The Road Ahead

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Minnewaska State Park

Running has a lot of connections to life and it’s been something I’ve been thinking about more and more. Through my years of running, I have learned a lot about myself and how I can take that knowledge to become a better version of myself while on the road logging in miles and in the real world as a teacher, friend, and human being.

There are days when the runs feel easy, effortless, and as if I am one with the road ahead. But then there are days when I feel like I can’t take one more step and I just need to quit. I have learned over the years that the times when I have felt like giving up are the exact moments that are making me a stronger runner. This is just like in life. If something is easy how much reward is there to be had? There is so much to learn from the times when we struggle and perhaps fail to meet our goals but through that struggle we can uncover some important truths about ourselves.

As educators I think it is important to share our own stories about success and failure with our students. We can use our own lives as ways to teach our students the universal feelings of pride and determination when we meet a goal that we have been striving towards. For me, I have been continuing to learn a lot of those lessons on the road and I think I have become a better person in setting out on the road ahead.

It’s Never Too Late To Set A New Goal

I recently received an e-mail from WordPress notifying me that my yearly subscription fee would be due in a few months. It was at that moment that it dawned on me that I hadn’t posted on my blog site in more months than I would like to admit. After that e-mail sat in my inbox I began to question why it was that it had taken me so long to write on a platform that I once enjoyed so much.

I began to consider all the reasons why sitting down at the computer was starting to feel more like a chore than what was once a fun diversion for me. While I could convince myself that the summer months were meant to be spent outdoors rather than posting to my blog or that preparing for a new school year ate up all my free time, one truth kept nagging at my conscience that was difficult to avoid facing. The truth was that my initial motivation to create this blog was to share my passion for teaching and leadership, and what I began to realize over the last few months was that the spark had sort of fizzled out for me. I’m not sure exactly what prompted my temporary “burn-out” as I will call it but I will say that I know the only way to separate myself from this feeling is to move forward in both thought and action.

I find it simultaneously difficult and liberating to admit the truth to myself, let alone place it down on this blog post, but I feel that it’s necessary for me to move forward in being able to re-evaluate my current status as a teacher and consider the future choices that lie ahead in my career. So it was at 2 am this morning as I laid awake in bed that I realized I needed to admit this truth to myself so that I can begin to find what will reignite the curiosity, passion, and excitement again that I have for teaching and contributing to my blog. While I don’t have all the answers yet I am surprisingly excited by the prospect of not having it all figured out yet.

Who knew that a subscription reminder to WordPress would have such a profound effect on my thinking?

Thank you WordPress.

Embracing Creativity

Here is a guest post from my husband Ryan Carney on creativity in schools. He is a middle school guidance counselor and advocate for finding ways to positively engage students in school by fostering their own innate talents.

Are students bored in school? Or perhaps the more appropriate question might be: has student attention declined with the surge of technology? After watching the video, Changing Education Paradigms”, from Sir Ken Robinson I turned to Google and put in a search for “the rise of ADHD in children”. ADHD is described as an epidemic by many, with approximately 6 million children in the United States diagnosed with the disorder since 2011. I found a significant number of articles from reputable sources such as CNN, NBC, etc. citing that between 11% of children aged 4-17 are diagnosed with ADHD. These articles seemingly all cite technology as one of the main issues. They argue that students are facing so much screen time that they are unable to focus and pay attention in class. However, I do not believe that technology is the “problem” here.

It is human nature to crave and absorb information. The children of the 21st century are not an exception in that regard, they have just found new mediums that did not exist when we were growing up to find their information. Children are excited and engaged when they are with friends on their phones or computers looking at videos on YouTube, but when it comes time to pick up a textbook, they can’t focus. As a school counselor, I struggle to label this as ADHD. Teachers need to find creative ways in which to engage students so that   As Sir Ken Robinson says, “ I am not saying that the condition does not exist, however I am suggesting that this “epidemic” of ADHD as described by the media is not as it seems.”

As a school counselor I work closely with many students that present with symptoms of ADHD. These students are generally among the most innovative of their class. The late Robin Williams once said, “We are all only given a little spark of madness, you mustn’t lose it”. In a culture where conformity is valued, those who do not fit the traditional mold are alienated, medicated and isolated. They are told to pay attention like everyone else, when they are incapable of being anyone except themselves.

As we move forward in education we must be diligent in our dedication to treat creativity in education with the same regard as mathematics, social studies, or any other discipline. It is far too easy to lose sight of our innate talents in a world as fast paced as ours. It is our collective creativity that brought America to prominence. We mustn’t lose our spark of madness.

Se Habla Español

bilingualImage: ©iStockphoto / Andrew Rich

 

I feel an exceptional amount of pride when I am able to tap into my skills as a bilingual speaker of English and Spanish to provide translation services to parents and students in my school.I eagerly await a moment when my colleagues will ask me to translate important school information to Spanish-speaking parents who yearn to be part of the classroom community despite their language abilities. I have found that parents with limited English skills are often nervous to ask questions so I always try to make myself available to help in ways that will alleviate any concerns they have regarding school procedures, classroom activities, or their child’s progress in the classroom. Recently I explained the steps to creating the time-honored “Flat Stanley” project to a parent of a first grader. I was proud to function as the bridge between teacher and parent to relay class information because otherwise the information may not have been received due to language barriers.

Teaching in the 21st century means that schools need to make it their mission to be inclusive of all diversities, languages, and cultures. We are preparing students for a future we are not even exactly sure will look like, sound like, or be like. So as educators we need to be inclusive of all people who enter our school buildings so that we can welcome them with open minds and open hearts.

Rethinking Ability and Intelligence

As a special education teacher there are many moments that I can draw upon where I can feel proud of the experiences I take part in with my students. Although the students I teach are young, I watch how over time they develop some very grown-up characteristics. I have seen my students develop independence, self-awareness, empathy, and responsibility in a very short time that year after year amazes me. These memories are incredibly rewarding because I know that I am a big part of how they develop in the time I spend as their teacher, coach, mentor, and most importantly someone they know they can talk to.

I just viewed the sensational TED talk titled “Bring On The Learning Revolution!” by Sir Ken Robinson. I have viewed it before and probably by now I have watched it or referenced the transcript about a dozen times. If you haven’t yet seen it, please do. You will not be disappointed! Each time I watch Sir Ken Robinson speak I am uplifted about the possibilities that exist in education. Although there are many challenges in schools today faced by educators I think that holding onto the notion that positive change can occur is so incredibly powerful.

In this talk Sir Ken says,”At the heart of the challenge is to reconstitute our sense of ability and of intelligence”. Too often the focus in our public school classrooms is the ability to produce results within the academic areas of literacy and math. While I find these content areas extremely important I know that some of my students excel in other areas too. Many of my special education students are right-brain dominant learners. They prefer group activities, drawing, role-playing, and active learning strategies. The traditional classroom setting can be a difficult one for them to navigate in but I intend to always provide opportunities for them to succeed by supporting them as they develop in my classroom. Kids need to feel that they are important to succeed and I want each of my students to feel that their strengths are purposeful, important, and worthy. 

An Update On Our Book Room

Last year I committed to updating our school’s Book Room. Back then the “Book Room” was housed in a very small space in the school. The Book Room housed all of our guided reading materials and teacher mentor texts. I knew that this was a great space that had the potential to be even greater.

Here are 5 steps I used that helped to move my project along in the right direction:

  1. Survey your staff. – I used this GoogleForms as my survey.
  2. Create a timeline – Having a plan helped keep me on track.
  3. Be organized! – As is with most projects it is critical to stay organized!
  4. Communicate Often – I sent out regular emails to keep staff informed of the progress being made.
  5. Celebrate! – The best part of completing a long-term project is to share out all the efforts made!
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Fiction books

 

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Non-Fiction books

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Sign-in/sign-out system

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Card pockets used to inventory each book in our Book Room

 

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Colorful posters that express our love for reading!

 

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Pebble Go and Mac computers available for teacher and students

 

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Our labeling system to easily find any book

 

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Mentor text library for teachers

 

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Our PBIS mentor text library is growing!

Raise the Praise, Minimize the Criticize

I first heard the adage “Raise the praise, minimize the criticize” while in an undergraduate class. It has stayed with me since I first heard it six years ago. While the saying was meant to frame the way in which we interact with students, it is also an effective way to live your life.

When we focus on what is positive we can grow in tremendous ways. We allow ourselves to be freed from restrictions we can put in our own way. Thoughts of “I can’t” can quickly become transformed to be “I can” if a positive attitude is adopted into all arenas of our life. The same is also true about how we think about and speak to our students. Rather than focusing on the gaps we have yet to meet with our students, we can reframe our thinking to consider all that they know so far.

One of my favorite TED talks features teacher and motivational speaker Rita Pierson who exemplifies an admirable model of someone who roots for all of her students despite potential shortcomings. Her TED talk can be featured here. During her talk she presents a truly poignant question, one that I am sure I share with many educators which is, ‘How do I raise my student’s level of self esteem while at the same time raise their level of achievement?’ Interestingly enough I believe that these two elements are directly related.

When students receive praise for all that they are and feel good about themselves, their level of motivation to become more will follow the same positive trajectory. Now wouldn’t this be an amazing thing for all of us to believe in leading our own lives? So here’s to a little more praise, and a little less criticize.

 

View From The Rug

As the special education teacher in an inclusion classroom I often like to take a moment during the day to take a view from the rug alongside my students. I like to sit beside them while a lesson is taking place and take in what they are experiencing as young learners. This experience helps me gain perspective into how they listen for information, process that information, and develop new ideas in their minds. I can watch how students observe and take in new information, how they add to the classroom conversation, and how they ask questions to clarify for themselves. My view from the rug always proves to be a valuable experience for my teaching skills.
The creation of a set of classroom rules is one of the most important beginning of the school year lessons which our class took part in today. We created our list of classroom rules by thinking about each other and the respect we would like to see in our room throughout the year. As I sat down on the rug with some of my young first graders I could just feel their sheer sense of excitement and and eagerness as they named some of the behaviors we would like to follow over the year in our room. Today my view from the rug reminded me that as adults it can be refreshing to take some time to pause and reflect on the small moments in our day that renew our own sense of excitement and eagerness. I am looking forward to a year filled with lots of first grade fun with my young learners as we start this new school year together.

An Opportunity to Grow Professionally

I recently finished up a great year-long professional development opportunity that was offered to me by my school district. Towards the end of the last November I was nominated along with several other colleagues in my district to participate in the Strengthening Teacher and Leader Effectiveness (STLE-D) Grant funded by NYSED. The STLE-D Grant funded projects to principals, teacher leaders, and aspiring principals to provide schools with the resources that are necessary to focus on improving curriculum and expanding instructional strategies. Each participant was encouraged to create a signature practice that would enhance not only the entire school community, but also refine personal leadership skills. Learn more about the grant here.

I focused my efforts on improving pedagogical practices and creating a shared vision around literacy practices. I wanted to take a space in our school that was dedicated to housing our guided reading materials and re-envision the space to become more organized, accessible, and more effective to teachers. Over the next year I plan to take our school’s “Book Room” and transform it to become the “Guided Reading Lab” where teachers can access guided reading materials and students can have access to digital tools to further their learning about different topics they are reading about. My goal is to create a space for teachers that is more inviting than our current space that stores our books. I want teachers to openly dialogue about their own best practices and to share their ideas about literacy lessons that have proven effective in their own classrooms. Books are such a valuable resource in the lives of our young students and to strengthen their importance is something I feel very strongly about. Over the next year I’ll share the progress that our Guided Reading Lab is making and how my grant project has taken shape in my school.

Heather Wolpert-Gawron, a teacher, blogger, and author, shared some great thoughts on classroom libraries and their value in teachers’ and students’ lives. She says, “I believe that a classroom library is the heartbeat of a teacher’s environment. It is the window into an educator’s own personality, and it reflects the importance of literacy in the classroom. I believe that every teacher — no matter what subject he or she teaches — should have one.” If this is Heather’s thoughts on a classroom library, imagine the power that a school book room can unlock for teachers and students; this is what I hope to do for my own school.

Libraries are the heartbeat of the classroom.

Libraries are the heartbeat of the classroom.

Three Lessons from an Experienced Principal

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There are times when we don’t realize that through our actions we are leading and teaching others in meaningful ways. I think that the remarkable way we can influence others without knowing it is at the heart of teaching and learning. I recently had my internship advisor visit me at my school to check on the progress of my internship experience. As we walked the hallways of the school I was learning so much from her words and her actions, whether she realized it or not. Here are three pieces of wisdom she unknowingly left me with that I know will impact my future work.

1. Stop and smell the flowers…literally!  We took our time to walk around the hallways of the school to truly get a sense of the environment and spirit of the school. We popped into several rooms that reflected the culture of the organization including the cafeteria, library, computer lab, book room, and faculty room. We also walked around the outside of the school to see the playground and front of the school. As we came to the main entrance of the school I walked forward to the front door while my advisor stopped in front a lilac bush to the right of the entrance. She stopped, gently took the flower in her hands and smelled the fresh, delicate scent that the flower was giving off. She didn’t realize it, but her small action of smelling the flowers was so powerful to me. She was appreciating the beauty in the small gift that nature provides us, which can be translated into larger lessons within the school organization on a daily basis with decisions that need to be made.

2. Organizational theory will impact your practice in tremendous ways.  Up until this year I was never exposed to books by authors like Peter Senge, Thomas J. Sergiovanni, Lee G. Bolman, Terrence E. Deal, or John Kingdon. These scholars explain the ways in which those in leadership positions can significantly impact the culture of an organization. I have to admit that I needed to reread and revisit these texts to understand them because I am not used to using theory to guide my practice. My advisor recommended that I keep these texts close to me and glance through them daily. I agree that revisiting the following texts is helpful in building a positive school culture: The Fifth Discipline by,Peter Senge Educational Governance and Administration by, Thomas J. Sergiovanni, Martin Burlingame, Fred S. Coombs, and Paul W. Thurston Reframing Organizations by, Lee G. Bolman and Terrence E. Deal Agendas, Alternatives, and Public Policies by, John Kingdon

3. Appreciate the people in the organization – they will become your family.  On a daily basis I have to say that I am truly impressed with the caliber of educators that I work with. The staff in my school keeps kids’ needs in mind at all times and they go above and beyond to deliver instructional plans to students. As my advisor and I visited the spaces in the school building she pointed out that small thoughtful gestures make a world of difference to the visitors in the school and the staff members. She often says that her school is like her family and I believe this statement to be so true. Small acts of kindness show people that they are cared for and this can make a world of difference for positive school culture. The quote above by Henry Adams “A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops” has always been a favorite quote of mine. I believe that all teachers significantly impact the lives of their students in meaningful ways. For me, my internship advisor has provided significant learning lessons for me, even beyond her awareness.