Joy Kirr is a middle school teacher, author, and speaker. Her 7th grade ELA (English Language Arts) classes are working to improve their lives through student-directed learning - without marks throughout the year. This is a log of their learning experiences... Want to have her speak with your staff or facilitate a workshop? Here is Joy's PORTFOLIO.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

#ShiftThis... The Chat

The #ShiftThis chat is coming to a close a month from today. I need to explain my reasons WHY.
I. Love. The. People. The group of teachers that show up want to change things in education. They want to shift students' audiences (get the community involved!), assignments (towards more relevance!), attitudes (growth mindset, anyone?) and much, much more. You know who you are. I am so very grateful to all the passionate educators that have taken on moderating the chat on Tuesday nights. Take a look HERE at all of the fabulous moderators! We couldn't have had those wonderful chats without your valuable contributions.

So why is it ending? Technically, it doesn't have to end. Anyone can pick it up at any time and use the hashtag to share questions or ideas about shifting the classroom, school, district, or education in general. I am stepping down as facilitator, a year after I stepped down as the moderator. YOU can still be a moderator and I will support you by helping you publicize your topic and date and time!

I haven't answered the question, I know. There are myriad reasons why I feel the need to step down from the chat.
  • I do not like to "sell" the chat. I feel that my Twitter feed should be much more than that, and yet I feel that when a person looks at my feed, all they see is #ShiftThis. I want to be able to celebrate others' ideas more than my own.
  • I didn't write the book so we could have a chat dedicated to it. I am glad we had the two-year stretch so people now use the hashtag to share their shifts, and I hope to continue to see shifts educators and administrators are sharing.
  • I feel out of touch with teachers on Twitter lately - I've lost touch with some educators because I'm totally focused on the one hashtag and creating tweets for advertising it that I miss the time browsing my feed and checking on those people that were there from the beginning for me. I know our connections morph as we use Twitter more, yet I don't want to lose sight of those educators who mentored me and have always been there. I want to support THEM now.
  • I need to put my feelers out for other chats I could jump into and out of as they come by. I'd like to try some that I haven't been able to attend, since I often feel that one hour a week online in the evenings is enough for me. Tuesday at 7pm CST is a VERY popular time for Twitter chats. Sooo many good ones going on at that time. I'm excited to be able to join and learn from other chats and educators I feel I've been neglecting.
I have gained so very much from the inspiring educators who have joined the #ShiftThis chat the past two years. Thank you for all you contribute - to our chat and to many others! I love the fact that we are #BetterTogether, and I hope you continue to connect and contribute - #YouMatter!

Sunday, January 27, 2019

Teacher Evaluations - Circumstance and Privilege

I've got an observation coming up. I'm just fine when someone pops in our classroom to visit or say hi or ask for something, but observations make me fret. This is not a summative year for me, so it's just an informal one, and I asked my administrator to surprise me, because I just cannot choose a date.

Anyway... I was thinking about the labels we use to evaluate teachers. To tell the truth, I don't even know what the first two (of four) are on the Danielson rubric, but the next two are "proficient" and "distinguished." These are the two where we want to be. Some teachers like to talk about other teachers and where they fall on the spectrum. I heard from a teacher friend of mine that I was "distinguished." Really? It was news to me!! (Oh, how I can't stand rumors!)

Some educators want feedback in order to grow further - if we're not "distinguished" in one or more of the four domains, how do we get there? Some people don't worry about it. Some teachers are satisfied with "proficient," and I believe they should be. I'll explain why.

I've been reading teacher wellness books lately. In The Zen Teacher, the message I received loud and clear was to make time for YOURSELF - EVERY day. In Teaching Well, the message I received was to not over-do it.

When we have four domains, it's as if we have four grades. If, in two domains, I received a "proficient," and in the other two, "distinguished," who's to say what the "final grade" should be? Isn't this just as varied depending on the teacher as the difference between an 89% and a 90%?

Consider the teacher that is "proficient" in each of the four domains. "There is room for growth," are the first words we think, and we do not recognize that sometimes all we can do is "proficient" - and that should be very okay.

Consider the opportunities afforded that could affect your evaluation.

  • Mrs. Kirr got a grant to turn her tables into white board tables! Mrs. Nelson got one of our new classrooms, and so they had to purchase new furniture for her. Sweet! Mrs. Powell found a great kitchen set of chairs for only $25, so she brought them in to add to her hodge podge flexible seating. Mrs. Maxwell still has the retired teacher's math desks that are hard to get into if you're not skinny. All of these are due to circumstances and privilege. 
  • What about the extra "outside school hours" you work? You'd better chaperone a dance or help out at a game at your own school and then also do the same for your own child at his school. Don't forget your bus duty this week when it's going to be 5 below. 
  • Your car had better get you to school or your students will be without a "guest teacher" because they are in high demand. Sorry - your babysitter / daycare bailed? Too bad you'll have to take a sick day - it's good our after school club meets tomorrow and not today. No worries if you yourself are actually sick - it's often easier to go in to school than to write sub plans (not the best idea if you want to take care of your physical and mental health, however). 
  • Oh, and I'm not going to sit next to a student on the floor anymore, because my back hurts after a while. Stinks that I have plantar fasciitis due to all the walking I'm doing around the room every day. A tennis ball being rolled under my feet each morning helps. 
  • No, I'm not going to attend the three day, two night trip because I have a family I'm supposed to be taking care of first. 
  • And this year - no coaching track, because I realized last year I really have no clue what I'm doing, and it's so unfair to the kids. 
Circumstance and privilege. Seriously. I remember signing up for every after school activity I could when I was young. I desperately needed the money, I could stay up all hours of the night and still work well during the day, and my parents were glad to have me out of the house (or I didn't really care for my roommate).

Consider the teacher that is "distinguished" in all four domains. How is this teacher not more highly regarded at school automatically? We should be observing her classes and learning lessons from the best of the best! Those who couldn't attend could watch the video broadcast on their own time! Tell me she has a Golden Apple already... If a person received "distinguished" in all four domains, we don't believe it. We think there's something sneaky going on. ... Because NO ONE could earn "distinguished" in all four areas. Seriously. You would be breathing and eating teaching 24/7. Then WHY DO WE STILL STRIVE FOR IT?!

Why isn't "proficient" in all four domains okay? Maybe this is the year your child took all of your time. Maybe this is the year a family member is sick. Maybe this is the year you needed that dental work. Maybe this is the year you had to clean out your parents' house.

Why isn't "proficient' in all four domains okay? Sometimes all you can work is 60 hours a week. Doing more than that will wear you out - mentally and physically. We need to take care of our own selves before we can care for others.

Why isn't "proficient" in all four domains okay?


We know we can do better.
We want to be the best for our students.
We don't want to be in a rut.
We want to feel good again.
We want to feel rejuvenated.
We are passionate about what we do.
Good enough will never be good enough.
We will always strive to be master teachers.

And yet...

We should be okay if we are "proficient" in all four domains. We strive to do the best we can in the amount of time we have available. If I've learned anything this school year, it's that at this point in my life and career I cannot - and really should not - do it all if I want to stay mentally and physically healthy.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Speed Dating - with BOOKS!

The first time my classes tried speed dating with books was in 2013. It's time for a new blog post!

Before we first started, I found these blog posts to be especially helpful:
Tips for Getting Kids to Do More Choice Reading: Book Speed Dating
          by Erica Beaton (@EricaLeeBeaton)
Building Our To-Read Lists: Book Speed Dating
          by Colby Sharp (@colbysharp)
Book Speed Dating: How I did it and why I'll do it again
         by Leigh Collazo (@MrsReaderPants)

We've usually got some kind of contest or challenge going on for reading at our school library. This month is no different. With the challenge in mind (and the new face lift our library has had), here's how it was set up (and now our teacher-librarians set it up for us!):

There were six tables, with different categories from our "TMS Tower" challenge. Here are the challenges:

We're hoping students will find this fun, fairly easy, and will get them out of any "reading ruts" they may be in currently.

The challenge was explained, students received a page where they can take notes on which books might look appealing (and from which category they come), and we broke into small groups (3-5 depending on the class size) and let students browse for about 3 minutes per table. Then students regrouped and the local library challenge (100 Books before High School) and prizes were announced.

I loved the twist this time with these fun categories. I also loved the incentive to complete the challenge by the end of the year - when you complete it, you get to choose a book to donate to a library in need. Mrs. Fahnoe shared how fortunate we are at our school to have such wonderful books (most in great condition!), and how it'll will be beautiful to see more books going to kids who need them.

Of course, not every child took this seriously. That doesn't mean we're giving up! The plethora of books should be a clue to them that there IS a book for them out there, should they choose to stop and take some time with it...

Monday, January 21, 2019

10-Minute Teacher Podcast

I spent some time with Vicki Davis this month... we ended up talking about change...
Ten minutes? Sure, you've got time to listen!

Here is @CoolCatTeacher's podcast page.
Here is our first meet-up back in 2013.

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Conference Musings Q2

Once again, it's my busiest time of the year. One-on-one conferences with my 7th graders to decide what tiny little letter represents all of our work and learning from the quarter. (Past reflections on conferring with students are here.)

I've conducted 61 one-on-one "grade" conferences with students the last two weeks. I need to meet because even though I've gone all quarter without points or scores averaged together, I still need to put a final letter grade in the online gradebook. Some conferences go faster than five minutes, and some go slower, and they all leave a paper trail for students to take home and explain to parents. This quarter, we used pages 6 & 7 of this document. These were the second grade conferences we've had this year, so they were a teeny bit faster than first quarter. It's still quite the learning curve for some! 

Here are some snippets (all names are changed)...

Alan -

     I know he's got an "A." There's no doubt. He had trouble with his writing, but followed the feedback and improved it dramatically in his first revision. He asked me if he could average the numbers for the scores he had. Sure - even though this is one thing I think is wrong with typical grades. He came up with a 94.5%. "Yeah, I'll take that," he said.
     Me - Hey, [Alan], since you like to average the numbers, would you like to just simply go with a regular grade next time?
     Alan - Hmmm... Will I get the same feedback?
     Me - Nope. It's either grades OR feedback, as it's too much for me to do both, and the research says it doesn't help, anyway.
     Alan - Then I'd rather stick with the way we've been doing it. I think the feedback helps me learn.
     Me - (with a tear in my eye, I swear) Thanks for making it all worth it. It sure is a heck of a lot more work, but when I hear it's helping you learn, it's all worth it.

Paul -

     Similar to the conversation with Alan, except Paul actually said he "crunched the numbers." When I asked him if he'd like to go to normal grading, he thought about it and finally said, "No. Let's wait one more quarter. If it doesn't work out in my favor, we can switch over fourth quarter." (Seriously. I can't make this stuff up. Oh - and this is the kid that reminds me of my one and only nephew.)

Ally -

     Oh, how Ally was nervous. Her legs were shaking up and down, her face was blotchy red.
     Me - [Ally], what do you think when you see all this evidence? What does it tell you?
     Ally - (quietly) I don't know... I don't know.
     Me. - Let me change the question. How does this make you feel?
     Ally - (straightening up) Proud.

Upton -

     This quarter, he's been blowing off directions, asking me every day to repeat what I'd already said (and what was on the board), going on YouTube so often that I had to block it for our class, and has been talking a ton while I'm sharing how we're going to work each day. I haven't talked with him about it, as he's not the loudest one in the class. He's also a huge reader, so I don't worry about him figuring out the directions or following through when he gets down to work.
     These were the comments he chose for his report card:
He knows. 
He knows. 
This, in itself, helps me to realize, once again, how important it is to take time to reflect.

Mike -

     He, too, has been ignoring my directions, distracted as heck at ANYthing happening in the room or outside the room. Head turning this way and that, busting out laughing at things I cannot see or hear. He's not distracting the class - only himself.
     For our "analysis of evidence" writing, he wrote three sentences. I marked it as "incomplete" and let him know I was available before and after school, and during lunch. The day before we were to meet about his final grade, he "wrote a new one." When we sat down to chat, I asked him where his paper was with the page numbers for the evidence he'd found for his writing. He mumbled that he didn't do it. When I asked who he went to for peer editing, he said he did it on his own. When I asked why there was a blog post about something totally unrelated to ELA, and yet he didn't yet post his reflections on our book clubs, he said he didn't get to it. We looked at his evidence. He did not try to inflate it. He was honest and reflective. We agreed on his grade. Then he set a goal to "use class time more wisely."
     Yes. Yes. Yes.
     I will help him with this goal as we move forward.

Friday, January 4, 2019

More Nonfiction

I decided last night, as I was soaking up Jack Andraka's Breakthrough, that I need to read and share more nonfiction with my students this year. I also finished Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder this week. I posted it on instagram, and one of my former students said she read it for a class her senior year. That one makes me simply want to do MORE to become a better person.

With Jack's book (I'm going to finish in two days), it's personal.

A dear friend of my husband was diagnosed (early, she says) in June with pancreatic cancer. A dear friend of my own's father passed from this terrible disease. I didn't really know about this type of cancer until June last year, and now I fear for our friend.

I've heard of Jack Andraka, and knew he did something remarkable with science, and I'd probably even heard it was for early detection of pancreatic cancer, but at that point, I simply didn't care enough to read it. It wasn't personal for me.

His writing is personal. Jack's close family friend he called an uncle passed away from pancreatic cancer. His work is personal. He spent months of his freshman year working towards this ONE thing. My reading became personal as soon as I stepped into this book. It wasn't simply "something on my to-read list" anymore.

There's so much more to say about this book (that I now need to purchase for the classroom), but I'm not here to write about the book. I'm here to explore - again - that this is how I'd love for school to be. I'm in the perfect position - ELA class - where we can read and write like crazy. I truly wish we could make it more personal for students - reading and writing MOST days about what we believe is important.

Some of my seventh graders need more guidance, I know. Some of them seem apathetic about so many issues; I get it. As I provide short video feedback on our last bit of teacher-directed writing however, I am catching some students who have the skills and asking them to move FORWARD. To not take my direction, but use the same skills to write about what THEY deem important. Great - you can tell me who the dynamic character is in your book and back it up with evidence and then explain it all clearly? Then NEXT time, write about a PERSON you know that is dynamic, and provide the evidence and explain. Better yet - write about something you want DONE - find your audience - and write to THEM about what you think needs to be done, and then share your evidence and your WHY. Make it personal. Do it because it's right and good for you and your life, or the lives of others.

What other nonfiction books are out there for our younger adolescent students? I need more nonfiction books that will get my middle schoolers (some of whom still think reading is not for them) feeling, thinking, and responding. Responding through writing, projects, actions... More along what I wanted our genius hour to be. More along the lines of Erin Olson's idea of - "Read. Be inspired. Do something inspiring."

Please add your favorites in the comments below - and tag another reader with this post so I may easily curate a bunch and pay for them when I can. Please share how you use nonfiction - and make it personal - for our students. Thank you!

Monday, December 31, 2018

Best Books of 2018

My list is not extensive by any means, but I need to share out my favorites from 2018 like I have the past four years. I read a bit for myself this year, along with books I thought my 7th graders would enjoy.
     2017 Favorites
     2016 Favorites
     2015 Favorites
     2014 Favorites

Here are the books I would most recommend from my list of 100 books I've read this year (I don't count picture books in my count - this is the most I've read in one year yet!)... I tried to whittle it down to one or two per genre, but I read some genres more than others! I'm not going to describe them for you - you can check out the complete list with my thoughts for this year here.

     I decided to try one of my favorite authors again, and she didn't disappoint - The Scorpio Races
Graphic Novel
     Bit memoir/biography, my seventh graders will relate to Shannon Hale's Real Friends.

Historical Fiction
     9-11 isn't an easy topic to explore. Wendy Mills does an excellent job with All We Have Left
     Totally NOT my favorite genre, so I'm surprised I have two favorites this year! Our small after school book club read The Naturals (#1) by Jennifer Lynn Barnes, and I also enjoyed (although the first page shows the maturity) One of Us Is Lying by Karen McManus. What's even more cool is that many of our students read the entire Naturals series, and I've seen eighth graders in the halls with McManus's book! I've also got another one from her on my nightstand...

     I truly have so much more to read, but White Fragility: Why it’s so hard for white people to talk about racism was definitely my favorite nonfiction (not professional) book I read this year.

Poetry / Books in Prose
     I was exposed to a TON of poetry and books in prose this year. Katherine Applegate's Home of the Brave

was my favorite. it's got two covers - both so different!

    For two very different reasons,Being the Change: Lessons & strategies to teach social comprehension by Sara K. Ahmed and The Zen Teacher: Creating Focus, Simplicity, and Tranquility in the Classroom by Dan Tricarico make the list.


Realistic Fiction
     A quarter of my books this year were in this genre, so I chose five of the twenty-five... Just an FYI- Deadline was very mature, and Small Great Things was an adult read.

Science Fiction
     Can I add a book in here AGAIN - that I RE-read?? (I never re-read!!) I'd love to add Scythe to this list (again!), but will tell you that the sequel, Thunderhead had me longing for the third in the series to come out in 2019!! (Again- I'm not good with reading the second book in a series lately, either!) Anyway... I did love these two as well - Genius: The Game (#1) from Leopoldo Gout and Insignia (#1) from S.J. Kincaid (thanks to my nephew for this suggestion).

Self Help
     Oh, this one I bought for the classroom - good for young and old alike! From Navy SEAL Jocko Willink, The Way of the Warrior Kid: From wimpy to warrior, the Navy SEAL way

     I still need to read more sports books - what are YOUR favorites? One that had an athlete with ADHD is Diana Harmon Asher's Sidetracked and one that a student (self-proclaimed nonreader) a couple of years ago read TWICE was Carl Deuker's Heart of a Champion.

     What have I missed this year? Please leave YOUR favorites of 2018 in the comments below! I've got a library card and some Amazon gift cards, and I'm excited to use them!

Saturday, December 29, 2018


Labels irk the heck out of me.

The fact that we label students as "troublemakers" really irritates me, even though I've done it myself.

I've been waiting (why have I been waiting?) to read this one for a bit, and it did not disappoint, as I read it in two days...

The canary and cage on the front have two meanings. The most obvious is from Maya Angelou's "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings," and the less obvious is the one that distressed me the most. Miners used to take canaries down in the mines with them, as they served as warnings about the air quality. If a canary were to die, the miners had to get out. When a child is singing loudly, we need to heed that as a warning that something is wrong in this classroom. Most likely, it's the imbalance of power.

Most of what Carla Shalaby shares is about a child's need to feel free - to feel as if they're in some sort of control - to feel HUMAN.

The four students the author chose to focus on were in what seemed to me GREAT schools. She asked the principal to share two teachers of high caliber. And to those teachers, she asked, "Who of your students is the most troublesome?" These are the four she shadowed for a bit - at school, and when possible, at home. What I found kind of amusing and kind of sad is that the behaviors these four first graders exhibited were some of the very same behaviors I see in some seventh graders.

I can see and understand the messages she shares about the young black students not having any adults at school to look to for models. I can see how schools are conforming students to ... basically act white. When I think of my own students, the ones that I lose sleep over happen to be white. My school has a high white population (and I, too, am white). The author is upset about students' exclusion to a different part of the room or a different room altogether. I do not worry about physically excluding students, but I may exclude them unintentionally if I call them out on something in front of the entire class.

What I was really struck by was the conformity we expect of our students.

The author points out that educators want compliance because that's what's expected in schools. That's how we can get our lessons across, and that's how the school culture simply IS.

While she was sharing the stories of the four seven-year-olds, I couldn't help but think of my own students, and I was reminded of a few things:

  • Students really don't have much control at school, especially compared to at home. No matter how much we think we have student-directed learning or choice or voice, this book forced me to consider how much I actually control, and how much the school culture actually dictates.
  • Many students learn that the culture of school is to listen and obey.
  • Some students are simply just being themselves. Their personalities may differ from those of the majority of the class, or else the majority has figured out it's safer to hide or squash their true personalities at school.
  • "Different" is often perceived as causing trouble.
  • Many (most?) children have a natural tendency to want to learn. What do we do at school that dissolves that initiative? We have a curriculum to teach. I wonder how many times our curriculum is not something each child would choose to learn each day...
  • Teachers often pigeonhole children into doing what we do, and doing it how we do it.
  • We may have 25 students in class. We don't always make the time to help answer questions from inquisitive minds, and yet we encourage them to be inquisitive. We want them to think for themselves, and when they do, it can cause a disturbance. We want them to be independent, but only under our parameters.
  • We need to listen to individual students.
  • We need to get to know our students even more.
  • We need to let them know when we are proud of them.
  • We need to notice and name the good they do.
  • We need to see them (or imagine them) outside of school - how does what they're doing in school look like outside of school? Might what they're doing actually help them somehow outside of the school setting?
  • Stop labeling students! Making trouble is a verb - not a noun. It's not something to fix. It's something to explore.
  • Just because a student is a "good student" does not mean that he or she will succeed outside of school. Compliance does not always equal success. We put so many limits on students in school - how will they succeed when they're left on their own? We want children to find their identities, to figure out their strengths, to be confident, to have a voice in decisions... We need to give them the room to do so - without fear of punishment, or worse, exclusion.

At the end of the book, I still wanted MORE. I wish I could copy the entire conclusion and her note to teachers here. Instead, this will be your advertisement to read this book if you have not yet. The author does not solve our problems with these so-called "troublemakers." She leaves it to us and our students. I have a tiny idea of what I can do when I return to school after this two-week break, and yet I know my students will have to help me figure it out. They have many more ideas than I ever will, and maybe we can get to the root of what they need from me.

My favorite quote: 
How stressful it must be to be a young person in our schools! How unsafe and frightening it must be to wonder - as you witness the next punishment and rejection of one of your peers - if you will be next. That kind of conditional acceptance, subjective belonging, contingent care, must feel terribly threatening to children, whom we know are biologically wired to make illogical choices as their brains continue to develop. They make mistakes and they make bad decisions - don't we all? Especially when we are stressed, feeling unsafe, and suffering?

Friday, December 28, 2018

White Fragility

As some of my readers know, I started another "passion project" of sorts after reading Being the Change by Sarah K. Ahmed and Jodi Picoult's Small Great Things. I explained it in this post.

As part of my growth, I just finished White Fragility: Why it's so hard for white people to talk about racism by Robin DiAngelo. Wow. If you're white, you've GOT to read this.

Here are two powerful quotes that hit me, and if you'd like to read my rambling notes, here's the post on my other blog.

Contributions to this other blog of mine are still welcomed. Just let me know when you've got something you'd like to share. I'm open to feedback.

Monday, December 10, 2018

What Our Students Think

Oh, how I love seventh graders!

In preparation for another book I'm writing (you read that right! Wha...?!), I decided to go right to the source, and get my students' voices!! Here's our latest question of the day - done a bit differently! I hope you can read them all.

The purple one about asking if the student has talked to their locker lately... is mine. πŸ˜‰ I ask that and then help out by talking nicely to their locker and pulling pixie dust out of my pocket to blow on the it so it opens right up!   πŸ”‘ Doesn't everybody??

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Spelling Bee Bumbles

I always have challenges with the classroom spelling bee, and often would rather it be voluntary and after school. I've written about it before here.

Yesterday, I added a new tidbit - that I'd like everyone to participate in the warm up, to feel that little bit of stress that they KNOW will go away by the end of their word. We talked about how a teeny bit of no-risk stress is good for us, and it helps us be prepared for bigger stressors when they do arise. I let them know I would be there to pick them up should they fall off their chair from the anxiety...

When provided a word, students can ask for:

  • the part of speech
  • the definition
  • the word in a sentence
  • any alternate pronunciation

I just had to share the two best questions from students yesterday during the classroom spelling bee. The first I always get once in each class, and the second is my new favorite that was new to me...

1. Can you please spell the word?
2. Can you please give me a different word?

I love these seventh grade "honey" bees...

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

The Zen Teacher

I'm only 2/3 of the way through The Zen Teacher, and I had to write about it.

First let me confess - I didn't think I needed this book.
And I don't buy books willy-nilly.
This one was donated by either DBC Inc. - or the author himself - to an edcamp I attended (and donated Shift This to as well) at Concorida University, in Wisconsin last month.
I was the lucky recipient!
Then it sat on my shelf.
Like I said, I didn't think I needed it.
Then I left my young adult novel at school over this Thanksgiving break, so...

So... what do I think?

I think, if you are frustrated on a day-to-day basis, you need to read this book.
If you are bogged down with work on the weekends, you need to read this book.
If that one student is still getting under your skin, you need to read this book.
If your mental health - or physical health - is declining, you need to read this book.

The first section is titled "Zen." I feel as if I've been slowly figuring out what he's talking about in this section for the last couple of years. This is my best school year yet. It's due to the group of students I have, but it's also due to my mindset going into school. It's due to the baggage I stopped carrying, and it's also due to the times I can stop and soak up the craziness that school can become. I could wallow in the "if only I'd have gotten this book five years ago" mindset, but I'm learning how not to. This first section of the book is what I feel I am doing this year that's different from past years. I love that I can now put a name to the myriad things I've been doing in order to get glimpses of this sense of Zen.

The second section is titled "Meditation and Mindfulness." I've been practicing more of these ideas this year, as well. Breathe... or walk... and notice.

The third section is titled "Space, Stillness, and Self-Care." Although I like to purge once in awhile, this section got me to put the book down and declutter other parts of my life. There was a new app I'd just uploaded yesterday. Today, I re-evaluated it after reading one of the chapters, and now it's gone. Good riddance - I'm already relieved it's absent from my life. I also figured out something I'll be sharing with everyone in 2019 - how to give away some of my books that are taking up space now that I've read them.

I still have to finish this gem.
I'll take my time with it.
I'll be excited to loan it out to at least one teacher at my school.
Thank you, Dan Tricarico, for the words you shared that I'll remind myself of again and again.

Sunday, November 18, 2018


I've written about gratitude before...

For this Thanksgiving, I was encouraged by Faige Miller's latest post to write about my own classroom gratitude.

On a daily basis, I could be grateful for these things (and more)...

  • arriving at school safely
  • "Good morning" heard from teachers I pass in the hallway
  • hearing my colleagues come down the hall
  • a working printer and copy machine (cough, cough) πŸ˜‰
  • plans ready for the day
  • a question of the day written by a prior student
  • a song to start our morning in homeroom
  • hearing students come in and open lockers
  • greeting students at the door
  • meeting my co-homeroom teacher in the morning
  • students sharing their celebrations from the day prior
  • hearing students respond, "You too!" after you wish them a good day.
  • smiles from students
  • high fives
  • students dancing
  • students supporting each other as they put their magnet on our "mood meter"
  • students who have been absent showing up
  • one student's cough has dissipated
  • a joke shared
  • books remembered
  • paper out or Chromebooks open when it's time to write
  • clean clothes on a student who struggles at home
  • students sharing their materials
  • that student finally found a book she wants to keep reading
  • an encouraging note from a parent
  • an encouraging smile from a student
  • being called "Mom"
  • a student picking up a book I shared with the class
  • hearing, "Can I keep writing?" or "Can we keep reading?"
  • quiet time reading books of our choosing
  • hearing a student say he "used the feedback" I provided
  • hearing, "Thank you" as a student leaves the room
  • time to plan / share ideas with my ELA co-worker / friend
  • getting support from colleagues
  • attending a game / meet / show one of my students is in
  • arriving home safely

From an email from my sister-in-law... Check out

If I do not stop and soak in all these things for which I'm grateful for every day, the other little things that make teachers worn out mentally and physically may accumulate and overwhelm me. Not just at Thanksgiving time - every day - we could use gratitude to help us stay healthy, happy, and ready to give our best every day for our students.

Monday, November 12, 2018

Ray Bradbury in 2018

The students (7th grade ELA) and my co-teacher and I are reading Dark They Were and Golden-Eyed by Ray Bradbury. For this story, we'll read most of it aloud, and then stop at certain points and let students ask each other any clarifying questions. In the story, the Bittering family arrive on Mars and decide to establish a home there. They are then forced to stay on Mars, as the atom bombs on Earth made it so rockets cannot come back for them.

One of the questions stemmed from the line in the story that says the newspaper was warm from that day's rocket.
Here's how one of the quick conversations went:
Student 1: "Why didn't they just look on their iPad or phone?"
Student 2: "They probably didn't have wifi."
Student 1: "Why didn't they just make wifi?"
Student 3: "How do you make wifi?"

I was cracking up, and soaking it in. I love seeing their learning so visibly. I had to stop the discussion for a moment and let them know that this story was most likely written before the Internet.

They looked at me like I grew a horn. I love these kids.

Sunday, November 4, 2018

"Salon with a View" Spin-Off

When I read Stories in EDU, I took notes for my blog post about it. One of those notes was that I absolutely had to use ideas from Jason Bretzmann's "Salon with a View" in my last class.

You know the class. It's after lunch. It's two-thirds male. (Should this matter? No. Does it? Sometimes.) This class has a cluster of friends that are pretty loud, and there aren't enough corners in the room to separate the ones with the urge to chatter for the few moments they're supposed to be listening.

This class this year is also the class that did the best when we had our first fishbowl discussion. So... here's my spin-off of Jason's "Salon with a View..."

I sat down in my mom's rocking chair and spoke very quietly with my last class of the day. I had blue scratch paper, and I ripped it in half to show them that it didn't matter what was on the one side - the other side was for THEM to write on. I praised them for their listening and turn-taking skills in our first fishbowl discussion of the year, and told them that they were my best group. I emphasized that it wasn't easy to talk about that subject, because they were all in agreement, and yet they brought to the table research that the other groups had not, and they really made it an interesting discussion for me to observe. I then told them that my other classes were NOT going to get this special opportunity...

They were great listeners up until this point. Then they started asking questions and talking over each other again, so I waited in my mom's chair with my eyes closed and pointer finger over my lips until they were quiet. Next, I explained that they just witnessed what I see often in this class - many of them want to talk at once, and no one is heard. What if... what if... I explained... what if this class worked really hard and then were rewarded with more discussion time - with questions THEY wanted to ask?

As they got excited and asked more questions, I started passing out the scratch paper. I showed them where we keep it on the student station, and then found a gift bag we could use to keep them in. When the students who did not want to join in the discussions looked at me forlornly, I added that they did not have to participate - they could read their independent reading books. :)

We've been able to discuss a few since then! The first was a favorite of mine - "Reading or writing?" I loved how they debated the value of each!!

Next came "What is your favorite movie?" which really was just a chance to share their own favorites, and the latest was "Is water wet?" which got a bit heated...

Ahhh... seventh graders. I love the mix of crazy ideas and growing maturity! Thanks for this great idea, Stories in Edu!

Saturday, November 3, 2018

Forest App

(Before reading on, you may want to see the update at the end of this post.)

I don't get a ton of apps for my iPhone. I can get addicted to games very easily, so I make sure they work my brain, and then I hide them together in one group.

At one EdCamp, I asked about teacher stress. It was a particularly stressful year, and I needed tips. One of those tips was to download the "Forest" app. Since I didn't think it would help me immediately, I put it off until recently.

At $1.99, I love it. Their advertisement says "Stay focused. Be present." It does helps me focus on what I NEED to do first. It helps me be more in the PRESENT. It helps me look around and enjoy the NOW, and not have to share instantly on social media. It helps me read more. I have "killed" a few of my fake trees in my fake forest because I had to take a photo of something I think I'd never see again, or because I had to text my coworker about the library book sale (today), but most of the time, I let it go. The phone CAN wait. I love how it's helping me be more patient and it's actually helping me get other things accomplished.

There are a bunch of cute trees for your virtual forest you can "buy" for 500 virtual coins, but another reason I love this app is because I can save my coins and plant an ACTUAL tree. Granted, I haven't done the research yet on where this tree will go, but I have faith in it.
I am not spending my fake money for cute trees in my virtual forest until I have planted five REAL trees. I'm excited to save these virtual coins to plant more trees in the world.

So... I'm not getting paid to sell this app, but if you feel you spend too much time on your phone, and you'd like to help the environment a teeny bit, you would benefit from it like I am.

January, 2019 Update - The Forest App no longer plants real trees. I have since stopped using it, as actually not picking up my phone helped me plant a real tree. They let me plant five, and then they said they couldn't afford any more. I had reached my quota. The ability to choose pretty trees on the app itself suddenly didn't entice me.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Harnessing Technology for Deeper Learning

Solution Tree sent me a book to review, and I was happy to - I've been following Scott McLeod's blog for awhile, and I love Scott's way of thinking and sharing. I quickly followed Julie Graber on Twitter after I read the start of this book.

This book is short, but hard to read all in one sitting. I needed to let the ideas sit. Everything in the book revolves around the "4 Shifts Protocol" found on page 13 and also here on the blog. The 4 shifts are guides to help teachers produce deeper learning - they do NOT focus on the technology used. This was the first thing I loved about this book. They took time to explain the TPACK, SAMR and a couple of other models I'd not heard of, and they also shared a list of many other frameworks they'd researched. They wanted more explicit guidelines about HOW and WHAT to change when we wanted students to use technology more effectively in our curriculum, so they've been working on these 4 Shifts for awhile.

The 4 Shifts Protocol focuses on A) Deeper Thinking and Learning, B) Authentic Work, C) Student Agency and Personalization, and D) Technology Infusion. Educators are encouraged to use ONE domain at a time to improve their lessons.

As I read through the specific lessons, I kept thinking of genius hour... and of what genius hour has done for my thinking (hence the reason for Shift This)... Sure enough, in the last chapter, the authors mentioned PBL. It's true - if you're not ready for full-blown PBL or something like genius hour, these shifts will help you get there some day. If you want to go big, and include a lot of deeper learning (that can very well mean more time), use all four domains of the 4 Shifts Protocol. If you are not ready, simply try just one. Each one will help you see how you can make your lessons more student-centered, more relevant, and more authentic.

After reading the explanation and ideas shared, my favorite part of the book was the last chapter - with tips as to how to better implement the protocol. In Scott McLeod's fashion, he goes back to pedagogy and relevance for teachers. This book will help educators "think more deeply and critically about instructional purpose." It's NOT about technology. It's about how to make lessons... BETTER.

What will I do with what I've learned? Look at one aspect of my lessons - I, personally, am going to look at the standard to which we attach our "article of the week." I could, possibly, totally revamp it, but I'm going to look at one domain at a time... When I do, I'll blog about it and share out with the hashtags #4shifts and #makeitbetter.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Stories in EDU

I will admit - I know Jason Bretzmann and Kenny Bosch. I've learned from both of them at edcamps or conferences in Wisconsin. I've eaten with one or the other at lunch! I traded Shift This for their Game of Stories. I feel they are good people.

Therefore, when asked if I would read and review Stories in EDU: Sail with a Fleet, I said, "Of course!" I knew some of the teachers who shared their stories in this collection, as well, so I was excited to begin reading.

What I loved about this book is that I could (and often did) read two stories in one sitting, and they could be from anywhere in the book. I chose them by author, then title, then section of the book. The sections include "Overcoming Obstacles," "Relationships," "Hooks," "Educational Technology Use," and "That One Kid..."

While I noticed Jason wrote seven of the 29 stories and Kenny wrote two, I also learned from both of them. Here's a snippet of what I will use after reading this book...

Because of Jason's "Salon with a View" story, I'm going to try something similar with my last class as a reward - they proved to me they're so good with fishbowl discussions, that I need to provide more time for them to try them - with their OWN questions! (My blog post about it is now HERE.)

As a result of reading Kenny's "You Had Me at Hello" story, I've added a link to the book to the #1st5Days LiveBinder because his idea is perfect for those who despise ice breakers.

If you are a Kahoot! fan, you'll love Jason's story titled, "Triple Moving Kahoot!" and if you know him, you'll be able to hear his voice in each of his stories.

Teresa Gross has me wanting to talk with our eighth grade teachers to see if I could be there when they read "The Monkey's Paw." I already know Josh Gauthier, but reading his "Hello Kitty" story helped me know him a bit more. Tracy Kelly reminded me to keep using sign language in the classroom. Brianne Neil and Leigh Anne Geib both reminded me of those students I wish I could take under my wing, and Patty Kolodnicki and Aubrey Jones remind everyone that our students need a clean slate each year. (Or each month. Or week. Or day.)

This is a quick read. One that you won't need to annotate. One that you can pass on to other teachers when you're finished. One that reaffirms some of what you're doing, and may challenge some of what you've done, as well.

My wish... I hope that their next book includes Twitter handles for the teachers sharing their stories, so we can connect further. I also think it would be possible to split these stories. The "Educational Technology Use" could be its own book, along with "Overcoming Obstacles," etc. Personally, I'd like to read an entire book about "That One Kid."

YOU can be part of Stories in EDU! Head to the website and submit your own story. Share your own lessons learned, so readers can benefit.

November 2018 Update: See my "Salon with a View" Spinoff post!

Side Note: Fueled by Coffee and Love is another anthology of short stories from educators. Check out Mari Venturino's post about how it came about and where the proceeds go. I have not yet read my copy, but will be sure to post about it when I finish!