Friday Five: Teacher Friends

Friday Five: Teacher Friends

On Thursday evening I got a call from my sister informing me that my grandpa had passed away. I thought I would be ok to go into school. I knew that he wasn’t doing well and his passing didn’t come as a surprise. Plus I had already missed two Fridays in a row. First for a personal day and then because I was so sick. My assistant teacher was out and I just felt like I had to go in. I also thought I would be fine.

I sat down at my teacher table and that is when it hit me. I started to cry and then I couldn’t stop. I was sobbing so hard that I couldn’t breathe. The teachers at my school rallied around me to support me throughout the day. People took my subs and someone took my group at the assembly. Teachers made me coffee and looked after my class when I just needed a break. My class of first graders was wonderfully understanding and so kind to me all day long. Together we made it through. 

I could not be more grateful for the teachers at my school and so today’s Friday Five is all about our teacher friends! There is no better friend than a teacher friend. Here’s to all my teacher friends present and past who have supported me and helped me become the teacher I am today! 

One

My First Teacher Friends

I look like such a baby here! It was pajama day at school and we decided to continue our pajama day festivities out at a bar after school. Only teachers would find this perfectly acceptable behavior. 

My first teacher friends can take a lot of the credit for guiding me to become the teacher I am today. 

Two

My Teacher Friends Who Tolerate & Encourage My Love of PD

This is my teacher friend Lindsey. She teaches ELL and I constantly email her for advice. She supports me with ELL strategies and I support her with Literacy and Math strategies. This photo was taken one weekend where I decided to bring literally all of my literacy resources to her house and put on a full professional development session so she could understand the workshop model classroom and better support ELLs in a this model! Seriously, it takes a teacher friend equally as devoted and crazy to tolerate this sort of endeavor. 

Three

Teacher Friends Who Celebrate

Teacher friends can uplift and celebrate with you in ways that your other friends just don’t understand. I’ve only worked with teachers who celebrate each other successes and take time to celebrate together. These were the teachers who encouraged me to go for it when I mentioned teaching internationally.

FOur

International TeachinG Friends

Your international teaching friends are a little different than regular teacher friends. These people go through so much with you. I would not have made it through the day if it wasn’t for all of their love and support. Thanks to all of them for supporting me. 

Five

THANKS!

Thanks to all of the teachers who have been a part of my teaching journey. To those who have supported me through the toughest teacher days and celebrated my biggest successes with me. Thank you so so much! 

What’s the best thing a teacher friend has done for you? Let me know in the comments below. How do you uplift your teacher friends? Teacher friends are just the greatest!

Prep Time: Are you using it wisely?

Prep Time: Are you using it wisely?

Red Nails

When I was in fourth grade we went to PE and when we came back the classroom smelled so bad. It smelled like nail polish. I tried to figure out why and when I looked over to Mrs. Ryan’s desk I saw a bottle of red nail polish and then noticed the color on her fingers. Her nails were not that color that morning. As we worked through math class Mrs. Ryan couldn’t touch anything because her nails were drying. Can you even imagine? She did her nails during her prep!!! As a fourth grader I thought it was so cool that she did her nails in the middle of the day. As a teacher I just wonder… how? 

Now, I love Mrs. Ryan with all of my heart and I have nothing against her doing her nails while we went to PE. She was such a nurturing, kind and compassionate teacher. Nothing like another teacher who shall not be named. Every time my mom runs into Mrs. Ryan at the grocery store she asks about me and tells my mom to tell me that she is so proud of me. Teaching was so different when I was in elementary school. 

What DO I Accomplish During Prep Time?

  • As teachers we have so much to get done! Prep time (aka that time when your students go off to specials) isn’t a break to do our nails. It isn’t a break at all. It’s work time to get stuff done! Here are all the sorts of tasks I accomplish during prep:
  • Plan for teaching
    • Whole Class
    • Small Group
    • One-on-One
    • Reading
    • Math 
    • Writing
    • Word Study
    • Science
    • Social Studies 
  • Adjust instructional plans
  • Go to the bathroom- this might seem strange to list but it is almost always the first thing I do during prep
  • Answer parent emails
  • Answer emails from other teachers
  • Make copies
  • Connect and plan with grade level peers 
  • Collaborate with assistant teachers and paraprofessionals
  • Meet with learning support teachers- interventionists, ELL, special education, speech…
  • Meet with instructional coaches, literacy coaches, math coaches, principals, assistant principals… whoever 
  • Visit storage and retrieve necessary teaching materials
  • Set up for the day’s lessons
  • Read professional texts
  • Write report card or progress report comments
  • Track student progress
  • Plan field trips 
  • Write class newsletter
  • Analyzing student work
  • Approve posts on Seesaw
  • Observe other teachers
  • Put away guided reading books
  • Organize
  • Sub for other teachers

I probably missed a few things but that seems about right. 

Schedule Out Your Time

Times in blue are when students are in the room but it is also technically prep before school. Times marked in red are when classes are being taught in my classroom by other teachers. Duties are marked with an asterisk and our weekly elementary meeting is on day 4 during lunch and recess.

Teaching in Poland I have a lot more prep time than I did when I was teaching in the US but I still schedule it out. In fact, at first I was so surprised by the amount of prep time I had that I didn’t use it well and wasted a lot of time. Now that I schedule out my prep time I am able to get a whole lot more done. Each period lasts 40 minutes. 

Day one

Before school prep is when I set up my week for success. I answer any parent emails I received over the weekend, I make copies and get out guided reading text sets, I sip my coffee, I switch the class leaders board and take note of any special events coming up. I also greet each child as they come into the classroom and ask them how their weekend was. Parents also stop by and I chat with them. 

Prep 1 is usually reserved for my assistant teacher and I to discuss different things. We look at student data and we discuss teaching moves for different students. We catch up on our weekends and plan for the week. We also take time to plan for our RTI intervention block on Friday. 

Prep 2 is spent making copies and writing guided reading plans for Tuesday. I don’t write out lengthy lesson plans and we aren’t required to submit any plans but I still jot down my guided reading plans. 

Prep 3 is when I breathe a sigh of relief! During this prep I usually plan out math for the week. This week I used that time to plan out science. 

Day Two

On day two my before school prep is a meeting every other week. This means my assistant teacher or another assistant teacher watches my class. I have no time to answer any parent emails before the day begins. I will say that Tuesday mornings are a bit more stressful than other mornings. Before school meetings are the worst for elementary teachers. 

Prep 1 is when I answer parent emails and any other emails I have. I also clean and organize during this prep like there is no tomorrow. I put books away and I put up anchor charts that have fallen down. I go to town. I like to have my space nice and orderly before the kids come back during my second prep on day two. 

Prep 2 I leave my classroom and find another place to work. Sometimes it can be difficult watching your kids with another teacher. This is a time when I find another quiet and peaceful place in the school to work. During this prep I typically plan out my social studies lessons. Until the end of April social studies is out because science fair is in. I also have a lot of meetings that take place during this time. It must be a time when a lot of other people are free. 

Prep 3 on day 2 is sometimes peace and quiet and sometimes not. The class that is in my classroom will sometimes go to another classroom that doesn’t have flexible seating because the teacher wants everyone to have a desk. (That is one hard thing about sharing a classroom with so many people with so many different teaching philosophies and beliefs.) During this prep I also check and respond to emails. I make plans for word study during this prep period. 

Day Three

Before school prep is spent saying hello to my students, preparing for my mini-lesson, answering emails, sipping coffee, and mostly talking with my students. 

Day three is a day where I sort of relax on my preps a little bit. That doesn’t mean I am not getting work done it just means I try to chill out a bit. I listen to an educational podcast or watch to a webinar during these two preps. A lot of times I meet with my principal to plan the meeting for that afternoon or the following day. 

During my second prep I set the agenda for the meeting on Thursday and I email it out to all elementary teachers. I use this time to start to prepare anything that I need to prepare for the meeting. Sometimes I lead meetings on Wednesday after school as well so this prep is sometimes used to prep for those. 

During my prep 3 I usually check in again with my assistant teacher. We chat as we prep various activities and lessons for the rest of the week. We check in on certain students and share ideas with one another. 

Day Four

Day four can be a bit of a doozy. While I do have a lot of preps I also lead our elementary curriculum meeting during lunch and recess. This is quite a task and it takes a lot of planning. For some reasons most of my meetings end up on Thursday. 

Before school prep is once again spent making copies, saying hello to the kids, chatting and laughing with them, looking at the stuff they’re building. When kids enter our classroom they have free play until the bell rings and they create quite a bit of stuff. 

Prep 1 is usually spent in a meeting. I meet with learning support to discuss elementary RTI plans for next year, I meet with the curriculum coordinator to discuss elementary curriculum, and sometimes I meet with our elementary principal to go over our plan for the meeting during lunch and recess. It all just depends on the day. Sometimes I have meetings in periods three and four and then rush off to lead a meeting. This teaching life is never boring. I also try to answer all of my emails during this prep.

I always plan to spend period 4 getting ready for my meeting. I review the agenda, I plan out what I am going to say, and I get materials ready. We don’t have a lot of time to meet and we have lots to accomplish during very short time periods so I have to be on top of my game. 

My last prep on day four is spent getting student work ready for Friday Folders. I look at homework from the week, I grade our math spiral review, I prep the newsletter, I file all the work in abc order so it is easy to stuff into the folders. I also get everything I possibly can ready for Friday because I have zero preps until the very end of the day.

Day Five

Day five is exhausting. It is hard to only have prep the last two periods. These two periods are spent writing our weekly newsletter and emailing it out to parents. I also stuff our Friday Folders and put them in student cubbies. Our grade 1-2 team meets on Fridays sometimes to plan our shared RTI periods. Sometimes we meet with our assistant teachers to plan our RTI time. It all depends. 

Now I don’t want to fool you into thinking I always use my prep time wisely! Today I sat and chatted with my assistant teacher for two prep periods. I think it was a good use of my time because the relationships of teachers who work together are so important but it wasn’t my most productive day. It happens to all of us some times. 

 

How do you make sure to use your prep time wisely? Let me know in the comments below. 

Teacher Meeting Time: An essential for teacher and student growth

Teacher Meeting Time: An essential for teacher and student growth

a Quick Aside

First of all, and this is not exactly related to this post, check this stock photo above. I typed in teacher meeting and this was one of the first results on Shutterstock. I found other ones of professional meetings but this one was my favorite. I just like that they’re in some sort of strange classroom situation. Whoever took this photo knows that teachers wear lanyards and have desks in the corners of rooms. There are binders and messy papers around them. A hundreds chart and a few dinosaur and surfboard? nametags are thrown in too. I just love it. Each time I look at it I see something new that makes me laugh. If you haven’t checked out the female teacher’s ID please do so. It’s blank! It kills me!! Now that this is out of the way, let’s get down to business. 

Isn’t this how most teacher meetings begin? Sharing funny stories or events of the day for the first few minutes and then getting down to business. While some people view the chit chat as a waste of time it is actually so important. Teachers need to build relationships with one another in order to grow stronger. Similar to classroom communities a lot of the functionality of a school is based on the teacher community. Teachers need time for chit chat to develop relationships and build community.

In-Service Days

I remember being quite young and hearing my dad talk about teacher in-service days. We had a half day and my dad thought it was ridiculous. Why did teachers need a half day of school to get their work done? Why couldn’t they do their work during regular work days like all other professions? As an accountant, my dad didn’t take time off work to enter data; he did it during the work day and teachers should be able to do the same. They can’t do report cards while children are in school? How incompetent are they? 

Yes, my whole life was filled with these negative talks about teachers. And I did wonder, why couldn’t they get this work done during the school hours? As a current teacher I can assure you that we do complete our report card grades and comments during the school day or likely on our own time on the weekends and after school hours. If we are given time for it during an in-service it is very limited. Teacher in-service time isn’t used for chit-chat and nonsense it is intentionally used to facilitate teacher growth which in turn facilitates student growth. 

There might be a few schools where in-service time is wasted time. I have not worked in any of those schools. I do not know any teachers who have worked in those kinds of schools. Those schools are the exception, not the rule. Let me tell you about the kinds of things teachers accomplish during in-service days and early releases. 

PLC- Professional Learning Communities

A professional learning community or PLC is a data focused group of teachers. At my previous school we met as a PLC every Thursday during early release. In my last district only the elementary had early release as they had the least amount of shared planning time. Middle school and high school PLCs happened during the school day. 

Each PLC meeting would start with some sort of data discussion. Data was our “ticket” in the door.  Data in this case doesn’t always mean an assessment. Perhaps we could have said we brought in evidence of student learning. Sometimes we brought reading logs, pre-assessments, mid-unit assessments, reader’s notebooks, published writing, a quick exit ticket, whatever collected data we wanted to discuss. The what always varied based on the day’s conversation.

Together as a group we shared successes and taught each other new methods that went well. We confided in each other throughout struggles and supported each other to become stronger teachers. We made schedules to cover classes so that we could observe one another.

As we met, interventionists flowed in and out of our meetings. Our math interventionist would come and we could all share how students were doing in the classroom and how they were doing in the intervention. The interventionist would offer up suggestions for our whole class instruction. We shifted kids and made different groups based off of data collected. Our ELL teachers and special education teachers also drifted in and out of the meetings providing input and insight into our practices. We worked together to become better teachers. 

PLC meetings were some of the most powerful meetings I have ever sat in as a teacher. The community of teachers I was with was amazing. The support and focus on continued growth was some of the best I’ve received. You know how sometimes the best learning happens when kids teach other kids? The same can be said for teachers. 

Data Meetings

Teachers collect a lot of data. We complete benchmark reading assessments and students take periodic assessments like MAP or STAR. Teachers then need time to analyze that data and determine implications for teaching. Some data meetings take place during the school day but longer chunks of uninterrupted time are most helpful. 

One district called these meetings Data Retreats and another called them Data Summits. The premise of both meetings was the same. Throughout the year we would get together as a grade level and as a whole school and analyze data together. Through focused questions and activities teachers looked into their teaching and teaching outcomes. Data is a large focus of PLC work so this meeting was sort of like a large scale PLC. 

At times these data meetings span grade levels. When I taught 2nd we would meet with the grade 3 teachers at the beginning of the year to analyze data. We would compare end of year data to beginning of year data. We looked at what stuck over summer and what didn’t. There was no blame placed on any teachers but instead it was looked at as an opportunity for growth. As a team we noticed that we needed to work more on vowel teams and writing about reading. We then made changes to our instruction and reanalyzed throughout the year. We also met with the 1st grade team as we went through our data. They filled us in on any information we might need regarding strategies that worked or didn’t work for certain students. They reflected on their teaching and made plans for the current school year.

Data meetings aren’t always academically focused. At a school I taught at in the US we also had behavior data meetings. We noticed that we referred Black students at a disproportionate rate to their peers. We worked to learn about bias and learned strategies to use within the classroom to teach all students. We worked to refine our behavior policies and create new systems that kept kids in classes. 

Without data meetings teachers don’t have time to analyze what is and is not working. These data meetings need to be focused and intentional. Once we held a data meeting during the school day and substitute teachers floated from grade level to grade level. I was pulled out of over half of my data meeting to deal with behaviors the sub was struggling with. This is why data meetings held on in-service days are better for teachers and in turn better for students. 

Professional Development Sessions

Teachers need professional development in order to grow. The more professional education our teachers receive the better teacher they are for students. Teachers need time to learn new curriculum and strategies for teaching. As a math curriculum leader I lead professional development around answer getting in math and creating problems with multiple entry points. This year as a curriculum team leader I lead professional development on Fountas and Pinnell’s Benchmark Assessment System, mini-lessons, conferring, using writing checklists, writing essential questions, and much more. Without large chunks of time we end up getting half-way through or part of the way and then lose momentum by the next meeting. It can take forever to train or lead people on something if the time needed is not given. Next year my school will adopt a new math curriculum and they’ll need large chunks of time for training. 

Professional development sessions can be so helpful! Once we had a district wide grade level pd afternoon and it was so helpful. We focused on a few areas grade 3 writers were struggling with and how to target those in writer’s workshop and word study. There’s so much to learn as teachers and there’s always room for improvement. 

curriculum writing

Teachers don’t only have to teach, assess, and report on progress. We also have to write curriculum and document curriculum taught. We use Atlas Rubicon to document our curriculum. This year we are working to rewrite all of our science curriculum. We chose to rewrite science to focus on the scientific method and a more hands on approach. We need time to not only document our new curriculum but to discuss curriculum with one another. We’re working on our vertical alignment during the meetings to make sure that each grade level flows into and supports the one after it. Without our in-service time we wouldn’t be able to create a cohesive curriculum for our students to enjoy and explore science. 

It's not work alone in your room time

Imagine a group of students who were just told that they were heading out on a surprise field trip. The excitement would be through the roof. This is how teachers react to classroom work time on an in-service schedule. It is a rare beauty. Our most recent in-service allowed us 30 minutes at the end for independent work in our classrooms. This was a real treat! As you can see in-service days aren’t meant to be work alone in your room kind of days. They’re meant to be engaging professional learning days. So when the opportunity comes to work in your classroom it is so exciting. In fact, I think this is the first one we’ve had all year. That is how rare they are. Usually some sort of committee meeting might be held in this time slot so most teachers wouldn’t even get work time. 

There is work that teacher’s can’t get done in their classrooms while students are there. During many of my preps other classes use my room so I can’t work during that time. I take a teacher taxi to and from school so there is no coming in early or staying late. All I have is the time at school with my students. Some tasks fall away because they aren’t a priority. I wasn’t sitting in my room painting my nails and counting down until the end of the day during my work time. I was in a complete reorganization frenzy. Our organizational system wasn’t working and I was fixing it. Something I didn’t have time to do for weeks. 

why not just have meetings during the day?

We have a weekly meeting during the day. It takes place during our lunch and recess time. We start at 11:40 and it ends at 12:18. That is not enough time to accomplish much. As elementary teachers we have to ensure our kids get ready for recess and watch them until the recess supervisor arrives. This eats away at our time. We have to pick them up from lunch so our meeting ends earlier than other departments- this eats up at our time. After our meeting I rush off to teach math and all but one teacher on our team rushes to teach. Some teachers also teach the period right before. 

Sandwiched into our busy days is this little chunk of meeting time. During our meetings we need to be hyper-focused. We need to enter, forget all the stress and worries of the day, focus on a task and work to complete some sort of learning, and then rush off to teach kids again. Can you imagine a meeting like this? Of course, we all make a commitment to show up as our best selves and collaborate to learn. Sometimes it just doesn’t go that way. 

When students aren’t in school there isn’t any additional sort of pressure. Teachers can fully engage in meetings because there is no running to do list of the rest of the day. There is no stress that in 5 minutes time you need to rush off and teach a math lesson that you didn’t have time to prep because you were at a meeting. It allows time to breathe and relax. I’ll be honest I do find learning on in-service days to be relaxing. Teachers need this stress free time to grow. Teacher growth leads to student growth. 

What sort of scheduled meeting times do teacher have at your school? We have staff meetings after school on Wednesday and monthly in-service days.

What do you do with teacher in-service and meeting time? I’d love to find out more. Leave a comment in the box below! 

Weekly Wisdom

Weekly Wisdom

Changing Our Thinking: Allowing Productive Struggle

Changing Our Thinking: Allowing Productive Struggle

There are many practices from long ago that we need to rethink as teachers. This series looks to bring up those practices and offer alternate ideas that are more relevant in today’s classroom. Today we’re discussing allowing productive struggle.  

What is Productive Struggle?

I’m going to tell the simplified story of how I learned to ride a bike. First I had a tricycle when I was young. I learned how to pedal and move it with the handles. I started to grow out of that tricycle and my younger brother could have used it so my parents got me a two-wheel bike with training wheels. Once I got the hang of riding it around with training wheels they made the training wheels uneven so I would tip a little back and forth as I rode. This helped me start to learn balance. One summer both of my cousins who were my age were not using training wheels and I decided that I no longer needed them. My dad took them off and I put on my helmet, determined to master riding a two-wheeler. My dad gave me directions and started running while holding on to the seat of the bike. I begged him not to let go but he did anyway. I moved forward a little and then fell to the ground. My dad came over and calmed me down and told me I needed to do something. I needed to steer or pedal it wouldn’t work if I didn’t do anything. So we tried again. My dad ran and let go of the bike and a steered a little and then fell to the ground. My dad again came over and helped me up. This time he wanted me to pedal. I wasn’t so sure about pedaling. That meant I would keep going and I might even go faster than I wanted to go. We tried again. This time I pedaled and steered and managed to go farther than before when I hit a rut in the ground and fell over. Again and again, my dad patiently helped me up and we tried again. Soon he wasn’t running over to me every time I fell. He was having me bring my bike back to him. Slowly I started to gain more and more independence. Finally, I could steer and pedal and not fall over for long periods of time. I was riding a two-wheeler. My dad allowed me to struggle forward. At no point did he take my bike away from me and do it for me. That wouldn’t have worked out and seems silly to actually think about.

Productive struggle is allowing students time to fail forward just like I had on my bike. Productive struggle is so important and too often as teachers we swoop and save instead of letting students fail forward. 

Why Is Swooping A Problem?

Imagine a classroom where kids are learning about place value. A student builds the number 23 with five tens instead of two tens and five ones. The teacher looks at the child and says, “no remember twenty-three two tens and three ones.” The child then fixes their number and now they understand place value… uh… no. Now they got this one problem right but because they were basically told the answer. 

A child is reading a book and they get stuck on the word like. The teacher says remember this is a silent e so the i says its name. L-i-k, like. The child mumbles along with the teacher and the teacher says, “good you got it!”

A writer is writing a story with no punctuation and the teacher comes over and adds punctuation with a pen to the child’s’ writing. 

The examples can go on and on. So often when children make mistakes teachers fix the mistakes. The problem with doing that is that we are robbing children of learning moments. When I swoop in to solve all the problems a student could encounter how do they become stronger? What did they learn this time that will help them solve the next problem? 

What to do Instead

For a long time, the role of the teacher was to help students fix mistakes. I’m not saying this isn’t the role anymore but the role is more of a facilitator of learning. If all of my students don’t understand a certain skill or strategy it isn’t my job to correct them so they no longer have mistakes. It is my job to help them recognize their mistakes and continue to fail forward unit they understand. 

Let’s go back to the base-10 example. This happens quite frequently in the grade 1 classroom. This child doesn’t yet see 10s and ones. If they start counting by ones then they continue to count by ones. If they start counting by tens they continue to start counting by tens. They don’t yet see the longs and cubes as worth different values. What if, instead of correcting him I asked him a question that would push his thinking forward. What if I asked, “how much is this worth” holding up a long. He could count the individual squares and determine that it is 10. Then I could ask, “so how many do you have here?” He could count by ones or tens and determine that he had 50. After that I could ask, “now what can you do so that you have only 23?” I could then let him go back and try again. Maybe this time he grabs 5 cubes. Maybe he goes back and gets three tens and two ones. Even if he just groups his tens into a group of three and a group of three he has begun to fail forward or productively struggle. If he continues to productively struggle I allow it. Productive struggle is good and it is so important. 

When a struggle becomes frustrating I would come in with some intentional teaching and modeling for the student. Then we could work together to solve a few problems then the student could try on their own. As long as a struggle is productive and the child is getting bit by bit more correct each time they’re wrong I should allow it. I’m allowing students to build understandings and develop a conceptual understanding on their own. 

What I've Learned

It is really easy to swoop and save or to remove all obstacles from a child’s path but it just isn’t helpful to them. I work hard to allow productive struggle in all of my students. I still haven’t mastered it yet but I too continue to productively struggle forward as a teacher. 

Let me know your thoughts and questions regarding productive struggle in the comments below! I would love to hear from you!