Sunday, May 5, 2013


Life has been busier than usual lately and I have gotten so used to being so busy that when I am not, I have no idea what to do with myself. So today when life is just a little slower, I thought I would blog about life lately. The school year is winding down, which also brings about its own stresses!

At school there are students to be assessed, report cards to be done, field trips to go on and all this while trying to remind my students that we need to still focus for a few more weeks.

At home there are a few of us that are so excited for school to be out, but still needing to focus on track meets, ending FFA banquet and the selection of officers for next year, shooting sports, girl scouts, dance, work, graduations to attend, graduation parties and at some point the house still needs cleaned, dishes washed and laundry done.

Then I start to dream about summer....lazy, warm days by the pool, sleeping in, plenty of time to get the house organized and cleaned the way I like, time to prepare to teach a new grade next year.....

and then reality hits! Basketball tournaments every weekend in June, summer camps, swimming lessons, teacher conferences, summer weights every morning, weddings, softball games, preparing animals (and girls) for county fair and then all the sudden it is July...

I hope that we have some days...some moments to stop and relax and enjoy being a family despite all the craziness. So that is my one main goal this find the little moments where life stops and we can just be.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013


This is a vision...into the future 2017.

My vision is constantly changing. There are definitely things that I want to change and that I want to implement, but because next year is still undetermined on whether I will continue to teach kindergarten or if I will move up to second grade, writing down my vision into a scenario has been more difficult then I thought it would be. So here is my attempt...

Hello Justin, thank you for coming in today to talk about your experiences in elementary school. Do you feel that you are prepared to be a middle school student?
     I had a lot of fun in elementary school and feel like I learned a lot. I hope that some of my classes in   middle school will be similar to my classes in elementary school since it was focused a lot on projects.
Let's talk about those projects and how they may have helped you. You said school was fun. Can you explain that a bit?
    Sure, at my school we learned by doing. We really didn't spend time sitting at desks and working on worksheets. We spent a lot of time trying to solve problems, work on projects and create things. We had a barn with animals and sometimes our projects would be those animals and how we needed to take care of them and what they needed. But other times, we would find problems that we would need to figure out how to solve, due to having animals, for example if an animal was sick then we needed to do research to work on solving the problem. We needed to be the experts. It all started when we were in kindergarten. Even as the youngest students at the school, we were able to be a part of everything. Our teacher really made everything about our school family and community. The classroom wasn't her classroom, it was ours. Problems and solutions were all of ours and we all worked together to solve them. It made me feel important, like my opinions mattered just as much as the adults in the school. Our teacher took time to listen, to hear us and then we solved problems together. She had high expectations for us and did make sure that we all worked together to achieve those high expectations.

We had a greenhouse so all year we grew things in the greenhouse to help our school, but we also had problems that we needed to work on with that too. We had to research the amount of sunlight plants needed so we could put lights in our greenhouse. We also needed to learn about different plant and the amount of moisture they required. Then we had to decide how much to sell things for in order to make a profit so we could buy more seeds and other materials for our greenhouse. So much went into that and we were responsible for figuring it all out. It felt so awesome to know that as students, we got to help with things that normally only the adults get to do.  Even with that stuff there was still a lot more we got to do in the classroom every day that was centered around projects. Sometimes our class would be working on one big project all together, but sometimes we would be in smaller groups all working on different things. All year we would work on projects and all our school work was focused on that so it didn't even feel like we were doing reading and writing and math because it was just what we needed to do in order to figure out how to solve our problem. I just hope that now going into middle school my classes will be able to focus on things that really matter instead of just working on things from worksheets or textbooks.

I really feel like I learned more about real things when I was in elementary school, even when I was only in kindergarten. I could solve problems and now I know where to look for the answers. I know how to talk to other experts if I need help solving a problem. I can work in a group. I really like being able to solve problems and work on projects. I also feel that my confidence in myself is better, because of the strong relationships established.

Well Justin, it sounds like you did a lot as an elementary student. Thank you for sharing your experiences. I wish you all the best in your future.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

The Leader in Me

I have been reading the book The Leader in Me by Stephen R Covey and am really enjoying what I have been reading. He is also the author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. The book does touch on the habits of highly effective people, but mostly focuses on how to make your school as successful as it can be. Each school needs to look at what makes it unique and special and use that to help inspire your school to become a leader in that area. It takes everyone in the community to help a school succeed. Parents and students, teachers and administrators all have to be willing to "do what it takes." The book also gives examples of schools and the way they are "inspiring greatness." I am anxious to read and learn more about how to make our own school more effective.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Read to first grade?????

Just read the latest version of the bill Senate Sub for HB 2140 that has changed from a third grade retention for failure to meet reading goals to a first grade retention for failure to meet goals....WHAT?

So what does the bill do now?
  • It is no longer a 3rd grade retention bill. Senator It was amended to apply to 1st graders based on the belief held by many that third grade was too late to begin interventions.
  • The parents of the child can override the retention and have the child promoted to 2nd grade.
  • If a parent does not request a meeting to discuss the issue within 15 days of getting notice of the child's performance, the teacher will make a recommendation to the principal who will review it and make a recommendation to the superintendent. The superintendent then makes the decision.
  • Exceptions to retention also include demonstration of reading skills on a teacher developed portfolio or a promotion recommendation from the teacher that is supported by both the principal and the superintendent.
  • The original bill provided grants to non-profits to provide intervention services. It now makes those grants available to school districts as well.

First grade?

As a kindergarten teacher I am often using the phrase "developmentally appropriate." Is that bill even developmentally appropriate? Students need time to grow and learn at their own pace. Teachers help give the tools, but the pace is often determine by the student. We often see those "aha" moments in younger grades when a student "gets it."

How devastating it could be to young six and seven years old students to be retained because they weren't quite up to the same level as their peers....which could possible be for a whole host of reasons.

Students begin their school career at all different levels....preschool, no preschool, daycare or not, home full of books or no exposure, single parent, split family, grandparent raised....and the list goes on and on. It is near to impossible to expect all students to be on the same level in 18 months of formal education.

I am disappointed in our senators.

Sunday, March 24, 2013


This is a disclaimer...if you do not like politics, red tape, etc. please stop reading now.
My current assignment is to blog about the current state of affairs in Topeka from multiple sources and so that is what will be happening for a few posts to come.

I read a recent letter (March 6, 2013) that the Kansas School Superintendent's Association (KSSA) wrote to the Kansas House committee regarding collective bargaining and then read a letter in response regarding that bill that the KNEA (state teachers union) wrote and I just felt angry after reading both of them. I don't know a more delicate or professional way to say that.

Our state received a waiver from state assessments, but as a condition of that waiver we must develop a new evaluation system and procedure, which is now called the KEEP (Kansas Educator Evaluation Protocol). KSSA would like to be able to collaborate outside of the negotiation process on items with the bargaining team. The KNEA responded with confusion about why they weren't involved in the discussion about this potential deal. Why bargaining now includes only five mandatory topics, a list of permissible topics (that board may refuse to negotiate) and an outright ban on a number of other items.

 I am confused as to why there needs to be discussion outside of negotiations? I am not a part of that team, but why is it a bad thing? It appears from reading the superintendent's bill that negotiations are not the way they want to handle things....why not? And why ban items to negotiate? Don't we want what is best for the people working closest to the people we are all working for....our students!?!?

Our job is kids. OUR JOB IS KIDS. I do not understand why people in those positions do not stop for just a moment and think about what they are really fighting about.....on all sides.

I must admit that all of this is completely confusing. I don't follow the politic side of education very close....I don't like the red tape...the paperwork...the more and more "stuff" piled onto education.

I enjoy teaching! I enjoy helping students learn! I truly enjoy being in my classroom with my students being involved in education. My students need advocates for their future. They need the people with power to think about what is best for them! What will help them...what will inspire them...what will drive them to do great things.

The rest....

Tuesday, March 19, 2013


I went to a district meeting last week. Usually these meetings leave me filled with regret for missing the time in my classroom...missing teaching time with my little gems, time spent on sub plans. Well this meeting did contain all of those things. Missed time with my gems, substitute plans, etc. but there was something awesome that came out of it.

Another teacher shared an amazing website that I have absolutely fallen in love with and cannot wait to use it with my kiddos. It is called InstaGrok and maybe it has been discovered by most already and I am late to the game but I am really enjoying plugging all sorts of search terms to get all sorts of wonderful results.  You simply plug a search term into the search bar and it instantly creates a web map for you, complete with key facts, websites, videos, images and a glossary. There is also a toggle bar on the top that allows you to change the level as well so it works for lower elementary all the way to higher elementary. Check it out!!!


Thursday, March 7, 2013

Innovative Schools Bill

There is currently a bill in debate in our state's capitol about whether or not 10 lucky schools (or districts?) in Kansas can become "innovative." Basically meaning that they are exempt from the same rules, regulations, etc. that all other state public schools are responsible for. It gives these chosen schools a little more freedom, a little more flexibility to decide what is best for their school versus a mandated version.

I teach at a charter school, which in TONS of ways is very innovative. School barn, farm animals, chore boots lining the hallways....things are different. But there are many challenges as well. We are part of a larger district; four other elementary schools, two middle schools and a large high school. Our district still expects (for the most part) us to be in line with the other schools. We still have many district requirements, assessments, meetings, etc. that we are responsible for. A lot of times there are misconceptions about what we are and are not. We are still very much responsible for all state standards, we just teach them in a different way. We integrate as much as possible. We do not get paid more (although rumor has it we do). We do work hard (weekends are a must, animals must be fed, integration takes work, etc. etc. etc.). We truly do want what is best for our students. The path we chose was not an easy path. Curriculum had to be us. We couldn't purchase textbooks to go along with our new charter. Roadblocks were often in our way...and often still are.

Flexibility and freedom to be different would be a very freeing experience. We are different and different is difficult when your school is still expected to be the same.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Winter on the School Farm

For those of you reading this that don't already know, I teach at an agriculture charter school. We didn't begin that way, but chose that path for a multitude of reasons. Our students are thriving and even though it is hard work, it truly is what is best for our school family.

On our school grounds we have a barn complete with pigs, chickens, cows, sheep and a donkey. We have a greenhouse, a wind turbine and a school garden. All of this comes with chores...animals must be fed, plants must be watered and all of this needs to happen regardless of how much snow may be on the ground. Our classrooms rotate being responsible for all the chores, with each class taking a week and the teacher is in charge of the weekends.

Well this week just happened to be my week. 

So while everyone was snuggled under their covers Thursday morning on our first snow day, I trudged out to school (thankful my three girls and our oldest daughter's boyfriend agreed to come along and help) to take care of the day's chores.
The drive out was slow and I have never been so thankful for my truck as I have been these past few days!

Upon arriving the first thing we saw was Eeyore the donkey, looking quite miserable :(
As you can see behind him, he has a perfectly warm hut full of straw to go in to but he preferred standing out in the snow. Silly Eeyore!!!

We then went into the barn where we were greeted with our next surprise! One of our school ewes had lambed during the night and had two new baby lambs to care for!
They were so tiny and so cute!

Now time to bottle feed the dairy calf!
Nothing like a warm bottle on a cold, snowy day!

Earlier in the week when I had been doing chores I smelled the overwhelmingly smell of a skunk and it seemed close. We had been pretty sure that it had burrowed itself underneath the chicken coop, but I was very nervous going into the chicken pen to feed our chickens and even more nervous opening up the coop doors...worried it would be waiting for me in there. 
You can see our friend the skunk has made himself a nice little hole not far from the chicken feeder. He has dragged chicken feed from the feeder into his hole and there are skunk tracks all over the chicken yard. 

So this week has been an adventure. 
Chores have taken a little longer and it has been a little colder but all is a day in the life of a teacher (well teachers at my school anyway :)) The weather man is predicting even more snow beginning tomorrow night, but my week of chores ends tomorrow and I will gladly pass the torch onto the next teacher in charge!

But it sure is beautiful!!!!

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Snow Day!!!

Today it snowed...and snowed. For some areas, that may be nothing new, but for us it has been a rarity the past few winters and my students were so excited!!

We even went out for just a few moments to get a measurement of how much snow had fallen so far. At 12:40 our next door neighbor of kindergarten students measured 1 1/2 inches of snow and by 2:00 when we went out to measure it was already at 2 inches.

and tomorrow is an official SNOW DAY!!!!!!!!!! So excited to spend the day at home with my girls!

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Officially 7

7 years (and 3 days ago) my husband and I gave each other the best gift on Valentine's Day and now she is growing up so quickly! All three of our baby girls....aren't babies anymore. Today we celebrated with family and friends at a bowling birthday party and all had a great time.
Happy Birthday Brooklynn!!!!

At seven she is getting more and more independent every day and wants to be able to do everything her older sisters are doing. She is reading better and better every day and you can really hear her voice in the stories she writes. She loves Justin Bieber :) and is quite the social butterfly. All three of our girls light up our world in so many ways.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Changing Paradigms

I just finished watching a video on youtube of an event that Sir Ken Robinson was speaking at. It is a long video, but definitely well worth the watch. He outlines in the video that education does indeed need to be reformed, but is the current state of our reform the correct one? I agreed with most everything that he said. He spends a lot of time talking about the reasons education became necessary was solely for economic utility. Students went to school so that they could perform the basic functions needed to work and make money. School was very similar to a factory assembly line. We all sit in desks, bell rings, switch classes, lunch, etc. I feel that our world has changed drastically since the need for this type of education.

We have a new generation with new learners, but haven't made much of a change in our educational systems and can't seem to figure out why are students aren't performing to the level we want. We haven't changed much of anything. Currently our nation is rolling out "common core standards" which I feel like still mirrors the assembly line type of education. All need to learn these core standards and let's put the emphasis on English Language Arts and Math and leave little or no time for any other subject matter. Our students are being forced down paths that they may or may not feel passionate about. I do agree that reading, writing and math are very important, but it belittles everything else in our world. We often put mandates on our students that take away the things they love and turn them into something required.

Currently in my district we are required to do a 90 minute reading block with no interruptions, across the board K-12. Students that love to read and enjoy being read to do not necessarily enjoy a forced 90 minute reading block. We often think that if we require something to happen then our scores will improve and the students will learn more. I really resonated with Sir Ken Robinson when he said people do their best when doing what they love. My own children love to read. On weekends they could spend hours curled up in a chair reading a book of their choosing without me telling them to, but when they are forced to read a book someone else chose in a forced time frame they hate it. We take away the joy and the passion for learning for forcing all students to do what we ask without asking them what they "love to do". Putting all the emphasis on English Language Arts and Math isn't going to ignite passion in our students for the most's going to put the fire out. Students want to be heard, they want to learn about things that are important to them. We put them in a room with other students and force them to learn what we think is most important and don't allow them to be creative or imaginative. We expect them to all learn the same set of information in the same given time frame in the same way.

As a teacher, I see the struggles and the need for change, but when we ourselves our mandated to teach a certain way, at a certain time, with a certain set of do I fix it? It needs to be a complete change in thinking and I feel like until the people that are closest to education are able to help make the big decisions the current state of problems and issues will continue. My own school is a project-based charter school with a lot of flexibility in how we educate, but it is still very difficult with district and state mandates and requirements and assessments that often say what you can and cannot do. Our students are in a changing world with information at their fingertips, but yet we send them to schools that our teaching much like they did fifty years ago. Our students deserve better.

You can watch the video by clicking on the link.Changing Paradigms

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Newspaper Pots

Today we made our newspaper pots. The students did an awesome job and really got into the project. Most students made at least 2 pots and some were even able to make 3. They will hopefully dry over the weekend and we will plant next week! We are so excited to (hopefully) have a classroom full of plants. We have also been learning A LOT about how to take care of these plants indoors until they are strong enough (and it's warm enough) to be planted outdoors.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

The Winter Blues

Winter is so hard for me. I dislike the cold...immensely and I dislike the short daylight hours. It is hard for me to get motivated to do anything and then add how incredibly busy I am with work and with my family and I am tired all the time.
So I have been trying to figure out ways to be more energetic and more motivated so that I can beat the winter blues. So I think we are going to start spring early in my classroom!!
Today my class began the process to make newspaper pots. The kids loved shredding newspaper! Tomorrow we will line plastic cups with our wet, moist newspaper and wait for them to dry. Then hopefully at the beginning of next week we can remove them from the molds, add soil and begin to plant. Can't wait to have a classroom full of plants!!! Bring on springtime!