Sunday, July 10, 2016

Human Connection. Gratitude. Service. Three Things We All Need.

My daughter inspired me yesterday by sharing a video with me on human connection, something that seems to be quickly vanishing among many modern families. Although technology has brought great advances, it has also brought a void in the hearts of many. Social media has gained in popularity, but will never be a replacement for true friendship, real communication, or connection. These videos touch on our human needs for connection, gratitude, and service. 

Human Connection: I see many of my students who come to school hungry for attention and affection. This need often comes out as misbehavior in the classroom, but what they really need is love, direction, and connection within their own families. Strong families are the basis for stronger communities and schools. As parents, we need to start paying attention and realize the toll modern medias are taking on our kids. Our children need us more than they need their phones, game systems, or televisions. Also, as parents we need our children. We also need friendship, family, and love, too. None of this can be obtained through a device, but through real actual human connection. This includes family dinners, nightly story time, bike rides, walks, and just conversation. It's a process, but well worth the effort. I know that I am striving to strike a deeper balance this school year in the classroom and at home. 

This video illustrates the need for children to have deeper connections with their parents through dinner conversations and spending quality time together. 

I love this video. The oldest teacher in America never tires of teaching her students and she truly finds ways to connect with them. As one of her students states, "No, you can't taste love, but you can feel love." It doesn't matter how old we get, our children and students need love most of all. 

The importance of real human connection. We remember our own humanness when we stop and really notice another person. This video was truly inspiring to me! 

Gratitude: Many times we seem to forget to be grateful. God has given us so much. We are surrounded by beauty every day. There are wonderful people in our lives who want only to love us. We need to be grateful for that and look for opportunities to thank them. Sometimes, we feel that we may not deserve the love of others or maybe aren't sure how to show our gratitude. This video challenges us to call one special person who has helped us on our journey. Someone that has made a difference in our lives. I can't think of anything better to do on a Sunday afternoon. What a wonderful thing it would be to wake up in the morning and praise God for at least one thing in our lives. The fact we woke up is a miracle in itself. The third video I've used in my teaching in past years. These children inspire me by their gracious attitudes. What wonderful examples they are to us all! 

Service: Service helps us to forget who we are, which is actually a good thing. Sometimes, we get so caught up in our own agendas, our own to-do lists, our own goals that we forget that a huge part of being fulfilled as human beings is service to others. Just get so busy serving others, there's no time to think about ourselves or criticize others. That would be pretty awesome! 

Thank you for reading, and I wish you well in these areas. I know that I will be working on them this week. 

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Communication: The Importance of Connection Between Teachers and Parents

This quote speaks volumes to me, "Without communication, there is no relationship. Without respect, there is no love. Without trust, there is no reason to continue." Communication is the starting point to all relationships, especially those with the parents of children that we serve every day in the classroom as teachers. Communication is an art and also a journey. It's never easy, but the investment of time is well worth the effort. Today, I would like to illustrate why communication is important for teachers to master, and steps that can be taken to become effective communicators.

What is the downside of ineffective classroom communication?

Parents love information. They want to know they have partners in their children's education. Lack of communication creates confusion, abandonment, and feelings of vulnerability on the part of the parents. This leads to a lack of respect between parents and teachers, which eventually erodes trust. Eventually, the lack of trust propels parents to reach for help outside of the classroom such as going directly to administration, the school board, or other teachers and parents for help. At this point, the relationship is at the breaking point. School life is difficult and burdensome.

What is the upside of effective classroom communication?

Parents love your classroom! They spread the word to other parents and the administration of the wonderful things happening every day. Parents will volunteer to come in and help tutor, work with special projects, or even co-lead events with you. They will listen during conferences, knowing you have their child's best interest at heart. School life is uplifting and inspiring.

As a teacher, which scenario would you choose?

Both situations may be led by highly competent teachers who strive to do the very best for their students. The problem lies in that one decided not to invest the time in parent relationships and communication, while the other did. This is the defining difference--time and commitment. Relationships and the communication needed to develop them takes time, and to get the highly rewarding results, teachers must be willing to invest the time into it. However, one of the largest factors is also consistency. Finding consistent methods of communicating, and then marketing those methods to ensure parents are informed.

Steps to Effective Parent Communication!

Please be warned that I use several strategies, because that is what it takes. Why? Because 100% of parents will never have all of these technologies at the same time. To ensure continuity, you must have a few different strategies.

  1. Daily Shout--Out:
  • Remind 101 is a great way to send a daily text and reminders to parents.
  • Group E-mail: I send a daily e-mail to all parents with homework and assignments attached. Get the e-mails of parents at the beginning of the year, and set up a group mailing.
  •  Twitter: Many school systems prefer Twitter as a social media source due to the nature of it's design. It is designed as a newsfeed. Therefore, it's great for sending out quick updates on the happenings of the classroom. This can be done during the day. My previous parents, especially younger ones, loved my Twitter updates and pictures of the happenings in the classroom.
   2. Weekly Updates:
  • Design a weekly newsletter with what is coming up. This can be digital or hard copy. In today's world though, digital seems more effective. Students often lose the hard copies. Therefore, a digital copy can be e-mailed, tweeted, texted, or placed on your teacher website, or edmodo page. This year I'm going to use the website to create my weekly digital flyers.
    3.  Monthly/Yearly Outlook:
  • Website: If your school offers you a teacher website, it would be a great idea to keep it updated. It is more effective not to have a website, then to have one that has outdated or no information on it. That will only cause stress and irritation with parents. However, a website can be an excellent resource for sustained communication for the year. It can hold resources, monthly calendars, classroom syllabus, and updates.
  • School Newsletters: Most schools create a monthly newsletter. Make sure to review them carefully, and remind parents on a weekly or daily basis of upcoming events.
Other reminders:
  • Send a postcard to all upcoming students before the school year begins. Introduce yourself, and highlight some important events in the coming year.
  • Call or e-mail parents when things are great! Call and send e-mails for no reason other than to praise a student for doing something great or for just having such fantastic parents!
  • Call when things go bad. This can be uncomfortable, but it must be done! If anything goes awry call the parents--don't e-mail in these cases.
  • Get business cards. This past year I created business cards, and passed them out any chance that I got. It had the school information as well as my e-mail address and twitter handle. Go to to create. I did not spend more than $10, and had more than enough for the school year.
  • Get Feedback: Send out a monthly or bimonthly survey using websites like to parents and get their input. Make adjustments where necessary.

Finally, sit back and relax. Meditate and think what it's like to be a parent. What kind of communication would you want from your child's teacher? Brainstorm the answers that come to your mind, create a plan, and stay consistent.

Consistency is the key that unlocks it all. Parents, like our students, desire predictability. If you need help, ask a parent volunteer to help you.

Effective communication does require effort, but the rewards are wonderful. Happy parents make for happy teachers, which in turn creates happy students. All of this equates to a highly rewarding year for all.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Want to be a Teacher Leader under TKES? Here are 8 Simple Strategies!

Through my conversations with teachers, I've found many become frustrated at not receiving exemplary ratings on their teacher evaluations. Currently, under TKES (Teacher Keys Effectiveness System) teachers in the state of Georgia must demonstrate teacher leadership to obtain an exemplary rating on their teacher evaluations. The frustration often ends up an issue of semantics. What is the true meaning of teacher leadership according to TKES? 

Currently, I'm headed into my third year as a teacher under the TKES evaluation system. In the last two years I've received exemplary in professionalism (2 years) and communication (1 year) on my end of year summative evaluations. In these years, I've studied the TKES handbook extensively, and was intentional in the direction of teacher leadership that I wanted to take each year. I believe this intention was imperative for me to receive an exemplary rating (level four) on my summative evaluation, because the demonstration had to be continual throughout the year with documented proof of leadership. 

So, first let's look at what teacher leadership is not, under TKES? 

Teacher leadership is NOT demonstrating mastery of a skill in the classroom only. 
(A teacher may be a master teacher in the area of assessment, but if that knowledge only impacts the students in his classroom, he is not demonstrating teacher leadership, only mastery of the skill.)

That understanding is what upsets most teachers. Although, frustrated with this new knowledge, take heart, there are avenues to demonstrate that mastery, and demonstrate and document teacher leadership for TKES. 

(Warning to all potential teacher leaders! You will have to step out of your comfort zone. You will have to make the time. You will have to document. Above all--you can do it--if you want it!)

Next, how can teacher leadership be observed and obtained?

The goal of teacher leadership: keep it simple. 
(I would suggest focusing on one area of teacher leadership in the upcoming year. Stay focused, and keep the goal simple. That is the surest way of completion for a year of teacher leadership.)

Here is a list of simple (but takes commitment) ways to demonstrate teacher leadership. 

1. Lead a Teacher Book Club: If there is a book that you love, then speak with your principal on hosting a book club. This may be face-to-face weekly meetings or on a forum such as Twitter or an educational wiki or blog. Just plan, communicate, and make it work. Find a teacher and partner up to keep each other accountable. Also, if a PLU is in order, work with the administration to ensure the proper steps are taken to obtain it. It is a team effort.

2. Lead a Professional Development Session: Do you love a new type of technology? Are you the guru of formative assessments? Well, don't keep it to yourself. Ask the principal for time during a staff meeting or department meeting to share your discoveries. Have someone take notes or record it for documentation. 

3. Lead a Twitter Chat for your classroom, school, or district:  This school year, a principal in the county asked several teachers who might be interested in beginning an edchat on twitter for the system. I jumped on it because as a new teacher in the county I felt it would be a way for me to demonstrate my skills in leading projects. Initially, it took considerable work, no doubt about it, but it served as a continual demonstration of Level 4 teacher leadership in the area of professionalism. From the beginning, I invited teachers, educational authors, and speakers to host each week. This added more dimension to the chat, and also allowed for other teachers to demonstrate their teacher leadership, which could be documented for their TKES evaluation. Currently, #CowetaEdChat is still going strong, and I love coordinating opportunities for other teachers to showcase their skills and talents. 

4. Mentor a Teacher: This is a great way for veteran teachers to recharge their batteries. Find a new teacher and develop a rapport. Know that yes, new teachers are passionate, and may like their own ideas, but budding teachers can learn so much from veteran teachers who have witnessed the ebbs and flows of policy in education. Meet once a week, and document the discussion and progress. 

5. Get Published: Write an article on your area of expertise and submit it to educational blogs such as Edutopia and TeachThought, or try for an academic journal in your field. Writing creates something that others can learn from, and no other documentation is necessary. It's all there in black and white! 

6. Start a Blog and Share: Make a commitment to write once a week or twice a month on issues pertaining to education. As a teacher leader, write posts that will inform, guide, and lift up. Share your posts with teachers in your school, and your principal. Ask for their feedback. Encourage other teachers to write as well. 

7. Present at an EDCamp: Edcamps are sweeping the nation. Currently, I'm working with several edcamp organizers and fellow teachers to co-host an edcamp for the West Georgia District on Saturday, August 1st. Edcamps are teacher-driven and teacher-led on topics decided by the teachers who are presenting. What an amazing way to showcase your expertise in a face-to-face collaborative environment with other teachers. Again, have someone take notes, document the experience. 

8. Present at a Conference: Find a conference and present. You don't have to have years of teaching experience to present at a conference. If apprehensive, I suggest pairing up with someone to take the pressure off. There are so many conferences, and all it takes is finding a niche, creating, and presenting. 

Remember, that in obtaining an exemplary rating of teacher leadership, it often means going above and beyond the call of duty. Serving on leadership teams are often just part of the job description, and may or may not reflect exemplary status in the eyes of your administrator. It is best to make a plan for the year, or at least highlight some goals, and then speak with your principal about them, making sure your visions are aligned. In that way, your administration will understand what you are striving for, and they can help you along the way to achieve your goals. 

Finally, take heart! Teacher leadership is achievable by anyone who wants it! Just remember to create a plan, communicate with your administration, and carry it out throughout the year documenting and uploading to the TKES platform along the way. It takes commitment, but it's worth it!

Side Note: The following is a post that I wrote around this same time last year. Looking back it's funny that I did receive exemplary and mastery in the areas that I wanted to focus on for this past school year. This only supports my own belief in the importance of the written reflection to obtain personal growth. As they say, "goals that are not written down are just wishes." Here is the link:

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Returning to a Writer's Life

As a writer, I feel pretty dried up right now. This year I decided to do more, and write less. I wanted to try and just do--not think or over analyze too much. I believe I succeeded in that attempt, but may have lost my voice in the process. But, no worries. Life is an adventure, and I'll get my groove back.

I'll also be returning to the classroom next year as a 6th grade ELA and Reading teacher, and thrilled about this change. So thrilled in fact that my stresses have all but escaped my body entirely. My goal will be to write at least once a week, so that I might continue to demonstrate the importance of writing and reflection to my students, so that they will grow as writers, as well.

For tonight, as I procrastinated on what to write about, I found some quotes on writing that I enjoyed. So, I decided to reflect on them...hope you enjoy. 


Snoopy begins his masterpiece, only to find himself wondering, "What comes next?"

      A writer who isn't able to write feels trapped inside two persons--one that says, "It's okay take a break...and the other that says, "This must be written, now!" Who does the writer believe?

All blooming writers should study poetry first, because it is the foundation for all excellent writing. However, all beginning writers must be willing to take risks and fail...and fail again...until their words penetrate the reader's mind.

        Yes. Many wonderful stories are lost every day due to the writer's fear of failure, or what other people think of his writing. What if we all told our own stories, instead of tweeting everyone else's? Be brave, be bold, and be original. Tell your story. Create.

As a writer, you will fail. The first draft is never the final draft in deep, thoughtful writing. This blog post is not an example of that. However, I've written other pieces, poems that have never been published that I've written again and again to find the perfect words. Writers will face rejection. It's just part of the journey.

Beware of being friends with a writer or related to a writer--we use everything around us as pieces in our writing lives. My grandmother wrote a column in the local paper for over twenty years. My own mother was often afraid to speak lest her own words end up in my grandmother's column! Writer's use everything around them.

Be a courageous writer! Just write at first. Whatever comes. Then, revise, revise, revise....finding those perfect words to create the story that will capture your audience. Write from the heart. Inspire. Keep going.

For my upcoming sixth grade writers, I will say, "Don't try to be perfect, for what is perfection ? Don't try to be normal, be amazing!" That takes risk. Writing is not just a perfect five paragraph essay or constructed response. Yes, they will learn these well, but deep writing fosters belonging, communication, and identity. 

Some quotes to meditate on. I look forward to a deeply satisfying year of slowing down and growing at the same time, maturing as a teacher, and as a writer. Going deep.

Friday, April 10, 2015

I'm that Crazy Teacher--And I'm Good with That..

One night, as a high school student I sat across from my best friend Melanie in a local Chinese restaurant in my hometown of Fayetteville. Captivated by the teen conversation, I hardly noticed when one of my favorite teachers, Mrs. Harrison (changed name) strolled in casually with her husband. My eyes brightened when I heard her voice. I wanted to run up and say hello, but not wanting to intrude, I refrained. As I sat with my friend, I couldn't help but listen to her conversation. What was her conversation about? Well, her students, the classroom, the joys, the struggles, everything. Her husband sat and patiently listened. 

I couldn't help but think at the time, "Man, she really loves teaching. She even talks about us during her off hours! There was this other part of me though, that said, "Geez, please never let me that crazy teacher. I would like to have a life outside of my job one day." 

Now, fast forward about ten or eleven years. Again, I'm sitting in a restaurant, this time with my parents and my two girls (babies at the time). As I enjoyed the conversation, I hear a familiar voice approaching behind me. Yes, it was her! Mrs. Harrison. She sat engrossed in conversation with her husband. I did not approach her, but I listened. Again, she spoke of her students--all these years later she spoke with love, passion, and excitement of her classroom and her students. I smiled, knowing yes, this was one crazy teacher. Although appreciative of her love for the classroom, I still wondered, "Doesn't she have a life outside the classroom? Please, don't let me be one of those crazy teachers!" 

Little did I know at the time, that several years later, I'd classify myself as one of those crazy teachers. What I also didn't realize at the time--when you love what you do, being crazy is part of the job description. So, you may be wondering what classifies a teacher as being one of the crazy ones--I'd mention the following: 

1. The number one topic of all conversations is teaching! This could cover a range of topics: pedagogy, research, latest headlines, politics, student stories, writings, collaboration with others--this just touches the surface. 

2. All leisure reading material surrounds teaching! If it doesn't pertain to the craft of teaching or child development--it is basically not worth reading. 

3. People who do not teach or those maybe who don't find it so interesting anymore...don't like to hang with you. They're like, "Oh, please...." 

4. Everything is a miracle, a discovery, or fascinates the crazy teacher. This may be for the new teacher. But, I would say this is for the passionate teacher, too. The years never jaded my favorite high school teacher that I spoke of earlier. Mrs. Harrison spoke with as much enthusiasm ten to twelve years after I graduated as when I sat in her amazing class. 

5. The crazy teacher likes being around other passionate teachers. The crazy teacher will seek this connection out in any way possible (Conventions, book studies, blogging, social media). Twitter is a great outlet for the crazy teachers. This is the place--the hangout if you will for the passionate who need a venue to express their excitement about the classroom. The cool thing is--take it or leave it--you choose whether to listen to the crazy teachers. 

6. The crazy teacher never changes. The passionate aren't broken easily. Bad days--of course. Sometimes, emotions get the best of the passionate. But, when you love what you do, this is bound to happen. Why? Because the crazy teachers care. They care so much, and they want the very best for their students. So, please don't think the crazy teacher will all of a sudden see the light. Truly, the crazy teacher has found the light, and they're not going to let it go. 

7. The crazy teacher rehearses lessons on her children and family members. Every member of a crazy teacher's family is part of the teaching world. There is no escape! 

Yes, at one time, I thought, "Please...never let be one of those crazy teachers." 

Now, I see it as the greatest honor, and I hope to remain a crazy teacher for the rest of my days. Because, at the end of every day, I realize teaching is more than a job, it's life.

So, all you crazy teachers...stay crazy....and be good with that!

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Teachers: What is Your Learning Legacy?

I've always liked a good debate--not a fight--not bullying--just two minds looking at both sides of an issue in hopes to discover the best way to move forward. By challenging one another, we find alternatives, various solutions, and hopefully an eventual agreement or at the very least an understanding on a topic. 

Recently, I've been thinking a good deal about my purpose as an educator. With so many varied thoughts and opinions out there, it can be easy to get caught up in the hot topic of the moment, and lose focus. 

Then, I just happened to read this article by Grant Wiggins, who always gets me thinking, and it just so happened that the theme of this piece rung true to my own inward debate. Check it out here:

Grant urges teachers to clear away the classic egocentric thoughts on the importance of making a difference or offering hope to the next generation, but rather the end goals. I would argue that they are in many ways one in the same, but let's dive in a little deeper. 

Wiggins asks: 
"What do you aim to accomplish as a teacher? What is your goal for the year, for all the years? What kind of a difference in their thinking and acting are you committed to?"

As an educator, I've always been an advocate for the backwards design model. So, these are my aims. 

Goal 1: My students to be leaders of integrity. 
(I am committed to them in every way--mind, body, and spirit). 
In the mornings, I have an inspirational quote of the day, and students write a quick morning reflection. During the moment of silence, I pray for each of them silently. I pray for my past students every morning. I pray for my current colleagues and previous colleagues. I do this in silence, but my goal is to demonstrate to my students the importance of prayer and respect. It also makes me feel better and happier. Additionally, the morning reflections bring us closer together, and we are able to check in with each other, without being rushed. It takes all of about fifteen minutes, but it has made all the difference. The students treat each other better, and they work more as a team. 

Goal 2: My students discover their way/approach to learning which allows them to develop into life-long learners.
(I am committed to fostering their personal learning style)
All humans are unique, and our uniqueness is what makes us beautiful. My goal is to tap into the uniqueness of all my students so that they are able to achieve their greatest potential. This goes beyond teaching the standards and the curriculum. It's the development of the confidence within that it's okay to be different. I often tell my students (almost daily)--difference doesn't make you any more or any less--just different--and different is beautiful. So, I offer choices. Lots of choices. Choice in process. Choice in product. The result is that all students can master the standards in the way that suits their needs. This allows my students to own--their way--of learning, and see themselves as achievers, which fosters a drive for learning. 

Goal 3: My students to be self-directed learners. 
(I am committed to developing learners that seek solutions to their answers--developing idea rebels.)
I like my students to challenge my thinking. Yes, does that seem odd? I hope not. I actually worry when a student tells me, "Just give me a packet of stuff to do, and I'll do it." Yes, one student told me that this year. Why? Well, because that was easier. There isn't much thinking involved in a pile of worksheets--no riddles to be solved--no debates--no thought. Anyone who ever truly made a difference in this world didn't comply--they changed things--they pushed past the status quo--they asked, "Why?" Those are the types of learners that I want to develop. As a teacher, I never want to be afraid of that challenge.

Goal 4: My students to find their voice. 
(I am committed to challenging them to speak out as communicators.)
As a painfully shy high school student, I was placed in a debate class my ninth grade year. I thought at the time, "Oh, no! What have they done to me!" I could not get out of the class, so I carried on, and did well, all due to the amazing instruction of my teacher ( who has been more instrumental to my life than any other I've had since.) I went on to major in Speech Communications in college, and moved quickly into a public relations position. I know first hand the gift that my instructor gave to me, so I now want to pass that same gift onto my students. Although, a standard according to the Common Core, it is also a life changing skill that helps my students develop confidence and achieve greatness. In addition to speaking, I want my students to find their voices in the written word. They write as learning in every subject: math, science, social studies, reading/writing. It's fluid--not a dry process. Writing in this way teaches all the uses of writing and how this form of communication is instrumental in finding confidence in our beliefs, thoughts, and individuality. 

These are the big goals I have for my students, and my instruction is developed around these end goals in all the contents that I teach. The content is covered. The standards are met. And above all leaders, thinkers, and communicators are born. This is the learning legacy that I want to leave every year. 

I hope that this post made you think of your own learning legacy. I would love to hear yours? Please comment and share. 

Thursday, January 15, 2015

My 5th Graders Reflect on Leadership

Writing gives every student a voice. As a writing teacher, it's vital that I read, respond, and share my students' work. Reading and sharing each other's work motivates writers more than any bit of red ink on a page.

Today, my students wrote private responses to a quote by Truett Cathy on motivation as part of their morning work. I read the responses tonight and selected my favorite parts of their writing. In essence, I quoted each of my students'work.

Tomorrow, my students will read their quotes as part of their morning work, choose the one that speaks to them the most, and write a response to that quote. Finally, we will share as a class why that quote was meaningful to them personally before we begin our day.

My hope is that my class is inspired by each other, and grow together as writers.

"You need to be a good example, because people are watching you, and are depending on you." ~Amy

"If you set a good example, and are kind, people will follow you--instead of you following them."~Preston

"If a person who helps others, says he is a follower. I would say, "No, you are a leader.'"~Erin

"You have to push yourself and try, but you also have to help in the right ways." ~ Daniel

"You need to inspire yourself, and push yourself." ~Anya

"Optimism means to not give up. To strive, To persevere. And to help others do the same." ~Garrett

"You have to motivate people--like, LeBron James. He elevated his teammates' skills."~Aleczander

"Keep trying and don't give up in what you do, and tell others to not give up in what they do." ~Annissa

"You have to reach your goals in order to succeed!" ~ Daniel

"Little kids look up to us. We are leaders to them." ~Chase

"Don't follow the wrong people. Just because they look nice doesn't mean they are nice."~Grace

"Be a leader, not a follower." ~Eva

"If you do something good for someone, something good will happen to you." ~Gunner

"Do your best, and help others to do their best." ~Logan

"You have to push yourself to do great. You can't just think about yourself either, sometimes we have to motivate others. But, remember only they can make themselves do something. So do your best and strive." ~Mackenzie

"We need to know how to self motivate and tell others WE CAN DO IT!" ~Demetria