Sunday, January 14, 2018

Post #2: Relationships First!

Along with taking the time to rest, relax, and recharge this holiday break, my quick trip home came with a couple of firsts--one event was something I’ve been meaning to do for many years and the other was something I wouldn’t have imagined happening.
For the first time since I was a student, I was able to return to my K-6 elementary school while school was still in session! I had always wanted to pop in and visit, but if I were ever home in Hawaii, it meant I was on a school break of some sort, which meant the local schools were too.  I nervously clipped on my visitor’s badge as I made my way down to my sixth-grade teacher’s portable--the exact same one we explored the order of operations in many years ago.

As I walked by classrooms, an unexplainable sense of warmth started to bubble from the inside and emerged as a smile as I passed my first-grade classroom on my way to the portables.  My nerves were immediately eliminated as I started to catch up with my former teacher during the end of his lunch block as he asked about my family, my current classroom, and as we reminisced about some of the epic football games he quarterbacked during our recess as sixth graders many years ago.  I am so grateful for the opportunity to have spent the afternoon revisiting some of my favorite childhood memories.
The second event happened shortly after my trip back to my elementary school but was planned months prior at our last parent-teacher-student conference.  One of the families in my class had a vacation planned to Hawaii over the holiday break and had hoped to meet up if I were returning home for the holidays.  I happily agreed at the time but began to get a little nervous as the night approached.  I love running into families and students outside of school, but I had never pre-arranged a meeting like this before!

Just like walking through the familiar halls of my elementary school, my nerves were eased as soon as we sat down for dinner.  I heard every detail of my student’s stay so far--all of the places she visited, foods that she tried, and activities to still conquer!  As many teachers do, I spent the first couple of days of the school year building our classroom community by sharing about each other...myself included! I love sharing about my home state of Hawaii and the experiences that I’ve had because of it, and it was the most unique feeling to be able to share that experience first-hand with one of my students, despite being thousands of miles away from where we lead our daily lives!
It absolutely blew me away that this student would spend the days leading up to our dinner asking her Aunt when dinner was and I will forever cherish that time with her and her family and the trinket she picked out for me to commemorate it!
While these two events occurred independently of each other, I’m glad they happened when it did because it reinforced what is truly important in our classrooms.  I will continually strive to emulate an educational experience for our students similar to the one that I’ve had--one that will be memorable for our students because of the relationships built and experiences shared, rather than because, “we covered it.” With state testing silently approaching, it is so easy to fall into the trap of test prep and review.  As educators, we are aware that these standardized tests only measure a fraction of our children’s abilities.  It doesn’t measure their kindness when they reach out to a new friend, their perseverance when they fail at a task, or their bravery as they fearlessly take risks.  So while we will give it our best to show what we know during that designated time, our experiences leading up to it won’t change...because at the end of the day #KidsDeserveIt.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Post #1: Flexible Seating--A Process, Not 'Stuff!'

“Our next solution makers won’t be cultivated in desks and rows.”
-The Space: A Guide for Educators

Pausing to reflect on the first half of our school year, it is incredible to think about how much of an impact flexible seating has had on improving our classroom culture.  It started as #onenewthing...but it was HUGE!  It was so empowering to watch students take accountability for their own learning habits and direct their own learning throughout the day.

After spending hours and hours over the summer checking through Kayla Delzer’s resources, our redesigned classroom was slowly starting to take shape in front of our eyes!

As we attempted to bring the Starbucks atmosphere into our classroom in order to promote collaboration when needed, and enough choices to accommodate our variety of learners, I had no idea how much of an impact flexible seating would bring to our classroom in just a few short months.

Looking back, I can see how much flexible seating changed how our school day is designed and the workflow within our classroom. Often, I believe when people think of flexible seating, they think of all of the “stuff.”  Wobble stools, floor spots, barstools, and coffee tables are all great--but I don’t believe that alternative seating options define flexible seating.  I’ve started to view flexible seating more as a process, rather than things.  If students are expected to “sit and git” while atop a barstool, how much have we really improved our learning environment?


Thanks to some summer reading, the perfect #booksmash came together and provided us with the perfect mindset heading into the new school year, making sure we weren’t swapping out chairs and desks with “stuff.”  While searching for new tools from The Google Infused Classroom (Holly Clark and Tanya Avrith) to help our students “make thinking visible,” The Space: A Guide for Educators (Rebecca Hare and Bob Dillon) seemed to marry the same concept, but with classroom design as the medium, rather than technology.  Providing learning spaces that promote collaboration and also a medium that would allow students to make their thinking visible was the final piece to tie our room together.


It has been amazing watching our students thrive this year as they have had the opportunity to refine their 21st Century Learning Skills on a daily basis!  It took a while for us to navigate this new classroom dynamic, but as a class, we were able to find a workflow that worked for us.  It was definitely uncomfortable at the start, but I can’t imagine our classroom without it and I certainly can’t imagine going back!

Monday, January 1, 2018


With the smoke of last night’s fireworks slowly clearing, the glimmer of a fresh outlook on a new year shines brightly as we reminisce about all that this past year has had to offer.

For me, 2017 was filled with exhaustion, curiosity, new adventures, and a redesigned flow and atmosphere in our classroom.  It all began just under a year ago when some colleagues and I were able to attend our first EdTechTeam Summit featuring Google for Education in Las Vegas as our school explored various ways to integrate technology into our classrooms.  Our minds were racing as we left an action-packed weekend eager to share the resources that our school’s Chromebooks had been patiently holding onto for months. I am so grateful for the perfect storm that brewed in the months to come, combining Donnie Piercey's concept of “Fun Theory” from his keynote speech with the delicate balance of integrating technology to transform our learning at a deeper level.  From that point forward, I looked at every morning as a challenge to answer a question from Donnie’s keynote--"Are students running to or from your classroom?”  

For the following weeks, I spent hours bouncing ideas off of colleagues as we tried to answer this challenge on a daily basis.  Summer break, however, found me teaching summer school an ocean away from my colleagues, and I found myself searching for answers on Twitter through an awesome PLN.  Over time, I felt more comfortable transitioning from an observer to a participant in Twitter chats, and even simply as a medium to help share some of the awesome ideas that were happening all over the world!

As I reflect on my personal growth this past year, I am confident that providing a window into my classroom via Twitter helped to hold me accountable to trying new things and making sure that I was constantly trying to produce an experience that I was proud to share with our students, families, and PLN. I’ve learned so much perusing the Twitterverse over the past year, but I’d like to take it another step further!  This blog ironically started with a #OneNewThing post but hadn’t had anything posted since. My resolution to kick off the #BestYearYet is simple--One blog post, once a week, for one year.  At the very minimum, I’ll have a portfolio of my thoughts that have accumulated over time, but in the meantime, I hope that it can be a place to exchange new ideas, challenge each other’s thinking, and continue to provide an experience that our students deserve!

I am by no means an expert in the field, but excited to learn, connect, and refine some of the following topics throughout the year to continue the #BestYearYet!

  • Character Education
  • Flexible Seating
  • Technology Integration
  • 21st Century Learning Skills
  • BreakoutEDU
  • Coding
  • Seesaw
  • Flipgrid
  • Pear Deck
  • Growth Mindset

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

#OneNewThing to Jump-Start Your School Year!

It certainly is not an uncommon feeling--arriving home on a Sunday evening after an eventful weekend at a conference or professional development session, and with your mind still racing you start to think about all of the amazing ideas you experienced and how excited you are to flip your classroom overnight.

By the time you research four more of your favorite topics online, you realize your Monday morning alarm is right around the corner, and you haven’t quite figured out how to make those four favorite topics really jive in your classroom yet.  The next thing you know, those four activities (and the laundry list of other brilliant ideas) have slowly made its way to the back burner after Monday meetings, got wedged under some papers during the Hump Day push, and eventually was lost to the abyss over the weekend, only to be found in a pinch at the start of another busy week. That brand new classroom will now have to wait until the next long weekend, school break, or summer vacation.  Been there, right?
Cue the entrance music for #onenewthing.  The concept of “one new thing” is simple--leave the conference on Sunday afternoon only after identifying one new thing that you can begin implementing immediately on Monday morning.  The simplicity of the concept is what makes it so successful! We are so much more inclined to follow through with one thing on Monday rather than everything! “One new thing” has held me accountable to rolling out these great practices sooner and more effectively!

Some helpful hints to make #onenewthing successful:

1. Call on your tribe!
It is certainly less daunting to jump right in if you have your most trustworthy colleagues joining you as well! Find one thing that you all can implement right away, work out the kinks together, and celebrate the successes as well!
2. Tap into your PLN!
Reach out to those who may have already tried a similar idea, first.  Connect to discover any obstacles they came across while beginning implementation, and learn some new tips and tricks that may alleviate any initial anxiety.  Then, pay it forward and share your growing pains, adaptations, and successes with others!
3. Trust your students!
One of the most intimidating feelings is beginning something new when you do not feel like an “expert” at it yet.  We are constantly challenging our students to push their boundaries and as educators we need to do the same! Spend some of that Sunday afternoon time figuring out how you can apply your new training within a lesson, and work through it with your students.  It can be a good thing for students to see teachers problem solving through some of these new challenges in order to gain mastery of the task at hand!


Onward and upward!
After spending a lot of valuable time expanding our knowledge base and refining our craft, we need to get these great ideas into the hands of our students as soon as possible!  With summer slowly coming to a close, start to think about one new thing you can roll out to begin the school year.  Write it down, find a member of your tribe to collaborate with, make a plan, and watch it flourish!