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Saturday, August 20, 2016

do hard things.



I've been involved with our local teacher's union for the past two years. This year, I've stepped into the new role of Social Media Chair, so I'm excited to stay connected. Additionally, this year, our co-presidents asked me to give the welcome address to our membership. I said yes, because I knew it would push me. 

They asked me just a few days ago. On the drive home that day, I was thinking about how I could go back and decline, and I could sit in the audience and just be passive and not have to stress. But in my heart and my gut, I knew I wanted to give the speech. So I said to myself, "Okay, just wait and see how you feel in a few hours."

Well, I still felt the same, but I knew I had already said yes, and I've been working on doing what I say I'm going to do, to show integrity through my words and actions and not go back on something. So I just stuck with it. But I was nervous. Up until about noon on the day of (my speech was to be around 2:30) I was fine, I could set the nerves aside and just go about my buisiness. But then from around noon -2:30 (including when I did a practice read with a good friend) I was so nervous. Sweaty palms and racing heart nervous.

But then I got up there and did my thing. When you do the hard things, it's exhilarating. And it's rewarding.



I wanted to share my speech with you and also some of the tweets and texts I got, not because I am trying to brag, but because I want to encourage all of you to do the hard thing. Do them! If it's hard, it's making you grow, and when you do those hard things, you are rewarded in ways you can't imagine.

So, here is the speech, and after, the notes from friends.


Hi there! Welcome back to the 2016-2017 school year! My name is Michelle Brezek; I’m a teacher and Literacy Coach here at Heritage and the Social Media chair for the South Berwyn Education Association. On behalf of the SBEA, it’s such an honor to welcome both returning and new teachers and staff to our amazing school district!
As I was thinking about what I was going to say to you today, I got to thinking about who were are, that is, the teachers in D100. We are passionate and dedicated educators, innovators on a global stage, and sometimes school supply junkies. We are multicultural, bilingual and inclusive of all. We are writers and shoe-tiers, mentors, and coteachers. We are athletes and coaches. We are sometimes or always obsessed with our craft. We are nurses with cough drops and social workers listening ears. We are researchers and problem solvers. We are jokesters, too, we want to have fun! We believe that in teaching and learning, anything is possible, especially when you look at it a different way, perhaps with a different mindset. This year, we will create possibilities and a future that no one has yet to dream, and we’ll be able to do that because of the talent, excitement, and knowledge that returns to our district each year.
Which brings me to you, new teachers. It’s only the opening institute day, and so many of us have yet to meet one another, but I’m sure I can speak for all when I say we are so happy to have you here. We can’t wait to uncover the gifts you will bring to the lives of our students and everyone here in D100.
Helen Keller once said, “Alone we can do so little, but together we can do so much.” I couldn’t agree more. As the year unfolds and our relationships grow, we will have so much to offer - to our students, to one another, to ourselves. It’s when we are united and working together that our efforts really flourish, with huge returns in student achievement and teacher engagement in the work we love so much.
In the spirit of collaboration and unity, I hope you’ll take me up on this proposal: Open your classroom doors this year. Invite your team over to watch you teach. Get into other classrooms in your building and around the district. I know that it’s easier to not do this, you know, because sub plans are just another thing to do, but I can promise you, you’ll come back to your classroom refreshed with new ideas, new perspectives, and new energy.
In addition to collaboration, dream those big dreams, but don’t stop there. Don’t save a hope or a dream in your head or your heart for one day, some day. Tell your friends about them! Write them down! Tweet it out to the world! It’s when we enroll others in our hopes and dreams that they become so powerful we’re able to manifest them into our lives and the lives of our students.
Let’s make this the year we are all open to something new. Let’s look at things in a new light and consider different perspectives. Let’s dream new possibilities, declare them to be true, and then take action to achieve them. Together we can make this our best year yet!

It's so not easy to do the hard thing. Colleen, thank you for capturing the moment for me and always being one of my biggest cheerleaders!




These friends are always in my corner, it's a big part of the reason I can say yes to the scary, hard things:


   



And two texts from two of the other Literacy Coaches in the district. Has anyone told you recently that they are proud of you? I mean, perhaps your parents have, and while that is amazing and rewarding, the feeling you get when a colleague or friend or even a significant other tells you that will blow your mind! And a request for your speech to be published? I am so thankful for such a supportive community here in my district!





It's a new school year. I'm in a new building - I'm back at the middle school! I'm teaching a 7th-8th grade ELA class and an 8th grade section of Challenge Based Learning. I'm also a homeroom teacher to some awesome 6th graders and have I have some coaching periods too.

I'm once again out of my comfort zone, working with new people and actually team leader, too, which I haven't done before, and I don't even realize the things I'm missing. But I'm doing the hard things, so I know I'm growing.

What are the hard things you're setting yourself up for this year?
Leave a comment and let's keep the conversation going!

One last thank you, to our keynote yesterday, Dave Stuart for an awesome speech, about writing, about teaching, and about keeping life in balance. "Do hard things" was all him, applied easily to my life, and I'm sure, all my reader's lives, too!

Sunday, August 14, 2016

archived 'about' page

My first 'about' page, just to keep as archived.

When I was a little girl, even before I had a great teacher, I always knew I wanted to teach. The summer vacations never occurred to me at the time (but it's such a great perk!) All I knew was that I would ask my teachers for extra worksheets so I could play school at home with my sisters and cousins.


I never liked to read. I remember being in middle school with a huge basal reader. We had to read stories and then answer the questions at the end of the story. Sooooo boring. I never read a great book and was never "turned on" to reading.


I went through high school not really feeling anything special about reading but finally had a teacher worth remembering my senior year. She was my government teacher. It wasn't the content of the class that made me remember this teacher so, it was her. Ms. Thompson was great. The reason I remember her so fondly is because she knew stuff about me. The way I remember it, she helped orchestrate the relationship I began with my boyfriend that year - a guy who was my total opposite, but we really liked each other. She talked to me about my personal life - I knew she cared. And that made her one of my favorite teachers. 



I went to undergrad at Northern Arizona University. I worked toward a Bachelor's of Science in Elementary Education with an ESL endorsement. My classes were taught on an elementary school campus and very practical. I had another pair of teachers my senior year who were much like Ms. Thompson. They were great with the content and they were another pair that really influenced the kind of teacher I am today, because like my fave teacher senior year, they also cared and were interested in their students. I took my first group on a field trip to NAU and we got to see each other. How cool for them to see the fruits of their labor (me!) come back with a group of kids!


I began teaching during the 2003-2004 school year in the Creighton School District in Phoenix, Arizona. This school district is approximately 95% free and reduced lunch and mostly Hispanic. I taught sixth grade at Creighton School - Language Arts and Social Studies. I had a great foundation to work with from undergrad and I LOVED my first group. I didn't really know what I was doing content and assessment-wise, but what teacher does her first year? All I knew my first few years is that if I cared about my middle school kids the way my favorite teachers cared about me, I could basically get them to take risks and learn with me - whether that meant singing about transformations, reading a shared text together, or sharing our writing.


Because I didn't love reading as a kid, I asked for suggestions from my librarian of great books to read with kids. She suggested Because of Winn-DixieJoey Pigza Swallowed the KeyStargirl, and The Giver. So, I read these books with kids and it was such a great experience. I saw how powerful reading could be (imagine if I had done this when I was in school?!)

At the conclusion of my third year, I switched to another school in our district - Excelencia - to work with this guy:


Damon Twist was my AP at Creighton and he had moved over to Excelencia, and I wanted to go there with him. So I packed my things and went over there, remaining in sixth grade. It was about this time that I realized I would get kids who didn't know how to read - and I had no idea what to do about it. So, I applied for a program at Arizona State University with an emphasis on Language and Literacy - this would be my Reading Specialist certificate. I learned all about Reading and Writing Workshop and finally figured out what I had to do to get middle school kids reading and writing. I implemented so many strategies into my classroom and saw great results. I finally used all those books in my classroom library - sorted them, taught kids how to use the library, and enjoy reading books. 

After three years at Excelencia and the completion of my graduate degree in 2009, I moved to Chicago. I didn't have a job, but it was time for a change.



I was lucky to find a job at Heritage Middle School. I didn't feel like I was ready to be out of the classroom, so I took a Language Arts position. I was placed on a seventh-eighth grade loop with a great team of teachers. In this school, all teachers were teachers of Reading, so I taught only one period of Reading and four periods of Language Arts. It was great, but I thought I should be teaching all of the kids on the team reading, so for my second loop, we switched it up. I began teaching all 85 students reading and then each of the team teachers (and I) taught a section of Language Arts.



At the end of my fourth year at Heritage and my tenth year of teaching, I decided that I was ready for a change yet again. I love teaching middle school, and I LOVED my team....it was so hard to leave, but I knew I was not loving grading papers anymore. A position for literacy coach opened up at an elementary school right in my district and I felt that it was time....

That brings me to Emerson Elementary. I'm not sure just yet where this journey will take me, but I'm excited to learn, grow, listen, implement, and share ideas with a new group of colleagues!

I hope this blog serves as a record of the great work we will do with literacy at Emerson and also a place to learn and share ideas together.





Sunday, July 31, 2016

bigtime blogging challenge month-in-review



Hey all y'all! It's the BigTime Blogging Challenge. I'm writing every day in July to celebrate my blog's three year anniversary! Join me - write your post, link it up with mine, leave some love for blogging friends in the form of comments!


I've had so much fun writing with you all for the past month! Sometimes I had a bunch of friends writing with me, sometimes just a few, and one day I didn't even post, but it's all good.

Few things I am taking away with me for the new school year:

  1. Kids need to write on a consistent basis. I'm definitely going to have the kids I work with next year consistently use the Quickwriting strategy that Penny Kittle discusses in Write Beside Them. I think it's the balance of the prompt writing - because with quick writing, you do prompt kids, but if they land on something 'hot' as Penny says, then you tell them to stick with it.
  2. Some days you just don't feel like it. I mean, for me, I was *not feeling well at all on one particular day, but it's true, sometimes you just don't feel like it. I think we need to remember that with kids. That being said, the more you write, the easier it gets, so skipping it often is also not a wonderful idea.
  3. The posts you are most scared to post - those are probably your best ones. We need to take risks with our writing, and in life in general. I just started A Mindset for Learning and I think the traits that they offer are going to be so helpful for students I work with next year!
  4. It's crazy how you can inspire others with writing. It's true that a word after a word after a word is power (Margaret Atwood). While a lot of what I write is crap (see #5 below) there are some gems there, too, and sometimes, other people are inspired from my work.
  5. Crap. Lots of crap and nonsense here on BigTime Literacy, too. But with reading Use Your Words, I am seeing that the real writers have to sift through years of writing, and lots of it crap, before they can really get anywhere. And along the way, you probably get some great stuff too, but it's a lot of junk as well. So if you're one of those people who don't want to hit publish because it isn't perfect, remember that perfection is the enemy of completion. Just. Click. Publish.
Have you been writing lots in July? Take-Aways? See you back in the coming weeks, but also for the 2017's BigTime Blogging Challenge next summer!


Saturday, July 30, 2016

review: use your words


Hey all y'all! It's the BigTime Blogging Challenge. I'm writing every day in July to celebrate my blog's three year anniversary! Join me - write your post, link it up with mine, leave some love for blogging friends in the form of comments!


Good morning! I'm so awful - I didn't post yesterday. But I just couldn't. Have had friends in town all week and all the "fun" finally caught up to me!


Today I'm back with a little reivew of Use Your Words: A myth-busting no-fear approach to writing by Catherin Deveny. I got about 2/3 of the way through but there is still so much to share from it!


First of all, her voice is awesome. She's straight to the point and peppered with explicatives. One chapter is called, Thinking your writing is sh!t, and in it she says, "You level up as you grind." You get better at writing as you do it. So important to remember, especially as teachers. We have to create space in our classrooms where kids are practicing writing daily, because with practice comes growth.

In another chapter entitled Don't Take Directions from Anyone she says, "When you find yourself longing for feedback, remember: you probably just want someone to say, 'It's brilliant, you're a genius: just keep going. Tell yourself in stead.' This one stood out to me because I was just reading in a book about *teaching writing that kids are with their work alone 95% of the time, and that we have to teach them to be more self-directive. And here the author is telling us the same thing. We have to cheer ourselves on and keep on grinding with the writing. Kids too.

By far, the best chapter I read is chapter 15: Stop Fetishising Books and the Printed Word, which goes on to say:
Literacy has always been used to enforce class distinctions and preserve privilege, encouraging in-group loyalty and out-group hostility. The educated elite have access to power, decision-making, money and leisure. They support those like them and ostracize those outside their circles to protect their privilege. It's not privilege if everyone has it. Think about it: historically, women, the poor, and the non-Caucasians have been purposely excluded from or disadvantaged in the education system. They were often not permitted to go to school - or not for long - meaning fewer of them learned to read or to write, let alone got published. In the case of women, education was seen as a waste as they would end up having babies, keeping house, and basically being slaves and incubators for the patriarchy.
She goes on,
The  education system's obsession with rote learning, spelling, times tables, and 'staying inside the lines' has been a huge waste of our brainpower and educational time. And a massive obstacle to creativity and innovation.
Seriously. Have you read Literacy with an Attitude (Finn)? Says some of the same, how school can be a place to create compliant citizens who don't question anything (just wrote about that from a Taylor Mali book) or we can create schools that liberate and empower children - empower them to be creative, to innovate, to share their ideas and thoughts with the world, to question things that seem off, to become active involved citizens of their communities, which begins by creating a classroom where students are active and involved.



That's my goal as a teacher. Empower students to be active members of their communities.

Please check out one more post I did about this book: motivation follows action. I was so inspired a few weeks ago I had to write!

This book was/is really great. I'm excited to read the third part next, about the writer's tools. I'm sure she'll have a lot to offer, to me, and to any students I get to work with in the coming school year!

What have you been reading lately? Share about this book or another!


Thursday, July 28, 2016

what teachers make with #d100bloggerpd


Good morning! The BigTime Blogging Challenge carries on and I am here today to write though about a topic different from the prompt. I'm so thankful to work in such a forward-thinking district where there are a bunch of teacher bloggers! We have all banded together to do some projects, including today's post which is one in a series of posts about Taylor Mali's book What Teachers Make. I bring you content and commentary on chapters seven, eight, and nine.

Surely you know of Taylor because of his classic spoken word poetry... and if not, you're in for a treat!



This went on to create a book that is subtitled In Praise of the Greatest Job in the World, and although I am slightly biased, I couldn't agree more!


Let's get to it!

Vignette 7: Keeping your eye out for the teachable moment
First, take a look at the poem that goes with this vignette:



So beautiful. Let me teach like the first snow falling. My, how I love that line. And so, when we launched this book study, we actually we so lucky to have a Twitter Chat with Taylor Mali, and I remembered this beautiful string of words, and mentioned it to him, but times-are-a-changing, and so is teaching:



As teachers, sometimes it is okay to be doing the mini-lesson, demonstrating for students, as we *are the best readers, writers, and mathematicians in the classroom. But even more important is to set students off to do that difficult work, to be patient problem solvers who don't get stuck, who persevere and learn through doing.



Yes, that's true, but all that aside, from a writer's eye and heart - Let me teach like the first snow falling - just exquisite.

Vignette 8: In praise of thoughtful uncertainty
Another poem to share with this little chapter:




You know when you read something and you just gloss over it, not really taking much away? I must have done that last time I read this chapter, because after going back and *rereading and *rewatching this poem, I love it more than I ever have, because it reminds us of our purpose in education.

Some people say that schools are meant to create compliant citizens, and I think, depending on the way that you're teaching, whether or not you are encouraging your students to question things, whether or not your students have choices and can direct their learning in some ways, whether or not the classroom is run by one teacher or by an entire class of students plus one teacher - I'm trapped in a run on sentence but what I'm trying to say is that classrooms where students have voice and choice are classrooms where students are being taught to be citizens who don't just fall for anything and speak with conviction of thoughts. I think we need to empower all our students to be engaged with and knowledgeable of their world, rather than just taking everything for fact.

Vignette 9: Encountering Genius
"Teachers shouldn't make the mistake of always thinking they are the smartest person in the room." Preach.
As a Literacy Coach, I always keep this front and center, because the teachers I am privileged to work with are so smart on so many different levels. Each person brings years of experiences, not just education related, but life related. And so it is for our students as well, that sometimes, like Taylor experienced, our students are just smarter than us, and their way of thinking is luminous and we should let them shine in their moment, to help the greater good of our classroom family.

If you like what you've read here, grab a copy of Taylor Mali's book What Teachers Make, and definitely watch all his spoken word poetry on You Tube. You can also check out a post I wrote a few years ago after I saw him here in Chicago. In this post, I shared my favorite five poems of his!

Be sure to stop back for the #d100bloggerPD next Tuesday for Theresa's review of chapters 10, 11, and 12.

And none of this would be possible without such inspiring work from Taylor Mali - Thank you for Twitter chatting with us and following our blog study!


Hey all y'all! It's the BigTime Blogging Challenge. I'm writing every day in July to celebrate my blog's three year anniversary! Join me - write your post, link it up with mine, leave some love for blogging friends in the form of comments!


BigTime Blogging Challenge friends, hope you enjoyed today's post and I'm looking forward to reading yours!


Wednesday, July 27, 2016

dear 1st year teacher


Hey all y'all! It's the BigTime Blogging Challenge. I'm writing every day in July to celebrate my blog's three year anniversary! Join me - write your post, link it up with mine, leave some love for blogging friends in the form of comments!


Ahhh, to be young again. I remember the days I was the youngest 20-something trying to keep it together at school. How I wish I had started blogging in those early days! Here's a little note to all the first year teachers who will begin this awesome career this fall...

Dear First Year Teacher,

Your first year. I'm sure you've been surfing teaching blogs and Pinterest for the cutest ideas for your new room. It will look fabulous, I just know it. It's so fun to put a room together. But... It's all for the kiddos that will walk through your doors on that first day in August. So, while I'm sure you've been planning your room and maybe even your first week of lessons and activities so everyone can get to know one another, have you also been thinking about what you might say to the kiddos?

The children in your first class are going to be awesome. Some will be funny, some quiet, some will test your patience. You will learn and grow together. As teachers, we always know we will teach them so much, but it's possible that we don't realize all that they will teach us. There's so many things.

They teach us to have fun.
They are going to quote the books you read in the funniest ways, like asking you, "Can I get back to you on that?" when you ask about homework after reading Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key. They are going to get out of their seats just to be funny, and when you ask them to sit down, they'll look at you deadpan and say, "YOLO." Everyone will laugh, including you, and then the kid will, in fact, go back to their seat. They are going to leave their books in your classroom when they have a locker just to try and irritate you, but all in good fun. They are going to try and negotiate chair races down the hall as a reward for finishing their work. These kiddos are creative and witty and will make you laugh, so please take them up on the offer! (And, if you can find the time, write the stories down!)

They teach us about technology.
Let's face it - the students in our classes these days are wired for iPads and Chrome Books. So let them lead. When you don't know how to do something, ask the kids. And not just technology, but everything. Let your room be a class of 31 experts, rather than just one.

They teach us about boundaries.
Kids are kids and they want to do things their way, even when it is in their best interest to do so your way. So, it will be important for you to decide what you want your classroom to look and sound like and pursue those expectations consistently. My first year, my mentor told me this - have procedures, and teach them and practice them. I heard her, but I didn't really hear her. My students my first year definitely taught me about boundaries, and that what you ignore, you accept. So, if you don't want students calling out, do not talk to them unless they follow the expectations for sharing. These are some of the hardest things for us as teachers to do, because what's easiest to do and what's best for kids aren't the same things. So, be consistent, and make your classroom the place you want it by allowing what is okay and halting what is not. Boundaries... kids want them and need them to feel safe!

They teach us to find other solutions.
As much as the writers of standardized tests might like to think so, kids aren't robots and do not think through problems in the same ways. They do not learn in the same ways. As teachers, one important aspect of the work we do is to figure out exactly what works for each student. Most of the kids will get what we're teaching on the first go-around. Then another group will need to hear it in a different way to understand, and a smaller few, even, will need it in three, four, or five different ways. All of our kids are different, and we must work to meet them where they are, and embrace the fact that as teachers, we are on a problem solving mission to help each student reach their greatest potential. They can all do it, it's just a matter of us figuring out how to get them there. This takes creative thinking. Lean on your colleagues. Collaborate with your PLN. There's so many ways to be supported, and when we are supported, children are supported and achieving.

They teach us about love.
You know that kid in your classroom who is swearing at you? Love that kid. And the one who knocks over chairs and hides under tables? It's hard, because it happens almost on a daily basis, but love that kid too. Of course there will be the ones who are easy to love, because they are funny, and giving, and they do everything you ask. But you'll really be learning about love when, in the heat of the moment you can take a second to yourself, breathe in and breath out, walk up to that super hard kid and share the love. I'm not saying give in to whatever they may want at the moment, quite the contrary actually. Give them boundaries, and stick by them firmly, give a consequence, and then tell the child that it's only because you love them so much that you can't let their bad behavior slide. Trust me when I tell you this:

So there's all that, and then there's also an awesome, unforgettable year ahead that you will just love. Savor the moments, newbies!



Tuesday, July 26, 2016

slice of life

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My best friends are in from Phoenix and San Diego!


Last night we had dinner at RPM Italian downtown and it was so so good, made even better, in fact, by their company.

We split two bottles of wine and Katie and I shared gnocchi and Chicken Parm. I wish I had taken pictures of the food, but all I have is a selfie of the four of us (Anita, our close friend who lives in town joined us!)



The dinner was awesome, but even better was being with these girls. Sharing food and talking about our dating lives and marriages, our plans for the upcoming school year and for the rest of the days here together in Chicago, so awesome. We're only ever together like once a year, but we do keep in really good touch all throughout the year, so these once-a-year gatherings feel more abundant.


Super thankful for these friends and that they are with me in Chicago!





Hey all y'all! It's the BigTime Blogging Challenge. I'm writing every day in July to celebrate my blog's three year anniversary! Join me - write your post, link it up with mine, leave some love for blogging friends in the form of comments!


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