Saturday, February 2, 2013

Welcome Back to Blogging

It has been over a year since I posted a Blog.  To be honest, it's been a whirlwind year for me.  Shortly after my last post, I enjoyed the holidays with my family.  Then, it was time to start assessment season with my fourth graders.  We took the FCAT Writes test in February followed by FCAT Reading and Math in April.  With the numerous changes to FCAT Writes this past school year, I was disheartened to see that four of my students did not meet the proficiency goal set by the state of Florida.  This was the first year in my four years of teaching fourth grade that I had a student not considered proficient in writing.  My students continued to persevere, and it showed in their reading and math scores!  Learning gains were substantial!  Two of my students made the most growth in reading across our school, and one of my students made the most growth in math across the school!  Way to go!  My school operates under a School Improvement Grant (SIG), and in order for instructional staff members to be rehired for the next school year, 65% of our students must show learning gains in reading or math.  Luckily, my students achieved more than 65%, and I was asked to come back to the school for the 2012-2013 school year.

The summer of 2012 was full of change!  First of all, I agreed to move from fourth to third grade to help provide stability to the grade level as we went through several staff changes in the 2011-2012 school year.  One teacher moved to a school closer to her home in October, one teacher resigned in January, the teacher that replaced her just decided never to come back in March, and another teacher took a position in the private child care center sector in May.  Needless to say, it was quite an upheaval!  I began the summer by moving all of my classroom belongings across campus to set up my new room.  I was excited about the change because I had always wanted to teach third, and I was joining two great teachers who I knew I would make great changes with.

After moving my classroom belongings to my new room, I set out to lead the third grade summer reading camp for students that scored level one on the FCAT reading assessment.  I led a staff of nine teachers, one para educator, an AmeriCorp volunteer, and a summer clerk.  We worked together for eight weeks providing breakfast, lunch, instruction, and enrichment from 8:00 A.M. to 2:30 P.M.  It was a wonderful experience that led to new friendships, immense learning opportunities, and a nice additional paycheck during the summer.

On the last day of summer camp, after the staff went home, I received a call from my senior director of elementary education telling me that my principal had been asked to move to a middle school in another town to help guide the school back from a "D" letter grade to higher achievement.  I was told that my current assistant principal was being moved into the principal's position.  She then asked if I would be interested in being the next assistant principal of my school.  What?  Wait.  Pinch me.  You seriously just asked me if I wanted to fulfill my lifelong dream?  Tears streamed down my face, and as I tried to regain my composure, I thought of my dear grandmother, "Nanny", and I knew she she must have had something to do with this.  She always said that I would "do it" one day, and I knew in this moment, she was smiling down at me from Heaven.

After accepting the position, I was told that it would be considered "acting" because there was no time to advertise for the job, interview candidates, and select a new AP.  That would all have to be completed at a later date.  I had two days vacation between the end of summer reading camp and my new position as Acting Assistant Principal of Oscar J. Pope Elementary School.  Despite knowing that I could be moved back to the classroom at any time due to the "acting" status, I met with my new principal and we set forth our plan for continuing to increase student achievement at OJP.

With all of that being said, I've been able to spread my knowledge and excitement about Whole Brain Teaching across the entire campus.  When I enter a classroom, I gain students' attention by calling out class to which they respond yes!  Several teachers utilize the WBT method of classroom procedures, management, and instruction.  During a recent visit to another school, I observed a teacher as part of my certification process for the new teacher evaluation system.  Although the teacher's classroom was decorated nicely and was welcoming, I felt her overuse of the WBT system impeded the students' learning.  When I meet with my teachers about WBT, we talk about finding that correct balance of instruction with WBT.

So, that is how my life has dramatically changed since my last post.  I continue to learn new things in my position that they never teach when obtaining your Educational Leadership degree.  Luckily, my school district has set up a new assistant principal mentoring and professional development program that allows veteran AP's a chance to work with new AP's.  It's a great system of support which is so desperately needed these days.

Here's to continued learnings and journeys!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Long Time, No Post...Great News.

Whole Brain Teaching continues to work wonders for me in the classroom and in my decision to further my professional career towards administration.

First of all, I have been selected as Lead Teacher of a new extended learning program headed by Catapult Learning.  My school district is utilizing this program to help struggling second and third graders reach their literacy potential.  I will lead a group of teachers and students in the program which will be held on Saturdays from 8 A.M. to 12 P.M.  At this time, we are headed towards fifteen weeks of Saturday instruction.  Not only will this program allow for me to show that I am capable of leading others, I feel this is an opportunity for those outside of the school district to take notice that I am serious about my profession.

I am excited about sharing my WBT techniques with the teachers I will lead in this program.  I feel that if all teachers will be open to the techniques and maybe watch the techniques in action with a trusted colleague, more teachers will be open to trying the WBT techniques. 

In other great news, our district is instituting a new teacher evaluation system with Cambridge which requires principals to become certified in the system before evaluating teachers.  My principal asked if I would be interested in having a visiting principal and representative from Cambridge observe my teaching abilities for a forty-five minute period.  Of course, I said yes!  I met the visiting principal and representative for a fifteen minute preobservation conference to discuss what the lesson would deliver to students.  When I returned to my class, Mrs. Green, one of our school's WONDERFUL para educators, remarked that my students were absolutely fabulous.  She said that everyone followed expectations and that is was a joy to be in my classroom.  Mrs. Green has been a para educator at OJP since I was a first grader there!  To hear those words from a trusted and beloved friend and colleague made me one proud teacher!

At 9:30, my guests arrived and began observing my classroom.  My students and I were wrapping up a "Rules of Divisibility" flip book that they can glue into their math journal for use throughout the year.  Any teacher can tell you that remembering all of the rules of divisibility is difficult for adults let alone fourth graders.  Although my lesson was heavy on lecture, I was able to employ the WBT techniques to provide an effective lesson delivery.  After each rule (divisible by 6, 7, etc.), we would "Teach! Okay!".  I used the Kagan strategy "Mix-Pair-Share" to get students moving to keep the oxygen flowing.  I also used gestures to help students remain positive during the lesson.  My students love the gestures - partly because their teacher looks goofy and because they can be just as goofy while still learning!

Later that day, Mrs. Green returned to provide coverage so that I could attend my post-observation conference.  The visiting principal stated that she really enjoyed the WBT techniques I utilize in the classroom.  Under our new evaluation system, teacher are rated from highly effective to effective and so on.  I have been told that it is very difficult to earn "highly effective" marks, and that you pretty much have to be "super teacher" to earn those marks.  We discussed three domains that appaer on the new evaluation system.  I would have received two highly effectives - one area being classroom management!  I owe this all to WBT and my students' response to the program.  In the area of lesson delivery, I would have received "effective" as we both noted that my lesson was heavy on lecture.  We discussed techniques to possibly break up the lesson and provide for more student interaction.  However, she did make it a point to tell me that she understood why there was so much lecture and that she enjoyed the divisibility flip book we created.  All students were "engaged" which, to the teacher, is like winning the lottery!  Engagement is KEY!

In WBT news, I have implemented the practice cards as the next step in my classroom management strategy.  For the first few days, I feel I focused more on the practice cards and less on the scoreboard.  Trust me, my students noticed they had not earned as many points as in the past.  In my use of the practice cards, I have also begun documenting the date I have students pull cards when expectations are not met.  This allows me to use the cards not only with my students but with parents in conferences.  I have always felt that the "personal development" portion of our district's report cards has been 100% subjective.  The practice cards are now the only method that I use to grade students in personal development.  There is no argument with the data in front of students and/or parents.  I am not the "bad cop" writing the ticket.  I am the teacher providing raw data to prove a point.  Students pulled cards quite frequently at the beginning, but as we move into the fourth week of using practice cards, the cards are rarely pulled and the scoreboard has reemerged as the key to our behavior success!

The teacher I mentored in September keeps in touch from her new school.  She e-mailed last week to tell me that her students AND administrators love the WBT techniques she learned and uses in her classroom.  Her second grade students especially love the "Oh yeah!" technique.  I think all children love making noise in the classroom, and with "Oh yeah!" the noise is welcomed by the teacher as well!

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Spreading the Message of WBT

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity for a new teacher, Rachel Summers, to observe my classroom procedures.  Shortly thereafter, Rachel was hired to teach second grade at the elementary school down the road from my school.  As a new teacher, Rachel was required to attend the district TIPS program which helps new teachers acclimate to the demands of teaching including state and federal mandates, differentiated accountability, Learning Focused Solutions, classroom management, and so on.  I received an CC E-mail from Rachel this week to her TIPS trainer thanking her for the great program.  What blew me away was the fact that she shared the WBT techniques I shared with her, and the district trainer loved the program!  Soon after that E-mail, the district trainer E-mailed me herself to thank me for using such great ideas in the classroom with my students.  I told her about the WBT Web site, and I shared how much I have enjoyed using the program these past few years.

I have also been asked by other teachers that I currently work with and have worked with in the past about the program.  In spreading the message about WBT, I feel I am helping these teachers and their students make a significantly positive change.  I love the fact that I can share the program because of how fun it is for teachers AND students.  Many of the ideas in the program support the initiatives we currently have in Polk County, Florida public schools.  When visitors come to my classroom, they see WBT teaching in action all day, every day.  My students are engaged, having fun, and taking their learning to higher levels.

For those of you reading the blog that teach inferencing, my students and I created a new gesture to help with this concept.  We all know that inferencing takes what we read and what we already know.  Our gesture goes like this:

1.  Place your hands together as if you are reading a book.  Then, say "First we read..."
2.  Manipulate the arms to form a giant plus (addition) sign.  Then, say "Plus..."
3.  Tap your hands on your temples.  Then say, "What I already know..."
4.  Manipulate the arms to form a giant equals sign.  Then, say "Equals..."
5.  Place one finger on the mouth and look skyward as if thinking.  Then say, "Inferencing!"

At first, I thought this might have been a goofy way to remember the skill.  However, all day Thursday, the students could restate the gesture on demand with little or no problems.  On Friday, one of the Mind Soccer questions was to show me the gestures for and state the steps of inferencing.  I was so very pleased that the students were able to remember.  This gesture will help students as they begin the inferencing foldable and graphic organizer will begin next week!

This week, I began my Aspiring Leaders Program with Polk County Schools.  This program is a year long professional development course which prepares those with a Masters degree in Educational Leadership or Supervision to begin the process of applying for administrative jobs in the district.  I know that this will be a long but worthwhile road.  In my plan of success, I know that I will earn an administrative job one day which will allow me to further the WBT program.  I want my teachers to use WBT, and I definitely know that I will use WBT in my professional development sessions that I get to deliver this year and in the future!

I am, by no means, the world's greatest teacher.  However, I strive to live up to that level of professionalism each day.  WBT is helping me do just that!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

A Week of Visitations!

This has been THE week for visitations in my classroom!

To start, my "procedures" were mentioned in the weekly staff "Leadership Blast" newsletter.  I do believe the word "impeccable" was used to describe my classroom procedures!  It's all because of Whole Brain Teaching!

Last week, my principal asked me if I would volunteer to have principals visit my classroom to practice using the new teacher evaluation tool that our district is implementing this year.  Of course, I jumped at the chance to expand my abilities and possibly make new professional contacts.  This Tuesday morning, five principals were in my classroom observing my teaching abilities and checking my student learning maps, word wall, and classroom procedures.  The visiting principals were not allowed to tell me or my principal what they wrote on the observations, but I have a feeling that the observation went very well!

On Wednesday, visitors from the Florida Department of Education in Tallahassee came to the school to continue their assistance in implementing curriculum changes.  At one time, I had five visitors in my classroom.  Again, my procedures, classroom management, and teaching abilities were observed. 

Today, our Superintendent of Schools, Dr. Sherrie Nickell, came to visit!  I have never had the opportunity to meet our Superintendent, but I must say that it was meant for me to meet her today in this school with this group of students.  Dr. Nickell and my principal, Mrs. Gordon, observed my utilizing Whole Brain Teaching methods including classroom expectations and gestures.  My hands were covered in chalk as I keep the scoreboard on my chalkboard.  I did not want to shake her hand for fear of getting chalk on her!  She remarked that ALL of my students were on task and engaged in the learning taking place.  What a compliment!  We discussed my joining the Aspiring Leaders program this year, and she wished me well!

I jokingly posted on Facebook that I assume my next visitor will be President Obama!  Wouldn't that be a wonderful way to end such a positive week?  Well, either that, or the pizza party my students earned for their compliment chain reaching from the ceiling to the floor in only 14 days of school?  Way to go ladies and gentlemen!

Friday, August 26, 2011

A Week of Whole Brain Teaching

Today marks the final day of the first week of the 2011 - 2012 school year for me.  I have to say that using Mind Soccer as a reward was something the students enjoyed, but I am going to reread the manual as I feel I left something out.  To me, it was not as exciting as I imagined.  Maybe my students were tired after just coming in from P.E. and it was 90+ degrees with 80+ percent humidity!  Maybe it was my "thoughts" getting in the way.  Either way, I am going to reread and redo.  I have also learned that due to time constraints, I will use Mind Soccer during reading or math instruction and not as an end of the day reward.  With our reading program, Action 100, requiring the final 30 minutes of the day, there will be no room for Mind Soccer during this time.  Speaking of Action 100, we kick off the program September 1.  I plan to incorporate the requirements of the program with my WBT Fab Five as a way to encourage my students to read, read, read...while following expectations!

I have been a bit "soft" this week in awarding points on the scoreboard for even the simplest of tasks.  However, I have stayed well within the + or - 3 rule.  Next week, I am going to ease back on the points and really go for what I know will make me the happiest - not just awarding points for students doing the simple things.  After practicing our fabulous five expectations all week, I think my students have them memorized and ready to recall.  I will, however, use their Bellwork time on Monday morning to refresh their memories with a quick review of expectations.  This afternoon's dismissal was a bit hairy with too much noise for my liking, so I plan to review dismissal on Monday with reinforcing "fab five" expectations and signs.

This Tuesday, the Action 100 reading representative came to my room with the entire leadership team to help me level my students in preparation for next week's big program launch.  I had the opportunity to utilize the WBT methods in front of the team and expose them to what a great program this is.  They were so impressed with the quick response of the students to "Class!  Yes!" and "Hands and Eyes" that I received a new teacher all day on Thursday to observe my policies, procedures, and management.  She is a recent career-changer...once a paralegal, now a teacher who chooses public schools over private and/or charter schools.  She says she knows this is where she is meant to be because she is making a difference in the lives of children that need it so desperately.  Amen sister!  On another positive note, today during lunch, one of our newest teacher aides (para educators), stopped me to say that she loves coming to my class the most because it's so energetic and fun for the kids.  SCORE!

Next week, I will begin my literacy stations during small group instructional time.  I will have an ESOL para educator with me for the first thirty minutes of instruction.  I will not pull small groups this week as I want to establish my expectations for literacy stations and promote positive choices made by students during this time.  It is my hope that I will run a small group for each of my students daily along with a small group with the ESOL para.  One can dream, right?

Monday, August 22, 2011

The First Day of School!

Today is the first day of school!

I began the day by starting off with our Fabulous Five Expectations!  I posted the expectations on the chalkboard and reviewed the expectations on the SMARTBoard.  The students absolutely loved the gestures that correlate with the expectation.  I think their favorite part of the Whole Brain Teaching program is "Class!  YES!" and "Teach!  Okay!". 

After introducing the expectations and reviewing the expectations using "Teach!  Okay!" we played a game from the Kagan program called "Numbered Heads Together".  Using the program, I was able to have the students practice think time, writing their own answer, working with their team mates to reach a consensus, and then teaching me the expectation when called on! 

I also used the "1, 2, 3" system to get students ready to transition to our school tour, leaving the lunchroom, and going to special classes.  When I call "1", the students know to get ready.  "2" means stand up, push in your chair, and put your hands on the back of your chair.  "3" means to line up in number order.  At first, it took some reteaching and explicit modeling of what I wanted to take place, but by midday, the students were in sync with the procedure and my expectations.

At the end of the day, we began leveling ourselves in the Action 100 reading program.  I am a bit concerned that my students did not take the leveling seriously as many of the students leveled themselves at the top level.  I hope I am wrong!  Luckily, I will have help tomorrow from the fifth grade teachers and leadership team in determining the correct level in the reading program.  I assigned homework, reviewed the homework points system, and dismissed my students.  As Harry Wong says, "I dismiss you, not the bell."  It was a great way to end the first day!  I cannot wait for tomorrow!

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Whole Brain Teaching at Oscar J. Pope Elementary School!

I will begin my sixth year of teaching and fourteenth year in the Polk County public schools at the school I attended from Kindergarten to sixth grade, Oscar J. Pope Elementary School.  I worked at this school for the 1997-98 school year as a para educator in the Emotionally Handicapped 3-5 classroom.  In 2000, I returned as the terminal operator where I remained until 2006 when I earned my Bachelor's of Science degree and began teaching.

Oscar J. Pope Elementary is a unique school in that it provides services to students in regular and exceptional education programs.  The student population generally remains under 500, and 91% of students receive free or reduced price meals.  Three years ago, Oscar J. Pope Elementary received an "F" from the Florida Department of Education after many years of consistently achieving an "A" or "B".  For the past two years, Oscar J. Pope Elementary has earned a "B" from the Florida Department of Education.  Oscar J. Pope Elementary implements the Positive Behavior Support program which I find aligns very well with the Whole Brain Teaching program and the teachings of Harry Wong.

I have used Whole Brain Teaching in my classroom for the past three years, and I look forward to another wonderful year with the program.  I am excited about introducing the program to my new colleagues and spreading the good news about the program.