Being Intentional

September is largely a month of building relationships — with staff, with students, and with families. In my role as a Reading Specialist, I also want assessment and reading and writing instruction to be a part of this first month of school. Every day counts — right?! Maybe this comes down to my word for the school year: intentional.

Last Monday, at our first Reading Specialist Meeting of the year (at the Board Office), we were asked to think of a word. We shared our word with our PLTs (Professional Learning Teams), but we didn’t need to explain a reason for our word. At the time, my word was joy. Just like last year, I want to capture, reflect on, and celebrate those daily moments of joy. It’s so easy to let the day get away from you, and sometimes all that we can focus on is what didn’t work. Finding those joyful experiences often seems to be a way to move beyond the problems. I still plan on celebrating joy each and every day! It’s rare to find me not with a smile on my face, and despite our current educational reality, I feel fortunate to be able to say that I absolutely love my job — even on the most trying of days! That said, I want to take my joy goal and add to it with some intention.

You see, the more that I stop, think, and reflect on our meeting last week and these past few weeks at school, the more that I want a word re-do. My word this year is now going to be intentional. I think that there’s a lot that we can do — and not do — that will not only maximize the number of joyful moments in our day, but also increase the number of joyful moments in other people’s days. For me, maybe this is about …

  • spending some time down in kindergarten over the nutrition breaks, when ECEs are often alone with students and some additional adult support can make a difference. Plus, talking with students when they eat lunch can be a wonderful way to find out more about kids and what matters to them. Relationships first … right?!
  • capitalizing on every opportunity as a learning opportunity. Even when children eat lunch, play outside, explore a car ramp, or walk to the office, you can support literacy instruction. These moments also seem to be great ones to connect with kids, which always brings me joy!
  • creating a contest or two for staff. I decided to take the plunge recently and start my Reading Specialist Instagram account. I think that a strong home/school connection is so important, and I know that many families are on Instagram. I knew though that asking staff to get families to sign-up would be one more thing that they need to do at a busy time of the year. I decided then to create an advertisement and make a contest. Who doesn’t like to win something?! Plus, we both get joy from this, with a staff member winning a gift card and me winning some more interaction on a new Instagram account. πŸ™‚
  • getting creative with how I can support staff and students to impact the greatest number of children through intentional planning. A couple of weeks ago, I shared a choice board, which was initially part of my plan. I still plan on using this to a degree, but after working through assessments with educators and reflecting on data, I think that I might have a little tweak to this. This change will address educator interests while also maximizing student support. A few other people are involved in this plan, so I need to play with it this weekend and connect with staff next week. The possibilities excite me though, and I think this plan will bring joy and learning for all.
  • finding times to dig into data with staff and develop some possible plans based on this data. Everyone has a different schedule, and I know how time-consuming the classroom can be. I don’t want to add to anyone’s work load, and I want to be cognizant of the fact that ideal meeting times can vary for everyone. With duty after school, I can be much more flexible with my schedule during the day. Conversations with staff before school, after duty, or on preps, have been great! Sometimes, we can also connect quickly in the classroom after working through an assessment as a team. With educators picking what works best for them, everyone is getting the ideal time, and I’m just thrilled to have the discussions. Plus, when we look at data together, we can ensure that instruction is starting at the point where kids need it most. Intentional planning again …

How has joy and intentionality intersected in your educational experiences? I’m interested in seeing what the rest of the year brings with an intentional goal.


Learning Spaces & Literacy Instruction: Re-Thinking Possibilities

I’ve been thinking a lot about spaces lately, and re-thinking the learning that can happen in different spaces. Let me explain, as I stumbled upon these wonders in some unlikely places.

In the past couple of weeks, I’ve spent a lot of time in many kindergarten classrooms. As my blog readers know, I’m definitely passionate about kindergarten and play-based learning, so I was excited to have some opportunities to get to know these younger students at the school. At this point in the school year, almost every kindergarten class has at least a few three-year olds, and these students will not turn four until possibly the end of December. This means, that you are probably programming with some toddlers in mind. Sensory play tends to be extremely popular with students of this age, and it is also calming for many kids (or so it seems). I’ve observed many children as they’ve played with sand and play dough, and I’ve even immersed myself in some of this play.

Sensory materials like sand and plasticine can be wonderful for mark making. I’m also thinking about the oral language instruction that can take place as part of this play. Could this be an opportunity to play aloud with letters, sounds, and words? I know that many educators at our school use Heggerty, and I’m new to this program, but I’m curious if some of the components of Heggerty or even some components of UFLIparticularly the phonemic awareness part, the visual drill, and the auditory drill — could be explored and taught in sensory spaces. By inviting certain children to join this play, you could really target the instruction to the students in front of you. Storytelling, vocabulary development (oral language), and maybe even beginning writing (and reading), could also be explored in these sensory spaces.

Another kindergarten experience in the past couple of weeks has me thinking about spaces more. I happened to join two different kindergarten classes while they were eating lunch. I was going to write a “lunch story” with them, but as students spoke about what they were eating, I decided to make a list of healthy foods. I sat down with the students as they ate, and they gave me ideas to add to my list. We explored letter-sounds and new vocabulary words as part of this process.

One thing that I noticed during both of these writing experiences was how interested students were in contributing to the lists and exploring letter-sounds with me. Usually, a full class carpet time can be a challenge for many students at this age, but sitting at the tables with the food in front of them, and engaging in quiet conversations that somehow seemed to span the room, changed the level of student participation and engagement in a wonderful way. Could reading and writing around other topics happen in a similar way?

I had a great conversation on Friday with an educator about literacy instruction, play, and classroom spaces. These other experiences from the past couple of weeks have me thinking more about the environment and full class instruction for students of all ages. I’m still processing my thoughts, but I’m excited to connect with a few educators next week to chat about some possibilities. How do you balance full class and small group instruction, and what do both look like in your classroom? How does your classroom layout support these different learning opportunities? I’d love to hear more as I continue to contemplate the overlap between the environment and targeted instruction.


Find Your Niche

I might be starting my 24th year of teaching at my 10th school, but there are a couple of things about me that have managed to stay the same. One of them is my propensity to find bugs as pets. I absolutely love creepy crawly pets, particularly since they come without a need for any forms. πŸ™‚ I might not have a classroom of my own this year, but this doesn’t stop my class pet dreams.

I think that it’s like a sign when you happen to stumble upon a collection of bugs on your very first day at a new school. When I spoke to the vice principal and was reassured that these are just potato bugs, I knew that I had to collect them. I might not have a stationary classroom, but I do have a travelling one. πŸ™‚

A previous administrator of mine, Kristi, inspired me to find a container and create a habitat. You know that you’re going to get staff talking when they see you collecting bugs, grass, and leaves on the first day of school.

While I wasn’t quite at the point of moving around with my wagon yet, the potato bugs were safe in there for the day. The next morning, when I got to school, my vice principalanother friendly member of the 7:00 club πŸ™‚ — asked me about the bugs. I had to go check on them. Maybe I wasn’t ready to start this inquiry with kids yet, but adults can inquire too.

I think that the addition of water made a difference, although now I wonder if the bugs are trying to crawl away from the impending flood. πŸ™‚ Either way, they are most definitely moving! No matter what I might have on my plate in the morning, I need to start my day checking on these critters.

Best of all, come Friday, I was ready to take the Bug Buggy on the road. πŸ™‚

While I didn’t get the bugs into the classrooms yet, I was fortunate enough to find snails outside with a group of kindergarten students on Thursday.

Working alongside the classroom educators, we extended this learning on Friday. Now, I have books to bring in to share with the class on Monday. I was connecting with the classroom teacher last night, and she suggested bringing the provocation inside. We’re going to work on this together.

As I write this post, I’m wondering if my travelling bugs might further extend this learning around living things, and provide even more opportunities for vocabulary development, reading, writing, oral language, and literacy in the content areas. We all have our niche: authentic opportunities to support reading, writing, and vocabulary development, I think might be mine. What’s yours? The next time that you find a bug, insect, or creepy crawly critter, I hope that you can find as much joy in them as I do … and as kids do as well! We talk a lot in education about mental health and well-being, and providing children with opportunities to enjoy their childhood. Could a potato bug do just that?! For 3-8 year olds, it might surprisingly do the trick — with a little added dose of happiness for staff too! πŸ™‚


Under Construction: Contemplating A Different Approach

We’re nearing the end of the last week of summer before school begins. This was my first year experiencing this week as a Reading Specialist instead of as a classroom educator. As I tweeted a couple of times, I was very grateful for educators who let me play a role in their set-up process … and the many wonderful conversations that happened as a result.

This blog post is a bit of a different one for me, as I’m not sharing about a finalized plan. It’s very possible that what I blog about here will have to change completely or be modified significantly. That said, the start of the school year is a time of infinite possibilities, and I love the idea of thinking big. Some of the conversations this past week — particularly one with a kindergarten educator — inspired both this post and the ideas shared in it.

Last year, when I was hired as a Reading Specialist, I was fortunate to be paired up with a mentor. We had some days together to program, plan, and problem solve. One of the things that she shared with me was how she co-planned with educators for two week blocks, with the idea being that she could spend longer periods of time with different educator teams during these two weeks, and then flip and support other educator teams for the next two weeks. When she wasn’t going into certain classrooms, she had already reflected with these educators on next step possibilities, and then they re-connected again to plan what to do next. I took this same idea last year when supporting the implementation of some small group, targeted instruction, and I received a lot of positive feedback about this approach. Knowing that this year, Reading Specialists could be supporting kindergarten to grade 3 educators in different ways, I’m wondering if this approach might help as I get to know students, staff, and areas of interest. My discussion with a kindergarten teacher, which then evolved into discussions with a few more educators, has me thinking more about this approach for the upcoming school year.

The kindergarten teacher offered a great extension to this idea. As we spoke about different ways that I might be able to support in the classroom, she encouraged me to write my ideas down. What about offering a choice board?

  • Not all educators are going to have the same interests or need the same thing from me.
  • Not all kids are going to require the same instruction or support.

I was all about meeting individual needs as a classroom teacher. Why not do the same in my new role? With this idea in mind, I created a Reading Specialist Choice Board. Please note that I have not shared this with all teachers yet, and I will be seeking feedback from educators in different grade teams, the admin team, and my Reading Specialist PLT (Professional Learning Team). I’m sure that the ideas here will evolve and change throughout the year. Depending on our Board direction, school support plan, and student needs, I might even need to start again with this planning. That said, I’ve always appreciated insights from those that follow me on social media and on my blog, so I’m sharing this here.

  • What would you add?
  • What would you change?
  • What other feedback could you share?

I’m open to any and all ideas here. Just as our classroom spaces are always under construction until kids arrive, I think that this type of planning is as well. No matter what happens, I’m looking forward to an exciting new year of learning, connections, and growth.


Accommodations For Adults: Reflecting On Google Maps And UDL

As many of my blog readers know, I was very reluctant to get a cell phone, and only due to a wifi outage last summer did I choose to make the leap and purchase my first iPhone. Since then, the phone has changed my workflow, and I even decided to purchase an Apple watch a few months ago. I realize how privileged I am to be able to make these purchases. I also realize how much thinking and learning comes out of my daily tinkering with these exceedingly more common tech devices.

In some recent blog posts, I’ve shared about my summer position as a coordinator for Camp Power and Camp CLIMB. This year, there were three different locations for this summer camp. While I was usually at one location a day, occasionally I had to drive between sites. Two of the schools were very close to each other, and I already knew the quickest way to get from one to the other. The final school though was on the Hamilton mountain, while the other two were in downtown Hamilton. A number of years ago, I got acquainted with one of the mountain accesses, and as I am apt to do when I drive, I tended to choose this one access every time that I needed to go up the mountain (or back down it). The problem is that this access was quite far from the summertime downtown schools, and it was also closed in one direction. What could I do? I decided to look up the directions on Google. For those that do not already know, I do not like driving on the highway, but I could restrict the highway option in Google. I then pressed, “Start,” and put my iPhone in the cup holder. The most amazing thing happened: Google talked me through the directions. Maybe all of you already know that this is possible, but for me, this was an eye-opening experience.

This amazing phone feature reduced so much of my driving stress. I didn’t need to know where to turn or how to get from Point A to Point B — I just need a charged phone to get me there. The only thing that bothered me is that I love to listen to music as I drive — usually country music blaring from my car radio — and now I need to listen to, “In 300 m turn left.” πŸ™‚ Everything changed yesterday though, when I learned another trick …

Now I can listen to music on my phone or on the radio, and Google Maps will quietly interrupt it with where and when to turn. Mind blowing.

I may be the last SMART phone user to be aware of these special features, but these wonderful accommodations are not lost on me. In fact, they are making me think more about the classroom. As we learn more about UDL (Universal Design For Learning), we are often challenged to reconsider our classroom spaces and our accommodations for students: what might be necessary for some and good for all? This Google Maps feature is like UDL for adults.

  • It provides a visual of the directions for those that can read the turns (which, by the way, is not me).
  • It speaks the directions to you: preparing you in advance for each turn, so that you have time to get into the right lane.
  • It recalculates the drive if/when you make a wrong turn. For me, it’s the exiting of the roundabouts that always leads to problems, but I know that this Maps feature has me covered. πŸ™‚

There’s no need for a driving IEP to have these accommodations in place, nor does anybody question the need for adults to access anything from Google Maps to Waze. Let’s make the link between these driving experiences and classroom practices (with the implied assumption here that there is no IEP in place).

  • Would it be equally okay to have an iPad read a story to a child instead of having the child read the story independently?
  • Would it be equally okay to have a student use text-to-speech to write anything from a sentence to a paragraph, instead of doing this with a pencil and paper?
  • Would it be equally okay to provide the diagram for the math problem instead of the need to draw it?

These are just some examples. Maybe not every child needs these accommodations, just like not every adult needs the talking voice to get from Point A to Point B, but does our openness to one set of accommodations help reframe our views on others? Sometimes learning happens in the strangest of places and circumstances. I wonder what iPhone features I’ll learn about next. πŸ™‚