Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Differentiating Instruction (Randi Timmons)

How do you reach all students with the wide range of abilities in your classroom?


WOW!?! Mannnnnny factors play into answering this question. I began thinking and decided an enormous number of components work together for the greater good, when teaching in a classroom that is saturated with learning diversity. Well, YOU know how “chatty” I can be so I decided to make a list hoping to alleviate a bit of my “long windedness”. Here we go!

Co-teaching: an amazing way to reach every child through differentiated instruction

Parallel teaching: splitting students into two heterogeneous groups in order for each teacher to deliver identical lessons in two separate learning areas in the room; this allows for prescriptive and tailored instruction to take place even within a mini lesson; student to teacher ratio is significantly more effective

Planning time: setting aside a time to sit down with your co-teacher(s) every single week and bounce creative ideas off one another, two heads are always better than one! Planning not only mini lessons but small group time as well. Make this a priority!!!

Work Period: both teachers are pulling a small group that has been strategically chosen after looking at data, writing samples, past small groups, etc. No one is ever doing “homeroom” kind of work while the children are in the classroom (ex. newsletter, paperwork, lesson plans)

Professional Reading and Development: recognizing that the resources available in professional literature compounded with collegial relationships and resources around you are priceless; stepping out of my comfort zone and asking for help through fellow teachers and coaches, reading blogspots, asking questions on a forum, and just good ol’ fashioned reading have provided me and my co-teacher with invaluable information

Positive Discipline: sometimes reaching every child requires variance within behavioral instruction, not just academic direction; finding a way to unconditionally love and advocate for every child is of utmost importance; pairing an intensive positive side to the flip side of your discipline system is an incredibly powerful tool. There isn’t a child alive who doesn’t glow in the light of your sincere verbal/nonverbal praise.

The path I dream of taking is one entrenched in learning and cultural diversity. I make it a focus to never be too busy or feel too overwhelmed to listen even when there are only screams, to hug even if I’m only being hurt, and to say "I love you" even when nasty words are all I hear. I always remember this may be the only chance I get with these children and I will make it all it can be.

P.S. Oh and when I get it all figured out… I’ll let you know!

Love, Randi

Monday, January 21, 2008

Challenging Students?! (Carrie McLeod)

Dear Carrie,
Since I share an office with you this year, I notice that you have a few friends in your class that need daily counseling and reminders about appropriate behaviors. What I admire about you is that you never seem to get frustrated or tired of these repeat offenders. You continue to treat them with love and respect when you talk with them about their behaviors, bending down to their level to look them in the eyes and speak calmly. I never hear you vent or complain about them. Instead, you greet them daily with a hug and welcome. How do you keep such a positive attitude and manner with the most challenging students?

Dearest Melanie,
Thank you for posing such a sweet question. Ever since my first year, I have always been blessed with particular students who have extreme social and emotional needs. I have learned to embrace this challenge and have tried numerous approaches to reach each of them. As educators, we know that each child is unique and has different requirements to make him/her successful. The trick is doing everything under the sun until you discover what works with that one child. For instance, this year I have a handful of “usual suspects” as I call them. Though they drive me ABSOLUTELY CRAZY some days, they are also the ones that touch my heart the most. If you think about it, those “usual suspects” who you have taught over the years are always the ones you will remember the most. I have a “Mother Hen” syndrome and love helping and taking care of people. I know these students need me the most and I want to be their rock. A lot of how I deal with children has to do with how I want to be dealt with. I would never want someone to stand over me and raise his/her voice at me. If I don’t like it, I know my students would not like it. I preach the golden rule in my classroom- do to others, as you would want them to do to you. When something goes wrong, I want to discuss it immediately. That is why you (Melanie) see me having “emergency family meetings” in my office a lot with my special friends. I want students to always have a chance to explain their side of the story before I tell them my side. This makes them be accountable for their actions and words. This also sets up a mutual respect situation. I lower my office chair to be eye-to-eye with whoever it is. I want them to see that we are equal in the conversation to come. I always let them start by talking in a calm rational voice, and then I talk in a calm rational voice. We can usual come to an understanding quicker and easier this way.
Another large part of loving a child with these needs is knowing that everyday is a fresh start. No matter what went down the day before, I always start fresh with each of my kids every day. I greet them at the door with a high-five and welcome them to a new day. At the end of the day, even if it was a challenging one, I give them a high-five and tell them that tomorrow will be a better day. My students KNOW that I love them no matter what!

With sincerest admiration for YOU,
Carrie McLeod

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Being a New Teacher at Chets (Jessica Shaffer)


Chapter 1…
Once upon a time, there was a beautiful, young princess named Jessica Shafferella, who in one year, experienced many “new beginnings”. She married her prince charming, she left her former kingdom to teach at the Chet Creek Castle, and she went to “the other side” becoming a general education teacher after being a special education teacher, servicing students in both the 4th and 5th grade. With all these life changes, I am curious to know what have been some of your challenges, as well as your celebrations this year? Has the experience of being a new teacher to Chets Creek and working as a general education teacher in an inclusion classroom with your wicked step sisters Deborella and Katherina been a dream come true, or are you waiting for your handsome prince to kiss and wake you from a terrible nightmare? We’re all anxious to know if this story will have a happily ever after ending or will you escape (by becoming pregnant J) & riding off in to the sunset never to be heard from again?

Anxiously awaiting chapter 2….

Your wicked step sister (who adores you),

I will start off by saying that this year has truly been a dream come true for me! When I moved here from Tampa, I was so worried about finding a wonderful school like I had there. To my surprise, I found one that was even better, more magical, than the one I had before. Everything seemed to just fall into place-my decision to move over to regular education, which gave me my wonderful teaching partners that I have now. The only challenges that I have had are getting used to how everything works here at Chets Creek which is why I am so blessed with my partners because they just take me by the hand and show me the way. Jessica

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Having It All Melanie Holtsman)

Dear Melanie,

How do you do it all?
  • a mother of four children (twins at that!)
  • a wife
  • a gifted teacher
  • a standard's coach
  • a technology mentor
  • Literacy navigator Safety Net
  • Mary Kay Sales
  • Blogging Updates
  • Twittering
  • Professional Literature read
  • Reading children's books
  • Reading adult literature
  • Traveling to conferences

The list goes on and on! How do you balance it all and still have time for fun and down time from your job?

I will be anxiously waiting for your reply.

Love, Dorry Lopez

Dear Dorry,

Here's the quick answer I always give people when they ask me how I balance it all ---the same way you eat an elephant, one bite at a time! The truth of the matter is I don't balance it. I make my family and students my priority and juggle the rest. I'm a master mult-tasker. Something always suffers, but I try never to have it be the people in my life.

Many of the things you listed are the fun of my life. I really enjoy what I do. I have always been a reader. Teaching second and third grade ELA grew my love of writing and I love reading the craft of children's authors. One of the reasons I became a teacher is because I love learning. I'm always trying new things with my classes. Technology and professional networking online is a way for me to learn something new every day. It's addicting. When I have choice time I mostly choose to do these things. Other things I do for fun you might not know about: I love watching comedies or stand-up comedians (I have a warped sense of humor). I like to draw and paint (my girls and I go paint pottery as often as we can), which leads to the Mary Kay- I love to do makeup and hair makeovers (watch out if you have to stay in a hotel room with me)! And ....I play Webkinz for fun.

Hopefully I haven't ruined all of your professional perceptions of me!


Wednesday, January 9, 2008

"Juggling" (Debbie Rossignol)

Dear Debbie, You have four children and you seem to always be so organized. How do you do it? Cheryl

Dear Cheryl,
Did you ask me this question or did I ask you? Balance for me has always been one of my greatest challenges. Ten years ago when I got my first teaching job with Dr. Stahlman, I was a spring chicken, I had one child…one husband…and a plethora of creative energy coupled with a passion for learning. I was on a mission to change the world. I thought I was doing a great job juggling my personal and professional life, so I never felt it necessary to slow down. And then the twins came. You’d think that life change would cause me to slow me down and refocus my priorities. Although bed rest and childbirth did cause a brief intermission, I came back to work with a vengeance. To be honest, not much changed - even with three children. Then God reached down and said, since I didn’t listen to Him the first time when we were blessed with the twins, then maybe I would listen when He sent us number four…the icing on the cake. This time I heard the Man upstairs loud and clear. While I agree with those who find it difficult to work when you have young children, I find it necessary for my mental well-being. You know how the old saying goes…if mama ain’t happy, nobody ain't happy! I believe that to be somewhat true in my situation. For me, I am a better mother and wife when I am working at a job I am passionate about, with people I love & respect, in a school whose mission is to invest in the future…the future of ALL our students! With four children, I have had to make a few changes and become a better manager of my time. Although I still have not found the perfect balance, I do find a few things that have helped me be better organized and maximize my time.

1. Mom’s Plan It Calendar – This calendar displays a month at a time with six lines designated for each family member every day of the week. All six of our names fit! It hangs on our fridge and everyone’s schedule is on this main calendar which includes - dance lessons, gymnastics, karate, birthday parties, church events, doctor’s appointments, projects, date night (yes, my husband and I have to schedule a night out on the calendar), etc. Although Hugo, Peyton and I have our own personal calendars, we coordinate all our activities with what is on this main family calendar. Since Peyton is a teenager with a life and Hugo works two part-time jobs in addition to his full-time job, we have found this calendar helps tremendously with our communication which is critical in our crazy lives.

2. Meals – I have a pre-printed grocery list that hangs on the fridge next to the Mom’s Plan It Calendar. All week long, we circle items on the list as we run out. On the weekend, I plan my meals for the week (usually trying at least one new recipe a month). I only purchase the items I need for the meals that are on the list. Peyton eats out before church on Wednesday night so that is the night I cook Hugo’s favorites that no one else eats, such as Hamburger Helper, SOS, potted meat sandwiches, or Chef Boyardee Pizza in a box (if ya call that cookin’) I know…yuk!

3. Laundry – I wash one load of laundry a day so I usually never get behind. On the weekend, I plan the three little ones' outfits for the week. Every night, I lay out their clothes, and although they’ve been working me lately, they aren’t allowed out of their rooms in the mornings until they are dressed. I also lay out their pjs & clean underwear in the mornings in preparation for baths when I get home from work.

4. Nightly routine – Anyone who knows me knows what a wonderful, helpful husband I have. We have a system from the minute he gets home that requires teamwork. He takes the kids outside while I prepare dinner. We eat dinner together where each of us shares our “high” of the day and our “low” of the day. That’s when I hear all the stories from school. It also lets me know what is important to them and what bothers them that we might need to talk about. Then, I clean the kitchen while Hugo bathes the kids (Remember the pjs are laid out for him but he often puts the girl’s underwear on backwards so that they look like thongs). Usually he takes a kid, I take a kid, Peyton might take a kid…and we do homework. It CAN NOT be done together in our home. Sometimes we read an additional book other than book-in-a-bag together depending on the time due to extra curricular activities. Finally, Hugo brushes their teeth while I lay out their clothes for the following day. He tucks them in while I make lunches and then I follow behind. This is our schedule on Tuesday night but differs somewhat on the other days of the week since one of us has to pick up Peyton from dance or church on Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday, and Piper and Josey from gymnastics on Monday, and Parker from karate on Monday and Wednesday.

Then after the kids are in bed is when the clothes come out the dryer, the email is checked, and school work is done. I don’t need a lot of sleep so I usually lay down about 11:30 and go to sleep between 12:00 and 1:00. I am not a morning person and my partners will tell you that I don’t wake up until after I’ve had my coffee. The same coffee that I lay down and depend on my partners to find for me since I can’t remember where I put it.

5. School - I work the hours I work because I am passionate about what I do. This is the least amount of money I have ever made and the most fulfilled I have ever been. There is not a day that goes by that I am not touched by one of my students or learn a life lesson that makes me a better person. I am constantly growing and being challenged with no day or class being the same. So I am grateful that I have a supportive husband and that I am able to work and have a family.

Working with mice (Kathi and Jess) this year has been a blessing in many ways. One being that I don’t keep the outrageous hours I’ve been known to keep. That doesn’t mean we don’t work as hard but we try to stay more focused and prioritize our time with what’s most important. We tutor one day a week before and after school on Tuesdays. We work late, usually on Mondays and/or Wednesdays (depending on Hugo’s schedule), and we stay after school to do the newsletter on Friday. Additional work, as I said before, is done after the kids & Hugo are in bed.

With all that said, I still don’t feel I devote enough of my time to all the different areas of importance in my life. There are many days that I feel overwhelmed, stressed out, and spread thin, but I’m doing a little better job of realizing that I can’t do it all and do it well. I also realize that much of my stress I often create for myself. So when it gets to that point, I try to step back and look at what is important and where my time is most needed and best spent. I welcome any suggestions from any other teacher or teacher-mom who has other suggestions of how to create balance in your professional and personal life. Debbie