Feel the Burn! Five Traits of Educators on Fire

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I remember being in second grade at Westside Elementary, a school in the district where I currently work. My teacher’s  name was Mrs. Euler, and everything she said was, in my opinion, golden. She taught me to write in cursive, which was a BIG deal in my little world! Mrs. Euler did much more than teach me content. I owe her so much, because she is partly responsible for where I am today. That year in Mrs. Euler’s classroom, a flame was lit. I wanted to be just like her. I wanted to be a teacher. I was fortunate to know by the time I was seven years old exactly what I wanted to do with my life. No one in my family had ever been to college, but I didn’t care. I wanted to be a teacher like Mrs. Euler, and I had to make it happen. I had a little fire in me early on which was fueled by incredible teachers and my parents. At the age of seven, I was in pursuit of a dream.

My student teaching assignment and first teaching position were in the very building where my dream began, and Mrs. Euler was still teaching there. She supported me through my internship, interview process, and during my first three years as an educator. I was a new teacher who had a fire within me, and she, along with many others helped to ignite that fire as I grew in my profession. Many years later I became an administrator in the building where I currently serve as assistant principal. When I was assigned to Eastside Elementary, the first thing I did was view the faculty list. To my surprise Mrs. Euler’s name was listed as a Kindergarten teacher. I had come full circle with this woman. She was my second grade teacher, a mentor, and a fellow teacher. I now serve as one of her administrators. Full circle…she still teaches me, and helps me stay true to who I am. I consider myself blessed to have the opportunity to work alongside a person who helped me realize my dream of educating kids. She has a fire within and after many years, it continues to burn wild for her students.

After sixteen years as an educator, my fire has only just begun.  I am certain some find it annoying, but as I tell my own children, “Those people can unfollow me!” I am proud to say that I am ON FIRE! I am on fire for my profession, for kids, for teachers, for relationships, and so much more. Everyone should be in this state of mind. The fire within keeps me inspired and striving to inspire others. We should all be on fire for something. Educators must be on fire for their profession, because kids and their families cannot afford for us not to be! Let me fill you in on the secret to being an educator on FIRE by keying in on five traits. There are many qualities of leaders/educators on fire, but these five are the traits which drive me each day.

RELENTLESS.

Educators who are on fire never stop. Even days when they are not “feeling it”, they press on and remain steady. They are persistent and unyielding in nature. Kids need us to be relentless daily. Relentless educators are never sorry for their persistent nature, and for doing what is right for kids. BE RELENTLESS.

PASSIONATE.

Educators who are on fire are overflowing with passion for the profession itself, and more importantly, for kids. They show passion for everything they teach, even if the content is something they do not like. They use their personal passion to fuel their profession, and allow everyone around them to see it. Passionate educators never hide their strong emotions for why they do what they do! It shows daily. BE PASSIONATE.

BOLD.

Educators who are on fire are bold in nature. They take risks, and are not afraid of failure. Bold educators see failure as an opportunity to become better, and model this for their students and colleagues. Boldness requires putting yourself out on a limb and being exposed, but educators on fire know it is necessary in order to achieve excellence and become better at what they do. BE BOLD.

IN PURSUIT.

Educators who are on fire are continually pursuing. They dream big, and chase dreams until they become reality. They pursue excellence for each student and for themselves, and do not stop until it happens! In other words, they are RELENTLESS (see the pattern?) in nature. The moment they achieve something, they move on to the next goal and begin pursuing it! STAY IN PURSUIT OF DREAMS!

ALL HEART.

Educators who are on fire wear their hearts on their sleeves for kids. They are not afraid to let it show, because being vulnerable is part of building relationships with students and families. Sometimes their hearts become broken because they are so exposed, but the risk is worth the reward. All heart educators are all in for kids, and no one doubts that about them. They are known for it. It will become their legacy. WEAR YOUR HEART ON YOUR SLEEVE FOR KIDS.

Mrs. Euler was relentless, passionate, bold, in pursuit, and all heart. I am so very thankful I had a teacher with those traits. One of my greatest blessings is to see her in action with kids and families today, still possessing the traits of an educator on fire. She won’t stop. She, along with many other amazing educators in my life, keep me motivated to NEVER STOP. I am relentless. I am passionate. I am bold. I am in constant pursuit. I am all heart. I am an EDUCATOR. I will make a difference, and use my fire to ignite these traits in others. This will be my legacy. Thank you, Mrs. Euler.

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Fostering Motivation and Love for Reading: Looking Beyond Levels

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goodmanreadinggroupThat little moment when a child realizes he can read is pure magic. He feels empowered, accomplished, and ready to tackle any book. This realization normally happens when a child is in first grade, or around age 6. Learning to read is a developmental process, and is different for all children. Over the years we have seen the shift in education from exposing all students to a grade level basal type text, to grouping students according to their reading ability level. Small group reading instruction is necessary in order to gently nudge students forward in their reading development, but have we gone too far with the leveling systems? Are we becoming so focused on the number attached to a book that we are missing other factors involved in a child’s reading development? There are implications we must consider when using leveling systems to match books with readers. Keep in mind the thoughts written here are purely my own; the research I have is what I have witnessed through my own experiences as a teacher of third grade students, and as an administrator of kindergarten through fourth grade students. Small group reading instruction must happen daily with our young readers, and we can keep the magic by broadening our lens to view the big picture of reading development. Let us consider more than reading level, and look at the children to guide us in choosing the appropriate text for instruction that will not only support their development, but motivate them to read for enjoyment. After all…isn’t that the ultimate goal? We want our students to become readers, not just in the classroom, but in life. Let’s look at ideas to  support you when matching books to transitional readers. Here we go! Flexible Grouping Small group reading instruction is a nonnegotiable. Kids need this time to be supported by the teacher with the right scaffolds in place. They need discussion time with their peers about their thoughts regarding a text. They need challenges in order for them to practice reading strategies. This can only happen in small groups. We must be cautious when small groups become stagnant, meaning the same students make up each group for long periods of time. Reading groups can become a label for students, which will ultimately destroy motivation and confidence in some children. Groups need to be flexible, changing from time to time depending on the needs of the students and  focus of the teacher. Grouping kids according to ability, genre, interest, targeted skill, fluency, and level of motivation are just a few ways we can form reading groups throughout the school year. Grouping for various reasons will help the teacher foster a love and confidence of reading within all students. We send a message to our transitional readers that they are “stuck” if we keep them in the same groups all semester or all year. Flexible grouping allows kids to see that we have confidence in them to meet our expectations.  It sends an appropriate message to kids about how reading works in life. Bookstores are not organized by numbers. We have the ability to teach kids about proper book selection by allowing them to have voice and choice.  Let’s take a look at three things to consider along with reading levels in order to support our effort in getting kids hooked on reading. Interest One of the most challenging aspects of teaching is that all of our students come from different backgrounds. Each student has schema that varies beyond our understanding–unless we dig deeper and investigate. Kids (and adults) are motivated by what interests them. Conduct interest surveys to discover more about your students. Hold “interest” reading conferences the beginning of the year and take detailed notes!  Not only will this give you insight into their lives outside of the school walls, it will support your ability to connect with them on a personal level. Discovering their interests makes learning personal. Choosing books based on interest level will have a direct impact on students’ motivation to read. Matching the right content to a reader will increase a child’s ability to comprehend at a higher level, and avoid getting stuck in the Bluebirds reading group all year! Genre During individual reading conferences, we need to take into consideration what types of books a reader is choosing for independent reading. Young readers often get stuck in their favorite genre and avoid choosing a variety of literature. These students need support from the teacher on selecting texts from various genres. Holding genre studies in small group reading instruction is a perfect way to expose students to new types of literature, and give them the confidence to choose books more wisely for their independent reading. Selecting the appropriate text becomes more about the genre and not the level. The level of the text must be considered, but the genre is the main reason for choosing the text. It may need to be an easier text in order for students to focus on the format of the genre. Peers Learning is a social act. We learn by observing, discussing, and interacting with content and people. As adults, when we see a great movie or read a fabulous book, what do we do? We tell someone about it! We recommend it to others! Kids need opportunities to to just that. Flexibly grouping kids with peers they feel comfortable around is a great way to break the ice. We need to encourage kids to talk about their own learning, and take ownership of new connections. Let’s give students opportunities to express opinions about who they would like to read and study with during small group reading instruction. When students have voice and choice, they are more motivated. Is it more challenging for the teacher when grouping by peer choice? Absolutely. We are charged with leveling the playing field for students who may struggle. We must be prepared to have more scaffolds in place for particular students, but it is an attainable act. The end result is the payoff: kids don’t see themselves “stuck” with other struggling readers. They have exposure to the thinking of other students. The extra work is worth its weight in gold when we begin to see the fire within struggling and apathetic readers. sharingbookwkidsReading is a lifelong habit that will increase the chances of success within our students. It is our charge to create and maintain  a culture of reading for enjoyment within our classrooms that will expand outside of the school walls and into the homes of our students. Reading levels ARE important! They are not the only determining factor in how we teach students how to be readers. We owe it to every student to teach them how to be readers. Teaching them a book will not grow a habit within; teaching them to be readers will sustain a lifelong habit. Now, I encourage you to go forth, teach, and create lifelong readers in the process. As Debbie Miller says, “Happy Reading!”