2011 - Nancy Teaches

A Teacher Who Loves to Learn

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Saturday, April 2

Am I so busy teaching I forget to listen?

April 02, 2011 25


I’m constantly looking for ways to improve my teaching. I’m always searching for new techniques to motivate and inspire. I enjoy learning new methods that I can share.
Notice all of the sentences start with the pronoun “I?”
Maybe I need to revise my thinking and explore more about the way my students are receiving my instruction.

Recently, I had an interesting experience that made me stop and reflect. I’m a never-ending beginner quilter. It is a hobby I love and helps me unwind and slow down the pace of my life. I’m not very good at it, but I make up for it with enthusiasm. Long ago, I decided that I would enjoy the process, not the product, as well as not give anything as gifts.

As part of my hobby, I take classes to learn new skills. Recently, while sitting in a class, I became confused. I didn’t understand what I was asked to do. I just couldn’t wrap my brain around the technique. It seemed backwards and overwhelming. A quick look around the room showed me that everyone else was grasping it. The class was moving on to the next step and I was completely lost. Suddenly, the room felt overly warm and I had the urge to scream, “Slow down. Wait a minute. I’m lost.” Instead, I struggled on and lost my momentum for learning.


Driving home from the class, I reflected on the experience. I was a bit annoyed with myself for not speaking up, but during the class I felt defeated, anxious and confused by the way everyone else was learning the technique. I was timid about admitting I was lost. I didn’t want the class to slow down on my account. I didn’t want my classmates to see that I was totally confused.

I didn’t raise my hand and ask for help.

I began to wonder how often this happens in my own classroom with my students. I like to think I’m in tune with my students and ask the correct questions to insure they understand. Is it possible that in the business of the day, I have students who are afraid to speak up for fear of embarrassment? Am I being as aware as I think I am? I know I use a variety of cues and lists and strategies when I teach, but am I so busy teaching I forget to really listen?

When I go to school on Monday, I’m going to remember what it was like to sit in a classroom and feel afraid to speak up. I’m going to give my students a reminder that I always want them to say, “I don’t understand. I didn’t get that. I don’t know what you mean. I need help.” I want them to feel safe enough to reach out to me.
I want to see things from their point of view and remember that they are what is most important -not a new technique, method or project.

My goal is to listen more!
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Saturday, March 5

I had another idea...

March 05, 2011 9







We have a standard spelling program from a reputable publishing company. It is a pre-set part of our curriculum and all of the teachers are required to use it. Each week the students complete different pages of a workbook and then take a test. Some teachers spend part of their teaching day doing these pages. In my fourth grade classroom, I don’t!






Each week’s lesson has a “rule” and through various activities the students practice the rule. I do not devote any of my class time or instructional minutes to these four pages. Each week I assign it as homework and tell them to finish it by the end of the week. (We are required to assign a certain number of homework minutes each night.) The students do it without complaint and easily finish it. Most weeks every student gets a perfect score on both the workbook pages and the test. Would I rather have them reading for pleasure, you bet! If I have to do the spelling program, I would rather it be something they can breeze through at home so I can concentrate on real learning in the classroom.






I have a few students who each week score 100% on their spelling tests and they are the worst spellers. Their talent is in memorizing! I’ve tried to explain this to parents and have been met with disbelief. A weekly spelling test is a memorization test – not authentic learning.






Some parents eagerly embrace the spelling work and weekly tests. It is familiar to them and something tangible that they can readily measure each week. I’ve stressed that it shouldn’t be used as a barometer of their child’s school performance or success.






At this point, you may wonder why I even use the program. When I wanted to change from our basal reading program to Reading Workshop, I had to fight hard. After hours of persuasive arguments and research, I won, which means the students won! In every great negotiation, you have to leave something on the table to get the most sought after prize. I left spelling on the table.






You may ask if I am one of those teachers who embraces “inventive” spelling. The answer is no. I teach spelling all day long, every day. Whenever I am working with students we discuss spelling rules: prefixes, suffixes, root words, doubling rules, vowel diagraphs, etc. Throughout each area of the curriculum, we discuss it and apply it as needed. Each student in my room has learned the dangers of relying on “spell check” on the computer and learned editing skills. When we construct paragraphs, we let the words flow and fix spelling during editing. All of my students keep a handheld spelling ace with them for checking words. We use peer editing to check one another’s work. I’ve taught them the old trick of reading your work backwards since your eye can sometimes miss words that you spelled wrong. Spelling is a part of every lesson.






I envision my students sitting for their SATs and attacking the writing section. I imagine them using the prewriting techniques I’ve taught them to organize their ideas. Then, I envision them constructing their paragraphs. Finally, I see them editing and fixing their spelling. They will successfully compose not because of workbook pages, but because they learned to apply rules innately and in context.




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Tuesday, March 1

The Academy Awards for Academic Excellence

March 01, 2011 10


In honor of this year's Academy Awards...
A return to one of my favorite posts!

This year my classroom theme is “Hollywood” where every student is a star. With the Academy Awards approaching, I was looking for a way to integrate this theme in a meaningful way. Boy, did I find it!

As a way to model and reinforce comprehension strategies, I am reading the novel Fever 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson to my class. This historical fiction book is one of my favorites and provides a wealth of information about Philadelphia during the yellow fever epidemic that decimated the city in 1793.

As I read the novel, the students complete a variety of collaborative tasks and project based learning activities. Most importantly, this novel inspires even the most reluctant readers to read more.
The main character has big dreams for her future. She yearns for a life that is filled with excitement, travel, and she describes how she will change the world. Of course, this segued to the students composing multi-paragraph essays that described their hopes for their future jobs, families and how they would contribute to society. We spent a great deal of time on their essays with lots of peer editing and revisions. The end results were astonishing: an idea was born.

Since these essays were so amazing, I wanted the students to share them. What better way than to turn them into speeches? I was so proud of their writing that I decided the students would share their work with the other students in our school. We would have the Academy Awards for Academic Excellence. This wasn’t a competition, but a celebration of their hard work and their dreams.

Once I shared the idea with my students, it snowballed! Suddenly, we were decorating and creating our Oscar stage, planning a banquet, making wardrobe decisions and discussing the importance of speaking slowly and making eye contact during a speech. Then, the big day arrived!

The end result far exceeded my expectations. We invited younger grades to come to our special ceremony. Many of the students’ former teachers needed tissues to dab their eyes as they observed the students giving their speeches.

I love when a spontaneous idea develops and the end result is a meaningful experience that the students will remember.

Here's a look at the introduction and our first speaker.


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Monday, February 21

The Reading Teacher becomes a Math Teacher

February 21, 2011 8


I am passionate about reading and more importantly, teaching reading. When I’m working with
students, time ceases to exist. I go to a magical place where that all that matters is helping a student become a great reader as well as helping them discover the joy of reading.
Oh, and I teach math, too.

This is basically how I have always viewed my teaching day. Math was something I got through so I could get to reading.

My philosophy for teaching reading is individualized. I use Reading Workshop where students choose what they read and I work with them to insure comprehension. After I do a mini lesson, I set them free to apply strategies and read! They’re good readers not only because they get a chance to read, but because they work with me one-on-one or in small groups. Also, I constantly change the dynamic so strong readers work with struggling readers and vice versa. It is a time of concentration, learning and joy.

I have never had a passion for math. Without a burning desire to teach it, my math instruction is minimal at best and the students typically learn in spite of me. Yes, I follow the teacher’s guide and pull out the manipulatives. I do everything the math teacher’s guide says to do, but it is dry and lacks imagination or any of my personality. When I reflect on who I am as a teacher, I see a plethora of amazing reading lessons that are alive, creative and memorable. I never see math – ever.
So, I thought I should change this. Don’t good teachers look for ways to improve? Maybe it was time to look at math.

When I think about my philosophy of teaching reading, one word jumps out! Individualized! Why couldn’t I do this with math? How would I do it? Could I do it? When I hit long division in the text book, I realized it was time for a change. It seemed to be a pivotal moment.

It all fell into place for me. There was the group that easily and seamlessly grasped concepts and needed a much faster pace. These were the students who effortlessly applied the skills to problem solving. They were bored.

Next, there was the group in the middle. These were the students who moved at a consistent pace and only occasionally struggled.

Finally, there were the students that were overwhelmed and confused and needed more instruction, but were usually embarrassed to need help so much of the time.

It was time for a change. To implement grouping and individualized instruction, I used what is After mini lessons, the students have “to do” lists and choose the order in which they will complete tasks. During this time, I pull kids to work with me. No one ever sits and waits; they know what to move onto if I’m busy or they are finished.
familiar.

During this time, I started pulling kids and working with them in math. They were a bit surprised, but easily adapted to whatever I told them we would work on together. By the end of a week, the students were accustomed to me pulling them to work on both reading and math.

I was individualizing both reading and math. Granted, the students figured out that some of the students were accelerating in math, but they also know the rule in our room. MYOB! Mind your own business. Everyone learns at his or her own pace and we celebrate each other’s milestones.

While working with my struggling math students, I noticed they asked more questions and displayed less stress. They felt safe because we were working together without feeling intimidated by the other students. We also laughed and smiled more. Math was fun. I was finding my way to creativity because I put down the darn teacher’s guide!

Lately, we find ourselves exclaiming more and more, “Where did the time go? The morning is over already?” Our daily “to do” list includes our math work so that the students who can accomplish tasks easily, finish and move on – no more waiting or boredom. The other students are feeling more comfortable without the pressure of a “set” math period and know I will work with them for longer periods of time, if that is what they need.

Does it always go well? Nope! I have days where I feel overwhelmed by juggling it all, but in the end, I know it is best for my students. Will I ever love math the way I love reading? It is a good bet that I won’t, but the students deserve the same level of commitment from me.
Now, when I think of who I am as a teacher, I’m a math teacher, too.
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Friday, February 11

One year later... What I learned from blogging

February 11, 2011 10


I was greeted this morning by a Google reminder that said it was one year ago that I started blogging. It is amazing how quickly a year can pass. More importantly, I'm in awe of how much I learned in one year.

I re-read my very first blog and I remember the enthusiasm and nervousness I felt the first time I hit the "Publish Post" button. One year later, I still get excited to hit that button. The moment is filled with: Will people understand? Will it be worthwhile? Am I making a difference? Did I spell check enough?

Admittedly, many of my first blogs were cringe worthy. Some of them reminded me of bad fashion choices in the eighties... You know that feeling you get when you look back at old photographs and say, "What was I thinking?" I tried a little too hard to be amusing and I hadn't really found my voice. As I tell my students, writing is a process that develops over time. Be real! Let your writing show who you are! I didn't always do this.

Some of my blogs were popular and the comments and re-tweets generated an addictive adrenalin rush. I couldn't believe the time people spent writing comments. It became a priority to me that I return the favor. I've made it a goal to respond to comments more efficiently. I hope I'm getting better at this.

Throughout this year, I have read and read and read other teachers’ blogs. My email subscriptions and Google reader overflow with the words and passion of educators. I read voraciously hoping to improve and learn from my cyber colleagues. Teachers share their experiences in a manner unlike any other profession. I hope I am paying it forward. I consider it an honor to read and emulate them.

When I reflect back on the past year, the most important thing I hope I accomplished was sharing how much I treasure teaching. I may stumble along the way, but I am unwavering in my passion for education and learning.

I am a teacher who loves to learn.
I can't wait to see what I learn in the next year.
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Tuesday, February 8

Student Blogging Turmoil

February 08, 2011 8


My students fell in love with blogging. After a slow start on my part, once I implemented this new
adventure, the excitement was palpable. I will always treasure the day they discovered comments. I could barely contain them they were so excited. Now, I’m stumbling.

I’m struggling with time!
Writing happens all day long in every area of my curriculum. I even have my students write about math and how they problem solve. Why can’t I get them on the computer to blog? What am I doing wrong?

I have checked out numerous classroom blogs via Comments4kids.com and I’m in awe of how many entries some students have posted. Why aren’t my students blogging more?

I will not, under any circumstances, assign blogging for homework. I do not want the students to view it as another item to check off on their homework log. Blogging should be something that
inspires them and beckons them.

Again, what am I missing?

Maybe I am being too controlling? I work with my students one-on-one for every writing assignment. I change the color of my pen every time I meet with them and it turns into a rainbow of colors on their papers. The students enjoy the attention and encouragement, and they have learned that writing is a process. We are never “one and done.” Currently, we are working on multi-paragraph speeches that describe their hopes and dreams for their jobs, families and contributions to society. I don’t consider these blogs… but should I?

Perhaps I should just allow the students to cycle through our classroom computers and write whatever they want without me checking for proper paragraph construction, grammar and mechanics. On the other hand, I would never post a blog without proofing and editing. Plus, I have people who I have told to email me the second I make an error so I can fix it. It is a reflection of me. Shouldn’t I teach good habits from the beginning?

So, I’m in turmoil. Do I let them write whatever they want without hovering and set them free to mass produce? Do I focus on quality vs. quantity?

There must be a balance somewhere!

I would love to hear how others are managing classroom blogging.
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Thursday, February 3

The Angry Boy

February 03, 2011 14


I’m tutoring a first grader who is struggling in school. In order to protect his privacy, I won’t reveal too much. Suffice it to say, there is a two inch binder filled with the various testing results and a cacophony of other professionals who are working with him as well. My role: improve his reading.Let’s call him Dan.

I’ve rarely seen so much paperwork on a 6 year old. I’ve sat in on a number of team meetings. His parents are supportive and passionate about providing Dan with everything he needs. Dan is one angry little boy.

Due to the number of support services that Dan receives, I work with him after school in my classroom two afternoons a week. By the time he gets to me, the poor kid is exhausted not to mention the ADHD medicine is wearing off. I’ve noticed that our sessions are inconsistent and I’ve pulled out every trick I’ve learned in 29 years. It is a challenge to say the least.

Yesterday we had a late arrival due to an ice storm. Then, the schedule was adjusted and then re-adjusted and overall, the day was chaotic. When Dan arrived for tutoring, I had a sinking feeling that it was going to be rough session. My instincts were accurate.

Dan was belligerent, uncooperative and downright mad! I’ve established a routine of tasks so he knows what to expect when he works with me. I had to do some quick thinking.

First decision: throw out the routine.
Next, I pulled out new things from my box of materials to entice him to learn/work. No success.
Second decision: stop trying so hard and wasting time. He wasn’t buying anything I was selling.
Then, I thought we would have a “talk.”
Third decision: Stop asking questions! Angry kids will shrug more and not share when you keep asking questions so stop!

Just when I was ready to throw in the towel and make the call to the parents, I had an idea. I remembered what I do when I’m frustrated – I write it down.

So Dan and I wrote a story. We called it “The Grouchy Boy.” I did all of the writing and only
provided small transition words as prompts. I would say, “Next…” or “Then…” His story unfolded. I tried to make little eye contact and kept writing everything he said. Dan described a little boy who was frustrated and tried everything to escape. The little boy in the story finds his powers and takes control of the people and events around him. By the time we finished, my arm was cramping from trying to keep up with him. Dan was laughing and talking and reading with me. I have this “habit” of re-reading and I was struggling, so Dan helped me.

Now, Dan and I have decided to turn this story into a book. We discussed adding more characters, details and illustrations. Dan stated at the end that when the book is finished, he wants to share it with ALL of his teachers. He said, “ I can’t wait to work on our book again.”

I think Dan has great ideas.
I sure learned a lot from Dan yesterday.
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Tuesday, February 1

Coping with Winter Weather in the Classroom

February 01, 2011 3

We are having an extraordinary winter. Rather than checking emails and twitter each morning, I greet the day with the weather forecast. I've learned the difference between winter watches and winter warnings. I can scroll through a school closing list in record time. I've learned how to adjust my morning routine to include clearing off my car and still make it to school on time.

I was wondering how this winter is affecting my students.

We've had so many schedule changes. I've noticed that people seem to have a clenched jaw lately. They also seem to have their shoulders closer to their ears. Both signs of stress. It is only natural that stressed out parents and teachers create stressed out kids. Everyone is trying to cope.

I've put into place a few strategies to help my students as well as myself. First, I acknowledge the stress of it all with my students. We talk! I give them a chance to vent and share what is happening. We have ground rules for being respectful, but some of the stories they share about their parents are hysterical. Most importantly, the students get to verbalize.

Another strategy is our homework logs. We set up the entire week in advance. Along with
giving them the big picture, which provides a feeling of control, they can see the plan clearly. We write in contingent plans in case of snow/ice. This fosters responsibility and the habit of checking. When students know what is coming next, they are calmer.

During disruptions, students need reassurance. Our "team" feeling resonates in all areas. The students know that I want them to shine. They trust that I will be fair and I reassure them that we will tackle one hurdle at a time. The feeling of "we're in this together" facilitates harmony and a willingness to adjust.

Finally, we focus on the learning; not the finishing. My students know that my goal is meaningful and authentic moments and not the product. If a student arrives late due to transportation issues, I adjust the work missed. I focus on quality and not the quantity.
This pre-set expectation brings forth a student entering the classroom calmly rather than with that deer-in-the-head-lights look of "Oh, no! What did I miss? How will I catch up?" This approach guarantees a successful day, even if it is only a partial day.

As a person who prefers 70 degrees or warmer, I'm trying to be cognizant of my own stress level. Typically, if I feel stressed, the students usually feel stressed. My self-awareness seems to help during this extraordinary winter. My goal is to keep my sense of humor, be flexible and help my students cherish moments of learning.

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Wednesday, January 26

Get up and move!

January 26, 2011 2


I remember when I was in college and began my “teacher” courses. Every course I took was exciting and I seemed to be able to grasp every concept easily. There are some people in the world who are natural musicians or artists and I discovered my gift was understanding teaching. I knew where I belonged. I was so enthusiastic about everything; they practically had to tie me down.

I also remember one particular course where we learned about learning styles. Through this course, I identified what I had suspected all along about myself. I am a kinesthetic learner. I need to move. While others could sit still for hours, I learned best by pacing and moving my arms and adding movements to concepts. So, guess what happens in my classroom…

We get up and move!

Throughout the course of a day, my students are moving. Admittedly, the beginning of the year is a time of establishing procedures, rules and routines, but by mid-year, it flows like butter. Transitions in our room are seamless. We know how to gather materials, wait for a friend to finish before we try to get our own things, set ourselves up to work, (define our space) and most importantly, monitor our learning mood.

I stress the importance of being aware of an internal barometer. We check in with ourselves. We ask ourselves: How long have I been sitting? Do I need to stretch? Have I had anything to drink to stay hydrated? Am I feeling frustrated? My students learn self-awareness, which facilitates more success.
Through this self-assessment, the students can make changes to monitor their own learning. For my students with attention issues, this need to move can make all of the difference between a successful and frustrating day. They feel in control.

During a lesson, I will often ask the class to stand. Sometime I ask them to sit on their desks. Once I even asked them to sit backwards! Students need to move! This is not to say there aren’t times where we are still and focused on a task intently. My goal is to provide opportunities to allow for different learning styles and help them determine which one identifies them.

So, if you come into my classroom, you may be surprised by the high level of activity with me moving along with them.
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Saturday, January 22

You will NOT Lose Recess Here

January 22, 2011 22





My students are hard workers! We have stamina and momentum. I know this to be true because we discuss it daily. Along with curriculum goals, I stress the importance of being aware of how we learn – Metacognition! We think about thinking.

When my students first met me, they went through quite an adjustment period. They were a stressful group and they were always anxious about “finishing.” All of their focus and energy was directed to this goal of finishing. I felt as though there was a beast looming over them waiting to pounce. It was scary.



It took me months to re-program their attention to learning and away from the scary finishing monster. I can’t even describe their faces when I told them I don’t keep kids in for recess. They were shocked. They had been taught that if they didn’t finish all of their work, they would lose their recess!




We post a “to do” list on the board each day. They know that this is a guide and we view it as ambitious goals. We call the list “ambitious” because we know that
we won’t always finish items. After my mini lessons, each student decides the order of the work they will do. Some students like to do the most challenging tasks first, while others like the feeling of accomplishing the easier tasks first. They know the order is a personal choice and I’m happy if they are learning.


I came up with this procedure because I’m a list maker. If I have a lot of work to do, I want to do what I want to do, in the order I want to do it. My list and my mood determine the order. It is never the same. Why not give this power to kids?

What I have found is that kids thrive when given choices! They need to feel in control of their learning. For my students with attention issues, this has been a revelation for them. They flourish in an environment where they can break their assignments into manageable chunks. As they work, they can turn in assignments, gather things for the next, take a break, ask me questions… they can MOVE!

Could you imagine being told you can’t get up for hours until you finished your list of things to do? I couldn’t do it.

Now, you may wonder if there are students who take advantage of this freedom and do little work at all. It very rarely happens. The students have learned the value of self-monitoring. At times it may appear as if a student isn’t working; maybe they’re thinking, pausing, resting, or clearing their minds. This is encouraged. (Don’t we all need this?)

While they are working independently, I’m working with students one-on-one or in small groups. They know if they need me, and I’m busy, they can go onto something else or ask a friend. Most importantly, when I work with them and they show me their work, if I feel they have mastered the concept, I declare it finished. This was hard for some overachievers to embrace. I don’t like tedious, busy work.

Another benefit is for some students who may struggle in a particular area, they can work more slowly without worrying about catching up or falling behind. They know that I value the process, not how many problems they finished.

They trust me. They know I’m fair. When I look up from my table and see my students, some are working at their seats, some are lying on the floor, and some are under tables. They are learning.

I’d like to think that I’m preparing them for the future when they will have “to do” lists in their adult lives and they will rely on the foundation of good work habits they learned.

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Wednesday, January 19

No Rock Stars or Professional Athletes Allowed?

January 19, 2011 5


My students are reading Fever 1793 and the main character, Mattie has ambitious dreams for her life. Naturally, the integration aspect for my students is to write about their dreams for their lives.



At this point in fourth grade, we are constructing multi-paragraph essays. My technique is typically successful. The students know that every paragraph has a goal/purpose and that there is an imaginary thread that runs through the essay. All of their thoughts/sentences have to hook on to that thread.





After my lesson, my student observer shared that she was quite surprised by something I did. During the brainstorming part of my lesson where the students generated ideas about their dreams for their jobs, their future families and their contributions to society, I explained that rock stars and professional athletes were not to be listed as a job. They had to choose a career that could be attained through a college education.

My student observer couldn't believe I placed this restricting parameter on their dreams. I explained that for the essay to be truly reflective and interpretive along with cohesive (the thread) all three categories (goals) had to relate to one another. She still wasn't buying it. (I'm pretty good at reading faces.)

I further explained that I wanted the students to choose a career that was more realistic and likely to happen for them. These were not fantasy stories. The students took the directive in stride and created incredibly detailed lists that will guide their writing.
What I didn't say to either my observer or students is that I am frustrated by the way we glorify rock stars and professional athletes and place them on pedestals. I want students to emulate and celebrate policeman, fireman, teachers (!) and people who truly contribute to society - our unsung heroes.

Of course, famous people and professional athletes contribute as well; that is obvious. However, the corner of my classroom wasn't the right time or place for me to be overly philosophical. I did know for sure that this writing assignment is one that students (and parents) usually save to re-read later in life.

After some further self-reflection, I knew she wasn't questioning my technique; just the restrictive parameter that I had set. Sometimes as teachers/educators/parents, we make judgement calls that (I hope) are always in the best interest of the kids.

So I'm comfortable with my decision. I'm glad I re-examined my position and I hope I gave my student observer a different way of looking at the lesson.

(If one of my students becomes a rock star or a professional athlete, they can say they had this teacher once who believed passionately that all students should contribute to society and get a college education, too.)

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Saturday, January 15

8 Secrets of Success or Confessions of a Conceited Teacher?

January 15, 2011 8
I'm a successful teacher. I'm not bragging, although it may seem that way. I love what I do and I feel successful. Am I arrogant? Am I conceited? Am I too full of myself?

Yesterday I was speaking to my student observer and I heard myself say to her, "I've been teaching for 29 years and I can't wait to see what I will learn this year." After I said it, I realized that I really meant it.

I never stop learning. Is that why I consider myself to be successful?

Then, quite accidentally, I came across this video and knew I had to reflect some more.

Richard St. John shares his 8 secrets of success.


So, I thought about each label of success and my career:
Passion - No brainer here! I've been a teacher my whole life. It defines me. It drives me. It's who I am. I think back to when I started my own school in my backyard when I was in fourth grade. It is my destiny.


Work - I put in the time. I don't watch the clock as I grade papers, plan and research better ways to teach.


Good - When I think of my first year of teaching and what I did NOT know and how I have practiced and practiced for 29 years to reach my current level.  It takes time to be good.


Focus - Life happens and I've tried many different areas in education, but I've never lost my focus on teaching.


Push - When I doubted myself the most, I pushed myself the hardest.  I was driven to learn more.


Serve - One of my favorite quotes is: "No one should teach who is not a bit awed by the importance of the profession." (George E. Fraiser)  It is a privilege to teach and I try never to forget this.

Ideas - I love to create my own way of doing things. Sometimes it has brought me a wealth of trouble, but more often than not, it brought success.

Persist - Even when I felt I messed up; even when no one knew, I didn't quit.  At my lowest, when I felt I would leave teaching and go work in a book store, I persevered and found new ways to rejuvenate and ignite my passion.


I am a successful teacher: not in a conceited way. I consider myself successful because I never stop learning.


Are you a successful teacher?  What do you hope to learn this year?



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Tuesday, January 11

Thanks to #rscon11 (Why I'm not grading!)

January 11, 2011 2







This weekend I attended a variety of sessions at the virtual Reform Symposium, a worldwide e.conference (#rscon11).  By the end of the weekend, my head was close to bursting with ideas, enthusiasm and learning.  I truly felt a sense of wonder at how much I could learn sitting at my laptop.  I couldn’t wait to get to school on Monday, and once I was there, I tweeted at lunchtime that I was already a better teacher because of the Reform Symposium.

There was one particular thing among the abundance of things that I learned that was the most powerful.

One of my goals this year was to start blogging with my students.  After a bit of a slow start, my students are blogging and they love it. Along with their enthusiasm, their writing skills are soaring.

I’m passionate about teaching writing to my students.  I take pride in knowing that when they leave me they have a foundation upon which they can rely as they move on in their educational journey.  Admittedly, I do begin many of my blogs with “I’m passionate about…” but this is really true.  I love to teach writing.

Blogging seemed only natural.  I’m creeping up on my one year anniversary of the birth of my blog, so I couldn’t wait to introduce it to my students this year.  My eager group quickly embraced the idea and even began blogging independently without prompts from me.  Once they discovered commenting, well, let’s just say, they were hooked!

Along the way, I realized I wasn’t grading their work.  I was having so much fun modeling, discussing, and exploring with them, but I knew I  hadn’t created a rubric.  Was I slacking as a teacher?  Uh oh!  Conferences and report cards were approaching and I had nothing to show about the blogging.  My gut instinct told me that I shouldn’t grade their blogs.  I just couldn’t do it.

This weekend at #rscon11, I discovered that I was not alone in my “not grading” approach to the students’ blogs.  During the sessions I attended, blogging with students was a topic that was discussed frequently.  Presenters and participants all agreed that blogging is NOT to be graded.  Would any of us want our own blogs graded?  Everyone agreed that it would be counter-productive as well as a way to discourage students from blogging.

Through the Reform Symposium sessions, I received the validation of my instinct.  Grading their blogs would turn this joyful, engaging, and exciting venture into another assignment rather than the authentic learning that it is meant to be for students.  I will not risk dampening the fire they have for blogging by slapping a rubric or a grade on it.

Every so often, it feels so good to be right about a decision.

So thanks, #rscon11.    



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