Friday, May 16, 2008

Rituals and Routines (Toni Chant)

Toni Chant - You’re a dynamic teacher! When I had the pleasure of working in your classroom, I was so amazed by the sense of classroom community. The rituals and routines that you’ve established with your students are so unique. Please share with me some of your favorite classroom routines and rituals and how I can adapt them to a 4th grade classroom. (Shea Beaudreau)

Dear Shea,

Thank you, first of all, for gracing us with your amazing gifts and tender heart. I was delighted to have such a talented and passionate teacher share in our classroom life. Here are some of my personal beliefs that facilitate learning in and out of our classroom.
Create opportunities to build relationships. Why? Relationships build trust.
Trust leads to risk. The rest is history.

My most favorite things:
Daily: Greet each student at the door with a smile, and a hug or pat on the back. This brief exchange helps set the tone for the day and provides insight on the mood of the students. Personally, I love the feeling of coming home and being welcomed at the door by my husband with a hug and a smile.

Beginning of each week: We all come together as a class to share in one happy or sad experience we each might have had over the weekend. We all sit in a circle and take turns speaking and listening. I love, love, love doing this! We get to know each other and everyone has a chance to work on listening and speaking skills. This strategy is an off shoot of the
seminar dialogue.

Whenever we gather together on the carpet, if possible, we all sit in a circle facing each other. This is a great strategy to use during the closing session of the workshop model. Students feel less crowded, are able to work on listening skills while keeping their eyes on the speaker. This has worked very well for us this year. The best part about this is that I can sit in between students who might need extra support academically or behaviorally. It's like sitting at the dinner table sharing our experiences.

The Hitching Post: I have a place available for the students to leave me notes about anything that's on their mind such as questions, comments, concerns, request for student/teacher conference or information. Sometimes students might be reluctant to ask questions in front of their peers. This is a 'sneaky' way to encourage students to write. I read and address the notes daily. This ritual has reduced unusual conversation during instruction, as well.

The last thing that I would like to share is our goodbye dance at the end of each week. We dance and sing our way out the door as we celebrate each other, from YMCA to the Handjive. Stop by any Friday afternoon, jump up on a table, and celebrate the week with us. The students always leave with a smile.

I wish you the very best next year!

With love,

ESE and Gen Ed (Lourdes Santiago)

Dear Lourdes,
We both started in December and transitioned into very different roles in the classroom. Every time I see you, there is a smile on your face and you seem so calm and relaxed. It is obvious that you’re enjoying teaching 2nd grade. How has your ESE background helped prepare you for working in a 2nd grade ELA classroom as a General Ed. teacher? When you switch roles next year and become an ESE teacher, how do you think your experience as an ELA teacher will enrich your teaching strategies?

P.S. - I can’t wait to work with you next year!!!

Dear Shea,

It has been a wonderful and enriching experience coming to CCE! I feel that dreams really do begin here! With this said, I have truly enjoyed teaching 2nd grade. I must say that my ESE background helped prepare me in many areas for the General Ed. ELA classroom. I feel that it is clear to me which students need an extra hand academically and perhaps some extra attention in the area of TLC as well. It can be overwhelming to a student that learns differently or takes a longer time to process information when their peers just seem to “get it” right away. I have always enjoyed providing individual and small group instruction and support. I have been trained to pay attention to “red flags” and do not mind dedicating time to preparing extra worksheets or materials for extra practice and taking on tutoring as needed. It feels so rewarding when a student shows significant improvement because of the extra help that I have provided to them. Some students need this extra support and benefit extremely from a second person being available to them, be it an ESE teacher or a second teacher in a co-teach situation.
Now that I have taught in a whole group setting, I can really appreciate all of the duties General Education teachers take on. There is so much to do with so many students. An incredible amount of work goes into preparation of units, lessons, and materials. There is so much more to being a teacher than just the academics, though, and it is easier to comprehend how this can be overwhelming at times. As an ESE teacher next year, I feel that I can better relate to how a classroom is run and when strategies can be implemented without interrupting the students (or teacher’s) day. Now, I have a clear understanding of routines and scheduling in addition to how to better reach those struggling learners. Simple interventions to more intensive ones seem clearer to me in an inclusion setting.

My internship consisted of teaching special needs students in grades Kindergarten through Fifth grades. I would pull students out for smaller group instruction and work in the classroom providing accommodations alongside their General Education teachers. I would have to plan out in advance according to each teacher’s schedule, what each class was working on and modify materials and tests. Under the direction of an excellent cooperating teacher, I was able to gain a wealth of knowledge in keeping up with it all and cover each area so that students can improve their skills in all subject areas. Shea, it surprises me that you feel I seem so calm and relaxed as there just seems to be so much to do and so little time. I look at different tasks at hand and do them in the order of priority. I try not to think too far ahead (especially with all the E.O.Y. deadlines approaching) and take it one step at a time. I feel that this is what has kept me sane (while productive) as I have learned my new role coming to CCE midway into the year.

I admire you and all that you bring to CCE! I know that next year will be an excellent year. I look forward to working closely with you to assure the needs of each of our students are met.
Lourdes Santiago

Thursday, May 15, 2008

New Ideas (Shea Beaudreau)

Shea Beaudreau-You have eased seamlessly into the Chets Creek culture as if you have been here from day one. You are a flawless and articulate teacher and such a pleasant colleague and friend. I know that you have taught just as wonderfully in another very high performing school. What ideas can you share with us that you bring from your past experiences? I am always eager to learn from various perspectives! (Jen Zawis)

Dear Jen,
Thanks for your sweet words. I feel so blessed to be at Chets where I can grow as a professional. Chets is so unique and has so many positive rituals and routines that make it a one-of-a-kind learning community. At my previous school, there are two ideas that were very successful that I’d like to share:

Writing Coach - As a writing teacher at heart, I always helped support my colleagues implement new strategies with their students. Two of the years I taught fourth grade, I served as a writing coach for my team. Part of my day was dedicated to modeling writing lessons in the classrooms and training my colleagues. Especially in fourth grade, writing seems to be an area that some teachers feel they need more training and support to confidently teach their students. On early release Wednesdays, we had a different version of WOW - Writing on Wednesdays- when all of our school learned a new writing strategy.

ELA/Social Studies Integration - In our school, the ELA teacher also taught the social studies curriculum, which allowed the the subjects to be integrated. I know we are always trying to find ways to fit it all in, so I always felt the two subjects areas were a good match for integrating reading and writing standards.

There are other successful ideas that I’d be happy to share, so please just ask!
- Shea

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Advice from New Situations (Shea Beaudreau)

Dear Shea,
I have worked with you since December and have loved every minute. Not all people can come to a new school in the middle of the year, juggle servicing two grade levels in the beginning, and do it with the grace you have accomplished.
What advice can you give to teachers that are about to enter a new and unknown situation? What words of wisdom can you share with these new teachers?
Thank you,

Dear Terri,

Thank you for the opportunity to share my thoughts and experiences about teaching. Even though this is my eleventh year of teaching, I am still learning every day. Each year of teaching brings new joys and challenges and more opportunities to add to my repertoire of strategies to reach all learners. In response to your question, I have many words of wisdom to share with my colleagues entering a new and perhaps unknown situation. First let me note that Chets already does a fabulous job establishing these supports as part of their rituals and routines.

Be Flexible - Rise to the challenge! Always be open to new possibilities and be willing to try new things. Change causes you to grow and you often realize you can accomplish things you never knew you could do.

Time Management & Organization - Prioritize your “to-do” list. Learn all of the time-saving tips that you can and beg, borrow, and steal every organizational strategy and tool to implement in your classroom and office. I love visiting other teachers’ classrooms so I can see what is working for them. I can always tweak a strategy to meet my needs.

Communication is Key - It is vital to express your concerns about entering a new grade and offer suggestions to make the transition smooth. If you need support with a particular area, ask for help BEFORE you become overwhelmed!

Learn from a mentor(or two!) - I think it is key to learn from other skilled teachers who are willing to share their ideas and their classrooms for observation. Even after our first year of teaching, we all need good role models! I can’t begin to tell you how many good ideas I’ve learned from my co-teachers over the years and since arriving at Chets.

Read, Read, Read & Research some more - There are so many rich resources available to us, especially considering that the Internet allows us to connect to other educators around the world. Join a book study about an area you want to learn more about or participate in a blog about a topic of interest.

Surround Yourself with Professionals - At Chets, there are countless opportunities (weekly meetings, team meetings, staff meetings, book studies, WOW days) to be in good company and learn from other professionals, but it is also helpful to attend workshops, join an organization, travel to major conventions, and connect with other education professionals via the Internet.

Avoid Isolation - Collaborate and interact with your colleagues in and out of school as often as possible. It is so crucial to communicate your concerns and celebrate your successes. If you need support, DON’T be afraid to reach out and ask!

Thanks for asking! - Shea

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Gifted (Jen Zawis)

Jen Zawis- What a challenge to work with gifted students! I know that their quirks can be hard to decipher. How do you keep students focused when they are all so different? No child left behind is applicable to our high-level students as well. What suggestions do you have for regular education teachers to differentiate our instruction? (Kristin Shannon)

Dear Kristin,
I absolutely agree with you- teaching gifted children can be quite challenging and they certainly are a quirky bunch at times! I have to say, however, that those idiosyncrasies are what fascinate me and often what I love most about gifted children.
As you mentioned, it is so important to address the fact that NCLB is applicable to gifted students, and that they too must receive differentiated instruction in the classroom. I think that so often we fall into the habit of assuming that these children will just “get it” and manage to stay afloat on their own. I certainly have been guilty of thinking that way in the past without even really being conscious that I was doing so, and therefore likely not met their needs as individuals.
Fortunately, the more time that I spent working with them and additionally through the certification classes that I am currently enrolled in, I feel that I have gained so much insight into the nature and needs of the gifted learner.
I taught a lesson early on this school year in which my students played a game that allowed them to discuss their feelings in small groups about the pros and cons of being gifted. I’ll never forget that one student remarked, “I hate when everyone, even the teacher, thinks that I understand everything. They always say oh, call on her or ask her- she’ll know the answer. They say that because I’m gifted. I’m afraid to show when I don’t understand something." Admittedly, I froze upon hearing this as I knew that I had probably been that teacher in the past. Worse yet, I knew that I sometimes figured that these kids weren’t answering questions out of boredom or lack of interest- forgetting that it might be that they didn’t understand something altogether.
Coming to understand their nature and needs has really allowed me to grow so much professionally as well as personally. Below is a list of a few ideas that I compiled in response to your question about some suggestions for regular education teachers in regard to your gifted students.
aGifted students are simply on the other end of the bell curve- ESE students are two standard deviations below the mean and gifted are two standard deviations above the mean. Many of their needs can be addressed in a similar fashion.
aThey often need small group instruction- either to challenge them further or to reinforce a concept that they may have missed but were too afraid to reveal their lack of understanding.
aGifted students need to feel that they are in just as safe an environment to make a mistake as do your most academically needy children.
aWhen these students leave for the day, the regular teacher is not responsible to re-teach the whole day BUT bear in mind that gifted students may need to be pulled in a strategy group the following day and a brief recap of the new concepts when they return.
aTry really getting to know their interests- maybe in the form of an interest survey or just listening to their ideas. This enables you to give them the opportunity to further explore these interests at appropriate times. Helps with the “I’m finished, now what?” syndrome.
aTry to make any extra activities that you give them meaningful, not just busy work, because they need that and can really tell the difference.
aGiving them opportunities to work with others in groups is essential, as social situations are often an area they struggle with.
aThese really are amazing children and each individual can bring wonderful perspectives into your classroom.
aEncourage them as you would any other student. Even those “quirks” can bring meaningful and powerful teaching and learning into your classroom.
I hope that I addressed some of your concerns and questions. I am always eager to share more ideas, if need be. I consider it a privilege to work with this population and I am grateful for the opportunity to do so. I continue to learn an incredible amount from them each and every day. They have so much to offer.


Friday, May 2, 2008

Balance (Terri Lehane)

Terri Lehane- Balance- A word that seems to allude me more and more these days as my belly grows. I'm constantly in awe of how people find that perfect balance in their lives. Terri, you're not only a wonderful teacher who shows immense dedication to her students but also a devoted mother and wife. The joy you give you students and family always puts a smile on my face. With my life soon to be thrown completely out of balance how do you find the time, energy and passion to find your happy place? Any advice would be greatly appreciated.
Love, Bobbi Matthews

Dear Bobbi,
Thank you Bobbi for your kind words. I don't know if I have that perfect balance you speak of. In fact I am sure no one really does. I just try to be in the moment where ever I am. Whether that is at school or home and I would rather be happy. So I try to smile even when it's hard. It just helps sometimes!
I wish I could give you the PERFECT advice you are looking for, but I am afraid I can only give you some suggestions.

First of all I have been doing this a long time. Twenty two years to be exact. Maybe that is why it has gotten easier. My first baby just graduated from college. The balance has shifted over the years.

Planning is your best friend. Calendars with important dates and team work are what will get you through.

Actually what works for one person may not work for another! The only thing that will matter is the moment you look at that little face!

That is when everything you think is impossible will become possible. You will do whatever it takes to make life for that little person perfect.

I know that is what Kevin and I do for our children. Nothing seems impossible!
The moments will fly by! Follow your heart it will give you all the advice you need!
I wish you all the love with your bundle of joy!

Friday, April 25, 2008

It's All About Change (Kristin Shannon)

Kristin Shannon, This year was all about change in 5th grade. How did you adapt changing from Language Arts, an area that you were so comfortable in, to teaching Science? what challenges did you face, and what are some of the most positive things that have happened in your teaching this year? JJ

I think the biggest challenge was tackling the enormous amount of information and presenting that to the students. We really had to create a new curriculum in 5th grade - everything from homework to worksheets to assessment. Finding time to get everything done was the hardest thing.

It is very satisfying to get great feedback from parents and students who thought Science was boring and are loving all of the "hands-on stuff." Tim hoping that they take their love of Science with them to middle school and beyond. Kristin