Sunday, January 31, 2010

January 31st: Feeling the Love

Open House! Now that it's over I can breathe a sigh of relief. I spent all day yesterday in the classroom cleaning and setting everything up, and I have to admit that my room looked awesome! It's actually a point of pride for me that my room always looks great; I must get that from my mother. But I also know that I function better in a clean, well-organized classroom, and I know my students do too.

Back to Open House. It went incredibly well! The parents had nothing but wonderful things to say to me about the classroom and the student work that was on display. A few even pulled me aside to thank me for making this such a great year for their child. They even shared with me the impact I've had on their seventh grader. There's a part of me that still doesn't want to hear that; a part that doesn't want to believe that I've touched anyone. After all, I still don't believe that I am doing this job the "right way," whatever that may be.

So today I just tried to listen and accept the praise that was being given to me. Why is that so hard? Would it really be easier to accept if I just believed what they were saying? Am I supposed to be striving to be the teacher I want to be or the teacher my students need me to be? This is now my fourth year of teaching, and I still have more questions than answers.

When do I get answers?

Friday, January 29, 2010

January 29th: Let Go and Let Students

I don't know why I've always been so hesitant to let students take more control in the classroom. Unless, of course, we start talking about my own control issues. But let's not...that won't be a pretty conversation!

One of my personal goals for this school year has been to work on my control issues by letting students make more decisions about their own learning and, more importantly, helping to implement those decisions...that's the hard part.

One of my weakest areas as a teacher has to be the dreaded bulletin board. I have seven of them: six in my classroom and one in the office hallway. For the most part, the boards in my classroom don't really change all that much. But I really needed to do something about one of them because it looked so bare.

There was more to the board than this; I had pictures of a few books on the board
with yarn attaching them to the appropriate genre on the poster. I just don't have a
picture of it...probably because it wasn't worth the effort of getting my camera out!

As we're getting ready for Open House this weekend, I decided to ask my students for their ideas of what should be on display for their parents to see. Several students mentioned our Hope Notes project and could we do something with that. Bianca suggested each student make a new Hope Note or two and we combine them all to form one large Hope Note Quilt. I loved that idea! Then Colleen suggested we use my pathetic bulletin board (my words, not hers) to display our Hope Notes. Awesome idea!!

Later, I asked Colleen if she would take charge of creating our new bulletin board. I had to remind myself several times that she was in charge...not me! When she first shared with me her idea, I was hesitant. I just couldn't see how it would work.

"Um, remember," I said to myself, "you're not the creative one here!"

Right. I knew that.

Colleen solicited the aid of Carrie and Sierra; she was going to need it. The project got bigger than I had anticipated.

"It's okay," I reminded myself, "they are the creative ones."

Right. I knew that.

I stopped by the back table where they were working to check in and see how they were doing. They'd come up with a new idea and were explaining it to me. My inner non-artist critic couldn't see how it was ever going to work, and I started to stop them.

"It's okay," I said to myself again, "let it go. All will be well."

Right. I knew that.

I repeated the phrase, "Whatever you decide will be awesome," several times to the girls. But I think it was really directed at me. A reminder that I had given up control of this project to those who were born with the creative gene that I was not.

And here is the finished product:

The letters in "Hope" were created by using individual Hope Notes (made on colored index cards). I need to change the border since the board no longer has something to do with literature, but I just love what the girls came up with!

"You see," I told myself as I was taking this picture, "you see what can happen when you give up a little control? Something amazing can be the result!"

Right. I know

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

January 27th: What Comfort Zone!

Ok, I'll admit it. I don't exactly live well with the phrase "Change is Good." I like my comfort zone. I can kick back and relax my comfy clothes, eating comfort food. Don't bother me kid, I'm complacent.

But I took a chance today. I stuck one toe into the "Change is Good" camp, started to draw it back when things weren't going as planned, but wound up, eventually, with both feet planted firmly in Camp CiG!

Let me explain.

I've never used a video camera before. A still camera, no problem. I can figure out a still camera without much effort. But a video camera that records not only the action in front of the lens, but the potential cursing from the teacher behind the lens? No thank you! That's the last thing I need. But I needed to think like a teacher today, and consider, first and foremost, what was best for my students.

And after all of the hard work they've put into their recent social studies project, I knew it needed to be captured on video. Especially when I found out that one of the groups had written an entire musical! That's right...Umayyads vs. Abassids - The Musical. "Umayyad, my lord, Umayyad..." (Think Kumbaya)


This entire project pushed the boundaries of my comfort zone. Let's start with the fact that I let them choose their own groups. I've never done that before, always preferring to arrange the groups myself to assure best possible work. There was always this little voice inside my head saying, "But if they work with their friends who have similar interests, they may be able to tap into their creativity and create a better project."

Shhhh. Silly inner voice. School is no place for creativity!

Step One into Camp CiG: Students picked their own groups.
Result: Awesomeness!

Once they'd chosen their own groups, they were allowed to decide on their own project. All I told them was they needed to somehow summarize the current chapter in their world history book, "The Rise of Muslim States." We brainstormed some different ideas: posters, timelines, skits, videos, even the dreaded powerpoint.
  • How
  • many
  • bullet points
  • can
  • you
  • fit
  • on
  • one
  • slide?
In the end, most groups are doing skits, videos, or a combination thereof. One group, my artists, decided to create a very large map of the territories once controlled by the Abassids or the Umayyads. They did a good job on their project, but they had an awesome time creating it.

Step Two into Camp CiG: Students chose their own project.
Result: So far, so awesome!

The one requirement I placed on their projects was that they had to use Google Docs to write their scripts. That way they could all work on it from home without having parents send the dreaded "I can't believe you're making my child work on a group project outside of school!" email to the teacher. Of course, having them use Google Docs also allows me to see who is doing what portion of the writing. I don't think they've caught onto that yet.


Step Three into Camp CiG: Students use Google Docs to write scripts.
Result: Way cool!!

Okay, so using Google Docs with my students wasn't really a step outside of my comfort zone. But it was for some of them, and the teacher has to deal with that. So, Step Three it is.

And then there was the video camera. I went over to the media center at lunch to retrieve the camera and the tripod from our tech coordinator. Anna was also kind enough to give me a quick tutorial on how to use the camera. A tutorial, it turns out, that somehow got deleted from my brain as soon as I walked out the door.

Fast forward to me standing in the back of the classroom, fumbling with the tripod and then trying to figure out how to use the camera. "Wait," I said out loud to myself, "what did Anna say to do?" The little voice inside my brain returned. "This is just not going to work! It's time to give in. You'll never get this figured out. And have you noticed the chaos around you? Students are swinging from the light fixtures; spitwads are flying everywhere; someone just ran through the room screaming, 'Miss McMillan is stupid! She can't do anything!'"

Ok, that last one was just me. And my classroom still has its hanging light fixtures, and my walls are spitwad-free. But I did think about giving up..."It would be so much easier," was the thought that entered my brain. Just give up and move on.

But I had promised my kids! And after I made that promise, they decided that they could sell DVDs of the movie to family and friends and donate the money to Haiti. So now if I gave up, I wasn't just letting my kids down...I was letting all of Haiti down!! That's just too much pressure!

Whenever I train new people on using the Promethean ActivBoard, I always say the same thing, "If you have any trouble or can't figure something out, just ask the kids!" Genius!! Within a few minutes of asking the question, we had it figured out and were ready to roll!!!

Step Four into Camp CiG: Figuring out how to use a video camera
Result: I haven't seen the video yet, but I'm hoping it will be total awesomeness!!!!

I shared with you in another post that I discovered one of the groups was incorporating something I had said in class about the pronunciation of "apricots" (it's not spelled APEricots!) I had seen it in their Google Doc, so I knew it was coming. But it still caught me off guard when they said their lines about APEricots.

So, for just a moment, picture the teacher standing directly behind the rolling video camera, trying her darndest not to laugh! I wanted so badly to do a little LOLing, but also didn't want my rather loud, obnoxious laugh (or even my softer Scooby-Doo-like giggle) to drown out the girls on the video camera. Well, the harder I tried not to laugh, the more the tears poured down my face. And, of course, the more the teacher tries not to laugh, the more her students will notice her not laughing causing them to laugh even harder, which makes it harder for the teacher...

See where I'm going with this? It ought to be quite interesting to listen to the video.

The two skits we were able to see today, a courtroom scene very cleverly written, and Umayyad vs. Abassid - The Musical, were both wonderfully done. I'm so proud of my students! And, yes, I'm feeling a little proud of myself tonight for having taken a step or two outside my comfort zone. And now I'm ready to incorporate video into my classroom more often. I'm already composing my letter to Santa for next Christmas: "Dear Santa, All I want for Christmas is a class set of Flip cameras!" That's not too much to it?

Monday, January 25, 2010

January 25th: That Was One Long Day!

Today was one incredibly long day. Mondays usually are, but add in the beginnings of a cold and the day seems doubly long. It's my own fault, of course. I had a massage client on Saturday and I actually said the following words out loud: "Well, I can't remember the last time I was sick!"


I've been alternating between blaming my seventh graders who have been sick a lot lately, and blaming George who hogs all the heat around here:

Before I fall into my Nyquil-induced coma, let me share with you the highlight from today. After school today, one of the moms stopped me when I was walking back to my classroom. She asked me if I'd gone to church on Sunday; for a second I thought I was talking to my own mother! The reason she asked was so she could ascertain whether or not I'd heard our priest's sermon on Sunday. I hadn't, so she proceeded to summarize it for me. She said that Father was talking about the importance of having people in our lives that make us laugh, and the importance of laughter. She finished by saying, "You are that person for our children, and I just want to thank you for that."

It was really touching. It's not often that we teachers hear such positive feedback from parents or students or the powers that be. I know that this two- or three-minute conversation made a huge difference in my day. I wonder what a difference it could make in the educational realm if more teachers heard something positive each day. I wonder how we could make that happen.

I wonder a lot of things.

Like what happened to yesterday's post. That's easy. I didn't write one. I had a lot of work to get done on a Sunday: lesson plans, grading, progress reports, creating a wiki for an upcoming presentation, more grading. And I just decided that it was okay to skip one day. No guilt. No worry. It's okay!

And to bed!

Saturday, January 23, 2010

January 23rd: Can I NOT Think About School Today?

Apparently not. Apparently it's all I think about...well, almost all. I was so sure that today's Thought Post would be about something other than school. And for most of the day it was. I had a massage client in Danville today which assured me that I would at least get out of the apartment and enjoy our first no rain day in a week. Before I left, I made sure to grab my camera. I was determined to get pictures from someplace, any place, other than school.

On my way back to Pleasant Hill, I decided to take the scenic route, rather than stay on the freeway for the entire drive. What a great decision! One of the benefits of all this rain has been the greening of our California foothills. It made for a beautiful drive. I've taken this route home many times since moving to Pleasant Hill more than ten years ago, but I have never stopped at the overlook at a place called Dinosaur Hill Park.

I had this idea in my head of a picture I wanted to get for today's 365 Photo Challenge, and something told me to stop at Dinosaur Point. And I managed to find exactly the picture I was looking for:

Of course, I couldn't stop there! I wandered around the foothills for awhile, taking pictures and lots of deep breaths. The air was so clean after the recent rains; it just felt good to be out in it. And to be doing something I have such a passion for - photography.

By the way, does anyone still need mistletoe:

So, back to why I was thinking about school again...or is it "still"? My seventh graders are currently using Google Docs to write scripts together for an upcoming social studies project. I've given them a tremendous amount of latitude on this project. They were allowed to choose their own groups for the first time with me, and so far it's been pretty awesome. The only real assignment I gave them was that they had to summarize the chapter about the Abassid and Umayyad Empires. We brainstormed a number of possible ideas, but this is a group that really likes to do skits! So I have one group that is creating models of Abassid and Umayyad markets (which sounds oh so cool!), and the rest of the class will be doing a combination of skits and videos.

The one requirement for the skits and/or videos is that they have to write an actual script using Google Docs. It's been a lot of fun for me, as their teacher, to pop in on their documents and see what they've been creating (can't wait to see Abassids vs. Umayyads - The Musical).

I should probably stop and give you, my reader, a bit of background on me. I say things weird. Make that "weirdLY" (silly grammar teacher). Take this word, for example: apricot. How do you pronounce it? Do you say APP-ricot? Or APE-ricot? I say APP-ricot. Don't ask me why. I just always have. Well, for some reason, I said APP-ricot in class the other day and I got that look from some of the kids; that "Miss McMillan is so weird" look. So, I grabbed my ActivBoard pen and wrote on the board:


while saying, "It's spelled APricot...not:


Well, they just thought that was hilarious. I didn't know how hilarious until this evening. I was checking in on my students' Google Docs scripts and I discovered this:

Seventh graders! They just think they are soooooo hilarious! But, can I tell you...I absolutely LOVE it! It made me feel special, somehow, that they would include me in their skit like this. And I know that the rest of the class will get quite a kick out of it.

Not a bad "non-school" day, eh?

Friday, January 22, 2010

January 22nd: Am I Smarter Than A Seventh Grader?

Probably not. At least not when it comes to all things techy. I often tell my students that we are smarter together than we can be separately, and this morning I asked them to help me figure something out...and they were brilliant!!

We've been using Google Apps for Education this year, and I, for one, have been loving it! My students use Google Sites for their blogs, I use Google Forms to create surveys, and we use Google Docs, but definitely not to their fullest capacity. So I asked my seventh graders this morning for more ideas of ways we could use Google Docs in the classroom. It was a little quiet at first, but once they got they always do...they came up with some amazing ideas! Here are just a few:
  • Brainstorming: working together to come up with ideas for projects or fundraisers;
  • Student council: the class reps could share their report with their classmates and then ask for feedback or questions;
  • They could post math problems and then no one would have to take their textbook home (I don't know about that one);
  • They could create a class study guide for the next test;
  • Literature Circles: I'm still thinking about this one! Looking forward to trying to use Docs with literature circles. Should make it much easier for groups to collaborate;
  • My Favorite: Teachers could make forms available to students now that we can upload to Google Docs. That way, there's no excessive waste of paper, students could look at project handouts and rubrics online whenever they need it (like after they've lost their handout AGAIN!)
I absolutely loved getting geeky with my seventh graders this morning! This class is amazing in that they can always come up with great ideas!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

January 21st: The Supercool Factor

What an interesting day it turned out to be. My morning began with an amazing conversation with my seventh graders about identity. I posed the question, "What is an identity?" It didn't take them too long to come up with "it tells who you are," "it explains how you're different from others," and "it's who you are to everyone else."

Colleen added, "It's something to be recognized or remembered by or something that's associated with you."

Dominic offered, "You can change your name, but your identity remains." He gave the example of Chad Ocho-Cinco, which made quite a few students, and the teacher, groan.

And that led to an amazing debate!! They had so many thoughts on this subject, and I kept throwing more questions at them to spur them on. Quite a few people disagreed with Dominic, saying "If you change your name, you DO change your identity," or "You can't change your identity, but you can add to it." But Devin is the one who gave us our new seventh grade mantra:

"Identity is like a pizza. You can change the toppings or add more to it, but you're still a pizza."


I love how these kids debate an issue! If they disagree with a classmate, they'll raise their hand and begin with, "I have to disagree with..." Then, of course, the person they're disagreeing with will usually raise their hand and say, "Rebuttal!" They are also very polite when they agree with a classmate. "Going along with what so-and-so said..." or "adding onto what that dude said..." It's pretty darn cool!

Two more quotes from our conversation about identity:

Nick: "Your identity changes when you change."

Matthew: "It's difficult to be someone you want to be, but it's easy to be yourself."

Can you imagine?! I get to have conversations like this every day!!

The supercoolness continued in eighth grade later in the morning. I re-introduced Diigo to the class, which was a lot of fun for me. I saw a few faces light up with that "Oh, I can so totally use this!" look. They've already started bookmarking sites for their research.

After we were done with the Diigo introduction, I set them to their next task. They will be working in pairs to summarize the events before, during, and after the French and Indian War. I'm trying to encourage more multiple intelligences work with my students, giving them more varied options for completing a project. Some students are making posters that basically list the events, a couple are making maps with key events on them, and there will be a few (hopefully non-painful) powerpoints. I was happy that they at least let me talk them into using Google presentations for this. Knowing they could work on it at the same time from different places was a big selling point.

But the coolest thing...absolutely beyond supercool...that happened was when Jacob and Nick came up to me, hesitantly I might add, and asked if I would consider letting them use Google Wave to summarize the events of the War. I practically started yelling, "OHMYGOSH!!!! YES!!!!" Seriously, I think they both took a step backward! I must have told them a dozen times in the span of about ten minutes, "I just CAN'T WAIT to see what you come up with!!!" How cool is this going to be!!!!

Ok, one other quick supercool moment from today. About ten minutes after Jacob and Nick asked me about Google Wave, I was getting ready to take my seventh graders up to the gym to pick up their lunches. I looked outside to discover that it was POURING! But through the rain I could see something large and white on big lawn (where kids play soccer or football or baseball). At first I thought it was a crane! But later in the day I did some research, and now I'm thinking it's probably an egret! Whatever it was, it was taking advantage of our swamp-like field for a few minutes, perhaps waiting for the rain to stop.

It was a wonderful moment to just stop and think what a marvel nature is, always ready with a gift to share with us...if we'll only open our eyes.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

January 20th: They Inspire Me

My students. They make me laugh; they make me cry; they make me want to yank every hair from my head! But most of all, they inspire me. They inspire me to be a better teacher, a better writer, a better reader, even a better photographer. Most importantly, they inspire me to be a better person.

I have some amazingly talented artists in my seventh grade class. Today, during art awareness, the students were working with paints trying to replicate some of the work of Wayne Thiebaud. Thiebaud is famous for paintings of delectable bakery items, cakes, pies, and yes, even cupcakes. Each student today had a cupcake that they were to paint. I wandered around the room with my camera, mostly just observing these artists at work. As I was passing Dom and Devin, I heard Devin whine, "I can't do the frosting!!" I stopped and was about to say a negatively-phrased platitude like, "That's not what I want to hear!" Before I could say anything, thankfully, Dom quietly said, "Dude, sure you can! Just do this." And he proceeded to demonstrate a few strokes of the pencil.

I didn't think much of it at first. It needed time to percolate in my brain. A few minutes later, I was back at Dom and Devin's desks, and these two incredibly talkative boys were focused so intently on their paintings that they didn't even notice me taking photographs. I looked at Devin's painting and, sure enough, he'd done a wonderful job on his frosting. The few positively-phrased words that Dom had used worked so much better than what I was going to say.

What a wonderful lesson for the teacher today!

Devin's Cupcake.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

January 19th: When The Rain Comes

Phew! What a day! We had everything: wind, rain, thunder, lightning, sunshine, rain DURING the sunshine. There was even a bit of hail as well as a double rainbow! Beautiful!!

Thunder and lightning is not something we get a lot of here in Northern California. So when it does arrive in full force, as it did this afternoon, it's quite noticeable. Especially when you're teaching a special class after school with students who have attention issues. Fortunately for them, their teacher also has attention issues.

I know the proper response as the teacher should have been to keep them in their seats and convince them that there was nothing for them to see. "Stay focused on your work, please." But who are we kidding? I was the first one who headed to the window to spot the lightning! It didn't take long for me to figure out that this was something that's fairly rare for my students, so why not enjoy it with them!

Rather than hide us behind closed windows and doors, I threw open the blinds and opened the door. The lightning didn't last long, but it was just long enough for us!

Monday, January 18, 2010

January 18th: Imagine the Possibilities

It was a lovely, stormy day here in Northern California today. The kind of day that is best spent inside, under a warm blanket, with a fire going in the fireplace.

Or...if you're like enjoy getting out in the storm, feeling the wind and the rain on your face. It may sound odd, but I always feel more alive when Mother Nature is in close contact! And it looks like I'll be feeling more alive a lot this week.

Wandering around in the storm today, taking pictures, gave me plenty of time to think. My thoughts today were centered mostly around education and my place in it. Mostly what I came up with were just more questions: What is my part in education? Am I supposed to be in the classroom? Is that the best place for me to affect change? Should I be thinking more along the lines of working to change education on a different level? And what would that look like? How would I get there?

Perhaps I'm already on my way there, and I just don't realize it yet. I've had some wonderful conversations recently with other educators. Conversations that make me feel hopeful that I am on the right path. I may not know exactly where that path is heading, but I have to learn to trust that I'm heading in the right direction. It's the journey that matters, not the destination.

Photo: Storm! by Liebedich

Sunday, January 17, 2010

January 17th: Kids 4 Haiti

It may seem rather ironic, but today's positive thought stems from tragedy. Specifically, the recent tragic earthquake in Haiti. I was listening to Conversations this morning, expecting to hear a conversation about why one would become a teacher. Instead, the topic never strayed from Haiti. At first, the talk was all about how horrific the situation is in Haiti, and how the people there must be suffering.

And then the topic turned. At Christmas, I told my uncle "You know you're meant to be an educator when you realize you're always looking for ways to turn everything into a lesson." And so it went this morning. The topic went from tragedy to hope in a matter of minutes as we started planning ways that our students could make a difference for those most affected by the earthquake. By the end of the hour, we had the start of a plan, a wiki was created for the project:


We even had our very own motto:

Connecting the world, one wiki at a time.

No, I don't expect that we'll save the world...or even Haiti...with our project. But it's exciting to at least feel a part of something great. Something that has the potential to change lives...maybe even our own.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

January 16th: My Saturday Morning PD

Ah, Saturday mornings! A chance to sleep in and wake up feeling refreshed and ready to take on the ever-expanding list of chores. Of course, when you wake up to that face, your first thought might be "Oh, holy cow! I have got to get out of here!" I assure you, his glare is worse than his claw.

Well, no...not really.


I had been looking forward to this morning all week, and not just because it meant a little quality time with Mr. Warm and Fuzzy. Every Saturday morning I try to catch the latest Classroom 2.0 Live session. I was especially eager to attend the session this morning as the guests were Jim Beeghley and his daughter Sarah. Sarah is a remarkable young lady whose interest in the U.S. Civil War spurred her to create the award-winning Civil War Sallie project. Sallie Ann is a stuffed bear that travels around the country visiting classrooms and battlefields (hopefully they don't prove to be one and the same!)

Listening to Sarah this morning was absolutely inspiring! I left the session with dozens of ideas for future lessons, but also with a renewed sense of purpose. I need to do more for my students in the classroom. I need to be a better teacher for my students. And I know I can be. Quite often it seems too overwhelming, and I know that at least part of that is because I make it that way. Something to work on!

But then I hear someone like Sarah and I am reminded that I really can do this job. I have good ideas, I just need to work on my follow-through. And I need to get my students involved in more projects like Sarah's. I hope to find a way to help them create their own projects. Something Sarah said this morning has stuck with me throughout the day: "Find something you're passionate about, and have fun with it." I am passionate about education. But I have not been having fun with it. It makes for very long days when you're having to trudge through them.

And what about my students? What are they passionate about? How can I help them find their passion? How can I harness that passion into something they'll remember? Into something that will make a difference? To them and the world!

That's a lot to think about. But that's a good thing! Thank you, Sarah, for reminding me that I have a purpose. I can't wait to have Civil War Sallie come visit our classroom!

If you're interested in learning more about Civil War Sallie, check out the following links:

Friday, January 15, 2010

January 15th: I Survived!

I made it through another week of middle school and found Friday at the end of it! And as far as Fridays go, this one wasn't too bad. Normally Fridays just drag on and on. But today went surprisingly well. Perhaps the prospect of a three-day weekend kept us all, teachers and kids alike, saner than usual!

At recess today, two of my eighth grade girls came running into my classroom. They were obviously excited about something. The eighth graders watch the CNN Student News every day, but they were caught a bit off guard when Samantha started screaming "That's my comment!!!" Turns out, she had written a comment on Carl Azuz's blog and he actually mentioned it during the show. Needless to say, Samantha was beside herself!! The best part? She couldn't wait to come into my classroom and tell me about it!!

How cool is that!!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

January 14th: If We Build It...

My seventh graders and I had a nice long chat this morning about the earthquake in Haiti. It isn't where we started the conversation, but it's where we wound up. I often like to ask my students for input on what we're doing in class. They usually have some great ideas, and my hope is that it makes them feel like they have some say in where their education takes them. It is their education, after all.

This morning I asked them for some ideas on a project for social studies. One of the first ideas that came out of the conversation..."we should do something about Haiti!" Well, what do you mean by "something"? "We should raise money to send them supplies and stuff!" Stuff. Any other teachers out there who've banned the word "stuff" in their classrooms?

In the span of about ten minutes, we went from a bake sale to raise money for "stuff" to holding a triathlon to raise money to build a community center in Haiti! The kids would even like to design the community center!


Part of me kept wanting to stop them and say, "You know, you're talking about a lot of work, a huge commitment, and who knows if we can even pull any of this off." It was really hard to be supportive of their big ideas, but I managed to fight off my inner pessimist. My kids can change the world. They just need me to step out of the way!

My favorite moment this morning was when one of my students raised her hand and said, "Um, we should probably do some research first."

Really??? What a fabulous idea!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

January 13th: Moments of Hilarity

Today provided me with several moments of laughter, and not just from my own students, either. I was in the health room during the lower grades' recess, when two second grade girls walked in. It was fairly obvious that young Nadia had hurt herself out on the playground; she came in fully-equipped with tears and everything! I, of course, had to ask, "Nadia! What'd you do???"

Nadia: "I did something on the playground, and I did something to my arm, and now something hurts."

McTeach: "Wow, that's a whole lot of something!"

Nadia: stares at McTeach. Little kids don't get me.

Walking back towards middle school I watched as a first grade girl Irish-danced her way across the schoolyard. I thought to myself, "Now, there's something you don't see every day."

And then there was the lunch-time visit from my eighth grade girls! I think I may have even gotten a few words in today! I don't think anyone heard me...but I at least put something out there!

The entire conversation began with them peppering me with questions about their high school recommendations. They knew the teachers had met this morning to talk about all of them and they were more than just a bit nervous. They have no need to be, but I wasn't divulging any information so they moved right along.

Funniest moment: Now, don't ask me how the topic got here, but Katie told us that her mom always tells her that she doesn't worry about Katie being kidnapped.

Katie: "She says I talk so much that the kidnappers would get irritated with me and bring me back!"

Megan and Makenzie: "Well, it is true."

Katie: "Oh, I know it is, but still!"

Now, that's funny!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

January 12th: An Inspirational Day

Today's positive thought caught me completely off-guard! This past Saturday most of our eighth graders took their high school entrance exam. The students that I've spoken to about the test have said it was fairly easy for them. That doesn't surprise me; we have some amazingly intelligent kids in this class. One or two students mentioned the essay they had to write as part of the exam, and while we discussed how they felt they did on the essay it never occurred to me to ask them what the topic was.

At recess today, like every other day, a group of eighth grade girls came in to visit with me. I'm not completely convinced that my presence is actually necessary for them to have this daily conversation...I never really get a word in. It totally confounds me how any of them can keep track of the conversation as they are quite often talking over one another. If you've ever been around teenage girls, you'll know what I'm talking about.

At one point a few of the girls had left the room, and Sarah started talking about Saturday's test. One thing you should know about Sarah before I continue, this is only her second year at our school. Last year, just a day or two before her seventh grade year began, she and her father stopped by the school hoping that there might be an opening in the class. They were disappointed when our school secretary informed them that the class was full, but they took an application anyway and left their phone number just in case.

The very next day...we got a call from a family informing us that they would not be returning to the school. Shortly after that phone call, Sarah and her dad returned with her application all filled out...just in case. Fate...divine intervention...whatever you want to call it, Sarah has been a blessing to her class and to me as her teacher. From the very first day of school last year, she fit right in. You never would have guessed that she was a new student.

It was so meant to be!

Back to today. Sarah started telling me about the high school entrance exam. I was expecting to hear her take on how easy it was. Instead, she began talking about the essay portion. She explained that the topic was "Someone who inspires you." She said that most people wrote about parents or athletes or people from history. Then she quietly added, "I wrote about you."

It took a moment for that to register. My brilliant, heart-felt response: "Wait...what?"

"I wrote about you," she repeated.

She started to explain why she wrote about me, but my brain was practically buzzing, trying to process this information. How had this happened? Why would she choose me? I'm not I? I so wish I could remember what she'd said. I'd plaster it all over every wall at home so I could remind myself that somehow, some way, I've made a difference. I touched at least one person in this life.

But maybe I don't really need to know why. The fact the she feels I inspired her...that truly is enough. And, I have to add just one thing...the feeling is very mutual, Sarah! I have learned so much about what it is to be a teacher since you came into my life. You've made my world a better place just being in it.

It is better to light one candle than to curse the darkness.
~Eleanor Roosevelt

Photo: candle in the dark by pratanti

Monday, January 11, 2010

January 11th: Identity Crisis in Middle School

I began eighth grade history class today with what I thought was a simple question: "How would you define 'American Identity'?" I asked them to take a few minutes and write their thoughts down in their notebooks. As I started to wander around the room I noticed that no one was writing anything. Even the students who are usually three steps ahead of me were staring at their papers.

I had stumped them. They had absolutely no idea what I was talking about. And that stumped me! I thought even if they'd never heard the phrase before they should be able to figure their way around the phrase...right?

Well...we tried. I had an entire lesson that I was leading into with that one question, but there was no way I could move forward with it without them understanding "American Identity." So I was faced with that awful teacher moment...the one where you realize, "Um, an entire class period just opened up because I have no lesson."

Now what?

Well, it used to be that I would absolutely panic or get completely irritated with myself or my kids. My response today: "Alrighty. I guess we'll talk about something else." And I moved right along to the next topic I could come up with. It wasn't the most productive morning for us, but I got through it with my sanity and my nerves intact.

My favorite part of my day was in the morning with my seventh graders. I asked them for some suggestions on how to convince a reluctant reader to keep trying, and they had some really great ideas. We also came up with a good list of suggested titles for Lee Kolbert's fourth graders! My students are adding comments to my blog with their ideas tonight. You can see them here:

Miss McMillan's Loopy Blog (so named by her students!)

I do so love blogging!

Sunday, January 10, 2010

January 10th: This Post Has No Title

Sundays are often very long days for me. It takes me most of the day to get my lesson plans written. Any "free" time I get is spent completing the other "getting ready for school" tasks like laundry and a trip to the supermarket to stock up on peanut butter and jelly for the week. I wasn't really sure where I would find a positive moment today; I certainly wasn't expecting it to come in the form of a tweet!

I shared with you yesterday how proud I was of my students who had commented on Lee Kolbert's blog post, Warning! Don't Let This Be You! This morning Lee commented on my post and then sent me a message on Twitter about it. Then she asked me a question that really got me thinking: "Why don't you title your posts?"

Um...well...uh...I...uh...have no idea.

I hadn't really thought about it. Until Lee asked the question and then reminded me...the English teacher...of the importance of The Hook. The words or idea that grab your reader's attention and make them want to keep reading. It's one of the things I've always admired Lee for...she writes the best titles!!! Here are a few examples of her title-writing expertise:
And it's also something I am ALWAYS talking to my students about! So, why is it I hadn't given it a thought?! You may also be wondering, "And how exactly is this today's positive thought???" That might be hard to explain. You see, for some reason, I took great delight in receiving a lesson from another teacher, especially one that I admire as much as I do Lee. And the best part was that I received the lesson well. I didn't perceive it as a personal attack as I might have in days gone by. No...seriously! The slightest critique or question would have sent me into a tailspin; that's how little I valued myself and my work.

I guess I'm finally growing up! Thanks for the lesson and the help, Lee!

Oh, if you're wondering why there's a picture of Haagen-Dazs ice cream at the top of this post, it's because I've posted to two blogs every day since New Year's Day and I think I deserve a treat. Chocolate!!

Saturday, January 9, 2010

January 9th

I've been working with students for the last two years on creating their digital footprint. While they've only started blogging this year, they started writing comments on my blog last year. It was an interesting process, getting them to remember that they shouldn't push "submit" until they were absolutely sure it was a comment even Grandma Gertrude would approve of. [No, my grandmother's name is not Gertrude; I don't even know anyone named Gertrude. Let's just move on, shall we?]

Anyway...let's get back to today's positive moment. It wasn't really the kind of day that was filled with positivity. I woke up with a migraine which didn't exactly enhance my mood in any way. I managed to get through the day and even to get some work done (school doesn't stop for a migraine). I still got out there and took my 365 photo of the day, and was thinking that it would have to also be my positive moment for the day. You know...despite the migraine I still managed to get one picture taken! Woo-hoo.

Let me back up just a moment. Earlier today, Lee Kolbert sent out a message on Twitter and Plurk about her latest class blog post, Warning! Don't Let This Be You!. In her post, Mrs. Kolbert asks for book recommendations that might encourage her fourth graders to read more. I could only think of one possibility, The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo. I don't often read books geared toward ten-year-olds. And since they were still etching books onto stone tablets back when I was in fourth grade, I thought it might be a good idea to ask some of my students for their help.

I sent an email to a small group of students - those I know who love to read - and asked them to comment on Mrs. Kolbert's post. Just a short while ago I discovered that two of them have left comments! Well, I'm just feeling so proud of my kids right now, I can't even tell ya!! But I'm trying!! It's a good thing it's Saturday, Jack and Makenzie, or I might just have to hug ya!!

Friday, January 8, 2010

January 8th

Ahhhhhh....Friday! It's like a cat's favorite sunbeam; warm and inviting, and missed terribly when it stays away too long.

And today was a really good Friday! I woke up feeling good, and by 6:30 A.M. I was...dare I say it...upbeat! I was thrown a bit of a curve ball after our 8:00 mass, but once I realized I was going to be able to see some Irish dancing courtesy of some of my eighth grade girls, I was happy. And, oh my goodness! These girls are amazing!!! I was so proud of each and every one of them today!

The entire day went remarkably smoothly! Could it be that this thinking positively stuff is actually paying off? I enjoyed being around all of my students today, and I think I was a better teacher today because I was enjoying my students. I returned a social studies test to the seventh graders today and asked if there were any questions on it. There were a few students who wanted to argue their case for a question or two. Normally, I just answer their questions, explain why they're wrong, and we move on with our lives. Today, however, I let other students respond to the questions. What ensued was wonderful! They began debating...history! The facts, sure. But mostly they were talking about the interpretation of history. It was a fabulous thing to sit back and watch.

And, of course, no day would be complete without a recess visit from our eighth grade girls. They say they just come into my classroom because it's cold outside, but I know they love me. They stand around my desk and chatter on and on and on...all at the same time, of course. I have no idea how that can they keep track of all the different conversations? How do they expect me to keep track? Oh well...I loved every minute of it! Especially since they were coming to me for reassurance. They are taking the high school entrance exam tomorrow and are all a bit nervous.

You'll do fine, ladies. I'm sure of it.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

January 7th

I write lesson plans every week, trying to make sure everything is planned out ahead of time. Of course, I've never really been a last minute, let's just wing it, kind of gal. But today I made a couple of last minute changes to my lessons...and they both turned out surprisingly well.

In the morning, during language arts time with the seventh graders, I had planned on working through narrative paragraphs and then some reading out of their literature textbook. As we were transitioning from religion class to language arts, I just wasn't feeling it. I was really feeling the need to do something light...something fun! Something that even the kids would enjoy. And what do the kids like? NOT going to school!!

So, I announced to the class, "Let's do some poetry!!" Ah yes...those were the groans I was hoping to hear! I explained that they would each be writing a poem with the same theme, which I would give them. "But," I added, "before I give you the theme, let me read you a few examples." I maintained a seriousness that you would expect to hear when reading a poem by Wordsworth or Longfellow or Whitman. And then I began..."Homework, I love you..."

It took a moment or two, but eventually they caught on to the...well....lack of seriousness with this poem. And what followed was some good old-fashioned poetry fun!! Their assignment? To write an excuse as to why they can't come to school, but to write it in the form of a poem. I shared with them the idea behind Shel Silverstein's Sick (I didn't share the actual poem, as I didn't have a copy of it handy...I do now!) We worked with a few sample "excuses" for practice, then I let them have some individual time to get started on their own. A few kids were having trouble getting started, so I put them into their peer edit groups and asked them to help each other. Things got loud rather quickly...but it was a really, really good loud!! They were all totally into what they were doing. Pens and pencils were flying across notebooks, arguments about what rhymes and what doesn't were criss-crossing my classroom, but poetry was being written! With lots of laughter!!

I can't wait to see what they come up with!

The other change I made was to a social studies lesson. I had planned on doing a review of the section in the book they'd just read. Had a "lovely" powerpoint planned and everything. Again...just wasn't feeling it. So, during their Spanish class, which is right before social studies, I added several new slides to my powerpoint. All of a sudden, my powerpoint review turned into a game show. Not intentionally, mind you. I just had one review question on each slide and pulled a student card to have kids answer the questions. It was the kids themselves who got a bit competitive. And I decided to just go with it. I'm so happy I did. Even a couple of the "quiet" kids got into it!!

Some fun learning today!

Photo: Magnetic Poetry by surrealmuse

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

January 6th

Seventh graders are interesting creatures. I should know...I spend all day with them. Thirty-six of them! Quite often I wonder who the real teacher in the room is. After school today, Taylor came up to me and said, "Look, Miss McMillan, it's a four-leaf clover!!" My ridiculously negative response: "It's torn." And this incredibly wise young lady responded with, "I don't care. Take a picture!"

So today's positive moment stems from today's most negative moment. How many conversations have I had with seventh graders about the importance of being accepting of all people no matter what was on the outside. True beauty lies within. Don't judge a book by its cover.

It's torn.

It's not perfect.

It's not photo-worthy.

How ridiculous! Of course it was Taylor. And it most definitely became Taylor...and to me! I mean, look at that photograph! Isn't it a cool shot!! It made Taylor happy and it makes me happy to look at it.

So, what did the teacher learn today? I learned that my pessimistic, glass is half-empty, view of the world is deeply ingrained in me. I learned that learning to be optimistic, to think positively, might be a longer and harder journey than I had originally thought. I learned that we can find teachers wherever we go in life, including our own classrooms.

I learned I have so very much to learn.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

January 5th

This definitely started my day out on a positive note. Perhaps not so positive for Cool Cat, as he managed to get himself locked in the first grade classroom all night long, but my friend Katie and I found it very amusing!

Today was my first day back to work with students in attendance. I had written my lesson plans; I knew what I wanted to get done today. But I wasn't exactly sure how I would begin my day. I hadn't seen these kids in a couple of weeks, after all. I started to feel myself stressing out about it, but kept the positive self-talk going. "You'll figure this always do!" Then, as we were standing out at morning assembly, it finally hit me. I knew exactly what I was going to do to start my day! I would tell them about my two new projects for the year, including this blog.

We started with a question for their journals: "Are you a 'the glass is half-empty or half-full' kind of person?" When I asked for any volunteers that might want to share, the only people who raised their hands were the 'glass is half-full' people. Interesting. Then I fessed up that I've always been a 'glass is half-empty' kind of person which surprised a number of kids. And that surprised me!! I guess I assumed everyone would pick up on this horrific black cloud that follows me everywhere.

Then I asked my seventh graders to think of one positive thing from their weekend and to write it down in their journal. No problem getting volunteers to share these! My favorite share came from Michael who had played Pictionary for the first time over the weekend with family. He and his cousin were paired up for the game, and let's just say...they didn't do so well. But, he added, "We had the best time, laughing!"

Thank you, Michael, for the perfect example of a "glass is half-full" kind of mentality!

My students don't know it yet, but I'll be asking them tomorrow for one positive moment or idea from today. I think we should start blogging these ideas...every day! The idea makes me happy!

There were a few times during the day where I started to feel a bit on the negative side (the copier was busy, or I brought the wrong papers over to be copied, or someone was in the bathroom when I really needed it. A couple of times during the day I needed to have a little chat with myself and remind me, "Remember, we're thinking positively. Go for the positive side today. Don't fall back into negativity...look at the bright side!" [Ok, I couldn't help myself when I was explaining my new strategy to my students...when I said something about looking on the bright side, I actually started singing, "Always look on the bright side of life..." Thankfully, none of them knew that it was from Monty Python!]

I had several positive moments throughout my day, everything from trying to snap a picture of the elusive eighth grade girl with new glasses (have you ever heard a McTeach giggle? I'm told I sound like Scooby Doo...I can't believe I just admitted that) to a fifth grade boy stopping to hold the door open for me to having a staring contest with one of my seventh grade boys (I lost when he let out an "Oh, holy crap!" and I started laughing!)

All in all, I'd say that's not bad for a first day back...wouldn't you agree?

Monday, January 4, 2010

January 4th

Need I say more?!

Well, you know I'm gonna!

Lots of positive moments today, including receiving my official Star Discovery Educator certificate. Even though I became a DEN Star a few months ago, receiving this in the mail today made me very happy.

Today was our first day back at school after our Christmas break. We didn't have students today, just a long meeting with faculty and staff. But rather than be dreading every moment of my first morning back, I was in a surprisingly good mood. I was happy to see all my friends and have some time to sit and chat. It felt great to reconnect with everyone today. Yes, we had a lengthy meeting to sit through, and I still had plenty of work to do in the classroom afterwards, but I never let myself get discouraged or feel stressed about not being ready for my students.

That, my friends, is quite a victory!

Sunday, January 3, 2010

January 3rd

It's Sunday. The last day of my Christmas break from school. I was surprised this morning when I didn't start my day filled with dread and oh so much whining [is one ever too old to say "But I don't wanna go to school!!" in the whiniest voice imaginable?] In fact that gut-tightening "why didn't I get more work done over break" feeling never stopped by for a visit today.


Could it be that trying to stay positive is already having an effect? Or might I just be delusional from all the Christmas chocolate still in my system? Tough call.

I tried to think of a big, positive moment from my day, something I could write about here. But nothing really struck me as being "blog worthy." So, I sent a message out on twitter, and received this reply:

I read it over several times. Then it finally registered...these positive moments I'm looking for each day don't have to be huge, fantabulous, rock your world types of moments. I even wrote about that in my first post. The little things in life have value too, and we shouldn't overlook them. I did manage to get the laundry done as well as quite a bit of cleaning around here. The cable guy came by (yes, on a Sunday) and replaced my box, so I finally have cable again. I don't know if I did any "reveling" today, Mrs. Tenkely, but I did get in a bit of relaxation. Does that count?

So, thanks for the reminder, Kelly! You are positively a good friend!!

Saturday, January 2, 2010

January 2nd

"You never know when one act, or one word of encouragement can change a life forever."
~Zig Ziglar
I read this quote earlier today as it floated across my Twitter stream, and it's been floating around in my head ever since. I think this is what I'm trying to do with this blog. One kind act or word of encouragement for myself every day.

Today's kind act for myself was to stop a bit of negative thinking. I woke up later than I had intended and started almost berating myself for the loss of time in what's left of my Christmas break. So, I stopped myself and had a little chat...with myself. "Hey, it's okay," I said to myself. "Obviously you needed some extra sleep today. You're gonna need it once school starts up again. It's okay."

Myself tried to argue. "It's NOT okay! I have all this school work that I've put off doing. I should have been getting that done during these two weeks! What have I accomplished?" "Well," I answered myself, "let's look at what you accomplished. You did a lot of cleaning around the apartment; cleaning that was well-past due. You did some reading, something you never make time for when you're teaching. And you spent some quality time with family, including your eighty-eight year old grandma. How can you say you didn't accomplish anything?" know what? I'm right. No, I didn't do nearly as much school work as I had planned to do. But I took some time for myself over break, and!

I have to say, after this conversation with myself this morning I felt surprisingly calm the rest of the day. Pretty cool, eh?

Friday, January 1, 2010

A New Year, A New Way of Thinking

I have always said that I don't believe in making New Year's Resolutions. If I wanted to make a change in my life, I didn't need to wait for a specific day to do it. I could make changes anytime I wanted! The problem is I never really get around to that. Maybe I really am the kind of person who needs a schedule for everything!

What I do know about myself, much as I hate to admit it, I have always been a "glass is half empty" kind of gal. And where has that gotten me? Nowhere, really. Oh, I could give you a long list of Whoa-Is-Me-Isms, but that would go against the reason for this blog...the change I'd like to make this year.

Today, I began participating in the 365 Day Photo Challenge along with many of the members of my PLN. The idea is to take one photo every day and share it via Flickr and, possibly, your own blog (you can see mine at Picturing My Year Day By Day). This got me thinking. About my thinking. Seriously.

And here's what I've decided to do. I will find at least one positive thing each day of this New Year and write about it here on this blog. It doesn't have to be anything fact, I've always believed that it is the little things in life that hold the most value for us. The point is to help me change my view on life; to try and find a way to see my world through anything but dark, gloomy glasses.

Who's with me? I would love to see others participate in this challenge. I'm sure I'm not the only one in the world who could use a fresh, clean perspective on life. Besides, if there are others participating with me I'll be more likely to keep up with this every day.

Care to start a Thought Revolution with me?!