be greatful.

…and yes, I meant to misspell it. I know it’s¬†grateful. I’m an ELA teacher, remember? ūüėČ

Between the professional development day we had yesterday, and the fact that today is Digital Learning Day, I’ve been thanking my lucky stars that I am where I am in my career. A year ago, I was doubtful that teaching was my calling, and now? Well, a lot can happen in a year, let’s just put it that way.

Yesterday, several things happened:

  1. I¬†was an audience member of an awesome PD on SAMR and TPACK, two schools of thought and philosophy when it comes to teaching with tech, blended into one, clean & simplistic¬†template. And who did I find out¬†created that incredible¬†template? Some of the creative brains in my school district, along with my fourth grade teacher, Mr. Mika! I was blown away and am STILL so excited to have reconnected with him because of work he did with my district. We talked briefly yesterday about the work that BSD 100 does day in and day out, and the gravity of the opportunities we have — as teachers and¬†students —¬†because of that work.
  2. Jordan Garrett and I talked a¬†lot about the SAMR model, and in her efforts to explain it more completely to me, she talked through a great example using a cell phone. I’ll share it with you here:
    1. Substitution (no real change): What is the most basic communication device when it comes to phones? A landline. 
    2. Augmentation (all about improvement): How did we make it so that the landline did the same thing (allowed us to communicate), but was improved? We made it cordless. 
    3. Modification (redesigning): What was a complete redesign of the landline phone that made the communication process better/easier? Cell phones, that you can take anywhere and everywhere. 
    4. Redefinition (allowing for¬†new tasks to take place): What completely changed the way that cell phones worked and allowed for new functions?¬†Smartphones. In the words of Jordan, we can, “talk, shop, Google a word we don’t know, all while texting our mom! Boom!”¬†Drop the mic. ūüėā Couldn’t have said it better myself. And thanks to Jordan for painting such an awesome picture for someone who is definitely a visual learner. Made understanding the whole SAMR thing a lot easier!
  3. I re-watched a video that made me choke up again, and one that absolutely defines my life perspective over the last several months. I won’t give it away, but if you want to watch it,¬†grab some tissues and click here.
  4. I was reminded just how lucky I am to be working in a district that strives to better their students and teachers, to challenge the norm and to push forward, even in the face of adversity. Because it is readily apparent that these conditions are what make the teachers in our district not just teachers, but leaders.

So the reason for the spelling¬†greatful? To remind you that, whether it’s opportunities, individuals, circumstances…reflecting on those components in your life and making use of them is what allows you to be¬†great at what you do.

Students, teachers, administrators, curriculum developers, whoever you are: be grateful for where you are, and be great at what you do.

be consistent.

So, about three weeks ago, I met with our district literacy coach to make sure that I was prepared to pilot Words Their Way in my sixth grade classroom. I was a bit nervous, as I had used WTW in primary and early elementary with success, but with middle school, I wanted to make sure that the activities I had planned for my kids weren’t babyish, and that I was putting them into proper groups. It has gone well for the first few weeks, but now…

…lightbulbs all over the place, folks. I am almost in tears thinking about it (so you can imagine the self-control I exercised as I watched this whole scenario unfold!).

In particular, I was working with two students who have a serious case of low self-confidence when it comes to school work, and have resorted to some behavioral issues to access the attention they so desperately want. During Thursday’s assessment, I saw them both using basic phonemic awareness to determine where to put each word. And, as they realized they were recognizing the pattern a week after their initial work with that particular sort, their faces lit up.

It was really incredible to watch one of the students put an answer down — incorrectly — and then, a few minutes later, reevaluate his choice, chopping out the syllables in the word, followed by chopping out the syllables in the guide word.

“C…ay…ay…ke. R..ay…ay…ke.”

*moves word from short /a/ to long /a/ column*

Victory was his.


And, while all of this is going on (including my personal victory dance inside my head — probably better that I didn’t actually dance it out in the middle of class, trust me), I have two other buddies completing their word hunt using my GRADE-LEVEL WORD WALL.

Yup. That’s right. Word walls DO have a place in sixth grade.

Now, let me just set the stage for you. Student 1 is a really, tremendously hard-working student who truly does his very best. Yet, he struggles. And he struggles quite a bit with just about everything he does. So earlier in the week, I had him come up for lunch with a few other students to really go in depth about what a “word hunt” is. And, you guys? This is what happened:

(By the way, student 2 is an ELL student; we’re focusing on building vocabulary with him.)

Student 1 : Okay, so we need to find words that aren’t necessarily in our sort, but that start with the prefixes ‘re-‘ and ‘un-‘. Let’s look at the word wall. Can you see any that are on there?

S2: Revision.

S1: Yep, ‘revision’ works because ‘vision’ is a root word on its own, and ‘revision’ means to look at something again, like when we revise papers. But what about the word ‘read’? We can’t really put that in the ‘re-‘ category, because ‘re-‘ isn’t really acting like a prefix. So where would that one go?

S2: Oddball.

S1: Yep! Okay, so I’m going to do the next one with you, and then let you do the rest on your own.

:end scene:

Uhh…ARE YOU KIDDING ME?! He totally took a page out of MY book! “Okay, let’s see you do it all on your own now!” Super. Super. Awesome.

Anyway, all this to say that WTW is working beautifully in my classroom, and that I am ever so grateful to my friend Michelle for lending her materials to me, and for checking in to make sure this is going as well as it is. I cannot wait to see how the success continues in this classroom! Jim and I are doing what we can to implement this with consistency and fidelity (even though that can be difficult at times, as I’m sure we’re all aware), and the rewards are already proving to be significant.

Here’s to another fantastic week!




be generous.

Short post tonight. I figure since I posted twice yesterday, I can get away with just one today. ūüėČ

Today was crazy with our NJHS fundraiser for Komensky! We sold so. many. valentines. I’m anxious to see what the results are as the week rolls on! For those of you who aren’t aware, Komensky is working to raise money for an all-inclusive playground where ALL of their students, even those with physical handicaps, are able to play. What an awesome cause, and what a way for us to give back to our community and fellow students.

To find out more, see their Go Fund Me site.

And for a news article? <Рclick away!

be realistic.

One of the incredible teachers at our school, Annie, partnered up with ANOTHER incredible teacher at our school, Sarah, and gave the teachers of Freedom a challenge: tell us why you teach.

In short, my #whyIteach was: “…because money isn’t everything, but changing lives is.”

I titled this post “be realistic” because, let’s be realistic, teachers don’t make a lot of money for the amount of work we put in on a daily basis. We all know it. Most of us complain about it.

Late weeknights, weekends, extracurriculars, chaperoning school events, taking classes over the summers, holding second (and third, and fourth) jobs…and none of this includes the business of our personal lives.

But, let’s be realistic: we didn’t go into this field for the money. At least, none of the teachers I know did. And the teachers who have inspired me most, the ones who made me want to fight for a teaching job? The teachers I think about when I’m facing the challenges that present themselves to me day in and day out? The teachers who inspired the anecdotes I still share, 10, 15, 20 years later while I’m at brunch with my parents? ¬†They didn’t (and don’t) do it for the money.

So why do I teach?

To honor those teachers. To be there for my own kids (and yes, they are MY kids, all of them!). To support my kids the way that I was supported as a student. To offer them the best possible education that I can. To find new ways to engage them, entertain them, build relationships with them. To break through to them, and push them, and make them angry that I’m pushing them. To believe in them when they don’t believe in themselves. To hold them to a higher standard than society does.

Yes, I could make six figures. Yes, I could work less hours. But for what? How would I answer that question?

Money isn’t everything, but changing lives is.

Reality in a hashtag.

(click the link, but beware: some PG-13 language included) #whyIteach


be socially aware.

In case you blinked in January and missed the memo, it’s February.

That means Valentine’s Day, President’s Day, Groundhog Day, and everything pink, red, and fluffy. Also, sugar. Lots and lots of sugar.

It also means¬†it’s¬†Black History Month. Last week, I received the most ECSTATIC text from Jim, my co-teacher. Between the two of us and this whole blogging thing, we have been trying to figure out how to get our kids to contribute to the blogosphere. While reading¬†The Westing Game and trying to determine a summative assessment, I suggested we write blog posts as our characters, introducing character traits and expressing thoughts/feelings as the assigned character. But then, Jim developed an entire unit incorporating Black History Month, informational writing, AND blogging (this obviously happened between his Netflix binges over the weekend ūüėā).

The premise: kids choose an important African-American, conduct research (with differentiated graphic organizers, obvi), and create their first blog post from the perspective of their subject, outlining major accomplishments and life events. After some collaboration, Jim and I decided that, in addition to that, they are going to be learning formal informative writing skills, completing graphic organizers, collaborating over peer edits, and learning proper revision and editing skills.

Can I get a “HECK YEAH”?! So awesome! MAD props to Jim!

Today we started introducing the unit by going over characteristics of biographies, autobiographies, and memoirs. I’m so excited to introduce The Write Tools curriculum for informational writing, not to mention to finally get the kids into creating their own blogs! We are planning on doing the blog as well as a formal informational paper…hitting standards left and right!

And, not to worry. I still have a fun plan for¬†The Westing Game and assessing the kids’ understanding of character traits. In honor of Valentine’s Day, we are going to create valentines from one character to another — their choice of whom, as long as they can use textual evidence to prove why that valentine could potentially exist in the novel. (Personally, I’m eyeing Theo and Angela as a love connection, but I’m anxious to see how the kids are interpreting the text!)

But, I digress…

Our guidelines for the biography project are few, but we did say that the kids can only write about African Americans who were born before 1970, thus eliminating such subjects as Wiz Khalifa, Drake, Beyonce, etc. And, don’t get me wrong, I’m all about Queen Bey. But I’m prepared to be amazed in seeing our kids’ responses to people like:

Marian Anderson, Hank Aaron, Barry Bonds, Thurgood Marshall, Ruby Bridges, Langston Hughes, Jean Baptiste Point du Sable, Jackie Robinson, Billie Holiday, and the list goes on and on…

My hope is to share some of the results with you! I’m so proud of my co-teacher and our love for differentiating for our kids, helping them grow, collaborate, learn, and achieve. Thankful to have a positive, collaborative relationship with him.

Oh, and fun fact from my weekend: I used “on fleek” in the correct context. I was stared down judgmentally by my friend, but hey…occupational hazard.

be inspired.

Sure, I may be in my fourth year of teaching, but today, I was required to observe in other teachers’ classrooms. Some may not think that this is as important as¬†other “professional development” opportunities. I’ve also been collaborating with other teachers, literacy coaches, administrators, etc. district-wide. So some may ask: do you really see the value in observing other teachers in your building?

Absolutely. Others may wish to be in their classrooms, teaching (and of course, a large part of me did!), but I also gained some incredible insights and saw just a snippet of the overwhelming talent from the teachers at Freedom; teachers who are, quite literally, right above me.

Some of my observations:

– students demonstrating higher-level thinking skills by discussing the connections between society long ago (the muckrakers) and society today

– students being praised for their participation and their support of their classmates’ ideas

– teachers goofing around with their students, joking about the One Direction posters in their classroom (don’t let that fool you, it’s all about relationship-building and rapport)

– creative juices flowing; enabling students to use their 1:1 technology in a myriad of ways, including presentations to classes with apps, poetry, raps, posters, and music

– students helping one another instead of waiting for teacher redirection

Honestly? Today I saw students being pushed out of their comfort zones and to what is likely a fraction of their full potential. Too often I feel that we, as teachers, expect far less of our kids than what they are capable of. I am so grateful to be reminded just how much they can do when we believe in them, work with them, push them, and trust them. Not to mention, how much they can do when they trust us.

Thank you to those teachers who opened their classrooms to me today.