Tuesday, December 28

Watch out World - I'm Global!

As a teacher, I think of the year as beginning in September and ending in June.  However, with the abundance of New Year’s related posts being generated and the media flooding the public with top 10 lists, I decided to jump on the bandwagon.

This year has been a time of change for me.  So many new things happened that it makes me catch my breath.  I’m overwhelmed by how many new things and experiences I had.  The word that comes to mind to describe it all is global. 
In June, I was fried!  Burned out and exhausted.  I had taken on too many extra responsibilities at school and found myself drowning in tasks that didn’t bring me joy.  It was taking my focus off of teaching.  Moreover, the environment had some toxic elements that needed to be cleaned out.  (How’s that for being vague and not stating what I really want to say?)  I decided to take the summer off.

I completely disconnected from school.  I tutored a few students because I wanted to and set my own hours.  I spent hours reading and researching new tools and techniques I wanted to try in the classroom.  I read constantly and wrote blogs on a regular basis.  I wanted to refuel my passion for learning and open new doors.

At the beginning of the summer I connected with @tcash on Twitter.  Tania had this idea to start #elemchat and along with three others (one from Australia), a new chat on Twitter was born.  Thursday nights at six is my “Do Not Disturb” time.  Each week we discuss an issue in education/teaching and connect with fellow educators in a global way.  My need to keep learning is fed.  Now, we’ve expanded to Saturday nights as well.  The added and unexpected bonus was Tania and I formed a friendship that is closer than the ocean that separates us!  Originally, from Canada, Tania lives with her husband and son in Morocco and teaches at an international school.  She has sent me books about Morocco and is determined to get me there for a visit.  She is my first international friend.

Also, during the summer, I was presented with an opportunity to write curriculum for Abu Dhabi.  A company hired me to write lessons and help construct a scope and sequence for twelve grades.  I had a taste of how things are done in the corporate world and loved learning about another country.  The experience opened up a whole new world for this small town girl.  My naiveté was at times embarrassing, but I just kept asking questions.  No one seemed to mind.

As I moved into the fall of this year, I was determined to add blogging to the world of learning for my students.  It took me longer than I had expected to get it started, but it was worth it.  My students are learning to think globally.  We track our hits on the maps and research the countries that visit our blogs.  This might be one of the most powerful tools I’ve brought to my classroom in years.  It is hard to describe the enthusiasm the students have for blogging and comments.  Along with my students, I’ve learned to think outside my own backyard.

When I reflect on 2010, I’m in awe of how much I learned. For a girl who has never left the borders of the United States, I’ve begun to travel.  My horizons have expanded and who knows, I may even get a passport in 2011.  

I would love for you to share where you "traveled" to this year.  

Friday, December 24

Winter Break Work

Its Christmas Eve morning.  My grown up children are home, along with a friend.  Everyone is sleeping.  I couldn’t wait for winter break to recharge my battery,  and guess what I’m doing while everyone sleeps?

I’m working.

When I say working, it encompasses a multitude of tasks for school.  Of course, I always begin with my to-do list.  This is the list that I write of goals I want to accomplish during my one week off from school.

Here’s my to-do list:
·         Lesson plans for first week back
·         Parent newsletter for January
·         Update website and blog
·         Report cards – compose comments
·         Plan Poetry Project
·         Plan Radio Station Project
·         Plan Informational Text Project
·         Review tutoring materials for student with dyslexia/apraxia

Isn’t this what all teachers do on their first day of winter break?

One of my goals this year was to bring more balance to my life.  I’ve let go of many school responsibilities and focused more on teaching and learning.  I’ve done a pretty good job with this goal.  For me, this to-to list is filled with items that I can't wait to sink my teeth into accomplishing.  

The tasks on my to-do lists are things I love.   It doesn’t feel like work to me.  I have a tendency to take on too much, and the responsibilities that I let go of this year were ones that drained my energy and brought forth too much stress.  Now, I’ve become much more selective before I take on added school responsibilities.  I’ve learned that when I stay focused on teaching, I’m blissfully happy.  My scales are balanced because I'm doing what brings joy to me.  

So, while everyone is sleeping, I’m happily organizing, preparing, reflecting and getting ready for the new challenges 2011 will bring. 

I can’t wait.

Thursday, December 9

The Silence of Reading

I just had one of those incredible moments that brings a teacher close to tears.  Happy tears!

I was sitting in my classroom on this bitterly cold winter morning.  I was not feeling well, and I admit, a bit grouchy.  I was working with students one-on-one during Reading Workshop and hiding my yearnings for winter break.

In between meeting with students, I would grade a paper or two, check my notes for students that I wanted to work with, and even glance over at Twitter on my laptop.  Amidst all of this, I suddenly noticed the silence.  Besides the soft music in the background, there wasn't a sound.

I looked up and saw every one of my students so engaged in the books they were reading, I worried if they were even breathing.  Suddenly, my entire view of the day changed.  This is what matters.  They were reading.  Every student was reading.   Every student was reading a novel they had chosen.  They were barely moving except to turn pages.  Not a sound.  The silence of reading filled the room.
The joy I felt watching them brought tears to my eyes.  This is my second year with this group and when I got them, they were considered to be the toughest group in the school.  Now, they are the example for other classes.  Rather than jump for joy or tell them what I was feeling and interrupt the beauty of the moment, I just watched.

When this period is over, I plan on telling them how magical it was for me to watch them read.  I will ask them to share with the group where they were in their novels.  I will listen and let the moment be filled with joy.

Suddenly, I was warm and giddy without any of my earlier grumpiness.

Friday, December 3

Tell your parent they have to read your blog and comment...

On Thursday night, the #elemchat topic was: Homework: How do we differentiate and make it authentic. It was a lively discussion with lots of sharing of ideas and philosophies.  One of the reason I love moderating #elemchat is because I always learn something new.  Also, during these chats I get to “converse” with educators that I might have missed during the course of a Twitter day.  My PLN (Personal Learning Network) grows and I become a better teacher.

Sometimes after the hour is officially over, the conversation and tweets about the topic continue.  I find responses to the topic on my Tweetdeck hours later.  Friday morning I found this…   

@NancyTeaches I guess all of your students have home computers with great connection (no dial up)?? How fortunate.

I had shared that my class had fallen in love with blogging and my new favorite homework assignment was: tell your parent they have to read your blog and comment.  When I read the tweet above, I was taken aback.  My initial reaction was a rapid heartbeat and visceral.  I thought this person was being “snarky.”  I felt offended.  Here I was presenting my great idea to the #elemchat and in response, I felt as if I were getting a spoonful of  sarcasm. 

Then, I reflected.  (Being mature is such hard work.)

What if I taught in a school where the students didn’t have computers with great connection or didn’t have internet access?  What if the students lived in a house without a computer!

I didn’t even think about this, and more importantly, I take for granted that my students could do the new “fav. assignment.”  Do I even appreciate that I teach in a setting where all of the students have what they need and more?

I don’t know who this Twitter person is, but she taught me an important lesson this morning.  When I share my enthusiasm and ideas, I have a responsibility to be sensitive and think of other educational settings that are not as fortunate as mine.  Within my 140 character limit, I can share more thoughtfully and considerately.  I need to turn off my tunnel vision and look at things with a broader eye.

I need to practice what I preach to my students about commenting on blogs. It is a global audience!

Once again, Twitter helped me become a better teacher, and maybe a better person, too.