Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Blog Hop: What Secondary Teachers Learned in 2015

Good morning from snowy, icy, FREEZY Chicagoland! We've been so mild all winter (a true rarity for this area!) and then all of a sudden, we got dumped on. So, it's forced me back inside and to wrap up all of my running around and here I am blogging next to my old Christmas tree and some seriously delicious coffee.

Some other secondary bloggers and teachers have been chatting lately about what they've learned in 2015, and I think it's time to reflect on that same idea myself. After all, that's what teaching is all about! Reflect and refocus and reteach! Here are three things I learned in 2015:

One: A Life Lesson - Being Married is AWESOME!
So maybe this one was predictable for those of you that have been following my journey, but I seriously am still wrapped up in newlywed sparkles and rainbows. 2015 was "The Year of the Wedding" and as much fun as planning the most epic shindig of the century was, being married to an incredible man is even better. {Extra, over-share personal details to follow. If you'd rather not, just move to item number two!}

As a young teacher in my early twenties, I remember being so despondent about finding a good guy to date. I never met "the one" in high school or college, so I was stone-cold single starting in the teaching game. And for the first three years, it was a blessing. I was hyper-focused on my work. I established a reputation at my school for going above and beyond and for always bringing creativity and innovation into the classroom. I rewrote years worth of curriculum and volunteered for dozens of school events and led four different clubs. It as a beautiful distraction from the lack of dating in my life (who was I going to get set up with, the ONLY single guy in school? Because that wouldn't be a scandal!!). Then, I reached 25 and my friends were starting to settle down, have kiddos, you know, move on with their lives. With still no prospects in sight, I dabbled in online dating, but pretty much settled into the idea that I would be very happy as a solo artist - I adore my life's work as a teacher. I was ready for that life.
And then I met Luis.
It's funny how life works. As soon as I had embraced my singlehood, made plans (I was in the midst of applying for a Fulbright Scholarship to teach in South Africa!), an amazing person appeared in my life VIA Now that I'm three months married, I can reflect on the last thirty years and just sigh. Marriage turned out to be just another right path for me. I wish I would have known this in my mid-twenties: there's no ONE right path. Life opens up so many that really what I need to remember is to always be open minded to what's ahead.

Two: I still depend so much on PAPER - LET IT GO!
I hate to admit it, but at the end of 2015, half way into my eighth year of teaching, I still feel like if I haven't validated learning physically (on paper or submitted online) that I haven't really evaluated it. I don't BELIEVE this is true, but my practices still demand it.
For example, I tried a new strategy this year with my kiddos called The Tableau. I had used it a long time ago, but I decided to resurrect it as I noticed my kids were doing way too much sitting. So, for the tableau to work, I basically gave six small groups six different important concepts that we were studying, and asked them to create a tableau that answered a question about that concept. For example, we were studying In the Time of the Butterflies in November. One issue that we wrestled with was the idea of machismo. Group One got the question, "What does machismo look like in the context of the lives of the Mirabal sisters?". Their job was then to create a tableau, a "freeze frame", a picture, using their bodies and/or props from around the classroom to answer the question.
It was SOOO HARD for me to not require them to ALSO write a paragraph that answered the question! The activity was amazing, so amazing in fact that I quickly put it up in my store (go check it out!), but I still felt myself aching for something to be "turned in". After I calmed myself down, I knew in my heart that what the students created with their bodies was more than sufficient. Each group had a curator, a person who explained the picture concept that the group came up with. And these pictures were creative, layered with depth and understanding, and it was clear to me which students got it and which did not.
I need to keep making my students do these kinds of activities. I can't "record the data" or align it precisely with a standard, but we teachers know in our GUTS that these kinds of small formative assessments are critical to the well being of our kiddos.

Group Tableau Project:  A  Formative Assessment for ALL No

Three: Life is Bigger than Teaching Alone
I love my students. Adore them, actually. And the same can be said of the career itself (minus a few bad days here and there). But the more I look at my life, the more I realize that I haven't really found the balance quite yet. Before I got married, I worked too much. When I got engaged/ "The Year of the Wedding", I probably played a little bit too much. This year, 2016, will be the year that I finally get the balance down. I'm equipped and ready to do it and here are a few apps I'm using to help me do so:

Health: My Fitness Pal
I've experimented with this app on and off and I really enjoy it. I was really consistent with it before the holidays and getting sick, so I'm planning to start fresh on January 1 tracking all of my meals and workouts. The app is really user friendly, and, BONUS!, compatible with my new Christmas present - my FitBit Charge HR!

Finances: Acorns
Luis and I have a lot of long term financial goals.....and a lot of short term bad spending habits! I just downloaded Acorns and I'm excited to try it in the new year. Acorns will take the extra change from my debit card purchases and dump them into a savings account for me. Better yet, they'll invest it and I'll get to see my money grow! By using Acorns, working on sharing great products in my TpT store, and my other side jobs, we hope to keep saving for our first home and a few extra souvenirs on our honeymoon trip to Germany this summer.

Organization: Erin Condren!
Okay, this one actually isn't digital, AND it's not a's a continuation of something great I started doing in 2015! I bought my very first Erin Condren planner in the summer and it's seriously the first planner that I've actually been using consistenly. It does a really nice job of blending school planning and life planning, so I'm going to keep using this bad boy to death! 

So that's it, folks!  Those are just some of the things I've learned and some of the ways I plan to move forward into a fresh start in 2016.  Check out these other OUTSTANDING bloggers below to see what they've learned and what they're up to!  Bye!