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.

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Not the Perfect Start

Well, it was not the perfect start to the school year I was hoping for…

Last week was our first week of the 2019-2020 school year. The first three days were with teachers, figuring out our rooms, and figuring out which students needed which accommodations, which had allergies, birthday planning, etc.

The very first day that students came, Thursday, was hectic to say the least. I went through that day with sore shoulders and neck and the start of a headache. Some classes on Thursday were 15 min. long, and a few were 90 minutes long, depending on which classes we had. It was a go-go-go day. Waking up Friday morning, I believe I was as tired as I have ever been. I’ve never felt “teacher tired“ like that before. Before I even ate my breakfast, I threw up (I couldn't find a way to put this nicer). I figured it must be the start of a migraine, and it had been my plan to not have a migraine this entire year ahead.

The students I have this year seem to be happy to be there and ready to learn (for the most part). I was supposed to be happy and ready to teach. I had read myriad articles, listen to myriad podcasts, read inspirational quotes, and was ready to be well this year. Teacher wellness has been on my mind since the ‘17-’18 school year when I had five migraines to contend with. During the ‘18-’19 school year it was down to three. This past Friday, I was not happy to teach. I was hurting, exhausted, and was skeptical of how this school year was going to go.

What had happened to my plans for being well? Here’s what I’ve been doing:
  • Vitamin B-complex (supposed to help prevent migraines)
  • DanActive once a day (this kept me healthy when my mom was going through chemo)
  • Water every day
  • Eat relatively healthy
  • Walking outside whenever I can
  • Getting outside every day (my relaxation)
  • Learn / practice something new for 30 min/day (the banjo)
  • Read & Write
  • Plenty of sleep (to bed at 9pm)
What was good about the first two days was the students, and my attitude in front of the students. I was calm. I was patient. I was enjoying their ideas, suggestions, and comments. I feel as if this will be my best year yet (as the last few have been)! I am doing more upfront in regards to sharing WHY we’re doing certain things in the classroom, and I’m less reactive to things said or done. I’m listening more, and things are going smoothly.

Another good note - some teachers were chatting about asking administration to change the first day schedule, as well - that should help exhaustion levels of both teachers and students next year. 

I pushed myself this summer. I thoroughly enjoyed each day, yet I didn’t stop to relax as much as I normally would during the summer. I often do “too much” or “too many things at one time,” and this summer was no exception. It’s time I slowed down my HOMEwork, so I can handle the schoolwork.

My plan moving into week two is very similar to my summer plans:
  • Vitamin B-complex
  • DanActive once a day
  • Water every day
  • Eat relatively healthy
  • Walking outside whenever I can
  • Getting outside every day
  • Practice the banjo for 15 min/day
  • Read (& Write if time)
  • Only look at social media in the mornings on weekdays
  • Plenty of sleep (to bed at 9pm or before)

I was fortunate to get outside THREE times on the first day of school (with homeroom and my second and third classes), and then again for lunch and my last class on Friday. I’m excited to keep this up, as I believe it’s healthy for us - for our bodies, souls, and the culture of a class. 

As I reflected today by writing, I notice my teacher wellness took a nose dive Friday. I guess that’s what happens when your body has taken a toll. I’m all better today, and I’m relaxing for the week ahead. I’ve gotten outside with the top down on the convertible to go for a walk at the arboretum with Hubby (see the photos below), had my water, finished my banjo practice (20 min outside), and am going to read a bit. I only spent 30 min on schoolwork yesterday, and will only spend 30 min on it again today - just not right now. This writing has helped me see that I simply had a set back in my health. I’ll probably catch a bad cold or get sick at some point this school year, as well, and that’s to be expected, no matter how much DanActive I have. ;) 

--> I’m going to remember the advice of Dan Tricarico in The Zen Teacher
Do something for YOURSELF every day. (For me, this means getting outside.)
--> I’m going to remember the science Lisa Bush shared in Teaching Well:
We cannot run on fumes. It’s unhealthy for our body and our mind.
When we’ve got the MOST WORK to do, that’s when we need to take
time (30-60 min.) for ourselves.
--> I’m going to remember David Irvine’s quote in Lisa’s book (above):
“Self-care is more than a luxury. Self-care is a responsibility.”
--> I’m going to remember what Matt Miller keeps sharing -
When you’re a teacher, the work never ends.
I don’t need to make everything perfect.
I only need to make it work well for me and our students.

What are YOU doing this school year to stay happy and healthy?

Sunday, August 18, 2019

A Master List

I love to have an organized (as much as possible) Google Drive.

One file (spreadsheet) I have in my drive each year is a "Master" list.
I've made a copy YOU can copy and make work for you HERE.

Click the hyperlink above, open the spreadsheet, click "File," then "Make a copy" so you can have your own!

Each tab is explained here:
*NOTE - The "2/4" on any tab is simply my first class (it's a block of two periods - period 2 and 4). I make a copy of these tabs labeled "2/4" for my 5/6 and 8/9 classes. It's not in this master form, because I have no clue how many classes you have. 😉

ALL - This tab is where I keep everything vital that is kept on our online PowerSchool system. I like it all in one place. It's easier to find for me here, and I can add IEP information, parent notes, or whatever. I can also organize them by class, last name, homeroom, etc.

HABIT TRACKER 2/4 - The habit tracker is what I use to track habits - positive and negative. It's kept on a clipboard in the room, and I add to it daily, depending on what students are standing out. Keep track of behaviors week to week help me communicate with students and parents with concrete data. I've modified this page MANY times, and I explained it more in this post from 2015. It's very useful, and that's why it's the second tab on this spreadsheet.

Positive Comm - Yup. I keep track of who I email home for positive notes. I don't want to leave anyone out, and I don't want to "bug" parents "too many" times... I mark it green when a parent responds, so I know who is connected and who I may need to reach through different means (phone call, different language, paper note home...).

Email Long Lists - Because I have a hard time making new groups each year in my GMail, I simply copy the emails from the first tab here - one for my classes, and one for homeroom. When I email, I simply have to copy and paste into the "BCC" section (to keep the email addresses confidential). I need these lists for our two-week updates, at the very least.

Confidential - Any behavior plans or health issues guest teachers (formerly called "substitute" teachers) may need goes here. I print it out and put it in the guest teacher binder for days I'm out.

Birthdays - I organize this one by date instead of by name. I delete them once we recognize it in some fashion.

Homeroom First - Just a spot to put my homeroom kids here - first names first. I print one out for the first day of school, so when students tell me their names, I can write down how to say them. I use this list throughout the year to check in permission slips, etc.

2/4 First - Same as above, just for my class (and I'll add 5/6 and 8/9, too).

Convos - First names only here - I put them all in, and when I pass them out to students, they cross out their own name. This is for various discussions we'll have with others in class. I hope it promotes getting to know EVERYone. When you chat with someone, put the date in the box next to their name. You don't chat with them again, then (for whatever activities we'll be using these for), until that first column is full. There are two on a page so I have half sheets for each child. I don't remember the teacher (on Twitter) who called it a conversation carousel - sorry!!

Fishbowl - First names here, too. I use this when we're practicing fishbowl discussions, so I can share the results with students - as a whole class or individually - as we reflect.

Summer Reading - At the start of the year, I'll pass this around to the kids to see who read which books off our list. This information will help me when we chat about them, or put them in groups for book talks about these books the first few days.

MAP - We use NWEA's Measures of Academic Progress as one test, and I like to give students goals for the next time they take the test, so I keep the info here, and only share with students when they ask or when we're setting goals.

Notes - Just a note-taking sheet of sorts.

Choice Topic - Once we're in choice mode, this helps me keep track of who chose to do what - whether it's what type of feedback to receive (video or written comments), what they'll share for "Teach Me Your Talent," or what they'll choose to research, etc.

*Another NOTE - My own tabs will be in triplicate, as I have three core classes, so I'll have three Fishbowl pages and three Summer Reading pages, etc.

Please let me know in the comments if this helps you this year, or let me know what you would add to this master spreadsheet!

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Choosing the "Right" Words...

...was so difficult for this writing-on-all-the-Ticonderoga-pencils gig to prepare for school to begin!

After I started writing one set (I eventually made three sets of 30), I thought more about the words I chose, and how one slight shift can make a huge difference.

For instance, if I wrote "be kind," it sounded like a demand, or at least a request. By changing it to "thank you for being kind," I'm making an assumption (usually a no-no) that they already ARE kind, and I'm still encouraging kindness. I modified it even more - "thank you for choosing to be kind," as then students can see it as a choice they have. They often think they have no choices. This is one they can make on their own, every chance they get.

I found many of my words meant the same idea, and were said in many different ways.
"You matter" is now written as "you are important," "your perspective is worth sharing," "we need your ideas," etc. Words strike people differently, and I didn't want to leave any messages unclear.

Here is one set:

The words I used this time around:
     Smiles & laughter:
     People smile when they see your smile!
     Your smile lights up our days!
     Smiling makes you happier.
     Your laugh is infectious.
     Keep smiling!
     Life is good.
     Regarding tough times:
     Dream big!
     You can do this!
     You've got this!
     You will persevere.
     Keep on keepin' on...
     Embrace the struggle. (Added thanks to @innovatenlearn.)
     Reach out if you need anything.
     Thank you for being caring.
     Thank you for your positive attitude.
     Thank you for being you.
     Thank you for being a friend to others.
     Thank you for choosing to be kind.
     What are you grateful for? (The grammarian in me wants to say "For what are you grateful," and then I think... these are for 7th graders. Would they relate?)
     You matter.
     You are important.
     You inspire others.
     You are loved.
     You have a contribution to  make in this world.
     Your perspective is worth sharing.
     We need your voice to be used for good.
     We need your ideas.
     This world needs you.
     We're happy you're here.
     Our lives are better with YOU in it.
     Be the change you wish to see. (Thanks to @blocht574.)

Then... My husband came in from the garage to show me his progress on his newest whirligig that he's making for a friend of ours. I saw that Ticonderoga tucked behind his ear - it looked naked! I asked him if I could write on it. I wrote, "Your creativity makes others smile." I know I'll be doing this once I run out of these pencils... For each student that needs one, I'll look at them and find a personal message meant just for them, and then find that ultra fine point Sharpie!

I'm thinking of pre-sharpening them when I get to my good pencil sharpener at school... Too much??

Please comment below any messages that you might share with your own students!

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

The Wall

It was a beautiful day to be at the beach. Sure, the water was only 54 degrees, but the niece and nephew were in it, playing for hours. Bob and I were sitting, soaking up the sun, watching the kids squeal and splash, when a family came by with their chairs and supplies. They began to set up a line of chairs in front of us. It was no big deal, really. We could still see the kids over their chairs - most of the time. I stood to see the kids at one point, and one man in the group said, "Oh, we're not in your way, are we?"

What do you say to that? Bob quickly replied, "Hey, whatever. Don't worry about it." He's my polite man.

I sat back down, and then ... it happened. We saw their chairs more clearly. Maybe I should say we saw ALL of each chair more clearly. They were the kind that have a hood of sorts on top. After a very quickly orchestrated maneuver by one of the women in the group, all five hoods were up, and then a towel was put over each one, to make the wall complete - and solid.
Our new view.

They knew what they were doing from the start. It was obvious they'd done this before. I started laughing. I took a video. I took this photo. I thought it must be a joke they have going - How many days this summer can we make a wall in front of people and get away with it?

Now what to do? How do we react in this situation? What do we say, if anything?

Bob got up, and said, "Let's move." He found a place not too far away, and started moving our (smaller) chairs and bags. I started fuming then. I do not like confrontations, but... but... nope. I do not like confrontations. So... I decided to - nonchalantly - stand in front of the person who did not go in the water. I stood about ten feet in front of him, hands on hips, watching my niece and nephew. For maybe one full minute. Well, at least until he got up to get something from one of their coolers they'd brought. It didn't make me feel any better.

I did it again, later, in front of one of the women. I counted seconds this time, because I wanted to stay there for at least three minutes. I didn't feel any better.


I think of this wall and wonder how I'll respond to negativity at school, to things I know are not right, to words that are rude. Will I simply walk away and find another spot? Will I ask them a question back? Will I make a stink of some sort?

Afterwards, will I "could've / would've / should've" until I'm dizzy from my thoughts? Will I forgive myself for my new mistakes I'm sure to make? Will I be able to let go of guilt and move on with my day / week / month?

I worry about the start of the school year.
I worry about making the right decisions - reacting the right way.
I worry about not thinking things through before I respond.
I worry that my responses won't make me - or the person I'm responding to - feel any better.
I worry that I won't say the right things.
I worry that I'll ask leading questions (such as "We're not in your way, are we?").

I have these worries, and I need to push them to the back of my thoughts - not front and center. No matter the mental, emotional, or physical walls / obstacles / problems put up this school year, I am not going in blindly - I do have a plan.

My plan for this school year (and every school year):
     Keep myself mentally and physically healthy.
     Be the best person I can be every day.
     Remember that each moment is a chance to start again.

Does every teacher go through these worries at the start of every school year? What do YOU do when these feelings strike? How do you mentally prepare for a new school year? As always, I'd love to read your thoughts in the comments below.

Monday, August 12, 2019

Using TweetDeck to Manage My Twitter Time - Round TWO

I follow over 9,000 educators on Twitter. When I started following 300 or so, I was still looking at my feed every morning, trying to "catch up" (HAH!), and Karen Liernman from British Columbia, Canada, helped me out. I still remember the story of seeing her tweet with a photo of the Chicago River - she was only the second person from Twitter I'd met face to face - and during the dinner where my husband and I pieked her up (she willingly got in our car!) she said, "You're still following your feed? Oh, no. You need to watch hashtags." (More to this organization in this post here.)

Then I created LISTS. (Detailed in the same blog post as above.) This helped some more. I now have tons of lists...

Over the past few years, I've learned how to mute a conversation, how to block spammers, how to stay with my WHY as I created my own Twitter rules for myself, that it's not about the numbers (here and here), how to be grateful in a more genuine way, and of course, I learned a long time ago that it's not about TWITTER. It's about the PEOPLE.

Over the last year or so, I've lost touch with some educators I used to "chat" with all the time. Those people that I used to connect with on a regular basis. I've added new ones, for sure, and I think that may be what this tool does for you - provides the people you need when you need them... I'm not sure. What I DO know is that I'd like to keep being connected. I've learned that when I'm more connected with one person, the relationship develops, and I can reach out more, feel more supported, and truly care about the person behind the photo. I don't want to lose those relationships.

So... I decided to create MORE lists!

Here is a video explaining what I'm writing:

My NEW (added) lists go something like this:

Sunday Tuesday Thursday - those educators who are so very kind, share their messages in kind and caring ways, and those educators who I like calling "friend" - I've broken bread or had a beverage or two with them, and I truly enjoy their company.

Monday - those educators who I believe are "sensible." They'd start my work week off on the right foot.

Wednesday - those educators who are always supporting me. How do they do it? How do THEY organize their myriad connections? I want to provide support back to them.

Friday - those educators who I probably SHOULD keep up with, but normally don't. Fridays are my busy mornings, so I don't spend as much time on Twitter as I normally do this day.

Saturday - those educators who are constantly sharing useful resources (that I often miss). This way I can share them out on a day I can actually take time to LOOK at what those resources are, and maybe even play with those resources.

**Note - Many of the educators on these lists overlap these categories. AND they are on other lists of mine, as well (met f2f, geniushour, my district friends...). I only put them down for one of these new lists, so I'm still catching up with them, even if it's not every day.

I know this won't solve all my issues with managing Twitter. That's okay. I guess we let some connections go when we make other connections stronger. There's only so much we can do - along with teaching!

Do you have a way to organize your Twitter life? I'd love to know what it is!! Please use the comment section below so that future readers can learn from YOU, too!

Saturday, August 3, 2019

Word Shift!

Here's the inside story...

If you read this post, you may feel a tad bit uncomfortable.
The same goes for when you read Word Shift...

Shift This had been out for a few months, and readers had been connecting with me about the resistance they had felt, and how, after reading the last chapter (on resistance!), they felt less alone. They felt less "crazy." We are not alone. There are a TON of educators who want to shift what's happening in their classrooms.

And we are not crazy - we are readers, researchers, writers, contributors, explorers, collaborators, hypothesizers, experimenters, adventurers, risk takers, learners, visionaries, coaches, guides, amplifiers, leaders, and change makers! We are trying to do what we believe is right and good for the young learners in front of us every day.
I shared this message in my first keynote session in Boston last year, after I'd written that part of the book. (I'm sharing it again at IETC in November.) I then dug into the tough stuff... how educators speak at school when there are no children around, and how this affects our students.

One student who had issues at home was an angry child. He was angry with his parents for their divorce, I'd heard he was not a fan of his step-dad, and I'm not sure he was getting the attention he desired at home, as much of it was being directed to his younger sister for various reasons. This is how I saw him in our class. I saw him as someone needing my attention and caring. He wasn't the best behaved, for sure, and it was pretty rough on me. So... I did what I could. I learned about him slowly over the first few months. We developed a pretty good relationship, as we figured out a plan that worked for him, and we even shared a couple of jokes (the ones that didn't distract the class too much). He knew how to make me sing, even - he would hum the first five notes of "Try Everything" by Shakira, and I was hooked!

Then my mind was spun in circles one day. Frustrations can run high in school settings, and educators (I'm no exception) don't always say the perfect words. One coworker of mine, while talking amongst other teachers, called this child an a-----. I tried to help steer my own thoughts by saying even though he may ACT like an a-----, he's still a child. That day, the next day, and the day after that, my brain was tainted with this label for this child. NO. Nonononono. I did NOT want to think of this child as an a-----, and yet the seed had been planted. I worked my butt off the rest of that year trying to get that word out of my head. Trying to get this LABEL out of my head.

We use so many labels. It makes my stomach turn. I started writing down all the labels I've heard used and have used myself. I then began to listen better and hear more words I've used that may be better left unsaid.

What pushed me over the edge was the last day of the 2017-2018 school year. My coworker Yvette and I asked students for further feedback. The question that day was, "What did we do well, and where can we improve for next year?" One sweet seventh grader said, "Thank you for not saying you're going to chop off my knee caps," and another piped in with "...or light us on fire!"

Nonononono. Some twelve year olds do not do well with sarcasm. These words were the ones that encouraged me to write with the full intent to ask the DBCI group to help me publish it. The ideas in this book came from many educators' words from around the world, not solely from my experiences at my current school, obviously.

I've said some harsh things to students - and teachers - in my past. For sure I won't be perfect moving forward. (Oh, goodness, how I have to learn how to listen more than I speak!!) I want to be better. I want to communicate precisely what I mean, without attaching any negative labels to students or peers. There are also all those words we leave unsaid, that really need to be said - to students and to peers. Consider when we close our mouths in class, and yet we could use that instance to teach about grief, mental health, racial inequalities, or any of the myriad other relevant topics that our students know more and more about due to their access to information.

Writing this book has helped me consider words we use in a new light. As we read Word Shift (yes, I'll be reading bits and pieces again), I hope we evaluate words we, our peers, and our students use, and share others that work more effectively and can be used more often in our schools. How will we find our voice and use it when we hear negative language in schools? How will we elevate and amplify positive messages so they reach more students and colleagues?

Thursday, August 1, 2019

Blog Challenge Lessons

This post is week 8 of 8 in the 8 Weeks of Summer Blog Challenge for educators. 

It's list-making time...

1. Any educator (or any person, for that matter) can make a blogging challenge. Penny Christensen shows us how here!
2. I can be accountable to a challenge I didn't even expect to do.
3. I can appreciate Penny creating a blog challenge - it must be a bit difficult! Thank you, Penny!
4. I don't like to be told what to write. I kept looking at my lists of things I'd wanted to write about, and I tried to match them to the question I was supposed to be answering (even kind of for this one).

To answer the prompt for this week: What will I keep from this blog challenge moving forward?
     I know I don't like to be told (or suggested) what to write, and will continue to keep this in mind when I'm asking my own students to write as I have in previous years. It's pretty engrained now! I feel I write better when it's something I NEED to write.

Have you started blogging yet? Do you need a nudge? The "resistance" chapter (9) in Shift This has reasons WHY educators should blog (at least as a personal reflection tool), and LOTS of help is here for you on this page of the Weebly. If you need a reminder, tweet to me @JoyKirr and let me know how often you'd like to write. I currently remind two other educators, and can easily add you to the list!

Please keep writing - and share YOUR thoughts and ideas. You never know who you'll impact, and how far it will reach. 💕