Feature Friday: Mariah Woodford

Today’s Feature Friday is spotlighting a friend of mine teaching in Phoenix, Arizona. Mariah Woodford teaches first grade in an SEI mixed classroom. This means half of her students have to take the AZELLA test, and half do not. The AZELLA test is a standardized test given to students whose home language is primarily Spanish. Mariah loves teaching first grade because she loves the kind-hearted spirits and that at this age they don’t hold grudges, so the end of the day is always followed with a hug. She also loves crafting and using glitter any chance she has! 

What made you want to go into teaching?

“This question makes me laugh a little just because since deciding to get my degree in education I have been asked this question too many times to count. Long story short, I grew up in a family of six, so I was always around other kids. All of my jobs dealt with kids, (gymnastics coach, track coach, camp counselor, bus aid) and when thinking about my future I knew I wanted a career that would allow me to be a mom and a career that I could continue to do as my future kids got older.” 

How have you integrated the arts into your core curriculum? 

“Our school has a partnership with the Phoenix Symphony and they have created a program called “Mind Over Music” M.O.M for short. What happens is each grade is assigned a musician and together the musician and the teachers create lessons that mesh music into the student’s everyday learning.” 

If you could recommend one children’s book, what would it be and why?

“I can’t think of any in specific but you can’t go wrong with Dr. Suess. These books are extremely engaging and silly. These books are a great tool to use when teaching about rhymes and how to rhyme. They are also great “repeat after me” books. This can help them gain comprehension skills as they are more likely to remember what happened in the story with all of the repetition.” 

What do you wish someone would have told you in your first year teaching?

“During your own schooling, you start to think about your teaching philosophy and everything you really want to do and things you tell yourself you will NEVER do. Once I got my own classroom I realized everything I said in school wasn’t based on any real experience and a lot of my beliefs about my own teaching had changed. This, however, was a really hard pill to swallow because I was so committed to try and do everything I told myself I would do as a teacher. This truly is just not possible, especially in your first year. There were times that I honestly was so lost in all of the day-to-day tasks and learning the new curriculums that I had no idea if my kids were even learning anything. So to all new teachers- teaching is honestly the hardest thing you may ever do. I’m saying possibly harder than giving birth and taking care of a newborn. I have the experience to back that up.  Don’t think you can do everything. You just can’t. Even if you think your kids aren’t learning, you were trained in this field and just simply being in class and putting on your best teaching face is all they really need.”  

What is a big challenge you face often in teaching, and how do you overcome it?

“The biggest challenge I face in teaching is behavior. Just when I think I have got my classroom under control and I feel they know and understand the rules and procedures, the next day it’s as if they have never heard of them before. I don’t believe I have overcome this, but I have learned some tools in helping keep the whole situation at a calm level. If you are heated and angry, there is no chance you can then de-escalate the also angry and heated child. It’s 100% okay to allow yourself to take a breather, leave the situation and collect your thoughts, before returning to the situation. I have to remind myself of this every day. Truly this I feel is what can make or break a teacher. The verdict is still out on what it will do to me.”

What has been your favorite experience from this school year so far?

“I am not sure if this fits into my favorite experience but I do have my all-time favorite comment. Background, my students were on the carpet free drawing on their personal whiteboards. I was getting the technology ready. This is what I heard/ saw:
Student A points to student B’s whiteboard and in all seriousness and full sass says “Yaaaassss Queen!!” I lost it and couldn’t help but laugh out loud.” 

What are the Negative impacts you have felt as a teacher with schools shutting down due to coronavirus? 

“I never in a million years thought that the end of my school year was just going to be ripped away from me, without even a chance to say goodbye to my students. Before all the schools shut down, we had left for spring break. I had left my kids telling them that when we get back they will have popsicles waiting for them, as we had just won the door decorating competition. Even though that is such a small thing, I find myself thinking about it a lot. It reminds me of all the other things we won’t get to do now as a class. Here are just a few: Easter activities and crafts, canceled. Field day, canceled. Big end of the year science project, canceled. Mothers day fun, canceled. Last week of school fun until the end, canceled. Giving them their last hug before summer, canceled. “

“I did not go to school to be trained on how to be an online teacher. I was trained to be in the classroom with human contact. Because of this virus, we were thrown a whole new situation and were asked to come up with a plan in a matter of days. Making video lessons with no students responding and just hoping that they have access to even watch them, honestly sucks.”

What are the positive impacts you have seen come from it? 

“A lot of teachers in my district would agree that this whole year we have been asked to implement all types of technology into the classroom in many different learning opportunities. We, however, felt there wasn’t ever enough time for us as teachers to really learn the technology ourselves to then correctly implement it for the students. WELL, now implementing technology is literally the ONLY thing we can do, and now have basically been forced to learn it, and learn it all. I feel I know so much more now about technology and implementing it into children’s learning.”

“I feel this has made my students realize how much they actually do like school and like learning. It was a good reset for us all. My students have been asking for more and more work. The one face-to-face meeting I have had with the few students that got on has been so heartwarming. All of their faces lit up when they saw one another and were just so happy to see their classmate’s faces.”

“I have a toddler myself who usually goes to daycare all day while I am at work. This has been a little blessing in disguise as now I have been given a lot more time to focus on my daughter. We have played all of the games of hide-and-seek and tag as you could possibly imagine!”

How has this affected your students? 

“Unfortunately, this has affected my students greatly. I work in a title one district. Switching to online school is not an easy switch. Most of my students don’t have a device and/or even internet access for the online learning that I have tirelessly been working on. My students are all bilingual, with Spanish being their first language. Because of that, learning how to read/ write is even harder than it already is. It is so crucial that my students go to school every day to learn all of the skills that they can so that they don’t fall even more behind. “

“As of right now, I have seen 8 of my 24 students doing the online assignments. That means 16 of them are most likely not doing any type of schooling at home. This is devastating as a teacher. My number one job is to teach my students how to read and have the foundational skills they need for the upper grades. For 16 of my students, this is not happening. And for my other 8 students, their learning is limited.  Teaching kids to read through a computer screen is not the easiest of tasks.” 

If you could give another teacher some advice on this situation, what would you tell them? 

“The only advice I feel there is to give is to take a deep breath and realize this is such a crazy situation that we have been put in, and we can’t fix it all. Every household in the whole world is having to change plans, and figure out how to live in this pandemic. I think it’s okay to take a step back and to only do what’s most important. In my eyes, that’s to simply be with your family, (or whoever you live with) and enjoy the time you have together that normally is not there. Things will work out, maybe just not how we expected them to.”

Mariah is a fantastic first great teacher with great insight into teaching. She has plenty of trial and error experience in her first few years of being an educator as well as her personal experience navigating COVID-19 school shutdowns, and I feel like it’s important information that all of us can learn from. Thanks for the interview, Mariah!

Feature Friday: Danielle Macias- Emphasis on COVID-19 School Shut Downs

Welcome to Feature Friday! Where we showcase a new teacher each week in an interview. For past Feature Friday interviews, go here. 

Today’s Feature Friday is highlighting Danielle Macias, an innovative learning coach in Orem, Utah. She workes directly with teachers to improve pedagogy using innovative ideas. Before she became a learning coach, Danielle taught English and ESL. 

I asked Danielle to interview today specifically regarding the COVID-19 school shutdowns because I have witnessed how influential she has been to teachers at such a vulnerable time. Her knowledge and insight, not only as a learning coach but as a parent as well, I felt needed to be shared beyond our community. Here is what Danielle has for us: 

What is your favorite thing about teaching this age/subject?

“My favorite thing about teaching teenagers is that they are discovering who they are and where they belong in society. I like to think that the literature we read, the topics we write about, and discussions we share help mold the person they choose to become. 

My favorite part about coaching teachers is that I get to witness how they refine their practice and tackle challenges that were previously not allowing them to enjoy teaching to the fullest.”

What are the negative impacts you have seen with schools shut down for COVID-19?

“One of the negative impacts COVID-19 has had on education is the limited face-to-face interactions due to social distancing. Building classroom culture can take months to cultivate, and most teachers are now reteaching classroom procedures and expectations as they navigate online teaching, which can be frustrating and difficult to accomplish when you cannot see students face-to-face. The COVID-19 dismissal happened from one day to the next, and both teachers and students are now grieving the loss of those daily interactions with their teachers and peers.”

What are the positive impacts you have seen?

“One of the positive impacts of social distancing during COVID-19 is the innovative ways in which teachers use technology to teach online. In less than a week, Alpine teachers collaborated with Innovative Learning Coaches and other school leaders in technology to create content for online teaching. They did not sign up to teach online, yet they gracefully rose to the occasion.”

“Additionally, teachers have found ways of maintaining relationships with students through social media, online discussion boards, live video conferencing, and video announcements. Personally, I have seen how my 6-year-old daughter looks forward to seeing her classmates and her teacher when they meet online.” 

How have you seen the schools, teachers, and students rally together during this hard time?

“I have seen teachers who usually do not socialize with others out of their department collaborate with each other by sharing resources, tips for online teaching, and provide emotional support. Teachers have not lost their sense of humor, and I can usually expect a meme or lighthearted message in my inbox. Most heartwarming of all is that, although students cannot come to teachers, teachers have found ways to go to students. I have heard of teachers dropping off materials to students, setting up one-on-one virtual meetings with students, and even driving by students’ homes as teachers put on a car parade.”

How have the teacher’s reacted to this situation?

“Teachers are stepping up to the plate! The teachers with whom I work are constantly refining their craft and relying on each other for support. In a way, social distancing brought our schools together because we had no choice but to collaborate.”

What tips do you have for parents at this time?

“At this time, I know how difficult it is to work from home and teach my own child. My advice for students and parents is to give yourself permission to prioritize your mental health and focus on the essentials. If something did not get done today, social distancing will still be here tomorrow, so that worksheet can wait. When online learning becomes unbearable, take a break, and enjoy each other. Who knows when families will have the abundance of time we have now to be together again.”

What tips do you have for teachers right now?

“My biggest tip for teachers is to create a work schedule and stick to it. Otherwise, you will find yourself answering emails all day long. Set aside time to offer feedback on assignments and discussion boards. Set aside time to improve your craft by looking at best online teaching practices. Set aside virtual office hours.”

“And just as important, set aside time to step away from your screen and check-in with yourself. It is easy to feel guilty about stepping away because every email seems urgent, and you think that if students are working after your own work hours, then so should you. The hardest part of this is being accountable to yourself because you can easily be sucked back into replying to just one short email or recording one quick instruction video until your work has bled into your evening.”

“One way I have managed my responsibilities is by creating a list of weekly to-dos in Google Keep so I stay organized, using the checkbox feature to check-off tasks makes me feel accomplished, and the list reminds me of where I left off the day before.”

“When work becomes stressful, it is comforting to know that by teaching online, educators may be providing the only sense of normalcy students will experience until this pandemic comes to an end.”

Thanks, Danielle for the great insight and tips you have fun us! Everyone stay safe out there and wash your hands! 

An Introduction To Feature Friday

Welcome to Feature Friday! A space where every Friday I will be interviewing a new educator, asking them questions about their teaching and learning, then sharing this here with you. 

Why Feature Friday? Because collaboration brings results. 

I think teachers everywhere can agree that some of their best ideas for teaching haven’t come from sitting in their college classes or in their conferences. They come in the copy room after school or in the teacher’s lounge during lunch with casual collaboration between one another. And being the big thinker I am, I know this can expand beyond the walls of our school with an #edtech mindset. Cue: Feature Friday.

Each Friday will be a new teacher, in a new part of the nation, possibly the world. We will see an insight into who they are, why they teach, and the resources they find most helpful. In the end, I hope we can all walk away with more knowledge as educators to move forward and teach our students to the best of our ability. 

In the spirit of collaboration, if you have any great questions that would be good to ask in an interview, please comment below or reach out via email. If you are an educator that would like to be featured, again, please reach out. 

More Evidence for Twitter’s Professional Development Potential

We were impressed by one school’s use of Twitter for a teacher-led professional development chat.  We’ve written on Twitter’s potential for professional development before, so we thought it would be a great idea to share what that looks like in action!  We interviewed Principal Matt Webster (@MWebster158) and teacher Laura Komos (@LauraKomos) at Martin Elementary School to find out how they did it and how you can get started, too!

The Chat:

Storify of “mock Twitter chat”:

Questions they discussed:
  • Q1: What’s one new (tech or non-tech) tool or idea you’ve tried with your kids recently?
  • Q2: What is a tool or technique you’d like to learn more about?
  • Q3: How are you utilizing the Collaboration Rooms in the Husky Hub?
  • Q4: What are your other students doing while you meet with small groups?
  • Q5: What does your Target/RtI time look like?

The Interview:

How often does your school’s staff have PD Twitter chats?
  • Matt: The #martin158 chat that you saw was a specific PD session at Martin today.  We have a PD Menu at our school (new this year) that is driven and created by the teachers wants and needs.  One of the October sessions happened to be Twitter as Resource.  Part II of this PD session was a mock twitter chat for new users to experience and learn the ins and outs of a chat on Twitter.  Other PD sessions offered over the next 2 months include:
    • Flipped Classrooms
    • 40 Book Challenge
    • Picture Books to reinforce Figurative Language and Comprehension Strategies
    • Co-Teaching
    • Blogging
    • Virtual Fieldtrips
    • Independent Practice Time – Differentiating
How does the Twitter chat support other PD at your school?
  • Matt: What we plan on doing is turning the #martin158 practice chat into a monthly chat where we can post questions and discussion on PD topics that have already happened or are upcoming.
How did you initially approach PD Twitter chats with the staff?
  • Matt: We introduced Twitter to the whole staff last year at a staff meeting (phones were required J).  Followed that up with this PD Menu session and will continue it with monthly chats using #martin158
Tell us about some of the logistics of a staff Twitter chat.
  • Created with behappy.me
    Created with behappy.me

    Matt: For the PD, it was all staff interested staying after school experiencing it and asking questions together.  We have 100 staff (1,025 kids 3rd-5th) so not all are interested.  But the interest is growing.  We ask a lot of questions as admin and try really hard to follow up.  So if a teacher or group of teachers say they are interested in learning, in this case, how to use Twitter as a tool, then we make sure to offer it to them.  I feel very fortunate to work with a lot of great people in this profession at this school.  It’s not hard to find an “expert” to lead the way on a particular topic.  Those interested step up and make it happen.

What are some of the effects of the chat on your staff?
  • Matt: As a result of today, people left excited–a number of them stayed and asked questions based on the tweets they read.  I imagine by next week a few new ideas will have been tried in classrooms because of the chat today.  Martin went 1:1 in 2012 and with that came a number of changes including a new reading curriculum, new technology of course, but also a new approach to PD and teacher support.  I was the assistant principal that year and became the principal the following year (2013-2014).  I see my primary role as an administrator at Martin, to one of support for our teachers so they can do what they do best which is to positively impact our students.
  • Laura: Since the chat, I have noticed several of the participants using Twitter to connect with colleagues from other schools in our district as well as teachers from other places. I’m excited to see what the future of #martin158 brings to our professional learning!
What have been some challenges of PD Twitter chats?  
  • Matt: We haven’t encountered any thus far that have been problematic.  We have a very passionate staff that want to do what’s best for their students and utilize new resources to do so.  What is comfortable for some right now is using resources and relationships on twitter to grow their practice of teaching.
What advice would you have for other school administrators and teachers to get their schools started on PD Twitter chats?
  • Matt: As with anything else in education the first question should always be student focused… what do we want our students to learn?  And then follow that up with, what will we do when they do/don’t learn it?  For us, Twitter is just another tool or resource to help us design plans and lessons in an attempt to help our students learn.  For other administrators I would simply say that if there is a desire to connect to other professionals, be inspired by other ideas, and connect to other people doing great things, then give it a try.  A collaborative culture is present in every highly functioning school.  Twitter allows you to take that one step further and collaborate with educators all over the world.

Thank you so much Matt and Laura!

Featured Image: The New School