Sunday, October 22, 2006


Black Bears are Blogging!

Well, I finally did it! After having my blogging policy blogged about from here to Canada and lots of places in between, I finally passed it out to my students and let them begin to blog! Here is the post from my class blog describing what we did.

Third period Pre-Algebra went to the computer lab on Friday and entered the world of Web 2.0 at school! They behaved beautifully, they stayed on-task, and they were enthusiastic about what we were doing. They followed the instructions in the post below and introduced themselves, played a brainteaser, and tried Equation Blasters to practice solving equations. Mrs. Wright’s students were also blogging that day, and she has already posted some more puzzles for us to solve. Students do not have to wait until we return to the computer lab to reply to the new posts. You can access the blog from home, and students who are not in 3rd period are welcome to participate as well. We have exciting things planned for the future, so stayed tuned!
I want to thank Crystal Wright, an AMSTI buddy of mine from years ago, for creating The Math Challenger Blog and inviting my students to participate. We teach in different school systems about 30 miles apart, and my students are really excited about interacting with her students.

At this point the students are simply commenting to her posts. She is approving all comments before they are posted to the web. I want to have my students begin scribing for my classes because I don't have time to keep up with it. I think what we are doing now is a good introduction to writing actual posts in the near future. I would love to hear suggestions from anyone who has tried something like this. I would like to offer some type of credit for leaving comments in a way that will encourage my students to become involved without inflating their grade disproportionately. Any ideas?

Wednesday, October 18, 2006


"The Essence of Expert Teaching"

I just read the most amazing thing. I am reading Integrating Differentiated Instructions and Understanding by Design by Carol Ann Tomlinson and Jay McTighe for a book study at my school. A passage jumped out at me tonight, and I had to get my thoughts out of my head and onto "paper" before I could continue reading. Here is what I read (emphasis mine)...

There is no such thing as the perfect lesson, the perfect day in school, or the perfect teacher. For teachers and students alike, the goal is not perfection but persistence in the pursuit of understanding important things.
I am such a perfectionist. When I look at all the mistakes I made just today, I feel like such a failure. I have said several times lately, "I am doing the best I can, and it is just not good enough." But I have the wrong goal, the wrong standard for success. I truly believe that I am doing the best I can, and it will have to be good enough, because I can't do any better today.

But wait, there's more...

Differentiated or responsive teaching really stems from and affirmative answer to three questions - and dogged determination to live out the answer in our classrooms a little better today than we did yesterday.
I think I might do better tomorrow. I am going to go to bed earlier tonight, and I know that will help. Here are the three questions:

1. Do we have the will and skill to accept responsibility for the diverse individuals we teach?
  • To develop positive ties with students to encourage their growth
  • To see their dreams and uncertainties
  • To study and respond to their cultures
  • To work with students to build positive learning communities
2. Do we have a vision of the power of high-quality learning to help young people build lives?
  • To know what really matters in a discipline
  • To ensure student understanding of what matters most
  • To discover what's relevant and compelling to individuals
  • To build student engagement in learning
3. Are we willing to do the work of building bridges of possibility between what we teach and the diverse learners we teach?
  • To seek out students' strengths and deficiencies
  • To create learning options for varied needs
  • To coach for success
  • To monitor individual growth against goals
That is the essence of expert teaching. It dignifies our work and our profession - even as it dignifies the students we teach.
Wait a minute...this wasn't what I was worrying about! I was feeling guilty because I was behind on writing students up for tardies, and I missed responding to a few emails, and I keep forgetting where I put things, and I forgot to put a date on my calendar, and I was a minute late to my duty station, and you can't hear a pin drop in my classroom most of the time, and I always lose my keys, and my students make noise coming back from lunch, and I have a lot of papers to grade, and my classroom is a mess. The little details are the hard things for me. The three questions...well, they are the reason I am teacher...they are who I am...they are my big rocks...according to the three questions...

...I'm not perfect, but I am doing alright.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006


Searching for Peace and Balance

St. Theresa's Prayer
May today there be peace within.
May you trust God that you are exactly where you are meant to be.
May you not forget the infinite possibilities that are born of faith.
May you use those gifts that you have received, and pass on the love that has been given to you.
May you be content knowing you are a child of God.
Let this presence settle into your bones, and allow your soul the freedom to sing, dance, praise and love. It is there for each and every one of us.

I received the prayer above in an email from a good friend today, and it really spoke to some frustrations I have been experiencing as I try to juggle all of my responsibilities at home and at school. I am not feeling peaceful nor content at the moment. I know that I am where God intended for me to be this year. I know that the students in my classroom are there for a reason. I have had job options other than the classroom recently, and I know that I am where I am supposed to be, but I don't like it very much at the moment.

Don't get me wrong... I love my students as individuals. I like talking to them between classes. I like listening to their conversations and finding out what is going on in their lives. This is the first group of students that I've taught that are younger than my oldest child, so I feel very motherly towards them. A couple of girls even call me "Momma" all the time. I get hugs all day long. I am seeing improvement in behavior and in learning. At progress report time I had 23 failing grades. Now I just have around 12, and that may improve by the end of the week. This is still quite a lot of F's for me compared to other years, but I think cutting the number of F's in half is a big step in the right direction.

What I don't like is this constant feeling that I am not doing enough. Enough for my students, enough for my family, enough for my church, enough for myself. Whenever I focus my efforts in one direction, something else equally important goes undone. I am tired of spending 10 hours a day at school; grabbing fast food on the way to some evening activity; overseeing homework, chores, baths, and bedtime at way too late an hour for little ones; and then starting on my undone projects like grading papers, responding to parent emails, talking on the phone to my husband, paying bills, laundry, reading (not for pleasure), straightening the house, lesson planning, etc. My relaxation is reading my email and bloglines and looking at the statcounter for my blog. I occasionally post something, but not very often.

I guess I am a classic over-achiever. I cannot do something halfway and feel okay with that. At the moment I feel like I am doing everything halfway (at best!), and it is stressing me out. I know that some of the goals I set for myself are very unreasonable. Part of the problem lies in the fact that the things I enjoy the most and the things I think are most important are some of the extras that I could actually give up. The things that I don't enjoy and that I would like to give up are the things that other people are expecting me to do. And worst of all, the things that nobody insists that I do and that I do manage to leave out (Bible study, exercise, reading with my older children, fixing nutritious meals, relaxing with my family) are the most important of all!

This was all on my mind the other night and I couldn't sleep. So I got up and tried to put my responsibilities down on paper. I first tried drawing a mind map. It was pretty confusing (even with color-coding), so next I tried a list. I had one full page of school-related responsibilities, and another full page of home responsibilities. The list made a little more sense to me, and I would like to share it here. My next step may be to put it in a spreadsheet because several of these items overlap. However, I will save that project for my next sleepless night.

* Source of stress
* Source of help

Alabama Course of Study
  • Teach all content objectives for mastery. Students will demonstrate mastery on the Alabama Reading and Mathematics Test in April. Our goal for this year is to have 90% of our regular ed. students perform at the proficient level.
  • Follow our school system's pacing guide. We will have progress monitoring tests (district-wide common assessments) each month.
International Baccalaurate Program
We are being considered for admission into this program. We will have a site visit this spring to determine if we are on the right path for implementation. If not, lots of money has been wasted!
  • Oversee Technology Integration in 7th grade. Each student must complete at least 50 hours of technology (that follows the IB MYP Design Cycle). In 7th grade this will be embedded in the core classes. I think I have to organize and document this. I need to find out what documentation is required and exactly what counts as technology and following the Design Cycle.
  • Plan and teach one (or two?) interdisciplinary unit(s) this year.
  • Incorporate the Areas of Interaction in as many lessons as possible. I need to put these words on my wall and teach them to my students.
Alabama Math, Science, and Technology Initiative
This one is not a source of stress for me. It helps me fulfilling other responsibilities.
  • Teach the three 7th grade units: Stretching and Shrinking, Data Around Us (interdisciplinary, writing and reading in math), and What Do You Expect (great probability unit that helps students prepare for the ARMT)
  • Use technology provided with the kit (graphing calculators, calculator based rangers-no problem...lots of fun, but I don't think they meet the requirements for the Design Cycle).
21st Century Schools Program - Fellow and School Team Member
Great source of ideas and inspiration!
A huge commitment of time!

  • Mentor two new beginning schools. This includes online work and one site visit per school.
  • Decide on a team project. I am thinking of an interdisciplinary, technology-based service project. The one I have in mind will take lots of work!
  • Lead the team project.
  • Grow as a leader through the Key Leaders Network and Powerful Conversations Meetings.
  • Participate in Tapped In.
Expectation for Teachers at My School
We are considered to be an excellent school, and there is tremendous pride in our work. We are constantly striving to be better, and personal growth is encouraged and expected.
We are considered to be an excellent school, and there is tremendous pressure to maintain high standards.
  • Participate fully in all of the above.
  • Differentiate instruction.
  • Remediate failing students.
  • Intervention based on last year's ARMT and this year's ThinkLink scores.
  • Contact parents frequently.
  • Keep behavior in check without involving the office unnecessarily. I have never had students like these before. They are challenging everything I know about being a good teacher. I am not sure that I can be myself and be effective with three of my classes. It is exhausting to try to be someone you are not. Before I can teach them very much mathematics, they are going to have to learn the following behaviors:
    • Enter the classroom calmly and immediately begin working
    • Listen to and follow directions
    • Cooperative learning in small groups
    • Participation in whole group discussions
    • Follow classroom procedures
  • Help prepare students for the 7th grade Writing Assessment by writing across the curriculum.
  • Integrate reading strategies across the curriculum.
  • Integrate technology as much as possible.
  • Document all of this activiy on lesson plans.
What can I give up? What is most important? What gives me the best sense of fulfilling my purpose in life?

I cannot work any harder than I do right now. I can truly say that I am giving everything my best. My best is not good enough. I pray that God uses my weaknesses to show His strength. He will do His part. What is my part? How can I work smarter?

Saturday, October 07, 2006


Books I am currently trying to read....

I was thinking about all of the books I am in the processing of reading at this time, and it is a little overwhelming! As a child I was an avid reader. My mother went to the beauty shop once a week to have her hair done, and I would walk across the street to the library while I waited. Each week I checked out three books, and I almost always finished them before the following hair appointment. I would not have imagined reading more than one book at a time or failing to finish a book I started, even if I didn't like it! Oh, how times have changed! Here, in no particular order, are the books I am currently reading:

The Power of a Praying Wife, by Stormie Omartian
With my husband away on active duty with the Army, I wanted an extra measure of help sent our way.

The Power of a Praying Parent, by Stormie Omartian
Raising children is the most difficult thing I have ever attempted.

Raising a G-Rated Family in an X-Rated World by Brent & Phelecia Hatch
I found this one tonight. It contains report cards in the back for kids to use to grade their parents.

Tools for Teaching, by Fred Jones
This book is incredible! I want to read it in one sitting, but there are so many great ideas that I need to read a little and try something before going on to something else. The things I want to work on now are making my instruction much more visual and creating opportunities for structured practice in my lessons. I think this book is even better than Harry Wong's The First Days of School, which is also an incredible book! I am having a very challenging year, and I need all the help with discipline and instruction that I can get!

I found Tools for Teaching when I did a search for Fred Jones' Postitive Classroom Discipline. This was recommended to me by Lonnie Jones. Positive Classroom Discipline is intended to be a college textbook, and Tools for Teaching is a revision written for teachers. Tools for Teachers is much easier reading. I may never even attempt to finish Positive Classroom Discipline because I like the other one so much better!

I am part of the Key Leaders Network of the Alabama Best Practices Center. We are meeting to discuss Learning By Doing, by Rick DuFour et al. It is a handbook for professional learning communities at work, and we have assigned chapters to read throughout the year.

My school is having a book study on Integrating Differentiating Instruction and Understanding by Design by Carol Ann Tomlinson and Jay McTighe. There is a website to accompany Understanding by Design that sounds great, but it costs $89 to login. Does anyone know if it is worth it?

I think I might possibly be the last teacher in the United States to read The Essential 55, by Ron Clark. I will have to admit that I finally broke down and bought it after seeing the movie starring Matthew Perry. The movie was one of the best teacher movies I have ever seen! I am enjoying reading the book, but it is also one that is best read a little at a time. I am almost done with it!

I have actually finished reading Reluctant Disciplinarian by Gary Rubenstein. It was enjoyable, but it wasn't life-changing. Basically it says to Be Consistent and Be Yourself. What if I am inherently inconsistent? I prefer to think of myself as flexible and adaptable!

The Fred Factor is a great little book by Mark Sanborn that talks about having passion for what you do. I don't know why I haven't finished it, because it is easy reading and very short!

I have two devotional books started. My Wednesday night Bible class is studying Lord, I Want to Know You, by Kay Arthur. We are looking at the different names for God that are found in the Bible. I really like the way it is set up. The other book, Beloved Disciple, by Beth Moore, is being studied by a group of teachers. I can't go to the meetings because I don't have anyone to keep my kids, but I wanted to study the book anyway. I thought about begging them to have it at my house, but I can't do that until soccer season is over.

I am eager to get started exploring The New Inductive Study Bible that I recently bought. I love all the charts just waiting to be filled out. However, I want to do it the "right" way, and I am hesitant to start writing in it.

Finally, when I want to relax, I pull out O'ekaki: Paint by Sudoku. These puzzles are hard to find, and I was thrilled to find an entire book of them!

I need to read something for pleasure soon. The problem with that is that I often can't put a good fiction book down! I think I should reward myself when I finish one of these books by reading something for fun!

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