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.

Saturday, December 31, 2011

Middle School Madness

Whenever I get the privilege to tell someone that I am a teacher, the next question that is sure to follow is: "Oh! What grade?" which is followed by a bright smile that lights their eyes.  As soon as the reply leaves my lips, "6th grade," their smile freezes and slowly droops to a concerned frown, and the twinkle in their eyes transforms into a look of pity and sympathy as if I had just said I have a terminal disease. Then their struggle to think of what to say next gives way to somethg like-
You are braver than me, I couldn't do that, or
oh my. . ., or
well bless your heart.

I must admit that anyone who chooses to spend so much time with middle schoolers has to be a little . . . um, special. I guess that I am a lot special because I have been in 6th grade for almost 15 years now, and I have to say working with those guys can be quite unique to say the least. These 11 to 14 year olds are now referred to as "tweens" which sounds slightly alien to me. This alien-ness is rightly so because these humans are in a sort of twilight zone part of life, not yet teens but desperate to not be children either.

I have learned so much about tween-agers during my time in middle school, some of it amazing, some frightening, and some absolutely puzzling.  With my oldest child on the brink of middle school and showing some definite signs of morphing into a middle school alien, I have been reflecting on what I know about these quasi humans.

In short, when kids reach this age, it truly seems as if another being has taken over their body and mind. What once was a sweet, little boy, who loved to snuggle with mom, turns into an odd smelling stranger who speaks another language and becomes physically attached to a set of ear buds and a game controller. The cute little girl, who you dressed in cutesy outfits with matching bows, now communicates primarily through grunts, sighs, eye rolling and exasperated expressions, and is happy only when she is texting a friend. It seems almost as if all logical brain function ceases and gives way to bizarre thought processes and ideas.

I realize there is a scientific/medical explanation for all of this – HORMONES – but that doesn’t change the fact that tweens are consistently inconsistent, and can drive their parents and care givers to the brink of insanity.  Whoever you think you know your child is, he/she will become strange and different at this age.  Their peers become key players in their lives, and they themselves are the center of the universe.  This is the age to try on different identities, so you may see your child dressed as a glitzy pop star one day, and in cowboy boots and flannel the next. Life as a tween is an emotional roller coaster, going from the highest high one moment, to the lowest low the next with seemingly meaningless instigation for the change. 

Tween-agers say and do things that make their parents speechless because they never thought their child would do something like that. They push their parents to want to hug them tight and protect them one moment, and then squeeze the breath out of them the next. They can force a parent who has ALWAYS stuck to “We don’t say those words in our house,” to want to scream profanity at the top of their lungs (and sometimes follow through).   It is all or nothing, feast or famine with this age group. They can have loved something yesterday, but hate it today.  The never ending contradictions can be maddening.  I have often thought that the idea of a boarding school somewhere far away from me would be the ideal fix for this age, but then they do or say something so genuinely thoughtful that gives you brief glimpse of the person they will become.  That’s all it takes to string along a parent’s (or teacher’s) hope that just maybe something they are doing is making a difference.   This is why I endure the madness of middle school; it’s like working with a diamond in the rough, dreaming about the beautiful gem it will be one day.  And well, to be honest, I probably do it because I’m a little crazy too.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Winter Technology Camp

With school budgets so tight, many schools are finding that dollars for professional development for their faculty is nonexistent.  Every excellent educator knows that it is vital to keep learning in spite of funding for several reasons.  First we are lifelong learners and know that the way to keep things fresh and engaging is to learn and employ new strategies.  Besides that, we are required to have a certain number of professional development credits to renew teaching licenses. (NC has recently made some changes to these requirements - see http://sbepolicy.dpi.state.nc.us/ for more info.)

With all that said, my principal and I are looking for ways to utilize the expertise of our faculty to provide high quality professional development for each other.  From this was born our idea to have a Winter Technology Camp for our teachers.  At this point all the planning is done. Let me share what this will look like.

Winter Technology Camp will be held during 2 full teacher workdays in January 2012.  All teaching faculty and other staff have been invited to participate.  Certified staff can earn up to 1 CEU toward license renewal by completing 10 camp sessions.

Technology training sessions will be presented by faculty members from our school. During the planning stages, I polled the faculty to determine who had technology expertise they could teach, and what technology topics were of interest to learn about.  From those responses, I set up a conference type schedule of topics which camp participants could choose to attend.

Each session will be 1 hour in length.  We will have 2 sessions running simultaneously in different locations to allow for a choice of topics.  On the first camp day, there will be 4 session times available, and on the second camp day there will be 6 session times available.

The session topics which will be included are:

 Intro to Geo Caching­- Learn the basics of geocaching (using a GPS device to locate hidden items) and how this might be incorporated into classroom lessons.
Airliner Tablets- Learn how to connect and use the Airliner tablet in your classroom, a cool tool which will help engage students in your lessons.
CPS- Learn how to connect and use the “clickers,” as well as ideas for how to use them in your lessons.
Edmodo- Learn about how Edmodo provides safe and easy way for  educators to harness the power of social media to customize the classroom for each and every learner.
Links to Real World Problem Solving- Learn how to embed links to a variety of online resources which will send students on a quest to learn about and solve a problem.
LiveBinders- Learn about an amazing, free, online tool that allows you collect documents, video’s, webpages, and other files all in easily accessible online binders.
Movie Maker- Learn how to create and edit a professional looking video with music, titles, and credits using a FREE program!
Promethian Interactive Board-Review  the basics of working with your Promethean Board, and learn about some more advanced interactive features which really get students engaged.
Smart Board- Review  the basics of working with your SMART Board, and learn about some more advanced interactive features which really get students engaged.
SMART Response System- Learn how to use the “other clickers” which connect with SMART software, including how to use them with the Study Island program.
Study Island and Common Core- Take a look at how the Study Island software is reflecting changes to Common Core and Essential Standards, new features available, and  ways you can use it as an assessment tool.
Teacher Web Page- Refresher on the basics of working on your teacher web page, and learn about some more advanced features.
Twitter as a Personal Learning Network- Think Twitter is just a silly social media tool for teens? Wrong!  Learn how Twitter can connect you to education experts all over the US, and keep you up to date on trends and new ideas in education. Twitter can help you create an online PLC where you can learn great ideas for your classroom.
Using Destiny to Support Common Core and Essential Standards- Learn where the resource lists for our library Common Core text exemplars are, how to use "One Search," and how to make your own resource lists in Destiny.
Voice Thread- Learn about this neat interactive online tool which can get students collaborating, discussing, and evaluating in your classroom.
Word/Excel Mail Merge- Learn how to use mail merge to make administrative tasks easier.
Writing in the Content Areas Using Blogs- Learn what a blog is, how to set one up, and how to incorporate it's use into writing activities in the classroom.

School staff were given a Technology Camp Brochure which included the session schedule and a description of each topic so they can choose which sessions to attend.

Twitter as PLN Training Presentation

AS I began collecting materials for this session, I decided to put it together on a website so that any of my teachers who couldn't attend the session could have a place to learn the material on their own.  This is what I ended up with.http://tinyurl.com/twit-pln    Hoping it will go well with my teachers on Jan3!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Twitter as PLN

I am continually learning how valuable Twitter can be as an online Professional Learning Network.  I am working on a presentation to share with teachers at my school about how Twitter can be an amazing teacher tool. Once I get my presentation plans together I will post details here.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Instructional Coaching

I attended an excellent training today titled Introduction to Instructional Coaching provided by PTEC and presented by Michael Price.  This was a very informative and timely professional development for me.

By this point in the school year, I have settled in to my position as Lead Teacher at BCS. I feel good about some positive effects I believe I have had, and am ready to reflect and improve from here.  Looking back at the goals I had as I began this position, I feel like I have had some successes.  I think that I have gone a long way in transforming the role of Lead Teacher at my school to that of a colleague who is there to collaborate and assist, who can be trusted and seen as a colleague rather than another administrator.  I feel like I have continued to encourage my staff toward collaboration in order to work smarter and share the load.  I also am happy with my efforts to keep parents more informed through our weekly email newsletter, and more detailed web page. I have also encouraged teams to build identities and team spirit which is a valuable part of a positive school climate. I have most definitely been very busy with many projects that also come as a part of my role, and have done fairly well in keeping up with these.

My biggest downfall at this point is that I have not been in classrooms as much as I hoped, and although I have assisted in rooms some, I haven't had the opportunity to do any co-teaching or modeling.  I also have been able to assist teachers in finding  resources, however  I haven't done any coaching, or assisting in instructional planning.  I also haven't collaborated as much with my principal as I would like because we are both in the midst of so many projects and duties, that we at times are just able to catch each other quickly in passing to discuss what we need to. I don't see any of these things as failures, though, just as things I would like to work on improving to be as effective as possible.

With that said, I am putting together a list of goals for the rest of the school year:

1- Learn more about and practice instructional coaching. Steps:

  • Read the book by Jim McKnight.
  • Put together a presentation to share with the staff the 3 roles I will work with them in (resource finder, coach, evaluator) and how the coaching process will work.
  • Prepare or locate forms/documents to use in the coaching process.
  • Model for teachers the coaching process by having them observe, record, and coach me.
  • Invite teachers to engage in the coaching process with me, and set aside time for the full coaching cycle.
  • Share copies of the walk through forms I complete when visiting classes, and encourage teachers to use this to identify areas we might address through coaching.
2- Schedule a time to meet with my administrator regularly to discuss needs and goals.

3- Be in classrooms more frequently. Walk through each teacher's classroom at least ____ (twice?) per week, and aim to do a longer observation (30 min or more) once a month.

4- Continue to be a support assisting teachers to become familiar with the Common Core and Essential Standards, as well as planning units to use with them.

5- Continue to keep parents informed through the email newsletter and webpage, and explore the options of using Edmodo or a texting tool.

6- Continue to support team identities and team spirit to boost morale of students and teachers.

I realize these are many goals to consider in combination with all the other projects that I frequently must work on.  I don't necessarily expect to complete all of these goals 100% by the end of the school year, but I plan to make a diligent effort to work on each.