Thursday, November 27, 2014


Sometimes, the thanksgiving posts that clog my social media soaked life sound an awful lot like a celebrity at an awards show: "First of all, I want to thank God and my manager..." 

I get it-it's good to take stock and give thanks, even if it's only once a year. It's just terribly ironic that many Americans give thanks on their Facebook page, eat a huge meal, and then spend hundreds of dollars online or after a rousing fist-fight at the local mega-mart.

As for me, I'm going to eat a reasonable lunch with my parents, review math skills for my upcoming GRE, and hopefully catch a movie later. We're not big on sharing, so here's my thankful list.

  • thankful for a good memory of good times
  • thankful for forgiveness 
  • a huge world 
  • good books and good people who love books 
  • teachers to look up to
  • my own good health
  • my Dad's sense of humor
  • my mom's strength 
  • baby calves
  • friends and thought partners
  • concerts
  • sinus medication
  • seat belts 
  • dependable shoes and vests
  • wild animals and wild spaces
  • Vegetarians
  • Stubborn people; kind people; artists; historians;
  • Fairy tales and musicals
  • Fast shipping
  • Old men and tattooed ladies 
  • Foster and adopted families
  • Glasses 
  • High schoolers that like Lisa Frank stickers

Thursday, October 2, 2014

The Power of Honesty in Teaching

Listening to NPR book podcast this weekend, I heard a powerful quote from the author of this book: control your memory or it will control you. This quote shook me because a very good friend recently told me that they were HIV positive. I was immediately upset, not just for my friend, but that there is such stigma associated with it. I know that within my own community, there is zero conversation or awareness of HIV, even though we know that our kids are often engaging in very risky behavior. So little has changed in the years since the epidemic first took place in many rural and suburban southern communities that they have become the new epicenter of the HIV/AIDS crisis in America.

So, I was faced with a quandary to chew over as I drove to a planning meeting for Arkansas Delta Writing Project- how would I 'control' this event in my life into something productive and less ugly? During our meeting to plan the upcoming reunion ADWP session, it hit me- like most questions I have in my classroom, writing would be the answer. One of my new ADWP teacher-buddies even shared how she got her 5th graders writing in order to deal with a classmate's very tragic death. I borrowed strength from this teacher-friend and decided to launch a conversation in my classroom. Ready or not, inaction was not an option.

This was one of the scariest teaching moments I have ever approached in a classroom. I quickly took my journal scribblings and created a hot-mess of a short story. It was heavy on the flashbacks and dripping with raw emotion-a lot like a lot of my student's writing. I gave it to my students with no author attribution, and truthfully, I didn't know whether to tell them it was me. I gave a basic mini-lesson about peer conferencing, taken directly from ADWP,  told them I would model how to conduct a peer conference using my piece. I read it, then let kids give a praise and a suggestion or question.

I did decide to reveal that I was the author in all of my classes, but in the process we had some really intense and fruitful conversations in my classes about giving feedback to writers and building a strong community. Some of my students who had just viciously torn apart my writing were deeply apologetic and contrite when I revealed I had written a personal story. In most of my classes, we also had good conversations about viruses, immunizations, ebola, bullying, and having tough conversations.

To finish out our conversation, tomorrow students will set up their blogs and begin creating their writing portfolios. I encouraged students to spend the rest of the class working on a previous journal prompt, their own personal narratives, or their article of the week response. While walking around conferencing with students, a few students whispered to me "can I tell my story, too?" A few students for the first time pushed their notebooks to me and asked "is this good?" A few students stuck around after class to tell me about their novels, raps, or how they always write when they feel depressed.

Perhaps this is the seedling of a positive classroom culture, and perhaps I have what it takes to nurture it into more of an oak tree. There is this whole underground creative vibe to my class that just needs to be coaxed out through my own honesty-it's scary, but so very worth it.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

September Blog Challenge: Best of Teacher Technology Information

Two of the biggest challenges facing teachers wanting to use more technology in the classroom is the availability of devices, whether that's iPads, laptops, or cameras, and getting cut-to-the-point professional development. While there are certainly ways to gain access to more devices independently, such as creating a Donor's Choose project, that issue is often more of an administrative and school-site issue. However, I think teachers can gain access to high quality technology-centered development if they are willing to both demand higher quality professional development within their own schools while taking ownership of their development. One of the easiest ways to grab on to new professional development opportunities is to explore the internet (of course!) Here's a few ideas to get you started...

Best General Sites to Squeeze Professional Development Out Of (Least Time Commitment)
Pinterest, Twitter, Facebook- I consider these "passive" professional development opportunities. You sign up, follow a few key people, but then it is up to you how much time you want to spend. Don't know where to start? Here's a brief list. 

1. Pinterest: Search for the specific device or lesson you are interested in integrating technology. Got 1 iPad for your class? Search "1 iPad classroom." You can also follow boards you find through your searches. Of course, you could also start with my board for teacher technology. 

2. Twitter: I suggest starting by following your favorite authors, professional or not. I follow Kelly Gallagher Neil Gaiman  and Stephen King. Each of those twitter accounts are thought provoking, funny, and inspiring. Teachers will also really enjoy following different hashtags for professional development, such as #Engchat for English teachers. (Also, definitely follow #teacherproblems for a bit of humor.) 

3. Facebook: Have teacher friends at different districts? Teach in a large district? You can take ownership of your development while gaining crowd-sourcing power by creating content groups on Facebook. You should also check out professional organizations content groups on Facebook. 

Individual/Group Blogs (Medium Time Commitment)
  1.  Ran by a real teacher, Cool Cat Teacher focuses on many technology hints and tips. I really recommend the "Tips for Beginners" (top right hand side of the page) as a good starting point. 
  2. Also, a general website chalked full of teacher technology tips. 
  3. Teacherpop is a website ran by Teach for America as a blog and resource page for new teachers. It often has technology-centered resources. 
  4. This best of technology list. I bookmarked this list and occasionally click on a different blog. Don't be afraid to run a google search for your content and technology, or your grade-level and technology. You never know what blog you might kick up! 
Upcoming posts
  • Organizing files and professional development records 
  • Grading faster and more effectively 
  • Prioritizing technology skills for students 
Feel free to comment your favorite technology professional development resources or make suggestions! 

Sunday, August 31, 2014

September Blog Challenge: Google Drive Apps

My school is currently in the middle of seismic shifts in technology. Just this year...

  • New evaluation system using the website Bloomboard to manage files and meetings
  • All teachers now have Macbook Airs (previously desktops running Windows) 
  • Lesson plans to be uploaded through Google drive
  • Moving to a new online gradebook system-called TAC for teacher access system 
I'm sure other schools are also finding themselves attempting changes in technology; unfortunately, it seems like there is just never enough time in the school day to do everything teachers have to do, never mind the new technology tips and trips! However, technology can save time and deeply engage students. So, I'm challenging myself to blog about some of the new technology tips and tricks I've found really helpful through the month of September in the hopes that it might help someone out in internet-land. 

My first topic: Making Google Drive work for you... with apps! 

In Google Drive, when you click the big red button in the upper left corner marked 'create', you will have the option of using all of Google Drive's version of documents, presentations, and spreadsheets. For your every day life, these programs work perfectly well. However, for many teachers, they just don't have the same features as more traditional programs, like Microsoft's Powerpoint. My favorite app to replace presentations and Microsoft's Powerpoint in Zoho Show. Here's how to use it: 

At the bottom of the create page, you will see the button marked "connect more apps." I searched for "powerpoint" and found Zoho Show. You will have to click "yes" to make it the default program to open powerpoint files and other slideshows. 
Once you connect Zoho Show, just click "create" then "Zoho Show." To use this app, like most other apps, you must click accept in order for it to connect with your email and other security features. After that, it will offer you 15 templates to choose from, but then the basic arrangements are a lot like Powerpoint. Here's an example: 
I have personally really loved using Zoho Show; I haven't really even missed Powerpoint! If you find yourself missing certain programs but only have access to Google Drive, try searching in the app store for replacements. You might find something really awesome! 

Monday, August 25, 2014

The Power of Choice

Today was one of the only days in my teaching career where I walked away feeling like I had truly done the right thing by every student. Being an educator means that you will never know for sure if you are doing the right thing; everyone has an opinion about what you should be doing in your classroom, after all. Test prep, close reading, word walls, exit tickets-I've been advised to do all of that (and more) at some point in every single class period-as if there really is some perfect recipe for a lesson. Hint: there really aren't magic bullets in education. Sorry.

But here at the beginning of my fourth year, after a very special summer with the Arkansas Delta Writing Institute, I plunged into my classroom with something resembling confidence. Okay, maybe that's not the right word-fear mixed with passion multiplied by commitment all poured over the top of years worth of reflection, sweat, and tears (all baked at 350 degrees for 8 to 10 months-to terribly mix my metaphors).

The balance to strike at the beginning of this year at my school is schedule changes, technology hot messes, and getting to know students in a meaningful way, all while itching to get started on whatever standards or units that have been shoved at you or you've carefully developed and edited-whichever. In my first week of school, my students read two non-fiction articles, set up writing notebooks, and worked on internalizing a growth mindset through discussion and a short exit ticket.

It was just alright-maybe a little energizing to actually meet students. But then today happened.

I took all of my classes to the library and all of my students checked out a book and established a page amount goal, based on Penny Kittle's Book Love. The only real direction I gave was in selecting a title that wasn't too terribly difficult.
Blatantly borrowed stock photograph. 
Did some of my kids wimp out and get really easy reads? Absolutely. Did some of my kids want to re-read books from junior high, probably out of a lack of confidence? Yes.  But In Cold Blood, The Things They Carried, westerns, sports books, biographies, and non-fiction books about wars were all checked out by kids who were excited to read. I was able to talk to almost every single student about books in a meaningful way. I gave a mini-lesson about dialogue on the side. Even my most reluctant readers walked away with a book and at least 20 minutes of reading.

My principal came in at the beginning of first period and asked if we were doing a research paper; I said no, we were just checking out books. I felt a twinge of embarrassment and shame-just checking out books? What was I doing? It turns out, I was building the foundation for life-long readers.

I feel energized and passionate; I still have a long way to go to sustain a meaningful and productive independent reading program in my classroom that leads students to increasingly challenging books. I am working on building in choice and creativity, as well as argument and research, into my writing units. But-I've jumped in. No going back.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Life Organization: Arc vs. Erin Condren Planners

I have yet to find the perfect planner organization system. I want my planner systems to be paper-based, flexible, and very mobile. In the last year, I've tried an Arc system (from and an Erin Condren life planner.

I fell in love with the Arc system because it is highly customizable. The hole punch is an expensive one-time purchase, but the notebook cover was very reasonable. It uses a series of discs to bind the pages together, so I can move pages and sections around and replace covers. I decided on the full-sized poly-plastic cover. This was great because I simply printed the pages I needed weekly or monthly. Crazy week? Different planning guide. While using this notebook, I had a monthly plan, daily plan, and a reference section. 

One negative I found with the Arc system is that regular printer paper tended to curl, as above. Most of the pages, such as the weekly pages, could be tossed at the end of the week. However, I like to keep at least the monthly pages as a record of professional development, major appointments, etc. I did purchase larger discs, but my goal was to keep my notebook very mobile-but then where do I put the record sheets?
However, my biggest problem was simply the size and remembering to print or hole punch, creating a hot mess. I left the expensive hole punch at home, but I did almost all my printing at school on standard paper. Really, a slightly heavier paper would be better. My Arc will stick out of my beloved Timbuk2 purse, so I tended to leave it in my school bag on the weekend. This was a problem because I constantly needed to add to my calendar when out with friends or at church.

I have now switched to an Erin Condren Life Planner. While expensive ($50 before adding accessories), it is very sturdy. The paper is a good weight, the spiral is metal with a plastic coating for smooth page turning, and the tabs are laminated. While I have largely been impressed with the excellent quality, the plastic zip pouch in my planner split along the side a few days into carrying two felt pens. The company credited my next purchase for $10, and I duct taped the split closed- a hassle, but not a deal breaker. 
I did not purchase the additional pen holder ($8 really?!?), but perhaps this pouch was not designed for pens; if so, they should fix that!
The best parts? It easily fits into my bag! Its basically adorable! I bought my planner, and then my mother, school counselor and her daughter all bought one: serious planner envy. 

 The monthly planning squares are a decent size and I use the note section to record flexible deadlines and the like.
The weekly pages are on two pages with spaces for notes to the left and below. However, it's automatically divided into morning, day, and night categories. This doesn't allow for as much flexibility for crazy weeks as my Arc. Generally, the list of things I need to complete during my second period planning period fills the morning square completely, never mind the things I complete from 5:30-7:45 before school!
Weekly Worksheet copyright of The Together Teacher (
You should really consider checking out the blog and The Together Teacher by Maia Heyck-Merlin
 if you are into creating an organized teacher life! 
By comparison, I could easily customize my weekly worksheets in my Arc, with spaces to divide my goals for the week by my role as a teacher, friend, etc. I could break down my day by hour or by morning and night. 

In summary: I like my Erin Condren planner and will definitely finish the calendar year with it. However, in the long term, I feel my planning needs will force me back to my Arc. I can easily print several months worth of weekly planning sheets.To improve on it, I would suggest printing paper that will be referenced constantly on heavier stock or put into a page protector/folder insert. I also need to position my hole punch near wherever I'm doing my printing, and create a designated place to put old monthly and weekly sheets. I have also considered buying the half-sheet sized cover for the Arc or (*SIGH*) resigning myself to an even larger purse- thoughts?

Feel free to share any suggestions, or share your organization systems in the comments! 

June 2020

Some context (and flowers):  When I was 16, I moved out of my parents house. My first roommate didn't stay, so I think a nine-weeks into...