Monday, April 24, 2017

Baby, You're a Firework

Our family recently got a dog. We rescued him from a local shelter and he has apparently never lived in a home before. He is skittish and nervous. He is perplexed by our TV. He paces and flinches and cowers at noises despite our constant assurances that we are his people. My husband calls him 50 First Dates because every morning we start over- walking and petting, brushing and reassuring, hoping that today will be the day that he settles down and gets on with the business of being part of our family.

Yesterday was a great day. We even got him in the living room with us as we were watching a movie and the kids had him running around in the backyard before bedtime. And then...somebody started shooting off fireworks.

Suffice it to say that he couldn't get in the house soon enough. He wedged his way under our bed and did not come out until this morning. He whimpered, covered his face, and no promise of treats could assuage him out from under the bed. This morning, as I laid there aware of his presence under us, I kept humming Katy Perry's song, "Firework." I thought about how that song is supposed to be empowering and liberating. My nine year-old daughter belts it out as an anthem. It's a great song...if you like fireworks.

But what if you hate fireworks?

If there's one thing I have learned as an instructional coach, it is that disagreement is just part of life. Some people love flexible seating, some think it's distracting. Some educators are frightened of technology, some embrace every device, app, and extension that is tweeted out. Some teachers lean toward literacy, some math. There are leaders who are outspoken and boisterous, others prefer a more quiet approach.

And what if we pan out past the educators in a school building and look closely at the kids? My daughter and son are as different as two students can be. The needs, preferences, and learning styles of kids in any given classroom are as varied as the adults in the building. Teachers often lament how difficult it is to differentiate for each student. Not just the kiddos with IEPs and 504 plans, or those with a GT label or medical considerations, but all the kids. My son has a GT label, but my daughter does not. Don't I want her teachers to consider her needs just as much as a kid that is identified with a label? Don't all of our children deserve to be planned for, thought of, and honored as we make educational decisions?

As we gear up for another busy end-of-year season, it is my hope that we will all work a little harder to consider the perspectives of the people we encounter each day. It is so hard to look past the bubble of our classroom, our office, our laptop, but may we work towards empathy, understanding, and grace as we work to provide students (and adults) with the best educational experience possible. I want to support those who love technology and those that are frightened by it. I will extend support to the teacher that asks for help and the one who won't ask, but will accept it if I offer it. I will try and anticipate the fears, hopes, and dreams of all of the people with whom I work, and if someone needs to hide under the bed for awhile when things get overwhelming, that's OK.

But, I will be there when they decide to come out.

Friday, March 17, 2017

101 Books to Read Before You Grow Up

Call me nerdy, but one of my favorite weeks of the year is when the Scholastic Book Fair is at our school! I'm not sure if it brings back memories of when I was a kid, or if it's just the colorful headers and beautiful displays, but I get giddy when the trucks drop off the cases and our librarian gets to work. This year, one of my favorite finds was this gem by Bianca Schulze.

This book is a graphic delight. It is divided into age groups and provides suggestions for picture books, historical and realistic fiction, poetry, and even a few graphic novels. Each page gives a quick summary, fun facts about the author, and (probably my favorite) a What to Read Next feature with four books that you're sure to be interested in if you enjoyed the featured story. There are also insets that highlight powerful quotes from the books, a place for you to rate the story, list your favorite characters, and a few lines for notes.  


As a child and an elementary teacher for the last 19 years, I have already read many of the books included in this resource. I plan to read the stories that I haven't, but also involve my children in this process as a summer project. Once we read the 101 on the list, I'd like to explore the What to Read Next selections, as well as use it to stretch ourselves as readers. My daughter tends to prefer realistic fiction and my son likes fantasy, but I think this format will allow us to have conversations that solidify why we like what we do and connect over stories and shared experiences. Great work, Bianca Schulze

Of course, I have a book fair shirt from The Wright Stuff. Check it out here!

Sunday, February 12, 2017

TCEA 2017

This week, I had the opportunity to attend the TCEA conference at the Austin Convention Center. Once I figured out how to navigate the multiple floors and broad expanse of this venue, I was able to connect with amazing educators and learn a lot of practical ways to help teachers improve technology integration.

The first session I attended was titled, Using GSuite in the STEM classroom. Several teachers in my building are already utilizing components of G Suite in their classrooms, but I was interested in the science focus. We do have a STEM program at our campus, but it only serves one third of our 4th and 5th graders, so I was especially interested in how I might help support ALL of our science teachers. This presentation team took a paper airplane problem and guided us through their district's problem-solving framework. The link to the presentation is here, and I recommend you check it out!

Presenters: @NKeithBlend

Wednesday morning, I had the honor to be part of a #PersonalizedPD panel discussion. This fun group included Jason Bretzmann, author of Personalized PD, Todd Nesloney, author of Kids Deserve It, and Jessica Torres, elementary assistant principal in Waco, Texas. While I remain unclear on why I was asked to join this group, I am so fortunate I had the opportunity. One of the most fun things for me about this group was that I really only knew the other panelists from Twitter. It was a great experience to interact with members of my PLN and they have fantastic insights into personalizing professional development, which has become a passion of mine since I became an Instructional Coach. We used Today's Meet as a backchannel and the audience asked questions. It was a great way to personalize the session so that we talked about the specific needs of the audience. 

                                                         Photo credit: Aaron Hogan

Next up, I attended a session on implementing DreamBox. We are piloting this adaptive numeracy program with our kindergartners soon, so I was interested in hearing more about the details. I appreciated the presentation, but was even more impressed by the conversation I had afterwards with Tim Hudson. We were able to talk math and professional development opportunities. It is rare to get to talk with someone about the work of Catherine Fosnot at a technology conference! For more details on DreamBox, click here.

Of course, it wouldn't be a conference without a little #patioPD. One of the best parts about gatherings such as TCEA is getting to visit with smart, innovative people who are just as passionate about education as I am. I love connecting with people who have different strengths, viewpoints, and experiences. We truly can learn so much from each other.

Thanks so much, TCEA17!

Monday, February 6, 2017

TPT Sale!

Everything in my TPT store will be 28% off on Tuesday and Wednesday! Swing by for a huge sale!

Friday, February 3, 2017

A Squiggly Story

One of the things I miss most about the classroom is reading to children. There is such power in telling a story well, and read-alouds afforded me the opportunity to use all those skills I learned in high school speech and performance classes. An enjoyment of reading, paired with a well-written children's book can set the stage for a host of learning opportunities, as well as (and equally as important) provide a warm, special experience between a teacher and her class.

Read-alouds build classroom community, provide common experiences, provide models for fluency and comprehension, and are just plain fun. Reading Magic by Mem Fox is one of my favorite books for adults that sheds light on the importance of read-alouds. In it, she talks about the classroom read-aloud and how it's ultimate design is to mimic the loving shared reading experience between a child and parent. Over my years as a classroom teacher, I've accidentally been called, "Mom," over a hundred times, and I truly do believe in the power of books that are read aloud by a trusted adult.

Every so often, a read-aloud comes along that makes me ache to have my own classroom again. A Squiggly Story by Andrew Larsen did just that. It came up in my Amazon list of books I should (of course) want to buy and I fell in love with the believable story line, the darling illustrations by Mike Lowery, and the myriad classroom implications. As the co-director of the Central Texas Writing Project, I am always on the hunt for books that highlight and celebrate the writing process of children who are not yet writing conventionally. This book is now one of my very favorites, and I cannot wait to share it with teachers this summer.

I borrowed a kindergarten class at the campus where I am the instructional coach so I would have a chance to try this book out with real children. After reading A Squiggly Story (which the kids LOVED by the way), we brainstormed a list of things that the kids may want to write about. In the book, the main character's older says, "It's easy, just write what you know." During this time, I modeled stretching out words and spelling phonetically since kindergartners often get hung up on writing because they want you to tell them how to spell everything.

I am so thankful I work with teachers who open up their classrooms and share their learners with me. 
I had such a fantastic time in kindergarten this week! 

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Central Texas Google Summit

Recently, I had the opportunity to attend the Hays CISD Central Texas Summit. This great day of learning was held at McCormick Middle School in Hays CISD, a beautiful campus with a design that inspires collaboration, design thinking, and student autonomy. This summit drew educators from all over Central Texas, including Hays, Dripping Springs, Brenham, Austin, and several other districts. 

Kasey Bell delivered the keynote. Kasey’s website and blog,, provides teachers and educators with digital learning resources, tech tips and tricks, and classroom technology integration ideas. This video from her presentation truly showcases the need for today's educators to embrace the idea of change and how teachers must work to meet the needs of the learners that are in our classrooms today.

Cool people I met that you should follow:
Kari Potter
Kelly Garner
Tommy Spall
Ann DeBolt
Amy Mayer

Cool ideas/extensions I learned about that you should know about, too...

The bottom line seems to be this: Educational technology can be leveraged in so many positive ways, but like all change, is going to take a commitment to professional development, access, and real-world application.  

I appreciated the Growth Mindset approach that I heard throughout the day at the Google Summit. 

  • I'm not sure; let's find out. 
  • Does someone in the room know? 
  • Let's ask on Twitter and see what we find out. 

Image source

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Whatever you are...

My niece attends the elementary campus where I am an Instructional Coach. When I picked up my kids at my mom's house the other day, she was there and was drawing a picture for her teacher. I nonchalantly mentioned that I knew her teacher would love it. I also said that since I'm not a classroom teacher anymore, I don't get very many, "love notes," from students.

Two days later, I was in the crosswalk directing before-school traffic (Coaches often perform other duties as assigned) when my niece came to the curb. "Aunt Mandy, I made you this." It turned out the be the very best part of my day, as well as the inspiration for this post.

I am in my second year as a campus Instructional Coach. It is safe to say that I had zero idea what I was doing last year. I read books by Elena Aguilar, Jim Knight, and Jennifer Allen. I tried to be all things to all people, I felt sad when I wasn't well-received, and I doubted my decision to leave the classroom as I struggled with an identity crisis that was expected, but still very difficult. I believed there was an ideal coach, some model that I was searching for, but even though I was committed and read all the right books, I was still very much lost.

Don't get me wrong. I wouldn't count the year a complete loss. I tried really, really hard. I read and researched, advocated for kids, and tried to work with individual teachers and teams to accomplish the goals they had set for themselves and for their students. I modeled lots of lessons and tried to meet the needs of the teachers, the campus, and the district system. But still I wondered...was I trying to be what I thought everyone wanted me to be instead of trusting myself to be what my school really needed?"

The ambiguity of instructional coaching can cause confusion for more than just our students. Countless kiddos at my school think I'm the counselor because she visits their classrooms, too. I had a parent stop me in the hall the other day and ask, "What exactly do  you do here? My son said you were in his room and were a super-nice sub, but his teacher wasn't absent."

One of my favorite Instructional Coaching shirts

The other day, I found this post on an Instructional Coaching blog I follow. When I read it, I immediately agreed with the author, Cory Roffey when he said, 

"Clearly defining your role as an instructional coach takes a strong understanding of the varied and dynamic roles of a coach, but an even stronger understanding of your school site and both are essential in becoming the instructional coach that your school needs."

This year, my school needs support as teachers work to adapt to new administration, a new state accountability system, and new district initiatives. Our teachers and administrators have identified focus areas and I am busier than ever trying to provide support, build relationships, and facilitate a new fact fluency assessment system. 

While my precious, thoughtful niece may still have no idea I what I do, and as I struggle through the ultimate identity crisis, I take comfort in the idea that I can learn from my mistakes, set goals and work to attain them, and that every day, something happens that makes me so happy to be exactly who and where I am.