I, Joy Kirr, am a middle school teacher, author, and speaker. My 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 my learning experiences... Want to have me speak with your staff or facilitate a workshop? Here is my PORTFOLIO.

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 www.DavesWordsofWisdom.com.

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.

Addition 5/2019: Julie is interviewed by Vicki Davis in this podcast.

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!

Sunday, October 21, 2018

I Have Confidence...

Well... not as much as I could.
In fact... I've learned to "fake it 'till I make it" when it comes to confidence.

When I was becoming an adult, before every interview, I'd blast Julie Andrews in the vehicle - "I Have Confidence." You know the one...

It continued with, "What will my future be... I wonder..."
I used this song to remind myself that I may, in fact, not get this particular job, but then it may not be right for me. I was going to go in, however, with the confidence that I SHOULD have this job! And, really, the only job I was not offered after singing this song was the job at Payless Shoe Source. πŸ˜‰

"I've always longed for adventure - to do the things I've never dared..."
And I'm doing the "things I've never dared" - I've been able to jump into Genius Hour, I'm currently going through the year without marks/points during each term (until the end when students and I come up with one letter for the parent report), and my colleagues and I are trusted to determine the curriculum (for now). I have a dream job - three 80-minute ELA classes of seventh graders.

"Captain with seven children. What's so fearsome about that?"
This song is also blasting in my vehicle the first day of school. Believe it or not, I get nervous about meeting children! After the first day, the nerves disappear.

I've realized, lately, that my nerves and my lack of confidence arise every October. When the grade is posted for my class, and I dread parent responses. (Oh, how I look forward to the day we have standards-based grading throughout the school!)

You see, even though I make it a point to send two-week updates and good notes home to parents, often the only time I receive emails from parents is when there is a problem.

Grades are personal. Sometimes parents care / worry / stress about their child's grade more than their child. And they let you know it.

Last October, I had a parent who hadn't read anything I'd sent home regarding how we were doing grades. I received the first email on a Friday after school. I finally felt mentally healthy enough to write in response to it this past January. My stress had manifested itself into a migraine, and they've come and gone since then. I had one this past week, in anticipation of backlash of what I've been practicing in class during parent/teacher conferences. This should NOT be the case. These conferences are for teachers and parents to discuss how each student is doing so far. Yet I get worried. Because I'm doing things differently from the other teachers. Even if I believe it is right and good for my students, I worry worry worry. The attack I received via email last year hit me hard. Since I don't want to give that parent any (more) power over me, I have got to learn to let the worry go.

"I must dream of the things I am seeking... 
I am seeking the courage I lack.
The courage to serve them with reliance. 
Face my mistakes without defiance. 
Show them I'm worthy, and while I show them, I'll show me. 
Soooo... Let them bring on all their problems.
I'll do better than my best.
I have confidence they'll put me to the test, but
I'll make them see I have confidence in me.
Somehow I will impress them. 
I will be firm, but kind."

I used to think this part of the lyrics were about the children (and they are, really). This year, however, I see them as referring to the parents when we meet - IF any issues arise.

What I've tried in the '17-'18 school year:
  • I don't check email after 4pm or on the weekends.
  • I take time to stop. And breathe. I had an app for a bit, but now I just need to remind myself to sit and focus on my breathing.
  • I go for walks.
  • I sing at the top of my lungs.
  • I dance around the house.
  • I get eight hours of sleep each night.
  • I focus on all I have in this life.

What I'll try during this '18-'19 school year:
  • All the things from the list above.
  • Stretch every day.
  • Repeat a mantra of some sort when I start to feel the stress.

I've got to remember...
"All I trust I give my heart to.
All I trust becomes my own."
I am so very passionate about teaching! So why do I dread a parent attack? Supposedly "no teacher goes unscathed," and I understand that parents SHOULD have a vested interest in their child's education. I have even received emails or hand-written notes in the past from parents and students that have melted my heart. I need to stop hiding them, and instead, bring them out and read them when I start to feel the stress in my neck that reaches around my head, makes me want to throw up and go back to bed. When this continues into a day or two literally full of physical pain, I need to stop and DO something about it. I do NOT have to have this stress build like this. I'm tired of this. I don't want it to become something that IS. I need it to be over and done. I need to have more confidence in myself. 

I need to make my mantra.
  • I do what I do for the children.
  • I am very passionate about my profession.
  • I give my students 103% every school day.
  • I make sure parents are kept up-to-date on all we're doing in class.
  • I've written a book on reasons WHY I've shifted my teaching.
  • I am a professional with 23 years of experience.
  • I have the support of my administration.
  • I read professional articles, books, and teacher blogs to help me learn and decide what's right and good for my current students.
  • I have been a pioneer at my school, helping other teachers try new things when it's right and good for their own students.
  • I will remember those parents who have thanked me profusely for teaching their children.

And IF. IF parents do get upset (which history shows they just might)... if it's my fault, I'll learn from my mistake. Big time. If it's not my fault, I'll have to wonder what's going on in their lives that they feel they need to attack. And then... I'll have to let it go (quicker than I've done in the past). After all, I'm not a surgeon. I don't watch to be sure a boiler doesn't explode. I'm not in charge of any part of the military. Lives are not at stake. I'm still doing all I can for the children in my charge.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Conference Musings

Seventh graders - what a mix of minds!

I've conducted thirteen one-on-one "grade" conferences with students this week. 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. The end of the term is next week Friday, so I've reserved five days to have 5 min. conferences with students. Some go faster, and some go slower, and they leave a paper trail for students to take home and explain to parents. The first conferences about grades are always tougher than the rest of the year. Students have never done this before, and it's quite the learning curve for some! We use this document (the first two pages) to discuss evidence so far.

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

Evelyn - 
     I see, on our documenting sheet, that she has earned an A. It's solid. She's gotten proficient or mastery on her writing skills, and she's got 90% or higher on her reading comprehension checks. I ask, "What do you think your grade should be?"
     Her response - again and again - "I don't know."

Cassie - 
     She knows she should get an A. I ask, "What is your evidence?" She can't find it. We need to look through everything and write it off to the side, so she can see what I see. We end up deciding a B- is more representative of her learning right now. I look at last year's grades when I have time. Uh oh. I might be hearing from parents. She had all As last year...

Jimmy -
     He starts by saying, "I've never done this before, so I'm going to do my best, but I might make mistakes. So...." and he goes on and on about his skills, how he's doing, where he could improve... He's got three goals for next quarter and wants to narrow it down to one that will have the most impact... I don't have to say a thing.

Norman -
     Has been in trouble this year. Only once from me. I "let him get away" with things that do not impede other students' learning. I pick my battles, and I think we have an "okay" relationship. He seemed scared, yet put on his tough face. He seemed surprised to know I agreed with his assessment of himself and did not bring behavior into the mix. Behavior doesn't belong in a grade. If it did, however, he'd have an "A" for looking me in the eyes the entire time we talked.

We have different seating options in our room. I make sure to sit on a chair that is the same height as the student's chair. I want them to know this should not be scary. It's just a conversation about how they're doing right now, and where they can improve. I LOVE these conversations. Some are tougher than others, but I feel like I learn so much about the students, and I feel that we build more of a bond of trust with each other. If (when?) we do go to standards-based grading, I'd love to keep these conversations going at the end of each term.

My "gradeless" resources so far: "FaR" tabs of our classroom Weebly
                                    Feedback Instead of Grades LiveBinder for parents to inspect
                                    My own reflections on this journey

Sunday, October 7, 2018

SBG Committee Meets!

This week, before I headed out to our district office to be in the "Middle School Standards-Based Grading Steering Committee," I found post-its on my desk at home. Post-its from our class discussion on August 31 this year.

I hadn't taken the time to read them, so I'm going to post them here to see if there's something new I can discover.

In the "positive" column...
  • hardwork, persistavitivity (sic)
  • I try my hardest to keep them all A's!
  • A+, school, doing my best, working hard
  • A+ the best grade, 100%, 10/10
  • A's and B's, 4.0, GPA
  • Getting As and 4.0 GPA
  • I like to get grades can se it shows your progress (sic)
  • Are very important
  • letters / numbers
  • They may be important.
  • important
  • letters, important
  • more import things

In the "neutral" column...
  • homework
  • important, work hard, do good, meaningful, try your best
  • A+, subjects, stressful, prepared, honor students, quiz, worried, tests, study
  • low? high? good? bad?
  • school, classes, teachers, parents
  • parents, school, A
  • A, B, C, D, E, F, Ma, Pr, De, Be, Work
  • Grading policy, As, Bs, Cs, Ds, Fs, parents, school
  • GPA, school, homework, stress, tests
  • hard to get
  • school, academics, my classes, my teachers
  • How your doing in school (sic)
  • importun and useful, can help U (sic)
  • important, harsh, good, GPA, Pennstate (sic)
  • good, four point o
  • They make you anscious, some people care and people don't care about them. (sic)
  • Important, Good grades, you have to work hard
  • try to keep them high I think trying is more important
  • Grades are what you get in school, they can be bad or good, A, B, C, D, F
  • I care about my grades, but I also believe you are not a letter or #. You do not define what your grade is.
  • Powerschool, A, B, C, D, F ("F" is circled, with a check mark and smiley face by it)
  • Good and badd (sic)
  • grades are something that are different.
  • important, something you work for, assignments/tests
  • A, B (good), C, +, - (average) F, D (Bad)
  • Something that measures your academic ability, but it also defines you with a letter.
  • classes
  • A+, B, C, D, F
  • hard work, should be good

In the "negative" column...
  • Worrying about grades
  • There ok I don't stress about them too much but when I do its not good (sic)
  • As Bs Cs Ds, I hope I don't get any bad grades
  • Intence, scary, change (sic)
  • I think they're kinda stupid. I'm getting graded on stuff I don't really like and people kinda treat them like they're this super important thing.
  • Burn it!!
  • stressful (x 2 post its)
  • F (see pic)
  • G3 = Get Good Grades
  • A-F, A=good, F=you're a failure
  • Stress, anxiety
  • Wait, what are my grades like? When will this grade come in? Do these people all have better grades than me?
  • Pressure, stress, homework
  • Something that shows you what understanding your in like a scale. But also can make you feel very sad & happy. (sic)
  • I don't like them when they are lower than an A-. They are good when you work hard.
  • 6th grade report card / PowerSchool. Meh.

I love this.
I remember these feelings. The successes and the fears.
Their quick thoughts / writing brings me back to when grades mattered to me, personally.

And this is the reason I wanted to be on the Standards-Based Grading committee for our district. The elementary one is finished, and they'll have their first standards-based reports coming out in this fall.

We had our first half-day meeting this week, and I had a difficult time not throwing my two cents in after every person spoke. We chatted about how we felt about it, what it was, read some research (how reliable was it?), and came away with this book we'll be studying:

I'm excited for this next part of my journey in this profession!

My "gradeless" resources so far: "FaR" tabs of our classroom Weebly
                                    Feedback Instead of Grades LiveBinder for parents to inspect
                                    My own reflections on this journey