Monday, July 27, 2015

First Day of School

Today is the beginning of my 22nd year of teaching.  It's hard to believe I've been doing it this long! Wow!  And, I still get super nervous and can't sleep. I am writing this at 3:35 am. I am excited about a new year, new challenges, a practically all new team! I can't wait to get to know my students! I have a teacher candidate (student teacher) from Arizona State University all year and that will be amazing!  But also scary and weird and I really hope I do a good job mentoring her.
Everything is ready in the classroom- copies are made, anchor charts are started, supplies students brought at Meet the Teacher are organized. It's always such chaos that first half an hour when they have all these amazing school supplies and you are trying to get them put away and organized and they are so eager to use these supplies.
It's always so nerve-wracking and then you get into the classroom with the 25 new faces and you forget about all your nervousness and worries and it just begins to click...
Here's a picture of my amazing team- only two of us remained from last year. That's also exciting too for me this year- to rebuild a team that was seriously broken last year. Our theme for the school year is "Building a Foundation for Learning."
Whether your first day is today, next week, end of August or early September (lucky you), I wish everyone a great year!

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Another DIY Project

Wow, did I get crafty the last couple of days... Yesterday I made this board.
It's the same kind of things as yesterday's Dry Erase adhesive, but this one is Chalkboard adhesive. This is the inside of my classroom door.  I put it there because I am going to use it to write notes to the students and have the students write notes to each other. But not just randomly. I think I am going to have someone have a specific job for the week- I might call it the "Affirmer." This person's job would be to be observant during the day and notice something that someone did that showed good character or hard work or perseverance during the day.  Maybe it's someone who tried really hard to answer a tough question. Or it's someone who worked without giving up on a difficult math word problem. The person whose job it is would write a little note to that person on the board saying what they say them do.  It could be like a "Caught you being good!" thing. I think the students will really like it. My teacher candidate (student teacher) and I will model it at first and then slowly release that job to the students.  We'll see how it goes! And, the students get to use cool chalk markers!!!

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

DIY White Board Cabinet

I am not crafty... not much that I plan to do actually works and turns out cute. But, I think today at school I had a minor turning point. I bought this Duck Adhesive white board roll at Walmart.
My original intention was to cut pieces of it and place it near the top of student desks to create an automatic white board that students can use mostly for our Engage New York Math.  But, I have this gray cabinet in my room that is just dying for me to do something with. So, I decided to cover the cabinet with this adhesive white board roll. Then I added some cute ribbon to the outside mostly because it's not wide enough to cover the whole door.  I also did the other side, but ran out of ribbon and have to go get some more.
I plan on using this as a Daily 5 station- probably a word work activity of some kind, but it's also a neat place to write notes to students. I think it's cute!

Monday, July 13, 2015

Dysfunctional Teams

Grade level teams have changed a lot since I began teaching twenty-two year ago.  Way back in the early 90s, being a team meant very little. My first year I barely spoke to the people on my team. We had a common prep time and occasionally I would stop by to ask questions, but collaboration was really out of the question. We didn't really share idea and we didn't discuss common formative assessments. We taught the same grade level, but there was very little going on in our classrooms that came from collaborative conversations about curriculum or data analysis.
As the years went along, I worked on teams with people I would consider friends. We worked well together, but looking back on it, I am sure we excluded the other members of our team because we were friends and they were just grade level colleagues. But, it didn't really matter because working on a team didn't mean what it means now. Being on a grade level team just didn't mean the same thing back then.  In some ways, it was nice because we all had the "I can close my door and just teach" mentality. We didn't have to think beyond our 4 walls and our 25+ students. And, it really didn't matter that I didn't like Mr. Sanchez and thought he was an idiot. Or, it didn't matter that Mrs. Iniguez didn't share her lesson on place value- I didn't expect her to. Those were the days of grade level teams without the expectation of working as a team.
Now, our expectations are very different. We are expected to "collaborate" and act as a professional learning community. Over the last several years, our version of a team has changed drastically. And, we have teachers who've been around a while who have seen the shift and aren't very keen on it. We have new teachers coming straight out of college that haven't worked on teams before and have no idea how it all works. There's a lot of interpersonal dynamics that go into functioning as a cohesive team.  And, last year happened to be the WORST team I've ever been a part of.
To begin, I have to give a little back story. I had been teaching kindergarten and was feeling it was time to move on. I had taught 3rd grade several times many years ago in my previous district and loved that age group. So, innocently, I went to my administration and asked them if they would consider placing me in 3rd grade. I explained my reasons and expressed willingness to deal with all the stressful, high stakes issues surrounding 3rd grade. They seemed willing and told me they would let me know in a few days.
Fast forward a little bit- unbeknownst to me, there was a student teacher who the rest of the grade level wanted for that position. Also, a former teammate of mine was spreading rumors to the current 3rd grade team about me (our previous team of which we were both a part had had issues that involved administration mediation, hurt feelings, misunderstandings and general dislike).  But, I didn't know any of that- had I known it, I probably would still be in Kindergarten.
So, I was given the 3rd grade position.  Before the school year even started I had a heart-to-heart with the one teacher who was really good friends with the one who was spreading rumors about me. She has heard the other teacher's side of our conflict and made judgments before hearing my side of the story- which I didn't really share because I didn't think it was any of her business.  I reminded her that there are three sides to the story- this teacher's version, my version, and somewhere in the middle was the truth. I really thought we had worked through the issues and we could work together.  Boy, was I wrong.
Needless to say, it was a difficult year. There were 5 of us. One, experienced "I've been teaching the same grade level for 15 years" teacher. She's the one that I had the heart-to-heart with- let's call her K. Then there were two young, second year teachers- B, who had student taught with K and was very close to her, and L, who taught 4th grade the year before and was new to the team like I was.  Then, there was another teacher, M, who was our team lead and data queen. Let's just say that mistakes were made by all and we were seriously dysfunctional. There was a trust issue. There was an issue with being responsible for getting assigned tasks done. There was an interpersonal issue with me and K. There was an interpersonal issue with M and K.  There was conflict and issues with M and B. B and L were really good friends because they were young and, sometimes it seemed like L was more interested in socializing than teaching. L thought she didn't have a voice in meetings. K was never prepared. We ate together as a team for about a month- then I stopped eating with them. Later, I joined them again, but B, L, and K stopped eating with us. I had to take over as team lead because of issues B, L and K had with M. Our team meetings were seriously dysfunctional- nothing got accomplished and it was frustrating every time we met together. And, to make it worse, everyone on the team was venting to their friends on different grade levels about how dysfunctional we were.  Serious mistakes were made by all parties and our administration sometimes helped and sometimes added fuel to the fire.
Fast forward to the end of the year- K is moving down to teach 2nd grade, L is moving to 1st grade, B is leaving teaching to go flip houses and M and I are left needing three new teammates. Honestly, we are beyond happy because those people moved on and we can interview and choose people that we feel would be a good fit.  We hire three amazing teachers and we've been planning together all summer.  I think it's going to be an amazing year- I am cautiously optimistic about the year.  So, when I heard this book The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni referenced in a leadership meeting I knew I needed to read this book.
It is written as a parable about this imaginary company that's not doing well. This person is hired to come in and fix the team problems she sees. Through the story, which is an easy read and very relatable to education even though it's written from a business perspective, she explains the five dysfunctions of a team and how to mend those dysfunctions.
As I am reading this book, I see so many ways that this model completely matched our team this last year...
It's a pyramid model and the author says that even though there are five distinct areas that can be isolated, they usually are interrelated.
The bottom of the pyramid, and the first dysfunction of a team, is the ABSENCE OF TRUST. Team members are not open with each other about mistakes and weaknesses.
The next dysfunction is FEAR OF CONFLICT. Because team members don't have trust, the can't have meaningful conversations where people are hashing out the really important issues. Instead, they skirt around the important issues and worry about how their comments will be interpreted.
The third dysfunction of a team is LACK OF COMMITMENT. Because team members are afraid of conflict, they don't feel they can voice their opinions. Without their opinions being heard, they rarely buy in and commit to team decisions.
The fourth dysfunction of a team is AVOIDANCE OF ACCOUNTABILITY. Because of all the previous dysfunctions, team members don't feel they can call their peers out on actions and behaviors that are counterproductive to the team.
The last dysfunction of a team is INATTENTION TO RESULTS.  This is where team members put their individual needs above the collective goals of the team.

Wow, right? Have you ever been on a team like that? This past year was a perfect example of all these dysfunctions. The author goes on to put it in a positive way. Cohesive teams do these things-
1. They trust one another.
2. They engage in unfiltered conflict around ideas.
3. They commit to decisions and plans of action.
4. They hold one another accountable for delivering against those plans.
5. They focus on the achievement of collective results.

So, as I begin a new school year, with new team members, my hope is that we can avoid the dysfunctions and build our team around trust, constructive conflict, commitment, accountability and attention of the collective results.  And, when I start to see dysfunctions rear their ugly heads, I can be the kind of leader who steps in and holds people (including myself) accountable.  It's going to be a great year!

Thursday, July 9, 2015

From Chaos to Organization Part 3

Day 3 of organizing the classroom did not go well. I have one completely empty wall space in my classroom. It is the wall behind my computer tables. (I didn't even take pictures today it was so frustrating!) Let me say that again- it's behind my computer tables. Which means to get it it, I either disconnect everything and move the tables out or stand on the tables to get to the space. I am not a fan of standing on tables, so I opted for the move the tables out strategy.  It's an empty wall with nothing on it- no windows- just a solid blank wall. I planned to put 4 paper spaces on this wall- my plan is to create a "What Close Readers Do" board and then board space to hang anchor charts. I can't easily get to this wall, so it's not space I want to change very often, but hanging an anchor chart or two every so often is fine.  Oh, and this wall used to be a bright color- it used to be blue, some other walls were yellow or red.  But people didn't like that so after 8 years, they just painted it a neutral sort of beige-ish gray.  But the other three walls in the room are a different color- more of an off-white, beige.  So it's a strange color and doesn't match the other 3- all the more reason to put up paper.

So, my teammate and I decided that I need to go with a pattern of some sort- I opted for alternating boards of black and azure blue.  I put up the first board that is above my desk. I can measure from the wall and from the ceiling and get that board fairly straight- no problem really, but my paper ends up being crooked across the top- I have a serious problem measuring and cutting things straight... but it shouldn't matter because the edges of the paper are straight- right? Well, the sides are but the top and bottom are crooked. But I can fix that because I can measure the border straight from the ceiling so I fixed that... The first board looks good. That was yesterday...

But today, I needed to finish that wall.  Well, I measured and cut my paper (but remember it's crooked from yesterday on the roll so when I measure and cut today, the paper is still crooked at top and bottom.  I mark the wall so many inches from the top and- really, I am a smart person- but not a spatial person apparently because the second board was crooked on the sides (because it must be crooked at the top- that's the only way the straight sides can be crooked) and not equidistant from the other board.  I am going under the assumption that the first board was straight...  I think I get it straight and then move to the next one only to realize again my paper is crooked on the sides... I don't even know how to fix it because I have nothing on the wall as a frame of reference that I know is straight.  OMG- I can't even think about it. What should have been so simple- hang 3 sheets of 4 foot wide x 5 foot long paper on the wall STRAIGHT- it shouldn't be hard, but it about killed me. At one point I am standing on a student chair with a yardstick in one hand, the staple remover in the other, pushpins in my mouth and my stapler between my knees, cursing my decision to even hang paper on that stinking wall.

Really- do I need paper there? No! Is it worth the stress I went through today? No (At least I feel like that today)! Will my students learn better because my paper is pretty? No!

Well, I got the paper up- but my border are still not stapled down because I can't tell if they are straight or not- so I will ask someone who is better at it than I am to look at it- but I am kind of afraid to do that because I know she will tell me that the other board I think is straight- isn't and then I will feel like I need to do it all over again... So, I really should just staple it and give up!

The OCD person in me thinks that the slight possibility of crookedness will bother me because I will look at it every day, but I need to squash that OCD person and just say the hell with it- once I begin teaching a slightly crooked border is going to be the least of my concerns.

I am completely in awe of people whose rooms I look at on Pinterest and in blogs. Everything looks so perfect and beautiful- I think- I am smart enough and creative enough and talented enough to do this too. Then I begin the process and realize that I am not and leave my room today completely frustrated and deflated...

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

From Chaos to Organization Part 2

The first day I always feel that it's the most productive- it's probably not, but it seems that way to me because I go from utter chaos into something that resembles a classroom.  The second day is always one of the hardest for me because that's usually the day I begin decorating. I love this part of it, but I also hate this part of it. I love it because I can do things to create my environment for the next school year- I can make it a beautiful place (or try to anyway) to spend the day. I love looking at a pretty board- it just makes me happy in a weird, teacher sort of way.
But the process of getting there I am NOT a fan of!  I HATE bulletin board paper- really I do. I hate walls without bulletin board and I hate the process of trying to cut things straight or make things straight on a wall.  It's just not something I can "see"- I can't tell if things are centered; if someone asks me "Is this straight?" I always tell them I will hold the paper and they should go look because it's just not something I am good at.
With that being said, here's what I did today.
 This is on my back wall- we are highly encouraged to have all the thinking maps up for kids. The paper behind the thinking maps is from Schoolgirl Style as are most other things- I purchased her Tickle Me Pink Paisley package.
 My Daily 5 board- it's a work in progress as I am not sure yet how I am going to display student choices for Daily 5. We will see what happens with that... I have a plan in my head, but not sure it's going to work.
 Voice level and rules- I also need to put my Hand Signal things here, but I need to find them!
The pocket chart at the bottom will be for Word Work mostly, and I plan to label it, but didn't have my letters at school.
That's really ALL I accomplished and I was at school from 8:30-2:00 (with a lunch break with my teammate and lots of breaks to help her or ask questions about border etc...)

I am happy with it, but it's no where near as beautiful as other people's I've seen on blogs.

I ran out of black paper and I needed some PINK for a couple of places so I had to make the 45 minute-round trip trek (and that's if I go in, rush directly over the the paper, wait in line and leave without looking at any other teacher products- and you know that's virtually impossible) over to our local Lakeshore Learning to get more black and see if they had pink (they did- YAH!). 

Team leads get our keys today so I can come and go as I please (thank goodness- BTW, what other job takes your keys when you go on vacation? Anyone? Only in teaching- ugh!)

I plan to get the rest of my paper and border on the walls and put up my What Close Readers Do board... One of my teammate and I are going to lunch with her student teacher from last year (Cheesecake Factory-yum!) so I will be lucky to get all that done before lunch.

It really is a good thing school doesn't start for another 19 days- how do people do it who come in on the official start date??? I just don't know!

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

From Chaos to Organization Part 1

I was able to get into my classroom yesterday to begin the process of getting it ready for the first day of school on July 27th. I moved classrooms at the end of the year, moving my things into a teammate's room who was switching grade levels. The end of the school year was strange this year because we did not have the Friday after students left on Thursday to finish things up- we had to be checked out by Thursday afternoon. This presented an interesting problem in terms of moving rooms- things that we would have done after school were done with student help during school. My teammate had moved most of her things already to her new room- she was moving into a vacant room so it was easier for her. They were re-painting the walls in our classrooms so everything had to be moved to the center of the classroom.
My teammate wanted to leave literally 10 minutes after students left on Thursday, so she was really hassling me about getting my things in her room moved to the center of the room- she and I didn't really get along well this last year so neither one of us was being very nice at this point. I told her I would get things done but I couldn't do it while I still had students in MY classroom. So, she moved everything to the center of the room for me. Well, when I came in yesterday this is what it looked like.

Not too bad, right? I mean, nothing was where I would put it and she just shoved everything in the center but I can work with that... until I noticed the horseshoe table. My first task was to get all the big furniture in the correct spots- I have several bookshelves that I needed to decide where to place and I needed to decide upon a meeting area and where to put my small group horseshoe table. So, furniture placement was my first priority.
There weren't a lot of people at school yesterday and no custodial staff nearby, so I was on my own with this.
First of all, how in the heck did she get this UP on top of the desks and WHY?  I have to say I didn't have too many nice words to say about my ex-teammate at this point. But, I was determined to get it off of those desks by myself...

And, I only dropped one of those double desks (and not on my foot)...  So once I got this down, I decide to put it in the corner of the room. Although I think the flag is really going to bother me there right above my head.
But, of course, the table is filthy! It has dried glue all over it and I have to scrape it today...not happy with old teammate. She also took the cubbies with her (even though she has them in her new room and traded my nice clean metal bookshelf for one that has old labels that are stuck on really badly).
Anyway, that was my adventure for the day. Here's what it looks like now after about 3 hours of work. No where near done- but that's why I am at school 20 days before it starts...
But, I did do one cute thing today. I put up my learning target board where I have to write the objectives...

Friday, July 3, 2015

Engage New York Math

 I have to be honest- I have a love-hate relationship with Engage New York math modules. I love that we have a "curriculum" to guide us. I love that depth of understanding that the students have when they've mastered a topic. I love the word problem focus.  But there's so much I don't love.
Here's the back story that kind of explains a little.  Probably three years ago before all the modules were released, my kinder team and I found the Engage New York site and downloaded the only kinder module at the time- the first one. We were searching really desperately for a curriculum to use- something that aligned to Common Core and something that was good math. Our old math adoption was virtually useless to us- it was comprised of these big books that were just awful and the math just wasn't deep enough for us with Common Core standards.
So, we printed all 300+ pages of the curriculum and began looking it over with the idea that this was what we were going to use. The other modules were going to be released that year and we could just move through those as the year progressed. We were so excited!
Then we began really looking at it and prepping for it.  Well, that's when I started hating it. In the couple of lessons in kindergarten I need socks- lots of them and all different colors, patterns and sizes. Then I needed plates and cups with different patterns so students could sort them. Then I needed 18 cotton balls in a bag, 10 red counters and 10 blue counters for each child in bags.... I am all about using manipulatives to teach concepts; the problem with this was I needed them for one 10 minute lesson and then NEVER again. So, I was doing ALL this prep- hours of coloring clip art plates and cups in different patterns- only to realize that I would never in the curriculum use these items again until I taught that lesson the next year... So, we gave up.
Fast forward to last year when I moved up to 3rd grade. Our district had purchased the Eureka Math modules for us (it's the same thing just in a bound book)- they are not our curriculum because they aren't adopted (but we want you to use them-says district personnel). I was coming back to the grade level after being in kinder for years and I was super excited to see that I had some curriculum to use. So, I started with what our curriculum map at the time had us doing- place value and addition and subtraction. Well, place value and addition and subtraction are at the END of Module 2 after the students have done weight and capacity. So place value and addition and subtraction are all taught through measurement- well, I didn't do the first few topics (because my curriculum map said place value and addition and subtraction and not measurement).  It was a hot mess trying to make it work like that... confusing for everyone and very frustrating for me.  I complained, other people complained and shortly thereafter, the curriculum maps were changed to align with the Engage New York Modules.  That problem was solved.
My other real problem with Engage New York is the structure of the lessons. They are so wordy that it is so difficult to use. I really dislike the teacher says, student responds format of the lessons. I find it very hard to use because the students NEVER say exactly what it says they are going to and I hate scripted lessons.  So, digging through all the pages to get to the meat of the lesson was also a challenge for me.
And don't get me started on the ugliness of the problem set worksheets and homework- they really need to hire someone from TpT to make these worksheets look nicer and more kid-friendly!
On that note, I have gone through the Application problems and Exit tickets and made them a little more user friendly.  Get them for free here. I wrote out all the application problems onto 1/2 sheets and made the exit tickets into 1/2 sheets to save paper.
Above is a sample of an application problem

The exit tickets 

One other thing that I don't love about Engage New York, and this is kind of a big one for me, is that it doesn't allow enough differentiation or even time to do any kind of Math Stations or Math Daily 3 or anything besides the problem sets.
It's hard math for so many of my kiddos and there wasn't time because the lessons are so long to really do math stations last year. I am really hoping I can condense things a lot this year and have time to meet more with the students that didn't master the skill the first time.  Which brings me to my latest creation. I made task cards that mirror the language of the Engage New York content. A lot of times, they word things in ways that are not exactly the norm, so I tried to use their language on the task cards. My purpose was to give additional practice in a station-type, task card format so students could have more practice than just the problem set. Here are some pictures of the task cards- I broke them up by Topic so it is easier to differentiate. Here's the link to 3rd Grade Engage New York Module 1 Task Cards.

After a year+ of using Engage New York, I think the best way to sum it up is that Engage New York is good math, but not necessarily good teaching. So, now it's my goal this year to make the good math in the modules translate into good teaching in the classroom!