Who am I?

Sarah Allred is the Instructional Lead Teacher at Braxton Craven School, an all 6th grade middle school. She has 15 years of teaching experience at the middle school level. Her educational background includes a Bachelor of Science degree in Elementary Education earned at the University of NC Greensboro, National Board Certification in Early Adolescent English Language Arts, and a Master of Arts in Education in Instructional Technology earned at East Carolina University. She has taught language arts, social studies, science, and technology. She serves her school in many leadership roles. Her passion is searching for new ways to use technology to improve student learning. Additional roles she fills are mother of two amazing kids, and wife of a police officer. She enjoys reading, gardening, and digital photography.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Bottom of the First Hill

A school year is very much like a super awesome thrill ride at an amusement park. We anticipate it all summer as if we are listening to the chink, chink, chink of the chain pulling us to the top of that breathtaking hill. Then the year begins and we are off at a blinding speed with lesson planning, staff meetings, parent nights, and staff development. It is a thrilling experience to say the least, but as we near the bottom of this first hill, teachers begin to tire, we are overwhelmed by all the meetings, paperwork, and the Hurculean effort to keep it all under control and still be the top notch 21st century educator that our students need.

By this point in the year many teachers feel exhausted by the effort to hang in there, knuckles white from holding on to the lap bar to be sure they stay safely in the coaster seat. We love the ride way too much to want off, but need some relief so we can hang in until the end. There's just so much thrill anyone can handle in a thrill ride. So what's an educator to do? How do we get some relief in order to take care of ourselves, and continue to be our best in the classroom?

I'd love to hear from other educators about your ideas of how to get this relief, how to take care of ourselves, and keep the roller coaster car on the track so to speak.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

BC Walkabout

One of my very favorite parts about my new position as Lead Teacher is being able to go into different classrooms on a regular basis to check out what is going on across our school.  I wil say I had the opportunity to do this as a classroom teacher, and did so once in a while, but as a classroom teacher there are just so mnay responsibilities that fill up your time making walkthroughs hard to fit into your day.  Now, that is part of my responsibilities and I am so glad!  I am even more convinced now that BCS is the best school around! Let me share a few things I have seen through the first month of school.

One activity I observed was a writing activity in Mrs. M's classroom.  When I walked in the room the kids were working in a super focused manner in small groups.  They had Lego pieces and parts spread all over their tables and were discussing which part could go where and for what purpose. Problem solving and collaboration skills were evident in each table's discussions.  But wait!  I said it was a writing lesson, right?  Legos?  The task given to the students by Mrs.M was to create a machine that would perform an action of some sort, and once sgroups were done building, they had to write a paper explaing the use of and reasoning behind the machine they created.  Talk about rigor, relevance, and student engagement!  This was awesome!

Another activity I saw in multiple Sci/SS classes was the use of Interactive Notebooks and Cornell notes.  Not only were the teachers instructing students on the curriculum, the were teaching them organization and study skills at the same time. In another classroom, I saw students taking a multiple choice test. What's so special about that?  Students were directed by Mrs. T to bubble in the correct answer (have to practice those testing skills), and beside each response they were required to write their reasoning for selecting that answer.  This is a great way to ensure that students really think things through rather than just randomly choose answers!

In a different Language Arts class, I saw a unique approach on reading a class novel. Mrs.N's class was reading A Long Way from Chicago which she says has chapters which are almost short stories in themselves.  To get the whole class through the book in a limited amount of time, small groups were each assigned a chapter to read and study. Then the groups had to create presentations for the class about the chapter which included key story elements and vocabulary from their section. This seemed to be a great way to get kids hooked on a book that they would later read all of on their own!

I was most impressed on several occasions when I visited PE classes at my school.  Due to some teaching allotment changes, and an increase in student population, our 2 PE teachers have classes of 40-50 students. It frightens me to think of trying to manage, much less teach, such large groups in an active course like PE!  Mr.M and Ms.S have things totally under control though.  They have set up such great organization and procedures for the students that things have been going great in their very challenging situation.  Today I observed one of the classes as they learned to play volleyball.  The class was split in two.  One group was practicing bumping and setting on one side of the gym, while the other group was practicing the procss of serving and rotating in a volleyball court set up. These teachers are a super example of doing whatever it takes for our students.  Luckily they won't have the challenge of such large classes for much longer, as we have just been alloted a new position which will be used to hire another PE teacher.

I can't wait to see what other treasures our BCS teachers have going on in their classrooms as I continue my Walkabouts this year!

Friday, September 16, 2011

Graduation Week

Yes you heard me right, this week was graduation week at BC Middle School. Seems a little out of place since it's the beginning of the school year, and 6th graders aren't normally graduating. Did you know that early middle school is a great time to start talking to kids about graduation and college. many of their actions and choices in middle school can have a major impact on a student's path and success in high school any beyond. So this week BCS had some fun and got studnents thinking about college.

The events of this week were prompted and sponsored by the Connect Initiative which RCS is participating in. Holly Grissom, with the help of a few others, planned some great activities. All week students participated in a guess the college mascot contest, and viewed commercials from several universities and community colleges during daily announcements. To end the week, Friday was wear your favorite college colors or shirt day, and I was thrilled by how many of our 460 sixth graders participated!

We also had one last contest to finish the week going during lunch time today. I had the best time helping with this because I got to see and talk to every class in the school. We had our teachers bring in cap and gown pictures of themselves from college or high school, and then the kids had to guess which teacher was which. What a great experience! Our students really got into trying to figure this out -- and it was so neat for them to see their teachers as real people (younger and much skinnier in many cases). Even the teachers got in on the fun of guessing who was who!

Graduation week ended up being a great community building activity and was a big success in getting our students thinking about college. To pull our parents into the fun, we are having a guest speaker from College Foundation at our interim report parent night to talk about getting middle school students on the path for college.

So ended a great week at BCS -- I have to say, I'm proud to be a Bulldog!