Friday, July 17, 2015

A Letter to Teachers from the Instructional Partner

The beginning of the school year is fast approaching and with it comes the whirlwind of classroom organization, lesson planning, first day preparation, and in-service meetings. As an instructional partner I don't have a regular classroom to prepare, but I'm caught up in my own whirlwind centered around the question: How can I best support teachers? There are so many things I'd love to tell them as we begin our  year together that we simply don't have the time to discuss. So I'll write it. Teachers, this is for you:

  1. I think you are amazing. I've been in your shoes and I haven't forgotten what it's like to be responsible for 37 things at once. You spend hours planning lessons, looking for just the right resource for your students. You grade papers, meet with parents, attend professional development, study student data, and above all build strong relationships with your students. You give until you are drained, and then give more.
  2. I have a heart for teachers. I love students and I miss my own class terribly, but I gave it up because I love teachers and this role allows me more access to you. I care about your burdens and successes. I want to support you and celebrate with you.
  3. I'm still learning. I don't have all the answers, and I'm definitely still learning how to be an instructional partner. I won't always get it right. I will make mistakes and maybe even hurt your feelings or upset you unintentionally. Please know that I mean well and never intend to slip up.
  4. I'm not critiquing you. (See #1) When I visit your classroom, I really am looking at student learning and engagement. I am not critiquing your teaching moves or thinking that I would do things differently. Every one of us teaches differently because we are unique individuals. You know your students better than I do, and you have reasons I may not know about for choosing the techniques you're using. 
  5. I know it's uncomfortable. I get it. Having another adult in the room may make people feel uneasy. (Please reread #1-4) I've also felt uncomfortable at times while I'm visiting or teaching in rooms. Most of my discomfort comes from worrying that I will offend you in some way that damages our partnership or that I'll make some mistake that you're there to witness.
  6. I am your partner. We are in this together! I don't have my own class, but I consider all your students to be mine as well. I can't know them like you do, but I care about them and want them to succeed. 
Teachers, thank you for the work you do for students. You are valued and appreciated.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Shades of Orange Editable Binder

I've never been able to draw. In fact my students once asked me what I had drawn on the board because they couldn't tell. It was---wait for it----a snake! Who can't draw a snake? This girl. Even though I can't draw, I'm still creative which can cause a bit of frustration. That's why I love to create digital products. Finally, my vision can come alive thanks to the scaffolded support of technology, which is why I've been busily creating my newest organizational binder. I finally hit paydirt last year when I stumbled upon exactly the right framework to keep me organized. After trying many different versions, I created my ultimate binder, used it all year and LOVED it.

This year I decided to try the same thing but using a warmer color scheme. I absolutely love oranges, reds, and yellows and of course quatrefoil patterns. As a result, my Shades of Orange Editable Binder was born:

I created most of the pages as blank slates, with a few empty text boxes and charts. There are over 270 pages in this product, so there's lots of room for creativity and customization. I can't wait to start printing and compiling my book for next year. Snag one for yourself here!

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Transitioning from Classroom Teacher to Instructional Partner

About this same time last year, I was mentally preparing to transition from the position of 5th grade classroom teacher to instructional partner at two different elementary schools. I scoured the Internet, searching for advice on how to prepare my students for such a transition and honestly couldn't find much. Hence, this post. I can't help but believe there are others like me out there who struggle with the same things I did...leaving a group of kids mid-year, turning over their education to another, trusting someone else to finish what I'd started. Here are some things that helped ease the transition for my students and myself. 

My principal chose someone as my successor with whom my students were already familiar. Not only was she a great teacher, but she often subbed at our school and already knew my students by name. They were used to her teaching style and had previously built a relationship with her. 

The new teacher and I spent several hours together discussing student needs, classroom routines, lesson plans, and other information to help her and the students transition smoothly. She even volunteered to spend about two weeks with me in the classroom to observe and learn how our classroom worked. She did not have to do this, but I was so grateful that she did! It made things much easier for everyone involved when the day did come. I spent these days gradually releasing responsibility of the classroom to her. During this time, my students did not realize that she would be taking over soon. We told them that she was learning more about this grade because she was going to have her own 5th grade classroom very soon. 

We prepared the parents. As soon as it was legal to do so, the school principal and I met with my parents to explain the transition that would soon happen. 

I waited until the last day to tell my students. You may be thinking that's a bad idea, but it actually worked out for the very best. I didn't want to prolong any sadness my students would feel. When I told them, I focused on the fact that they were strong and prepared and would be better people for learning how to make a transition like this. I also told made sure they knew I fully supported the new teacher and assured them they were in good hands.

The last few minutes of the last day were a celebration of our good times together. The focus was not on how much we would miss each other, or the changes that would take place. Instead it was a very positive time. We focused on every good thing we'd done together. I made two posters that listed what I believed to be positive attributes about the group and individuals. The students added to them, as well, and they stayed in the classroom as reminders after I left. 

I also gave each student some keepsakes I had previously made for them. I created a Wordle for each student like the one below and also a card with our class pictures on it:

Finally, I kept in contact with the new teacher and made occasional visits on special days. For example, I brought them a treat on Valentine's Day and came to Awards Day. I made myself available to the new teacher for questions, and we emailed one another. This part was a bit tricky, because I had to be careful not to overstep boundaries. They were not my class anymore, and even though it was difficult to let go I had to trust that they were in great hands and give the new teacher room to do her job without interference. 

Leaving a classroom mid-year is something I never dreamed I would do, but I believe the way in which it was handled helped everyone involved to have a positive experience. 

How about you? I would love to hear about your experience with this issue.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Searching for a New Niche

What do you write about when most of your job involves confidentiality? Last January I began a new position: Instructional Partner. Up until then, my blog had become a place to post classroom antics, lesson ideas, and log much of the learning I was doing with my students. Suddenly, I found that I could no longer write about those things. I wasn't in a regular classroom every day, and when I was visiting a colleague's room I needed to build a trusting relationship. I certainly couldn't and wouldn't write about the things I'd seen. They weren't mine to share, and I could never break my colleague's trust that way. I couldn't write about my own professional learning because it was confidential. In short, in order to be successful as instructional partner I couldn't share anything about what I was doing.

Based on the slim number of Instructional Partner blogs out there, I'm guessing that many of my fellow partners (coaches, etc...) feel the same way I do and are just as cautious about blogging. So I've posted sparingly. I've struggled to find ideas worthy of sharing with my colleagues. I've searched for a new niche, and honestly haven't quite found it yet.

That's the reason for the low number of my posts this year. Up until last January, my posts all involved things I was learning and doing in my profession and questions I had. As an instructional partner, I just can't share those things anymore. I'm hoping to be able to contribute in a meaningful way to my online PLN soon.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

From Edu-Hoarder to Edu-Minimalist in 3 Steps

Let's face it. Most of us teachers are really hoarders in disguise. Sure, we may only hoard school stuff, but still...And it makes sense. Most of us walk in to completely empty classrooms and there are many years with no instructional supply money. The result is that we gladly take anything that just about anyone will give us and hold on tightly to it. After all, we never know when it might come in handy. It is nice to have on hand the things you need to work with students every day, which is why we constantly collect. (Most people would be appalled if they knew how much teachers put into their classrooms from their own budgets).

It wasn't too surprising that I had a very hard time parting with all my accumulated stuff when I left the classroom for my new position as Instructional Partner. Logically, I knew I didn't need all of my stuff, but I had worked for such a long time to get it all that it was a huge step to let it go. Seriously, who really needs seven different sizes of pocket charts? But there we were: my husband, son and myself hauling all of my classroom stuff out and moving it yet again.

So, how did I go from hoarder to minimalist?

  1. I realized that my "stuff" was hindering my work: In my new position, I had no use for most of my old items, and finding places to store them was extremely stressful. I was having a difficult time planning, organizing, and generally getting started on any of it because the task was simply too overwhelming. Getting rid of a lot of it was a major relief!
  2. I took honest stock of every item. The key here was to answer myself truthfully. I sifted through them with two main questions: Will I use this in my work with teachers and students? Will teachers come and borrow this to use in their classrooms? If the answer was no, out it went!
  3. I got rid of it: This one seems like a no-brainer, but actually getting it out of my possession was the final ending. I gave away most everything and sold my massive collection of books (aside from a few personal faves I knew I'd use). 
I feel like now I'll be able to really make a fresh start as instructional partner--a blank slate, so to speak. How about you? Have you done something similar? Which side of the spectrum are you on? 

Thursday, July 10, 2014

2014-2015 Ultimate Editable Binder

My binder's done! Now it's official. I can start my real planning and school work! Because I changed positions last year mid-year, I didn't have a great organizational system for my notes (especially going back and forth between two schools). It was crazy! I would go to one school, only to realize I'd left that school's notebook at home or at the other school. It wasn't working for me at all. This year, I was bound and determined to consolidate my three notebooks and calendar into one simple all purpose book. I can't wait to get started using it. (If you'd like to check out the 200 page file, here it is in my TPT store). 

I made loads of blank, editable filler pages and divider pages, and a 12 month calendar complete with week-day pages. I printed out just the pages I wanted to use for myself and had it bound at Office Max for $5.50.

I used sticky file folder labels ($1 at Walmart) to make my tabs. School info, Calendar, Principal's info, Teacher Requests, PD plans, Schedules, Reflection, and Miscellaneous

Behind each two-page month calendar are pages for each week so I can write things in more detail.

I made a filler page here to put both of my school's information on to one sheet. I've also printed several contact sheets so I can add in teacher information.

I use this for writing down things my principals have asked me to do. I printed two colors of filler pages to go behind the tab-one color for each principal. 

I added this into my binder because I wanted it close by for when I meet with my supervisors if I needed it.

I'm a big list maker! There's something so satisfying about being able to cross something off of a list. Plus, writing down what I need to do helps organize my thinking. 

Okay, I have no idea why this picture is sideways...It's not this way on my computer, but something happened during the upload. Anyway, I have a bunch of filler paper behind this section so I can jot down questions that teachers ask of me. I have a horrible memory, so writing down requests is a must for me. 

I can't wait to put this to use! I chose the gray and turquoise color scheme because I think it will be calming and looks crisp and clean. I'm really hoping that I've come up with an organized solution for keeping track of everything at my two schools. 

I organized mine like this...
  • School info (pages behind with school info and contact sheets)
  • Calendar/Planner
    • 2-page monthly calendars
    • pages behind each month labeled by day (2-page weekly spread)
  • Principal Notes
    • filler pages with lines for writing notes during meetings with my principals
  • Teacher Requests
    • filler pages with lines for jotting 
  • To Do Lists
    • LOTS of to do list pages
  • PD Plans
    • premade charts so I can list the titles of PD I need to do, and spaces to check off and date when they are finished at each school
  • Schedules
    • pages for notating or pasting classroom schedules
    • pages for notating or pasting school schedules
  • Reflection
    • lined pages for reflecting on my work
  • Miscellaneous
    • lined pages for anything else
    • password page for listing websites' passwords for both schools

...but the possibilities are endless with all the editable pages in this product. Check it out here for more info

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

It Starts with a Dream...An #Edcampconnect Success Story

Farrah (me) and Cara explaining how an edcamp works

About two years ago I attended my first ever Edcamp with my good friend, Cara, and we were completely blown away! Having never even heard of an UNconference, we didn't really know what to expect but our experience was completely amazing. The next year we visited another edcamp and thoroughly enjoyed it as well. It is so amazing to go to a professional development day that has a schedule literally planned by the participants. The networking, the collaborative nature of the sessions, and the fun atmosphere of it all really drew us in. We even led an impromptu session!

It was on the ride home that we agreed we MUST do something like this in our own area. In our county there are three school systems. In addition to having participants from all around join in, Cara and I envisioned our three local school systems coming together to share ideas and collaborate on our first ever edcamp, which the team decided to call Edcamp Connect. 

That's what's so amazing about Edcamp Connect. It turned out to be a great success, but it all started out as a dream to do something for the educators in our community. I began sending emails to our central office staff, and they agreed to be a part of the team. They pulled in team members from the other systems, and before we knew it we were having monthly planning meetings, soliciting sponsors, and designing our website!
EdcampConnect Planning Team

I feel extremely blessed to be a part of a system and have neighboring systems that not only support the type of learning that takes place at an unconference, but are part of the organization team. Two systems' superintendents were even present yesterday! I've learned so much and enjoyed working with the members of the other systems. Each team member contributed and was a valuable part of the team. To me, the partnerships we've forged have been the most meaningful thing to come from our edcamp experience. It feels a little like my twitter PLN, but having them close by is a bonus. 

Going in to this my biggest worry was that people would not show up. Then I worried that if they showed up, we would not have a full schedule board. Thankfully, neither of those things happened! We had over 150 participants from numerous school systems, and about 7-8 sessions per time period. We had plenty of food and drinks, and the feedback so far has been positive. I can't wait to get started planning next year's edcamp!

I want to say a huge thank you to everyone who helped organize, facilitate, donate, pray (yep, Edcamp Connect was on my church's prayer list), participate, tweet, sponsor, or work in any way to make Edcamp Connect a success. There are too many of you to try and list here on this blog (cue the Academy Awards music), but please know that I am grateful to all of you. Edcamp Connect may have started with a conversation in the car, but the final product was due to lots of collaboration and hard work on the part of many dedicated individuals. 

Check out a few of our highlights:

If you were there, I'd love to hear any feedback you're willing to leave. 

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Edcamp Connect

Educators, are you looking for something to jump start your professional learning this summer, or maybe something a little out of the ordinary? This Monday, July 7, from 8:30-3:30 we will host the first ever EdcampConnect at Gadsden City High School. Attalla City, Gadsden City, and Etowah County school systems are working together to create this exciting, free UNconference, complete with free breakfast and lunch and door prizes! We would love for you to come and join us for a day of professional networking and learning. Register soon: There are only two spots left on Eventbrite and 10 spots on STI PD.

For more information, follow us on twitter @EdCampConnect and Facebook. We'll be live tweeting all day using the hashtag #edcampconnect.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

The Attack of Testuall

Once upon a time in a kingdom far away there was a small, country school. This school was a happy place, filled with smiling children, teachers, parents, and administrators. Everyone looked forward to the time they'd spend together at the school because they did great things every day. They sang songs and read stories. They solved problems together and learned about the world around them. They had kickball tournaments and chatted over lunch.

Although the school was a happy place, there was a terrible problem. In a cave nearby there lived a fierce dragon named Testuall. He lived off of other people's fear and stress. His entire existence was based upon sowing the seeds of anxiety. Testuall only came out once each year--during state testing. But whenever he visited the school Testuall tried his best to turn the happy little place into a den of negativity.

One day he soared right into the building and warned the teachers that he was going to cause trouble. He wanted them to be nervous, and they were, but they armed themselves and prepared for battle. They attended planning sessions and training meetings. They assured the students of their readiness, and prepared all the necessary materials. Everyone was ready.

Then the test day arrived. Just as he'd promised, Testuall tried to ruin the school's peaceful atmosphere by wreaking havoc with their new computerized testing system. The administrator stayed calm, ensuring the teachers that they would be victorious over Testuall. The teachers swooped in to reassure the children and ward off further attacks from the dragon.

"Error Code!" Testuall cried out as the first group of students logged in to test, but the mighty testing proctors were ready for his advances. Armed with error code fixes and phone numbers to call in help, they quickly thwarted Testuall's attempts. Over and over, Testuall attacked. He issued a Java update 10 minutes before testing would begin, but the teachers rallied together and updated the lab in record time. He tried cutting the power to the computers, but the savvy teachers solved that problem with a battery back-up and a phone call. Testuall even tried numerous connectivity errors, but still the teachers prevailed. Through it all, the students remained calm and collected, knowing that their teachers would eventually slay the evil dragon Testuall.

As the students finished testing for the day the teachers turned their attention to the beast, intending to end his antics for good, only to see him fleeing the school building like a scared mouse. "Chase him! We can't allow him to get away!" shouted a proctor. But it was too late. Testuall was zooming through the air back to his cave. But as he flew, he turned his head and bellowed, "I'll be back!"

The people of the school knew that Testuall would be back, but they were no longer worried about him. They had prevailed against him this day and knew that the next attack would be even easier to win. Victory was theirs!

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