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My Mission on My Mind-Goals 2016

Time for a new year to begin. Lucky for me I have actually spent the WHOLE summer preparing this time.  Not by reading the latest books on practice or attending lots of PD but by studying The Teacher, and how He did it.  My biggest takeaway was simple: He stayed mission-minded.  I’ve decided to take all that learning and turn it into a much longer reflection than I know I have room for here.  Perhaps a book, you know, when I retire and have time to write one ūüôā wait for my best seller…

In staying mission-minded I realized I needed to voice my mission, to put it on paper, and it is this: to make an eternal difference.  This is my only goal as I begin this year.  I want my actions to always reflect my mission, always show that I’m thinking about the impact of my words, thoughts,and actions on the student, parent, or teacher I am interacting with. It is my strong belief that when you keep your mind focused on what matters, the rest falls into place.  

I had the privilege of hearing Ron Clark Academy’s Kim Bearden speak this summer, and she reminded us that our actions not only affect our students but their future children, their spouses, the people they will employ and work with….our circle of influence is much bigger than we think about.  Every single interaction matters

I will look for small ways to make a big difference and make connections that make an eternal difference, using each moment to teach lessons that last longer than this year, and I will leave the people I interact with feeling loved and appreciated.  A loved person loves people.  A cared for person cares for people.  And an appreciated person appreciates people.  If I do my job right, that lasts long after 3:00.  

My goal for this year is to stay mission-minded.  My classroom will be a happy, more connected place where kids and families feel loved and accepted.  And I bet my kids will pick up some math and science along the way, too! 

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New Learning for an Old Chore

To me, having students correct tests ranks right up there with making¬†students take them in the first place…something that I know is necessary, but I just don’t like it! ¬†I didn’t like testing as a kid,¬†and I sure don’t as an adult. ¬†Then to have to be retaught the information and given the same test (or type of test with different questions) back and have to take it again, well, it sure doesn’t do wonders for the self-esteem. ¬†So I did¬†a little research (a.k.a trolling Twitter) on what imaginative and forward-thinking teachers do with the feedback-loop we call retesting of big tests like the district benchmarks and other heavy hitters. ¬†What I found was an amazing protocol my kids LOVED! ¬†Here it is.



Step one: Make your corrections. ¬†You have to do this part on your own, but this step is so important. ¬†If you do not bring your own thinking to the discussion, what are you adding? ¬† By asking them to all make their own corrections (after purposeful reteaching!), I was asking¬†them to bring what they thought was the correct answer to the next step. ¬†This prevented relying on whomever made the highest score to simply impart this wisdom¬†to the group! On a side note,¬†I did not chose to group my kids by their scores, and I don’t know that I will for a while. ¬†They were in new table groups, and I wanted this to be a team building exercise as well.

Step two: Discuss it with your group. ¬† This is where it got good. ¬†Really good. ¬†I mean I love that accountable math talk, they are good at it, and it was just flying around in here. ¬†“But I really thought it was 821.” ¬†“That’s right if you add, but look right here at this word…” “Did you know we needed to convert right here? That one almost got me, too!” “I didn’t use any strategies, but you did. No wonder you got it.” ¬†“Will you show me what you did?” WOW! They were challenging each other’s thinking and really diving deep. ¬†I just love to hear kids disagree over a math problem, respectfully of course, but that discourse when they both are convinced they are right, is just amazing to hear. ¬†There was a lot of that thinking going on. ¬†That is not happening when a kid is sweating out a correction at home or during tutoring!

Step three: Regrade your test. I let them do this.  Instant gratification when they just went from a 40 to a 97.  Woo-hoo!

Step four: What new learning did we gain from this? 5 minute quick write I also added to this question, “Was this worth our time?” This reflection was powerful. ¬†Sometimes during our quick-writes there are wandering eyes (“I’m thinking!”) and chewed on pencils, but most kids were enthusiastically recording thoughts quickly about the process. After the 5 minutes, of COURSE they had to share with me!

“My partner really rechecked his work. ¬†He was good at it and I wasn’t. ¬†His grade was better! ¬†I learned I have enough time, I should recheck.”

“When we read together, we saw the error we made. ¬†Next time, I’ll just read the problem twice like we did.”

“When we worked together and talked one person talked about one strategy that another person didn’t think of. That made us know we were a good team.”

“This was worth our time because we learned about our mistakes not just fixed them and moved away from them like on to the next thing in our books.”

“This helped me know about the strengths and weaknesses of my new partners. Now I will know better how to help them with the projects we are doing this six weeks.”

And it went on and on…the kids LOVED it. ¬†I heard myself in their voices with strategies I had been teaching them, but learning this in their own way from their peers was so much more powerful and meaningful to them! ¬†A few even asked, “Why didn’t we do this sooner?” ¬†They understand me as a reflective teacher and know I take what they say to heart. ¬†I told them thanks for making me better and making this so much fun.

“You can totally do this next year, Mrs. Stringer. ¬†The other kids will love it and will learn so much!” ¬†Oh, I think that is some pretty good feedback!

P.S. I really wish I knew who to give credit to for this idea. ¬†It seems it was one of the brilliant high school teachers I follow, but I have no clue. If it was you, thanks ūüôā


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In 1986, I was 10 years old. I sat in a classroom as my heroes took off in the space shuttle Challenger.  My world turned upside down as my teacher quietly cried and turned off the television about 80 seconds after launch.  I sat waiting for her to tell us what to do next.  My heart was broken, but it was time to go to art. 
Two weeks later, my mom lost her three year battle to breast cancer. That day I got dressed and went to school. My dad tried to convince me to stay home, but I needed to go. My heart was broken, but it was time for math.

You see, at my house, there were family members sleeping in every room, even the kitchen floor, as we waited for visiting hours each day. After school, I went to the hospital and saw my strong mom in a bed.  Some of my school days were spent sitting with my mom while she got her chemo, helping with my younger sister, or cheering up my dad or grandmother. At my house it was more than a 10 year old could handle. 

But at school…it was time for math. Then art. Then reading. And I knew what would happen when. And I knew what would happen if.  And my teacher knew what was happening at my house and understood me. She made a place for me where routines and rituals kept me safe. When everything else was crazy, she made it clear for me, just by doing what we, as educators do every day.  That schedule on the wall was what I needed when I never knew when we’d get to dinner. Those clear expectations (and kind discipline!) were just what I needed when emotions ran high all around me at home.  The simple kind words may have been shrugged off then in typical pre-teen fashion, as many middle grade teachers may think, but they landed right in my heart where they were so needed. 

We take such things for granted without the realization that we are creating such an important safe home for our students.  This is not only crafted with our words and actions but also with the environment we create in the normalcy of our structures and routines–the schedule, the rotation of who organizes the library, the way they put up their math journals.  It all matters. Trust me.  Don’t minimalize what you do…you are creating someone’s safe place. 

Posted in Christian education, teaching, Uncategorized

“I Didn’t Know it Was My Last Time!”

I took my gingys to the pool yesterday, and of course, no one wanted to leave. “Cameron, it’s time to get off the slide…that was your last go…”
His reply, “But Mom! I didn’t even know it was my last time!”, caught me off guard for a second.
It made me giggle. I stood there and thought, “What in the world is he going to do that is going to be so drastically different this last time?
Well, he screamed a little more and I think he may have even leaned back into a slight lay as opposed to a sit. Big difference, y’all. It was his last time. Time to risk it all. “Alright, Mom, we can go!”

The last few days God has been drawing my heart to verses reminding me that life is fleeting, that our days are numbered. In particular James 4:13-15.
When I say “drawing my heart”, I mean this is popping up everywhere….I’m listening to a podcast on Malachi, BAM! Life is fleeting! Reading Acts (history!) BAM! Life is fleeting! I’m at the pool with my kid BAM! I didn’t know it was my last time….

This, along with the #christianeducators chat and a study I have been doing this summer (more on that later) have made me set some goals for this school year.

Real Relationships. with my family, with my friends, with my kids, with my colleagues. Nothing else lasts after I’m gone and nothing else has an eternal difference.

Words that Matter. I tend to waste words and use them without thinking. Each could be my last, each matters.

We all know we don’t know, but what we can count on is every day, every interaction, every word, matters.

And it might make me look a little crazy, but you’ll catch me going down the slide each day like it’s my last time!