Elementary & Secondary Teachers Sharing Best Practices….(gasp!)

This past week was our district Humanities Institute that ran 4 days!  You are probably thinking – What?!  Are you crazy? It’s the first week of summer break. Apparently, I am not the only crazy one because there were over 170 educators there to learn and teach incredible sessions!  

Let me tell you the best thing about this week.  Elementary and Secondary teachers shared best practices in the same room!  (gasp!)  That’s right, we all shared and learned together! It was professional learning, discussing, connecting, reflecting, and sharing across district from Pre-K to our Collegiate Academy! 
I want to publicly thank our fierce leader, Dr. Suzanne Newell, for taking this approach this week.  I am not sure if she realizes just how powerful this one little thing was.  As I listened to others and talked with people, the most amazing thing happened….we connected the dots between elementary and secondary.  This still is my most favorite quote because of how true it is!
  • Teachers in first, fourth, seventh and high school were sharing best practices they used that could help each other.
  • Teachers were meeting new teachers and putting a face to the name.
  • Teachers were exchanging emails and ways to communicate and connect their classes.
  • Teachers were developing empathy for other teachers…discovering that when we communicate we realize little things we may never have known before.
  • (The biggest, in my opinion) Teachers began to understand the links from elementary to secondary and the importance of common language and Common Instructional Expectations!  
We have heard of these Common Instructional Expectations many times, but SEEING exactly how they begin in kinder and extend all the way through was incredibly powerful!  Having time to discuss with others and time to reflect made all the difference in securing this learning.  
I know this might seem obvious, simple, and you might already do this….but if you think about it, there are not many opportunities that place Pre-K through HS in one room to learn together and share vertically how things apply.  Powerful!  So incredibly happy I was able to be part of this and learn so much!  I walked away from this week with many new connections, more secondary knowledge than I came in with and how to start connecting elementary and secondary goals so that we can transition our students effortlessly.
One of the most amazing educators I have the privilege of learning from in my tribe is Bethany Hill.  You can find her on Twitter  @bethhill2829  This quote came from her and how true it is.  
I just posted an article by @SaneeBell about leadership at all levels and how much she learned from being given the opportunity to be an elementary principal when she had only known secondary.  As she exits she feels she is a better educator having spent her last few years in elementary learning so much!  It was a great connecting thought for me as I thought about how much elementary and secondary already do that is similar and could really help one another if we verbalized these connections with our students.  It also made clear how we could tweak a few little things to help our students even more.  All it took was communicating in the same room with others and developing a strong personal learning network right here within our amazing district! 
I look forward, even more now than ever, to the awesome things to come in GCISD.  Thank you Dr. Newell!  🙂

Taking Time To Say YOU MATTER

This past week we had about as much fun as you can have as a family – end of season basketball games & start of season soccer games (on the same day), practices, birthday slumber party at Great Wolf Lodge, falling face first onto metal bars on playground that caused some pretty big injuries and scrapes, getting strep throat, returning to school only to fall under again with pure exhaustion and had to stay home….you get it.  We were running on empty.

I don’t know about you, but when we are running on empty and exhausted, tears flow – making for a very dramatic week to be a child and a hard week to be a parent in our household! Even though Sofie was just starting to recover and still not feeling her best, she was NOT going to miss her soccer game. Her passion kicked in, friends!

Sofie gave all she had to give and scored her VERY FIRST GOAL since she joined this team 2 years ago!  While this was so exciting, and I may have almost thrown my phone off the bleachers while recording, the thing that really sticks with me here is her perseverance and dedication to the team as a whole.  Not only does she have an amazing coach, but she is part of an amazing team of girls and parents.  This team knows they are better because of the whole.

The best part was when Sofie scored, her team all went running to hug her! They all celebrated in her moment because it was their moment.  With intentional coaching about being in position, importance of playing the game for the team and as a team, and knowing when to execute….it shows that these girls play to win as a team. That is so important to remember in any situation where you are part of a team.

We were able to capture this on video and a few blurry pictures!  Her running to hug her coach, her teammate jumping up and down for her, and those girls running to hug her!  So precious! A true representation of what these girls are like. I heart this team so much and all it is teaching my baby girl that will help her in so many areas of life!

As as incredible as the team love is, here is where I realized my learning moment.  Her coach sends weekly emails to recap things about the game.  I love this because I am not as knowledgeable on soccer (yet!) as other sports, so it helps me understand why things happened. Every single week we read these aloud to Sofie.  She has always loved storytelling, so she loves hearing these emails and reliving the experiences.  This one was extra special. Here is part of Coach Doug’s email.

On a great note…Sofie Visser’s goal today was the crowning achievement of The Rockets.  When she scored, and every girl went up to hug her…well, I was right there with Christiaan and Bridget with tears in my eyes.  Sofie has made almost every practice, come off the bench on most games, and never ever complained about playing time or position.  She has been the perennially team player.  Not only that, but she has played UP for 4 seasons (2 years).  SUPER PROUD OF THIS MOMENT FOR THE ENTIRE TEAM.  To see all of the girls hug her, put into perspective why our girls are so special.  We have a team full of great kids, and GREAT PARENTS.  Let’s all be thankful for the memories they have provided us.  🙂

This meant the world to Sofie. Her little face lit up!  Quite honestly, it melted our hearts too! 🙂  I think about this and how this relates to us each day as we make a difference in the lives of children.  As we know, coaches are some of the best teachers our children have.  Taking the time to notice and write special notes to children sometimes is all that is needed to reach that hard to reach child.  It can push that one child to reach their goals. It can provide a sense of comfort, love, and feeling of YOU MATTER to anyone! Isn’t that what we all want to feel – kids and adults!?

My challenge is that this week we will all take time to write a special note to someone to let them know how much that little thing they do matters! Show them that THEY MATTER and what they are doing is appreciated!  Make their face light up!

Through The Eyes Of A Child

Yesterday was World Read Aloud Day. I am sure that like me, you saw Social Media loaded up with tons of pictures of kids, authors, teachers, grandparents, principals (Thank you, Mr. Kinney), and even superintendents reading to children! 🙂 (Thanks, Dr. Ryan!) What an amazing day it was! We owe it to our children to read them stories that interest them, use the funny voices, and make it exciting.

My principal friend, Matthew Arend, reached out on Twitter for people to connect with his school and discuss The Most Magnificent Thing. You can read about this awesome experience here.  We were able to connect 7 classes from O.C. Taylor and a few more even have plans to do so this Friday!!  So many very cool things happened.

Here are some of the things we learned:
1. Plano is NOT in another country.
2. They like to read and we do too!
3. We read the same exact book and got to talk about it!
4. We brainstormed Magnificent Adjectives for a richer vocabulary.
5. Both schools had kids who want to be professional soccer players!
6. Both schools set goals!
7. Both schools reflected on their learning!
8. We HAVE to do this again!!
9. We, as teachers, felt like we made new friends. Instant connections with like-minded people. (Just think, we are only down the road from each other and all it took was reaching out to say, “Hey, want to talk about a book?”)

As wonderful as it was seeing all the people read aloud, discuss books, and knowing that our children are blessed with this every single day, what stood out to me was something else.

It was the look of absolute amazement on the faces of the children simply from connecting with other kids less than hour away!  This small thing amazed them! Do you know how much time that took on the teacher’s part?  Not very much.  Do you know how much meaningful learning happened in the short amount of time?  A bunch!

I was lucky to guide a 3rd grade class, and be part of a 1st grade class during their Google Hangout.  During the hangout with the 1st graders, they had a group of “tweeters” who were responding to Q1/A1 format questions. FIRST GRADERS, friends!  This can happen.  They had clearly been guided and practiced with their amazing teacher, Mrs. Tiffani Griffard!

On the side screen I had Tweetdeck open with our school hashtag, WRAD hashtag, and the other school’s hashtag where the responses were going. I thought I would sit by them while they typed and just be there to help, if needed.  Well, let me tell you….was not needed, nor did they want my help!  Then, I showed them the screen when their tweet went live.  Oh. My. Goodness.  The smiles spread across their faces like they had just met a superhero!  They were so proud and so amazed!  THAT….was my favorite part. THAT is why I love what I do. Seeing children get so excited about learning and the possibilities.

It really shows that something we may not think twice about (connecting w/Google Hangout, blogging with other classes, tweeting responses) can excite these kids and make learning more meaningful for them!  They need to be connected learners, just like we do!

I am most excited about the fact that my special friends who reached out and did this with their classes, whether or not they had done this before in some way, have ALL expressed interest in continuing this.  Some even have teammates who didn’t get to do it, but have said they want a class as well!! For me, that makes my heart scream with happiness because that means more kids will engage in meaningful learning!  More kids will CONNECT to inspire and be inspired!

Connecting kids, Building Relationships, Creating Friendships….one day at a time.

Put yourself out there. Take the risk.  Try it. You won’t want to stop, I promise!

Go Observe – Leave Your Island For the Beach

We all know that teachers are amazing!  Teachers have amazing ideas.  Teachers work miracles with such little resources. Wait, you don’t know that?  Why not?  I am going to guess it is probably because you are teaching your children inside your classroom walls with little time to even be able to care what anyone else is doing in their classroom. I get it. Time is always at the heart of frustration in education.

Let me just say one thing, YOU ARE MISSING OUT!

We are truly missing out on the best opportunities for teacher AND student growth if we are not observing other teachers.  Unless teachers are provided opportunities to observe other teachers, we miss out on the most valuable resources we have out there – each other.

Here is a great article from Education World that explains the importance of this.

As I read articles and tweets about the value of observing teachers, I am reminded of how great we have it in Grapevine-Colleyville ISD!  Here are two things that place teacher observation/feedback high up there.


This is the summary taken straight from our GCISD website
“The Vanguard Association of Learning, Observation, and Reflection is a group of innovative, growth-minded teachers striving to reach new heights as educators as they work collaboratively to advance the achievement of their students through observation, reflection and scholarship.”

I am so fortunate to be part of this group. The innovative thinking and collaboration that happens here is phenomenal. I will have to say the best part is the reflection process that happens. Prior to us coming to observe the teacher has created a list of things he/she wants us to give feedback on. After the lesson, not only do WE reflect, but our observations are given to the teacher and HE/SHE reflects on the lesson and our feedback with an instructional coach. This is where change happens! It’s very self-reflective. It’s fun to see high school teachers and elementary teachers finding common grounds and learning strategies that both can use!

What makes this work: Building relationships! Before the year starts, our group invests time building relationships so that trust is established and we can truly reflect on our teaching without being defensive or getting our feelings hurt. I am very thankful for leaders who realize this trust must be established first.

My principal has combined this concept with learning walks to our campus level. They are called Tiger Walks because our campus mascot is a tiger. 🙂 The entire faculty creates a Personalized Learning Plan. We focus on district goals, campus goals, and individual goals. We choose one of our individual goals we are working on and create a Look Fors document that is put into a QR code. These QR codes are outside of our classroom doors. When a staff member comes in they scan the code to see what that teacher would like for them to be observing. A Google Doc pops up and the observer checks off what they see. Not what they infer may have happened right before they got there, but what they see right then.

Intimidating?! Think again. As a staff, we all know there is no way that one person will have all things in a lesson every time. These are brief and the data is over time. We look at this data on our own to reflect and have conversations to make sure we are meeting our personal goals.

Once again, the power of building relationships of trust and growing together remains at the heart of these to make them successful.

It is not like Twitter where you share thoughts, stories, and ideas with other people and “favorite” these to try later. Observations that are intentional create a more vulnerable experience. The feedback given is so specific that it makes all the “butterflies” worth it! Once you try it, you will not want to stop!  There is some major power in teachers watching other teachers not to critique, evaluate, or judge. The power is revealed in the changes that come from this other set of eyes providing SMART feedback on a specific desired behavior.

One of my favorite quotes to remember!
Are you uncomfortable?  If not, take the first step and ask someone to watch you in an area where you want advice or help. Ask them to come observe a lesson you are working on. Ask to go observe someone else in an area you feel you need to grow.  I promise others will love to do this, and it will change your teaching!  
Teachers are true heroes and have amazing ideas.  We are crazy if we think that each teacher calls kids to the carpet for circle up the same way.  Imagine what you can learn in a 10-minute learning walk or observation that might change your whole world!  You might just find the answer to something you have been struggling to make work in your classroom!!  

Let’s view our profession as more of a public beach, not an isolated island.

First, Digital Divas -> Next, Twitter ->Then, Personal Growth -> Last, CHANGE!

There is a lot of talk about “The Twitter” these days in education.  It almost has turned into a buzzword, and if you are “doing it” at your campus then you are a rockstar and the most tech savy, knowledgeable teacher out there.  Don’t be fooled.  If you are tweeting with no reflection or process, chances are you are not really reflecting, which leads to growing!  If you have never used Twitter or professional purposes, I urge you to connect, but Twitter isn’t the only way to connect.

In this AMAZING book by three amazing educators I connected with on Twitter they elaborate on the idea of connecting through many outlets. These are people I have never met, but I liked what they stood for from participating in a chat session and followed them.  They are so kind and genuine in wanting to connect and help educators.  

As I met with my P2LN the other evening, I connected this to the book I am reading and began to think of what I do differently since becoming connected with them. (Not sure what P2LN is?  The P to the power of 2 stands for Personal and ProfessionalI wasn’t either until I read the book below.  It is a MUST read.  So many amazing ideas and examples.  An ideal campus book club selection!  It will change your life.  .

Here are 2 huge factors that played a role in my connected educational journey, so far!

First, is a group a dear friend and my fellow late night collaborating colleague, Erin Gerdes, started among educators with like minds to meet and discuss the digital changing we were going through. We meet every single month, even through the summers to collaborate, share ideas, learn, and grow.  This turned into our classrooms of students collaborating through Skype and other things across schools in our district.  We are the DIGITAL DIVAS! This is my Professional Learning Network that has turned into my Personal Learning Network of peeps, but now also my dearest friends.  This is what happens so often.

Second, I began “lurking” on Twitter educationally about 3 years ago when I was accepted as a Digital Classroom Teacher.  I finally jumped in and began joining the Chat Groups that interested me.  It was like 2 at first, but what matters is that I began connecting with more people in my district and out in the social media world. (Confession: Along the way, I did delete my Twitter account because I honestly couldn’t figure out what the point was and why only 140 characters! I opened another later on.)

Fast forward to this past summer….my world changed and I was lit on fire by attending iPadpalooza in Austin, Texas!  It honestly had nothing to do with iPads and technology, as much as it did the spirit, passion, and energy from the Keynote Speakers I heard and from the people I met there!  I wholeheartedly mean it.  There is this crazy intoxicating energy you get when you are around people like this at an amazing conference! Check out the youtube channel from iPadpalooza of the mini keynotes.  This is one of those moments when I will look back and say my professional focus shifted at that moment and I am on fire!

I made the decision right then that instead of just randomly posting a pic of my class on Wear Your Favorite Socks day or a Here is what we did in Math kind of pic, I began reaching out to random people because of their thinking.  That’s crazy a thought, right?!  😉

Here’s the thing: The most unbelievable thing happened…they reached back!  Without even knowing who I was!  I thought that was the most bizarre thing since pre-iPadpalooza I would do “research” on someone and their thinking before even considering following them!  So within a short time frame of one “unconference” I had extended my professional learning network a ton with some AMAZING people!  This was only the beginning.

Here is what started happening over Twitter:

  •  I began exchanging awesome ideas and Best Practices for the classroom or school with others.
  •  I began reading inspiring quotes and articles people tweeted to build others up.
  •  I began reflecting and seeking out different perspectives in order to grow.
  •  I began sharing GREAT things happening in our school.
  •  I began sharing GREAT things happening in other schools with our school.
  •  I began taking more risks.
  •  I helped connect others for global projects. 
  •  I was having conversations with people I had just met because of a belief AND they TRULY wanted to HELP you!!   
Are you ready for the top reason why you need to build your P2LN?  
IT WILL CHANGE YOU! (There’s no way it can’t, if you are doing it right!)  🙂
Here is what it does for me:
  • Keeps me on FIRE and loving this ever-changing profession!
  • Gives me the easiest and best way to seek out new best practices! You have round the clock access to brilliant minds. Have a question? – Tweet it out!  
  • Provides 24/7 Professional Development!  
  • Sometimes we can’t fly to Chicago for that awesome conference you are dying to go to, but you can follow their #hashtag and still learn so much.
  • It challenges me and stretches my thinking!!  Big time!  Why? The people on Twitter bring such a wide variety of experiences and knowledge and when you connect and gain their perspective, you can’t help but rethink how you are doing things.  
  • There is SERIOUS reflection going!

Don’t underestimate the power of people. If you want to know outstanding people to follow, go to my Twitter @OCTVisser and look at who I follow.  See what they stand for, and if you like that give them a follo.   Build your P2LN and remember…..