Saturday, September 20, 2014


In my post last week I discussed the quotes that were important to us to grow personally.  It was suggested that we support each other in trying to live out our mantras for the school year so we posted them in the teachers' room. What a great example of being collaborative and support each other as we learn and grow.

Collaboration is important in schools because as stated in an article in Education World: "The days of closing the classroom door and creating a self-contained world are over. The autonomous classroom simply doesn't exist -- and for good reason. Our students need more than just one person to guide their education. They need the added power of several brains working together for their good."
The article goes on to list 4 requirements to successful collaboration.  
They are:
1. a willingness to work with others and the ability to recognize that you can't do it all on your own

2. seek out the support faculty and staff

3. be humble and listen to the advice of others

4. plan with other members of your grade level team

(to see the article go to:

The one requirement I struggle with is to recognize that I can't do it all on my own.  (Thus the reason my mantra this year is: I can do anything, but I can't do everything!)  I sometimes forget that I can ask for help from others instead of struggling on my own.  

At McGovern we are so fortunate to have many people that we can call upon to collaborate with: reading teachers, Title 1, SpEd teachers, tech integration specialists, and even myself the coach.  All of these people are there to support us and guide us so we can grow stronger and wiser together as a team of teachers.  

Who will you call upon to help you collaborate?  Which one of these requirements is speaking to you? 

Feel free to respond all with your thoughts.  Let's get the conversation going about collaboration!

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

What's Your Mantra this Year?

The new school year is much like a January new year for many of us - filled with resolutions and promises.  Lately I heard from a few of my peers that they have new quotes to guide them this new school year.  My principal started things off when she said her quote for the year would be from Tim Gunn of Project Runway fame.   "Make it work" is her quote of the year as we look at integrating reading workshop.  Yesterday I met with a teacher to discuss schedule concerns. We looked over and over again at her day and discussed what was important and what needed to go.  Her email to me last night stated that she had re-worked her schedule, made some necessary adjustments but had to leave out some things she loved to do but were no longer needed.  She said her quote this year was "let it go!"  And then, just this morning as I was reading a few emails, I came across an article about quotes for children and one quote jumped off the page and sang to me: "you can do anything, but not everything."  Boy, did I need to hear those words.  As I try to make adjustments to my long days and nights I promised myself to leave at a more reasonable hour each afternoon. This will not be easy for me so I challenge you all to remind me of my mantra.  

What is your quote for the year?  Please consider sharing your quote with us so we can support each other in our quest to be better teachers and better people in general.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Wanting to be a Wild Reader

This summer I decided to stretch a bit in  my professional life so I joined #cyberpd, reading Donalyn Miller's book: Reading in the Wild.  The online book club challenged me to read the book and then write a post for three consecutive weeks about the specific chapters of the book. I thoroughly loved reading the thoughts from other professionals and reviewing the points of the text that I might have missed. 
Last night we ended our time together with a twitter chat hosted by the cyberpd organizers (Michelle Nero, Laura Komos, and Cathy Mere) and the author Donalyn Miller.  The chat was quick and lively and filled with challenging questions and wonderful responses to those questions.  I was actively tweeting until the last question: Share a book you read this summer that you can't WAIT to share w/students! Suddenly I realized that while I read lots of summer time fun reads and many professional books, I had not read one single children's book. I was frozen thinking what kind of mentoring could I do this school year if I didn't read any new children's literature? I felt a quick sense of embarrassment realizing that I wasn't that diversified in my summertime reading. I am not being too harsh on myself, it was just a realization that I need to be reading all sorts of books, but especially those that I can share with the children I serve. Lesson learned - thank you Donalyn and company!

So I end my post today reflecting on the question I ask the teachers at the end of any PD that I plan: What is one thing you will change as a result of this PD?  My answer today is, I want to change my reading habits to be a wild reader of many differing genre, and wanting to be a wild reader is the first step to being one!  Wish me luck. 

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Holding up a Mirror

CyberPD Part 3: Reading in the Wild

As I read through chapter 5 and the accompanying appendix, I realized I needed to look long and hard at my own reading habits before I thought about instilling any reading habits in others. When I read over Form C.2,  I was left with questions such as: Do I make a reading plan? How do I choose books? Do I stick to certain genres?  Below are my thoughts on these questions as well as a few ideas on ways I can instill these habits in my primary students.

What gaps do I have in my reading?  My reading preferences change with the seasons.  In the summer time I enjoy escaping with realistic fiction.  In recent years I have also begun to enjoy some historical fiction.  I read lots of professional articles and books year round, but I noticed that during the school year I tend to read shorter pieces and don't try to tackle an entire book. Rarely do I read nonfiction.  This makes me realize I need to expand my genres in reading as well as think about trying to diversify during the school year.  I will find the time to foster this habit.
What will I do in the classroom to insure a variety of genre are read in a classroom? One year I kept a chart noting the titles of all the books we read as a first grade class.  We even color coded the books as I introduced a new genre.  After reading a book we would guess the genre and add our color coded dot.  At the end of the year we had our list of 200+ books read and we were all pleased as we reviewed and reminisced about our book list and our favorite titles.  As I read over this chapter I realized that this sounds like a great practice to try again.  Listing titles read as a class can be used to model variety as well as introduce the various types of genre to my primary students. We could then graph the genre as we read them, much like Donalyn does with her older students. (see form A.1)

Commitment & Selection
What is the student's plan for future reading? and How do I select books?  These related questions made me think that I rarely have a plan for my reading, short of stacking books next to my desk all year long in the hopes of reading them in the summer.  My summer reading is typically based on friend recommendations.  Last year I excitedly created a Goodreads account and thought about following a few key people to give me ideas for books, but that got left by the wayside.  Reading Donayn's book remanded me about my account and gave me renewed excitement to try it out again. While visiting a friend recently, I was given a list of great book ideas but I had no pen with me.  Having Goodreads to note my ideas on my phone app was just the ticket to recalling the titles when I needed them.  I had the beginnings of a plan for my summer reading and it felt good when I finished one book to be able to jump right in to the next page turner. 
How can I foster greater commitment and selection in the classroom?  Since I had such success with the use of social media for my personal reading, shouldn't I try this in a classroom?  Could I connect with other primary classrooms to see what they are reading, maybe a take off on the idea of:  It's Monday: What are You Reading?  and share a few posts with the class by projecting the site on the board and getting children excited about a variety of books to read next.  Maybe I also need to create a Goodreads shelf for the classroom?  

The readings this week seem to have left me with more ideas to ponder, but I believe that's what a good book does, causes one to ponder.

Thank you Donalyn for a fabulous book, and thank you to  Cathy MereLaura Komos, and Michelle Nero for hosting #cyberpd 2014.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Model, Model, Model

#cyberpd ~ Reading in the Wild - Part 2:  Model, Model, Model

Once again I am posting in response to Donalyn Miller's book: Reading in the Wild as part of the #cyberpd 2014.  

cyber pd

This week as I read chapters 3 and 4,  I was struck with the importance that modeling reading plays in our schools. As an instructional coach in a primary school my modeling will be different than that of a classroom teacher.  However, after reading these chapters I realize I have just as an important role in sharing and modeling as a classroom teacher does.  With that said, here are a few ideas I want to put into place in my building next year to help bring about wild readers.

"The most effective reading teachers are teachers who read" and " We must show our students what a wild reader looks like through our examples"  are two quotes that guided my thinking about what I can do as an instructional coach to foster this wild reading in our staff.  SO I propose that this year I attempt to accomplish the following:

  • Create a reading door in my office: I will post pictures of books that I read over the summer both professional and personal and continue to add to the door as the year goes on.  I might even think about posting a quote or two from each book.
  • Create a welcome to our school poster - with a picture of each staff member holding a children's book that they plan on reading on the first day.  This display has three purposes: 
    • introduces our staff to community members that walk in our building
    • sends a strong message of literacy in our building
    • gives parents book ideas
"Educating parents about the importance of daily reading, increasing book access through libraries and book ownership, and promoting the value of reading aloud must take prominence in our parent outreach programs."  As the instructional coach, another aspect of my role is to help educate our parents on the importance of reading at home.  I have already scheduled two parent nights and one read aloud night for next year, but can I do more? After reading these pages, I believe I need to beef up my website with suggestions and tips for reading aloud as well as give more appropriate suggestions for titles.  When parents hear us asking them to read for 30 minutes daily, I should be stating that those 30 minutes can come in little pieces. Suggestions can be made to tuck book baskets in the car, borrow books on tape/CD for car rides, and download a few kids books to their kindle or phones to read while waiting for the doctor or practice to begin.  Reading can and should happen anywhere.

Finally, I realized through reading these pages and the related posts on #cyberpd, that I am such a social reader.  I need a listening ear once I finish a book.  Are other teachers and children like this?  With this thought in mind, I would like to suggest a book club in our school for professional  or related books.  This would go a long way in modeling for our students that we are wild readers and we want you, our students, to become wild readers too!

Friday, July 11, 2014

Learning from reflecting

I consider myself a fairly reflective person.  Thinking about my actions and reactions on a continual basis helps me to move forward with fresh insight.  But I was challenged with my reflective practice as I read the Donalyn Miller book: Reading in the Wild, and participate in my first ever #cyberpd.  This week we were asked to read and comment on chapter 1 and 2.  I tagged the quote by John Dewey: "We do not learn from experience...we learn from reflecting on experience". Donalyn's words in the section challenged me to not only reflect on my reading life, which I regularly do, but more importantly to share my reflections with others, particularly our students.  This was a new insight that has lots of possibilities for the children and teachers I work with on a regular basis. Thinking about discussing how I choose books, why I abandon books and even do I abandon books with others will be refreshing and an eye opening experience.  I believe this new way of sharing my reflective practice will open many doors as I strive to model being a wild reader!

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Keeping My Balance

I have been reminded lately about the need for balance in my life - both professionally and personally.  I strive for balance in each part as well as between my personal and professional life. As a person who does not like to say no, I have a difficult time with this concept of balance in my life.  But I am working hard to make a concerted effort this summer.

Last night on Twitter I saw an article on summer professional reading.  The article asked each person to take a photo of their stack of professional books they would be reading this coming summer and then post the photo under #cyberpd.  I thought of the pile under my desk that I tucked there all year long for this purpose and I thought I'd come to school and take a snapshot of my stack. But when I placed the books on the ground to photograph, I thought, where is the balance in this pile?  Am I only going to read professional books? 

It's summer time after all, so where are the "for fun" books?
I had none.  I left the pile on the ground and thought once again about my quest for balance.  

Yes, I will read lots of professional books this summer (in my hammock on my deck, with a cold lemonade or other beverage in my hands) but I now realize I need to begin my search for my just for fun books too!  

Feel free to leave a title or two for me in my comment section and help me stay balanced.

Monday, June 2, 2014


Each week I push out a "weekly reflection" for my school. The posts, in the form of an email, typically highlights a few thought provoking article about literacy. A few weeks ago I wanted to try a new tech tool so I pushed out this ThingLink highlighting articles and videos about stamina and volume in writer's workshop.
When I saw a post on the DigiLit facebook page about ThingLink, I decided to post the ThingLink I created for my first ever DigiLink post.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Grit, Failure and a Growth Mindset

(Will a growth mindset help this daffodil persevere in this winter weather?)

This weekend I spent some time tackling a few computer issues.  My brand new home computer was upgraded a few weeks ago and since then I have had issues with Internet access, printing and uploading my photos to my computer.  To say the least I was extremely frustrated.  Each time I tried a new solution, the computer continued to act up, and I was ready to send the "box" out for repair (or out the window).  This weekend, I decided to give it one last college try.  Finally, I was successful.  
Through all of this I realized that I did not want to accept failure, I wanted to persevere until I met with success.

But do I persevere in all situations?  Can I accept failure and move forward all the time? 

Carol Dweck, professor of Psychology from Stanford University, researched such a topic and found that there are two mindsets that people can develop: A growth mindset and a fixed mindset. 
According to the website: "people with a fixed mindset believe that their traits are just givens. They have a certain amount of brains and talent and nothing can change that. If they have a lot, they’re all set, but if they don’t... So people in this mindset worry about their traits and how adequate they are. They have something to prove to themselves and others.  People with a growth mindset, on the other hand, see their qualities as things that can be developed through their dedication and effort. Sure they’re happy if they’re brainy or talented, but that’s just the starting point. They understand that no one has ever accomplished great things—not Mozart, Darwin, or Michael Jordan—without years of passionate practice and learning."  (To learn more about fixed and growth mindset check out this Teaching Channel video: Teaching Channel or read the book: Mindset by Carol Dweck)

The more I discover about fixed and growth mindsets, I more I realize that this brain research has great potential for me especially if I realize that through perseverance and passion, I can "accomplish great things."

Questions for reflection:  Thinking about growth and fixed mindsets, how does this impact the way I look at the children in my class?  What can I do to foster a growth mindset in each child? 

Thursday, February 13, 2014


What motivates you?  
This is a question that I asked myself today as the snow piled up outside from yet another snowstorm.  The first storm my daughter got me up and out.  The second big storm friends appeared at my door to help.  And today I was not expecting any help and found myself making excuses to get up and out.  I procrastinated by getting other things done such as cleaning out my inbox. Around 3:30 I received an email from a friend asking my opinion on a work related question.  I mentioned that I was trying to get outside to shovel.  The response that came back was: let's both go out and get it done.  That was enough to motivate me to move off the chair and go outside.  
While I was clearing the driveway I thought about my being motivated from afar and once again I reflected on student learning. 

What motivates our students?  

  • Do they need someone next to them to get work accomplished? 
  • Do they need the promise of company joining them to get going - or having the teacher say I'll check in on you in five minutes?   
  • Do they need a partner, much like in readers and writer's workshop, urging them on and providing the listening ear?

What are your thoughts on student motivation?

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Do We Teach Like Dogs or Like Cats?

I stumbled across a post on Larry Ferlazzo's blog entitled  "Do We Teach Like Dogs or Like Cats?"  I was intrigued about the topic and chuckled as I watched the short video about cats and dogs. Click here to watch the one minute video.
I started to reflect a bit on the question: do we teach like a dog or cat? and I realized that just last week while volunteering with a group of teenagers I had a first hand opportunity to see the effects of being taught like a cat.
We were all asked to help with a rather mundane chore.  The directions that were given were simple: "Take these items and put them in a box. You can find the boxes out back."  Easy to follow directions, but I soon found out the directions lacked purpose and clarity.
As we began to fill the boxes, we were corrected many times over: Wrong box!  Don't fill the box so full!  Don't put the box there! Or there! Make sure you stack the boxes this way, not that way! By the end of the day the teenagers were so confused and annoyed that they feared asking any question. We felt dejected and bruised, much like the cat that tumbled down the stairs.  I began to wonder if any of the teenagers would ever volunteer again and I left the volunteer session feeling sad about the experience inflicted upon those young adults.
Reflecting on my teaching I thought about the few times that I have taught like that mother cat, pushing the students down the proverbial stairs by telling them to complete a task without providing a why or a how.  
But then I thought about all the times that I sat at the bottom of the stairs like the mother dog, encouraging and scaffolding my students down the stairs and greeting them with a celebration when they finally arrived.  
Yes, the cat's way is easier and quicker, but the dog's way is more effective!  I don't know about you but teaching like a dog is my preferred way!

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Slice of Life

Many of the blogs I follow include an occasional piece called “A Slice of Life.”  The premise of A Slice of Life is that every once in a while, something happens in life that makes you reflect upon your own teaching and learning.  Today, while snow blowing my driveway, I had many Slice of Life thoughts. I thought I would share…

Because of my new life circumstances, I have had to become more independent in many ways.  With winter approaching, I had several conversations with my adult children about how I would handle shoveling out.  They had all the confidence in the world that their mother could handle the snow blower and get herself out of the driveway on a snowy day.  Inside I was uncertain, but their confidence was reassuring.  Deep down inside I just hoped and prayed for a no snow winter. 

Then the first storm came.  I was blessed with an offer from a friend to have his son-in-laws come by and start up the machine and clear my driveway.  What a treat I thought.  When they were done, they told me they left the snow blower in the garage in a handy spot for me to use and communicated to me how easy this machine was to handle.  I didn’t want to become dependent on friends, I needed to do it on my own, but on the second storm, I took one look at the snow blower and decided to shovel.  I rationalized that I really didn’t know how to turn the machine on.  Each day as I left the garage I kept looking at the machine thinking I have to learn.  But I just wasn’t motivated enough.  Besides, I don’t learn well from reading a manual.  I need hands on, minds on instruction.

On New Year’s Day, my brother- in-law called and offered to come over to teach me.  He and my sister in law were gentle in teaching me the ins and outs of the machine.  My sister in law was actually the one giving the directions as she was very familiar with this model.  I gained confidence in knowing that she was smaller than I and could manage this.  I tried out the blower on the small pile of snow at the end of the driveway and gained a little more confidence. 

As the big snow storm approached, I was happy to hear that the snow would be light.  I thought to myself, I can just shovel.  It’s too much work to use the snow blower.  But once my daughter and I went outside and began lifting the shovels, I thought why not give it a try while someone else is here and nearby? 
The machine purred into action and I pushed behind with ease.  I did it!  I made Sarah take a picture of me and my smiling face as I walked up and down the driveway!  I was so proud of myself and thought “Success is sweet!”

So what does this long story have to do with learning and/or teaching?  Here are a few of my reflections as I met with success:    

Scaffolding:  Think of all the baby steps it took for me to plow on my own. From having someone tell me I could do it, to having another person show me and let me try on a sunny day, to finally doing it in the presence of my daughter.  That’s a lot of time.  How often do I give up when trying something new?  Do I have the patience to keep holding the hands of my students even when they keep falling?  Do I tend to give up easily even after someone tells me just once that they think I can do something?
Willpower and Courage:  I wouldn’t have done this without willingness and some courage to move forward.  What about those children who are too afraid to try?  What about those children who are not risk takers (like me?)  Or those children who give up so quickly?  Do I scaffold enough?  Do I provide a safety net if they fall down? Do I give up on them?  How do I “hold their hands” to make it safe to try something new?
It’s the Company I Keep:  Having my daughter by my side helped me risk trying it “on my own.”  Do I take risks when the “company” is not so safe?  Am I afraid to risk when I know there are others around me who are already in the know?  Is my classroom a safe place to take a risk? 
Success Breeds Success:  With my new found confidence, I judged I could tackle other difficult tasks. So I asked myself: Do I celebrate the successes along the way so I can grow confident in other areas? Do I do the same celebrating in the classroom?

What are your thoughts?  Feel free to comment.