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8/27/14

Making the Time: Joelle Trayers

Today's Making the Time is from a blogger who never fails me. Her posts are smart, clear, and give me great ideas for teaching in smart nifty ways. Meet Joelle Trayers from
When Kimberley asked me to contribute to her weekly blog segment, I hesitated. I'd pretty much do anything for Kimberley, I admire her very much-it's just that I don't think I'm the best person to talk about prioritization when it comes to teaching. I'm a bit teaching-obsessed. People tell me that all the time. I am always thinking like a teacher, sharing stories from the classroom. I was yard sale shopping with a friend one day and picked up an Indiana Jones version of the Life game and she gave me this odd look. But it would make a great workstation! I could write letters on the squares and they could spin the dial and make words. Many people don't understand.

I do not have children of my own. This is my child
I don't think she minds that I'm a teacher-I do try out my read-alouds on her and she contributes her lovely barking when I'm recording stories for the kids. (They actually get a kick out of that because I do talk about her in class all the time). I'm writing this at 3 am on a Friday night-I did sleep for a few hours, but woke up and can't fall asleep again, so I thought I'd get up and be productive. I'm often just working on what needs to be done for tomorrow. I think teaching is different from other jobs in that it's impossible to completely catch up; there's always more to plan and prepare. You have to prioritize based on need. This past week preparing our classrooms everyone would ask "are you done?" and my response was "are we ever really done?"

I am always trying to improve my craft. I will be the first one to tell you that I do not know what I am doing half the time. I love learning about new technology or strategies, particularly ways to challenge my students. I attended 9 days of professional development from my district this summer and unfortunately got little out of it. I went to my first EdCamp last year and really liked the fact that teachers were driving the choice of topics, although I did feel like the technology they were talking about was a bit over my head. I find a lot of ideas through the blogs I read. Blogging has had the most influential impact on my growth as a teacher. The community that not only shares what they are doing in the classroom, but is also willing to give you feedback and answer specific questions you pose. I think every teacher would benefit from blogging. You have to reflect on your craft to see where you need improvements.

Sometimes it's very difficult to carve out time for yourself when you are a teacher, but it is just so important. In the evenings I will take my book outside to a bench I have in the yard and I will read while my puppy watches the world go by. Even if it's just 10 minutes, I can turn off that teacher brain for a little while and unwind. We are always thinking about our students, their parents, our colleagues, I truly believe it's important to make the time for yourself as well.

8/24/14

DigiLit Sunday: Evernote

About two months ago, the amazing Margaret Simon who blogs at Reflections on the Teche invited me to join her Digilit Sunday and I'm finally doing it. What took me so long?
I'm starting school tomorrow. It's something we call Management Days. That's two days of meetings and classroom prep and Open House. I feel very prepared this year. I think my decision to go completely digital has transformed the stress I usually feel about how my classroom looks.  I've decided to live with my iPad or my MacBook Air this year. Literally. I might even sleep with them under my pillow. I want to give myself no excuse for not putting information into Evernote.

The super exciting thing is that my Evernote is suddenly making perfect sense to me. It was like for a while it spoke French and I only spoke English and 'Je m'appelle Kimberley' French. Then I went through an immersion program this summer and KABOOM! now I speak French too AND think in it.

I've started my classroom blog with it. See post HERE.

And a few nights ago, I started using it as my lesson planner. I wish I could write that in a way that showed you how huge this is for me. I tried for TWO years to understand how to do this and suddenly it was like I could even dream in French.
It may not look like much to you, but I can access it from anywhere. I can add clickable links and I can share it with anyone--even a SUB. Do you get that? I want to marry Evernote and call him Jean Luc. I cannot wait to start school so I can use it for absolutely everything. I'll keep you posted!

8/23/14

CELEBRATE Fourteen

I love ending each week thinking about what I will choose to celebrate. Join Ruth Ayres who shares a Celebration Link Up on her blog each week. Thank you to Ruth for the inspiration.

Today I am celebrating my commitment to writing. I've been waking myself up at 5am most days during the past couple of weeks.

I was challenged by an old dear friend to write a "How To" short story. This kind of writing is not new to me as a reader, but I have never done it as a writer. Let me give you a couple examples:

Lorrie Moore's How To Become a Writer
Pam Houston's How to Talk to a Hunter

It's part How To, but mostly personal narrative. This is right up my alley, but also a lot harder than it would appear. I must stick to the topic with every sentence (no straying ADD brain) AND be funny so as to stay true to myself. These writers I've shared above are masters at this and thus make it appear to be a simple genre. Not so.

That said, I offered up my first draft for a reader I trust and was happily given both praise and excellent critique. That's what I need as a writer. For me, support must come in the form of critique. I need to know what to work on.

I know I need a writing group and I'm not sure how to find one. Maine Writer's Alliance? Something online?

Today I celebrate my commitment to being a writer without any caveats or what ifs whatsoever.

8/20/14

Making the time: Tammy McMorrow


Today I'd like to introduce one of the more reflective teachers I know. She is also one of those people who always makes you feel like you are important. She comments regularly on blogs and really give you her time. She is very special. Meet Tammy McMorrow from
I'd like to thank Kimberley for inviting me to chat on her blog. I've been sitting on this invitation for some time now, trying to decide if I have anything of use to add to the wisdom she consistently shares here.  I'm not sure I've come up with a definitive answer on that.  I'm here mostly because I really like Kimberley.  I wish Maine was right down the hallway instead of across the country.  I'd love to watch her in action. Her blog challenges and inspires me.  I can only imagine what sitting in her classroom would do to me.  Anyway, I want to honor her request, so this is my story of how and why I make time to improve my teaching craft.  

Before I get into the nitty gritty, I have to provide a disclaimer. I'm single and have been my whole teaching career.  When it comes to home life, the only thing that really competes for my attention is the amount of sleep that I love to get on a school night.  Some day I plan on being married to a man who understands the time I spend asleep or thinking about school, but in the meantime, I love being a single teacher.

When I think of my teaching craft and the transformations it's experienced, my thoughts immediately land on three influential moments from the last 20 years.  I'm really good at making a long story short, so I'll keep this concise.  

During my third year of teaching, I was invited by my principal to participate in a nine-month Reading Recovery training provided by my state.  I had a great college experience, but Reading Recovery is where I truly learned how to be a great teacher.  That training still influences my daily practice.  Then in the late 1900s (I get a kick out of talking about the 1900s. Sounds like forever ago.), a teacher friend and I decided to get our Masters in Reading together.  I met some professors who challenged and helped shape my pedagogy.  In fact, that's where I first heard of pedagogy and realized I had one. Finally, in 2005 I joined up with the Writing Project and spent my summer writing and refining my teaching practice.  If anyone has the opportunity to become a Writing Project fellow, take it.

In addition to these three most influential times in my teacher life, I also surround myself with books about teaching.  I read, highlight, jot down favorite quotes, put ideas into practice, and become a better teacher because of gurus like Donald Graves, Lucy Calkins, Marie Clay, Debbie Miller, and my absolute favorite Regie Routman (to name a few).  Many of my best instructional practices come directly from these teacher leaders.      

I guess the moral of the tale is that I'm in charge of my own professional development.  My district does the best it can when it comes to meeting the professional needs of a vast number and variety of teachers, but I'm the only one who knows what I really need.  When it comes right down to it, I'm the one responsible for making sure my pedagogy and practice is where it needs to be.  I'm responsible for pushing myself to continually reach for the next level.  I can't put that job off on someone else.  I'll be continually disappointed if I do, and my teaching will suffer as well.  

I read recently that workers continually paint the Golden Gate Bridge.  Their work might temporarily halt due to factors such as fog, but their work is never complete.  That's a lot like what I do.  I know from reading Kimberley's blog that she feels the same way.  Keep painting away.    

8/16/14

One Digital Step at a Time

It has taken me nearly two years to figure out how to use Evernote effectively. This is not Evernote's fault, nor is it anyone who blogs about how they use Evernote. This is my fault for moving too quickly. I have that problem. I don't think I'd get high marks if Ability to Resist Impulsive Reactions was on my iObservation.

Instead of thinking about how I would use Evernote and taking it one step at a time, I tried to implement someone else's ideas. This rarely works for me, but that doesn't stop me apparently. Luckily I am a very persistent person who uses failures as ways to identify success instead of as reasons for quitting.

Patience: 0
Persistence: 1

As I come into my second year of implementing my no paper trail plan, I am looking for new ways to streamline my systems. Last year I ended the year with exactly the amount of paper I was required to have by my district: Calkin's On Demand (post for Narrative, Opinion, and Informational), End of Unit assessments for EveryDay Math, sight word list, DIBELS booklet, and Word Their Way end of year assessment, cover sheet for each student recording the data within the portfolio. That's it! No reams of paper with people contact information, rules about the playground, notes from parents, love notes from students, or curriculum guides. If I wanted to keep it, I put it in Evernote and gave back the sheet handed out or recycled them. The great thing is that I never lost anything. This was my focus last year. I knew there was more I could do, but I wanted to do something I could really accomplish.

This year I am armed with a lot more knowledge.

  1. It's possible to be completely digital for an entire year.
  2. Evernote is very intuitive and useful for my needs.
  3. Classroom blogging changed the face of my classroom and is now a requirement for me.
I had a Classroom Blog last year that I loved. Moran Minds I knew the platform. I understood how to make it all work and I had found an app that let the kids blog along with me. Things were moving along swimmingly, but not seamlessly.

This summer I read a book called Playing with Media by Wesley Fryer (follow him on Twitter @wfryer) that really got me thinking about how I use digital media with my kids. He investigates the idea that the fewer the clicks to get to where you want to go digitally, the better. BOOM! WOW! I love this idea.
In the interest of using this concept, I want to create a blog where I can post with fewer clicks and I want to use Evernote as my main digital notebook this year. I also use Dropbox and Google, but only where it helps me makes something easier and with 'fewer clicks' to get the job accomplished. So I began to investigate ideas and found that other people wanted the same thing! Voila!
This thing of beauty is called Postach.io. It is a blogging platform that uses Evernote to post. So all I have to do is open up a note during the day, take pics and write text about the day, and then tag it published to have it auto load to my new classroom blog. Yippee!! I set a blog up in three minutes and then I practiced posting things I usually post like images, .pdfs, videos, and audio files. It took me a bit to figure out how postach.io likes to receive info from Evernote, but now I get it and know that I might need to play with it occasionally before I become a pro. I can't wait to be more seamless this year.

You know I'll post more as I use it.

Next up...digital portfolios using Evernote. I'll be needing to teach my kids how Evernote works, but that will be helpful as they choose to blog their work as well. I just purchased Matt Renwick's new book (follow him @ReadByExample). I'll post about that after I read it.
Buy this book and read it, then we can be reading and implementing buddies! Wouldn't that be fun?

8/15/14

Start of the Year Reflection

I don't get a lot of time in my classroom these days. My husband is working a lot and my kids don't love to come to school for hours on end (hmph). So tonight when my husband suggested I spend a couple of hours there after dinner, I raced in. My furniture is mostly set up. I need to work on my library.

As I sat looking over my books to decide what would work best with Second Graders, I started pulling books I could use in the beginning of the year. I like to choose books that set the tone I expect. I want kids to be brave.
I want them to know it's okay to be different. I want them to know it's more than okay, in fact I prefer it. How Vanilla Pudding is alright but Lemon Panna Cotta with Berry Compote is thrilling!
I love to swap stories about how we got our names and why who we are at home needs to come to school too. I want to hear about their tradition of sleeping with confetti under their pillow before the first night of school. I want to know if their dad makes pancakes on Sunday morning and if he hides M&Ms in them.
I want them to be able to name the way they feel and spend time listening to music and drawing that emotion.
There is so much more. I started to feel like I was choosing too many books. Then I realized that I could probably fit in 2 or 3 each day and that made me feel better.

I also thought about some of the amazing people I've met on the internet and how they've cracked this job I do wide open for me.

One of those people is Cathy Mere who changed my teaching life because I knew I wanted to do more, but I wasn't sure what it looked like. She took the time to write a book that made sense and I use it whenever I am unsure what to do next. We have since become online friends and she never fails to share something I can use.
Another person who has transformed me is Carrie Gelson, whose blog There's a Book for That lives up to its name. She is relentless at reading and reviewing and helping her friends find just the right book. I plan to use one of her suggestions when I talk with my Second Graders about getting to know people for who they are and reveling in the possibilities.
Carrie brought me to the person who has changed how I feel about teaching writing and being a writer myself. Barbara O'Connor is the fantastic author of so many amazing books. We connected when I read The Small Adventures of Popeye and Elvis. Carrie tweeted that she loved what we did with the book, from making Yoo Hoo boats to drawing our favorite parts. Barbara saw the post and allowed me to invite her into my classroom via Skype. She shared her whole writing process with the kids in a way that helped them see how much goes into writing something from the idea to the writing to the research and the revision. She was just with us for about 15 minutes, but I remember it like it was two hours. We've become online friends as well and I value her and her writing so much. We will be reading another of her books next year as I am looping with my kids and can't wait to show them more.
I could go on and on because I have amazing friendships online with some amazing people, happily both men and women in education. You know who you are.

A great person whom I know in real life and online, Jessica Esch, says with frequency "Online affects Offline." She is one of those people who never fails to send a quick tweet or FB note letting you know you are heard. Follow her at @jesch30.

I strive to do this as well. I know you're there and I appreciate it ever so much.

Finally, as I sat and read a book that charms and engages me at every reading,
I  stopped and looked around. It was 8:45pm. There was no one at school but me. My room shows what I care about and will want them to care about. There isn't anything on the walls and there probably won't be until the kids start putting it there. Our books are all over the tables. My book character stuffies are strategically lounging about near their own books. My iPhone is crooning David Gray's Sail Away.

And then, I burst into tears.

But only because I love what I do and I can't wait for those kids to show up.

8/13/14

Making the Time: Barb Leyne


 Welcome and thank you to my dear friend Barb from 
Hi there!  I'm Barb from Grade ONEderful and Ruby Slippers Designs.

I'm thrilled that Kimberley has asked me to guest post on her blog because I have great respect for everything she does and says.  She asked me to write about the ways in which I manage my time.
I've been thinking about this for a while because in some respects I consider myself extremely organized but in others, not so much. My blog posts, for example, tend to be higglety pigglety.

Before I let you know what helps me the most, though, let me give you a brief background about myself. Because this definitely ties in to how I prioritize and manage my time.

FIRSTLY, I'm not the mom of young kids. I USED to be but they're all grown up now, so naturally I don't have that distraction. 

I am, however, a full-time Grade 1 teacher and a part-time blog designer and avid runner, so my days are very full.

Here's how I do it:

1. First thing every morning I sit in bed with my chai tea latte for 30 minutes and read/answer my emails.

2. At school I tend to avoid anything other than school, but I have to admit I check my emails a lot (during recess and lunch only :)).

3. After the kids have left for the day I get ready for the next day. Everything is done before I leave 'cause I don't like doing school stuff at home. Also, it's really hard for me to get up in the morning and I usually arrive 10 minutes before the bell. So yeah, everything has to be ready to go.  

4. When I get home from school I RELAX by going for a run and/or sitting in front of the computer and blogging and/or designing.

5. My husband LOVES to cook (that's how he relaxes), so obviously that helps, too. But I do the clean-up, so typically I'm back in front of the computer around 8:30 or 9:00.  I'm a night owl, so sometimes I'm up 'til after midnight working on designs or blog posts. Sandi from rubber boots and elf shoes can attest to this 'cause we're sometimes emailing each other, or commenting on each other's blogs late late at night.

BUT WAIT! There's more. 

I've been teaching for 23 years so it doesn't take me as long to prep for the next day as it used to. Also, I'm not big into worksheet type activities so I don't usually have a lot of photocopying to do. Instead we use exercise books and individual whiteboards.  

I also don't spend time making a lot of games and laminating (I do occasionally, but not much) cause I don't like spending more time making activities for the kids than they'll actually spend doing them. You know what I mean? I just don't think that's a good use of my time....but that's what works for me (everyone needs to find their own comfort zone).

Secondly, I have a couple of apps I can't live without!  I use Wunderlist to keep track of all my different projects, my design clients, my daily to-do lists, book recommendations, that kind of thing.

The other app I LOVE is Evernote. I use the free version and it's amazing. I have pages and pages of my design notes in there, plus ALL of my school notes, including my day plan.  

Those two apps, alone, which I have on my iphone, ipad, laptop and desktop, have saved me tons of time and have helped keep me on the straight and narrow.

And finally, I don't spend a huge amount of time on pinterest, facebook or twitter. I like them all just fine :)  but it's way too easy to lose myself down the rabbit hole. I mean hours, if not days, can just disappear when I get sucked in. It's scary! I try really hard to monitor my time with social media.

That's about it! Hopefully that helps someone, but if not, at the very least I hope you look into Wunderlist and/or Evernote. They are seriously great time-savers.

Thanks, Kimberley!