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.

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.

 

Classroom Celebrations

St. Patrick’s Day was celebrated today in my 1st grade classroom and the students got extraordinarily creative when we asked them to create traps in hopes to capture a mischievous leprechaun. It was great to see how they used household items to build something that they designed. After building their traps they each had the chance to explain the process to the class. We all offered compliments and questions. It was really fun to take the time to have them explain their thought processes in making something that they felt so proud of. Afterwards we set the traps in hopes that they would catch a leprechaun on St. Patrick’s Day Eve. Below are just some examples of the creativity that was celebrated.

This student used mirrors and shiny items to lure the leprechaun into his trap.

This student used mirrors and shiny items to lure the leprechaun into his trap.

All this leprechaun has to do is climb up the ladder to find his gold.

All this leprechaun has to do is climb up the ladder to find his gold.

No leprechaun can resist the temptation of Skittles!

No leprechaun can resist the temptation of Skittles!

Inviting messages will surely capture this little leprechaun!

Inviting messages will surely capture this little leprechaun!

Popsicle sticks were cleverly used to devise this trap.

Popsicle sticks were cleverly used to devise this trap.

A colorful rainbow path leads this leprechaun into a  trap!

A colorful rainbow path leads this leprechaun into a trap!

Unfortunately those leprechauns were too sneaky to be fooled by our traps, but they were kind enough to leave behind a small note and a chocolate treat for everyone. IMG_0064 Although he did leave behind a small mess… IMG_0072 Classroom celebrations are great opportunities for students to demonstrate their creativity and imagination. Let’s continue to foster those skills that captivate the eyes, mind, and heart of others. Disclaimer: No leprechauns were harmed during this classroom celebration. 

Celebrating the Legacy of Dr. Seuss

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Today marks what would have been the 111th birthday of Theodore Geisel, or better known to most as author and cartoonist Dr. Seuss. In celebration of his life and famous works of children’s books today begins the week-long celebration of Read Across America in schools across the country. Read Across America is a program started by National Education Association and is in its 18th year of creating life-long readers by finding innovative ways to inspire a love of reading and learning.

As I walked around my school building today I witnessed so many wonderful activities that celebrated the clever drawings and catchy rhymes that are so characteristic of Dr. Seuss’ work. An ESL teacher conducted a read-aloud of my all-time favorite Green Eggs and Ham followed by a mini-lesson to teach rhyming words. Another teacher used the Cat in the Hat Camera app to take photographs of her students dressed in the costumes of iconic Seuss characters. Later in the week teachers and students  will take part in “Character Day” to bring literary characters to life by getting dressed up in their favorite book’s characters. My first grade team members couldn’t help but to dress up as characters from The Cat in the Hat.

One of my first reading memories I have is of me sitting proudly in a small wooden chair in a public library in the Bronx. I held Green Eggs and Ham in my arms and asked my father and sister to sit across for me to act as my audience. I remember holding the book eagerly just as I had seen my teacher do. I opened the book and out flew the zany, wild, laughable rhymes. I can recall how easily I had read the book just as fluent readers should, and just the way I ask my students to read now – with expression and ease.

I remember this reading memory so fondly just I am sure so many others can identify with his books. This moment is such an important part of what helped to build my reading life and for my love of reading. Thanks to Dr. Seuss for helping me to continue to foster a love of reading and learning in my students today.

Do you have a favorite Dr. Seuss book?

Schools and Creativity

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Sir Ken Robinson: Changing Education Paradigms

It’s time to go back to the drawing board. The critical time has come for a much-needed overhaul of the education system to take place. The education reform movement has created a period of disillusionment for parents, students, and educators. Rather than praise, the education system has taken some very hard hits from all arenas in an attempt to figure out what works best for students. Ironically, we are not reforming education, instead we are moving towards a more standardized view of what learning means. Rather than reform we conform.

Educators are being reduced to a label in regards to yearly evaluation practices and as a result our teaching practices are being watered down. The expectation to be excellent is defined by results on yearly student exams in only reading, writing, and mathematics. There is so much more to school than these three academic areas, albeit important ones. I find all of this so puzzling. Within the existing paradigm of education, is there a way to change the culture of the learning organization to value creativity without functioning exclusively away from learning standards? It may seem unlikely to foster creativity and innovation in a world surrounded by assessments and standardization but I like to think that anything is possible.

My Very First Blog Post

Taking my first step.

I began teaching five years ago right out of college. I considered myself one of the “Lucky Ones” in that I was able to secure a full-time teaching position at a time when many of my college friends were struggling to get their foot in the door. I am blessed to be a bilingual speaker of English and Spanish and credit that skill to being a determining factor in being hired from a pool of thousands of applicants in the New York City school system.

I began teaching at the inception of the Common Core State Standards in NY and through the roll-out of No Child Left Behind. Unfortunately, I have to admit then that I did not fully understand the consequences that this federal initiative would have on my teaching practices. I was just a young teacher who couldn’t wait to start creating engaging lesson plans, putting up bulletin boards, conducting read-alouds, along with all of the rewarding activities that come with the job and of course ultimately affecting the lives of young children.

As the years passed I started to become more aware of how federal education mandates directly impact teaching practices, the philosophy of educational leaders, the well-being of teachers, and most importantly the welfare of students. I worked in a Bronx public school for two years and due to many reasons I left to take a teaching position in a small school in Dutchess County, NY. There I currently teach first grade in an inclusion classroom.

Fast forward to now, I feel that a veil has been lifted from my eyes and I am becoming more and more entrenched in the work of educators who are learning how to combat the educational reform movement. I am immensely impressed in the educators I meet who are willing to share their thoughts about how CCSS and the reform movement are affecting their teaching. I am still trying to figure out my stance on lots of issues and the platform from which I will grow my thoughts. So in this blog, I do not intend to share my personal and political views, instead I would like to reflect upon current educational issues. I also intend to share my thoughts on leadership and how best to lead in these times as I am learning so much information that I know will be useful to me in my future as an educational leader.

So here’s to taking the first step into the blogging world. Wish me luck!