Courage & Kindness

Courage & Kindness

Sunday, September 25, 2016

#SOL16 Ticket to the World? Library Card

Here is what I plan to say to my students tomorrow as I show them a mystery box: "What if I told you that inside this box was a way for you to travel back in time? A way for you to explore all the places you've always wanted to go without leaving your home? What if I told you that inside this box was a way for you to get smarter and wiser and become a kinder person? Would you want to open the box and find out how to make these things happen?"

When they open the box, they will find... a library card....of course.

A library card is your ticket to the world. It is your free access pass to all the great works of literature, to books of all types and genres. A library card allows you to borrow books you might not otherwise be able to afford or have room for in your house. You can read them, return them, take out others. 

Libraries also offer quality programs and classes for children, teens, and adults. There are computers available. There are magazines and newspapers. It is a place to gain knowledge and all are welcome. 

I love the library. 

So how could I forget that September is Library Card Sign-Up Month? I was almost ready to turn the calendar to October before realizing that September was nearly done and I haven't talked to my students about the library. September is a hectic back-to-school time, and I nearly missed my chance to make my plea to my students to get their own library card. 

Just under the wire, here's what I'll do:

I am offering my students "The Library Card Challenge." If they send me a picture of themselves with their library card, or come to school with their library card, they will be entered into a raffle. The winning student can select a book from the Scholastic Book Order. 

I also created a Padlet and I hope you might help me! Here is the link: https://padlet.com/ksokolowski1/5vkzc6x8tswg
You can share what having a library card has meant for you in your life. I would love to be able to show this to my students and help them see the power that comes from owning your very own library card. 


Monday, September 19, 2016

#SOL16 Humble and Kind


I've always loved words of advice in the form of poems and songs. Rudyard Kipling's "If" has been a favorite, as well as "Free to Wear Sunscreen" from Baz Luhrmann. Tim McGraw's song "Humble and Kind" is my new favorite!

I love everything about this song. Time spent with grandparents is never wasted- those moments are among my most treasured memories and helped me grow as a person. I love the line, "When the work you put in is realized, let yourself feel the pride, but always stay humble and kind." 

For myself, for my children, and for my students- can there be any greater lesson? Being a good person- a person who is honest, caring, hardworking, a person who doesn't hold grudges and keeps his/her word...a person of integrity- this is what I want to be and help others become. It's why I'm a teacher.

In writing this post, I've discovered "Humble and Kind" is also a picture book (adding that to my list to purchase!) and a movement, #stayhumbleandkind
Perhaps I've come late the the "Humble and Kind" party, but glad I am here now! It's a song worth listening to and I love the way it was written. So here is some inspiration for your Tuesday Slice:

These are the lyrics: 
You know there's a light that glows by the front door
Don't forget the key's under the mat
When childhood stars shine,
Always stay humble and kind
Go to church 'cause your mamma says to
Visit grandpa every chance that you can
It won't be wasted time
Always stay humble and kind
Hold the door, say "please", say "thank you"
Don't steal, don't cheat, and don't lie
I know you got mountains to climb
But always stay humble and kind
When the dreams you're dreamin' come to you
When the work you put in is realized
Let yourself feel the pride
But always stay humble and kind
Don't expect a free ride from no one
Don't hold a grudge or a chip and here's why:
Bitterness keeps you from flyin'
Always stay humble and kind
Know the difference between sleeping with someone
And sleeping with someone you love
"I love you" ain't no pick-up line
So always stay humble and kind
Hold the door, say "please", say "thank you"
Don't steal, don't cheat, and don't lie
I know you got mountains to climb
But always stay humble and kind
When those dreams you're dreamin' come to you
When the work you put in is realized
Let yourself feel the pride
But always stay humble and kind
When it's hot, eat a root beer popsicle
Shut off the AC and roll the windows down
Let that summer sun shine
Always stay humble and kind
Don't take for granted the love this life gives you
When you get where you're going don't forget turn back around
And help the next one in line
Always stay humble and kind



Sunday, September 18, 2016

#DigilitSunday Digital Drafting & Revising

My fingers fly over the keyboard. I'm not certain when my fast typing skills kicked in- I used to ace the timed tests in keyboarding class in high school, but I think I really learned how to be speedy during a job in college where I had to retype many articles. My thoughts flow and my fingers keep up. When I'm done writing, I can reread, delete, cut and paste, and quickly change what needs fixing. 

Writing in a notebook is not as natural for me. It's not my go-to place to write. I hate having to cross out words and scribble them above or in the margins. When I was younger, the one area I always disappointed my teachers was penmanship, specifically pencil grip. I could not hold the pencil properly. Occupational therapy wasn't as widely understood when I was a student in the 1980's, but I would have been a perfect candidate. My fine motor skills are just not the best, and it slows me down when it comes to writing. 

I love digital drafting and revising. I love being able to type in Google Doc and colleagues can immediately comment or edit. This summer, I was working on a proposal for a project I am really excited about. I was able to share it with a few trusted friends and colleagues who could offer feedback and make edits right on the document. I could then decide if I wanted to accept the changes or keep it as is. Digital drafting and revising allows for collaboration in ways that would take several steps longer in other forms. 

Implications for my students? Last year, I had a student who really struggled with penmanship and his handwriting was arduous, then unreadable. He had many ideas but did everything he could to avoid writing. Allowing him to type during writing time helped a lot. While he still did not have stamina for writing, he was able to produce something digitally. I think, in time, he will grow in stamina for writing if allowed to compose and revise digitally. 

Blogging is another way to help students produce digital drafts and then revise them. I am launching blogging in my third grade class this week and I'm so excited to see what students compose and share!

I am grateful for digital drafting, revising, and this community! 

Sunday, September 11, 2016

9/11/16 #SOL16


15 years is a lot of life to live.

In 15 years, I've had so many experiences and adventures. I got engaged, planned a wedding, got married, had a honeymoon. I had two babies who have grown into children. I've grown in my career and as a person. 

I thought about this as I remembered a student I had in kindergarten years ago, a little boy who lost his mother in 9/11, when he was only two years old. Did she kiss him in his crib that morning, as she rushed out the door to make the train? Did she get the chance to hold him and spend time before walking out of her home, never knowing it would be the last time? She never got the chance to have these 15 years. The two year old she said goodbye to is now a high school senior. I ache thinking of all the time she never got. 

9/11 has hit me harder this year than ever before. In 2001, I was barley out of adolescence myself- a 22 year old, just beginning my teaching career. 15 years older, I have a new perspective on that day. I feel the loss of all those lives so much more deeply than I did then. I feel the pain of parents losing their children;I feel the pain of spouses talking on the phone for the last time, knowing death was imminent; I feel the pain of the parents knowing they are not getting out of there alive, leaving their children behind. 

So many stories. So much heartache. 

9/11 reminds me we are all on borrowed time. That tragedy can strike on an unsuspecting, bright-sky Tuesday morning that still felt like summer. That time can feel endless and infinite, but it's not. Not at all. That I must be grateful for the 15 years I've been given that others were not-who knows why? That tomorrow is never promised. 

And so, on 9/11/16, I took my children and my nephew to the playground. I felt the sunshine on my face and watched as the breeze rustled my daughter's golden hair. In her "American flag dress" as she likes to call it, she twirled around the playground, without a care. 

And I counted my blessings and mourned for all those who never got the chance to live these last 15 years. 


Monday, September 5, 2016

#SOL16 They Remember

Putting the finishing touches on my classroom on Friday afternoon, I looked up to see him filling my doorway. 

"You don't remember me, do you?" he asked.

And in a moment, I did. 

He was much taller, his hair was much thicker and curlier, but in his face, I saw the kindergarten boy he once was.

When I said his name, his smile grew, astonished I remembered. I went to hug him.

"I've been looking for you for years," he said. 

He told me he doesn't get into trouble anymore- he's matured. I think back to when he punched a first grade teacher in the eye as a new kindergarten student. That year, he was in trouble all the time. 

It was the year in teaching that made me doubt myself and my ability to effectively manage a classroom. The room was full of little people with big needs. A child who would run out of the classroom in a manic state; another child who could not get along with peers and would spit and fight over every crayon or spot in line; a class full of kids who did not respond when you called their names- I had to explicitly teach them to look up at me when I said their names. A year where your challenges were so many that you felt like a hamster on a wheel- getting nowhere, yet working so very hard.

But he'd been looking for me for years. I have thought of him through the years as well. Some names and faces fade from my memory, as I've been teaching now for 15 years, yet others remain unforgettable. This boy, I remember. 

I showed him pictures of my children. He sheepishly said he could not pronounce my new name and was it okay to call me Miss Neagle? Of course it was, I said, with a smile.

He has a little sister now, he told me, and she will be in this school. I said how nice it would be to see him when he visits her and I hope he comes by to say hello. He starts his sophomore year in high school in a couple of days. 

***

All of this happened a couple of days after I had my own reunion with a teacher. On a playdate with my son Alex, the great uncle of the little boy we were visiting appeared. My memory fired up- that voice, the familiar figure- it had to be....I asked, "Were you a teacher?" He had been my biology teacher in my freshman year of high school. Over 23 years ago...yet I remembered him almost instantly. 

***

And so, as I am about to start my 15th year in education, I think of these stories as proof that teachers live on in the memory of their students, long after your last day together. We remember our teachers, our students remember us. What a responsibility to be the adult that shapes a class full of learners for one year of their schooling...to know that you will forever be the answer when someone asks, "Who was your third grade teacher?" 

They will remember. I carry this in my heart, knowing what I do today must be full of joy, passion, and purpose. Each day, each student...it all counts. 

Wishing everyone the best school year! 

Monday, August 29, 2016

#SOL16 Kindergarten!

Dear Kindergarten,

You and I- we go way back. 2003 to be precise, when I became a kindergarten teacher. Man, I didn't know what I was in for! There is no exhausted like  kindergarten teacher exhaustion in the first few weeks of September. I quickly learned singing is survival in kindergarten and we sang throughout the day! Back then, we painted, played, celebrated. We had Teddy Bear Tea Parties and a Q and U Wedding. I thought I would always be a kindergarten teacher.

Was it you who changed or I? Maybe we both did. When I came to you, I was single and still a relatively new teacher. You were pre-Common Core and much more relaxed. As the years went on, you became more rigorous. Less play. Tests. Quadruple the amount of sight words expected to be learned. I got married and had two children. We went our separate ways- I left you for the upstairs third grade classroom and pushed you out of my mind.

Till now. You see, Kindergarten, my son, Alex is about to join you. A different town, a different school, but Kindergarten all the same. He is my pride and joy. He is the "bear of my heart". He's nervous and I'm nervous. You would think I would know exactly what to expect, having been there-done that for years as a teacher. It's all different when you are the parent. The postcards I used to send- well, we got one from Alex's teacher. It meant so much. Now I see how all those little touches really do mean something to a family about to send their most precious person out into the world. 

So, Kindergarten, go easy on him. Excite him. Embrace him. Play music and encourage him to dance. Bring out the paints and playdough. There is time for sight words and number bonds. Don't label him or sort him or rank him. Let him feel loved and comfortable, safe and happy. Fill him with wonder and joy to be a learner in school. We've done our best to teach him to be a good person- to be kind and respectful, considerate and polite. Please keep teaching him those lessons because they are the most important ones. 

Kindergarten, I loved you once upon a time and the truth is, I still carry you in my heart. Please take care of my little boy.

Love,
A Former Kindergarten Teacher/ Current Kindergarten Mom 


Monday, August 22, 2016

#SOL16 The Hard Questions

"Mommy, will we go to Heaven at the same time?"

Megan is cuddled up next to me, in my bed, as I try to get her to fall asleep while simultaneously keeping up with the #nctechat about writer's workshop. Her own little princess bed in her pink and green room down the hall is alone again (naturally) as she prefers sleeping next to me. It's a hard habit to break and this summer we've gone backwards. As I am tweeting on my phone, Megan, at 3 years old, decides we need to have a philosophical conversation about life, death, and the afterlife. 

"Why did GG die?" she asks.
"Where did GG die?"

"Will I die?"
"Can Simba come back?"

 (Simba was my in-law's dog who recently passed away this summer. Megan would bring him bones each time she visited.)

I don't know the answers. My heart aches when she asks if we will die at the same time. I can't imagine life without her and don't ever want to leave her, either. She says she doesn't want to go to heaven- she wants to be with her family here. I want to reassure her that she won't die for a long time, that we are all safe and healthy and no one is going to heaven anytime soon. I feel myself lying through my teeth, because of course no one is guaranteed a tomorrow. A first grader can get gunned down in her classroom. A toddler can get snatched by an alligator while on a family trip to Disney World. Terrible, unimaginable, horrific things happen every single day. 

Clearly, I can't tell her that.

When my grandmother (GG) died in December, Megan didn't seem upset or aware. My son, Alex, who will be 6 in October, took it much harder and asked a lot of questions. It seems Simba dying has caused Megan to think about life and death and GG now more than before. She says she and Alex can "rescue" GG from heaven and bring her back. I try to explain it doesn't work that way, and that GG is happy in heaven and doesn't want to be rescued.  

But what do I know?

Tonight, as Megan lays down next to me (again- little bed vacant), she tells me she wants to have a good dream. She says she dreamed about a monster last night, but he was a good monster. He made her pastina and carried her and took her to Little Gym and helped her on the bars. She can't imagine a mean monster- only a kind one who is apparently a better chef than me. 

Tonight, she believes in a safe, happy world. The hard questions are not voiced tonight- instead, she drifts off to sleep, with her stuffed baby fox under her arm, and good monsters who hug her in her dreams. 

Monday, August 15, 2016

#SOL16 Ditch the Dojo?

Last week, Dr. Mary Howard posted this on Facebook. My initial response, which I wrote as a comment, was this: 

 I also dislike public shaming systems but I've used Class Dojo and don't find it to be like that. I don't publicly display the points. I've tied the dojo dollars into a class economy where kids get paychecks and can purchase brain break coupons or the right to sit in the rocking chair at reading time. Paychecks were given privately so students weren't aware of how many points the others received. I did give a certificate to the high dojo scorer of the week and many times it was a student who put forth a lot of effort, despite academic challenges. Class dojo makes it easy to be in touch with the parents and send them pictures and class happenings in real time. They also have a great video series on growth mindset that my students enjoyed and sparked good discussions. There is no public shaming in my classroom and class dojo has been a positive 
way for me to share with parents. 

The truth was, entering the conversation, I really believed I was right about Class Dojo. When I taught kindergarten, I had been guilty of the clip system. In my early days of teaching kindergarten, I used color cards- green was good, orange was like a warning, yellow had a small consequence (like missing 5 minutes of centers) and red was a note home or a phone call and the loss of center time (a major deal in kindergarten). If you "stayed on green", you would get a star on your card. 5 stars meant a sticker and 10 meant a prize. 

I'm ashamed of this now. At the time, this type of behavior system was what was recommended to teachers. I thought I was doing the right thing. I thought the visual display was what students needed. I thought rewarding students who showed "good behavior" was the right thing to do and the students who acted out deserved a consequence. In later years, I changed the color card system to the clip up, clip down system. Everyone started their day on the green paper plate. Positive behavior meant you could move your clip to blue then purple, negative behavior took you down to orange, yellow, and, for the truly naughty, red. This was a system that others advised me to adopt- a way for students to "move up" and still a way for them to move down, if they were not behaving. I uncomfortably realized that some students always moved their clip down and everyone knew it. 

Why didn't I see this as a public display of humiliation? Why didn't I acknowledge that some students were always, always, below green, while others- the "good" students frequently found themselves on purple. Why did't I see that I was creating identities for students and not really teaching them much about changing their behavior- just labeling it, rewarding it, or punishing it.  After reading posts by Pernille Ripp, I decided to scrap the clip up, clip down system when I made the move to third grade. I recognized that publicly posting students' behavior was unkind, unhelpful, and nothing I would want for my own children.

But then I heard of Class Dojo. It was a way to integrate technology with classroom management. Each student had their own avatar and could earn points, or lose them, based on their behaviors. I could communicate with the parents as a whole class and on an individual basis. Students could earn Dojo dollars, which could be used to buy classroom privileges like sitting in the rocking chair or selecting the Brain Break we picked on Go Noodle. At the end of the year, I would do a Dojo Auction and give away books and materials in exchange for Dojo dollars. I never publicly posted the students' points and would give out the paychecks individually so students did not know what other students received. I would give a certificate to the "High Dojo Scorer of the Week" to recognize those students who were working hard. I felt very good about all of this. 

So, when I commented on Dr. Mary's post, I believed Dojo was doing no harm. I knew my students were very eager to get Dojo paychecks and it added an element of excitement to our week. I knew their parents liked the way Dojo opened communication and was an easy way for us to share information and reminders. But then, the conversation continued. Ryan Scala responded to my message very respectfully, but also raising questions about compliance and if students should receive paychecks for kindness and hard work. He also pointed out that it doesn't seem to work well with a growth mindset and only rewards successes. Mary commented as well, pointing out that the research shows extrinsic rewards do not  further intrinsic learning or offer strategies for students who have difficulty "behaving" (such as our ADHD students). 

This made me think of one of my students, who struggled with ADHD and often received the lowest Dojo paycheck each week. Was this really fair? When peers without this issue are able to attend and focus, is it really right to give them more Dojo bucks when they biologically can attend more readily? We know our students do not come from the same situations or backgrounds. Is it fair to award some and punish others? Should that even be my role? As a teacher, shouldn't I be TEACHING my students how to appropriately manage their own behavior instead of giving them points for sitting quietly? 

Dr. Mary asked, "Would something else work better?" And that got me thinking...how could I still keep the things I like about Dojo, but stop giving and taking away points? For this coming year, I settled on Remind as a way to send messages to parents and keep communication open. I can still show my students the Class Dojo growth mindset videos, which are fun and open up conversations about persistence and failure. Instead of Dojo paycheck day, what else could I do to add an element of free choice and fun into our week? Might makerspace be the way to go? Or genius hour? Maybe I could try a period a week where students could sign up to be the teachers, like an Edcamp feel. 

And what about discipline? Behavior management? What will I do without a rewards and consequences system? Confession- I'm a little scared. This will be the first time in my whole teaching career that I haven't had a "plan" in place. I'm thinking we will talk a lot about what a community is, what it looks like, and feels like. I might need to have private behavior conferences with students. I will need to teach students strategies. I'll have to work to make class  more engaging so they don't need the promise of a point to stay on track. It might be a disaster. But my heart tells me I'm on the right track by changing course, ditching the points, and trying to create a community without dollars and clip charts.

Some scoff at the idea of being a "connected educator", saying they don't "do Twitter" or don't have time to have these conversations.  But how do we revise our thinking and stay current in our field if we don't connect? In an extremely contentious election year, having civil, respectful conversations where we start from different viewpoints and can end up changing our mind is really what we want our children to know about debate and differences. Sometimes you agree to disagree. But when you listen with an open mind and heart, sometimes you move to another level of understanding, and you just might change your mind.  

Thank you to Pernille Ripp, Dr. Mary Howard, Ryan Scala, and all who helped me understand why I should rethink Class Dojo. This year, I'm ditching the Dojo dollars. 

😊


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Sunday, August 14, 2016

#DigilitSunday Crafting Digital Media


Crafting Digital Media is such an important topic because I think our students are really looking for opportunities to create! I am still in the early stages of learning how to do this myself, so I think I've held the reigns on crafting digital media, sometimes not allowing my students to do the creating part. For example, we used a green screen through the app Doink for our persuasive speeches last year (third grade). I took the video of the students talking and I did the work of creating the new background through the app. I learned a lot! But did the students? This year, I would like to "let it go" (Thanks, Elsa) and teach my students how to do more of the digital creating.

Part of teaching them how to craft digital media is also modeling and showing them possibilities. As I prepare for a new school year, one task is to send home a letter introducing myself, asking for supplies, and communicating about the year ahead. I decided to make a Google slide presentation about myself and then narrate it using Screencast-o-matic, which I just learned this summer. I downloaded it into SeeSaw, where I plan to have digital journals for my students this year. A QR code will be generated and put into my back to school letter, so students can scan the code and then listen to my presentation. I will also put the link in case some families do not have access to a QR code scanner. 

Here is the video I created: 



This summer, I've been creating weekly Smore newsletters around reading for my school community. Each newsletter has a Padlet where people can share what they are reading. Last week, I shared videos from Olivia Van Ledtje, a student who has been creating videos about her reading life. (You can find her on Twitter @thelivbits. She is awesome! Her mom supervises the account so it is a great kid-safe site to share with students). Two of my former students, who are sisters, were inspired! They created their own book review videos,which will be features in tomorrow's newsletter, but I'll give you the sneak preview today. It was very telling to me that after seeing a video of what one student could do, these students thought, "Why not us too?" and used digital media to share their ideas as well. 


I've been enjoying reading all the posts today on #DigiLitSunday and I was reminded that "creating" is the highest skill on Bloom's Taxonomy. I will keep this in mind as the new school year begins, looking for ways to help my students show their learning by crafting digital media. 



Tuesday, August 9, 2016

#SOL16 Do You Want To Be Great?

In Teach Like a Pirate (2012), Dave Burgess asks, "Do you want to be great?" (145). He goes on to say, "Could it be that wanting to be great seems egotistical or selfish? Let's destroy that idea right away. First of all, your greatness in the classroom doesn't negatively impact or inhibit anyone else's opportunity to be great. This isn't a zero sum game. The pie is infinitely huge. In fact, your greatness only enhances the opportunities and possibilities for others. By being great, you are raising the bar and providing a model for others to emulate. Being your best possible self contributes to the school culture necessary to create the environment for greatness to flourish" (145-146).  

Do you want to be great? This is the conversation I've been having with some educators I admire, educators who are shining lights in the field. I've been thinking about Dave Burgess' ideas around this topic. He writes, "To ascend to the level of greatness, you have to be on fire with passion and enthusiasm. Mediocrity is incapable of motivating" (147). One more thought from Dave: "The decision to pursue excellence- as a teacher and as an individual- transforms teaching into an amazingly fulfilling and rewarding profession" (147).

I think this is a conversation worth having, because in my experience, it isn't always comfortable to strive to be "great." There are many reasons why you might not want to "go big" with your ideas or passion. For me, sometimes I worry people might think I'm acting as if I know it all or have all the answers, when that is the furthest thing from the truth. The more I learn, the more questions I have and the more ways I see I need to improve. I would never want to come across as someone who believes I am doing things "perfectly." But should I not share the things that I am doing? Areas where I've grown or taken a risk? Shouldn't we all feel comfortable to talk about ideas we've tried or progress we've made in an area of our teaching? 

Another reason it might be hard to strive for greatness is pressure not to do "too much" for fear others will be made to do it. If you create that website, will everyone have to do it too? If you try that new idea, does that reflect negatively on those who are not trying out the idea? Thus, there is a pull to stay with the same-old, same-old. You don't want to be seen as making others look bad. 

Yet...when you have a lot of passion and teaching is not your "job" but, in many ways, your life, you can't help but work towards greatness, knowing you will never really get there, but improving yourself each step along the way. As you improve, your students are awakened to more opportunities and a better, enriching school experience. 

Have you struggled with the answer to the question, "Do you want to be great?"  


Sunday, August 7, 2016

#DigiLit Sunday Preparing for a New School Year: Purposeful Use of Tech Tools


Thank you to Margaret Simon for bringing us together to share our thoughts on Digital Literacy on Sundays! 

My new third grade students will be heading back to the classroom in one month, as school officially starts on September 6th. While one month can feel like a long time away, I'm starting to slightly panic that time is running out for me to learn all I wanted to this summer and jumpstart my planning and preparation for the new year! Last year was my second year teaching third grade (after many years teaching kindergarten and previously 6th grade). I tried many digital tools last year, and this year I want to refine what I've been doing, teach the tools more purposefully and provide more consistent use of digital tools to increase student agency and engagement. 

Here are a few ideas I have:


  • Begin the year with launching a shared class blog through our class website: Last year, I launched our class hub, thanks to what I learned from Cathy Mere in #cyberPD. This year, I want to utilize the blog option on the website and teach students about blogging from the first day of school with a shared blogging experience. The class blog will be a record of our learning but will also teach students the basics of blogging before we launch our own Kidblog pages. 
  • Use Padelt for reading records: I LOVE Padlet! Last year, I tried Biblionaisum as a way for kids to record what they've been reading on a digital shelf. While this was really visual, my students had to login first to access the page and we never really looked at each other's shelves all that often. I'm thinking of creating a Padlet for each student and housing the links on our class webpage. Students can click on their Padlet and add the title or image for the book that was read (or even a selfie with the book). I can also access their Padlet. I can add digital badges to their Padlet when they complete a genre in the 40 Book Challenge, which I am hoping to do again with my new class. Padlet seems more accessible but still has that visual component. 
  • Make screencasts for students and families on ways to access the technology sites we use, like Kidblog, Padlet, and even Twitter. I would also like to try to "flip" some of my lessons this year!
  • Utilize SeeSaw digital portfolios for students as a place to showcase their thinking, writing, and speaking. I began using SeeSaw last year and want to use it more consistently this year. 
These are a few of my ideas I'm thinking about in terms of digital tools and literacy! I'm excited to read what others are planning and grow more ideas! 

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Mean People #SOL16

I am no saint, although, rumor has it, they did play the song "Goody Two Shoes" for me when it was my turn to light a candle at a friend's Sweet Sixteen many years ago. I might have had that reputation. Now, at 37 years old, I am not claiming to be perfect by any stretch of the imagination. Many areas need improvement. But, the one thing I can say about myself, unequivocally, is I am not mean. I never deliberately try to hurt anyone and can't imagine trying to inflict pain. Yet, I've come face to face, as most of us have, with people who act, well, mean. 

Why? How do you get an ounce of joy knowing your words and actions caused someone heartache? What part of you delights in hurting someone, maybe even someone who trusts you and has been vulnerable with you? What went wrong in your life that being mean feels okay and acceptable to you?

We teach our students about being "bucket fillers" who help other people get filled with joy and love. We say being a "bucket dumper" will never bring you happiness- dipping into someone else's bucket won't make yours any fuller. (If you haven't read Have You Filled A Bucket Today, this is the book I am referring to! You should totally read it.) We try to show our students that kindness is always the answer and always possible. But how do we protect our students from the broken hearts that come when others act in unkind ways? How do we protect ourselves?

Experiencing meanness is hard and sad. I think you have to be really kind to yourself and be sure you have a strong, positive self image that can weather the storm of cruelty. At the end of the day, you know who you are, and if you know you aren't mean, then that's saying something. Truly. 


Tuesday, July 26, 2016

#SOL16 A Slump





Today feels slumpy. 
Worries heavy on my mind
Fear twists my stomach. 
Every news story
breaks my heart.
And frightens me.

I want to unslump myself.
Sunshine, 
blue skies,
smiles on my children's faces. 
The coconut smell of sunscreen.
A sweet berry smoothie.
Light and hope. 
Faith and love.

Hoping the gray suffocating 
clouds of slump
Give way to blue skies,
fresh air,
renewed energy
to try again. 



Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Keep Swimming! #SOL16

"Where's Alex?" I asked, as I finished applying my daughter Megan's sunscreen. We had just arrived at our town pool, but Alex was out of sight.  

Then I saw him, his white rash guard swim shirt catching my eye. He was all the way by the pool, about to go in. Jump in. His tan face relaxed and happy, he exuberantly yelled, "CANNONBALL!" as he splashed into the water. 

He came up, laughing, wiping away the water from his eyes, then diving under again. Sure, I'd seen him improve a lot in his private swim lessons, but those were one on one with an instructor and a pool full of children with their instructors. This was a whole new situation- where he was applying his learning independently and joyfully, without any scaffolding or support. 

I thought back to last summer, when we took a family trip to the suburbs of Chicago to visit my husband's brother and his family. They had a lovely pool for the children to swim, but Alex was petrified. He stood by the ladder and barely dipped in a toe. He cried. He refused to wear the floats we bought him or vest that would allow him to keep afloat. His fear was palpable. My husband and I knew we had to do something to help him, because Long Island summers are all about pools, and the beach, and water play. We didn't want Alex missing out on all the fun he could be having.

When Alex started his swim lessons in January, he was petrified. Unhappy about going. He held onto his instructor's neck with a fierce grip. She was patient and he slowly became more comfortable with the water. His next instructor was tougher, but encouraging. Under her guidance, he really began to lose his fear and he received his "Level 1" award. He worked with another instructor today and I watched, in awe, as he dipped his head under water and looked like a natural. 

But it was later in the day, when we went as a family to our town pool, and Alex scurried away, excited to swim and splash, that I realized how much he has truly grown in a year. And it made me think of all the things that were put in place- instructors to SHOW Alex how to do it, time and opportunity to practice, expectations that he could learn and would learn, a playful environment at camp where he could try out his new swim techniques with friends in a fun setting, and the gift of being a year older- more mature, more confident. This makes me think of our students, when they seemingly are stuck or "failing", just like Alex was last summer. It made me remember that those moments don't define a person's ability and aren't final judgments. One moment we cannot do something, but the next moment we can do it a little better, and then more moments and more chances lead to new skills developing. We need someone to show us, to believe in us, to give us chances to practice, to let us try our skills in a non-threatening setting. We need the gift of time. 

It may be summer, but my teacher brain can't stop, won't stop, and my son's triumphant day at the pool reminds me of what I've got to do for my students, come September. 

Monday, July 4, 2016

Try Everything #SOL16

"...Sometimes we come last but we did our best.
I won't give up, I won't give in. 
Till I reach the end, then I'll start again. 
No, I won't leave. 
I want to try everything. 
I want to try even though I could fail." 
-"Try Everything", Zootopia theme song



Comfort zones are, well, comfortable. Safe. Secure. Risk-free. Doing what you've always done can be quite appealing, when the flip-side is trying something new and unfamiliar.

Yet. 

My greatest moments of growth, of making memories, of becoming more than I thought I could be, the moments that changed the trajectory of my life- have always occurred OUTSIDE of my comfort zone. The moments where I was scared and uncomfortable, where a deep breath was needed and a leap of faith was taken. 

This summer has presented me with a few opportunities that are exciting...but frightening. Dreams of mine possibly coming true, pushing myself to grow as a teacher and presenter....but I am scared. What if I get it wrong? What if I let people down? What if I am not good enough for these opportunities? What if I give it my all and still fail? 

My new favorite song, "Try Everything", from Zootopia, is perfect for growth mindset conversations, as well as the constellation of stances discussed in Mraz and Hert's Mindset for Learning. Optimism, resilience, flexibility, persistence, empathy- it's all there. Plus, it's a really catchy song. As I've been bopping along to it in the car, I've been thinking how it's a song that makes me feel light and enthusiastic and brave. I need to feel all of those things as I push myself to be more, to grow, to take chances, and to believe in myself. I want to try everything. And I want my students to try everything, too. 

Tomorrow, I will be co-facilitating the Long Island Writing Project Summer Mini-Institute with an incredible educator, Ms. Lauren Jensen (recent recipient of the Milken Educator Award, thank you very much). We will be sharing a lot of ideas for teaching writing in the digital age and ways to grow as an educator. I will specifically be sharing about Twitter and blogging. I hope the educators joining us will take a deep breath and give it a go- be ready to "try everything." As you sail along in your summer, I hope you are also finding ways to tiptoe, step, or leap out of your comfort zone, too. (Leave a comment and share your story!)




Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Summer Is...#SOL16

Summer is shrugging off the school year stress like a cardigan that is no longer necessary. 

Summer is trading in my work bags full of lessons, papers, and memos for beach bags full of superhero towels, sunscreen, and flip flops. 

Summer is nights on the screened in porch and books just for fun, quiet except for the hum of the ceiling fan. 

Summer is pool passes and camp schedules, library visits and play dates.

Summer is our backyard swing and sitting with my two children, talking about nothing...and everything.

Summer is blowing bubbles and sidewalk chalk, fireflies and fireworks. 

Summer is a late dinner on the water, fancy drinks, no regrets. 

Summer is peaches and cherries, watermelon and pineapples.

Summer is the smell of barbecues and red, white, and blue dresses, flags waving. 

Summer is freedom.

Summer is renewal.

Summer is here! 





Tuesday, June 21, 2016

The Last Week of School #SOL!6


Goodbyes hang in the air when it's the last week of school. The rip of tape being pulled from the wall echoes as pictures and displays come down, revealing bare walls. Notebooks are stuffed in backpacks, unused workbooks are debated- should they be sent home or thrown out? All the places where students' names hung, showing their partnerships, or their writing, or their class jobs- all of these are taken down. No more names now. 

Some of the children are like puppies inside a gate, just waiting for the lock to be opened and to run with the freedom of summer. Not all children. Some feel a sadness and worry that school is ending, the structure, the stability, the knowledge that breakfast and lunch appear each day. 

We bring to a conclusion a year full of learning. Sometimes with a test and not much else. Sometimes with a celebration, bagels and books and numbers held high showing how much reading happened. 

When it's the last week of school, it's your last time to live in that classroom as a community. They will go to different classes for fourth grade and will not be together, in this way, under these conditions. I want them to know they were appreciated, known. I want them to know I believe in them and wish them success and happiness. Goodbyes are hard. 

I write them a last letter, to place inside their Summer Writing Notebook. I share the lessons we learned from our read alouds, from characters like Ivan (The One and Only Ivan), Ally (Fish in a Tree), and Melody (Out of My Mind). 

I think of all the ways I could have done better, all the things I need to improve. I tell myself I taught with my full heart and tried my best, but I know my best can always be better. Summer is the opportunity to read more and learn more, think more and plan to improve. But for now, I sort my books, file the paperwork, seal the report cards, and close the door on another year of being a teacher. 

Monday, June 13, 2016

On the Darkest Days, I Read #SOL16



On the darkest days, the hardest days, I pick up a book and I read aloud to students. My third grade students, restless with thoughts of summer, quieted as I began to read aloud. I've been reading Sharon Draper's Out of My Mind, a book that puts you right into the shoes of nonverbal Melody, an 11 year old with cerebral palsy. It is a book you should read, if you haven't already, and I don't want to spoil anything for you. I'll just say this was the part where there was a terrible injustice done to Melody. The air was thick with emotion. My voice wavered as I read the words. They were quiet. Then they were angry and outraged for Melody, right along with me. 

These are the moments. When you get a room full of eight and nine year olds to ache with caring about a character who is very different from them.  When they see we are all the same on the inside, despite any outward differences. When they forget that Melody drools and can't talk and kicks her legs out in excitement, because they've heard her voice, her thoughts, her heart. When you see the "other" and the otherness fades away because you know we are all just people, doing the best we can. 

In the wake of yet another horrific mass shooting, this time aimed at a specific community, I can't think of any reading strategy more important than this, than this communal sharing of a character's struggle, building empathy through story. We nurture readers, not to have them check off levels along their journey, but to have them take in other perspectives, to question and grow ideas, to become a more knowledgeable person, and in my opinion, to become a better person. Reading makes you better. It makes your heart larger and fuller, more capacious, as Kate DiCamillo might say. 

And maybe, because you know Melody's story, you won't point, or stare, or laugh at a person who is differently abled. Maybe you won't say insulting words to a person who chooses differently from you, whether in politics, in religion, or in love. 

I don't have any answers about how to stop these horrific tragedies, like Sandy Hook, like Orlando- these times when innocent people are gunned down in movie theaters and night clubs and first grade classrooms. Honestly, I am terrified by it, and at the same time almost numb. Helpless, too. I sign petitions, I make phone calls to representatives, but there is this pervasive feeling that nothing will ever change. History keeps repeating itself again and again and nothing changes. 

Yet. There is quiet in a third grade classroom, as students take in and feel the pain of a character in a book. Will this change their hearts? Will these times of reading together, of connecting around story, make them kinder people? I read aloud powerful stories because it is the stone I can throw in the water, and pray that ripples of understanding will come. It is the seed I can plant, with the hope of a patient gardener, that something beautiful will grow in time. 

On the darkest days, the hardest days, I pick up a book and I read aloud to students.

Monday, June 6, 2016

#SOL16 Letter to My First Kindergarten Class


Letter to my first kindergarten class, upon their high school graduation

Dear Graduates,

We first met each other in 2003, when you were 4 and 5 years old and I was 24. Your first official year in school was my third year of teaching and my first year as a kindergarten teacher. You were so little, full of energy, and eager to learn. The letter people were friends in our room, including Mr. B with his "beautiful buttons" and Mr. M with his "munching mouth." We celebrated the wedding of Mr. Q and Ms. U in style and you even brought in quarters as wedding gifts! We had teddy bear tea parties and ate green eggs and ham. We built blocks, painted, and danced. Olivia, the pig, traveled home with you for the weekends. We sang "What a Wonderful World" in June before you moved onto first grade.

It's been quite some time since I've seen most of you! I hope your journey through the years as a student has been rewarding and I hope you are just as curious and enthusiastic about life as you were back in 2003. 

Much has changed for me since you were my students. I'm not Miss Neagle anymore- I'm Mrs. Sokolowski and have been since 2009. I have two children- Alex, who is starting kindergarten in September and Megan who wishes she was! She is three and likes to do everything her big brother does. I taught kindergarten until June 2014 and I've been teaching third grade for two years now. While I loved kindergarten for a long time, the move to third grade has been very renewing and I'm really enjoying teaching these students. 

As you leave Farmingdale High School and start the next chapter in your life story, I hope you know I'm proud to have been your kindergarten teacher. What I've always wanted for you is that you know you are a person of value, that you treat other people with kindness and respect, that you read to enrich your life and become more knowledgeable and that you write to express your ideas and your heart. I hope you follow your passion and do what you love. I hope you dream big and see nothing but possibilities in front of you. I hope you still believe, that even on the worst days, it really is "a wonderful world." 

I would love to hear from you and learn about your next steps after high school. I am wishing you luck and love always.

Yours truly,
Miss Neagle (Mrs. Sokolowski)


Monday, May 30, 2016

Some Things Are Hard to Hear #SOL16

I first noticed I was having trouble hearing when I was pregnant with my daughter, Megan, who is now 3 years old. I remember putting the phone receiver on my left ear and not being able to hear the other person on the line clearly. I would switch to the right ear, thinking, "How strange." 

The day I had my 20 week sonogram and learned my second baby was a girl, I had an appointment with an audiologist. I explained I was having difficulty hearing and I underwent a hearing exam. I think the doctor was stunned that at 33 years old, I had pretty significant hearing loss in my left ear and some loss in my right ear. He suggested I get an MRI to rule out any brain issues that might be causing that loss. My father's family has a history of early hearing loss, so I was pretty certain I inherited that. I did the MRI the next day, but then Hurricane Sandy hit Long Island and I had to wait on the results. Thankfully, everything was fine. But I was left with the knowledge that my hearing was reduced and hearing aides were likely needed.

At the time, I was a kindergarten teacher, mom to a 2 year old, and pregnant, so getting hearing aides wasn't top on my list. I waited until a few months after Megan was born, made the appointment and tried hearing aides. I figured it would be a simple solution.

Like most things in my life, it wasn't an easy fix. The first hearing aides I got didn't sit right in my ears and didn't work properly. The next set didn't seem to help with clarity at all- the rip of a paper towel was deafening but I still couldn't make out what someone was saying on television. When I put baby Megan on my shoulder, near my new hearing aides, her cries were ear-splitting. I wear my hair up a lot and felt a little uneasy about having visible hearing aides, if I'm being totally honest. With the cost of the hearing aides at thousands of dollars, I returned them while I could still get my money's worth. I shelved the idea of wearing hearing aides. 

Not being able to hear correctly is tough. I answer questions wrong all the time because I thought the person asked me something different, especially when I don't know the context of the conversation. If I'm not looking at you, I often cannot understand what you are saying. If you call me from another room, I might not even know you called me and certainly won't know what you asked me. At parties, the background noise really interferes with my ability to hear, often causing me stress and embarrassment as I pretend I know what is being said to me. 

This weekend, driving home from a party we were at, my sister asked me again why I don't get hearing aides, saying if it was her, she would do it. I became so upset. Angry. Defensive. I said I tried them, and they didn't help and you really shouldn't presume to know what you would do because you aren't in my shoes. She worked for years as a litigator so doesn't easily let things drop and made some counterpoints about seeing a specialist and trying again. I could hear every word she said, but it was nothing I wanted to listen to.  Some things are hard to hear, even when you actually hear the words correctly.

When I'm drinking diet soda and people say how terrible it is for you, when a loved one tells me I should move around more and eat better, when someone tells me I need more sleep or I'm taking on too many projects, when it's suggested I let my son spend too much time on the iPad....these are things that are really hard to hear. I don't want to know. I don't want the judgment. I don't want to change. But the hardest things to hear are usually those ideas that I've known to be true but wish weren't so, the things that are really going to be hard to change, the things that are going to make my life more uncomfortable. The things I might fail at. The things I don't like about myself and want to pretend don't exist. 

I want to tune those words out, to think it's their problem not mine, to think of all the millions of ways they are wrong and I am right. But those hard words to hear have a funny way of reverberating through my mind and heart, and somewhere deep inside, I know I've been giving myself an out and not facing up to the truth. Maybe my own voice is the hardest of all to really hear.