Thursday, March 27, 2008

Challenged Families (Betsy McCall)

Betsy McCall----How do you always stay so “calm, cool & collected” after dealing with our most “emotionally challenged” families throughout the year? Karen Meissner

Dear Karen,

Thanks for passing the Tinkerbell on to me. I am humbled, honored, and……….a little speechless. It is difficult for me to talk about myself, but I will try my best to answer your question.

This week at Atlantic Beach the surf has been pounding, the wind is blowing, the sky is gray-it’s a typical nor’easter along the coast. So as I reflect on your question, I keep thinking of the weather.

Often times at work, I feel like a hurricane wind is blowing. Students, parents, meetings, papers, testing, and deadlines all swirl around me with gale force intensity. Every now and then I can feel this power roaring on the inside and I feel anything but “calm, cool, and collected.” When this happens, I just step away from the situation for a little while, debrief with a mentor, work a crossword or listen to some music. A simple time out will usually bring out the peaceful, soothing sunshine.

Most of the time however, I feel like the eye of the hurricane; that calm and quiet place in the middle of a turbulent storm. No matter what is going on around me, I am blessed with the gift of keeping a cool head. Even in the worst of storms, like Katrina, I picture myself in a helicopter throwing a lifeline down to a family that is stranded on the roof of their house. No matter how tough a situation, there is always a solution to be found. Sometimes it takes a whole team of people working, planning and scheming for months on end. Other times it just takes a moment to stop and share an umbrella and a smile. This determination to find a solution is one thing that keeps me surrounded by tranquility.

I truly feel like listening and reflecting in a peaceful manner is a gift I have had all my life. Even in high school friends would share their most intimate problems with me. Somehow I am that little lifeboat that can slowly sail along and pick up one person at a time and move them to safety. I am truly blessed to incorporate this gift into my daily work.

I can’t stop without a more personal note……..I guess I am not so speechless…

I count my blessings everyday and this also keeps me focused and calm. To have this wonderful job, at this amazing school, among such talented people is indeed a dream come true.

This year as I battled breast cancer and fought the hurricane within myself, I felt totally surrounded and protected by every person here at Chets Creek. Each of you was my own personal storm shelter. You gave me comfort, strength, support and courage through your prayers and hugs and notes and pink shirts. I was and am still overwhelmed daily by your outpouring of love!!!!. You made the difficult and unknown easier to bear. I believe that because of this I am stronger, calmer, and indeed a more grateful servant.

And in the true Chets Creek spirit, you have encompassed countless others with your support. You walk, run, collect pennies, and sell lemonade in the hopes of finding a cure for cancer. I believe it can be done! THANK YOU!

It has been six months since my surgery and over spring break I had my first post-op mammogram. It came back crystal clear. Life is good.

With sincerest gratitude,

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Kindergarten Forever (Karen Meissner)

"If" Kindergarten were phased out, what other grade would you consdier teaching and why? Gerri Smith

Gerri, Gerri, Gerri,
Thank you for bestowing the “Pixie” to me! However, since in my opinion your question is merely a “hypothetical” one because KINDERGARTEN is the initial and vital foundation of all future learning, I don’t think it’s going “away” any time soon. So in order to try to answer your question, I feel I must provide some background of my prior experiences in education.

In January ’82 I accepted a position as a teacher assistant at Mayport Elementary in a self-contained EH (Emotionally Handicapped) classroom because my two best friends were teachers there. (I had previously been working as a full-time hair stylist.) After staying in that position for 1 ½ years, I “begged” my principal to move me because Special Ed just wasn’t my niche (ironic, isn’t it, since Kindergarten presents unique and special challenges each year?) The next year the principal humored me by moving me to Kindergarten. I felt like Art Linkletter—kids do say the “darnedest” things. I stayed in that position for the next 3 ½ years before deciding to return to college to pursue an Early Childhood degree. I found my “happy place” and kindergarten was fun!

So, after about 13 years since last being a college student, I spent the next 5 years being a student and becoming a mom (Hank ’88, Max ’90). A few months after getting my degree, the principal who humored me so many years earlier arranged my first interview for a teaching position. In August ’92 I accepted a 2nd grade teaching position at Central Riverside (sight unseen & before its major remodeling). Six weeks into the year I was switched to 1st grade because of low enrollment/budget issues. The next year I had a 1-2 combination class and my third year there I was back in 1st grade. At the end of that year I applied for a transfer to be closer to home and to have more time with my young sons. I was luckily offered a 1st grade position at Alimacani (our neighborhood school—YEAH!) because of some short-lived class-size reduction legislation. The legislation was soon rescinded due to “funding” issues (Imagine that!), but because in those days Alimacani was a multi-track school and I’d already begun teaching I got to stay (Hallelujah!). My next year there I was a “roving” 1st grade teacher (it would take another Pixie Pointer to explain “roving”). And then along came a school called “Chets Creek.” I was surplused to Chets and was scheduled to teach a 4-5 combination class (THANK YOU Anne & Lori!), but during the summer I got a call (on my birthday—Oh, what a “gift”) offering me a Kindergarten position! I never gave up my “hope” of becoming a Kindergarten teacher! I give thanks each day and pray for patience and guidance to follow the path that God has set for me. So, as you can see, I was “blessed” by being surplused to Chets for the opportunity it has provided me to do what I love each and (almost) every day. My experiences have “taught” me to “keep the faith” and to trust in the decisions of others. I hope to continue laying that vital foundation for PRIMARY students (or I guess I could always go back to hair styling—just kidding). I love being a part of the Chets Creek family and I JUST WANT TO HAVE FUN!

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

4th Grade Writing Tips (Gerri Smith)

GERRI SMITH – How do you manage to get such great Writing scores out of many low-performing students every year? Is there a special secret or skill you can share? (from Anne Tillis)

Anne it’s amazing that you asked me this question. I’ve never given serious thought to how I get the scores I get except prayers. I prayer on behalf of every child. As I look back on the students that I’ve taught, I now see one thing that is common with all the children that wanted a “6.” They had a passion that drove them to receive and believe everything that came out of my mouth regarding strategies that could improve their writing. On the other hand some students come to fourth grade not knowing anything about writing. So I allow them to jump in at their own pace until they are comfortable with what we are doing in class. Comfortable means sitting in my office with BC and writing down everything he is trying to tell me about his vacation. When I read it back to him, he says, “No, that’s not right,.I’ll write it myself!” After several visits in my office he now believes he can do it himself. How about MB who hid under his desk the first time we started to write in his class? He too, ended up in my office and we had a discussion to try and figure out what I needed to do to help him. Whatever it takes to win their confidence in me helping them achieve, I’ll do it. There’s no formula or straight shot to getting good results . Each child and each class is unique in their own way and I have the privilege of finding that out each new school year.

Thanks for asking,

G. Smith

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Strategies for Reluctant Readers (Lauren Werch)

Dear Lauren~
You and I have worked together for almost 10 years! However, you never cease to amaze me with your patience, love, and strategies! You are a true advocate for all children!

Question~ I have seen you work miracles with reluctant readers. Please share some of your favorite and most successful strategies.
Love ya!

Thank Goodness you aren’t asking me for math strategies because that is where I learn from you! Before I initiate strategies with our many reluctant readers, I use three “best practices” that are already used by many teachers at Chets.

The first best practice I use is to build a strong relationship with these readers. They need extra love, trust and someone that believes in them. They also need a lot of motivation!

The second best practice I use is to diagnose specifically the reader’s strengths and weaknesses using reliable assessments. Knowing what I must teach the reader is essential to helping them move forward and target interventions appropriately to the area of reading they need.

Finally, the third best practice I use is to reduce the student ratio as much and as often as possible to either small group (3-5 students) or individual instruction. In all the years I have been attending reading conferences and reading the research, it is always the instructional intervention cited as being most effective.

Once I have completed this “up front” work, the following are some of the intervention programs or strategies I have found to work the best in each area of reading (however, I am ALWAYS looking for new ideas!)

PHONEMIC AWARENESS: Although I encounter very few readers with this need, the Great Leaps program has worked really well for this area of reading.

PHONICS: I am blessed to have been trained in one of the premier reading programs called Lindamood Bell. This program gave me the best foundation for teaching this area of reading, which is a sequential, direct instruction approach combining many modalities of learning.

FLUENCY: I have found out, most recently, that the most success to get readers on the road of fluent reading is to have them read a lot. Supported reading in text and repeated readings gives them the confidence to do this independently, which is the goal.

VOCABULARY: I always integrate new words within what we are reading and only a few at a time. I chose words I believe are most relevant to my readers.

COMPREHENSION: This cannot be ignored at any level of instruction, so I focus always on the areas of thinking a reader does before, during and after reading. Many times you must force a reader who struggles to stop and do this thinking.

I hope this helps someone in someway. I would really appreciate any new or different ideas passed on to me- let’s get some conversation going!! Lauren

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Inclusion (Christina Walag)

Dear Christina,
As a second grade mainstream teacher, please tell us how this classroom environment compares to a general education class. What obstacles/challenges have you encountered and how have you overcome them? How do you differentiate your instruction with such a wide variety of learners?
Dear Brooke~
I have been a mainstream teacher for most of my teaching career and I love it! How does my classroom compare to a general education class? I can only imagine… Through collegial conversations, there seems to be a wide diversity of learners in all classrooms…and many students with special needs that have not been identified yet.
Since the county has implemented Full Inclusion, we haven’t worked out the challenges of having students with more significant needs. Many of these students have never been in a large classroom setting. We are still trying to figure out how to fully meet their needs! However, in a collaborative effort with my awesome teaching partners, Lauren Werch and Lauren Morgan, we have learned how to think out of the box ! Here is a sample of some specific strategies we use in our classrooms:
« Technology
« Intervention Groups
« Behavior Plans
« Lots of Positive Reinforcement
« Flexibility
« A Sense of Humor
How do I differentiate instruction with such a variety of learners? I use a lot of peer support, repetition, positive feedback, small groups, and some students are given more time to complete assignments. I bet you didn’t know that often an ESE student is the one who gives support to a regular education student…What better way to build a child’s self-esteem!


Teacher Mother (Anne Tillis)

Anne Tillis,
I have always admired you. I know you have been teaching for a long time. You are such an inspiration to me. You always have your act together. How do you manage being a mother of two wonderful children and teach effortlessly?
From Sherri Anderson

Dear Sherrie,
Thank you for your very kind words, especially about my children. I am glad to know that people see them that way, as it has been just “we three” for the last 6 ½ years. I manage simply by following the same rules and standards that my parents instilled in me. They seem to have worked pretty well on my brothers and myself. They also know that they are my number one priority, and that I have high expectations for them both. I think our family has learned to rely on each other, and to support each other in both good times and bad. I am very proud of them both!
I am glad you think that my teaching is effortless, LOL! It really isn’t, and if you only knew how many sleepless nights I have, you would not say that! I think the fact that I am not afraid to try something new, and the great coaching I have received here at Chets, helps me to teach my students. I am very grateful for all the wonderful training I have received in the last ten years. I feel comfortable with what I am teaching, so that probably helps as well! I am not a mover and shaker kind of person, but I know that I can teach children, which in the end, is the MOST IMPORTANT job of all, both as a Mom and as a teacher working with the young minds of our future .
Love you,
Annie Bananie