Choices – Path to the Future or the Past?

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This school year feels like it is everyone’s first year teaching no matter what year you are on.

A friend recommended a book by Debbie Ford called The Right Questions. There is power to questions. The first one in the book is: Will this choice propel me toward an inspiring future or will it keep me stuck in the past?

As I was making notes on these first two weeks of the new school year this question was floating around in my head.

After 7 years as a coach, I went back to the classroom. As I have written before, there is a list of reasons for this movement. It is a step of learning and experience. I believe it is an important step for me necessary for an inspired future and what I want to do next.

How does this change serve me? One of the ways is to experience teaching again in a day to day way. Kindergarten is the year where the I am required to think about the simplest explanations for the most complex ideas. In kindergarten there is potential for stories in everything. Five year olds make connections and say things that are unusual and is one of my favorite parts of the job.

When I teach, I make micro-movements in instruction based on the students actions. I am taking this year to analyze how I do this in real time. This year I have the advantage of recording my meetings with students so I can go back again if there are important breakthroughs that happen in class.

There has been two weeks of this school year so far and all prep. Breaking down what I have done with my time is important for my own learning.

-There has been lots of professional development and meetings (all virtual). Some meetings have been done well, and others not so much. I am always analyzing how people conduct their trainings so I can learn what to do and what not to do in my own.

-Everything is new for everyone. The overwhelm hit us all at different times. There were moments that people felt like there were too many changes. This happened for first year teachers and the 30 year veterans. We all feel like we learn and then stumble around in the dark and find our way again. My team is wonderful and we help each other. The strengths we have become everyone’s because of the sharing. We teach each other. I have not had a true team in a long time.

-Contact with parents is always a tricky area for me but a requirement. We are must use Class DOJO and SEESAW here at the beginning. Parents are familiar with DOJO we were told. I have issue with starting with too many things and then changing.

In the Spring, I had success with text messages for contact with parents so I did the same this fall.

I sent this message to my parents this week:

Hello! This is Mrs. Breitweiser (child)’s Kindergarten teacher. I just wanted to reach out and say hello.

Material pick up starts tomorrow.

We will have a combination of live and recorded teaching in 2 sessions. 8-11 and 12-3. Please let me know which (child) prefers.

Let me know if you have any questions.

Follow up texts required answered questions. I also sent this message:

What is something you would like me to know about (child)? Something that is her/his favorite? Or a special story?

I use the child’s name as much as possible. I send audio messages talking to the student and short video messages as well.

-Virtual open house was successful. We had two 30 minute Zoom meetings and I had over half my students show up. There were smiling faces and cats on the screen. The virtual tour of the classroom and my live explanation of the learning kits were a hit. I introduced myself with a list of favorites that I told the students they would answer starting next week. I showed pictures of my family. Whatever we show our students is what they think we value so those first impressions are important.

It was important to me to tell the parents my past teaching experience. I want to assure them I am qualified to teach their child so they feel as secure as possible.

In the virtual tour I showed all the places where I have the student’s names. I want them to know that it is their classroom even when we are far away.

-Having to be in the building has helped with focus for the start of school. I had some frustration with this requirement especially on the days I spent most of the time in a chair in a meeting in front of my computer. Another focus that is a positive is that it is easier to fast while at school. There is no food there and it requires effort to get in the car and leave if I am stressed.

Do I feel prepped enough? I think so. If something goes wrong then I will pivot and we will use it as a learning experience.

I will make a list of things to remember before Tuesday at 8am.

There is a list of things I want to make sure to remember. If I don’t? I will write it down for the next meeting. This is the same practice whether I am in real life teaching or virtual.

We will see how it goes! I know for certain my choice propels me to the future I create.

What I Have Learned about Virtual Learning…so far #SOL20

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Over the past 7 days I have been working in my classroom, reseraching and attending virutal PD.

Some of the PD has been great…other sessions not so much.

I always attend workshops with the idea of examining how the presenter choses to deliver the content. I have done this since college. I write down the way people start meetings, how they show content, how they have participants interact…or not. I steal what I like for my own presentations.

Here are some things I have learned, or were reminded of, from the content and being a student over the last week about virtual learning:

  1. One of the biggest pet peeves I have about PD is presenters who conduct a training in the opposite way of how they would want you to teach kids. The workshop you are presenting is a model to the people you are teaching. I went to more than one workshop where they talked at us for over an hour. Please. Don’t.
  2. I learned about this video that brings some things into perspective. I wrote about this idea in my newsletter last week.
  3. Kids are vessels that are already full of experiences and knowledge . We need to remember they are not empty just waiting to be filled.
  4. Relationships are the center of everything.
  5. Think about your own school life. Who was an influence on you and what did they do? Connect these ideas to your own teaching.
  6. One presenter used breakout rooms with the adults expertly. We were given a task independently and then asked to talk in the Zoom breakout room. Then we were asked to make a sticky note on the class Jamboard to show accountability. Brilliant! This one I will use for my own workshops with adults. Kindergarten will take a lot of scaffolding for it to happen.
  7. Grade level work needs to be taught to students. This is an equity issue.
  8. I can keep track of what to keep doing, start doing and set aside for now. I like this structure for unpacking what I already know.
  9. To build relationships virtually I need to schedule more one on one time with my students.
  10. I also need to provide virtual social time for my students.

What have you learned in this new time we are in about teaching?

Official Back to School #SOL20

Two Writing Teachers run the Slice of Life tag ever Tuesday, where readers and writers are encouraged to write and share something about their life or day. You can check out the tag here.

Yesterday, was the first day back to school officially. The label was work day.

Delights of the Day

  • I coached a client through text
  • I connected with writer and educator friends
  • I found a word wall feature in a Bitmoji classroom I was perusing
  • I listened to some great podcasts while I went through files and books.
  • I connected with my kindergarten team who are amazing women!
  • I ordered bulletin board sets and remembered there was a time I couldn’t afford to buy much for my classroom. I spent hours cutting out items early in my career to decorate. During student teaching when I had no money I folded over packing tape 3/4ths and adhered it to a large sheet of cardboard to make a pocket chart. I remembered I have come a long way in knowledge and experience.
  • I got my SMART board to work
  • During my lunch time I revised my novel and gave myself a sticker
  • My classroom is a few steps closer to being acceptable for teaching and learning

What were the delights in your day?

Can We Talk?

How Verbalization Can Help Us All Be Better Writers

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Last summer I was honored to attend a literacy conference where Cornelious Minor spoke. I took copious notes and was able to have many conversations with colleagues in the evening. That is the advantage of being at a multiple day conference – you can chat with your tribe about what you learned that day and move forward with plans for the schools.

Over the last 25 years as an educator and attendee of conferences, I have learned to synthesize my notes at the end of the day. I read back through them and fill in the gaps of half written sentences and ideas. I fill out more of the story that was shared I want to remember as an example for teaching later. I also make checklists of action items, things to further research, and people I need to talk to.

I learned Minor also takes notes in a real notebook and carries it around with him all the time when he does workshops. He is full of stories of living in New York and of students and teachers he has worked with. He had to scan all his old notebooks recently because the paper journals were taking too much room in their small NY apartment.

This conference was full of personal connections for me as well. Not only did I have the advantage of having great friends with me to confer with but also a consultant we had worked with for years. I also was able to meet someone in person from Twitter and a connection from a reading board we both had served on at different times. Overall it was three days of connection and learning.

I reflect on this experience this morning and wonder when this will happen again – if ever.

Another way I synthesize info is to skeleton plan a workshop before I even leave. I think about if I were teaching this material to others when I return to where ever I am going what would my spin on this look like. Since the beginning of my career I have paid attention to the nuts and bolts of how presentations are deployed. How did the presenter get everyone engaged? What questions did they ask? Did they do an ice breaker? How did they get people to talk? How did they build relationships? I compare these ideas to my own style and make notes about how it would look for me.

If I am taking a plane I always write and make action plans in my notebooks on the way home. There is something about being away that has a magic spell quality to it. When the wheels touch down at the home airport you have to return to the normal schedule. You fall back into natural tendencies and routine and don’t always use the new learning.

When I started teaching I also made a pact with myself that if I took time to be out of the classroom, I would make sure to use one thing the day I returned.

I do love to give presentations. I have had to move to a virtual world which bring its own complications, but I know how to pivot!

Writing matters.

It gives us tools to deal with struggle. Everyone has experiences and something to say. We have all been broken in some way or another. This applies to us (teachers, or friends of teachers) as writers and our students.

Writing gives us power over our struggle. A way to deal with it and reframe. To try out ways to tell it to other people. It is a powerful device of possibility.

As teachers we create what I call the “greenhouse effect”. We set up all the circumstances for students to have learning experiences with the most amount of obstacles out of the way. This is why we have huge classroom libraries, and over plan. Sometimes we do this too well. The goal is for students to have productive struggle in a balance as to not create frustration and shut down. A certain amount of struggle is needed for learning and retention.

Exercise:

Take out a notebook and a pen or your laptop. Set the timer for 7 minutes. Write whatever comes to mind on the topic of:

Possibility and Power – What do these words conjure up for you?

Do not censor yourself. Just write what comes. Keep your pen moving no matter what comes out.

Ok, the timer went off! You can stop. What did you notice about your thoughts are centered around these two ideas? How does that translate to your classroom?

Verbalization

When we are teaching, one of the most powerful questions we can ask is, “What do you think?” and then wait for the answer. When I have asked this question to students I get the blank stare and many times this statement: “No one has ever asked me that before.”

“What do you think?” is a question we need to be posing more often in order to give them writing practice. We ask students to write a genre after giving only one or two models many times. This is simply not fair. Verbalization can allow practice 9-10 times before writing which gives them a much better opportunity to write a higher quality piece with more confidence.

Talking before writing helps students know what they want to write down. It takes practice to figure out what we want to say. (How many drafts of that email to your principal did you write?)

The person who is doing the talking is the one that is doing the learning. Think about the last time you were in your real life classroom. (I know…go WAY back…) who was doing the talking? In my coaching experience, I would venture to guess you will say the teacher unless you teach a curriculum like EL education where student talk is built in. This is a by product of feeling like there is never enough time. Teachers need to “cover” material for students to be exposed. The worst feeling in the world is to not get to a concept which we know is tested on the high stakes exam and feeling like we didn’t even give our students an opportunity to answer even in a minimal way.

A strategy to get them talking is to use what interests them. This can range from Pokemon to zombie ants. Get them excited and engaged and use that talk to your advantage.

Exercise:

Look at your phone and find a picture that is meaningful to you. If you were to share with someone why it was meaningful, what is the story you would tell?

Storyboards

What is a Storyboard? | Storyboard Template | Storyboard Maker

Another way I have encouraged talk before writing in my classroom is to use an idea I learned from Linda Rief. A simple storyboard of 3-6 boxes is a powerful tool for talk. I have students think of an exciting or an embarrassing story to tell their classmates. I set the timer for 5 minutes and have them sketch and stick figure out the story within the 3-6 boxes. Minimal words are used here. There is a limit of 2 words per box.

Then the student tells the story, using their storyboard to a classmate. The listener gives feedback to what they enjoyed about the story and asks questions about where they are confused.

After three rounds of this practice with different partners the students write their story. The amount of detail and flow to the stories after this exercise works wonders.

How could you provide more opportunities for talk before writing in your classroom? I would love to hear about them in the comments!

How To List Your Way to Better Teaching

What Lists to Keep to Move Your Instruction Forward

7 Reasons to Actually Start Using Google Keep | PCMag

I am a list keeper.

There is satisfacton in making a checklist and completing the list.

I keep lists in my paper planner and also in my Google Keep app. Keep is on my phone and also provides a checkbox option. I can also transfer any note to a Google Doc. New learning from the last two weeks is that I can share a note with another person. This means personal notes I can share with my teacher gmail account so I have access and edit ability for everything.

For teaching , I toggle back and forth between my planner and what I call the “Rose Binder”. The rose binder is the place I put all the important things. It is where I keep student data before it ends up in the spreadsheet, lists, papers I need to not lose in the abyss of my desk, etc. Why rose binder? The binder I use has a clear sleeve for the cover where I add pictures I like. Many years ago I found a picture of a bouquet of roses from Victoria Magazine which I placed in the front. Voila!

Lists calm my mind because I know important actions have been captured and I do not have to use brain power to repeat things to myself. Lists keep me sane.

For me, my teacher lists ensure I do not lose or forget anything. With as many decisions that need to be made moment to moment this simple tool keeps me focused and on track.

Where To Keep Your Lists

  1. In the back of your paper planner (I use the Passion Planner)
  2. Important Paper Binder (My Rose Binder)
  3. Post it notes (that you adhere to the paper planner or the binder)

Teacher Lists I Keep

  1. Favorite quotes
    1. For writing instruction
    2. Motivation
    3. For articles
  2. Education article ideas to write
  3. Things to Remember for the Next School year
    1. I add to this list all year – this is where the lightbulb moments for changes to a lesson get logged, the resources you want to add later to a unit, materials you need to make or find, systems to begin, things to let go of, etc.
  4. Things to Buy for my Classroom
  5. Picture Books I need
    1. I buy a lot from thrift stores and Goodwill
    2. Borrow from Library
  6. DMO for school
  7. Printing jobs
  8. Project Ideas to Do with Students
    1. Current ones for me: mini gardens using toilet paper rolls, Kindness project, Books for me to write for kids, and Books for the World

Other Lists I Keep

  1. Random notes
  2. To do for the day
  3. Topic lists to research
  4. Lists of 10 impressions I have noticed within the day
  5. Short Story ideas
  6. Delights
  7. Articles to read later
  8. Places to publish
  9. Funny phrases the kids say
  10. Anything I want to remember
  11. DMO (see below)

D.M.O

I keep a list called the DMO – Daily Method of Operation. This is the list you keep that is the minimum for you to have a successful day that comes from Tony Robbins. One thing I have learned recently is that success is subjective. I will also tell you I have been thinking a lot about fulfillment vs achievement.

What is my DMO list you ask?

  1. water
  2. walk
  3. mantra
  4. connection
  5. fasting

What are Your Lists?

What are the most important lists you keep? I would love to hear in the comments!

Synchronicity #SOL20

How a request was met with an answer…

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Several days ago I wrote a post called, “The Delight of Connections,” about wanting to connect with a specific type of educator. You can read that here. Luckily, I have this community of teacher writers and it has changed my life for the better. I am so glad to know there are so many teacher writers out there. There are friends that I see their names or the names of their blog and I know I am in for a reading treat, especially on Tuesdays.

Lately, I have felt a bit lost. There is uncertainty that every one feels hovering around the next couple of weeks. I struggle with how I feel about it. I never shy away from hard work or new learning. I thrive on growth, but I cannot wrap my head around the details to plan because I have none.

When I am uncertain I try to find other people who are doing it better than I am. I learn from everyone I interact with. This was the reasoning behind the post: to find someone in a similar situation to find some solutions and validation. The post was liked, but there were no comments. That sometimes happens of course. Not every post we write resonates with someone and compels them to respond.

Sunday a friend reached out in text and we started talking. As a coach, I went into her room frequently. She is one of those teachers I love working with because her teaching light is so bright. Every time it was a joy to enter her room. Her kids learned and were happy to do it. They were fun and had humor in their room. I listened to them perform their readers theatre just after winter break and the students were amazing and expressive. I will never forget that day.

This friend mentioned she knew one of the ladies that had applied for my job when I left. Through the text conversation I learned she was teaching fifth grade but had been a coach and a kindergarten teacher in the duration of her career! This new connection and I had an amazing conversation over Instagram.

If there is something you are seeking, ask. You never know how the answer will show up for you. I remained open to it and am pleased with this new connection. I thought it would come from the blog. It is a delight it came through a random conversation with a friend who doesn’t even know I have a blog! Be open to what comes. I love it when our needs are provided for in such unexpected ways.

Have you experienced Synchronicity lately? I would love to hear about it.

The Delight of Connections

100+ Preschool Pictures | Download Free Images on Unsplash

Finding our tribe is important. It helps us belong and feel comforted that there are people that are like us. Having diversity in the group helps us learn from people who are different from us as well. No two people are exactly alike and that is a good thing!

I will be teaching kindergarten this fall, hopefully in person. I will be incorporating play, centers, loads of writing and reading, priming, EL education, and protocols. This is not an exhaustive list.

One of the things I do is incorporate my personal passions into my classroom. If there is something I become obsessed with – like llamas, for instance – they find their way into my teaching. I believe this shows my students that the things they love are important as well. I had a student one time that put a pickle in her stories. For some reason, she was obsessed with them. It became a fun game how she could incorporate them into her writing and her speech. She learned she could play with words and it was accepted in the room and encouraged.

My education experience feels unique and I want to close that gap. I am sure I am not the only one who is a writer, a coach, and a classroom teacher. I plan to go back to coaching after a year back in the classroom. I believe the classroom experience makes me a better coach especially in a new district. I continue to write and publish. This makes me more of an authority to my students when they know this information when we have writing workshop.

My students will see themselves as readers, writers, and problem solvers on day 1.

My goal is to form a mastermind of like minded educators in order to fuel each other to take risks and learn from what we experience with our students. Does this appeal to you?

Comment or email me at tammybreitweiser@gmail.com – I would love to connect.

Do You Have a Mantra? #sol20

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I have been thinking about mantras. What are the phrases you repeat to yourself? Are they positive or negative? Are you paying attention?

Within my group coaching program I am working on a higher level mantra this week. As I was listening to my coach this morning I was thinking about my mantras for school.

What do you repeat to students constantly? I am not talking about the behavior corrections here. What academic feedback do you give to students to encourage the behavior you desire in them?

My favorite phrase to tell students, especially when we are working on something new or difficult is:

I am the facilitator in my classroom. My students need to trust that what I am providing for them is something valuable. It has to be the right fit for them – not too hard, not too easy, just enough productive struggle. Students need to feel that I know what I am talking about. This is why I share my writing with students. I believe you cannot teach writing well unless you are a writer in some form yourself.

Several years ago I was talking to a colleague about writing prompts. She had expressed frustration about her students not writing well to the prompts she was giving to them. I asked her if she had provided a model for them. She had said no because she didn’t want them to copy hers. In the past, she had provided models only to have carbon copies of her piece come back to her.

We talked about the gradual release framework (I do, We do, You do) and then came back to the model.

She decided to write her own version based on the prompt. She gave herself her own assignment. Do you know what she found?

She had trouble writing the essay.

Huh.

It occurred to her if she was in her 40’s and didn’t have enough experience to write a layered piece then 8,9 and 10 year olds would not be able to either. She had to change the prompts she was giving to her students. There would need to be changes to the actual prompt or scaffolding and some group research would need to happen first.

Sometimes we have to do the work first in order for it to be the highest good for our students.

I would love to hear about your mantras and beliefs from your classrooms!

Leave It To A Teacher #SOL20

An Innovative Way to Make Readable Text

My superpower is teaching students to read. It doesn’t matter how old they are. I can hear nuances in their process and am able to fill in the cracks so they can make quick progress. 

I also pay attention to what they are interested in and what they need.

When I was teaching first grade way back in 1996 I needed books for my kids with decodable and familiar text for them to practice with accuracy. There was no Teachers Pay Teacher or Pinterest back then. I had to find an easy solution.

That solution was using PowerPoint for bookmaking.

When I was a novice teacher, I took risks constantly with my students. I found the ideas that worked in my classroom were based on research I found later. Dr. Richard Allington and Marie Clay were huge influencers to me. I just continued using them because they worked.

I teach kindergarten now and even with the internet resources available, I still have the need to make books for my students.

I have given books to students and said, “I saw this and thought of you.” then watch as they read it whenever they can. I have also said, “I created this just for you.” It yields the same result: Reading.

I started teaching teachers my technique when I was nurtured by the Tech Trio. These were three technology education teachers employed by my first corporation. They also encouraged me to write a proposal to share my techniques at the Indiana Computer Educators conference. This conference would be the first of many I presented at over the course of my career.

The solution for me was to take a presentation program and turn it into a bookmaking program.

The design was simple. The text would be at the top of the page with a picture to help the student read. 

The first book I needed was an environmental print book. The first day of class I have students read me the book. Then they get a sticker . I tell them someone asks them what the sticker is for they are to tell them they read a book!

The idea that my students are readers the first day solidifies this identity for them. There is no arguments. There are no limiting beliefs that they are too young. They just did what they thought was impossible.

We add to class books as the year goes on, highlighting the uniqueness of that class. One year we had to have a hot Cheeto page. 

I created books with their spelling words, their sight words, the vocabulary words for the reading focus that week, favorite class words. 

It created the environment for them to be authors.  I didn’t have to tell them to do it, it was a regular practice. Soon they learned to make their own books.

PowerPoint and Google Slides allows you to print the pages so you can run it through the copier and staple into the books immediately. If you duplicate the page and print 2 to a page then you just have to cut them in half. There is no sorting that way and saves you tons of time.

Creating books contributed to my outcome of nurturing readers and writers. What a reading community it is!