Wednesday, October 28, 2015

One Picture

There are many words that teachers use to describe their classrooms.  Student Centered, hands-on, fun, rigorous, diverse.  I could go on and on.  But if you were asked to choose 1 picture that sums up your classroom, could you do it?  

The other day, in my 3rd grade classroom, I stood up after being on the floor helping a student with our math for the day and I just looked around.  There were kids spread out in every corner of the room.  Paper tape sprawled everywhere. Unfix cubes in rows and piles.  Markers, Crayons, Pencils on the floor within an arms reach.  Students working and chatting quietly about making number lines based on different multiples.  I looked around and all I could do was smile and enjoy the view.   Smile because what I saw made me say "Yeah, this is my room!" Messy, hands-on, collaborative, discovery.  Students engaged and a central part of their learning.  I had found the picture that perfectly described our room...and I wouldn't have it any other way!

If you were asked to find a picture that described your classroom, could you find it? 

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Dear Mr. President

Dear Mr. President,

This weekend, you posted a video that raised some very important questions in education.  More specifically, over-assessment of our students each school year.  

First, Mr. President, I want you thank you for talking about the issue.  These days, it seems like teachers, parents, students keep bringing it up.  We've given possible solutions, we've opted-out, we've protested...and this issue keeps getting pushed to the side.  But now that you have spoken, Mr. President, I am hopeful that people will listen.

Your words are important, Mr. President - but the most important thing is what happens as a result of your words.  I urge you, Mr. President, to make sure that your people follow through. A plan must be made.  That plan must be put into place.  States need to feel pressure to implement this plan. Teachers and students need to feel the effects now. There's not much more we can take.

Image result for Obama testing

As a 2nd grade teacher for 3 years, each year had grown more frustrating with the amount of time spent assessing my students.  Newly this year, I teach 3rd grade. Sweet, innocent, full-of-life 8 year olds.  And the assessing is worse than ever. In just 13 weeks of school, I have given:

  • MClass Reading Assessments - These require 3+ weeks to give (at least 1 hour per day) as it requires me to meet with every single one of my students individually to give them 3 separate sub-tests. These assessments take 30 minutes or more per student.
  • A Beginning of Grade test - the BOG - to assess where my students started their 3rd grade year in order to measure my effectiveness as a teacher in helping my students grow.
  • Two benchmarks, 1 reading, 1 math - They each took at least 1.5 hours.
  • AMC, Assessing Math Concepts -a math assessment that requires me to meet with each child individually to assess them in 2 separate areas
  • A county intervention assessment that is required for my students reading below grade level.
  • And within the next few weeks I will give my sweet, 8 year old, 3rd graders the CogAT to identify which of them is academically and intellectually gifted. 

Sadly, this does not include the weekly progress monitoring and data collection I must do.  That takes around an hour a week.  Include the weekly math and reading check-in's I'm supposed to give based on our learning. Put it all together and you've got assessment insanity.

Some of these tests are wonderfully informative.  Others are not.  Regardless of whether they are informative or not, there is one thing that is for sure.  This is too much.

That's over 30 hours I've already spent assessing my students this year.  Over 15% of my school year thus far has been spent assessing my 8 year old students.

I'm constantly being asking "How are you going to close the gap? How are you going to help these students grow? How are you going to push them to proficiency?" 

Then I'm given papers.... "Here, look, analyze this data. And this. And this. What does it tell you about your students? Your female students? Your male students? Your white students? Your black students? Your Asian students? Your students with disabilities?" I'm constantly recording and "analyzing" data with no chance to plan instruction based on the results.  

If I wasn't already feeling ineffective... I sure do now. (Side note: I was already feeling ineffective)

Oh, and Mr. President - if I don't come to a meeting with that data and graphs to show how much a student is struggling, how they are making little or no growth, despite my instruction and efforts? Well then another test, the test that will determine that they need specialized instruction due to a learning disability, gets pushed back - because I have no "data" besides my observations to show that this student isn't making growth , and my professional opinion isn't enough.

Tell me, Mr. President, how I am supposed to plan effective instruction to close the achievement gap if the only time I am given, is time to look at the numbers.  How am I supposed to gather reliable, useful data if I am giving my students little to no instruction? How does an assessment effectively gather reliable information if I am constantly told "Differentiate your instruction.....standardize the tests?"

And what about those untested skills?  Communication.  Critical Thinking.  The ability to utilize technology.  Problem Solving.  Compassion.  Understanding.  Kindness.  Respect.  Patience. Perseverance. I could go on and on.  What about these skills?  These skills are getting pushed to the side because they are not measured by filling in a bubble.  Rather, they are measured through observations, conversations, and experiences within and outside of the classroom. They are measured by the student themselves, their family, their attitude, and their success in life.

If you came into my classroom on most days, Mr. President, you would see students full of life.  You would see smiles as they laugh, dance, and sing while we're rapping - with me standing on top of the desks to help them learn the content.  You would see them engaged in collaborative problem solving opportunities to uncover the world around them. You would see them excited about learning how to write in cursive, and finding out what happens to the shopping mall gorilla in The One and Only Ivan.  You would see them learning and practicing lines and songs for our tall tales play.  You would see them writing songs, debating the best sports teams, asking questions, getting stumped, feeling proud when they finally figure it out, helping a neighbor clean up an accidental spill, and writing notes about why they love each other.  No test will ever show you that, Mr. President.

But you'll also see tired students.  Students who can't take another assessment.  Students who ask, "ANOTHER test?" after they found out walking in first thing in the morning because I didn't want to tell them the day before.  Students who feel defeated because no matter how great they do during the school day with interventions and differentiated problems/support from school staff, no matter how many times I compliment them on what they are doing - the test says they aren't proficient, they test says they aren't smart.    

For all of these reasons and more, I urge and beg you not to stop with your words, Mr. President.  Millions of children are counting on you. Millions of teachers are counting on you.  Millions of parents are counting on you.

We are hopeful, Mr. President.  And we believe you can help us make a change.

Counting on You

Wednesday, October 21, 2015


Can I just start this post by saying LIFE CHANGING!

I mean seriously...

Just 1 week ago I was heading down to Atlanta to attend the 2-day Ron Clark Academy experience and boy is it an experience! The most amazing experience in my almost 28 years of life. True Story.

First, this happened..

Oh.Em.Gee y'all...can I just tell you how flippin' excited I was?  Like.. "Justin, look- it's HIM!" Talk about nervous butterflies. This is the man whose story helped me realize my desire, deep down inside, to teach.  #TeacherCrush (Don't tell my husband - I'm sure he's supposed to be my teacher crush  - don't worry, Justin, you are also the reason I realized my calling. :) )  

Before even walking through the gates at RCA we could really feel how truly welcome we were.  The students stood outside, handing out nametags, greeting guests, welcoming you, and conversing with all of the educators visiting.  These kids are incredible! Firm handshake, smiles, great conversationalists... I was impressed.  And we had only been there for 10 minutes. 

Then, you walk into the library to students dancing & cheering. People jumping on the trampoline....  Basically you walk into ENERGY!  

I was excited....I was loving it!

Then, for the rest of the day and the following day we attended workshops and classes.  First of all, it was so cool to see the teachers in action.  They are truly leading an education revolution.  The kids were incredibly engaged in their learning. And the rigor?! Phew! These kids knew the cubed root of 64 in the snap of 2 fingers.  Me? It took me a few seconds... I loved how zero time was wasted and how much music was incorporated into the lessons.  The communication between and among the kids/teacher was a huge take-away.  I love how the students stood to address the class and they were reminded to communicate with their classmates rather than the teacher.   Every single teacher is doing incredible things in their classroom.  I was blown away in every class that I attended but especially in Mr. Fleming's class where he used scenarios to help kids develop their knowledge of government, politics, and other issues that we face today.  

I even totally got to pretend I was a 5th grader in Mr. Clark's math class and get on top of the desks to celebrate! #BestDayEver

This is the entrance into Hope King's Alice in Wonderland themed classroom. HOW COOL IS THAT?

And Ron Clark's classroom entrance.... Yes, those book cases do open up to let the kids in.

And how about Kim Bearden's classroom? Book nook in a bug anyone?

Then there were the workshops.  In a word: inspirational. I could listen to the educators at RCA talk! No joke.  The best part is that they are truly practicing what they are preaching.  I mean, how many times do we go to PD and they're like "Yes, you can do this.. look I did it with 12 kids in my class!"  Yeah...Riiiight.  20-30 something kids in a class, rigor, discipline, engagement, creativity, out-of-the-box and most of all PASSION,  They are doing it and proving it's possible with kids of all backgrounds. 

And of course, like all educators - I got SLIDE CERTIFIED!! The kids tried to get me to go head first, which Mr. Clark had warned about.  "No, No. Mr. Clark said all blondes have to go head first!" Funny you say that... Mr. Clark said you might try to pull that trick on me ;).  #NiceTry

For day 2, we got to wear a house shirt.  I chose to wear Reveur Blue.   Reveur means "dreamer" and I think I've always been a dreamer - so I thought it fit perfectly.  #DreamOn

The very last thing we got to experience is the team cheers on Friday afternoon.   Plus is was a COAT DAY!! It was so amazing to see a child who had worked so incredibly hard , a student that truly earned it, get that RCA coat.  An amazing experience that I was so glad to be a part of.

I cannot thank Ron Clark, Kim Bearden, the entire RCA staff, students, parents - enough, for the amazing, incredible welcome.  For re-energizing the passionate teacher in me.  For giving me new ideas to engage my students and create magic.  For leading this revolution for kids everywhere.  I will never forget this experience and I really hope that I'll be able to come again! (Tacky Prom Night, anyone??) 

Thank you for the inspiration.

I'm going to keep running....and sliding. For you, for myself, and most of all for my students who deserve the passion, rigor, excitement, and creativity that you bring to RCA everyday.  

P.S. Please excuse any typos. I am tired.

In the words of Mr. Clark..