a little birdie told me

When I joined twitter about 6 years ago. I didn’t get it. So I left it. When my older son joined in two years ago, I tried again. This time, I hated it. It was too much stuff I really didn’t care to see, and so I abandoned it again. In February I went to the Oklahoma Middle Level Educators Association conference where I was instructed to “tweet” about what I was learning in the sessions. I was resistant, but when in Rome….

Except I really had no clue what I was doing. Luckily there was a Twitter 101 session, so I flew right over (couldn’t resist). I found the old account, and this time chose to follow only those associated with education. I started with the few people I met in that session, and #OklaEd. Little did I know that I was opening the door to Wonderland. I wasn’t chasing a white rabbit, but a little blue bird, and @cassieknash was the key to get me through the door to see that nothing is impossible.

My first twitter edchat was completely overwhelming, and I had to ask someone what a PLN was only to discover I have been building one all along. Many of the people I met at OMLEA were at edcampokc two weeks later (I learned about it in the Twitterverse). I met new people, I followed them. People I don’t know have followed me. I have posted questions, and had total strangers reach out to collaborate, wait, WHAT?!? I have begun building my professional tribe. I’m being intentional. I’m finding the people who have skills in the areas where I have room to grow. (I try very hard not to say deficit- as a special ed teacher, I don’t want to focus on the weaknesses, but build on strengths. Word choice is so important, no?)

I have found amazing PD through podcasts and in person. I knew the world was bigger than the walls of my school, but now I have the tools to access it. I found the #OklaEd tribe, and I’m slowing cultivating those relationships. When this came across my feed today, I got really excited:

Growth and learning follow a continuum, and both are a fluid process. Some days may feel like a step backwards, and those are the days that an encouraging coach or mentor is extremely valuable. Moving from Stage 3 to Stage 4 takes time and persistence, which require self-motivation. It also requires a culture of risk-taking, trust, and opportunities for feedback and sharing.

As my 2nd hour would say, “Nailed it!”

finding my voice

I have three other drafts for posts that I have been working on, one for each Saturday (good writers have a schedule, I’ve been told) since my last post. Great advice, except I’m more of a write when the fickle muse visits me kind of gal (which explains some really frantic weekends before major paper deadlines). Contrary to what you might think, it’s not a procrastination tendency, but more that I have so many ideas that don’t want to gel, that when I sit down to compose they all clamour for the spotlight, and I wind up with a collection of not quite formed thoughts tangled with their counterparts (and partial blog posts that start, but don’t quite know where to go). I read over them before starting this one, and I realized why I hadn’t finished them:  I was trying to fit what I thought an education blogger should  be, not being me.

I follow a few other blogs, and they provide relevant (almost to the minute) facts about the status of education legislation, or technology, or….whatever their specialty is. I’m fairly certain that if you have stumbled upon my little corner of the blogging world, you most likely know them yourself. I’m totally plugging them here without their permission. One I met while struggling through the National Board process two years ago. One I have known longer than I will publicly admit because it makes me sound old. One I met right before being pushed tumbling down this rabbit hole. The other I have never met, although this makes me kinda sad as I feel like I could have been one of the original #11ff. Funny how that whole wanting-to-be-a-cool-kid thing never quite goes away. I’ll blame this last bit on being surrounded by middle school drama energy every day of my week (yep, I live with an 8th grader too. Thankfully- sadly?-this is a temporary situation as high school is just around the corner for my youngest kiddo.), but I just KNOW that if we met in person, we’d get along fabulously if for no other reason than I would be a total fan girl and gush about how much I love his sarcastic/witty/snarky writing style.

They have found their voice. I’m still working on mine, which led me to thinking about my students, especially those who struggle with written expression. I write IEP goals to help them become more proficient writers for Pete’s sake, this should be easier for me. It should push me to become a more creative teacher. Perhaps it starts with me showing them my own struggles to put words on paper in a way that makes sense and makes me happy.

I need to quit being fearful of teaching writing because I know they struggle – why give them another opportunity to fail at something they already find daunting? Perhaps a bit of this is my fear that I’m not teaching them as well as someone else could because math is really my strongest skill set even though I’m certified to teach middle level ELA too. Writing doesn’t come naturally to me. It’s hard. So what is it that propels me forward with this project? I think I have a few things to say. I bet they do too.

Today my #whyiteach post was shared by teacher2teacher, and then retweeted by two total strangers!! On. Twitter. Total. Strangers! This may seem like no biggie, but it is to me. That small voice at the back of my head that keeps saying, “You know the only people reading this are your sweet friends who do it because you sent them a direct link and begged,” finally said, “Hey, someone finds your voice valid.”

Why am I not giving this opportunity to my students? Why am I not encouraging them to find their voices? Why not give them the opportunity to do something they are not sure about, and let them shine- or fall, when I’m there to catch them? It won’t be a blog format for now as my classroom computers have gone to the common good (otherwise known as the OCCT testing lab), but we have 8 weeks left, and I intend to encourage some vocal exercises.

On paper, of course.

great googly moogly

This is my brain. All. The. Time.

all the time

It’s an especially funny analogy for those who know me well, because #irepeltechnology (watch for this to start trending in the twittersphere). I love the idea of technology. I get uber excited about the possibilities it presents for me as a teacher and my students as learners. I make PLANS!!

Then, I sit down at the computer to dig in, and….

It’s spring break; I have time to sit and play with my newly established classes on Google Classroom. On Friday, I had a tutoring session on how to add students to my contacts, and I managed to add both sections of my 6th grade LA students to a separate list that I titled “6th LA 15-16” so I could be super organized and not have to scroll through every student I have to add to the actual class groups. Feeling pretty proficient (ok, slightly cocky) I said, “Let’s move on to how I send assignments.” Check. This is super cool!! Look at me!

Today the words I’m thinking aren’t publishable (at least not on this blog. I have a few recommendations if you have a bent for that sort of rhetoric) so I’ll stick with “Great Googly Moogly!” What has changed in the last two days??? Gremlins. That is my only explanation. It’s actually my go-to explanation when my Intelligent Classroom won’t let me write on my white board, when EdPlan rearranges all of the accommodations in each subject for no apparent reason, and when apps disappear off my cell phone. But I digress. What happened in the last two days is-the add button for contacts is no longer anywhere I can find on GC, and it has added random people to my  6th grade LA contact list. Ummmmm……I still have two subjects to add to Classroom, and I can’t figure out how.

Of course, you are thinking, “Bless her heart, why doesn’t she just Google her questions?” Well, I have…and I can’t find any actual instructions by Google. I have found PDF instructions by third party folks for part of how to set up, but not the part about how to find the lost add contacts button, nor how to delete people that I don’t want on my classroom contacts list (who knows what fun the gremlins might have with those??).

I’m in the generation that straddles the gap between growing up with rotary phones and busy signals and having access to an entire Radio Shack Christmas flyer in the palm of my hand. I envy those who can navigate all things techy with ease. I get frustrated when I think that the tech should do a certain thing, and it won’t. I want to give up when the process isn’t intuitive, and here I am on that brink. It goes something like:

Dear Google Classroom,

It’s not you. It’s me. I need more from my virtual classroom. I need something that understands my needs and can fulfill them.  The lack of meaningful communication between us has forced me to seek answers from others, and quite frankly, it’s exhausting jumping from forum to forum hoping to find a glimmer of hope that our difficulties can be solved easily. You have a lot to offer the right person; sadly, I am not the one.

I wish you nothing but the best, Cassie

In the spirit of growing, and continually learning, I’m going to wait for my personal IT tutor to have some room to squeeze in my  questions before I dump GC (contrary to what may seem intuitive here, my learning style is NOT auditory, I’m a gotta do it type with a heavy dose of visual-which reminds me I need to add another topic to my list of posts I want to write). But in the meantime, I am going to continue building my Edmodo classes, as I think it may offer a better platform for my teaching/learning style. Life is too short to spend with things that don’t bring me joy or fulfillment, right?

Namaste

 

one more thing

I can’t go back to yesterday because I was a different person then.- Alice in Wonderland

If read with the familiarity I have with Alice, these words seem straightforward, as if the transformation is so complete that she doesn’t recognize the girl she was when she fell down the rabbit hole. As if overnight she became so different she can no longer relate to her former self. But upon reflection, isn’t that what happens to each of us on a daily basis? All experiences, no matter how seemingly insignificant, impact us in such a way that we are changed. Different. Permanently altered and not who we were yesterday. Every second something about our reality, our perception, our “be”ing changes. It’s just one more thing woven into our personal history, shaping who we are now.

Lately “just one more thing” has been predominant in my life. Operating in my usual “feeding the shark closest to the boat” mode, “one more thing” has made this week feel like drowning and being handed a fire hose gushing at full force with gradschool/work/husband-traveling-temporary-single-mom/i’montheboardsoihavetogotothemeeting sitting in the boat with me. Those four little words may have been tossed my way when I was planning a little something that I’m rather proud of facilitating, but I’m going to leave snarky at the door as this post already borders on whining.

I actually started writing this on Tuesday prior to the failure of SB 609 and HB 2949. I was going to encourage all of us to do one more thing….make a call. Send an email. Let your voice be heard. However, since becoming OBE (overcome by events for those of you under 30) this week, I missed the opportunity. Or did I? What if the “just one more thing” was as simple as deciding to become involved? Which would technically lead to just one more thing: following through. One of my new favorite people had this to say, and I completely agree! Deciding isn’t enough. Action is required if we are going to move forward on [insert your current project, or desire here]. What do you want? Act. Now. (Or at least by the time that particular shark approaches the boat…)

Here’s to not being who I was yesterday! To learning, and stretching, and growing. To discovering a new version. To embracing just one more thing.

 

 

 

 

#whyiteach

A few weeks ago, at a National Board Certified Teacher Summit, I was asked to go “chat with a gentleman about education”-on camera. (GULP!!) Two things happened the minute I sat in that chair: 1) my typical animated talking style became very stilted, and 2) my mind stopped functioning. In an effort not to ramble, I did. In an effort to sound every bit the NBCT that I am, I babbled. My effort to not to look up or say “ummmm” too much resulted in uttered sentence fragments that faded into awkward pauses. My fervent hope is that they will find a 10 second clip where I make sense, or better yet, scrap my whole “conversation.” Seriously, they were DIFFICULT questions that could have benefitted from at least a once over before I had to answer. (Did I mention on camera?)

Why did you choose to undertake National Board? What will a successful school year look like for you in May? What is one thing you want parents to know? What do you want legislators to know about your job? The minute that camera stopped, my perfectionist, completely ADD mind did what it always does- started processing everything that I should have said. I couldn’t let it go. I ran through all the thoughtful, slightly witty answers that I could have given all through the afternoon speakers, on the drive back home, and while I taught class that night. The bright spot in all of this? I gave one answer that came without any thought, straight from my heart  complete with unexpected tears welling up (I even did that hand waving thing in front of my face; the one I always hope will keep the mascara from running.) Yep, you guessed it. He asked me,  Why do you stay in the classroom? Quite simply, “the kids.”

Two little words. Huge meaning.

Earlier this week on Twitter, I found #whyiteach complete with pictures of teachers holding speech bubbles with their answer to the question. My mind, having fully recovered from what I now think of as the “Great Interview Debacle,” (and having thought as only a master overthinker can of the answers to that question) grabbed on to this idea. Which led to a text to my principal. “Let’s do this for parent-teacher conferences next week in the front hall display case.” So here I am, in charge of this project. I delivered speech bubbles to team leaders, rounded up a yearbook photographer to snap faculty pictures, and asked one of the secretaries to help get the display posted. All is going well, except…..

How can I possibly winnow my answer down to fit in a cartoon bubble smaller than a sheet of copy paper??

I teach because it’s in my blood as a fourth generation educator. I teach because I love learning new things. I teach because I want my students to find their voices. I teach because there is nothing like seeing a child excited about something. I teach because watching those moments of understanding come across a face- sometimes slowly dawning, other times true lightbulb moments- is something I will never grow tired of. I teach because some things just can’t be delivered through osmosis. I teach because kids need someone who cares for them. I teach because I truly believe knowledge is power. I teach because independence requires skills and the confidence to use them. I teach because everyday I have something to laugh about, a reason to celebrate, and kids who enter my room bringing an energy like nothing else I’ve ever experienced. I teach because I want to impact the future in a positive way, after all, today’s middle schoolers will be running the world when I’m old. Does anyone else hear Whitney Houston?

I teach for a million reasons that I can’t put into words, but these are the words I found too late to share on camera. I didn’t realize how much I missed being in the classroom until I returned to it 5 years ago, and no matter how little respect my profession receives from the general public or the people who pass laws that make my job increasingly stressful, I won’t leave it. Budget cuts won’t diminish my passion. I teach because it matters. I teach.

Because.

 

painting the roses red

“Why do I need to know this?”

“I don’t get it!”

“This is too hard!”

To me this is the most difficult part of teaching. Oh, not the questions, but the skill to be the teacher that my students need; to be able to explain, and model in a way that makes sense to them. I attend conferences and workshops to continually add strategies to my teacher tool kit. I take notes on how to change things the next time I teach that lesson, I reflect on the success (or lack thereof) of the lesson, the students’ reaction, and my sanity at the end of the day. Pi Day bracelets with seed beads, fishing line, and super glue on the same day we have parent teacher conferences in the evening? The nurse still laughs at me for gluing not one, but BOTH thumbs and pointer fingers together- yes, at the same time. The lesson on mean using wooden blocks, rounding with styrofoam cups, using graphic organizers and guided inquiry to get my students to write, white boards, detective notebooks for the mystery unit….I’ve developed quite a list over the past four years as I have shifted both departments and grade levels to meet the needs of our special education department, but one tool is ever present: Make learning relevant to my kiddos, and if I can’t, well then, paint it in a way that makes it less “schooly” (it could become a word if enough people start to use it).

This is the place I found myself on Friday. Discounts and sales tax- woo hoo!! We had been working on percent of numbers for a week, and had even taken turns suggesting purchases. We had lined up, 10% index cards in hand, and discovered the percent left after “taking” the discount. They even realized that they could take 25% off by ripping one of the cards in half. (YES!! I may have done a cartwheel, but there is no video evidence.) We had our equation statement to plug in and solve for the original price when discount and sale price were known. We had subtracted discount from 100% and added tax percent to 100% before multiplying by the original price to find total cost. They were ready!

As I walked around the room checking on their independent practice, one boy had nothing written on his paper except for “DEEZ NUTS.” I stopped at the desk in front of his, sat backward in the seat, and asked, “What’s up?” His reply….a one shouldered shrug. Ah, the joys of teaching 7th grade. Ever persistent, I pointed to the notes we had taken in the interactive notebook, and read. “Original price, do we know that?” He gave a half-hearted point with his finger. “OK, so write that down. Now ‘of’ means….” One-shoulder shrug again, but he mumbled, “multiply.”

“You got it, now what next? Look at our equation statement.”

As we worked together, me prompting, him writing, he remember on his own to change the percent to a decimal. I’m thinking “he has this,” but I asked him set up a problem that involved tax while I watched to be certain. As I gave him a high five he said, “I don’t want to do this. It’s stupid!” I turned his paper around to face me, and crossed out every “item” word in the four problems left on the page and wrote “deez nuts” above each. With a flourish, I handed the paper back proclaiming, “Dude, I have a whole lot of nuts to buy, and I need to know how much money it’s going to cost me!” He looked incredulous. “Did you just say nuts?”

“Nope, I said DEEZ NUTS!” That smile. And then….he started working. On. His. Own. The kid who would rather lay his head on the desk and check out, was “mathing” (just wait, it will be a word someday too)! For one moment, I was a teaching genius. (Aaaaaaand, drop the mic.)

I understand that he will most likely not want to do math again on Monday, and that it will be a struggle to keep him engaged in the lesson, but I’d like to think that he will remember the day that his 7th grade math teacher let go of being proper, and made math fun. Even if it was just four problems.

painting the roses red

image source: http://www.cornel1801.com/disney/Alice-Wonderland-Painting-Roses-Red/videosong.html

 

 

 

 

be.

Two letters. A complete sentence. A reminder to be fully present in the moment; be whomever you are. be unconventional. Use poetic license. Live your purpose.

This week I was surrounded by amazingly talented, passionate educators who urged me to find my voice. Who awed me with their “techy” skills, encouraged me to write, and inspired me to grow. Here is the result: just teaching it real….no capitals in the title on purpose (like the sentence in the first paragraph- I know you thought it was a typo).

In elementary school I was accused of being a snob (a skill I later grew into, but that is a topic for another post) because I didn’t talk to my classmates often. I was smart, but also desperately afraid of making a public mistake. Wanting so badly to fit in, and fearful of saying the wrong thing, I said nothing. I pushed myself to be the best student in the class, and got annoyed every week in 5th grade when Shannon F. beat me in the class spelling bees. My teachers encouraged and praised me for my products, but I was never sure if it was me or the grades receiving the attention. I loved the public praise, but got completely flustered when it came time to stand in front of a group and share my thoughts. Outloud. I became a master “blender.”

In my need to continually prove myself, I did things that would earn praise from the adults in my life. I read ALL twenty Sequoyah books when only seven were required by Mrs. Hardy. I entered multiple ensembles in district orchestra competitions, but never a solo. I used a Vogue pattern for my first attempt at sewing clothing. I found things I knew would turn out well before I started. I did those. Until today.

Somewhere during the year I was 37, I finally decided that it took too much energy to care if others liked me. I stopped trying to prove myself. Oh, I still planned birthday parties, and made Clifford ears for preschool classes, and made cut out sugar cookies, but I did it because it gave me joy, not to impress anyone else. I could honestly say, “This is who I am, and if you don’t like it, I’m OK with that.” And I was. Until…

I’m in that uncomfortable growing place again. I’m taking a risk putting thoughts out there. Not everyone will like me, and that is scary. What if I have nothing relevant to say? There are amazing people out there to compare myself to (yes, I know that’s not productive), but I also know that if those people I admire tell me that blogging will make me a better writer, (even on those scholarly papers that I struggle through on my journey to earning my Ph.D.), then I’m going to do it. I’m going to keep repeating words I overheard my mom tell someone when I was 15 (this was either an accident, or a BRILLIANT parenting move on her part), “Cassie doesn’t know she can’t.” Well, I DO know that, but I’m going to push through the uncomfortable.

I’m going tobe