Thursday, April 27, 2017

My Teaching "Top 5"

I was tagged by a friend of mine on Twitter to post my "Teaching Top 5". No further directions. Just my top five. This could have been my top five best/worst experiences, funniest moments, activities, technology, strategies, you name it.

I decided to tweet my top five educational needs. For this blog post however, I want to talk about some of my other top fives as well.

My Top 5 Educational Needs

  1. Passion: I need my students and my colleagues to have passion in what they're doing. I want to be able to provide my students with the time they need to spend on projects that they are passionate about. I want them to leave my classroom with a passion and drive for learning.
  2. Relationships: My entire career thrives on building relationships. The best memories I have were possible because I had cultivated fabulous relationships with my students. Building relationships with students is not just "getting to know them." It's getting to know them on a deep, personal level; really learning about their passions, their insecurities, and their life goals and then using that information to help them be successful in life.
  3. Flexibility: Not only do I need to be flexible, but I need those around me to be flexible. Everyone needs to have that understanding that sometimes (a lot of times) what we plan may not work out and we (all of us) need to be flexible in making adjustments. I don't know how many times this year I told my students, "Alright, this isn't working. How can we start over?" Flexibility is also a great trait for a leader (young or old).
  4. Reflection: We spend a lot of time reflecting. My students reflect on their work, their progress, their goals, everything. As an educator, I constantly reflect on the same things, and maybe more. Reflection is an integral part of my career that is necessary for future success.
  5. Trust: Without trust, my classroom would not survive. Academic success is directly correlated to the relationships students build with those around them. I am not capable of building those relationships if my students and I don't have mutual trust. I need to be encouraging and model trusting behavior in order for my students to even begin to gain my trust.

My Top 5 Technology Needs

  1. Student Devices: Honestly, I don't know how I did it my first year of teaching when we didn't have any devices. I was using the TV on a cart at that point and I was lucky if my Smartboard even worked. I remember the struggle of my third year of teaching when I only had 5 iPads in a classroom of 21. Now, I'm not complaining. I know that even then I had it good; however, now, I couldn't imagine my life without student devices. They are a fabulous resource and tool for just about anything I want to do in the classroom.
  2. Google: I mentioned in my last blog post that I am working on my Google Educator level 2 certification. Google Apps can be used for so much more than writing an essay, organizing data, or making a presentation. For example, Google Forms can be used to create a "Choose Your Own Adventure".  Google Sites can be used for a classroom website, parent communication, or student work showcase. The possibilities are endless! (more to come in another post).
  3. Educational Websites: Just this year alone, I have discovered new and exciting educational websites.

    • ReadWorks Digital has been a lifesaver with my reading curriculum. You can choose articles/stories based on fiction/nonfiction, grade/Lexile, subject, and skills/strategies.

    • Actively Learn allows more student interaction with stories. Questions/prompts can be built into the paragraphs, students can highlight, take notes, and ask questions. There are many well-known books/stories on there! The downside, it's only meant for use in upper elementary and on.

    • Thrively gives students the chance to create strength profiles and follow pathways that focus on their values and skills. Students can learn more about themselves as learners and humans.

    • A few other resources to check out: Flippity, Digital BreakoutEDU, GoFormative, Canva
  4. Structure/Implementation: I need structure in my classroom when it comes to technology. Not military-like structure, but parameters that students can work within. When we implemented 1:1 this year, we went in full-force and didn't spend enough time showing students how to use their Chromebooks as tools. I've been fighting a losing battle all year with the Chromebooks. My students see them as toys; as mechanisms to watch Youtube and play games. If asked to do something with pencil/paper, my students treat them as if they're something they've never seen before. I want my students to learn not only how to take care of their devices, but how to really use them for educational purposes.
  5. Time: I need time to attend professional development and learn new things. I need time to come back and play with the new resources I find. My students need time to properly learn how to use the resources I show them. Time. We all need time.

My Top 5 Education Strategies

  1. Cooperative Learning: Cooperative learning structures are great for team building, class building, partner/group pairing, etc. I love using CL structures in my classroom because they get my students up and moving and they provide my students with the opportunities to partner up with someone they wouldn't usually match up with.
  2. Inquiry-Based Instruction: Students should be asked three questions: (1) What do you want to learn? (2) How will you learn it? and (3) How will you show me what you learned? We are beyond traditional instruction in the classroom where students sit in rows, take notes while listening to lectures, and take a test when they're finished. Students learn best through inquiry and play and should be given the opportunities to learn what they want to learn in a way that best fits their learning style.
  3. Graphic Organizers: Scaffold. Scaffold. Scaffold! I use graphic organizers to scaffold information for my students and to provide them with a place to organize their thoughts and
    '
    ideas. MindMup is a wonderful Google App for students to use to create bubble maps. I'm also using a graphic organizer I adapted from Kevin McLaughlin for students to use to personalize their learning. 
  4. Formative Assessments: Typically I see the word "assessment" and I cringe. Check-ins should be done with students often in order to gauge where they are currently, and where they should be going next. Kagan has some great cooperative learning structures to be used as formative assessments. Four Corners and Think Pair Share are just two are my favorites. This slide also has 56 other different ideas on ways teachers can gather evidence on their students' learning.
  5. Collaboration: This is such a necessary element in any successful classroom. Fortunately, with Google Apps, collaboration among students can also be done outside of the classroom. Google Hangouts and Google Docs are great resources for students to use for discussion. Although there are many great technology resources for collaboration, they do not replace face-to-face contact. Students need to be shown and taught good communication skills so they can effectively speak to others. This year, I modeled coaching sessions with small groups of students. These sessions were in place to discuss projects the students were working on, as well as their flash, short-term, and long-term goals. Next year I would like for my students to lead their own coaching sessions with their peers.

    I'd love to hear what your Top 5 are! 
    Blog about it, tweet it out, just be sure you share it with me!
    @theashleyhorton

Monday, April 24, 2017

Are You Putting Your Big Rocks First?

Dr. Stephen Covey was an author, educator, and businessman. His most popular book was the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. In his book First Things First, Dr. Covey spoke about the importance of scheduling time for your biggest priorities first. This video clip explains how to better fit the "big rocks" into our lives.
Often times we get so caught up in all the small demands of our personal and professional lives, that we often forget to focus on some of the major things that really matter. We push those things aside and spend more time on the little stones and gravel that demand our attention and appear to be urgent.

Personal "Big Rocks"

Family: Less than three months until Baby Horton is here! My husband and I are busy preparing the nursery (and ourselves!). Jace has been taking swimming lessons... just ask him! He'll say he swims "like a fishy!" Right now, we're just doing all that we can to spend as much time possible together.

Important Projects: We purchased our first house in August and there is so much to take care of! Important projects to us include tearing down the hideous wallpaper in our bathroom and repainting, and getting our lawn under control. I'm sure I can come up with more projects, but these are the two we're busy working on right now.

Professional "Big Rocks"
 Professional Development/Intellectual Growth: Currently I'm working on my Google Educator Level 2 Certification. I actually passed the Level 1 exam this weekend! Ultimately my goal is to become a Google Trainer (possibly Innovator!)
Staying Up to Date on What's New: I'm constantly reading and researching new ideas and strategies to bring into my classroom and share with my colleagues. Through the Google Certification training, I'm learning about an incredible amount of resources I never knew existed! (I sense another blog post coming soon....)

Obviously these aren't my only big rocks in life. I think focusing on these four will allow me to see the bigger picture and provide me with the necessary time I need to really focus on them. 

What are the "big rocks" in your life? Are you making time enough time for them?
I'd love to hear your thoughts. Feel free to blog about it, tweet about it, or leave a comment! Just be sure to let me know if you do so I can check it out!
 @theashleyhorton

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

What Are You Passionate About?

Have you really taken the time to stop and think about what you're passionate about? Our passion should be what motivates us to get up in the morning and do great things. As someone in the education world, my passions provide me the opportunity to inspire and transform the learning of those around me.

Personal Passions

This world is wild, and with such a busy schedule that constantly keeps me moving, it's often difficult to really take the time to focus on my own personal passions. So what am I passionate about?
First and foremost, my growing family. My husband and I are expecting our first child together; a boy, Noah Alexander. Add that to the three year old boy already running around our home, our two cats and a dog, and we've got a party!
I am also deeply passionate about books. I can't say it enough. I love to read. 99% of the time I am found with my nose in a book... an actual book... not an e-reader. Every year I make a goal to read 50 books by December; and every year I miss it by a couple. Life just takes me by surprise and I can't read as much as I would like anymore.
One final passion of mine is food. I love to eat. Some days, I wish I was a chef. I love watching Hell's Kitchen, Master Chef, Food Network, you name it.

Professional Passions

I was originally drawn into education to be a teacher. I had the typical compelling reason as just about any other teacher I knew at the time: I wanted to help kids find their "light bulb" moments. Those moments that made them go "Ah-ha! I've got it!" Six years later, my philosophy has taken root and grown. I've come to realize I have many passions and talents, that through my experience, I now see my potential in inspiring and transforming the learning of those around me. No longer is my focus just on student growth; now I'm looking for ways to motivate learners of all ages (yes, adults included!) and helping them find their personal standard of excellence.
With that said, these are my top professional passions:
  • Professional Development - I LOVE learning. I'm a lifelong learner. However, not only do I like to do the learning myself, I also like to inspire those around me.
  • Effective Utilization of Technology - Let's face it. Our crazy world revolves around technology (Isn't there talk about robots taking the place of teachers?). Love it or hate it, devices are awesome tools in our field. I love discovering new digital tools for my students to use. Along the line of professional development, I love sharing these tools with my peers. With that said, technology can hinder us. Without properly introducing the tools we find, we really don't now how to use it effectively.
  • Personalized Learning - If there is such a push for students to have voice and choice in their learning, then why isn't it the same for educators? What about Personalized Professional Development?
  • Encouraging Students to Believe They are Exceptional -I didn't go into teaching so I could teach the curriculum, make sure my students pass state testing, and then send them on their way. I went into it because I wanted to inspire them to find their calling, to discover their passions and pursue them. Every student is exceptional and can go on to do great things, they just need someone to motivate them and coach them along the way.

I challenge you today to take the time to reflect on your personal and professional passions. Blog about it or tweet it out. Heck, leave a comment. Whatever you do, make sure you share it with me!
 @theashleyhorton