Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Over the course of my career, I've moved a lot - states, schools, grade levels, and classroom.  I haven't stayed in a grade level for longer than 2 years consecutively.  Tiring, yes.  But, rewarding, absolutely.  I've taught grades 2-5 over the last 13 years, and each year I've learned so much about that particular age of student and the state standards I was expected to teach.  There was definitely a learning curve, but through a lot of extra time and dedication, I was able to be successful in my classroom.  I was just a tad uncomfortable, and that uneasiness, caused me to grow myself. 

Today I've spent a lot of time thinking about that word growth.  We had a motivational speaker today that really focused on teachers growing themselves in order to be the best teacher we can be for our students.  I had an image of a flower poking its head out of the soil each spring.  I imagine that if flowers could feel, that growing experience would be quite painful.  I know my nieces often have growing pains in their legs at night and they've told me how much it hurts.  But, that flower continues to push through the soil when given the proper elements to allow it to grow. If not given the proper environment and elements, that flower could survive for a little while, but the potential strength is never fulfilled.

I never realized until this summer how complacent I had become with my work.  I knew I was a good teacher and I got great results, but I was not being pushed out of my comfort zone any longer.  I was on the verge of growing apathetic.  Something very dangerous in our profession. I was beginning to lack the excitement, enthusiasm, and passion that I needed on a daily basis to inspire my students. 

Since May, I've been pushed like never before.  When I hear people talk about stepping outside of their box, I imagine little steps.  I jumped a mile outside of mine this year.  Don't get me wrong, I am thrilled to be this far out of my box, but I had forgotten what that uncomfortable feeling was like.  That feeling of being unsure of what the next move is going to be.  The uneasiness of something new.

This blog will probably take on a different feel this year.  I'll still be sharing here and there about things I've done or technology tools that I am utilizing, but I won't have as much time with students.  Instead, I'll be working with teachers primarily.  Part of my job is coaching teachers to become better, evaluations, and teaching strategies to teachers to utilize in their classroom and provide support to implement those strategies.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

2013-14 Goals...Yes, It's That Time!

School begins for me today!  Teachers are back and we have a huge district training today.  I say huge, but that term is relative.  There are ONLY 5 schools in my new district - 2 primary, 2 intermediate, and 1 middle school.  The middle school has about 1,000 kids and the 4 others all run around 250.  Compared to my previous district, this is a small drop in the pond.  However, the entire district is getting together today for a motivational kick-off for the year.  Kind of a nice touch, don't ya think?

School starting means big changes for me.  I've stepped out of the classroom this year to some degree.  I'll be working primarily with teachers, but will be in classrooms throughout the week observing, evaluating, working with students, team teaching, modeling strategies, and conducting field testing.  The new role I am in has a full plate plus the dessert plate, salad plate, bread basket, and soup bowl.  So, when I saw I Heart Recess' linky, I knew I had to write down a few goals to get me focused and to remain on track.

 Personal:  I've done so well running/walking this summer that I want it to continue into the fall.  I am so guilty of working until dark that I'm fearful that I won't be able to get it in during the daylight hours.  But, I have to.  In order to do my job well, I have to take care of myself.  That also means, not eating in the cafeteria.  I have a fridge in my room and my plan is to keep it stocked with fresh fruit and veggies. We'll see how this plays out.

Organization:  Because I am evaluating teachers and conducting walk-throughs to see implementation of strategies, I HAVE to keep my calendar busy.  There is no way I can organize my time if I don't write it all down.  It will save my sanity!

Planning:  There are no lesson plans to write, per say!  I still have to write for my weekly teachers' meeting and that is a different level of planning, but I shouldn't have to spend my Sunday night working on plans for a regular classroom.  Of course, that is where my calendar and organization will come in handy.

Professional:  I've been talking about it for years, but it is now time to start that doctorate.  Many of the teachers in my building have their EdS, so I think I need to start it.  I haven't decided the course I'll take yet, but would like to start in the spring.

Motto:  Keep Calm and Ask Questions - In this new position, I can't just jump into something without knowing what I am doing.  In my own classroom, sometimes we, as in the students and I, would figure things out as we delved into new territory.  With technology, I figure things out as I go.  With this position, I can't do that, so I have to take a deep breath and ask questions if I need to.  Huge jump for me.

I'm linking up with I Heart Recess today!  Hop on over and add your goals!

Saturday, July 13, 2013

An Award....

I think I actually received this award a few years back, but I never took the time to do everything I needed to do.  So, when Elementary Endeavors included me on the list, I thought I might just do a post this time since I needed new material any way.  So, thank you Elementary Endeavors.   In order to accept, I must do the following:

To accept this award, I must:

1. Link back to the blog(s) that nominated me
2. Nominate 5-11 blogs with fewer than 200 followers
3. Answer the questions posted by my nominator
4. Create 11 questions for my nominees
5. Share 11 random facts about yourself
6. Contact my nominees and let them know I nominated them

Unfortunately, I'm going to skip number 2 - All of the blogs I follow have over 200 followers.  As I discover more blogs this summer, I'll give the award to the new ones I find. 

1. When did you know that you wanted to become a teacher?
This is a toughy for me.  I started out as a nursing major.  While I was waiting to get into nursing school, I had to take classes to remain full time, so I began picking up education classes.  I can't tell you the exact moment that the clouds parted and I knew that I wanted to become a teacher.  However, the first time a student accidentally called me "Mom," I knew that I had made the right decision.
2. What's the funniest thing a kiddo has ever said to you? 
To narrow it down to one thing is so difficult.  After 13 years of teaching, I can't remember one year to the next.  However, I do remember doing a writing lesson with my 5th graders a few years ago around Christmas time.  We were working with fluency and were using dice to determine the amount of words in a sentence. If we rolled a 6, we had to create a sentence with 6 words.  Somehow, my mind went faster than pencil and in the midst of writing a story about Santa coming down the chimney, my pencil wrote, "Santa coming down my pants."  There was silence in the room and our principal's son said, "Mrs. Looper, I don't think you meant write that."  More silence, then the room busted out in laughter.
3. What is your favorite "teacher" item?
My camera/iPhone/iPad is my all-time favorite tool in the classroom.  I love documenting the learning that is happening.  The iPad has definitely made it easier because I can capture video as well.
4. Do you have a classroom theme? If so, what is it?
No theme, just cheerful colors and things that make my students comfortable.
5. What are three things you always must have in your teacher bag?
Colored "flair" pens, iPad, and gradebook.
6. Speaking of teacher bags, do you have a favorite that you'd recommend?
I used a 31 bag for a long time, but it finally bit the dust this year.  I need a new one.
7. What is your least favorite subject to teach?
Least favorite subject has to be Science.  It's not that I hate teaching it, but in comparison to all the others it isn't one of my passions.  But, I do love to see my kids explore and make discoveries in our inquiry lessons.
8. What is your best organizational tip for teachers?
Send papers home on a Wednesday so you have an entire weekend to get things graded if needed.  Don't get stuck in a cycle of saving papers to grade.  Use your time wisely to do so.
9. Do you have a class mascot or class pet?
No class pet, but we have had a yellow lab before.  I loved having my dog in my classroom.
10. What is your favorite memory from the last school year?
They are ALL favorites because it was my last year in the classroom.  I loved every moment with all of my kids!
11. What are you most looking forward to about the upcoming school year?
A new position at a new school in a new capacity!

Friday, July 12, 2013

Data Driven

It's Saturday morning and what did I wake up to do first thing this morning?  Analyze test data!  We are having such an exciting morning - we as in my Jack Russell Terrier and myself on the couch.  He is conked out for the most part.

A portion of my new job entails analyzing test data with a leadership team.  This was a task that in years past, I did in a way, but it was completely unique to my students in my room.  Now, I am looking at an entire school's data.  Bless you Data Coaches and Instructional Coaches who have been doing this for years. Looking at my own individual class of data was overwhelming at times - Reading, Writing, Math, Science, and Social Studies all kind of blended together after awhile.  But looking at an entire school of data with different tests...Whew!  It's enough to make you crazy. 

This girl dreamed of numbers and colors and Excel last night. Honestly, Excel is the stuff nightmares are made of for me.  I hate it with a passion.   Little did I know that I had a little elf working until the wee hours of the morning inputting formulas to make my life easier.  My husband stayed up until 4AM creating formulas to calculate percentages of basic, proficient, and advanced kids for the entire school and by individual teacher.  I owe him BIG TIME!!

Now that everything is all beautiful and works seamlessly, I love what I "we" have done together. 

Friday, July 5, 2013

Are Your Kids Talking?

Over the course of my career, I've noticed a subtle change in my classroom.  When I first started teaching, I was a traditional teacher.  The giver of knowledge.  Students were quiet while I instructed.  However, I quickly learned that he who does the most talking is the one who does the most learning.  So, I've relinquished most of the talking to my students.  I encourage group dialogue and verbalizing thinking.  Everyone can benefit from each other's thinking processes in my opinion.  My classroom is not quiet - maybe during a test, but even then, I have a few verbal processors that need to speak their thinking before responding.  State testing is a bear for my students because they have to be quiet for so long.

I started this transition slowly by simply using a Think-Pair-Share model.  Students think independently, pair up with someone near them, and share their thoughts.  Most times, these responses are quick short sentences - not deep thinking.  But there are many times where I wanted to hear more and would continually ask, "Why?" to challenge my kids to go deeper.

I would use conversation starters to help students frame their thoughts and try to get to deeper ideas, but honestly, that is hard when you are working with 2nd graders and even 4th and 5th graders.

With Common Core State Standards being implemented, the speaking and listening in my classroom needs to be transformed once again.  My kiddos are good at sharing their own thoughts, but not so good at expanding the thoughts of others or digging deeper and making connections.  With students spending more and more time on social media, those conversation skills are lacking.  Texting only gets you so far and so deep.  I needed a resource to help me teach "academic" conversation.

Enter Jeff Zwiers' Academic Conversations.  I'm not very far into the book, but Zwiers & Crawford are changing the way my students will be talking next year.

Both authors have spent years in coaching roles observing academic conversations in classrooms and have identified 5 crucial types of "talking" to foster critical thinking and content understandings.  The five types of conversations that he addresses are:

1. Elaborating, Clarifying, and Questioning
2. Supporting Ideas with Examples and Evidence
3. Building on Ideas
4. Paraphrasing
5. Synthesizing Key Ideas of the Conversations

So far, I love what I'm reading!  The authors introduce images and hand motions to help students visualize what they are doing in each type of conversation.  The book is divided into chapters that address each type of conversation in detail and give ideas to help incorporate this type of discussion into classrooms. I can't wait for school to start to give this a try.

As I read, I plan on discussing each conversation in detail here on The Loop.  If I'm able to do it, I want to create visuals to use and tools that will help me and other teachers develop these conversations on a daily basis.  Check out Jeff's website for more information as well.

Monday, July 1, 2013

I've Made the Move...

I'm jumping on board the Bloglovin' ship today!  I've been following blogs through Bloglovin for a few months and like it so far.  Today I moved my blog over.  Hopefully, I'll spend more time blogging this summer and will win back those followers who wandered away.

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I Don't Have the Answers...

It's taken me all weekend to begin to process what happened in Parkland, Florida.  I put it aside and compartmentalized it until I...