Building Confidence in Readers

Ok, so growing up I LOVED to read!!  I read voraciously.  I read everything I could get my hands on.  I read Redwall, Harry Potter, The Chronicles of Narnia, and The Hardy Boys just to name a few.  Reading was a way of life for me.  It was instilled in me from my parents at a very young age.

Now as a 2nd grade teacher, I want my students to have that same love of reading that I have.  To that end, we spent a week working on our reader’s theater performance with the promise that at the end of the week there would be a stage, costumes, and a live audience.

Sometimes, as a teacher, you make these giant leaps of faith for the students that you hope will work out.  I sent out emails, facebook notifications, and Twitter announcements to the community letting them know of the upcoming performance. On the day of the performance, would people actually show up?  Sometimes, I just have to take a leap of faith and see.

Those parents did not let me down!!  On the day of the performance, we walked down to the STEM lab where I had secretly set up the stage with props and costumes.  I peaked my head around the corner and to my surprise nearly every seat was filled!  It was a packed room!!

We filed into the room and the students beamed from ear to ear at the stage that was fully set up and the number of people who had come to see this performance.  In that moment, I knew I had them!  There are special moments in education that you often just want to relive over and over.  This was one of those times.

It was incredible.  The students got up there and gave a moving rendition of the story, complete with expression, confidence, and emotion.  It was an experience they will likely never forget.

Let’s build confidence in our readers and continue being stewards of ALL learners.readers theater

Am I Empowering Students to Lead?

As we approach the halfway mark to the culmination of quarter one in our 2017-2018 school year, I have begun to do a lot of self-reflection as a teacher.  I am training for a half-marathon that kicks off in February, and I do some of my best reflections on long-run days.  The question that popped into my head was, “Am I empowering my students to lead and take charge of their learning?”

To give you some context about the exact situation, I have been leading the students through an intensive unit about life cycles through the lens of monarch butterflies.  We have raised Monarchs from egg all the way to adult butterfly and released them into our garden.

It has been an amazing journey to say the least!  The awe, wonder, and curiosity have been more than incredible for the students.  I could certainly hold my head up and take pride in knowing the students gained a love of learning and appreciation for the monarchs.  But then I keep coming back to the question, “Is that enough?  and am I truly empowering them to own their learning?”

I think in this particular case I am not!  I need to provide real leadership roles for the students.  Perhaps I will assign certain students to help Kindergarten students release the  Monarchs and teach them about the life as they do so.  On another day, maybe the students will lead the 5th grade students in a song about the body parts of a butterfly as they release more into the wild.  Even more, we will share the story of their great flight south towards Mexico with 1st grade students.

Ultimately, I want my students to own the learning, and not just be passengers on the journey.  I think our Monarch life cycle unit has been an amazing unit filled with great learning, but it is a few tweaks away from becoming something more empowering.  I think it is important for me, as an educator, to take that next step and really empower students to become leaders of their learning.

Until next time, let’s continue to be stewards of ALL learners.

Instagram and the Classroom

Each school year, I have decided to implement at least one major change to how I use technology in Education.  This year, I have looked at my use of social media.

Three years ago, I created a class Facebook page.  It has been amazing!  Grandparents, parents, aunts, and uncles have all started following the page and posting positive remarks about how much they enjoy seeing their child learning and working in school.  It represents an opportunity their parents may not have had.

Two years ago, I created a Twitter page!  Wow!  What Facebook lacked in professional connections, Twitter definitely made up for.  Twitter has an entirely different “feel”.  The possibilities seem endless.  Would you like to connect with the author The Very Hungry Caterpillar?  Go for it!  Want to connect with a classroom in another country?  You got it!  How about read free professional development articles?  All at your fingertips.  And I have only begun to tap into the amazing benefits of Twitter.

This year, while standing in the shower (why do so many ideas come to us in the shower??  I heard it was because your mind is free to wander and not mired down in problems of the day) , I had the idea to start an instagram page devoted to math all around.  I started using the hashtag #mathallround, and I took pictures of things in nature that struck me as mathematical.   So far, I’ve recorded “Fibonacci flowers”, shapes, bridges, butterflies, and many more.  My goal is for students to see that math is all around us.

I have heard that many wonderful educators are using snapchat in the classroom.  There has been a lot of awesome discussion on Twitter about booksnaps.  Perhaps, my goal for educational technology next year will be in that direction.  I can’t wait to see what new technology can help my students grow.

Until next time, let’s continue being stewards of ALL learners.

What is a Leader?

Currently, I am in the process of pursuing a master’s degree in Educational Leadership, and through that study I have begun to develop a few thoughts about what leadership means.

First, I must preface this post with a little background information.  Last year, I deployed overseas as a psychological operations sergeant.  I had a team of three soldiers to lead, and there were many trying times in my leadership.  There were many wrong decision made.  There were many things I would have changed if I could do it all over again.  There were many situations I would have analyzed more closely before acting.

With that said, I do believe I have learned a few things about leadership, and I would like to share my thoughts here.

  1. Stewardship – A leader is someone who puts others needs before their own.  This is akin to self-sacrifice, and it I believe it is one of the most important traits of a successful leader.
  2. Communication – This one cannot be overstated.  It is a close second to stewardship.  Communication is a skill that can make or break a leader.  I learned this the hard way, and I made so many communication errors in my first leadership experience.  Be clear, be succinct, and be honest with all communications.
  3.  Integrity – This is one of the core Army values, and I believe it is one of the most critical skills a leader must possess.  A leader is constantly under the microscope.  Team members will consistently ask themselves, “Does he do what he says?”  Does he follow through with commitments?”  “Does he tell the truth?”  If any of these questions yields a no answer, the leader and team are going to encounter challenges.
  4.  Be a life-long learner.  This is especially important in education, but I think every good leader must be willing and open to learning new things.  Every scenario and decision offers an amazing learning opportunity that should not be missed.  Listen to your team members and grow from their own wisdom.
  5. Vision – A strong vision guides everyone within the team to a common goal.  The leader must be able to clearly communicate his vision and provide a solid rationale for following the vision.

There are so many characteristics of leaders, and this is certainly not an exhaustive list. Through my own leadership experiences, these traits are the ones that team members seemed to desire more than any other in me as their leader.  I failed many times as a leader, but I also learned so much.

Never stop learning.  Until next time, let’s be stewards of ALL learners.

26 Second Graders and a Runaway Guinea Pig

We have a classroom guinea pig, and I wouldn’t trade him for the world!  He has brought so many shared experiences for our class that we have laughed until we have cried over. He has even been therapy for students with emotional/social difficulties over the year.

Last week, however, we almost cried over Mr. Squeakers for an entirely different reason.

It was Friday afternoon, and my wife came to visit our classroom to bring delicious Betty’s cupcakes.  If you haven’t tried them, you really MUST!  I was excited because it was going to be our first chance to take Mr. Squeakers out of his cage and introduce him to the students.

Boy, were the students excited!  They could barely contain their excitement (or ooooh’s and ahhhh’s) as I gently placed him on the floor in the center of all the students.  I reminded them of the importance of sitting knee to knee and give Mr. Squeakers a two finger pet.  Of course, this the same lecture I give my students every year.

On Thursday, Mr. Squeakers must have been feeling particularly energetic.  As soon as I set him down, he began to popcorn (jump around), and he ran straight towards a little girl with blonde curls.  Before I could say a word, he dashed between her knees and disappeared out of sight behind the central heating unit.

My jaw dropped, and the students just stared at me.  I couldn’t think of what to say, but thank goodness my wife had the presence of mind to dismiss the students to their seats.

“Is he gone?” one student shouted.  To be honest, I had no idea.  My gut instinct decided that he was probably a goner.  How would I handle the tears and agony (let alone the smell) of our poor guinea pig’s demise?

“It’ll be alright,”  I managed to say.  Meanwhile, my wife laid down on the carpet and dug her tiny arms behind the heating unit.  Within seconds, she pulled out a squealing, squirming, unhappy pig.

“Thank the lord!” I shouted out.

“He’s alive!” The students proclaimed.  Needless to say, whenever we take Squeakers out of his cage, we now have a protective fence to surround him.  No more heart attacks for me or the students!

Let’s continue to be stewards of ALL learners!  (even little class pets like Squeakers)


Social Media and the Classroom

The next time you are sitting with a group of educators, bring up the notion of social media in the classroom.  Opinions on social media in education run the gamut from “life ruining platform” to “most transformative educational practice in the 21st century”.

Police officers have told me that there jobs would be so much easier if social media didn’t exist.  Teachers have been fired over personal posts that were deemed inappropriate.  Students have bullied other students to the point where they have taken their own lives.  News outlets have pointed to social media as one of the places where cyber predators meet and entice children.

On the other hand, parents have praised our social media platform for having the opportunity to see their children in action.  Grandparents have praised Facebook for allowing them to see their grandchildren in ways they never could before.  Educators, including me, have had the opportunity to connect with classrooms all across the world.  Twitter has allowed educators, authors, and professional speakers to gather and discuss best practices in education.

The positives and negative opinions regarding social media could continue.  I believe that social media is a powerful tool.  As with any powerful tool (power saw, sledgehammer, bulldozer), the user can inflict powerful damage or bring about incredible change.  I believe social media can be used to transform our classroom, make connections across the world, and publicize the amazing things teachers are doing every day.

Kevin Honeycutt once said in his presentation at e3 Tech, “Not having a digital footprint is one of the worst things that educators can do.”   Teaching students about their digital footprint and empowering them to use it effectively is the way educators should approach social media.

Let’s promote ethical and empowered users of social media.  Until next time, continue being stewards of ALL learners.

My True Motivation for Science Fridays

First, I have to be honest.   I LOVE science!!!  I love the connections students make to science.  I love the way science can be used as a vehicle for excitement in school.   I love how independent and assertive ALL children are in science despite difficulties in other subjects.

I hold “Science Friday” every Friday, without exception.  Many who observe the students taking part in science exploration stations would think that my intention was to engage students in science experiments.  To a certain extent….yes!

My true motivation for Science Friday is the parents.  Each Friday, I invite the parents into the classroom to participate in the science lesson.  For me, it’s not the science or even the student collaboration that I see as I navigate the classroom.

I see parents engaging with their child.  I see parents getting a window into the classroom and seeing positive experiences happening every week.  I see an opportunity to bridge the gap between school and home.

This is so much more than science.  This is about the parents.  I love opening my classroom door to parents, and I truly feel like parents should feel welcome in our classroom any time.

Open your classroom door and see what might happen.  Let’s continue to be stewards of ALL learners!