Archive for the 'Lessons I've learned' Category

Feedback as a Learning Experience

feedbackBy Stephanie Nicoletti

As teachers we are always trying to teach our students that receiving feedback is a learning process. We work to make feedback meaningful for students and therefore we expect the feedback we receive as educators to be meaningful as well.

We tell students that every piece of feedback is to help them further their learning and that they should take this feedback as something to grow from. Educator receive feedback continuously, whether through students, co-teachers, and evaluators. In just a short time teaching I have found that we are often the most hard on ourselves and when we receive feedback, we do not use it as a growing tool like we tell our students. A lot of times educators shut down when they receive feedback that is maybe not exactly what they hoped or wanted to hear.

With that being said, one of my goals for 2017 and the rest of this school year especially, is to take feedback and learn from it. Don’t let feedback “freak you out” use it as a tool to learn, grow, and better your practices, I know I will!

A Co-Teaching Model

296-1246152442owjrBy Elizabeth Jorgensen

Because creative writing accommodates students with a variety of special needs, administrators assigned a special education teacher to one of my sections. But what did this mean?

At a summer, morning-long meeting, my co-teacher Heidi and I learned about co-teaching models. School administrators said, “Co-teaching is when one classroom has two teachers: one general education teacher and one special education teacher. Both are in a single classroom and both provide inclusive instruction to students of all needs.”

At the meeting, Heidi and I defined our roles and discussed our classroom goals. We read articles and gained tips for effective co-teaching. We discussed our experiences and our students. Then, we reviewed what we learned and created lesson plans and a strategy for the year.

Throughout the next three years, Heidi and I collaborated and instructed (and laughed and met for breakfast and attended athletic events together). Administrators have told us we are a model for successful co-teaching. But why? What do we do?

  • We developed a relationship with each other. Heidi and I talked about our significant others, about our weekend plans, about our goals for our students and about our successes and failures. Heidi and I developed trust and rapport—and this made collaborating easy.
  • We communicated and collaborated. Once every two weeks, we spent an afternoon creating lesson plans. (Our administrators provided substitutes for this planning time.) We collaborated on activities, worksheets, assignments and assessments. We analyzed previous assignments and activities and made modifications for future semesters. We discussed our roles and our classroom timeline. And we created and shared a Google spreadsheet. This kept us organized and on-task and allowed for constant communication.
  • We provided support for all students. We discussed particular students, their needs and potential solutions. We made plans for interventions and assistance. We contacted parents and provided accommodations and commendations. In the classroom, Heidi and I supported all students regardless of their special needs.
  • We were equals. Heidi and I shared duties equally, instructing, assessing and grading assignments. We didn’t want the students to identify the “English teacher” or the “special education teacher.” And we learned from each other (Heidi taught me more about differentiation and how to insert movement in my classroom; she also provided innovation and encouragement).

Heidi and I are not perfect, but we are open to discussing our mistakes and making improvements. We have fun and we aim to engage all students and to make our classroom better every day.

This semester, I didn’t have enough students with special needs to warrant a co-teacher, but I’m already looking forward to next semester when Heidi re-joins creative writing.

Looking for more resources?

Brown, N.B., Howerter, C.S., & Morgan, J. J. (2013). Tools and strategies for making co-teaching work.

Intervention in School and Clinic, 49(2), 84-91.

Graziano, K.J., & Navarrete, L. A. (2012). Coteaching in a teacher education classroom: Collaboration,

compromise, and creativity. Issues in Teacher Education, 21(1), 109-126.

Mastropieri, M.A., & Scruggs, T.E., (2006). The inclusive classroom: Strategies for effective instruction (3rd

ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Murawski, W. W., & Dieker, L. (2008). 50 ways to keep your co-teacher: Strategies for before, during, and after

co-teaching. Teaching Exceptional Children, 40(4), 40-48.

Do you want to see Heidi and me co-teaching? Here are two videos from one lesson: 1 and 2.


 Building A Better Bulletin Board

language_bulletin_board_ksuBy Peggy Wuenstel

In these days of Facebook, Pinterest and Instagram, none of which I am very proficient in using, the old-fashioned bulletin board seems like a dated if not obsolete concept. Users today seem to feel a need to record every aspect of their life, meals, fun with friends, and exotic vacations, all carefully edited for public consumption. I would argue against the retirement of the traditional bulletin board. There are two distinct camps in the bulletin board debate. There are those who love to create, display and use them. There is a team in my building who create amazing art that makes students, teachers, and families feel valued and welcome. There are also those who hate them and think of them as a waste of time better used for direct instructional activities.

There is also the demarcation between the pre-fab vs. the personally created. Our favorite teacher resource books and websites offer lots of choices for those short on time, talent or inspiration. Some educators see the bulletin board as a chance to display student work, create a gallery, track progress, and provide cues for schedules, expectations or timing in their classrooms. Things posted on a board rather than delivered verbally can help build independence and responsibility in students.

This month I am celebrating a different type of corkboard, the kind that we use to attach new thinking, to record experiences, opinions, visual memories, graphic organizers, and memory aids. The larger the board we create for our children, the more new knowledge that they each can attach. With the right kind of encouragement we can help transform them into vision boards, those images that move us, inform us, inspire us to reflect and create.

Every teacher has at least one bulletin board. It might be cork, fabric, magnetic, or digital. It is also always mental. It’s that place where we keep all those things that we can’t afford to or don’t want to forget. You might have caught on to the fact that I am no longer talking about the classroom version that includes the lunch menu and tomorrow’s homework. I’m talking about the personal one.

I am appreciating my bulletin board before it is gone. I have begun the winnowing process, but there are a few things that will always remain pinned there until the very last days. My calendar, a paper version that allows me to smile at puppies every day sits at the center. Just like an analog clock, a paper calendar with its rows and columns is essential to teach kids about the systematic passing of time in ways that our digital tools cannot.

There are the assorted “love notes”, pictures, valentines, and other student created mementos tucked into the frame, expressions of affection that everyone needs to see now and then. There are pictures of my grandchildren, my niece in full combat gear, a vacation snapshot to remind me that not everything I love is here in this building. There are the magazine photos of sea otters that remind my students that I have favorite foods, colors, songs, and animals just like they do and the fact that we know that about each other makes us better at working together.

There are the utilitarian pieces, the contact lists, phone numbers, important dates, and meeting reminders. These change with the seasons, and the reasons for teaching. There are a few inspirational quotes, and always, my theme quote for the year front and center. This year’s version is “Live as if you will die tomorrow. Learn as if you will live forever” from Mahatma Gandhi.

There are the things I need help to remember, along with those that I know I will never forget. The handmade library card holder made of foam and duct tape, fashioned by a student who knows how often I go to the library, the photo of colleagues sharing a laugh, a cherished thank you note. There are also things that are not there, because they are private and would be hard to explain to students and parents. Things that make me laugh, and things that make me cry, including funeral cards for students who left us too soon. There are the cartoons meant for adult eyes, evidences of my political leanings, the talismans of the faith that guides my steps and my educational practice. And because I want no one to think I am anxious to leave here, there are no vision board pieces on this school board, no New England fall foliage or cherry blossoms in Washington D.C. No baby turtles struggling to get to the Atlantic Ocean or tombstones on the fields of Gettysburg because these are the things I hope to see in the first year of retirement. I have a vision board at home that includes these images as well as a tentative itinerary for a year of travel in an RV following the last days of school.

I have plans to send progress reports back to school, possibly labeled “Where in America are the Wuenstels?” but those reports will be on someone else’s bulletin board. I’ll likely post more often on Facebook, but not much more. There won’t be nearly as much that I need to remember, except maybe where we parked the RV.



‘Tis the Season

christmas-xmas-christmas-tree-decorationBy Stephanie Nicoletti

I am not sure about you but my classroom is buzzing with joyful and Christmas filled six-year-olds! December 1st, our Elf on the Shelf arrived. “Twinkle” has been with us over a week now, and she is still the first thing my first graders look for when they walk into the classroom. The kids are excited and FULL of energy (to say the least) and teachers are ready for a break to spend relaxing with family and friends.

Even though you may be ready for a break and counting the days…try to enjoy the innocence, joy, and pure excitement of your kids around this time of year. Make it special for them, for some the celebrations at school are the most they will celebrate this holiday season. Breaks usually mean relaxation and refreshing times for teachers. But keep in mind that as your children leave your classroom, some are already wanting to come back to the place where they have safety, routine, and structure.

A White Teacher Has No License to Use the N-Word

2906486794_80400b009e_bBy Nick McDaniels

Within the last two weeks, a Baltimore City Schools teacher, a young, white woman, was publicly terminated from Baltimore City Schools as a cell phone video surfaced showing her using the n-word in class.

To be clear, I am not posting this to criticize this teacher. I am not posting this to analyze the context of her use of the word. I am not posting this to attempt to interpret her intent. I am not posting to attack her. I am not posting to defend her. In fact, I am not posting about her at all, or her use of the word.

I am posting to state one simple principle.

A white teacher has no license to use the n-word. Ever. It matters not the context in which you teach. It matters not how many times you have heard the n-word, nor in how many different contexts, nor with how many different meanings. It matters not how strong your relationships are with your students. It matters not how many years of teaching experience you have had. It matters not whether you are in front of students, or colleagues, or your friends from college. A white teacher has no license to use the n-word.

It is a problem, to be sure, if the word is already in the vocabulary, already in the heart and soul, of a white teacher. It is a problem added thereto if a white teacher feels compelled to use the word. These problems can be mitigated, however, if this rule is placed in the minds of future teachers as soon as possible and reminded to veteran teachers as often as possible.

A white teacher has no license to use the n-word.


Connecting With Parents of My Students

2959912279_8446aa1abdBy Elizabeth Jorgensen

Looking for a way to connect to the parents of my students, I relied on email. My junior and senior students just finished writing poems for the Milwaukee Public Museum’s poetry competition. At the end of the unit, I asked for student volunteers to read poems aloud. Then, I emailed those students’ parents. Here is what I wrote:

“I just wanted to drop you a quick note and let you know that Kami volunteered to present her poem in class today. Currently, students are working on a food-themed poem for the Milwaukee Public Museum’s annual poetry competition. After we read Kami’s poem, classmates provided valuable feedback and encouragement. If you are interested, I would suggest you ask her to share what she is working on. I think you’ll be impressed! Volunteering to read her poem to the class was a brave, vulnerable and commendable thing to do. Please encourage Kami to keep up up the great work in Creative Writing. I’m looking forward to a wonderful semester of writing, creativity, and growth.”

Here are some of the responses I received:

“Thank you for the kind message. She showed us her poem Tuesday night and we really enjoyed hearing it from her. She really enjoys your class. Have a great weekend!”

“Thank you SO very much for reaching out to us about Anna! What a wonderful wonderful email to receive. Anna is a great kid. She has had some emotional struggles over the past few years and it has been a big hurdle for her. I’ve noticed this year in particular she has really been making an effort with her school work. I very much appreciate hearing you validate how much her hard work is paying off. I will be sure to share this with Anna and tell her how very proud we are of her! Have a great day! :)”

“Thanks for the good news, Liz. It’s nice to hear about something positive; I appreciate it. I will ask them to share their work with me and will encourage them. Thanks again and have a great weekend.”

“She has been sharing her writings with us and I have been so impressed with her work! I am so glad to hear from you about this! Of course I think it’s good, but to hear it from you is awesome. She shared with me your comments this am about her recent poem, she was so excited! I have never seen her so pumped about a subject in school before so keep up the awesome work motivating her and we will do the same. Thanks again!”

Each parent gave me a boost and reminded me of the positive impact I’m having on his or her child. The students, too, appreciated my efforts: “Thanks for emailing my dad.”— “My mom was so excited to see your email.”—“My mom took me to Culver’s for custard because of what you wrote.”

I’ve now made it my goal to email a different group of parents for each assignment.

Tell Me Something Good

confetti_5878997537By Sabrina Bartels

This past week, one of my students mentioned that he finally got to go see a Marquette basketball game. He was so excited to share this experience with me, and immediately launched into a description of the arena, the players, and how cool it was seeing a court that has hosted Marquette alums Dwayne Wade, Jimmy Butler, and Steve Novak. He spoke about how near it was seeing all of the student section, wearing their blue and gold t-shirts, turn their backs on the opposing team when they were announced, and how his favorite part was when the student section threw confetti in the air to celebrate Marquette’s first basket of the game.

This made me smile for so many reasons. It’s been a little bit since I went to a Marquette game, and even longer since I attended a game and stood in complete awe of what was going on around me. If I really think about it, I can remember the very first time I attended a basketball game: I was with a bunch of girls from my floor, and as we were walking in, some upperclassmen gave us a bunch of newspaper. We were perplexed until we saw all the students around us ripping the paper into tiny squares. We automatically followed suit. And when Marquette scored their first basket that night, everyone threw their confetti in the air. As it rained down on us, I remember thinking that there was no way any moment was more perfect than that one.

It’s been four years since I started counseling, and sometimes I worry that I have lost some of the wonder and awe associated with my job. Sometimes, I forget what drew me to counseling in the first place. Some days, I am so exhausted and frustrated with the drama associated with being a middle schooler that I miss some of the fun, charming moments. I miss the lessons that I’m learning. I’m so fixated on what is “wrong” that I’m not always thinking about the positive, good things that are happening at work and in my world.

So I decided to start writing down some of the good parts of my day, to remind me why it is that I’m a counselor. Here are some of my favorite things:

  • A parent told me that I’m someone her daughter really trusts.
  • A kid stopped me in the hall on my way out the door. She told me to go home and eat because I “work way too hard.”
  • A student told me I was beautiful (never mind that the next words out of her mouth were “for being that old!”)
  • I spent some time with one of my students helping him catch up on work. The smile on his face when he finished it all was amazing.
  • A bunch of our Student Ambassadors made posters and visited classrooms to promote our food drive. Having students conquer their fear of public speaking and give a mini presentation to the classes was a great moment to watch.
  • Hearing our Student Ambassadors talk about our food pantry and community closet. We recently started our food pantry and community closet. Parents can donate to it, and they can take what they need from it. When explaining this to our Student Ambassadors, all of them were very compassionate. Many wanted to know what they could do to help, from volunteering to help organize the pantry, to donating more clothes and food to help stock our shelves.
  • A few of my students volunteered to help a student with Down’s Syndrome. They let him eat lunch with them and taught him how to play Uno.

Take the time to remember the good things!

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