Finding My Tribe – Building Community {#FlipClass Flashblog}


I’ve never met a stranger.  In my younger years, I was the student that got moved multiple times, because I’d talk to WHOMEVER was beside me.  As I’ve grown older – that has never changed.  As many times as I’ve arrived at a new place and said, “I’m just going to sit here and listen….” it never works.  If I feel strongly about something – you’re going to hear about it.

Maybe that’s why in my 17 years of teaching, I’ve always been able to “find my tribe” – educators who have the same mindset as I do.  Educators who are passionate about teaching and learning and kids and having fun.  Because that’s the best part about teaching, IMO, the fun we have on an HOURLY basis.

I mean, who else is going to believe the crazy things that happen?  Who else is going to be the shoulder you cry on?  Who else is going to give you that amazing idea that you’ll use in your classroom tomorrow?

Closing ourselves off in our classrooms closes us off to learning new and creative strategies.  It hinders us from learning and growing; it starves relationships.

Now, because of the internet and being a connected educator means that your tribe can be next door or across the country!  How amazing is it that I’ve found so many another people who love teaching and children and learning as much as I do?  It still blows my mind when I send out a tweet – AND GET AN IMMEDIATE RESPONSE!  And I can’t help but think – if there is someone is every part of the world that loves teaching and children and learning as much as we do where I am; there’s NO WAY we can’t change the world!

Don’t you agree?

Until the next time,


A Lesson Worth Remembering {#EdSlowChat – June 14}

This week’s #EDSlowChat question of the week is:  “What is a personal profound/meaningful learning experience from this last school year? I would have to say that I have learned that a little “positiveness” goes a long way!  I guess I wouldn’t say that it’s newly acquired knowledge; but through gamification, Class Dojo, and Social Media, I was able to put a shine on my students’ hard work that made a huge transformation in my classroom.  

This year I decided to gamify my classroom.  Using Class Dojo (@classdojo) and materials created by Chris Aviles (@TechedUpTeacher), I found an awesome combination!  Creating a leaderboard and allowing students to check it regularly created quite the competitiveness in my classroom.  I used combination of grades and dojo points to make up the leaderboard, so it forced students to work hard in both academics and behavior expectations.

Screen Shot 2015-06-15 at 3.02.14 AM

Classroom Leaderboard

I also used Class Dojo Messenger to send immediate pics to parents showing their child at work.  What I’ve always known is that if a parent believes that you care for their child and that you are a fair minded person – when it’s time to make a tough call; they’re much more receptive. I got so excited when a parent responded it immediately – mostly with a positive message for their child.  When I showed the kid the note….they would GRIIIIIN… hard! *I hope you could hear my southern dialect in that word. 🙂IMG_4129

Facebook and Instagram became a place to highlight great student work.  This year, I created the A Club.  Students who made an A on an assessment got to be in a group photo that I shared on Facebook and Instagram.  Once students saw themselves (or their peers!) on those social media site, it made them work that much harder to ensure they were in the next picture.


I also implemented an 85% AR Club.  Students who passed a minimum of 1 fiction and 1 nonfiction tests per month with an 85% average or better were treated to something every month.  My principal paid for subs, pizza, and ice cream for those students.  I didn’t initiate this incentive until February – and every month the number of awardees DOUBLED!

It’s funny how you can know something to be right….but just somehow not do it.  And although I’m transiting to a new position and will no longer be in the classroom, these are still things that I can do with the teachers that I’ll be working with.  Make it fun….make it competitive….make it positive!  

Until the next time,


Changing MY Mindset!


Today is Day 2 of the South Carolina Midlands Summit.  I had an amazing time presenting on yesterday – I always do.  But as I left yesterday, I thought….I might not come back.  Not because the conferences isn’t awesome….it TOTALLY IS.  But because I realized this morning that I had the wrong mindset.

Credit:  SC Midlands Summit

Credit: SC Midlands Summit

Before I talk about me, I definitely want to rave about this conference that is hosted yearly by the Richland 2 school district.  With over 135 presenters/sessions….almost anything in the tech world that you want to know about; will be shared here.  From Blendspace to Formative Assessments to using Boards through Discovery Education to using Google Maps to create an educational interactive Amazing Race…this conference is AMAZING!  It is well designed and since Richland 2 is a GAFE district it can answer questions to all things Google!

Here’s what was wrong with MY THINKING: Yesterday I approached the conference as a teacher concerned about myself.  I looked at sessions and dismissed them because I didn’t see how they would be beneficial to me as a teacher.  And then I realized……I’M NOT A TEACHER ANYMORE!  I’m going to be working with ALL teachers (not just ELA teachers or middle school teachers) and even administrators.  I’m going to need to increase my skill set so that I can better serve the teachers and administrators in our district.

So this morning, I got up and got ready to make that drive back to Columbia today.  I woke up with a different mindset – the mindset that I will need to have in order to transform thinking and learning in my district.

This new job….my dream job….is going to be a huge undertaking.  But I’m up for the challenge!

Until the next time,


South Carolina Midlands Summit 2015

Today I’m presenting at the South Carolina Midlands Summit and I’m so excited!  I always learn so much at this conference, so I hope that I’m able to return the favor to my teacher peers.

In celebration of this awesome conference, I’m hosting a giveaway for my presentation attendees! Four attendees will receive a Amazon Gift Card.

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Continuing to Grow…


Tonight’s #flipclass #flashblog focuses on reflecting on successes and failures for the year.  What will you change for next year? What worked this year, & what didn’t? How can you turn failure into learning?

With this being my first FULL year of #flipclass I’ve definitely experienced many successes and failures.  I feel a lot more confident with how I’ve decided to flip my class and really how to begin!  When I started flipping at the end of last year, it went so well!  By the time I got to that point, my students knew how crazy I was and I could trust them to work well in groups without my supervision.  It’s amazing how much sixth graders grow and mature in just a short few months.

When I started this school year, I wanted to start the way I ended last year and my kiddos just weren’t ready.  They were still learning me and I them – so I didn’t have a good handle on who would work well together.  I floundered… SS partner (who was also flipping) talked a lot about how to adjust to something that worked for our kids.  I was SO frustrated those first few weeks!  But I learned…..I modified…and I adjusted.

My biggest change for this year will be to start the way I adjusted to…!  Also, I plan to put more thought into what projects the students will do throughout the year.  I’m really proud of the way that I decided to flip writing.  Writing is now ongoing instead of 3 weeks a quarter.  We have a reading and writing focus every week and video days are mostly on Mondays and Wednesdays. Writing Lessons include:  Perfect Planning, Developing Well Structured Paragraphs, Enhancing Content, and Putting on the Polish.  We just use a different prompt and type every month.  So every month, students have a finished writing piece.

I also want to incorporate more novels in my classroom. The students enjoyed the 4th quarter the most, because they loved our novel studies.  We read The Giver and they did a FABULOUS job!  They were so involved in the novel – they shared their love for it with everyone.


In failure, it forces me to be creative and think outside the box.  For struggling readers, English can be torture.  I want students to enjoy coming to my classroom even though it will be tough!  I’ll continue to revamp and adjust, because there’s always room to grow.  My kids deserve it!

Until the next time,




Just THINK….Doggone It!

Metacognition refers to awareness of one’s own knowledge—what one does and doesn’t know—and one’s ability to understand, control, and manipulate one’s cognitive processes (Meichenbaum, 1985).

Metacognition….I NEVER use that word with my kids.  But that doesn’t mean that the process is not encouraged.  In my classroom we talk about strengths and weaknesses, how I expect them to be responsible for their own learning, how I expect for them to be independent and critical readers and thinkers.

During class discussions students are encouraged to expound on their thinking.  When they turn and talk, you can hear words like “I think……because…..”. I think that is SO powerful!

We reflect often….what’s working….what’s not working.  What will help them become better….stronger.

But for me, they greatest joy is when we are able to have thoughtful  discussions about the text.  In the beginning – I pushed them.  And we fought….LITERALLY. Now, they push each other.  They discuss, debate, and develop their skills.  It hasn’t been an easy road, but it was well worth it.

I couldn’t be more prouder.

Until the next time,


The Struggle Is Real!


“The struggle is real.”  Lately that is the phrase that consumes me.  My principal is leaving.  Arguably the best principal I’ve ever met is leaving. Dealing with standardized testing and unmotivated kids.  My principal is leaving.  The overshadowing fear that next year I might just have to pack my things and move into a school that was designed 100 years ago for elementary kids.  Did I mention my principal is leaving?  I am definitely in a perpetual state of struggle.  And although I have faith that these things will work out – it still keeps me in a “tizzy” as my goddaughter says.  But, if we didn’t have to difficult with the difficulties in life, those “storm” – how would we appreciate it when the rainbow shows it’s beautiful self.  I know that this will pass and I’m thankful for the lesson I will learn as I’m going through it.

Today’s #flipclass #flashblog focuses on struggles in the classroom. So, I will pull my self out of this den of despair and share my thoughts on why, despite the fact that we despite it/them, struggles are a necessary part of life and therefore a necessary and integral part of my classroom.

I believe that children crave structure and discipline.  Despite their attempts the thwart and get over – they want to be in a safe and structured environment.  And despite their incessant whining – they appreciate being challenged.  The transition from elementary school to middle school is difficult.  No lie. But our kids grow up so much in these short few months.  I am so proud of so many of them.  They begin to take responsibility and ownership of their actions and their work.

On many of the creation projects they have, I don’t give a lot of direction.  I tell them to “figure it out” or say, “That’s a great question for Google!”  They do and they amaze, not only me, but themselves.

Sometimes I wonder how “the powers that be” decide upon what is appropriate grade level text.  Much of the text in our lit book is waaaaaay to hard for many of my students.  But they need the challenge, so I provide optional an audio version for them to use.

So they whine and complain….I laugh and ignore…..and support!  And when they succeed at something they thought they would NEVER be able to do – the grin on their faces makes my heart sing.  Because that’s what I live for…..their smiles.

Until the next time,


Is It Because We Call It Homework?

Homework – that dreaded word….. Is it important?  Is it useless?  I’ve always felt that homework was an integral part of the a child’s education.  I still do.  After seeing this article published by Edutopia (Homework vs. No Homework Is The Wrong Question), I’ve grown ever more confident of my opinion.

When I was able to teach English for 90 minutes a day, I didn’t stress much over homework.  For me it’s always been some form of independent reading, reading comprehension practice, and vocabulary practice.  When I moved to a new school and I only had 60 minutes (if I’m lucky), I began to depend heavily on homework to make sure that we are able to cover everything.

I love how the author of the Edutopia article asks, “What do we believe should happen after the end of the school day to help ensure that students retain what they have learned and are primed to learn more?”  How many of us have seen the image below?

Credit: Nagy, W. E., R. C. Anderson, and P. A. Herman. 1987. Learning word meanings from context during normal reading. American Educational Research Journal 24: 237–70.


I just don’t have the minutes during my class time, so it becomes a staple of my homework.

My homework definitely varies.  In the beginning of the school year, students had two days of basal reading and two days of independent reading.  But, it was really difficult the next day in class when students hadn’t read the text! After a few weeks of seeing my students struggle with the reading, I began creating videos of the reading to assist them.  Most of my videos are done in class, and the homework is an extension of the concept.

About halfway through, I changed it up…..again!  Ss would read, listen to, or watch the text video in class on Monday (first read) and then they watch the “concept” video at home.  That worked a whole lot better, because they’d get a “second read” in class and then we could discuss it, because I knew EVERYONE had had at least one read.

With vocabulary I began alternating roots and affixes with vocabulary units that would help improve students written vocabulary (a way to improve the “voice” in their writing). The first few weeks, most of the kids were bombing the test!  So I began adding a vocabulary homework component – just a way for them to practice.  It helped…..scores drastically improved!

In addition to assigned homework, other activities are totally optional.  I just provide incentives for those students who complete them.  What they are able to come to terms with themselves is that if they take the initiative to do the work, they see an improvement in their grades which makes them more likely to continue to do them.

I do like this question that the author’s poses, “Maybe what we need is a new word for all this. Instead of “homework,” how about “continued learning” or “ongoing growth activities?”  I’m going to try it out next week (no homework this week because of standardized testing) and let you know how it goes!

Until the next time,



Innovative Classrooms

To look up innovate in the dictionary your find:  to introduce something new; make changes in anything established.  What does that look like in the classroom?  It can look like so many different things.  Technology is a great way to innovate the classroom, but it’s not the ONLY way.  I’ve been using technology for years to innovate my classroom.  Years ago, I was the first of the teachers in my school to allow students to use my classroom computer to create content.  Back in the late 90’s my students created PowerPoints to showcase research.  I created Jeopardy games that engaged my students.   I purchased computer software with my own money that would help students to deepen their learning.  And it worked! Students were excited about learning and it showed!

For me, the Flipped Classroom would definitely be considered innovation in my classroom.  In recent years, I have continued to use technology.  We had access to netbooks and my students were able blog and connect with other students.  We also used ActivExpression devices which allowed me keep all students engaged; but once I heard about the Flipped Classroom I felt that was the game changer for me.

Now students are actively engaged, but they do so at their own pace.  If they didn’t understand the information, they can always rewind the video or go back and review their materials without hindering another student.  This time of year, I get really proud because they have learned to be pretty much self-sufficient.  They spend the majority of their time figuring out their problems on their own; they don’t come to me until they’ve exhausted their own repertoire.  Plus it really frees up my time to work with students in small groups and on an individual basis.

Since there are only a few of us flipping in our district, I think that would be a great way to change instruction.  It’s definitely where I plan on starting!

Until the next time,



Planning – It’s in the Eye of the Beholder

I’m what you would call spontaneous.  I’m sure my ADHD has something to do with that.  I do my best thinking in the shower.  Because of this, my plans change constantly.  I make someone with OCD pull their hair out.  Luckily, I work with amazing people who accept me as I am – and kids who love to go with the flow!

When I first started teaching, I feverishly worked on lesson plans (because that’s what we’re taught to do, right?) but after I got my final evaluation as a new teacher – the lesson plans pretty much stopped.  When I started at my new school 5 years ago, I looked a my principal and said, “You know I haven’t done lesson plans since probably around 1999, right?”  He thought I was joking – I wasn’t.  Those first few years were rough.  I would get glowing observations from admin, but would constantly see the words, “It’s obvious you’ve planned your lesson, but where are your lesson plans?”

It’s not that I don’t always have a plan in place – but my plans are fluid.  If something doesn’t work right for my first class – there’s no way in the world I’m killing that dead horse three more times.  So I struggled…..with highlighting what I was doing in my classroom on this 2D sheet of paper.  I actually still do.

Flipping my classroom has helped with that; but I’ve still struggled.  When I started flipping my classroom, we were towards the end of the school year.  My kiddos were able to work well in unsupervised small groups, because they already knew how mean and crazy I was.  The DID NOT want the face “the wrath”.

How that looks at the beginning of the school year is completely different.  They don’t know me yet.  I don’t know them yet.  So I had to change the way I wanted my classroom to look.  With new standards and a new textbook that we were expected to use and I’ve had to change they way my classroom looks many, many times.

Some things remain consistent.  Making sure students have time to read independently, write through blogging, and practice skills that I know they’ll be assessed on.  For me, it’s also imperative that they have time to think critically and create based on their learning.  And I also need that time that I can work with small groups or students on an individual basis – this has helped me add another dimension to my relationship building.

The best thing that I could have done it put everything on the board for the kids.  Objective….check!  Step by step instructions…check!  No more do they ask me, “What’re we supposed to be doing?”  They look at the board and keep it moving – and that frees me up to work with kids without interruption AND helps me not to flip out on them.

These last few months have been difficult for me.  For the first time…..EVER!…..we’ve covered all the standards….super EARLY.  So I’ve had all this extra time that I want to make sure is used effectively.  It’s still trial and error but isn’t everything.  In this world, by the time you get the hang of something – it all changes again.

So if you ask me is planning necessary, you’ll hear a resounding “Yes!”  But what that looks like to me may not be what you think.  What I’ve come to realize is that what the kids have to follow is much more important than anything any adult that comes into my classroom has to follow.  And if they have a questions….hey…..ask a kid.

Until the next time,