Sunday, August 28, 2016

I've got to remember FAIL really does mean First Attempt In Learning

So this week has been fantastic as far as first weeks go.  My students are lovely, and I know this is going to be a year full of enrichment and challenge.  As I mentioned in my last post, I went whole hog on the concept of flexible seating.  It was marvelous with the exception of a few tweeks I had to make.

I'm an Arkansas girl, so I love me some Walmart, but only in Arkansas.  When you are a teacher on a budget though, sometimes you just have to swallow that bitter pill and make your way to the local neighborhood Walmart.  Lucky for me, I found these amazing backrest pillows in the perfect shade of teal.  I quickly snapped up three of them along with two Big Joe bean bag chairs, and I knew I was ready for the first day of school.

Fast forward three days, and I'm lugging my three perfect teal backrest pillows and two Big Joe bean bag chairs back to my local Walmart with a screaming six year old in tow.  The backrest pillows all busted and the bean bag chairs had deflated.  Was this a foreshadowing of how my year is going to be? No, no way. It was simply a FAIL.  Receipts in pocket, cart overflowing with returned flexible seating, and the search for better seating began again.  EUREKA - Teal and gray fluffy butterfly chairs!

Fast forward to Friday, and the new Butterfly chairs are up with reinforced cross bars and no stuffing or beans in sight, I'm ready for the kids again.  Lucky for me, the new chairs were a hit, and our flexible seating utopia was again in balance.

For all the would be flexers out there....try anything and everything and don't be afraid to FAIL. Remember, you aren't a're just on a learning curve.

Peace and Flexible Seats,

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Unicorn Spotting: Kudos to Back to School Heroes

Friday was meet the teacher day for both the Lollipop and the Peach. How these two girls anticipated meet the teacher was totally opposite, almost comically so. Each experience gave me the chance to notice fantastic teachers in action.

Lollipop, entering fifth grade, fretted and worried. When we entered her classroom, she wouldn't say hi to her friends, and she wouldn't say hi to her teacher. She's terribly shy and always anxious, so this situation was overwhelming for her. I think that her new teacher could have dismissed her behavior as rude - certainly it would look that way since society says make eye contact and respond when someone speaks to you. That is really hard to do when you are shy. Instead, her new teacher recognized that she was anxious and started asking questions and shared her own story of having back to school jitters. Lollipop didn't shake off the shy immediately, it will still be a little bit before she gets good and warmed up, but I could see her shoulders relax a little. Her teacher turned this into a chance to build a bond with her, and I couldn't have been more thankful. 

Peach, entering Kindergarten, bounced into her new classroom like she owned it. The Peach has confidence like nothing I have ever seen, and believes that everyone in the world already adores her. She shook her teacher's hand and then ran off to play with all of her new best friends. While filling out some paperwork, I noticed a little guy sobbing. He had big fat crocodile tears running down his face, and when he mom introduced him to the teacher, the tears came faster. This didn't phase the teacher at all. She got right down with him and started talking to him. Telling him about the fun things they would do and learn, asking him questions about his interests, and forming a bond with him. The tears stopped, and even though he said that he was still nervous, we all could tell that Monday was going to be a little bit easier because his teacher took the time to show him some love.

Teaching is certainly changing. From keeper of knowledge to facilitator of learning, some teachers might find themselves wondering exactly what their job description is these days. One thing will never change though, and that is that students need and want a positive relationship with their teachers. Students need to be lead through the changing landscape of education, and while each and everyone one of them might not be the picture perfect image that we might have in our head of a student, everyone deserves love and respect. I appreciate these teachers, and all of the teachers out there drying tears and allaying fears on the first day and beyond. 

Have a great year this year!



Wednesday, August 17, 2016

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

For me it's not Christmas season (although that is a wonderful time). For me, it's right now. Back to school. It means high stress, empty pockets, possible tears, and a ridiculous amount of emotions that only teachers can understand. It's still the most wonderful time of the year because the anticipation is insurmountable. With every little name tag, perfect box of crayons, new idea I'm going to try this year, there is a tiny tear building up in the back of my eye. I'm stoked! I'm about to meet my new babies for one year! They're going to come in a little excited, a little nervous, and maybe a little out of control. They're going to give me big hugs and we're going to start our journey together. They may not be able to write their name, write  a story, or read but at the end of this journey, they will be authors, illustrators, readers, explorers, engineers, and more! We will jump hurdles and climb mountains together. We will laugh and cry together. We will make magic and memories right in this classroom and I can NOT wait! Every single bit of prep and every sleepless night is worth it each time one their little light bulbs lights up. They are AMAZING little beings and those smiles though!!!!! 

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

The Magic of The Book and Good Friends

I'm a reader.  I've always been a reader, and I read everything.  Fiction. Non-Fiction. You name it, and I read it.  This summer I was tasked to read Creating Cultures of Thinking by Ron Ritchhart.  I will admit I was a bit apprehensive, but CurlyUni assured me I'd love it and it would change my world view.  She was right, as she is most of the time, and my mind was blown.  

The book gave me purpose and inclination to think outside the box of what a classroom should look like.  We have advanced from the Industrial Revolution, so why do our classroom still look like a throwback to the 1840s? Desks in lines with the black/whiteboards the center of the classroom.  Why do we feel we must label where children sit and where they get their materials? What is the need to structure every inch of a classroom that is supposed to belong to students.  We are no longer preparing our children to work in factories, so why do our classrooms still look like it? We are preparing our students for jobs that don't yet exist, and our classrooms need to be innovative places.  Along with The Book, I looked to the most innovated companies to see what their workspaces looked like.  Google offices became my new go-to on the redesign of my room.  

All summer, with The Book in hand and my Unis on text message, I contemplated leaping outside of my 1940s-era classroom and wondered what I could do to change it.  CurlyUni loves innovation in every way, shape, and form.  YellowHairUni loves interior design.  My relationships with these amazing women sealed the deal.  I was abandoning my desks in favor of flexible seating, and my mission had begun.  Goodbye cabinets with peeling paint.  Hello cabinets with chalkboard paint! 

Trips to Ikea yielded a couch on SUPER sale, (74.99 from 299.99), and outings to Goodwill, MAM, Target, Walmart, DollarTree, Hobby Lobby, Home Depot and Five Below with MyUnis resulted in an empty wallet but a classroom full of stools in varying sizes, new tables, body pillows, back rests, lap desks, chalkboard paint, lamps and braided rugs.  I'm scared for my sanity, but my room now looks more like a coffeehouse or a hangout than a classroom.  The Book assures me that my kids will love it and be more likely to work hard in a place that is comfortable and chill.  Only time and anti-anxiety meds will tell. 

Wish me luck!

Building better learning experiences

Creating professional development is actually a thing that I love. Lesson planning in general I adore - I couldn't wait to get through lessons to get to the other side to reflect on that lesson and plan
another. Like most teachers I'm also an "lightbulb moment" junkie - I live for those times when I can see my student gets it. 

That I love these things I suppose isn't surprising since I am a facilitator, one who is supposed to be helping others define and reach their goals. Lots of room for planning and lightbulbs. I have led or helped to lead numerous professional developments, but most have been face to face. Face to face classes are different. I have the ability to gauge the room, capitalize on teachable moments, crack a joke when things are falling flat, or totally scrap the plan and fly by the seat of my pants. I must admit though, that most of my courses were sit and "git" (as we say in Texas), but that is for another post.

Online courses are different. I have never before task analyzed like I have for creating this course. And I didn't even build the course from scratch, I had an example to work from. In fact, when I saw the example course I thought the whole process would be easy, but as I began to work and build, I quickly learned that the journey would not be short. The more I worked, the more there was to work on. One idea would lead to another, and that one would lead to another. Just when I felt like I "had it", my director and editor would come back with questions and ideas that would lead me down another path.

We knew that we didn't want this professional learning to be one size fits all, and we knew that we didn't want it to be a bunch of technical learning with no tie to the classroom.

I don't know if we came up with something that will work, but it is something that is very different from anything that I have made before.

The technical part is there - lots and lots of practical how to in the course. But that is just for reference. The learning part is how it ties to the classroom. There are trails to take up the mountain. There are suggested learning points along the way - but the summit is using the tool with students. I love it. Learning how a fork works is great - but learning how to put the fork
to use in a meaningful way - to nourish your body, that's where the magic happens. All tools are just tools until you learn how to make them meaningful.

Practice, reflect, and make a plan for the next steps - that is what this professional development is built on. I think that process will become the basis for most of my staff development - practice, reflect and  make a plan for the next steps. Repeat. Learning never stops.

I'm still refining, but I'm so excited to see what happens. If this chance for teachers to look at professional learning differently makes a difference in their classrooms. I welcome feedback - especially light bulb moments!



Saturday, August 13, 2016

How it began.

Three girls hop in a car and head to a science conference. Two are besties, one is a newbie, but all are passionate beyond belief about education, learning, kids and life.

Over the course of the next three days these girls bond. Become like sisters, but more magical. These girls realize that they are unicorns.

What is a unicorn you might ask. Hello? Unicorns are magical, mythical beasts. Elusive. Beautiful. Powerful.

I see you are still confused because of the education part. I'll explain that piece. There are unicorns in the education world--magical, almost mythical educators who are willing to put everything on the line to make the world a more sparkly and fabulous place. Who see the potential in kids. Who see the potential in learning. Who don't believe in the status quo and won't stop learning, and changing, and pushing others to learn and change too. 

Perhaps you are a unicorn in education. Perhaps you have seen one in action. Perhaps you have been taught by one, and still sparkle a little bit from the experience. It's an amazing experience.

These girls don't think that they are perfect, in fact, quite the opposite. They are always striving to be better, to learn more, to teach more, to reach students and colleagues in ways that will inspire them to be unicorns too. 

This blog is to share their journey. Their successes, and failures. 

Shield your eyes and hop on the glitter train. Things are about to get sparkly.