Monday, December 17, 2012

strength in a time of tragedy

I know many of you spent the weekend feeling overwhelmed with grief for the tragedy in Connecticut. For new teachers, the awesome responsibility of being a teacher comes in waves, and Friday was one of those moments. My first year of teaching was the year of Columbine, and I helped student process other terrible tragedies such as 911 and the Red Lake shooting. I simply cannot imagine the pain the families, parents, and community of Sandy Hook Elementary and Newtown Connecticut is experiencing.

Kylene Beers, one of my favorite literacy researchers/writers shared this post in her blog in response to the events from late last week. In it, she writes:

"...on Monday and for all the days that follow,  you will  prepare lessons, watch for that student who doesn’t quite grasp the point, encourage the student who hesitantly offers an idea, help the shy one make a friend, remind the bossy one to listen more.  And you’ll do what no university class ever prepared you to do:  you will show students that when tragedy strikes, hope lives and goodness can always be found. You will help students recognize that their grief shows their humanity.  You will show them that we all go on, in spite of fear, or perhaps more importantly, to spite fear. And you will, as you nudge them toward normalcy, even remind them that spelling still counts.  You will be in our nation’s classrooms, teaching our nation’s children, and for this we are a grateful nation.

Thank you.  Thank you.  And, again, thank you."

Resources to help teachers and parents know how to discuss and support students in light of the tragedy is found at the National Association of School Psychologist website.

Teaching Tolerance has also published advice for teachers on their website.

Let hope and goodness prevail. And thank you.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

job opportunities

With December graduates about to head out into the workplace, I thought I'd offer some ideas for the job search. Mid-year, there aren't always a lot of full-time positions open for teaching, but it is a good time to look for long-term sub openings and other education-related jobs.

EdPost has a number of jobs listed right now.

The MN Association of School Administrators is also a good site to search for openings, and there are several full-time teaching positions posted.

The Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis also has several positions open.

And check out the Mpls and St. Paul schools websites (and any other districts you're interested in which you're interested in working!). There are a few positions open, including a .6 Social Studies teacher position available at Roosevelt High School open. (For the Roosevelt position, they are seeking a strong candidate, who understands how to enact culturally relevant pedagogy, has good classroom management skills and is looking to work in a diverse setting: contact Jehanne Beaton Zirps at if qualified and interested).

And Stillwater Junior Highs are looking for AmeriCorps Promise Fellows applicants. Interested applicants can send questions and/or resumes to Eric Anderson: Coordinator, Stillwater Area Public Schools, Office of Equity and Integration,

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Electronic Library for Minnesota

Have you heard about the e-library resource that is available for all MN residents, and a great resource for teachers? 

The Electronic Library for Minnesota is such a cool, free resource for teachers and students. Available are databases for students to conduct safe research, ask-a-librarian 24 hours a day for help in research, a way for teachers to request materials used for instruction, and professional journals available for teacher PD. 

It is supported by local libraries, Minitex, state library services, and other local and state agencies in order to provide MN residents with the best access to informational resources. It is a great place to find professional resources and resources for your students. Check it out!

Saturday, December 1, 2012

building a network

I've spent the last 3 days at the Literacy Research Association Annual Conference, a conference I've attended for the last 7 years or so. I love this conference because it always challenges me to think in new ways, and there are always times that I'm sitting in the audience thinking, "wow, I have a lot to learn.' Another great thing about the conference is that I get to reconnect with my grad school buds and profs. I get to hear about the cool research and teaching that they are doing. And share the cool things I'm doing too. In the years that I've gone, I always leave excited to try out a new teaching idea or incorporate a new reading to my syllabus or reframe some research I'm thinking about. Well worth the stress of being gone at a conference with only 3 weeks left in the semester.

I have found the conferences that I've attended to lead to some of the most exciting, rejuvenating, and powerful learning I've experienced as a teacher. Conferences are limited in that you often hear a lot of things in a short amount of time. And so the set up isn't always conducive to the kind of reflection that's necessary to make real change in thinking. But I take good notes, spend dedicated time throughout the conference finding ways to apply new thinking to my own teaching (yes, that means I slips sessions. Shhhhh....), and make action plans to commit to over the next few months. Sometimes this means that I pick a book I really want to read that someone told me about, or I test out a new strategy in my class. I try to keep these manageable so I'm more likely to actually do it.

There are all kinds of conferences out there - local, state, national, and international. There are workshops and professional development opportunities all the time for all levels and disciplines. Check out the posts I've written for the different content areas (special education, music, language arts, math, science, art, social studies, physical education, foreign language, ELL) and see if there are any conferences you'd be interested in attending. And once you've attended, think about presenting something amazing that you are doing! How cool would that be? And local/state organizations are often looking for teachers that want to get more involved in the organization. I have loved being on the executive council of the Minnesota Reading Association and the Minnesota Academy of Reading, and have met amazing teachers and learned so much through my participation in these groups.

I remember when I started teaching, it was really hard to be in a new place with people I didn't know and be willing to admit that I didn't know everything. But you can't know everything. Even 30 year veterans have things to learn. But I missed my classmates from my preparation program that were all going through the same things. I was hard to keep in touch when we all headed our separate ways, but I needed ways to connect with others.

Being at this conference has made me think about other ways teachers can network. With professional development budgets getting trimmed, teachers might not have the opportunity to travel to their discipline- or level-specific conference of choice. So what are some other ways that teachers can network?

Teacher network for a lot of reasons: to learn from others, to share what they know, to find out about new resources, and to stay engaged in teaching. Teaching is such a demanding job, and finding yard to prevent feeling burned out is important, and network can do that. Some teachers are fortunate to work in buildings where these collaborative networks are commonplace, but some teachers find a need to look outside their building for these resources.

There are many online resources for networking. Sure you can use Facebook and twitter to network with other teachers. And you know to be careful about social networking, though, when your professional and personal lives are blurred. But there are other places to go for professional networking. An increasing number of people are on LinkedIn. Though it is used far more in business settings than education, it is getting more prominent in all professional circles. It's a great place to build an online professional network, especially for those that are looking for jobs. I'll admit that I'm still working on all the ways to use this networking site, but its something to check out.

A lot of teachers are connecting via Pinterest. There are Pinterest boards for just about anything you'd be interested in learning about for your classroom.

And then there are sites like, where teachers post questions on anything they need help with and other folks respond with suggestions. Or is another place to connect with other teachers.

About a billion teachers are blogging, so you can definitely network through blogs. You don't need to be a blogger to network, but it helps if you have a blog to connect to so you can connect with other bloggers. But even if you don't want to network per se and just net to learn, blogs are great resources.

What are some of your favorite ways to or sites for networking??

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving!

Enjoy this well-deserved break to enjoy family, friends, food, and fun. Get some good rest, rejuvenate, and prepare for the craziness before winter break.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

planning proactively for classroom management

'It is significant to realize that the most creative environments 
in our society are not the ever-changing ones. 
The artist's studio, the researcher's laboratory, the scholar's library 
are each kept deliberately simple so as to support 
the complexities of the work in progress. 
They are deliberately kept predictable so the unpredictable can happen.'  
Lucy Calkins 

One of the most common concerns of preservice teachers, student teachers, and new teachers is classroom management.

I've written a number of times on the blog about the importance of building relationships with students as a key to management. In another opening post last school year, I wrote about the importance of establishing routines. Classroom management is most successful when students know what to do, and when to do it. I tend to be a pretty anxious person, and when I can anticipate what is coming next, I am much better able to focus on tasks at hand. Students are often the same way. Plans sometimes need to be adjusted, but it sure is a lot easier to adjust a plan than respond on the fly.

If you're in need of revising your rules, procedures, and consequences at this point in the school year, it can help to have students participate in development of the rules and consequences - so they understand where the rules come from and they have something invested in the consequences also. And you can also ask students about the set up of the classroom and what distractions might be preventing them from being engaged in lessons.

Once routines have been set and distractions minimized, then it is time to think about how your lessons are structured. Is there appropriate modeling and guided practice before students have to engage in a learning activity on their own? Are the lessons engaging and creative? Do students get to choose some tasks throughout the day? Have you set high expectations, and are lessons planned with the appropriate differentiation and scaffolding to meet those expectations? Easier said than done, of course, but this is a great opportunity for you to enlist the help of your grade-level or department team and/or an instructional coach at your school or district to help you plan lessons with a variety of instructional strategies that are engaging and active.

So let's say this is all in place and there are still some management issues that arise. What then? Elementary teachers use attention-getting strategies like "1-2-3, eyes on me; 1-2, eyes on you," clap and response of rhythms, say the first part of a common phrase (peanut...butter, hot fudge...sundae) and students say the second half, or songs to get attention. Secondary teachers might use a particular place in the room as the attention-getting spot,

C.M. Charles outlines several strategies for redirection in his book Building Classroom Discipline (now in its 10th edition):
  • Use signals directed to a student needing support.
  • Learn to catch students' eyes and use head shakes and hand signals.
  • Use physical proximity when signals are ineffective.
  • Show interest in student work. Ask cheerful questions or make favorable comments.
  • Sometimes provide a light challenge: "Can you complete five more before we stop?"
  • Restructure difficult work by changing the activity or providing help.
  • Give hints, clues, or suggestions to help students progress.
  • Inject humor into lessons that have become tiring. Students appreciate it.
  • Remove distractive objects such as toys, comics, notes, and the like. Return them later.
  • Acknowledge good behavior in appropriate ways and at appropriate times.
  • Use hints and suggestions as students begin to drift toward misbehavior.
  • Show that you recognize students' discomfort: ask for a few minutes more of focused work.
Some teachers use pocket or clip charts to identify when students need to reflect on their behavior.

Something like this:

Student names are placed on clothespins and everyone starts the day on "Ready to Learn," and are moved throughout the day depending on how things go. And when you use these, it's great to stay focused on the positive at the start of each lesson or before a transition, noting who is doing well and what it is that they are doing in order to be successful.

These kinds of charts aren't always successful, just like everything, but they can be a helpful tool in some classrooms for some teachers.

Some other common areas to reflect on that might help improve management issues:
  1. Lesson pacing - not too fast and not too slow
  2. Focused transition times
  3. Consistent application of rules and/or consequences
  4. Explicit purpose of a lesson is explained to students
  5. Students are given opportunities to work collaboratively and have some choices in their school day/curriculum
What are some of your favorite classroom management techniques??
Additional resources:

Monday, October 29, 2012

text complexity

Reading complex texts has become a hot topic in Minnesota and across the country due to the adoption of the Common Core Standards. Specifically, this refers to: Standard 10. Read and comprehend complex literary and informational texts independently and proficiently.

Here's how text complexity is described in the MN LA CCSS...
Reading: Text complexity and the growth of comprehension: The Reading standards place equal emphasis on the sophistication of what students read and the skill with which they read. Standard 10 defines a grade-by-grade "staircase" of increasing text complexity that rises from beginning reading to the college and career readiness level. Whatever they are reading, students must also show a steadily growing ability to discern more from and make fuller use of text, including making an number of connections among ideas and between texts, considering a wider range of textual evidence, and becoming more sensitive to inconsistencies, ambiguities, and poor reasoning in texts.

And here are the specific standards at each grade level dealing with text complexity...
Kindergarten: Actively engage in group reading activities with purpose and understanding, including the appropriate selection of texts for personal enjoyment, interest, and academic tasks.
First Grade: With prompting and support, read prose and poetry of appropriate complexity for grade 1 as well as select texts for personal enjoyment, interest, and academic tasks.
Second Grade: By the end of the year, select, read and comprehend literature including stories and poetry for personal enjoyment, interest, and academic tasks, in the grades 2–3 text complexity band proficiently, with scaffolding as needed at the high end of the range.
Third Grade: By the end of the year, read and comprehend literature and other texts including stories, dramas, and poetry, at the high end of the grades 2-3 text complexity band independently and proficiently. a. Self-select texts for personal enjoyment, interest, and academic tasks.
Fourth & Fifth Grades:
4/ By the end of the year, read and comprehend literature and other texts including stories, drama, and poetry, in the grades 4-5 text complexity band proficiently and independently with scaffolding as needed at the high end of the range. a. Self-select texts for personal enjoyment, interest, and academic tasks.
6th - 8th Grades:
6/7/ By the end of the year, read and comprehend literature and other texts including stories, dramas, and poems, in the grades 6–8 text complexity band proficiently and independently with appropriate scaffolding for texts at the high end of the range. a. Self-select texts for personal enjoyment, interest and academic tasks. b. Read widely to understand multiple perspectives and pluralistic viewpoints. 
Ninth & Tenth Grades: By the end of grade 9, read and comprehend literature and other texts including stories, dramas, and poems, in the grades 9–10 text complexity band proficiently, with scaffolding as needed at the high end of the range. a. Self-select texts for personal enjoyment, interest, and academic tasks. b. Read widely to understand multiple perspectives and pluralistic viewpoints. By the end of grade 10, read and comprehend literature and other texts including stories, dramas, and poems at the high end of the grades 9–10 text complexity band independently and proficiently. a. Self-select texts for personal enjoyment, interest, and academic tasks. b. Read widely to understand multiple perspectives and pluralistic viewpoints.
Eleventh & Twelfth Grades: By the end of grade 11, read and comprehend literature and other texts including stories, dramas, and poems, in the grades 11–CCR text complexity band proficiently, with scaffolding as needed at the high end of the range. a. Self-select texts for personal enjoyment, interest, and academic tasks. b. Read widely to understand multiple perspectives and pluralistic viewpoints. By the end of grade 12, read and comprehend literature and other texts including stories, dramas, and poems, at the high end of the grades 11–CCR text complexity band independently and proficiently. a. Self-select texts for personal enjoyment, interest, and academic tasks. b. Read widely to understand multiple perspectives and pluralistic viewpoints.

So what does this mean and why the focus in the standards? Though by many objectives measures (NAEP, PISA), our students are performing at a consistent level in reading and writing tasks, employers and colleges are noting a need for students to have more practice reading (and writing) complex texts, promoting critical thinking, multiple perspectives, and a greater stamina for reading difficult texts. We know that students need lots of practice reading self-selected texts (as evidenced in the standards), but they also need practiced reading increasingly longer, more complex texts - the types of discipline-specific texts they are likely to encounter in subjects outside of language arts and throughout their college and employment careers. And this refers to print and digital texts - students need practice with their digital literacy skills for the marketplace, higher ed, and their general societal participation.

So how do we know complex text when we see it? According to the MN LA Standards, there are three factors that influence text complexity:
  1. Qualitative evaluation of the text: Levels of meaning, structure, language conventionality and clarity, and knowledge demands [this includes things like vocabulary, genre, sentence and text structure and organization, and coherence of the text]
  2. Quantitative evaluation of the text: Readability measures and other scores of text complexity [measures like Fry Readability, Lexile, or other readability schemes]
  3. Matching reader to text and task: Reader variables (such as motivation, knowledge, and experiences) and task variables (such as purpose and the complexity generated by the task assigned and the questions posed) [also including students' background knowledge, if a purpose has been set for the reading, students' self-efficacy and self-regulation, students' decoding, fluency, comprehension and vocabulary development]
In a research study that I was a part of in graduate school, we asked students to rate the difficulty of texts that they encountered on am MCA-like assessment. When they rated texts, many of the students blamed the words for whether or not a text was easy, hard, or just right for them. Students don't always know these measures of text complexity, but they do know whether or not they stumble over the words in the text. Sometimes this is due to other factors - like coherence and structure, and sometimes it is really that they don't have the vocabulary development for the text. Analyzing the combination of qualitative and quantitative factors that lie within the text, and the readers that are to  engage with the text helps you determine the complexity of the text.

So what can you do? Shanahan, Fisher, & Frey (2012) suggest that one major thing for teachers to do to meet these standards is to build students' decoding, fluency, and comprehension skills. One way to do this is to encourage multiple readings of texts, interactive reading guides to help build comprehension, and ongoing vocabulary instruction helping students learn connections between words and concepts, not just definitions. Another thing teachers can do is establish a purpose for the texts that you are reading in class. Students will be better able to tackle complex texts if they know why they are reading the text and what will be asked of them at the end of reading the text. Students need lots of practice with close reading: annotating texts, rereading texts, and being a critical reader of texts. Teach text structures and (I've said this a bunch of times) teach students that they have to reread texts - whether they want to or not. Another thing to try is to help build students' stamina for reading text. Just like a runner wouldn't go out and run a marathon the first time they tie on their running shoes, you want students to build stamina for reading complex texts. This kind of work can help build students' persistence for texts. Some examples of lessons for this can be found at: ReadWriteThink and Achieve the Core. All content teachers can help meet these standards in their classes. Something that all teachers need to do, of course, is provide the scaffolding for students to read increasingly difficult texts. 

How are you thinking about text complexity in your position?

* References:
Minnesota Academic Standards: English Language Arts K-12, 2010
Varlas, L. (2012). It's complicated: Common Core State Standards focus on text complexity. ASCD Education Update, 54(4).
Shanahan, T., Fisher, D., & Frey, N. (2012). The challenge of challenging texts. Educational Leadership, 69(6), 58-62.

Monday, October 22, 2012

so you're going to be gone...

Welcome back from Education MN break! I hope those of you that attended the conference learned some helpful tips, strategies, or lesson ideas, heard some inspiring speakers, and/or enjoyed the day with some teacher-friends swapping stories. I certainly enjoyed the conference this year. And for those of you that spent the time recovering from a frenzied fall, I hope you are feeling refreshed and ready to go.

Fall is a wonderful time of year - changing leaves, cooler temps, apple cider and pumpkin pie. It's also the time of year that sickness can knock you sideways, particularly those of you new to teaching. And when you're really sick, though it is often more work to be gone than just to come in, you aren't doing you or your students any favors. Last December, I shared some advice for planning for and being a substitute teacher. And there are a few additional suggestions to help you in the event that you need to be gone from school.

Of course you need to have detailed lesson plans. It helps to have things typed out, just for ease in reading them as a sub. Remember, your sub won't know what W-12 AB means, even if you know exactly what lesson that refers to in your math guide. So, err on the side of extra explanation as you write out your plans. I also never left photocopying for the sub - you just never know what might happen. Whenever possible, I had the necessary copies already made, ready for the sub. Of course, emergencies come up, but when possible, try to have everything all ready to go.

When planning for a sub, have this info readily available:
  • a phone number where you can be reached (if possible)
  • seating charts (with photos of kids, if possible)
  • key contacts (main office, attendance, nurse, as well as the nearby teachers)
  • evacuation plans for fire drills, lockdown procedures, tornado plans 
  • a map of the school (in case someone is really new to the building)
  • a master list of the weekly pull-out schedule (i.e. which students leave when and where do they go?)
  • daily/weekly schedule and any regular routines (attendance, morning meeting, advisory, lunch/recess, spelling etc) 
  • any additional duties (hall, recess, bus etc)
  • any class rules and consequences
  • have pens, pencils, bandaids, paper clips post-its, hall passes all readily available (perhaps in a plastic bin on top of your desk, so the sub doesn't have to dig through drawers)
I kept this info on a clipboard labeled "Substitute Teacher Info" and had it on my desk, just in case something were to happen and that info needed to be used.

I also had "in case of emergency" activities available. Games or other activities that the substitute could do if they had extra time or if students finished really early. In my school, we had to develop an emergency sub folder with activities that were independent and could be completed in the event that something happened that kept you from even being able to complete emergency sub plans. Something to think about putting together. Even in these situations, your colleagues can usually pull something together (at least, I did that for colleagues!) so that plans can be somewhat linked to what the students have been working on, but as they always say, you just never know.

What are some ways that you plan for a substitute?

Friday, October 12, 2012

Apps_Documenting learning

With EM break coming up (for those of you in Minnesota), perhaps you'll have a few moments to check out some apps to incorporate into your teaching. Today, I'll share some cool apps used to create, document, and share learning in a variety of formats.

educreations is a free app that allows users to create files combining images, text, and audio on a whiteboard like surface. It can be used as a way for students to create a video documenting their learning about a particular topic, and it can also be used as a way to teach a certain topic to students. Create a free profile and videos can be uploaded and viewed publicly on the educreations website!

ShowMe is another app used to create tutorials. Similar to educreations (and also free!) I think this one is really easy to use right away. It's a way to document and record what you know about something. It provides a great template for students to use when presenting new learning, or to share with others about something they already know about. Like with educreations, tutorials can be uploaded to the ShowMe website and shared with others.

Skitch is an app that allows users to annotate and edit photos, screenshots, or other images and email or upload to other apps to incorporate into presentations. It is linked to Evernote, which is another tool for creating tutorials like ShowMe and educreations. Which means, that when you edit an image in Skitch, it automatically shows up in your Evernote files, ready to incorporate into a new presentation. Cool, huh?


Idea Sketch is a mind-mapping, outline creating tool. It allows users to create a visual representation of learning. It is pretty intuitive to use, and once completed, sketches can be emailed to the teacher, other students, or themselves for future access. This is helpful, given that most teachers have access to carts of iPads and don't have 1-to-1 iPad options for students.

What other apps are you using to document learning?

Thursday, October 11, 2012

teaching abroad

In summer 2011, I wrote a post about international teaching positions. I've been talking to a number of teachers (preservice and inservice) that are intrigued by the idea of teaching in another country.

Many teachers have the experience that they wanted to study abroad in college, but if they completed education as a major in college, it was difficult to fit into the demanding course sequence. Also, financially it can be difficult to make a study abroad opportunity work for some. But, that doesn't mean you lost your chance to live and work abroad.

There are lots of opportunities to teach abroad, and if you are seriously considering it, you'll want to look seriously at the UNI Overseas Recruiting Fair, held in January 2013. There is a cost associated, and those that register before Dec 3 get a cheaper price. If you're finishing your teacher prep program this and will have a license before Fall 2013 (or you're already licensed and looking for an amazing new teaching opportunity), check it out.

I've known several teachers that have gone to the fair, and secured teaching jobs in places like Greece, China, Thailand, Brazil, and Columbia. And have had life-changing experiences spending 2 years teaching abroad - gaining valuable teaching experience, as well as learning about another culture. Often, schools are looking for teachers with experience, but there are schools that will hire new college grads with the right qualifications for a certain position.

Something to think about...

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

teaching the 2012 elections

With the first presidential debate underway, I decided that the time was now to address teaching the 2012 elections. Politics can seem like a scary topic to teach, but with the right resources at hand, you can teach students about the process, the issues, and the candidates, and leave the decisions up to them.

The National Council for the Social Studies has a number of resources on the elections. Many of them are available only to members, but they link to several free resources as well. The New York Times Teaching and Learning Network has an election unit that could be adapted at many grade levels. Edutopia provides an overview of possible election projects and a political ad campaign project for high schoolers. Thinkfinity linked to a number of election season lessons and projects. C-Span Classroom has lots of great primary source materials for teaching about the election. You can find additional resources for teaching about the elections here, here, and here.

How will you be teaching about the elections in your classroom?

Thursday, September 27, 2012

I'm a survivor...

Seems hard to believe that October is around the corner. How can it be that it's only been 4 weeks, and yet how can the first month have already come and gone?

Many new teachers experience a "survival" phase their first months of their first years of teaching. Heck, I'm feeling it myself in my fifteenth year. Though I think calling it a "survival" phase diminishes the amazing work that is done in the first few months of September, it does call attention to the rapid learning curve of new/first year teachers and the tremendously hard work teachers do every day. During this time, it is hard to keep your focus above the day-to-day work. We forget the big picture, and get bogged down in the minutia of each day of teaching.

It's not unusual for new teachers to spend 70 hours on schoolwork, so it's no wonder you're tired on Fridays - you're constantly trying to keep your head above water. This is so normal, to feel overwhelmed with this new career.  You're probably beyond the total excitement of the beginning of the year, but you are likely still incredibly enthusiastic, have lots of energy to continue learning about your students, and making your lessons as engaging as possible.

Now's a good time to take some time to reflect on all that you're accomplishing. It's also a time when you might need to take a day this weekend to stay in your pjs and watch a silly movie, or spend a few hours with a friend on a walk through the fall colors. You are surviving, but you also need to take some time to find a balance. I don't know any teacher (or any adult, really) that has perfect work-life balance. And frankly, it just isn't realistic to think you'll be able to have it in your first year(s) of teaching. Teaching is hard, hard work. But this weekend, plan for a little balance. You'll need to care for yourself now, so you can care for your students throughout the year.

Thursday, September 20, 2012


I've sat in on several conversations in the last few weeks with groups of teachers, particularly new practicing teachers as well as preservice teachers, who shared that they enjoy working with older elementary, middle school, and high school students partly because they get to be sarcastic with the students. They said that students think sarcasm is funny and that it is a way to help them connect with their students.

When I hear these comments, I have a hard time biting my tongue. I try to probe for more information about why they consider sarcasm an effective way to build relationships or as an instructional or management tool. It is hard for me not to jump in immediately with how I feel about sarcasm - that it has no place in a classroom. Elementary, middle, or high school.

See, the thing about sarcasm is that at the heart, it is meant to harm. Someone or something is always at the bad end of the joke. Even if it is directed at the teacher themselves, it sets up a classroom environment modeling that it is ok to make fun of others. Teachers do not mean for this to cause harm. But in actuality, sarcasm is hurtful. Criticism of sarcasm use by teachers dates way back, as evidenced in an interesting article by Thomas Briggs at Teacher's College, Columbia University from 1928.

And I'll tell you this - when I observe students in classrooms where teachers use sarcasm, more often than not, most students are visibly uncomfortable or confused by the jokes. There are students that get it and do think it is funny. And some students have learned to laugh even if they don't think something is funny. But what are we teaching them with this behavior? Think about new English Learners in the classroom, for whom every day can be a challenge just to keep up with what is happening in the classroom. How will they make sense of the sarcasm? With so much left to inference and interpretation, it is no wonder that sarcastic remarks can be confusing for all students. Because of all this, I don't think sarcasm helps a teacher build relationships, which is a top priority at the start of the school year. There are much better, safer, kinder ways to build relationships with students rather than resorting to sarcasm.

I can still remember a sarcastic remark my third grade teacher made to me, humiliating me in class when I made a mistake on an assignment. Teachers want students to remember the wonderful learning moments from class, the relationships they built with each other and with them, not for the humiliating, hurtful, or mean-spirited things they say about students or themselves.

This is not to say that students do not need feedback about their performance and behavior. Teachers, of course, have the obligation to provide students with accurate, ongoing, constructive feedback on their progress in school. Sarcasm, though, can detract from the message of feedback because of the emotions that can be tied up in the statement. Feedback is one thing, sarcasm is another. 

I'll be honest, that I can be sarcastic with my friends, and when I started teaching middle school, I resorted to sarcasm in my first year. I thought that the kids could understand it and that they'd think I was funny. The same few students would always laugh at the jokes, but once I really started to reflect on what I was doing and why, I realized that it did not help me reach my goals of helping students learn to be the best people they could be.

A couple of resources to help you think about this. NEA has a piece on building relationships with students that addresses sarcasm and is worth a read. I also love Peter Johnston's Choice Words, which isn't about sarcasm, it is about the power of teachers' words. You can hear a podcast with author Peter Johnston at the link.

As you begin this school year, consider the language that you use with students, the way your powerful words can be interpreted. If you know you use sarcasm in your classes, think about why, when, and how it is used, and perhaps consider other ways to meet your objectives. I think you'll find a better environment for your students and their learning will result.

Monday, September 10, 2012

student data: understanding reading levels

In many schools, perhaps your own, students spend the first few weeks of school enduring many assessments designed to gather information about their "levels." This assessment data is extremely valuable, and, depending on the assessment measure, can give you incredible information about students' strengths and weaknesses. It can be hard on students those first few days to sit through math and reading assessments, plus pretests in other classes, but the information is essential. As you all know well, in order to plan effective instruction, teachers need to know their students' strengths and weaknesses. And these beginning of the year assessments are necessary for that.

Sometimes, though, the information is used in ways that limit students. I find particularly in reading, there are teachers and librarians that carve lexile numbers in stone and require that students read only within that lexile. As Donalyn Miller points out in her recent article in Education Week, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Fahrenheit 451, Gossip Girl: A Novel, and The Great Gilly Hopkins are all within the same lexile band, and would certainly not be right for all students reading within that band.

In many cases, interest trumps reading level. This was evidenced by the thousands of third graders lugging around the Harry Potter books, making their way through the 500+ page novels. When kids are motivated, they will work hard to make it through books that are outside of their lexile band. In some cases, yes, they still will struggle and may need to abandon books for a later time. But in many instances, rigidly sticking to lexiles will limit students' reading rather than enhance it.

So, analyze the data. Use it to help you plan instruction to meet the students' specific needs, and let it guide your suggestions for student reading. But also let the students' interest guide you too. You can find more out about their interests through interest inventories (just google "reading interest inventory" and lots of options will come up), reading conferences, and through all the work you do to build relationships with students by getting to know them throughout the year.

More food for thought: Ed Leadership article about critical thinking v reading skills.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

building relationships

Most experienced teachers will tell you that good teaching hinges on being able to develop relationships with students. You've probably had experiences in your own P-16 schooling that have been more or less successful based on the relationship you had with your teacher. When students believe their teacher knows them, and that there is a sense of community in the classroom, they feel more safe to take risks, to participate, to learn.

Building relationships with students is hard work, and doesn't just happen. Time and energy must be actively devoted to this task throughout the year.

One way to start is through get-to-know-you activities at the beginning of the year. These include interest and attitude surveys, name games, and team-building exercises. This is a good place to begin. But getting to really know your students doesn't end there.

As you begin planning activities and assignments, find ways to allow students to choose topics that interest them, assessments that allow them to show their strengths, activities that encourage students to share who they are and what they know.

If you assign writing journals, respond to them when you can with personal feedback. Journals can be a nightmare to manage, especially if you teach middle or high school and have 130 journals to review. I used to collect them ever few weeks, and would have students review their entries since the last collection and circle with a colored marker the one entry they really wanted me to read and respond. That way, I wasn't bogged down with a lot of reading, students could maintain some confidentiality in their journal if they so choose, and I could still feel like I was providing students with some feedback on this important work. And it helped me get to know my students through their writing.

One thing I used to do occasionally was to eat lunch with the students. It is amazing what you learn about students when they are in the lunchroom. 

Another huge step you can take is try, even just a few times a year, to go to the extra curricular activities your students are involved in. Show up to a student council meeting, a math club tournament, a choir concert, a basketball game. Your students will see you differently when you show this level of interest in them, and will often show a different side of themselves in these settings. Plus they will be just delighted to show off another aspect of themselves to you.

A few other suggestions include building a positive classroom environment by communicating positive expectations and building empathy between students and trust your students and let them know they can trust you.

The best thing you can do to build relationships with your students is to learn about them as students and plan instruction to meet their needs. Easier said than done, you say? Certainly. We'll keep talking about this throughout the year.

And as always, dear readers, please comment to let me know what's on your mind and what you need.

Monday, August 27, 2012


Many of you, dear readers, may be feeling some butterflies. I felt them this morning, too, as I headed to back-to-school workshops. Even now in my fifteenth year of teaching, I feel a little anxious at the start of the school year. Excited too.

Learn a lot this week, whether you are in back-to-school workshops or starting with students. If you're starting in workshops for your first year of teaching, congrats! There is nothing like being able to realize a professional dream. Later this week, I'll post about building relationships with students - such an essential priority the first few weeks of the year, which for those of you in your first week with students, you'll want to be spending time on this week.

Just a short post this morning to wish you a wonderful week of firsts!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

first day of school read alouds (part 2)

Last year, I wrote a post about books to read on the first day of school or the opening part of the year. It was a really popular post, so I'm going to add to it.


Wemberly Worried by Kevin Henkes. Many Kevin Henkes books would be great for the first day, and Wemberly is an adorable story of a very worried mouse on her first day of nursery school. Primary students will likely relate to many of the things Wemberly worried.

Stand Tall, Molly Lou Melon by Patty Lovell is a charming book about a powerful young lady who gets picked on in school, but knows she should be proud of everything she is and stands up for herself. A great book to start conversations about bullying and/or being confident.

The Dot by Peter Reynolds is a a simple story about taking a chance to try something despite frustration. The art teacher encourages the little girl to just "make a mark and see where it takes you." It is important to get started and try. And sometimes you'll be amazed at where you end up. Reynolds' Ish is another good one.

Yo? Yes! by Chris Raschka is a delightfully short, simple story about the beginning of a friendship. Raschka conveys the message of friendship through a few words, stylistic choices, and clear illustrations. Young children will be captivated by this simple yet engaging story.

If you're musically inclined, Pete the Cat: Rocking in my School Shoes by Eric Litwin is great fun. You can google the songs and see performances of it on YouTube to help you prep for the reading of this book. Elementary students will get a kick out of participating in singing this book.

The classic Will I Have a Friend? by Miriam Cohen tells the story of shy Jim and his worries about making friends in school. A good conversation starter in the early days of school.

Cookies: Bite-Size Life Lessons by Amy Krouse Rosenthal teaches important school concepts like respect, patience, and loyalty through her charming vocabulary lessons.

Wilma Unlimited! by Kathleen Krull ties to the Olympics, telling the inspiring story of Wilma Rudolph, who overcame polio as a child and went on to win 3 Olympic Golds.


Last year, a blog post over at the New York Times exploded and was turned into a permanent page collecting read-alouds from the NYTs. There are some new additions since I linked to it last fall. Check it out.

Fast, easy read aloud that engages students, particularly middle school students, are Drums, Girls, and Dangerous Pie by Jordan Sonnenblick. The main character, Steven, spends his 8th grade year drumming, writing, and trying to deal with his five-year-old brother's leukemia diagnosis. A sweet, thought-provoking story about life in the midst of tragedy.

Gary Schmidt's The Wednesday Wars is a funny, implausible but somehow believable story of a seventh grader stuck spending Wednesday afternoons with a teacher he thinks hates him when all his classmates go to religious school. But his teacher ends up surprising him in a big way. It starts a little slow, but it is laugh out loud funny once you get into it.

Fablehaven by Brandon Mull is a fantasy novel that will have students begging for read-aloud time. Promise.

The Dairy Queen trilogy by Catherine Murdock is a very fun series about a girl, D.J., who works hard on her family's diary farm while playing for the high school football team. Boys and girls will like this one.

Airborn by Kenneth Oppel is a fantasy adventure story that will keep your students on the edge of their seats.

Laurie Halse Anderson, Patricia McCormick, Sherman Alexie, Walter Dean Myers, David Levithan, John Green, and Sharon Flake are some authors that write some books that are a bit edgy and really engaging for teens that would make great read alouds.

What are you planning to read at the start of the school year?

** Update: Here's a link to even more amazing read aloud ideas at Choice Literacy.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

getting your classroom ready

Many of you are headed back to school tomorrow (if you haven't started back already). Some of you are starting your very first year of teaching. CONGRATULATIONS! There is nothing that beats being able to realize a professional dream. You have likely envisioned your classroom hundreds of times. And now that you're faced will organizing a classroom on your own, you may be a little anxious. Or, maybe you've been teaching a while, but had to switch classrooms or grade levels. Or schools or districts even. Even if you're in the same classroom you've been teaching in for a dozen years, you are still faced with bare walls and bulletin boards, desks piled in the corner, and decisions about where to begin.

Last August, I tackled some ideas about setting up a classroom in a post you can revisit for some ideas about layout, bulletin boards, and supplies. When organizing a classroom, consider function first and then aesthetics. Your classroom is your and your students' work environment, and though you want it to look appealing, it primarily needs to help you all accomplish your work.

I usually begin by considering the whole group work area and the desk arrangement, since this is the main use of classroom space. If you're lucky enough to have some major technology resources like a smartboard in your classroom, this might dictate a lot of how your classroom is arranged. The way you arrange your desks is a personal preference, but be sure that all students will be able to comfortably be able to see the board and/or where you are likely to teach and give instructions for work.

And in thinking about this, consider what is most important for students to be looking at all day. Your students are likely going to spend a lot of time looking at the front of the room (or wherever the board is), so what else do you want them to look at while they are looking at the front of the room? Use the wall and bulletin board space in the front of the room wisely to support the good instruction that you'll be doing in your classroom.

If you're an elementary or ELA teacher, you likely have a classroom library. Don't worry if yours is a little small to start - it will definitely grow as you teach! Decide on a way to organize your library and a method for checking out books. I struggled with this, and tried a different method every year. Even now teaching college, I am experimenting! But this year, I am going to try the Classroom Organizer app, which is super slick if you have an iPad that you can use at school. It can scan the ISBN and you can check out the book almost as easily as if you had a hand scanner and computer program. I'll let you know how it goes!

One of the major things to consider is where/how students will hand in work and where is a place to turn in late work (and to keep extra copies of assignment sheets in case students lose and need to replace them). Teachers can drown in papers, so deciding a system for paper turn in and late work is essential.

One last thing (for now)... don't be afraid to let your personality shine through your classroom. If you love sports, choose a sports-themed bulletin board for keeping track of assignments. If you're a cat-lover, pick a cute cat poster for the room you can look at throughout the day. If you love bright colors and can sew, add a decorative window valance to brighten the room. Personal touches can make your room more inviting for students and parents, and make you more excited to be in there every day.

Best of luck as you work the next couple weeks on organizing your classroom, reviewing curriculum, and learning the ropes!

What other classroom set-up suggestions or questions do you have?

Thursday, August 9, 2012

books for sports fans

"I saw the board with number 31 on it and thought my brother had got a penalty. I thought, 'What an idiot Alistair, you've got a penalty.' Then I looked at my arm and realized I was number 31."

- British men's triathlon bronze medalist 
(2012 Olympics) Jonathan Brownlee 
describes his reaction to a 15-second penalty 
for getting on his bike too early. 
His brother Alistair took the gold.

If you’re like me, you’ve spent more hours in front of the tv the last few weeks than you’d care to admit in order to watch the triumphs and heartbreaks of the Olympics. Last Sunday I got myself out for a bike ride after getting up really early to watch the amazing Olympic women’s marathon. My bike ride of around 26 miles was completed in about the same amount of time the women finished running the marathon (26.2 miles). They are incredibly inspiring. It’s good that the games are almost over, as my tear ducts need a break.

All of these unbelievable athletes have me thinking about books for children about sports and athletes. Many children are excited by books about sports and athletics, and there are a lot of authors writing for these children. Here are a few to think about adding to your classroom libraries.

There are a couple pictures books specifically about the Olympics. These include G is for Gold: An Olympics Alphabet by Brad Herzog and Doug Bowles and Olympig! by Victoria Jamieson. Did you know Michael Phelps is a published author? He wrote How to Train with a T. Rex and Win 8 Gold Medals.

Other great picture books about sports include Wilma Unlimited: How Wilma Rudolph Became the World’s Fastest Woman by Kathleen Krull and David Diaz, We are the Ship: The Story of the Negro Baseball League by Kadir Nelson, Z is for Zamboni: A Hockey Alphabet by Matt Napier and Melanie Rose, and Baseball Saved Us by Ken Mochizuki.

Several other books that are worth checking out include Tangerine by Edward Bloor, which has become pretty common reading in middle schools. Racing in the Rain: My Life as a Dog by Garth Stein is a little less conventional of a sports book, being narrated by a dog, but it is just delightful. Guys Read: The Sports Pages, edited by Jon Scieszka, is a great collection of stories by tons of favorite authors.

There are a number of authors who write lots of books about sports. These authors include Chris Crutcher, Matt Christopher, Fred Bowen, Dan Gutman, Mike Lupica, Tim Green, John Feinstein, Robert Lipsyte, Carl Deuker, John Coy, Todd Strasser, Will Weaver, Geoff Herbach, Clair Bee, Gary Soto, and Walter Dean Myers. Seem of these authors write almost exclusively about sports, and some write a variety of books.

As you can see, the above list includes male authors, and most of their books are written with male protagonists. There are, however, a growing number of books written with female sports-playing protagonists.

Some nonfiction books about girls and sports include Let Me Play: The Story of Title IX by Karen Blumenthal and Equal Play: Title IX and Social Change by Nancy Hogshead-Maker and Andrew Zimbalist, which are two books written for children about the historic legislation requiring equal opportunities in sports for girls. Though both  boys and girls will find these books interesting, girls may find these books particularly empowering.

There are lots of biographies and autobiographies of female athletes. Some of note include Throw Like a Girl: How to Dream Big and Believe in Yourself the story of Jennie Finch, a collegiate national softball player of the year, professional pitcher, and two-time Olympian. Soul Surfer: A True Story of Faith, Family, and Fighting to Get Back on the Board, telling the well-publicized story of surfer Bethany Hamilton, who lost an arm and almost died in a shark attack. Venus & Serena Williams, Dominique Moceanu, Tara Lipinski, and Mia Hamm, among others, have written or are the subjects of their athletic (and personal) accomplishments.

Some fiction novels about female athletes to check out include:
·      Can I Play? by J. Dillard (high school volleyball player)
·      Catching Jordan by Miranda Kenneally (female football captain & quarterback)
·      The Perfect Distance by Kim Ablon Whitney (equestrian)
·      The Girl Who Threw Butterflies by Mick Cochrane (baseball)
·      Boost by Kathy Mackel (basketball)
·      Open Court by Carol Clippinger (tennis)
·      The Pretty Tough series by various authors
·      The Dairy Queen trilogy by Catherine Gilbert Murdock
·      Whip It and Derby Girl by Shauna Cross (roller derby)

Check these out and keep these titles on hand when kiddos are looking for a new book to take on.

Happy reading!

Sunday, July 8, 2012


I've been thinking a lot about feedback lately, probably because I'm currently teaching a course on assessment. And then my ASCD Education Update arrived and it was all about giving students quality feedback. I took it as a sign that I should address this crucial topic here. I've talked about assessment a few times, and grading too, but this post is specific to the verbal and written feedback provided to students.

We all fall victim to the "nice job" trap. We want students to feel good about their performance, so we use "good work" and "nice job" written on the top of assignments and as students are working. But these niceties do not provide students with any feedback that tells them anything valuable about their academic performance.

Effective feedback is clearly related to the intended goals and learning targets of the lesson/unit. It also helps students break down complex tasks to see where they need more support and work. Effective feedback is also self-referenced - it does not relate a student's performance to other students' performances but rather to the student's ability and past performance; though it does not relate to others' performance, it should be related to the standards that are being worked on in that unit. Because of these previous characteristics, it is clear that effective feedback in specific, individualized, focused on key errors, and descriptive.

Above all, feedback is provided in a timely manner. This is probably the hardest to manage, particularly for those teaching middle and high school that might have 150 papers or projects to grade at a time.

Hattie and Timperley (2007) state in their model of effective feedback that feedback should answer three questions: Where am I going (the goals)? [feed up] How am I going? [feed back] Where to next? [feed forward]. Teachers help students through feedback when they provide students with answers to these questions: clarifying goals related to learning targets, strategies to work on tasks towards the targets, providing accurate information about the current state of performance relating to standards and suggestions for improved performance on specific tasks, and enhancing challenges for students and increasing self-regulation of the learning process - helping student set their own academic goals and tracking their own effort towards those goals.

Perhaps over the summer you can develop some routines for providing regular feedback to students. It can happen through written feedback on assignments, regularly scheduled conferences with students, and spontaneously as students work. How will you make the time to provide students with effective feedback?

We're off for a couple weeks, but will return in August. In the meantime, you might want to review some of last summer's posts on professional organizations by content areas and why to join. And if you're searching for a job, review the recent job search post, which has links to older posts (or just search under the label "job search" for all kinds of helpful information). If, in the hiatus, you come up with a burning question about teaching, please post here so it can be addressed in coming weeks! Happy summer vacation!

* References:
Hattie, J. & Timperley, H. (2007). The power of feedback. Review of Educational Research, 77(1), pp. 81-112.
McMillan, J. H. (2011). Classroom assessment: Principles and practices for effective standards-based instruction (5th Ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson.
Rapp, K. (2012). Quality feedback: What is it and how to give it. Education Update, 54(7), pp. 1, 6.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Blogging with students

I'm a big fan of blogs, obviously, and I use them often in the classes I teach and with student teachers. I think it provides a way to keep up-to-date on professional topics and connect with other educators, and share daily reflections on your growth in understanding content and teaching. And there are a growing number of K-12 teachers using blogs as a teaching tool in their classrooms. I came across the Powerful Learning Blog, particularly this post on blogging with high school students to improve their persuasive writing. In the post, the author discusses how blogging as an instructional tool supports her students' writing development, particularly their ability to write and support a thesis statement. Students need to think critically about their topic as well as the audience of the blog when writing pieces for the blog. She also includes that blogging as a genre to support student writing doesn't have to stay at the high school level, and links to a first grade class blog. Pretty cool stuff. How do you think you could use blogs to support your students' critical thinking and writing skills?

Friday, June 22, 2012

Apps_social bookmarking, free books

A growing number of teachers have iPads for their own use in the classrooms, and many students have access to iPads in schools as well. With thousands and thousands of apps out there to use on these powerful tools, how do you decide? From time to time, I'm going to recommend some apps that will help you and/or your students. So here's the first installment, but please add to the list in the comments section with your favorites. For today, I'm going to focus on an eclectic mix of apps to help with social bookmarking and books/stories.

Social bookmarking has become very popular - many of you out there likely have Pintrest accounts and like to keep track of all the awesome cooking, gardening, parenting, decorating etc. ideas you come across on the web. There are also some education-specific social bookmarking sites that you might want to check out. This can be really handy if you're thinking ahead to the coming year - whether it will be a new position or rethinking what you did last year.
  1. Diigo - You probably already know about Diigo, but just in case you haven't checked out this social bookmarking tool, there are several app options for bookmarking through Diigo. Diigo also provides info on using Diigo in the classroom.
  2. Symbaloo - On Symbaloo, find links to great teaching sites in many content areas and interest areas. Add to the site or just take from what is already there.
Books. Now, I know that iPads provide really interesting ways to engage digital literacy skills, reading non-traditional texts. But there are also some great apps to access free(!!!) books and stories, for yourself or your students.
  1. ICDL - the International Children's Digital Library. The app gives you and your students access to all the books available in the ICDL database.
  2. Narrative Magazine is a nonprofit organization that publishes amazing short stories accessible through their app. You have to sign up,  but it is free.
  3. There are a number of apps for teen and adult reading: Kobo, WattpadManybooks, and Project Gutenberg.
Such a brief list, one that is only beginning. Will be reporting regularly with app recommendations for you and your students.

Thursday, June 7, 2012


I bet you can hardly believe it - the end of the school year is finally here! For many of you, dear readers, this week is the final week of your first year of teaching. What an amazing accomplishment! Congratulations for completing this major milestone - the culmination of all those courses and field experiences, the Praxis or MTLE tests, the job search, and then all your hard work throughout the year with learning, planning, teaching, parent-teacher conferences, staff and committee meetings, PLCs, and a lot of blood, sweat, and tears.

I will never forget the mix of emotions I felt as I saw those kiddos leave the building the last day of school of my first year of teaching. I hope you feel a sense of pride for all you accomplished, relief that you finally may get to relax, and excitement for the year to come.

Find a way to celebrate this huge accomplishment in the coming days or week. You deserve it!

Thursday, May 31, 2012

student surveys

I've talked a lot throughout the year about the importance of teacher reflection. What I haven't spent as much time on is the importance of having students reflect on their learning. I mentioned it in a post on student reflection on assessment, but here at the end of the school year is an excellent time for your students to do some reflecting for their own and for your sake.

Edutopia has a great post on how to design a survey that elicits student feedback. The site suggests creating a survey to get a sense of how much and what students liked about the class and/or school year, what topics they enjoyed learning about the most, activities that helped their learning the most, when they felt frustrated and when they felt successful and respected. You can ask students what advice they'd give to incoming students about the class/grade, and see how they think they've grown throughout the year. You certainly have some additional ideas for what you might be interested in knowing from your students. And if you give a survey to students, consider giving one to parents as well. I always found it very interesting to hear what parents' perspectives were on the classroom.

The information gathered from a student survey can really help you as you begin to refine what your plans are for the following year. Even if you are teaching at a different grade level or school, some of this information will be helpful for you in your general plans for your instruction, assessment, and classroom environment.

A student survey is a great use of time in the final days of the school year.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Stand on my shoulders and reach

Somewhere up there is a star with your name on it. I might not be able to help you find it, but I've got pretty strong shoulders, and you can stand on my shoulders while you're looking for that star. You hear? For as long as you want. Stand on my shoulders and reach, man. Reach.

I recently read tennis player Andre Agassi's autobiography (a really great book, by the way). Gil Reyes, Agassi's trainer and as it turns out, the loving supportive father figure he longed for, is credited for getting Agassi in shape to maintain his professional career past age 35, which is ancient for tennis players. Most professional athletes, actually. This quote of Reyes', which comes about halfway through the book struck a chord with me. I think about how relevant it is to how we, as teachers, provide scaffolding for students' learning. And then let them go. Gil's commitment to getting Agassi where he wanted or needed to go was steadfast and strong. He taught, guided, and then let Agassi go.

Memorial Day is upon us, the school year is coming to a close. The end of the school year is bittersweet. You are exhausted. Especially if this was your first year, you may be more tired than you've ever felt before. You are mentally, emotionally, and physically drained. You are so ready for a respite. But if you're like me, you start to sense a loss towards the end of the year. These students, for whom and with whom you have worked so hard, are about to leave. We have been helping them reach all year, but it is time for them to move on.

I attended graduate and undergraduate graduations last weekend at St. Kate's, and watching students process in with proud tears in their eyes, walk across the podium to get their diplomas, celebrate with friends at the end of the ceremony, I had to fight back my own tears. Partly in pride for these wonderful students, but also with a profound sense of privilege that I get to do what I love for a career. What we do is so important. Maybe the most important. Our work is powerful. We carry many on our shoulders to reach until they are ready to go.

So here at the end of the year, consider: how did you help your students reach their stars?

Thursday, May 17, 2012

the end is in sight!

It is hard to believe that there is less than a month left of the school year. You have almost made it! May and early June for first-year teachers is often the reflection phase in the cycle of teaching. You begin to reflect over the year, take stock in the successes and the failures, the changes made in management, curriculum, and instruction that influenced student achievement and development.

If you haven't done so already (and before you get settled into a well-deserved summer break), take some time to craft a new vision for teaching for next year.  Consider:

  1. What was my overall impression for the year? How did I enjoy teaching, the school, the students?
  2. What were my relationships like with: students, parents, administration, fellow teachers, support staff?
  3. What was successful for me and for the students in my class(es) this year? Why was it successful?
  4. What concerns me about the progress the students in my class(es) made this year? What else concerns me?
  5. What can I try differently next year?
  6. What professional development would help me as a teacher?
You probably have a list of things you want to rethink over the summer, and these reflections might help focus what you want to accomplish over the summer. Setting new goals and creating a new vision for your classroom can really help you get excited for a new school year, even when you're exhausted from the current year.

Every teacher, no matter how experienced, can benefit from continual reflection, and these questions can get you started. I have some reflecting to do myself!

** Resources:

Thursday, May 10, 2012

finding a teaching job

Yes, it is that time of year. For many of you readers, you have a job and are fortunate to be staying put. Some of you will have been let go due to budget cuts, and others of you may still be looking for first jobs. Or (congrats!) you just finished your student teaching and are graduating soon and beginning your first search for a teaching job.

I did an entire series of posts about the job search last spring, and here are some of the specific posts you might want to refer to if you are conducting a job search:
If you look in the labels section of the blog and click on "job search," all the posts related to looking for a job will come up.

But I recently came across a great teacher blog that has some new posts related to the job search - The Cornerstone Blog. The blog has a series of posts including general job search information and advice, a page devoted to finding a teaching job - with some helpful hints about questions to ask in an interview and what to look for in a school, and a page of interview tips. A lot of this is information covered in the posts on this blog, but it is helpful to read it in more than one place in more than one way.

I'll be doing job search posts often in the coming months with new information to help you in your quest for a teaching job. Let me know if you have helpful tips to share!