Saturday, January 20, 2018

Boundaries - Getting a hold of your life


If you haven’t heard, teaching is rough.  I was talking to my classes about “white collar” vs “blue collar” jobs.  When they thought about the salary of a teacher vs the amount of education required and type of work we do, a curious student asked, “So you are a white collar job with a blue collar paycheck. Ms. Dizdar, that makes you… sky blue” I just about died laughing.
Why do we still do it, you may ask. Gosh darnit, we love our kids, community, and believe in what we do.
Additionally, I have seen, and have been, one of the many teachers up at school around 6:45 am or earlier who leave between 5:45 and 6:30 pm on any given day.  Oh yes people, we can put in as many as 12-14 hours per day!!!! My first few years teaching, I didn’t mind it.  Being single, fresh out of college, no bills (yet), I didn’t mind working long hours. I felt like I was giving back, making a difference, CHANGING THE WORLD!!!! And though it might have been true (or a slight stretch 🙂 ), the glory soon wore off.  I was left tired, burnt out, and just plain exhausted.  I wish I could tell you that I made an instantaneous change in my life style, buuuuttttt no. I stayed in this mess for about 4 years., mmm hmm 4 long years. Then I just decided there had to be a change in my life, so I set boundaries.
Let me say it a little slower for you wonderful perfectionist, exuberant overachiever, astounding workaholic types, which I completely identify with… B-O-U-N-D-A-R-I-E-S.
Let that beautiful word sink in.
If you had an adverse reaction to it, you are normal.  I read a book about these so called boundaries, and immediately through it across the room in anger. “But my kids need me” “I can’t do less work” “There’s too much to be done” “How can I possibly work less and still be prepared?”
Answer: Magic
No, there are not fairy godmothers, magicians, or any other brilliant sort of sorcery.  It’s just making little changes in our decisions. My 6 month thought process ended in this new schedule like kind of thing. I don’t want to just say schedule for all my perfectionist kin out there. It’s more of a “hold on loosely” plan.
Sooo here it is…
Monday – Me day!!!
I can do what ever I want. Pedicure? Sure! Run? Sure! Movies with friends, on a school night? Sure! It’s your day. Do whatever you want. Read a good book, window shop, get ice cream and take the longest bubble bath ever!!!! Take care of you.
Tuesday – Thought day
Remember that one news article you didn’t finish reading, that graduate program you have always thought about applying to, that self help book you know would improve your mind set, or that amazing book of poems you have been dying to read.  Tuesday is your day. Think about what ever you want.
Wednesday – Work Day
We are still teachers… There is still a stack of papers to grade.  Get your booty to it! Wednesday is for work.
Thursday – Oh hey friends
Go out with your favorite person, have a date night, play board games, go see a movie, trivia?!??! Remember when you were a human who liked to have fun.  Go get it!
Friday or Saturday
Give back.  Go see a sporting even at your school, plant some trees in your neighborhood park, work on a community garden.  Now that you have become human again you can give back.
Pray, meditate, church, brunch, sleep. Its your day to rest, relax, and rejuvenate.
I  hope this little, ehem, schedule can help you find balance in your life. You are an amazing individual, worthy of love, care and time, even from yourself.
With the new day comes new strength and new thoughts. - Eleanor Roosevelt

Friday, January 19, 2018

Mastery Connect = Personalized Learning

If you have not heard about Mastery Connect from a Super User (a fancy name for piloting teachers), you will soon. MC is a web-based assessment platform. I have been using it regularly since October, and I love it. It is user friendly, fun to implement and synchronized with your roster from Skyward. In my opinion, it is THE essential tool to provide personalized learning. Here are the two aspects of MC that sets it apart from other assessment systems and how it has changed my everyday practice:  

-Immediate data, immediate feedback: Using the special bubble sheets and my phone/computer camera, I scan and score assessments as soon as the student has finished working. I love the fact that students can see the questions missed right away, instead of waiting until next class. This also comes very handy when I want to create small groups and determine what each student needs to work on right after a pre-test, quiz, or exit ticket. 

-A mastery level based grade book: This is what I like the most about MC. Instead of percent grade, students scores are recorded as level of mastery for each TEKS. Mastery levels are set by the teacher and are color coded. In other words, students can easily determine which TEKS they have mastered, and which they need to work on. They can also track their progress in each TEKS over time.

There are other futures of MC (such as massive question/assessment bank, community resources, and curriculum mapping tools etc.) that I am looking forward to implementing more in second semester.

I agree that there are too many tools out there and not enough time to learn or implement all. But, give Mastery Connect a chance; it will not disappoint you.  

Mastery Connect bubble sheets, can also be printed with the student ID. I laminated them so that the students can bubble in with dry erase markers,  and use them all year long.

One of my classes aka tracker. This is an expanded view of TEKS 7.12B. I can see all assessments I have given in that TEKS and students' individual progress, mastery level etc. 

Da Van-Ci's Journal

"A conglomerate rock: A rock that is made of small rocks fused together such as granules, pebbles, cobbles and gravel."


I have always felt teaching to be a gamble between winding up in a partnership with others that is isolating or collaborative. I am lucky that the cards dealt me the best partner on campus to collaborate with. We have a running joke, "This time you be the brain and I will be the hand." This phrase sums up how we take turns supporting each other's ideas into fruition. The 'brain' is the thinker while the hand assists in building the thinkers vision. Despite our desire to work with others, it is rare that we have the opportunity to observe in person(locally and globally) how other teams construct and plan lessons, as well as observe how lessons are implemented in other classrooms. Today another Vanguard teacher said, "There is no reason why we aren't collaborating across campuses." (I was listening A.R.😊). I have no profound response other than another question, "Why aren't we??"

Luckily, we do have the opportunity to see the pedagogy of others thanks to online platforms such as blogging and social media. In fact, one of my favorite things to do on a late evening coffee binge is read (Eric Jensen), listen (podcasts), creep on Twitter (Catlin Tucker everything) to see what other teachers are doing in their classrooms. On the flip side social media can also be overwhelming. One second you're reading about #SBVanguard and the next you've fallen down the rabbit hole and are scrolling through glazed posts about #DonutFriday. 

Managing mass amounts of information can be daunting.

In fact. If you could peek into my mind you would rarely find one complete thought, but rather many bits of information and ideas floating around. The little bits of information are phrases that I heard or read that were inspirational, though provoking or made me think. These little bits of information either wind up written in a journal that I keep in my bag or they play in my head over and over. They are like little pebbles in my mind sitting as a "save for later" until I am able to mold them into something whole. 

Here are few pieces:

"There are two kinds of people: consumers and creators. Be a creator."-A teacher who was a mentor to me my first two years of teaching would always preach that students needed to be doing not consuming. 

I went to pick my daughter up from daycare when a child next to her complained to their teacher, "I'M BORED!" To that the teacher replied, "There is no such thing as being bored..." then she turned to me to finish, " mother ALWAYS told me that being bored is for unintelligent people~ at any time you can observe, create and make!!"  I'm still processing this, which probably explains why it is still stuck in my head. I'm hung up on the word choice of "unintelligent" due to the shock value, but does she have a point? Are kids trained to be entertained, should some of the burden of creating be put back on them? What's a good balance?

"What amazes you?" This question came from an icebreaker game today. It was one of the rare occasions in my life I actually had a quick, concrete answer. I have always been amazed by the technology and artwork of ancient civilizations. How did they learn to calculate astronomy, build pyramids, cast sculptures, and travel across oceans? The ability of the human mind to use natural resources to build what we take for granted today-- with out a smart device is amazing.

The Conglomerate Rock:
I started writing this post in a room surround by Vanguard Veterans as a newly inducted Cohort III member. It definitely is a day in my career as a teacher that I will not forget. WOW! There are so many things to look forward too: learning, launching and leading!

I am so very humbled to be a small pebble among this fellowship of people and ideas. I cannot wait to see how all of these small stones are glued together.
While using itsLearning in my first grade classroom has had its share of challenges, it's also been infinitely rewarding in supporting my students to become more self-directed and empowered learners. One challenge I found that really plagued my littles was none other than their memory...or occasional lapses in memory. In planning & rolling out new itsLearning content, I've often found myself saying something that sounds like this to my students, "So, when you go to (insert station) you're going to (insert content consumption like, read a book on Epic) and then do (insert assignment over a topic they may have learned a day or week or possibly month ago)." Generally, these directions are met with the sounds of crickets, quite a few empty and/or confused faces and a brave hand of a student who says something like..."I forgot what (insert a topic I thought we had covered in-depth) is..." Now, imagine me, standing there in front of 20 6 & 7 year olds while mentally coaxing myself out of a meltdown in my head and you get my inspiration for this post. Always one to take a challenge head-on, I was determined to find a way to make spiraling content less frustrating for both my students and I using itsLearning. So, boom, there it was, a bright idea that should've come to me eons ago but, instead, took an afternoon of 290 traffic to hit me. What about if I use my new-found love for screencasting to make minilessons for my kiddos that they can refer to whenever their memories lapse or maybe they just need to hear new content a few times?! Then, I can put my picture all over their itsLearning pages so everytime they need a minilesson from Ms. Roberts...I'll be there for them! Boom. #Cloned

Flexible Seating and Choice

I started bringing in some flexible seating options last year in my 2nd grade classroom. The students enjoy sitting on the floor using pillows and especially bouncing on exercise balls. This year, I added lowered desks and a standing table (which my students prefer to use stools at this year). I also added choice. Each morning students choose where they want to sit for that day and their only rule is to choose a spot where you can do your best learning. It has taken some time and some guidance but students are able to choose a spot (floor or desk) where they can do their best learning. I love hearing the students ask each other "Are you sure that's the best learning spot for you?" There have been many ups and downs but I truly love how my students have taken ownership and are making choices that will help them be successful!

Setting Sail

Last year in my 7th grade ELA classroom, my partner teacher and I started to utilize both of our rooms for different types of learning: collaborative and independent.  Students were able to schedule their time on what we called their plan.Throughout their plan, they schedule their mini-lesson, their independent reading, and then their choice of reading or writing activities.  One of the earliest iterations looked like this:

This year, we added a team member to form Humanities (reading, writing, and social studies.)  The addition of another team member meant the addition of another room.  We have The Seminar (mini-lessons), The Forum (collaborative work), and The Library (independent work.)  Our plans, of course, changed again:

To some, the plan was a beautiful thing: necessary and helpful.  To others, the plan was a burden: inconvenient and cumbersome.  My team and I tried to weigh the reasons why students would not want to utilize this indispensable tool that we had given our students! So, we took a survey.  The overwhelming response was that, for some, the plan was too well...overwhelming.

So that brings us to Setting Sail into Spring.  We decided to adopt a bit of a nautical theme and make differentiated plans.

The Sailor (stay the course) - Given what you need to do that day, but you choose the order

The Navigator (find your path) - Given some options plus optional extension activities

The Explorer (broaden your horizons) - ALL OF THE THINGS and then pursue a passion project when you complete the plan.

We are now in Week 2 of our new plans, and I feel we have been able to catch those reluctant and resentful planners. Our next iteration? How to take it digital.

Vanguard Year 1: Hopes, Fears and Aspirations

I am so excited to be beginning this journey as a Vanguard fellow.  This will be my first year so I find myself like a kindergarten student on the first day of school-excited, nervous, and emotional. 

Excited because this is something brand new!  I will be learning so much.  I will be learning about new tools, learning how to utilize tools I already have to leverage student learning.  I will be pushing myself and that excites me.  I am excited because I will be meeting new people, learning from them and with them.  People who have already walked these first steps, who have invaluable advice and also, individuals who are just as wide eyed and bushy tailed as I am. 

I am also feeling nervous, much like that little 5 year old walking through those huge doors at the front of the classroom, walking down that long hallway to my new classroom, lots of people hurrying by going to where they  need to be.  Walking through that classroom door, wide eyed and not knowing what to expect.  Will my teachers be "nice".  Will they be patient with me?  Will I make new friends?  Will I learn everything I need to learn?  Will I be successful?  What if I fail?  What if I can't do it?  I will be pushing myself but that push, though exciting can also be very stressful. 

Finally, I am feeling a whole whirlwind of emotions as we embark on this journey together.  This is what will be best for our students.  What I learn as part of the cohort I will be taking back and utilizing with my kids.  I may have some ideas that I think are brilliant, but then will fall flat on my face.  On the flip side, I will have some instances where I will have huge ah-ha's with my kids.  I hope that teachers will see what is happening and be less "scared" and try new things with their students.  I just know what we will be working on is what is best for our kids and that makes me very emotional.  We have students who struggle-a lot.  We have students who find learning to be a breeze for them.  I know that being a part of this cohort will help me fine tune my craft to reach each and every one of them.  I will be able to open doors for them that may never have been opened if I had not participated in this opportunity and that makes me emotional.

As a Multi Classroom Leader, I do not have just one learning space.  I work with so many students and have such a great reach.  I have many goals for myself (I'm a pusher-I push myself all the time) and one of my first goals is to create lessons and learning experiences for 2nd grade students in itslearning where they will go to learn content at their own pace.  I started doing this this year with my grade level.  The students set learning goals for themselves.   Based on these goals, students will get on itslearning and get their assignments done.  As they work, they have journals and they write their learning goal and any notes that they take as they work (including definitions, in their own words).  A struggle I had with this was-students a)had no idea how to log in to the computers.  I had to work around that problem.  I printed Clever Badges for the students and taught them how to log in to itslearning that way.  I also printed off stickers with their username, email and passwords that they stuck in their workstation folders so they would not have as many issues logging in.  I noticed that I couldn't just show the students something and say, "off you go".  I fell on my face with that one
I had to go back to the drawing board!  I knew that I wanted students to be responsible for their own learning but how could I scaffold it to be easy for second graders to learn HOW to take charge of their own learning.  I decided that the best way was to provide plenty of support up front.  I modeled how to log into itslearning with my group of advanced learners.  They each had their device, their notebooks and I walked them through it step by step.  We worked together.  The experience was much better.  Another problem I have run into is time-I don't have any time now with testing.  MAP testing, mid year reading assessments, benchmark testing, and then TELPAS coming in February.  It is very difficult because my students are still at a level that they need me-a lot.  I am considering waiting to really get in this deeply with them after TELPAS testing is over.  I don't know.  Just one of the questions I keep asking myself-how and when.