it works for us. We are able to stretch our legs, chase a friend or two, throw a ball as far as we can (if we haven't gotten in trouble with it already), and soak up some sunshine. While our field doesn't have the latest equipment as some schools have... or any equipment for that matter, we enjoy being outdoors. Our friends with severe disabilities do not have that pleasure. For them, the field is cumbersome, poses several risks, and doesn't fit their needs at all. So while we are outside enjoying the sunshine, they typically stay indoors. How fun can that be...??? 

Hence, the idea of Stay & Play was born. This state of the art playground has been set up to be built in stages. The first stage was underway last school year with the ceremonious ground breaking! We are still waiting to hear the results from several grants that have been submitted to see if funding for our next stage has been met. If so, we will be able to move to the next phase of building.

Innovative are the visionaries that see a simple piece of ground with a fence and picnic table as the revolutionary playground for special needs students; one that not only meets their physical needs, but there emotional and mental needs as well. Holistic play at its finest- and inclusive for all to play at its finest.

I'm excited to be a part of this effort to raise awareness within my community, but also raise awareness within my various circles I'm a part of... because having a place to play shouldn't be so complicated. 

So how do you include your students with severe needs within your school community, as well as those not in your school, but in your extended community? Share the ideas of love, awareness, and acceptance for all.