Teachers Write!

Teachers Write! 2015


Have you ever considered being a teacher-writer? You have some stories to tell but haven’t shared them yet. Maybe you wrote a lot for your credential (masters/Ph.D.) but then life got in the way, so you stopped. Perhaps without an “assignment” it’s been hard to know what to write about. Or maybe you’re already a teacher-writer, looking to explore what others are doing. If any of that is true, then you’ve come to the right set of posts. This is where I’ll share my journey about being a teacher-writer, during the Teachers Write! course by author Kate Messner.

As a new blogger my summer has been drenched in writing. It’s scary and invigorating, exciting and frustrating. I’ve learned a ton and been proud of where I’ve gotten to. In three weeks I’ve created a functional blog and participated in three writing assignments: Blogging 101, Tuesday Slice of Life Challenge, and now Teachers Write! Each has given me something different. While I’ve come farther than I ever thought I would, I have so far to go.

Teachers Write! is a particular challenge because it focuses on fiction. This is a huge divergence from my life in academia. That said I’m having fun, getting to know new authors, and improving my skills. As a teacher I am learning what it’s like to be a student who is out of her comfort zone. I’m also focused on considering what I would do to scaffold these lessons for students, particularly those learning English as an additional language.  As a writer, being in a new genre is bound to add to my existing academic writing and blogging repertoire.

When you read posts in this category you’ll join my journey in being a teacher-writer. Together we can consider what it means to be a teacher-writer, how being a teacher-writer affects writing instruction, and how to make a writing practice available to all students.

OK teachers, let’s write!


A Slice of Certainty

Slice of Confidence

If you’ve found my blog you’ve likely noticed the tag line. I wrote it to resonate with you, the teacher reading this. But I also wrote it for myself. You see I wanted to remind us all that even when we don’t feel like we’re doing an amazing job, it’s likely we’re still doing great things. And we need to be certain of that fact.

When I first started teaching I lived in constant fear of being found out. I was terrified that someone was going to walk into my room and see that I really was a horrible teacher after-all. Who is this woman, they would say, and why in the world did we hire her?!

Too much uncertainty will deplete you.

It’s not that reality substantiated these fears. No, the opposite was true. My colleagues were complimentary. The principal wanted me to increase my time. My job was secure. I even received a couple of award nominations from students. Together these things seem like they would show a person she is successful. However, I just couldn’t be certain. And this uncertainty left me depleted and distracted.

Now, I’m sure some of this is just my personality (yes, I can be a bit self-critical). But I also believe this is a commonality in our profession. I say this because I’ve seen it so many times. Some in tears, unsure of their abilities as they blamed themselves for a lesson gone wrong. Others questioning if the principal really thought they were doing a good job. Usually these comments came from the most respected teachers. People who I, and others, aspired to be like.

Your quest to improve doesn’t implicate lacking.

Of course taking responsibility, and being on a quest to constantly improve, is a good thing. It’s part of being a great teacher. If we think we have arrived, it’s a sure sign that we haven’t. But it’s a fine line between questioning one’s abilities and reaching for more. The former tends to get in our way, while the latter is a propelling force.

It wasn’t that long ago when I finally realized that advancing my practice does’t have to be based in uncertainty and self-criticism. Instead, I can be both confident in my current capacity and still endeavor to be better. When this finally settled inside of me, my teaching changed. I became lighter. People actually told me I looked younger. Having fun while learning became more of a goal. Taking risks to try new things felt invigorating. And all of this rubbed off on my students.

Savor your wins and build from there.

Too often, in school, learning how to do something means there was a time we weren’t good at it. While there may be truth to this, it’s time to switch the paradigm. I no longer believe it’s productive to concentrate on what might be missing, on the things we aren’t sure about. Instead we need to focus on our/our student’s strengths. Let’s savor our wins and build from there.

As I end my first year of being in a new position, I realize that I truly did let go of my fear of being found out. Although I had many moments of being nervous about doing well, and I constantly sought to improve, I didn’t doubt myself in the same way. Instead I moved through the year with a slice of certainty. And that slice had a sweet taste indeed!

Want to know more about teaching with certainty?

I’d love to hear your thoughts. What are some ways you’ve been uncertain, or doubted yourself, as an educator? Does that get in your way? What have you done/realized to change your perspective?

Growth Mindset (or lack thereof) – Finding humor and human in a difficult situation

We have a special code at my house for “good job”. Step in the door with a high grade, a win, or any other action worthy of commendation, and you’ll receive the exclamation “Bad Addis!” (I’m sure you get the euphemism). But it didn’t start that way. When I first heard “Bad Addis” it really meant, “You’ve done a bad job Mrs. Addis”.

Beginner's Mind Pin

During my decade-plus as a special education teacher I had the fortune of working with teenagers, many of whom communicated in their own ways. Some used their words, some used their drawings, and some used their bodies. Throughout the year I would become attuned to their modes of expression. And along the way I would discover both who my students were, and who I was. I would also discover that mistakes aren’t the end, they are the beginning (@34:19).

The event that sparked our family saying involved an angry, frustrated student. I can’t even remember why, so it must have been something small in my mind. Obviously it was something big in his. As a student of few words, he shared his sentiments by turning his back to me. Then he walked to a corner where a study carrel joined the wall, and stayed there.

I was doing the best I could.

Imagining myself the consummate behaviorist I was not going to “pick up the rope”. Instead, I would ignore his actions. And that’s how I found myself in the middle of a power struggle. He with his back turned, and me acting as if this was a regular school day. The more I ignored, the more he tried to get my attention, the more I ignored. And so we went, with little resolution. In hindsight this does seem a bit absurd, but in the moment I was doing the best I could.

As things progressed neither of us was satisfied. I really wanted to get him back on track, right then. He really wanted me to react. I know this because with the passing moments his behavior heightened. It began with surreptitious glances in my direction, ramped up to verbal accusations of “Bad Addis”, and crescendoed with declarations of “F*ck Addis”. Honestly I don’t even remember how the situation ended. Rest assured though, we do still have a positive relationship.

I felt it was a statement of my ability as a teacher.

Needless to say I ended that day deflated. Not only had I failed to teach my student, but I felt like all my training and expertise had left me twisting in the wind. I was confronted with my lacking and felt it was a statement of my ability as a teacher. At the time, growth mindset hadn’t hit the scene. I had no idea that mistakes are part of learning. I didn’t know that all successful people make mistakes, learn from them, and try again. I didn’t have the words to say to myself, “I’m not good at this yet, but one day I will be better. Instead I settled with “Boy do I suck!”.

After school I dragged myself home, hoping for some no-holds-barred sympathy. I imagined group hugs, and pats on the back, and lots of “It’s OKs”. At the dinner table I asked my family, “Wanna hear what happened today?” “Sure” they replied, with that questioning inflection that means not really but I’m trying to be polite. Deep into the story, as soon as I machine-gunned the phrase “Bad Addis” they burst into laughter. Actually it was more like doubled-over, belly aching, guffaws. No sympathy, just unabashed merriment at my expense. It was then that I finally saw the humor of my day, and I realized the gift my student had given me.

In that moment of laughter I was proud of myself.

I discovered in that moment of laughter that I was proud of myself, and proud of my student. I knew then that we had both tried our best, albeit in clunky unproductive ways, to communicate our needs. Both of us human, and both of us wanting something positive from the other. Me wanting him to learn, and him wanting me to acknowledge his frustration. And I also realized that we were both “Bad Addis!” for giving it our all. Even if I wasn’t a hero that day, I had put in the effort. Tomorrow would be another chance to do better.

So the next time you don’t get it right put your hands on your hips, relish that power stance, and declare that you too are “Bad Addis!” Tomorrow will come and you will have another chance to pour your heart in, just as you did today. Only you will do so having learned a little in the process.

Want to know more about Growth Mindset or Behavior Management?

Growth Mindset

Behavior Management


Teacher-blogging: Getting Started Week 3

Life long learning Photo: https://www.flickr.com/photos/mrsdkrebs/

Week 3 – Find tips, tricks, resources, and classroom connections throughout my day-to-day journey in Blogging 101

Day 11 – Make a Prompt Personal (a constructivist approach)

I love the idea of personalizing The Daily Prompt. When I’m new at something, it’s comforting to be given suggestions and structure.

A fellow teacher once told me that when we create classrooms without structure, it’s like asking kids to walk across a bridge with no railings. This got me thinking about the constructivist approach to learning (Christopher Lister explains constructivism). Sometimes teachers think constructivism means students do everything on their own, without boundaries. I would interpret it differently. I believe constructivism is more successful when we support students by providing a structure within which they can have an experience. Thanks to Blogging 101 I’ve had a few railings to lean on as I construct my understanding of blogging.

Find my Daily Prompt response about secret ingredients here.

Have a thought on constructivisim? Leave a comment below.

Day 12 – Increase Your Commenting  With Confidence (letting go of being shy)

For this assignment, we found others who personalized the same prompt, read six, and commented on two. I used to be afraid of commenting on blogs. What would the world think of my opinions?!

I can definitely relate to students in the classroom who are afraid to share their thinking. It’s exciting that our new standards require us to teach students to effectively communicate with each other. I applaud this move toward making education a collaborative endeavor. Commenting through Blogging 101 has helped me shed my own shyness.

Find out what I was brave enough to share here and here.

Willing to share your thoughts? Leave a comment below.

Day 13 – Try Another Blogging Event (taking the easy route)

This assignment had me stumped. So much to choose from and so little time. So I’ve decided to take the easy route and go for Blogging 201 in July.

Sometimes the most important thing we can provide to students is letting them know what’s next. Doing so creates a safe and predictable (but not boring!) environment. For me, knowing Blogging 201 is coming provides some comfort along this blogging adventure.

Have a blogging event to share about? Leave a comment below.

Day 14 – Extend Your Brand (need advice – read THIS)

This was my most productive assignment of the week. Talk about constructing learning!

First, I re-created my Facebook page as a web page (instead of business). Save yourself some time by finding out how here. I’d been trying to figure this out for weeks and Blogging 101 got me going in minutes – whew! Then I created a custom header, custom image widgets, and a custom blavatar using PicMonkey. A word to the wise, write down your steps, write down your steps, write down your steps when you use PicMonkey. There is a tremendous amount you can do but once you save your image you cannot retrace your steps. So if you want to recreate something, like custom image widgets that match your header and blavatar, keep track of what you’re doing. Scroll up to see my take on Facebook, Pinterest, and YouTube widgets in the sidebar. All were made with PicMonkey.

Going through this process was as gratifying as it was time-consuming. I could practically feel my neurons firing. At the same time I was aware of the hours I was poring into this project. I’m reminded of the importance of productive struggle, and the time it takes,  in the classroom. If we want students to  internalize their learning they need time to experiment, time to construct their own understanding, and time to engage in productive struggle and problems solving. I know first hand because this assignment gave me all three!

Possess tips and tricks for personalizing your work? Leave a comment below?

Day 15 – Create a New Posting Feature

I’m torn on this one. As I mentioned at the top, I appreciate a little support and structure when I try something new. So I’m considering two “challenges” for my new posting feature. One is the Slice of Life Story Challenge and the other is WordPress’ Daily Prompt. I’m intimidated by both, but for different reasons. Slice of Life is extremely open-ended, where as Daily Prompt can be a bit specific. Either way, they can both feel intimidating.

For students, the same can come up. One kind of writing prompt can be too narrow, and another too broad. Therefor it’s important for students to have choice, especially when trying to just get ideas on the table. This is one of the strengths of keeping a writer’s notebook to gather seed ideas.

Do you have a posting feature that works well on your blog? Leave a comment below.

It’s been a HUGE in terms of blogging pushing my thinking around students. This experience helps me remain a life-long learner and I’m having a ton of fun doing it!

What helps you stay fresh as a teacher/learner? Leave a comment below.

Five Secret Ingredients for an Inspired School Year (try them NOW)

Congratulations, summer is here! If you’re a newly credentialed teacher you’re poised to relish in these last few months before your new career begins. If you’ve been in the classroom awhile you’re looking forward to the replenishing days ahead. No matter who you are you know that teaching is fulfilling, but hard, work. At times it can be down-right difficult to be “an instrument of inspiration” for your students. Maintaining positivity throughout the school year takes practice and dedication.

Below you’ll find five secret ingredients for an inspired year. Use them now so that they become habits for the year ahead.

1. Savor your accomplishments

As a teacher it can be easy to feel under-appreciated. In the busy world of public schools sometimes expressing gratitude takes a back seat, and teachers feel that. However, this feeling offers the opportunity for building a practice of self-acknowledgement. Begin by recording your accomplishments in a journal. Starting now has three benefits: 1) You have time to ingrain your self-appreciation so that it still exists during the school year, 2) You’ll relish those pages when challenges are at a high, and 3) You can use your successes to stay inspired. Accomplishment #1 – You did the hard work to make it through last year!


If you’ve ever had a negative interaction at school then you know the sting it leaves can become distracting, even make you lose a bit of your confident edge. To turn it around use the mantra “QTIP” (quit taking it personally). Doing so helps you depersonalize and maintain positivity. Practice this summer when someone steals your parking spot or cuts you off. Instead of getting caught up, say “QTIP” and move on to your vacation-time fun. Making this a habit will make it easier to stay inspired instead of being brought down by other people.

3. Remember your influence – to the north, south, east, and west

It can be common to feel powerless as a teacher, which often results in the unproductive blaming of others. Instead, as Tim Kanold eloquently suggests, consider how your “words and actions…impact those in your north, south, east and west spheres of influence”. In other words, look at the effort you put in to positively affect your bosses, colleagues, and mentees. Try it out this summer in your interactions with those you admire, those you take for granted, and those you believe are your equals. Take this time to build a practice of intentional impact. During the year you’ll feel more in control and inspired.

4. Fake it until you make it

It’s impossible to be an expert at everything a teacher does. However, that shouldn’t stop you from trying new ways of instructing. To move through the fear of not knowing exactly how to do something act as if you know what you’re doing, and do the best you can. Then keep practicing and searching for support. This summer, get in the groove of faking it until you make it by taking on something new, big or small. These experiences will help in the coming year as you inspire your own students to stretch their comfort zones.

5. Be proud of your career choice

Over the past few years there’s been a storm of political backlash against, and scapegoating of, teachers and public education. This can affect how you feel about your job. In the face of negativity it’s important to remember why you wanted to be a teacher in the first place. This summer, think about your story. What led you to this career? What would your elevator pitch be? Focus now on why you’re proud. Doing so will help you build an inspiring sense of self to share with your students and colleagues throughout the year.

Teacher-blogging: Getting Started Week 2

I am a writer

Week 2 – Tips, resources, and classroom connections

Week one flew by! When real learning is happening it’s enthralling, and time spins away. Last week felt the same. This week I am able to say, “I am a blog writer”. If your considering blogging, take note of how quickly you can learn!

Day 6 – Make an “irresistible” About Page

This was a challenge. However, About Page 101: Making Them Care is an incredible resource. If your like me, struggling, to write about yourself, use the tip of allowing a finite amount of time on a specific topic. We use quick-writes with students, why not use them with ourselves?

Day 7 – Keep Personalizing

Playing with visuals is how we personalize things. For students, this can be a writer’s notebook. For us, it’s our teacher-blog. Today I personalized by picking my theme. To do so, I had to think about  who I am, who I want to connect with, and how my theme communicates that. When you pick a theme, think about the emotional connection you hope to evoke. More than anything this will personalize your blog.

Day 8 – Be a Good Neighbor

Time for checking out others (read below for four powerful blogs). Think of this as a gallery walk. In the classroom, before you send students off to critique each other, you lay some ground rules. It’s the same in the blogoshpere. Read these eight norms (from @kristastevens, WordPress Blogging 101) for commenting on blogs and then get visiting!

  1. Try to avoid comments that simply say “Great post!” or “Thanks!” — make an effort to add to the discussion.
  2. Be specific about why you enjoyed the post.
  3. Ask a relevant question.
  4. Respectfully offer a counterpoint. (And because it can’t be overstated: respectfully.)
  5. Share a related experience.
  6. Be concise. If your comment ends up being more than two paragraphs, consider writing a post of your own and letting the blogger know they inspired it.
  7. Don’t leave a plug that simply links to your blog — your name links back to your blog anyway.
  8. Mind your manners. If you wouldn’t say it to someone’s face, don’t say it in their comment thread.

Here are the comments I left on four thought-provoking blogs

  • Book People Blog – A wonderful bookstore blog
  • Colorin Colorado – A blog sharing all things about students learning English as an additional language
  • School for Linguists Blog – A blog focused on linguistics, an important topic for those teaching students learning English as an additional language!
  • Pushing the Edge Blog – My favorite pick-me-up blog. Every time I go here I gain courage to try something new!

Day 9 – Get Inspired by the Neighbors

Sometimes you have to put it all out there. Unabashedly. I learned that while ago as a classroom teacher. If I share who I am, the kids have someone to connect with. If all I do is teach, it becomes a little robotic. Education isn’t about receiving information, it’s about internalizing an experience. And I am part of their experience. I put it out here for this post because I am inspired by the neighbors. Check out my day nine post I’m a Groupie (and You Should Be Too). It speaks for itself.

You should try this too. Find a blog you love, and turn it into a post about that blog. When I shared my post with the blogger I wrote it about, it made his day. You have the power to make someone’s day too!

Day 10 – Build a Better Blogroll

Epiphany! Yes, I finally read through most of the directions for building links and adding to the menu and creating a blogroll. You know what happened? I figured out how to do something I’ve been frustrated over the past two weeks – get my Blogging 101 posts into one thread on my menu without making a page.

Have you ever noticed in the classroom what happens when students don’t read the directions? As a teacher does it make you frustrated? Are you able to empathize with why they don’t want to?

If your a WordPress used, and you need help, go straight to the support section or email the support team. Everything you need is there!

Teacher-blogging: Getting Started Week 1

bird touching water 2
Photo from: http://www.flickr.com/photos/max_fellermann

Week 1 – Learn about teacher-blog creation 

In the spirit of taking risks I enrolled in WordPress’ Blogging 101. Use my chronicle of the first week to get your own blog started, and to think about how you would use blogging with students.

Day 1 – Introduce Yourself to the World

Two shares today:

1) I introduced myself to the world with Who I am and Why I’m Here. Please go read it so you know who your spending time with!

2) If you’re on the fence about starting a teacher-blog enroll in a WordPress Blogging 101 course. Here’s why: The rigor that we want for students, is the same rigor we want for ourselves. It’s characterized by what Pauline Gibbons calls high-challenge and high-support. With too much challenge, students back away after experiencing failure. With too much support, students tend to get bored or come to depend too much on others. As a newbie teacher-blogger, you need both high-challenge and high-support and WordPress courses offer exactly that!

Day 2 – Take Control of Your Title and Tagline

Before I published my first post I had already thought a lot about my title. In fact, I came to this task with some background knowledge. And we all know how important that is when it comes to new learning!

If you don’t have a lot of knowledge in this area, here is something I recently learned from writer Cyn Franks:  KISS – Keep It Simple Silly.

Titles and taglines, especially for teacher-bloggers, should be catchy but to the point. You want your readers to find you quickly, and know they’ll get what something worthwhile in exchange for their attention.

Day 3 – Say Hello to the Neighbors

Now this is something you do know about: building and utilizing community. How many times have you told students to ask a neighbor before asking you? Remember “Ask three before you ask me?” It’s the same with blogging. You need to get to know others, and rely on them for help.

Here’s what our teacher, @kristastevens, said:

“Publishing posts is only half of blogging — engaging with the community is the other. Considering what other bloggers write will inspire you and sharpen your thoughts.”

When you start your own blog find a safe group to bounce ideas around with. In WordPress courses, The Commons is a ready-made community to do just that. Trust me, it will be worth your time.

Day 4 – Identify Your Audience

I’d thought a lot about my potential audience prior to launching. I’m a teacher, of course I want to write for you, my fellow educators!

But this got me to hone in even more:

“Writing with a specific person in mind is a great way to focus both your thoughts and your goals for your blog.” (@kristastevens, WordPress Blogging 101)

Blogging and teaching are both about creating purposeful, personal connection. So when you begin your teacher-blog, put that one person in your mind that you really want to speak to. Doing so will push your blog to the next level.

Day 5 – One week down – nice work!

Whew! My first week of blogging brought joy and excitement. I’m finally doing something I’ve thought about for a long time.

I loved receiving a “nice work!” message. The power of recognition cannot be overstated. For students, and for teacher-bloggers, just a little bit goes such a long way!