Monday, March 30, 2015

Creating Experiences in the ELA Classroom

Inspired by this Tweet from Mrs. Toflinski and Teach Like A Pirate, I want to talk about creating experiences in the ELA classroom this week. I’ve been focusing much more on experiences this year as I try to reclaim my true teaching personality.

You see, I taught French (and sometimes English) for my first 6 years in education, and I ALWAYS included experiences as part of my French lessons.  It’s what foreign language teachers do by nature; introducing students to the cultures of the language is about equal to teaching the language itself. How else are we going to do that in the Midwest, other than creating classroom experiences?

My ELA lessons were never as fun; I felt I “had” to do things a certain way.  I was the new kid in the department when I started teaching English as well in my fourth year, and I was given lessons and told how to do things.  When I switched schools and started teaching English exclusively, I felt more of the same pressure.

In English class, I’m guilty of neglecting the experience more often than I’d like to admit.  With all the standards to cover and standardized testing hoops, it’s all too easy to get caught in a whirlwind of boring lessons.  I consciously fight against this battle, for I truly do want to create experiences my students will remember long after any story/poem/novel/literary concept we’ve covered.

So I turn to you, my #slowchatela friends, for inspiration and a challenge.  How are you creating experiences? What more can you do to create those lessons you could sell tickets for? Think about specific pieces of literature or concepts you study.

Q1 3/30: How do/can you use/transform the classroom environment to create the experience?

Q2 3/31: How do/can you use food to create a classroom experience?

Q3 4/01: Which guest speakers/experts can help create an experience for your students?

Q4 4/02: How can you incorporate family/parent contact with the experience?

Q5 4/03: Can technology help to create an experience?

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Dear Principals: Do you miss the students?

Dear Principals,

Do you miss teaching, the classroom, and the student connections that happen there?

Eighteen months ago, I began working through Indiana Wesleyan University’s Principal Licensure Program.  I have been fortunate that my mentor and my school district offered me numerous and varied leadership and professional development opportunities to help me grow as an educator.  I have attended workshops and conferences, designed and implemented our high school’s Response to Intervention program, and offered professional development opportunities for my colleagues, not to mention keeping up on my coursework, taking care of my family, and attending to my primary job of providing high quality instruction for 150+ high school freshmen and sophomores.  While it has been stressful, I am sure it is preparing me well for the demands an administrative position will place on my time and energy.

I chose to begin this journey because I am completely committed to education and my fellow educators.  Teachers need leaders they can count on and trust, and support and affirmation go a long way to creating an environment where teachers trust and are empowered to be their best..  Students, too, deserve the best educational leaders possible; after all, they are why we do what we do!  A principal who keeps the students at the center of decision making is essential!

When I finished my course work and my new license came in the mail, I  (of course) posted to my social media accounts that I was now official.  I keep all my personal postings to my Facebook account, and I was completely unprepared for the outpouring of support and congratulations I received!  My friends list is largely populated by former students, and so many of them took the time to thank me for something specific or mention a specific incident they thought made me a good principal candidate. My nine years of connections with students were evident, and so many memories made me reflect on those connections and the impact I had on my students’ lives. As a French teacher for the fist six of those nine years, I was fortunate to have the same students returning to me for three or even four years to continue building positive relationships.

I remember the time a fourth year student revealed her pregnancy, and then cried because she wanted to tell me before her parents. I recall the times I held dance parties in fourth year classes as students got accepted to colleges.  I bravely organized a trip to France for my second year teaching where one student traveled with her mother and grandmother; when her grandmother passed away a few years later, this student reached out to me to mention that she reminisced about our trip with her grandmother in her last few hours.  I’ve attended not just graduations and parties, but weddings and baby showers too. My classroom is full of pictures of crazy classroom activities, field trips, and senior pictures.

This is what I know I’m going to miss most about the classroom. How does a principal form these bonds and make these memories? I’ve worked for several principals in the last nine years, and only one of them was able to build relationships anywhere close to those that can  be formed in the classroom.  He mainly stayed connected through organizing and hosting “pizza with the principal” twice each month, which involved drawing a name from each grade level, asking those students to invite three friends each, then having an hour long pizza lunch where he talked with them.  He attended every school field trip or event; he even bravely parked himself in the middle of the throng of students at every school dance and sang along to each song as he chaperoned.  Students trusted him, respected him, and shared with him!  

Obviously, the connection does not have to be cut when leaving the classroom for the principal’s office.  In fact, principals are also in a unique position to form multi-year bonds with students! However, I know it will take hard work and extra effort when the time comes for me to make this transition. I am up for the challenge, for I do not want to stop making those memories.

I’d love to hear some more ideas to help stay connected and build relationships with students from some experienced principals!  Please share!

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Combating Teacher Zombies

I read a great post by fellow educator Ron Dorland last week, Twitter: The Heartbeat of Education. Any educator I know who has braved social media and connected on Twitter would agree.  Twitter is an amazing tool for getting enthusiastic, generous teacher to share ideas and try new things.  I overlooked Twitter for far too long; I told myself I didn’t have time for one more thing.  Now, a year after I really started engaging on Twitter and building my personalized learning network (or PLN), I tell every teacher I know that I don’t have time NOT to be on Twitter.  Twitter is THE venue for the most passionate, student-centered, risk-taking educators to share, learn, and grow.  

Ron’s post made me reflect on all the ideas and energy I gain daily through my PLN, but it also made me ask why I don’t always feel this same passion and energy from my colleagues. Sure, some days are better than others; some days we share more, engage each other and our students more. But some days we enter the building like tired teacher zombies, heads down and shuffling along. What can I do, as a teacher-leader and future administrator, to help combat this beaten down, defeated attitude?

First, all educators need to realize that we mainly share our success stories through any social media like Twitter. We usually share our most engaging activities and lessons, brag a little about our best student questions, and offer those failed moments only when we have fully learned from them. In a single building, teachers see each other day in and day out, through the good moments and the ugly. It is all too easy to slip into zombie-mode! We need to be committed to broadcasting our successes to each other-in person-the way we do on social media. If we don’t celebrate the good times, no one will know beyond our walls.

Also, we connected educators need to encourage and support the rest of our colleagues to become more connected.  We must spread the word of the power of social media to form connections, transform our teaching, and increase our passion for education. Take a few minutes to show someone how to get started with Twitter, suggest a few hashtags to follow, maybe even pull up your Tweetdeck to show a colleague all the fabulous ideas coming to you in that moment! Not only will you help spread your own enthusiasm, but you might ignite that enthusiasm in a fellow teacher and help prevent that aforementioned zombie shuffle!

I am doing my part to engage my fellow teachers. I recently introduced several teachers to Twitter at an after school Tech Tuesday, including how to use Tweetdeck to manage the barrage of information headed their way now that they have been brave enough to connect themselves. I am also planning a voluntary book study of Dave Burgess’s Teach Like a PIRATE ( the “P” and “E” in PIRATE stand for passion and enthusiasm; just the thing to combat teacher zombies) in the coming weeks, where participants will engage in 15 minute Twitter Spark chats as one means of discussion. Hopefully, I can encourage them to share the wonderful ideas I know they are going to have beyond our study group and tweet them out to engage with other educators around the world.

Finally, if social media can ignite passion in teachers, imagine what it can do for our students!  Stay tuned for more thoughts about social media in the classroom soon!