Vrain Waves: Teaching Conversations with Minds Shaping Education

I had the pleasure of chatting with Benjamin Kalb and Rebecca Peters about blended learning and our conversation is available on the Vrain Waves Podcast.

During our interview, we talked about the changing role of the teacher and learner in a blended classroom, designing a station rotation lesson that encourages collaboration, using technology to give students more agency, and rethinking what, where, and how we assess student work.

As a lover of podcasts, I have started to make my way through the other episodes. I highly recommend checking out the conversations with John Hattie and George Couros! They are interesting and thought-provoking. These podcasts plant seeds that keep me thinking long after the podcast is over, which I love!

If you have an education podcast you enjoy, please post a comment and share it with me! I am always looking for great podcasts. Thanks in advance!

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One Year After the Fire

One year ago tonight, my family went to bed on a typical Sunday evening. I fell asleep with thoughts of the week ahead, the kids’ schedules, and school. I woke at 2:30 AM to the sound of a police officer yelling into a megaphone to leave our home immediately because there was a fire.

I wrote a blog about the evening we evacuated and the next morning when found out our home had been one of the many casualties of the Tubbs Fire. I’ve had people ask about how my family is doing, so I decided to mark the one year anniversary with an update on life in the wake of the fire.

As I reflect on the last 12 months, I feel loss and gratitude. In the minutes, days, and weeks following the fire, my focus was entirely on my two children. The night of the fire they left our home in their pajamas with a stuffed animal each and their blankets. They lost everything. I worried about the impact this trauma would have on them mentally and emotionally. As a parent, all I want to do is protect my children, but I could not protect them from this. I could not make our home reappear or replace all of their little treasures. It was heartbreaking to feel so powerless.

Despite my shock and sadness, my goal was to keep their lives and routines as consistent as possible. When staying with friends immediately after the fire, I was determined to keep them on their schedules. Each day I made dinner, they took showers, we read together, and they went to bed. In the turbulent weeks following the fire, this consistency and routine helped them (and me) to feel safe.

My family bounced around between friends’ homes. We were fortunate to have several friends open their doors to us as we searched for a rental. When we finally found a home to rent, my commute to drive the kids to school stretched from our original 25 minutes to 70 minutes each way. Despite the long drive, my husband and I were determined to keep the kids at their K-8 bilingual immersion public school. After everything they had been through, I didn’t want them to endure the stress of switching schools.

That decision required other sacrifices. I was finding it increasingly difficult to maintain my previous schedule of teaching half time, training/coaching, writing, and completing my doctoral work. I decided to take an official leave from teaching this year. It’s a decision I struggle with every day. I’ve spent 16 years in the classroom, and it’s strange not to have my own classroom and students.

Teaching after trauma is tough. It was hard to give students what they need and what they deserve when I felt I had so little to give. For now, I am trying to be present each day and thankful for all of the gifts in my life. I have two healthy, resilient children. I have a loving, supportive husband. I enjoy coaching teachers and being a student as I pursue my doctorate. What comes next? I have no idea. I’m attempting to make peace with not knowing.

Several people who read my initial blog have asked about our cat. I’m heartbroken to report that we never found Bandylion. We put up signs. For months, a friend of mine made daily trips to our property, built a cat shelter, left food, and talked to neighbors. It was one of the kindest gestures I received in the months following the fire. Unfortunately, Bandylion never reappeared.

Losing our cat was hard on the kids. His absence was a constant reminder of the fire. When it became clear we would not find Bandylion, I took my kids to an animal shelter. We asked to meet cats who were available for adoption because of the fire. It seemed like the right thing to do to adopt a cat who lost its home because of the fire.

On the way to the shelter, I had two conditions. No female cats. No Siamese. My husband and I adopted a feisty female Siamese before we had kids and she was a handful. I wanted to avoid another challenging feline.

When my daughter and I entered the adoption room, she was drawn to a beautiful grey cat. Of course, a 9-year-old female Siamese. Her owners lost their home in the fire and could not keep her. As soon as my daughter opened the cage, Sassy reached out, climbed right into her arms, and nuzzled her face. My daughter was in love. End of story. Twenty minutes later we left the shelter with Sassy.

I wish I could report that we were in the middle of a rebuild but the process is slow. So many structures were destroyed, and each step in the rebuilding process takes longer normal. Three weeks ago, the city approved our building plans and last week our construction company began preparing the ground for concrete. Right now, it looks like this.

Despite all of the physical possessions we lost, I am so grateful for the incredible community of people who rallied around us and supported us through the last year. It was humbling to be the recipients of so much generosity. Thank you to all of the educators who read my blog and sent me messages, contributed to our GoFundMe page, and sent us items off of our wish list. There are no words to accurately describe what your kindness has meant to me and my family.

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Elementary Book Club for Advanced Readers

When I work with elementary teachers, one of the biggest challenges they face is the wide range of reading skills in their classrooms. A first-grade class may have students who are struggling to decode while other students are reading at a third-grade level. This presents significant challenges as teachers attempt to support students below grade-level while challenging those readers who are above grade level.

Most of the teachers I coach at the elementary level are using the Station Rotation Model during their English language block. Students rotate through a series of online and offline stations designed to develop their reading skills. In an effort to challenge students who are above reading level, I worked with a first-grade teacher, Jessica Perry, to design a book club for advanced readers using Google Slides and FlipGrid.

To create the book club project, we created two Google Slide decks. One slide deck titled “Book Club Directions” had the day by day instructions for their work. This allowed students to self-pace through the various activities.

bit.ly/ElemBookClubDirections

The second slide deck titled “Book Club Template for Students” had space for students to record their responses to various prompts about their reading. We assigned that deck to the students via Google Classroom, which made a copy of the book club template for each student participating in the book club.

bit.ly/ElemBookClubTemplate

Students were so excited to participate in the book club! It became an incentive for those students working on Lexia, an online adaptive reading program, to make significant progress so they could spend part of their ELA block reading a book of their choice and completing the book club activities. I hope other elementary teachers can take this idea and run with it!

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