Periods of Reflection

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

Month: October, 2015

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

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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

We’re So Connected, We’re Disconnected

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This post has been brewing my mind since attending my past few educational conferences, so let me get right to the point.

I will preface what I am about to express by stating that I am an enormous believer in the principal of connectivity.  I would not be close to the educator I am today if I was not connecting with more talented and skillful educators than myself around the world.  My pedagogical ideas are pushed and challenged, and it consistently keeps my on my toes.  At this point, I just can’t see how educators are not connected.  It’s a non negotiable for our own professional growth, as well as our students. I am well aware of the hurdles and challenges with those who are less tech savvy or have a fixed mindset, but it’s time to more on from excuses and  fear into embracing tools that can reignite your career and passion for what you do to help kids become successful.  The amount of sharing and collaboration is unprecedented and will only benefit our students.

With that being said, I’m concerned the human element of interacting face to face with others is missing.  Too many times, I see people roaming through the hallways, heads down and immersed in their devices.  Am I part of that as well? Absolutely, 100% yes. There is most certainly a time and place to be utilizing Twitter.  That’s part of the power of the tool.  However, sometimes the constant attention to our Twitter feeds or other social media tools can create missed opportunities to collaborate face to face.  In the spirit of full disclosure, this is what I noticed at ISTE in Philadelphia.  I could be speaking to someone and their attention would be partially on me and partially on their device.   This happened multiple times to me, as well as some colleagues from my district.  That lead to a conversation about the high touch humanistic approach that seemed to be fleeting.  How can we create a shift?

While I am extremely outgoing and can strike up a conversation with anyone, I still feel challenged when speaking to fellow educators.  I have doubts about my opinions or thoughts, and often question what I am saying.  But that’s part of pushing yourself.  Don’t be afraid to share ideas and strategies that are effective with others. At best, they may challenge your idea and push you to think in different ways, which is always a good thing.  The risk is worth it. It’s all part of having a growth mindset, operating under the premise that you can FAIL, reflect, and grow.

Before phones.  Before social media. We interacted by conversing. Let’s not lose that!  Having the ability to have those face to face conversations should not become a lost art form.  Sure, relationships and connections can start on Twitter, but it’s important to not neglect the importance of putting your device away and focusing on conversations and being present in the moment.  The same goes for presenters.  Of course, you should utilize tools like Today’s Meet, Google Docs, or Padlet to back-channel, but allow time for participants to interact with one another.

I often find, especially at Edcamps, that the interactions I have with educators in the hallway at or in between sessions, sitting on the grass outside, or enjoying lunch together, are the most powerful and profound.  I try to hold that premise with me when I travel to attend or speak at conferences.  At that point, we exchange social media contact information to continue to grow collaboratively.  It would clearly be a missed opportunity if I was immersed with my device.  While I would never change how I grow professionally using Twitter or social media, it’s essential to remember the high tech/high touch approach to learning and growing professionally.

So next time you’re at a conference, try it. Put your device down and find the balance. Sit with someone you don’t know. Ask them about their classroom and what’s effective and what strategies they employ. The results might surprise you.

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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