Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Comments, Please!

Blogging can be such a powerful tool for your students' writing and for communicating with the parents of your students. It's also a lot of fun to see your writing instantly published.

What is not a lot of fun is never getting comments on your posts. You may spend time wondering if you really do have an audience. Is anyone out there reading your blog? How can a classroom teacher encourage students and parents to comment on their blog?

Other teachers dealing with this same issue here on campus responded this way:

Tom Ruark - Yes, I do get very frustrated. So, I sunk to bribery. A pack of Smarties for a blog comment from child or parent of child. I have established a few constant customers. Also, having a grade level, POD, or team email distribution list helps, as I can constantly stick in front of folks. See, I did it again. That's in case you missed it. The trick is that you have to work it into the "flow" of the email so that the reader does not recognize the less than subtle subliminal message. I usually say, "We just updated, and by the way you could check out, beacause the kids really did some cool work. Yep, subtle, like an anvil!

Debbie Harbour - I feel your pain! Some days I get frustrated that I do all this work to share their child's lives with them and nobody's listening. Last week I added a survey to the bottom of my newsetter that asked simple questions about my blog. Do you read it? Do you update automatically? Do you know how to write a comment? etc. I only received 5 surveys back. This week I put it on there again and stated since I only had 5 returned I was asking them to do it this week. Maybe that would be a start to help you see what they know and can do. Just a thought.

Debby Cothern & Michelle Ellis - The best way we have found is to show the blog to your students in class and then encourage them to go home that night and leave the class a message. The next day we bring back up the blog and read their messages to the whole class. The kids love seeing their words appear. I would also get a counter added onto your site. We have one on ours. We have had over 11,000 people view our blog since last August. Even if parents or viewers don't leave messages, we at least can see they were there.

Toni Chant - I hear you. I struggle with the same issue. Some of our students do not have access and that is unavoidable. We also have several parents that really don't read our newsletter and thus has caused confusion in the past. I, too, would love some ideas about getting parents to read our blog on a regular basis. I mostly find nowadays that I am limiting my posts since I don't feel that the families are really using the blog as often as I would like. I have even added the weekly homework assignments and still have parents who have internet access ask me for another copy of the homework. I would really love to hear what everyone thinks and is doing in their classroom.

When I asked my educator friends on twitter, here are the responses I received:

I love all of these ideas. They are all simple things to do. It might be worth experimenting to see which ones get you the best results. I think its important to remember that most parents are learning these things for the first time and when you teach, repetition is the key. If you're looking for a new way to explain blogging in your classroom so that the parents will "buy in" to the importance, check out this video made by Kathy Cassidy and her wonderful first graders. They show their parents what the term media literacy means and demonstrate how to comment on their class blog.

Imagine, if you were a student in that classroom, you could show your parents the video which shows all they steps they need for commenting. Kids are always anxious to show and share the work they are doing with you. Make sure you are giving them lots of opportunities to show off!

Continue asking, rewarding, experimenting and above all KEEP blogging! :)

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Parent Involvement

Denise Evanko asked a question that so many teachers, new and seasoned, ask, "How can I get parents to read my blog?" I hope you will give her some suggestions. Leave a comment!

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Jane Szerba - New to Chets!

Jane Szerba will be joining Chets Creek this coming school year as a 5th Grade ELA teacher. She has taught 2nd and 3rd grade for the past two years. Prior to her full time teaching position, Jane was a safety net provider for three years. Since 1996 she has been involved with her children’s schools in many different capacities. Jane feels extremely privileged to become a member of Chets Creek Elementary.

Jane grew up in Reading Pennsylvania and graduated from Kutztown University, with a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration. In 1988 she married her high school sweetheart, Jim, at the United States Naval Academy. Jim and Jane headed south to Pensacola for Jim’s first naval assignment, Navy Flight School. After several years of deployments and military moves up and down the east coast, the Szerba’s settled in Jacksonville. Jim has served in the Navy for over 22 years and has been blessed to be stationed here at Mayport for the past several years.

Jane and Jim have three daughters. Margaret is currently a sophomore at the University of North Florida, Ashley is a senior at Fletcher High School, and their youngest daughter is a freshman, also at Fletcher High School. Over the course of her daughter’s lives, Jane has enjoyed watching her daughters grow and mature. She especially has enjoyed their swimming and watching them play Florida’s newest sport, girl’s lacrosse.

In her spare time Jane enjoys spending time with her family, reading, traveling, and visiting her family up north. Jane has always been involved with swimming and currently teaches swimming lessons to the neighborhood children during the summer. She receives immense satisfaction when a four year old child realizes that she can swim. Jane has also been a Pace Leader for the Chicago Marathon. You may ask, “What is a Pace Leader?” A Pace Leader is a designated runner that guarantees to finish the marathon (26.2 miles) in a specific pace. For example, if you want to finish the marathon in 4 hours and 30 minutes you would sign up to run with the 4:30 pace team. The pace leader will run a steady pace for the entire race and finish within a minute of that designated pace. She mentioned that it is a very rewarding and an emotional job, especially to help someone complete their first marathon. Jane truly enjoyed this experience from 2004-2007 and hopes to get back in shape sometime soon!

Jane is enthusiastic about the 2009-2010 school year. She is looking forward to forming new relationships, working with a talented team of teachers, and also meeting the amazing students at Chets Creek. What a blessing to have Jane joining our Chets Creek family!

Opening - Part 2

It's the day before school starts and I went by the school to take a few pictures to inspire my daughter (did I mention that she just got her first teaching job?!!) I thought other new teachers might also like to see what's going on. Now understand that school hasn't even started so most of the rooms look like this right now.

However, some early bird type-A teachers have already been in their rooms so I went around and snapped a few photos. Our theme this year at Chets is "Orchestrating a Symphony of School Success." Each grade level was given a different genre of music. Second grade was given Broadway. Below are some shots of Third grade's Caribbean tunes and Fourth Grade's Jazz! Take a look at these early pictures and see what you think.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Opening School - Welcome to Broadway!

My daughter got her first teaching job last week at Trinity Elementary in Florida! Woo Hoo! Teachers in her county, like mine, go back to school on Monday and she will have a week to decorate her first intermediate classroom. In trying to help her with ideas, I decided that I would go to the best source I know, the teachers of Chets Creek! Today, (even though school is not yet even opened) I took my camera to get some early pictures for inspiration. I was going to send them to her through e-mail but thought everyone else might like to get an early glimpse.

Our school theme is "Orchestrating a Symphony of Student Success" and each grade level was given a different genre of music. Second grade has the music of Broadway and below are some of the early decorations!

What I can say about these ideas:

We each have a bulletin board in the hallway and the first board to go up (by Orientation which is the first Friday before school starts) is a "Something I Know Good About You" board. It includes each child's name and something good about that child. It is a wonderful way to welcome new children and their families to their new classroom. Since teachers don't have a class list yet, the names are still to be added!

Each teacher has a place for each student to house a piece of their work. These spaces stay up all year although the work changes each month. Most of the teachers use a clothespin hot glued to the wall and a laminated piece of construction paper as a backdrop. These are also usually theme-related.

The outside door of each room has a welcoming theme-related sparkle. While each room may be different, this is not a competition. The teachers share what they find during the summer and try to have some conformity to the outside of their rooms. The last thing we want is for parents to come to Orientation and start judging and criticising teachers based on how they decorate the outside of their room!

Most teachers have some kind of comfy reading area. Many include a coach or comfy chair, benches, stools, bean bags, etc. and most include a lamp.

A Word Wall is a "must" in every room but teachers arrange them differently. Some use an alphabetical arrangement and others organize by word patterns or themes. In one of these pictures the teacher already has Velcro dots on laminated paper and will Velcro the words on as the class needs them.

No matter what your class comes with, you will need extra organizing bins and containers. Be on the lookout for these at discount stores and anywhere children's furniture is sold.

Each teacher needs a chair and each teacher knows what she likes. From a rocking chair to a stool to a cafe chair, to each his own!

Each classroom has a class library. Most have a genre library that is organized by topic. Most also have a chapter book library in the intermediate school. Each classroom also has a leveled library (organized by Fountas-Pinnell Reading Levels A-Z). Although over the years, we have used all sort of bins and baskets, most teachers have decided that its worth the investment to buy baskets all alike for the uniformity and organization. That's not to say that some teachers would rather have baskets in different shapes, sizes and colors, but many choose all one size because they like the neater appearance. No matter how many shelves come in your classroom, you'll need extra so look for bargains everywhere you go!

Never underestimate the value of creativity and repurposing something you have at home. All teachers earn a Masters in trash to treasure while they teach!

If you are a first year teacher, don't worry! You won't collect everything before the first day of class and you shouldn't. As the year unfolds, you'll find things that you want and need to make your classroom work for you and your children. During this first week of preparation, go to the veterans and let them help you with room arrangement. Let the vet help prioritize your time because before you are ready, the children will be at your door! Just know that no special effect will have the same power that you do! What parents really want to see that first day is that you are someone who will care about their child! You can't decorate that!

peek into another theme tomorrow!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Tracy Ruark Returns to Chets!

This past April Tracy Ruark joined the Chets Creek family of educators. Tracy was born and raised in Long Island, New York. She is an avid New York Jets fan and the first yanky to marry into the Ruark household. After graduating from high school (She’ll let you guess the year) she attended Minnesota State University where she received two bachelor degrees. One in International Relations and Soviet studies and the other in Geography/Environmental conservation. You could say she is a "tree hugger". Upon graduating from college (she’ll let you guess that one as well) she moved to Florida and started a career with CSX in sales and marketing. Along the way she met her husband Tom, whom some of you may know, and they were married in April of 1997. Two years later Tom and Tracy had a daughter (whom most of you may also know) named Darylann who was named after Tracy’s mother who died of cancer when Tracy was 19.

After 15 years with CSX Tracy became very disillusioned with the cut throat corporate world and began to spend more and more time volunteering in her daughter’s classrooms at Chets. She felt like she was not making a difference in the world and saw firsthand how teachers touch the lives of so many. She saw how people like Karen Meissner, Lori Thompson, Deb Rossignol, Cathy Nelson, Jessica Schaffer, Sherri Rabe and Christy Constande make a difference every day.
At the start of the 2008-2009 school year Tracy interned full time in JJ Brown’s second grade classroom where she began to learn the in’s and out’s of Readers' and Writers' Workshop. In November of 2008 Tracy was introduced to the First Grade classroom of Randi Timmons and Cathy Daniels. There she learned how to work in an inclusion environment with an amazing group of kids. Not only was she witnessing amazing instruction but she was also able to watch and learn from the ESE teacher, Dayle Timmons. No college education can give you a person with the knowledge you can get from watching Dayle. I mean come on…its Dayle Timmons!

In her free time Tracy loves to hang out with her hubby, daughter DA and their two pugs Snuffles and Kiska at their mountain cabin in North Carolina. She says that there is nothing like hiking waterfalls and mountain biking the back woods to refresh one's soul. She is the happiest she has ever been and is extremely excited about starting her first full year at Chets Creek.

Welcome, Tracy. Chets Creek is better for having another member of the Ruark family on its faculty!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Get to Know Laura Edwards

Laura Edwards recently joined Chet’s Creek to help safety-net the 2nd, 3rd, 4th grade ESE classes. She couldn’t be more excited to finally have a place to call home after two years of constant moving. Being the wife of a Navy helicopter pilot, Laura has come a long way from Lubbock, Texas where she went to school at Texas Tech University. There, she earned a Bachelor’s of Science in Human Development and Family Studies and went on to earn her Elementary Educator Certificate through Texas Tech’s Graduate School.

Shortly after finishing her teaching internship in Corpus Christi, Texas, Laura and her husband A.J. were transferred to Milton, Florida where she tutored children of military families. They were then transferred to Mayport, Florida in mid-June 2008. Laura immediately began looking up the local elementary schools’ ratings and websites. It wasn’t long until she stumbled upon Chet’s Creek’s homepage and just knew it was where she had to be. Unable to get a full time teaching position so late in the summer, Laura began substitute teaching around Duval County. Thanks to Julie Middleton, Laura picked up a few sub jobs at Chet’s Creek. Meeting the wonderful students and amazing teachers further solidified Laura’s desire to be a part of such a special family. With the help of Debbie Rossignol, Laura secured an introduction and interview with Mrs. Phillips, and the rest is history!

Laura enjoys spending her free time with her husband, A.J., and her Australian Cattle dog, Scout. She also has a passion for watching movies and reading. When she and A.J. can get away, they enjoy camping or visiting friends and family. Laura and A.J. recently took a trip to Disney World for spring break where they traveled around the world at Epcot. Laura hopes to one day actually visit some of those countries. But in the mean time, she will enjoy her virtual adventure around the world at Chet’s Creek!

It’s been a long road, but Laura has finally earned the title, “teacher” (even if it is just part-time ; ). She couldn’t be more thrilled to start her journey here at such an amazing school. Mostly she looks forward to building relationships with the wonderfully talented team of teachers and the caring and enthusiastic students at Chet’s Creek Elementary.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Dealing with End-of-Year Stress

A new teacher recently told me that she had been hearing about how hard the end of the year is- "doom and gloom" I think she called it! She wondered if teachers who have been through it might give her some suggestions. Well here they are!

I know that this may be so logical that it does not warrant writing, but having a large paper calendar helps me stay organized. I also have a copy on my laptop on my desktop.

I would also recommend checking in with veteran teachers about the meaning of certain instructions. Ask tons of questions. Measure twice. Cut once!

Keep your kiddos busy with meaningful work right up until the last moments of school. Behavior issues will not escalate if kids are engaged. In 5th grade, behavior can become an issue quickly. Something about idle hands and minds.....
Thomas R. Ruark, 5th Grade Teacher

When you first receive your end of the year packet, your heart will race, and you will panic. This is normal. It happens to everyone. After a minute of panicking take a deep breath and take it day by day. As you complete a day or week mark it off. Write everything on your calendar so nothing is a surprise. If there is something there you don't know what it is, ask your mentor or office mate. Try to enjoy the end of your first year of teaching. Think back to the first day and remember how excited you were. Now think of everything you have learned this year. You should think about all the lessons you learned the hard way, the parents you pissed off, now think of the children you have touched. You made a difference! Try to stick to the deadlines and don't get behind and everything will be done by June 6th! Don't Worry!!!
Michelle Ellis, Kindergarten Teacher

It is a stressful time of year but a wonderful time of celebration. Susan has mentioned the "Fish" book and I think if those goals are kept in mind everything falls into place. Imagine a workplace where everyone chooses to bring energy, passion, and a positive attitude to the job every day. Imagine an environment in which people are truly connected to their work, to their colleagues, and to their customers.
Loving every minute of it.....
KK Cherney, Media Specialist

As a new teacher, the end of the year is a completely overwhelming time. I can remember thinking to myself last year, 'will this ever end?' The answer is, yes! And after it's all said and done you have a huge sense of accomplishment, you are drained in every way possible, but you know you got it done. If I can offer any advice to my fellow newbies, it would be this... There are two important things to remember as the end of the year draws near: 1) Try to take things one at a time. As teachers we are natural multi-taskers, but it makes a huge difference when you do something and can check it off your list, rather than starting twelve projects and not finishing any of them in a timely manner. 2) Remember that you can always ask for help. As a control freak, I tend to forget that there are people out there who care and want to help. I am one of those people who go into lock down mode and try to figure things out on my own, but I've realized that it's ok to need people and to ask for a hand out of the hole.
Rachel Happ, Kindergarten, 2nd year teacher

Make a list of everything....prioritize it....then do a little each week
**everyone is different...don't worry about what "veteran teachers" are doing
**if your worried about a "due date" talk to someone you trust and have him/her help you prioritize those ones with "due dates"
Victoria Groves, 1st Grade Teacher

Once you get the final checklist, map out and schedule in your planner - when to do everything. Some of the things can be checked off and done early like furniture inventory. There will be things you can't do until the last day so it helps to plan out those 'final days' and not feel tied down because the list is so long. Another tip is to do CUM folders ASAP. It is very tedious and you don't want to make an error. It is better to get that done first. You'd be surprised if you take a few tasks a day how much you'll accomplish. I also printed labels for the CUM folder sheet that gets inserted in. This saved time instead of handwriting them all.
Denise Evanko, 2nd Grade Teacher

To save time...type comments for yellow cards on small labels. Most people can type faster than they can write. Huge time saver!!
Ashley B. Russell, 3rd Grade Teacher

The PE Department is going to make our end-of-the-year so much easier this year by having their Play Day the last week of school so we don't have to plan a huge outside party event. Thank you for that wonderful gift!

While it might seem easier to put in a video and get your work done, the truth is that it's easier to keep the routine as near to the same as possible until the very last day. If you start moving and cleaning and watching the cartoon marathon weeks before the end, the children will sense that it's all over and you'll find yourself miserable. It's hard to get a class back once you let them go!

Use Susan's end-of-the-year packet as your bible. Go through it as soon as you get it and complete the things that you can. Mark each due date on a calendar to make sure you don't miss anything. Take some time with the yellow promotion cards and really try to get every one right. It's a teacher's first impression of each child and teachers return to them over and over. Also take some time with the Principal's Survey because, believe it or not, the Leadership Team goes over every suggestion and comment as they reflect and plan for the new year.

Make sure to ask a veteran teacher how they close out the end of the year. What do they do special for their students? How do they honor the Homeroom moms who have helped all year? Do they do anything special for the custodians? You might decide that it's all too much for you, and if it is, just acknowledge that and go on. After all, the vets have had years to figure all this out, but they do have hints for saving time and through trial and error, may have found some things that really make a difference.

The end of the year can get very frantic, but I think the thing to remember is that these are the last few days that you will spend with this class of children that have become like family. It will be your last chance to let them know how special you think they are. Let's face it, they won't care if you get the furniture inventory in on time, but they will care what you say to them the last few days. They, or their parents, will save those little end of the year awards or nice notes and postcards that you send. My daughter, Courtney, and I just took out letters that both her fourth and fifth grade teachers wrote to her on the last day of school (They both hand wrote a letter to every single student - still amazes me!) It meant so much then and it means even more now! Make sure to give each of your students something to remember about their special year with you - something to sustain them throughout the summer. You'll be glad you did!

Dayle Timmons, Special Education Teacher

Just smile and stay as calm as possible...take one day at a time. Lynn Patterson, 3rd Grade Teacher

Thursday, April 2, 2009

To Loop or Not to Loop

In trying to decide what to do next year, a younger teacher asked me recently about the pros and cons of looping. She suggested that I ask the faculty because many of them have done several loops... so I did. Below are some of their thoughts. Please feel free to add your own comments.

Haley Alvarado, Kindergarten/First Grade Looping Teacher
I think that there are WAY more pros than cons to looping. One of my favorite aspects of looping is that you get to know your students so much better because you are able to develop a deeper relationship with them and also their families. I think parents feel much more comfortable the second year. The second year you do not have to begin at square one, you have a lot of information from the previous year about each student and you can pick up where they left off and do not have to waste a whole lot of time assessing them again. MANY of the students that I have looped with, I still am in contact with them and their families. I LOVE LOOPING! I think that it has helped me to grow professionally and also to make a bigger impact not only academically with my students but also personally, socially, and emotionally!

Meredy Mackiewicz, Kindergarten/First Grade Looping Teacher
In the second year you are able to actually start teaching the first week- you know the students and where they are academically and can jump right in instead of having to get to know a whole new set of little people and how they learn. You also already have the parents trained for the following year:) They know you and know what to expect. They also know each other and they seem more comfortable the second year. Parents will also help you get ready for the next year! It is also really great for students who are shy or have a harder time making friends- they really come out of their shell the second year! Students are more comfortable and confident to take risks in class- such as sharing more, presenting in front of the class, voicing their thoughts and concerns in class meetings, talking out issues with friends, etc. They also know and respect each other. They already know how to treat each other the way you expect them to. The personal/emotional/social growth you see in them over 2 years sometimes exceeds the academic growth! You also have an awesome opportunity to really help them become good, cool little people. After 1 year you can just hope they remember some of the values you taught them but after 2, it really becomes a part of who they are:) Another perk is that the class practically runs itself with your rituals and routines soon after the second year starts! I also think behavior in general is less of an issue the second year because the students and parents know what to expect and have already tried all their tricks with you!

Debbie Harbour, Kindergarten/First Grade Looping Teacher
1. You really get to know your kids
2. You can take them where they need to go and beyond
3. You only can blame yourself if they are not prepared for the next year
4. You can start teaching the second day of school because they know you and your expectations - and you know them!
5. Don't have to work extra hard to impress the parents - they already know and love you
6. You know their strengths and weaknesses
7. You know what to expect from their home lives

Julie Johnson, Kindergarten Teacher (who also offers a parent’s perspective)
I have a few opinions as a teacher and a parent. I think looping is fabulous for the child... especially in the younger years. At a young age a teacher/child relationship is VERY IMPORTANT to how they learn. If a child feels comfortable and safe, they will learn and love to learning. I believe that the child and the teacher know what to except going into the next year. The set up time goes smoothly because you know which small groups each child needs to be in for reading groups. You know which children work best together and which one don't. Also, the children know each other well and know where they work best as well.

Lynn Patterson, who looped a Second to Third Grade class
There is the obvious advantage of hitting the ground running in the second year!

Christy Constande, Intermediate Teacher who has done several loops
I think the biggest advantage to looping is that you know the student so well. There is no lost time when they enter your room for the second year. You know right where they left off academically, socially, and emotionally. The students know your rituals and routines. No time is lost introducing those, they have already been established. Teaching time is maximized. You also have established a relationship with the parents. Education is a two way street between home and school, and to have that bond and rapport is wonderful. I love looping. Plus, it gives you another year to educate and learn from the little ones you only had for one year.

KK Cherney, Media Specialist
Continuance of service, comes to mind. I love that the learning continues without weeks of rituals and routines reviewed over and over. Having the relationship piece in place prepares one to take more risks.

Melanie Holtsman, Instructional Technologist who did several loops as an ESE and General Education teacher
Already know those parents and have developed relationships/trust
Already know kids
You become a better teacher of both grade levels because you understand the connection
You don't waste any time with rituals/ routines the second year
Always better scores!

Haley Alvarado, Kindergarten/First Grade Looping Teacher
I guess some of the cons could be that you do have to learn another grade level and new curriculum. However, once you do, you become such a better teacher because your understanding of how far they need to go academically helps you teach more purposefully. Also, if a teacher was not able to ignore bad behavior from the previous year or had a personality clash with a student or parent, this would not be good to bring that into the second year. Each student needs somewhat of a clean slate going into the next year without a whole lot of assumptions about how they behave. Thankfully, if a teacher absolutely doesn't think that they would be the best for that child, they or the parent can opt out for the following year:)

Meredy Mackiewicz, Kindergarten/First Grade Looping Teacher
I would say the pros way outnumber the cons but....looping requires a little more organization to make sure you don’t do the same holiday crafts, activities, etc. the second year (remembering what you do year to year is tricky sometimes!) Sometimes with lopping by mid/end of the second year some students really start clashing- they have been with the same kids for so long that more problems seem to come up. You have to be very good about changing seats and being aware of the same kids always being together and mix up groups/clubs/tables often (may also have to mix up some parents during events/ field trips/volunteering/etc if they get too comfortable too!) You also have to mix things up to keep things new and exciting for the next year so it’s not the same old, same old- like rearranging the room so it looks different, adding new responsibilities and privileges, adding new books to your library, different systems, etc.

Debbie Harbour, Kindergarten/First Grade Looping Teacher
1. By the end of the second year you are ready for a change of kids
2. You never do the same thing you did the year before - by the time you go back to that grade level things have changed.
3. You miss some of the kids greatly after having them for two years

Julie Johnson, Kindergarten Teacher (who also offers a parent’s perspective)
A down side may be that the children do get too comfortable and know each other way too well. Some children need a new teacher to learn in a different way.

Melanie Holtsman, Instructional Technologist who did several loops as an ESE and General Education teacher
You may be ready for something new
Not knowing what goes on with the grade level curriculum in the grade the year you're not there
Needing material/books for both grades

Lynn Patterson, who looped a Second to Third Grade class
Sometimes I've found that you don't necessarily challenge students to stretch their weaknesses...sometimes since you know them so well, you cater to their strengths.

Dee Dee Tamburrino, Music Teacher
From a resource perspective, I have noticed that the students become very comfortable with each other and because they have been together so long, begin to treat each other like family - not much of the "good," and too much of the "bad and the ugly." In our families, we say whatever we want to each other knowing that our ugliness towards each other will be forgiven because we are family. It doesn't work quite the same way in the classroom. I feel that the negative behaviors increase the second year because the students are so comfortable with each other. They are more physical and definitely more verbal with each other. They react to situations as a sister or a brother would; not necessarily as a friend or playmate would. Some of the "reverential" respect that normally occurs between teacher and student is lost. The teacher has to concentrate on distancing themselves to maintain the balance. If it were up to me, I would not allow classroom teachers to loop with their kids more than once (ie: K-1). From my vantage point as a resource, my experience has been that it seems to work best within the primary school.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Advice from the National Teacher of the Year

Enjoy this post from Michael Geisen, the National Teacher of the Year who has some great advice for beginning teachers!

The blank page, structure, and novelty
Washington, DC

I’m enjoying this new journal that my cousin, Becky, gave me. Not only does it have a watercolor of Mt. Hood on the front, it also has blank pages! My previous journal, which had more of a Mediterranean faux leather cover, had rule-lined pages. I was a little worried that a lack of lines would lead to a lack of straightness of print, but it hasn’t been a problem for me. And would it really be a problem if my lines weren’t straight, anyway? But the blank pages immediately appealed to my creative tendencies, and I started by drawing. Hopefully I’ll break free of the need to only write in order to reflect on my experiences.

On a related note, last night, while presenting some of my ideas at American University in DC, an education student asked me about structure. He said that he’s learning in his ed classes that students do best with lots of structure, but that my classroom as I described it didn’t seem all that structured. Here are my thoughts:

First of all, my class is actually quite structured, but it’s a more casual, fun structure, and students help develop it. We have actually developed detailed procedures for turning in work, cleaning up, working in groups, what to do when you’re absent, etc. (all the stuff Harry Wong so effectively promotes in his book.)

But clean-up time, for instance, is signaled not by my voice or a noise-maker, it’s Barney’s clean up song (with a fitting plot twist for the annoying dinosaur.) Students groove around, cleaning up, and are back to their assigned seats by the end of the song. It’s highly structured, but it’s groovy structure. Having high expectations and an orderly class that benefits students needing structure doesn’t necessitate a strict teacher, or students who work quietly in their seats.

In the same way, stability in a home doesn’t necessarily mean financial stability, or staying in the same house without moving. Stability can (and should) be built on the relationships within the home, however temporal the location or shaky the income. The same holds true in a classroom: true structure and stability can only arise from the relationships therein. Since these relationships are between human beings, we need to treat each other as such, and not as mechanistic drones that need to do everything in a mundane or traditional way.

Which brings me my second point: human beings actually crave novelty. This is obvious from observation, and neuroscience backs it up. Engagement and learning occur from novel situations, and we need to provide these situations as often as possible for our students. Kids generally aren’t quite sure what might happen on a given day in our science classroom (sometimes I’m not sure where things might go, either!), and that’s good thing.

Not only does it help kids get excited about coming to class, it actually helps them learn. For students who need lots of structure, make sure it’s there at a fundamental level, but never allow it to become too routine. That’s when boredom sets in, and learning for most students (especially "at-risk" students) ends.

The blank pages of my journal actually have quite a bit of structure, and I would argue that they are fairly limited and don’t actually present me with the possibility for truly novel reflection. They are only 6”x9”, two-dimensional, and bound into a book. I can overcome these boundaries, and try to do so with the more freeform structure of the web, my short films, and in the interactions I have with other people. I have yet to start tearing pages out of the journal to make an origami piece, but perhaps it’s a future possibility!

Structure is not synonymous with routine, drudgery, or strict authority. It can exist in the same time and place as novelty. The human brain needs both, and it’s our job to facilitate that balance.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Get to Know Heather Wickert

Heather Wickert was born in Charleston, South Carolina on Feb. 20, 1981. She has two sisters, Erin (12) and Stephanie (26). She moved to Jacksonville in 1994 and enrolled in Fletcher High School. She was involved in sports year round. Heather then attended the University of South Carolina for two years, graduating from UNF with a degree in Communications with a specialty track in Public Relations. Heather has worked in the pre-school at Beach United Methodist Church since her senior year in high school. She began substitute teaching in January of 2007 and that's when she knew she wanted to teach. Heather secured a long-term position at Chets Creek and that's how she decided that Chets was the place for her!

Heather loves spending time with her family, friends, boyfriend and especially her dogs! She has a Rottweiler and a Jack Russell and they are spoiled rotten! During the summer she lives on the beach and loves traveling!

Heather works in 5th Grade Math with Katie Symons. Heather says that Katie has helped me tremendously with her first year teaching. Heather loves coming to work everyday and says she is so excited to learn from and work with such a wonderful faculty and fabulous group of students! Welcome Heather Wickert! We are so glad you have come to call Chets Creek home!