Posted in #Immooc, Learning, Teaching

Starting off the school year

Summer is rapidly coming to an end which means let’s start the back to school work. Time to take all that summer learning from books, blogs, twitter, planning with co-workers, professional learning, vacation, and etc, and put it into practice.

How do you start off your school year? Prep your classroom, make some lesson plans, get those bulletin boards and seating charts ready, etc?  What about the syllabus, class rules, and class expectations? That was something that was at the top of my priority list my first few years of teaching. I felt it paramount to cover every bit of the syllabus and class rules and expectations on DAY 1. 

My first year of teaching, I made sure to really hit those rules and expectations hard. I wanted the students to know I was in charge and I meant what I said.  Big surprise….at the end of the day, I wasn’t inspired. I was exhausted and annoyed with repeating the same rules and answering the same questions all day long.  But I guess I forgot that feeling as I did the exact same thing my 2nd year and again, at the end of the day I found myself bored and uninspired.

By Year 3, I FINALLY wised up a bit and changed my first day into a more fun activity that involved yarn, construction paper, and teamwork with students creating their own maps of the earth and an ‘archeological dig’ (from a paper bag) and then a silly name game icebreaker that we played outside with a ball in the beautiful Texas heat (I mean, the beautiful Texas sunshine).

It was SO MUCH BETTER. At the end of that day, I was PUMPED, ready for a new school year, and I could see the students shared my same excitement.

How do you plan to start your year?  I saw a twitter post from Matthew Arend the other day with a picture of 5 Questions from George Couros. You can read about it on Couros’s blog here: http://georgecouros.ca/blog/archives/7552

Here are the questions:

Screen-Shot-2017-07-22-at-8.54.52-PMAren’t these almost perfect questions for starting off your year?  I’m brainstorming how I can use these with the social studies department on my campus as their Instructional Coach. I want to know from the teachers:

  • What are the qualities you look for in an instructional coach?
  • What are you passionate about that you want to share with others?
  • What BIG goal do you have for the year?
  • What are your strengths (luckily, many have completed the Strength Finder, but now is a great time to revisit those)?
  • and then, wow, did you see that last question…

What does success at the end of the year look like to you?

How powerful is that question? It is incredible! It is one that I need to reflect on for awhile before I can formulate an answer. And then, it needs to be revisited throughout the year to see if that success is building or if what that picture of success was has changed.

What questions are you going to ask yourself before the year starts? What questions will you ask your students?

At the end of the FIRST day of school, will you be inspired? Will you feel ready to rock and roll? Will you have gleaned some insight into the personalities of your students? Or will you be without a voice and exhausted on your feet from going over the rules all day long, over and over again?

I hope you make the choice for inspiration!  Which reminds me of some great words from my high school Principal, Mr. Haver: “Make it a great day or not, the choice is yours.”
Happy back to school planning fellow educators!

–Celaina

Posted in #Immooc, Uncategorized

Strengths

Do you know what your strengths are? What about your weaknesses? Is that something you think about or talk about often? And speaking of weaknesses–I dislike that in an interview question. Do you like it? It is a tough one to answer when attempting to persuade someone to hire you based on your skill set, but then have to explain to them where you have deficiencies.

My husband is currently working on his masters (to gain administrator certification). One of his first assignments was to complete a Kiersey Temperament Survey. It was interesting to read his results as they fit how I view him already, but it made me look at his personality through a different lens when he and I discussed it. That conversation led me to start wondering about personalities and strengths.  In life, in teaching, in your day-to-day, do you know the strengths of those around you? Do you know their weaknesses? Do you use that knowledge to your advantage? How? With my husband, because I’ve known him for 15 years, I have a solid grasp (I think) on his strengths and his weaknesses. And I try to mindful of those when we disagree on things in our lives, with work or with our kiddos.  But for the teachers I coach, do I use that to my advantage? Definitely not enough. I’ve known them for only two years, but that should not be an excuse. The teachers here have completed the Strengths Finders training/survey and I have access to that actual data showing their strengths. That is something I need to start leveraging and using to become a better Instructional Coach.

So then, that makes me think and wonder further.  For teachers and for their students…how does knowing student strengths and weaknesses enable teachers to maximize student learning outcomes? If you know what your students are good at, how can you use that to further their learning? To inspire their creativity? To encourage more problem solving and critical thinking? How can you highlight the areas where your students excel so that you can build their motivation and self-esteem? I think you use it when planning lessons, when picking group arrangements for activities, when organizing reading and writing strategies, when planning interactive, hands-on vocabulary lessons, and etc. You should be purposeful when thinking about how the students as individuals are going to achieve their learning objectives for the day.  Which can be so HARD! When you teach 180 students and have to work hard to plan lessons to engage students, to cover the curriculum, to fit the vision of the campus, to follow the state standards, and etc, it makes it seem impossible to then break down those lessons even further to cater to the needs of individual classes or students.  How do you manage? How do you fit in innovation and use strengths to maximize the learning in classrooms?

It’s in pockets, right? In small pieces? You fit in some creativity here, some new strategies over there. You try new things, take risks, find out what works for you and for your students and what doesn’t. Then you go share! You blog, tweet, go to PLCs. You lean on your colleagues to give you inspiration and you lean on them to push you to keep thinking for new ways to teach, to inspire, to learn!

Posted in #Immooc, culture, Learning

#IMMOOC–The Innovative Educator

Innovation is more than just inventing something new.

Innovation is creative and messy. It is about creating a space for experimentation, failures, change for the better. Critical questions to ask when looking for innovation: Is it new? Is it better? How can you use innovation in teaching? How can students use it to learn?  We have to create an environment of uncertainty and unpredictability.  If you know every day when you show up to class EXACTLY what is going to happen (think about it from the lens of a student–I’m going to come in, sit down, do my warm up, listen to my teacher and take notes, then leave)….what does your mindset become? Is there room for real learning? For experimenting? For failing? For questioning?  Are you looking for new things? Are you learning new things?

If you are stuck in a rut, in a predictable cycle of teaching, how do you get out of it?

Start with some critical questions (from Ch. 2 of The Innovator’s Mindset):

critical questions picture

Have you asked yourself these questions lately? Couros says, on page 41 of The Innovator’s Mindset:  “The innovator’s mindset starts with empathy for our students (which is why the questions above are so crucial). Equally important is the desire to create something BETTER.”

So, what have you looked at with fresh eyes today? Have you asked yourself, “Is it new? Is it better? Is there a better way?”

If you need more inspiration, check out the #IMMOOC hashtag on twitter. Find some new blogs to read! Learn, grow, then reflect and post your own blogs!  Or you can just read The Innovator’s Mindset by George Couros. Or for shorter reading, check out the 10 Commandments of Innovative Teaching from AJ Juliani.

Posted in #Immooc, Learning, Teaching, Uncategorized

A message of kindness

I posted about Mrs. Eva Mozes Kor last October:

eva-blog-posting-from-october

One of the amazing things that Eva does is spreading her message at conferences, in schools, and around the world.  A program that she hosts through the museum allows you to spend $500 and you will receive 30 copies of her book plus an hour long virtual session with her.  Of course, I jumped at this opportunity for the students at my campus.  I put in the PO, ordered the books, and got started!

We started our meetings in January and these students read the book on their own time and came to advisory once a week.  They are an impressive group of students and they came every week with new questions, ideas, and thoughts about her book and how it relates to history, to their own lives, and to the world we live in today. We did all kinds of activities from quote swapping, to the wagon wheel protocol, to creating slogans and hashtags to represent the chapters.  It was a great experience with the students and really fun for me to get back for a bit into the world of teaching. 🙂

But the most AMAZING part of the entire thing happened yesterday.  Yesterday was the hour long session with Eva herself virtually.   The students were mesmerized by her every word.  She tells pieces of her story in Auschwitz and then gives the students her own message.  A message that is full of kindness, forgiveness, and love.  The students asked her their own questions as well and she was very gracious in her answers.  Ranging from inspiring students to be the best they can be, to be kind to others, to silly stories of how she learned English when she moved to Indiana by watching soap operas and how she was confused when her fiancé (at the time) kept telling her all the females in his family were going to have a wedding shower for her and she just said, um, that’s okay, I can bathe by myself.  She has an incredible strength that surrounds her and what she does every day. A few words of wisdom:

If you don’t give up, you can accomplish anything.

We can improve the world, one person at a time.

Become the best You that you can. You cannot become anyone else.

Be kind.

Forgive others. You have the power to forgive. No one can give it to you and no one can take it away. Forgiveness is a feeling of wholeness.

So today, more than ever, I will work to forgive. I will work to be kind. I will not give up on my dreams. I will work to improve the world.  Thank you Eva–for your amazing ability to survive and how you have used your life to empower others to be better.

Thank you to the students who embarked upon this amazing journey. Thank you for being willing to take part in the meetings each week, to read the book on your own time, to add your slogans and hashtags, share your quotes, discuss the meaning of Eva’s words with your classmates, your friends, and with me. I know you are all so empowered after hearing her message.  I hope that you are a little kinder and a little better each day now from reading Eva’s words and from hearing her message.

students-watching-eva-presentation

Posted in #Immooc, Teaching

The Land of the Book Study

In my previous district, we occasionally talked about what we were reading. I read a lot of fiction for fun, aligned my reading to a host of Young Adult books so I could share insights and hear insights from my students in my classes and in my homeroom class.  I had a group of  big readers in my homeroom and loved it!  But for professional learning books–we really didn’t do a lot.  I followed blogs, keeps up with an rss feed in google reader (before they discontinued it) and occasionally checked out a book about teaching social studies.  Fast forward a few years and move to a new city, new job, no students (but still in education)–now, in my job, EVERYBODY reads professional books.  Or at least pretends to read them, ha!

I started this job in August of 2015. It’s now January of 2017, so 17 months later and I’m looking at a stack of books that I’ve been given either as part of a book study or suggested reading, or I’ve pulled to read myself and the stack is tremendous!  I’ll post a picture next week when I can gather all the books from my home and work so you can see the size of it! I’ve enjoyed most of the readings and book studies, but definitely miss that stack of Young Adult fiction (like Legend, Cinder, Candor, Unwind, etc) and the students to chat with it about.

I’ve posted previously about meeting Eva Kor in October. Eva and her museum do a book study program where you can purchase 30 books for students and set up a Skype date with Eva.  Finally!! I can squeeze in some time with students to talk about reading and about history, my 2 favorite things!! I miss keeping up with Young Adult fiction, but I think Eva’s book is so powerful that it is easily filling that void of talking about books with students. We started our book study last week.  We’ll meet every week to discuss the chapters until the end of February when I will get to experience the students talking with Eva herself.  I’m feeling like the start of 2017 is going amazingly well!

What books are you reading?  For fun?  For work? Share your ideas so I’ll have new suggestions on what to read!

I’m reading:

  • Surviving the Angel of Death by Eva Kor
  • The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg
  • A book by Mark Manson (The Subtle Art of…)
  • And I just finished Sycamore Row by John Grisham

A few of my favorites from last year include:

  • Black Box Thinking by Matthew Syed
  • The Innovator’s Mindset by George Couros
  • Ditch that Textbook by Matt Miller
  • Better Conversations by Jim Knight
  • Lemons to Lemonade by Zimmerman and Garmston
Posted in #Immooc, Learning, T-Tess, Teaching

T-Tess and What is good teaching anyhow?

In our return to school today we spent time learning more about T-Tess–the new appraisal system for teachers in Texas (replacing PDAS).  I’m actually pretty excited about it.  It really lends itself to more of a coaching model within schools, and hey…this instructional coach here is happy about it!

It is divided into 4 Domains: Planning, Instruction, Learning Environment, and Professional Practices and Responsibilities.  Read more about it here: https://teachfortexas.org/

The training was heavy on information, but had a few activities built in:

  • Small group talk about what makes a lesson an effective lesson. Teachers wrote down their thoughts individually and then had to come to a consensus as a table.
  • Rubric breakdown involving the differences between each level (Distinguished to Improvement Needed) and what that really means and looks like in the classroom.

To reflect on T-Tess, on those activities, and on learning, I want to think more about:

What is good teaching?

What does it look like?

What makes it effective?

Education is full of buzzwords, and sometimes you read articles, hear stories, talk with colleagues and it all sounds great, but what does it really look like in the classroom? What does effective teaching look like? What characteristics can you observe?

I’m working on a list that covers both individual characteristics of effective teachers as well as observable characteristics of effective teaching:

  • energetic and positive
  • encourages independent thought
  • accepts criticism
  • reflective on quality of their own teaching
  • organized and strong time management skills
  • able to use wit and humor
  • respectful and caring of all students
  • frames the lesson and closes the lesson
  • uses a variety of instructional techniques
  • lessons and assignments are planned purposefully and students can articulate their purposes when asked
  • connects learning to concrete, real-life examples
  • engages students in critical thinking, research skills, writing skills, and internet safety
  • provides frequent feedback to students on their learning
  • uses feedback from students (and other professionals) to reflect upon teaching and adjust methods

What is on your list?

I don’t believe that effective teachers just happen.  Effective teachers are working constantly to improve their practices–through continued learning, coaching cycles, feedback from students, feedback from colleagues, twitter, and more!

Posted in #Immooc

Review time!

Can you believe it is already December?  Many educators are scrambling to finish their curriculum and have time to review before semester exams.

What are your favorite review games? There are so many to choose from, it’s hard to narrow it down.

Tech involved games that we use a lot:

  • Kahoot
  • Quizizz
  • Quizlet Live
  • SuperTeacherTools (to make games)

Non-tech games:

  • DominKNOWS (a new favorite of mine)
  • Hot Seat
  • Heads up Cards
  • ZipZapZop reviewing
  • Bazinga (learned about it from the English Instructional Coach, it’s pretty cute)
  • Snowball fight
  • ABC posters

And many more! I need to organize all of these with directions into one place so they can be shared.