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

Inclusion (Bobbi Mathews)

Dear Bobbi,

I love watching you work with your students, especially the ESE students. If only there were more hours in the day available for me to be able to pick your brain or that you were able to upload your knowledge to a computer chip for me to download the information into my brain. Since we do not live in a science-fiction world, can you please share with me some of your strategies or literature for me to add to my summer reading list on working with an inclusion population that will service all of my students (regular ed, gifted and ESE)? I worry at times about not properly servicing every student on the days that I am in the classroom without an ESE teacher.


Dear Patrica,
Thank you so much for your kind words. First and foremost, I'm so proud and happy of the work you do each and everyday with our children. Coming into this uncertain situation must have been a challenge for you but you've taken it on with such great strides.
Working with ESE students is definitely my passion. One that I discovered in college many years ago. Throughout my career I've tried hard to live by a few rules: Be patient, Be flexible but most of all BE CONSISTENT. Inclusion can be a frightening concept. Teachers wonder how to accommodate students with special needs in a regular education classroom. It's often hard to find that time so the best advice is set expectations high by challenging ALL students to do the best they can. By showing them that you believe in them and know they can do it is sometimes all it
takes. Inclusion shows these students that they belong and are a valued member of their classroom. Some great books to look at include: The Inclusive Classroom: Strategies for Effective Instruction by Margo A. Mastropieri/Thomas E. Scruggs and The First Days of School: How to be an Effective Teacher by Harry K. Wong- my favorite read before beginning my school year off on the right foot. Please know you can pick my brain anytime! Thanks again for doing such a great job with our kids!

Love, Bobbi Matthews

Friday, April 18, 2008

Grace Under Fire (Patricia Wallace)


You have displayed amazing gifts of patience and compassion in the brief time you have been with us that have enabled you not only to build meaningful relationships with your fellow colleagues, but equally important, with the sweet children in your care. You have won over the hearts of all of us around you with these special gifts. On top of that, you have also amazed us with the ease and gracefulness with which you have taken ownership over the science and social studies content in fifth grade. You are wiz with teaching through integrated technology, you have a vast knowledge of the content you teach, and you are a natural at asking the right questions (both convergent and divergent-ha!) to elicit student learning under your care.

In our fast paced world at CCE, you have never floundered or lost your balance. Your amazing ability to take each new wave in stride is commendable and admirable. You continue to put people first, and let the stressfulness work itself out without losing a beat. I have noticed this even with the way you interact with your own children, which I consider to be the highest of compliments.

What advice can you offer someone like me, who is quite the opposite, on how to slow down a bit and not become so overwhelmed by it all? I look forward to learning some of your "tips" on how you make this happen. :-)

Angela Phillips

Dear Angela,
First of all, thank you! I humbly accept your kind words especially since they come from a person that I admire. Needless to say, I am somewhat stunned that I could possibly have anything to teach you when I have already learned so much from you during my brief time in the magical CCE kingdom and I look forward to continue to do so everyday. So, I will take advantage of this opportunity to show my appreciation by sharing with you all my “tips” and just as I have done, you can tweak them to how it will best suit you.

My first “tip” – BREATHE! That is my first thought (and my wallpaper on my cell phone) every time things seem to start to get out of hand. By taking a very brief moment to take a deep breath, I attempt to only focus on that breath. In that nanosecond, I try my best to let go of all negative energy and thoughts. Truthfully, that doesn’t always work but I do it anyway because there have been times where taking that brief pause was enough to remind me to stop clinching my jaw. My teeth and jaw always appreciate it when I do that for them. Minimizing my physical stress helps to minimize my mental stress.

My second “tip” – Flexibility. How many times have I heard you say it in passing or in a meeting? It’s amazing how a simple word can be key factor to my role as a mother, a wife, a daughter, a sister, a relative, a friend, a colleague and an educator, even if it is sometimes very difficult to be flexible.

My third “tip” – Communication. I have a few sweethearts this year that have helped me practice being patient and flexible by truly testing my patience. Thankfully, I have so many colleagues willing to share their knowledge and experiences with me. This allows me to learn from their successes as well as their mistakes and make the necessary changes to my approach on a situation.

My fourth “tip” – Practice. I still have to practice doing my own “tips” everyday.

When I am overwhelmed, I am not very productive and am basically useless to myself, my family and everyone else. As you can see, I try my best to keep it simple.

Patricia Wallace

Roger Who? (Angela Phillips)

Angela Phillips, I could ask you a serious question like your take on the benefits of conceptually based mathematics teaching over the more traditional approach you used at the beginning of your career, but really what I’m dying to know is...
Now that you’ve taught with Roger all year, does he ever make a math mistake in front of the kids? Suzanne

Suz, In answer to your question, “Now that you’ve taught with Roger all year, does he ever make a math mistake in front of the kids?”, sadly, the answer is No! The man’s brain contains perfectly clear skies that are never clouded. Of course, I’ve tried to catch him making a mistake in front of the kids just to have some fun, but it’s not worked out to my advantage. Each time the result was my own error, indicating that my own brain contains partly cloudy skies. There’s the Weather Report on the former Meteorologist! Lookin’ for Sunny Days~ Angela

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Magical Play (JJ Ossi)

JJ Ossi---- JJ, you are the master of well-crafted play. I have seen you do the thing you do, and it is pure magic. Can you give me some tips on maintaining a playful outlook in life and in the classroom, especially those of us that deal with older kids? When I send you my most difficult kids for a day they come back all aglow. I want the magic!
(Tom Ruark)

First of all thank you for such a lovely compliment. Answering your question will prove what a "Pollyanna" dork I am. I think it is a mixture of Mary Poppins (spoonful of sugar) and the Golder Rule (I try to treat others how I want to be treated). I am a worrywart by nature. I missed out on a great deal of joyful experiences due to sitting out because I was afraid of failing and of embarrassing myself. I discovered I was missing out on the great joy of life. I make the choice every day to seek joy! Some days are tougher than others, but a day without it is a wasted day. Approach each task with joy and each of them feels more like play. Let's be honest, play is more fun than work so I choose to make work feel like play. I believe if I can make the students believe that they have played all day and magically also learned the things that they need to know then I have accomplished my goal. I want my class to be joyous, so that I can create a love of learning that will hopefully follow them throughout their lives.

I also believe that my responsibility as a human is to treat each person that I meet with kindness and love. As cliche as that sounds it is the way to change the world. If I have something kind to say, I say it. If I have something harsh to say, I say it with kindness. I realize (through personal experience) that my words have power. A small greeting, a little compliment can brighten someone else's day, which in turn can impact how they treat the people they encounter that day.

I have no tolerance for cruelty and great respect for kindness. If you can accomplish the same goal with play as you can the other way, I choose my way. It always ends with a smile.

Every day I must choose how to live. Each day I choose joy. I choose it for myself and I choose to spread it around if I am able. I hope to live a life that will make my daughters proud. I also want my daughters to have happiness daily. I realized I should want the same for myself so I choose it daily. It is not magic, just like every other area of life, you must choose how you handle it. I choose love, kindness, and joy.

JJ Ossi

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Why teach? (Tom Ruark)

Tom Ruark-You are a math genius (make that geek) and an absolutely amazing writer. Share with me why you are teaching 5th grade at Chets Creek and not working in the corporate world making bundles of money$

PS. I can’t wait to see you wear the Tinkerbell necklace!!

Betsy, I have always considered you to be a kindred spirit, and I am honored by your flattering words and your question.

I don’t know that anyone could succinctly state why they are where they are at any point in life. I know that I cannot do so. Still, I can try to describe some of the events and reasoning that have led me to my current wonderful post.

First and foremost, I am the product of very wonderful parents who have always been focused on making the world a better place for others. I was born in 1963 in Montgomery Alabama, ground zero for the civil rights movement. My father was a pastor at a Presbyterian church that was across the street from George Wallace’s church. My father spearheaded a movement to integrate his church and was successful in doing so. On the first day that black visitors arrived, said visitors all sat alone in the balcony of the church. My mother saw what was happening and left her place in the church choir to join the new members in the balcony. This so enraged some senior members of the church that they fired my dad. In the end, after much litigation, a settlement was agreed on, and my father was forced to leave, but he was given a position as a campus pastor at the University of Georgia.

Though I have no direct memories of those events, they do frame the environment in which I grew up. When I was five or six, I went to integrated summer camps that my father helped create in Pensacola. So, I cried with some real understanding when Dr. King was killed in 1968. I went on to idolize Hank Aaron and Jackie Robinson as a young school aged kid, and read every book ever written about either man. I was bound and determined to play second base, Hank Aaron’s first position in the majors, for the Atlanta Braves, but I had to settle for second base on my Cedar Hills’ Athletic Association team! Over the years, my father continued to be a passionate man bound and determined to do the right things in life. When he retired in 2002, 2500 people showed up for a celebration in his honor. In all honesty, he enriched the lives of tens of thousands. Two words: Big Shoes!

For quite a while, I determined that I was going to take the polar–opposite approach to life and rebel against my father’s virtues as many high school kids do. However, I did manage to graduate, barely, and headed off to the University of Florida at the tender age of 17. I lasted 2 months, one summer semester. A shy kid at a huge school was a horrible mix. I came back to Jacksonville, back to my real home, and enrolled at FJC (not a typo). I then proceeded to acquire 96 credit hours though only 60 were required to move on. I took classes that I did not have to take just because they sounded cool. I loved meteorology and my humanities classes, but I never could get myself to take the classes that I needed to take in order to graduate. Yes, I was spending my money to take classes that I did not need. Finally, my family became a bit concerned, and voiced their concern rather forcefully. Under such extreme pressure, I decided that everyone would respect a business degree. So, I got one! Banking and Finance from UNF, and it only took seven years to do so (with time spent in the interim at UNCC playing soccer and riding motorcycles yada yada). With my fabulous degree in hand, it was pretty fab as it included the honor of being the number one business student, I set out to look for work. Mind you, I still had no clue what I could do or even what I wanted to do. Finally, after convincing some personnel paper pusher that I was not a total nerd, I got a job in the insurance industry. I dutifully served my company for a whole two years, before I decided that a well-trained monkey could do the same job without the misery. It was time to move on.

In moving on, I took a great step back into the past and reenrolled at the newly acronymed FCCJ where I learned how to work on automobiles. I became a Certified Master Mechanic! I bought car after car. I would fix them and then resell them, sometimes even at a profit! In fact, I started my own business restoring antique and classic cars. I even had my own sign right on Mayport Road, and, unfortunately, right next to crime central. In short, cars were stolen. I lost a bunch of money, and shut down. Still, I had a ton of fun, and I have an awesome collection of tools!

Reality set in, and I went back to work for another insurance company, and within months I was bored to tears and wishing that a well-trained sub-primate would show up in my cubical. Soon though, things changed, my first daughter, Shannon, was born. I swear, when I first saw her and got to hold her, a voice spoke to me and said, “This is what you are supposed to do! You are a dad! You love kids!” It was an awesome and completely surreal experience. You must believe me. I am not making this up. So, after a year or so, I decided to go back to school to get CERTIFIED! Then my first wife came home spouting something about another guy and divorce, and once again, my plans came to a screeching halt. Bummer!

Fortunately, I got some great advice from a guy that told me to stick to my guns. He said that all really bright people should be teachers, because teachers are NEVER bored. He said that no two days would ever be the same. I now know that no two seconds are ever the same, which is even better! My family backed my play, and I did find a way to get CERTIFIED! I was back at the University enjoying my classes and learning with a vengeance. In the process, I interned at San Pablo Elementary where I met Lisa Rickerson. Lisa let me volunteer my time in her class for two years. Those two years are beyond my ability to describe. I learned that I could love 32 kids at a time, and that meant that I got love from 32 kids at a time. Try getting any love in the corporate world. It’s just not going to happen. I was now in a world where each child hung on my every word, and all they asked in return was that I occasionally listen to their stories about puppies or skateboarding. It was heaven on Earth, and it still is! No amount of money can warm your heart, but a child can. No corporate email can really change a person’s life, but the words of a teacher or student can. No corporate CEO has more responsibility or reaps more rewards. No corporate CEO goes to sleep remembering a child’s smile, but I do more often than not.

As a footnote, my “wife for life”, Tracy, just got outsourced from her high-paying executive job, and she has chosen to enter our world. She came home from Chets the other day after doing some volunteer work and said, “ Honey, I was walking in the hall today, and some kid just smiled at me. It made me feel so wonderful,” This from a tough New York chick. There is real magic here! Donald Trump has nothing that I need, and I have everything that he wants.


Sunday, April 13, 2008

Leading the Way (Suzanne Shall)

You have been such a great influence and inspiration to me this year. I have watched you constantly. I have really enjoyed learning from you to better myself as a teacher in ELA and just in general. As a young teacher I have always had a drive for leadership. What advice can you give me to prepare me for the future? Are there specific steps that you have taken to get you where you are today? Lauren Morgan

Dear Lauren,
The pleasure this year of getting to know you has been my delight. You are an exemplary literacy teacher who already displays the key characteristics of being an accomplished leader. You are passionate about your craft, have established positive relationships with colleagues, are a key contributor to your team, are a proactive self-directed learner, an avid reader, and have proven in your short tenure as an educator that you are an expert in putting theory into practice.

My advice to you is simple---voice your desire to lead, surround yourself with mentors in all content areas, embrace every opportunity to lead, remain passionate about your work, and occasionally stop and look behind you; if people are following, you are leading.

As a beginning teacher, I voiced my desire to lead to the founding principal of Chets Creek, Terri Stahlman. She immediately took me under her wing and set me on a fast track to leadership. She was my first leadership mentor and I spent as much time in her presence as I could. Her key advice to me at the time was to be a relationship builder and listener, and to always stay five minutes ahead of the followers.

In year two of my career, I became the grade level team leader, model math classroom, and was invited by her to attend the America’s Choice National Conference in San Diego, California. I was hooked; I had caught the leadership bug! She urged me in my third year to go back to school and get my Masters Degree in Educational Leadership. I remember telling her I wasn’t quite ready to get my degree, but with her insistence, I did. And, I’m glad I did, because in my fourth year, I had the opportunity to become the Standards Coach. This was important not only because I wanted to lead, but because it gave me the daily opportunity to observe in classrooms across the building. Now that indeed was a key to my professional growth!

In the last decade, I’ve surrounded myself with mentors across content areas: Terri Stahlman, Angela Phillips, Rick Pinchot, dayle timmons, Melanie Holtsman, Susan Phillips, Christy Constande. I’ve learned valuable lessons from each one of them. I watch them intently; I question them about everything—to the point of driving them crazy--; I read what they read; I listen to the conversations they have with their followers. I will forever be grateful to them for helping me learn and grow. And, I will always know that I’ve only scratched the surface of what I want to learn about our craft and leading.

Please let me know if there is ever anything I can do to help you in your endeavors. You will make a superb leader!