Monday, August 10, 2015



Loving this hashtag ~ picture books are a staple in my 5th grade classroom!  Here's my Top 10 of my all-time favorites!

What Do You Do With an Idea? - Kobi Yamada
A wonderful book that helps underline self-confidence.  A great kick off to any genius hour or just for students' self-concept!

Each Kindness - Jacqueline Woodson
This is what I read every year on the first day of school.  Choosing kindness is a recurring theme in 5th grade, and we cycle back to this theme throughout the rest of the year.  Excited to connect it to our Global Read Aloud: Fish In a Tree (Lynda Mullaly Hunt) this year!

The Invisible Boy - Trudy Ludwig
This wonderfully illustrated book goes beautifully with Each Kindness and my next book as we explore and connect to topics of kindness, acceptance, and teamwork

One - Kathryn Otoshi
The third book in the "kindness trifecta" we read at the very beginning of the year.  This is the first in a three-book series (Zero and Two are the others) and my students absolutely love this one!!

The Book With No Pictures - B.J. Novak
I read this at Barnes and Noble one day, and was laughing out loud!  Sometimes it's great to read a book just because it's super fun!  Kids of all ages will love this.

Math Curse - Jon Scieszka + Lane Smith
Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith are two of my all-time favorite authors.  This book is so wonderful to read to kick off a year in math!

One Green Apple - Eve Bunting
I love this book for teaching tolerance.  This year, our team has members who hail from Cuba, Mexico, the Middle East, and Russia. Diversity will be a topic that we visit again and again.

Mr. Lincoln's Way - Patricia Polacco
No list would be complete without Polacco.  Most teachers do Thank You, Mr, Faulker (and rightfully so!) I just discovered this gem over the summer and am excited to share it with my students!

Ish - Peter Reynolds
The sequel to The Dot, Ish is a wonderful book that tells students that it's okay to be who they are, without worry or trying to be perfect.

Can't wait to see the other lists!  My shopping cart will be filling up!

21-Day Gratitude Challenge

I wrote last week about balance, specifically about how we need to make time to stop and see the beautiful things going on around us.  Holding myself accountable to that end as the chaos of the beginning of the year surrounds me will be a challenge.  So I've decided to take on that challenge - literally.

As I was lurking on the #AussieEd chat this morning, one of the amazing educators on the other side of the planet tweeted about doing a 21-Day Gratitude Challenge.  Sounds perfect!  A great way to take a moment - for me, probably at the beginning of the day - to focus on something small for which I am grateful.  Doing this daily (I love that it's 21 days: the amount of time needed to create a habit) will help me get my mindset right: that despite all of the crazy beginning-of-year chaos spinning around, that I can be centered, calm, and grateful for those moments and countless others.

#AussieEd's Brett Salakas (@MRSalakas) tweeted the idea, then Loretta Wholley (@LWholley) tweeted this photo. After a bit of digging, I discovered that it is the brainchild of Dannielle Miller (@MillerDannielle) and her work as a parent: "Gratitude: A Positive New Approach to Raising Grateful Kids." Something that can help me as both a parent and a teacher? Double perfect!

It is with gratitude to my new friends at #AussieEd and hopes of spreading the good word that I am borrowing it and using it here:

Starting on the first day back at school, Monday, August 17th, and ending Sunday, September 6th, I will be tweeting daily about a seemingly insignificant thing in my life, but one for which I remain grateful.  Anyone who wants to join in is more than welcome!

Monday, August 3, 2015

Beginning the Year with Balance in Mind

Yesterday, my husband and I took our 13-year-old daughter, Sarah, and one of her good friends downtown.  We spent the day as nerdy tourists, exploring all of the wonders that the great city of Chicago has to offer: the ferris wheel at Navy Pier, food, shops, music, and the hustle and bustle of the lakefront.  The day was hot, sunny, with a crazy thunderstorm mixed in for good measure; in short, everything you'd expect from a Chicago summer.  We had a blast!

Was my mind on the classroom?  You bet!  I'm on countdown: t-minus 14 days until in-service, 16 until I meet my 5th graders.  My to-do list is a mile long.  I have unfinished books, both professional and ones that I want to book-talk with my students.  My reading Units of Study are staring at me as I write this, mocking those 14 days I have left.

Teaching is a feast or famine profession: we charge through the feast for 10 long months, working as hard as we can for our students to help them continue to grow and have successful futures.  Then, in late May/early June comes the famine. Our personal reserves are depleted, and we crawl across the finish line, perhaps thinking, "there's no way I can do this again."  However, with rest and the sunshine of summer, our batteries are recharged.  It's August, and I find myself excited about the new school year, ready to go and charge through the feast once again.

I have goals this year, both personal and professional.  Growing and engaging with my PLN, focusing on my students' reading and vocabulary comprehension using learning progressions, and implementing more problem-solving in math are just a few professional goals.  I have one personal goal: balance.

This is the same goal I have every year. Every year I get a little better. At the end of last year, my husband actually noticed!  I was intentional with putting work away, not bringing it home, or leaving the student with whom I was struggling all year "in the classroom." My colleagues and therapist counseled me with that last one, for which I am very grateful.  This year, I will continue to be intentional.  Then, just this morning, my husband texted me this article, written by the always-inspirational Richard Branson, founder and CEO of Virgin.  In it, Branson highlights 5 tips for a stronger work/life balance.  

My favorite tip?  Something I told my husband a year or so ago: "don't do, just be." It's about taking time to stop, look at, and be inspired by the wonder and beauty that the world has to offer.  For me, those wonders and beauties will be within and about my students at work, and my family at home.  I want to notice when my dogs are snuggling in the sunshine.  I want to stop and see my daughter with her nose in a book, then chat with her about that book, why it inspired her to pick it up, and how it relates to her life.  I want to hit our favorite Mexican restaurant with my husband while it's still warm enough to sit outside and enjoy some guacamole.  The quiet conversations we have about nothing are actually everything.

Branson says to "remember the to-do list, but don't forget the to-be list."  The to-be list.  Yes.  My to-list may never quite get done, but my to-be list must take priority in order for me to remain an effective wife, mom, and teacher.

Monday, July 27, 2015

#TitleTalk Takeaways

Wow!  For those of you who participated in last night's Title Talk Twitter chat (moderated by the incomparable Colby Sharp & Donalyn Miller) I'm guessing you felt like you were on a rollercoaster ride and didn't want to close your eyes because you might miss something awesome!  The enthusiasm was inspiring, and the chat encouraged me to once again begin the year as a reading teacher (not just a teacher of reading.)

For those of you who missed it, here are a few takeaways that I gleaned:

Takeaway #1 ~ top 10 books I'm adding to my always-growing-and-it's-the-best-problem-to-have reading list:

  1. Lost in the Sun (Graff)
  2. Mastermind (Korman)
  3. Circus Mirandus (Beaslley)
  4. A Night Divided (Nielsen)
  5. The Underground Abductor (Hale)
  6. The Wild Ones (London)
  7. The Marvels (Selznick)
  8. Bone Gap (Ruby)
  9. How to Read a Story (Messner)
  10. Just a Second (Jenkins)
Would love to hear your suggestions!

Takeaway #2 ~ this genius thought from Colby Sharp:

If we read to them every day, and we give them time to read everyday, and we talk books everyday-things are going to work out.

I've spent a lot of the summer with my head swirling with thoughts and ideas (New Calkins ROUS! Word study integration! Reading strategies for conferring! Writing about reading!) Colby took all of that chaos in my mind and boiled it down to its most essential, and for that, I am incredibly grateful.

Takeaway #3: Padlet
We are so fortunate in my classroom to have been given a suite of Chromebooks; my students have 1:1 access. I've been  trying to figure out a way for students to share their thinking about their reading.  Do I use Whooo's Reading because the social medial aspect is so engaging?  Do I use Google Docs, Slides, etc., because we are a Google school and they need to be experiencing different avenues when writing about reading?  Then, several #titletalk participants mentioned Padlet last night.  While I've heard about it for just under a year, I have zero experience with it.  What I know is that it's simply a way for students to share their learning and their thoughts.  I have put out an SOS to my Twitter PLN, and am spending some time today simply exploring.  This is one reason I am in love with summer: it affords me the time to play around and gather information to form pathways on which my students may travel throughout the year.

Your takeaways?  Please reply or find me on Twitter!

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Blogging Topics (in no particular order)

Stream-of-consciousness blogging topics, inspired by all you #EDUheroes out there - veterans and newbies like me!

  • New books I've read (review-style). Not so much outside of my comfort zone, but great practice as a writer
  • Being a writing teacher.  Modeling authentic writing opportunities for my students
  • New technology that we're trying. Are we succeeding or failing? Why?
  • What kind of colleague to I want to be?  Goal setting.  Am I getting there?  Am I straying from my purpose?
  • Classroom thoughts: reflections on days both good and bad with the lens of growing and learning from successes and failures.
What else?  Comments welcome!

The Wonderful World of Blogging

Feeling a little bit unsure of what to write as I begin this new adventure. My head is swirling with so many thoughts, ideas, and questions.  Last year, as I attempted to read a book each day over the summer as part of the #bookaday challenge, I tracked my books and reflected on myself as a reader on our class' reading blog. But as I begin my 6th year as an elementary school teacher, I find myself more and more in need of reflection: on books, on ideas I've read about from other teachers, and on education in general - the good, the not so good, and the less than pretty.

The biggest question that continues to challenge me is "how will I continue to grow and evolve professionally?" Right now, the answer is this blog. While I have stretched myself out of my comfort zone (Twitter PLN, Voxer groups were a challenge for me) I found that the risk of putting myself out there was SO worth the reward. A blog seemed like the most logical next step in my professional growth.  I hope this journey continues to strengthen my professional practice, as well as grow my professional learning network. A collaboration junkie at heart, I love hearing how other great teachers are learning and growing.

The biggest challenge will be to find the time to write, but I simply need to make reflection a priority, as I do my family and (not-so-successfully) exercise. Perhaps treating this blog like Dumbledore's pensieve will help alleviate some of the pressure and stress that teaching inevitably brings.

So, onward I go into the sea of education blogs, in hopes of helping others - and myself - along the way!

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