Monday, May 8, 2017

A Day in the Life of the Writing Project...

It's almost time for the Central Texas Writing Project! Last weekend, a group of teachers, professors, and authors gathered at Texas State University for our first pre-institute meeting. We gathered to share food, make introductions, and learn a bit about how the Writing Project works.
                                                "my mom holds her accent like a shotgun, 
                                                 with two good hands. 
                                                 her tongue, all brass knuckle 
                                                 slipping in between her lips
                                                 her hips, all laughter and wind clap."

The day began with a poem by Denice Frohman. Her poem, "Accents," set the stage for our journal writing time. After we had several minutes to write, we opened up the floor and got to hear from several brave teachers. Participants used Denice's poem as a springboard that turned into stories about their mothers, words they remember from childhood, stories of pain and strength, and the love of a family. Author's chair is one of the most special parts of any writer's workshop, and especially of the Writing Project.

Next, I got the opportunity to model a demonstration based on the book A Squiggly Story by Andrew Larsen. I've blogged previously about this gem of a book. We focused on kindergarten writing goals, invented spelling, and how important student ownership is in the writing process. The teachers put themselves in the place of 5 & 6 year old writers and practiced writing from a student point of view.

During lunchtime, the teachers met with their coaches to work on preparing the demonstration lessons that will be presented during the Writing Project. This time allows the future teacher consultants to match their classroom practice with behavior and education theory. They get an alternative viewpoint, a new mentor, and the encouragement of someone who has been through the Writing Project experience before.

We ended the day much the way it began. We watched a brief video on the What's Your Sentence project by Dan Pink.
After the video, we all reflected on the day, the video, and wrote our sentence. We shared our sentences around a circle, with bold statements about the teachers, men, women, and people we wanted to be. We wrote of how we want to be remembered, who we want to influence, and the children we hope to affect.

If you ever want to be a part of a professional development experience that will change your life, please look into a local Writing Project site. I cannot wait to get started!

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!