Today was the second day of the Illinois Joint Annual Conference. There were so many panel discussions, carousel discussions, and learning labs, in addition to the second general session and the exhibition hall, that I found myself wishing, more than once, that Hermione Granger’s time-turner really existed so that I could have gone to everything!
Alas, I only had so many hours in the day, so I had to pick and choose what to do with my time and also make sure that I remembered to do important things like eating. (As it was, after eating an apple at 7:30 in the morning and an oatmeal raisin cookie around 8:45, I didn’t eat again until nearly 1 pm. Oops.)
I started my day with a visit with my wife, who is at this conference with me, to the IASB book store and saw several books that I want to add to my professional collection, such as Todd Whitaker’s “Shifting the Monkey” and Tony Wagner’s “Creating Innovators.” I also found a series of picture books by “Star Wars: Jedi Academy” series author Jeffrey Brown that I want for my personal library. Then we stopped by the Educational Environments Exhibit Hall to see some amazing examples of brilliant school design (including the Award of Distinction-winning Urbana Early Childhood Center).
For the couple of hours we wandered through the Exhibition Hall, talking to vendors about issues such as educational technology, creative learning resources, data management systems, innovative security tools, and modular carpeting. A I was particularly impressed with BoardShare, which has developed a cost-effective tool that allows you to turn any flat surface into an interactive board, and Scribfolio, which takes simple abstract figures and allows students to create pictures that tell a story. We attended a learning laboratory presentation about health and wellness that included ideas for utilising wearable technology, such as Humana’s 100-Day Dash. (I am now brainstorming ways we can use pedometers to develop a similar challenge for my school community.)
The morning ended with a panel session presented by Reyna Hernandez, the Illinois State Board of Education’s Assistant Superintendent of English Language Learning and Early Childhood. She spoke about the ISBE Family Engagement Framework and shared some wonderful research on best practices for engaging families across all areas in a way that would promote longterm sustainability. One of my favourite statements came near the end of her presentation when she told us that while buy-in is good, it is even better for parents and members of the community to feel ownership for school initiatives. How do we make this possible? By involving them in all aspects of the decision-making processes.
After a late lunch, I attended another panel session with my mother on student-led conferences and left eager to use them for parent-teacher conferences in the Spring. The concept is simple: instead of teachers meeting with parents to tell them how their students are doing, parents and teachers meet with the students so that they, the students, can explain why they are doing it! The session was presented by teachers and administrators from Belleville, Illinois, and I was very impressed with the planning that went into place before this conference model was implemented.
Day two of JAC 2015 was definitely an incredibly busy, very full day, but I have so many awesome ideas that I can hardly wait to bring back to my school and district!
Today was the first time this academic year that I was gone for the entire day. I am actually surprised that I made it all the way to the middle/end of November without an absence, but I guess that many of the district committees and task forces and professional groups I have been a part of for four years have stopped having meetings that lasted either an entire day or a half day.
To prepare my students for my absence, I told them that it was going to be happening all this week then we spent about half an hour yesterday discussing the students’ responsibilities when a substitute teacher is there, as well as the substitute teacher’s responsibilities. I shared with students what the day should be like for them, going over the schedule and making sure they knew what I expected of them. And, of course, I left detailed plans for my substitute, since I still remember well the terror I experienced when I worked as a substitute and walked into a classroom where there were no plans left for me. (Sorry, Urbana teachers; I don’t remember the name of the teacher I was subbing for that day.)
It is now almost 10 pm on Friday night and I didn’t get any phone calls, text messages, or emails about my class, so I am hoping that it means that my students made it through the day without duct-taping the substitute to the wall or setting the room on fire.
So, what took me away from my classroom today? It was the first day of the 83rd Joint Annual Conference of the Illinois Association of School Boards, the Illinois Association of School Administrators, and the the Illinois Association of School Business Officers (often called the Triple I Conference or the Illinois Joint Annual Conference, abbreviated on Twitter as ILjac15 because JACIASBIASAIASBO2015 is a over the top). This was my third year attending as a guest of Washington Grade School District 52, where my mother is in her 15th year on the school board. (Of course, since I am in an educational administration program, my hope is that one day I will attend as a member of the IASA and/or as a representative of my own school district!)
Due to traffic and other delays, I wasn’t able to make it to some of the early panel sessions held today, but I did get to hear the first general session speaker, DeDe Murcer Moffett, who spoke passionately about the need to have people in your life who help you snap out of it when you start wallowing in doubt or regret, push you forward, and encourage you to succeed. She calls these people your snappers and pushers and it got me wondering who my snappers and pushers are. I thought about my amazing colleagues in my building and my district and the support that we offer each other. I thought about the fantastic teachers I had in my own educational career and the equally fantastic teachers that I have the privilege of working with in my building and my district. Then I thought about whether or not I am a snapper and a pusher in my role in my school as a teacher, a technology specialist, a union representative, and a member of the building leadership team. I’d like to think that I am.
It was a great way to kick off a conference that I look forward to attending each year! (I also ran into my district deputy superintendent and got to chat a few minutes about the awesome recognition that the district received for the Urbana Early Childhood Center. And somehow managed to forget to introduce my wife. Oops. Sorry!) I’m definitely looking forward to tomorrow’s sessions on family and community engagement, technology, wellness, and student-led conferences!
I’ve been piloting the Lucy Calkins’ Units of Study writing workshop program with my class this year. This series has been around for a long time but has recently changed. For each grade level, she outlines four specific writing units that cover informative, narrative, and opinion writing. My fourth graders learn how to write realistic fiction, persuasive essays, literary persuasive essays, and historical essays. We have been working on persuasive essays for the past two weeks now.
This unit starts with the students writing simple opinion pieces. We did one together with a very basic thesis: I like ice cream. The students helped to come up with three reasons and then they had to identify at least three facts that supported each detail. This is a very basic essay outline, but it gets them started with the writing process. Then they started writing about a person who was very important to them and they had to again list at least three reasons why and provide at least three facts to support each reason.
Right about this time was when I witnessed something miraculous in my classroom of twenty-six diverse learners: all of them were engaged in writing.
Every. Single. Student.
To put this in context, I had a student just a few days tell me in no uncertain terms how much he hated writing and how much he hated me for making him write and how much he hated this school for letting me make him write.
And he was writing.
The entire time.
If I were the kind of person who cried (which I’m not), I would have had tears in my eyes (but I didn’t). “Surely,” I thought, “this is just a fluke.”
The next day I had all of my students engaged in writing again.
Every. Single. Student.
This has gone on for nearly two weeks. When I tell my class it is time for Writers’ Workshop there are some students who actually cheer. Others grab their notebooks and get writing before I even get a chance to get to our minilesson. (They don’t appreciate having to put their writing down to listen to me, either.)
Yes, some students get stuck and their pencils pause over their papers for a few minutes. but I have seen my classroom become a community of writers over the past couple of days. Their opinion pieces range from people who are important to them (moms and dads figure prominently in these essays,although at least one student wrote about her big brother and another student wrote about a classmate), to literary figures (Harry Potter is a hero to at least one girl in my class), to wrestling star John Cena (a man who drew my attention when I learned about his support of the Make-a-Wish Foundation), to Thanksgiving and pumpkin pie (my all-time favourite, if-I-could-only-eat-one-kind-of-pie-ever-again-for-the-rest-of-my-life-favourite pie).
It has been awesome seeing my students engaged in writing. They are sharing their writing with each other and sharing it with me and they are finding ways to add details, add depth, improve word choice, and clean up conventions but, more importantly, they are learning how to share the ideas that form in their minds and put them in writing.
I know there are other writing workshop models, curricula, and guides out there and I am sure that they work well, too, but I am really glad that I got to learn about the Lucy Calkins’ series and try it out this year. I love seeing my students growing as authors!