Friday, December 30, 2016

Should I become Google Certified? Yes!: Reflecting on my Level 1 Experience

I have been putting off completing the Google Certified Educator training for a little while now. With two children and coaching, being able to set aside a sustained block of time is nearly impossible. Being on break afforded me a little extra time to squeeze in Level 1 and having a mother who is also an educator (and obsessed with her grandchildren) helped too. Meticulously responding to each question or task, it took me approximately one hour and twenty minutes to complete the test, which I thought was practical, informative, and a fair assessment of all aspects of Google Apps for Education (including Google Hangouts, Sheets, Sites, and Calendar - among the more commonly used Docs, Drive, and Forms).

For people apprehensive to completing the certification exam, I would say that you have no reason to be tentative. In fact, I would highly encourage this experience. Google allows three hours to take the test, which is more than enough time. I intentionally took the exam slowly - reading and rereading the instructions to ensure that I did not advance too quickly through questions, and I had over half the time to spare. Also, the questions and tasks Google asks are fair, logical, and ask the test taker to apply skills that are helpful to an educator in a variety of circumstances. Here are a few tips I recommend completing before taking the test.

1. Familiarize yourself with the tools and devices.

Before opening up the test, which cannot be paused once one has begun it, make sure you have used Google Classroom, Drive, Docs, Gmail, Calendar, Hangouts, Sheets, etc. The complete list of #GAFE can be accessed from the exam website. In the Level 1 course, no task is too complicated, but familiarity is key and can save a person time during the test.

2. Browse the fundamentals.

If you are a person who uses several GAFE frequently, this exam should be a breeze. On the other hand, if you are not, allow yourself the time to complete the training. Key concepts on the exam are outlined in the training module and include: Engage in Professional Growth and Leadership, Increase Efficiency and Save Time, and Facilitate and Inspire Student Learning and Creativity. These are important concepts and can definitely help improve workflow (especially the piece on efficiency and saving time).

3. Review the checklist.

This checklist was comprehensive and was a reference sheet I reviewed before completing the exam. Knowing what subjects might be addressed during the test gave me a boost of confidence and allowed me time to review Google Hangouts one last time before starting the three-hour timer.

4. Consult the ideas of others.

The ideas link on the Google Training website was interesting to explore. Looking at the Google Suit of a local elementary district reminded me why using GAFE is important and how much it can truly enhance the learning experience for students if correctly utilized. GAFE makes the walls of the classroom less concrete. Students can access resources anywhere and can provide them with the ability to take more control of their learning. While we are still needed to support and guide, technology can make students' reception of application of knowledge more thorough.

I was very impressed with the Google Certified Educator Level 1 exam. I thought it was reasonable and educational. While I do believe it was worth my time and reminded me of a few Apps that perhaps should be reviewed and discussed with students and colleagues, I wish that it did provide some feedback. I understand why Google would not want to show people incorrect answers on the multiple choice test, but perhaps there would be a way to say, "Brush up on this app" or "Take a look at this concept within GAFE." The lack of direct feedback is a minor complaint of mine, for sure. Overall, I feel that this experience was worthwhile and will help my colleagues and I have a basic working knowledge of GAFE and why implementing them is adventitious to classroom learning.

Now onto Level 2!

Thursday, December 29, 2016

My Top 5 Books Read in 2016

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Like many teachers, I tend to read for enjoyment a great deal more in the summer than during the school year. The reading of essays, reflections, and other classroom writing is all-consuming and a necessary part of my job. When I do have the opportunity to read during the year, I tend to read young adult novels, particularly from the Abe Lincoln Award Winning List, searching for books to recommend to my reluctant readers. This year, I have found inspiration in a few books that challenged me to think deeply, allowed me to have a cathartic moment, and kept me captivated. My top five books read in 2016 are books that left a lasting impact, and I am thankful for the unique experience each one provided. Here's my fab five of 2016:

1. Two Kisses For Maddy by Matthew Logelin

My favorite genre is memoir. I prefer nonfiction in general, but I also love a quality story. With memoirs, I have the opportunity to get lost in a narrative while also reading something true to life. This memoir, written by Matthew Logelin is one of the most honest books I've read in a long time. Immediately after Matt and Liz Logelin became first-time parents, Liz unexpectedly dies and leaves the author alone to raise his daughter and navigate life without his wife. In this book, Matt retraces his experiences with his wife and takes his daughter on a journey to find peace with his wife's death and honor her life. Emotionally riveting, heart-wrenching, and humorous - this book will a reader cry, curse the world, and inspire all at the same time. When I read this book, I was teaching summer school. I am certain some of my students thought I was more than a little emotionally sensitive because as I read this book, black tears rolled down my face constantly. I make not apologies for the ugly cries that were shed over this remarkable recount. Another great read that was along the same vein was It's Okay to Laugh: (Crying is Cool Too) by Nora McInerny Purmort. Purmort's book is significantly more humorous and focuses on the grander picture of her life, specifically her adolescents, but I did appreciate the two books together and thought their stories complimented each other well.

2. Smarter Faster Better by Charles Duhigg

As I stated earlier, I love nonfiction, and this book had me captivated from the start. After listening to a few Freakonomics and NPR podcasts on productivity, I came across Charles Duhigg and his most recent book. While I had read, The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business and thoroughly enjoyed it, I had not researched Duhigg any further. This more recent release examines group interactions and decision making while analyzing what makes companies such as Google and the FBI more productive and ultimately more successful. For anyone as obsessed with Google as I am, this is a must read. Through careful research, Duhigg uncovers how daily decisions lead to innovation and shares it in a compelling, well-crafted book. The pop culture references and real-world examples are thought-provoking and engaging. I loved this read, and I have since applied many key ideas to my coaching philosophy this year.

3. Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead by Brene Brown

From the author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking and deliverer of The Power of Vulnerability this book focuses on our need to belong and fear of taking risks. Brown challenges her readers to examine our own sense of self to understand our emotions, both the positive and negative ones. The ideas within this book are meant to inspire individuals to embrace vulnerability as a powerful tool to allow us to break down personal barriers and reach beyond insecurities to achieve our personal bests. Beautifully written and refreshingly convicting, I loved how this book asked me to reflect on my relationships, how I engage with others and the world around me, and encouraged me to embrace the actions and interactions that make my life meaningful. I definitely recommend this read to introverts, sensitive souls, and people who live life passionately.

4. Orphan Train by Christina Kline

As a historical fiction novel, Kline's book does a beautiful job capturing the perspectives of both a senior woman and a young, troubled teen whose lives parallel each other in unexpected ways. As one of the two main characters, a foster child, finds herself in a bit of trouble, she is assigned to help an older woman clean her house. What she finds as she reluctantly completes her community service is a kindred spirit who also was at one time an orphan who rode a train to find adoptive parents who will love her as opposed to use, oppress, and abuse her. As the older character reveals her painful past, the younger character begins to make connections and find hope in the stories retold that sadly reflect a period of our own history. Griping, descriptive, and moving - I found the two juxtaposing voices to be a powerful reminder that while our experiences may be different, our need for love, compassion, and a place to call home remain the same.

5. Great Teams: 16 Things High-Performing Organizations Do Differently

As a coach of a sizable team, I am always seeking inspiration from experts in the area of group dynamics and athletics to help me further my team's success. Efficiency, expertise, and excellence are important concepts that need to be cultivated; understanding of these concepts is gained through experience and wisdom. This book was a random find at the library but has helped me to reflect upon how to create a cohesive organization, motivate people to work harder, establish individual and group goals, and begin to develop an exit plan (as I look to focus more on raising my children than being the head coach). With many sports analogies, I had to ask my husband countless questions - although, I did find the stories fascinating (I'm extremely into 30 for 30 documentaries - especially One Night In Vegas). While I do not have enough space in my brain to invest too much into sports, I love a great feature story. This book was very laid out and contained several examples of the ideas it addressed. I found it incredibly helpful and highly recommend to a coach of any sport or competitive activity.

In addition to the novels I read, I have been reading to my two and one-year-old daughters. At the end of July, we began recording the books we've read in hopes of hitting 1000 unique books in a year (meaning, even though we have read Chicka Chicka Boom Boom 53 1/2 times, it only counts once). We are on track to meet our goal. Children's books are moving, full of life-lessons, hysterical, and full of beautiful imagery. I have loved taking this adventure with my daughters and am so grateful to our local library for the diverse selection that it has provided for us. My most memorable children's book honorable include:
I have immensely enjoyed this year of reading all different genres and age-leveled books. I cannot wait for what literary adventures have in store for me in 2017. First stop - George Cuoros's The Innovator's Mindset

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Tuesday, December 27, 2016

My Top 5 Most Motivating TED Talks of 2016 (High School English Teacher Edition)

I love TED Talks. In the quiet mornings before school, I find myself pursuing the Internet looking for a catchy title and a topic of which I wish to learn more. I am often provided with a creative idea, new perspective, or meaningful message for me to reflect upon and apply to my life in some small way. TED Talks are created by passionate, intelligent individuals who have amazing messages to share with the world. While some topics have more of a direct correlation to my life than others, these speakers are incredibly knowledgeable and have worked diligently to hone their delivery skills in hopes of empowering others. As the year comes to a close, I am attempting to identify how 2016 has shaped me, enlivened my creativity, and motivated me to continue to grow, learn, and serve others. The TED Talks that have filled the airwaves around me in my early mornings before school have played a significant role in my metacognitive musings.

From leadership to gratitude, playtime to kindness - the topics that I have learned from about from these remarkable people have challenged my thinking and reminded me what is most valuable in our lives in encouraging ways. Here's a little sample of what has been shared with me this year because of TED:

1. The Magic of Kindness: Orly Wahba at TED 2013

While this video is a few years old, I stumbled upon it looking for a message to share with my students the last day before winter break. In need a reminder of the greatest gift we can give those around us, our kindness, this ten-minute talk sparked incredible conversation with students. As we discussed the power of intentionally saying a kind word to others, many students realized how even small, unassuming acts of kindness could play a significant role in another person's life. This speech was astonishingly powerful and a wonderful reminder of how we should live our lives purposefully and remember how to treat others. Orly Wahba, a middle school teacher, founded the Life Vest Inside.

2. My Year of Saying Yes to Everything: Shonda Rhimes

Time and again, people encourage me to learn to say "no." Like many teachers, I am one of those individuals who push myself to every limit and then find myself sick every holiday break because I burnt the candle at both ends (Or I cut the candle in half and burnt it at all four ends. What can I say? I thoroughly enjoy embracing productivity.). This description accurately applies to so many of my colleagues, friends, and peers who work tirelessly to improve the lives of their students. This type of existence, while exhausting, is rewarding and is part of my personality that I hope always remains. Shonda Rhimes, the great TV creator, expresses similar sentiments in her February 2016 TED talk, that reminded me that it is okay to say "yes." It is also important that when a person says "yes," he or she commits to being in the moment. Rhimes recounts a period in her life when burnout seemed to consume her. She then shares stories of how she said yes to playing with her children (who like mine are named after authors). This speech reinforced the importance of play and allowing myself to be in the moment with my children. I could not identify with this speech more and loved the message that yes, strong women can work hard and at a thousand miles a minute and still be great mothers. Strong women can model for their daughters how to be powerful, impactful, and influential by focusing on their vocational callings. And strong women can also take the time to be silly, sing Frozen songs, and giggle for seemingly no reason with her daughters just because.

3. Want To Be Happy? Be Grateful: David Steindl Rast

Gratitude is a powerful and life-giving emotion. When one is grateful, his heart is open to seeing the world in a positive light. Gratitude is one feeling I try to instill in my speech team students. Being grateful for our peers, for the opportunities we have, and for lessons learned (even the tough ones) allow us to fully embrace the life that we are given and make the most of it. This TED Talk, delivered in such a genuine and unassuming manner, is empowering. As the speech reminds us all that each day is a gift, he challenges listeners to recognize the impact gratitude has not only on our individual happiness but also the collective happiness of the world. If we stop and take the time to appreciate what we have been given, we have so much more. This is a beautiful talk, especially for the holiday season.

4. Everyday Leadership: Drew Dudley

While this chat is a little older, I love Drew Dudley and his stories so much. From a cultural perspective, we make leadership sound like a grand idea - a position that is attained from being the best, the brightest, and the most accomplished. Dudley's talk debunks this notion and reminds viewers that leadership is embedded within every moment. He shares a story in which he changed a person's life simply by sharing a lollipop. While he personally does not remember the experience, the person who he impacted does and can share with him just how much that moment changed her life. Life is about creating lollipop moments; we are relational being meant to impact each other. This talk empowers all people to live intentionally. A complimentary video for this short TED Talk - How To Start A Movement by Derek Siver. Also short, the two combined equal the length of one typical TED Talk.  What we do and say affects others in ways that we cannot see. These two videos are empowering for young people to see and can lead to great discussion in a variety of settings (coaching and in the classroom).

5. What One Skill = An Awesome Life?: by Dr. Shimi Kang

I found the speaker in this TED Talk particularly inspiring. An accomplished doctor, working mom, and passionate learner - Dr. Shimi Kang reveals how grit, perseverance, and hard work are just the start of establishing a happy life. As the years pass by, we often experience seasons. Having children change everything. With age and experience come new perspectives and new responsibilities. Adapting to change is a difficult concept, yet it is the only real constant in our lives. This talk reinforces that idea that when we embrace change, we can successful and happily navigate all of life's obstacles with grace, joy, and love. While the focus of this piece is adaptability, it does touch on ideas from Angela Duckworth's "Grit," which is another inspiring and short talk about find passion and persevering through challenges we face.

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While several books on "How to Deliver a TED Talk" have been published, How to Deliver a TED Talk: Secrets of the World's Most Inspiring Presentations is my personal favorite on the subject. This book, by Jeremy Donovan, contains several great tips and suggests TED Talks to watch that highlight the concepts in the book. After reading through it at the end of this past summer, I was able to glean many ideas from it and enjoyed reading it overall.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Special Occasion Speeches: Everyday Speaking

When I reflect upon my teaching journey, it always amazes me how I was led to teach speech. This area within the humanities realm would not have been my first choice to pursue as a teenager, but I am so grateful that it has become my passion. Public speaking is truly an area that requires discipline, practice, and it is one that applies to every single person's life in countless ways. 

In every walk of life, we are called upon to be public speakers. As teachers, we take the floor daily. While other professions may not address audiences as frequently - board meetings, presentations, interviews, small-group collaboration, and one-on-one informational sharing occurs. These are all forms of public speaking, which require people to be able to encode a valuable message to at least one other person. Communicating clearly can allow individuals to advance in his or her career, obtain a dream job, find success, and improve the quality of his or her craft no matter what that craft may be. This idea is powerful and one that has fueled my passion for teaching young people to love public speaking or mildly tolerate it.

In addition to communicating as part of their careers, students will also be asked to speak public in some of life's most important events. Weddings, funerals, significant birthdays, anniversaries, and other functions that occur among family and friends. To help students begin to realize that they will need to speak at these functions throughout their lives and give them a little practice with real-world speaking, I've developed a few activities during my final unit (Special Occasion Unit) in my speech class to help make public speaking more realistic. 

1. Tribute Speeches (AKA Class Eulogies)

Taking my class roster, I cut up names and throw them into a hat. I then have students pull names out and deliver a speech on a person in the class. These speeches are delivered in more of an impromptu fashion, but allow students to reflect on the various messages their peers have shared throughout a semester and encourage students to provide praise and affirmation to others positively. Sparked from the initial end of the world 2012 Mayan calendar debacle, this assignment was designed to promote a celebratory feeling as the semester begins to wind down. 

Public speaking and leadership are two skills that work in tandem to help individuals successfully communicate an idea. Spending a few days focused on what it means to be a leader and leadership style can help students realize how to use their voices and speaking prowess to communicate with others in a variety of settings effectively. Typically, I use the week after the holiday break and before finals to teach leadership skills to students in a three-day mini-unit. The first day focuses on leadership styles and asks students to reflect on how they serve as leaders in the classroom, in their extracurricular activities, and in the workplace (if they have jobs). The second day, I choose to emphasize how to put their leadership skills into action, and the final day emphasizes what their current leadership abilities mean for them as future college students and workers in society. There are so many incredible resources on leadership and communication. My personal favorites include: 
3. Acceptance Speeches

Again, this assignment is typically more impromptu in nature than a full formal speech assignment. One concept I like to discuss during the Special Occasion Unit is accepting compliments. As human beings, we are culturally taught to deflect compliments. When someone says, "I like your sweater," the receiver of the compliment may say "Oh, I've had it for a while" or "I got it on sale." We make up excuses or attempt to downplay compliments. It is difficult to confidently accept kind words and staying humble at the same time. I like to challenge students to dream of an award they would like to receive one day. This dream can be grand or simple, far-fetched or realistic. Then they have to find a way to accept the award with grace. Not only does this encourage them to realize that we are allowed to receive compliments, but it also challenges them to set immense goals and reach for them. 

I use this assignment frequently in a variety of different situations. I know I've written about this assignment before. During this unit, I share a few examples of This I Believe essays from the official website and spend time analyzing what made these essays meaningful. Then I challenge students to reflect on their own values and write about one belief that is meaningful to them. Using at least one personal story as to how that belief has influenced or shaped their lives, students write short essays that are then shared aloud. Every year, I am amazed by the depth and positivity of my students' beliefs and am inspired by their perspectives. In a unit that focuses on real-life speaking, this is definitely a powerful and important assignment. When we encourage students to use their words to express their ideas with the world, amazing results occur. 

5. The Official Summative SOS Assignment

At the end of the unit, I allow students to choose what type of special occasion speech that they would like to deliver, encourage them to reflect on what they value/what is important to them, and then give a speech within the realm of reality that is meaningful to them. I love these speeches because they are diverse, personal, and realistic. These speeches will happen in their lives. What has been wonderful is many students choose to deliver a tribute speech to a beloved coach, mentor, or teacher. This year, one of my students decided to award our princiPAL with a Principal of the Year award. We try to have the guest of honor come in if a student is confident enough to hear his/her tribute speech. Many guests were able to attend this past week to hear their speeches, including our principal. The reactions to their speeches, particularly his, are priceless and truly showcase how powerful words are and how special our words can make this world!

Everyday public speaking occurs when significant life experiences happen. Celebrating memories, relationships, and growth are vital parts of our lives. Teaching students to embrace these moments will help make the words they share meaningful.

(My State Qualifying SOS-er! She's pretty fantastic and going to make an amazing teacher one day!)

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Using Language and Teaching Word Choice

This past semester, I have worked to encourage my senior speech students to sincerely take part in their learning by creating a dialogue about what they want to learn. Getting them to step beyond simply wanting to “speak well” or “be less afraid of public speaking,” has been a challenge. Open-ended questions and assignments that require crafting on the part of the student are two elements of education that students find difficult, but it has been my hope to change that this year for my students. One lesson that my students deemed important is word choice and how to use words to truly captivate their audience.

Choosing the right words to say to an audience is more challenging that most speakers realize. Connotative meanings of words can bear a great weight on how an audience reacts and interprets a message. At the same time, I often find that when students are intentional with wording, they often become wordy or their language is abstract, thus making a message that is intended to sound intelligent, unintelligible. In an attempt to reinforce word choice during my speaking for real audiences unit (special occasion speaking), I incorporated a few activities to help students understand how to be intentional, economical, and purposeful with their words.

1. Write Six-Word Memoirs

Featured in SMITH Magazine, the six-word memoir changes students to be thoughtful with their words and to paint a vivid picture using only limited words. In such a short message, students learn that every word matters and every word can be used to paint a picture and reveal something significant about their messages and themselves. My example: Math nerd loves English. Sorry, Mom. (Both my mom and brother are former math teachers turned administrators. Math and science are far more prevalent subjects of study for my extended family as well. When I told my mother that I wanted to be an English teacher instead of a math teacher, I nearly broke her heart).

2. Edit a Wordy Paper

Having students sit down and edit a paper is a valuable experience for many reasons. While this lesson feels more like an activity for a writing class than a speech class, teaching students to reread and re-evaluate their writing turns into more direct and compelling communicators in any form. If students work in pairs, they can then identify which words to remove, how to reconstruct sentences for effectiveness, and then analyze how their choices made the message clearer and more impactful.

3. Word Association

A single word can hold many meanings. Based on our perceptions, a word like “grade” can assume a positive tone because we hold happy memories about school and grades that we received in school. On the other hand, the word “grade” can seem ominous and daunting to a student who applies to college and his math grade is simply because he is taking a rigorous course that might be a little beyond his comfort zone. Playing word association games can create a dialogue among students as well to analyze the difference between denotative and connotative meanings of words. With caution, looking up a few (previously surveyed) words on Urban Dictionary can be a funny way to talk about how the meanings of words evolve and are truly given their meaning by the people who utilize them on a daily basis.

4. Gallery Walks

Selecting vivid pictures of people, places, or unique objects can help students learn to be more descriptive. In class, we often talk about the canned responses to the questions “How are you?” or “How was your day?” Society teaches us to respond in a polite, mildly positive manner. “Fine” or “good” are usually deemed acceptable and expected answers, however, these answers tell the initial sender nothing. As such, teaching students to describe, be specific, and take the time to formulate responses improves the daily communication that occurs among the people we interact with on a daily basis. When students spend time talking about a visual image, they begin to realize how much more interesting and relevant our conversations can be.

5. Listen to and Analyze a Speech

One of my favorite talks about the power of words is from a Toastmaster Competition. In his speech, the speaker illustrates how one word can influence a person’s whole life for the better and unfortunately for the worse. Encouraging students to listen to this speech or any speech with the intent of analyzing language and word choice can make them more reflect speech writers and deliverers. Examples provide students with standards with which to meet. While we often think to provide students who are writing papers sample thesis statements, paragraphs, or even whole papers, it is easy to overlook providing students with quality samples of speeches. We hear people talk every day, right? We should never forget that students need to be shown what a quality speech is. They need to understand how one is crafted and the role that words play in the making of a strong speech. This particular speech is one of my favorite for a lesson on word choice.

6. This I Believe Essays
After spending time discussing words and spending time formulating messages in concise ways, students are ready for a more substantial venture. One of my favorite activities to do with students is craft This I Believe Essays. These brief essays can be written in a day or can be more detailed. I introduce this activity by listening to a few samples from teens on the This I Believe website. Then, I challenge students to find a way to clearly and positive express why a specific belief is meaningful to them. Including a personal story or example, students are tasked with thoroughly crafting a message about their views to be shared aloud. These messages are then showcased and shared online. Each semester, I amazed at the thoughtfulness, reflectiveness, and various perspectives that are shared. When we empower students to value their ideas and utilize their words to share them, wonderful results can happen.

Our words are powerful. As teachers, what we say and more importantly, how we say it significantly impacts our students both consciously and subconsciously. As frequent communicators of messages both large and small, we must remember to use words well.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Why I Teach: Year 9

With each passing year, my craft as a teacher has evolved. I am grateful for years of practice and gained wisdom, new knowledge and experience from which to draw inspiration. As I approach nearly a decade of teaching, I have reached a place where I am comfortable. I am able to have fun in the classroom - to go into a room knowing that no matter what may transpire, I will be able to adapt, react, and create a meaningful experience for my students. Still, with this level of comfort there is still much to learn, and certainly, reflection is essential to maintaining my creativity, my ability to understand my current students need, and also helps to fuel the passion and fervor that I hope to apply to my teaching every day of my career.

At the start of this holiday break, I signed my speech team up for an additional tournament. One of the teams that we have a close relationship with decided in the last month to host an additional tournament, and of course, I knew I had to be in attendance to run the competition. As a result, I emailed parents fully knowing that it was the beginning of the holiday break. In the email, I explained how this could be an additional experience for students who were able to have fun with friends, practice one last time before the more rigorous part of the season begins in January, and reiterated the understanding that family events and the holidays are far more important than any speech competition (except perhaps State). The reaction and level of attendance that was able to attend this tournament was absolutely impressive. Families altered plans so that their students could compete. Students who were not able to attend expressed disappointment for the missed opportunity. And while we only ended up with about 60% of our team, the students were still able to take home a third place trophy and had a blast with their friends sharing their messages with fellow competitors and judges.

Behind the scenes, I felt a little frantic trying to ensure logistically the tournament ran smoothly (I hit 16,000 steps on my FitBit - I was running. Literally). With several schools already on holiday break, attendance was lower in some regards. Also, inclement weather prevented a few schools from making the tournament, which meant a change in judging pool and alterations of the schedule. I was fortunate enough, however, to have several of my former students serving as my assistant coach, judges, and spectators. While the posting of finals became a challenge, what I discovered that afternoon not only touched me immensely but also reminded me why I teach.

My assistant and former student, Elise, spent the day asking what she could do to help. We had an additional judge and so I kept her close by to help with final round posters. This particular tournament was running a next-in final, meaning 28 posters would need to be written in approximately 30 minutes time. She accepted the task and spent most of the day prepping for one fast-paced afternoon. As my other former students finished judging, unbeknownst to me, they made their way to the room in which Elise was writing the posters and began helping without prompting, without need, and without question. They noticed that Elise could use extra hands and started to work. When I walked into the room where Elise was writing to check to make sure she was okay, I found six smiling faces busily writing, taping, and organizing. These six individuals were working together, completing a task they had never done before and were having fun accomplishing a common goal. Without their assistance, the tournament would have been delayed. Together, they took on a challenge, had time to catch up with one another, and seemed to genuinely have fun.

While this moment might be small and seem insignificant, I will sincerely treasure this moment for years to come. Watching my students grow up, find meaning and success, and make positive contributions to this world is one of the greatest gifts I could receive. Seeing these young people collaborate, complete a task, manage their time, and sincerely enjoy hard work reiterated to me what the most valuable life lessons are. Of course, grammar, analyzing a challenging text, and being able to write an organized paper bears importance in the educational process, being able to problem solve. But being willing to work hard, and collaborating with others are critical life skills that will serve them in any avenue they will pursue. While I love reading, public speaking, and writing these first few hours of "break" reminded me the reason why I teach. Being a small part of a young person's development and journey to becoming a happy, productive, and positive participant in this world is truly a gift. Being able to witness it first hand six times over this past weekend is priceless.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Why Words Matter

As my almost two-year-old embarks upon her first meaningful conversations with us, I am reminded how important language and words are to each of us. Harper has only recently begun to announce her name as proudly she enters a room, counting to four, and identifying shapes in board books. Anything that is green is a frog, and anything that is furry is, of course, a dog. Her enthusiasm and delightful squeals when she has discovered a new word are mesmeric. Her brow furls as she processes and realizes that she, in fact, understands a new concept that did not exist in her world until 0.25 seconds prior. An explosive acquisition of language is allowing her to embrace the world in ways that had previously been inaccessible to her.

Being almost two also seems overwhelming. When my sweet yet determined little lady does not have the words to communicate her thoughts or her present needs at a given moment, she immediately becomes frustrated, distraught, or downright upset. Again, her brow crinkles up in a desperate attempt to make sense of her surroundings. This level of frustration often results in tears and necessitates a hug, which I secretly slightly enjoy (She'll only cuddle for so long). Her tears, however, also remind me to pause and consider the feelings of all those who feel as if they do not have a voice.

In her struggles, I am reminded of my students who claim to hate writing papers because they're boring, but privately know that structuring and developing their ideas in a written format is challenging. I am reminded of the students who have home or personal struggles that they hide behind smiles and socializing in class. Being able to communicate and articulate ideas is not a concept that any of us should take for granted.

This fall, I hope to reiterate the importance of communication with my students. In a world that often leaves us at a loss of words and without the opportunity to share our thoughts, I hope that I can empower my new students with an ability to use words responsibility - to share ideas, promote positivity, and seek out their aspirations. In this final week of summer, my daughter has inadvertently reminded me how much words matter.

Why Words Matter: 

1. Words allow us to communicate.

At the beginning of August, I spent an entire week working with 49 high school students on communication skills that will not only improve their skills for the competitive speech season this fall, but also skills that will enhance their ability to speak, write, listen, and read in both academic and social forums. These literacy skills are essential to engaging in and contributing to the communities in which we reside. Throughout the week of camp, I found myself inspired by young people who embraced new experiences and worked to hone their skills.

2.  Words allow us to convey ideas.

In addition to practicing their communication skills, speech camp is a time in which students are challenged to share their thoughts and ideas in a variety of formats. Being consumers of media, students must understand how to process the information they receive, discern misinformation, and also be able to eloquently articulate opinions and thoughts. In addition to reading, writing, speaking, and listening, students need to be empowered with the ability to make sense of the messages they receive from a variety of platforms. Media literacy is a valuable tool for communicating in a digital world.

3. Words allow us to connect.

Being able to express oneself is valuable and empowering. It also allows individuals to build relationships - both professional and personal. One characteristic that has made the speech team so successful is the bond and friendship that the students form. These relationships arise because students can be open, honest, and expressive with one another. When people bond over shared experiences and can articulate their perceptions, they are more likely to create strong memories that strengthen friendships.

4. Words allow us to create.

Words enable us to express and share ideas in formal ways. We can write, deliver speeches, and create various forms of media that communicate great messages. Words must be used responsibly because they have meaning to their receivers, and if they are not entirely articulated, they can be misunderstood or lead to breakdowns in communication. Even a single word can hold significant meaning and elicit powerful emotional responses. As such, we must use them thoughtfully and cautiously. Our words are powerful. We must remember to use them well.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Completing the Puzzle: Team Building/ / Ice Breaker Game

A puzzle is a problem to be solved. It is a literal act of collaboration as several components (or pieces) work together to create a larger picture. Using this metaphor as inspiration, we tried a new team building activity during this past speech camp. This activity was one that I was looking forward to because it would challenge students to negotiate and "play fair." Watching the event unfold and reflecting with students after the activity was complete, I can say that compromising, collaborating, and being considerate of others are key attributes of a successful team. Just as a puzzle is comprised of several pieces that work together to create a greater picture, a team must complement each other and unite to find success. 

This game would be a great ice breaker for a classroom or a team building challenge. Taking only 20 minutes, I was surprised and pleased with the experience and the outcomes of the puzzle challenge. While I completed this activity with high school students, it could easily be adapted for younger children through adults. 

The Setup: 

With five teams of 10 students, my assistant and I took five Marvel themed puzzles (48 Pieces), labeled them one through five, and removed six individual pieces from each puzzle. We attempted to select pieces that looked most like others in hopes of making it equally challenging for all teams. Then we placed one piece from each of the puzzles into a bag labeled with the corresponding number. This piece would need to be earned by solving a riddle. The other five pieces were placed into one giant bag from which students would pick pieces. Perhaps they would be lucky and select their pieces or perhaps they would receive pieces from players that they would later have to barter with to find all of the pieces that belonged to them. 
The Game: 

Each team selected a puzzle at random. (Little did I know, but I had dropped one piece from one of the puzzles. Technically one team would not be able to win this challenge, no matter how swiftly they moved or wisely they negotiated). Then they received five pieces at random. After attempting to complete their puzzles, they evaluated what was needed to finish their puzzles. The first group to complete their puzzle would win the game. The game moved quickly. Students raced to assemble their puzzles and deliberated about what was missing. Making plans and communicating as small groups were essential for their ability to break apart tasks and to mingle with the other groups. Time was certainly limited, and they needed to effectively communicate as they exchanged information and pieces with the other 40 speech team members. Overall, the game required much less time than I thought. Students did not withhold as much information from each as I had anticipated. Goal-oriented and determined, these students seemed to focus on task one - completing their puzzles without worrying as much about the progress of other teams.

The Implications: 

In terms of strategizing, teams often divided into smaller factions - seeking specific pieces each. They realized that giving away a piece necessitated a reciprocal exchange. They needed to use the pieces of others to trade for their own pieces. Also, students realized that they need to be careful with what they revealed to others. Showing all of their spare pieces could put them at risk for not being able to trade with others. While many resorted to cunningness and a little bit of "thievery" to complete this task, students also realized that they needed to work together to find mutual success. This activity was designed to challenge students to communicate under pressure. Students need to determine how to finish a task while using problem-solving strategies. Watching students share ideas and brainstorm with their small groups, interact with their competition in the larger group, and find success was not only fun but also paved the way for strong connections for the season. While my fellow coaches and I were hoping that a "piece summit" would emerge in the midst of the hustle to fill in the final holes in each team's puzzle, I am proud to say that students approach this activity with fervor and a great sense of humor. Poking fun at one another while trying to complete a task can create lasting memories and even inspire a little collaboration from time to time.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Lessons from Speech Camp

Another week of Speech Camp has swiftly passed. The first full week of August (the CG annual Speech Camp) is filled with excitement, the promise of another great season, and organized chaos. Every year, I end the week weary from an exhausting yet fulfilling experience and also encouraged, excited, and ready for another fantastic year teaching great kids.

Leading up to the start of camp, I am often filled with trepidation and an overwhelming sense of uncertainty. It is natural to approach the unknown with apprehension. Even now as a seasoned veteran, the idea of gearing up for another year seems a little daunting. Preparing, planning, and creating a positive environment for 49 young and spirited high school students, takes a significant amount of energy and creativity. Honing public speaking and leadership skills is not an easy feat. Communicating with others requires individuals to be vulnerable, open, and confident, which are not the most natural characteristics for teenagers to embody, but what is so rewarding is watching students discover how to cultivate these skills, which will help them well beyond the coming speech season. This year, the week went so quickly, and we were so happy with the results.

Every year, I leave camp grateful for the opportunity to be a part of this community. Working with this group of students and adults teaches me a great deal about teamwork, collaboration, and becoming the best versions of ourselves. While there is so much to unpack from this week (a few team building games that yielded some impressive results, a few more lessons in public speaking, leadership growth, etc.), I have a few takeaways that I will carry with me into the 2016-2017 school year.

1. Organization is a time-saver, expectation setter, and can create more time for fun. 

I am obsessed with Google, Google Drive, and all things digital. Being a Google school for nearly four years, I have spent time reorganizing my Speech Team files. My naming convention is six layers deep (folder by event, word count, title, gender (if applicable), year used, name of student used), and it is my hope that this naming convention will help future head coaches to utilize years of files created to help our students access the best material available. With great material comes the opportunity to learn about important issues, grow as performers, and have chances to break into finals. Yes, going back and organizing files has taken time, but it has also allowed me to reflect on my practices, remember the good, and will allow me to save time for someone else in the future.

In addition to organizing files, I also spent time planning and linked team building activities, videos, and resources into a Google Sheet. Scheduled by the day, hour, and beyond helped us to be present, at the moment, know what goals we had for students each day, and also gave us options to change activities to meet the needs of our students. I used the sheet from last year to help me create this year's sheet. Next year, coaches will have this sheet to use as a template and resource to plan significant and meaningful experiences for future students. When we can spend less time inventing the wheel from scratch, we can focus on fun, too.

2.  Set high standards. 

We work hard, and we play hard on the speech team. It is a place to bond with friends and be oneself, but it is also a place to develop skills and grow academically. Students really do rise to meet challenges. I am so grateful to students who are open to learning and laughing at the same time. When we presented students with challenges and tasks, they were happy to fulfill them. They did not back down or question what was being asked of them. Led by our amazing seniors who served as excellent examples for our new students, the group actively participated, learned, and worked to be successful. Whether students were completing relay races, writing scripts, or creating videos, they did so with great effort and utilized their skills.

3. Be willing to fail big.

Failure is such a taboo topic, especially in education. We often approach education with the notion that no child will be left behind for a myriad of reasons, but on occasion leaving a few behind is the right motivation to complete a task, learn a lesson, or sparks a conversation that can lead to significant realizations. Failure is a powerful learning tool. During improvisational games, students are asked to jump into scenes, make up stories on the spot, and are told never to say "no." At times, this yields some silly and ridiculous results. There is always a solution to the scenes that do not go the way we anticipate them to go. What we learn from these moments would never occur if we feared and avoided failing on occasion. It is okay to make mistakes - as long as we grow from them and solve whatever problem or situation we encounter.

4. Trust others. 

We can learn so much from each other. Trust in one another, in the process, and in the idea that any situation can be a learning experience is crucial in communicative situations and academics. When we support each other, we can take more substantial risks, we can embrace failures, we can recognize and celebrate the best in others, and we can discover more about ourselves in the process. Establishing trust creates that positive environment which is necessary for any team to find success. I am so grateful for the students, parents, and colleagues that trust in the team and trust in the process to commit to the week and commit to growing as speakers, performers, and people. Teamwork relies on trust!

5. "Yes, and..." has a powerful impact on group dynamics.

"Yes, and..." is a fundamental rule of improvisation. When completing an improv scene, all parties involved should always say "yes" and add additional ideas to the scene to keep it moving. It is a method used to support performers and provide a positive outcome.

The idea of saying no is not one that is easy for me. The world often encourages individuals to take on less responsibility as to not overwhelm oneself or do too much. At the same time, saying yes can lead to amazing opportunities and experiences that one might never think to approach. While we should find work-life balance and not take on more than we can complete, it is okay to say yes and embrace the beauty of what can come. (Shonda Rhimes has an amazing TED Talk on saying YES! For parents and anyone who works a great deal, it is a great message!

Monday, July 25, 2016

It Takes A Village

As a parent, I have quickly learned the true meaning of “it takes a village.” With two under two, my hands are full. Inevitably, one is crying or crawling in the direction of danger, but I am so fortunate to parent with a strong partner – a father who truly understands the inner-workings of the small, sensitive girl type.

Raising children is incredibly challenging – even in an ideal situation. I am lucky to be surrounded by a large, very involved, extended family. My whole life has been filled with family functions and outings to the countless museums, day trips, and birthday celebrations. My grandparents on both sides, my parents, in-laws, aunts and uncles, and cousins are precious people in my life, and I have been even more blessed in the last two years to watch all of these people love my children in ways that I cannot. Currently, this love mostly involves giving my oldest daughter cookies, but I am sure that these roles will continue to evolve as my daughters get older. It takes a village.

Educating students and preparing them for “the real world” is an insurmountable feat. In addition to reading, writing, and arithmetic, students must be tech-savvy, media literate and effective communicators in multiple formats. They need to be able to think critically, analyze, and engage in a fast-paced, ever-evolving society. These skills are not ones that they will acquire in a lesson, a day, or even a school year. They must repeatedly be taught, refined, and honed. Again, it takes a village to educate one child.

We do not live in vacuums. Even though it might seem like a school, community, or town is representative of the entire world to our students, there is so much beyond what they can see and fathom in their schools. The same sentiment is true for us. Outside of our own schools, there are different perspectives, ideas, methods, and people who have so much to share and wisdom to provide. As society, technology, and ideas quickly evolve, I know I find myself running to keep up. Because of this feeling, I am so grateful for my village – my personal learning network – that has helped inform me, encourage me, and provide me with great resources. The people who make up this PLN are the people I engage with on a daily basis. They are my colleagues in my school and my district. They are the speech coaches with whom I spend countless hours on cold Saturdays scoring tournaments. They are the people that I talk to both frequently and infrequently on Twitter, who encourage, reply, comment, and share articles, perspectives, and wisdom. Again, being in this profession often requires a village of collaborators to encourage each of us to be our very best.

How do we best utilize our professional PLN?

1. Read.

The NEAEdutopia, the NYT Learning NetworkEducation WeekISTEtech blogs, and teacher blogs – there are so many organizations to access with the latest on educational policy, tools, practices, and methodologies. These resources are easy to find, browse, and provide support to educators. Scrolling through Twitter, it is easy to spot interesting articles, resources, and links to more information about a variety of educational topics. Clicking a few links can lead to fantastic resources and information. Just as we encourage our students to read, we too should read to learn more about the ever-changing ideas of our field.

2. Attend conferences and engage in professional development.

In the past few years, I have forced myself to present at conferences. For my first few years especially, I struggled with the idea that I had nothing new to offer or lacked the experience to share ideas. Thankfully, I had a friend who dragged me with her to a #edcamp. At my first #edcamp in Wisconsin, I realized that every person has something to share – regardless of years in the profession. We are all unique and have creative ideas. It is innately within us as educators. As such, it is important to share and speak out. Recently, I have made it a goal to present at more structured conferences. I found that by collaborating with peers over presentations, I learn more about my practice than I ever realized possible. Preparing for a presentation has challenged me to reflect upon my practices – not just what I do, but also why I do what I do in the classroom. This metacognitive exercise is invaluable and as a result of challenging myself to do this, I have learned so much. 

Professional development that occurs locally at the school and district levels can also provide meaningful experiences. While we don't love every meeting we sit in, we can gain some insight, perspective, or tool that we might not have thought about before by being open, receptive, and engaged. 

3. Listen.

Listening is the most underappreciated facet of literacy. We are all often too busy and bombarded with messages of every kind to truly take the time to stop and listen. It is essential for us to allow ourselves time to listen – to experts, to colleagues, and even to ourselves. By listening, we can reflect and understand the ideas and perspectives others to even greater levels than we might have imaged.

4. Speak.

Along with listening, we need to speak – kindly and openly. It is better when we work together. The load, which is already heavy, becomes lighter. Our ideas and practices become richer when we share. Ultimately, our business is about kids and community. We all want what’s best for them. We simply need to share our best ideas and selves to provide that for them. Again, it takes a village.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Reading Children's Books: Lessons Learned from Olivia

Summer burns away all too quickly, and this one has been a particularly bright one. With two kids under two, my pace has slowed and my desire to savor each moment has deepened. Besides taking walks and going to the park (which has become quite busy these past few weeks with Pokemon Go), my daughters and I find ourselves at the library multiple times a week. As a result, I have been thumbing through pages nonstop. Personally, this has been a summer of reading memoirs - often involving cancer, loss, and small children. Perfectly ideal for my current life stage, right? Always on the move, I have been turning speed-reading sessions squeezed in between excursions with the little ones and feeding into speech pieces. Dejected Dramatic Interpretations and melancholy Prose Readings have filled my "Cut Scripts" folder in Google Drive to the digital brim. Despite the emotional turmoil I have voluntarily forced myself to endure, I'm ready for another Speech season.

In addition to ugly crying my eyes out yet another story of a young family being torn apart by illness far too soon, I've been reading as many children's books as I can carry out the library doors with at least one child in my arms. As a family, we enjoy  (or rather my husband decided we should enjoy) The Bernstein Bears series, Dr. Seuss books, Chicka Chika Boom Boom - the classics. Thanks to a former student (named Olivia), we have also been reading the Olivia series. We laugh, we read and reread pages of text, and we discussion the lessons and themes that Olivia has taught. (Of course, these conversations are often one-sided - my oldest is not even two. Currently, our communication relies heavily upon tone and Daniel Tiger songs. I have faith that she's absorbing some empathy!)

Life lessons according to Olivia: 

5. "Just because it's called a veggie loaf, it doesn't mean it can't be something more exciting, like a veggie castle."

Sometimes, life is hard. Children cry. Cars break down. Illness happens. In spite of the challenges life presents, we have the opportunity to look at a difficult situation and create something exciting. Each experience, no matter the initial reaction, can lead to a great conversation, a sweet moment, or a strengthening of either oneself or relationships. Like Olivia notes, we choose to view what is presented to us as either something awful or we can choose to see what lies before us as a new possibility - one full of hope.

4. "I know this is hard to believe, but more of something isn't always better."

Slowing down is an amazing and freeing feeling. This summer, I've allowed myself to get lost in my thoughts. I take walks with my daughters, sat on swings, and gotten a little dirty. In a culture of busyness, I have adverted the trap this summer. Yes, I'm still running literally and figuratively a great deal. Nap time and my evening still allow me to return to activities in my cherished to-do list journal, but I'm allowing myself to leave items unchecked. There's always tomorrow. Today, I'll take time for my family.

3. "A little appreciation goes a long way."

Gratitude and thankfulness are often a topic I raise with my Speech Team students. Teaching students for showing gratitude, to write thank-you notes, and to appreciate what has been given to them is essential. These are life skills we all should implement. Demonstrating a bit of gratitude and appreciation for even the smallest of gestures and kindness shown to us can improve the world around us exponentially. A few words or even and a gracious smile can enhance our world.

2. "Sometimes you just have to use your big voice."

I teach and coach speech. I spend nearly every day of my life (even during the summer) engaging with my students, and yet, I still find myself exhibiting anxiety about speaking in front of groups at times. Personally, I fear discord and can be known to shy away from a debate, but I have attempted to take a note from Olivia and share my beliefs. I've been writing more, and I allow myself to be more vocal without over-worrying about piquing the thoughts of others.

Being able to communicate is essential to success in adulthood. We are always being asked to articulate our thoughts and ideas through writing, speaking, and listening. Finding one's voice is invaluable and must be cultivated in students today. I will continue to find opportunities to share my voice positively with others - not for me but for them. Actions speak volumes about who we are and what we value. Speaking up and speaking out positively can enhance our collective understanding of the world, which in turn, makes it a better place to be.

1. "When playing a cowbell, never underestimate the importance of enthusiasm."

Enthusiasm is a sign of passion. It is excitement with a focused directive. Enthusiasm feels like running down a hill, gaining momentum toward the finish line. Enthusiasm is powerful. Making noise and marching to the beat of her own drum, Olivia has reminded me this summer that I need to hit the reset button every once in a while and reflect on how I am living my life. A teacher's life is not measured in calendar years. It is marked by bells, and semesters, and holiday breaks. Maintaining joy and enthusiasm makes the tough days easier, the fun days more memorable, and the important days more meaningful.

Watching Harper run to the door of the library and turn sharply left toward the children's section brings me great joy. Fostering a love of learning and reading starts early. Books provide us with an opportunity to explore the world beyond ourselves. While sometimes the stories we discover and the paths we travel are filled with trepidation and loss, life can seem immediately more joyful when we take the time to view the world as a small child does - wonderful with each new page.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Relationships and the Numbers that Really Matter

My podcast consumption is at an all-time high. Recently, I listened to The Hidden Brain's episode entitled "Students and Teachers." While the content wasn't necessarily new information, the episode was filled with facts and data that we often overlook or push to the back burner. The questions were posed: How do we close the achievement gap? How do we improve test scores, grades, and academic achievement as a whole? And most significantly- what truly matters in improving the educational experience of our students?

Data. It's a dreaded word, especially in the humanities fields, but it is an important one. I get it - data is often associated with frustration, lack of relevance, and the time taken away from instruction and building relationships with our students. (Side note: I am the daughter of a math teacher turned principal who understands data better than anyone I know. What she sees in numbers is unparalleled by anyone I know, and it has made her very successful at her job. My dad's an economics man. He reveres socio-political news as a way to understand human beings and the world we have created. To add to my influences and the chagrin of my parents when I told them I wanted to be an English teacher, my older brother is a former math teacher (specifically stats). I grew up around math; I appreciate them. Numbers help me make sense of the world.

While I honestly have little interest in ACT testing data, other forms of data can be utilized to improve our understanding of our students. When gathered and applied correctly, data can provide us with valuable information about our students and how to best serve their needs. Localized assessments, formative reviews (which can be FUN... I personally love dancing to the Kahoot music), surveys, and parent contact can provide us with information about students' interests, past experiences, motivation, and can challenge us to consider what works in our classrooms. Qualitative data, while harder to gather and organize, is invaluable to us in our individual classrooms with our students. 

Immediately after the "d" word was mentioned, Shankar Vedantam, the host of the podcast, turned his focus toward relationships and supported this notion with more data and more science. What matters most concerning the achievement gap (which is a multi-layered and complex issue) in the classroom is how we connect to our students. When students and teachers form strong bonds, test scores improve, students are far more likely to complete high school, and overall academic achievement improves. The academic numbers then translate to future earning potential and success post-schooling. And those are the numbers that matter; those post-secondary achievement numbers are the ones that ultimately improve the lives of our students. Also, teacher performance improves with stronger student-teacher relationships, which in turn, improves the quality of students' experience. Relationships are reciprocal.

So - how do we build better relationships? What goals do I want to reflect upon, reinforce, and improve next fall? 

1. Allow myself time. 

Time is our most precious commodity. In any given classroom, curriculum maps consume and overwhelm us. The need to cover specific material does place a significant amount of pressure on us, but there are ways to carve out time. Encouraging students to write blog posts, narratives, or reflection papers can reinforce skills while allowing time for teachers and students to build relationships. Talking before and after class with each student as they walk in and out of the classroom is a fast way to personalize each relationship (even with the students who run out the door because they have to get into gym volleyball - that struggle is real at my school). 

Sometimes when the going gets tough, stop and take a minute to close the books, devices, etc. and check in. This past semester, I had a few cookie days. I brought in cookies, told my students to take a few when they walked in, sat, and chatted. Especially during busy testing times and the end of a semester crunch, taking the time to chat and eat a cookie allowed them to de-stress, connect with classmates and me, and gave us something to look forward to after completing the next major task. There's always time for a cookie. 

2. Get involved. 

Coaching, sponsoring a club, attending activities, or just being present... there are so many ways to get involved. Going to dances, showing up at games, wearing t-shirts designed by students that support various clubs, and simply opening the door before and/or after school is immensely important in showing students 1. I care. 2. I'm here. Even if they don't stop in, knowing that they can make a significant difference to my students. 

3. Leave the door open. 

Yes, physically leaving the door open to the classroom is a symbolic gesture that communicates volumes to students (although, technically - I think it's against fire codes). When possible, show or at least make it clear that the door's always open. I sit in my classroom every morning, and while it's mostly full of kids I coach, I usually end up with a few other regulars who want to use a Chromebook, need me to print something, or simply want to talk. I don't complete many academic tasks, but so much more is accomplished in terms of forming these relationships. 

4. Communicate high (yet attainable) expectations. 

Students will rise to the occasion. They will accomplish so much more when they know we believe in them. One idea that made me pause when listening to the podcast was the idea of personalizing notes. By leaving sticky notes on surveys when a researcher wanted people to complete them, he saw a rise in completed surveys and interaction with students. When feedback is personalized and direct, students will respond. Providing personalized notes and messages is time-consuming, yes, but more often than not, it is incredibly valuable in motivating and inspiring students to reach new levels of achievements (Check out the article "You've Been Doing A Fantastic Job. Just One More Thing..." from the New York Times.  

5. Contact parents. 

This part of the episode was the most convicting. In a study conducted by Harvard and Brown, researchers found that sending a weekly message to parents increased student performance. When parents hear information about their students' school experience, they are more likely to talk to their students. When people hear positive information and receive encouraging reinforcement, they are far more likely to want to continue to succeed and will even be more inclined to respond to critiques and feedback after hearing something positive. Communication is key. While I do send home emails on occasion to my lower-level students, I do not do this nearly enough with my other students. Communicating with parents and sending positive feedback is something that I must do more of and am planning on making a part of my goals for the 2016-2017 school year. After all, communication is one of the six essential skills to success! Thanks, NPR.

We've all heard the adage that relationships are a two-way street. To me, relationships between students and teachers (and parents, too) resembles a round-a-bout - slightly unnerving, a little hectic at times, containing several different directions in which to veer, and powerful when all the pieces work together. 

Works Cited

"In The Classroom, Common Ground Can Transform GPAs." NPR. NPR, 15 Oct. 2015. Web. 05 July      2016.

Kamenetz, Anya. "How To Raise Brilliant Children, According To Science." NPR. NPR, 05 July  
     2016. Web. 05 July 2016.

Kamenetz, Anya. "Nonacademic Skills Are Key To Success. But What Should We Call Them?" NPR.      NPR, 28 May 2015. Web. 5 July 2016.

Tugend, Alina. "You’ve Been Doing a Fantastic Job. Just One Thing ..." The New York Times. The
     New York Times, 05 Apr. 2013. Web. 05 July 2016.

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