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Monthly Archives: October 2015

My Five Favorite Places in Indiana

fall in Indiana

Growing up, I didn’t enjoy many of the facets to living in Indiana.  It’s funny how, while life gets busier as you get older, you notice the little things more.  While I love to travel and experience new places, I’m thankful to live where I do.  Here are a few of my favorite places to be in the Hoosier state:

  1. Ball State University in Muncie to rollerblade around the campus.  This is where I did my undergrad work.  My husband and I lived in Muncie after graduation (and after we married) for a couple of years.  Going to campus at night to rollerblade was one of our favorite activities (and fit the newlywed/fresh college grad budget).  I’m sure skating around any college campus would be enjoyable, I’m just partially biased to the beauty of BSU (Beneficence, Frog Baby Fountain, The Village…)
  2. Ivanhoe’s restaurant in Upland to eat one of their words-defying sundaes.  If you like ice cream, Ivanhoe’s should be on your bucket list.  They hand make over a hundred different sundaes and milkshakes.  The Snickers sundae is my favorite.
  3. Salamonie or Mississinewa State Parks to hike the trails of the many state parks during the fall season.  Autumn in Indiana is my favorite season.  The yellows, oranges, and reds of the changing leaves are truly gorgeous and I never tire of looking at them.  I also take a child-like pleasure in crunching fallen, dried, brown leaves under my feet.  Salamonie and Mississinewa state parks have fabulous trails to spend a day hiking, or campgrounds to spend a weekend at.
  4. One World Handcrafts in North Manchester to shop for fair trade coffee, chocolate, clothing, jewelry, home decor at One World Handcrafts.  This is a small shop, packed with amazing products hand-crafted by artisans around the world.  You can feel good about your purchases because they go to support men, women, and children who are trying to support themselves in economies that make it difficult to live, let alone thrive.  
  5. My small-town, country home – no explanation needed, it’s home.

What do we expect from our students?

students learning

I’ve spent my morning working on a post on formative assessment.  It’s an important topic, and one I enjoy learning about and discussing.  Today, however, I’m left finding it difficult to concentrate on my work.

For the past couple of weeks, I have been experiencing extreme fatigue throughout the day.  Most days I can just work through it, but today, as I took a break from work to lie down on the couch (ah, the benefits to self-employment), it made me think about students in a traditional classroom.  How many of our kids come to us hungry, tired, sad, under-the-weather?  I would gauge to guess, more than go noticed.  See, I could have a meeting with someone, work on a project, or make phone calls and completely hide the exhaustion I’m feeling.  I spent the day with three of my closest friends yesterday, and even they didn’t know.  Our society, in general, is of the mindset that one works during the work day.  This includes children.  Go to school in the morning, work hard for the next seven hours, come home (do homework, chores, part-time job, family time, sports, music lessons…).  If they seem a bit out of sorts at school, or just not acting as they normally do, do they catch a break?  Do their teachers even notice?  If so, do they talk (and listen!) to the student to try and find out what’s going on?  Or do they tell the child to pull a clip, move a stick, go to the principal, issue a detention, etc?  I’ve been a classroom teacher.  I know the struggle of seeing and meeting the needs of twenty-five eight-year-olds.  But, I also know the value of truly investing in each of them.  I have experienced the joy of watching them bloom.  And, as a parent, I see the difference in my children when they are learning from a teacher who cares about them individually.

While, our children in a traditional school setting don’t have the luxury of giving themselves a quick rest break to regroup, I hope they do have teachers who will see them.

Five Favorite (YA) Fiction Books(ish)

woman reading

love to read.  I mean, really, really, really like it.  I enjoy reading a variety of genres, but definitely prefer fiction for my pleasure reading.  Typically, if someone asks me my favorite book, I just sit there blank-faced.  Most avid readers/book lovers can’t name a single book as being a favorite.  We might have a current favorite (which means I am presently reading it, or just finished it), or a favorite dystopian series, favorite paranormal romance, favorite historical fiction, etc.  So, I picked only my top five all-time favorite Young Adult Fiction Novels.  And, yes, I cheated (which I can do, b/c it’s my blog) and chose three different series, so technically there are more than five books.  None are new releases, but all have left me with book hangovers, and all have left me wanting more (in a good way).  I’m not going to provide a summary, because most likely you’ve heard of these, and if you haven’t go to the link and check them out on Amazon.  They are in no order, and I couldn’t pick one as the #1.  They are all phenomenal for different reasons.  Please share your favorite YA books not on my list.  I’m always looking for new great books to read.

  1. Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins
  2. Wonder by R. J. Palacio
  3. Divergent Trilogy by Veronica Roth
  4. Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis
  5. Fault in our Stars by John Green

Five Favorite Formative Assessment Tools

formative assessment

I hope all educators would agree on the importance of formative assessment.  What we might disagree on is the method for assessing.  Maybe you have your “quizzes” all made up from previous years.  Maybe your district requires everyone to administer the same assessments.  Or maybe, you are always looking for new (and engaging) ways to take the temperature of your class.  If that’s you, you might like these digital tools.

  1. Google Forms – I love Google Drive, so it seems natural to include two quick ideas for formative assessment from Google Apps.  The first one is easy.  Create a Google form with any questions you are wanting to check.  You can quickly view the responses in a spreadsheet, or in graphs to surmise real-time what needs to be review before moving on.
  2. Google Slides – You might not have thought of using Google Slides as a formative assessment tool.  My favorite way for a quick check is to share out a presentation that you have created to the class (use Google Classroom for easiest/quickest whole-class sharing).  The students are assigned one slide to demonstrate learning.  For example, you just taught a writing mini lesson on writing strong leads.  Each student has to type their lead onto a Google Slide within the class presentation you have shared.  Then (and here is the powerful piece), each student has to read and comment on three other slides.  If there are already three comments on that slide, they have to move to a different one.  So, you can read all the leads in one place, but the students can also get peer review and advice.
  3. Kahoot – Kahoot can be used for review and/or formative assessments.  Students have fun using this interactive website to show what they know.  An awesome feature is that there are pre-made Kahoots that you can access or create your own.
  4. EdPuzzle – This is a tool I just recently discovered, but the ways to use it are endless.  There are Chrome, iOS, and Android apps.  You can clip a video from multiple sources (YouTube, Khan, etc) and add your own questions at different stop points along the play time.  This ensures better student engagement, and allows you to check for understanding, too.
  5. Padlet – Picture a posterboard where students can slap a sticky note to show learning.  Padlet is the digital version.  In addition to adding quick notes, though, they can embed videos, add images, and links.  The teacher can pose a question, and students prove their learning on the shared Padlet.  It’s both, easy and quick.

It was a bit difficult for me to choose just five resources.  There are many, many tools designed specifically for formative assessment, but there are endless possibilities when you look at old tools in new ways.  So, try something new to drive your instruction and engage students in their own learning.  As always, feel free to share your favorite resources in the comment section!

I’m “just” a teacher

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A few months ago, a student from my alma mater called me to ask if I’d donate to the university.  He then asked me if he could update my profile information.  The next sentence was one that often leaves me frustrated (if uttered by a non-educator), or baffled (if declared by a teacher).  He asked me, “Are you still just a teacher?”  I told him that I was an educational consultant, but that phrasing the question like that was extremely disrespectful and that he wouldn’t gain many donations from educators using that line.  He was properly apologetic, but this is not a one-time occurrence.  How often have you heard a teacher say, “Oh, I’m just a teacher,”?  That immediate discredits the mountainous work teachers do daily, and the impact they make.

What does it mean to be just a teacher?

It means you serve others.

It means you impact numerous lives every single day you walk into a classroom.

It means you believe in the power of learning.

It means you are a lifelong learner.

It means you may be the only loving adult in some child’s life.

It means you are investing in our future through the children you teach.

It means you teach people to explore, think, and question.

You are a counselor, mentor, nurse, and friend.

You are a strong, soft, loving, funny, and engaging.

You encourage risk-taking, learning from mistakes, and support the struggles of learning.

 

Great teachers embody all of these characteristics and so much more.  These are the people who teach because it’s in their heart to open the minds of the students they are blessed enough to teach.  They will never be “just” a teacher.

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Why One Good Teacher Left the Classroom

I recently published the post, Why Are Good Teachers Leaving the Classroom?  One of my friends, Andrea GrandPré, mentioned in the article, wrote this in response:

You nailed it. I definitely left for change. I miss the students some days, but now at the end of the work day I get to go home at a reasonable hour and be with my husband, enjoy some free time, and not feel so drained I can barely move. I’m also no longer in an environment where people are always commenting on my performance, assessing where I failed, and pointing out where I could be so much better. Feedback is necessary for improvement, but after a certain point that feedback becomes nothing more than a constant stream of criticism and not everyone (I include myself here.) can handle that environment. In short, I needed a change from an environment that, for me, had become so toxic that my health–physical, mental, and emotional–was suffering to an environment that works for my introverted personality and my need to have freedom to explore. I sometimes feel guilty for leaving teaching, for giving up on a career I believe is incredibly important to our country’s future, but then I remember how I felt toward the end of my final year in the classroom: drained, exhausted, frustrated. I couldn’t have been a phenomenal teacher if I wasn’t actually up to the task of giving everything teaching required of me every day I walked into my classroom. And so I at least take some solace in knowing I’m in a place and job that works for me and gives me the freedom to explore something in depth and use creativity, which had been lost during my time in the classroom, to do a job I’m made to do. Some day, when I have kids, I’ll thank my kids’ teachers from the bottom of my heart because I know what it means to do that job and how much teachers sacrifice to be their best for their kids. It wasn’t the right place for me, but for some people it’s a calling, and I truly believe they deserve to be thanked often for being an important part of our country.

Why are good teachers leaving the classroom?

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My mother retired from teaching after 40+years.  The great part was that she was still at the top of her game.  She primarily taught kindergarten throughout that time.  I have taught K-2 at various times in my career, and I still don’t know where the woman got the energy to teach kindergarten every day for all of those years.  They take a special kind of attention.

When my mother began teaching, it was a career in which one entered and remained.  It was almost unheard of for a teacher to leave the field to work outside of education.  And yet, today, just one generation later, good teachers are leaving the classroom at an alarming rate.  Some stay in education, but move to an administrative position.  I know many, myself included, who did this to become a principal, tech director, curriculum director, etc.  Others, however, leave education completely.  I know a math teacher who left to become a data analyst for a medical company.  An English teacher left, and is now an instructional designer for a satellite TV company.  My third-grade son still misses his former music teacher who left teaching after only a few years.  There are various reasons for making these career changes.  I think they can basically be broken into two categories: 1. Desire for change, and 2. Desire for impact.

  1. Desire for change – I think this comes down to wanting/needing a job that offers more money, more job security, and/or more consistency in job expectations.  Just in the last five years I’ve seen many teachers who wanted to keep teaching decide to take an early retirement in face of the constantly changing academic standards, accountability tools, and government regulations.  Add to that (in Indiana, at least), that these veteran teachers are no longer protected by their seniority.  I know other teachers who have left simply because they can make so much more money in a different field.  The sad part (especially as a parent) is that our students are missing out on some extremely talented and caring teachers.  On numerous occasions, I’ve heard teachers lament, “We don’t have time to make teaching fun anymore.”  Or, “Everything is about the standardized assessment from the state.”  It can get frustrating for even the most enthusiastic educator.  I remember the emotional and physical fatigue of spending my days teaching seven-year-olds.  Having so many students vying for your affection and attention all day can be, both rewarding, and draining.
  2. Desire for impact – Other teachers leave the classroom, but remain in education because they see an opportunity to make more impact elsewhere.  I loved working with administrators and teachers, alike, as a curriculum director to do just that.  Last week I got to accompany my son on a field trip.  He teasingly said, “Mom, stop being a teacher.”  My response was, “I can’t.  I’m a teacher.  My job now (education consultant) lets me teach adults.”  And it’s true.  I love what I get to do (and I get paid!), because of the impact I hope to be making in the world of education.  (Disclaimer: I definitely know principals, superintendents, etc. who leave the classroom for less-than-altruistic reasons. These are not the ones I’m writing about in this post.  This one is dedicated to those who have educator’s hearts even if they leave the classroom or profession all together.)  I feel fortunate to be connected with numerous educators who are doing just that every day as school and/or district administrators, coaches, trainers, consultants, bloggers, tweeters…you get my point.

So, before making quick judgments on why a teacher is no longer teaching, think about what she/he has already offered to the classes taught.  Think about them as human beings (who don’t live at the school!!), and what might be best for their families.  Think about the impact they could be making on education (or in another field) outside of the classroom.  And take a moment to thank them for their dedication.  But even more so, thank those that are still plowing away touching the lives of students in the classroom each day.  You never know how much that appreciation could influence their career path, and brighten their day!