Friday, August 26, 2016

best week ever

No, seriously. You guys, now I'm back in middle school and I have a few of my own classes to teach. It's been three years without! I'm so happy!

Here's my homeroom on the first day. We're already a little classroom family and I love it! I can't wait to share our homeroom theme with you, it's not ready yet, but hopefully in the next week or two!

They're super cute as they learn the big middle school systems. They've done so well this week, I can't wait to see what comes next for them!

I'm teaching two classes: Challenge Based Learning and English Language Arts. This week, I've been working on two big things: Quick Writing & teaching kids to talk to and listen to one another.

Quick Writing
I learned Quick Writing from Penny Kittle's book Write Beside Them. It's prompted writing that happens in three minute spurts. There are three rules:

Rule 1: Write for the whole three minutes. Give the kids a prompt and then tell them that when they run out of things to say, that they need to listen to the talking in their mind and just write whatever that is saying. Main goal, to write furiously and not quit till time is called. Tip: Don't ask a question when you prompt, instead, give a sentence stem. Here are a few I used this week:

  • What I like/dislike about this classroom is...
  • Poetry is different than fiction/nonfiction because...
  • Something I'm looking forward to doing this weekend is...
Rule 2: Don't let your head tell you what you're writing is crap. We all have that critic inside, but writing is messy, thinking is messy! In quick writing, the idea is to get it all to come out, and it doesn't have to be organized or correct or perfect. When you can't think of the next work, put a line to save the spot and keep going! Just don't stop writing.

Rule 3: Relax, have fun, play. Quick writing is meant to be the writer's playground. It builds stamina and fluency for writing, and it also allows a writer's voice to come out. But it has to be done consistently. One other point to note, if a kid has a great thing going after prompt #1, they can skip prompt #2 and stick where the writing is hot. It's recommended!

Quick writing is not collected or graded. Kids do the work, not the teacher. Even if we're not checking it, kids are still reaping the benefits. This week, on an exit slip, one student said this:

That was after session 1 of quick writing. Imagine the confidence they will have after a month of it!

Speaking & Listening
In the three years when I didn't have my own classroom, I read a lot of stuff without a space for application. This week I finally put some of that information to use! I read somewhere that when a teacher repeats what a soft-spoken child says, the message it sends to the other kids is that they don't have to listen to the quiet kid, because the teacher will just repeat them.

I no longer repeat anyone.

If a child shares to the group and is too quiet, I turn to a student on the other side of the room and ask if they heard what the soft-spoken student said. If they say no, I ask the second student to ask the quiet student to repeat themselves. It forces kids to speak up.

I'm telling you, my Challenge Based Learning kids thought I was insane the first day. There were like 50 times when I had to facilitate them listening to one another, but the underlying message here is so powerful: Each person's voice is important and deserves to be heard. So we're going to speak up!

I'm also having them work on eye contact, that rather than having it go from students to teacher and then back from teacher to students, it's one person (student or teacher) to everyone else. So that feedback sounds like this: "You did an awesome job speaking loudly, but can you say it again, and this time, instead of just making eye contact with me, say what you're saying to everyone?"

We will just keep practicing, but I know that the conversations in my classes this year will be wonderful, from kid to kid to me to kid to all the other kids and on and on. I just love it!

Not ready
This is the first year I was not ready - like, I'm still waiting on furniture and my new rug, I didn't have my bulletin board stuff until after the first day, my plans were written on a day-by-day basis, my library wasn't totally unpacked (in fact, 2/3 of it is still in my basement in a storage closet I'm afraid to go in bc I'm sure there's 100s of spiders in there!) And you know what? It was all ok. It was okay that my first day was more about making sure I remembered their names than showing the perfect power point presentation about rules. It's okay that there's a huge empty spot where a rug will soon be, it's okay that I only had planned for the few hours ahead of me. Every kid knows they matter to me, and that's the most important thing.

That being said, I can't wait till my room is ready for the blog reveal! It's coming along, day by day. I'm hoping that in the next three weeks it will be ready for a photo shoot to share with all of you!

That's about all on my end. My heart is seriously so full, I'm so thankful for the opportunities I've been blessed with. Working with kids puts me in that state of flow - you know, where there's nothing else getting at you, you're not stressed about anything, you're not thinking about missing out on anything, you're just living every moment and enjoying the ride.

How was your first (or second) week of school?

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 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.

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