Sunday, April 23, 2017

Recharging My Batteries

I had spring break two weeks ago and it was the first time having a day off since January (thanks snow days...)  Teaching Kindergarten and completing my literacy intervention practicum this semester kept me busy.  Once spring break came, I was very eager to relax and take the time to slow down.

One of my hobbies is traveling (within the United States) to see friends, explore a new city, or relax at the beach.  I fly many times a year and I find it so relaxing to unplug and enjoy the ride.   I typically travel over any break we have from school.  Spring break was no exception.
I hadn't seen my college roommate/sorority sister in 10 months.  I met her at North Myrtle Beach for   2 days.  

I flew to Cincinnati to look at apartments then spent the weekend in Columbus for Easter with my parents.
The girls pictured above were a roommate and sorority sister in college.  Both currently teach in the Cincinnati area and I am beyond excited to live in the same city as them.

I purchased both of these at the Simply Vague store at a mall in Columbus.  
Shirt: This is Home
Mason Jar: The Heart of it All
I love the meaning behind both items, as Ohio is my home.  

Now I have a 3 week break from grad classes before my 3 summer classes start.  I have been enjoying the time at night to work out more frequently, catch up on tv shows, and go to bed earlier.    

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Coming Back Home

I recently read my friend, Brendan Fetters' blog post and it had my thinking about my journey.

When I think about risk, I think back to the end of my 2nd year of teaching.  Up to that point, all of my life experience pretty much revolved around Central Ohio with the exception of going to college at the University of Dayton, which was less than hour and a half away from my parents.  I was enjoying the beginning of my teaching career, but I was eager for a change from the comfort and familiarity of the past 24 years.  If you follow me, I frequently use the terms lifelong learner, collaboration, growth mindset, and risk taking.  I believe we are better together and learn by making mistakes or taking risks.

In 2015, I had an offer in Raleigh, North Carolina to teach full day Kindergarten at a creative arts and science magnet elementary school.  After teaching half day Kindergarten, I dreamed of someday being able to teach full day Kindergarten.  Although half day Kindergarten has its benefits, I always felt rushed and that I wanted to do more with my students.  However, I was uneasy about taking the offer.  I would be 2 plane rides away from family and college friends.  I knew 1 person from my PLN who worked in the district and also happened to be from Ohio.
'No matter how far I roam, Ohio will always be home sweet home"

On August 5, I made my way to Raleigh with my car and moving truck loaded.  I came from Central Ohio to the unknown of Raleigh, North Carolina.  Since that moment, I've had no regrets about my decision.  I immediately fell in love with the area.  With the weather and being a short drive from the beach or mountains, Raleigh became comfortable to me.  I was also fortunate to make a solid group of friends within a month.

While I have made the best of my experience the past 2 years in North Carolina, I am thrilled to head back home to Ohio in August.  I will never regret this experience.  I am so excited to be close to those I love and start a new chapter that is a great fit for me.  I am continuing my journey as a full day Kindergarten teacher.
The 6 schools I've worked at added value to my career and life.  In fact, there is a past principal I keep in touch with as well as former teachers from those schools who taught me many lessons.  I am so grateful for those who helped me grow in my professional journey.  After reflecting on the past school years, I can see how everything happens for a reason and that things work out the way they are supposed to (even if I was not sure at the time).

Ohio: the heart of it all.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

How I Implemented Flexible Seating

In 2015, I started seeing classrooms being transformed through flexible seating.  I loved the learning spaces and the number of benefits for students, but I was nervous to try it in my own classroom for many reasons.  My biggest fear was that I would lose control of my class and there would be a lack of structure.  I was wrong.  Once you get started, you will never go back!  I feel students are more engaged due to having various work spaces.

What seating options do I have in my classroom?
-Hokki Stools (5)
-Crate seats (5)
-Floor table
-Standing table
-Scoop rockers (6)
-Lap desk (2)
-Wobble cushions (4)
-Regular table with chairs

I tried bouncy bands and stability balls in my classroom, but my students were not a fan.

I am fortunate to work at a school that supports and encourages flexible seating so I did not have to spend much.  On my own I purchased the crate seats, scoop rockers, and lap desk.
Hokki Stools
Scoop Rockers.  I recommend Kindergarten or First Grade students using these.
Wiggle Cushion.  I love these because there are many uses: on a chair, at floor table, or working/sitting at the carpet.  You can purchase these on Amazon.
Crate Seat.  I have 5 at my kidney table.  I love that they can also double as storage!

How to get started in the classroom
Purchase HERE
This product also contains mini anchor chart with expectations for each type of seating.

I used this clip chart for the first month of school.  I had clothespins with each student's name so they could make their seat choice.  At the beginning of the school year I went in alphabetical order and students select their seating option for the next day.  You rotate so everyone will have the opportunity to pick first.  Once everyone had the opportunity to pick their seat first, I gradually released and took away the clip chart.  
I wanted to make sure students could experience all types of seating to figure out where they could do their best learning.  I taped a picture of how to use each seat correctly, which was a great way to involve students.   Take a picture of students using the seat the correct way and use as a review throughout the school year.  

How did I explain flexible seating to parents?
At Kindergarten meet the teacher night, I provided a brochure that contains information about flexible seating and what it looks like in our classroom.  From my experience, I received all positive reactions from families and families touring my school.  I never had a parent express uncertainty.
Purchase editable brochure HERE

How did I set up rules for students to follow for appropriate use?
This photo was taken from inside the brochure.  (same as shown above)

If you use flexible seating in your classroom, what other options do you have?

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

74 Ways to Build Relationships with Students

It all goes back to relationships!

Relationships are the essential element in our schools. The old adage, “Kids don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care,” is true especially in today’s society when kids are used to so much choice in their world. Also, in today’s busy world, it’s important for teachers and school staff to make positive connections with students. We must be intentional, and taking time with these relationships must be purposeful.

Members of the Compelled Tribe have teamed up to share practical ways for educators to build relationships with students. As connected educators we also embrace the notion that it is the power of the team that drives much of what we do. How do you build relationships with those that you serve? See the list below for ideas to add to what you may be already doing in the buildings and districts in which you work.

1. Greet students at the door. Smile and call them by name. Tell them you are glad to see them.
2. Ask your students to share three things about themselves. Let them choose what they share. Keep them on index cards to help make connections throughout the year.
3. Know your students families. As important as it is to know the students, make the connection to home. Great relationships with your kids starts where they kick off their day. As the year continues and both the good and bad arise, having that connection will be crucial to getting the results you are seeking.
4. Journal writing is an activity to get to know your students well and give students a voice in the classroom.
5. Make positive phone calls home especially within the first two weeks of the school year.
6. Genius Hour/Passion Projects really give teachers an opportunity to learn about student passions.
7. Have kids make something that represents them out of Play-dough and share.
8. In the first couple of days of school, learn the first name of every student in your first class of the day, and something personal and unique about them that has nothing to do with your first class of the day.
9. Be vulnerable!  Let your guard down and show your students that you are a learner, you make mistakes, and persevere.  They will see you as a person, opening the door for a relationship built on trust. Share stories about yourself as a learner or challenges you’ve faced when you were there age and help them see what it took to overcome it. It’s easy to forget how much a simple connection can make the difference.
10. Eat together.  Have breakfast with a small group of kids or join them at the lunch table.  Gathering around meal time provides an informal way to have conversations and get to know your students.
11. Hold Monday morning meetings (We call them “Weekend News Updates”). Ask each student to share about their weekend - good or bad.  Ask questions. Be sure to share about your weekend too!  Occasionally bring in breakfast or make hot chocolate.
12. Laugh with them. Frequently. Show them that school, and your class, is just not about learning stuff. It is about sharing an experience. Tell them you missed them if they were out.
13. Keep in touch with past students.  Show past students that you do not have a 1 year contract with them.  The ongoing relationship will also model to your current students the value of a positive classroom community.
14. At the elementary level -- hold morning meeting everyday as a class and stick to the routine of greeting, sharing, team building activity, and morning message.  This is a sacred time to build and maintain a culture of risk tasking and building relationships.
15. Send positive postcards home to every child. Have them address it on the first day of the quarter, keep them and challenge yourself to find at least one thing each quarter to celebrate about your students, let them and their parents know.
16. Find their interests and what motivates them! Sometimes it may take a bit to break down barriers and build trust, but through being genuine and authentic with them this will happen in no time.
17. Make personal phone calls to parents. Find one good thing to say about the children in your class.  It can be how they contributed to a class discussion or how well mannered they are in class or in the halls. For older students it can be how diligent a student is at learning challenging content.
18. Share something about yourself that they will find relevant or interesting to extend your relationships with students.
19. Tell a story from a time you were their age. This approach allows students to see teachers as they once were and make connections easier to establish and maintain.
20. Create a unique handshake or symbol for each of your students.  Use it when you greet them at the door or say goodbye.
21. Eat lunch with a group of kids throughout the week. They will enjoy a time dedicated just to them. (And you will enjoy a peaceful lunch!)
22. As a school, hold monthly celebrations to recognize students and educators their accomplishments.
23. Take pictures with students. Print. Write a special note on the back to the student.
24. At the end of a term or year, write a thank you to students telling them what you have learned from them. Be specific and honest - authenticity goes a long way. Try to make the note handwritten if possible, but email works well too.
25. Each day write two students a personal  note about something that you have noticed about them.  Go into some detail and be specific. Keep track of who you reach out to over the year and try and reach as many students as you can. The time you spend doing this will deepen connections and pay off 10 fold.
26. Have dance parties! It is so fun to let loose and get down with students. Students love seeing you have fun with them, and the saying goes, “The class that dances together, stays together”.
27. Play with students at recess or during a free time. Climb the monkey bars, play kickball, or tag. Students will never forget you connecting with them on the playground.
28. Hang out in the hall to give high fives or to have quick conversations with students. Relationship-building can be squeezed into any time of the day.
29. Notice students having a bad day. Ask questions without prying. Show that you care. Follow up the next day, week, etc.
30. When a student is having a rough day, ask if he/she has eaten. We are all more unreasonable when we are hungry. Keep a supply of snacks on hand (ex: breakfast bars, crackers, etc).
31. Go see students at their events: sports, theater, dance, volunteering. Meet parents and families.
32. When a student stops to say “Hello” and has a friend in tow, introduce yourself and be sure that the guest feels important.
33. Stop class from time to time with a comment such as, “Hey, everyone, Katie just asked me a great question. I think you’ll all benefit from this. Katie, could you repeat that for everyone?”
34. Sing “Happy Birthday” to students; send birthday emails (I use “Boomerang” to schedule my birthday emails each month).
35. Say “I missed you yesterday” when a student has been absent. Be sincere.
36. We have to make time to grow relationships with our students. This time can not always be in a planner or a calendar. Sometimes, this simply means just being there for your students.
37. Mail them a postcard for their birthday. They are always amazed to receive personal mail!
38. In a leadership position, learn as many names as you can. Greet students by their name as often as you are able.
39. Music! Bond with your students over music. Play soft classical music while they are working. Incorporate music/songs into special events or lessons.
40. Classroom: Start a compliment jar. Share comments at the end of class or randomly throughout the day. School: Do shout-outs during morning (or afternoon) announcements/news show.
41. Smile and make eye contact.  “Good morning”, “Good afternoon”. Something as simple as a greeting in the hall with smile and eye contact conveys both warmth & safety.  Try it tomorrow.  
42. First day of math class have them choose 10 numbers that are significant to them (3 for number of cats, 1 for brothers, 20 for number of hours they work, etc.).  Everyone shares out.  You will learn lots about all your students in one day.  
43. Cut them some slack every now and then.  “What were you doing?  What should you have been doing?  Can you do that for me next time?”  We all make mistakes.  
44. Hold class celebrations and have students develop unique cheers for various accomplishments...these can be anything from a sports team victory, to being selected for something, to earning a grade, and they need not be school related.
45. Allen Mendler’s 2x10 strategy for challenging students. Spend 2 minutes per day for 10 consecutive days talking to a student about something not academic.
46. Share your own goals, successes/failures. Don’t be a mystery to your students.
47. After morning announcements have students participate in a daily discussion question.  Have a student read the question and set a timer for two and a half minutes.  Each person turns to a partner and answers the question then volunteers share with the whole class.  Each question, in some way, will help you get to know your students.
48. Halfway through the year, have your parents and students fill out a feedback form.  In my classroom, these forms look different.  Allow them to evaluate you so you can keep what works and change things that aren’t working.
49. In your summer introduction letter, include a letter asking parents to write about their children in 1,000,000 words or less.  Keep the assignment voluntary and open so they tell you what is most important to them.
50. Don’t be too busy to truly listen.  Listen to understand, not to respond.  Are you starting a lesson when a student interrupts and tells you they are moving? Take the minute to hear them out.  That time will mean more to the student than the first minute of the lesson ever will.
51. When students get stuck in class, teach the other students to cheer them on.  We do a simple, “Come on, [Name], you can do it,” followed by three seconds of clapping.
52. Teach students call and responses to uplift each other.  When a student responds with something profound and someone loves it, that student gets to start the cheer.
53. When you check in with groups to give them feedback or see how it’s going, make sure you are seeing them eye-to-eye.  If they’re sitting, don’t stand.  Pull up a chair next to them.  If they’re sitting on the floor, sit down on the floor next to them to avoid standing over them.
54. Give honest feedback even when it may not be positive.  Your students will appreciate that you expect more out of them than they’re showing.
55. Create a “You Matter” wall.  Take fun pictures of each of your students. Print each photo and put each student’s photo in an 8x10 frame.  Hang them all on your wall under a “You Matter” heading.  At the end of the year, send the photos home with students.
56. Tell them what was hard for you when you went through school and how you worked to overcome the challenges.  It shows they aren’t the only ones who struggle.
57. Defend your students in front of other people.
58. Take risks so students feel comfortable doing the same.  Don’t ask them to do anything you wouldn’t do.
59. Create something that is unique to your class.  For us, it’s a house competition.  It’s something that connects my past students and current students.  It’s also a family bond that only the students who have been in my class understand.
60. Apologize when you make a mistake.
61. Cook together and then you can eat family style in the classroom. Some fun and easy crockpot meals: applesauce, vegetable soup, chicken and dumplings. Then, make cupcakes for dessert!
62. Every so often, take the pulse of your building according to students. Convene a volunteer roundtable with student reps from various groups (athletes, scholars, quiet, loud) and ask them for critical feedback about topics you are working on. Some ideas I’ve seen discussed in this format include schoolwide incentives (assemblies, sledding event, etc.), dress code, and discussing recess options for winter.
63. During your informal walk throughs, saddle up right next to students and ask them the purpose of the lesson they are involved in. Why do you think the teacher is asking you to work on this? You’ll be more than surprised with the honest feedback.
64. Bring board games back! Add a few games like Checkers, Uno or Chess to your lunch table options. See if any students are willing to play a game or two with you and others.
65. Use sidewalk chalk to decorate the entry of your building with positive messages to students. Have teachers help you write and draw the notes!
66. Leave nice notes on post-its for students on the outside of their lockers. Recruit other students to help spread the kindness throughout many lockers!
67. Forgive them when they make mistakes. Remind them that mistakes are opportunities for learning. Don’t hold grudges against misbehavior and don’t allow other adults to hold them either.
68. Make time for dismissal. Tell them you can’t wait to see them tomorrow and share high fives on the way out!
69. Notice which students still don’t have money to pay for lunch. Help them out when you can. Treat them to a snack they don’t usually get to purchase at lunch time.
70. Find special projects that need to be done around school and recruit the most unlikely helpers.
71. Remind your students you and your staff were all kids once too. Have your team bring in pictures of themselves as children (at the ages you have in your school). Post them and have a contest allowing students to guess which teacher is which. Those 80s pictures are the most popular!
72. My favorite question to ask my students or any student I come in contact with is what are you into lately? This opens communication with your students and let's them know you are interested.
73. Allow students to do a job shadow. Give them a peek into what you do and how you make daily decisions.
74. Host an ice cream social for students that meet certain goals.

The list will grow as our experiences and our connections grow. Feel free to reach out to any of the tribe members listed below to learn more about the power of our team and how our tribe constantly supports each other in our teaching, leading and learning.

Compelled Tribe Contributors:

Jennifer Hogan, The Compelled Educator  @Jennifer_Hogan
Jonathon Wennstrom, Spark of Learning  @jon_wennstrom
Craig Vroom, Fueling Education, @Vroom6
Allyson Apsey, Serendipity in Education, @allysonapsey
Sandy King Inspiring The Light @sandeeteach
Jacie Maslyk    @DrJacieMaslyk
Jodie Pierpoint  Journey In Learning @jodiepierpoint  
Jim Cordery   Mr. Cordery’s Blog  @jcordery
Allie Bond   The Positive Teacher @Abond013
Angie Murphy ConnectED to Learning @RoyalMurph_RRMS
Karen Wood @karenwoodedu
Lindsey Bohler @Lindsey_Bohler
Debbie Campbell The Curious Educator @DebraLCamp
Michael McDonough M Squared at the Microphone @m_squaredBHS
Barbara Kurtz @BJKURTZ
Stephanie Jacobs @MsClassNSession
Michael Todd Clinton Motivated teacher blog  @MotivatedThe
Cathy Jacobs @cathyjacobs5
Reed Gillespie Mr. Gillespie’s Office @rggillespie
Molly Babcock Sweet Tea and a Live Oak Tree @MollyBabcock
Lisa Meade Reflections @LisaMeade23

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

A Child's Reading Level - Part 2

So you assessed your students and you know the level each child is reading at... what do you do now?

Understanding the Reading Level
Most school districts will provide you with the grade level expectancy for beginning, middle, and end of the school year for formal reading assessments such as the DRA or Fountas and Pinnell.  Once you obtain that information, you can begin to see which students are at, above, and below benchmark.
This product can be purchased HERE
I love this product because I can quickly access what characteristics a reader should exhibit for each reading level.  Although running records help me determine when a child should move reading levels, this can be used when you need to see a breakdown of each reading level.

What do I do with this information? 
 I create a document with 4 columns: student's name, special services (IEP, ELL, etc) reading level, and notes.   In the notes column I add specific areas they need work on such as decoding, sight word recognition, applying strategies, or comprehension.

Once I type in the information, I color code student names so I can quickly glance to see where students are at.
Blue = above grade level
Green = at grade level
Yellow = approaching grade level (borderline)
Red = below grade level

How do I plan for instruction?
Keep in mind, reading groups fluctuate and changes should be made at any point in the school year, not just when the DRA is given.  Since you have new information about each child, make sure they are placed in the appropriate group.

I use the comprehension sticks and have students pick a question to answer.  Students enjoy picking their own question.

These cards have questions for before, during, and after reading.    

Both of the products above can be found HERE

The key is to examine any gaps.  Whatever area a child needs to work on, provide extra practice with word work, comprehension, or guided writing activities.   Regardless of how your class scored on the mid-year benchmark, it is never to late to make an instructional change to help your students grow.

I am SO grateful that my school offered to buy a copy of Jennifer Serravallo's book, The Reading Strategies Book.  If you are in need of strategies to uses for a student or reading group, I strongly recommend her book.  The structure of the book is easy to follow along with and find goals, strategies or anchor charts based on a reading level.

Monday, January 2, 2017

A Child's Reading Level -- Part 1

Last October I read an article by Fountas and Pinnell.  It was one of those articles that made me want to shout YES YES YES as I read it.  By far, it was my favorite professional read from 2016 because of the authenticity and transparency.  All lead learners and teachers need to read the article titled: A Level is a Teacher's Tool, NOT a Child's Label

My friend, Stacey Riedmiller, from Literacy for Big Kids created this image based off the post:
That statement is powerful.  Levels are meant to be a tool for teachers to plan and refine instruction.  Every grade level has a goal readers must reach by the end of the school year.   Kindergarten students in my county must read a level D by May.  By assessing students three times a year and completing informal assessments such as running records, teachers can gauge where each student is performing and plan for instruction accordingly.   

How do I inform parents?
I Read with My Teacher Today -- sent home every 2 weeks per student.  There are various versions of this sheet for decoding and comprehension.  At this point in the school year most of my students are focusing on decoding with the exception of one reading group.  I like sending home this sheet because it helps illustrate to parents what specific skill their child will continue to work on.  
Purchase HERE (product not created by me)

When I return from winter break, we begin mid year testing for DIBELS and TRC (similar to F & P or DRA).  Although there can be pressure associated with the results of this assessment, keep in mind this is to inform you where each child is performing and specific skills to focus on in relation to comprehension, fluency, or accuracy.   There is so much more to know than the actual level the child is reading at.

Book Choice
As stated by Franki Sibberson, "Choice is choice.  Choice is not within a leveled basket or choice limited to a Lexile range."

Classroom libraries may look different depending on the grade level you teach and what your district or school requires.  I am required to have a leveled library since my county uses the Daily 5 structure.  Instead of placing all emphasis on choosing books from a leveled book bin, I model to students HOW to select  the right fit books, which is a lifelong skill.  Every week students pick 2 books from their bin in addition to 3 picture books from the books I provide.      

My goal as a classroom teacher is to model a love for reading.  As an adult if someone told you your book choice is limited to a specific bin, would you want to continue reading for pleasure?  Probably not.  In addition, I want to maintain a classroom community, not create competition within students or make students doubt themselves.  

My next post will be devoted towards planning instruction for your growing readers.

Sunday, January 1, 2017


Each member of #CompelledTribe is publishing a post about their one word for 2017.  Before moving on to 2017, I reflected on 2016 for the past week (#oneword2016 was mindset). 2016 was the toughest year for me personally.  For months I felt there was no light at the end of the tunnel.  I had 0 control over what was going on and I am 2 plane rides away from family.  My mindset guided me to find joy in the little things and have faith that the gift of time would make things better -- and it did.  I learned how strong and resilient I am, which makes me even more eager for 2017.

Big takeaways from 2016:
  • In May I started my masters degree in Literacy.  I am officially halfway done!
  • Began my 2nd year living in North Carolina.
  • Traveled to Hilton Head Island, Asheville, North Myrtle Beach, Cabo San Lucas, Savannah, Charleston and home to Ohio.  Can you tell traveling is a hobby of mine?
  • Went to a co-workers wedding.

Moving forward, my #oneword2017 is gratitude.

Gratitude in 2017
  • Complete the remaining coursework for my masters degree. and graduate in December.  Although full time teaching and working on coursework is a lot to balance, I choose to be grateful that I have the opportunity to study a topic I am so passionate about.
  • Being a member of #CompelledTribe-- members take the time to listen to me, stretch my thinking, provide feedback, and are truly positive leaders.  I am lucky to learn from them.
  • Family.  Although being 2 plane rides away from family comes with challenges, I continue to enjoy any time we can spend together.
  • Friends.  2016 was the year my friends showed me how much they were there for me.  I couldn't be more thankful to those that never left my side, checked in on me, and reminded me to stay strong.  In 2017, I will continue to show gratitude to my friends and make more memories.
  • Students.  As I gain years of teaching experience, I love watching my students grow and continue to maintain connection.  I strive to have fun and continue to do what is best for my students.
2017-- let's make it great!