Quarter 2 and trying again

My last blog post was about failure, and then I forgot to blog. I realized it the following day – that I hadn’t posted the day before – ending my incredible (to me) streak of blogging every work day. And then I just took a break. I realized it was the end of the term and I. was. tired.

Today was the first day of Q2. We had a holiday Monday and a teacher work day Tuesday. I was so thankful for that teacher work day – oh how they’ve been missed. To have a day between terms to catch up, get ahead and breath for a second – beautiful. The ability to have a quiet lunch with adults vs. an earsplitting lunchroom with 300 students – icing!

Today, I picked up an old idea I’ve used in the past, having my students create a group name. In years past, I’ve awarded prizes to groups and students earned stickers. I’ve got some different positive reinforcement going on in the classroom this year, so that didn’t seem like the way I wanted the groups to work (competing together), but I wasn’t getting as much buy-in from students on helping each other as I wanted. So today with new seats for the new quarter, I had them think about their individual goals (something we’ve been doing for a while) and then think of a group goal. They wrote this group goal down and then on the reverse of the paper, wrote a name for their group. Their names are on display, and I can easily find their goal if I want to. But I think the key is that they’ve decided as a group to help each other. I plan on building on this.

After the blogging break, I wasn’t sure what I should do to get this started again. I am not expecting anything from this blog other than my own benefit of being able to process my thoughts about teaching and learning and having a bit of documentation to make my life potentially easier in the future or at least be able to remember my own reflections that seem so easily lost in the rush of the year. Dan Meyer’s blog showed up in my email, and it linked to a blog by Zach Cresswell, 4 ways to leave School at School, and I read it and felt relieved and realized I could just start and it would be enough.

I thought about how I save some mental energy and how I waste it. What things can I cut and bet a better teacher for the not doing? Long ago, I realized that I could not worry enough about a student or test scores to make any real change – or any change. There are too many variables out of my control. But I do try to do my very best for those things within my control. Lesson planning is one of those things within my control and I probably spend too much time with it. This is where I need to find more balance. I need to do my best with the time I have and not dedicate the time I need for other things instead of polishing a stone that is already smooth – even if isn’t shiny.

Zach mentions to do lists – I heartily agree with this. It lets me brain-dump my thoughts, and I can move on. I’m a sticky note list maker and I write them as I move around my classroom (making my computer the landing spot), I write them on my computer (electronic stickies) and at the day’s end, I can toss notes I no longer need and compile notes I still need quickly into my notebook that I make lists in.

One way I leave school at school is by collaborating with other teachers through the MTBoS and with TpT. Building on or using resources created by other teachers gives me time back in my personal life that I may be tempted to use to make something for my classroom. Not that I can’t or don’t create some of my own things, but my students get an opportunity to have many more engaging activities along with a teacher who isn’t too tired to complete the activity.

Another way, I leave school at school is by using different chrome profiles. I teach online for a university after my middle school day job. Having a different chrome profile helps me transition from job to job and from job to personal.

Thinking back on those things Zac said he lets slide out of his mind, I know there are big problems and hard things in the lives of my students. I also think they need an example of adults who are successfully navigating life without everything being in crisis mode. They need to see adults who have a balance, who have limits (for what they allow and for what they will do) and who show up consistently to love them and teach them. I can do those things, I can be that person, even if my lesson plans don’t meet my ideal every or any day.



Mentor Teacher

Yesterday my room for tutoring at the after-school program was changed. I am now maxwell.jpgteaching in the same room I student taught in more than a decade ago. I thought of my mentor teacher and how much I learned in that very room.

Today, my mentor teacher, Mrs. Debra Maxwell, retired after teaching since 1977. I am so grateful to Mrs. Maxwell who helped me find my “teacher voice” and who gave me such confidence in my ability as a teacher.

Thank you, Mrs. Maxwell! I love you! Thank you for helping me when I was new. When I am discouraged, I remember your passion. Your commitment to the students, your willingness to try new things and to always do what’s best for students in inspiring and I’m so grateful I got to learn how to be a teacher by watching and learning from you!

PLC – Instructional Strategies

This year, we have been asked to join one of three Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) at school. The choices are Differentiation, Instructional Strategies, and Academically Challenging Environment. Today, we had an early release day, and after the students had left, we met for professional development in our communities and then had time for parent conferences. We got in three of our six scheduled conferences and that it worked out that half didn’t show up, as the three attendees who did show up filled all the time we had.

I guided the discussions we had about Instructional Strategies. I tried to focus the conversations around strategies that would get the students talking. My main idea was this:


We started off with a sticky note activity. I used a blank template I got from a purchase from Runde’s Room.


Here are two examples.

After the groups had talked, we shared some ideas with the whole group.


Then we did Chat Stations and groups got to go around the room and discuss six more strategies. As I cultivated my list, I realized Cult of Pedagogy was well represented! I love that site. Cult of Pedagogy was where I got Chat Stations, as well as Think-Pair-Share, One-point Rubrics and Dogfooding (which you could argue isn’t a strategy that encourages student talk, but I thought was such a good point that I wanted teachers to read about it and discuss). I also had Whole-Brain Teaching (which I know some of our teachers use something similar, only they call it “Power Teaching” and I do a simpler variation on it I call “Turn and Talk”) and KWL charts (Know, Want to Know and Learn graphic organizers).

We ended with a few examples of Which One Doesn’t Belong. I used some math examples from wodb.ca. And then we ended our meeting with a sports one I created. I knew I had P.E. teachers in my group!

I think it went well, and I did get some positive feedback, so I’m satisfied with it. After a decade in the classroom, I have sat through more than enough boring PD lecturing me about what I should be doing in the dullest way possible. I always want to make sure I’m providing the type of PD I wish I was getting. My favorite PD has been from LearnZillion and from the Schlechty Center. In both cases, I learned new things by participating in the very structures I would then use in my classroom. Nothing as powerful as that – actually doing. They are my model for professional development.

If you’d like a copy of my notes for this presentation you can find them at this link. It has links to all the different strategies we discussed and participated in.

Classroom Management

After a decade of teaching, I now feel like I’ve got a good handle on this aspect of teaching. This aspect that is crucial and unfortunately overlooked in teacher preparatory classes. I learned on the job. Asking for help my first year got me administrator acknowledgment that they really just throw you in without help or guidance and if you swim instead of sink, then you get to keep being a teacher. That was just as helpful as you’d imagine. I attended a day course on dealing with difficult students sometime in my first year or two. And new hires got a copy of “The First Two Weeks”. A book I couldn’t appreciate fully until about year 10.

I was thinking about class management today in the after school program as I watched the college students manage students and reflected on my beginning attempts. Sure some things come with the wisdom of age and experience, but a lot of classroom management can be taught and can save beginning teachers years of headaches. As professional teachers, we should be better at teaching our own. We should be more open, more willing to accept suggestions from others and have more time to observe fellow teachers in action. I’m glad I took up the #ObserveMe challenge and plan to promote that more at my school. We can help each other be better, sooner for the children we teach.

Summer Reading

Two books arrived in the mail yesterday. I heard about them at the EQuIP training I attended last month in Washington D.C. I think I learned as much from my table mates as I did from our wonderful Presenter,  Ted Coe. Robert Wood of DePaul University gave me the titles and I am super excited to dig in. I got around to looking at them late last night and that wasn’t a great choice as it was difficult to put them down. I have made myself a schedule to get both of the books read and processed so I can start applying some of the great stuff found in them in my classroom starting in August.

Two Books

So the titles are 5 Practices for Orchestrating Productive Mathematics Discussion by Margaret S. Smith and Mary Kay Stein and Embedded formative assessment by Dylan Wiliam. If the 5 Practices book is out of stock at Amazon, NCTM publishes it and they sell it on their website.