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.

Wednesday, December 29, 2021

Best Books of 2021

My list is not extensive by any means, but I need to share out my favorites from 2021 like I have the past seven years. Maybe these aren't my favorites, actually... maybe they're books I believe other people could benefit from if they read them. I read a bit for myself, along with many books I thought my 7th graders would enjoy or books they recommended for me.

     2020 Favorites
     2019 Favorites
     2018 Favorites
     2017 Favorites
     2016 Favorites
     2015 Favorites
     2014 Favorites


Here are the books I would most recommend from my list of 113 books I've read this year... 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. Another note: One of my goals this year was to read more adult books. At the start of the year it was for self-help, and the second half of my year it was for books I that challenged me.

Biography / Autobiography / Memoir
     Adult - Glennon Doyle's Untamed
     Perfect for my 7th graders - When Stars Are Scattered by Victoria Jamieson & Omar Mohammad (graphic novel)
Fantasy
     Young Adult - Pet by Emezi Alwaeke
     Young Adult - Strange the Dreamer (#1) by Laini Taylor
     Great for 7th graders - A Wish in the Dark by Christina Soontornvat
  
Graphic Novel
     Both of these are perfect for 7th graders (among others I read this year) 
Chunky by Yehudi Mercado and Dragon Hoops by Gene Leun Yang
 
Historical Fiction
     Seventh graders (or younger) - Finding Langston (#1) by Lesa Cline-Ransome
     Seventh graders - Prairie Lotus by Linda Sue Park
     Young Adult - Copper Sun by Sharon Draper
     Adult - The Henna Artist by Alka Joshi and The Book of Lost Friends by Lisa Wingate

How To
     One I think helped me the most - You’re Not Listening: What you’re missing and why it matters by Kate Murphy
     Two others here that helped me through the roughest year of my teaching career:
 
Manga
     I finally read two manga books! Dragon Slayer #1 and #2. Not my favorites, but I tried them!, thanks to students who loaned me the books.

Mystery
     Seventh graders - The Usual Suspects by Maurice Broadddus
Nonfiction
     Adult - Humans by Brandon Stanton
Novels in Verse
     Perfect for seventh grade - The Canyon’s Edge by Dusti Bowling Starfish by Lisa Fipps, and Red, White, and Whole by Rajani LaRocca
     Young Adult - Kent State by Deborah Wiles and Punching the Air by Ibi Zoboi & Yusef Salaam
Professional
     Black Appetite. White Food. by Jamila Lyiscott
Realistic Fiction
     Perfect for seventh graders - Flight of the Puffin by Ann Braden, Revenge of the Red Club by Kim Harrington, Thanks a Lot, Universe by Chad Lucas, What Lane? by Torrey Maldonado, and The Shape of Thunder by Jasmine Varga  
     Adult - The Girl with the Louding Voice by Abi Dare

Romance
     Adult - Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

I'm so glad I'm "back" when it comes to reading. Covid year 2020 threw me for a bit, and now I feel I dedicate myself more to reading each day. Please let me know - in the comments - your absolute favorites for this year!

Thursday, November 18, 2021

Lessons I'm Using - Revisited

I headed into this school year knowing I learned a TON last year. I learned about how to better take care of myself, and I learned about how to teach better (which came from taking better care of myself - fancy that...)! I was ready for the challenges ahead!

And then the school year started.

And it was still extremely difficult.

I had thought the struggles from last year were behind us. I didn't think to expect brand new struggles that we really hadn't encountered before. So... I needed to really focus on the lessons I thought I had learned...

I had a plan to tweet them to share with my peers. I had sixty of them, and I'd choose which I thought would fit the week, then schedule them on my Tweetdeck. This was my post introducing them, these are the actual tweets (with my "first day of hybrid" photo), and this is the spreadsheet I kept modifying with my original lessons. Once the school year started, I was able to go slowly, setting up a routine, helping everyone get to know each other better, and trying to stay mentally healthy. Sharing the lessons was helping me focus on my ONE priority: my health (mental and physical).

A few weeks in, and I started to feel the strain.

Although the lessons I kept revisiting did help me in those moments, I was still losing sight of what I wanted to learn... I was still losing sight of who I wanted to BE as a teacher... and as a person.

This week, I printed out the lessons I had shared for the first sixty days with students this school year. (Day 60 for me was Wednesday.) I decided there were too many. I needed lessons that encompassed what all of these were saying. Here's how that looked on my living room floor (do other teachers work on their living room floors??):

I found six themes.

I had lessons about breathing and being present. I had lessons about listening and relationships. I had lessons about gratitude and attitude. I had lessons about life changes and struggles. And I also had practical lessons I can incorporate every day and others I can incorporate into my school day. I will keep working on the lessons in these last two categories until they become habitual.

Going forward, I will focus on these four important actions:

  1. Be present in each moment by taking time to stop... and breathe. This will slow me down and make me more effective at whatever I'm trying to do.
  2. Listen. This will help me to be more present, stop, and breathe (#1). It will also help those to whom I'm listening.
  3. When I'm sad, mad, frustrated, or just not doing well, I need to practice gratitude. This will, once again, slow me down (#1), listen (#2), and be reminded of how fortunate I am.
  4. Remind myself - Life provides many opportunities for me to practice these lessons. It will have its ups and downs, I will feel like this again, and if I am present in each moment, I will be living fully.

I believe these four actions will help me be the person I want to be. One of the lessons I learned about life is that I'm always becoming who I am - and who I want to be. I will keep trying. I will surely fail some days. And I will try to learn something from each challenge.

Saturday, November 6, 2021

Shifting End-of-Term Conferences

So... we still don't have standards-based grading at the middle school level. We were well into our second year as a committee when the pandemic shut everything down. We haven't yet started up again, and I am so ready to be there instead of still hearing about extra credit and late penalties and..... Anyway...

I had also been going without grades until the end of the term for five years and then had to stop my own 1:1 grading conferences in March of 2020 - due to the pandemic and how we were teaching from April until June. And... last year I decided it would be too hard on me (and the students) to try going without grades. Was it about accountability? Honestly? Yes. The good news? We're BACK!

This is my sixth year of going without grades in our seventh grade ELA class (albeit not consecutive years - I forgive myself - and I blame the pandemic). I've learned to be proactive with parents. I've learned to share a TON with parents - a "welcome to 7th grade ELA" letter, the grading letter (after I have the discussion with students), updates on what's going on in class each month, helpful links to find books or publish writing, and pictures of the students plopped into a WeVideo. I've TRIED to learn to not get headaches wondering what the parents will think of the grading system (even if only ONE parent ever balked about it - but he was downright mean), and I've found being proactive really helps alleviate the stress. This year, as I was taking our writing time in class to write affirmations to myself ("I am fair. I am kind. I am caring. I am doing all I can do with what I have..."), I decided I needed to send one more reminder home that one grade (the final one) will be appearing in the online gradebook at the end of the quarter. So, during our next writing time, I wrote (and later sent) this:

Student grades will be posted and shared soon. My hope is that my 1:1 conversation with your child is comprehensive and helps the student become reflective. We'll be emphasizing the skills I believe they'll need in order to succeed and improve in reading and writing. You and your child will be receiving an email with the notes we discussed attached, and this should explain how we got to the grade that will be put in PowerSchool either the day we have the discussion or the very next day. If you need more information, please check with your child first, then reach out to me. These 1:1 conversations (that take time - we've got them scheduled the next two weeks) with seventh graders are one of my favorite things about going without grades during the term. Please ask them how it went once you get the report!

I then changed the form I had used in the past. I've used forms before where students and I fill them out in pen or pencil - both of us filling parts of them out ahead of time. Then I would copy them and send a copy home, never knowing if it even got home. This term, I typed in student responses and my observations on the spot - on a form that only included what we accomplished this quarter. We looked it over, I downloaded it as a PDF, then sent a copy to parents that day. The final grade was posted onto the grading platform (we use PowerSchool) later that day. The reason for this - What if parents are like many students, and look at the grade but not the feedback? In this way, I'm postponing the grade a few more hours, to give them a chance to read through the notes with their child.

I save our 1:1 conferences for our independent reading time. In those twenty minutes, I can get in solid chats with three students. I like to share snippets, and I haven't blogged in a long time, so here I go. 

All names are changed.

------------------------------

Ada had a difficult time deciding on what her grade should be. In my eyes, and according to our grading guidelines (that are subject to change each year), she should have a solid A. She kept telling me she "can't make decisions." The more she talked, the more I realized she thought I would do what "every adult" does to her - make her feel like she made the wrong decision. We checked off the list, put the A on the document, and then it was time for her to come up with a goal. Ah, but this, too, demanded a decision be made on her part. At this point, we'd already gone past the time students had to read independently, so I felt I should walk away from her and help other students. I'd let her try this on her own. When I got back, she asked, "Can I type it in?" YES! Her goal was worth the wait. She wants to be able to accept feedback from me without getting upset about it. Tough to measure, but it's a goal that speaks to her feelings of judgment from adults.

Alan struggles in ELA, yet he's put forth the effort of looking at tips I provide and getting better at his comprehension checks (our articles of the week), and he even revised his writing two times. According to the checklist, he should not be getting a B or an A. We went back to his articles of the week, and noticed the improvement. He was proud of his grade, and he created a goal of asking for help understanding what what the questions are actually asking.

Kim is so, so quiet during class. She will, however, ask me for help when she needs it during independent work. I commended her for that, saying, "There are some students here who are still 'on mute.' I don't know why they don't ask me for help - they must be scared of me or something. Nice job advocating for yourself when you need it."     ---     She replied, with her hand patting my knee, "Mrs. Kirr, you're like the least scariest person in this school." I'm not sure if that's a good thing, but I'll take it.

One other bit of discussion I feel I need to document... During parent/teacher conferences, one parent said that when he got the letter explaining about the grades for this year, he was very impressed. He wanted to write back, but he said his written English is worse than his spoken English, and knew he wanted to wait until he could tell me in person how much he likes this philosophy. He also thanked me for sharing so many books about, and written by, characters and authors that are "not what Americans deem the 'norm,'" but that belongs in an entirely different post.

Lisa avoids school. Last year was really rough on her, and this year she's been in school more, but when she's not here, she misses classwork and doesn't take the time at home to catch up on it. She chose the last day of our 1:1 conferences to meet to talk about the grade, and I made sure to not let her know she was going to go the next day... I wanted her in class! She did come to school, we chatted about the evidence, and she thought she should get a B. I asked her to go through the grading guidelines to show me what she accomplished, and she noted then that her comprehension skills were in the 60% range. So... she adjusted her grade to a C. This was up from last year when she received all Ds and Fs in ELA. I told her that if we only relied on the computer, she would be receiving a D. This encouraged her to continue reading the entire time in class and putting forth the effort in writing, as well. I reiterated what we'd said at parent conferences - that when she's in classes, she does better.

Email comments from parents this time around:

  • We could see much thought had been put into the evidence document. Thank you for the meaningful recap. 
  • We really like your format.
  • Thank you for the detailed summary of ____'s First Quarter grade.  ____ and I spoke about his grade last night and he seems satisfied...
  • We really appreciate the feedback.
  • Thank you for your time and effort...
  • I appreciate the feedback and the chance to see ____ comment on his strengths and weaknesses.
  • This is great feedback and I’m glad to know ____ is doing well in class for the most part. We will encourage him to read more independently so he can reach his goal...

Some teachers would disagree with the grades we came up with. Oh, well. I feel that the reflection process is worth it, or I wouldn't put in the work doing this. I do have one student who told me it would be less stressful to her if she had "typical" grades. She, however, takes three times longer taking short assessments during class (the articles of the week and the book club book check ins), because she strives for 100%. I truly think she may have ulcers early in life due to the pressure she puts on herself. We should not be adding more stressors to children's lives - Some student don't do so great in certain classes, and some feel they need to get 100% or they're failures. Oh, how I wish we'd get going with the standards-based grading discussions once again!!

Other posts of mine regarding 1:1 conferences with students

Even more resources: 
     Frequently Asked Questions for Parents on our classroom Weebly
     Feedback Instead of Grades LiveBinder for parents (and teachers) to peruse
     My own reflections on this journey (since May, 2012)

Saturday, September 11, 2021

9/11 - Twenty Years Later

I teach seventh graders. Every year my coworker and I decide to read "The Names" by Billy Collins with students. They read it on their own, stop and jot down which words from the poem make them think (and what they think), and then we read it again, aloud, doing the same. They turn and talk about their notes, then share with the class. As they're sharing, some of their confusion is alleviated, some experience "aha" moments, and others still don't really get the gist of the poem.

Here are some quips I heard this year at this point in the lesson:

  • I don't get the names. What are they for?
  • Are they for people who died?
  • Does he know these people, since he grew up in New York?
  • Why are names "written in the sky"? Where?
  • Why does he count 26 willows?
  • I think it's for the alphabet - he follows the alphabet!
  • But didn't a lot more people die?
  • He sees them everywhere - because of the memorials?
  • It sounds kind of sad in some spots.
  • I'm not sad about it. It didn't affect me or my family.

Then we share this video:


More from the students:
  • I thought the sounds at the beginning were funny, until I realized what was happening.
  • That was so sad.
  • When they added that girl talking about her father, that had a big impact.
  • The music itself was sad.
  • I saw my grandpa's picture and his name in the video.
  • I'm still not sad about it, but I am sad for the people who lost someone.
  • Did the people in the planes know what was happening?
  • They must have planned a lot for this.
  • Were the terrorists the pilots?
  • I saw a big list of firefighters.
  • My family had a tough time because they had to defend themselves against people who thought it was Muslims who attacked. People who follow Islam reject terrorism. My grandparents and parents had to teach others about Islam.
And I feel old. I feel old because the students in front of me (not on a screen - yippee!!) know less and less about this day. I feel old because our troops have been in Afghanistan for almost twenty years.

I remind myself that some seventh graders are at such different levels of maturity. Some are curious. Some are empathetic. Some are tired. Some are all of these things combined. Seventh grade - a sweet spot, for sure, and also such a tough age. Overall, I'm proud of their discussions today, and I'm hopeful they'll learn a lot this coming school year - about oh-so-much.

Sunday, September 5, 2021

Shifting Grades Once Again

I was so very excited... I hadn't felt this way in over a year... We were ten days into the school year, and I was finally going to tell my students about our grading (or lack thereof). After a year of going back to grades, this felt so refreshing! 

First we talked about who liked grades and why, who didn't like grades and why, the unfairness of averages, late work, how the words "extra credit" make me want to puke, and then we talked about the goal of school (to learn! to improve!). I showed a video of how they can see their progress in the online grade book (how they can view the narrative or video feedback). And I left it with, "If you think this is not for you, and you go home and share with your parents, you can always let me know you'd like the computer to figure your grades for you, no problem."

I've already had to repeat a few things... No, your grade won't go down because you didn't turn it in yet - just turn it in, so I can provide feedback. No, the grade book won't have a grade until we chat and decide on one the last week of the quarter. This isn't worth ANY points - we're working on this, this, and this...

And I LOVE it. The language is shifting already. Students are still doing the work, because our lessons are useful and will help them learn and improve.

Here is some feedback from my seventh graders (I didn't get any negative ones yet!):




My teaching heart is full once again. #ShiftThis!

Saturday, August 21, 2021

Lessons I'm Using

This blog... it's been all over the place. It's true to it's name, however, for I am CONSTANTLY learning. Life has offered up many challenges and time for reflection and then time to put to use what I'm learning.

My first week of the 2021-2022 (2022?!) school year is finished. We had three days with staff only and two days with hallways jam-packed with students. I'm tired, and I'm happy.

Usually when I think I "learn" something, I go ahead and make that same mistake again. I kick myself in the pants and get frustrated that I didn't actually "learn" that lesson. For my first sixty days with students, I'll be sharing #LessonsLearnedDuringPandemicTeaching via Twitter - one per day. I know I'm going to make more mistakes, but I think I may have actually learned these things I've done each day this past (first) week...

Five Lessons Learned that I'm Actually Using:

Stay hydrated - I drank all the water in my huge water bottle!

Don't use time to complain - I don't think I complained about anything. At one point, I sympathized with another teacher (or group? I can't remember), but I didn't add my own two cents. Instead, I shared what I liked about the new situation.

I can't help in some situations, and I have to be okay with that - This lesson was brought home by Mandy Froehlich in one of her presentations or articles shared awhile back. Last year, I let everyone else's stress become mine. My stress hangs out in my shoulders, then leads to migraines that made teaching more difficult than it already is. This year, I listen, maybe ask a question, then note in my mind that this is not for me to fix. If I think of something that can help, I'll share, but many people just want an ear that listens. I can do that, and then I can move on to what is important in my own life. I haven't needed pain medication yet this year.

Be Present - I know some people balk at the "Teach Like a Pirate" gig Dave Burgess has going on. I don't think they've read the book or heard him speak. (I wouldn't have asked the Burgesses to publish my own books if I didn't believe in the message.) The "I" in his pirate acronym is for "Immersion." When I read the book, that was the one lesson I thought I took away from it. I knew I'd have to be my best in EVERY class, not just the classes before lunch. I just had to immerse myself in the moments. I'd gotten away from this lesson, however, and now I'm back! I need to immerse myself in every moment. Be present in every moment. Good or bad, happy or sad, I need to LIVE it. This past week, I didn't multitask. I gave my full attention to what was going on around me. I soaked it in. It was good for me.

Go slow / Take things as they come - There were a couple of times I wanted to tell the kids something else that was related to something we were sharing, but I let it be. The kids dictated what came next, and I was still able to share that bit of information, just at a later time. Another time, a student came to me asking about his locker right when the starting bell rang for class. I used to stress about these things. Instead, I followed him to his locker. It took me less than a minute to help, and when I got back to the room, no one had hurt themselves - or anyone else. So far, so good.

I don't regret anything I did or said this week. The start of this school year, masked, full classes and hallways, has been just dandy. I'm looking forward to putting more lessons to work for me in my 27th year of teaching!

Sunday, August 15, 2021

Documenting the Trauma So I Can Move Forward Once Again

I spent two days with retired teachers (of 20 years!), and they asked questions about last school year. All the angst appeared again. All summer, I've vacillated between wanting to write it all out - to get it out - and never wanting to speak of it again.

This is not a typical post of mine. We went to see family in Michigan, and we talked a TON. It refreshed the idea in my mind that I needed to document more from this past school year, now that I have one week left before the new one begins. I had pushed to the back of my mind some of the things they asked about, and the trauma of it came back again.

Hubby's sister and brother-in-law have been retired for about twenty years now. They didn't even know what a rubric was when I met them twelve years ago, so to try to explain to them about all the crud we went through last year was a hefty task. All summer I've wondered about writing down some snippets. I've decided I should, for a couple of reasons. 1) I feel it needs to be documented, or people may forget. I don't want the past year to be washed away like it was nothing. 2) I think it will help me move forward into this year, knowing all we did last year. Knowing (??) it can't be worse than last year... right?!? 

So... in no particular order, I'm going to put the negatives first and the positives at the end.

Memories I've pushed to the back of my brain:

First week of school (first week of September - latest we've started in years)... All I set up for the year was what was going to be seen behind me in my screen. "I'm here for you," "Black Lives Matter," my LGBTQ ally flag... later I added their photos - on a big house (chart paper) and on an E, L, and A for my three ELA classes. I had a standing desk of sorts, and I played music when they came into the Zoom, greeting each student by name. Once attendance and my "show" were done, I waved like crazy to say goodbye, and ended the Zoom. Cried. Opened another Zoom. We had "typical" days - classes straight through - via Zoom - just like the community wanted. I smiled and sang and was encouraging (according to one student), and I cried each time I ended a Zoom. During team time, at least one of us was crying each day. We couldn't hug each other. We couldn't eat without shields in front of us. On that Friday, at home, I bawled my eyes out and crawled up into a ball, thinking that the past week was worse than my divorce. 

Into the year, kids stopped showing up to Zoom. Others would show up, but not be there when we called on them, or asked for them in the chat. A few would be there, cameras on, nodding at times, and we could see the videos being played on their computer reflected on their faces. Those few didn't answer us when we talked to them either. Two students left the district, even though we'd had myriad meetings as to how we (and parents) could help them succeed better. Rooms were quiet. Hallways were quiet. Teachers were in their rooms putting on shows so we could compete with movies and YouTube and texting. I tried different places in the room, but it always felt wrong. Staying in one place for 80 min at a time really wore on me and my body.

Hybrid came. I had my six feet of space at the front of the room, but who was I kidding? I wasn't moving around the room except to spray the tables at the end of each class. I was tethered to the laptop, as that's where more than half of my students were. I learned how to project the students at home on the screen, spotlight my document camera or a student who was sharing, use my camera for kids at home to see me or to see the kids in the classroom, to show this but not that, to have two screens so I can see the kids at home and what I wanted to share with everyone... I became a master at technology. And I didn't cry when it all quit on me. I just breathed, and restarted, hoping we didn't lose anyone and hoping the kids behaved on Zoom while I was kicked out.

I remember being grilled when one staff member tested positive and was home sick. Why did I feel as if I'd done something wrong? I didn't get sent home to quarantine, because I was scared of getting sick and followed the rules. I went home paranoid, and the next day was grilled by a coworker of mine - Why didn't I tell them she ate lunch with us, too? Blame was prevalent. Blame for miscommunication was the biggest. Communication was the worst it'd ever been in my time teaching. I had a student come to my first class one day, wondering where she sat. I had no clue she'd be coming in, and I had to call the office to be sure she was allowed to be there. Two students came in on the days they weren't supposed to, because their siblings in elementary school were in full time, so why weren't they? Kids were here in the AM, then sent home for whatever reasons in the PM. Attendance was "present," or "here but remote" or "absent," and we never knew who would be in front of us in the room and who would be on the computer, and who would skip a class or two.

It was tough to take mask breaks when we had the kids at home on Zoom, too. One of my classes had kids at home that wanted to be socializing in a breakout room during our mask break, but I never got the timing right, and they'd either be waiting for me or we'd be waiting for them. Of course, there was one who never wanted to come back in the school, so they'd drag their feet (and I had to stand at the door to be sure they got in and the door closed behind us).

I felt like I'd be wasting someone's time every class - either the at-home or in-the-building kids. If I had to explain something to the in-the-building kids, the at-home kids would be bored. After I gave directions, I'd have to adjust them a bit for the at-home kids, so the in-the-building kids would be waiting for me to help them, as they were ready to go. It really was teaching two classes at one time. I feel as if they all wanted (if not needed) my attention, as well.

Kids would use their phones to check the time. All the time. They were truly stuck like glue to them - in their backpacks or in their pockets.

I was more strict than I've ever been. I needed to be - for my own sanity. I didn't like it, but it worked better than not following through, and I was being fair, at least.

New worries / what's happening elsewhere:

Parents attacking staff over mask mandates ("Baffling" is a great word to describe this one.)

Why Does Your Child's Right to Unmask Usurp My Child's Right to a Safe School?

Anti-mask grown-ups obscure every lesson we ought to teach kids about a pandemic...

Texas and Georgia - teachers and students aren't ALLOWED to wear masks?!?!

I'll try to put these aside... Just teach to the best of my ability... Stay out of the drama of the school board meetings... Do what I'm expected to do... Care for the students.

Lovely memories:

My students surprised me with a "thank you" on Zoom on January 13th when we were all remote due to another "outbreak." All but four students were in on the text chain, and of course, I cried. 

When we were all remote, I learned to open breakout rooms for MORE than the number of students in class. That way, when I needed to cry or scream, I could go into my own breakout room (instead of being in the "main" room). Also, I could cry or scream or yell or whooop in the hallways during passing periods, due to no one being in the hall...

I could cry in my room at any time of the day, and no one would know. In a "typical" year, we have a very hard time finding a space all our own for any type of peace. Quiet was the norm this past year. I'm going to want some of that this next school year.

When the kids came to the school in person, I had to stop crying. That was actually helpful. I also learned to enjoy the moments as they came. Just to take my time and soak up all the craziness happening.

On our last fully-remote day, Sam (one of my students) had his dog howling for us once again. I loved seeing the kids so happy with their pets. Sometimes when I read aloud, some would sit there and pet their dogs or cats.

One time in May I opened the wrong Zoom (well, more than one time, but this is one specific story). I was waiting for the two kids at home. The office called and said one of the two were trying to get in. Three min or so into class, one of the two used the Jamboard (we were using Jamboard for our warm up fun questions) to tell me to "open the Zoom, please!" And that's how I knew I had opened the wrong one. Clever kids!

None of the kids ever "forgot" anything at their locker (and were gone for five minutes), because they used backpacks. That was sweet.

I only had to tell two students daily to keep their mask over their nose. Two - out of seventy-something. They knew it was a non-negotiable.

I got some of the sweetest letters at the end of the year. They've got a spot in my scrapbook, of course.

I. Learned. So. Much. Lessons I'm going to take forward into the last years of my teaching. Lessons that will help me enjoy teaching - and my home - even more. Year 27 begins for me tomorrow. Ready or not...

Sunday, July 18, 2021

Crafting Bookmarks

One of the ways I take care of myself is by making things. (One of my many "genius hour" projects!) This summer, it's bookmarks for my students. I have one I've used for years that I adore, and it's getting faded, so I wanted to make another for myself. Well... I'm not one to stop at just one. Or three. Or seven. Looks like I've made 70 this summer! Eeek! Since I often have about 70 students (not counting homeroom), that works for me. The cost to me is about 50 cents each. Making them makes me happy, and I can listen to a podcast or a book for each step. I thought I'd write a post to help others who'd like to do the same. I'll also be sharing this with my students, should they want to make their own. (If they bring me their own choice of ribbon, I'll make them for them - or better yet - with them! It's something else to look forward to in the upcoming school year.)

Step 1: Supplies / Purchases...

          Magnetic bookmarksHere are the ones I purchased - they were $8.99 when I bought them. Check the link for the size. You  might be able to do this with strips of magnet instead. Let me know what you buy if it works out for you. The bookmarks are fine all on their own, right? However, you'd have to move the magnet each time you stop reading. With a ribbon, you can simply keep the magnet in place on the last page of the book and flip the ribbon where you need it, without losing it.

          Ribbon - I went to JoAnn's and purchased two to get another for free. I'd also use my coupons to get ones that didn't fit the sales. Hint: Bring a magnet with you to see that it's the size you want. "Too narrow" and "too wide" kind of actually work, but I like the ones that are 5/8 in (15 mm). Most of the typical rolls are 9 ft (2.7 m) and can make six to seven bookmarks if you cut them without mistakes.

          Fabric Glue

          Scissors

          Template - I created two cardboard strips to help me cut the ribbon. One short one - 2 3/4 in (7 cm) and one long one - 13.25 in (34 cm). Sometimes I just used my original bookmark that I love (and why I wanted to create more), and cut the ribbon to that size.

          Working Surface - I use the kitchen table and about three paper towels folded over (so I don't get glue on the table).

Step 2: Prepare the bookmarks

          Take the sheen/decoration off the magnetic bookmarks, so the ribbon has some place to stick. I'm not really sure if you need to do this, but I'm pretty sure. I also don't think they'd look as good if you left the design on the magnet. Here's a time-lapse video of me doing this to seven of them. (I like the number seven, and sometimes I can get seven bookmarks out of one roll of 9 ft ribbon.) This took me as long as it takes for my husband to take a shower (I forgot to time it, but it happened to be when he took his shower, so)...

Step 3: Prepare the ribbon

          Use your template to cut two lengths for each bookmark. Cut one short one - 2 3/4 in (7 cm) and one long one - 13.25 in (34 cm). I cut all of the spool at one time, and I make as many bookmarks as I can out of that spool at the same time (six or seven). You'll use the short lengths first.

Step 4: Glue the short ribbon... wait... then glue the long ribbon

          Glue the short end flush on one side of the edge you just took the decoration off of, then wrap this piece of ribbon across the mid-point of the bookmark. These are tricky to keep glued on, so you'll have to find a way that works for you. Sometimes I lay them flat, sometimes I prop them up like a tent, and sometimes I do one side and then the other. Just as long as you make sure the bookmark can close once it's glued, and that it IS glued, you'll be set for the next step. Let these sit for two hours before moving on. (Waiting for the glue to dry is hard for me to do, but it helps me practice patience.)

          Once you're sure the short end is glued on well and the bookmark can close, glue the long end on from the other end. You only need a straight line for this one (no bend needed), so just lay them flat for the glue to dry. Wait.

I lay them out like this, so I know which way to glue them. You might notice some short lengths are longer than the others. Ooops! No worries. As long as the short ribbon goes over the middle of the bookmark a bit, it should be fine.

Step 5: How to use the bookmark... 

Step 6: Read!

I'm hoping this gets my seventh graders reading even more than they might. I found a clever way to display/store them in the classroom... $4 on sale at JoAnn's, and I made my own cover. I hope to have a student who wants to replace my cover with a better one:


Added 1/22: Had to make more for winter... and then for February...



Friday, June 25, 2021

Mental Health Lessons Learned from Books Read During Pandemic Teaching

 ...and in order to keep coming back to them, I'm writing them into one post.

These first three books I read prior to the pandemic. The lessons I remembered from them helped me during the pandemic.

Fewer Things, Better - 1) Check email only at one or two certain times per day. (This did NOT work during remote and hybrid teaching!) This goes for a TON of apps and websites, actually - it helps me be more present in each moment. 2) What do I want my legacy to be? Do that. 3) Who says you have to (insert job here - ex: send home weekly updates to parents)? Many of the rules I follow are my OWN. I probably don't even need to (insert job here - ex: this past school year I sent monthly updates to parents). What pressures have I put on myself that I can make easier for myself? My original reflection is HERE

The Zen Teacher - 1) Do one thing for myself every day. 2) Be present in the moments - the still and chaotic moments. 3) Declutter a part of your life - get rid of what you don't need and/or what you're not using. My original reflection is HERE

Teaching Well - 1) When we are the most overwhelmed with work is when we NEED to stop and take care of ourselves - put away the work, get some exercise, water and sleep, and experience a bit of your life outside the classroom walls. Psychologist Simone McCreary - "There is plenty of evidence that we do better in our career when we make self-care a priority... Regular physical activity activates our neuroplasticity, which increases our creativity and focus. Exercise rejuvenates our willpower" (16). 2) David Irvine - "Self-care is a responsibility. If we don't take care of ourselves, we eventually won't be able to carry the responsibility of caring for others" (18). There will always be work - the work for teachers does not end. My original reflection is HERE.   Another reflection on these first three books is HERE.


The next few books are in order of when I read them.

The Other Half of Happy by Barcarcel - "...we are all unfinished. And unfinished is fine."

Hearts Unbroken by Smith - "Every breath is a victory."

How to Disappear Completely by Standish - "...the battles we fight always change us. When we are fighting them, all we can see is how they wound us. But they can change us for the better, too."

Essentialism - The word "priority" was intended to be singular. What's my ONE priority? My health - mental and physical. Everything I decide to do (or not do) should be good for my health. My original reflection is HERE. 

The Canyon's Edge by Bowling- "Being alive means / sorrow, joy, pain, love, anger. / Feeling all the things."

Learned Optimism - 1) Being pessimistic can make me physically sick, as it actually lowers my immunity. Therefore, it's unhealthy to use my time ruminating on bad moments or situations. Know that what I'm going through (bad OR good) is temporary. 2) Have hope, and make practicing gratitude a habit. My original reflection is HERE. 

Strange the Dreamer by Taylor - "And that's how you go on. You lay laughter over the dark parts. The more dark parts, the more you have to laugh. With defiance, with abandon, with hysteria, any way you can."

Untamed by Doyle - I've felt this way before, and I'll feel this way again. Notice the feelings, feel them, and then consider, "What do I do next?" Act on it.

The Book of Joy - 1) I can only do so much. Although I can't change the world today, I can make a difference with one, two, or even more students EACH day. 2) Practice gratitude and compassion - I'm excited to find ways for my students to practice compassion, as well. My original reflection is HERE.

Efrén Divided by Cisneros - "Somehow, you just do what needs to be done... whether it's fair to you or not."



Sunday, June 20, 2021

What I'll Keep and What I Hope We Toss

I keep feeling the need to document my thoughts about this past year. I feel the need to make it into a HUGE learning opportunity. Sooo, not including things I normally do, such as music and a soft start at the beginning of each class...

Here's what I plan to toss, or things I hope go far, far away...

  • changing plans and schedules all year (see timeline in my blog post) ✔
  • spraying tables ✔
  • cheap toppling tray tables (kids call them ironing boards) ✔
  • individual tables facing front in rows
  • taking attendance online every class period
  • car parades for graduating students (if we're having graduations)
  • students at home and in person in each of our classes ✔
  • quarantined kids at home on Zoom (although this might be easier than them leaving for two weeks and coming back after having a "remote teacher...")  ✔
  • masks 🤞🏻

Here's what I hope to keep, or what I hope stays...

  • (Look through my self-help books for notes!!)
  • keep my physical and mental health my ONE priority
  • be fully present in each moment
  • drink a ton of water
  • three deep breaths with eyes closed when I'm upset
  • do not read work emails outside of work time (except for Sunday around dinner time)
  • one intention per week
  • listen more than I talk
  • routine
  • organized plans / easily found
  • digital absent folder ✔
  • free lunches for students ✔
  • virtual staff meetings
  • practice gratitude with my students
  • postcards sent to students' houses
  • small, mobile tables (instead of the big tables they took away)
  • no need for lockers - fewer disruptions and clean ups
  • me using the washroom during independent reading (if needed)
  • velcro dots on carpet
  • mood meter and / or Jamboard check in (on Mondays, especially)
  • asking students what they feel they need to discuss, then providing the time and space for them to do so (while I facilitate and keep my opinions to myself)
  • walks around the building when it's nice - walk and talk?
  • big chunks of plan time
  • when something bugs me, do not ruminate - act - do something for myself or others
  • my shield - to protect against parent ire

What I hope to do that I didn't get to do this year...

  • Establish expectations from the start. With the FIVE changes we had this past year, we didn't have time to establish them well.
  • Try some sort of genius hour or choice research project.
  • Keep a good attitude amongst staff and online (At least I did well in front of the students!)
  • Find ways to practice compassion with my students.
  • No grade in the grade book until the end of the term. I felt like such a hypocrite this year, even if it was probably easier on me and my students by using grades.

sounds like a plan

Here are some other posts I'd like to curate here for my own refreshers... what did other educators learn? I'll be adding more as I come across them:

Writing Teacher Melanie Meehan

What teachers have done this past year.

Look at All We've Gained During the Pandemic

5 Things I Liked About Pandemic Education (HS Student)

Why Remote Learning Would Have Been Perfect for Me