May 31

Actions of a Teacher

We are just completing graduation season here in our area.  Our district alone hosted nine graduations.  What a glorious time for lots of students, parents, and school leaders!

That proud sense of accomplishment!

That exhilerating feeling of completion!

That exciting feeling of new beginnings!

This morning I was reading through some recent posts as I nursed my coffee on the back porch and listened to the wind chimes sing in the breeze…ah, I love a restful long weekend morning!  I read and re-read this post by Nikki Woodson.  Her words certainly struck a nerve with me and I had to revisit them a couple of times.  They made me recall that personal experience when I completed and graduated with my Masters of Education degree…

I was working as a paraprofessional (teacher’s assistant is the title in laymen’s terms) at one of the local high schools in this district.  I was also a single mother helping my youngest child prepare to graduate high school and elbow-deep in wedding preparations for my oldest child.  I was also interviewing for jobs as a certified teacher in a couple of other districts.  I was also tired and looking for ways to clear my calendar.  Several seniors and I were studying for their high school final exams and I mentioned something about my recent college finals and my upcoming college practicum.  My students stopped thinking about their class material and immediately wanted to know more about my college experience.  They knew I had been working on my M.Ed. degree for a couple of years and one asked when I would graduate.  So, I calmly told him that I finished up my course work and got my degree during the upcoming summer but I didn’t really think that I would participate in the actual graduation ceremony.  All eleven of those students sitting at the table were apalled!  “How can you NOT Walk?”  “Wouldn’t your parents like to see you Walk?”  “Don’t you think your kids would like to see their mother get her diploma?”  I explained that I had already participated in a couple of graduations and that the ceremony didn’t seem as important to me as the actual completion and next steps.  These young folks who had never particpated in a graduation ceremony just couldn’t understand that and voiced several protests.  I finally got them back onto our exam review guide and studying for their final resumed.

The comments of those young people stuck with me, though.  I would revisit them several times over the next few days.  I finally announced to them on their last day of school that I had changed my mind and I would be walking through my college graduation ceremony that summer.  Cheers went up!

What I didn’t realize is exactly what Woodson’s mother stated.  I didn’t realize until that moment “that graduation was for all those people who had supported me to that point and for all those who came before me and made it possible…participation was a way to honor them.”  So, on that hot day in August, just days after my youngest graduated from high school and my oldest said her marriage vows, on the weekend before I started my job as a certified educator, I Walked through another college graduation.  Like Woodson’s, my mother beamed with pride and a few friends sat with her and my children and cheered when my name was called.  I’d also like to think that several of those young people who had cheered a month or two before were also inspired to persevere and accomplish more than they ever thought they could.

Like Woodson points out, as educators, we have an impact on students and the community in so many more ways than just those lessons we prepare and facilitate in our classrooms.  We inspire through our continuous learning and by our actions in those communities.  As you begin your summer – and as many of you begin your continuous learning through professional development or college courses – keep in mind that you are still making an impact on students and your community even though there are not young people sitting in your classroom.

May 10

A Journey with an Unintended Destination

Somehow or other I stumbled upon an interesting blog post and immediately had to take some time to just sit and think.  Have you ever done that?

You see, I had the same experience.  Many years ago I had just facilitated my first workshop at the National Council for Teachers of English and was chatting with folks as they were leaving the room when a young woman walked up to me with an obvious sense of purpose.  Holly introduced herself and told me she was from Heineman, enjoyed the workshop, and would like to talk to me about writing a book.  I introduced her to my co-facilitators and she politely talked to us all and outlined what she liked about our workshop.  Later, I saw her and she explained that as an editor she was offering to work with me on writing a book for middle school teachers.

I was flattered.

I was excited.

I was overwhelmed.

Over the next year or so I wrestled with the idea and maintained contact with Holly and even bounced some ideas off her editing brain.  I shared some of what I was committing to written work and she offered suggestions and encouragement.  So, I wrestled a bit more.

By the end of a couple of years, I felt like I was wrestling with an aligator and the aligator was winning.  So, I gave Holly a call and told her that I really didn’t think I had anything to share that was worthwhile for other teachers.  I told her that all of my ideas seemed well-worn and borrowed – and, after all, they probably were because there are lots of smart and talented folks out there who were providing me ideas that I was adapting and using in my classroom.  I told her that I couldn’t seem to find my direction and a focus for the multiplicity of topics bouncing round my head.  I told her that I couldn’t seem to organize my thoughts enough to have a chapter, much less sections for an entire book.  I thanked her profusely for the opportunity but I didn’t think I had a book in me.

Now, here I am almost ten years later and I just noticed that I have authored and published more than 150 blog posts on this blog.  I’ve also authored and published over 680 blog posts on my personal blog and more than 75 recipes and even started posting to our #WCSEdTech blog.  Yet, I still don’t think I have a book in me.

Sometimes our journeys and destinations don’t always look like we envision them early on.  The thing about it is, if we just keep putting one foot in front of the other, or one word after another, as the case may be, we are continuing on that journey and will reach the destination that might even be better.

Today’s post is to encourage teachers to keep moving forward toward the end of the school year with purpose and intentional teaching and your students – as well as you – will be far better for it!

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May 9

Here’s to Unexpected Destinations!

How many of your journeys have led you to unexpected destinations?

I recently read a post about Student Engagement and that phrase about a journey and an unexpected destination jumped out at me.  Oh, lots of things within the post resonated with me but that one jumped up and grabbed me for some reason.

Maybe it is because I often reference education and learning as a journey.

Maybe it is because here we are nearing the end of the school year and we feel like it has been a long journey or that we have a long journey ahead of us to that last day.

Maybe it is because folks have been referencing their summer vacation destinations.

Maybe it is because I have been having dreams where I have lost my shoes and I am searching for them and asking other people who pop up in my dreams to help me find my shoes.

Maybe it is because I have also been dreaming that I am wandering round the parking lot searching for my vehicle.

(By the way, I searched online and learned that losing or forgetting your shoes may suggest one is unprepared or unwilling to take the next step or move forward in a waking situation.  I also learned that your car represents your drive or motivation and dreaming of losing it may mean a loss of motivation and one is directionless and uncertain how to proceed.)

Maybe it is just because that was a well-crafted post and prompted me to do some thinking!

At any rate, when I look at my own learning journey, I certainly don’t think I ever had the destination where I am as a goal or vision…or did I?

Several years ago at a National Writing Project conference, the keynote speaker asked us to write down goals for where we would like to be in a six months, in a year, in five years.  I distinctly recall writing my five year goal.  It was to be teaching adults full-time.  Of course, at that time my vision – the destination – was probably far different than it turned out to be.  Yet, within a couple of years I was serving as an adjunct at a local community college teaching writing.  Then, within four years I was starting this job as an instructional technology coach, working with teachers day-in-and-day-out.

So, while the journey and destination might look far different to me than anticipated at that time, I firmly believe that writing down that goal made all the difference in the world.  This is a good time of year to take a moment and think deliberately about your goals.  This is a good time to think about our journey and destinations.  What do you hope your journey looks like for six months from now?  How do you hope it looks for a year from now?  What about five years from now?  Think about it and write it down.

Then, pose those questions to your students and get them to write down their answers as well.  This could simply be something jotted down on an index card like I did.  It could be in the form of A Letter to Me – about the anticipated or hoped-for future.  Just like the destination is really more about the journey, the written work is more about the thinking involved.  This exercise serves as a perfect way to get students to think about themselves and their future.

May 6

Mentor Texts as Writing Inspiration

Many years ago I facilitated my first workshop at the National Council for Teachers of English conference.  Three other teachers and I worked through a practical, interactive workshop with a focus on writing in a reading classroom.  We shared ideas and suggestions for interactive spelling lists, trying multiple types of writing genres and prompts, and reading like a writer/using mentor texts.

During my segment of the workshop, I got the opportunity to share a read-aloud using one of my favorite mentor texts, Marshfield Dreams by Ralph Fletcher.  I chose to read the chapter entitled “War” and then challenged participants to use it as a mentor text for their next ten minutes of writing.  During the sharing time there were some phenomenal pieces read – well, after all it was a conference for English teachers!  Then, I outlined ways to use this in the classroom.

We looked at the neighborhood map at the beginning of the book.  I shared how I modeled drawing a map of my own neighborhood for my students and asked them to create their own map.  Then, I modeled how I selected 3-5 spots and starred them on the map and gave a 1-3 synopsis of a story relating to that map (most of them involved childhood games and playing like Fletcher’s).  Then, I asked the group to select one of the stars to be my first written piece and explained how asking students to do the same with a partner provided an immediate audience for their first written piece.  Plus, the exercise also began building a close classroom community of writers by letting students get to know more about their partner/neighbor.

That book became a mentor text for us for the first portion of our school year as I used it to model several different writing strategies.  It also became a favorite of my students because when they saw me with that book in my hands, they knew they were going to get the opportunity to enjoy an entertaining read-aloud in class.  No matter what age, it seems students revel in a read-aloud.

There are so many great children and young adult books – and some adult reads that make wonderful mentor texts when teaching folks to read like a writer.  Plus, sharing little snippets of a mentor text encourages reading by advertising a good read.

Read like a writer – then, write!

May 2

Social Media in the Classroom Volume 4

One of my favorite platforms of social media that lends itself to a practical educational use is Diigo.  This is a resource I use almost daily.  Diigo provides an online tool for saving, tagging, annotating, and sharing online resources easily and can be accessed anywhere, anytime, so long as the user has Internet access.

I love seeing what colleagues near and far are reading and sharing ideas and notes with them.  With the notification options, I can see what others are reading, bookmarking, and annotating.  The organizational features provide tags and categories which make for easy searches and storage for later access and reading.  The sharing options allow the user to determine who has access through sharing.

If I were still in the classroom, I would certainly teach my students to use Diigo.  I think it would lend itself for effective use of Kelly Gallagher’s Article of the Week.  Why not use such an option to teach students close reading and note-taking?  Why not use such an option to teach students grammar, usage, and mechanics?  Then, simply read classic, beautiful literature for pleasure and discussion!

Diigo would be the perfect tool to use for shared research.  Students could easily share resources and notes focused on a small group research topic.  Students might also share resources and notes when a project-based learning approach is taken.

The most important thing that Diigo offers to me as a teacher is that it allows students to apply real-world, adult-type reading, annotating with stickies, and online discussions using stickies.  Diigo may not seem like what most people think of when considering the use of social media in the classroom, but it truly is a wonderful tool for sharing online texts for reading and ideas.  Check out Diigo and see if it might support your classroom learning!