continuous learning · learning · professional learning · teaching

…this is like one giant rollercoaster ride!

The other day I was in a conversation with Amy Mittelstaedt, one of our amazing building principals, and I shared this time we find ourselves in feels like a giant virtual rollercoaster ride! Take a peek at this 20 second video and I’ll explain why I feel this way:

When we first received the news that our buildings were closing to traditional learning, it felt a little like when you first approach a line to get on a rollercoaster. You’re a little unsure and nervous but there’s strength is seeing that you’re not the only one about to get on the ride.

A little more information was released to schools and before the rollercoaster took off training was provided – so like the dad in the video – we could simulate what the ride might be like before actually getting on it. The ride begins…slow and steady and traveling on the flat ground. Meals are distributed, childcare is put in place, and teachers begin to think about how to provide an online connection and review of learning. “This isn’t that bad!”

Then a bit more information comes out and a lot of obstacles begin to come into view. Questions begin to churn in everyone’s minds. “How will I do this while being a parent myself?” “What does this look like?” “What about our families without devices or connectivity?” The rollercoaster is starting to curve and go up a hill. Safety equipment has been provided in the form of various resources to our staff, families, and students. “Will it hold me?” The rollercoaster travels higher up and begins to pick up speed! This is a bit scary but we’re feeling safe in the car and although we can’t fully see what’s ahead we’re feeling as confident as one can be on a rollercoaster. “We’ll be okay!”

…and then the ride hits the top of the hill and our eyes pop wide-open as we are ready to begin contacting students and beginning this new phase of continuous learning. It’s scary but we have no choice, it’s go time! The car is moving whether we feel ready or not. ZOOOOOM (bad pun intended) goes the car!!! The wind is blowing hard against us but there is a feeling of exhilaration and excitement as well as we connect back with students and families. There are bumps and curves coming up next but that first dramatic scary part is done! The car evens out and we’re back on flat land rolling along at a nice pace…awaiting more information; preparing for new hills and twists.

Yes, there will be more hills, twists, descents, flat land, and at times we may want to jump off the ride like the little guy in the video. We’ll need to lean on our colleagues who – like his sibling – have found their way in this new time and are moving right along. Seek comfort in their courage, ask them to hold your hand when needed, and remember that there is safety equipment keeping you from harm in the form of so many who are on the ride with you and are supporting you with virtual seat belts and harnesses.

Who knows. We may just find ourselves getting brave enough to raise our hands above our heads as we go down the next hill! Just remember…it is okay to scream every once in awhile. It’s proper roller coaster etiquette!

learning · professional learning · teaching

walkthroughs are powerful professional learning times!

A peek inside Ms. Waldman’s math class at Columbia Junior High.

Today leaders throughout our district participated in our first walkthrough of the year – gathering and learning together at Columbia Junior High.

These walkthroughs have become some of my most favorite times of learning. We use a simple protocol developed by Jenni Donohoo and found in her book, Collective Efficacy: How Educators’ Beliefs Impact Student Learning.

We gather together twice a month at a different school.  The principal of the school welcomes the visiting team, reviews the protocol with the group, and then we begin a twenty minute walk about the school. We are noting what we see, what we don’t see, what we wonder, and what we believe the school to be working on. We go in groups of two or three so as to not disrupt the learning areas as we enter. We watch, wonder, and question students about the work they are engaged in.

When the twenty minutes are over, we gather to debrief and share our learning with one another. Such great questions and conversations ensue. I leave EVERY time feeling so energized by the magic I witnessed in each and every classroom, challenged by the road ahead, and wondering what I can do within my role to continue to create the capacity for teachers and students to make more magic in the days ahead.

I’m so proud of the relationships within our district. Teachers don’t balk at letting us learn by entering their classrooms – in fact they are downright disappointed if we skip their rooms! They know that it is a time of learning for us – not a time of evaluation of them or of their students.

The whole experience takes about an hour; time very well spent!

Here are a few pics from today’s walkthrough. Can’t wait for the next one!

learning · teaching

Words have power!

“…within five minutes of being in your classroom I can tell you what your actual beliefs about how children best learn are!” – Margaret Mooney

During a recent conversation with my colleague Jeff Nelson we were talking about quotes that have impacted us. I shared the story below with him.

In the mid 90’s our state superintendent, Terry Bergeson, invited teachers to apply to be a part of a statewide reading cohort. If accepted, participants would spend one week learning from international literacy expert Margaret Mooney. I was one of the fortunate teachers accepted for this amazing opportunity.

I had followed Margaret’s work for some time and will admit I was a bit “geeked out” over the possibility of spending a week in her presence. I went into the week ready to learn everything I could glean from one of my professional heroes.

The week was everything I hoped it would be and more. On the first day, Margaret asked us to write our beliefs regarding the conditions and practices necessary for children to learn to read. Throughout the week as we learned more and more she asked us to go back to our written belief statements and revise and edit them. By Friday I had crafted quite the statement. I was so proud of it and so confident I was even thinking of sharing it with her to get her reaction.

…and then she said these words:

“So friends. You have written, revised, edited, rewritten, revised, etc… this outstanding statement of beliefs. I bet you are feeling pretty proud of what you have captured. Well here’s my new challenge for you: do your daily interactions, lessons, activities, room structures match this statement of beliefs? Or are they in conflict? Because I’ll tell you what, within five minutes of being in your classroom I can tell you what your actual beliefs about how children best learn are!”


I can still remember where I was sitting and how I slightly slumped in my seat upon hearing those words. There was some major dissonance between what was written on my paper and what actually happened on a daily basis in my classroom. My lovely set of beliefs were at odds with my daily practice. I had this immediate image of Margaret standing in my classroom and I’d have some explaining to do! Yikes.

I took her words as a direct challenge to me and went about looking for every professional learning opportunity I could find about improving my craft and practice. Over the next three years I learned and changed. Some changes were easy to make immediately and others took time – but change occurred and the biggest change was in my own understanding of the role of teacher and student. Students became empowered agents of their own learning and growth! It was some of the hardest work I’ve ever done but by far the most rewarding.

Almost exactly five years to the day of our week with Margaret, I was asked to introduce her at a regional conference. In front of hundreds of fellow teachers I conveyed the story I have shared in this post. I was able to tell Margaret how her words inspired me and challenged me to create change in myself and for my students. I ended with these words back to her:

“I NOW would welcome you to my classroom with arms wide open so you could see how much your words challenged me to create the environment in which they ALL are becoming rich and voracious readers!”

Those of you who know me well won’t be surprised to hear that those words came out broken with plenty of tears but there was much pride behind them as well.

Words are so powerful. They can challenge, inspire, and create change!

Whose words have inspired you?

learning · my journey · teaching

Keep learning.


Yesterday was our first day of school. As I walked through each of our six schoolhouses with our superintendent the energy found within each building was contagious! The beginning of a new year is filled with such anticipation, hope, and a bit of nervous energy. Everyone is starting with a clean slate and the possibilities seem endless.

My favorite quote of the day was from Mrs. Starkey, a fourth grade teacher at Endeavour Intermediate School, “I’m so excited. We get to have kids back in our building again!” That’s the heart of a great teacher.

As we continued to walk the hallways and pop in various classrooms throughout our district, I couldn’t help but think of the tremendous amount of learning that will occur over the next 180 days of school. Students will explore, challenge, and confirm all kinds of new thinking – socially, emotionally, and academically.

…and so will teachers. Every Monday morning our teachers will work in collaborative groups learning together about their practices and their students. Professional learning opportunities will occur throughout the year supporting our elementary teachers with their new math curriculum. Our Teaching Learning & Innovation Department will be providing book studies throughout the year in buildings requesting an opportunity to learn more about a specific theme, author, and/or topic. Our new staff will participate in a series of induction sessions to help welcome them into our district family. Our district’s 1:1 initiative, Fife Forward, will provide numerous professional learning sessions around all aspects of 21st Century Learning. Many more opportunities for individual and collaborative learning will occur all throughout the year – too many to mention them all in this post.

My challenge to us all is that we keep learning. Whether this is the first year of our journey as an educator, year ten, or year thirty four (that’s my number this year and yes I did start teaching at age 10).

At the most recent appointment with my oncologist (click here to read more about my health journey) he was sharing with me a new treatment that wasn’t known until six months ago. Think about that for a moment. Without Dr. Chitaley’s commitment to lifelong learning – he wouldn’t have known a powerful strategy that we can employ to prevent my breast cancer from returning. On a previous visit he shared with me how breast cancer treatment has changed over the past five years. What he designed for me to do in the next twenty weeks would have looked vastly different five years ago. Wow. I’m so very thankful that he keeps learning.

Do we keep learning as educators? Or are we stuck with the same practices that we learned about as undergrads or at a conference ten years ago? Do we continuously seek the latest knowledge about how the brain works, read up on what the latest research shows as effective practice, constantly check-in with our students to see what is working and adjust accordingly? Are our students getting the very best opportunity to learn based on our knowledge of the very latest strategy? Our students deserve to be in classrooms where we design engaging and empowered learning opportunities based on the very latest research and practice.

Keep learning. How do we do this with all that we have coming at us daily?

One of my favorite methods is via Twitter. I learn something new almost daily through my Twitter feed. Twitter allows me to connect with all kinds of people who:

  • challenge my thinking
  • share tips/tricks
  • share failures
  • ask questions
  • encourage me to try new things

It also allows me to share the same with the world.

Our TLI Department has been encouraging staff to consider Twitter as a professional learning tool over the past few years. Here’s a listing of current accounts associated with Fife Public School staff and students if you’d like to follow along with their learning this year.

The other way in which I choose to learn is by reflection. I began this blog earlier this summer as a way of reflecting upon my own practice and processing some of the things that I learn along the way. I’d love you to follow along and share your thoughts back with me!

Keep learning. That’s my intention. Will you make it your’s as well?

Here’s to the best year yet!