Classroom Practices, Education, Uncategorized

So You’re Starting Reading Workshop!

books in stairwellThis year our curriculum team has revamped the curriculum with a reading workshop framework. I am thrilled to see this! I truly believe in the power of a reading workshop classroom and have seen so many kids thrive in this type of environment. While there is no one program or method that is the “end all, be all” of reading instruction, I think it is an awesome move on the part of the district literacy team to spread the workshop model throughout the district.

When I first starting teaching reading workshop, it was a big change and I will admit I did not like it. I really felt like I was not truly teaching because I wasn’t up in front of the room instructing. It took me quite a while to realize that letting students read was the most important reading instruction I could give! Small group and individual conferencing took a while to get the hang of, as well. But once I did, I saw the powerful results of students having ownership of their goals and taking charge of their own progress as readers. Ten minute mini-lessons replaced whole class lessons…another big change that was a bit scary at first! I learned how to use read aloud picture books to kick off my openings and wrap up my closings. They soon became my most favorite times of the day! But the most important things I noticed with this change in teaching style were that my students became lovers of reading, and I became much more knowledgable of them as readers. By the end of that first year, I fell in love with Reading Workshop.

Below are some resources I used which helped me start building my own Reading Workshop classroom.

Using Ipads in Guided Reading

Beth Newingham Videos

Complex Texts: Guiding Readers

Level Your Classroom Books

Units of Study / Mini Lesson Videos

If you are moving to a Reading Workshop format or have been engaged with this style of reading instruction for a while, please share your ideas, thoughts, questions and suggestions so that we can all continue to grow together!

Classroom Practices, Education, Leadership, Learning, Uncategorized

Your School’s Vibe

IMG_2387Have you ever noticed how certain places just give you a good feeling when you walk in? Some places just feel good. It’s nothing you can see, or touch, or even point to and say, “Yes, that right there. That is what’s making this a positive environment”. No, that kind of vibe can’t be artificially created. It comes from the feelings and the morale contained within that particular place.

In a school, it will come from the collective community: the students, the teachers, the office workers, the custodians, the administrators and the paraprofessionals. It comes from all kinds of places and it floats through the building and it gives away all the secrets that place holds. The “vibe” of the school is felt by visitors when they walk in. Depending on the culture, that vibe can be one of our most important treasures, or it can be one of our most troublesome symptoms. But either way, each school has its own unique vibe–one we all hope is positive and palpable.

We hear a lot about how schools need to tell their stories. Our stories are told on Twitter, and Facebook, and at the grocery store, and PTA meetings, and at baseball games. But a school’s story is also told through that vibe you get when you enter the place. What’s your school’s vibe? Do you know? Can you feel it?

We are very fortunate to have had many visitors over the last couple of years who have commented about the positive vibe they get when they visit our school. Educators from other schools, parents, delivery people, you name it. They tell us how the place just “feels happy“. We love to hear this! I’m not saying this to brag (ok, maybe a little). I’m saying this because Monday is #LoveMySchoolDay on Twitter (more info on that further down). We have encouraged our school community to participate by sharing out what they love about our school throughout the day on the #LoveMySchoolDay hashtag.

We have also tailored this week’s staff blog to this theme. The principal shared what she loves about our school. Our teachers wrote their thoughts via an online staff poll that we created and have included in the blog. You can view our poll responses here. Even our students got into the spirit and created a video giving our school and teachers a big shout out and sharing all the wonderful things that make us who we are.  We put that into our staff blog this week as well. You can view the blog for this week here. We roll our blog out on Fridays and this week it all leads up to Monday’s big Twitter movement, #LoveMySchoolDay. So in honor of this fun event, I jotted down a few things that I think go into making a school an awesome place to be.  Not surprisingly, they are all important components in our school’s student and teacher Core Values documents, which we created and adopted this year. If you’d like to read those, the links are included below. So here are what I consider to be some important things that come together to create a school’s vibe–in no particular order:

  1. Relationships. The staff is very close. They feel like a family and they treat one another like family. How does this happen? Well, there are some things I think leaders can do to help their staff build these relationships. Providing opportunities to collaborate, to have fun together, and finding a variety of ways to encourage teamwork are all important in helping the staff come together. They respect one another as professionals and they like one another as people. That does not happen just because we hire a bunch of people and throw them together in a building. Leaders have to purposefully plan for and allow team building,collaboration, and teacher leadership to flourish. Building relationships is at the center of our school’s Core Values, which we recently designed. Our Teacher Core Values are here and our Student Core Values are here.
  2. Autonomy. Many reported that they feel empowered to design learning experiences and take risks that they feel are important for their class/team. They are not micro managed, but rather they are seen as and treated like valuable and knowledgable professionals. They are held accountable while also being trusted. As administrators, our role is more of guiding rather than directing. We share our own thoughts, mistakes, ideas, and concerns. We are not afraid to admit that we don’t know something or to seek input from our staff. I think they appreciate this and it definitely goes to our Core Values.
  3. Purpose. What is our purpose? To sum it up in two words: teach kids and have fun. (Let me credit our district Asst. Supt. Buddy Bonner with that bit of awesome!) We hire teachers who love kids and love teaching. And whatever else they may not be experienced with, we teach them. And we have fun every day. That’s mandatory. 🙂
  4. Prioritize Happy. We prioritize happy. Walk into our lounge on any given day and you might see a bulletin board asking teachers to share some awesome quotes from kids that they have heard lately. You might see a hall display of Acts of Kindness that a student has randomly put up and onto which others have started adding. We love being happy and we think it is important to teaching. And learning. And living.
  5. Gratitude. The entire school community shares with others what they are grateful for. Our parents. Our students. Our teachers. We are grateful and we express that gratitude often. And that just makes people feel good. Gratitude is purposefully written into our student and teacher Core Values document.

These are just a few things, but I think they are very important things. What are some of your thoughts? What makes up your school’s vibe? If you are interested in learning more about the #LoveMySchoolDay Twitter event, scheduled for April 11, 2016, you can find all the information here.