Friday, April 28, 2017

Listen, Reflect, Be Brave

Greissy Lara 

Terrace Elementary School

Why are understanding and building connections critical to learning?
It’s important to know what the children are feeling. We have to make that connection with the kids so that we may better serve their needs and make sure we are doing the best for them. Kids also have the best ideas and can be that push we need to jump!

How are you embedding this thinking in your instructional planning or implementation?
When I’m planning assignments for the week, I try to incorporate student interest into the lessons. It doesn’t always work out that way but even just using student names (or their favorite famous person’s name) in a math problem grabs their attention. It can be as simple as that!

How does this translate into results? What results do you want?
When we take what students are telling us (by words or in silence) and take action. We should begin with reflection: How can I use what I learned today about my student(s) and incorporate it into my classroom? What can I do/say to change that negative comment I heard today? How can I use this that the kids expressed interest in and used it in a lesson? Just reflecting on what the kids are telling us makes a big difference because then we can begin to take action.

Why is this something we don’t naturally do? It seems like it’s fundamental or something that educators would naturally do.
I think it’s because we are so focused on what we need to teach and how many days we have to do it. We fall behind, and we do what we can to catch up. “STAAR is in one month; I don’t have TIME to do that!” 

We also have the set mindset of what “teaching looks like” that we don’t often think beyond the TEK we need to teach. “This is what I need to teach, and these are the resources they suggested, let’s do it!” 

We are also afraid of taking chances. “What if it doesn’t work? What if we go over time? What if I make it worse?!” I think, in a way, we’re also afraid of the kids liking it “too much.” Too much in the sense that it becomes a game and is no longer taken seriously. It’s “too much fun.”

Just deciding to make the few changes I’ve made in my classroom took me A LONG TIME. I kept going back and forth, back and forth, wrestling with the ideas because I was afraid that it wouldn’t work.

What advice would you give to adults (parent/educators/staff) to help them in developing this skill or to have the courage to do something scary or different?
Listen to your children, really listen. They say a lot during the day that will help you better understand them. Listen to their likes, dislikes, the shows they watch, what they did that weekend, what their parents/friends said/did. Listening to the child is the first step in understanding them. 

It’s hard, I know. How many times in the day do they want to tell me something in the middle of a lesson (that has nothing to do with the lesson)? But I try to listen and watch them at lunchtime and recess (and even independent work time). That’s when I can get a better glimpse into their lives.

What short term ‘wins’ are you seeing? What long term wins are coming?
When I started Teacher’s Guild, I had the kids write about and illustrate their ideal classroom. What would it look like? What would you be doing? What would you like to change/keep? I reflected on their ideas (and still reflect!) to slowly make some changes in my teaching. 

The big change I started with was transitioning into flexible seating. The kids expressed their desire to pick their seats, so I’ve been slowly replacing a few desks with tables and a few chairs with stools. We are slowing perfecting it.

Because a lot my students like technology, I’ve been trying to incorporate the use of Google in their learning. (Google Drive is amazing!) I’m trying to set up my Google Classroom to also take advantage of that great resource.

I’ve also tried to give them more independence. For the last four weeks, they’ve had a Weekly Menu; a document that includes all of their assignments for the entire week. There are some assignments that require a mini-lesson from me first but for the most part, they can complete them in any order as long as everything is done by the end of class Friday.

All of these changes have taken time and are far from perfect. But I’m happy with the changes and am constantly modifying them all! My ultimate vision is to have a self-run classroom, where students are in control of their learning.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Every Child

Ashlee McCauley

Spring Branch Academic Institute
SBISD Abydos Trainer

What does EVERY CHILD mean to you?
“Every Child” means that I know every child in my classroom. I know their handwriting, I know if they are having a bad day or just seem “off,” I know each student well enough to guide them into getting to know themselves.

“Every Child” has the choice in my class and has an opportunity to be successful.

“Every Child” is given an opportunity for their personalized path to success. 

“Every Child” is MY child.

We talk about EMPATHY. What does that mean to you and for kids?
When I first saw this question, I asked my students for feedback. Being an empathetic teacher is more than just telling them you understand and can relate to their situation. It is about showing them you are listening. 

It could be something as simple as extending a due date based on a conversation you’ve had with them on their current situation. Listening to their questions, their feedback and making decisions for your class as a whole based on that information.

One of my students said the following: “Empathy is a relation. We can all relate here. We have all been through the same troubles and the same triumphs. Being able to relate for good and bad is incredible. Empathy means that you can relate to somebody. Negative or positive.”

What is at the heart of success for kids? 
The HEART of success for my kids is relationships. Academic and social relationships with each other in the classroom drive their learning, and my relationships with each student have been the heartbeat of each student’s journey to great growth and achievement.

How do you create excitement around learning?
As we all know, a students’ attitude is greatly affected by their teachers’ attitude towards learning. These things in collaboration with each other create ownership between the student and their academics. It’s not just aren’t you proud of me? It is “We are so excited about what you have created and accomplished!”

What are some ways you’re turning empathy into personalized learning experiences?
Using what I learn from the relationships and connections I make with the students, I have created an individual learning plan for each of my students in every ELA class. Even if a class is working on a poetry unit, each student has their own path through that unit.Through independent novel studies, my students are given opportunities to sharpen their academic abilities through challenges that focus on their individual strengths

For example, I have a student that loves math. So I had him create challenging word problems for his peers using the content of the current novel he was reading. Another student of mine is really good at origami. We created a project centered on origami that included the plot of his current novel and the character’s growth.

Talk about your classroom culture. What is most important to you?
Respect. Instead of trying to mold and shape each student to fit into what I want for the class, we mold and shape the curriculum to fit each student and the immediate needs of the class. Respect is a very powerful word in our classroom. There are many definitions we tie to “respect.” 

Respecting each other’s space, privacy, interests, a level of academics, and their personal quirks and that makes them who they are. Sometimes we change things every moment! Knowing the importance of this, my students embrace it and naturally accept it as part of their learning.

What does success look like for you as an educator?
At first, I thought it was great that my students were mastering the content while having fun doing so. Then I realized just how important it was for my students to understand the TEKS and which skills they are learning as they grow through the curriculum.

Success for me is when a student can see they have grown, they take ownership in their work, take pride in it, are confident in what they produce, and at the end of the class say, “it’s already time to go?” That’s how I know they are fully invested in what they are doing because they WANT to be, and that is a successful student. 

Monday, March 20, 2017


Myrna Deleon

The Panda Path School
SBISD School for Early Learning

You're part of a new initiative in SBISD serving 3-year-olds. Why is early programming like this 'a win' for students and the learner's journey?
By having a half-day early childhood program, students are exposed to the expectations and structure that is anticipated from them in the classroom and school setting. Therefore, by the time that they go to Pre-K4, the students will already be familiar with the routines in the classroom, which means that there will be less time spent in classroom management and procedures for the Pre-K4 teachers. 

What inspired you to work in early childhood education? 
I’m a strong advocate for early childhood education; I believe that early childhood education is vital for academic success. I wanted to be part of a school district where my values aligned with district values, and SBISD is just the district.

What is quality education and why is it important?
Quality education is provided through an educational environment where every learning style is fulfilled by the teacher. Quality education is important because it provides the children an opportunity to achieve a life-long passion for learning. 

How do you impact the goal of Spring Branch T-2-4?
In my classroom I provide a supportive and nurturing learning environment, which creates life-long learners, I hope that by doing so my students will want to pursue a higher education.

What is your biggest opportunity?
My biggest opportunity is being in a setting where I have an abundance of support. I am blessed to work alongside an incredible teacher who helps my students and myself consistently. I also have immense support from Ms. Hannes who has taught me so much in such a short amount of time.  

What are some new ‘innovations’ or ‘brave’ ideas that you’re working on this year? Thinking differently. I am a huge fan of technology in the classroom; therefore I wanted to do something different in the way my students learned to recognize their names. I integrated my students love for technology into something that will help them learn the letters in their name.

Where do you invest your time as an educator and why?
I integrate as much technology into every lesson as I can. Today’s students love technology so they are sure to be interested in learning if they can use the tools they love. My students love using the ActiveBoard to learn about a variety of materials. Also, integrating technology allows my 3-year-olds to stay engaged and focused.

What is your biggest challenge?
One of the biggest challenges I have faced in our new Pre-K3 program is teaching the kids how to share and work with others. Most of my students are the youngest or are an only child, so they are not used to sharing their belongings. I am so thankful that I have so much support from my principal and my teacher aid, which students are making major progress.

Thursday, March 2, 2017


Educator Reflects on The Journey:

Maria Reza

Sherwood Elementary School
2nd Grade Teacher

Did your thinking (or perspective) change from your work with The Teachers Guild? How? 
Definitely! Everything is now more student driven. I always understood how exploration and collaboration was a big part of learning, but as I implemented Experiment Day, I saw it first hand with 5th and 2nd graders working together. Their conversations and problem-solving skills were phenomenal. 

How was this example different than ‘normal’ professional development? 
It was almost a personalized professional development. I came up with an idea and my coaches Skyler, Michelle, Diane and The Teachers Guild gave me feedback. I was constantly modifying my idea. 

What one word would you use to describe it and why? 
Transformational! It transformed me as a teacher and as a learner. 

Do you feel like this experience was an example of how SBISD believes in the ‘art of education’ and is investing in educators as professionals? 
Yes, but it was a different type of investment. SBISD has always given teachers the training they needed, but this opportunity was more than that. It was changing my way of teaching from one day to the next. I was able to fully implement what I had created right away. 

Being creative – why is that important for educators and learning? 
I believe it is important because it challenges the way we think. Education has changed so much over the years and the way I taught my first year is very different than the way I am teaching now.

I am a full believer of always thinking outside the box. This kind of risk taking will benefit the students, and in turn, they will also take risks because the teacher is modeling that. 

Why are supports and resources like The Teachers Guild critical for schools, educators, and districts? 
These kinds of supports are critical because it lets the teachers take the lead and lets them explore whatever they feel is right for their students.

The collaboration I had with different teachers from The Guild made me reflect daily, and I was collaborating from teachers in different parts of the country. 

How is this shaping your personal journey? 
It is helping me become a better teacher for my students. My students also see that I am a learner and I continue to challenge myself. This, in turn, is pushing them to do the same.

What other supports you are currently benefiting from? 
Right now I am participating in the Personalized Learning Design Challenge as a Thought Partner. 

Have you seen a positive impact in your classroom (with students) or on grade-level? 
Yes, the students, both 5th and 2nd graders still talk about Experiment Day. They are eager to do more STEM projects. I have also seen my students not giving up when something does not go their way. They problem solve and modify what they are doing until they get the results they want. 

What one thing would you want to take from this experience and share with all educators? 
To give it a shot. Do not be afraid of risk taking! Do not be afraid of thinking outside the box and try new things.

Links of Interest:

Read Maria's spotlight in The Teachers Guild Impact Report >>
Click here to learn more about The Learner's Journey in SBISD >>


Educator Reflects on The Journey:

Shikonya Cureton

Spring Oaks Middle School

How does your inspiration translate into student achievement?
I feel that may passion translates into my student’s achievement because I am always pushing my students to go beyond just doing the process of math but understand the why of math. This to me is putting them on the Learner’s Journey path as a learner not just, a sightseer.

I also use examples of my struggles in math and many real-world examples of math as possible to make learning math relevant to the students. I think it is helping my students to achievement more than they expected of themselves. Luckily in my class, students can work at their pace most of the time, so they feel they are always achieving.

What does success look like (for you) as an educator? 
Success as an educator for me is when my students are successful in reaching their goals. Even if it is just one success, I feel as if I made a difference and was a part of their learning journey.

What does the Learner’s Journey mean for you? 
For me, the Learner’s Journey means to continue growing in education and life. Whether you are a student, teacher, custodian, superintendent or working at Wal-Mart, you should continue learning and improving your skills.

What opportunities have opened up this year that are helping you grow?
I think doing Design Thinking is helping me to grow and think outside of the outside of the box. Recently I applied with Limited Resource Teacher Training to become a teaching fellow and train teachers overseas and was accepted.

I would love to train teachers full time one day and I am this new opportunity will help me to grow as a learner, teacher, and leader. I was also just accepted the Schlumberger Cs in Algebra Professional Learning Program for a two-day summer workshop.

What challenges do you look forward to finding new solutions for? 
The challenges I look forward to finding new solutions for are how to keep engaged and focused during instruction. Working on the Design Thinking team is inspiring me to come up with solutions to share with others. At this time,

I am looking at ways to incorporate music into the classroom during instruction. Not just music or videos I can find online, but get students to create their music videos demonstrating their understanding of a math concept.

If there could be a separate class designed for students who love music and want to learn math, or any other subject, through music I feel students would be more excited about coming to class to learn and create.

I was first introduced to SBISD in 2006 when I was graduating from college. My degree is not in education, but I attended a teacher recruiting day and found that SBISD was more accommodating to my interest in education and advised I go through an ACP program to get certified.

The other districts I visited just turned me down without offering ways to become a certified teacher, which was a turn-off. I have only worked at two schools in the district, Landrum Middle and now Spring Oaks. At both schools, I feel like I am a part of an extended family.

I am not from Texas, and now that my family has moved back to the east coast, my co-workers have become my family here. I did leave the district for one school year and missed the family atmosphere, so I returned.

Friday, February 17, 2017


Educator Reflects on The Journey:

Amarilys William

Northbrook Middle School
8th Grade Science, Vanguard Fellow - Cohort 1

How is technology helping you as an educator?
Technology is an essential key in any working environment. In education environment, communication within a campus and between teachers has become more fluent and impactful with the use of technology. Live documents such as Google Docs have created an effortless collaborative environment.

What tools are you using to facilitate communication?
This year curriculum was posted on it’sLearning which is a great collaboration tool, classes, tasks, and documents are all in a centralized location for all teachers.  The Google Classroom has become a reality; many Google applications are being used by students, teachers, and administrators to make the digital collaborative environment more productive.

What role does technology play in PERSONALIZATION?
As our vision of a personalized learning experience for each student becomes a reality, technology is and will continue being a vital component. Having students move at their own pace by providing digital lessons gives the teachers the power to target individual student goals. Teachers have more time to work with students that need interventions and students that are moving at a faster pace have the alternative of enhancing their experience by researching and creating beyond the classroom lesson.

Do you feel like you have a bigger voice (or flexibility) to implement new thinking?
I have been working for this district since 2008, the general mindset about technology in this district has changed tremendously. Teachers and administrators see technology as a learning tool now more than ever. Technology use is an expectation in most campuses, and the district provides constant professional development focus on technology.

What ‘walls’ or challenges have you seen removed in this past semester about learning environments?
Some challenges that have been removed this year is the availability. Technology IS available for teachers to use, almost on a daily basis. Students are also more willing to use their personal technology device as a learning tool.  The adults are also changing their mindset and not looking at technology as a social tool but as a purposeful educational tool.

How would you define your role as educators?
Education is changing, so the role of the teacher evolves as well. Now we are not the source of knowledge; we are working with the students to guide them towards their own discovery. Help them find the information and guiding them through the process of analyzing the information gathered. Giving students the opportunity to apply their knowledge is part of our journey as educators.

Why is it important for educators to drive the work of The Learner's Journey?
Teachers are the ones that have the opportunity to apply new ideas and see them fail or develop as part of the classroom experience. As teachers, we know our population and the limitations that could make or break the learning experience.

How is your campus leader supporting your work? What has been a help?
Campus leadership here at NMS is extremely supportive; they are always helpful, available and willing to work with you on anything. Having the campus leadership give us ideas, model lessons and even buy laboratory materials has been wonderful.

Are you thinking differently about student support? How?
Student support is largely differentiated this year because the students know where they stand when asking for help, this is because they are tracking their own data. The conversations are now about what they need to improve on and which concepts are more challenging based on what they have mastered or not mastered.


Educator Reflects on The Journey:

Richard Fanning

Spring Forest Middle School 

Why is empathy a critical part of our collective work?
Empathy is what makes the work “collective.” If we don’t bother to ask what our students or teachers need, we are simply guessing that we are doing the right thing for them.
By seeing a situation through another’s eyes or their experiences, we enable our solutions to actual solve a problem as perceived through a user’s experience instead of our perceptions.

Why is empathy a part of REAL learning?
By definition, empathy work is collaborative work. When we work as a team instead of a teacher preaching at students, students buy-in to the collaboration and are motivated to participate without threats of poor grades.
For example, a student who has clashed with me many times due to behavior in the library was a perfect example of an engaged student when I asked him for his genuine ideas about what should be changed in the library.
His suggestions were given with sincerity and real thought, not off the cuff comments that didn’t make sense. We both learned something of value.
I learned that while I never saw him reading in the library, he likes to read when he is bored, and I learned what he likes to read.
How does empathy translate into results?
When someone is sincere in his or her wish for truthful responses from teachers, parents, or students, they take an interest in the problem trying to be solved. What I want is real engagement from the people that I’m interviewing and as many ideas as I can get from them.

Why is this something we sometimes forget about?
I think educators have to get away from the idea that we have all the answers. Too many times, what we perceive as the problem is just not correct. We also don’t ask others’ opinions because it is time-consuming, and we may not get the answer that “we” want.
Fortunately, if we do listen to our patrons, while we might not get the answer that we want, we get an answer that will help solve the problem that we didn’t even know we had.

What advice would you give to adults (parent/educators/staff) to help them in developing this skill?
Many students need encouragement to “think wildly,” to come up with solutions that might not be feasible to us but will lead us to think about a situation differently.

We need to constantly reassure them that we want to hear their opinions and not what they think we want to hear.
In the above example, I had to continually remind the student that what I wanted was not something from my point of view, but from his. It takes some patience, but the rewards are wonderful.

What WINS are you seeing? 
I’ve seen kids whom I’ve interviewed change their entire attitude toward me and the rules that I have in the library just by asking them for their opinions on what I should change.
Sometimes I explain why I have the rules and procedures that I do, but for the most part, I simply listen and encourage them to tell me whatever they think would improve the library. This willingness to actually listen to them and their ideas changes how they see me as a person.
Long-term gains are when money is spent; it will be spent on something that will impact teachers’ and students’ ability to teach and learn which is why we are here in the first place.