Periods of Reflection

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

Administrators as Lead Learners


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


Twitter Links and Resources

Twitter for Beginners:

Beyond the Egg Presentation:

Evernote for Digital Portfolios – Part II

Ok, so my goal of using Evernote for Digital Portfolios is in full swing.  Here is a link to my first post.

What have I been up to?
Well, the way that I have been using Evernote is to upload student responses to texts from Reader’s Workshop. I am only focusing on one subject area thus far. I plan on incorporating narrative stories into their portfolios as well, especially their first draft and their final copy to show growth.  So far, my goal of uploading two documents a month has been manageable and successful. I have also used the voice feature to record students who need to strengthen their fluency skills to hear how they read and to set fluency goals. Each student has a link to their digital portfolio in their Edmodo library.  This way, students have access to the notebook at all times to see where they can improve based on my focused, purposeful comments.  See example below.


In addition to students having access to their digital portfolio, the AH HA moment came when I started receiving emails from parents who wanted to check in on their child’s progress.  This is when I knew extra time it takes to upload documents was worth it, not that I ever questioned it.  I could easily send parents their child’s link with work samples.  I have encouraged parents to bookmark the link because when I send out a Remind to them saying I have updated the portfolios, it is easy to find.  Giving parents unprecedented access to their child’s work flattens my classroom walls and gives them a specific focus at home on objectives they can work on with their child. It also alleviates the surprise moment during parent/teacher conferences questioning why their child received a specific grade.

So, there you have it. Be sure to check back periodically, as I will share my successes and “failures.”  If you have any questions, feel free to find me on Twitter @mrsapia_teach.  As always, comments and feedback are also encouraged and appreciated.

Evernote for Digital Portfolios – Game on

So, after reading Matt Renwick’s Book about Digital Portfolios, I’ve decided to dive right in and give it a whirl.  So, here it goes.  I will be reflecting and providing honest feedback periodically throughout the year to share my successes and failures.  I have decided to use Evernote as the place to house all student work.  Ready, set, go!

I am a new fifth grade teacher this year and my responsibilities are to teach Humanities.  ELA and Social Studies fall under that umbrella.  I also teach at an IB school.  For more information, click here

First Steps:
I created a note for each student.  My colleague and I each have designated homerooms, but we teach each child in fifth grade. We have a total of 40 kids.  Therefore, I created two notebooks labeled as Jimmy’s Homeroom and my co-workers homeroom and put students in accordingly.  

Originally, I had all the students under a “Digital Portfolio” notebook, but quickly realized after uploading photos of student work to each note, it become laborious to scroll and find, so I divided them up into classes under the stack “Digital Portfolios.”  Learning experience number one! Work smarter, not harder.



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Today’s lesson focused on students listening to “The Invisible Boy.”  They were then asked to answer two comprehension questions in their Reader’s Notebooks.  As students completed the assignment, I corrected their work, took a photo, and uploaded it to their note.  I am sure as the year goes on and we get deeper into the workshop model, I will have to complete this task at home.  Below is a sample response. 

The names are not listed to protect the innocent. :)

The names are not listed to protect the innocent. 🙂

So, there you have it.  Step number one.  Any questions. (((HANDS RAISED)))

What is the purpose of using digital portfolios?

I’ve decided to utilize digital portfolios this year because I would like to do a better job of keeping parents informed about their child’s progress, as well as having an organized system for goal setting with students.  After all, we need to work as a team, right? This can easily be done by sharing the link with parents to flatten the classroom walls and enhance engagement.  Keep in mind, when you share a link, the link becomes public, so DO NOT put anything confidential in a note.  

I am still deciding how often I will be able to upload their work, so that’s an unanswered question.  I am sure I will have many, many more as this progresses.

Are you thinking what I’m thinking?  Sure, there work will be already completed in their Reader’s Notebooks, and the notebook can be send home.  However, what if it gets lost?  I am sure this experiment will have it’s ups and downs, but I am willing to take that risk.  If you like what you’ve read, feel free to follow me on Twitter @mrsapia_teach

I’d also love to hear your feedback and how you’re using digital portfolios!


New Teacher Orientation Links

Aloha New Educators,

Congrats on the first day of your new career. As I mentioned during my presentation today, here are some helpful links as you begin your new journey as an educator.  I hope you will find them helpful. 

Haiku Deck Presentation

Here are a couple of links to books that I HIGHLY recommended you read.

Teach Like a Pirate by Dave Burgess
Passionate Learners: Giving the Classroom Back to Students by Pernille Ripp
Falling in Love with Close Reading Christopher Lehman and Kate Roberts
Reading in the Wild by Donalyn Miller
Mindset by Carol Dweck

Highly Recommended Apps:

Remind – Connecting with Parents

Google DriveEvernote – Workflow apps to keep your notes, thoughts, and to do lists organized.  All Cloud based. 


Notability – Can annotate PDFs and SO much more.   

Educreations – Free Interactive Whiteboard app. Great app for content creations across all subject areas. ***

Explain Everything – $2.99 Interactive Whiteboard app. Great app for content creations across all subject areas. ***

Haiku Deck – Elegant and beautiful minimlistic presentation software ***

Skype – Video Conferencing ***

Google Hangouts – Video conferencing  ***

Raz Kids – Online guided reading program with interactive ebooks, downloadable books, and reading quizzes.

Kidblog – Kidblog is designed for K-12 teachers who want to provide each student with an individual blog. Students publish posts and participate in academic discussions and connect with others around the world! ***

 – Edmodo provides a safe and easy way for your class to connect and collaborate, share and create content, and access homework, grades and school notices. ***

Tellagami – Tellagami is a mobile app that lets you create and share a quick animated video called a Gami. ***

i-nigma – Easily scan QR codes ***

*** – denotes app can be used in any subject area! Remember, always focus on the process of learning and the outcome, then the tool!!!


List of Twitter Chats by day and time

Twitter in Educations:

Guide to tweets, hashtags, and all things Twitter:

Twitter for Teachers:

Guide to Twitter:

40 Educational Tweets Everyone Should Know About:

More Educators to Follow on Twitter:


Digital Citizenship:

Cybraryman’s Digital Citizenship Page


Student and Parent Surveys, courtesy of Pernille Ripp:

Beginning of Year Student Questionnaire 

Beginning of Year Parent Questionnaire





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Yesterday was my third Ed Camp experience. It never ceases to amaze me when you walk into the “Living Room” of the Ethel Walker School in Simsbury, CT and see a complete immersion of educators looking to enhance their craft and being  learners first. Every attending educator is clearly intrinsically motivated to learn because they are attending on their own accord.

For those of you unfamiliar with the EdCamp model, please click this link.

Great discussions happen in sessions. There is no arguing that. But the true magic, at least for me, comes in the form of side conversations while you’re walking down the hallway, outside on the grass talking about how to implement a new school wide idea and provide follow through, or piggy backing off someones idea in a session.

This is what happened for me yesterday. I decided to attend a session about making the curriculum engaging and meaningful. Unfortunately, the “facilitator” of that session accidentally double booked. In the true spirit of improvisation, a discussion formed and took on a life of its own. There was a young 17 year old girl in attendance. She was a product of public school, but decided that this setting was not meeting her individual needs as a learner. She is now home schooled, with plans on attending a speciality school in New Haven, CT.  The name of the school has currently escaped me.

I asked if here past teachers ever took the time to get to know her learning style.  She replied, “No!” I went deeper and asked her what she looks for out a teacher.  Her response was quite simple.  She wanted teachers to get to know HER, take the time to talk and ask questions, and listen to her voice to create an autonomous learning environment where she can demonstrate learning of the objective how she sees fit. She felt her creative spirit was not engaged because of her “drill and kill” experiences in public school.  While I acknowledge the fact we have many uninspiring directives students must complete, we must harness the power of student voice in many other situations.   This is what education should be about.  Creating a classroom environment where student voice is valued and heard.  We can make learning messy by utilizing a project based learning model that holds students to very high expectations, while ensuring the standards are meet.  Think about it.  If we systematically put this model in place, we can hit many more standards than a traditional environment.  Her voice reaffirmed my beliefs of what’s possible in a classroom.

It was also a light bulb moment because  I realized Ed camps are missing an important component. This is an area where they can be improved.  Let’s get young scholars involved in the process.  By inviting them to these events, virtually or physically, we can hear their voices and use their feedback to bring back to our classrooms.  After all, they are our most important stakeholders.  How can they not be involved?  It’s a refreshing reminder that we as educators must take the time to not only listen to students, but use their feedback to make constant improvements to make learning meaningful and memorable.  My challenge is this.  Next time you plan an Ed camp, invite students to facilitate and/or participate in a session.  I promise, you will leave with inspiration and new-found knowledge.

Finally, I’d highly recommend reading Teach Like a Pirate by Dave Burgess and Passionate Learners: Giving the Classroom Back to our Students, by Pernille Ripp.  Both of these books provide a very strong foundation for creating an exciting learning environment for our students, while ensuring their voices are heard!

Using Remind101 in the Classroom

Looking for more ways to engage parents and students? Try taking Remind101 for a spin.  This is a tool that I have been incorporating into my classroom for quite sometime, and the feedback from parents has been fantastic.


Let’s be honest.  Increased communication with parents is vital to ensure the most successful year possible.  Frankly, it’s a non negotiable for parents to be aware of current activities and beyond happening in their child’s classroom.  Study after study indicate the importance of working collaboratively increases student achievement.


It’s super simple to sign up.  Simply visit the Remind101 homepage and fill in the appropriate fields in the right column.

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After signing up, you will asked to create a class name.  Type the name in the blank field and click add.

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You will then be presented with a unique phone number and class code.  You can then have parents and/or students text the number and code.  By doing this, they will be automatically subscribed and will receive text updates.  There is also an option to receive email updates if they chose.

Once parents and/or students sign up, you can send out a message to everyone, or select a specific individual or group.  I teach elementary school, so I only have one class. But if you teach middle or high school, you also have the option to create multiple classes on the left column.

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There is also an option to schedule messages for a later time, as well as sending an attachment with your message.  Keep in mind you are limited to 140 characters, so brevity in the name of the game.  There iOS app is designed beautifully for ease of use.

Additionally, you have the option to embed a widget into your classroom website.  This is done by clicking your name in top right hand corner of the page and “My Widgets.”  This will generate code to copy and paste into the HTML of your website of blog.  Click my classroom website for an example.

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The possibilities for types of messages you can send to parents is limitless.  Let’s increase parent engagement and make them aware of all the wonderful things happening in our classrooms! So, what ways are you using Remind101 to engage parents?