Monday, January 24, 2011

The many languages of our class

The kids at the think-tank come from all over the world. It can be like teaching in a mini-UN sometimes listening to five year olds compare their different cultures. As an adult I'm frequently jealous of their travels, the different languages they speak, and their undstanding of the world so it is only reasonable that the few children in our school whose grandparents and parents were born in the US would be jealous too.

This morning the one white girl in our kindergarten class floated into the room.

"Guess what Mrs Lipstick," she announced with a sense of excitement only a five year old can muster on a Monday morning, "My mom speaks a little bit of New York!"

I am sure whatever conversation she had with her mom this morning led her to believe she could finally compete with her classmates stories of "my mom doesn't speak English but she does speak Arabic/Spanish/Hindi/Vietnamese, etc."

I didn't bother to correct her, but it may be time to learn some map skills and understand state vs country...

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Credo for Support

We watched this is my disability policy class on Wednesday night and I can't stop thinking about it. It's only 5 minutes- but well worth your time.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Our Bad Schools vs Their Awesome Schools

If there is one thing in the education debate that absolutely drives me insane it is when our scores and schools get compared to those in other countries. This seems to have happened a lot this week, particularly with the Chinese President's visit to Washington and the recent never ending commentary on Tiger Moms. Even Michelle Rhee has gotten into the act.

Five years ago I spent two weeks teaching English in a school in Xian, China with the program Cross Cultural Solutions. It was an amazing experience and I loved every minute of it. Based on everything we hear in the media about the amazing Chinese schools and students' discipline, academic rigor, and brilliant test scores I went in expecting a very different experience than the one I had.

Grant it, my experience with Chinese schools is only two weeks in one school, so I cannot speak to what the entire country is like, but I felt I was able to get a sense of the cultural differences between our education programs and why some methods work for them that do not work for us.

The first difference I immediately noticed was the schedule. The students had class for 45 minutes and then a bell would ring. Everyone would dash from the seats as though they were in high school and sprint to the dirt courtyard for a 15 minute recess. While there was no equipment or even grass, the children brought balls or jump ropes from home and spent 15 glorious minutes in free play until the bell rang again and they sprinted back to their seats for 45 more minutes of work until their next 15 minutes of play.

One of the breaks between class- In the background you can see the children playing.

Our elementary school kids in the US get 15-20 minutes a day, not every 45 minutes.

When the teacher walked into the room or spoke directly to a student, the children/child immediately stood up to show respect, as we all imagine Chinese children to do. But that was about where the strict sense of respect ended. Each class had about 50 kids sitting in rows, two at each desk, with the teacher in the front of the room. Those in the front paid attention and raised their hands, but in the back they didn't seem to regard the teacher one way or the other. (This wasn't just my classroom management- I observed this is classes with other teachers. In fact, I observed this in classes when I was with the principal.) The kids in the back of the room talked and whispered, drew pictures and outright refused to take out their workbooks. Of course, they stood up to show respect when asked, but there wasn't a sense once everyone sat down that they'd meant it.

Because of my crazy America-Education ways I couldn't stand to stay in the front of the room. Instead I walked up and down the aisles, trying to prompt the students to pay attention. None of the other teachers knew what I was doing. And when I confiscated razor blades from a boy who was using them to carve a hole in his desk- nobody cared. In fact, the teachers asked me if we took personal items away from kids in the US. I tried to explain our issues with weapons, but gave up.
Can you imagine what would happen to one of our kids if he or she brought razor blades to school?

Torturing the poor, shocked boy in the back of the room.

The teachers did not know their students' names- each teacher, even in elementary school, teaches one subject- so teaches the same lesson over and over again throughout the day to classes of 50 or more students.

And of course, there were no special education students in the classrooms. One of my fellow volunteers was working at the school for children with special needs- and it wasn't exactly what the rest of us were doing. There were definite gaps between general and special education.

There was a huge difference between rural and urban education as well. Another volunteer sat in on regional planning meetings who were focused on improving rural schools- their first task was to find a way to get running water into these schools. Then they needed to find a way to get the kids in rural environments into the schools.

When I planned with my teachers I did not get the sense that they were personally invested in the lessons in the same way we are as US teachers. They taught the lessons in the teacher's manual and it was up to the kids to follow along. When I tried to change the lessons a bit to promote more student understanding the teachers looked at me strangely. It suddenly didn't seem like my job to make sure the kids were learning- that job belonged to the kids. Our job was to present the material from the manual.

Note the open windows- this was in the middle of March and it was chilly out there. The kids stayed in their coats most of the time, and so did the teachers. But the windows stayed open because it was good for their circulation. 

The children got to and from school by being dropped off by a grandparent. Since there is a forced retirement age in China most families have grandparents who are able to pick the children up for the noon lunch break as well as at the end of the day. This of course also tells the students that they are important in the family, and that their education is important as well.

I was surprised by all this, coming from an expectation that Chinese schools were more academic and focused than American schools, to find such a lack of respect among the children, so much time for recess, and the attitude that the children are responsible for learning the material. The differences between the school systems were far greater than I had naively expected them to be.

The schools are different because the culture is different. We can share ideas on how to make our schools better, but we have to understand that some of the reasons their schools are successful would not work in America because we don't have the same culture they do. This is true with any country we'd like to compare our scores with. We're not educating children inside air-tight boxes, we're educating children who are direct results of their cultural identify.

When we compare our test scores with other countries no one talks about how these countries track their students- the lowest performing students never actually take the tests so their scores never bring down the overall national average. I'd rather live in a country that believes that every student, regardless of their past performance, has a chance to make something of themselves. It is the American Dream- it's what we do- we believe in the underdogs. We've worked hard as a nation to make sure our schools do not track students- and we're going to keep working hard to improve the success of all of our students. We're not going to give up on the children who have trouble reading, or the children who come from troubled backgrounds. We're fighting to give those children the best education there is, believing that everyone of them has amazing potential.

We need to stop comparing our country's schools to countries who do not believe in the power of untapped potential like we do. I'm proud all of our students take those tests and that we report all of our scores- it's who we are as a country. Let's celebrate that while we continue to strive to improve education.

Rocking the Docs- revisited

I'm a bit horrified that we are one week away from EduCon.  Don't get me wrong, I am ridiculously excited to be attending in person this year after participating via live streaming the past two years. I cannot wait to get to Philly and, of course, enjoy an authentic cheese steak.

What I am horrified about is that my awesome co-teacher and I are leading a conversation on Sunday (Session 6 for any of you going) and we are completely unprepared. Somehow in the next week, between report cards, IEPs, and our general hectic teaching schedules we need to put together something slightly interesting. We'd love advice from any of you who have gone to EduCon before- what should we expect?  How should we prepare?

Our conversation is based on how we've been using Google Docs this year in writing workshop to take anecdotal notes. What started out as a cool idea to make sure we were all on the same page snowballed into truly authentic collaboration that led to improved instruction, in turn leading toward significant improvements in our children's writing ability. Of course, why we do anything in education should be to improve learning, but we had no idea we'd see such improvements from our new method of collaborating.

If you're not familiar with Google Docs the program allows you to create a document and share it with anyone who also has a google account. It saves continuously so that everyone is able to access the document at the same time and for the most part see exactly what everyone else is working on, with maybe one or two seconds of delay. It also has a chat feature so that all the collaborates can discuss the document on the side while still working in the original document. Fabulous.

What we did was set up a spread sheet with a tab for each child in our class. Each page/child has cells labeled "date" "observations", "teaching point" and "focus for the future", and "initials". Whenever we sit down to conference with a child we quickly type in the date and our initials so we can always track who worked with who every day. In the observations cell we record what we're noticing before we intervene or teach- is the child using spaces, does the child plan a story or just start to write, is the child using sentences with good structure, etc. Then, based on our observations we choose one thing to focus the conference on. (Just one is huge- otherwise you overwhelm your writer and the child starts trying to just please you instead of internalizing one skill he or she will remember to use next time).  We record what we taught- spaces, "writers are never finished" or my personal favorite conferences topic, "Would Mo Willems poke his friend in the arm with a pencil instead of write?".  And, because of course there are a million things we didn't teach that we know we want to get to next time we record those in the "Focus for Future" cell. We end the conference with "Now, every time you write remember to use spaces!" and head off to the next student.

Truthfully everything I just described isn't that different than what we did before we used Google Docs. We followed that format for all our writing conferences and recorded the notes on a print out in a notebook, or even saved on our computer. What's changed is that now we all have access to each other's notes all the time.

Now when I sit down to conference with a child I quickly look back at what their conference notes say. My co-teacher had written to focus on spaces in the "focus for future" instruction, so I keep that in mind as I watch the writer work. The co-teacher also wrote that her lesson for the student was to not write about the same topic over and over again. Scanning above I see that every conference the child has is focused on this same lesson. The kid really likes writing about his dog.
Since the kid is once again writing about his dog I quickly ask him to get a new piece of paper. "Mrs. Splattypus already talked to you about that" I say, not needing to go any further- he remembers what Mrs. Splattypus said. When the child comes back I help him choose another topic and then quickly take notes on how he does with this and what I needed to do to help him. We focus on including spaces in his work. In the focus for future box I write that we need to follow up and see if he is able to plan a new story. Whoever meets with him next will see the chain of conferences- choosing a topic is something we need to focus on, but he should also be using spaces.

Because the three of us who teach writing together are frequently busy and are not always in the room for writing we're able to see what we missed by logging into google docs and scanning the day's conferences. We can see trends in what we're conferencing about. Just recently we realized we're spending a lot of time focusing on getting kids to write for all of writing workshop. We wouldn't have realized just how bad it was without going back and looking at our patterns, we would have been frustrated, but would have also focused on spaces, writing words with beginning and ending sounds, etc. Because until we saw the pattern written out there in Google Docs, we had no idea that we had so many kids who needed reminders to stay on task. Clearly this isn't something we've done a good job teaching and/or supporting. When we met to plan last Wednesday we developed a strategy to work on this and planned out  next week to teach/support the expectation that writers will write for the entire writing workshop.

The chat feature also lets us collaborate mid-conference. "I'm stuck- how do I get Johnny to hear the middle sounds in words?" immediately leads to suggestions from our co-teachers- suggestions we can immediately apply and then report if it worked or not. It was almost as though Johnny's individual writing conference was taught by 3 teachers instead of just one.

All this being said we really weren't expecting to see the increase in writing ability that we've seen. We're shocked when we look at their writing. At this point in the year every child but one, who has an intellectual disability, has met kindergarten benchmark in writing. Every. Child.
Clearly something we are doing is working.

I think the reason we're seeing the increase in their writing development is that our instruction is so much more meaningful. Even on the worst Friday when none of us want to be there and we just want to put minimal thought into our writing conferences we're able to so quickly glance back at the "focus for future" and immediately know what each individual child needs. Right there our instruction has improved. The kids also have a sense that what we are teaching them is important since all three of us keep following up with them on their writing. "I know you were working on spaces with Mrs. Splattypus last time," I start, "How's that going?"

Reviewing our notes helps us plan our whole group instruction as well. A lot of times our whole group instruction planning stems from our google chats during writing itself. When we start to notice we're having similar problems teaching, or that our chats have evolved into larger theoretical discussions about exactly what we want our writers to be doing, we begin to realize that we've left holes in our instruction. We go back and re-teach based on these chats and our notes.

Of course, these kindergartners do have three teachers in the room for at least two days a week in writing workshop, which is huge and absolutely plays a role in their writing improvements. But I've been in rooms before where there were three of us for writing workshop and I did not see this sort of academic gains. It's not just three teachers- it is three teachers who are taking full advantage of their collaborate work by making sure they are on the same page 100% of the time.

So, if you were attending a conversation on how to use Google Docs to collaborate in real-time and improve student achievement- what would you want to talk about?  Thoughts? Questions? Ideas to improve using Google Docs?


During a long free-play period on Friday I meandered over to see a group of kids building with plastic tinker-toys in the back of the room. One of them has an IEP goal of answering "wh" questions so I thought I'd take the opportunity to talk with him about a prefered subject- play.

"What are you making?" I asked.
"We're playing buried," he responded, not quite answering my question.
"Buried? What's that?" I asked, assuming I'd heard wrong. A good teacher would have repeated the question to prompt an answer to the exact original question, but now I was really confused/fascinated.

"Yo, Melissa," he crowed, like a construction worker on a site, "Tell Mrs. Lipstick what's buried."

Melissa, clearly the foreman on this adventure brushed her hair off her shoulder to explain in her crystal clear voice.
"We're playing buried. Right now we're making crosses for the buried people. Then we'll bury grandma in California. After we bury grandma we'll go to the Grand Buffet, which is an even better buffet than Lucky Moon!"
Finished with her short explanation she turned her attention back to her worker bees. "No, you hold it up like this" she demanded, "These are flowers, see" she adjusted a bouquet of tinker toy sticks with small buds on top.

I love how free play allows children to sort through their emotions and act out their lives.

Friday, January 21, 2011


On Wednesday morning as I got ready to go to work I put my work laptop into my bag and headed out. Inside it was a paper that was due that afternoon, but I didn't think anything of it. I mean, it was on the computer at home. In twenty minutes I was just going to get it off the computer at work and email it to my professor.

Except when I got to school my computer loaded up a screen from the late 1980s- something that would be in a museum where we can tell our children, "yes, that is what computers looked like so long ago," and then stopped. It refused to go any further. Hard restart for same results. Nothing.

 I met Clairvoy at his office with computer in hand, trying not to be too emotional. I'm pretty sure all I could stutter out was "my paper" over and over again. Clairvoy very patiently calmed me down, promised to try to get the paper out, gave me a loaner computer, and sent me off. Later that day he somehow managed to rescue the paper from the broken computer and get it back to me. The computer itself was having major issues. Disaster. I have no idea how he managed to pull the paper off the dead computer, but he did, and I was practically in tears getting it back.

Is there nothing more embarrassing than explaining to your professor that the computer ate your homework?

I happily worked away on my loaner computer that day. Thursday morning I arrived at school early with a mound of work to do- emails to send, progress reports to write, lesson plans to make. I booted up the loaner computer to find-

blue screen of death

blue screen of death

At this point I was pretty sure I personally was destroying these computers.

Once again I went straight to Clairvoy's office.

The thing was, if I did give the loaner computer a virus I didn't want to touch another computer. If I'd managed to kill two work computers I didn't exactly want to do the same thing to another one.
It's amazing how much work I had that required the internet.
I needed to coordinate preschool observations through email and update my co-teachers on my schedule. I do all my planning in Google  Docs, so to even scan my plan book I needed to be on the internet. I'm working on progress reports, which are all on an on-line site. I had smartboard lessons planned for my morning group. In the afternoon I was giving math assessments that can only be accessed on blackboard. There was no way I could survive without a computer. Or survive and still be the responsible individual I like to be.

I was a bit shocked at my internet dependency as I weighed the pros and cons of taking the chance of destroying another work computer to get my work done. There had to be work I could do without the computer- I mean, it's not like I work in an office. We're teachers. Aren't there teachers out there who don't have individual laptops from their schools?  Where I student taught the school was not even connected to the internet. (I pray that has changed by now, but you never know in rural areas).
I needed to be online to even remember what I'd told my co-teachers I'd prep for the day.

A bit shocked at myself I borrowed a student computer vowing to be careful about what sites I went to.
(Later that afternoon my original computer was returned to me- it was a hard drive problem and not a virus, the two incidents were not connected, just very unfortunate. I no longer feel guilty about possibly virusing-up a student computer At the moment it seems to be fine.)

I suppose I should say I learned a lesson about depending too much on my computer to do my job, but I didn't. I learned to back up my work for grad school, even if I don't think I need to. I learned that Clairvoy and the tech guy that work at my school are miracle workers and that I am very thankful they are so good at their jobs.

And now, with my working computer, I am off to school where the first thing I will do will be to turn on my computer, go into google docs and check my plans to see just how computer-dependent I'll be today.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Parents want play

I don't know if I am more horrified that this school exists, proud of parents for standing up to the lack of play in kindergarten, or saddened that I'm not all that shocked by the article.

The New York Times reported that parents complained about the lack of unstructured play in kindergarten. The school, who also sends home packets of worksheets for the kindergarten students to complete every week responded by granting the five year olds thirty more minutes of PE a week. I am not sure that PE was the type of unstructured play that promoted brain development the parents had in mind.
I imagine these days you'd be hard pressed to find a public elementary school that doesn't have significantly less unstructured play than it did ten years ago. There is simply to much at stake in the short term to let our children play. But educators who understand child development and are comfortable sacrificing short term gains for long term cognitive growth tend to find creative ways to stick play on throughout the day.

What saddens me the most is that this story truly shows the giant gap between research and practice that exists in education today. Although current research supports play and presents ways of initiating play in the classroom to boost cognitive skills, education policy makers, unfamiliar with child development or education research, ignore these studies.

Friday, January 14, 2011

ah, Friday

If you have ever read the book "My Mouth is a Volcano" then you have been introduced to my friend Smiles. Just like the character in the book Smiles means really, really well, but he has things he just ABSOLUTELY has to share and even when you remind him that we are absolutely not talking during a read aloud he will still blurt it out because, "BUT..., BUT... BUT..."  fill in with any answer a 5 year old would find absolutely imperative.

Earlier today Smiles blurted out, "But why is Magical still sick? Why doesn't he try some soup?" 

Our hearts melted. Ahh, Smiles. If only soup would work.

This afternoon Smiles was working away when one of the aides walked into the room. He lit up when he saw her and announced, "You are a girl! So you don't have wapwap" 

Reading this now anyone knows what is coming. But we didn't.

Smiles also has difficulty with his articulation, so we frequently need to ask him to repeat himself- which he does by just speaking louder..
"Weapons?" I asked,
"Werewolf?" Partner-in-crime asked.
Smiles shook his head at our ignorance. "NO, WAPWAP"  We were lost.
"What is it Smiles?  Wrestling?"
"NO, you are girls so you don't have it. It goes right here between your legs and pee comes out and when you pee you go..."

Of course. It's Friday. How did we let that one hit us in the face?

"Smiles, that's a part of our body covered by our bathing suit. If it is covered by our bathing suit then we don't talk about it in school,"  and typical Smiles responded with,


Hooray for the 3 day weekend!

*ps. If you do not know the book "My Mouth is a Volcano" and you teach in early elementary then I highly recommend you go find it. It's not the best literature I've ever read, but it gets the point across to those caller-out-ers.

Ear infections

I was excited to hear this story on NPR yesterday about a recommendation from two different studies that doctors treat ear infections in young children rather than use the wait-and-see method which has been pushed the last few years.
From a learning disabilities perspective, children who develop chronic ear infections are more likely to develop an auditory processing disorder or language delays. Children begin attending to language in their environment around the same time chronic ear infections occur, resulting in an inconsistent sound-mapping if chronic ear infections go untreated. (Koksal, 2002). Multiple studies have found that children with chronic ear infections are more likely to develop delayed phonological development and a have low scores on reading, vocabulary, and expression assessments (Abraham, 1996, Shirbereg, 2002). One Dutch study found a link between chronic ear infections and poor social interaction skills (Timmerman, 2002).
(can you tell I recently did a paper on this? Ask me anything...)
There is a lot of research out there and having chronic ear infections is not an automatic learning disability sentence, but it is good to know that doctors are now encouraged to be more proactive about treating these ear infections.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Half full or half empty?

It's just about half way through the year. These kids who have taken up so much of our brain power, sneaking into our thoughts even when we try to focus on other things, have now been with us for about the same amount of time we've got left with them. We've had 18 weeks to dive into their little brains and teach our hearts out, and we've got 18 weeks to finish what we've started.
At this point each one of them is a glass of water- either half full of the knowledge we plan to teach them, or half empty.
This week I'm bouncing back and forth between how I view their progress. At one moment I'm amazed at how many letters Pixie has learned so far, and at the next I'm in a cold sweat because Pixie has only learned a third of her letters. It doesn't matter that she is exceeding expectations based on her disability, I still have high hopes of closing the gap between her and her typically developing peers. She can do it- look at the progress we've made! But look how far we have to go...
And look at these kids subtracting! But wait, did one honestly just count a set of 8 objects completely incorrectly? We've been working on counting all year- how is this possible? My entire day bounces back and forth between satisfaction for a job well done and panic at how much further we need to go.
I'm usually a better teacher when I focus on the positive, so fingers crossed I can somehow find the silver lining as some of my friends struggle to write their name tomorrow...

Tuesday, January 11, 2011


I'm not sure which is harder, being 5 and waiting, desperately for snow to start, or being a kindergarten teacher and trying to keep the 5 year olds attention while they are desperately staring out the window waiting for the snow to start.

Monday, January 10, 2011

We can do hard things, I swear.

Last week during guided reading I had two different little ones absolutely melt down in front of me over a guided reading book. In both cases the books were at the appropriate level and I was providing the same amount of support I normally do- suggesting strategies instead of telling them the word.
Both little ones (in two different classes) totally lost it.
 "It's too hard!"
"I hate this book"
"I can't do it!"
*book thrown across the room*
"I quit"
"I can't read!"
"Why wont you help me? You hate me!"

For the first one I was able to remain calm. I gave gentle prompts, "You can do this. Look at the first letter. You read this word on the last page," refusing to let the little one use the power of his temper tantrum to get out of reading the book. Eventually, when he saw he wasn't flustering me and that no matter what he said I was going to expect him to try, he picked up the book and did a wonderful job (between sniffles).

By the time the other one melted down I lost it.
"Fine. I'm going to read with someone who is willing to try their best," I immaturely said, snapping the book from her hand and putting it away. She looked at me stunned, stuck her lower lip further out and said, "fine! Give it back. I'll read it."

Both these kids were totally capable of reading the book. In fact, once they both looked at the words in the book instead of at me they were able to read it. We've worked on strategies of what to do when you come to a hard word and I'd given them the words during my book introduction so that they'd be in their working memory. I don't know if it was the transition back into school from break, whether or not temper tantrums work to get out of tough stuff at home, or if they just always have low frustration tolerance levels and for whatever reason they both snapped on the same day.

Regardless, it amounted into two terribly painful guided reading sessions for all three of us.

For both of these children I need to increase their frustration tolerance levels. I need to teach coping skills and give them the mantra, "we can do hard things!" I need to start scaffolding the challenges so that they are learning to rely on themselves instead of others. Both are bright, capable children who manage to melt down when the going gets tough. And unfortunately for them, kindergarten is only the beginning of "doing hard things". Without coping strategies it's going to be a long, hard road.

So, any suggestions on how to teach overcoming challenges and trying our best even when it's hard?? 

Friday, January 7, 2011

thoughts out there...

This week has quietly revolved around getting back into the swing of things. Nothing overly exciting or monumental to report. We're just chugging along at the Think-Tank listening to stories of Santa's visits, new shoes, and new video games.

I've found some items on my google reader that struck me.  The first is on how using comic sans can actually help kids. In a world where we tend to over use comic sans even though we're all sick of it, it's an interesting take. (And really something to be applied beyond comic sans and just to how we approach teaching in general).

The other is a piece from the Huffington Post on unions and districts working together. I'm not overly taken with the whole article, but I loved the beginning message. Weingarten writes,
"Tension and conflict make good stories. That's why Hollywood's latest crop of movies includes tales of good against evil (Season of the Witch), revenge (True Grit), overcoming inner demons (The King's SpeechCountry Strong), and triumphing against all odds (The Fighter).
Conflict also makes good newspaper copy and must-watch TV for the 24-hour cable news beast. (The flight attendant who quit his job via the emergency exit gets 15 minutes of fame, while the flight attendant who works diligently to make you safer and more comfortable gets, at best, a pat on the back.) That's why, when it comes to our schools, the quickest way for a governor or superintendent to grab headlines is to yell "my way or the highway" and come out swinging.

I suppose it should be obvious that bare-knuckles brawling is unlikely to lead to progress, but I have to admit it took me a while to see things this way. When I first became a union leader, I was quick to identify the enemy, fire up members and wage war for what I believed to be right. Eventually, I learned that if you set out looking for a fight, you'll find one -- but you probably won't find a solution."
This same theory can be applied within schools themselves. Tension and conflict  makes good movies- which is why Dangerous Minds, Freedom Writers, and all those other 'one teacher vs the evil public school' make incredibly moving movies and stories.  But in reality, what makes good schools is teacher collaboration. Not having just one person out there going at it alone to save the world, but a dedicated group working together. I write about collaboration frequently, because I believe it is what makes the Think-Tank such an amazing school, and that good, quality collaboration between teachers is what will improve our schools more than bringing in "white knights", the perfect textbooks, or a magical curriculum. I was glad to see something about collaboration out there in the education-policy debate, even if it isn't focused on collaboration within schools. 

Monday, January 3, 2011

love is new ways to organize

For Christmas one of my aunts gave everyone in the family an empty tool kit to use as we see fit. Each one of us sat in awe, imagine the possibilities of exactly how we'd use ours.  Mr. Lipstick organized our house hold tools last night. My mom, the second grade teacher, immediately started planning how to use hers for a reading center.  I decided to use mine as my ultimate teaching tool-kit.

I do guided reading in 3 different classes so I use to schlep a bag to each room, digging inside it for the specific materials I need.  Now I have this:

Room inside for my folders and anecdotal note record sheets.

 fabulous side pockets were I can have index cards for making word wall word flash cards and my pack of math ten-grid cards for those on-the-go math games.

Perfect storage for game pieces, reading strategy reminder charts, and sticky notes, all easy to see through the mesh.
The inside has hooks for my sharpie pens that I can't be away from but don't want the kids getting into.


sometimes it's not fair that these kids get all the coolest stuff these days and that we're now grown ups and they don't make the best stuff in our sizes.  My brothers would have died for these shoes.

Leadership & management

As I stared at the internship essay topics early this morning, still hoping to knock at least one out before officially going back to school, I realized what the problem is. Every one of them asks for an essay describe your leadership or management experience within your school. That sounds totally reasonable at first glance, people want hard worker, candidates with vision, intelligence, the ability to make things happen and inspire others. In most professions those qualities would lead to leadership roles.
Yet at the think-tank I think we work hard to not have specific leaders and followers. We work together as a team, even with our instructional coaches. We are all pretty much officially on the same place in the hierarchy of the school, but not in the 'we all feel powerless together' type of way. Instead we all feel we have a voice, a place in the collaborative conversation. There are few top down initiatives. No one can say they developed this one activity, lesson, unit or theory in isolationand I don't think anyone wants to. The people I know who maybe could say that never would- they bring their ideas to teams in order to develop a better collaborative product. They know that without real teacher buy-in nothing will ever truly be accomplished. Real changes will never make it into the hands of the children.
All of this makes for an excellent school, but not a place to necessarily rise up with personal leadership opportunities. Because it's not about the adults inside the building, it's about the kids and their success. I have a hard time even wanting to sell myself to orgnizations wanting to know one way I single handledly changed an initiative at my school. Because if they think single-handed initiatives are the way to solve education then I'm sure I'll enjoy working there anyway.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

summer internships...???

I promised myself that I'd spend my winter break filling out applications for summer internships. Swore up and down. Wrote it on every to-do list and calendar I own. I task-analyzed it and broke it into tiny little tasks so I'd have more to check off my list.

And yet, nothing was completed.

Even to-do items like "research internships" can't be crossed off because I haven't really finished my search. My resume is still half put together, and my cover letter makes me sound like the dullest person still breathing. Ack!  The summer will come and I will be 100% without an internship all because of my laziness this winter. I will be forced to sit by the pool reading trashy romance novels, sipping lemonade while others are slaving away, waking up early, taking public transportation, dealing with new bosses and assignments. Hmmmm....  why am I applying for internships again?

Anyone in the DC area know of any good education internships?  Possibly focusing on early childhood, education policy, or pediatric neuroscience?  Anyone want to let me hang out at their pediatric neuro-practice this summer?  I'll keep the kids calm while you do all the crazy stuff to their heads. Or perhaps someone would like to give me internship credit for reading lots of education policy information and then writing about it. Now there is something I can do. It's just writing the cover letter to ask to do it that's getting in the way.

And now, with only a few precious hours of winter break left I find myself blogging instead of being productive. What is becoming of me and my work ethic?

Part of me feels I should stay home until I finish my to-do list. I mean, the goal was to finish it before I went back to school, so now how can I return to school if it's not finished?  Perhaps I should give myself a few more days to get it finished.  Yes?  I'm sure my principal will appreciate it.

The real problem is the to-do list. If I'd included items like "spend hours downloading different apps on the ipad", "stay in pjs while gazing at the Christmas tree and reading for fun", "have dance contest with cousins", or "eat more chocolate than I thought possible" then I'd consider it to be a pretty productive break.  Those are the things I've accomplished. But alas, I over-shot the to-do list. And now I don't have the time to worry about the summer internship- now I have to worry about surviving tomorrow with hyped-up five year olds.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Ah, Virginia

A few years ago I blogged about the horror of finding inaccurate brand new text books in my mother's second grade classroom.
That was in September 2008. Since then teachers all over Va have used these historically incorrect books to teach.
Last week, last week, December 2010,2 years later, Va textbooks were reported in the mass media to historically inaccurate.
There is so much to say about this and yet, the first day of the new year I can't bring myself to rant.

First Mo

This Christmas I was able to give my cousin's five year old son his first Mo Willems experience. (5 years and I still don't know how one describes a cousin's child- second cousin doesn't sound quite right- nephew makes me feel old since my own brothers are five years younger than me). Regardless, this Christmas I wrapped up Don't Let the Pigeon Stay Up Late and There is a Bird On My Head excitedly knowing I'd be introducing a little one to some of the best literary characters out there.

When he first opened the book his face fell a bit. "Oh, books," he said, fighting back his disappointment. To my offer to read it to him he only replied, "Maybe later" as politely as a five year old can muster.
"OK..." I replied, " but just so you know, when your daddy reads this you have to make sure he does the voices the right way. Like this," I opened to a page and modeled the begging pigeon.
"Well, maybe you can read it to me now" he replied, and settled in to be introduced to the crazy pigeon and his antics.
And we read it again, and again, and again.
I made a new best friend.
I love Mo.