Sunday, August 30, 2009

Together We Can Climb Mountains

This past weekend while I was catching up on my school to-do list, I had the television on watching the Kennedy tributes and memorials that were ongoing. Politics aside, the family has always fascinated me. I've read many biographies and autobiographies of the clan, and continue to read online the news articles about them. The family has had an impact on history, which is a favorite of mine.

At the mass, Ted Kennedy Jr relayed a story about his father that many of us would not know. It was right after Ted Jr. lost his leg to cancer. A great snow had fallen and they wanted to sled, but Ted Jr. kept falling due to the conditions and the instability of his new leg. He looked up at his dad and cried, "I can't do this. I'll never get up that hill." Ted Sr. did what any dad would do. He picked him up, looked him in the eye, and said,"I know you can do this. We're going to climb that hill together, even if it takes all day." And so they did. Ted Sr. holding on to Ted Jr. climbing that hill, father and son. A balancing act of part pushing and part pulling.

What an analogy for teachers! Our students came to us this past week. We're not sure where each one stands on the learning continuum yet. Once we conference, assess, and listen to each student, it will be a balancing act of part pushing and part pulling to help them succeed. We know they can do it and we're going to lift them up, even if it takes all year. But it takes working together, climbing that hill, one step at a time.
Success seems to be largely a matter of hanging on after others let go.
William Feather

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Lesson Five: Find Your Success

Today was our first day of school. A lot of excitement and apprehension was felt all throughout the room. We finished labeling supplies, wrote about our Fav Five, and learned about each other. It seems that the more years I teach the same grade, the easier the first day is. What a great day!

As we embark on our journey together, I want to be reminded to look for the daily successes, no matter how small. Our district is undergoing a technology overhaul with numerous mechanical "opportunities." We've become so dependent on technology, that we do not know what to do when it 's not working. Email, printers, internet...all have had "opportunities" that needed to be addressed. A few minutes before school began, I was getting my flip video ready when the batteries died. AGGG!! A quick call to my husband and he brought me some that afternoon. I shared with my class how it works and ideas that we could use it for in our learning. I handed it over to some girls at recess and they spent the entire time interviewing one another. The video clips are precious and I can't wait to use them at curriculum night. I'm excited about all the possibilities to use this tool in the classroom.

Sunday, August 23, 2009


A few weeks ago, a group of educators from two neighboring districts met at Panera Bread to discuss an upcoming author visit by Lester Laminack. You could feel the energy and excitement in the small room. Our agenda was simple: How were we going to make the most of this opportunity for our elementary students using the resources we have available?

We looked at his picture books and discussed ways that we could use them in meaningful ways with students ranging in ages from 5 to 12 years old. We also looked at new technology. We have set up a Stixy Board where teachers from both districts can share ideas. We discussed flip cameras and ways that they can be utilized to document students' projects. We brainstormed ways that we can collaborate in person as well as via video conferencing. Professional books written by Lester Laminack were shared and discussed. Lastly, we surprised everyone that our principals have agreed to finance an additional professional development opportunity with Laminack after school.

We did all of this in about an hours time on our own time over coffee and bagels. It is a great time to be an educator!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Lesson Four: It's All About The Kids

While we were finishing our race, my in-laws were trying to find the start of the kids' race. We made it 4 minutes before the start. My husband ran with our son and I ran with our daughter. She held my hand as we ran her half-mile through the Nick Universe of the park. She knew when she needed to walk, and when she could start running again. She was high-fiving Pablo, from Backyardigans, Spongebob, and other characters. Our son enjoyed watching the characters as he ran. When they began the home stretch, my husband and I stepped aside so they could bask in their moment, running through the finish on their own. They were greeted with a finishing medal and were elated with their success. They were unaware of all the inconveniences and problems of the race. All that mattered to them was seeing the cartoon characters and accomplishing their goal. It was all about the kids.

As I begin the year with all the challenges, I need to remember...It's all about the kids. They are there to learn. They are there to be challenged. They are there to set and achieve their goals. And they are there to be loved. Everything I do needs to focus on my group of treasures. It does not matter all the behind-the-scenes frustrations that I may experience, I need to have my game on when they walk through the door. Remember: It's all about the kids.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Lesson Three: Be Flexible

When we decided to run, I mentally set up a training plan to prepare. Each week I would run a minimum of three runs: a 6 mile, a 4 1/2 tempo run, and a 3 mile sprint. On the off days, I would bike, walk, use the elliptical machine, or easy runs. My strategy worked. While I could not always determine the day of the run, I made sure each facet was accomplished sometime throughout the week. I felt prepared. I set a finish time goal, that I thought was doable. I was ready!

Race day came and everything went out the window. I wasn't prepared for the hills or climbs, nor all the other inconveniences of the morning. As I was running, I mentally changed my goal. There was no way I was going to be able to meet it, so I needed to adjust my thinking. I needed to be flexible, look at my performance, and adjust "on the run."

That's how it is everyday at school. I have a mental game plan of how I want the year to go, when units will be taught, how my classroom will run, and what outcomes I hope to achieve. It's a flexible plan because my treasures may chart a different path. Their thinking may take us off in another direction and I need to be ready for that change. I tend to not get hung up with the little details because in the grand scheme, they have little value. But, the conversations, the thinking, the big questions, and inquiry of my treasures: that is what makes my classroom thrive. Like a rubber band, be Flexible!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Lesson Two: There's Always Growing Pains

The race at King's Island was it's first. There were so many problems and issues to count from registration to where the restrooms were located. It was postponed for 30-45 minutes because they could not get everyone checked in. There were two lines you needed to go through: getting your number and checking in for King's Island. There were 3 races that day: 10k, 5k, and a kids' race. Yet, the start of each was at different locales, not marked very clear. The race course was horrendous. It included hills, which is tough. But after a series of hills, there was a vertical climb marked STEEP! Were they serious? 5k/10k runners lost track of which path to follow. I had to walk a long way for the restrooms after the race. They ran out of water. Lack of communication between the racing organization and King's Island. And the list goes on and on. It was great idea, but lacked strong execution.

This experience represents all the new initiatives sent down to teachers from above. We are in the trenches trying to manage all the new programs, technology, and initiatives while maintaining our focus. In our district alone, we have over 4 different initiatives this year. There will be "growing pains." Some things have not been worked out, yet we need to figure out how this fits into our classroom.

My goal this year is to take everything, learn it, and make it fit my needs. Whether I agree or disagree, does not matter. It's here. How do I implement it into my classroom? How do I make it fit my needs and not adapt my teaching to it? It needs to work for my students and myself. There will always be "growing pains." It's a guarantee. How I react to those "growing pains" will be the difference. Am I reactive or proactive?

Monday, August 17, 2009

Lesson One: Find Your Tribe

I've been reading a lot of Seth Godin lately. I enjoy his blog and his books. The message that strikes home with me is: Find Your Tribe. Look for the people who will lift you up, celebrate with you, help you grow, and be the best you can be. Find Your Tribe.

My family is fortunate to have grandparents who are involved and willing to share in life moments. Last October, my husband and I ran a half-marathon together and my parents went with us to watch the kids before their race. This past weekend, his parents came with us to another race. We could not stretch ourselves physically and mentally without the support from our parents. They are our Family Tribe.

During the race at King's Island, I saw another tribe: a tribe of runners. Very few knew each other, but we were there for a common goal. I saw one runner stop her race, run back, pick up something, and run it up to the person who lost it. She sacrificed seconds off her time to help another member of her tribe. While I was running up a hill, I began talking to another runner. She was from Cleveland and felt her entire training did not prepare her for this course. (It was HORRIBLE, but more on that another day!) I told her I was a teacher and blogger, and was writing blog entries about this experience in my head. She followed me for a while. After the race, she stopped me to ask what the name of my blog was and she was going to look it up. (If you're out there, Kudos to you for finishing! You did great!) Another guy, encouraged me along while I was grumbling going up a hill. He's running the Columbus Marathon in October and was glad to hear there wouldn't be hills. Towards the finish, he was struggling, so I encouraged him along through the finish chute. I do not know any names, but they made an impact on me and I hope I did on them. That's a Tribe.

Lastly, I have a Professional Tribe. There is a small core group at my school collaborating in every manner. They encourage one another. They share ideas. They stretch their thinking. They matter. I found a tribe throughout our district. We met a couple times over the summer to share technology ideas to use with our students. Lastly, I have a twitter tribe. I have talked with more teachers and individuals throughout the country and have learned so many things. While we may never meet in person, we are a Tribe.

So, my tribes vary. But they are my tribes. As you begin the school year, Find Your Tribe to help you along and stretch your thinking.

Sunday, August 16, 2009


We start back this week. It's time. I've had some time with my family. I've had couple time, and I've had Me time. My kids have had a summer of firsts: losing teeth, chin stitches, and becoming better swimmers. My husband and I traveled together to Southwest Colorado for a vacation. I READ for fun, for pleasure, and for learning. I stretched out of my comfort zone on some professional collaboration. And I'm happy with the completion of some of my summer goals list. Therefore, it's time to return to school.

This weekend, my family ran in the Inaugural King's Island Race. My husband and I did the 10k, while the kids ran 1/2 mile. While I was running, I came up with my Top Five Lessons to Remember at the start to a new year. Everyday this week, I'm going to share one with you and the analogy I came up with as I ran.
Lesson One: Find Your Tribe.

Check it out on Monday!

Monday, August 10, 2009

One Thing To Remember

I've been working on my curriculum night presentation, trying to "keep the main thing, the main thing." There is so much to share in a little time. Don't get me wrong, I'm not one to talk for hours, but what do parents truly want to know about their child's year? Is it the nuts and bolts or do I go in depth?

I read a blog by Kristin Armstrong called "Mile Markers." Her latest post shares her apprehension at being chosen to speak at her daughter's Kids In Motion club. The girls are 7 and 8 year olds, and she writes about her preparation. I like her last line:
"But even if they take one thing -- one single thing, away that lodges into a crack and sticks there -- it will be more than enough for me."

Perhaps that should be my mindset: What one thing do I want parents to take away on that night?

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Where do you like to think?

At the beginning of the year, I want to learn about my new group of treasures. I ask them to think about their favorite places to read and write, bring in pictures, along with "scrapbook" items that define their personalities to decorate their notebooks. These exercises and conversations bring my community of learners together on their journey throughout the year. This year I want to bring more to the conversation, "Where do you like to think, to create?" As I think about my own creative process, my place is the road.

I run. I am a runner. Not for sport. Not for racing. But, for recreation. I run through the highs and lows of life. I run through the plateaus. But, mostly I run to think. When I was elated about new career opportunities, I ran. When I was distraught with disappointment and despair, I ran and cried. When my husband traveled, my kids hopped on their bikes and I ran. It's more than stress relief, it's how I process events, ideas, and strategies. It's just me and the road. No IPOD, no technology. Just me and my thoughts.

I've created so many projects and ideas while running. When my treasures are not understanding a concept, I run and think of a new strategy to try. I think about colleagues. I think about students. I think about metaphors and analogies. It's where I go to truly process issues, concepts, and ideas. The road is where I go to create.

Where do you go to think and create?

Friday, August 7, 2009

Technology, Target, and the Haircare Aisle

Have you ever gone through the haircare aisle at Target and looked at all the different options you have? There's shampoo, conditioner, gel, mousse, spritz, hairspray, pommade, and many more. Then, you can even look at the purpose for each item: curly hair, fine hair, normal, straight. So many choices, so many uses.

I recently attended a two-day Leadership Academy in our district and many of the sessions focused on technology. As I learned many of the options out there, I needed to marinate on how I would use them and apply them to the learners in my room. Katie at Creative Literacy, and Karen from Literate Lives and myself had conversations about why we would use one software idea over another. There is so much out there that I sometimes feel overwhelmed and unprepared. But, I slow down and step back.

My mission is to teach my kids to understand their purpose of the the project. They need to think about their audience and then decide which program would be beneficial for them. Like the haircare aisle, there's so many choices. Instead, think about the learning style, purpose, audience, and then decide what would be best for that project.

Monday, August 3, 2009

21st Century Class Reunion

Last weekend, we went to our hometown for my husband's high school reunion. What fascinated me was how 21st Century literacies have evolved that the 2oth Century is taking hold of them.

1. Facebook Organization
The organizer began in January with a page on Facebook and began hunting down classmates via the internet. All communication was on the web except we needed to mail in a check by the postal service. RSVP's, questions, dates, and agendas were online-based. Out of a class of 200, there were 90 classmates plus spouses for the dinner. Amazing how communication has changed.

2. Video Clips
One student video-taped his entire last day and projected it on the screen. Can you imagine how big and bulky video cameras were in the 80's? It was fun to see hairstyles, clothes, and the old high school through the eyes of a student. Everyone was mesmerized for over 30 minutes trying to identify classmates on the grainy clips. Our children now use a Flip Camera the size of your palm and can upload to the internet with a few clicks. My own children are constantly asking to use the "video-taper" as they call it, around the house.

3. Cameras
I only saw 3 cameras in the room. Everyone was sharing photos and taking pics with their cell phones. The next morning, reunion pics were posted on Facebook and comments about their evening flew fast off their fingers. So, I'm beginning to see the connectivity of Facebook, as opposed to Twitter (my personal fav).

Now, if the 20th Century is taking hold of technology usage when it was not around then, what will the 21st Century students take with them to their reunions?