Monday, November 4, 2013

With Great Risk Comes Great Rewards

What a great day I had! Today was my formal observation and boy have I been panicking!! We had a choice this year to pick 6 informal observations OR 1 formal observation with 3 informal observations. I opted for the 1formal/3 informal because I really had no idea what the administration was looking for. I figured by doing the 1 formal observation I'd be able to meet with one of my administrators and really get a good idea of what they are looking for. Well it worked!!!

First I met with one of my Assistant Principals and discussed his expectations for me for teaching math to my kinders. To my great surprise and delight I was given the go ahead to take my math teaching to a whole new level. I was allowed to do a center based approach to math using the teaching point from the book but not actually using all of the workbook pages! WAHOOO!!! Next I handed in an outline of my proposed plan. I handed that in on a Friday and got it back at the end of the day with 2 pages of suggestions and ideas. Now most people might have seen all of those notes and gone a little looney. Not me! I was excited to see all those notes because they were there to help me become a better teacher, NOT to put me down. Let me back up and explain that before my AP handed me my lesson plan back with all his notes he made it VERY clear that he added suggestions and things that he has seen in other classes that he liked.

Here are some of the things that he wrote down:

  • Safe environment
  • Clear directions
  • High expectations
  • Accountability in each center
Clearly some of these things are not things that can been seen in a written lesson plan. With my two pages of suggestions I was given an extra week to get my act together for my observation.... which I was truly grateful for since the day I was originally supposed to be observed I was feeling quite under the weather!

I made sure that 4 of the 6 centers had some form of accountability. The other two were self-checking centers. I made sure my routines were down pretty good and I made sure I had a clear directions.

Well, right after lunch my AP came in for my observation. I won't lie... my knees were shaking and I was a bit nervous. I had such a rough/bad/terrible/rotten difficult year last year with my administration that I wasn't sure how today was going to go. BUT in the end it went awesome!!

Here are some of they key components that I feel really helped make my lesson rock. We started with our normal calendar routine and the moved on to the game Mingle. I cannot take credit for this awesome game, one of my fellow bloggers (sorry I forget which one of you lovely ladies it was) posted this awesome video not too long ago and I KNEW I could use it to help children count and learn their basic numbers. So to whomever shared this video on Facebook THANK YOU!!! You totally rock because my AP LOVED this game. He loved it so much that while we were playing he called the other AP in our building to come down and check out what we were doing!! I was super excited about that!

I also had some awesome centers that were from some other awesome bloggers.

  • I used Mrs. Hoffer's Spot's Mega Sort Bundle {Numbers 1-10, 10-20, and Letters} for my cut and paste center. The students only had to complete the page that matched the number 9 since that was the number we were working on. This activity was great because I had a tangible product that I could see if the students understood the various ways to show 9!
  • I used The Moffatt Girls' Fall Math and Literacy Packet (Kindergarten) for another center. I used the fall leaves ten frame page. Which was perfect because the students needed practice writing the numbers using ten frames. 
  • I made a center with drawing and writing each number in various ways. I made this center based on Crystal over at Kreative in Kinder's Zero the Hero Classroom Counting Fun!
  • The last item I used from another great blogger, Abby at The Inspired Apple, is Babbling Abby's Kindergarten RTI: Number Sense #0-20 This packet I used in three different centers!! SCORE! 
    • I printed and made binders with the majority of the pages in this packet for the numbers 0 to 9 since that's all we are up to right now. I will add the other numbers are we get to them. I use these binders for my RTI groups.
    • I printed the number writing pages for the numbers 0-9, put them back to back in sheet protectors and used binder rings to hold them together. The children used dry erase markers to practice writing the numbers.
    • I printed and cut apart the number "puzzles" pages and the students sorted the pieces after they finished the ten frame fall leaf page from the Moffatt Girls!
All in all the centers and lesson went AMAZING!!! I saw my AP at the end of the day and we will formally sit down on Friday and discuss it BUT he said he had a few suggestions but was proud of me and thought it was awesome!

I want to give one last shout out and thank you to all the wonderful bloggers and TpT teachers whose products helped me do an amazing job today!!! I hope everyone else's day went as awesome as mine did!
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Saturday, October 26, 2013

Observations and the New Teacher Evaluation

As an educator being evaluated has always been part of the system, the principal/supervisor comes in, observes what you are doing, takes some notes and then writes it up. If you're lucky and have a supportive supervisor you might even have a post-observation meeting in which you discuss ways to better your teaching.

For the past 6 years I worked at a school where observations were done randomly without any warning. Formal observations (you know, the ones where you had a pre & post-obervation meeting) were unheard of. The principal popped in for informal observations whenever he wanted and stayed for as long as he wanted. If he didn't like what he saw he stayed longer, if he liked what he saw (or liked you) his visits were short and sweet and to the point. We were often observed as the students were walking in to unpack, the day before or the day after vacations, etc. Certain teachers were observed more than others, and things were very subjective!

Now the administration is under strict rules to follow a 22 part scoring rubric! Yes 22 parts! WOW! That's a lot!!! From the way we act as professionals to how we interact with parents. From how our classrooms are set up and organized to whether or not we ask higher level questions with our students. In theory principals/supervisors are supposed to write down everything they hear and see while they are in our rooms and then use this cut and dry scoring rubric to give us a grade.

Four weeks into the new school year... and my first year in my new school... with a brand new reading/ writing curriculum that is in its very first year and no one knows anything about the program and a brand new math program... I was observed! I'm not going to lie, after my experiences last year I was a bit jittery and a bit nervous. I didn't know what to expect! I took a deep breath and just tried my best! I acted as if my supervisor wasn't in the room and went on with my lesson. It took almost 3 weeks but I finally got my observation write-up back. I can see the pros and cons of this new system.

The pros: the feedback was clear and to the point. I know exactly which of the 22 domains I need to "improve" upon and which I am doing an excellent job in! I can clearly look back at my write up and see what I should be focusing on to make my teaching better. I can honestly say I left my post-observation meeting feeling like I was truly being supported! My supervisor wasn't "out to get me" but was looking for ways to help me become an even better teacher!

The cons: my biggest complaint right now is that I was graded on my questioning technique... which in my opinion wasn't exactly very fair. Let's take a look at this from the outside. The rubric states that using only recall questions is not an effective teaching practice, yes I agree. Teachers, even Kindergarten teachers, should be using higher level questions to get their kiddies to think! But does the rubric take into account the time of year, or the fact that I am teaching 27 students, 16 of which are ELL whose primary language is Spanish, oh and I don't speak a lick of Spanish? No the rubric does not take into account things like this... the rubric is black and white, cut and dry... what we (supervisors) see and hear is what we can score on. The real kicker was when my supervisor stated that she realized it was early in the year and that my students in particular were not ready for a very deep conversation regarding A House for Hermit Crab, and yet, knowing this she chose to score me on this domain rather than writing N/A with a note stating that it was too early in the year to score this. I guess the only positive is that I can only improve from here! My other complaint is that 22 domains is A LOT! I mean how can anyone wrap their head around all 22 domains at once. It might have been nice of they decided to roll out this evaluation system in pieces. This year we will focus on mastering the domains in category 1, then the following year add in the 2nd area, then the 3rd and finally the 4th. It would have been nice to take this slow... but then again look at the district I'm in... they took on using a literacy program that is still being written and has not been tested in any classrooms EVER!!!

Has your district rolled out a teacher evaluation system? What do you think about it?
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Thursday, October 17, 2013

The First 28 Days

Wow! I can't believe 28 days has already gone by... where has the time gone? It has been quite an adventure getting used to my new school, which I am loving by the way. Sometimes taking a blind leap of faith really does work out for the best in the end!

My new school is nothing like my old school... here's a breakdown of some of the major differences (in now particular order):

  • I am now in a Title 1 school - this has been a big change for me. We are lacking many basic supplies and I have had to reach into my own pocket to purchase supplies for the classroom that I never thought I'd have to buy. I've also had to adapt many of my practices to make them work with the supplies I do have. It's been a learning curve but it's pushing me to be a more creative and engaging teacher!
  • The students wear uniforms - personally I think this is a wonderful thing. I never have to worry about someone coming in wearing inappropriate items.
  • There is an unspoken dress code for teachers - while our contract does not outline a dress code the teachers in this school dress with pride, nice clothes and nice shoes every day... jeans and sneakers are frowned upon. 
  • Take Risks! - We are encouraged to take risks and try new things. We are encouraged to take our curriculum and make it work for our students. We are encouraged to do what it take to get through to the kids so they can learn! We are encouraged to be creative and make teaching and learning fun! 
  • Learning Centers - We are expected to have literacy centers 4 days a week and teach guided reading during this time. While I'm still doing assessments my students are loving the idea of having center time and are thriving on it. 
  • Copies are limited - We have to submit our papers a week in advance and have proof of why we want to use it. I have not yet taken risks with my copies and have been making copies at home which isn't cheap!
  • No printers - We don't have free access to printers. I am used to having a printer at my ready all day long. Now I have to be extra prepared - everything has to be printed out at home and brought in. This is taking A LOT of getting used to for me!
  • Collaboration is limited - I'm used to meeting and planning together every day... here we are working towards that but I often find out about projects and activities that the other teachers are doing after the fact and have to rush to figure out how to make the activities they are doing work with my class.
  • New Curriculum - The school took on two new curriculums this year - math and literacy.
With all these differences it's been a struggle the first 28 days to get organized and figure out how I want to do everything. I am finally getting into a nice groove.

It's taken me a while to figure out the best way to teach our new literacy curriculum. There isn't any research on this new program that has been widely adopted and it's the first year it's being used so everyone is learning as they go which means there are no "experts" to go to when you have a question. I've got a good handle on the reading aspect of this new program - but I'm still struggling with figuring out the best way to teach writing based on this program. I'm also trying to figure out the best way to make cross-curricular connections with social studies and science. The best part though - PROJECTS!!! We are encouraged to do projects, lots and lots of projects. My goal is to get ahead of the game in my planning so I can figure out some great projects for SS and Science!

I'm also trying to find some great math projects/activities that tie into my math curriculum. We teach math for 2 periods, which is longer than I've ever taught math... so I'd love to spend part of that time doing hands on projects to reinforce what I'm teaching.

It's been a struggle to keep up with all the planning that I have to do this year but I'm hoping to get ahead of the game at some point. I'm also trying to plan everything out so that come next fall everything is ready to go!
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Thursday, September 5, 2013

Culture Shock and Donors Choose

I've been at my new school so far for 5 whole days! Three days were designated as unofficial set up days, and 2 days were official meetings and set up days. Everyone warned me that switching to this school would be a change... and they were 100% right, but the changes are in unexpected and surprising places!

Lets start with my room - it's HUGE!! I have two double door coat closets for the kids. Then I have two single door teacher closets. One with shelves and the other is more of a coat closet. I also have cabinets about my sink. I have a teacher desk (WOW! Haven't had one in years!) and a small 2 drawer file cabinet. I also have more book shelves than I know what to do with (no I'm not complaining because I am certain by the end of the year they will be filled to capacity!) I have 6 kiddie tables in the room and theres room to spare! I have a small round table for conferencing and a small extra desk for my computer. Did I mention that I have 12, yes 12 bulletin boards!?!?! Oh and 2 more in the hallway! Do you know how hard it was to cover all of those boards and figure out what to put on them? I still have one blank board and I have no idea what I'm going to put on it!!! The stores are all out of sets I like so that board will have to wait another week or two.

Another huge change - the atmosphere. Everyone seems so relaxed and happy at this school. Yes I realize the kids haven't come in yet and that feeling may change but for now... it's a warm, inviting, relaxed atmosphere. Even the administration have been warm, welcoming and helpful! One of our AP's actually helped me hang bulletin board paper on my hallway boards! I don't think in a million years I would have ever expected that! This same AP has made it a point to remind me that in this school I wont have to walk on egg shells or look over my shoulder wondering if I'm going to make a mistake. He has reminded me over and over again, make a mistake, so what! Learn from it, move on (and never make that same mistake again! HA!) I'm loving this philosophy! They also believe that the weekends, holidays, etc. should be family time... leave your work at the door and go enjoy your family. What an opposite feeling than my other school where the admins would have loved for teachers to stay at least 2 hours extra every day to do work every day of the week! I can feel the tension and stress starting to slip away, the uneasy feelings I used to have of being afraid to try new things slowly disappearing. The eagerness and excitement of a new year is gradually sinking. I'm actually looking forward to a new school year!

The last big change has been a bit of a shock for me. At my old school we were spoiled (I didn't realize this until the last few days). Anything we wanted for our classrooms we got - you need chart paper, no problem, scissors, pencils, markers, pens, computer paper, construction paper, copies, colored copies, books for your library, math manipulatives... we even had laptops to bring home and use for work as well as classroom printers. I spent very little money on my own supplies for my old school - the philosophy was anything in the building should belong to the school not the teachers. Don't get me wrong I bought bins and posters and rewards and fun stuff.... but the necessities were always given to us. Not so much now... I've already spent a couple hundred dollars and I'm no where near ready for Monday! I've had to buy every single supply that you can imagine - chart paper, teacher scissors, staples, tape dispenser, I even have to purchase notebooks for my kids! (Insert shocked face!) This weekend alone to get ready for the kids coming in Monday I need to go buy at least 10 (probably more) baskets from the dollar store for my library which is unleveled and all stacked in piles (did I mention I have to level the entire library on my own time! What a job that is going to be!) I also need to locate a ones, tens, hundreds pocket chart for counting the days in school, I need bins to organize pencils, crayons, scissors, glue, table top bins.... then I need to purchase a ton of ink for my home printer as I will be printing like a mad woman this weekend so I can finish my bulletin boards and have my first day of school papers ready! We can't get everything copied so I'll be paying for copies this year.... which leads me to a question - Donors Choice... has anyone every requested anything? How does it work? Could I request help for the basic supplies I need for my kids (you know like the notebooks, a classroom sharpening, etc?)

I may be spending a LOT more money than I ever intended to for my classroom - but I'm hoping the payoff of working in a nurturing, caring, loving, fun environment is what I will get! I'm excited to see what the year brings and can't wait to meet all my kiddies on Monday!
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Thursday, August 29, 2013

And So It Begins....

Yesterday was the first chance I had to go and visit my new school since I was hired. To be honest, when I started the process of interviewing at new schools I was a bit overwhelmed. The thought of leaving the comfort of my old school was scary, not to mention I hated the idea of leaving all my friends... but there comes a time when everyone needs to move on, and this was my time. When I interviewed at my new school I asked few questions and didn't even look around the school because I honestly didn't think the interview went that well and I wasn't convinced I would get the job. Silly me! After being offered a full time Kindergarten *YAY* position I realized how foolish I was and spent the whole summer wondering what exactly my new school would be like.

Well yesterday I finally got the chance to stop wondering and actually see it. It a relatively new building so that means AC in every room (WAHOO!) and new furniture. My new classroom was imaculate. I have NEVER moved into a classroom that was that cleaned out before. I'm not sure yet if the teacher left the building or moved to a new room, I'll have to find out today. Either way I want to thank her! She did an amazing job cleaning up and cleaning out the classroom. She was kind enough to leave up her bulletin board paper incase I didn't feel like changing it. I'm still undecided about that. Last year I put up fabric using liquid starch but I'm afraid that might ruin the brand new boards and I sooo don't want to do that my first year at my new school, even thought I REALLY want to cover my boards in fabric!!

What shocked me the most about my new school was that they collect the library and math supplies before summer break... so literally the room is completely empty! They wont be handing out the classroom libraries until next week!! Not knowing how many books I have or math supplies it's hard to decide how to set up my book shelves. Another thing that took me by surprise is how many supplies the teachers have to supply. I guess I was spoiled in my old school.... my former principal believed that anything that entered the building should be property of the school so he supplied us with A LOT - down to pens, pencils, dry erase markers/erasers, scissors (for teachers), various kinds of tape and dispensers, staplers, etc. I had to go out yesterday and purchase a stapler, tape dispenser and good teacher scissors for the first time... only to get home and realize I forgot to purchase dry erase markers and a desk organizer for these supplies! Guess I'll be going back to Staples for the 5th time!

Yesterday I spent the day wiping down the shelves in all the closets and organizing the few items the previous teacher had left... todays job - BULLETIN BOARDS! I have so many and I am a bit overwhelmed but I know I'll get it all together and LOVE having so many beautiful boards!! I'll be sure to post some pictures of the before and after later this week.
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Monday, July 15, 2013

Brag #Kinderblog13

Brag... I'd lie if I said I don't like to brag. I'm not saying I run around patting myself on the back, shouting from the rooftops every time I do something amazing, but lets be honest... sometimes sharing and shouting from the rooftops is fun! So here is me, shouting from the rooftops bragging sharing some things I've done that I'm proud of!

I've given 2 professional developments in my school over the past few years and I am very proud of both of them! A few years back my principal decided we should be giving every single student in the school individual reading and writing goals. The students were expected to be accountable for these goals, they needed to be able to tell anyone who asked what goal they were working on and there had to be documentation of what goals they had already accomplished. This was a HUGE undertaking! Many teachers I knew were using post-it notes or index cards attaching them to the students reading bags and writing folders. I hate spending time writing the same thing over and over again so I hit the computer. Using the state standards as a guide and a packet of information from T.C. I created goal sheets. I created a version for the students to keep in a goal folder and then another version that was sent home with the students weekly so the parents could see what goals we were working on, what goals their child mastered and what goals they would eventually be working on. Over the last few years we moved away from the individual goals, however my goal sheets have been sought after by most of the staff in my school (and some of my friends who will be moving on to new schools have already requested my sheets for their new grades!) Over the years I have worked on modifying these goal sheets to match the new Common Core Standards. I have also modified these sheets so teachers can use them to write their conference notes on them. I am so proud of these sheets and have found them so useful over the last few years. I enjoyed doing the PD on these sheets!

My second PD that I did was on writing good test questions. It's a funny story how a Kindergarten teacher came to do a PD on writing good test questions. A few years ago I took a college class about assessments in special education. I was expecting the class to focus on how a teacher would modify or give assessments to students with special needs - instead the teacher focused on what is a good test and who do you write good test questions. This was such an eye opening experience! I learned so much from this class that I immediately presented my knew knowledge to my principal and he asked me to do a PD. Over the last few years I have worked closely with our Social Studies consultant and helped him with writing good test questions. Secretly I always wished he would ask me to give a presentation to some of the other schools he does consulting with... but I guess I should have flat out asked him! Oh well!

I really love when my colleagues ask for my help - from help with technology, or creating documents on the computer to sharing my two presentations with them it gives me a thrill to be able to share my knowledge and talents! I hope one day I can share all of this with more people!
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Sunday, July 7, 2013

Bloglovin' Blog Hop!

As most of you know Google Reader is no more... But Bloglovin' is alive and kicking! I'm lovin' Bloglovin' I find their app easy to navigate on my phone and I was able to organize all of the blogs I follow on the computer. I actually spent a lot of time sorting all the blogs into different categories and I'm in LOVE!

I decided to link up with Tori's Teacher Tips for her Bloglovin' linky and bloghop. Tori has amazing technology tips, including how to navigate and use Bloglovin'. Click on the picture below to go to Tori's linky party. Scroll all the way to the bottom to find over 260 blogs to follow on Bloglovin'!!!


A Teacher Without a Class and Teaching is a Gift are working together on another blog hop. This one is very specific to only Elementary Teachers who blog about Teaching! Click on the button below to find over 60 teaching specific blogs!

A Teacher without a Class

Oh and of course don't forget when you are exploring and lovin' Bloglovin' be sure to follow me MaMa Goose's KinderGarden! Help me reach 100 followers and I'll have a super-dee-douper fun giveaway!
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