July Blogging Reflections

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Day 31 of #btbc16
Reflections on Writing

I'm going to be honest: I didn't blog all 31 days.


There were some PD sessions that pre-occupied my time, and then a few days in Michigan where I left my computer at home on purpose.  I made up a few of those days on other days,  but not all of them.  I'll forgive myself, though.  I *almost did it.

Instead of blogging in Michigan, I played with toys. :)
This is my family and my sister's family in Playmobil form in Michigan .
Aren't we cute?  Totally worth the unplugged time.
This round of blogging was a bit harder for me.  There is just so much going on in the world, and it really affected my thinking.  I had a hard time following the prompts at times because my mind was on other things, yet I didn't really want to share the things that were on my mind.  Writing is supposed to liberate you and allow you to express yourself, but recently I have seen too many arguments over social media between people I love.  There were a few days where I drafted posts that I just could not publish.  I suppose I am choosing to censor my own freedom of speech a bit in order to prevent arguments these days.  It makes me sad.  I guess I would prefer to express my feelings on some of these big government and social issues face to face, I suppose.  

Thanks Michelle Brezek at @bigtimeliteracy for getting me to write a bit more on my blog.  Maybe I will even write those posts that I never wrote in 2015-16 before 2016-17 begins.  Maybe.  :)

The Last Time

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Day 30 of #btbc16
The Last Time

     A friend of mine, +Kathy Ross, posted this on Facebook the other day, and it brought tears to my eyes.  As a Mom, I have already had some of the "last times" that the poem mentions.  In some of those moments, I was aware that they would most likely be the last time, probably because I have held on to these moments a little longer than most.  Friends have teased me for delaying next steps to my own kids' independence.  Don't even ask how long I kept them in the baby bath tub... My kids have always been on the small side, so I guess that has helped me keep them little.  There is this fine line between wanting them to learn to be independent, and them needing you when you are a mom.  You want both, and time flies.

     As a teacher, sometimes I think we forget to look at those "last times" when we look at our students' growth over the course of the year.  It is easy to talk about the things that they can't do in the moment.  Maybe it would help us to remember the things that we used to do, and no longer do because our students don't need the scaffold anymore.  The beginning of the year is coming, and the "first times" will be happening.  With our students, we only get a year to measure their growth.  But, there will be some "last times" too.  With responsive teaching and student goal setting, our students gain their independence and apply what we teach them.  

     As the year starts, I challenge you to allow your students to reach independence.  Don't be a helicopter teacher.  :)  Let them grow and reach new levels of self directed learning.  Just don't forget to notice those "last times" from time to time.  And, don't worry, unlike parenthood, the year will start all over again in a year.  Teachers get to repeat history each year.  Parents don't have that opportunity.

     As a parent, try to enjoy the journey.  It goes too fast, and it matters.

Glass Ceilings Break, Too

Friday, July 29, 2016

Day 29 of #btbc16
Hopes and Dreams

     So, a while back, I realized that my daughter thought all bosses were men.  Read this post here.

     Fast forward a few months, and Hillary Clinton was made the Democratic nominee for PRESIDENT.  Here are some headlines from today:

     This is not a post choosing a political side (although I have my opinions).  This is a post about breaking barriers and making things possible that were never thought possible before.  When a barrier falls for a woman, it actually clears the way for everyone.  It makes things possible for all.  It makes my daughters' future brighter, whether Hillary wins or not.  

@JuddLegum via Twitter

     So, last night, as Hillary Clinton was accepting the nomination for President of the United States, I called my daughter downstairs.  Yes, my 6 year old was up that late.  We had just gotten home from our vacation in Michigan, and we were still on Michigan time.  She was awake when history was made, and I remembered that conversation in the Walgreens a few months before.  I called her name from downstairs.

     "Yes, Mom?"

     "K, come here.  I want you to see something."


      "I want you to see that women can be bosses, too.  This woman might be the next President of the United States."

      "The president?  Really?"

      My family then sat and watched balloons and confetti fall, as a woman broke down a barrier, with help from many women before her.  My kids probably don't understand what happened, and they won't remember it on their own, but I will.  That glass ceiling was shattered, and the pieces fell like red, white and blue confetti from the sky.  #GirlPower



Saturday, July 23, 2016

Day 23 of #btbc16

     I found this awesome little sign at the Target dollar spot this week, which happened to be the week that most of my summer PD sessions fell.  They had one that said TEACH, and one that said LEARN.  And, as I was preparing for those sessions, I definitely felt myself learning as I prepared to teach.  Isn't that the goal we can have for ourselves as teachers?  It was $3, but sends such a great message.

Teachers are learners.  

All the time.  

     Every student, every coworker, every article, even every mistake we make, helps us learn something new.   I love that about our profession.

     This week, I got to spend my time with dedicated teachers who gave up time in their summer to learn something new.   That's a pretty phenomenal way to spend some time.  
(Don't worry, I have been doing lots of summer things, too.)

     My first session was on Balanced Literacy.  Teachers and admins discussed the "balance" in Balanced Literacy, and then we looked at each possible component and what those pieces could contribute to our literacy plates in the classroom.  

     My next session was on Sketchnoting in the Classroom.  I channeled Mike Rohde and we practiced some sketchnoting skills before we made some sketch notes ourselves.

     Next up was a session of Differentiation.  This was a thoughtful group, ready to take on the work of Carol Ann Tomlinson.  We know that differentiation is a long term way of thinking, not just a set of strategies,  and we sure got ourselves thinking about our students and their needs.

     My last session for the week was on the new ISBE Social Science Standards, this time paired with +Rachel Letizia.  We talked about the standards, and inquiry, and challenged our participants to change the narrative by adding social studies into their classrooms.  Thanks, Rachel, for all your ideas and help!

     I also had the pleasure of working with some talented middle school ELA teachers as they come together across two schools to work on Single Point Rubrics.  They unpacked the standards, and we worked to get their curriculum map ready for 2016-17.  I don't have a picture of them, but they were pretty awesome to work with.  I'll just call them Team Awesome.

Teachers learn, even in the summer.  

Thanks to all who chose to learn alongside me this week.

Thanks, +Sue Butler, for getting the Summer Sched up and going this first week of #d100PD, with a  shout out to +Jennifer Boyajian for keeping us all organized in the process!


Friday, July 22, 2016

Day 22 of #btbc16

    Last year I wrote about finding balance for #btbc15.  Here's that post.

     I just re-read it.
     But, most times I feel like this elephant on a beach ball.  Confident but precarious.  A strong wind might knock me over, but at least I'd be on the beach. 

     I'm still an elephant on a beach ball.  Go figure.

     The two things that I did a little better at this year were prioritizing things, and being present.   Well, at least I recognized that those are the two areas that would help me find balance, and I made a concerted attempt to do those two things.

     Around my house and around my school I tried to prioritize my to do list for the things that were most impactful at the time.  Sometimes, that led me to saying no to things, and other times it helped me be honest with people about the timeline they could expect.  That's harder to do around my own children, but I am trying.  They don't seem to take no for an answer as well as my colleagues.

    My One Little Word for 2016 is Present, and that has helped me the most with my family.  When I am with them, I try to be in the moment,  Unlike now, when I am blogging while they play around me...  So, I am working on it.  (But, I missed a few days of the challenge! I had to log back in.)

     I wonder if I will still be that elephant during the #btbc17.  Only time will tell.



Classroom DIY

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Day 17 of #btbc16
Classroom DIY


     The Classroom DIY creation that I have made myself and am most proud of is the Carousel Spinner iPad Thingy that I used for book clubs this year.  That is its unofficial name. 

     I was about to start modeling lessons to get kids ready for book clubs in a few rooms in my school, and one of my favorite things to do is use student video with the kids to reflect and make new goals.  With book clubs, though, it is sometimes hard to do that.  The noise level in the classroom is loud when multiple groups are talking, so just propping a computer up and hitting record in PhotoBooth doesn't end up with quality footage.  I had remembered seeing a video that someone made using a lazy susan and an iPad, but I didn't have a lazy susan.  So, I thought to myself, what do I have in this house that spins?  

     A utensil spinner!  

     Attempt #1: Originally, I used the spinner in a PD with staff members and I didn't have my iPad.  I needed to prop my phone in there, and our music teacher suggested I tape pencils to it, and my secretary thought to cut a red solo cup and prop it in.  Neither were very secure.  So, I borrowed a ruler and taped my iPhone to it, and then stuffed the middle of the utensil spinner with a little plastic pot of gold I had so that the ruler wouldn't move.  It worked, but my phone never has space on it to take videos.  

     Attempt #2: My iPad has a case on it with a stand, so I just put the stand in one of the spinner compartments and it was ready.  I actually felt silly that I didn't think to try my iPad first.  We set the video to record at us, and pressed start.  Whenever someone had something to say, they would just spin it towards them.  When the conversation was over, we pressed stop.  Then, I would just airplay the video to our smart TVs and watch segments of it with the class.  I  only have 1 utensil spinner, so not every group would get recorded each day, but I did move it from one group to the next sometimes.  

     Here is a time lapse video of a book club, with me as a participant.  The person who started recording accidentally pushed time lapse, so we ended up with a nice 13 second video to show how people take turns in a conversation not in order, but as they have a thought that will grow the conversation.

     That's about it!  I made a portable movie studio out of an iPad and a utensil spinner.  I may not be MacGyver, but I was pretty thrilled with it.  Until the stand on my iPad cased broke off...  I'm still not sure what my son did to it.  But, fixing it will most likely be my next DIY project.

     In all seriousness, I thought about not posting today because of the events in Baton Rouge.   A silly book club spinner seems not important enough to write about, but the prompt was Classroom DIY.  And I'm tired of feeling hopeless about our world.  My whole reason for wanting book clubs to succeed this year was to teach our students to have a conversation where we can agree to disagree.  And, you know what, we did.  They had some great, difficult conversations, sometimes about books and other times about historical events.  So, I am going to hit publish.  Perhaps our students will become adults who know how to solve problems through conversation,  not violence.  It has to start somewhere.

A Berry Nice Letter

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Day 16 of #btbc16

Dear Kenner Toys and/or The Bridge Direct,

     I would just like to say thank you for re-releasing the 1980 version of the original Strawberry Shortcake.  I bought it one day at Target, noticing it on the end aisle.  I came home with it, and my daughter quickly asked, "Is this for me, Mom?"  My response was quick and to the point. 


     Mommies get new toys, too.

     Today, I was at Toys R Us, and I happened to see that you are now releasing Strawberry Shortcake's friends, too!  In their original glory, too.  They even have their little friends with them!  I eagerly looked through the stack for Butter Cookie.  Huckleberry Pie, Blueberry Muffin, and Lemon Meringue were there.  I was sad Butter Cookie was not in the selection.  I have included her (pictured in her box) in case you wanted to remember how cute she was.  You should bring her back, too.

     Also, Apple Dumplin' would be great for my sister.  Yeah, she's 37.  She'll love her all the same.

      I then immediately looked for the Garden Gazebo.  That is one of my favorite toys from my childhood.  Sadly, it was not on the shelves.  My sister was also sad.  This would be another fabulous toy to bring back for the 35th Anniversary of Strawberry Shortcake.  I would buy one for my niece and my daughter, so that would be at least two!  I might even buy one for me, and one for my daughter.  I could definitely be persuaded.

     I would berry much appreciate you considering my request.  Thank you!

     Leah O'Donnell, child of the 80's

Twitter Tips

Day 15 of #btbc16
Twitter Tips and Tricks

Tip #1
Get a Twitter account if you don't already have one.  Don't put your school name into your Twitter handle, either.  Your PLN may last longer than your job at any one particular school.  Just a suggestion.

Tip #2
Tweet positive things.  There is enough negativity in the world already.  Tweet the good.  On Mondays, there is a #CelebrateMonday hashtag where people share good things happening in their world.  I'm sure there are others, too.  #g2great is another feel good hashtag to check out.

Tip #3
Create a school hashtag.  It creates a sense of community within your building, and gives staff a reason to tweet.  If they tweet, the have to login to Twitter.  Just by logging in, your chances of learning something new have already increased!

Tip #4
Feel free to follow along with what's happening at my school, and in my district.  Here are the hashtags I used the most for my school/district.

Thoughts on Conferring

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Day 14 of #btbc16
Thoughts on Conferring

I guess that makes conferring the most important part of my job.  
Thanks, Penny Kittle.

We are teaching kids, and each child is different. 
Sit next to them, and find out where they are on their reading and writing journey.

      I have been a literacy coach for 3 years, and conferring is the one part of Balanced Literacy that, as a whole, I would like to see more of when I go in and out of classrooms.  I know that conferring is hard to manage in terms of time.  Getting to all the kids can be a challenge, especially when you are also seeing groups.  Time management in a conference can be a struggle, too.  Note taking during conferences, or fear of saying or doing the wrong thing, also stops many people in their tracks.  But, when you think about it, conferring is just sitting down next to one kid and offering them a suggestion on how to get to their next step as a reader.  We can do this.  The more you do it, the more natural it becomes, too.

     When I had my own classroom, I used Daily 5 rotations in workshop.  I actually had 3 rotations, where students made choices and I met with guided reading groups or strategy groups.  The only way I was able to get myself into a regular conferring routine was to have a 4th rotation at the end, but it was a forced Read to Self.  The whole class would independently read from their baskets for that round, and my co-teacher and I would travel the room conferring.   My goal was to read with 3-5 kids a day.  Some days, that didn't happen.  But, because I had it in my schedule, it happened more than it didn't.  I ended up learning so much about the next steps my readers needed, and the successes that they were having as readers.  It also made a block of time for most of my class to independent read every day, which is also very important. 

     Is that the only way to fit them in?  No.  That's just the way that worked for me.  

     When I became a Literacy Coach, the first thing I did to learn what kids at different grades do was sit down and conferred with them.  Whenever I had an open slot of time my first year, I would go into a room that was reading and I read with kids.  Kids at different grades, reading books I didn't know, with kids I didn't know.  It opened my eyes to so many things that readers do, and greatly impacted the feedback I gave teachers. 

     I have taken conferring notes on paper, in Evernote, on labels, with a clipboard, and on scratch paper from the recycling bin.  I allowed myself to change my style as my style needed to change.  What I realized was it matters less HOW I recorded them on paper, and more how I communicate that feedback to the students.  

     The truth is, if we are truly responsive to the needs of our kids, then we need to know what they are doing independently as readers and writers.  Formative assessments give you a glimpse at their abilities, but sitting down with kids and giving them a few moments to show you what they can do independently is very powerful.  It also tells the student that they matter, because you made time just for them.  It also teaches us to listen a bit more to the students.  You can't just sit down, suggest something and move on.  You need to take time to listen to the child read, or talk about their reading.  It allows you to be PRESENT in their reading life if only for a few minutes.

     If you want to get your feet wet with a lower stress conference, try Compliment Conferences. Jennifer Serravallo is my favorite literacy guru genius, and she models them for us on video!  Here is a post I wrote about them a while back with links to excellent videos on the different conferences you might try.

     My final thoughts on conferring?  A few years ago, I made this graphic to show how I felt about conferring.  I compared it to the dessert, the chocolate pudding that is my favorite part of the meal.  The part that is rich and sweet, and the part you remember long after the meal is over.  That's what conferring is to me.   

Playmobil Moments

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Day 13 of #btbc16
What I'm Lovin' Wednesday

     It seems appropriate that the "What I'm Lovin' Wednesday" prompt fell on my wedding anniversary.  Today marks 14 years married, and almost 21 years together.  I'm so grateful to have him in my life


     Anniversaries are different when you make them a family affair.  We were putting together some new Playmobil toys, one of which was a lifeguard station.   My son said he wanted to make a Staff Only sign for it, because only the lifeguards can sit in the chair.  That's when I hear my husband say from across the house, "Your mom and I climbed a lifeguard station once."  In that moment, I flashed back to Natural Bridges Beach in California back in 2007.  It was near sunset, and the beach was deserted.  I propped my camera in the sand, hit the timer, and ran up the stairs to take a picture on the lifeguard tower.  That's when the a vehicle drove up out of nowhere and said, "You aren't allowed up there!"  This was news to me.  As horrified as I was for breaking the rules, we still have this picture hanging on our walls.  So, today the kids and I recreated the picture in Playmobil.  We do that from time to time. 

    What am I loving today?  My Playmobil self.  She is strong!  Just look at her holding herself up  with just her arm! I could never do that in real life.

   I love my family, too, but that is every day.  Not just Wednesdays.  :)  This is how we looked this particular Wednesday at dinner, though.

Pride Rock

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Day 12 of #btbc16
Slice of Life #sol16

   She could almost touch the clouds.  They were big and fluffy, like balls of cotton stretched out by the wind that was pulling them along.  She sat up there on her rock, pride filling her.  Proud of her climbing skills.  Proud she had done it on her own, and now she was able to see the world from above.  It was big and beautiful from up there.  In her mind, she was a lioness straight from the Lion King.

    She climbed down from her mountain, and played like a normal kid at the park. No longer a lion cub, on Pride Rock, but now a 6 year old at the park with her family.  She went from monkey bars, to slides, to swings, laughing with joy and sometimes crying in frustration.  The sun was so bright she had to swing on her tummy to avoid it's brilliance.  She had to wait patiently (or not so patiently) for children to cross the monkey bars so that it would be her turn again.  Sliding down the slides with her brother, then racing back up again.  Park life on a summer day...

     It was then time to leave, and she wanted one last climb up Pride Rock.  She invited her Dad to join her, and they climbed confidently up the mountain and took their spot in the sun.  Her brother wanted to join them, too.  He ambled quickly up the rock, afraid of being left behind, to assume his position at their side.  Somehow, an elbow made contact with an eye, and by the time the camera was up for a picture of my lions the tears had started to fall.  They splashed down her face like a river would on the savanna itself, wild and salty and hot. Her hand went up to protect her eye from the bright sun, which now caused her pain.  The pride she felt about climbing was soon replaced by the hurt of being a kid.  Accidents happen, and happiness quickly turns to agony.

     Fortunately, her pride of lions took care of her.  Dad, putting his arm around her in comfort.  Brother, keeping his offending elbow far from her face.  Mom, googling "elbow to the eye" on her phone and getting her to the shade. Her pride took care of her, whether she was a true lion or not.  After a while, she could once again join her brother at the park.  Our little lioness was ready to roar once again, perhaps with a little more caution on the savanna this time.

May the Road Rise to Meet You

Monday, July 11, 2016

Day 11 of #btbc16
Words that Speak to Me

May the road rise to meet you,

May the wind be always at your back.

May the sun shine warm upon your face,

The rains fall soft upon your fields.

And until we meet again,

May God hold you in the palm of his hand.

     That is the first verse to an Irish blessing that my aunts have always sung at important family events.  They sang it at my wedding, and at my childrens' baptisms.  I can't even read the words without hearing their voices sing it.  The message behind it is one of hope and good will for others, and I think that is important for us as humans right now.  We should care about people and hope for them the simple blessings of life that God provides, like the sun and the wind and the rain.  We want people to be provided for with what the rain and sun provides, and well as the gentle wind helping us along the way.  Taking time to wish others success on their journey in life, no matter the journey they are about to embark, show a thoughtfulness that speaks to me.  We all have journeys we need to go on, and it gives me some peace to know that I can rise to the obstacles ahead, and that I am not traveling alone.  I just have to remember my aunts' sweet voices singing this to remember that.  

     Some other words that speak to me?  These are some of my favorite quotes.  They are all either displayed in my home, or my office at school.  One I even abbreviate and hashtag whenever I can.  #BeTheChange  

Sprinkle Cookies and Atomic Cake

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Day 10 of #btbc16
My Hometown: Top Attractions

The best attraction in my hometown?  The bakery.

     When I grew up, it was always a special treat to get an atomic cake from Orland Bakery.  It was three layers of cake heaven, with strawberry and banana layered in between and covered in whipped cream.  The best part, though, was always the decorations they put on the top of the cake.  I used to play with those cake topper decorations for months after my party.  

     In between birthdays, we would go grocery shopping or go to dinner at Lang Lee, and the bakery was sandwiched between them.  Sometimes we would stop in an buy a few sprinkle cookies, which happen to be the best sprinkle cookies on the planet.  On special occasions, we would buy an assorted box of cookies, but I always ate the sprinkle cookies first.  Then, the square tan one, which to this day I still don't really know what it is.  

     My hometown has changed quite a bit since I was born almost 40 years ago.  A lot of the places that I remember as a kid have changed, and all I have are the memories of the past.  Even the mall has transformed itself from the place where I used to spend all my time.  They decided to tear down the strip mall where the bakery was to make a new train station, and it just about broke my heart.  Over the years, we spent a lot of time shopping and eating at that strip mall.  The day Lang Lee closed was just devastating.  The only silver lining?  Orland Bakery found a new location!

     If you visit my hometown now, you'll find my favorite bakery just a few miles south on LaGrange Road.  New store front, same great cookies.  Perhaps you will run into me while you are there...  You just never know.  :)