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.
http://goo.gl/kUvZko

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.

VALOR

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.

Campus TIGER WALKS
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.


Holding Tight to the Things that Matter?

I am writing this for two reasons:
1.  My own purpose of expressing gratitude to my sweet families who have sent me texts, tweets, facebook posts, emails, called, pictures, and awesome notes of gratitude for being their child’s favorite teacher they will always remember and sharing why.
2.  Holding us accountable to hanging tight to those important things!

I write this not boastfully, but in humble appreciation.  These words/pics of kindness meant more to me these past 3 weeks than anyone will ever know.  (I actually wondered, did they conspire to do this because I literally got one every single day from someone different over the past 5 years!! I even got an email from a parent from 10 years ago! Little did they know the perfect timing!)

I think they knew this would be a tough start for me not seeing these babies.  I think they knew that my heart was thinking of their babies and hoping they had a great first few weeks of school. We all know once they are yours…they are yours!  I think they knew, just like I do, that when we take the time to express words of kindness it makes the world a better place.

It is just more evidence that teachers may never know how much they influence the life of a child, but if they are gifted the blessing to hear it years later….it still brings tears to their eyes and makes their day brighter!

Thank you, my loving families, for being so kind and showering me with love all the time. My job is to pay that forward. 🙂

I want to share a few pictures of these precious, loving kids that show what is important in my heart every year as I think about the gifts from above that I have been trusted with to keep safe and love all year!

3 Important Things:

1. Develop a safe, loving environment where my kids bond and feel safe taking risks.

Our 2 classes after Tug of War Truck Pull. No one argued or cried! They had fun and won/lost together. There was authentic encouragement, help, and good sportsmanship!
Just hanging out playing a simple hand-clap game.  They enjoy being together because they trust each other to be a friend and use our only rule – The Golden Rule.
This sweet bunch kicked off my first year digitally teaching years back!  Wow…was there ever safety and risk taking involved with them.  🙂 There are some special kids in my heart in this picture!

2. Develop relationships with my students and parents! Let them know and see my heart and for me to know and see theirs.

At Fall Festival hanging out with my babies, and finding them TOGETHER because they WANTED to be!

Found my precious Joker, whom I hold so dear in my heart, still and forever will! 🙂

3.  Develop a true love of learning in each student and have it carry on beyond my walls.

After studying ladybugs, my plan was to take it no further. However, my precious littles organized a ladybug burial (on their own), and even prepared speeches so that our little friends could have a proper ceremony.  Above and Beyond….but the lessons really stuck.
One of my families so close to me, because I had 3 of their 4 kids, saw this at a family trip and had to stand by it and send to me.  It melted my heart!  It’s those moments!  🙂

Then there are the moments of the MANY sweet notes, cards, pictures, etc. you get as a teacher – which we all know mean more to us than any monetary gift you can think of!!  This one, on a simple sticky note, is the one that says it all to me.  It says how important teachers are and how we need to be the voice for our kids.  Be the one who believes in them, so they can believe in themselves.

I mean come on, if she doesn’t get to be the Notre Dame Women’s Basketball Coach after this….then, I don’t know what!  I’m not quite sure what being like me means.  Hope she gets that coaching job!  🙂  Honestly, I can bank on it now.  This child WILL be that coach and I will have GREAT seats to a game that I love!!

So, as I reflect after 3 weeks of school on those 3 things that are key in my heart…I ask you to see if you are holding strong to the things that matter?  Are you taking the time to build the relationships with not only your kids, but their parents?  Are you taking the time to make sure each child has a friend and feels safe?  All of that must come first before any learning begins.  Now that I have expressed all my gratitude…..let’s go and Be THE champion in the lives of these children!

Reflecting In the Strangest of Places

Today, I did two things out of the norm for me!

  • Tried a NEW nail salon!
  • Chatted education and had a moment with my new nail lady!
That’s right.  Not the norm for me.  Here is what happened.
I was making small talk with the lady and after making introductions I told her how I liked the new place because it was very bright and open.  She told me, “Yes, it is nice working here. It is a very clean, sanitized place.  I like very clean.”  
        My first thought was well umm good to know…..so do I.  Especially at a nail salon.  
As I sat there watching her, something inside me decided to ask her how she learned to do what she does?  Does she attend professional development classes to keep up with current trends?  Her initial response kind of bothered me at first.  She laughed and said, “School didn’t teach nothing.”  Clearly, she missed me saying I was a teacher!  🙂
It was what she said next that surprisingly had me understanding exactly why she said this.  
“You have to have skill to do this.  You have to work and get experience and go watch other people.  You see their skill and then you learn.  Then you practice.  I didn’t go into this because I wanted to do it.  I did this job because I knew it was one that I would be able to find anywhere.  Then, I began practicing my job to get better and now I grow to love it.  I didn’t think I could do nails at first, but after practice, now I know I can. I just keep watching and learning more.” 

WOW!  I just sat there thinking for a second before I responded.  For one, I have NEVER had a conversation like this with any past nail lady.  Secondly, I was seeing her mindset shift from a fixed to a growth mindset.  When I did speak, I told her what any teacher would say… that it is really great how she keeps watching and learning from others.  We teach our children the same thing about learning new things and how we grow from our mistakes.
(This is when she asked me to teach her 5 year old because she doesn’t have patience with him. hehe. I thought, at this point in the summer, aren’t we all going crazy!)

Even though she talked as if she was new and learning, my nails turned out fantastic!  Actually, better than at my old place!  Could it be because of her attitude of continued growth from watching others?  I don’t know, but I am going to say yes!

Isn’t this exactly what we do as educators as well?  The more experience at something we get, the better we get.  The more questions we ask, the more we know.  The more we watch each other, the more we learn and grow.  This is why I love being a part of VALOR so much! Then we practice, and continue doing it, never settling for knowing it all!  

There were 3 great personal lessons I learned from my “out-of-routine” journey today.  

  1. You can reflect on things in the strangest of places.
  2. You can really get to know people, if you just stop talking and ask them questions.
  3. I love my NEW nail salon!