I have come to fall in love with teaching in Catholic schools. What are YOU in love with?...

"Nothing is more practical than finding God, that is, than falling in love in a quite absolute, final way. What you are in love with, what seizes your imagination, will affect everything. It will decide what will get you out of bed in the morning, what you will do with your evenings, how you will spend your weekends, what you read, who you know, what breaks your heart, and what amazes you with joy and gratitude. Fall in love, stay in love, and it will decide everything." - Pedro Arrupe

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Rather Be

When the traffic just stinks and you're still in the car -
And the cars are all moving...but not very far -
When you'd rather be drinking at the local bar -

(just kidding about that last one...)

Then you best make a wish on the next evening star
Because, frankly, my friend, you are stuck where you are!

Honestly, it's days like today that remind me why I try to leave school no later than about 4:45 (even if that means taking work home) - traffic is brutal. But what can you do about it?

Well, you could bi*** and moan (and honk the horn) like quite a few people I encountered on the way home, but I prefer other options (texting while driving not being one of them!)...

1) Crank up that music nice and loud...and sing along!
2) Listen to the news - NPR usually has a few gems.
3) People watch - there are always a few crazies or people in a hurry. (I don't make fun of them, but it can be amusing, and I wonder if I ever look that ridiculous. Mmm...I'm guessing yes...)
4) Make mental notes about how you really need to clean your car - face it, the rain probably won't come...until you clean your car. (Isn't that Murphy's Law or something?)
5) PRAY (one of my go-to's - amazing how the stress melts away...)
6) Think about all of the food you could have for dinner...preferably without much effort and/or cooking...maybe even with no cooking...mmm...

...And #7...wait for it...wait for it...

Think about the AMAZING parking space right in front of the apartment - ok, so usually that's just a dream, but tonight (for me) it was a reality. Amen, amen! Boy, I needed that.

P.S. About those cookies - they were phenomenal - let's be honest. I might have had 2 tonight - and I likely would have had the other 2 had my roommate not been home to save me from eating them (by eating the cookies herself). Yum...

You too can make these relatively easy cookies -->  http://www.bettycrocker.com/recipes/beer-and-pretzel-chocolate-chip-cookies/f918150c-1df7-4ee0-a900-ad10deba4b34

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Then you go downtown...

Downtown Chicago is a place I do not regularly frequent. However, within a little over a 24 hour period this Saturday & Sunday, I was down there 3 times. (I've practically memorized the order of the l stops heading south!) I feel like I've been go go go these past days, but it's been a lot of fun too. (Brace yourself - this is pretty much a narrative)

On Saturday morning I hopped on the l and went to the hospital for my last Ministry of Care (MOC) visit until after summer break. All of the people I ministered to were gracious and grateful - and I, in turn, was ministered to by them as well. One woman was so sweet - we got to talking about Notre Dame - apparently her husband (and her husband's brothers) played basketball for ND back in the 50s. (I wish I would have caught the name!)

Taking the l back home, I ended up getting off at my sister's stop - from there, we walked to just about my apartment so she could do some quick "apartment shopping" for next year. We grabbed lunch on the way, and afterward we went to Bobtail Ice Cream Shoppe.

The shoppe - been meaning to go here for quite some time!

Merlot Chocolate Chip ice cream = divine!

Needless to say - good life choice.

Marisa and I parted ways then, and when I got home, I was able to do some leisure reading, first finishing up a middle grades fantasy book (A Tale Dark and Grimm) and then moving onto a book about running. Woo hoo!


Before I knew it, it was time to head downtown again - this time = destination Navy Pier to meet up with a roommate from the good old summer days at STP camp in Buffalo. (Good times.)

roomie reunion - woo hoo!

We enjoyed a free happy hour first, and then we proceeded to a pretty well-known restaurant (Harry Caray's) at Navy Pier, where we enjoyed dinner, drinks, and, finally, fireworks! (All of which were splendid)

Chicago skyline by night


The morning came quicker than anticipated, as my sister and I were up early in an effort to beat the sun - which, let's be clear, did not happen - and our "long run" was a bit brutal. But it did feel good to get those legs moving.

As lunch time approached, I once again hopped on the l, met up with my sister, and then, together, we made it downtown to meet one of our professors from college who was in town for the annual APS convention. After a bit of walking we hadn't quite planned on (wrong Marriott - oops), we had a very nice (long) Thai lunch. It was so good to catch up and both share our stories and hear hers too. (I don't think she ever stops!)

Aside from it being brutally hot, it was a very nice day. After ensuring our professor made the right train towards the airport, we headed back home as well. Thoroughly beat, we decided to quench our "thirst" with frozen yogurt - hey now, it was on our way to Trader Joe's.

Again, good life choice.

(No, not all my good life choices include food.)

And, seeing as it's now 6:15, that means I'll be needing to leave for Mass within 20 minutes or so. Looking forward to Pentecost Sunday. (I'm even wearing red!) Plus, when I get home tonight, I'm going to be attempting "Beer & Pretzel Chocolate Chip" cookies for tomorrow's Memorial Day cookout/bbq. I'll let you know how those go...

Thank goodness there's no school tomorrow - I'm going to need a day of recuperation after this weekend! Phew!

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Such sillies...

Nothing beats a good chuckle to kick off the morning - especially when that chuckle is the result of one student's rather dramatic reenactment of a dream. Let me relay it to you (briefly) here:

Ms. Foyle, Ms. Foyle, I had this horrible dream last night!! I dreamed that you said you were leaving the school and not coming back until I was in high school. And then, your books were gone. And you were gone too. I was so scared!

I don't know what amused me more - that she was so dramatic about this dream or that she was more worried about my books being gone than me. (Although, that wouldn't be the first time a student expressed such a concern - those were the same sentiments from my students in Phoenix too...but they did admit that they would miss me after all.)

Mind you, this was the very same student who, while we were on our field trip to the Wizard of Oz play on Wednesday, said, "Take a picture of me on your phone. You can set it as your screensaver!" (Um, probably not a good idea...just saying...but it was funny nonetheless.)

Sometimes I wish I had a camera on these kiddos 24/7 (and then I think better of it) - they can be so unpredictable in funny, insightful, and downright unbelievable ways. At one moment I can be hitting my head with frustration and the next I can be doubled over in laughter. It's quite incredible, really. There is no way of knowing how the days will pan out. It's completely up to God (via the students). And that's one of the things that is just so crazy and engaging with teaching - being spontaneous in response to events, comments, and etc. in the classroom comes in the job description. And that helps make all the hard work worthwhile...

Tuesday, May 22, 2012


No energy to be original tonight. Plus, I think it would be more worth your time and effort to read another article from "This Ignatian Life."

"...That is how Christ enters my life.
It is not on a cloud in fanfare with trumpet blasts.
It is in the moments of the every day where I find myself moved
beyond the depths of my own understanding of love..."

I wish I could write something so beautiful and true. Keep looking for those miracles.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Just a Day in the Life...with a twist...

I feel like mixing things up here - gotta keep trying to think outside of the box and all, right? Well, let me relay you my day in a (cryptic) txt msg convo.

*Note - this conversation did not really occur, but, if it had, it would have gone on something like what you will read below. However, it is also important to note that I 99.9% of the time spell out my words, include capital letters, and rarely use emoticons, but, for an added bit of humor (if you find such things humorous), I decided to use abbrevs. (which, by the way, my sister knows I LOVE...j/k)

Here goes:

First thing this morning...

Me: No shower. Car in tow zone. Need coffee. Panera sounds good.
(Imaginary) Friend - hereby noted as "IF": Jealous :P No school?
Me: Inservice. :P
IF: Well, have fun!!
Me: Thx. g2g!

Later on...

Me: So frustrated. Hate schedules. Must be better way.
IF: How far'd you get?
Me: Specials. Don't know when school day starts yet. Not doing darn thing twice. Gave up.
IF: Sounds fun.
Me: A blast. :P
IF: Have a good afternoon - don't work 2 hard.
Me: Thx

Even later on...

Me: Feeling better after run. Windy, tho!
IF: Nice day. Good for u.
Me: Ate 2 much pasta for dinner, tho. Bleh.
IF: There are worse things.
Me: Fact. Thx.

At present moment...

Me: Can't chat now. Time to post on blog. C-ya later.
IF: True story. Call me some time - we can catch up. Night!
Me: Ok. Bye! :D

And there you have it. My day in *imagined* (would be eerily close to true) text messages.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Be You-nique!

In light of a writing unit for literary essays, the students have been delving into some of their favorite picture books and novels for the deeper messages that the books bring.

One of the most common themes that we've found is along the lines of being yourself and not letting others tell you what you should do.

It's a universal theme, discussed (likely) from the beginning of time. Think about it...

In the words of Oscar Wilde: "Be yourself; everyone else is already taken."

Or, as Judy Garland would say, “Always be a first rate version of yourself and not a second rate version of someone else.”

And, in the immortal words of Dr. Seuss: “Be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don't matter and those who matter don't mind.”

All of this got me thinking about things I do that I enjoy that all add up to making me uniquely me. Why would I give any of these things up?:

1- I love the power of words. And what I like even more than that is using them to create poetry and tell stories. Obviously, I blog. Heck, sometimes I even make jokes. (See #3)
2- Singing makes my heart happy. I would, literally, sing and hum all day if there weren't other things that occupied my time (like my job). And, when given the choice between a good ol' 50s musical and a trending new film, I'll likely choose the musical every time.
3- Make 'em laugh and laugh right along with 'em. And, when possible, use corny humor. (See #1) Being silly is a forte of mine.
4- Read. Ponder. Pass on book (and excitement for book). Pick up new book. Repeat. (I LOVE learning new things!) Ooh, and share all good blogs too!
5- Praying and learning/teaching about God is such a blessing to do daily with students and with friends. In fact, any extra opportunities to go to Mass or to try a new Catholic tradition
6- Go Spartans, Irish, and USF Bulls! A random combination, it's true, but don't mess with me and my sports teams - I can get pretty hardcore and competitive with college sports...
7- Spending time outside (especially in nice weather) is not overrated. Walking or running, wandering or doing an errand - there's something about being entirely in tune with the beauty of God's creation. (And it's entertaining to people watch sometimes too.)
8- I like taking pictures. Sometimes, I even enter contests: http://www.nwf.org/PhotoContest/PhotoContestHome.aspx?perma=kfoyle11@gmail.com (you can vote for me at this link)

I could probably go on, but this is a good start. And, as previously stated, these are things about me that I should never want to give up just to fit in with other people. It's good to be comfortable with yourself because, then, others will be comfortable with you too.

What about you? What adds up to help make you (you)niquely you?

Remember, "If God had wanted me otherwise, He would have created me otherwise." (Johann von Goethe)

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Write WITH Me

If you want your students to work more diligently and/or if you want a humbling experience, let your students critique your writing.

I'm completely serious.

During Writers' Workshop this morning, my students tackled my literary essay in response to Sharon Creech's Love That Dog. It was amazing to see them take their pen to paper, labeling key items like the hook, thesis, transitions, use of quotes, etc. They also took notice of repetition, and some pointed out that I needed to replace Jack's name with a pronoun instead in some cases. (We talked a lot about balance.)

And I let them tell me everything - the good and the "bad." Then, one student proceeded to ask me if I meant to write it with those "mistakes" so they could find them. And, I told them all that no, I didn't. I wrote it as I wanted it, but even us teachers have room for improvement.

I think they appreciated the honesty and authenticity - as my coteacher so rightly put it, we critique their writing every day, so why should we be afraid for them to critique ours? [Plus, as I kept hearing over and over at the IRA conference a few weeks ago (see previous early May posts), students need to immerse themselves in models.]

Today's workshop was probably one of the best ones we'd had in a long time, especially since the students had plenty of writing time after the critique. (Some students have come so far this year!)

That whole "I'll show you mine if you show me yours" really resounded in my classroom today. As teachers, all of a sudden, we weren't just giving them an assignment - we became writers right alongside them.

And that seemed to mean quite a lot.


Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Wide Awake

“It's not what you look at that matters, it's what you see.”
- Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862)

Everything seems to be a matter of perspective, doesn't it? From motion (in 4th grade "physics") to how we all choose to look at the world - there must be an objective "truth" out there, but the more important part of the matter is how we choose to accept it. Is it an opportunity or a road block? Is it a challenge I can overcome or is it going to cripple me?

For some reason, this quote made me think of a song from Good News (the musical), which is called "The Best Things in Life Are Free" - I think it was because this song shows that the everyday-ness of certain things are often overlooked, but these are truly incredible, wonderful things for all of us to enjoy. We just need to open our eyes to appreciate what is around us!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

God's calling...

In our classroom, we LOVE kid-friendly language.

So, when it came time to defining a vocation, simply stated it means "a call from God."

Is it possible to have more than one vocation? we asked Fr. Pat (our pastor).

Absolutely - it's all about recognizing our talents (and God's gentle whisper in our ears) to best serve God and others.

Are you a good listener? Do you like animals? What about helping others - are you happy when you do that? What makes your heart truly happy when you are doing it?

These questions and more are ones Fr. Pat put the students' way today. And they are questions we should all consider from time to time.

Our vocation is constant - God's calling...Are you ready to answer?

P.S. Don't forget to sign up and vote (daily, if you're able) for my photos on the National Wildlife Federation website - the vote count just restarted for the week: http://www.nwf.org/PhotoContest/PhotoContestHome.aspx?perma=kfoyle11@gmail.com

Monday, May 14, 2012

A Good Cleaning...and a Reminder...

What started out as a normal laundry day on Saturday quickly spiraled into an organization marathon - first clothes (after putting them through the washer and dryer, of course) and then books, boxes, shoes, etc. It was actually quite fun - almost Mary Poppins-esque, as I folded and sorted here and then, all the while watching a series of movies of varying genres (Oklahoma!, Harry Potter #4, and, finally, Pride and Prejudice).

And this was after much of the organization!

What else is a girl to do when her roommates are out of town?

My spring and summer attire replaced their winter counterparts on my shelves and in my clothing crates (slash makeshift dressers). Old papers were recycled, and handmade cards brought back fond memories (and found new homes among other papers and files). Books found new places on shelves.

Heck, I even sorted out my summer books. (See below - well, there are some on my Nook as well.)

Great mix of recreational reading, young adult books, and interesting new reads...

Phew! What an exhausting (but necessary) day. Because, let's face it, sometimes things just need a good cleaning and organizing.

Honestly, I feel so much better. :)

My floor is now visible again. Things are as they should be. All's well. Amen.

P.S. Don't forget to sign up and vote (daily, if you're able) for my photos on the National Wildlife Federation website - the vote count just restarted for the week: http://www.nwf.org/PhotoContest/PhotoContestHome.aspx?perma=kfoyle11@gmail.com

Sunday, May 13, 2012


I believe that most times it is wise to listen to our mothers. They've often "been there, done that", or, at least, they have had friends who have (or whose children have). They kind of know what's going on...as much as we, their children, usually hesitate to admit it.

That aside, this post isn't really about honoring mothers on Mothers' Day. (Although, don't get me wrong, mothers definitely need to be celebrated!)

No, this post is in a round-about way connected to my mother and an email link she forwarded me multiple times - it was from the National Wildlife Federation, and it was a photo contest about nature. (I don't know if she actually thought I follow through with what the email was asking or not, but I did.)

So, this afternoon (when I should have really been working on writing lessons and compiling problems for a math test for the upcoming school weeks) I put up the whopping $20 and entered 10 photos into the contest.

I then proceeded to email my family and put the link on Facebook and my Gmail status.

And, then, as you might guess, I decided to share the link with you here: http://www.nwf.org/PhotoContest/PhotoContestHome.aspx?perma=kfoyle11@gmail.com
(Apparently, you have to make an account - but think how easy it will then be to quickly sign in and vote the next time...)

You can vote for photos like this one!

Please vote...daily, if you can. :)

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Human Touch

Never underestimate the power of human touch.

Today, on my "rounds" for Ministry of Care, I entered into the Lord's Prayer with one woman. As we started to pray, she instinctively grabbed my hand.

As no one had ever done that before during MOC, I was taken aback. But, as she said, don't people do that? Aren't we supposed to hold hands when we pray that prayer?

Yes. Yes we are.

So, we did.

And there was something powerful in that simple touch. I did not know the woman, nor will I likely ever meet her again...but I felt connected with her in that moment.

For me, that small action summed up how we should feel every week at Mass after receiving the Body of Christ - we are one in the Church, after all.

It's moments like the one I had today (and there were actually a few more moments, including a few "your timing was perfect," that happened today) that make me realize how truly blessed I am, not only to be involved with Ministry of Care but also to have the current opportunities and family/friends I have in my life.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Absolutely (NOT) Normal Chaos


There's no other word for it.

Short of a food fight (but, admittedly, not by much), some of our fourth grade boys could not sit still and keep their hands to themselves today.

Lunchtime should not be stressful. Kids should have fun, but not on the brink of such craziness.

Honestly, I am not above assigning lunch seats. Heck, that might be good for them.

Too much?

Well, I'm thinking on it...

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Hail Mary

May Religion Bulletin Board

Mary, our mother...Pray for us.
Mary, most amiable...Pray for us.
Mary, Queen of the Rosary...Pray for us.
Mary, most holy...Pray for us.
Mary, Help of Christians...Pray for us.
Mary, Queen of angels...Pray for us.
Mary, the Immaculate Conception...Pray for us.

Hey, how many titles does Mary have anyways? You know something, I'm not sure. When we prayed a litany to Mary as a class, I chose a select few titles that the students would later illustrate (see above) and commit to memory.

I know I've quoted Don Bosco before, but his words are worth re-posting: "Remember, it is almost impossible to reach Jesus without Mary’s mediation. Therefore, entrust everything to Her, especially your soul."

In addition to thinking on Don Bosco's wise words, here is a link to the latest newsletter put out by the Salesians - it has a special focus on Mary this month too: http://library.constantcontact.com/download/get/file/1102543209049-590/MAY+2012+GN.pdf

Remember, let us pray to and emulate Mary. She is Jesus' mother...and she is our mother too.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Most Curious

"The cure for boredom is curiosity. There is no cure for curiosity."
- Dorothy Parker

Absolutely LOVE this quote - it's so true. And, quite frankly, curiosity needs no cure. Rather, it is something to be encouraged and spread. For curiosity sparks creativity. And creativity sparks...well, you get the idea.

I know there are a lot of things in the classroom that I still need LOTS of practice in to "get right," but I think one thing I have been particularly consistent about is setting students' minds on fire with curiosity and creativity. (And that's probably largely due to the fact that I am one of the most curious people I know. That's not to say I'm not creative, but I happen to know a lot of people who are just as, if not more, creative than I am.)

A gentle reminder of this came across my Facebook wall today - it was a short message from a parent of one of my students last year. I won't relay it all to you here, but here's the main (directed) part of the message:

"...Ms. Foyle, I can't say enough - you encouraged my daughter's creativity and really let her grow - you were incredible..."

The message went on as a general one to all of her daughter's teachers as a note of thanks on National Teacher Appreciation Day.

For me, teaching has been and will always be more than test scores. (Although, it's also reassuring when those come back highly positive too - as ours did this year - woo hoo! But, honestly, scores are secondary.) Our students need to be challenged to stretch their limits, think critically, and just have some fun - because that's when they'll learn the most and that's what they'll remember the best.

I am so thankful to have (at least most days) one of the best jobs in the world. It's such a blessing year after year to have students entrusted to my care and to foster their growth academically, socially, and spiritually throughout the course of a school year.

And that, my friends, is worth more than all the treasure in the world.

Monday, May 7, 2012

A Pretty Sound

Sometimes a song just has a special melody and message - and it sticks.

Tonight, I'd like to turn your attention to such a song - it's from the TV series, "Smash," on NBC. I still watch the show regularly, but it's more for the music (such as the song below) than for the story line. A little too much drama for me...

I guess you could also say that this post could be in honor of the Marilyn Monroe statue that is now being moved from Michigan Ave. (see related news post here) - goodbye Marilyn...

Anyways, without further ado, here is "Second Hand White Baby Grand" - turn up your sound and enjoy:


Sunday, May 6, 2012

Non multa sed multum

"Not Many Things But Much" (see recent Jesuit blog post on this topic here)

Or, in the words oft repeated by me to my students: "We want quality over quantity!"

How many times can one emphasize this point?

Ok, maybe that's rhetorical. But seriously...

What good is it to rush through something just for the sake of having more of something (or for having more time to do something else) if the quality of the task at hand isn't there.

I think we all may be guilty of focusing on the multa (many) rather than the multum (much), at least once in awhile. (As God is my witness, I know I am, especially in trying to finish up test grades to send home with students on Fridays.) And it's easy to get swept up in such mentality. But God's gentle, constant reminder is to change our approach. He's trying to show us that less is more when it comes to doing things with effort and care.

In the words of Oscar Romero (and also mentioned in the Jesuit blog - see link above), “We cannot do everything and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that. This enables us to do something and do it very well.”

This week, let us challenge ourselves to focus on the much - to ensure quality over quantity. I think we might just surprise ourselves with the results...

Saturday, May 5, 2012

You've Got Mail

I love receiving mail, especially when it is a card, recent purchase, or invitation.

Today, I did receive one such piece of mail - it was a wedding invitation to one of my housemate's (from ACE Phoenix) wedding in July.

Here's how the response card read:

Please note the final part that says "I promise to dance if this song is played: ____" - Clever. I'll have to give that one some thought.

Looking forward to an already exciting summer being even better by spending this weekend celebrating two amazing people.

I'll take mail like that any day!

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Latest Attempts at Poetry

Being immersed with such great ideas and teachers/authors was probably once source of inspiration for my continuing dapple in poetry. I know I just gushed onto the pages of this blog with thoughts of Wonderstruck, but humor me as I share my latest poetry endeavors with you.

(As you'll notice, they are both themed around summer vacations in Michigan; however, the styles are different - one rhymes and one is haiku. Maybe some day I'll compile all of my "Michigan Memories," as far as poems go, into one place - there were so many good ones...memories, that is; not poems. Ha ha.)

Write Me a Memory
A Rhyming Poem
(KF 5/1/12)

It may not seem like much now,
But memories abound.
And if I listen closely,
I still can hear the sound

Of grandkids splashing in the pool,
And laughter ringing through the air,
Of sweet hellos and sad goodbyes
Every summer we spent there.

I still can smell the cookies
Grandma just laid out to cool
And taste the fresh-picked berries
That without fail made us drool.

On the front porch was a red bench,
Where Dad sat to play guitar.
And he’d always greet the neighbors
Passing by on foot or car.

With lots of summer birthdays
Came family gatherings.
Food and fun, some silly stories
Were a few things we’d all bring.

The basement was our refuge –
A place to read and play;
Curled up with books or shooting pool,
That’s how we’d spend our days.

We often would play card games
To pass the afternoons
Or take a walk close by ‘round dark
To spot the stars and moon.

In the magic of the summer
Our grandparents’ house was best.
Years passed fast, but memories will last –
Gathered together, we were blessed!

My Sand Dune Questions
A Haiku
(KF 5/2/12)

Michigan sand dunes
Only a car ride away –
Can we go now, please?

With ev’ry step up,
We would fall sev’ral ones down.
Would we reach the top?

Sand in our sneakers,
Soft wind whipping through our hair –
Mom, where’s the sunscreen?

Filled with WONDER

Last night, I experienced the familiar "can't sleep" syndrome, but it wasn't due to one of your typical reasons.

No, I was busy being struck with wonder...

Brian Selznick's book Wonderstruck had me on the edge of my seat. I didn't move a muscle, except to constantly flip the pages...all 600+ pages worth. (Don't worry - over half of those pages were a story told in pictures like the one below.)

The picture pages told the story of a young girl, Rose, who is very discontent with her life at home. Her mother ran off, and she lives with her father. On top of everything, she's deaf, and she's forced to adapt into a hearing world.

Interwoven is a story told in words (see example below).

With these words, the story of Ben is told. And it's a sad one, as he is forced to live with his aunt and uncle (who, actually, are nice people) because his mother died in a car crash and he never knew his father.

Set 50 years apart, the stories of these two young people are actually quite similar (to tell you more than that would be to rob you of the treat that comes with reading it yourself), and the way that the author seamlessly interweaves the stories left me breathless.

As I approached the climax, I think my gut knew what would happen before I actually realized what was happening on the pages in front of me. My heart kept beating faster and faster, and my fingers couldn't keep up with the turning of pages. What an experience!

(Please note, this should NOT be read as a Nook/Kindle book.)

I recommend this book highly - Enough cannot be said because, again, to do so would be to spoil the beauty of both words and pictures that make this story come to life. Read it, and pass it on. (I've already put it into the hands of one of my fourth grader's, from whose hands I know it will be traveling tomorrow or the next day.)

Talk about it.

Experience its wonder, for it is a story most wonderfully told.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Little "Lessons" Learned

My trip to the conference's bookstore today went something like this:

Some for the classroom library...Some for gifts...And some for me.

As you can very well imagine, my credit card wasn't so happy about these purchases, but hey, I was, because those books for me, they are for pleasure reading. :)

And, to tell you the truth, it could have been a lot worse. With stellar speakers and leading professionals in various fields of education recommending more books that you could count on your fingers (and toes), it was pretty hard to resist the impulse to rush straight to the shelves to buy every book suggested.

But I did resist - if only a little. And I came to the conclusion that I was able to do this for a few reasons...

1) Books and materials don't make great lessons, teachers do. I heard it over and over, even if it wasn't stated outright: You need the passion and the creativity, and you need the gumption to try ideas that are out of the box (and out of this world, if necessary). Books can be a great starting point for ideas, but there's a lot of free stuff already on the web, so I think it'd be wise to start there, wouldn't you agree?

2) Teaching should be responsive and fluid, not scripted. MULTIPLE presenters shared the importance of creating classroom environments that encourage the students to think more critically and engage in more meaningful dialogue with you and, more importantly, with their peers. While you as the teacher may want the lesson to go down a specific path, your lesson may not (and should not) necessarily take the path you planned. You can still get to the same result - increased knowledge about a certain subject - but the way you get there if you let the reins go to the students might be more meaningful and thoughtful than you expected. (Don't get me wrong - I use Lucy Calkins for writing in the classroom, but I definitely reword some of her lessons and make examples so that the lessons become my own.)

3) Just because it works for one teacher, doesn't mean it works for all. Now, in all fairness, Ron Clark, Kelly Gallagher, etc. are all incredible people and educators, but a) they work with an older age range, and b) I'm not them. Yes, I can get ideas from them - see what they have done, how things have been set up in their classrooms, etc., but I can't go into my classroom with their ideas without first changing them to fit my personality and teaching style. If I did, I think my students would call me out in a heartbeat because I wouldn't be authentic. Again, that's not to say I can't learn from these people, but it's also to say that I shouldn't spend all my time trying to follow someone else's example and style when I could better spend my time developing my own.

So, those are my basic reasons (as discovered over the past several days of the conference) how I actually saved my bank account. I feel that these "lessons" are also important take-aways professionally - we should always be striving to be better by "stealing" the ideas/lessons of other great teachers, shaking those up, and making them our own.

As any teacher could tell you, there's never a dull moment - it's a constant challenge to keep up. But it's a challenge that I'm learning more and more to embrace.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

IRA - my kind of day!

This morning could not have been better. In fact, the entire day, in my opinion, was one for the record books, but let's take one thing at a time... (Warning: This could get lengthy. But stick with me because there are some great messages, pictures, downloads, websites, and stories below.)

I ended up being a good quarter of an hour early to the start of today's general session, but it allowed me to secure a pretty good seat and to plan my "attack" (a.k.a. itinerary) for the day. (It also allowed me to jot down some original poetry, but I'll save that for another time.)

Our first speaker was Steven L. Layne, and after only listening to him for a few minutes, I knew why he was such a dynamic motivational speaker. His focus was on whom he termed "balcony" people - those people you have in your life (family, friends, teachers) who have (and who continue) to "cheer you on" as you continue your life's journey. He spoke of his own teachers and also of others who hold a special place in his heart because of the impact they made in his life. Steven even posed the question, "What would have happened if I wasn't in Mrs. ___'s first grade class?" and it got me thinking about the impact we have as teachers every day in the classroom. Will they grow into special someones because they were in our class?

As the second part of the session commenced, I thought it would be impossible to top Steven Layne. Boy, was I wrong. All of a sudden, Ron Clark came bounding up the steps of the stage. He began speaking with such passion and enthusiasm that I couldn't help but hang on his every word. He spoke of balancing hard/high expectations and fun. And what he said really resonated with me, as he spoke of very unconventional, creative teaching practices that work and that are fun. The problem in attempting such unconventional practices is that people (including administrators and/or coworkers) might think you're crazy and discourage such practices. Ah, he said so many great things - I wish I could relay them all here - but he got me thinking about shaking things up in the classroom to keep the students engaged and wanting to learn.

Wow, all of that happened and it wasn't even 10:30 yet.

And so the morning progressed. I attended a couple of stop-in sessions in the exhibit hall, including one by Scholastic on summer reading. While I was purchasing a few books for my classroom library, I ran into the librarian and middle school language arts teachers from my school. They filled me in on where to get a few free things from the vendors. And, just after lamenting the fact that I am not very good at getting free stuff at conferences, I headed over to a book seller, happened to ask about Sharon Creech's upcoming novel's release date, and found myself with an "advanced reader's" copy in my hands. (When I asked how much it cost, the ladies told me I could have it for FREE!) As you can imagine, I was beyond excited because a) it's Sharon Creech and b) I've never really had the opportunity to read a book before the mass public before - it's kind of cool.


If my day had ended there, I would have been satisfied.

But, it didn't. For me, there were still a few GREAT things to come, the first one being a presentation by Kelly Gallagher about using mentor texts to teach writing. [He also made us aware of a free download called "Writing Next" (strategies for improving writing in the upper and middle grades).] It's all about the preparation. In fact, he said that the three things we should focus on in teaching writing are 1) Read (What is the text saying?); 2) Analyze (How are the thoughts being said/written?); and 3) Emulate (What did the writer do that I can do?). He proceeded to say that students need 2 kinds of writing: Mentor Texts AND a teacher who models. Ain't it the truth? You can't teach writing if you, yourself, don't write. Last, but not least, Kelly Gallagher gave me one more reason to love NPR - This I Believe (see also this site, where the project lives on) - while it is probably more effectively used by educators in middle and high school classrooms, I still see potential for upper elementary kiddos.

That session finished up just in time to make it over to the exhibition hall for a book signing with Christopher Paul Curtis, author of Bud, Not Buddy and The Watsons Go to Birmingham (to name a few). Such a down-to-earth and friendly guy, he even took the time to take a picture with me after signing my books. In addition, I received a teacher's guide to Bud, Not Buddy and bookmarks for students. Woo hoo!

Finally, it was time to head home. What a day, what a day. Tomorrow should not be as packed, but I do need to arrive early (7:45!) for a focus group on acquiring and selecting paperbacks (with freebies promised!). There are a few sessions tomorrow I definitely want to make sure I see, including one about using humor in the classroom. Plus, I heard tell that towards the end of the afternoon, the vendors start giving away books for free - I will definitely need to check that out. Wish me luck!

Ok, by now you're probably exhausted from my lengthy summary/reflection of my day, but, as an added (reading) treat tonight (and as a tribute to the power and joy of truly good books), I've embedded the video of the Oscar winner for best short film, "The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore." (When you watch it, you'll see why it won. That's all I'm going to say.)