Simple Pleasures

Slice of Life Tuesday

There are days when time stands still for me. No emails are checked or text to send. The dishwasher isn’t emptied and the floors aren’t vacuumed. The list of things to do is unchecked and frozen in time. The minute my six month old granddaughter comes through the door… time stops.

She lives in a curious world of simple pleasures. There’s time to investigate her toes or the tiny flowers printed on her pants. Toys can bang, shake, and be chewed. Foods can be yummy or make you shiver. Smiles are freely offered to everyone she sees. Even rolling over, can provide a whole new perspective on her surroundings. Time doesn’t have control. Wonder does. How does it feel? How does it taste? What can it do? Will it make me giggle? Explore all you want. There’s no time limit.

I am so thankful to be invited into her world. Watching little hands reach, grab, and investigate. Then those same little hands hold onto my hand with a sweet caress. After flooding her senses with simple pleasures, it’s time for a rest. We rock while she sings herself to sleep with soft baby sounds. Her wondrous world becomes still and quiet.

Mommy and Daddy come to get her.  I see the list of things to do, the laundry piled high in the basket, and the clock starts ticking. Suddenly, I am distracted by a bright red cardinal sitting outside of my window. A simple reminder of her world of simple pleasures. Once again time stands still, even if for only a moment.

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There’s No Place Like Home

Slice of Life Tuesday

We move to a quaint village of about 4,000 residence thirteen years ago. It was definitely a change for us. Traffic included farm machinery creeping down the street rather than cars zooming in and out of the lanes. One fast food sandwich shop sat on a prominent corner rather than a glow of neon lights flashing like fireflies in the night sky. Our neighborhood street was quiet, very QUIET. You could see billions of stars in the sky with a front row seat better than the best planetarium.

One day I needed just a few item from the grocery store. I didn’t wish to make a longer drive so I decided to try our small market. My first stop was the meat department with its beautiful display choices. Now “beautiful” may sound like a poor word choice for describing meat. The display looked like a food magazine had staged the best selection for their photo shoot. I asked for two pork chops. The butcher replied, ‘Which ones?” I pointed to the section of center cut chops. He replied, “Which one of these would you like?” I’ll take the third one from the top and the second one from the bottom. Just a few more items to put into the cart and I am ready to proceed to the checkout lane. An elder gentlemen was buying less than ten items in front of me. He conversed with the clerk, turned to the counter behind him, and proceeded to pour himself a cup of coffee. After adding and stirring the correct proportion of sugar and cream, he turned back to the clerk to continue his conversation. They smiled, laughed, and continued to exchange pleasantries until he finally paid. To my surprise, the clerk was eager to get to know this new person in her line. She offered me free coffee and a sweet, friendly conversation ensued.

I must confess that I was shocked at the length of time I was waiting in line. After all, I was use to the fast pace transactions happening by the hundreds in the larger cities. What a difference a short encounter in a small grocery store made. Living in my small village following the tractors, smiling and saying hello to anyone you meet, and watching the stars peacefully in a rocking chair can really alleviate the stresses of the day. Yes, there’s no place like home.

It’s Friday!

Slice of Life Tuesday

When I was teaching full time in the classroom, I always had one goal to have my desk cleaned off by the end of the week. That doesn’t mean just putting the papers, folders, pens and pencils away. It mean having all of the tasks, even the ones on posted notes stuck to things, finished. I had the organizational process down to a science. Materials for the next week’s lessons and the following week were neatly put into hanging folders. Students’ portfolios had comments posted. Flexible groups for reading were assigned for class on Monday. Changes to the classroom were completed. I could see the top of my desk with one or two items neatly placed.

My desk looks so different this Friday and every Friday. Which made me realize that as my life changes, I am changing. I like that things don’t stay the same. I have different responsibilities with my job. My family has grown with new daughter-in-laws and grandchildren. I have new neighbors. You get the idea. Just like the changes on the desk evolved slowly so did my flexibility, resourcefulness, and creativity. As I broaden my view, the results are so magical. They may look messy at times a true work in progress. Things may be perfectly organized and wrap up like a beautiful gift box with a bow. It’s just fun to live in the moment and watch life unfold.

The clock is ticking so I must chip away at the jobs on my desk. I doubt that it will be cleaned off at the end of the day. After all, there is so much life to live moment by moment.

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Chitchat

Slice of Life Tuesday

There is nothing better than getting together with a group of ladies. You can be meeting for lunch or just sitting around the kitchen table. There is always laughter, hugs, and a feeling that warms the soul. Whether it’s eight or eighteen, you never know where the conversation will take you.

Yes, you never know where the conversation will take you. So don’t be surprised when I tell you a recent topic of conversation was plastic surgery for “turkey necks”. Just in case you’ve never seen a commercial or experienced this phenomenon, I am referring to the loose, flabby, drooping skin that replaced your long slender neck.  I am not sure if genetics gets the blame. However, my aunts, who attended the last family reunion, were displaying this predominate feature.  Since that day, I must confess that I have spent time checking the mirror for extended periods of time searching for the notorious turkey neck.

Now we are women of action. We’re not going to sit around and bemoan this possible fate. After ruling out the possibility of surgery due to finances and fear, we needed to seek alternative solutions. Sidebar-I haven’t even pierced my ears, so there is no way I’m going under the knife. So we brainstormed several solutions including duck tap, scarves, and turtle neck sweaters. The elaboration and detail used to explain how each would be implemented caused thunderous roars of laughter.

A few days later, my darling 5 month old granddaughter came to my house for a visit. We did all of the usual things a loving grandmother does, especially give hugs and kisses. So you can imagine my surprise when my sweet girl put one hand securely on my shoulder and her other hand under my chin. Oh my goodness! It’s another solution for hiding the dreaded turkey neck. Wait until I tell the girls!

Making the Most of Assessments

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When it comes to assessments, I’m the scared to death overachiever. I can feel the blood rush from my face as I turn ashen gray at the mention of a test. You know, the student who has to have the A++. I remember one graduate course when the professor said you don’t need to take the final exam unless you want an A. You guessed it. I was one of four who took the final. Knowing this about myself and being a teacher has given me a different approach to student assessments.

What is the purpose of assessing students?  I want to use this information to know what skills the student has mastered and which ones need to be taught. I also want to use assessments as a tool to show student growth or when it is necessary to reteach the information in a new format. So my assessments need to be ongoing. I cannot wait until the end of a unit to assess the student’s knowledge if I want to ensure mastery of the concept.

Conferring is one of the best ways to really get to know your students and assist you in setting goals. Whether it’s math, writing, or reading this is a perfect vehicle for assessment. Meeting with a student one-on-one in a nonthreatening environment and asking the right questions builds a trusting and open relationship. Through observation and note- taking the teacher is able to build an instructional plan tailored to this student’s continued success. Students requiring more intervention meet more frequently than students displaying more strengths. Regularly scheduled times for student conferences provide a safety net so that no student fall through the cracks and there are no surprise results on cumulative tests. Teachers can spend as little as five minutes conferring with a student.

Exit Tickets provide follow-up to a lesson. With just a posted note and a short time allotted before class dismisses, a student can send an insight into his or her understanding of the material. A chart divided into three sections and labeled: I’ve got it, Almost there but, and Need help with gives a quick assessment of class comprehension. Students write a comment or question and put the posted note under the category that best reflect their level of understanding.

Interactive Notebooks and Journals are another assessment tool. By providing guidelines and expectations to students, these tools can show a student’s comprehension, analysis, and application. The teacher can create a rubric to measure the level of mastery.

Choice of which assessment a student would prefer can also enable students to perform at their best. A teacher could ask the student how can you show me what you have learned? Some student may choose a project based assessment. Others may choose to write a report or essay. Even an assessment test with a variety of questions could be offered.

This list could grow and grow as it should. Teachers should not just rely on the test provided by the publisher. Yes, we need to teach students test taking skills to meet the rigor of standardized test. However, let’s not forget that the goal is to internalize and apply the material learned. We want students to become lifetime learners, not just good test takers.

Square Dancing

Slice of Life Tuesday

So I see the announcement on the digital board that Square Dancing was being offered on Saturday from 5-8. Now my life had been like riding a roller coaster during an earthquake since the beginning of the year. All I wanted was a distraction, a chance to cast my cares to the wind. So I signed my husband and myself up for this event.

Let me just point out that we are not dancers, especially not square dancers. I once took square dancing as an elective in college because it was the only choice that would fit into my crammed schedule. That was a very long time ago and the experience has been blocked from my memory. If seeing the musicals Seven Brides for Seven Brothers and Oklahoma counts, then we are ready. Besides I just wanted a chance to connect with some friends and have some laughs.

We put on our jeans and plaid shirts. No boots for us. Just a pair of loafers since we didn’t want sore feet in the morning. Forget the cowboy hats that we purchased on vacation. As you can tell, we are not even a little bit country. As we went out of the door to get into the car, it occurred to us that we could be sleeping on the sofa pretending to watch television.

Upon our arrival, we were greeted by a beautiful western setting including saddles, checkered tablecloths and a cheery group of cowboys and cowgirls. What better way to begin the evening than with a barbecue dinner. It was delicious and definitely added to the mood.

Next was the moment of truth. This was the learn as you dance method of teaching. It was important to listen and follow directions precisely. As the music played everyone moved with caution. One dance was completed and the caller said it’s time for a rest. A chance to catch your breath, compare notes, and check your fit bit to see how many steps your took. Then the whole process repeated for three more dances. Each dance we learned more new steps and combine them with the ones already learned.

What was my take away? You can have fun making a fool of yourself. I found out I do not always know my right from my left.Sometimes you just need to step away from your daily circumstances and do something very different, even if it is just for one evening.

 

Brown Bag Workshops

It all started with Smart Board Technology. I was invested in the Lesson Activity Tool Kit, the Gallery, and so much more. My lessons seemed to come alive and students were excitedly spreading the news. Since I taught in an open space school with no walls, windows, or even a door, my classroom became a fishbowl for curious observers. I found myself sharing quick snippets with my colleagues before school, during lunch and after school. Later, I was asked to be a presenter at in-service workshops over the next few years.

Fast forward to today. So much has changed. The Smart Boards are gone and replaced with even better technology resources. My classroom is now occupied by someone else since I became a Literacy Consultant in the district. One thing has not changed… I still love learning and sharing new ideas!

The challenge is HOW? The number of professional development days is limited and there are so many topics to be covered. Teachers are committed before and after school. Morning meetings, parent conferences, bus duty, after  school tutoring programs are just a few of the many scheduled activities. Let’s not forget that teachers must also transport their own children to school or extracurricular events.

Suddenly I thought why not offer a workshop during lunch. Teachers could eat their lunch while I presented a topic of interest. It seemed so simple. Would it work? I offered the first Brown Bag workshop to a group of Kindergarten-Grade 5 teachers in their building computer lab. Since the lunch times were staggered to accommodate the different age groups of the students, I repeated the workshop over three thirty minute sessions. Teachers were rotating in and out. Some ate their lunch while others didn’t. The atmosphere was very relaxed and engaging. We were able to interact by asking questions and  sharing thoughts and ideas while gaining knowledge. Hooray, it’s working!

I have continued to present Brown Bag Workshops each month to the teachers in our district. Even Reading Interventionist, Special Education Teachers,  Instructional Aides, and Principals have attended. Here are a few tips to consider:

  1. Choose a relatable topic to present. Time is a valuable commodity, even thirty minutes. Teachers want to be able to quickly implement  this new knowledge into their classroom. Topics need to be interesting and useful to them.
  2. Be prepared. I am fortunate enough to work with a wonderful group of educators. So I listen carefully to what they tell me in our conversations. One thing that I hear over and over is give me the resources for instruction. So while preparing the workshop presentation, I consider all of the resources and research to include to meet the needs of the staff. In fact, a few teachers remark that I provide “ more than enough”. Always listen carefully for suggestions or requests during the presentation and follow-up as soon as possible.
  3. Forget note taking. The biggest sigh of relief comes when I announce that no one needs to bring a pencil or paper for taking notes. Teachers need an opportunity to relax and take a break from their hectic day. I always send information to them through email or create a folder for them to access in Google Drive.
  4. Resources Every workshop includes some type of resource, such as lesson plans, website links, a visual aide. I usually include these materials in the Google Drive folder or email. You can also schedule a time to model the workshop topic in the teacher’s classroom.
  5. Advertise the workshop. Some principal have a set date each month on the calendar such as the second Tuesday of each month. Other principals include the information in their school’s weekly staff newsletter. I send email information and post flyers in faculty lounges, by staff mailboxes, and even by mirrors in faculty restrooms. Still one teacher commented that she wasn’t sure the workshop was for her. Of course, I listened. Now I started sending a short informational video describing the workshop using PowToon weeks ahead of time to the teachers. Here’s a link to my first post for the Brief Focus Lesson Brown Bag Workshop.
  6. Sign up sheet As the presenter, I wanted to be aware of my audience. Primary and Intermediate teachers can hear the same topic, but some tweaking may be necessary. I want my audience to feel that I am focusing on them. This was difficult to achieve without knowing who had sign up and which time slot they were attending. SignUpGenius is a perfect solution. It’s a free online software where I can enter the available dates and time slots, send the staff the link, and the teachers sign up online. SignUpGenius even notifies me when someone has sign up and sends them a reminder prior to the date.

As long as you are flexible and able to go with the flow, you can make it work. Sometimes the location changes due to someone needing the space. I’ve been in computer labs, libraries, conference rooms, and even a storage space. Just bring your I Pad and think outside of the box. The end result is a meaningful interaction with some of the most talented, resourceful, and intelligent people dedicated to educating our youth.

 

The World Is a Book

Last summer my husband and I took a trip to southern France and Spain in June. Of course, we archived our experiences with digital photography. When we returned to the States, I made sure that our photos were backup and secured for future viewing. These photos have sat in their own little world for almost a year, until last week.

It all started when my husband decided that he wanted to see the photos from the trip. What prompted this thought from out of the blue? He was not content to watch a slide show on the computer, but preferred a book. Yes, he had remembered the elaborate scrapbooks from past trips to London, Paris, and Mexico. So he wanted to relive this trip as well as Greece and Scotland through the colorful, captioned, story filled pages of a book. What a daunting task! Organizing pictures, gathering slips of paper and notes from the daily diary, trying to recall these moments of time, and putting it all together into one finished project-A BOOK For EACH COUNTRY.

So with the school year ending and the first week of summer vacation, I had a choice to make. I could start cleaning the windows, weeding the flower beds, trimming the bushes, cleaning out the storage space, or take out the photos and create a book of memories. I choose the latter. The first stop was  Catalonia, with a history dating back to the early Middle Ages. As I viewed each photo my mind took me back to the moment, the feel of the hot air and lively sounds of laughter and conversations in another language. The taste of Sangria, distinctively different from any here in the States. The endless number of stairs to climb through tiny corridors each leading to a hidden vista. It was as if we were there taking the photo and living the moment. Each passing hour seemed like minutes.

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He viewed the five completed pages, reading the story lines, slowing looking at every detail in the pictures. “See how much better it is looking at them while holding a book.” So as the pages turned in both directions throughout our conversation, I felt that same special magic of viewing the trip in a book. So I better get moving on to Barcelona, southern France, Greece, and Scotland. We’ll relive these trips page by page in the books. Then I am ready to put on my traveling shoes, find the next adventure, and create another book.

Slice of Life Tuesday

Welcome to the Fun Table

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It’s the month of May when teachers mark the end of testing, the countdown to the number of days left in the school year, and the retirement parties. Yes, our school district honors the retiree with a commemorative plaque at a party.  The administrator recaps the awards earned, the grants acquired, and the years of service to the school district. All of this fanfare, while the retiring teacher stands smiling and choking back the tears, declares the conclusion of a teacher’s career.

Our district invites the former retirees from the district to attend the party. An identifiable group of former teachers gravitates to one section of tables, even though they are not reserved specifically for them.  They enjoy the familiarity of each other’s face that is still easily recognizable through the new wrinkles and graying hair. These veterans of education share stories and cackle with laughter at the classroom experiences of days gone by. The Kindergarten teacher relates the time she turned around only to view one student using the liquid hand soap to lather up another student’s hair. After all, her mother was a beautician and she saw her do it all the time. Or the time a parent brought a dog to the parent teacher conference and it growled at the teacher the whole time. The recipe is story plus laugher, repeat until everyone is speechless from laughing with tears streaming down their faces.

Soon other teachers in the room begin to notice. They observe the laugher, camaraderie, and shared joy of being together again. They secretly try to add up the years of combined experience among this group. Thirty-eight, nineteen, twenty-five… One would have to take out a calculator for the total number is too large, but not as large as their influences in so many children’s lives. These observers lean in closer, ask some questions, and make some comments. They begin to share stories from their own classrooms, laugh, and repeat until once again everyone is speechless from laughter with tears streaming down their faces. The commonality is present. They have all experienced those unexpected moments in the classroom.

Yes, the retired teachers have so much to share. Some are still presenters at workshops, volunteers in classrooms, tutors, or even work in museums. While others are content to just know that every day is Saturday for them. They don’t have any plans for the day when the first bell rings. Those teachers still employed by the school district know that someday the fanfare will be for them. They, too, will stand smiling, choking back the tears. Then these teachers will join their predecessors at the “fun table” keeping the circle of laughter flowing at every district retirement party.

Slice of Life Tuesday

Lasting Nuggets from a Teacher

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Recently I met one of my former students. At first I did not recognize him. Then he introduced himself, and I flashed back to the first grade boy in my classroom. How he had changed? He was so grown-up and working at his dream job. Of course, we were both excited to see each other.

He began to reminisce about his time in the classroom with me.  He recalled the Snoopy bulletin board, the yellow benches where he read books, the art easel in the corner, and so much more. I just marveled at the numerous, detailed memories he recollected. Then he said, “You know what I remember most about you as my teacher?” I thought he would probably say that I taught him to read his first book. Maybe he would mention how he learned to add or subtract? What could it be? I waited with eager anticipation for his answer. Then he said, “You were the only teacher who even let me play with clay!”

I remember my Kindergarten teacher gave me big, fat crayons for drawing. They were wonderful! I remember my first grade teacher always pinched my cheek and told me how cute I was. That still hurts to think about it today. I remember my second grade teacher gave us beautiful certificates for memorizing lots of different information. I wish that I had kept them. I remember my third grade teacher had us put book covers on our text books and cellophane over our multiplication chart to protect it. These were the day before laminating machines. Each one left a lasting nugget in my box of treasured memories.

All of us remember different things about the teachers who played such an important part in our lives. I am thankful that they taught me so many things. All of those memorable moments are woven into the tapestry of my life.

 

No one who achieves success does so without the help of others. The wise and confident acknowledge this help with gratitude- Alfred North Whitehead

Slice of Life Tuesday