Thursday, March 16, 2017

Surviving STAAR

Now that testing season is upon us, I am struck by the nervous chatter that I hear in the hallways.  One student in particular really gave me pause.  I was in the office one morning and saw one of our amazing 6th grade leaders.  I said good morning and told him to have a great day! His response surprised me.  I didn’t get the usual, “You too, Mrs. Ferguson!”  Instead, my greeting was met with, “I don’t know, its benchmark day.” (Now for those of you that don’t teach in Texas, benchmark day, is our practice state testing day – Yes, we practice, and take the data on the practice).  I wish you could have heard him and seen him. The defeat and fear was in his body language and tone of voice.  This wasn’t normal kid angst!  This particular student is normally so upbeat and positive! But he WAS NOT feeling this test!  In that moment, I was reminded that he is so much more than a test and he needed to know that!  We had a real brief conversation where I shared what I believe everyone needs to hear during testing time.

  1.    LOVE IT!!!  It’s your time to show off. 
  2.   Your teachers are AWESOME!  Trust that they have given you all the tools you need be the VERY best that you can be!
  3.    No matter what score ends up being, I love you and NOTHING can change that!
  4.    There is nothing that can happen during the test that will change how much I like and believe in you.
  5. Doing your best and working hard is about character, not performance, and I care about your character.

When I was done talking, he held his head a little higher, stood a little taller and said, “Thank you, Mrs. Ferguson.”  I know this seems simplistic, but sometimes when we are stuck in the mire that standardized testing can be. We forget basic human needs – To BE SEEN, To BE HEARD, To BE MADE TO FEEL IMPORTANT.  Sometimes, as we get nearer and nearer to testing, the test is all we see and hear and make important. We are all guilty of it. Being the testing coordinator on my campus, I know that I certainly am.  I have spent/need to spend an inordinate amount of time preparing and as I sit here typing this I am saddened because my focus has been on the test, not on the people taking, giving or getting ready for the test.

I once had an amazing principal that said to us, “I love you more than electricity!” Out of context that might seem weird.  But there was a time when our district was trying to save money by being more energy conscience, we had a guy come in and give us a huge list of rules that we had to follow, no lamps, no fridges, no room scent plugins, basically you could plug in a pencil sharpener and that was it (I might be exaggerating…) We, as classroom teachers were not super thrilled.  It wasn’t that we didn’t want to help conserve energy, but the approach was all wrong.  It was like they weren’t seeing us, but my principal and her, “I love you more than electricity!”  Communicated to us that we were valued!  She heard us, saw and thought we were important.  That made it way easier to unplugJ.  I still think about that when I turn off my lights before I leave at the end of the day.  IT IS THE SAME WITH TESTING!!!!  Everyone needs to hear, I LOVE YOU MORE THAN THE TEST!!! Nothing that happens will change your worth in my eyes.

So, as we move forward, my goal is to communicate that message of worth and value to the students and staff on my campus. There are so many ways to do this.  All you need to do is search “STAAR motivation” or “testing motivation” on pinterest and hundreds of different ideas will pop up.  There really are some cool things out there!  This is one of my favorites,
Pinterest link send you to this link.  But I couldn't find the originall post.  If someone knows it, please let me know!  I just LOVE this!  And it's free!!! Can you imagine if your students walked in to this this on testing day?!?!
I really believe that the simplier the better!  It's the personal contact that makes all the difference.

There is great power unleashed when people feel like they are SEEN, HEARD and IMPORTANT!  I know this is simplistic, but sometimes we need a reminder, I know I did!

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Data, Data on the Wall? YES!

DATA – sometimes thrilling, sometimes scary, ALWAYS necessary.  I know that as educators, we continually hear about the importance of analyzing the data to drive instruction.  We utilize research based curriculum that is supported by data, we sit through many a professional development that talks to us about the importance of said data.  Data is a key component in education and has been for a while.  It should be something that motivates us to do better, to celebrate those things that are working and adjust those things that are not.  Unfortunately, for some of us (I am including myself in this) data or even the mere mention of data, can cause our eyes to glaze over.  So here is my question, is there a way to make it fun for the masses?

This is my AMAZING friend Julie Swann!  Super excellent Kinder Teacher, who graciously let me take pictures of the data walls in her room!  The way she is tracking data in her room is truly motivating!

Being at a Leader in Me School, we often talk about goals, personal goals, school wide goals, academic goals, professional goals. WIGS (Wildly Important Goals) are established and the data tracked for students and staff to see.  Getting the students to setting goals, track progress, celebrate victories and make plans to meet those goals, is a key component to LiM.  The first step was setting classroom goals and it was important to post them for everyone to see.  The first goal chart I made was for word wall words. It was a big pyramid that was divided in to four sections.  Each section represented a different term (our expectation was 10 words per term) Every time a student showed mastery of words they were able to move up the pyramid.  I remember talking to a mom that was VERY concerned that the children that maybe moved at a slower pace would feel bad about themselves.  While I understood her concern, what I found was the exact opposite.  The students were highly motivated to move up the pyramid!  AND they weren’t sad when their friends were successful, they were happy for them!  It also ended up creating an environment where students were helping each other to practice!  It was AMAZING!  That first data wall morphed to include knowing number patterns, mastering writing goals, describing shapes, pretty much all of our standards could be tracked on data walls or in their leadership/goal notebooks!  As you know, I moved to a new school this last year and I recently went and visited my old campus (I was missing my friendsJ) and I was AMAZED at how they continued to transform the use of data in their classrooms!








This is where it starts. The area on the white board is for tracking their progress towards a class goal.  The goal this week, was "I know my shapes!" The goal is 3 - "I can do it."  To the left of the numbers are magnets with the kid’s numbers. I love that she includes extension in her data tracking!!!













Once a student meets his or her goal, they get to ring the bell!  Seriously, how fun is that?!?!         

   



When a student meets their personal goal, they get to add a gumball to their personal Gumball Goals machine in their locker.  Five gumballs earns the student a piece of gum!  That is a fun reward๐Ÿ˜Š




They put is all together here!  This is their classroom data wall or "Gumball Goals" tracking system. Everytime 90% of the class meets a particular goal, they add a gumball to their class jar!  Each gumball is labeled with the goal - Term 1 Word Wall Words, Writes Name the Kindergarten Way, Letter Sounds, # 1-20, etc,







When I looked around her room it was so easy to see what students were working on and what the end goal was!  Julie kept telling me how motivating it was for students, it totally supported everything that I had experienced when I was in the classroom.  The practice of tracking data for all to see, does not make students feel bad, but it encourages and celebrates growth!  It got me thinking, “This is so much fun for the students!  Why can’t we make our professional data tracking and goal setting more fun?”  Why is it just my students that have goal notebooks?  I really should create my own.  Then it hit me, I do have one, a fancy planner that I probably spent WAAAAY to much money on, that I decorate and record information in.  I make plans, write down goals, check off some, forget about others…that is when I realized, I was missing an important piece, THE ACCOUNTABILITY!

And that is the key value of the DATA Wall- ACCOUNTABILTY.  I know, I know, some of you are going, REALLY?!?!  You want me to just put it out there?  YES!  Choose a goal, make a plan and track your progress in the open.  Let others, celebrate victories with you, encourage you to keep going when you are of so close, and most importantly, readjust your plan when you aren’t seeing the progress you want!  Don’t let the pressure to appear perfect, rob you of the JOY of growth and collaboration!  So, pick a goal, make a plan, track your data, in the open and MAKE IT FUN!!!

Here's an example

I set a goal in January to post twice a week.  Well here I am in January and it has yet to happen.  So, I am going to adjust my personal goal to - I am going to post once a week. And the fun part?  When I have posted four weeks in a row, I will buy myself a treat (something small, I am in Education after all ๐Ÿ˜Š).  Do you think that we could do this with our professional goals in our buildings? I sure would like to try!


Sunday, February 5, 2017

Movement in the Classroom Part 2

Many people have asked about the items that I started with when I began incorporating movement in my classroom.  Now that I am a counselor, I would love to begin stockpiling some of these things so that I had them available for teachers that were wanting to try something different! These items can make such a difference in regards to behavior and academics!  

The following are the items that I started with-


Ball Chair with legs, affectionately called "cow chairs", by my kinder kiddos! 















I will say that these did not last very long like this!  Even with them only at my teacher table, the kids had a hard time managing them, so we let out a lot of air and put them in milk crates.  This allowed the students to bounce, but kept the balls from rolling.

This is also a WAY cheaper option!  I know many upper grades use these with great success, but for the younger kiddos, I would go with cheap balls in the crates!  These are always easy to find and CHEAP at Walmart and you can get the balls there too!  I googled milk crate chairs and this amazing blog post came up from Miss V’s Kinder Kraziness!  Super cool and you should definately check it out!  And btw, the saving grace for ball chairs in kinder…ALWAYS KEEP BOTH FEET ON THE FLOOR J!

Image result for milk crate ball chair







Pure Fun Kid’s mini trampoline – to be utilized prior to beginning assignments, as well as, upon completion, to expel excess energy and to increase focus.


LOVE, LOVE, LOVE this trampoline (you can buy it here!!! It is the PURE FUN Kid's mini trampoline with handrail.  Now, I am not gonna lie, it was a bear to put together!  (Thank the Lord for a my strong hubbyJ)
I put this with the handle facing in a corner.  The rules were… 1) both hands on the bar, 2)  only one person touching on the mat a time (more on the mat below) & 3)  Chose one patterns in numbers to read out loud, then let someone else have a turn (on the wall in the corner I had number pattern anchor charts)




Balance Boards were utilized by anchor charts with high frequency words and/or phrases.  In order to make it easier for the kinder kiddos, one of my teammates had the brilliant idea to put a die-cut had on the counter and we taught them to place one hand on the counter for support, until they could balance!  This is the one that we used and it was perfect.  The picture makes it looks like it is for really young kiddos, but it was perfect, I might have even used it once or twice ๐Ÿ˜Š.  This was another Amazon purchase (again, THANK YOU Toyota of Rockwall!)

Students read and balance, fun, coordination, strength and balance all rolled into one!  This is Win-Win!!!

Slant boards – were utilized on the floor as alternate seating.  Students would on their stomachs, developing core strength, and eye coordination as their eyes move up and down tracking print.  I had these available as a choice during word work   The Occupational Therapist on my campus said this was a MUST HAVE and I always listen to those that know more than me!




 Puzzle Play Mat was used underneath standing tables to provide support for feet and legs while standing on tile.  Being able to utilize another type of alternate work spaces in the classroom, allows for greater growth academically for students.

This was one of my favorite purchases because of its versatility.  I used some of it under the trampoline, some under the balance board, some under tables as stated above  It provided designated areas for our flex seating and added some fun colors in the processJ.

This is just the starting point!  It is so exciting for me to walk around my current building and see so many teachers embracing flexible seating!  I used to not be a beleiver, but after seeing it in action and the the academic and behavioral successess that it produced, I have had my mind forever changed inregards to the power of movement in the classroom!  Small changes can produce results, but those small changes have to begin with us ๐Ÿ˜Š. 

I would love to hear some of the things that you have tried!

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Movement in the Classroom – Necessary and FUN

Let me start off by saying that my belief in nontraditional approaches in education did not come over night.  It was a slow process, but an amazing one.   A couple of years ago, I had a group of student that needed extra support.  In order to explore some different options, I reached out to the occupational therapist on our campus for ideas.  She had been talking to me about something called primitive reflexes and she wanted to do some exercises with my class.  She began to explain to me that releasing of primitive reflexes was foundational to student success.  I was skeptical, to say the least, never mind the fact that she kept saying things like, “supine” “symmetrical tonic reflex”, “asymmetrical tonic reflex” and I had no idea what any of that meant!

Anyway, fast forward a couple of days later and our fabulous OT shows up in my classroom and does four simple exercises with my class.  As she was walking around and talking me through the exercises, wouldn’t you know it…she pointed out all of my students that were at-risk!  I AM NOT EVEN JOKING!!!  Every single one!  You better believe, that I began researching and studying right away!!!

The first thing I learned was that primitive reflexes are things that everyone is born with.  The different developmental milestones that infants go through allow our bodies to let go of those reflexes.  Now, given that I am NOT an expert on these things, I will try to explain them any further, but I highly recommend you do your own research. Ready Bodies, Learning Minds, is a great resource.

What I can tell you, is that integrating exercises and movement in my classroom made a HUGE difference, not only in behavior, but in academic performance.  This is how I first implemented movement in my classroom…

It begins with A LOT of training. I used this during my Guided Reading Block.  Before moving to a new task, students were trained to check our schedule and do the exercise on the chart.  It took awhile, but it was sooooooo worth it and it was a beautiful thing to see!  Students moving independently around the room exercising and as a bonus, the chatter decreased, as they were busy during transitions. (Bonus – I was able to have a quiet classroom for Guided Reading) This is the chart I created. Most of the exercises are the warm-up exercises from Ready Bodies, Learning Minds.  Please know, everything is borrowed from people way smarter than me!

Exercise 1 – Super Squats – Cross arms across body,
          squeeze earlobes.  Count to 7
Exercise 2 – Rocking Horse – Crawl position, turn head to one side and rock, 10 times each side.  Working hard to keep both elbows straight.
Exercise 3 – Giraffee – Crawl position, chin up, pretend you are giraffee trying to reach eat the leaves off the high trees.  Make sure kness and hands stay stationary.
Exercise 4 – Popcorn – lay on back, curl up in a ball, count to 20 and then POP out. Make sure that head is off the ground
Exercise 5 – Superman – lay on stomach, arms and legs stretched out, lift both off ground and count to 20.
Exercise 6 – Dot to Dot – Stand away from wall, hands out and side, follow fingers to touch dots on either side of wall, while keeping back straight. 




You can see most of these exercises here.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HUy5Y1UiymY.  There are so many other youtube videos out there. Well worth some research!

The impact these had on my students was so amazing! I began looking for more ways to intergrate movement.  Thanks to a grant from Toyota of Rockwall, I was able to add a mini trampoline, balance board and ball chairs to my classroom.  I know, I know, some of you might me shaking your head right now and saying, “NO WAY!”.  But I promise you, it was GREAT!!! The trampoline and balance board did double duty, as I placed a hundreds chart by the trampoline and they had to count and jump and Word Wall Words by the balance board, where they had to read and balance at the same time J.


Now some of you may be asking, “How do you use this in counseling?”  And the answer is simple.  I can share my experience, when looking at academic concerns and I utilize the exercises during individual sessions, for stress/anxiety release.  I am looking forward to the day that I am called upon to help a teacher to set up exercise stations in his/her classroom!  And I will continue to be an advocate for a dedicated station motor lab for ALL students!  It certainly served my students well and I am certain that it can benefit yours!

Monday, January 9, 2017

My First Semster as a School Counselor in the Books!

On December 21, 2016 at 12:05pm, the clouds parted and the angels sang…I had officially survived my first semester as an elementary school counselor!!!  It was everything I thought it would be and nothing I was prepared for, all rolled into one.  My biggest blessing in my new career, has to be the school in which I am getting to serve.  Moving to a new building, after seven amazing years at my previous campus was SCARY, but I truly have won the School Counseling lottery!!! My new campus has be so warm, welcoming and forgiving๐Ÿ˜Š.  It has truly been an unexpected blessing!

Melanie over at Stylish School Counselor and my fabulous AP, interviewed my last week about my first semester and how I felt about it.  One of the things that she asked me was what advice I would give to new counselors.  This questions gave me pause, because truly, who I am to give advice to anyone?!?!?  But here is what I came up with…these are the things that helped my to stay focused and positive (most of time anyway ๐Ÿ˜Š)

Find your person, both on campus and off.  Someone to talk to, cry with, laugh with and keep you accountable.  They should also be a person to tell you when you are being unreasonable and need to get over it ๐Ÿ˜Š.

Don’t be afraid to say that you don’t know. – I PROMISE – you will say it A LOT!  I know I have (am).  My sweet office staff always tells me that I have a year to say, “I’m new, “so I should take advantage.

Try out as many documentation/organization systems as you need to, to come up with what works for you – I have spent money on TPT, I have scoured blogs, pinterest, talked to other counselors, visited other counselors and talked to the SPED department on my campus (NEVER underestimate the value of your Special Education Department!  They are a WEALTH of information!)

FOLLOW THROUGH – no matter what – You are building your reputation with staff, students and parents, they are counting on you.

SAY SORRY – when something comes up and you can’t follow through until later๐Ÿ˜Š - this is the only guarantee in school counseling – nothing is guaranteed!  I create a schedule every week, really, it is more of a guideline for my week. Creating a schedule helps me to refocus when things go off book.  

Don’t be afraid to ask questions – LOTS OF QUESTIONS! – everyone was new once! Take advatage of what I like to call, "The year of grace." Write down every question, and ask away!

Schedule time during your day for programming – YOU have to do this for yourself,  no one  will do it for you. On the contrary, if you do not schedule time in your day for programming, your schedule will be filled for you.  Scheduling program management time will force you to stop and plan, document, and/or collaborate, as needed, to ulitmately better serve your building.

Laugh A LOT! – In our profession, some days do not seem like there is anything to laugh about.  The stories that we hear and the lives that support can make our heart’s heavy.  It is those days especially, that we have to look for those things that make us laugh and smile. 

If you are not humble already, you will be…and that is ok – Nothing is more humbling then entering into a job where every day you leave with more questions than when you started. I have a list going of questions that I have or things I want to learn about and every time I cross something off my list, I notice that I have added two more things…that is humbling.  I told my husband that I was looking forward to the day that I leave work and feel like I was able to answer someone else’s questions for a change ๐Ÿ˜Š.

Practice empathy – EVERYDAY – While I am always busy, always moving, I have to remember that, SO IS EVERYONE ELSE!  I work in a school for goodness sake!  Everyone is busy and everyone is working on important things.  I might not understand the nuisances of everyone’s particular job, but I understand that, to them, their job is everything.

This list is not only my advice to others but they are reminders for me.  I ended the original list by saying that I could go on and on… so now I will๐Ÿ˜Š.

Be visible – I try and begin each day greeting students in the back of our campus, then snake my way through the building, checking on students and popping in classrooms. I try to not always see kids in my office, I like to go to them as well.
  
          Create a Testing Team (thank you to Marty Barbieri, our district counseling
Director) – this is super important, especially in Texas!  With elementary counselors also being the campus testing coordinator, it becomes vital to have a team in place that works together to tackle the beast that is testing!  Marty explains like this - there are too many components with testing, for one person to be solely responsible, when that is not their only responsibility.  The team needs to be cross trained in all areas, for not only accountability and support, but to prevent a crisis if something were to happen to the testing coordinator on testing days.  (Could you EVEN imagine, being solely responsible for testing then having something happen that prevents you from being there on a testing day ?!?!) 

Write your WHY – Putting to words, WHY you do what you do is such a powerful focus point, when things get difficult.  It is your professional compass, so to speak.

NEVER forget what it was like to be in the classroom – I cannot stress this enough!  And I want someone to remind me of this if I ever forget.  Teachers are everything!  We do not get to be School Counselors, if not for teachers.  We are there to support them and their students, so that they can provide an unforgettable educational experience.  Teachers are the front line, every day and no matter how busy, stressed and overwhelmed I am, it does not compare to the job that they do.

Well, this is my advice and I can honestly say that all of these things have helped me to survive this first semester and will continue to carry me long into the future! 

What advice you would give to new counselors?

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Mission Statement or Manifesto and WHY it is important

Remembering my WHY, took my career in a whole new direction.

This is what I wrote when I was forced to examine my thoughts on teaching and now, after surviving my first semester as a school counselor, I can unequivocally say that the same is true in my new role. I guess you could call this my professional manifesto (I know, I know, it probably isn’t an actually “manifesto”, but I had to call it something, right? and I personal, saying, "MANIFESTO", makes me feel like a superhero)

Joy is what I was told I would experience in education, and joy is what I found. Joy is what I strive to bring to my classroom and to others in education. Teaching is a profession of design, creativity, and compassion.  It is an act of love and service that is never finished.  It is a series of highs, lows and in-betweens.  It is laughter and tears, heartache and indescribable joy. It cannot be accomplished without understanding and empathy; it is not always easy, but the rewards far exceed the difficulties, and that is why I teach. It is this understanding of education that I hope will be my legacy with students, staff, and the families that I serve. When this is accomplished, my greatest contribution will have been fulfilled.

Now writing a mission statement/manifesto is not the end all to a successful career path, nor is a guarantee of success.  It is however; an act of self-discipline that can be revisited and refined as you move throughout your career.  It can refocus and re-energize you when things get tough (as they ALWAYS do) and it holds you accountable to those things that you have deemed important.  When I first began teaching in 1998, I was so full of excitement and vision.  I was going to change the world, one student at a time.  I remember being full of ideas and I was ready to try anything.  I was like a sponge, willing to hear everything, try anything at least once.  Unfortunately, that excitement was quickly squashed.  I let myself be influenced by others that weren’t filled with the excitement that I was.  I let myself by influenced by people that had let themselves become bitter.  In short, I let others rob me of the joy of teaching.  I had lost sight of my WHY.  I actually said to my husband that I would never go back into education because I didn’t want to end up like those women.  I wish that I had my WHY defined at that point in my life. If I had, maybe I could have focused on it, instead of lunchroom negativity. But I digress...And now I have a tangible reminder of WHY it is that I do what do!

People have been talking for ages about either discovering or remembering your why.  How did you feel, when it all began?  What motivates you to get up in the morning?  Being able to answer these questions have really helped me, but how do you do this?
 There are MANY resources out there, but here are a few…
  1.   FranklinCovey Living the 7 Habits app.  This app has a Mission Statement Builder included and it is super helpful, if you are stuck and its FREE, I love free!!! (The link is for google play, but your can also download at the itunes app store)
     2. Live Bold and Bloom has a GREAT article called, How to Write a Personal Mission
         Statement in 8 Steps.  It has fantastic, practical advice.
     3. Motto has a simple, easy-to-use framework that you can use to jumpstart writing                   your mission statement/ manifesto writing.
     4. Start with Why -  its mission is to encourage and inspire people to discover their WHY
         (now, I have not paid for any of the services that they offer, but I really like the
          motivational information that the website provides)

I am so thankful that  I have a tangible reminder of WHY!  Do you?
Here’s to figuring out your WHY and LIVING it! 
What’s your WHY?  I would love to know ๐Ÿ˜Š

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Welcome to Classroom to Counseling

For the last two years, the goal in my beautiful Erin Condren planner (more about planners later) has been, “START A BLOG”.  Why was this a goal?  Because I felt like I needed/wanted a voice.  I had things to say, darn it!  I would scour Pinterest, I had a hidden blogging board, where I would pin and plan my amazing blog.  But as always, life happens, my beginning of month goal sheet became smaller and smaller.  My grand visions of blogger heaven fading into the proverbial sunset.  BUT THIS IS MY YEAR!!! (Thank you for the push, Melanie Acker – thestylisherschoolcounselor and principalswithpurpose).

I think I have read every single post out there about starting a blog.  Everyone says the same thing- find your niche, fill a need, define your target audience, and create a memorable name and so on and so on.  This is where I would get stuck! For two years, this was as far as I got.  Absolutely no inspiration for any of the things that I “had to have” to start a blog.  Then this morning, in the shower (if you stick around, you will find that all great ideas happen in the shower or drying my hair), Classroom to Counseling and everything in between, was born.  That name summed up everything that I had been struggling with.  Teacher Blog, Counseling Blog, Lifestyle Blog?  I am all these things.  You can’t put this Baby in a corner! I am the complete sum of all my parts.  Wife, mother, teacher, school counselor, connoisseur of healthy living practices (let’s keep it real, I like the idea of healthy living, but find the reality entirely too difficult).

So here I am, 2017, finally starting a blog, focusing on teaching (my first career love), counseling (my new career love) and everything in between, because in our profession, who we are on the inside and what we do on the outside, directly impacts how we interact with those in our care.  

I am so excited to share, learn and grow with you!  I hope you join me on the journey!