Friday, June 26, 2015

A Bitter Sweet Day

Today was the last day of school…. I was filled with mixed emotions. Usually at the end of the year I'm sad to say goodbye to my students. This year I knew it wasn't goodbye, but rather a "See you in September!" A very strange feeling. I told some of my parents I would be looping with their kids and they seemed excited and grateful.

I think it's hard not only to be switching grades but to know someone else is going to be in "my room." Someone who may or may not care about the room like I did. I did my best to keep everything in order, keep things clean and neat and like new… I can't say that someone else will take the same pride in the stuff that's in that room like I did and that makes me sad.

My kiddos only had a half day so I spent the rest of the day doing some last minute cleaning. I swept the floor, wiped down the tables, and made sure the last of my stuff was in the closets of my new room. I assessed the damage checked out what was awaiting me in my new room and took some pictures to help prepare for the upcoming year.

I think I'm still in shock that after all these years I'll no longer be teaching Kindergarten. Even our Math coach was a bit surprised. She felt bad because I spent the last two months putting together as many Math centers and activities for our program as I could. Now I get to start all over again!

It really hit me today when I turned around one last time at the door of my classroom and turned off the lights (I waited for the sad music to start playing like in the movies… it didn't but it should have!)

Saturday, June 20, 2015

It's All Changing - Again

Kindergarten, my passion, my love, where my heart is… for 8 years I have taught kindergarten. I have been in two different schools. I have taught 2 different ELA programs, 2 different phonics programs and 3 different math programs. I have felt empowered. I continue to learn each year trying to make myself better. I have done research. I have read books. I have scoured the internet and blogland for information, activities and programs to try with my students. I have worked hard to establish myself as a well respected kindergarten teacher who others can come to for advice. And now… now it will all change….

When we return to school in September I will not be in my classroom that I have called home for two years. I will not be with my kindergarten team whom I have come to love. I will not be holding the hands of little ones who have never been to school before and showing them the way. I will not be hugging parents promising that their child's first year of school will be enjoyable and that they will learn new things and grow. All that I know will not be anymore in September.

I'm no stranger to change. At the conclusion of the 2012-2013 school year I packed my things one last time and said goodbye to the school I called home for 6 years. I needed a change, it was no longer the right place for me. I could not grow, or shine there any longer. Where I landed surprised me from an affluent successful school to a lower income title one failing school… and yet I shine. I love going to work. I have the freedom to try new things and even if they fail I am given permission to try again. It's ok to try and fail as long as I learn and move forward. It is exhilarating knowing that as long as I can show logic and reason and prove how something may benefit my students I can try anything I want (within reason of course!) From this I know change can be good. Change can be exhilarating. Change can be challenging. Change can be rewarding. Change can be scary. Change can be good!

Keeping this mantra in my mind and heart I have spent the past week packing my classroom. Putting 8 years of Kindergarten materials in boxes. I watch as someone else comes in my room daily and moves her stuff in, my heart sad as I know she will have my job in September. She will be the first teacher some of the incoming students will have. She will set the tone for their learning. I will not be going far but I will not be the one preparing students for the roller coaster of school.

Next year I will be looping to first grade. I will be with my students again, and a few new ones. I am scared. I am excited. I am terrified. I am looking forward to new challenges and a new adventure. I am sad that I will not be in kindergarten any longer (or at least for the upcoming year…). I am overwhelmed. I am mad that all the time I've put in to organizing and making the curriculum work for me, all the binder I've made and the focus walls I've typed are now going to sit in storage not being used. I am frustrated that I have to redo all that work. I have to type everything again for a new grade. I am excited because I can continue to grow and learn as an educator. I am looking forward to new challenges. I am hopeful. I am on an emotional roller coaster. Some of my fellow kindergarten teachers are looping with me, which brings me great comfort. I am looking forward to working with them again. I am sad to leave behind my other colleagues. We may have had our differences but we balanced each other out. We respected each others opinions. We yelled at each other like siblings do. We hugged each other on rough days and laughed together. We shared our families. We shard our lives. While I'm only going upstairs I know that the two colleagues I will be leaving behind won't be in my room daily to share the small moments any longer. I know when teachers change grades somehow bonds that seem so strong aren't as strong any longer.

The year hasn't ended and yet my mind is already focused on the fall. Since I am looping I know that I won't need to spend a lot of time going over the basics. My students know me - good or bad we know each other. Some of us work well together, others, well, we are working on it. I've got my classroom management down and won't need to spend hours upon hours teaching and reviewing my expectations. I will continue my guided reading and centers. I will need to find new ways to rotate and new ways to implement my centers as the room I'm moving in to is much smaller with individual desks not shared tables. I had planned to revamp my guided reading next year - I was looking to read more about the Daily 5 and begin to implement the program. I will continue with this plan… but now instead of learning and implementing one new program I will also have to learn an entire new Math, ELA, Phonics, Science and Social Studies curriculum. I have started to plan. I have started to recreate the focus walls I so painstakingly spent hours making for kindergarten. I will spend my summer getting ready for the fall. I will spread it out over two months so hopefully when the fall comes I will not be too overwhelmed.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

It's Never Too Late

We are coming towards the end of the school year… Only two months left to go… and yet I find myself revamping and redoing my entire curriculum! When something is broken you don't just leave it be and let it sit there broken, taking up space… NO, instead you find a way to fix it or throw it away. That my friends is what I have decided to do.

Let me give you a little refresher… I was on leave for the first two months of school (gasp!!) I know EXACTLY what you are thinking, and you'd be correct. I came back in November to a giant mess!!! And I mean a M-E-S-S!!! While my kiddos were safe, and loving school, there were no expectations set for them, well at least not up to my standards. So for the two months of school I had to "retrain" my little ones on how to do EVERYTHING - from how to unpack, no we do NOT hand the teacher each paper out of our backpacks one at a time, to review bathroom rules - no we cannot all go to the bathroom every ten minutes. It was quite the uphill battle and I'm still facing some struggles now at the end of the year but each day we are getting better, we are learning more, and we are becoming smarter! Another unique characteristic of my little class is that 21/25 of my students are seen by the ELL teacher four days a week. Because I have such a high number of students who receive services I work closely with the ELL teacher and she typically pushes in once a day… at times she will pull my most struggling students out to work in a smaller group in a quiet setting.

That being said I realized after our second benchmark assessments for the year that my kiddos just weren't making the grade, so to speak. I found this both disappointing and frustrating! Most peoples first reaction might be to blame my circumstances - well you missed the beginning of the year, you work in a Title 1 school with high needs students, the majority of your students don't speak English as their first language and most of their families cannot read, write or speak English so there is little help and support at home. And yes, in some respects they would be right. But it's too easy to place blame elsewhere. SO I sat and I sat and I sat and I thought and I thought and I thought some more… I was at a loss… what can I do, how can I change this. This my friends, is where the blogging world was my biggest resource! I started scouring the Kindergarten blogs to see what everyone else was doing and I started reaching out to other Kindergarten teachers for advice. My greatest source of help immediately was Mr. Greg over at The Kindergarten Smorgasboard. THANK YOU MR. GREG!!! Not only was he patient and kind in answering my questions his advice to purchase the book The Next Step In Guided Reading was AMAZING! I can't sing his praise enough. I took this book and I have made it my most prized possession (for now!)

After reading the book I then got down to making literacy centers. They aren't perfect and they are a work in progress but they are something, and the kids are independent at them!! So to me that is a major plus! Using this book I began my guided reading… well, let me just say that my kiddos have LOVED the new curriculum. They are enjoying meeting with me at least once a week (I'm working on managing my groups and my time better to meet with them two or three times a week - I CAN DO IT!!) and I'm seeing such positive changes in them. They are beginning to develop a love for reading. They are feeling empowered because they are completing their centers on their own.

You'd think with two months left of the year I'd just keep going the way I'm going since things are running smoothly… if you believe that, then you don't know me very well! Now that I've got a decent handle on my guided reading I'm on to make my centers even better. For this I've reached out to Marsha at A Differentiated Kindergarten. First off she already has amazing centers that she makes and sells, but again I found someone who has been patient and kind and willing to share her knowledge. I am currently reading EVERY (yes I said every) post she has written about Daily 5. Not to mention on my wish list to purchase next is the Daily 5 book. My goal is to hopefully get at least one, if not two of my 5 independent centers differentiated by the end of the year. I'm also working to get a sensory station up and going in the next week or two! I cannot wait for this, and Marsha was my inspiration. I went out on a limb this past week and asked if I could try one out. I didn't get a two thumbs up, but I did get a give it a try and I'll come see what it's about… for me that's good enough! (At my former school a sensory bin would have been frowned upon!)

I've gotten so push back from some people about the logic of changing so much so close to the end of the year. But here's my logic - 1) Don't these kids deserve to get the best I have to offer? So if I find something new that I think will help them shouldn't I give it a try? 2) These kids are great and they are flexible, they adapt well, and they understand the ideas of how to work in centers - so why not try new things with them? I'm not talking about totally changing their centers - but rather make them differentiated!

And guess what - while some teachers might be shocked at the thought of changing so much so close to the end my administration is smiling! They are loving it! They have given my their blessings. They come in often to see what I'm doing and are hoping to have others come and visit me too! I'm no expert yet, but that is my goal! I'm hoping to be the best I can be and expand my knowledge and learning even more to better help my students succeed!

I'm looking forward to continue my adventures of centers and guided reading - and hopefully, eventually daily 5… (I do know I need to work on getting certain supplies, like items to use for listen to reading, guess I'll be looking in to Donors Choice soon)…

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

What We're Reading

One of my favorite parts of summer is the local library's annual reading program. I've always loved reading and it was so exciting that over the summer I was rewarded for reading! Even as an adult I join the adult summer reading program. I'm excited to say that my daughter, while she can't read yet, shares my love for books and we read at least one book every night and go to the library to log her books so she can earn stickers and prizes! We are just about half way through our summer break and I thought I'd share some of our favorite books so far.....

1) Fancy Nancy Explorer Extraordinaire
Why we love it: aside from loving Fancy Nancy for all fancy words and exciting adventures, this book adds an element of learning. My daughter was excited to learn about the different types of leaves and the difference between a moth and a butterfly. It sparked her curiosity as a scientist and I know these are subjects we can and will explore more this summer.

2) The Berenstain Bears and Too Much Vacation
Why we love it: it was a humorous book about a vacation that has gone terribly wrong. But it was also a book we can learn from, we talked about how to make the best of any situation and that sometimes you just have to laugh about what is happening.

3) Nancy Clancy Secret Admirer
Why we love it: this was our first chapter book!!!! The chapters are short which makes it easier to holder a young readers attention. The friendship between Nancy and her best friend Bree is a great examples of friends being there for one another. I also liked how the story ended... I won't give it away but it kept it PG which was perfect for my little girl!

4)  Pirates Don't Change Diapers
Why we love it: the young boy in the story has to watch his baby sister while his mom runs to the store and his dad takes a nap. We are expecting our second child and this book helped my daughter see the humor and joy of having a younger brother or sister. We laughed through the whole book!

5) Spaghetti in a Hot Dog Bun
Why we love it: this book my daughter picked all by herself. I had never heard of it before but boy am I glad she picked this one out. I will be purchasing this for my personal collection ASAP! This book focuses on how we are all different and it's ok. It encourages children to always do the right thing, even when others around them aren't making the best choices! 

What are your top five children's books of the summer so far?

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Self-Evaluation Equals Becoming a Better Teacher!

Confessions: I miss blogging, I miss connecting with other teachers in a way that only happens in the virtual world of teacher blogging! I want to be at the I Teach K conference in Vegas! I want to be asked to be a presenter! I want to share with the world my joy of learning and help other teachers the way I know I can…. I just don't know where to start!

To help me get back into blogging I decided to take the #Kinderblog14 blogger challenge. Challenge 1,  write the blog post you've been meaning to write, or have had on the draft board and never finished. For almost a week now I tried to figure out where to start, where to jump in… then I checked my draft board and found this one I started back in NOVEMBER! Like I said, I haven't blogged in a LONG time!!!!

So here is what I started writing back in November 2013:

As many of you know I've been posting a lot about my excitement of working in a new school... well 39 days down and that excitement hasn't changed. I'm finding that this new school is pushing me to become a better teacher than I ever imagined! Both my APs (assistant principals) have set the bar pretty high for me and I am doing everything in my power to reach that bar.

This past week I started doing math centers. Our math curriculum is centered around the use of a text book, which for my ELL students I have found to not be very engaging. I got permission to use the textbook as I see fit and teach the concepts in various ways, including centers, games, and hands on learning! I still have to administer the mid-chater and end of chapter tests from the program... which if all goes well my kids should be able to do because my centers and hands on approach will hopefully help my kiddies learn the math concepts. So center based math it was. We are focusing on the numbers 0-9 as well as the terms, greater than, less then and introducing simple adding and subtracting (without actually introducing those terms: I have three apples, my brother has 2 more apples than me, how many apples does my brother have).

I met with one of my APs last week to share what I was doing and he challenged me - how are you holding the students accountable to what they are learning? How are you tracking what they are doing? Good question! I have 6 tables in my classroom - so I made 6 centers.

This is what I used to do: One center was a teacher lead center where I work on the skills each group needs. Right now my big focus for the majority of the class is to master the idea of one number at a time. My high fliers are working on counting on, and addition problems using the terms more and less. This center always had some sort of product I could keep and file - whether it was a page stapled in their math journal or their math tests. I had one center that was math books - we don't have a lot of time to read/look at books and I thought this might be an interesting way to bring books into another part of our day. I had a number writing center, and a few games of matching numbers.

After meeting with my AP and his questions about accountability I started to think... hmm... I need to find a way to make these centers have more meaning. I scoured the internet and found some great teachers who were willing to help me out! One teacher in particular: Crystal @ Kreative Kinder was amazing!!! I mean above and beyond when it came to answering my millions of questions (and she's willing to answer even more of my questions!) I've spent most of the time picking Crystal's brain about literacy centers (because, yes trying one new thing at a time is just not going to work for me!) but one great idea I got from Crystal was to basically have two centers in one. First the kids would do a paper and pencil activity which would be followed by a quiet activity.

And here is my current follow-up:
The reality - my goal of doing centers all the time fell much shorter than I like. Lack of supplies and cost were only part of the problem. Trying to learn a new curriculum AND trying to invent and incorporate centers was challenging to me at times. I decided that I needed to slow down and not jump in without looking. I spent most of the year embracing the new curriculum I was teaching and trying to learn the ins and outs of it. I wanted to get a good handle on the curriculum, figure out what I love and what I hate would like to improve upon for the next school year.

I think I have a good idea now on what our literacy and math curriculums are all about and I'm excited to spend time this summer planning and trying to make them a bit more interactive. Do you have any suggestions or favorite teacher bloggers who have great kindergarten math center ideas?

I really hope this blogger challenge helps get my creativity for blogging flowing again! :)

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!

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?