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    Trusting and Supporting Teachers

    By Traci Black Salari
     | Aug 23, 2016

    Salari 082316We all send our “babies” off to school each day watching our greatest blessings exchange our hands for their teachers’. As they walk away, are you crossing your fingers each day hoping you made the correct choice in school placement?

    Although we may worry, we also trust.  We breathe.  And we trust some more.  We trust that the education our children will have is rooted in love, safety, and knowledge. In the classroom there is joy, triumph, fatigue, and worry, although there are also deadlines, communication, paperwork, and management that must be on point to run a successful classroom where students become lifelong learners and thrive. We have to trust that all of that is happening. I know this from both sides of the desk, as the mother of two young boys and as a reading coach.

    Until you have really lived the balancing act of a classroom teacher’s job, giving support, suggestions, or mandates can be too abstract and unrelatable. Every day, teachers are expected to reply to parent e-mail by the end of the day, hold guided reading groups, ensure a particular student is completing short-term goals for the individual behavior chart, tend to hurt feelings, celebrate small successes.

    This is all to say, “trust me.” Parents, let me be your voice at your child’s school while you are at work. Trust me. Trust me to assist teachers in helping to meet your child’s individual needs. I, too, am balancing the trepidation about the start of school as a mother while also calming the fears of my fellow educators on the other side of the desk as a reading coach. I am walking in two sets of shoes.

    Teachers, let me be your voice to administration.  Trust me to walk beside you and guide when necessary as you make literacy decisions for your classroom instruction and for individual students.  Let me be your biggest cheerleader because you have the most important job in the school.  

    I want to help you grow professionally.  Sure, sometimes change is hard and feels personal.  Together, we can work through your concerns about change and peel them away like an onion.  The science of reading has changed since many of us have been trained.  You joined the teaching profession because it was your passion to help children, and now we know better how to do that.  Change will not happen overnight, nor will your comfort level with new ideas and strategies.  However, I would not help if I did not share with you up-to-date research and how best to help your students.  I have two voices at school.  My first voice speaks for the children—as their parents would—and what is best for student learning.  My second voice speaks for the teachers and the support they need to be successful.  Let me be those voices.

    TraciSalariheadshotTraci Black Salari will soon embark on a new journey as the fifth-grade writing and word study teacher at the Whitehurst campus of The Bolles School in Jacksonville, FL.  She holds a master’s degree in reading education from Jacksonville University and is trained in Lindamood Bell reading intervention programs.  As an educator for 15 years, her career includes classroom teacher and learning specialist positions.

     
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    Giving Students What They Need and What They Want

    By Peg Grafwallner
     | Aug 18, 2016

    ThinkstockPhotos-475963836_x300It was five minutes before my first freshmen skills class of the day. I stood outside my door and greeted students as they walked in. When the bell rang, I moved away from the door to the front of the classroom. I began to share the learning intention with the class while taking attendance.

    About 10 minutes later, Mike charged in.

    Mike was a tough kid; rough around the edges and totally disengaged from school. Mike and his buddies caused enough classroom headaches that teachers were weary of them. He and I had, for the most part, a working relationship. He did what I asked him to do with a minimum of pushback, and I sometimes gave him space to do what he needed. 

    This morning something was wrong. He was angry; his face was contorted and red. He stormed to his desk and sat down with a thump. I continued explaining the morning’s goal along with the pertinent skills. I asked students to take out paper along with their text.

    Mike did nothing. I gave him a couple of sheets of paper and a pencil. He moved them aside and put his head down. I stood next to him and gave the next set of directions. As students were moving their desks to make teams, I leaned over and encouraged him to move to a group.

    “Leave me alone!” he shouted into the crux of his arm. A few heads turned in our direction. 

    “Mike,” I said softly, “join Devon’s group. You can follow along with him.” He lifted up his head. “I told you, leave me alone! Shut up and leave me alone!” he screamed.

    Before the situation escalated further or the language turned colorful, I said, “Mike, let’s go in the hallway for a minute.” I turned to my class and asked them to please review their vocabulary notecards.

    Mike stood up with such force that his desk tipped over. I followed him into the hallway where he paced back and forth. I gently closed the classroom door about halfway—wide enough to see and hear my class, but narrow enough to give Mike the attention he deserved.

    “OK, what do you need from me?” I asked. I didn’t ask him what was wrong. That answer would come in time. I didn’t need to know what had happened. The situation would reveal itself eventually. Right then, I needed to know how I could get him to a place of learning.

    Mike stopped, looked at me, and began ranting about his mother. There had been a disagreement that morning, and he left the house angry, hurt, and frustrated. 

    I listened and kept quiet, focusing solely on him. I kindly reminded him to keep his voice down because I didn’t want to bother the students working in my room or alert administration. I didn’t want Mike to feel that his honesty would get him in trouble. This didn’t need to be another referral.

    I didn’t correct his language, nor did I correct his feelings. He was angry at his mother, and I was the first adult female he saw that morning. When I asked him to join a group, I was one more person asking one more thing of an already stressed and disenfranchised kid.
    When he was done, I asked him to quietly wait in the hallway. I went into my room, grabbed a paper cup and a hallway pass. I explained to my students that I needed to finish the hallway conversation.

    Mike had settled down. He wasn’t pacing anymore but leaning against the wall with his head on his chest. I gave him the paper cup and began to write out a pass. 

    “What are you doing?” he asked.

    “Go get some water. Take the pass and walk around the building. I expect you back in five minutes.”

    “Wait, you’re not going to write me up?”

    “For what? For being angry?  No. I need you to do the best you can to put this away for now. I need you in my room and focused. We’ll talk to the social worker later.”

    “Thanks, Mrs. G.” he said sheepishly.

    Mike returned to my room within five minutes. He joined a group and did the best he could to be the best student he could on this particular morning.

    Could I have handled the situation differently? Yes—but I’m not sure how. I could have sent him to the office for being late to class—but he would have missed more learning. I could have called our Safety Officer and had him removed for his behavior—but to what end? Had I done either of those things, he never would have trusted me again.

    The way I handled this situation caused Mike to rethink our relationship. Although it was acceptable; it became stronger. He never raised his voice to me again. He became tardy less often. And most important, I saw a change in his attitude. He was willing to be a part of our classroom community—whatever that meant for him. And every morning, there was an empty cup on his desk that he filled with water. It was my way of saying, relax, breathe, and focus as you begin your day.

    About six years later, I had a visitor. Sure enough, it was Mike. He was working as a heating and cooling apprentice with his uncle. He came back to high school for the first time since graduation. He came back to apologize to me.

    “I’m sorry, Mrs. G. I know I wasn’t easy. I know I gave you a hard time. Thanks for putting up with me. Thanks for listening,” he said awkwardly.

    I knew what he meant. Nearly nine years later, Mike remembered what I had done. I had the chance to get it right and I did. I put my hand on his shoulder and thanked him for coming in and told him how much I appreciated his visit. He told me he was “in the neighborhood and decided to stop in,” but had to get to work. He thanked me again and left.

    As he walked down the hall, I smiled. Thank you, Mike. He gave me the opportunity to know that I made a difference. Although all teachers hope that to be true with their students, many of us don’t get the chance to actually hear it. A cup of water, a walk, and a little humanity goes a long way for students like Mike—and for all of us.

    Peg Grafwallner is an instructional coach with Milwaukee Public Schools.

     
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    Breathing Fresh AIR Into Classroom Initiatives

    By Vincent Ventura
     | Aug 16, 2016

    ThinkstockPhotos-57569264_x300Happy New Year! So it’s not New Year’s, but in the world of education, September is traditionally our—educators’—new year. It’s when we have the opportunity to try new ideas and draft resolutions. Soon we’ll hear “this year, we will…” or “we have a new initiative…” echoing in staff meetings. As optimistic as a new initiative may sound, some of us may start thinking, Is this really going to work? I don’t have the time, and when am I going to do that?

    Deep down, we all know that the purpose of new initiatives is to continue enhancing the learning experience of our students, but they’re still the cause of discomfort and nervousness, as anything new might be.

    When I work with schools that are about to undertake a new initiative, I ask the administration team if they have considered AIRadministration, infrastructure, and resources. I use this as a checklist before launching a new program.

    Administration

    How much buy-in, support, and understanding does the administration provide? John Maxwell, an expert on leadership, once said, “People buy into the leader before they buy into the vision.” If administrators don’t believe in the new program, how can other teachers buy in? Teachers are smart, and they can quickly see who is “in” and who is “out.”

    As an administrative team, standing together as a unified voice is key. Moreover, administrators need to have a strong understanding of what exactly is the new initiative. There will be questions and there likely will not be answers for all of them (yet), but knowing where to seek the answers is appreciated. There isn’t a doubt that the road to successfully implementing something new can be long and arduous. Having administrators understand and acknowledge possible struggles ahead of them is crucial.

    Questions to reflect upon: Is the administration team entirely on board? What questions need answers to move forward?

    Infrastructure

    New initiatives can be viewed as “adding more to my plate.” In that case, reflecting on how full the staff’s plates are now is key. Sometimes, we keep adding to the plates. They don’t become any bigger, but the amount of items keeps increasing. Eventually, something falls off.

    If the goal of the new initiative is to enhance student learning, the infrastructure of the school must be equipped to embrace the new initiative. Staff should consider the culture of the school as part of infrastructure. Schools with strong professional learning communities are more inclined to navigate the rifts and tides of a new initiative. Schools where teachers work in a culture of growing, sharing, and learning—rather than one that is siloed or resistant to change—can accomplish great things.

    Questions to reflect upon: Do teachers have time to accomplish the initiative? Do teachers need grade-level planning time? Do schedules work for this initiative? What are the logistics necessary for this initiative to work?

    Resources

    A new initiative requires resources. For a teacher, not having the materials needed to implement the change is frustrating. Some schools attempt to solve this issue by asking teachers to share resources. I have nothing against sharing, but let’s be frank: The last thing teachers want to do on a daily basis is to run down the hallway asking for resources. The initiative can fail as a result of that alone.

    Besides material resources, administrators should consider people as resources. Are there people (e.g., a literacy coach) present to support the initiative? By providing “human resources,” schools send a message of the importance of the proposal.

    By considering AIR, schools can circumvent the pitfalls of a new initiative. If one or more of these elements are missing or are weak, achieving success with the new initiative may be more of an uphill battle. When there’s a fresh idea for the school or classroom, the last thing you want is for your school to be breathless and gasping for AIR!

    vincent ventura headshotVincent Ventura is the director of LitLife Latin America. As an educator for more than 15 years, he has worked in junior and middle school grades, been a literacy coach, and has been in an international school setting for more than nine years. He consults with schools throughout Central and Latin America, including Colombia, Costa Rica, Curaçao, Guatemala, Mexico, and Suriname.

     
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    Social Media Versus Deep Learning: Is There a Balance?

    By Justin Stygles
     | Aug 03, 2016

    ThinkstockPhotos-475963836_x300Social media changed the face of classroom instruction in ways we could have never imagined. Today, access to lesson plans, templates, and graphic organizers is easier compared with the days we anticipated the arrival of Highlights magazine.

    Let me establish a scenario for you. I reluctantly embrace social media through Twitter. Some of my younger colleagues eagerly embrace Instagram, Pinterest, and Twitter. I enjoy reading scholarly journals as a means to consider instructional possibilities. My younger colleagues, however, go to Teachers Pay Teachers as their means to discover new instructional possibilities.

    Teachers Pay Teachers offers convenience. Someone has already labored over—and theoretically found success from—the construction of instructional materials and resources. With a nominal fee, teachers can readily access and employ resources that might have, otherwise, taken hours to create.

    Pinterest, as another example, offers expediency. Teachers can spend a night in front of a screen sorting, tagging, and pinning potential ideas for tomorrow’s instruction and feel accomplished. Further, several new teachers feel Pinterest is often their saving grace in a time of need.

    Case in point: A young teacher has not yet developed his or her capacity to instruct with whole-class novels, like Walk Two Moons. Using Pinterest, a young teacher can turn to activities on literary elements, story arcs, or symbolism (as examples); find literal comprehension questions; and locate templates that students can use during their reading. In other words, Pinterest and Teachers Pay Teachers offer immediate solutions and a tremendous state of relief. Who can argue with relief? Instant access on Pinterest is quite different from the hours I spent cuddled up in the corner of the school library combining Highlights for ideas on how to teach Among the Hidden.

    The conflict regarding social media’s role in the classroom, to me, is not availability or access, but investment, but the personal investment—the intellectual stock—in one’s teaching career.

    Let’s consider financial investment. 

    In 2015, I spent roughly $1,000 in professional texts and journals, not including the seemingly unlimited resources available through Twitter and blogs. I consider reading as an investment in one’s professionalism. Reading inspires innovation. Inside the journals, texts, and blogs are my notes that include clarifications, realizations, and innovations.  The next instructional idea is always taking shape. After lessons, I couldn't help but think about how kids responded and what adaptions I could make. 

    I have a friend who, in 2015, spent more than $1,000 on Teachers Pay Teachers. He had worksheets for every lesson, all aligned with the Common Core. But I’m not so sure he became a better teacher. Even when we collaborated, I was never quite sure he built off anything he learned. In other words, I know he scored the worksheets and graphic organizers, but did he really aim for deep learning?

    Personal investment and devotion to instructional design lasts because of the creativity you bring to the table and the authenticity of your instructional intent. I am afraid “Pinterest-based” strategies displace the pride of originality with the veiled satisfaction of having fulfilling a task. With the instruction developed through practice and adapting evidence-based strategies, you have a constant, interactive method of learning. I cannot say I’ve had same feeling applying “Pinterest-based” strategies.

    Many of us already feel our autonomy and creativity is displaced by demanding policies. The greatest asset every teacher has is his or her creativity and originality. Enhancing your creativity by studying evidence-based strategies, collaborating with peers who challenge traditional thinking, and reflecting on implementation of your student-specific strategies will create the confidence and autonomy you desire. Does Pinterest or Teachers Pay Teachers offer you that same opportunity?

    Justin Stygles is a fifth-grade teacher at Guy E. Rowe Elementary school in Norway, ME. He has taught for 13 years at the intermediate level and in various summer program settings. He is currently working on a book with Corwin Literacy about self-conscious emotions.

     
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    New Jersey School Chooses to Be Kind

    By Andrew Matteo
     | Jul 06, 2016

    John Y. Dater School has immersed itself in the world of R.J. Palacio’s Wonder for four years. Its message has become part of the fabric of our school. We have even taken one of the quotes from the book and adapted it to use as our school motto, which hangs in every classroom and office. Now, every day we begin with the Pledge of Allegiance as well as a Dater fifth-grade student reminding us all to “Work Hard and Be Kinder Than Is Necessary.”

    As part of the fifth-grade reading workshop curriculum, every student enjoys Wonder as an interactive read-aloud—I highly recommend it for upper elementary school students. Although its target audience is children ages 8–12, it is a great read for adults as well. Wonder is about a boy named August who was born with a major facial disfigurement. He begins attending school in fifth grade after being homeschooled. Through multiple perspectives, the story tackles important issues such as bullying, kindness, bravery, and friendship. The book’s impact on our school transcended its role as a simple assignment. 

    Last summer I discovered the Choose Kind Classroom Challenge and became immediately excited about having Dater participate in this national movement. The challenge is part of the Choose Kind anti-bullying initiative that grew from Wonder, as explained by Palacio. I introduced the challenge to the teachers at our school as an optional classroom activity and provided each classroom with a mason jar and 50 marbles. We introduced the program during the first six weeks of school as we focused on building classroom communities. Almost every teacher welcomed the challenge in their classrooms, and within a month the jars started coming back down to the office filled with kindness marbles!

    Although I was hoping that a few of our classrooms would participate and become one of the first 500 schools to become Certified Kind, I was overwhelmed with pride when 25 Dater classrooms received this designation. In fact, one of our Choose Kind classrooms was chosen to receive a special video message from Palacio. The students and teacher in this classroom requested the message be for the entire school rather than their individual classroom. They wanted to recognize the efforts of all of the students and classrooms at Dater School rather than the spotlight being solely on them. What a kind gesture that was!  We were able to surprise the students with the video we received from Random House at April’s schoolwide Spirit Day assembly.

    The impact of our participation in this challenge has been tremendous. We now have 25 Choose Kind banners hanging around the school to remind students that we are a Choose Kind school. Kindness is ingrained in our school values and gives us a common language to use when discussing character development and prosocial behaviors with students. I am grateful to Palacio for writing such a powerful book about kindness and to Random House for creating and promoting such an important challenge for our schools. 

    What I like about this particular anti-bullying initiative is that it is proactive and focuses on promoting positive behaviors rather than highlighting anti-social behaviors that should be avoided. In today’s schools and society, teaching students to tolerate “others” is not enough. We must hold ourselves and our students to a higher standard of celebrating everyone and always remembering to “choose kind.” 

    Andrew Matteo is principal of John Y. Dater School in Ramsey, NJ, which educates all of the fourth and fifth graders in the town's public school system.  Matteo taught elementary school for seven years in Glen Rock and also served as the principal of Central School, Glen Rock, NJ.  He is currently pursuing his PhD in Teacher Education and Teacher Development at Montclair State University.

     
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