How to Avoid the Educational Rut

Notes from the Classroom

Getting over the drudgery of winter can be tough; even if you’re lucky enough to have a classroom with windows, the view outside is grody (you heard me) and the sunlight feels almost colder than the fluorescence of the room lights. For me, the best cure (besides squinting) to get through the cold white season has always been to bury myself in one of the most enjoyable aspects of teaching:  


My PLC likes to busy itself updating, modifying, and re-imagining everything in our curriculum.  Yes, we do this yearly. For fun. And because it’s best practice.

The Risk of the Rut

Routine can be good–for kids and for teachers–but it can also become a rut really quickly. Ruts in education sometimes get so deep that it isn’t just our wheels getting stuck in them. They can get so deep that we can’t even see over the edges to look for other possibilities.

When you devote some of your time each week to innovative thinking, you find that being creative and exploring new possible content and activities for your class are pretty good substitutes for sunshine. I mean…except for all the things sunshine actually does.  

How to Avoid the Rut

Here’s how my PLC tends to spend the cold months:

  • Read like crazy. If you don’t already do independent reading in class, add it!  Discovering new books to share with your students is a fantastic way to refresh your own interests and connect with your readers.
  • Look for connections in the world–and stay connected to it. Nothing freshens up a stale unit like some current reading. What are your favorite websites for pleasure reading? For keeping up on the news? Pop culture?
  • Use Twitter. If you haven’t already connected with the infinite treasure trove of fellow educators and resources on this social platform, now’s the time to get your feet wet.  While the site can take a few days to get used to, you can explore completely passively, unlike on sites like Facebook where you have to “friend” other people just to see their thoughts.  
  • Write. It doesn’t matter what, just get back into the practice you spend so much time teaching your students! If you’re feeling ambitious, reach out to a favorite blog or organization and see if you could write a guest-post for them. Maybe keep a journal–or better yet, write the assignments you’re giving your kids right alongside them (sounds almost like a book title I’m rather fond of).  
  • Try something crazy. Give one day in your unit to the sort of lesson that only those maniacs on Pinterest would ever actually try doing in their classroom! Make up a game, get the kids moving, let them decide how to approach the next day’s discussion–break out of the routine and see if the energy doesn’t change.

Spring is coming soon enough, and once the air smells like blossoms and freedom, we start to think more about summer than about our unit plans. That’s okay–so do the kids. But it’s all the more reason to dedicate some time to re-energizing yourself with a bit of classroom innovation to distract everybody from that muddy, melty view out the classroom windows.

Michael ZieglerMichael Ziegler (@ZigThinks) is a Content Area Leader and teacher at Novi High School.  This is his 15th year in the classroom. He teaches 11th Grade English and IB Theory of Knowledge. He also coaches JV Girls Soccer and has spent time as a Creative Writing Club sponsor, Poetry Slam team coach, AdvancEd Chair, and Boys JV Soccer Coach. He did his undergraduate work at the University of Michigan, majoring in English, and earned his Masters in Administration from Michigan State University.  

How I Resist the Urge to Get Defensive about My Whiteness

Notes from the Classroom

I’m white. Really white.

I often joke that my skin has two equally lovely shades. In the winter, I’m Casper-white. And in the summer if I’m not careful, I’m lobster-red.

As much as I may joke about my own whiteness, teachers like me have a natural inclination to get defensive when someone calls out our whiteness in relation to our practice. Resisting the urge to get defensive, though, might be one of the most important moves we make in our professional lives.

I’ll never forget the conversation I had with a teacher who was new to our district. She complained that our book choices were “too white.” Right away, I felt my defensive barbs prickle, and a million responses rushed to the tip of my tongue. Like, Are you kidding? You should have seen what it used to be!

Thankfully, though, I bit my tongue and, instead of snapping back, I took a deep breath and responded, “Tell me about it . . . . No really, tell me about it.”

Then I listened as she told me where she noticed holes in representation. It was nice to get an outside perspective because, as someone who was new, she could look at our curriculum in ways that I couldn’t. And now I’m sure that she learned more about who I am because I listened un-defensively.

Start with a Descriptive Inventory

Even though it can be hard to resist the urge to get defensive, I’ve found that stepping back to listen can make a world of difference. And I don’t just mean listening when someone is confronting me.

Do you remember that exercise in your undergrad class? The one where you had to observe a class and tally how many times a teacher called on each student. You collected the information first, then backed up to do some thinking and analysis. Do the same here.

Start by gathering observations–lots of them. Save the analysis and conclusions for later and just record what you notice is happening in class. By doing this sort of inventory, you can listen to many aspects of your practice: your students, yourself and your instruction, your curriculum. You might be someone who collects this thinking in lists or spreadsheets or simply by saying them out loud.

Once you’ve got the observations, it will be time to take a step back and reflect on what patterns you notice about whose voices and values are being represented in your class. Is it actually as diverse as you’d hoped it was? I’ve found that taking the time to make some unbiased observations helped me to better realize when my perceptions, and my privilege, might be getting in the way of real reflection–and might be unintentionally causing me to get defensive.

My first step in getting there was to look at some important areas of my practice. To get started on your own journey, you might start your inventory with the following areas.

Inventory Your Students

Describe what you know about your class. Tally, chart, or describe what you know about each student in relation to their:

  • Race
  • Religion
  • Geographic origin
  • Languages spoken
  • Gender identity
  • Sexuality
  • Family
  • Socio-economic status
  • Interests
  • Values

Among other benefits, this exercise helped me realize when I needed to get to know a student better.

Next, ask the same questions about yourself as you would your students. And if you’re really feeling adventurous, ask your students to do the inventory on you.

Inventory Your Instruction


  • Who do you call on when you’re looking for answers?
  • Who do you “check in on” to make sure they’re getting it?
  • Who do you push with extension or more challenging opportunities?
  • Who volunteers to speak in class? Who doesn’t?  
  • What opportunities do you give for students to talk to each other?
  • How often do students speak to someone inside their social circle? Outside it?
  • What opportunities do students have to give you feedback?

Do the same kind of inventory on the books in your classroom. Get ready to look not only for holes when people aren’t represented, but also for stereotypes that might be perpetuated.

Step Back and Reflect

It’s now time to reflect on all that you’ve noticed. Ask yourself:

  • What patterns do you see?  
  • Who is represented? Who isn’t?
  • Whose viewpoints seem to be given the most voice or value?
  • What stereotypes are present, perpetuated, or disputed?
  • Which students are given opportunities to see themselves, their families, their friends, their values represented in books?
  • Which students get to see and experience others’ perspectives and cultures through books?

This kind of reflection isn’t something that you do in just one sitting. And it can be uncomfortable–really uncomfortable. But once you start, it’s tough to deny that it’s some of the most important work we can do–for ourselves, for our instruction, and most importantly, for our students.

Megan Kortlandt (@megankortlandt) is a secondary ELA consultant and reading specialist for the Waterford School District. In the mornings, she teaches at Durant High School, and in the afternoons, she works with all of Waterford’s middle and high school teachers and students through the Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment department. Every time Megan goes grocery shopping, her cart makes her appear to be exceptionally healthy, but don’t be fooled. The healthy stuff is all for her pet rabbit, Hans.

I Almost Left Teaching. Here’s How Teacher Research Saved My Career.

Notes from the Classroom

About 17 percent of new teachers will leave the profession in their first five years, research shows. I never thought I’d be one of those teachers, but I felt doubt bubble up around year six, when I had my most challenging group of students to date. On top of that, I was a new mom and finishing up my graduate degree.

Yet, luckily for me, my graduate capstone seminar cracked open a whole new world of thinking that inspired me to become a teacher-researcher.

Teacher research is a systematic, careful, and strategic way to collect contextualized data on teaching and learning. While quantitative data is helpful to understand a student, teacher research goes a step beyond and provides the story behind the data. Here’s how teacher research revolutionized my practice and saved me from leaving.

Teacher research helped me notice why some students didn’t want to write.

All teacher research starts with a question. The question often evolves over time in response to data trends.

When I started my research, I wanted to know more about how to narrow the achievement gap through writing instruction. My class included many students who were underperforming as writers.

When I began to examine my data with my classmates and professor, a significant trend emerged: my students’ resistance to writing had more to do with their lack of opportunities to express their authentic voice than it had to do with not wanting to write.  What started as a broad question became more specific, as I explored how multigenre writing changed how my students viewed themselves as writers, and moreover how it helped them to improve their writing skill set.

Teacher research helped me see students’ strengths, not just their weaknesses.

Teacher research views student artifacts as among the most valuable pieces of data to understand a student.

Many of my students in this class were resistant and underperforming writers. When I sat down to grade their papers, I found myself comparing their writing to some of the more proficient and advanced writers who I had in another class. In doing so, I was assessing what wasn’t there instead of what was there.

When I shared several artifacts with my grad-school classmates, we focused instead on what the student was able to do in their writing–not just what was absent. Instead of noticing how one writer had multiple run-on sentences and weak transitions between ideas, I began noticing how she had multiple ideas and was in the process of developing and expressing her content knowledge. Adopting a growth mindset toward my students helped me to move beyond this deficit model of teaching.

Teacher research gave me empathy for frustrating students.

One of the key tenets of teacher research is that running records and field notes need to be written in a neutral voice, focused on what the student is doing—not how the teacher feels about it. When I was able to remove my own bias and frustration about students, I suddenly began to view my students with a newfound empathy.

As teachers, it is so easy to take personally the behavior of challenging students. But what happens if we don’t respond personally to student behavior, but instead simply observe it? This shift empowered me to make decisions that redirected behavior rather than punishing it. Instead of viewing one student as defiant, I began to look for outlets for his anger–via his own writing.

Here’s the Takeaway.

Looking back, I realize that these challenges could have broken me. But thanks to teacher research, these experiences trained me for my work today as a literacy interventionist and academic support coach. By embracing observation and removing my bias, this challenging group transformed my pedagogy and practice.

Lauren Nizol (@CoachNizol) is an MTSS Student Support Coach and Interventionist at Novi High School. She has eleven years of classroom experience, teaching English, IB Theory of Knowledge and English Lab. Lauren completed her undergraduate degree in History, English and Secondary Education at the University of Michigan-Dearborn and her Masters in English Education from Eastern Michigan University. She is a National Writing Project Teacher Consultant with the Eastern Michigan Writing Project and an advocate for underperforming students and literacy interventions.  When she’s not teaching, Lauren often runs for the woods with her husband and their three sons/Jedi in training and posts many stylized pictures of trees on Instagram.

How District Staff Can Best Work with Schools

Notes from the Classroom

This year I’ve begun to work in a new role, as an instructional technologist. This is not only a new job for me, but it’s also a new position in my district. I am lucky, though, to be part of a team. I have others with me as we figure this out. We also have a great boss, who understands that the following are key when you’re working with schools.

You Have to Build Relationships  

This is our #1 goal this year. There are seven of us and twelve buildings, so this is definitely a challenge. We all have buildings where we are the “key people,” but we also all go where we are needed and where we have experience to meet the needs of the staff.

Not only do we work with teachers to help them effectively integrate technology into their teaching, but we are also responsible for delivering Information Literacy curriculum to all students K-5. This means we are getting to know people, and they are figuring out who we are, what we do, and how this is going to work. It is critical that the staff see me as helpful, reliable, flexible, and useful.

That’s a tall order! We all know that working with technology comes with lots of hiccups along the way, so having a good relationship is key when the inevitable happens and the technology doesn’t work.

Learn, Learn, and Learn–and Let It Be Known

I knew going into this job that there was a lot I didn’t know. Yet, until I was in it, I didn’t have any inkling just how much I didn’t know!

So I’m learning. Every. Single. Day.

I love it, which is the good news. I’m super excited about so many things, and I know that the teachers I am working with can see my excitement. I am very up front about not knowing everything, and most people are good with that. They are learning that if I don’t know something, I will find out, or I will bring in someone who does. I’m participating in lots of professional development opportunities (yes, some on my own time) because it’s what I need to do, and I’m loving what I do. (That loving-what-I-do thing is really important to me, and it’s what I tell my students: love what you do and it will never feel like work.)

Give Yourself a Break

For me, this is both figurative and literal. It is very hard to be on a tech team with people who have better tech skills than you; teachers as a rule tend to never want to admit that they don’t know something in the professional realm. I’ve had to embrace this reality and stop beating myself up about it. Instead, I am using it as motivation to learn. There is something very freeing about saying, “I have no idea, but I know who does, and I’ll find out.”

The literal part of taking a break is pulling myself away from the computer at night, when I need to be spending time with my family. Of course, this is the life of a teacher–always doing school work at night, after working eight, nine, even ten hours at school during the day. Go figure.

I know that this year will continue to be a year of amazing learning, foibles and falls, and lots of triumphs. It is a new, crazy journey, and I am so happy to be on it.

beth Beth Rogers (@bethann1468) has taught in the elementary setting for the past 11 years. During this time, she earned her Master’s in Educational Technology from Michigan State University. This year, she is in a new position: Instructional Technologist K-12. This gives her the unique opportunity to work with teachers and students, district wide, to incorporate technology into their teaching and learning, in ways that engage, enhance, and extend the learning. She has already already begun to work with multiple classrooms to engage students in blogging, and to help teachers understand the power of this platform. At home, she lives with her husband, sons, and an anxiety-ridden German Shepherd who requires inordinate amounts of time and attention.

3 Ways to Work With Newby Teachers

Notes from the Classroom

I was walking out of school the other day with my colleague Emily, and as we passed a newer teacher, I said, “Man, everybody seems so young around here these days.” She laughed ruefully and said, “Yup. We’re the Old Guard now.”  

When I started teaching, “Old Guard” meant the teachers who had been there long enough to have it all figured out. They were the ones who made the decisions while the rest of us followed their lead.

I certainly don’t have everything all figured out, and I’m not really comfortable with this whole “getting older” thing, so here are a few ways I’m trying to hang with the newbies:

1. Learn with (and from) Younger Teachers

One of the things I love most about my colleagues is our teacher-led book studies.

Right now we are doing a study on The Teenage Brain, and at our last meeting, one of my favorite parts was hearing from Kaitlyn, a second-year Spanish teacher. She described how she’s slowing down her instruction so that she gives her students time to process.

I know kids need processing time. I’ve heard about wait time for years. But listening to her describe how it was working in her classroom was the reminder I needed. The next day, I could hear her voice in my head as I was rushing through a class discussion. Slow down, give them time to process. I did. And it worked.  

2. Let Younger Teachers Take the Reigns

I’m a bit bossy (bit is not the right word at all). I like to lead. So, naturally, when two new teachers started teaching AP Language with me, I was quick to tell them how we do things.

We were clipping right along when Gina started offering suggestions. Maybe we should change the order of how we introduce the writing tasks, she suggested. Insert horrified face from Hattie. What we’re doing is working so well, I thought. But–her reasoning was sound. Her idea was a good one. We tried it, and I’m happy to report that she was right. It wasn’t easy for me to give up what I knew had always worked, but it was good to push myself to try a different approach that might be better.

3. Listen to Their Questions

I’m lucky to be part of an awesome group of AP Lang teachers who share ideas on Voxer, a messaging app. This year an experienced AP Lit teacher who is teaching Lang for the first time joined our group.

A few weeks ago, she asked how we explain exigence to our students. Her followup questions, and the discussion she sparked, made me realize I’ve been explaining it poorly for awhile. It helped me think about why I was doing what I was doing, and pushed me to think about teaching it from a new angle.

Others’ questions, then, help me think about why I do what I do, which in turn helps me rethink my teaching.

Younger Teachers Keep us Fresh

It’s easy to settle into a professional identity based on experience. But pushing myself to connect with newer teachers is a way to keep myself fresh.

Don’t worry–I won’t go too far. I’m still good for teasing the pesky millennial history teacher for his strange hipster ways. But after I run him over with my walker, I might just pick his brain a little, too.

Hattie Maguire (@teacherhattie) hit a milestone in her career this year: she realized she’s been teaching longer than her students have been alive (17 years!). She is spending that 17th year at Novi High School, teaching AP English Language and AP Seminar for half of her day, and spending the other half working as an MTSS literacy student support coach. When she’s not at school, she spends her time trying to wrangle the special people in her life: her 8-year-old son, who recently channeled Ponyboy in his school picture by rolling up his sleeves and flexing; her 5-year-old daughter, who has discovered the word apparently and uses it to provide biting commentary on the world around her; and her 40-year-old husband, whom she holds responsible for the other two.

Turning PD into Action

Notes from the Classroom

shutterstock_400996306‘Tis the season . . . for professional learning! Conferences, early releases, and late-start days; inspiring speakers, intense conversations–and then we return back to our students and apply the lessons. It’s one last big push to propel us to the end of the school year.

However, the challenge becomes how to thoughtfully take our new learning and strategically act on it, in order to change practices and meaningfully impact our students. My team of teachers and I recently had the opportunity to attend a national literacy conference. We wanted our investment in time and travel to pay off, so we committed to collaborate in a variety of ways.

How We Solidified Our Learning

  1. Talk, talk, talk! We had conversations when the presenters encouraged us to “turn and talk.” We talked in between sessions and we talked our way through dinner and adult beverages. All that talk helped us to deepen our understandings and reconcile new ideas with current practices.
  2. Write. A lot. We took notes in a variety of ways. Some of us took pictures of slides and inserted them into notes and apps on our iPads. Others used composition notebooks, highlighters, and sticky notes. Many took notes and then made annotations of our thinking in the margins. Some e-mailed, texted, or connected using social media (Twitter, Facebook).
  3. Take quiet time. It seemed overwhelming to consider the richness of all these new possibilities, and time was needed to prioritize our thinking. Quiet time was the answer to the questions, “What’s next?” and “What do we need to rethink in regards to current practices?”

Steps that Led to Action

  1. shutterstock_437390470Consolidating big ideas and notes into a Google Doc. Learners’ block! We were paralyzed and couldn’t decide what was important to tackle first. We agreed to wait a week and then to revisit our notes. Additionally, mid-year reassessments were in full swing. And so with data in hand, it was much easier to focus and prioritize what to put into action. This also meant we would have to let some things go for now.
  2. Commit to change. We all committed to putting new learning into action. There is power in working with a team, because once we said it out loud, it was real! We were accountable to each other.

Actions We Took

  • One teacher committed to making a video to share with our classroom-teacher teams.
  • Others agreed to add new procedures to lessons. They would report back on how students’ processing changed, by sharing running records and students’ writing with our team.
  • We set up a new Google Docs folder where we would post pictures of student samples and lesson plans.

Other Takeaways

A need emerged. It was partly due to our collaboration. It also resulted from the formative assessment process with our students, as well as the speakers who inspired and showed us new ways to connect with our students’ next learning steps. The need was to be more intentional with our teaching. Intentional teaching equals “accelerative” learning.

  • We would study how to intentionally design word-work lessons that assist students to problem solve words effectively and efficiently while reading and writing.
  • We would continue to be conscious of our teaching interactions and language, so that we’d be teaching for tomorrow, not just today.
  • Our collaborative work would continue, and it would also be imperative to include our classroom teacher-teams by sharing concrete examples of how lessons look and sound. Together we would assist the students’ transfer of new learning to independence.


Here are a few of the resources and speakers that pushed our thinking, as well as resources we revisited as we renewed those valuable “friendships” with our long-time mentors.

Who’s Doing the Work?, by Burkins & Yaris

Finding Versus Fixing,” by Anderson & Kaye

Dr. Laura Tortorelli, Michigan State University

Interventions that Work, by Dorn & Soffos

Apprenticeship in Literacy 2nd Edition, by Dorn & Jones

Literacy Lessons, by Clay

updated Lynn Lynn Mangold Newmyer has been an educator for 42 years. She is a Reading Recovery Teacher Leader and an Elementary Literacy Coach in the Walled Lake Consolidated School district. Lynn has presented at state, national, and international conferences and has taught graduate classes at Oakland University. She currently teaches her students at Loon Lake Elementary. Lynn emphatically believes that you can never own too many picture books. You can follow her on Twitter at @LynnRdgtch.

#YOY2016: My Year of Yes

Notes from the Classroom Oakland Writing Project

RhimesLast January I watched a TED Talk given by Shonda Rhimes, writer, producer–you name it, she’s doing it–about her year of saying “yes” to everything that scared her. Ms. Rhimes says that saying “yes” to things that scared her, transformed both them and her.

It’s a powerful idea, and I decided that for 2016 I would be like Shonda and say “yes.” I didn’t make a big announcement but I did tell a few colleagues, and I made it clear to my children and students that my Year of Yes was mostly about professional requests. Sorry boys, no new dog named Jurgen.

Because of this commitment, I said “yes” to a few things that I might have passed on, not because they scared me, but because they sounded like more work than I really wanted, or they didn’t interest me, or it was a busy time of year (when isn’t it?). Things did get hectic, and I remember a colleague asking me if I’d gone a week without a professional development appointment. But I wasn’t as busy as many of the people I was saying “yes” to, and their examples pushed me when I was tempted to give it up.

Getting off the Back Burner

My first test came when the Oakland Writing Project chapter of the National Writing Project offered the opportunity to participate in a book study of Geneva Gay’s book Culturally Responsive Teaching, led by Richard Koch. It involved reading the book again as well as doing some reflection, and meeting with the group both in person and online.

Professional reading, a book study–I never find time for these. Like most teachers, I habitually skim and read professional material on teaching, education, writing, reading and so on. My desk has a pile devoted to “interesting stuff” I’m going to really dig into when I get a minute . . . this summer . . . someday. Gay’s book was buried in that pile, bookmarked, highlighted, forgotten.

Year of Yes, or YOY, made me dig it out and reread passages that I thought were worth thinking more about. I’d also committed to meeting with smart people and talking about Gay’s ideas, which meant I had to be prepared.

I’ve written before about Gay’s book and how it’s impacted me. But I’ll say again that the conversations around it have driven more of my decisions this year than anything else I’ve read.

These conversations weren’t pleasant. I’ve been confronting aspects of my practice that I’m not proud of. But I think that the conversations are making me a better teacher, and I wonder if perhaps the book was lingering on that pile because I didn’t want to think about the hard conversations I needed to have. Shonda, and the YOY, provided the push.

Saying Yes to a Big Project

Last April I was leading a small group of colleagues through a short workshop, which introduced the principles of Design Thinking. It went well, and one or two people suggested that we put together another one, this time for students. Good idea, but what’s that look like?

In a matter of a 30 minutes this energetic group decided that we should try an all-day deep dive into the Design Thinking experience for 70 staff and students off site–so a field trip–and that we do this in a month, before school let out and we lost our momentum.

I’d done some work coaching Design Thinking workshops in the summer, but I’d never planned one, and never been the lead presenter. And we had a really tight time frame.

But YOY meant I had to do it. We pitched the idea and got approval–was everyone else also in their YOY?–and through tremendous group effort we pulled it off. Seventy students and staff learned about Design Thinking and then, using what they learned, went into the community and redesigned the lunch experience for patrons of downtown Auburn Hills. Since then we’ve had two more workshops, and I turned over the lead presenter role to a member of that initial group. The conversations we’re having now are about how to grow this and sustain it.

I’m not sure I’d have done it if not for Shonda and our YOY.

So 2016, my Year of Yes, is over now. I’m not going to extend it and those are just two of the best takeaways. But I learned that when I took “no” off the menu, I tried more. And while I didn’t like all of it, I’m building from the new ingredients.

RICKRick Kreinbring (@kreinbring_rick) teaches English at Avondale High School in Auburn Hills, Michigan. His current assignments include teaching AP Language and Composition and AP Literature and Composition. He is a member of a statewide research project through the Michigan Teachers as Researchers Collaborative partnered with the MSU Writing in Digital Environments Program, which concentrates on improving student writing and peer feedback. Rick has presented at the National Advanced Placement Convention and the National Council of Teachers of English Conference. He is in his twenty-third year of teaching and makes his home in Huntington Woods.

4 Ways to Energize Your PD

AARI Notes from the Classroom Oakland Writing Project Professional Learning

hub-course-searchThe best professional development has to inspire me, engage me, and challenge me to try something new. Some of my favorite conferences have been MACUL and NCTEI always leave feeling exhausted from attending so many amazing sessions, overwhelmed with all of the great resources I’ve been introduced to, and excited to try something new with students the next day, back in my classroom.  

But I can’t always attend the conferences, due to location or funding. So I’ve had to get creative with ways to provide comparable experiences in my professional life. Here are four virtual professional development ideas that have energized my teaching.

  1. Use Twitter Hashtags.
    I hope you are on Twitter.  If you find the right hashtags, you can learn a lot about the things that matter to you as an educator.  Want to learn more about using technology in your classroom?  Search #CEL16 or #4TDW and
    get lost in the conversations, links, images, and resources.  Teach English? Search #NCTE16 or #EngChat.  Once you start searching, you can find people that you might want to follow, based on their tweets.  If you are attending a conference, you might start tweeting with a hashtag and follow likeminded colleagues from different places.  And if you can’t attend a conference (like the recent NCTE conference), you can still benefit from the learning and thinking that took place because of hashtags.

  2. Attend a Webinar.
    This past October, I was a moderator for the 4TDW conference on digital writing.  As my partner and I were creating his session on using collaborative digital writing, I learned a lot about what goes into creating an effective, engaging webinar.  Much thought is put into creating a virtual space that fosters participation, focuses your learning in a short time, and pushes your thinking (many times you are able to gain SCECHs too).  Even if you can’t attend a live webinar, usually you can watch the recorded webinar on your own timetable.  Oakland Schools has a great series on vocabulary, word study, and grammar that you can still register for.  Best of all, these types of professional learning are usually FREE!

  3. Sign up for an Online Course in miPLACE.
    One of my new job responsibilities has been to help create engaging, online professional development for teachers who support struggling readers.  There are a ton of great modules created by teachers and
    teacher consultants in Oakland School’s virtual community, MiPlace.  If you haven’t been there to check them out yet, now is the time!  Once you create an account or log in, you can browse or search the Course Catalogue under the Hub tab.

  4. aari-hangoutCome Hangout!
    If you teach AARI, you can
    attend our next “Come Hangout!” on December 7th.  We use Adobe Connect to talk about relevant topics virtually, and from the comfort of your own home, you can have an experience like an after-school meeting. We had a great discussion about student engagement in September and created a resource document around our thinking.  Still, you don’t need a special platform like Adobe Connect to meet up virtually with colleagues.  You can create a Google Hangout or shared Google Doc with a group of colleagues from your building or beyond (maybe someone you follow on Twitter?!) around a topic you are interested in discussing.  It is rejuvenating and validating to talk with other teachers around shared topics to help each other, push each other, celebrate, and learn.

When you take control of your virtual professional learning, and make use of technology to fit it into your life, you can really enhance your teaching practice to benefit you and your students.

file-sep-29-8-45-18-pmCaroline Thompson (@TeacherThompson) taught middle school ELA for twelve years in Lake Orion before becoming a stay-at-home mom. She supports AARI teachers for Oakland Schools as an independent literacy consultant in the areas of digital media, professional development, and non-fiction resources. Caroline is a Reading and Writing Workshop advocate, a 2008 Oakland Writing Project Teacher Consultant, and a 2009 Oakland County Outstanding Teacher of the Year Nominee. She has a BA in English from Michigan State University and a Masters in the Art of Teaching Reading from Oakland University. She lives in Berkley, Michigan with her husband and their three year old daughter.

A Virtual Conference on Data Literacy

Critical Literacy Notes from the Classroom Oakland Writing Project Professional Learning
Virtual PD on my patio

Virtual PD on my patio

One day over the summer, I was scrolling through Twitter and saw a post for the 4T Virtual Conference on Data Literacy.  As someone who has presented at the 4T Virtual Conference on Digital Writing, I couldn’t believe that I hadn’t heard of the data literacy arm–and it was coming up in two days! I quickly clicked the link and signed myself up, ready for two days’ worth of virtual PD about teaching students data literacy, and which I could access from my patio.

If you’ve never attended a virtual conference, they tend to work like this: once you sign up, you are sent a link to a virtual room, which you enter a few minutes before the session is slated to begin. Generally, there is some kind of introductory task that allows people to get to know one another. This task also allows a moderator to introduce the presenter and troubleshoot along the way.

Whatever the presenter is talking about is the main reason people attend the session. But the running chat (which move so fast!) among all of the participants often yield tons of great, practical ideas for teachers, too.

The Info on Infographics

I attended multiple sessions, on topics ranging from an introduction to data literacy, to data literacy in the content areas, to action research in the classroom. For this conference, I was most looking forward to the sessions about data visualization and infographics, though. I’ve dabbled with making infographics and have always wanted to have students create them, but I was never sure how to go about doing that, because I didn’t feel that I had a design background.

As the presenters were speaking, something that one of them said really struck me: think of an infographic like an argumentative essay.  The infographic itself is the overall argument. The images, design, and information are the evidence and reasons.

Thinking about infographics in this way was like a light bulb going off in my head. Writing arguments with supporting evidence is something students are well versed in, and moving from a traditional essay to a different argumentative form seemed like a great next step.

Get Visual

visualize this In addition to seeing infographics in a new light, I also learned, from participants in the chat, about two books that would expand my understanding of data visualizations. The books are Visualize This: The FlowingData Guide to Design, Visualization, and Statistics and Data Points: Visualization that Means Something, both by Nathan Yau. While the books are sometimes heavy on programming language, they greatly enhanced my understanding of how data might be visualized, and why you might visualize a particular data set. They also offered tons of practical (and often free) resources for visualizing data.

As I was reading these books over the summer, I had planned on using with students what I learned. But now that I have moved into the role of curriculum coordinator, I know this learning will be very applicable to my new work.

Screenshot 2014-09-26 at 12.44.07 PMJianna Taylor (@JiannaTaylor) is the ELA/SS Curriculum Coordinator for the West Bloomfield School District.  Prior to this role, she was a middle school ELA and Title 1 teacher.  She is a MiELA Network Summer Institute facilitator and member of the OWP Core Leadership Team.  Jianna earned her bachelor’s degree from Oakland University and her master’s degree from the University of Michigan.  She also writes reviews of children’s books and young adult novels for the magazine School Library Connection.

Reflect. Reinvent. Renew.

Notes from the Classroom Oakland Writing Project

daybook-titleMy daughter is turning three and my house is a disaster area. There is papier mâché residue on the carpet and ceiling from the piñata we decided to make today. The sink is piled high with half-filled milk cups I haven’t gotten around to emptying.

I look around and wonder if this is the best environment for a three-year-old to live in, considering we have decided to keep her home from pre-school next year. And that’s when I realize: I’m reflecting, and it feels good.

Reflect for Yourself

One of my favorite things I used as a teacher was Jim Burke Teacher’s Daybook Personal and Professional Workshops. Burke is a trusted English high school teacher who helps teachers try to balance their work and home lives. I tried to make a habit of doing his Beginning of the School Year Workshop–which was easy. But I didn’t always make it to the End of the School Year Reflections. I was too busy closing up my room or grading finals or just plain exhausted from the year.

What I know is that I always felt better, and had more closure maybe, in the years when I made the time to reflect.

Reinvent One Area of Your Teaching Life

I’ve adapted to my role as mom, as my daughter has grown. In the beginning, I was basically a source of nourishment and comfort. Now I’m that, but I’m also a disciplinarian, a television and internet censor, a teacher, a nutritionist, a coach, a problem solver, a storyteller, a fort builder, and a small toy detective.

OWP logo copySomething I miss from my teaching years is the opportunity each new school year afforded me to try something new. Maybe it was something small, like a new desk arrangement. Maybe it was something big, like the Oakland Writing Project, seeping into my teaching and changing the way I would look at myself as a teacher and writer. But each year, I could decide to change, and I would get a new batch of students to adjust with.

Some questions to reflect upon: What will you change next year? What worked this year? What flopped and why do you think it did?

Renew Your Love Affair with Teaching

My daughter loves hearing stories about herself. We started a bedtime tradition of reading a book and then telling a story about the day, or the last trip we were on together, or the time we went to a favorite place. I was just starting to tire of the same old stories about the zoo and the bookstore. Then last week, genius struck, and we retold the story of the day she was born. And we all were excited to remember.

Do you remember why you got into teaching in the first place? Do you still hold the passion you did when you first started?

Spend some time reflecting on the first-year teacher you were and the teacher you are now. What has changed? What hasn’t? What do you wish you still had? What do you wish you could leave behind?

You are probably already signed up for a workshop or a course this summer. If not, you probably have plans to grow and change in some area of your teaching. Maybe this is the summer you figure out how Twitter can expand your professional reach. Maybe you decide to research UDL and find out what it stands for.

Or maybe you could start to explore MiPlace and all that it has to offer. What about joining Camp NaNoWriMo this July and deciding to get your students involved in November? You might take the entire summer just to be with your family, and promise yourself you will only go back in the fall on the day that the school requires you to be back to set up your classroom.

If you’d like to spend time with deliberate reflection, you might try a Thinking Routine like “I used to think…but now I think…” Or you could check out what this guy from Edutopia has to offer.

Whatever you need to do–to renew your teaching life or your personal life–make sure you do it this summer!

File_000Caroline Thompson (@TeacherThompson) taught middle school ELA for twelve years in Lake Orion before becoming a stay-at-home mom. She supports AARI teachers for Oakland Schools as an independent literacy consultant in the areas of digital media, professional development, and non-fiction resources. Caroline is a Reading and Writing Workshop advocate, a 2008 Oakland Writing Project Teacher Consultant, and a 2009 Oakland County Outstanding Teacher of the Year Nominee. She has a BA in English from Michigan State University and a Masters in the Art of Teaching Reading from Oakland University.  She lives in Berkley with her husband and their two year old daughter.