____ Days Until School

In my neck of the woods there is about a month until teachers and students return to the traditional classroom. One month. 30 days on the shot clock.

What will you do with these next 30 days? How will you prepare YOU?

Here are the three things I plan to do.

The beginning of the school year is not the time to prepare. In between classroom set up, syllabus printing, roster reorganization, team meetings and other PD, all I have time for is coffee.

One month before school starts I am still relaxed enough to really think about who I am, what I accomplished last year, who I want to be and what I want to accomplish this year.

To do this, I ask myself focus forward questions. These are questions that help me think about the future. So, I might ask, “Am I purposefully pursuing my passion? How will I continue my pursuit this year?”

I reflect for a few minutes, but the majority of my time is spent thinking about next steps.

Next steps, for me, always involve finding inspiration and encouragement.

Reading books, taking walks, watching movies, talking with friends, taking an art class or a dance class. I can gather inspiration from most places when I am open to receiving it.

Over the years I have found that living an inspired life in the best lesson I can teach my students.

From the inspiration I gather, I can begin to create my first Power Up space. This is a place where I can continue to be inspired throughout the school year.

For tips on how to create your own Power Up space, check out this blog post.

The last thing I do 30 days before the school year is …. pick my poison.

Stay with me. I promise it makes sense.

One of my favorite movies is The Princess Bride. In that movie there is a battle of wits; the old poison in the cup schtick. The challenger actually places poison in both cups. So, how does he escape death? He deliberately chose this poison and then injested small amounts of it each day. This built up an immunity in his body.

What does this have to do with the 30 day prep for school? Well, there is always something that we dislike doing, but we know it will make us stronger. This is the poison.

Poison – anything done or consumed in excess.

So, during my 30 day prep time I choose something that I don’t particularly like doing, but I know it will make me a better person. I do this thing in small doses.

For example, I love a clean, organized house, but with 4 young kids, cleaning is not a task I enjoy. In order to have what I want, I put myself on a small dose cleaning schedule.

  • Mondays – strip all the beds, remake them, and wash all the dirty sheets.
  • Tuesday – Clean the bathrooms
  • Wednesday – Wash kids’ clothes

In this way, I am not overwhelmed trying to clean everything at once.

Well, that’s all folks!

Cheers to the 30 day prep!


Student Reflection on Assignments

“Miiiiisssssss? Why do we need to do this?”

I hate to admit it, but I heard this question from students more times than I woud have liked.

Blog - Student ReflectionInstead of disregarding this question however, it made me think more deeply about my teaching practice. Why were my students completing a particular assignment?

Of course I knew the answer. I had spent time reflecting on the standards and carefully identifying the best way to teach my students to build on their foundation of knowledge. I spent time thinking about ways to make each assignment relevent to the students’ current lives and relevent for their futures.


So, why was the purpose of the assignment unclear to them?

I always had the focus standard identified on the front board. Student learning goals and objectives were clearly posted above the daily aganda. Yet, I still got the questions about purpose.

Before most assignments I would have students write the state standard into student friendly language and share with a partner. Yet, I still got the questions about purpose.

Something was getting lost in translation and it needed to be found.

Identifying a purpose for learning increases student engagement, the quality of work, and completion rate. Therefore, helping students understand the reason for learning is essential.

As teachers we spend a lot of time reflecting on the standards. We see the standards covered in the grade below and above ours. We have vertical alignment meetings. We also have the benefit of life on our hands. We can see how the dots are connected. We can see how learning and growth in certain areas contributed to later success.

So,I decided to add a destinctive reflection component for my students.

For each unit of study I added a pre assignment reflection and a post assignment reflection. Reflection before beginning an assignment allows students’ to activate prior knowledge, identify areas of weakness, and set a purpose for learning. Pre reflection addresses the questions, what am I learning and why am I learning. Any time a student forgets, I have them pull out the pre reflection sheet.

Post reflection allows student learning to be solidified. Students think about what they learned and why. Students think about how they will apply this learning in the future. It gives students an opportunity to reflect on the areas in which they found success and the areas that caused them to struggle.

Not only is this a great way to set purpose, but it keeps students accountable for their learning. This type of student reflection also allows teachers insight into the areas that students need reteaching.

It is a win/win for everyone!

If you are ready to get started with student assignment reflection, check out the pre and post reflection sheets I have already created!


Cheers to intentional teaching and student reflection!


Looking for a deep dive into purposeful reflection for both teachers and students? Check out the Intentional Teaching Series.

Learning Out Loud

On the first day of school, after I introduce myself to the students I ask, “Is there anything else you need to know about me that will help you be a better student?”

So, on the very first day of my very first year teaching I asked this question. I got some standard questions like, “Were you a good student?” “What was your worst subject?” “Do you think a kid is stupid if he fails a test?”

But then, a male student raised his hand and said,”Miss, you don’t look like you know what it is to struggle. We kids here at this school, we struggle. You come in here dressed nice. You smell good. You talk proper. You don’t know, so what can you tell me?”

I stood frozen at the front of the classroom.  I thought. All the students waited quietly for my answer, but I didn’t have one. I mean, I did, but I was debating in my mind. I was debating the value of sharing my personal struggles as a youth. I didn’t want them to think that a teacher had to have struggled the way they did to help them learn, grow, and transcend expectations.

So, I said, “Look, I could go into the details of where I come from and how I was raised, but would that really make me a better teacher? Here is what I can promise you. If you will come to class everyday ready to learn, I will share pieces of my imperfection. Because honestly, this journey that we will take together this school year will be a challenge. Exciting and interesting, but a challenge and a struggle some days. This is the struggle we will have together. I am not a perfect person. I will not pretend to be perfect. This year, let’s struggle together. Let’s learn together. Let’s grow together. Most importantly, let’s persevere together. If you stick with me, I promise you will see that I am more than the nice clothes and sweet perfume. I am sure I will see that you are more than kids that struggle. Fair?”

The class turned around to look at him. He gave a crooked smile and said, “Ya, Miss. That’s fair.”

Blog - Learning Out Loud II

So much of teaching is reflection. Thoughftul, purposeful reflection. As teachers we help shape the minds of the next generation.

Take a minute and reflect. What do you want your students to understand about life and learning?

Each year I tweak or add to my list, but one constant lesson is that everyone struggles; those who persevere make an impact.

I believe the greatest teacher of perseverance is the example I set each day in the classroom. Of course it is important to be appropriately dressed. It is important to have lessons planned. It is important to establish rules, consequesnces, and routines. It is also important however, to stop and be honest. It is okay to say, “I don’t know, how about we find out together.” I do not have an answer to every question, sometimes I misspell words on the board, there are even times when I stutter or totally forget what I was going to say.

I have found that the more verbal I am about my imperfections, the more honest my students are about theirs.

Transparency has been a key factor in creating a classroom environment where students thrive, and isn’t that the goal?

Cheers to persevering through struggles!



Don’t forget to pick up the FREE reflection guide below!

Teacher Reflection_Check Stats



Novel Study – Solid Structure

Reading Structure

The novel has been selected and the course has been charted on the calendar. Now it’s time to really dig deep.  While charting the course you thought briefly about the standards you would cover, the types of projects and presentations your students would complete.  Now it is time to tear the standards apart, pull out the meat, and create the actual assignments, craft the lessons, design the rubrics.

Thoughts to consider:

  1. Begin with the end in mind.  What do you want the students to learn?  Start there and work backward.
    1. What will the final assessment look like – project, presentation, test?
    2. What assignments are necessary to achieve the learning goals?
    3. What passages need to be highlighted?
    4. What supplemental reading materials will be needed?
    5. What movie clips might increase understanding?
  2. We want the students knowledge to go deep, not wide.  When our students have a deeper understanding of concepts, they are more likely to remember the concept long after the story’s plot line has escaped their memory.  In addition, the chances of cross curricular and real world transfer, and application are greater.
  3. Guiding students toward greater independence should always be a goal.  What resources are available to help you gradually release reading responsibilities to your students while still holding them accountable?
    1. Literature Circles – Student led reading and learning groups designed to get all members engaged.  Students are held accountable by their peers and the teacher.
    2. Literature Labs – Students are placed into concept focus groups.  While reading, the group focuses on finding examples of one concept.  The group shares their findings, working together to design a lesson to teach their classmates.  The students then create groups containing one or two members from each strategy focus area to begin teaching, sharing, and discussing.
    3. At home reading – If you have enough novels, and the students are responsible, sending the text home to be read is a great option.  Students should be given a specific number of pages to read and a focus for their reading.  Assigning a huge study packet is not necessarily effective.  Remember, we want the students knowledge to be deep, not wide.
  4. Preparing 21st century learners means more than paper and pencil assignments.  How can you use technology in the service of learning?  Is the novel available on Kindle, Nook, eReader?  Showing students how to highlight and make notations on an electronic reading device is a great way to make a real world connection.  Setting up a class blog site or Twitter account is a great way to make learning interactive.  Placing assignments on sites like Edmodo, Moodle, Engrade, or HaikuLearning is a fantastic way to prepare students to take online courses at the college or university level.

These are just a few ideas for consideration.  Let us know if you’d like help hashing out the rest!  🙂

Cheers to vision inspired growth and development!




Novel Study – Charting the Course

Welcome back! Let’s dive right in.

You’ve finished reading and annotating the book. It’s time to begin planning for student success.

First things first.  Pull out the school calendar and a blank calendar.  Why pull out the calendar?  Everything that we do needs to be purposeful.  Purpose is more than just identifying standards and creating a rigorous course of study, it is about being good stewards of time.

There is a delicate balance that needs to be struck between the right amount of time to spend on a unit of study and the amount of time available to teach all standards during the school year.

Charting CourseSo, get out a calendar and chart your course.  Here are some guiding questions:

  1. How many weeks are in the current quarter or semester?
  2. How long is the book?
  3. Will your students be reading this book in class and at home?
  4. How long do you want this book study to last?
  5. How many chapters need to be read in order to finish in the allotted time?
  6. How many major concepts will be covered? Minor concepts?
  7. How many new concepts will be introduced?  How many concepts will be reviewed?
  8. Will your students be engaging in discussion of a movie adaptation of the novel?  After which chapters will movie clips be shown?
  9. How many days will be needed for any final presentations, paper revisions, teacher and peer conferences, or tests?
  10. When will you pass out rubrics for assignments related to the novel?

A nicely plotted novel unit of study is a beautiful thing.  Now, the real fun can begin!

Cheers to vision inspired growth and development!



Novel Study – Preparation

CTS blog_novel study IYou’ve decided which book you want to use for a class novel study, what’s next?  Well, what shouldn’t happen next is educator and students reading the book together.  I can say with some pretty strong confidence that this is not an effective way to study themes, explore new vocabulary, facilitate literature circles, or discussion that encourages critical thinking.  I can say this because I did something very similar during my first year of teaching.  My poor, naive, frazzled brain.  I honestly thought I had done enough prep work.  I thought I knew the book well enough to create as I went along. Not true and not fair to my students.

Every lesson should be designed with the end in mind, and in a way that sets students up for success.  When the teacher has no idea of the lessons direction, the students do not either.  For this reason, the likelihood of student success is significantly decreased.

So, what should happen next?

Prep, Prep, Preparation

  1. Look at the standards so that you can engage in purposeful reading.  As you read the novel, you will be aware of standards that would be easier to cover based on the content.
  2. Read the book before you teach it.  To properly facilitate purposeful reading and discussion for your students, you should know the content beforehand.  In addition, some of the most innocent of texts can have a bit of controversial content.  Skillfully navigating sensitive topics is easier when you can plan for them.
  3. Annotate the text just as you would have your students:
    • Make inferences supported by text – jot down page numbers or quotes
    • Draw conclusions
    • Identify new vocabulary
    • Track WIT statements – What I’m Thinking
    • Do character analysis
    • Create a plot chart
    • Identify major themes supported by text – Why are these themes important?
    • Make text to text, text to self, text to world connections
    • Once you have finished the book, jot down your thoughts.  What did you like about the book? Why? Dislike? Why?
    • What do you think your students will like and dislike? Why?

Now we are ready to create the novel study plan beginning with the end in mind. Begin thinking about which standards to focus on based on the content covered in the novel.  Also consider what student learning targets will be outlined related to these standards.

In the next blog post we’ll continue our conversation by looking at the specifics of beginning the novel study plan.

Cheers to vision inspired growth and development!