Using Twitter to Connect Within Your School

Twitter has been a great way for me to connect with teachers, administrators, and authors from around the country and the world.  As I’ve mentioned in earlier posts, I never thought I’d really use Twitter much, but now I love it.  I’ve begun to think about using Twitter as a means to connect with teachers in my own building. We all want more time to meet with colleagues, but let’s face it, it’s often difficult during the course of the day. Many of us have family responsibilities, activities we’re involved in, etc. it’s difficult to coordinate so many schedules.

So why not set up a Twitter chat just for your school? At my school we have groups of teachers who are interested in reading books on close reading and trying the strategy in their classrooms, blended learning, utilizing science notebooks, writing workshop, and more. The great thing is that these teachers aren’t in the same grade level, but are interested in learning and sharing together. The down side is that it’s difficult to meet with all the different plan time schedules. So, why not use technology, and Twitter specifically, to help with this logistical problem?

Understand that I still feel like technology is not always my strong suit, and I’m definitely an introvert. So, even considering approaching this idea with the staff is a tad bit anxiety inducing. But, I’ve embraced the Teach Like a PIRATE philosophy and this will get me moving along on that journey.

So here’s what I’m thinking right now. Start small. Find a small group of teachers who are up to trying something new. I have a few in mind already. Set up the chat for twice a month (same day and time) with the hope of going weekly. If there’s interest, but the time/day is a factor, then I could consider offering the same chat twice in the week and provide teachers with the archive of the earlier chat. I’ll have to ask my Twitter teacher friends how exactly to do this, though. I think I’ve finally got a handle on Google Docs, so I can send out the topic with list of questions. It might even be a good idea to send out a survey to find out the topics teachers are interested in discussing. After all, this must be beneficial to all of us in order for it to work. We could even conduct a book study this way. I’m thinking of using #setogether (part of it is our school abbreviation and the other shows our intent, in the idea phase right now).

Now, if this works, and takes off, I’d like to do the same thing, but district wide where we have grade level chats. Again, run it the same way as at the building level, but maybe just do it monthly. I’ve switched grade levels this year, so I’ll need to make some new contacts to see if there is interest in doing this. Many of our district leaders once taught or were an administrator in my building so I may be asking them for help to see if this idea would help. I’m thinking #DeSoto5 for our district and grade level.

I’m also wanting to try this with our student teachers and teacher interns. It’s even more difficult trying to coordinate schedules with this group, as they are being pulled in so many directions during their training. I and my fellow building representative, Coleen, could set the topic for the first chat, and then survey them to find out what they’re interested in discussing. We could also bring in their cooperating teachers and maybe even guest teachers. Anything to help them connect and learn from one another. If this works out we could consider taking it program wide. We are a part of the University of Kansas Professional Schools. These chats could be #senew2teaching, #KUnew2teaching, and #KUPDSmentors.

So, that’s where my mind is at today. Using technology to connect within my own building. I’d love to hear from other teachers who may have tried, or who are doing this already. Or, simply any comments about trying this.

I’ll leave you a few quotes from the Teach Like a PIRATEteacher and author, Dave Burgess.

Let’s just be sure that the “definite purpose” of collaboration is improving education, not simply standardizing it.-Dave Burgess, Teach Like a PIRATE

I strongly believe in the power of collaboration, but I don’t believe the final goal of such work should be to come to a single “right” way of teaching. -Dave Burgess, Teach Like a PIRATE

One of the most rewarding parts of teaching is the personal and professional relationships we develop on our voyage.-Dave Burgess, Teach Like a PIRATE

The Core Six Essential Strategies for Achieving Success with the Common Team Building Activity-Part One

The Core Six: Essential Strategies for Achieving Excellence with the Common Core

This will be a six part series discussing each of the six strategies discussed in the book.  I will also post my lessons using these strategies as I create them.  I hope to update the posts once I actually teach the lessons after school resumes.  

This past school year our Literacy Team began looking at ways to improve writing instruction in our K-5 elementary school.  Our principal gave us several excerpts from Core Six Essential Strategies for Achieving Excellence with the Common Core by Harvey F. Silver, R. Thomas Dewing, and Mathhew J. Perini.  After reading just the section on writing, I knew I had to read more.  I’ll define each strategy, provide the reasons the authors state for using this strategy, steps for implementing, and then how to use the strategy with written arguments.  There is so much great information that I can’t possibly include it all in a single post.  I highly recommend this book so you can learn the strategies in greater detail and how they match up each of the strategies with the Common Core standards.  In addition, at the end of each chapter are sample lessons.

Reading for Meaning

  • Previewing and predicting before reading
  • Actively searching for relevant information during reading
  • Reflecting on learning after learning

How does Reading for Meaning address the Common Core?

  • Text complexity
  • Evidence
  • The core skills of reading

“Because Reading for Meaning uses teacher-created statements to guide students’ reading, teachers can easily craft statements to address any of the Common Core’s standards for reading.”–Harvey F. Silver, R. Thomas Dewing, and Mathhew J. Perini

Seven Steps  for implementing Reading for Meaning in the classroom.

  1. Identify a short text that you want students to “read for meaning.’
  2. Generate a list of statements about the text.
  3. Introduce the topic of the text and have students preview the statements before they begin reading.
  4. Have students record evidence for and against each statement while (or after) they read.
  5. Have students discuss their evidence in pairs or small groups.
  6. Conduct a whole-class discussion in which students share and justify their positions.
  7. Use students’ responses to evaluate their understanding.

One of the steps I’ve been thinking of incorporating more is step six.  I love to have my students participate in discussions where they must justify their response.  They did a pretty good job last year, but I want to go deeper.  I am thinking about using the Socratic Seminar method.  I was just introduced to it at my district’s Leadership Summit.  Click here to access my Pinterest board where I’ve begun gathering resources.

As with any strategy that you try, there are quite a few things to consider.  The authors provide several considerations in the book, but I picked out a few that hit home with me.

Planning Considerations

  • What standards do I really need to address?
  • What kind of hook will I use to grab their attention or capture interest?
  • What article, document, or passage needs emphasis and intensive analysis?
  • What questions can I develop to engage my students in a discussion throughout and after the lesson?

For those of you familiar with Dave Burgess and his book Teach Like a PIRATE, his strategies for hooking students into a lesson would fit perfectly when planning your lessons.  Beyond the textbook, or even novel, there are other texts readily available for your students to use for Reading for Meaning.  Some of my favorites are ReadWorks, DOGONews, DOCS TEACH, and  newsela.  Just click on those for some free texts to use with your students.

The final section of the chapter is a writing extension using written arguments.  Use a statement either from a “completed Reading for Meaning lesson or you can always introduce a new one.”  The authors stress that that “either way, the statement should sit at the center of the content, tie back to your instructional objectives, and require students to draw heavily on the text to make their case.”  This would definitely increase the amount of meaningful and relevant writing for my students.  Also, it would provide them with experiences in coming to a discussion prepared.

Almost anything can be “Read for Meaning.–Harvey F. Silver, R. Thomas Dewing, and Mathhew J. Perini

I’ll be working on lessons using the Core Six Essential Strategies and will create a separate page and update the post in order to share these lessons. I hope you’ve found this post helpful.  Again, I recommend this book to any teacher trying to meet the Common Core Standards in a deeper, more meaningful, and accessible way.

The next post in the series is on Compare and Contrast.  I thought I knew this strategy until reading the chapter.  It was not what I expected, but turned out to be one of my ah-ha moments.

Co-Teaching Is a Marriage?

This year my school is diving into co-teaching. We’ve been flirting with it for awhile now, but are now ready to make a commitment. Everything we’ve been told and have read about compare the relationship between co-teachers to a marriage. If you think about it, it really does make sense. Stay with me as I take you through the stages of my relationship with my co-teaching partner.

Stage One…The Flirtation
This last year one of our fifth grade teachers moved into a Title 1 Math Coach position. This isn’t a totally new position, but rather a reboot of one. However, she’s made it her own and is an incredible resource and teacher. Throughout these posts I’ll often refer to her as Rachel. That’s because well…her name is Rachel. Anyway, she was so excited and wanted to really be involved in the classroom and in small groups. Who could ignore such enthusiasm and excitement of a new adventure? Not I. When the opportunity presented itself, we started brainstorming how to best use her in the classroom. We were flirting with the possibilities of what could be.

Stage Two…The Courtship
We began by having Rachel come in as a more supportive role during whole group instruction. She was great at identifying kids who needed extra support during this time and then we compared notes on who was going to need more time and practice. After this we began guided math for the day. I took a group to further work on or extend the day’s lesson, Rachel took a group to work on problem solving and writing to explain their answers. Groups not meeting with us were involved in other math activities. This was working great. The kids loved having both of us and getting to work with another teacher on problem solving. Rachel and I were working on what we needed to do to support our kids and what direction we wanted to go in order to make co-teaching and math work. And then it happened…

Stage Three…We’re on a Break
Yes, you Friends fans out there, you remember that phrase. Everything was beginning to gel. We found time to talk about what we needed, we were sharing resources, and making plans. Then, she got pulled in another direction and I lost her. Temporarily that is. We still continued to talk, bounce ideas off each other, and seek help when needed. After all, the kids come first and she needed to see our school’s neediest kids in a smaller setting. We were still working together, just not as closely.

Stage Four…Getting Back Together
After what felt like being torn apart, we began looking for a way to get back together. Our principal began talking about getting teachers together to really work on the co-teaching model. We were ecstatic! This is was it. It was our chance to get back together. So, we did what any good team does…we hatched a plot. My principal knows about this blog, so he won’t read anything here he doesn’t already know about. After all, we were painfully obvious about the fact we wanted to teach together. We each talked to him separately and contemplated going together. I think we made a pretty good case for why we should be paired up. Now, both of us would have been just fine being paired up with the other possible teachers. We have awesome grade level and support staff teachers. It’s just that I really want to work on my math teaching and knew Rachel would be a good fit for me to accomplish this goal. It almost didn’t happen that we would be paired up, but thankfully it worked out.

So, that’s where we are at right now. I’m looping up to fifth grade with my entire class and looking forward to continuing my work with them and with Rachel. As the year progresses I plan to post about our experience in co-teaching. We’re going into this with all the excitement and hopes of newlyweds. We’ve already discussed that divorce is not an option and are prepared to work and support each other through the hard times, and enjoy the good times together as well. I’ll share resources that we are using to help us make this experience work for our students, as well as ourselves. I know there are some great blogs and books out there to help us. I’ll even be asking my PLN on Twitter for any suggestions they may have for us. For now here are a few resources I plan on exploring.  I’ve also included two math books that we use as a resource.  I’ll be reviewing Math Sense by Christine Moynihan in later posts.

Weeds In The Teaching Garden

Weeds. They slowly creep up on you. You don’t plan for them to get out of control. It just happens. That’s what I found when I finally looked at the old sandbox area and flowerbeds. It’s not like there weren’t signs. I just chose to ignore them. If only I had  taken care of these along the way, there wouldn’t be so much to do now.

So….this got me thinking about what weeds are lurking in my teaching garden that left unattended, can cause a lot of grief and work later on. Let me tell you, there are a few weeds in my teaching garden. Once I began pulling these weeds, I needed to make a plan to keep these weeds out of my garden for good.

Weeds in My Teaching Garden
Procrastination, Negativity, Drama, Disorganization, Overeagerness

Procrastination-I say that I work best under pressure or with a deadline. There’s some truth to this. However, truth is I put things off and then stress over it. This is especially true with grading big projects. If I hunkered down, created the rubrics, and planned it out completely then I would be less stressed at the end. So, this year I will work on just confronting the tasks I don’t want to do right then. It will pay off in the long run with a calmer me and more time for my family.

Negativity-This is one of those weeds that seem to crop up over night. It’s a sneaky one. I snuff it out at one location, only to have it come back. It comes when you least expect it. You just get tired of doing so many things at once, taking on one more task, that you just reach your limit and find yourself complaining constantly. This is one that actually can be prevented, or at least managed. Give yourself five minutes to vent about what’s bugging you. Then, make a plan to change or address the problem. If it’s something that really is out of your control, or not in your power to fix, then as they sing in Frozen, Let it Go! Yes, we need to vent and get it out of our system, but it if you vent too long, that particular weed will strangle all the good in your garden.

Drama-I’m not talking student drama.  I’m talking teacher drama. I tend to get sucked into drama that rarely has anything to do with me.  It starts out harmless enough.  A friend needs to vent and next thing I know I’m involved, getting upset right along with them, and then half the time fighting their battles for them.  My plan to get rid of this most noxious weed is to still listen, after all they just need me to listen, but then ask them what they plan to do about their particular problem or issue. I still want to be a good friend, but I just can’t take on every problem.  There’s a Polish saying that I ran across on Pinterest that I love and need to remember when the drama weed begins to turn up.  Not my circus, not my monkeys.

Disorganization-Some people think I am rather organized.  Others can’t believe I can even find things on my desk, or what I lovingly refer to as the landfill.   I do have bins that hold each day’s teaching materials along with folders for each subject.  However, within two hours of school starting I already have piles on my desk.  By the end of the day you’d be hard pressed to remember what color the top of the desk is.  I need to think about the types of papers that end up in piles and make folders or some kind of system to manage the heaps.  I’m thinking I’ll add folders to the daily bins to hold materials for absent students and then one folder that moves day to day to hold any extra copies.  Maybe at least this way the papers would be in one spot and I would only have to deal with the one folder by the end of the week.  This would also allow me to end and begin each day with a sense of calmness.  By tending to this particular weed daily, I won’t have to come up on the weekends to clean off my desk and tidy the room.

Overeagerness-This is the weed that is often disguised as a pretty flower.  Think dandelion or purple thistle.  Pretty on the outside, but can quickly overwhelm the garden or lawn.  I tend to jump into new strategies or projects head first. I tend to say yes to too many requests whether it be a committee, or helping another teacher with lessons or projects.  I just get so excited and then the feeling of drowning quickly overcomes me, which then leads to procrastination.  To manage this particular weed, I am thinking of limiting the number of new strategies or initiatives that I try at one time.  In this way I can really learn the strategy and then be in a better place to help others learn and implement the strategy as well.  When it comes to committees, I am hoping to only say yes to those that interest me and will actually benefit myself and my students.  Again, overeagerness is that sly weed that often masks itself as a pleasant flower.

Now that you’ve had a glimpse of a few of the weeds in my teaching garden, think of your own.  What are the weeds that keep your garden from being vibrant, healthy, and balanced?  What do you plan to do to keep these weeds from taking over your garden?



What Are The Colors Of Your Teaching Rainbow?


My last post was inspired by my trip to Mount Rushmore. This post is inspired by the return trip.

On the way back from South Dakota we ran into a storm. I absolutely love the beauty of storms. As we headed into Nebraska, the bright sun was behind us. and the dark blue of the approaching storm in front of us. The stunning contrast of the two produced not one, but two complete rainbows that we were able to follow for quite some time. It was both beautiful and breathtaking. It started me thinking about poetry, so I decided to write an acrostic poem about teaching using the first letter of each color of the rainbow.

My Teaching Rainbow

Reflective upon my teaching
Organizationally challenged, but I’m getting better
Yapping about the latest professional book I’ve been reading

Grateful to those who’ve helpled and inspired me

Brainstorming new ideas for my classroom
Inquisitive about the world around me
Vital to the success of my students

Think about your teaching rainbow. What would your rainbow say about you?