Periods of Reflection

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

I “Disliked” Reading and My Vow to Students

photo by Very Best Quotes

Today was the official start for my new scholars. The slate was perfectly clean and open to creating magical and memorable learning experiences for my incoming fifth graders in ELA and Social Studies.  They walked down the hallway, some stoked, and some jittery beyond belief.  This excitement and nervousness never gets old.

As my students entered my classroom, I immediately heard them talking about how the books were displayed.  A few students mentioned the organization of our library.  A few students said, “Hey, I’ve read that book,” upon seeing “Wonder” on display.  The hook was immediate for some kids, but not for all. This was to be expected.  I would have been the latter when I was in fifth grade.

I called the students to the carpet to read “First Day Jitters.” We discussed what jitters meant and proceeded to make predictions about what the text might be about.  As I was navigating through the book, I kept my eyes on students, some of which were very engaged and some that were not.  Many students expected the ending to be about a new girl not wanting to attend a new school and were shocked that it was the teacher who had jitters.  The conversation was ignited and off we went.

This was the moment I was waiting for.  My chance to talk about how passionate I am about reading.  My chance to start their transformation from being readers to reading warriors.  We toured the classroom library with great enthusiasm.  I stopped to book talk my favorite books from the summer.  I talked about my passion for picture books and incredible message they can contain.  Then I stopped talking.  I stood in silence for a minute.  The students were perplexed and anxiously awaiting my next sentence. I had them hooked again.  I calmly asked them to walk back to the carpet.

As we sat down I told them I was going to be honest.  I explained that throughout the year this will become a normal practice. It was time to be real with them. I said, “I really disliked reading growing up.” “In fact, I read very little.” At that very moment, you could see the look of confusion on their face.  Some nervously looked around at each other and some turned their attention to the floor.  It was the moment I was hoping for.  Suddenly, a student burst out, “You’re a teacher.  How can you hate reading?”

All eyes turned to me. I said, “I disliked reading because I was always forced to read what the teacher told me.  I disliked reading because I was not really good at it.  I struggled terribly. Very few teachers really took the time to get to know what types of books I enjoyed.  I never was encouraged like I should have been by my teachers.  It made me really, really hate books.  Most of the reading I did was from textbooks and we had to read aloud. Since I was not a fluent reader, I became self conscience about my skills.  I was not confident.” You could have heard a pin drop in the classroom.  Then I smiled big and proud and told them I am making a vow to them.

I will honor their reading lives.  I will honor their right to have choice and voice in how they go about choosing books and demonstrating understanding in creative ways.  I will honor their independent reading time. I will honor their hard work and effort in striving to become reading warriors.  I will honor their time to make peer to peer recommendations. I will honor their work by writing focused, purposeful feedback in order for them to get stronger with written responses to text.   I will honor their time to Skype with classes around the globe to see reading in a broader context.  I will honor them by thoroughly looking over their reading surveys to ensure I can get books in their hands that would surely inspire. I will honor their time to have “Reading in the zone” days to read for pure enjoyment. I would honor our read aloud time everyday.”

Our attention then went to our “You Matter” board inspired by Angela Maiers.  Student could not help but smile.

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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 Stamford, CT 2014 Teacher of the Year.  I was 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

voice

surveys

book talking

peer to peer recommendations

Genius Hour!

I am super honored to have my Genius Hour posted featured on Angela Maiers’s blog.  Please click the link below to read it.

Genius Hour: “An intrinsic motivation to learn and grow.”

Do You Say I’m Sorry to Your Students?

The other day was one of those days.  Let’s be real.  We, as educators, periodically have them.  A number of requirements can trigger a reaction of frustration, resentment, or negative energy.  Over the years, I’ve learned how to deal with a multitude of “issues” that arise in the classroom or directives from the district.  There are some days, no matter what you do, it’s hard to shake.

This led to me being “short” with my students.  It was obvious to them that it was one of those days.  Every little action made me frustrated.  Some students kept trying to push the limits and this made me more upset.  My students have a significant amount of “freedom” in my class, but when that is pushed or abused, I will create a more controlling environment.  This goes against my educational philosophy, but it’s essential from time to time.

So after repeating simple directions and students not following them, my patience was waning. I realized I needed to take a break and a few deep breathes outside of the classroom.  This simple, yet effective, strategy goes a long way to calm the nerves and refocus your energies.  It gave me a few moments to gather my thoughts and decide what to do next.  It became obvious, that what I need to do was apologize to my students.  Now, were they at fault for not following simple directions.  Yes, no question about it.  But my reaction was a bit harsh for the situation.

I reentered the classroom and called students to the carpet.  I said “I’m sorry.”  I’m sorry for being short with you, I’m sorry for reacting how I did.  I’m sorry I took learning time away from you. I admitted my fault.  I showed them I am not perfect.  I showed them that teachers make mistakes, too.  I showed them that it’s important to take responsibilities for your actions, learn from your mistakes, reflect, and move on.  This apology led to an interesting conversation because a few students said they never had a teacher who apologized to them.  This statement was quite surprising to me. This led to powerful conversation about how everyone makes mistakes, even teachers.  A student approached me after class and said “I’m sorry I was not following directions and it won’t happen again, but thanks for apologizing and being honest with us.  This is why we love your class.”  It was a comment that was real and from the heart.

We have all been guilty of having one of those days and probably reacted to students in a way that was not the norm.  Isn’t this a chance for educators to be real and honest with students? Are teachers too proud to say I’m sorry? How often do you say you’re sorry when your wrong in the classroom? I’ve heard teachers say apologizing shows weakness in the classroom. I have to respectfully disagree with that! It can go a long way to create a positive, loving, honest, and real environment in your classroom.

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

Why Reading Aloud Matters

Photo by Shelley Davis

Why Reading Aloud Matters

One of the most important times in my classroom is our read aloud time.  It is known to my students as a non-negotiable time.  It’s a time to summon your alter ego and get lost in the story.  It’s a time for students to find a comfortable spot in our classroom.  It’s a time to celebrate the written word by demonstrating passion, admiration, and respect for it. Reading aloud is a lost art in many schools, and it’s time to resurrect this sacred time.

Let me be blunt, contrary to popular belief, read aloud time is instructional time.  A teacher can purposefully weave and scaffold many strategies and skills taught throughout the year.  This takes systematic planning and focus on the teachers part. Have a pacing guide? No worries. You can find a chapter book that aligns to standards being taught. Books used as a read aloud should be chosen with great care and as closely aligned to your student’s interests as possible.  Exposures to various types of genres is imperative, as reading aloud is a chance to open up new worlds of language and knowledge for our students.

At the start of the school year, I give students this interest survey.  This has been modified from the many surveys I’ve found online from my PLN on Twitter.  By giving this interest survey and using the information, it provides me with a road map for the books I will be reading aloud throughout the year. Can this change, absolutely, but I highly encourage you to have a “soft” scoop and sequence with regards to books and the places you want to take the kids through the magic of a read aloud.

For the spirit of honestly, I usually start the year off reading picture books. Why? Because picture books rock! Many picture books have significant messages, themes, character development, etc, that can be used to deep a students understanding of basic skills, as well as modeling the importance of how powerful a picture book can be for instructional purposes. This year I read Pete and Pickles, What To Do with an Idea, The magnificent Thing,  Bluebird, and Thank You Mr. Falker to name a few. This is a springboard which leads perfectly into The Global Read Aloud.  Here is my post from the 2013 Global Read Aloud, as well as a post from our building wide read aloud.  Suffice to say, The Global Read Aloud is one of my favorite projects each year.

Every year, without fail, I have the majority of my class either borrowing or purchasing the GRA book to read in school and/or at home with their parents.  Nothing makes me happier as an educator than students who are genuinely stoked to read a book because they are intrinsically motivated too, not because they have to.  Some of the chapter books I’ve read this year were Fish in a Tree, One for the Murphys, Terrible Two, The Crossover, Locomotive, and Lincoln’s Grave Robbers.  Each book provided some very rich, meaningful conversation that is inspiring to watch, especially when we get out of our students’ way and let them share their voice.  But that’s a whole different topic.

So, without further adieu, here are just SOME reasons why I read aloud to my students.

  • builds community and nutures a love of reading
  • exposure to complex vocabulary
  • improved syntax
  • improved listening and written comprehension
  • improved predicting and inferring skills
  • shared experience that “equals” the playing field
  • stop at key points of the text to build suspense
  • opportunity for discussion and students working collaboratively
  • exposure to a variety of different genres
  • introduce a range of high quality books
  • FUN!
  • creates a community of readers and foster loves for written text
  • models a love of reading
  • immersion in language, text structures, themes, etc.
  • integrate technology purposefully and connect globally to discuss books using Skype, Kidblog, and Edmodo
  • can lead to parent engagement – Post books on Shelfari Widget, classroom website, Remind, Instagram, Twitter
  • increased fluency, expression, voice inflection, rate, accuracy
  • visualization and creating a movie in their mind
  • Can be very low tech, too. It’s all about bringing passions and enthusiasm as you read.

I’d love to hear from you.  What are your books favorite books to read aloud? Why do you read aloud?

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

How I Use Idea Paint in my Learning Laboratory

Updated: June 1st, 2015.  

In my ever present chase to push the limits of what’s possible in the classroom(please read my learning commons post), I decided to paint most of my desks white using Idea Paint.  I was fortunate enough to receive a grant from our amazing PTO at my school, so because of this, the paint was bought for me. I applaud their efforts to support re-imagining what a 21st century classroom can look like.

How Will I Use the Idea Paint:

I teach a Humanities course, which falls under the academic subjects of Social Studies and English Language Arts.  My immediate thought was to use it a place where students can;

  • write down vocabulary words and use them in a sentence in context
  • making predictions/inferences about characters, plot lines, etc
  • write down character traits from independent reading and read aloud books
  • work collaboratively as a table to answer essential questions of lessons
  • share work by participating in a “gallery walk”
  • use as formative assessment tool to quickly check for understanding
  • exit slips to check for understanding after a lesson
  • have students write written response to text – After response is written, they can upload to Evernote to place in their digital portfolio (goal for next year)
  • take a photo of their work, individually or collaboratively, and use Airserver to mirror to IWB
  • fun and engaging way for students to learn
  • draw their visualizations
  • creating timelines of historical events
  • fosters creativity
  • brainstorm for writing
  • paperless and saves trees :)
  • note taking

  

   As you can see, these are just a few ideas of what’s possible.  Of course, some ideas will work better than others.   I am sure, based on feedback from students, there will be many new ways to use Idea Paint in the classroom.  I am a proponent of student voice, so their feedback is invaluable for me.  Rest assured, when the Idea Paint is used, just like purposeful technology integration, it will be used to enhance the student’s learning. Please let me know what creative ways you use Idea Paint in your classroom!

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

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NOTE: This original post from 2014.  It’s my old classroom.

I first heard about Idea Paint from a couple of teachers in my professional learning network.  Idea paint can transform many surfaces into a dry erase surface.  Simple premise, with an enormous amount of potential to revolutionize how students can work collaboratively in a classroom.

I moved forward with my vision and created a Donor’s Choose project.  Before I knew it, I was fully funded by the generous donations from parents in my classroom, as well as other parents of students who attend my school via a post on our PTO Facebook page.  In addition to the Donor’s Choose donation, another parent from my building caught wind of this project and donated an addtional can of Idea Paint! Score!!

How Will I Use Idea Paint?

As I stated above, I am looking to augment how scholars work collaboratively in my classroom.  Looking around my classroom, I realized that there was so much valuable space in my room that was under utilized.  This is our time to think outside the box of what a traditional classroom can look like.  Check out the photos below for before and after examples of my classroom.

BEFORE:

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AFTER:

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Throughout my years of teaching, I’ve learned an unbelievable amount of information about how to run a classroom.  The list can go on and on.  One of the most important lessons I’ve learned was to talk less and allow scholars to work collaboratively in a purposeful, concise manner.  The impact of such a collaborative classroom has impacted my scholars because I have more time to work with groups and individuals to meet their specific needs, leading to greater academic success.

My scholars are changing by using this model because, as I stated above, scholars learn by doing, not just by listening. I have started to use this model with math, because I use a centers based approach, so scholars can learn and help each other because of the increased collaboration and flexibility of the model. Scholars collaborate with different types of learners, which will benefit them as they proceed through their educational career and into the workforce.

I am also using Idea Paint during Reader’s Workshop and small group instruction.  After modeling a specific skill that day, scholars are asked to demonstrate that skill during the work period.  If the lesson calls for group work, Idea Paint is the way to go.  I can easily monitor scholar’s progress, while working in small groups, because of the size of the surface.  I can provide easy redirection to get scholars back on track, if needed.  I can then snap a photo and upload it into their digital portfolios using Evernote for future reference, when I remember.

Here are a couple “Vine” videos Demonstrating the use of Idea Paint.

Solving Multi-Step Word Problems

Identifying Author’s Point of View

While this is only my second week of full implementation, my scholars and I feel really enthusiastic about its potential.  My hope is that with the second can, I will be able to paint many desks in my classroom, with administrative permission of course!

As a proponent of student voice, I have heard and listened to my scholar’s feedback about how to best use Idea Paint.  I look forward to continuing to look for creative ways to use Idea Paint in my classroom.  If you have any feedback or suggestions, I’d love to hear them.

If you’d made it this far, feel free to follow me on Twitter @mrsapia_teach

Summer – The Good and The Bad

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As summer approaches, it is met with great enthusiasm by most students, teachers, and parents. It’s a time for families to get together, take family getaways, go to the park, curl up and read an amazing book, and just connect as a whole. I vividly remember my summers with my family growing up and cherish all the memories we created. It’s wild to go back and look at old photo albums of our adventures.

Summer for educators is a great time to reflect on the past year and to keep growing, both personally and professionally. This can be done by reading, attending conferences such as EdCamps, connecting with others in the PLN using Twitter, Google +, as well as many other tools. It’s also a great time to recharge your batteries and not do anything education related. This is perfectly acceptable, and quite encouraged.

Most students depart from the last day of school with relentless excitement. Many kids have talked about all the camps they will be attending, vacations they will be taking, and books they’ll read (my personal fav). I share in their excitement for what’s the come. There is no question about it. However, not all kids are as enthusiastic about their departure from school.

You see, for many kids, school is a sanctuary. It is their safe place filled with routines, consistency, and teachers who love and support their academic and social well being. It is the place where they are greeted with a smile everyday and eager friends ready to socialize and work together in class. It’s the place where they can have a hot meal that’s always guaranteed, as well as a snack. Think about this. When summer arrives, students who do not have consistency at home are left in limbo. They are losing the one consistent piece in their lives, school.  Unfortunately, many kids don’t know where their next meal will be coming from. Their parents work 2-3 jobs and are never around to be the role models they hope to be for their kids. It’s not a happy time for some. Some kids can’t play outside or meet friends because of lack of transportation.

I know we can only control what happens in our classrooms, but before you think about creating a countdown of remaining days of school, think about the less fortunate kids. Think about the daily struggles they will face when not in school. Additionally to not knowing where their next meal is coming from, they can receive little to no academic support. Everything I mentioned above is absolutely heartbreaking. But there are steps we can take as educators to continue to make a difference.

Post on your classroom website and recommend books. Be sure to try and reach out connect with parents and students over the summer. This can be done over email, quick phone call, using Remind and Edmodo, attending a child’s game, and writing a letter to students, to name a few. Let them all know you are thinking about them. These small steps can and will go a long way to maintaining a positive influence in all of your student’s lives. Students need us now more than ever. Be the positive, consistent presence in their lives. How will you maintain relationships with students and parents over the summer?

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 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

Administrators as Lead Learners

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I’ve been teaching for eleven years, but involved in education for the last fourteen including substitute experience, interning, and student teaching.  I have encountered many administrators along the way.  For the spirit of honesty, most of them have been supportive, open to new ideas, good listeners, and understanding.  However, there have been some that are quite the opposite of the above adjectives.

Over the past few years my administrators have been some of the best.  I recently moved from a fourth grade position to a fifth grade position in our local middle school due to overcrowding in some district elementary schools.   I took this leap of faith for many reasons.  I was looking for a new challenge and to grow as an educator.  My colleague and I had a very unique opportunity to design our own curriculum and bring our creative energy into our daily lessons. Sure, we have a district pacing guide, but it’s just that, a guide.  Having a knowledge of the standards we are required to teach can be overwhelming, but when you have administrators who TRUST your instructional decisions creates an ecosystem where we can thrive and inspire.  They consistently push us to engage students in new ways, utilizing purposeful technology integration as a tool.

I have a learner first mentality that I try to carry with me daily.  Part of the allure of this new position was that I was going to work WITH, yes WITH, an administration team that is highly respected in my district. There is no us against them mentality that I’ve seen in the past.  Each one brings a really great energy to the building. And no, this is not a post about brown nosing.  I believe praise should be given to all when a job well done is accomplished.  This got me thinking.

When you work with a team of administrators who respect and trust your decisions, it makes you want to rise to the occasion even more and become an even better educator, right?  It’s a great feeling when an administrator pops into your classroom unannounced and stays to watch kids collaborating, creating, problem solving, and engaging in learning.  Is this common practice in schools? If not, it should be.  Administrators are lead learners.  Administrators should have a present face in their teacher’s classroom to push them, challenge them, acknowledge their hard work, provide constructive feedback, and work and interact with kids. Isn’t that why we do what we do?  I know the amount of bureaucracy and emails can become overwhelming, but students needs to see their presence.  We all should be continual learners on this educational journey.

I’m all for constructive feedback.  How could you not be if it will improve your practice? What I am against, vehemently, are administrators who constantly question instructional decision and are quick to criticize without offering up feedback or an alternative plan.  This is not acceptable. This same statement goes for teachers as well. That type of culture in a building will have an adverse effect on teacher growth and has no place in a building.  Does everyone have bad days? Of course.  Have we all said something we regret? Obviously.  But when nothing constructive is said, that takes a mental toll and does nothing but take the sails out of teacher’s excitement.

We are teaching in a very transparent age of education.  Teachers are harnessing the power of social media and engaging students and parents in ways that were never possible before.  As someone who may travel down that path because I am a certified administrator, I plan to lead by example.

I plan to celebrate teachers who are taking chances in the classroom.  I plan to acknowledge teachers who are thinking outside the box. I plan to come into classrooms and make myself visible and not just a voice over the loudspeaker.  I plan to bring my love of literacy and read to students and recommend books.  I plan to challenge my staff to be creative and to take risks. I plan to celebrate students’ and teachers’ work through social media.  I plan to be a lead learner and model ways to engage students and staff at staff meetings by using tech they can utilize in your class tomorrow! I plan to instill a growth mindset in my staff by always encouraging them to challenge the status quo.  I plan to laugh, a lot.  I plan to have fun by having staff participate in great team building and culture activities.  I plan to show staff that I am human, make mistakes, and admit when I am wrong.  I plan to be transparent. I plan to challenge my staff to reach their fullest potential, while providing constructive feedback to make them stronger in the name of student achievement. Are they lofty goals? Sure.  It’s the small steps that can be taken that can go a long way to establishing a positive culture in a building.  Ignite a passion in your staff that models what collaborative learning can look like.  Lead.  By.  Example.

For great examples educators using social media to celebrate staff and student work, I highly recommend following Tony Sinasis, Frank Rodriguez, Jason Martin, Mike Rinaldi, Eric Sheninger, and Todd Nesloney.  In what ways are you a lead learner?

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 and a believer in a high tech/high touch blended learning approach to teaching.  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

What Will be Your Legacy?

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I’ve been thinking about this recently.  What do I want my legacy to be as an educator? Am I not deep enough into my career to think about it? How will the lessons I instill in my students carry over to them to be productive members of society?  Will they remember me because I spoke to them quietly in the hallway, or will they remember the time I lost my patience and raised my voice? Will they transfer the memories of the teachable moments and life lessons we share?  Will they remember me for providing opportunities to connect globally with others students using technology purposefully? These questions are often drifting in and out of my head.

My hope is that my students will remember me as someone who is passionate, caring, hard working, creative, supportive, and trustworthy. I want my students to know I value their voice and presence.  I often wake up with a drive knowing today can be the day I can make a difference in a child’s life.  Think about how powerful of a statement that is. Our responsibility as educators is to get to know our students, trust our students, provide an environment for them to thrive and grow academically and socially.  The powerful aspect of our job is that we get to start fresh everyday with a clean slate.  How many careers get to say that?  Day in and day out, our journey as educators can exhibit blissful moments of powerful learning or moments of utter frustration when you crash and burn.

Take to the time to learn from your students.  Take the time to talk to your students.  Allow a few minutes each class period to ask them how THEY are doing or what THEY are involved in.  This goes a long way to build a positive community in your classroom.  We are inundated with pacing guides, curriculum to cover, state assessments to administer, and performance tasks to give.  Granted a small handful of students will remember these moments, but I’m willing to bank on the fact these will not be the reasons students come back to visit.

They will come back to tell you thank you for listening to them.  They will come back to tell you thank you for sitting with them at lunch one day.  They will come back and tell you about a lame joke you told.  They will come back to say thanks for recommending a great book to them. They will come back and talk about a book you read aloud.  They will come back and tell you how good you made them feel by praising them for their hard work and perseverance.  They will come back to say thanks for complimenting them on their outfit.  They will come back with memories of parent/student kick ball games. Chances are you may not remember these small moments, but our students will. This will define your legacy.  This is what education is all about.  What will be your legacy as an educator?

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 and a believer in a high tech/high touch blended learning approach to teaching.  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

EdcampSWCT, Music, and Ego

Collective Energy

Collective Energy

Yesterday was the inaugural EdCampSWCT.  I was very fortunate to organize this event with a tremendous group of educators.  Those educators were Rob Pennington, Amy Traggianese, Sharon Plante, Joel Pardalis, Sean Hutchinson Frank Rodriguez, and me.  Sharon wrote a great reflection of the day here.

I have a passion for music.  It drives me.  It is my muse.  Depending on any given situation, I can find a song to accompany the respective mood.  Leaving Brian McMahon High School yesterday filled with jubilation, I decide to listen to Phish.  They are my favorite band and one I’ve seen 80 times.  Love them or hate them, you can’t argue with their level of musicianship and talent.  I listened to a show I attended in Raleigh, NC from 12-16-99.  This show features a standout version of their classic tune “Tweezer.” This version is all about collective energy, raw emotion, and most importantly,  listening.  As I reached the 10 minute mark the band slowed down the jam and began a collective peak that would climax around the 19 minute mark.  During this time, it was all about listening to each other intently.  Everyone in the band was working together to construct a monumental wall of sound.  This got me thinking about how it relates perfectly to the EdCamp model of collaboration and ego.

Have we all been guilty of having an ego from time to time? Let’s be honest, the answer is most likely yes.  Ego is a blocker.  Ego stands in the way of greatness.  Ego can stand in the way of growth.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s ok to celebrate your achievement, goals, and accomplishments.  In fact, I encourage that. For those of you who know me, know I am a confident person.  If you set a goal and reach it or get acknowledged for outstanding work, by all means, celebrate that.  The chances are good you deserved that recognition.  But the second ego enters the picture, it can skew your mindset and block potential opportunities for growth.

After experiencing all that is right with education through the Edcamp movement on numerous occasions, it feels like an ego-less energy.  Educators come to Edcamps, usually on weekends and drive numerous hours, just to be a part of something bigger than them and their classroom.  It’s inspiring to watch interactions happen during a session, in the hallway, or just sitting around prior to the event beginning. Educators are “volunteering” their time to learn new ideas, challenge and push themselves, listen to others, lead sessions, ask questions and connect with people they have met via Twitter, or form new friendships, all in the name of our greatest stakeholders, our students!

The spirit of Edcamp is about collaboration and growth, not a showcase of one teacher’s talents on display. It’s never about one person!  It’s about the exchange of ideas and everyone’s voices being heard that acts as a collective force to be reckoned with.  After all, if we surround ourselves with people who are better than us, don’t we want to strive for even greater excellence? We work better as teams and being open to new ideas.  This is how I feel when I attend these Edcamp professional developments.

The communal nature of these events reminds me of attending a Phish show.  It’s the interaction between band and audience that can make for an epic evening.  It’s the ideal of taking risks and not knowing what is going to happen.  Sometimes a glorious blissful moment can occur, or you can fall flat on your face.  The blissful moments can and will happen at Edcamp and so will “failures.”  So what.  We learn, we grow, we collaborate, and celebrate our mission to better ourselves by getting out of our comfort zones and letting go of “ego.”

I try to bring this ideology with me into my classroom everyday.  I have a plan for the day, but I will leave that plan if the teachable moment occurs.  I let go of my “ego” and what I had planned, to seize the moment of greatness that has the potential to inspire a group of students.  Remember to always allow for student voice.  Listen to your students.  It’s not about you.  It’s about them.  They will provide you with feedback that is honest.  Be prepared for that.  I may hurt your “ego,” but hopefully it will be an opportunity for growth.

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 and a believer in a high tech/high touch blended learning approach to teaching.  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

Learning Commons in the Classroom

I have a saying in my classroom: “Sorry about the laughter, volume, chaos, and mess, but we are learning here!” I am trying to harness the strengths each scholar possesses by providing them with an environment where they can thrive, using an educational philosophy that is “outside the box.”

Imagine a classroom that goes against the grain of everything you’ve learn from your upbringing in “traditional” education. Imagine a space where students have the choice to sit where they’d like.  Imagine a space where students are free to move around as they please in the name of engagement and achievement.  Imagine a classroom built on trust where students can own their learning. I can and I am currently in the middle of creating a classroom that I would like my son to attend when he begin his academic career and that I would have liked to attend growing up.  Growing up, I had a very difficult time sitting still, and it continues to be an issue, especially during one size fits all professional development.  Put yourself in the mind of a child who has to sit still all day.  Research shows that the brain develops and is more engaged when opportunities to move are present in the classroom.

Scholars learn best when given choices of how/where they can learn. Having two new stand up desks, two exercise balls, two high top tables, and a coffee table, students are able to freely move around the classroom and complete their assigned work using the materials mentioned above. Students read, complete literacy activities, as well as social studies assignments independently and in groups. Teamwork and focused collaboration is highly emphasized. Those are both very important skills to learn, in addition to academics. My students have mentioned that they focus better when standing up and working and/or sitting on exercise balls.  They have augmented on-task behavior to have no boundaries between them and their learning.  I’ve seen a significant decrease in off task behavior, not only because the lessons are engaging, but because student’s have the choice to work that will best fit their needs.

With regards to the couches, students are assigned days to sit on them, because it became an issue early in the year.  Once a schedule was established, everything flowed smoothly.  I also have a large blue carpet in the “front” of the classroom were we meet to conduct mini-lessons, reflect on new learning, and work collaboratively.  I also have a kidney table in the back of the classroom with erasable white paper for students to use during small group instruction. Additionally, I have started a “Reading Graffiti” wall using erasable black paper for students to write down book recommendations.  This idea came from Donalyn Miller from Reading in the Wild.  If you have not read this book, DO IT!

I raised the money for this project from the generous donations of parents and anonymous donors via Donor’s Choose.  I blasted out the link via my classroom website, Remind, Instagram, and Twitter.  Within five days, the project was fulfilled and the materials were on their way!  Anything is possible, so don’t be afraid to ask parents to help fulfill your classroom vision.

In what ways have you transformed your classroom?  What is your vision for a classroom redesign? Take a look around your classroom and see in what ways you can utilize your space to make it more student centered. I’d love to hear your feedback.  If you’ve made it this far, feel free to follow me on Twitter @mrsapia_teach

          

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