Reflections as a Writer

Friday, July 31, 2015

Day 31!  The last day!  Reflections on Writing

Well, if that's true, my writing this month was awesome.
You know... because I did it.  Most days.

     As a coach, one of the most common things I hear about writing are the problems.  Our kids don't write enough.  They don't have any craft.  They don't have enough ideas.  They don't like writing.  They struggle on the sentence level, so how can they write an essay.  The standards are too difficult to achieve.  They need too much support.  They can't work independently.

     The truth is, most of those statements can be true.  Writing, in my opinion, is the hardest thing that we ask our students to do.

     I did this Big Time Blogging challenge again this year, and the Slice of Life challenge earlier this year, simply to force myself to be a writer.  We ask our students to stop and write every day in class.  So, I figured I should do the same thing for myself.

     And, you know what?  It was hard.  I am capable of writing a complete sentence.  I am capable of writing with volume (and those of you who have gotten my looooong emails know that).  My craft is getting stronger.  There are no state standards to compare myself too at 38 years old, so I don't know if they are above my level.  But, I have the underlying ability to write well.  AND IT IS STILL HARD.  But, I have come to enjoy it.

     What does that mean for our students?  They don't always have the underlying ability to write at their benchmark level.  Should we make them write?


     Change some of the variables.  Increase their support.  Find them an audience.  Change the genres.  Allow for mistakes.  Celebrate their writing.  Help them find a voice.

     Give yourself permission to be a writer in your own classroom. 

     Thanks, +Michelle Brezek, for your challenge.  I did it {most days}!



Thursday, July 30, 2015

     Today was our district mentor training PD, where a new group of teacher leaders made the choice to give the gift of their time and talents to the betterment of the education profession.  They became official mentors!  About 20 D100 teachers came to the training today so that they could help a teacher begin their profession with support.

     As I sat down to blog about this topic, I remembered my post from last year about the importance of mentoring.  You can read it here.

      There are so many roles that a mentor can play in the life of a new teacher.  Every new teacher brings his/her own fears, struggles, and strengths, and mentors are trained to help them where they are to guide them to where they are going.  +Marilyn McManus had us talking with each other about our various roles and how we can best support our newest staff right from the start.

     After some time talking, we came up with many different roles that a mentor could have.  One was that of an advocate.  I find this role to be very significant, as we are truly looking out for them during their first days as a teacher, but also indirectly their future in the education field.  If we advocate for our mentees now by listening, and finding them the support and resources they need to grow, just think about the number of students we can actually influence.  To be an advocate, you don't need to have all the answers.  We are a team, supporting our teachers together, and becoming the village that it takes to educate a child.   

     We also had them identify the things that a high quality teacher says, thinks, does and feels.  What would we hope to see in our new teachers by the end of the year?  I felt like the group really did a nice job of summing up not only what I hope for all our new staff, but also what I hope I represent myself every day of the coming school year.  

(I hope I didn't miss anyone!)

Day 30!  One more day to go!

School Essentials

Day 29: School Year Essentials

I took my kids to Target today to buy their school year essentials.  
We had our supply list out for my kindergartner and my first grader.  
I grabbed a basket and headed to the school supplies section.

The basket filled very quickly.  

Luckily, someone had abandoned a shopping cart near the girls' clothing department.  
After dropping a trail of school supply "bread crumbs" I needed to put my basket into a real cart.

I managed to squeeze a few of my own favorites in there, too.

I always say I want a planner, and never get one.  After looking online at +Michelle Brezek's  Erin Condren one, I was green with envy.  So, I bought a cheap one at Target with some of my favorite Paper Mate and Sharpie pens to match.  I also bought a new Thing 1 composition book to carry in my bag for note taking purposes this year.  I also threw in 5 boxes of Crayola markers.  I always stock up when they are $1.  And, of course, those pretty Ticonderoga pencils in fun colors...  :)  

(Sorry, Michelle.  No vlog.)   

Slice of Life: August

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Day 28 of #btbc15: Slice of Life

     Panic is starting to set in.  August is upon us.  The summer sun is starting to set.

     I love school.  I really do.  The beginning of the year has always been something that I look forward to.  New beginnings, a long summer... time to start again.  But, having my own kids changed me.

     I love sitting here, watching them play with their LEGOS and their Playmobils and all the random things in between.  Playing school with their characters, creating elaborate stories and taking field trips around the house with their characters.

     I love taking the kids, on a whim, to the car on a journey to a new park.  Driving with the goal of a few good slides, and a stop at a Dunkin Donuts on the way.  Iced coffee at the park with my kids.  Perfection.

     I love our adventures together.  Oh, the places we go.  Big destinations and small, but always together.  A family with two teacher parents means family fun all summer.  And, by family fun, that also includes tears and drama and over tiredness.  But, family all the same.

     We have our summer bucket list now.  Open days are slipping away.  We have a short list to accomplish, but the list of dates available is also short.  Panic.  

     This year, all four of us will be going to school.  Our summers are all ending together.  Even though I happen to love the fall, I'm not quite ready for the leaves to fall just yet. 


Goals for 2015-16

Monday, July 27, 2015

Day 27: Goals For Next Year

Oh, 2015-16.  You are so very close...  I guess I'll {reluctantly} make some goals for you.  
It isn't quite August yet, so I'll keep them simple. 
So, clutter seems to be my thing.  
Maybe in 2015-16, it will be a thing of the past.  

(I suppose I should also include my email inbox, computer desktop, 
and google drive in this organization goal.)

This one I am very passionate about.  
I am really excited to work with teams and continue to integrate science and social studies back into literacy.  If we can get it to vertically align, I will be very very excited for our students.  
We can do this, Hiawatha!

I attempted to do this last year, and I almost got through them all.  I found this very helpful when working with teams and individual teachers.   Also, in the process I re-discovered my enjoyment of reading novels.  I have read a ton of picture books since becoming a mom, but few novels for pleasure.  Even if they are just young adult novels, it is still reading.  One of these days I'll get back o the adult novel section of the bookstore.  

In the coming year, I would like to continue to tweet and blog about the things that I see around Hiawatha and in my district.  Not only does it open the doors to the teaching and learning at our schools, but every time I log in to tweet something I end up scrolling my Twitter feed and learn 2 or 3 new things in the process.  This digital PLN thing is amazing.  

Here I {almost} come, 2015-16!

Dear First Year Teachers

Day 26: Dear First Year Teachers

     It would be easy for me to write a letter to first year teachers, with all my suggestions for things to do that first year.  I'm sure some things that would make it onto that list would be to collaborate with others, ask for help when you need it, enjoy your first class, forgive yourself for mistakes, etc.  But, today I was talking to someone who has always seemed to say that things I needed to hear.  She was not aware that I had this post to write for the Big Time Challenge, and yet somehow she inspired the letter below.  

Dear First Year Teachers,

     Many years from now, after you have years of experience and many students taught, you might forget how you are feeling right now as you enter your first classroom.  The fear, the excitement, the passion that you have for your career as you start your first position.  But, more importantly, you might forget who you are as an individual.  Your hopes, your dreams, your goals for life and for the classes you will inspire. You have a purpose for your life.  Write it down.  

     I ask you, before the year begins, to put your current self on paper so that your future self can look back and see where you began.  

     Someday, you might need to read that letter.  You may laugh at the person you once were.  You might realize there are things you want to bring back out from your old self.  Perhaps, reading about your reasons for being a teacher in the first place will light a new fire.  You might even just see how proud you are of the teacher you became and the all students that have better lives because of you.

     Part of being a great teacher is reflecting on our teaching.  Start your career off right, and do a little self-reflection.  Write it down for your future self.  

With Excitement for You,

The Universal

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Day 25 of #btbc15: Teacher Activists- What's your Cause?

I definitely would not consider myself an activist.  There are many things I am extremely passionate about, though.  I believe strongly in supporting:

cultural relevancy
closing the poverty gap
smaller class sizes
unit planning
early childhood education
quality literacy instruction
mentoring others
early intervention
character education

***I might be forgetting a few.

    If you put all those things together, I guess I activate for what they do all together to affect the students. When I took the role of a literacy coach, I asked my principal what she expected of me in my new role.  She said that she would like me to work towards the universal goal of getting at least 80% of our students reading at grade level.  She was, of course, referring to the students on that RTI triangle known as the universal.  Sadly, I have yet to work to increase that percentage across the school to 80%.  For my school, many of the factors above affect many of the subgroups of kids that create our universal.  So, I need to keep all those things in mind when making decisions that affect the universal group.  

    Bottom line: I advocate for our students.  

     Dr. Mary Howard tweeted this this week, and it made me think about all the things that blur our focus on our priority.  Accountability, data, and perhaps some things that we are extremely passionate about.  Sometimes, if we are so focussed on something that we believe in, we forget to make sure that it is relevant to all the students sitting in front of us. What do they need right now?  What do they need as they move from one grade to the next?

     I try very hard to consider all the things that could impact our universal, and try to guide my decisions around the things that will make the most difference for our 500 students.  I have some tough conversations, and I reflect a lot (probably too much) on the choices I make.  But, if you advocate for kids, it is not always an easy journey.  I make a lot of mistakes.  I rely on my PLN (both in district and otherwise) to help guide me.  I try to put students first, always.  I don't always succeed with that, because sometimes my own feelings sneak back in, but I try.  They are our priority.

     I am an advocate for the universal.  I advocate for our students.  

Follow Friday

Friday, July 24, 2015

Day 23 of #btbc15: Follow Friday

Who do I follow on blogs or social media?   

That's a hard one.  Look on the right hand side of this blog, and you will find all the blogs I follow, both in my district and outside of my district.  A few of my favorites are:


Big Time Literacy, the host of this blogging challenge. +Michelle Brezek 

Literacy Loving Gals is a blog written by some reading specialists at a school in my district.  They always have something to teach me about literacy instruction. +Colleen Noffsinger 

Show Your Thinking is actually a math blog, but even though I am a literacy coach now I still appreciate learning new things about math.  +Annie Forest 

Hip Hooray in K is a blog written by a kinder teacher in my building.  If you teach kinder, do yourself a favor and check it out. +Kirstin McGinnis 

Two Writing Teachers, for all things inspirational about writing.  Love. 

Hello Literacy was one of the first blogs that I regularly followed.  Jen Jones has taught me a ton!

Teach the Core was another blog I first started following regularly.  Now I have Dave Stuart Jr.'s book and I follow him on Twitter, too.

Twitter Follows

With that great quote in mind, here are the Twitter handles of my Hiawatha colleagues, all of whom are fantastic and you should follow!
1st Grade
2nd Grade
3rd Grade
4th Grade
5th Grade

Do yourself a favor and follow these people from outside of my district:

Pure Michigan

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Day 22: What I'm Loving Wednesday


I love Michigan.

OK, that might sound shocking coming from a University of Illinois graduate.  I mean the state, not the team.  :)  GO, ILLINI.

We just got home from a short trip to Michigan.  Last year, my husband and I took our kids on their first vacation to Holland, Michigan.  We were there for two nights, with a stop at Notre Dame on the way up and a stop at Saugatuk on the way down.  They kids had a blast, so we told my sister that we should go again next year, but as a family trip.  Fast forward a year, and we did!  My sister's family, her mother in law, our mom, and my own family went to Holland again for two more nights of pure Michigan.  This time, we also brought our Playmobil toys to play with, with a Playmobil for each member of our family.  I mean, when you have as many toys as we do, we might as well use them.

Here are the reasons why I love Michigan.

Reason #1
It's a short drive!  Just a bit over 2 hours (if traffic cooperates) and you are ready to go to the beach!  Plus, with beach towns all along the way, there is always a place to stop and explore.

Reason #2 
The beach!  In three days, we went to three different beaches.  2 in Holland, and one in St. Joseph. Each one was different and had its own charm.  They have sand dunes to climb, sand to walk through and build with, waves to run into, and even parks ON the beach.  I think the sand was softer and cleaner than the beach we went to in California last month, and they were much closer to home.  One of the days we went in the rain, and we still had fun.  

Reason #3
Silver Beach in St. Joseph was new for us this year, and it was a great stop to make.  They have a beautiful carousel to ride, a splash pad that makes a bigger splash than any I have ever seen, and TWO parks on the beach, separated by an ice cream shop.   It also has Silver Beach Pizza.  Oh.  My.  Gosh.  It was delicious. 

Reason #4
We stopped in New Buffalo for lunch at Redamak's for their world famous burgers.  They were indeed very good, and so were their french fries.  I hear the beach there in nice, too, but we didn't make it down there.

Reason #5
Holland has an amusement park called Dutch Village.  My kids love it there.  They have a ferris wheel attached to a windmill, a slide that comes out of a wooden shoe, pedal cars, an old Dutch school room, and a performance by dancers wearing wooden shoes.  Fun was had by all.

Except for the sand that traveled back home with us, I wouldn't trade a thing about our time in Michigan!  

Gratitude Lately

Day 20: Gratitude Lately- What are you thankful for?
Gratitude Lately...
So many things come to mind for this.  In no particular order:

my kids and my husband


digging in the sand

sand being completely removed from our belongings

good friends

coffee, hot and iced

co-workers who inspire me

my newly cleaned camera

being able to listen to my kids play


13 years of marriage!

time off

spending time with family and friends

good books

vacations, big and small

good pizza

This I Believe...

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Day 18: This I Believe

For today's blog challenge, I will share some random beliefs/ opinions about my world in general.  Remember, these opinions are my own.  In the world of the CCSS, we have to learn to agree to disagree with each other more. Feel free to respond in the comments, though.  :)

This I Believe...

The best part of fall are the pumpkin spice lattes, followed by the leaves changing color.

Coke is better than Pepsi.

Parks are fun for all ages.

The city is great, but its traffic is not.

A good cup of coffee makes everything better, especially when shared with a friend.

Lights make everything pretty at night.

Disneyland is magical, and Playmobil toys are better than LEGOS.  
Yes, I said it.
Sorry, LEGO.

The beach is prettiest at sunset.

In-N-Out Burger is the best fast food in the US.  
Please come to Illinois.

There is a big difference between 80 degrees and 90 degrees.  
But, the summer is still better than the winter. 

Also, beagles named Snoopy are special.

Birthdays are best celebrated at a bakery with family.  
Party hats are optional, but add something special.

The Sox are my team.  
But, I don't really know all that much about sports.  
I think pride, tradition and sportsmanship is what matters.
(Go, Chicago teams!)

There are more rainbows than rain in this world.  
We just have to remember to look for them.