Sunday, July 19, 2015

Summer: For PD or not for PD?

"Summer is the annual permission slip to be lazy. To do nothing and have it count for something. To lie in the grass and count the stars. To sit on a branch and study the clouds."
- Regina Brett

Trip to the Governor's Palace in Williamsburg
Check out my awesome hat
When I was a kid (admittedly not too long ago) the above quote held true. I'd spend my days lounging around the house, catching fireflies, going to campfires, and sleeping until noon. In high school and college, I worked as a camp counselor, but that was essentially time paid to play on a playground. Summer was a magic time where responsibilities were short and the days were long.

And then I graduated college and earned my teaching position. Suddenly, summers took a hard right turn into another time to complete responsibilities. Today, I'll examine how summers are used by educators and my thoughts on the topic.

I'd like to start with clearing up a common misconception I have heard. Many people say that teachers "get the summers off." As will become evident in this post, I find this to be false. Many good educators will use their summer for professional and personal growth rather than a three month vacation. Obviously, there will always be exceptions to the rule, but by and large the norm is that educators use summer to hone their craft.

Presenting on Google Sites at Googlepaloooza
You don't have to take my word for it. Take a look at the numbers. ISTE is one of the biggest edtech conferences of the year and it takes place smack dab in the middle of summer. According to their statistics, over 21,000 various educators attended this conference from 76 nations. Although I sadly wasn't one of them, this is an incredible feat. This goes to prove that summer is spent learning by a large number of teachers, and this doesn't even include the #notatiste2015 crowd (which I was a part of!)

I personally have spent my summer learning and growing. Twitter has been hugely instrumental in this and providing a source of PD on my time. I attended and presented at Googlepalooza 2015 in Middletown, VA where I learned a number of wonderful technology tools. I'll be attending and presenting at some other professional development throughout the summer as well, which will serve as an entirely separate post later in the summer. I also recently attained the new Google Educator level 1 and level 2 certifications, which I found very applicable for the classroom. I'm also working on my Google Certified Trainer application, which will further my technology instructional and training practices. 

Using KidBlog in Summer School
I also spend my summer teaching summer school. I find this to be a highly rewarding experience and enjoy using the summer school class for piloting new ideas. This past week alone, we have tried KidBlog and TheAnswerPad, which I plan to use during my regular school year.

This summer and the last, I also have been working on completing my Masters of Science in Curriculum and Instruction through Western Governors University online. It is a flexible and self-paced program which I chose to accelerate. I am currently leading a research project based on parental involvement (a clear passion of mine) and the effect on reading and math achievement. This has taken up a large chunk of my past two summers, but it will be worth it when I finish at the end of this summer. 

My summer break is 58 days. Summer school runs for 25 of these days. Leading/attending professional development counts for about 5 days. I probably have spent about 7 full days working on various things for grad school. I often spend 4-5 days getting my classroom ready. When all is said and done, I have about 16 days left that are not filled with commitments for education.

Protecting my campsite
*the horse nor myself were not harmed*
So what do I do on these days that are solely for me? First and foremost, I relax. I grill and sit outside and just read for pleasure. That is one of the greatest joys for me in summer. I am a bit of a workaholic and have a hard time not working on something for teaching in my free time.

I also try to fit in vacation when I can. Last year, my girlfriend and I went to Gettysburg and Chincoteague. This year, we went to Williamsburg with my family and camping on Assateague National Seashore. Camping was a disaster that included high winds which collapsed our canopy, charcoal refusing to start, seagulls eating our food, and a severe thunderstorm that forces us to vacate our site a day early. I also enjoy hiking when I can. My girlfriend and I are moving in together for the first time, so that's another new and exciting adventure. Another big summer project is the new EduRoadTrip podcast that I have started with Mari Venturino and Greg Bagby. No matter what I'm doing, it's bound to be an adventure!

So what was I trying to convey in this post? Summer is a time for learning, but it is important to take some time for yourself. The vast majority of my summer is spent tweaking and perfecting different things for my classroom and growing as an educator. Even my vacations to Gettysburg and Williamsburg have delved into preparing for my social studies curriculum. Summer is a time when you can explore different ideas you wanted to, but couldn't find the time for in the regular school year. It's also a time for reflection. While I dropped down to a every other week format for my blog, it's really helped me to reflect on my practice. 

That being said, take some time off. 

Unplug. Unwind. Relax. Read for pleasure. See a movie. Go to the beach

As educators, it's hard to fully let go and do "nothing." You owe it to yourself. You've worked hard, reward yourself. 

Then jump back into it, refreshed and ready to go!

What do you think summer should be used for? How do you exemplify this?

Monday, July 6, 2015

Connecting Beyond the Curriculum

"I have no desire to see these kids as anything but my students. I don't want to go to their birthday parties, soccer games, or anything. I want to teach them and go home."

Winggirl and Mr. B
Her end of year quote: "You flew the whole way with me"
Shocking quote right? This was not something that came from my lips; it was a statement that a fellow
teacher made to me the other day. I highly respect and like this fellow educator, but was very taken aback by this statement. Between this quote and last week's #TMchat, I feel that a post on connecting with each student individually was timely.

I do not currently have children. Well, that's not true. I have 48 kids. None of them are biologically related to me, but I think of my past two years' classes as my own kids. Students often ask me who my favorite student is. I always respond, "You are." Their eyes light up as they exclaim, "Really?!" to which I respond, "You are absolutely one of my 48 favorite students of all time!"

Let's be honest, as teachers, we are inclined to have some students who may be seen as our "favorites" because they do the work, are well mannered, and not academically behind. I'll admit that sometimes I've fallen into wishing all my students were like that. Just as immediately, I regret thinking that. All students are unique and we have a responsibility to love and support them equally.

Working with Jack after school.
Notice his beaming smile.
Allow me to share the story of Jack (all names in this article will be changed.) He was actually removed from one fourth grade class and put into mine because the other teacher couldn't stand his "disrespect." Jack lives down the street from me. Last year, he switched schools and witnessed his five-year-old cousin pass away in a car accident. However, I never saw an ounce of disrespect from him. Did he complete his work in a timely manner? No. But do you blame him? School is a place where he was supposed to feel safe, and his teacher constantly sent him into the hall for "disrespect" (which I later found out was just refusal to do worksheets.) When I volunteered to take him in, I told my principal that my goal for him was not going to be academic; I wanted him to come to school with a smile and learn to love learning.

In my classroom, he thrived. No, he did not become a model student and did require some discipline. His background made him rough around the edges, but I never gave up on him. By the end of the year, you would always find him smiling and a book in his hand. At home, I'd see him coming down the street and run inside to grab a whiteboard. We'd spend an hour on my porch together working on math. His only complaint was when I would have to go back inside. That's success to me.

I pretend I don't like hugs
from Fiona
I work hard to instill this individual attention with each student. Every morning, each student in my class is greeted with a handshake. I welcome them into my classroom and ask how their weekend or night was. I also insist that they ask me how mine was. Not for some egotistical desire, but for them to develop good interpersonal skills. Some students asked for hugs instead of handshakes, and I generally would aquest to their request. Former students came in this year expecting the handshakes to continue. Other former students write letters back and forth to me. These are the long lasting bonds that make teaching worth it. 

Nicknames are a big deal in my classroom too. Some are as simple as their last name, but others get more complicated and involved as "Fern," "Winggirl," "Nissan," or "The Great and Powerful Polkasaurus Rex." Each nickname stems from a personal connection I have with the student. The other students may not know the reasoning behind the names, but they love their own nicknames and each other's. By the end of the year, you would be hard pressed to find peers referring to each other by their given name. I was even assigned two nicknames by the students: "Big Dog" and "King B." I'm not complaining about either one!

Each student also has a classroom job. This serves a dual purpose; it allows me to escape banal tasks and makes each student feel responsible for the well-being of the class. Each job, no matter how trivial it may seem, it's vital to the smooth running of the class.

Laser tag for Branden's birthday
Often times, I spend my weekends going to sporting events to support my students. I try to make it to as many as I can and it is totally worth it. The students seem to appreciate every time I come. I also try to attend birthday parties when I am invited. Just last week I went to a laser tag birthday party. You would have thought I was One Direction walking in there. The student was so excited and I got to just have fun with him and all the other students. I've gone to campfires, birthday parties, movies, and even taken students to historical reenactments with me (and even run into some at battlefields!) Seeing students outside of school can paint them in a different light, and form a bond that just can't be formed in the school building.

Pre-campfire selfie with Natasha 
I implore you; don't have the mindset of the teacher who said the above quote. We have to connect with our students. Education is changing, for better and for worse. One thing that needs to stay constant is the compassion teachers can provide. Some students don't have strong support systems at home. We may be the only positive interaction they may have. Imagine the difference you can have if you connect with the students if you connect beyond the curriculum.

What's your story? How have you connected with students? How do you plan to in this upcoming year?