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Friday, June 17, 2016

5 More RCA Takeaways!

I am joining Doodle Bugs again this week for the 5 for Friday.  Click below to join in the fun.

As I wrote last week, I was able to attend the National Educators Conference at the Ron Clark Academy.  If you missed the last post, check it out {HERE}.  It was such an amazing weekend.  I could have stayed there longer but I think they would've noticed me.  HA!!!  The last 5 For Friday, I wrote about 5 takeaways that I will be presenting to my school's staff during a 4 hour professional development that I will be in charge of...yikes.  I am kinda on the shy side (when it comes to presenting to adults...I am a spaz and a half with kiddos though), so this presentation has me a bit nervous.  It's not until August, but I am already planning, preparing, creating and writing.  Well, I will write more about presentation "stuff" later as I have a few things up my sleeve to make it surprising for the staff.  Somehow, I will have to channel my inner Ron Clark while standing in front of the staff.
So...let me tell you what else I was thinking and noticing while I was at RCA.  :)

Don't let Negative Nellies or "Negatively Charged Educators" as Adam Dovico calls them, bring you down!

"You want to try a fun new idea- they say it won't work.
There is hard work to be done- they are the first to leave.
When talking about classes- somehow they always have the worst one in the school... every year."- Adam Dovico

We know them.  We all have had to deal with them.  The outspoken and awe-inspiring educators at RCA have had to deal with them too!!!  The main suggestion that they have for educators like us, who want the best for our kids and are willing to work hard to make that happen.... don't let them bring you down!  You have a choice to allow people to hurt you.  Don't let them.  During one of Ron Clark's speeches, he mentioned an invisible suit of armor.  It covers/protects your heart.

"Don't let them into your heart.  That is reserved for your family and friends.  Pretend to put on your invisible suit each morning if you need to, but don't let them into your heart."- Ron Clark

Ok- real talk here... I love this idea, but I struggle with it.  I am SUPER sensitive and I take many things to heart.  I don't know how to wear that suit.  I am 40 years old and I have taught for 13 years.  I still can get hurt feelings when someone says something about me or gets mad at me.  I think about it, and feel it, and think about it, and worry over it.  I tend to be a people pleaser.  I have gotten better over the years but I still am that person.  So, this idea I have trouble with but I love nonetheless.  I WANT to wear that suit.  I do.  So, maybe like Mr. Clark said- this year, I will pretend to put it on each morning and see if that helps me visualize that protective armor.    

Be Unpredictable

"Let's get the dragon in the background, roar!"- as said by Ron Clark during this picture.  I just laughed a lot.

Ok, I have that one in the bag!  I am super quirky and don't do things in a normal way.  I never have and never will.  I am now proud of my weirdness...I used to try to hide it, but not anymore.  I like being unique.  I still don't like it when someone says something unkind to me (see above) BUT I am me and I will #dome (as Ashley Schroeder says).
The suggestion at RCA is to keep your kids guessing.  If you do the same thing all the time, it creates boredom.  Do something crazy or out of the box.  Pull a Ron Clark and all of a sudden stand on a table.  The first time I did that, my firsties gasped.  It cracked me up.  Even on the last day of school, when the kids were used to seeing me do it... it still got some of them.  One kiddo said "I don't like it when you do that.  I don't want you to fall."  I said, "You're sweet but I won't fall.  By standing up here, I know you are watching me intently and waiting for what comes next!"

Having those crazy room flips out of the blue or with little clues of a warning helps build the excitement for what you will do next.  It will make the kids excited to come to school to see, what in the world you will do next.
Here are a few of the flips I did this year.  All inspired from blogs and RCA's own Kim Bearden and Hope King.

Grinch Day (total surprise)
 Under the Sea Day (gave a tiny warning through a ClassDojo picture)
 Spy Day (told them it would be Spy Day the day before but didn't tell them what that meant)
Italian Restaurant- punctuation with pasta (total surprise)

"We have to take better care of ourselves."- Kim Bearden, discussing educators

I am working on this one.  Kim Bearden discussed this in very personal detail with examples of her life and trials she has gone through.  It helped my soul to hear Kim Bearden say, "It's no surprise to hear, we are not good at balance." while discussing the staff at RCA.
When Kim Bearden speaks I get goose bumps.  She is the most amazing woman.  She was inducted into the Teacher Hall of Fame this year.  I look to her more intently for information than the other teachers there because I know she is a mom, leader, and busy educator.  

It is quite a challenge being a parent AND a passionate teacher.  It's hard on my husband and my kids when I stay at school until 6 or 7 p.m. because I want to decorate my room like an ocean and set up all the crazy stuff I do in the room (especially since I get to school at 7:20 a.m.).  I work way too many hours and don't spend enough time with my family.  No matter what I try to cut out of our schedules, it only seems to get busier and harder every year.    

I began working on fixing that at the end of this school year.  In my mind, taking better care of myself means quality family time and having physical and mental health needs being met.
To start, I decided I needed to help myself become healthier.  I eat pretty well, minus my love of chocolate and sugar...shhhhh.  I am very active in regular life but I did not have good muscle tone or good aerobic health.  I began at the end of the year, around April, waking up at 5 a.m. and exercising.  I have been working on the water drinking as well (I'm horrible at that).  It's hard drinking lots of water during a school day...I am sure you understand that one.
Then I started actively making scheduled time for my family.  It feels totally lame at first, scheduling your family time...but if I don't do that, I don't have the time set aside and my family time doesn't happen.  I also started planning out ways to connect with my kids... I am not kidding.  Again, it sounds totally lame but I started planning various ways and times to have special activities with my kids.  I don't always tell them about it, so it may be a surprise to them.  For example, I may write on my digital calendar "Ellie" and a time frame.  Then during that time I might surprise her and say "Let's do our nails together, tonight."   She gets time to hang with me from the time set aside and I am not letting work take over. Win-win.
This next year, I plan on being even better about this method!
Do I want to be a person who plans every little thing out?  No.  But even more so, do I want to be a person who looks back and says, I wish I had worked less and paid attention to my family more?  Absolutely NOT!  So, planning person I will be!!!

Would you want to be a student in your classroom?
"Some days yes and some days...not really."- Kim Bearden

Do you think about that?  I wondered that before my trip to RCA.  Most days, I am super jazzed about my job and jump right into it with enthusiasm.  But, we all have a few days a year that we just don't want to "adult" (as those cute memes say).  We don't want to give consequences to that student pushing the boundaries for the millionth time, we don't want to answer a million emails from varying sources, we don't want to work on tedious SAT papers, etc.

Those days happen.  To everyone.  Even RCA staff.  They told us so!

Each staff member brought that up and validated that some days are just tough.  BUT you put on a smile and "Fake it, till you make it." Which is typically the next day (in my case)!

I loved speaking with the RCA staff one on one.  I purposefully made a bee-line to each person I wished to speak with and immediately told them my name and how much I love what they do.  Each person heard something different, because each staff member has their own strength.  Everyone was very forthcoming about their teaching and their experiences in such a unique school.  Dr. Jones (who I adore) was so expressive about her first year teaching at RCA.  She explained how she was overwhelmed with thoughts of all the expectations that RCA comes with.  She had to think about whether her hands were high much of her teaching, whether she had her feet facing her students or the person talking, etc.
Do we always feel like going all out in our classrooms?  No, but when we feel that way, we need to turn it around and think of a way to fill our kids hearts.  Just like filling buckets- when we lift up someone else it lifts us up.  Enter the room and lift up your kids.  Let them know how much you love them by making their day special.  Let them know you are learning from them as much as they learn from you by having them make up chants and cheers for the class.  Let them know you care about their lives by doing something connected to their favorite things.  If your kiddos are super into Minions- make a room flip day with a Minion theme.  The joy you see in their face will make you feel so happy.  The joy you bring into their day will help you feel like going all out!

When you are feeling low, think of a way to make your students feel joyful.  Fill those buckets and you fill yours!

See what your students can become.  
Sidenote- I love how it looks like the heavens are shining on Kim Bearden!  Do you hear the angel choir?  

Kim Bearden spoke passionately about relationships with students, coworkers, family, and loved ones of all kinds.  She told a story of a classroom in Africa that the students were able to visit.  The class had a chalkboard, some chalk, and super old science books.  No iPads, no internet, no cute decor, no modern conveniences.  The kids in the class were incredibly engaged.  Why?  She pointed out that the teacher truly saw those students and the kids knew it.  She saw what they could be become, so she was passionate about getting them there and taught with that in mind.  The kids connected with her because they knew she "saw" them and their potential.
I believe I do this, but hearing Kim Bearden speak about it put another spin on it for me.  I will be working harder on this quality this next year.

In my next visit to RCA, I hope to see Kim Bearden teach.  I also hope to see Wade King and Susan Barnes (picture below) in a workshop or class.  All three of those educators are so amazing.

Below is a picture of Joyce Estrada, the Spanish teacher.  I connected with her on social media before going to RCA and she actually knew who I was when I began talking to her.  It was super fun!  I was lucky to visit her room for a workshop session to learn about bringing the world to your students using the internet and social media.  Saber es poder- Knowledge is power!  I will talk another time about her lessons.  Unfortunately, this was her last year at RCA as she is moving on to develop her edupreneur side with ATLatina.  Check it out!   

Phew!  Well, that wraps up another 5 takeaways from RCA.
Can you tell I love it there?!?!  Ha!
Thank you for reading!

Friday, June 10, 2016

Friday 5 and RCA Take Aways

I am joining in with Doodle Bugs Teaching to do a 5 for Friday!  Click below to join in, too!

I just got back on Monday from the Ron Clark Academy!  It was my first time to go there BUT I had been following Ron Clark's mission since 2000.  I also have been following Kim Bearden for several years as well.  I knew I loved the revolution those two amazing educators were creating but I never thought I would have the opportunity to go to their school.  Never even crossed my mind...until this year.  I decided I HAD to go.  I HAD to make it happen.  I presented a proposal to my PTA requesting funding and they funded everything!  I signed up to go to the National Educator's Conference and then I waited very impatiently for the day to finally arrive.  When it did, I felt as though I was dreaming.  A bloggy buddy of mine (not from the same school but from the same district) went with me.  Suzy of On The Go Teacher Mama was my roomy.

We barely stopped talking the entire time we were there.  So much information and so much inspiration.  How would we ever convey the information and experiences to our schools?!?!  See below for a preview of what I will bring up during the presentation I will give at the beginning of the school year.
Below is my interpretation of what I saw at RCA and how I will attempt to instill the ideas I learned, into my classroom.

Make It a Party But End It Fast!

Have fun, sing songs, dance on tables, cheer, and just be joyful as a class.  Have key phrases that begin a song/dance/cheer but then the second that song is over, the kids have to be seated and facing the teacher.  Back to complete focus and attention on the lesson.  BUT this allows the blood to pump, the antsy kids to wiggle, and the joy to rise.  It also means that if you do several cheers/chants/songs per lesson, the kids have to listen for those key phrases so they may participate on que.  I think it would have been extremely obvious if one of the kids did not join in on que with all the other students...and they would've been in trouble for sure! :)

Be Tough and Consistent!

Set rules and stick to it. At RCA, of course it is the Essential 55 but if you ask the kids about it they will say it's more like 255 rules.  If you set up rules for your room or school, they must be followed no matter who breaks them.  Even if it is a kid who never gets in trouble...if they break one of the rules, follow through with the discipline expectations.  Be extremely clear about the rules.  To the point that it almost seems silly.  We as adults, assume kids know what we mean by certain terms but they haven't learned it yet.  For example, the word respectful needs to be explained in detail with how it looks, what it feels like, the steps to create respectful behavior, etc.

Give REAL Points/Praise That Can't Be Taken Away!
At RCA, they have 4 houses that get points for various positive reasons.  You may do it differently in your class or school, but there should be some way to say "Great Job" to students.  I thought it interesting that they feel you should not take away points.  Then students will think, well, why did I work so hard to get those points if you can just take it away whenever.  See #4 for the part that helps with taking care of the negative behaviors.  I use ClassDojo and I will have to revisit the system to see if I might want to think more carefully about how it is used in my room.  The other part I like about house cups is that it gets students to start thinking about helping each other in "honor" of the team.  They work on lifting each other up.

Speaking of houses... Go Isibindi.

Have a Discipline Policy And Stick To It!
 At RCA, when the kids get in trouble (which I witnessed 2 times in the short amount of time I was observing classes) they all have the same policy.  First infraction, kids write their names on the board and that is their warning.  2nd problem they write a check mark and get silent lunch.  3rd time, another check and miss recess.  4th time, they have Saturday detention.
In Hope King's class she has a mirror for the kids to write on instead of the board.  It's hard to see but it is in the middle of the picture.  What I learned during this visit is that I am NOT as tough as I thought I was.  Holy guacamole, people.  I observed Hope King and Ron Clark teaching and they both did not play!  They were the toughest teachers I have ever seen.  I teach 1st, so my approach needs to be different BUT I could be tougher.  So, next year's class...look out.  Ha!

****Go The Extra Mile For Your Students; They Are Family!
The fact that all the students, faculty, and staff are family is truly highlighted in the immense amount of "family photos" that hang all over the walls.  It was such a lovely environment.  It felt like a vibrant, SUPER LOUD, organized, and happy home.
I always tell my students that we are a class-family.  We support and love each other.  I go the extra mile to help each student and make sure they know I am there for them.  Our class helps and cares for one another, but what I will do differently next year is represent that more in our environment.  I have to have student work on the wall all the time (as per district policy), but I have a plan to make it look more beautiful than the ol' bulletin board style stuff I have always done.  I have cute boards, but I want this to look more like a home environment.
I will work hard this summer to create a simple but class-family represented room.

I truly loved how Mr. Clark had his students reflect on the lessons and answers.  The kids helped each other learn by talking through mistakes and ways to get the correct answer.  I will definitely use those techniques and phrases used in his class to help my future lessons be more reflective.  

I thought this would be the only time I would be able to experience the Ron Clark Academy and went there with a mission to soak in everything.  BUT, while I was there, I made the decision I would go back.  I have to go back.  I have so much more to learn.  I felt as though I was in a place that was for me.  I felt at home.  I could never live in Atlanta.  I don't like cities or humidity, but I adore RCA.  I felt as though the teachers there connected with my soul.  They were so passionate about their school and students.  It touched my heart in a way that no other educator training has ever come close to doing.  
So, yes, I will be back!  

I will do another post about the many things I saw on this amazing adventure next Friday.
Happy weekend!