• Art,  Creativity,  Instruction,  Life,  Process,  Stories from the Art

    Bit by Bit: Creative Elements and Life

    It’s been a while since I cobbled words into a blog post. Nine months give or take. Where does the time go? To be sure, I’ve been writing plenty since then – filling writing notebooks before sunrise, building words into my art, and making notes in the margins as I read books that fill me with answers and more questions about the reading/writing/creating process. Business ownership also became a central theme as I committed to moving in the direction I’ve intended the past four years.

    Less than 48 hours ago – after a month of planning, I enjoyed a Friday night Sip and Make Mixed-Media Art Workshop with friends – new and old. Afterward, I found myself – as I do each time I teach – reflecting on the process. What worked. What didn’t. What I could have done differently. If I’m lucky, I get organic feedback from workshop guests.

    Saturday morning began like this:

    Husband: Good morning!

    Me: You know, I was thinking about last night’s workshop….

    That poor guy. All these years later, he knows where my brain will go (and stay) until it has sufficiently chewed on whatever I’m processing. It began…

    Husband: What were you thinking, honey…?

    Me: Well, I was thinking…. I began to ramble through thoughts not yet completely formed…. (and before coffee)

    Husband: Have you considered…..

    As usual, his response gave me pause. Then as our day unfolded, he gave me space to process my thoughts…..

    Here I am. Sunday morning. 5:38 AM. It’s time to find those words and leave them on this screen. Share my thoughts. Share my questions….

    As I prepared for our workshop…..

    I gathered materials and supplies, considered the techniques I’d share and packed plastic boxes with each carefully labeled. Just as I have in the classroom for the past 25 years, I needed to work out my teaching plan: topic, teaching strategies, and takeaways.

    Topic (Project) established: Pocket Journals

    Teaching Strategies mostly clear:

    • Provide our workshop game plan: the what, why and how
    • Review basic ingredients
    • Show samples of the project and variations, along with techniques to attain those creative choices
    • Introduce tools and materials
    • Have guests get started while I monitor, ask questions, answer questions, and guide the process – assessing where each participant is in her own creative process and adjusting my teaching to meet her there
    • Ask guests to reflect on the process as we wrapped up

    Takeaways: What did I want guests to leave with? A pocket journal, but more than that – an understanding of the process we would spend 2+ hours exploring together….

    I also kept thinking about past art parties. Did guests leave with a greater understanding of the creative process? It continues to be my question as I develop creative events for folks: Do you understand the relationship between creating and mindfulness? Are you allowing Creativity to give your soul a voice? Do you make the connection between the tangible elements (the creative ingredients we use) and your life?

    If the answer is No to any of these questions, then my teaching goal has not been reached.

    Creating is a connection to ourselves…. to our innermost feelings and emotions. Our stories. My goal is to help people recognize that connection, understand its power, and be open to exploring it. When we do, we begin to discover our own creativity and its impact on our life.

    Fast-forward to the final 48 hours leading up to our workshop. That’s when it hit me! To help guests make the connection between our lives and our creating for this project, I needed to deliberately show how our lives are composed of pieces – of experiences and events, emotions and evolving thoughts. We are stitched together by the elements of who we become.

    And there it was: Bit by bit, we become us.

    To that end, each workshop guest received a small jar to place her bits into – each piece contained to the size of the jar. Use as many or as few and fill as many times as needed, but the “bits” needed to fit in the jar.

    Watching that process unfold was fascinating!

    I even received feedback the next day that made my heart sing…. milestones reached, breakthroughs made, creative interests defined… a joyful good time had.

    Awesome! ūüôā

  • Instruction,  Life,  Process

    Learner or Teacher?


    man working on a laptop
    credit: smart-elearning.eu

    The other day, while reading¬†fellow blogger and author Carrie Rubin’s¬†post about authors, gender, standards, and profanity/violence,¬†I replied with my perspective as¬†a teacher who worked with middle and high school students for many years. As a reading specialist and as a writer myself, I¬†required¬†lots of writing from my students and taught them that¬†reading and writing go hand-in-hand.

    My reply to her post: ¬†Characters¬†need to be believable and readers need to decide what’s appropriate for themselves (or with a parent, if the reader is a preteen/adolescent); a rating system isn’t necessary. I¬†didn’t give my response¬†a second thought when I hit Send…..¬†I naturally define my thinking from a teacher’s perspective.

    Or do I?

    When Carrie thanked me for the ‘teacher perspective,’ I kind of chuckled and thought, “You’re welcome.¬†There it is! My¬†‘teacher-filter’ is in full-swing again!”

    But I got to thinking…..

    How we learn is a big part of who I am as both learner and educator. When I had my own classes, I was constantly analyzing my instructional delivery:

    • Is it on-point?
    • Is it fun?
    • Am I being concise enough, while still including key¬†information?
    • Am I being verbose,¬†boring them to tears?
    • Am I¬†talking over their heads?
    • Is it interesting to them?¬†Can they connect what they know with what I’m teaching? (value leads to ownership: What’s in it for me?)
    • Are they getting it?¬†How do I know? How¬†do they know?

    And all of this chatter was happening in my head while I was in the middle of instruction. Every. Day. All. The. Time. Holy cow!!

    Now, as an instructional coach, I have this internal dialogue when I facilitate professional development sessions or do demonstration lessons. I also often walk into classrooms and think, “Wow! So many ways this could be taught!”

    So, as I¬†write this post, I’m thinking to myself (as I often do when I write): So what?¬†Why am I¬†sharing these particular thoughts?¬†

    And in this instance, I realize this:¬† My¬†perspective isn’t that of a teacher as much as it is of a learner.

    I want someone to teach me who:

    • is on-point & funny/engaging/approachable
    • gives key¬†details, but asks lots of questions to engage my thinking – often referred to as Socratic Teaching… I just call it ‘giving¬†the learner¬†a chance to think’!
    • speaks a language I understand – this has nothing to do with linguistics and everything to do with understanding ‘audience’
    • connects the information he or she is¬†teaching with something in my¬†life – a hook that pulls me in
    • a good story-teller¬†who practices brevity
    • notices if I’m getting it or not… acknowledges when I’m struggling and puts the empowerment of struggle in its rightful place

    I love learning. I love awesome teaching just as much….. whether it’s an author who makes characters ‘real’ through believable words and actions, a presenter who makes a tough subject relatable, or a parent that helps a child understand (and appreciate) diverse thinking and opinions.

    little girl studying in school
    credit: businessinsider.com

    I used to tell my high school students that if I didn’t learn something new each day, then it was a wasted day. That may sound like a bit of a stretch, but to sell the idea of learning for life’s sake (not for a test) to kiddos was a big part of my ‘mission’ you might say. Plant the seed. Lay the foundation. Whether five or fifty, learning is for life.

    plant growing in soil
    credit: wealthenthusiast.com

    Learner or teacher?

    Learner, first!  Always.


  • Classroom Life,  Instruction,  Process,  Six Words,  Students' Words,  Writing

    From Every Book…. Learning the Pleasures of Being Literate {Slice of Life}

    I wonder:    Who taught you the pleasures of reading and writing?  Did you discover them in high school? Earlier? Later?

    High school student writing at his desk

    In my high school¬†Intensive Reading/Critical Thinking class, it takes a while to get students to ‘buy into’ reading for pleasure.¬† It’s not uncommon to hear, “You want us to read???”¬†followed by: ¬†Do we get a grade??

    My classes are a mix of¬†AP and Honors students who don’t use¬†strategies (because they ‘know how to read’) and are insulted¬†that they’re in my class,¬†thinking they most certainly do not need to be, and¬†struggling and reluctant readers who haven’t read¬†for pleasure in years and have limited knowledge and nearly no use¬†of reading skills and strategies or critical thinking.¬† They’re¬†also insulted, because¬†in spite of their limited skills and strategies, they’ll tell you they can read just fine and WILL graduate.

    You can imagine how much fun the first six Рnine weeks of each school year are for me.

    Call me persistent.¬†I plug away at showing them¬†how ‘normal’ reading and writing really are.

    I demonstrate the ‘naturalness’ of reading and writing¬†every day. I share how I stumble on to new words in most things I read, I talk about current writing projects, and I find ways to tie the two together.¬† I tell them, “We’re¬†always¬†readers and writers. This is not about school. This is about life.”

    I am Chief Learner, right beside them, never assuming to know it all,¬†willing to show what I don’t know, and genuinely excited to learn new stuff……

    This seems to alleviate some anxiety for some¬†students, once they trust me.¬† But it’s¬†a slooooow process.

    Trust me.    Really.Slow.

    In August, my reluctant and struggling juniors and seniors look at me like I’ve lost my mind, have three heads,¬†am¬†speaking a foreign language. Their eyebrows furrow, their arms cross defiantly across their chest, and an unknown power seems to pull some of them¬†lower and lower and lower¬†in the chair ~ as if swallowing them up so they don’t have to hear this nonsense.

    You can almost hear inside some of their heads, (but thankfully, not!), “What is up with this lady? Has she lost her mind, talking about reading and writing like it’s something people do, something she expects US to do!?”

    The¬†AP and Honors students typically take out a book to read the first opportunity they get.¬†¬†They seem to be thinking, “This might be the one saving grace to this class!”¬† The reluctant and struggling readers find this odd or just plain stupid.

    Then September arrives. A few more books and magazines are evident on Wednesdays.

    By October, most students have found something to read, even if it’s ONLY for the 30 minutes each week.


    Girl on desk, reading
    I encourage my HS readers to get comfortable…..

    Sometime after October,¬†though, the¬†magic begins……

    • Mrs. Kyle, I’ve got a book on my phone. Is that okay?
    • Mrs. Kyle, I got a new magazine. Can I bring it Wednesday?
    • Mrs. Kyle, my friend told me about a book. Can I go pick it up from the Media Center?
    • Mrs. Kyle, can I borrow this book to take home and read?
    • Mrs. Kyle, I brought my e-Reader. Check out this book!

    Finally, even the¬†most reluctant readers¬†find that treasure that makes me them sit still and just…. disappear for 30 minutes…..

    Reluctant reader settles in for independent reading

    With¬†little time to read for pleasure and wanting so much for my kiddos to find that pleasure, I’m thrilled when all students, even the reluctant ones, find the¬†sweet spot… that book or magazine that works just.for.them.

    No longer do I have to babysit or ‘police’ Wednesday Reading.¬† I can actually sit back,¬†enjoy my own books (while keeping half an eye on kiddos… just in case), and model my own¬†love of reading, my own literacy. I often notice kids glancing up at me, as if to see if I’m really reading, too.

    During a recent Wednesday Reading Day,¬†as fifth period was coming to an end¬†(and I closed my fifth book ~ I’m a¬†grazing nonfiction reader)¬†this thought popped into my head for Six-Word Wednesday….


    Six Word: From Every Book....


    I quickly jotted it down and in the last eight minutes of class, I shared it on the doc cam/screen.

    I¬†showed my kiddos¬†where this thought came from:¬† the five books I had sampled that day ~ two books¬†on my iPad/Kindle¬†and¬†three print books I brought to school, telling¬†students, “When¬†I get bored or distracted or interested in some other topic,¬†I change books.”

    Puzzled faces.

    I often tell¬†them, “As a¬†nonfiction reader, it’s okay to close one¬†(book, Web tab, magazine, etc….) and open another when things get…… well, boring.¬† “And, as a writer, I’m always finding interesting things in everything¬†I read.”

    I showed my Kindle library on the¬†big screen and held up the three books I had been reading/annotating, flipping through pages so the highlights and margin notes were evident.¬† I explained that, as a writer examining other writers’ work,¬†I liked the content of one, but not the writer’s voice and that I liked the layout of another, but not the content.¬† Students listened intently.

    I pointed to my reading motto on the wall:   Life is too short to read boring stuff.   Read.Good.Stuff!  

    A¬†senior then asked, “Is Kindle free? How do you get it?”¬†while another asked, “What’s the difference between fiction and nonfiction?”

    Me {in my head}:¬†¬†I’ve talked about – and demonstrated – the difference several times this school year, but apparently, you¬†weren’t ready to hear the message. Today is your¬†Need to Know Day.¬† Welcome to the Literacy Club.

    Aloud, I once again briefly mention the differences.

    “Thanks!” he¬†cheerfully replies. “That helps.”

    It’s amazing what¬†we learn when we don’t assume what kids know and¬†we teach them¬†the pleasure¬†of reading and writing…¬†even when they’re 18 and 19 years old.

    Join us every Tuesday and share a slice of your life at TWT.

  • Classroom Life,  Instruction,  Life,  Process,  Training

    Of Aqua Net and Apologies…. {Slice of Life}

    Slice of Life logo
    Source: http://bit.ly/1FcxMni

    Recently, while hurrying through our teacher workroom before sunrise, a fellow teacher stopped me.

    We worked together in Career & Technical Education a few years ago. She was a tech center instructor, while I served as an instructional coach, bringing pedagogy to CTE instructors.

    Now, we both teach at the local high school.

    “I owe you an apology,” she declared.

    I quickly sifted¬†through my¬†not-yet-awake brain, but couldn’t think of a single reason. “No, I can’t imagine you do,” I answered.

    “Oh, but I do,” she insisted.

    Now she had my attention.

    “Remember when you came out to XYZ¬† Tech (protecting the innocent) …¬† and tried to do¬†training?”

    I smiled, remembering in clear detail, the training sessions at her tech center. I listened. And kept smiling.

    “Well….”¬†she went on, apologetically, “…. we weren’t very nice to you.”

    I was stunned.

    Like angry waters pushing through a yielding floodgate, her words¬†rushed¬†through my head. “We were rude to you.¬†We¬†acted like snobs. We¬†didn’t see how what you were teaching us had anything to do with us and our adult students at a tech center. We thought what you shared was for¬†K-12 teachers, so we ignored you.”

    Me {thinking}:   Never mind the tech center campus provides classes for adult and high school students, and effective learning strategies are effective learning strategies. Period.

    I kept smiling, insisting that no, they weren’t rude.

    Finally! I had¬†answers to¬†questions that bugged me back then (about four years ago)… Why did¬†some of the participants¬†write¬†snarky, personal comments in their feedback?¬† Why was the mood¬†so hostile?

    I had never experienced such an uncomfortable training environment, one that required three training sessions over a few months and one that was in stark contrast¬†to similar sessions happening at a fellow tech center campus, in which participants were¬†collaborating on¬†ways to build¬†newly-learned strategies into their instruction, sharing how they’d tried strategies with their high school and adult students,¬†and¬†inviting me¬†to visit their classes and see them in action. *Westside Tech, you were The Best to work with!! Thank you for your enthusiasm.¬† ūüôā

    She¬†pressed on….

    “I had no idea what was in store for me …..¬†that a year later, I’d be here,¬†teaching¬†high school kids.¬† I struggle every day.”

    After offering my colleague support¬†in her current teaching assignment,¬†we¬†hugged as I shared,¬†“Thank you.¬†You helped me understand some things I¬†wondered about for a while.”

    As the first bell rang, teenagers pushed past us. We were caught up in the flood of feet heading to first period.

    Aqua Net lingered on my clothing the rest of the day, reminding me that sometimes, an unexpected apology¬†can¬†put things in perspective….

    I'm Sorry Sticky Note

  • Classroom Life,  Great Reads,  Instruction,  Process,  Training

    Tell Us About Yourself: Sending an Introvert Into a Tailspin

    Freaked out at the thought of having to introduce yourself to strangers?


    Quiet Book Cover
    Source: http://bit.ly/1wZT1oc

    Several months ago I blogged about my BIG¬†discovery¬†{here}, after reading¬†Susan Cain’s, Quiet: The Power of Introverts, last December.¬† What a great read!¬† In it,¬†she discusses introverts in our society and society’s response to them.¬† She writes, “The bias against introversion leads to a colossal waste of talent, energy, and happiness.”




    You can see her TED Talk here:

    If you’re an introvert, you know she’s singing the gospel… Now, if everyone would just get quiet and listen….!! Right?

    What was particularly enlightening to me ~ other than discovering I’m really an introvert camouflaged in¬†an extrovert’s body ~ (light bulb moment!) was to learn why my¬†instructional style is¬†so challenging for some of my students…. You know, the¬†ones who are also introverts, but not masquerading as an extrovert.

    These guys and gals¬†take quiet and attentive (qualities a teacher appreciates)¬†to a much higher level, often¬†edging closer to¬†a referral for what appears to be open defiance because they¬†will refuse to¬†participate than¬†have to talk with¬†peers (and/or me).¬† Yes, it happens!¬† Maybe you were one of those kids? Maybe you’re raising one?¬† If so, might be helpful to give your kiddos’ teachers a little insight.¬† *Not taught in teacher-school.

    Turns out,¬†my collaborative¬†classroom approach overwhelms introverted¬†kiddos ~ as probably happens in many classrooms (fellow teacher-types,¬†take note from this slow learner!).¬† This was a HUGE a-ha! moment for me… during my 20th year in the classroom.¬† As I read her book, I found myself saying, “That explains a LOT!”

    When I reflected on how some of my classes are markedly different from others, it occurred to me:

    Those classes that require me to cajole students to talk to one another and/or me {and they still refuse} are the classes in which introverts rule.  They are silently in control! 

    When classes¬†resumed after winter vacation last January, I was ready! Armed with this epiphany, I¬†greeted my 2nd period class and told them what I finally understood.¬†Poor kids.¬† They¬†were visibly relieved. It was as if you could hear them whispering, “Finally, she gets us!¬†Took her long enough!”¬† ūüėČ

    HUGE difference between first and second semesters,¬†as I gave my students¬†latitude in how they would interact with their peers (and me), balancing the need to teach¬†effective collaboration skills with giving students a ‘comfortable, safe’ learning environment that worked for everyone.

    Electronic communication turned out to be a¬†helpful way to get introverted students to interact.¬† Much has been written about the interface, including this article for Time by Cain. I have seen it first-hand, having students who didn’t utter¬†a word for an entire¬†semester, become involved in peer and student/teacher discussions when they could interact behind the safety of a keyboard.¬† Win-win!

    Things were much calmer for¬†me, too.¬† It was nice to have one class a day in which¬†the kids weren’t swinging from the rafters a quiet disposition was expected and appreciated by my students. I didn’t have to be ‘on stage’ to get my point across.¬† Now if I could just get my other classes to try out this calmer, more focused presence….¬† Bliss, it would be pure bliss.

    I’m kidding. It would be boring as all get-out!

    *Interesting side note:¬† My ‘introverted’ class has been period 2 for three years running. Entirely different groups of kids from year to year, yet it’s consistently 2nd period.¬† Wonder why?¬†¬† I smell an action research project lurking in the shadows….¬†

    Fast-forward eleven months.

    Last week,¬†I read a¬†blog post from¬†doc-turned-author Carrie Rubin {here} about her own embarrassing moment with introversion, and her¬†advice for those of us who develop trainings or meetings for others.¬†¬†As a presenter/PD facilitator/instructional literacy coach, I hadn’t ever considered how introverts¬†might feel in my sessions.¬†But once again, it sure explained a LOT about some participants’¬†sudden trips to the restroom or to ‘take a call’¬†when introductions¬†begin.

    According to¬†Carrie, introverts are¬†terrified to hear¬†“Tell us about yourself…”¬† Wow!¬† This was an eye-opener for me… but makes perfect sense.¬†¬†Now, when I’m plan¬†sessions, I’ll¬†remember to give participants a heads-up¬†with plenty of ‘think time’¬†~ to collect their thoughts and plan their words. Thanks, Carrie!

    How about you?

    Introvert? Extrovert?


    Raising one (or two, or three ….)???

  • Classroom Life,  Instruction,  Life,  Students' Words,  Writing

    When Dads Walk Away…. {Slice of Life}


    Slice of Life hosted at Two Writing Teachers. Join in and share a slice of your life.

    What happens when dads walk away?

    As a ‘dad-less’ daughter, I know¬†kids are left behind to wonder¬†why.¬†Why did he go? Why didn’t he want me? What did I do wrong? Why didn’t he¬†want to be around?¬†What could I have done differently to make him stay?

    Or, worse yet,¬†kids left behind think mom pushed¬†dad away, and surely, if mom had done things differently, then dad would’ve stayed. It’s her fault.

    As a teacher, I see the fall-out, too. Sometimes it’s¬†subtle,¬†sometimes blatant. Always painful.

    Last month, I asked my juniors and seniors to develop a written piece for National Day On Writing (#NDOW).  I provided three photos and asked students to choose one (or more) and write about it/them. The piece could be fiction or nonfiction, personal or not, metaphorical or literal.  As always, my kiddos did not disappoint!  Heads dropped. Pens and pencils began moving. The room was silent. The feeling, intense.

    They wrote with focused purpose until the bell rang. They came back the next day and insisted we continue without interruption. We revised and edited (this was tougher to get them to do, but required).

    By day three, we shared at our own comfort level. If a piece was too personal, a student did not have to share the content, but everyone had to discuss the process with his/her partners.  What an amazing three days!

    Students DiscussingNDOW_Discussions2

    During the writing process, emotions were raw for several students.

    One young man, an accomplished football player and struggling student, was stuck during¬†the¬†first day of writing. When I asked¬†him how I could help, he was speechless.¬†I ventured¬†carefully, asking which photo he chose. The dark, stormy one. I wasn’t surprised, based on his expression. Then I suggested he create a bubble map to organize his thoughts.¬†Several students were creating their own that day:


    Graphic Organizer


    Tears began to fill his dark eyes. He hastily brushed them away. I backed off.

    A few minutes later, when I came back around, I noticed a few words on his paper:  dad, confused, success, failure. He looked up, met my eyes, and said nothing. I quietly moved on and left him to reflect and write.

    By the third day (sharing day), my student had written a brief piece and discussed the process with his partners. His content was his.¬† His process, he was ready to discuss … mostly.

    Fast-forward a month, to this past week. 

    My students have been honing¬†their ability to identify and¬†interpret¬†figurative language and author’s tone¬†in print and non-print text,¬†and assess the impact of each on a reader/viewer.¬†¬† As I worked with small groups, various students had interesting, funny, and thoughtful ideas, examples, and questions¬†to share.¬†Then came the group with the young writer.

    As we finished our small-group discussion and began¬†to clean up before the bell, my young football player-turned-writer said, “Mrs. Kyle, I want to show you something,” as he took out his phone. I get a kick out of this line from students, because I never know what I’m about to see! ūüėČ

    As he swiped through his phone and found what he wanted to share with me, he mentioned Will Smith, and said, “I have this video clip that you just reminded me of, when we were talking about tone.¬† Watch all of the emotions Will Smith goes through and how his tone changes.”¬† With that, he hit play. The¬†video clip¬†was in his SAVED YouTube list.

    As we watched the clip together, leaned¬†in over his phone at the¬†conference table in our classroom – his back to his classmates –¬†I could feel other students looking on, but no one interrupted. My young writer watched my face for reaction as we watched the clip together. Tears filled my eyes. I looked up and saw they filled his, too.


    As the clip ended, he said softly,¬†“This makes me cry every time I watch it.”

    I replied quietly, “It made me cry, too. My dad left when I was very little. I always wondered why. Thank you for sharing it with me.”

    He nodded and the bell rang.

  • Classroom Life,  Instruction,  Lists,  Process

    Becoming Unnecessary

    Number Five
    A teacher is one who makes himself progressively unnecessary.

    ~ Thomas Carruthers

    Become unnecessary?  Why would I do that?

    Because as teachers and as parents, it’s¬†our responsibility to our students/children.

    My two cents??

    Teach kids¬†the definition of¬†integrity: what you do when¬†no one is looking,” … and get out of the way.

    Ever wonder why some teachers seem to just have it all together?¬† You walk into their room and things are humming along.¬† These folks might be your colleagues or they might be your own kids’/grandkids’ teachers.¬† What makes things different in these classrooms?

    If you’re a teacher with a classroom, a student in a classroom, or have visited a classroom, how would you describe it?¬† Chaotic? Organized? Learning-centric? Student-centric? Teacher-centric? Lacking any learning at all?

    My goal is simple:  Make myself unnecessary to my students.

    Let students¬†own their learning, own their behavior, own our daily¬†routines, and let them know they’re in control. If you’ve dealt with a toddler, tween, or teen, you KNOW what I’m talking about.

    Let students/children¬†do what they choose, within established¬†parameters.¬†Teach them to run the classroom, so when a Substitute Teacher (hardest job on a campus!) fills¬†in, students can carry on their daily routines.¬† Whether they actually do can be a 50/50 crapshoot, but set the standard and watch for the outcome.¬† When they miss the mark,¬†it’s time to pay the piper.¬† When they shine, it’s time to celebrate!

    It’s not perfect, but Subs often report after my absence, “Great day! These are good kids. Please call on me anytime.”¬†THAT is what I want to hear. Students are in control – of themselves and our classroom.¬† Bravo!

    So what works?   (usually)

    ¬†What I’ve learned in¬†¬†20 years….

    As I write this and think about kiddos in general, I think these five could be applied to home life, too, right?¬† Kids need structure and organization. Heck, we all do … to be successful.¬† Well, the seating chart might be a bit overboard for home ….

    1.  Establish policies and procedures.   Spend time thinking about how you want things to look and sound in your classroom. Make a list. Be clear about policies vs. procedures.  Then, describe in detail, all of the policies (what we do) and the procedures (how we do) for your class, in writing, in your syllabus/Wk 1 packet.  Leave nothing to chance.

    • Want students to sign in to the¬†orange notebook by the front door and put their tardy pass in the blue basket¬†if they arrive late to class? Then say it. In writing. In person. In practice.¬† (This continues to be a struggle for some of my students… really?!?)
    • One of the most common things I hear from fellow teachers is, “Students should know what to do.”¬† And I think, Really?¬† Do you just know¬†all the policies and procedures when you start a new job?¬† Or, does someone give you an employee handbook and maybe some tips/guidelines?¬† Give your students a handbook.¬†Leave nothing to chance.
    • Teach students¬†to follow written and verbal directions. I get The.Most.Pushback from students on this one. I tell them, “Bosses expect you to follow directions. Clients expect you to follow directions. Test-makers expect you to follow directions. College admissions officers expect you to follow directions.”¬† When asked why they didn’t follow the directions that are on the board – in writing – and repeated verbally – students say (when pressed beyond I don’t know), “.. because I’m lazy.”¬† It’s true. Students admit ‘lazy’ all the time in my classroom.¬† I admit being lazy sometimes, too. Kids are shocked to hear this.¬† Lazy is easy. Tip to kids:¬† It’s a two-way street. We’re in it together. Now, let’s get past lazy and get¬†things done.

    2.¬†¬† Color-code everything.¬†Yes, even in high school!¬†Think about it:¬† Isn’t it more efficient¬†to say to a student who asks (and some¬†always do!), “What did I miss yesterday?” to go check the pink notebook on the shelf than to say, “Go check the notebook on the shelf”¬†and there¬†are three other notebooks. What’s the student say next? “Which notebook?” (even though they’ve asked you ten times already this year).¬† Now you’ve got¬†lots of extra discussion.¬†Avoid it.¬† Color-code everything (including notebooks and baskets) and teach students from Day 1¬†the routines (When you are absent, you will check the pink notebook when you return to class).

    3.¬† Create a seating chart.¬† For sure,¬†there are several¬†ways to go about this.¬† I’ve tried most.¬†Try and try again, right??¬† Here’s my take on a few:

    • Option A:¬† Let students sit where they want for the first day or two¬†of school. This allows you to (covertly) identify potential issues (buddies sitting together, slackers/sleepers), etc…. ~ Once you’ve identified the potential issues, build YOUR seating preferences and have it ready to go when students walk in. Be ready for whining. Too bad, so sad. Nonnegotiable. Thank you (with a smile).
    • Option B:¬† Have a seating chart the first day students walk in.¬† Meet students at the door. Greet them. Give them a ticket or sticky note with a # on it that corresponds to a number on your roster (b/c yes, students will swap tickets). Direct them to find their designated seat. This helps with attendance and establishes your classroom management¬†from Minute #1 (always a good thing).
    • Option C:¬† Let students pick their seats and you fill in a chart. I do not recommend this for most K-12 classes. *Note: I had the opportunity to see this option play out early this school year, as a first-year teacher (and friend) decided to “trust her students and let them pick their own seats.”¬† By Week three,¬†she was¬†crafting a carefully considered seating chart. ūüėČ

    In case you’re wondering,¬†Option A stands for¬†Awesome in my book. ¬† ūüôā

    4.¬†¬† Label everything.¬† Everything:¬†¬†cabinets, drawers, crates, doors,¬†teacher area,¬†student¬†areas,¬†pen/pencil cups, computers, tables in specific locations, folders, notebooks¬†…. eveeeerythiiiing.


    5.¬†¬† Rock the¬†wall space!¬†¬†Make it count.¬†¬†Display things that¬†help students¬†be successful, you be successful,¬†and¬†help¬†classroom guests understand what they’re¬†observing.

    uploaded to pc aug 10 2013 1284

    In Florida,¬†teachers are¬†currently evaluated under the Marzano model, with unending requirements, also known as 41¬†elements.¬† While I agree with the philosophy behind the model, I am annoyed at ~ and exhausted by ~ the relentless directives about how to do things, all to get crappy ineffective teachers on board (or out the door).¬† I’m annoyed because compliance doesn’t work. Ineffective teachers do a dog-and-pony show when someone walks in, then go back to doing crappy as soon as the door shuts, while the rest of us are exhausted,¬†working¬†10+ hours a day just to keep up with all those ridiculous mandates.¬† *Administrators, pleeeeaaase, get these people out of our schools!

    Kids talk.

    Some¬†teachers people have NO business being in the classroom (because they’re¬†not teachers… they’re¬†paycheck collectors).

    Source: http://mediarelations.illinoisstate.edu/report/1213/april9/soapbox.asp

    Climbing down from the soapbox ……

    Back to those walls….

    • Word Walls (yes, in high school ~ most important in content-area classrooms!)
    • lists of frequently used resources, such as Internet sites,
    • instructions for how to do something (sign in before using the computer)
    • college/career/military information prominently displayed


    How about quotes that teach, inspire, and encourage?  A few of those strategically placed, go a looong way.  One of my first Community Building assignments (weeks 1 & 2) asks students to look carefully around the classroom, choose a quote that speaks to them, and write about it.

    From inspiration to procedures and expectations, wall space is great real estate. Make it count!
    From inspiration to procedures and expectations, wall space is great real estate. Make it count!

    What kids choose, says a lot about them. What kids say, says even more.

    Sooo… How¬†unnecessary are you?¬†

    To your students?  To your employees?  To your family??

    What can you teach others to do for themselves?  How much are you willing to turn over?

    If you home-school, do your children own it, or do you?

    What would happen if you let go …. a little?

    If your kids/grandkids are in school, what’s their teacher’s classroom looking/sounding like?

    I encourage you to visit.

  • Classroom Life,  Instruction

    Early Childhood Ed: Tykes, Testing, and (Future) Teachers

    This post was first published in 2011.¬† At the time, I was a member of our district’s CTE Instructional Support team.¬† Since then, I returned to my own academic classroom, where I’ve spent the past three+ years.¬† Now, with a wish to return to CTE, I’m sharing an answer to the question I get from fellow academic teachers in my current high school:¬† What’s Career and Technical Education?¬† Isn’t that for at-risk kids?¬† My answer:¬† No way!¬† It’s definitely not your father’s shop class anymore.¬† ūüôā

    -> -> -> ->   Remix debut:   November 2014


    Rigor + Relevance + Relationships

     What do you get when all three are in balance?

    Join me for a tour of a colorful,¬†productive,¬†high-energy, Career and Technical high school class ……..


    Imagine taking a basic beige high school classroom and turning it into rainbow sherbetcolored walls, miniature chairs and desks, building blocks, comfy carpets, picture books galore, lunchboxes, blankets, pillows and the occasional puzzle.¬† Throw in tossed-about shoes that fit the tiniest of feet and¬†cool craft supplies kept neatly on the tots’¬†little table.¬†¬† Add toddlers with unending¬† energy, teenagers with lots of patience and creativity, and a teacher whose passion is evident in the¬†gazillion details she¬†lovingly addresses in her Early Childhood Education classroom.

    During my time as a CTE Instructional Support Teacher, I’ve gotten¬†to¬† visit CTE classrooms, talk with students, and experience¬†all the amazing¬† things happening in Career and Technical Education programs in our district.¬† It’s definitely one of the best parts of my job, and on the days that I can escape the¬†minutiae of¬†paperwork, reports, and¬†meetings ~ otherwise known as ‘a day in the office’ ~¬†I happily steer my car toward a school and spend a few hours visiting students and their teachers.

    I recently enjoyed such a day.

    Early Childhood Education teacher,¬†Jennifer Houston,¬† invited me to visit her classroom to see her students in action and learn about all the things happening in their very busy world.¬† (Actually, she’s been inviting me for months; I was finally able to steal away for a few hours!)

    Let’s take a peek …..

    Colorful walls transform a high school classroom into an exciting learning environment for wee ones.

    Tile walls suggested by Mr. Houston (Yes, Mrs. Teacher’s Hubs).¬† With the help of said husband and a few generous parent volunteers, Jennifer turned her basic beige wall into a work of art, carefully designed, and decorated with wonderful learning tools for the wee ones.¬† Can you say O-R-G-A-N-I-Z-E-D???


    Little tykes in all shapes and sizes… definitely not shy.¬† Sweet. Curious.¬† Energetic. Very smart!¬† Los of fun, showing me around their classroom,¬†asking if I was a student or a¬†guest.

     Cubbies for personal belongings and daily reports, written by the high school students who work with the children.






    High school students complete  program  requirements to be a licensed childcare employee or  credentialed teacher: multiple competencies,  a professional portfolio,  many hours working directly with children, and a myriad of tests, to name a few.

    Students (and children) in Jennifer’s class use the latest technologies to enhance their learning, including laptops, funded by a grant, and an interactive whiteboard, a tool often¬†underutilized by many educators.¬†¬†¬†¬†In this¬†class, the interactive whiteboard really is interactive as teacher and students use it during lectures and projects.

    A simple purple line divides the high school classroom setting from the childcare lab school side ….¬† students who aren’t ready yet to work directly with the children are able to observe them from their side of the classroom.¬† It seems¬†the wee ones will ‘visit’ the high school students and ‘help them’ with their learning, too.¬† ūüôā¬† Fantastic!¬† Would we call this ‘intergenerational’ learning??


    To  prepare  to work with the children,  high school students must pass rigorous testing  first.  Jennifer reminds them daily with an easy-to-read board loaded with up-to-date, Need to Know information.  No guessing here!


    When students¬† finish their assignments,¬† they can read a few pointers¬†from¬†former students…..

    In a school year (2010 Р11) when CTE programs are being cut due to industry certification issues, and budget deficits are resulting in  massive teacher cuts, public protests, and union rebuttals,  I invite politicians,  administrators, parents, and community members to visit classrooms that reflect the roll-up-your-sleeves work ethic that prepares students to  enter the workforce with skills and credentials needed to be  successful, contributing members of society.

      Not all classrooms are alike and neither are the teachers who inhabit them.  

    Some¬†just seem to radiate success a¬†little more than others, shining a little brighter, and often are¬†a bit (lot!) noisier than those of colleagues, as the din of educational energy escapes under the door.¬†¬†These classrooms have teachers who set high standards, and students who take pride in owning their learning.¬† These classrooms remind me of¬† colleagues who became friends over the years…. (you know who you are!).¬† Gems¬† indeed, and¬†always worth the extra effort to seek out,¬†visit, and learn something new.

    ¬†Jennifer Houston’s Early Childhood Education class is definitely one of those gems.¬†¬†

    Mrs. Houston, with one of her wee ones.

     Thank you Jennifer, for your classroom hospitality, and for *ALL* you do!


  • Instruction,  Six Words

    Six-Word Wed: Celebrate Librarians/Media Specialists!

    The Many Hats of a Librarian PosterAlways endless effort, media specialists ROCK!


    In the twenty¬†years I’ve been teaching and training fellow teachers, I’ve often said¬†our school’s Media Specialist is¬†one of our most important resources.¬† He or she wears so many hats and now¬†more than ever, has an expanded¬†role that requires¬†much more knowledge and ability to juggle.

    Thank you for keeping¬†our classrooms, training sessions, testing, etc … running smoothly every day of the school year and throughout the summer!¬† I appreciate you greatly!

    Thank you Note on Typewriter

    I stumbled on to¬†@cybrarian77, Ms. Julie Greller’s,¬†blog [here] while researching National Library Week.¬† What a great example of today’s media specialists!


  • Instruction,  Process,  Quotes

    Help Readers Read: Banish Boredom!

    Quote - Reading is Not BoringFive years into my teaching career, I decided to move from¬†English Language Arts to¬†Reading,¬†specifically.¬†I began working on my Master’s in Reading Education, and while I learned a lot,¬†my biggest A-ha! came not from the volumes of textbooks read or the 1,000s of words written. No, my biggest lesson came from my students.

    “Reading is boring!” they said.


    There was no hiding my surprise … or confusion!

    “What do you mean, ‘Reading is boring?'”¬†

    I wanted to ask, “Have you lost your minds?”¬†but I had been teaching long enough to know that was not an appropriate question –¬† at least not in that tone.

    Turns out, reading comes down to two things for kids (and adults??):

    • Am I¬†interested?
    • Do I understand it?

    Notice which comes first:¬† Interest.¬† Plain and simple –¬†If I’m not interested, don’t bother me. I don’t have time. I could care less.

    Add:¬†¬†Understanding it or the willingness to struggle to figure it out.¬† You lose lots more kids:¬†¬†What do you mean I have to think?¬†That’s too hard. Lose adults, too?

    Add:¬† I don’t have time, I’d rather watch TV, etc….¬† Our current technologies make on-the-fence-readers fall quickly, but¬†that doesn’t have to be¬†– if marketed well and planned for.

    Why is this important to educators and writers?

    Because we both have to know how to reach readers.

    To think¬†nothing is interesting or to not¬†be willing to figure something¬†out is where we get into¬†‘doing it wrong.’¬† We have to teach them how to ‘do it right’ so readers will have ‘buy in.’

    Now you might be thinking, Well, Robin, there are a lot of other things that we¬†read – job applications, e-mails, medicine bottles, food labels…¬† the list goes on –¬†that have nothing to do with interest.¬† That’s true.¬† But, if I’m¬†bored in school and tune out when it’s¬†time to read, then guess what? My skills are limited and I can’t read the other,¬†important stuff.

    So what do we do?

    • Build interest.
    • Teach and develop¬†skills and strategies.
    • Make reading (and writing) as natural as eating and breathing.


    1.¬†¬†¬†¬†Start at home. If you have kids in your life – related or not¬†–¬†make reading¬†so much fun¬†it can’t possibly be boring. This is easy when¬†kids are wee ones, but¬†how do you keep them interested when they become ‘tweens and teens?

    • Make reading accessible.
    • Make reading¬†part of every day.
    • Make reading cool.
    • Talk about reading, model good reading behaviors, subscribe to magazines, and let¬†kids subscribe, too.
    • Dig into the digital world.¬† From book trailers to e-readers, there are lots of ways to incorporate digital content and process into today’s reading.¬†Did you know book publishers use YouTube to share their books?¬† While I like to think of myself as ‘old school,’ with 300+ books in my home office,¬†several¬†magazine subscriptions (print + digital), and frequent visits to¬†our¬†library, I’ve discovered¬†in the past year that I¬†like some aspects of digital reading, too.

    Whatever your choice, share it with the kiddos in your life!  Buy them gift cards for books.

    2.¬†¬†¬†¬†If you’re an educator, talk about books every day… not just in primary grades, but through high school – and beyond.¬† My classroom is¬†‘print-rich’ – a term often used to describe primary/elementary classrooms – with lots of books, magazines, posters, and other things for kids to read. I teach 16 to 19 year-olds.¬† When they first arrive in my classroom, they balk at the idea of reading (You want me to do what?!?).¬†¬†They also go¬†to great lengths to show off¬†their¬†boredom and disdain (This is¬†stupid!!!). ¬†I’ve learned¬†this often means¬†their reading skills are¬†limited.¬† Acting like a jerk is a survival technique;¬†if I get into trouble and make a scene, I won’t have to read today.¬† In my college classes, I’ve added numerous professional articles, electronically,¬†to supplement textbook reading; it’s¬†typically well-received,¬†seen as interesting. (There’s that word again!)

    3.¬†¬†¬† Finally, if you’re a writer and want¬†to grow your readership, interact with your young readers and their parents/teachers at the ground level. Let them meet¬†you.¬†Let them¬†know you.¬† Let them know you are human!¬† ūüėȬ† Year after year, I find¬†when I talk about books with¬†students, they¬†seem surprised to learn¬†that a book is written by someone.¬†I know, sounds funny, right??¬† Students often don’t¬†make that connection.¬†To¬†most of my students, books are¬†inanimate objects¬†meant to torture¬†them¬†by being ‘required reading’ – textbooks and ‘reading’ books¬†(novels, etc…) all lumped together.¬†¬† No interest, no pleasure, no joy… until the kids learn there’s a person¬†talking ‘to’ them – telling them a story, often an interesting story, at that!

    Writers, reach out to your¬†young readers via Skype, Facebook, or Instagram. Let them see you and your writing process.¬†I recently tweeted with Roy Peter Clark who graciously bantered through a silly word game with me, and was favorited by Austin Kleon, creator of¬†newspaper blackout poetry, after I tweeted about my students’ progress in creating their own blackout poetry.¬† When¬†I shared this¬†with my students,¬†they¬†thought it¬†very cool!

    Since I began my own writing¬†projects,¬†I share my process with¬†students, whether it’s a few pages written,¬†a chapter completed, the struggles of editing or finding just the right word. Some ask questions, many do not, but by talking about books and writing daily, I’m planting the literacy seeds.

    My takeaway:¬†¬† Reading should never be boring!¬†Life is too short.¬† If reading is¬†boring, we need to rethink how we’re doing it, indeed!

    Life is too short to read boring stuff.


    (My own quote in my classroom that typically raises a few eyebrows)

    How can you help a reader get past ‘boring’ and on to the good stuff?



  • Instruction,  Process,  Writing

    Week in the Rear View1

    Week in the Rear View1Earlier this weekend, I read Tara‚Äôs weekly Week in Review over at The Librarian Who Doesn‚Äôt Say Shhh! and got to thinking about ways to share some of the events¬†that make up my own ‚Äėlife process‚Äô in a week‚Äôs time. There are always so many things happening in our lives that influence everything else, and sometimes ‚Äď at least for me ‚Äď slowing down to reflect on how they‚Äôre related, takes a backseat to the effects they cause. ¬†When I asked if she minded if I borrow her format, I‚Äôm sure it seemed like a newbie question to Tara, but it was more to say, ‚ÄúHey, I like the style you‚Äôve created.‚Ä̬† She was not only gracious in her response, ‚ÄúBorrow away!‚ÄĚ but also suggested I link to other bloggers as well ‚Äď to show off more styles.¬† This lady is a true connector and I’ve got some blog homework to do. It’s been a few years since I participated in a weekly link-up, but looking forward to joining¬†the Caffeinated Book Reviewer’s here very soon! Tara’s¬†weekly feature got me¬†thinking about what I might want to share. Last week I did a Friday Five post, but realized I don‚Äôt want to get locked into five every week. What if I only have one event¬†to share?¬† Or ten things?¬† I‚Äôm kind of stuck with a Five in my title, right?¬† So as I was commenting on Tara‚Äôs Week in Review post this week, two things struck me:¬† I take a lot of pictures, and, in my life as a high school teacher, there‚Äôs always something going on!¬† Thankfully, the rest of my life is fairly quiet. After that intro, you’re ready, right? Last week had a lot going on – some good, some not so much.

    Here goes….

    I finished the resignation process from my adjunct position. This felt really good to be done with! While I enjoy teaching, especially online, I desperately wanted to recapture the hours I was losing each week and get back to my writing projects. Done!  Last week, I logged 20+ writing hours, the most in a week since last summer.  Finally!

    I also found and interacted with many fellow writers on Twitter – some published, some not – all #writing.¬† It’s a great way to help me focus my time and goals while learning from others, and hopefully, offering something of value in return.

    In addition to¬†productivity, I also found tragedy impacting my week.¬† A student, just a few weeks shy of¬†her 18th birthday, was killed a week ago today,¬†as she returned home from a day at the beach.¬† Clipped by another car on a local highway, the car Brandie¬†was riding in¬†flipped numerous times, I’m told.¬†I’m also told she was not wearing a seat belt.¬† In the twenty years I’ve been teaching, there have been countless students in¬†whichever school I was teaching, to die. This time it was¬†one of my own, current students. I took the news very hard and we collectively struggled through the week.¬† This came just a month after we lost two other students.¬† It’s been a tough year at our high school.

    blackout_poetry_book_tAs March gave way to April this past week, we began¬†National Poetry Month and the final days ’til my students sit for FCAT, the mandated state test here in Florida. Poetry lends itself to lots of language learning, particularly the figurative and descriptive kinds.¬† Remember these from high school: ¬†¬† similes, metaphors, allusions, alliteration, hyperbole, onomatopoeia, and idioms?¬†¬†To get my kiddos’ creative thinking cooking and to do final test preparation,¬†I¬†introduced Newspaper Blackout Poetry to my juniors and seniors, via Mr. Austin Kleon, one of my favorite writers.¬† He doesn’t¬†know it yet, but his books have inspired my own,¬†in progress:¬† compact size, large, cool font, and immediately-applicable ideas – love it¬†all! Blackout Poetry in progress2  April 2014

    After sharing some of our first attempts at blackout poetry on Edmodo and getting lots of replies from fellow ELA teachers Рof all grade levels Рwho said their students love it, too, I discovered more ideas from the National Writing Project, through their tweet:


    Overall, it was a week filled with new things to learn, new questions to ask, and tragedy to keep us grounded. I hope that I offered a few things in return… Looking forward to the week ahead!

    P.S. ~ Plenty of web design (learning) happening, too. You might have noticed some design changes to the blog already… Saving that for another post. ūüėČ