Archive for August, 2014

I downloaded the Voxer app over three years ago, but I never really utilized it. Until now!

This past summer I started to hear about my Tweeps starting to use Voxer to take their personal learning and connecting further. So of course, I jumped in and I’ve loved it!

During the new teacher training in my district a few weeks ago I shared the app with the other new teachers in my building. Mainly because we had built a bond on the first day that the second day we wanted to stay connected and share some great laughs.

Three weeks later, it’s an app that is helping/saving us!

Our doors are locked and our door fobs were not working to allow us inside to prepare for the school year. Luckily someone had a key and would let us in. So everyone would visit on Voxer about the time they would be there. Then as you arrived, someone already inside could open the door for you.

Next, it helps us to ask questions since we are all new so that we can find out if someone else might have gotten the answer already. If not, then we can go find out the answer and share it with the rest of the group.

If you read my blog, you know that I have an hour drive each morning to get to school and an hour home. Having Voxer allows me to talk with my Tweeps and not be texting and driving. Then today I was able to Vox and discuss lesson plans for the next couple of weeks with my co-teacher. We don’t have a common plan and we are always busy, that now being able to talk and plan via Voxer is a wonderful time saver.

These are just a few ways that I/we use Voxer at Longfellow Middle School and I’m excited about how being connected is helping all of us in our learning and growing as a community.

If you don’t know what Voxer is, it’s a walkie talkie app that allows you to use voice, text and pictures to communicate. It makes it simple to share a thought or anything and the receiving people can respond when they have the chance. The best part is, you share your user name and you don’t have to worry about handing your phone number out to people. That is a nice feature in that I can keep personal and professional life a little separated.

Do you use Voxer? How do you use it in your personal or professional life?

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You Never Know Unless You Try

Posted: August 23, 2014 in Uncategorized

About a month ago I went to the Vision2020 conference in Oklahoma City. One of the sessions I attended was about math games. The presenter shared that to get playing cards you could go to a casino and ask for their used cards and you can normally get quite a few. Well, I did that, but the casino I went to didn’t know what they were doing with their playing cards, so I couldn’t get any.

So I went to the store and was going to buy some. I do have about 4 decks right now, but I need about 12 to 20 decks so that all students can be involved playing games. Standing in the store I looked at the prices and I just couldn’t get myself to purchase that many decks at that price.

Then I thought, can I message the company?

I hurried home and found The United States Playing Card Company website and sent them a message about how I teach math in a middle school and that I like to incorporate games in my classroom. I asked if they would be able to send me some playing cards that I could use.

Well, the response wasn’t a yes. They weren’t sure what they could do, but they would look into it. They asked for my address in case they were able to do something.

This past Thursday I had a missed parcel note in my mailbox. I was really confused because I hadn’t ordered anything. Since I work out of town, there was no way that I could get to the post office to pick up the package until Saturday.

photo (1)So this morning I head into the post office and hand them my note. They go to the back room and return with a box. She hands me the box and it’s a little heavy. Again, what could this possibly be? I look down at the box and see the return address is from The United States Playing Card Company! I knew what it was!

Thank you The United States Playing Card Company for the 12 decks of cards that you sent me! My 160 students are going to get some great learning game time in with these. You truly helped me save some money this school year. (Yes, saving about $20 does make a huge difference.)

I’m not one who uses the teacher card very often when asking for things. I know there are thousands of teachers around the country and that companies can’t give to all of us. Thank you The United States Playing Card Company for taking your time to help my students learn!

First Day Wonders

Posted: August 19, 2014 in Uncategorized

Starting another year. I love it! If you’ve been following my blog, you know that I am at a new school. I’m teaching 6th graders though! They are completely different than 8th graders, but it was a great day!

Looking out my window before school.

When I arrived at school this morning, there were students already gathering at the front doors. I walked in and it was great to see all the teachers running around getting their final things ready to go.

About 5 minutes before the doors opened, I took a picture of everyone gathered around. I love being able to see out front and see the students arriving. It energizes me!

As students entered the building, the 6th graders were everywhere. Some knew where they were going, others just looked at adults waiting for instructions. After announcing to go to Advisory, students pulled out their schedules and found their way.

Each class period was great meeting the kids and starting to learn their names. Yes, starting to learn them. This year is going to be my biggest challenge yet of learning names. I have around 150 students in 6 classes to learn. It’s going to be crazy, but I know that I can do this! My goal is to have their names down by Friday! Of course I’ll then forget many by Monday. My real goal is September 1, but I’m sure I can get them down before then.

Plan Time

At 10:29, I was golden! It was my plan time and I could finally use the bathroom! Non-teachers don’t understand the struggle we go through trying to retrain our bladders on when “bathroom time” is. I’m sure you didn’t want to read about this, but it’s what we do!

After using the restroom I was back in my room getting things planned for tomorrow and the following days. I did take a little time to have a drink or two of coffee though. I was able to get a few things done and go to the office to find out about taking students to lunch.

Lunch – another first day adventure. We all remember how great the lunch line goes in March and April. However, the first day with kids in a new building is never smooth. They have to learn where to line up, how to get their food, how to punch in their ID number to pay and so many other things. As a 6th grade teacher, I want to apologize to our 7th and 8th graders and let them know that we will get this down soon and you won’t have to wait!

The afternoon went smoothly and next thing you knew it was 3:30 and students were leaving. After about a 3 minute delay and then me remembering, I headed outside for duty. Watching students leave is always exciting. You know students are ready to get out of there, but you also know a few are excited to get home and share with their parents about the day. (Ok, so maybe that second part is a teacher dream, but if you don’t dream you don’t live.)

We survived the first day.

As I went back inside I found my colleague Cathy Benge (@CathyBenge1, Whole Brain Teaching Intern) and took a photo. The first day is always exhausting. Teaching your body how to stand, move, talk, oh yes, I had to use the restroom again. It does wear you out. In about a month, I know I’ll be back in the swing of things and I’ll be loving every minute of it!

How was your first day?

This morning I received a message from my high school band director, Suellyn Stenger, with this Ted Talk below.

It has a great message about relationships with students. Rita Pierson shares stories about her life as an educator and how building relationships with students is the key. I have to agree.

As I said, I was given this Ted Talk by my high school band director. I never attended high school in the 21st Century. I’ve kept in contact with her through the years and the jobs that we both have had. See, she’s not at my high school anymore. In fact, she left a years after I did, but the relationship that I’ve had with her is amazing.

She was there when my grandparents have passed, she’s been there as I graduated college, she’s been there when I need someone to talk with about a rough day at school or to celebrate the great things at school. She’s one of the best people I have ever met. I know I’m not the only one who stays in contact with her. I know others do as well. Why? Because she cares and she builds that relationship with you.

Another teacher who built that relationship was my 2nd grade teacher, Mrs. Annette Owens. When I graduated college she sent me a gift. It was the scrapbook that she put together to remember my class. In fact, I looked through it just the other day when unpacking my classroom. I remember going and seeing her after school during elementary years. When she moved to California we would write each other. I know she moved back to Wichita, but I have lost contact with her.

See, schools don’t have to be just about learning. Many students come to school to be loved. If you can’t love the students, then trying to teach them isn’t easy.

I really like what Ms. Pierson has kids say in class:

I am somebody. I was somebody when I came. I’ll be a better somebody when I leave. I am powerful, and I am strong. I deserve the education that I get here. I have things to do, people to impress, and places to go.

I hope she doesn’t mind, but I’d like to use this during the school year.

Remember to go out there and build those relationships with students so they want to come and learn and be successful.

In the comments please share how you build relationships with your students.

EPS – IT 2014

Posted: August 14, 2014 in Uncategorized
staff

Longfellow MS staff

Today was an excellent day for Enid Public Schools. Our district tech department put on a wonderful conference for the staff to learn from each other about some great ways to involve technology in the classroom.

Here was my day:

First, I since I’m new to the district I had a meeting at the district office to get signed up for benefits, so I missed the opening session and went and sat outside my first session room waiting. In the first break out session I went to BYOD (Bring Your Own Device).

The thing I really enjoyed about this BYOD session was that it was led by students. Students from Waller Middle School did an excellent job sharing why having their own devices in the classroom is helpful and educational. One of my favorite lines was when they told the story that many teachers ask them if there is a program for them to be able to see what the students are looking at on their phones. The student response? “Yes, it’s called get up out of your seat and walk around the room talking with students.” It is so true. Don’t be afraid of allowing students to use their devices and then you can trust they are on task.

In the second session I attended they shared about www.donorschoose.org. It is a great site where teachers can make a proposal to try and raise money for items in your classroom. It sounds great! However, I just have some worries that it’s a little bit of a popularity contest or it is all in who you know. If you are in a low income area, trying to get your area to donate to raise the money seems like it would be difficult. Then, schools that are in higher income areas can have families donating to raise the funds. I don’t know. It looks great, I’m just not sure about it all.

For lunch I ran to Sonic then returned to the school to relax and visit with others. It was great to sit and talk with my new school family and share what I know and also learn from them. They are a great group of people and I feel very comfortable with them and enjoy our conversations.

After lunch I attended a session over Haiku Deck. Our district now had iPads in all of the teacher’s hands, which is great! I knew a little about Haiku Deck, but today I found out that you can add text and then the app will look for pictures for you. It’s a great presentation tool that I am going to be using this year!

I then made my way back to the food court and sat with some tech people and chatted about technology. Once again, some great learning. I then had a chance to sit and visit with the instructional strategists for the district and get to know them. Making connections and know who you can get help from is the key to all school districts that I wish more teachers would grasp and use.

celebrate

LMS teachers celebrating the Chrome Book cart win!

The final session was everyone coming together for some door prizes. There are people being sent to ISTE and the state tech conference. The big items today were a cart of Chrome Books to a building. We had to apply and sign up for a chance to win. My building Longfellow Middle School was the building to win the cart! We are all pumped to getting these and to have students learning, creating and sharing on the devices.

Then during the day there was a contest for an iPad Mini to be given to the person with the best tweet from the day. What does that mean? I don’t know. However, I tweeted the most (I may have an addiction) and I ended up winning the iPad Mini.

My plans for the device is to have it in my room for students to use during class. It is not my device, it is there. My classroom has a Twitter and Instagram account through my class mascot Gus the Emporia State Gorilla. Later in the school year I am going to allow a student to carry the iPad and tweet about their day. This will allow their parents to start to see what is happening during the day.

Today was just another reason that I am just excited to be a part of Enid Public Schools and working at Longfellow Middle School. It is going to be a great school year!

LONGFELLOW PRIDE!!!

My Kids

Posted: August 13, 2014 in Uncategorized

Today was exhausting, yet exciting!

Today the 6th graders came to school for “Saddle Up”. It was a time for them to come to the building and meet the teachers and start to find their way around their new school. It was an exciting time.

I started the day at the main entrance greeting students and parents. Watching the joy of some parents as they realized they didn’t have to stay and they had a little free time. Watching some parents as they are bringing their oldest or youngest and how “they are growing up so fast” is heard. I don’t have any children, but watching them take their first steps again is not easy.

After the little talk as a whole group I got to see them in smaller groups in my room. The energy that they bring is great! (and tiring) After teaching 8th graders for three years, I have forgotten how much energy these kids can have! However, I loved every minute and it just feeds me to bring them into my mathematical world.

As we start this year, I can’t help but think about the great things that are going to happen. These are “my kids” for the next nine months. Some love math and some can’t stand it, but I hope that as they leave they have an understanding of the mathematical world that surrounds them and they know how to work their way through it.

I know I don’t have kids of my own and I know some parents think that may be a hinderance to really caring about their child, but don’t worry. Every student I’ve had is “my kid”. When they struggle, I struggle. When they prosper and celebrate, I jump in and have a ball.

This year will be no different. I’m ready to roll. I may not have a clear path right now, but I know it’s going to be an awesome, learning-filled nine months!

Hidden Feelings

Posted: August 12, 2014 in Uncategorized

Last night after dinner I sat down and started going through my Twitter feed. It wasn’t long until I saw several Tweets remembering the great actor Robin Williams. I opened pictures and memes with several of his lines. I also opened news stories to see how he passed. What I found is that it was an apparent suicide. I know that the autopsy is today so we don’t know the exact cause, however, it really hits home.

I have battled with depression and at times it was not good at all. It’s easy to play off the depression and to appear happy with yourself. I don’t write this as a be worried for me though. I write this as a teacher.

Building relationships is important. Knowing your students and having conversations is key. Students may seem “normal”, but if you really know the student and have built a relationship, then it is easier for them to be open with you and talk.

As you start this school year, get to know your students. Be there for them when they need you. Be there when they don’t need you, but you just want to sit and visit with them. Show your students that you care.

We all are struggling with the loss of a great actor, but we all will move on quickly. I didn’t know Robin Williams personally, but I feel I really knew him through the screen. However, did I really know him? I didn’t know he was dealing with depression and had been in and out of rehab lately. We are dealing with the loss of an actor, but his family is dealing with the loss of a father, husband, son, family member. His last Instagram photo is with his daughter as a child.

If you or someone you know is considering suicide, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

RIP Robin Williams

Edcamp Broken Arrow Style

Posted: August 10, 2014 in Uncategorized

EdcampBA BINGO Card for the day

Yesterday was yet another great day of collaborating and learning with teachers. As many of you know, I’m an edcamp junkie. Why? Well, I think it because of the collaboration that I have with many of my educator friends during the one day event. However, maybe it’s time to dig a little deeper.

Saturday morning started at 6:30 when Toby Brown came to pick me up to head to Broken Arrow. Those who know Toby, he is a great talker and visionary for what we need in education. Our conversation in the car only pumped me up to see everyone.

When arriving at Broken Arrow High School, I was given the confirmation that I forgot to register. They didn’t have my name on their list. Oh well, I stayed anyway.

In the first session I led (sort of) Twitter 101. I instantly knew there were some people who just needed help getting started and others who were on Twitter, but didn’t know what to do. So I moved people around and next thing I knew it was loud and so many groups of people talking. Thank you to Jamie Fithian, Toby, Greg Gorman, Broken Arrow high school students, and everyone else who just took a few people and just answered questions for them.

This was the first time that I saw so many people just break into groups and just go for it. In the past Twitter 101 sessions would be two people talking and everyone else listening and asking questions. It was awesome to see so many people involved and solving problems.

When time was up, I had a few ladies who were still struggling a little with getting started on Twitter, but of course, there was a group about to be coming in for the next session. I told these ladies to meet me in the library and I would continue to talk with them and get them connected. It was awesome to see these educators want to learn more and become better at their craft. They weren’t ashamed that they weren’t “getting it” and met me in the library. I was able to answer their questions in a much quieter atmosphere and really share for what they needed most.

At the end, they made the comment, “Thank you for helping us with our remediation needs. Even teachers need remediation once in awhile.” I thought that was awesome to say. It’s true, we as educators really need to see the needs of our students (and others) and help out when it is needed.

High School students leading a session at EdcampBA. Photo credit @SappingtonTony

The third session I went to was led by a few Broken Arrow High School students. In this session we listened to what they had to tell teachers. It was a great way to just sit and listen to their views about the classroom. A couple of great quotes said by them were:

  • You (teachers) make a bigger impact on some kids than their parents do.
  • Don’t overlook the effort that we put into our work. We work hard for you.
  • We want to be better students for teachers who build a relationship with us.
  • “Not everyone learns in a classroom setting.”

It was great to hear what they said, especially that last one. I whole-heartedly believe that we need to help students learn in an environment in which they need. How do we do that though?

Lunch at Louie’s. Photo credit @TParks

Next was lunch. You always have to enjoy the lunch time. I headed out with a group of “junkies” who I enjoy meeting up with at Edcamps. However, this one was a little different. We had the privilege of Joy Hofmeister, candidate for Oklahoma State Superintendent, join us. It was encouraging to sit and visit with her while listening to what she had to say, but also sharing our views. This was the only interaction that I had with her during the day, but she did attend the entire day at BAHS. We also helped her start to follow a few people on Twitter.

After lunch was the App Smackdown, which I did not attend. Instead I was with a few people and we continued a conversation that was start at EdcampKS about EdcampNextGeneration. What does it look like? Where do we (Edcamp Junkies) go from here to go deeper? I’ll talk about this in a post later this week.

The last session that I attended was #OKMath. It was a small group of math teachers, but we discussed how we can stay connected and learn from one another. Being new to Oklahoma, I want to know who my resources are and what we can do to improve math education in our state. It was a great way to connect and I followed some more great educators on Twitter.

The day was outstanding and of course the ride home with Toby was even more inspiring. When I arrived home I was exhausted. I was ready for bed.

Thank you to everyone who made this yet another successful Edcamp! Next up for me is EdcampStilly right here in my town!!

Taking a Look Back

Posted: August 8, 2014 in Uncategorized

This has been the first week that I’ve reported to my new school district. If you read my previous post about my new job then you know that I have an hour drive each morning. This morning I listened to an Edu All-Stars Podcast featuring Ginger Lewman. You can check out the podcast below.

I had the great opportunity to work in Ginger at Turning Point Learning Center. She has an incredible love of learning and is easy to catch the fever. She is the one who introduced me to a new way of teaching. (She also taught me to say ‘who’ instead of ‘that’ in the previous sentence.)

In the podcast she mentions the Apollo 13 project that we did as a school. It was one of the best experiences that I’ve encountered as a teacher. Watching the students work together to build, learn, and be eager to do more, I learned myself how to reach students in a classroom.

I wanted to share my reflection from those two days that took place three and half years ago. (Alright, where did that time go?)

Apollo 13 Project Reflection

If you ever have the opportunity to listen or learn from Ginger, please take advantage. She’s a great one to know!

Rethinking Staff Meetings

Posted: August 3, 2014 in Uncategorized

For the past three school years I worked for a principal who took away staff meetings and changed how she communicated with the staff. I asked her if she could write about reasoning for this for me to share on my blog. I want to thank Wendy for taking the time during her busy schedule to write and share her thoughts.

The following is a guest post written by Wendy Moore (@wlbmoore), Principal of Emporia Middle School in Emporia, Kansas.

I have never been one that LOVES meetings.  As a teacher, I dreaded Tuesday afternoons primarily because that meant it was time for a FACULTY MEETING! These meetings were always the same. My principal would stand in front and deliver a mile long list of reminders and requests to the staff. Rarely was there interaction among the group; it was a stand and deliver performance. The meetings usually lasted 45 minutes each, and we had one EVERY Tuesday after school.

In my sixth year of teaching, I experienced Tuesday afternoons in a very different way. My principal at the time added a twist to the Tuesday afternoon meeting: professional sharing and learning. Each week she identified staff to share great things that she had seen or observed. She also used that time as another opportunity to enrich the skills of the staff through professional learning.

When I became a building principal in 2005, I took my previous experiences and morphed them into my own structure of communicating necessary “nuts and bolts” information, as well as finding additional time for collaboration and professional learning. I also was working in a district that valued collaboration. Our staff has 2.5 hours each week outside of the school day designated for professional collaboration. As a principal, I can “schedule” two hours of that time each week. I value that time and honor it for my staff, but I also realize there are faculty meeting topics that must be shared. To balance these things, I use two primary tools to communicate with staff: Weekly Words and Faculty Focus.

Weekly Words

The concept of the Weekly Words is very simple. This is a document that includes important reminders and topics that staff need to know to be successful during the week or upcoming weeks. I have a template that I have developed over the years that I have shared with my secretary. She and I work collaboratively on this shared document (Thank goodness for Google Docs!) throughout the week to create the document that is shared with staff on Friday afternoons. My template includes the following components:

  • Weekly calendar of events: My secretary is in charge of this piece. She includes my weekly calendar and the weekly calendar of scheduled events for our school and district. Staff then know where I’m at throughout the week and also have knowledge of community events as well.
  • Upcoming events: My secretary includes upcoming dates to give staff a longer outlook on events that are coming soon to our school.
  • Curriculum and Instruction: This section is used to communicate information that comes from our Teaching and Learning department or to communicate information about building initiatives. I include items such as testing schedules, walk-through “look-for”, weekly AVID strategies to include in lessons or amazing things I saw in my travels around the building that week.
  • Nuts and Bolts: This is the section that is dedicated to faculty meeting announcements. This section includes general information about district topics, building committee announcements, or any other non-curriculum related announcements. My secretary helps me add content to this section as well.
  • Things I Have Been Reading: This is a section that I added last year. I am reader and I believe it is important that my staff sees this modeled for them. This is where I share links to things I have read that I think staff would enjoy hearing more about. I also use this section as a way to plant seeds in the minds of my staff for things that may be coming to our building soon. My content comes from my Twitter feed, Feedly, and Zite. I also share information that I’m reading from any professional book I’m reading at the time.

Weekly Words works well for me and for my staff. I explain this structure and routine to my staff early on so they understand that reading it each week is expected. The expectation is that they refer to the Weekly Words often and rely on it for their information. This tool has helped to keep staff informed and reduces the number of emails that are sent out from the office. Weekly Words allows me to use our collaboration time for my next structure: Faculty Focus.

Faculty Focus

As I shared before, my school district has made collaboration a priority by dedicating  2.5 hours each week for this purpose. My district has also made professional learning a priority by scheduling professional learning days throughout the school year. Even though there are scheduled days in our calendar for this purpose, my belief is that professional learning is an ongoing process. It should be job-embedded as much as possible and it should be followed up through coaching and ongoing feedback. That becomes difficult to do when scheduled days are dropped in randomly throughout the school year.  I use one of the 2 hour blocks each month for Faculty Focus, or professional learning.

Faculty Focus has become even more important in the school where I’m now the principal. I’m in a 6-8 middle school with 80 certified staff and 30 classified staff members. The size of the building and the staff makes it easy to hide and become isolated from one another. Faculty Focus is a monthly opportunity to come together as a staff to celebrate one another and learning together.

Our monthly Faculty Focus follows this simple format:

    • FOOD: Each month a grade level or department is responsible for providing a breakfast snack for the group. Everyone looks forward to the social time and the great food that people bring.
    • Good things: Each gathering begins with this routine that we learned through our Capturing Kids Hearts training. Five minutes is dedicated to exploring the great things that are happening in the lives of our staff. These few minutes help to build connections and strengthen relationships in the group. Each month I learn new things about the staff that I spend my days with each month.
    • Recognition of staff members: We have a staff and student celebration committee at our school that plans celebrations and activities throughout the school year. One thing this group does is recognize a certified staff member and a classified staff member each month. All staff are asked to write two affirmations (or nominations) to be included in the drawing. These affirmations are your ticket into the door on Faculty Focus days. The committee draws two names and these folks are celebrated for a few minutes in front of the group. All affirmations that were entered are then distributed to those that received them. This is just one more way our staff has worked to connect and celebrate each other.
    • Professional learning time: This time is dedicated to presenting and modeling new strategies or content that supports our building plan and district initiatives. Facilitators can be our instructional coaches, the assistant principals, other staff members or me. We are working hard to differentiate the learning through readiness, process and/or products. Each session ends with an “assignment” that asks staff to implement the new learning in their classrooms. These assignments become our “look-fors” during walk-throughs and also lead to discussion of student  work in future Faculty Focus meetings.
    • Launch:  This occurs at the very end of our Faculty Focus time. The purpose of this time is to inspire and encourage staff to keep the focus on why we do what we do each and every day: STUDENTS.  It may include an exit ticket where we ask staff to commit to their new learning. Sometimes we share a funny video, an inspirational quote, or just a heartfelt thanks to send the staff out to face their day. The important thing about a launch is to end and send your staff on their way!

Both of these routines take time in my days to ensure they are planned appropriately and are worthwhile to the staff. I rely on my instructional coaches and my assistants for input. I also collaborate with the building leadership team to ensure we are meeting the needs of their instructional teams. My experience over the last ten years as an administrator is that the time I spend doing this pays off in the long run. I am able to communicate information in a timely manner, while providing professional learning in an ongoing manner to my staff.

Taking care of the adults in our school community is my priority so that they can, in turn, take care of the students who enter our doors.  What ways do you do this in your school community?