Periods of Reflection

Just random musings from an elementary perspective. Views are my own.

Embracing Student Idiosyncrasies

 

One of the most difficult, yet exciting parts of our jobs as educators is meeting the wide and varied needs of our students.  Whether we teach in homogeneous or heterogeneous environments, all students respond to a multitude of teaching strategies and approaches.  It’s like a giant puzzle piece, with some pieces fitting perfectly with the first try, or pieces which take repeated attempts to find the right connection.  Below are six ways that have proven successful for me when embracing my student’s idiosyncrasies.

Talk to Kids:

It does not get much easier than this. Our job of building relationships should be the number one priority in all classrooms.  A simple face to face conversation shows the student we are serious about how to best met their needs.  We can discuss learning styles, seating arrangements, auditory, visual, or kinesthetic approaches, to name a few.  Best of all, these conversations take 1-2 minutes.  Many classroom changes can and should be made after these conversations to ensure students are stakeholders, to some degree, in class.

Monitor Progress and Reflection:

At this point, we all know we teach in a data driven environment. I can make an argument about the overabundance of data we need to collect, but that’s for another post. However, systematically monitoring student work is a non negotiable because part of our job is to use data to best drive our instruction.  This can be done in a variety of ways.  The most high leverage practices that have been effective for me is the use of small group conferencing and digital portfolios.   Seesaw is my go to tool for digital portfolios, as well as Google Classroom.  When reviewing student work, leaving targeted focused feedback in small amounts, as well as setting goals with students, can help them to become more reflective thinkers.  This empowerment is focused around students thinking meta-cognitively, as well as building a relationship with their teacher.

Surveys:

I’m a believer in the power of a survey for students. In addition to talking to kids, we can implement surveys as well.  This can be done both digitally or on paper.  Until a trusting relationship is built with their teacher, some students might feel more comfortable using a survey to ensure their voices are heard about what teacher strategies will help them augment their academic abilities. Be prepared for honest feedback about what’s successful and areas that you can improve! I usually administer a survey three times a year. Google forms is the easiest tool that best fits my needs, but there are many other sites that can be used.

Connect with Parents/Guardians:

Connecting with parents and guardians is essential in creating a partnership to ensure their child has the best year possible.  There is an enormous amount of information we can gain from working WITH parents and guardians. Take the time to build relationship with them.  Ask how their child approaches school, how they best learn, and what characteristics would their child like to see in a teacher.  Click this link for an example of a parent survey.  Additionally, make positive and proactive phone calls early and often.  Highlight the great work their child is producing, risks they’ve taken in class, ways they’ve help others.  These phones calls go a long way in establishing meaningful relationships and team building to have the best year possible.

Gamification Activities:

This one is the deep end of the pool.  There are many ways to “gamify” your classroom.  The most meaningful and memorable activity I’ve used is Breakout EDU.  Read all about it here.  This is so powerful because the premise of a breakout is team work, collaboration, communication, critical thinking, and engagement centered around content being taught in class. (NOTE! Breakout EDU also has many games created by educators in their sandbox both using the kit and digital breakouts)

After I introduce the “mission” to the students, I become very hands-off, with the exception of giving two clues, because while the breakout is in motion, I observe.  I look for students who take on leadership roles, students who communicate in a productive way, students who don’t participate as well as I would have hoped, and students who work together. It’s a great way to informally assess students in a way that is non traditional. Furthermore, providing a reflection for students can help them think about what was successful,  ways they can improve, and providing ideas for a future breakout tied into their idiosyncrasies and learning styles.

Working as a Team:

If teachers service and teach the same students, we must carve out time to discuss what’s effective for each teacher.  This is an opportunity for collaboration and sharing of best practices. Every teacher has their own style, so communicating what’s effectively helping a child move forward in a specific class should be shared among staff to provide the best learning environments for students.

What are some ways that you’ve meet the variety of ways your students learn? And for the record, no, I was not driving in that picture.  I was parked in a lot waiting for Trader’s Joes to open.  You never know when inspiration will strike.

I am a passionate teacher in Stamford, CT. I teach sixth grade Individuals and Societies. I am proud to be an active member of the Twitter educational community. I am an organizer for #EdCampSWCT, a moderator for #ctedu, technology professional develop leader in my district, and a believer in a high tech/high touch blended learning approach to teaching.  I was chosen as a 2016 ASCD Emerging Leader and a PBS local digital innovator. I was nominated for the Bammy of 2015 Elementary School Teacher of the Year. I was Stamford, CT Teacher of the Year in 2014. I am a certified administrator, presenter, and speaker. I have presented at various conferences in the tri-state area about literacy and technology. I believe in taking risks and working collaboratively to augment student achievement. I love children’s literature and strive to become better everyday. I am a husband and father. Follow me on Twitter @mrsapia_teach

VLOG: 5 Things I Want My Students to Know

Pacing guides.  Small group lesson plans.  Curriculum and common core standards. Not enough time in the day. Disjointed and non relevant PD. Lack of technology resources. No time to plan as a team to create interdisciplinary units.  These are issues many teachers face in the day to day responsibilities and requirements of our jobs. They are real issues we all face.  But we must not let this interfere with our most important stakeholders, our students.

Building trusting and caring relationships with our students should be our number priority.  With this foundation set, it will allow teachers to take risks and push our students to ensure they feel valued in our classrooms.  In the spirit of that thinking, below are things I want my students to know. I call these videos “30 seconds of PD with Mr. Sapia!”

I’m Human:

 

I make mistakes:

 

I see you as more than a number or grade:

 

I will push and challenge you to maintain very high social and academic standards:

 

I will respect your learning style and needs:

6 Ways to Challenge the Status Quo

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More often than not, many teachers become complacent and comfortable with their habits.  We, as humans, are creatures of habit.  An attitude of the most dangerous phrase in education, “This is the way I’ve always done it,” reigns supreme in the mindset of some educators, but not all.  The landscape of education is changing, for better and worse at times, as is the learner profile of our students.  To be frank, maintaining the status quo “works” for a population of our teachers.  How do we move forward and empower teachers to shift their thinking?

Moving beyond this mindset can be intimidating and overwhelming.  This is what happens when we evolve beyond our comfort zones into new territory filled with uncertainty and second guessing.  This is natural and acceptable.  It forces educators to take a hard look into their teaching practices they’ve been accustomed to during their careers. However, this is no excuse for not trying to implement new teaching practices into our classrooms using a high tech, high touch blended learning approach.  Below are six ways to challenge the status quo to create meaningful and memorable learning experiences for our students and staff.

Incorporate Student Voice:
This is the heart and soul of creating a cultural shift in our classrooms. Involving students in the decision making process, ensuring their voices are heard through surveys, conversations, observations, and honest feedback can and will empower them. While some educators have a difficult time relinquishing some control, if done in a systematical and focused way, it can lead to higher achievement, engagement, and trusting relationships between teachers and students. After all, relationships are a paramount foundation for a successful school year.

Be a Risk Taker:
Modeling risk taking behavior in our classrooms and schools can show students and staff we are human.  When students and staff see their teachers taking risks, “failing forward” and reflecting, this can help create a shift in culture.  An important part of risk taking is to be honest and transparent.  Don’t be afraid to admit something did not go well, celebrate successes when the risk pays off, and create honest dialogue.  This type of meta-cognition can also help students and staff think on a deeper level.

Work WITH Administrators:
In the spirit of honesty, I am disturbed that there is still an “Us” against “Them” attitude in many schools about the divide between teachers and administrators.  While I know many administrators are more difficult than others, I see this as an opportunity for growth.  We must move beyond this status quo mindset of working for administrators, to working with administrators. This can be done by having open and honest dialogue with them.  For example, if there is any issues that arises in our schools that you disagree with, have a professional conversation.  In addition to the conversation, it’s always great to be solution oriented by bringing in your own ideas to help move the building forward.  I admit I am fortunate to work with an incredible transparent administrative team that is a prime example of being able to have real conversations, as well as offering constructive feedback to them help extend their thinking.

Connect Locally and Globally:
There is a wealth of progressive, forward thinking educators in  your building, district, and globally.  In the spirit of taking risks, reach out and ask questions, share ideas, or obtain feedback on an idea.  Have an open door policy by inviting staff into your classroom to observe a lesson. Beyond our building and district walls, connecting with a PLN via Twitter, Instagram, Google +, and Facebook, can create a global audience to interact with.  Since joining Twitter years ago, it has created a significant shift in my classroom, mindset, and ways I go about best instructing my students.  Start a Twitter account, search hashtags, use the Twitter chat schedule to find a chat best aligned to your needs.  This is professional learning autonomy at it’s finest.

Get Your Hands Dirty:
Pardon the noise, chaos, volume, but we are learning here!” This is our classroom mantra.  Creating a more student centered classroom is dirty and messy.  It’s loud and excitement is elevated to the next level.  That is the point! Establishing a classroom culture that is student centered, collaborative, and inquiry based is hard work! You must give up control.  But done correctly and systematically, it can lead to greater academic achievement, an environment built on trust and high expectations, while being fun and engaging for our students.  Another component to this is involving students in the classroom design.  Years ago a student casually mentioned he’d like to have a couch in our classroom during independent reading time.  This one comment helped propel my thinking to create flexible seating arrangement.  We now two couches, rocking chairs, exercise balls, two pub tables, stools, and five standing desks.  My belief is that if students are on task and engaged, should it really matter where they sit?

Incorporate Technology:
When technology is implemented in a purposeful and focused manner, it can and will take learning to the next level.  The quote “Technology won’t replace teachers, but teachers who use technology will probably replace teachers who don’t,” always resonates with me.  You can be a great teacher without technology. However, with technology and moving from students consuming content to creating content and having choice to demonstrate understanding in a way that best fit their leads can and will lead to stronger engagement and achievement. If you’re intimidated by technology, set small attainable goals.  Reach out to proficient users in your building, district, and PLN.  Always ask yourself the WHY before deciding on the tool.  The SAMR model is a great model to utilize when thinking about technology integration.

If you’ve made it this far, feel free to share ways that you’ve challenged the status quo in the best interest of your students.  We can’t forget that they should be at the forefront of all our decision making.  After all, our Kids Deserve it.

 

I am a passionate teacher in Stamford, CT. I teach sixth grade Individuals and Societies. I am proud to be an active member of the Twitter educational community. I am an organizer for #EdCampSWCT, a moderator for #ctedu, technology professional develop leader in my district, and a believer in a high tech/high touch blended learning approach to teaching.  I was chosen as a 2016 ASCD Emerging Leader and a PBS local digital innovator. I was nominated for the Bammy of 2015 Elementary School Teacher of the Year. I was Stamford, CT Teacher of the Year in 2014. I am a certified administrator, presenter, and speaker. I have presented at various conferences in the tri-state area about literacy and technology. I believe in taking risks and working collaboratively to augment student achievement. I love children’s literature and strive to become better everyday. I am a husband and father. Follow me on Twitter @mrsapia_teach

Donor’s Choose Project

Hello awesome people of the world! I have posted a new Donor’s Choose Project and my scholars and I would love your support to get this project fully funded to start the year off! Click the link below to read all about it.

Creating an Environment for Students to Thrive Using Technology

If you donate within the next seven days and use the code LIFTOFF, Donor’s Choose will match your donation up to $100.  It’s like free money.  This matching offer ends on Tuesday, August 23rd.

Finally, there is a section for an optional donation to donor’s choose.  This adds $300 to the cost. A way to “opt-out” of that optional donation can be seen below.  This would lengthen the donation process and I’d love to get these chromebooks in the hands of my scholars as soon as possible.

This amount cannot be removed from your project page, but donors can easily exclude it in the donation step. Any donor can opt out of including it in the checkout process – if someone selects “give” on your project page, they can click “edit” or “optional donation” in the cart review step of the donation process and opt out.

Thanks in advance for supporting my amazing scholars on their journey through sixth grade! It means the world to us all!

 

Sincerely,

Mr. Sapia

Using Live Stream to Engage Parents

My students are in the process of presenting their non fiction eBooks they created during our non fiction unit.  Big thanks to Pernille Ripp for the incredible idea! I am once again using Live Stream to engage parents and flatten my classroom walls to bring the presentations to THEM!

Where Does Live Stream Fit In?

In an ongoing effort to flatten my classroom walls and engage parents in creative and interesting ways, I decided to create a LiveStream account, which gives you the ability to watch or stream live events.  Here is a link to use that documents the steps to use to start an account.

Live Stream: Starting an Account 

After creating an account, click create event, give a name for your event, provide a date range, upload an image, and voila, you have just created an event. Click the “Ok, Let’s Go” and share the event link with parents.  I used my Remind account, Twitter, and my classroom website to inform parents of our event.  I also created a shared google doc with a schedule that the kids will be sharing.  Within 10 minutes, I had over 20 parents viewing the live feed.

That’s it.  I use the free account, but if you upgrade there are some great, customization features. Please click the link below for our first Live Stream video with students presenting their reports! I’d love to hear how you are using Live Stream in your classroom to engage parents.

Here is a sample from the first round of presentations.  I am proud of my student’s efforts.  A powerful reflection conversation occurred right after the presentations.  Students highlight what they thought went well and what can be improved.

Furthermore, I created a google form to evaluate the students while they were presenting to easily organize my information.  I am also going to have the students self assess and then combine the two grades collaboratively.

Here are some links to download the apps as well.

Google Play Store

App Store

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I am a passionate teacher in Stamford, CT. I teach fifth grade ELA/Social Studies. I am proud to be an active member of the Twitter educational community. I am an organizer for #EdCampSWCT, a moderator for #ctedu, technology professional develop leader in my district, and a believer in a high tech/high touch blended learning approach to teaching.  I was nominated for the Bammy of 2015 Elementary School Teacher of the Year. I was Stamford, CT Teacher of the Year in 2014. I am a certified administrator and presenter. I have presented at various conferences in the tri-state area about literacy and technology. I believe in taking risks and working collaboratively to augment student achievement. I love children’s literature and strive to become better everyday. I am a husband and father. Follow me on Twitter @mrsapia_teach

 

Google Forms and Reading Conferences

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Streamlining and curating information is an easy way to organize our data in today’s technological world.  There are advancements using a multitude of tools to ensure the workflow in our classrooms is functional and attainable.  With this spirit in mind, I want to share a simple way to use Google Forms during reading conferences. I am a strong believer in the power of conferences.  Discussing book selections with students fosters independence, as well as gives us an opportunity to discuss the written word. To be frank, conferencing should be a non-negotiable.

Google Forms:

I’ve taken three screenshot for viewing so you can see how my form is organized.  This form was created directly from the amazing and inspiring Donalyn Miller conference form.  Click here for a link to her slide-share presentations.  They are a wealth of information.

Independent Reading Conference Form

Informal Reading Conference Form


I also wanted to share an older form that I used that I may incorporate into my new form. I will monitor and adjust as needed.


  

You must have a Google account in order to create a form.  Once you have a Google account, click drive and the red rectangle in the left column.  This will open a new menu.  Hover down to more and a new pop up will appear with a choice to choose forms. Much has been written about the how-to with nuances of google forms, so I am not going to cover that.

Next Steps:

The next steps are quite simple. During independent reading time, which is a non-negotiable every day in my classroom, I confer with students.  On days when I am not conferencing, I am meeting with small, flexible groups formed based on student’s needs from the data collected.

I walk around my classroom with my Chromebook, but this work can be done on a mobile device as well.  I ask the questions that were created on my google form.  Doing it digitally helps me confer with more students in a shorter amount of time.  Once I finish conferencing, I hit submit at the bottom of the form and the data is automatically imported into a google sheet.


I can then easily share information with the students and parents and it eliminates the issue of losing paperwork.  I can simply then start a new form and repeat the process.

The information collected from the conference is invaluable.  It can allow teachers to monitor and adjust based on what a child’s needs are.  It’s a great time to set reading goals, have short, focused conversations about text in an informal, non threatening environment.  The goals the students set in the conference is recorded digitally for my own purposes, but they also have a place in their reader’s notebook to write down their goals for future reference. After all, good readers always have a plan. It also gives us a chance to ensure students are making wise book choices.

Additionally, I plan on creating a google form for writing conferences as well.  I will post once I create the new form.

Remember it’s important to have the student talking more during the conferences. Our feedback is important, but their voice should be paramount.  That’s an important piece to remember.

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I am a passionate teacher in Stamford, CT. I teach fifth grade ELA/Social Studies. I am proud to be an active member of the Twitter educational community. I am an organizer for #EdCampSWCT, a moderator for #ctedu, technology professional develop leader in my district, and a believer in a high tech/high touch blended learning approach to teaching.  I was nominated for the Bammy of 2015 Elementary School Teacher of the Year. I was Stamford, CT Teacher of the Year in 2014. I am a certified administrator and presenter. I believe in taking risks and working collaboratively to augment student achievement. I love children’s literature and strive to become better everyday. I am a husband and father. Follow me on Twitter @mrsapia_teach

Creating Learning EXPERIENCES for Readers

I’ve had many experiences in my life.  Those experiences can vary in a range of levels but it’s those experiences who shaped who I am today. Being a teacher I like to use my life experiences as my muse. I embrace my learning through experiences of traveling, seeing live music, being a new dad, and translating that energy into learning experiences for my kids.

I currently teach 5th grade humanities, which falls under the umbrella of English Language Arts and Social Studies. I am a voracious reader and hope to instill that love of reading into my students so they can be passionate about the written word. Below are two ways that I created exciting learning experiences for my students.

Reading Warrior:

In the spirit of creating meaningful and memorable learning experiences for my students, I decided to dress up as a “Reading Warrior.” I called my brother up borrowed his sparkly cape and star sunglasses, and a new idea was born. This is a good time to note that Teach Like a pirate by Dave Burgess had a huge impact about creating learning experiences for students.

Sequence of Lesson:

To initiate the lesson I had the students listen to Superheroes by The Script. At the conclusion of the song I had the students turn and talk about the message of the song by analyzing the words and video. I went over to another classroom and changed into my atter ego, the Reading Warrior.  I came storming back into the classroom and took on the persona of my alter ego. Some students laughed, some students gasped,  but once the initial shock was over I went on to tell them my mission of the day was to create passionate learners who can become voracious readers.   The whole point of this lesson tied in music, close reading, collaboration, and finding their inner superhero. It was also my creative way to introduce about 40 new titles into the classroom library. so the last few minutes of class we did a countdown and I had students close their eyes and when we got to 0 I unveiled the new titles. I  passed one book out to each reader and they skimmed it for about 5 to 7 minutes. Then they had to reconvene on the carpet to talk about the book. The level of engagement and enthusiasm was infectious. The hook was successful!  Students then filled out books of interest on their Read Next list in Reader’s Notebook. After all, good readers always have a plan.

Click here to see photos and videos from the lesson!

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Detective Read Aloud:

In order to teach the complex skill of inferring I decided to summon another alter ego, Detective Read Aloud. Detective Read Aloud was much more subdued than the Reading Warrior. At the start of the lesson I had some Inspector Gadget music playing in my classroom. The students were immediately questioning why this specific kind of music was playing. It was at that time that I left the classroom put on my fedora,  trench coat, and grab my magnifying glass and slowly strolled back into the classroom.

I then asked the students what the role of a detective is and told them that they were going to be junior detectives. I also mentioned how authors leave clues sprinkled in texts to help the readers deepen their understanding. With that idea in mind I had students pair up in groups and they went on an inference scavenger hunt around our fifth grade wing. I placed arrows on the floor as “clues” for students to follow. They read a short passage and had to answer comprehension questions tied into inferring. The passages were short and the questions were straightforward.  In order for students to move on to the next clue they had to check with Detective Read Aloud to ensure their responses were correct. It was only at the end of the lesson where I actually introduced the term inferencing to students.


This type of flipped lesson was incredibly successful because students actually walked through the learning process first, then learned the term.    As we reflected on the lesson the students said it was powerful for them to walk through the process and acting like detective which helped deepen their understanding of inferring.
Creating this experience for students can have a significant impact on their learning and also how they transfer the new information they encounter throughout a lesson. Not to mention it’s an absolute blast as a teacher to dress up and show that side of you to your students. This goes a long way to creating an environment of trust, student voice, and risk taking because it models those three skills for the students.  I’d be remiss if I did not mention Pernille Ripp for creating awesome “Reading Warrior” shirts!

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I am a passionate teacher in Stamford, CT. I teach fifth grade ELA/Social Studies. I am proud to be an active member of the Twitter educational community. I am an organizer for #EdCampSWCT, a moderator for #ctedu, technology professional develop leader in my district, and a believer in a high tech/high touch blended learning approach to teaching.  I am nominated for the Bammy of 2015 Elementary School Teacher of the Year. I am a certified administrator. I believe in taking risks and working collaboratively to augment student achievement. I love children’s literature and strive to become better everyday. I am a husband and father. Follow me on Twitter @mrsapia_teach

Choice Based PD Can Happen!

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I’ve been involved in education for the past 14 years. I can probably count on one hand how much relevant, meaningful, and purposeful professional development that I participated in. This is beyond sad to me. It was time to turn that sadness into possibilities and set forth on our journey to create relevant PD. 

About three months ago my principal I decided that we wanted to create a professional development focused on purposeful technology integration for our district, where participants had a choice to attend sessions of interest. With the help of our district CIO and our technology professional development leaders, this small idea came to fruition. Our professional development day was modeled after Edcamp,  with some slight variations to it. We titled it “Future Ready.”

How did we do it?

We first created a needs assessment about what staff wanted as a focus in the area of technology integration.

We created a Google form for potential presenters had to fill out in order to be considered to present. The forms were vetted through our professional development committee. This was already a change from professional development that we’ve experienced because generally it’s consultants who are hired from the outside. This started as an organic grassroots professional development from teachers in the classroom. Once we reviewed all the submissions we ended up with 32 total sessions, with some teachers presenting multiple times. Teachers have been craving this form of professional development for years in their voices were finally heard, much to their delight.

My principal and district CIO did an incredible job organizing data into Google sheets and forms to manage the event planning, sign-up, and scheduling.

The day was broken up into 4- 50 minute blocks. Once the schedule was finalized teachers were asked to submit their registration online in advance. To be completely transparent there were some hiccups that came along with Google forms, registering, and lack of automatic email response confirming sessions. But due to the flexibility of awesome teachers in our district this turned out to be a very small problem.

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Rippowam Middle School was the host site for this incredible event. We have four computer labs, chrome books, and participating teachers were encouraged to bring their own devices. Our incredible IT team was on-site to troubleshoot any issues, which were non existent. Our talented art teachers created posters to hang throughout the building, as well as students creating what “Future Ready” meant to them.  There were students who also assisted in helping visiting teachers to find classrooms, as well as participating in green screen video creation sessions.  What’s better than empowering students to become the teacher?!

The day started with opening remarks by our building principal and myself to get the day rolling. Our recurring message was that this day was not about perfection, but about possibilities for technology integration to enhance teaching and learning and creating learning experiences for students in autonomous ways.  My principal was a great model for embracing failure because during his opening remarks he said things did not go as smoothly at he hoped during the signup process.  He acknowledge this openly and I heard people throughout the day really appreciated this type of  honesty.

Unlike many PDs that we’ve attended, besides Edcamp,  you could feel the positive energy in the air from the onset of the event. After each session teachers were walking around smiling. But most importantly they were talking about many of the ideas that they learned during sessions and tools that they can bring to their classroom tomorrow. Old colleagues had opportunities to connect, talk, and share ideas. We encouraged staff on social media to use the #SPSPride hashtag.

Sample Sessions included:

  • Intro to Google Classroom
  • QR Code Hunts
  • Kahoot and Socrative
  • Using Seesaw as a Digital Portfolio
  • Creating a google site
  • Building your PLN using Twitter
  • Google Forms
  • Powerpoint
  • ActivInspire for Beginners
  • Digital Citizenship Roundtable
  • Green Screen Creations
  • Tenmarks in Math
  • Scratch and Coding
  • MakerBot 3D printing

It was an incredible day with perfect weather. It was 68° outside and we had a food truck to serve lunch.  A teacher in our building was the DJ, because what better way to bring people together than with food,music, dancing, and purposeful focused professional development.

Upon completion of the event we received close to 25-30 emails from teachers and central office staff celebrating the accomplishments of all the facilitators and participants.  There is no doubt that planning event of this magnitude takes work but it’s work worth doing. The psychology of choice is an incredible shift from how professional development is mostly presented and should be utilized more often.

Next Steps:

The plan is to host another event in the spring and the hope is that we could get even more teachers on board to present and share with the amazing ways they’re engaging students and parents in their classroom.

This event was about community and celebrated the Stamford Public Schools teachers willingness to take a risk to present with they know works in their classroom in terms of student engagement.  This event is greater than one group of people. It models that when we come together around a focused intention we can empower and push each other. When given choice and what we’d like to learn, inspiration can happen.  This new inspiration can be translated into taking risks and trying out new ways to engage students in the classroom.

At the end of the day it comes down to student learning and adult learning. If teachers can came away with one or two new ideas and a shift in mindset then the day was a complete success. If you’re on the fence about planning an event, I encourage you to take a risk. It’s not about perfection. It’s about possibilities, teacher empowerment, and teamwork.  When the biggest complaint of the day is teachers did not know what sessions to attend, I’d say it was a success. How often does that happen at PD?

Future Ready PD Photos

QR Codes at Open School Night

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“One good thing about music when it hits you feel no pain.” The words from Bob Marley’s Trenchtown Rock floated through the air as parents began filtering into our classroom for open house.  It immediately set a tone of relaxation and calmness for parents.  Whispers started amongst them and my initial hook was set.  One of the most important nights of the year is Open School Night. Meeting new parents during the first few weeks of school is tremendously exciting because it’s an opportunity to develop relationships and partnerships.

I’m consistently reflecting about how I can improve my practice, as well as ensure I am meeting the needs of all the varied learning styles in my classroom.  This thought process led me to also reflect upon how I can continue to improve with my communication and engagement with parents. I continue to use my classroom website, parent codes using Edmodo, Instagram, Twitter, and Seesaw, and Remind, to name a few. The feedback has been fantastic from parents and families because it truly gives them an unprecedented view into our classroom and builds the home/school connection. Purposeful technology infused with a high touch approach can create opportunities to develop strong and meaningful connections. Under this premise, I decided to try something new this year at open house.  I had parents participate in a QR Code “scavenger hunt.”

QR Codes at Open House:

The first step is having a growth mindset and taking a risk.  This is opposite of what parents have probably experienced in 98% of their open house nights. It’s a risk, but one worth taking.  I then decided what my four stations would focus on.

Station 1: Love of Literacy

Station 2: Parent Engagement

Station 3: Grading and Homework

Station 4:  Curriculum and Testing

I used the Scanlife QR code app, but there are tons available on the app store or google play. I pasted the links to the shared, view only, google docs and pasted them into qrcodestuff.com and printed them out.  I hung them around the classroom to ensure parents had space to read the documents on our iPads without being cluttered.

I gave a quick demonstration of how to use the app and off they went.  Parents immediately embraced this idea and got the moving around instead of just sitting.  This freed me up to navigate around the classroom to answer any questions they had along the way.  Sure, could I have used Today’s Meet or Padlet for parents to backchannel on? Yes, but I did not want to overwhelm them with too much technology at once.  The vibe was electric and parents truly appreciated the different approach.


INSTAGRAM VIDEO FROM QR CODE HUNT!

Another benefit to this type of approach is parents experienced making transitions, similar to the ones their child will be expected to make during our literacy workshop block and how their child is engaged on a daily basis in creative ways. The time spent at each station gave parents and opportunity to develop relationships with each other, too.  After all parents have participated in each station, we reconvened in a whole group setting and had a reflection period about what they learned and answered questions.

Next Steps:

I will follow-up this night with a parent survey, using google forms, to continue to build that rapport with parents and ensure their voices are heard and addressed. This survey will provide me with more feedback to reflect on my own thinking.  I will also be giving parents a voice as to how they would like our “Tech Night” to look.  Parents need assistance and support in this ever changing world of technology, so hosting a tech night is a non-negotiable. Empowering parents and making them stakeholders in their child’s education is not a choice, it’s a priority.  It takes a team to move mountains and having the open dialogue and providing a support system at school and home will do nothing but serve their child’s best interest.

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I am a passionate teacher in Stamford, CT. I teach fifth grade ELA/Social Studies. I am proud to be an active member of the Twitter educational community. I am an organizer for #EdCampSWCT, a moderator for #ctedu, technology professional develop leader in my district, and a believer in a high tech/high touch blended learning approach to teaching.  I am nominated for the Bammy of 2015 Elementary School Teacher of the Year. I am a certified administrator. I believe in taking risks and working collaboratively to augment student achievement. I love children’s literature and strive to become better everyday. I am a husband and father. Follow me on Twitter @mrsapia_teach

Teach from the Heart

The best teachers teach from the heart.  This popular quote, one I’m sure many of you have heard, has been resonating with me for a long time.  The power that we hold as educators to inspire a passion and deep love for learning is one of the greatest responsibilities we can ask of a person.  This is not to be taken lightly. We can touch so many lives of students we encounter during our tenure as educators.  Think of how powerful of a statement that is.  Soak it in.  Each and every day when our students enter our classroom is an opportunity to create meaningful and memorable lessons to augment student achievement, social, and  emotional growth.

Sometimes we can lose sight of these simple goals because of the many directives that are handed down by a district and legislatures at the state and national level.  Frustration can set in because we are told to participate in things that we know is not in the best interest of students.  While we can’t be non compliant, we can stand up for what we believe is in the best interest of students.  How can we teach from the heart?

Build Relationships:

The community and relationships we form in our classrooms are paramount. This must come even before we start to focus on the academic instruction.  As we all know a student may not remember every lesson we teach, but they will remember how we made them feel.  Talk to students and ensure their voices are heard. Value the feedback they provide and don’t be afraid of honest feedback.  This open dialogue can go a long way to creating a classroom environment built on trust, honestly, and respect. Most students want to be pushed and challenged because that shows them their teacher believes in them.

Use a system that works for you:

As much as collaboration and working together as a team with your colleagues in your building and beyond your four walls in important, find a classroom system that works for you.  It’s clearly important to be on the same page with team members, but let’s be honest.  Each teacher has their own individual style, so forcing a one size fits all system is not going to foster and promote creativity in a classroom.  Administrators should embrace this.  If teachers have their own specific way to meet learning objectives in engaging ways, this is a positive.  Teachers who are promoting creativity in their classrooms is an opportunity for others to come in for peer observations and can possibly open the eyes of hesitant staff members to new possibilities for what’s possible in a classroom. It’s a win-win for everyone.

Students are more than numbers: 

We know we are teaching in a data driven society.  I don’t mind that.  As a matter of fact, when data is used correctly and appropriately, it can drive our instruction in meaningful ways.  I have a problem when students are referred to as numbers only, be it DRA scores, lexile scores, or SBAC/PARCC scores.  Nothing irks me more.  While these numbers have a very small place when looking at the WHOLE child, there are many factors we also need to look at.  How about social and emotional development?  These are areas that need to be nurtured and focused on. Take the time to talk to your students.  Stop them in the hallway to ask them how they day is going.  If you know children has outside issues, find the help they deserve. Form lunch bunch groups for students to talk.  The more time we invest in that aspect of the child, I’d like to believe that academic achievement will follow.

Reflection and Growth:

This cannot be understated.  We can easily get lost the sheer amount  of curriculum we are asked to cover in a year.  We’re always expected to be moving onto the next topic.  Sometimes this is done without the students best interests at heart. This can also led to a lack of reflection and opportunities for growth on our student’s part.  For example, I’ve recently started using Seesaw as my digital portfolio tool to monitor student work.  Students complete a task, upload it to Seesaw, and I can comment on their work.  So, clearly that’s great.  But if students don’t have a chance to make corrections and reflect on their own learning, what’s the point?  Student need time to reflect on comments, set goals,  and also have the ability to resubmit work.  It’s not about the grade.  It’s about the process of augmenting achievement based on feedback from teachers and peers.  Please don’t lose sight of the importance of allowing time for students to make adjustments to their work. The intrinsic motivation they will feel when they can see their own growth can undoubtedly lead to higher motivation.

Promote creativity and allow autonomy:

Using a high tech/high touch blended learning approach, we can have students become content creators to demonstrate understanding in autonomous ways.  Our students deserve this. Whether you teach ELA, science, social students, math, or our a specialist teacher, allow students to show you what they’ve learned in various ways.  This can be done without the use of technology or using technology, if you have access.  It’s not about the tool.  It’s about students being allowed to have choice that best fits their learning style.  If the lesson objective is met, it should not matter how it was achieved.

Vibe, energy, and passion:

Walking into your classroom everyday is a chance for you to bring your own vibe and energy to lessons.  Most of the time students respond to a teacher’s enthusiasm  and passion for their content.  It’s infectious. It’s like that feeling when you attend a concert of your favorite band and everyone is there for a purpose. It’s that collective energy I try to attain everyday in my class  That is my muse. It drives me. Magical things can happen when students are part of a classroom community with a shared purpose.  Put your spin on how you teach.  Show your students your personality.  Let them in to who you are, not only as an educator, but as a person. Here are some photos from “Reading Warrior” day.

Reading Warrior Day

At the end of the day if you are making decisions based on your student’s best interests and teaching from the heart, that’s all we could ask for.  Carve your own path and find your voice as an educator.  But always remember to do right by what kids need.  They need us now more than ever before.

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I am a passionate teacher in Stamford, CT. I teach fifth grade ELA/Social Studies. I am proud to be an active member of the Twitter educational community. I am an organizer for #EdCampSWCT, a moderator for #ctedu, technology professional develop leader in my district, and a believer in a high tech/high touch blended learning approach to teaching.  I am nominated for the Bammy of 2015 Elementary School Teacher of the Year. I am a certified administrator. I believe in taking risks and working collaboratively to augment student achievement. I love children’s literature and strive to become better everyday. I am a husband and father. Follow me on Twitter @mrsapia_teach