Not Alone – How A Math Curriculum Helped Me Finally Belong

I think most of have a driving need to feel like we are a part of something, to have people that understand us, to feel like we belong.

In short we don’t want to be alone.

If you know me you know I don’t do anything just a little bit…so I even take the fear of being alone to a whole new level. I’ve spent most of my life hating to be alone whether it was driving in the car, sleeping at night, or watching tv I’ve had an endless need to have people around. (Now that I have kids I seem to enjoy that whole being alone thing a bit more haha!)  I even remember having a moment of total meltdown after I got divorced while watching the movie “The Intern” and realizing that I might be buried in the cemetery alone one day. (Don’t watch that movie after you get divorced FYI) So as I write this, yes I do realize that I take crazy to new and unprecedented levels every day.

But I think if most of us are honest I think we all hate to be feel alone in this world. I really started reflecting on that this week after I saw this tweet.

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It knocked my socks off a bit. I felt alone a lot as a teacher. I was always the rebel, the one who was never satisfied, the one who thought we could push just a bit harder to improve ourselves, the one who questioned the status quo. That doesn’t always earn you a lot of friends in a school building.

Don’t get me wrong, I had some amazing friends when I was teaching that I loved dearly but I also knew I never quite belonged. I knew that when new ideas popped up that were extra work I would take the blame or when I spoke up to share in a meeting that the same people would roll their eyes or otherwise not be thrilled with my rebel rousing ways. I never got to be truly whole there because I never really belonged.

But this isn’t a sad woe is me blog post. It’s a coming of age if you will because now I get to see just how awesome it is when teachers have a safe space and really get to belong. I get this awesome experience of watching teachers from across the country gather around the Open Up Resources 6–8 Math Curriculum and find their belonging. I see teachers sharing everything from teaching tips to posters they made to help strangers they’ve never met, offering words of encouragement, and investing in each other around a curriculum of all things – and it is magical.

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It makes me proud to get to be a part of this group of educators who are more amazing than I can describe. I know they are doing incredible things for kids in the classroom and as a parent I am thankful for that but I am more thankful for what they are doing for each other. They are giving each other a place to belong. They are filling our great human need to not be alone and giving each other a greater purpose. How cool is it that it’s happening around a math curriculum?

 

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Kids Deserve Better

 

It takessuperpowers...
Last year we implemented something called “WIN” Time on my 7th Grade team at school. “WIN” stood for “What I Need” and it was big success. It started out with me identifying math concepts that students needed extra help with and providing them with extra time, help, and lessons on those. However, it soon developed into students telling me when they knew they needed WIN time because they weren’t getting something.

 

Do you know what is crazy? When students were able to identify their own needs and then get them met they were more invested and successful in the classroom. I saw a large increase in proficiency in my classroom last year based on my state’s accountability measures and a decrease in our GAP partially because of this WIN time.
I can’t help but wonder if this applies to teachers and education as well. The political climate in Kentucky right now is not pleasant and education seems to be taking the brunt of the cuts, arguments, and political spin. However it never seems to occur to those that are constantly pointing out what is “wrong” with education in the state of Kentucky and who are constantly running their campaigns on how they are going to fix the problems to ask teachers what they really need to be successful.

I think those who represent us and make policy decisions may be surprised at how communication, trust, and even results could improve if you began to include teachers in the discussion and ask them what they need to “WIN” rather than just making sweeping reform that seems to do everything in the end except improve education.

I taught kids in 7th grade math last year that came in ranging from 1st grade to 8th grade math levels. At the end of the year all learners experienced nearly two years worth of growth, ELL students experienced 2 1/3 years, and SWD experienced 2 1/2 years of growth. That is how we begin to close achievement gaps. My students with disabilities and english language learners made great gains last year on our state math performance assessment and yet no one is asking me how or seems to want to learn from what I or other teachers across the state do to close achievement gaps each and every day.

Last week I reached out to my Representatives and State Commissioner of Education politely and professionally and asked to meet with them to share ideas and work together for kids in the state of Kentucky. Of all the emails I sent, I received zero responses. I think our kids deserve better than that.
I love the kids of Kentucky and sincerely wanted begin a dialogue about how we can begin working together to improve education here.  The kids in Kentucky deserve teachers and legislators working together to decide their future. They deserve to be asked what they need. They deserve answered emails, strong legislation, and funded classrooms. They deserve to WIN.

You Can’t Extinguish Goodness

I love fall so very much but its arrival has been slow to Kentucky. As a result of our 85+ degree days I have forced fall into my home with as many fake leaves, pumpkin decorations, and fall scented candles as I can find. (Plus it has rained for approximately 1 trillion days here so my dogs perpetually smell bad anymore, ick!)

Last night I was blowing out the last of the candles and the flame was at that almost magical point where it looks like it is out but then all of a sudden gets going again before returning to full fire form. The house quiet, a rarity around here, and I thought for a moment about this Nelson Mandela quote that I have always loved so much.

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Maybe this whole goodness thing was on my mind because my town literally was torn apart by a pizza review this week. I realize that probably sounds dramatic but no joke google Barstool review Lexington pizza place and see what comes up and then read all the great comments!

Our local pizza joint had to shut down its phones and social media as well as yelp reviews because they went from over a 4 star rating to a 1 in a matter of hours and people were calling to curse and yell at them non stop. Its not like these were customers it was just strangers that thought it was fun…no joke.

It isn’t like this kind of stuff is uncommon, it happens everyday. People are so quick to get mad and angry, pass judgements, and then spread the word about how terrible you are. Yet at the same time people are slow to have rational discussions, see both sides or try to see the good in people, companies, or organizations.

I won’t lie, sometimes it is hard to see the good anywhere.

And then, I walk into my garage and see books and school supplies and remember all of the beautiful goodness in the world around me. Sometimes that flame of goodness is hidden and sometimes it is almost out but it always makes a comeback. We have been overwhelmed by friends, acquaintances and strangers who have sent books and supplies from across the country to help us achieve our goal of giving every one of these kids a book they can call their own.

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I have gotten to talk to people like Deborah Schaumberg the author of The Tombs one of the books on our list. Deborah not only donated books to our cause but reached out to her own friends and family to ask them to help and make sure that every single child that wanted to read The Tombs could. Today, the last copy of The Tombs was ordered thanks to her help, a complete stranger, who just wanted to get books in kids hands.

We still have a lot of other books left to go but this project has been magical in so many ways.

It isn’t just the book project that has me see all of this goodness, my Open Up Resources 6–8 Math groups are the best. I really can’t tell you how many times at the end of a long day I jump in the Facebook group or on #openupmath to see all the amazing pictures and stories teachers are sharing. They are soul-filling kinds of stories full of the amazing abilities of teachers and the progress we are making in math education. It is the best.

And there are the amazing people I get to work with who I can call ridiculously early West Coast time because I am unsure of something or panicked that I messed something up that will take the time to understand what I need and help me own and fix my mistakes. I didn’t really think there could be people as passionate (or as crazy) as I am about equity in education but my co-workers really are. But beyond that so many of them have helped support us in our book project not just by buying books, but with kind words and sharing our story. My life is filled with good people.  (And seriously everyone there rocks but Karen, Patrick, Gail, and Lincoln, save me, make me laugh, and remind me how amazing humans can be everyday).

I get awfully wrapped up sometimes in all the darkness that sometimes hides all the goodness around me but it is there just like that candle I tried to blow out last night. Thankfully kindness is magical like a flame, just when you think it is gone and just when you need it most it finds a way to bounce right back.

 

 

 

I Am a Teacher and I Have Raised Two Struggling Readers

I want to talk about a personal challenge that I have faced as a parent: I’m a teacher, and I have raised two struggling readers.

By all accounts their dad and I did everything you are “supposed” to do to make sure your kids grow up to be readers.

We read every night. Even before they could walk, talk, or hold their head up I can remember reading to them.

They had two educated parents who worked with them and used a variety of vocabulary with them.

They had access to a variety of books, educational toys, and any other materials a child could ever need.

They had life experiences from children’s museums to zoos. They were wonderers, questioners, and learners.

But yet they were still struggling readers.

When I first learned Jackson had been placed in reading intervention I cried. I thought I had failed him as a mom. I couldn’t figure out how he could know so much and yet couldn’t quite seem to learn how to read.

When I found out Embry was behind in reading I decided it really must just be my fault. I had obviously taught them too much math and not enough reading.

I talked to everyone I knew to find out what was going on with both kids. They didn’t struggle with comprehension. If you read them a passage they could answer questions like a pro. Jackson could usually answer the questions without you reading it to him because he was great at figuring things out. Their reading comprehension was at or well above grade level and yet the couldn’t read simple sentences.

In second grade, Jackson caught up in reading. I was pretty sure (and still am) that his teacher was magical. He is in 5th grade now and reads at an 11th grade level, he is a struggling reader no more. Embry just started 2nd grade and low and behold I think she is slowly but surely catching up in reading. I am pretty sure her teacher is magical too but I think I have finally figured out what those 2nd grade teachers are doing to turn my struggling readers into successful readers..

My ‘Aha’ Moment: Phonics Really Matters.

Both kids 2nd grade teachers forego spelling words for phonic words and go back to the basics of phonetic understanding. For the first time Embry is trying to sound out words and make sense of them rather than use other strategies she was taught like to use the picture to figure out the sentence or skip words she doesn’t know (she just skips all the words).  She is finally gaining confidence that she can learn to read and sound out words and it is making a world of difference.

I’m having my ‘Aha’ moment about all of this because of the articles I have been reading about phonics lately on Twitter. This Emily Hanford article really opened my eyes to how their are Language Arts Wars just like there are Math Wars. The article explains the reasons that phonics instruction isn’t happening in many classrooms, even though the research says it’s needed.

Then my CEO wrote this article this week, and I learned that literacy experts recommend daily phonics instruction. I’m reminded how lucky I am to work for a company that believes in a balanced approach to reading that includes phonics.

It’s all very eye-opening for me. And I wonder how many other teachers would feel the same way once they read the articles I’ve been reading.

Now I know that every student deserves access to balanced materials, and not just because they get lucky and have a 2nd grade team of teachers that believes in it. But we clearly have a long way to go before the research is understood across K–12 education. I have a friend who teaches Kindergarten and whose district adopted a popular textbook reading program that doesn’t include phonics. She saw how much her kids really still needed the phonics portion so she did what any good teacher would do and started supplementing… but she recently got in trouble for not following the book as written and was told to stop. Which hurts my heart.

I am thankful that with time Embry will catch up in reading just like her brother did and that she is getting the phonics help she needs this year. However, I can’t help but wonder how many kids will miss out on this help, and will continue to struggle well past 2nd grade, until they eventually determine they will never be a reader.

My mind has been in overdrive since I started reading these phonics articles. Not only about my own children, but about the best way to address the phonics gaps more broadly, to reach all kids like Jackson and Embry. If you are like me, and want to spread the word about this eye-opening research,I hope you will share Emily Hanford’s article with everyone you can so that they can understand the issue for themselves. I also love this idea I saw on Twitter, encouraging educators to write respectful letters to the Dean of the University they attended explaining why they didn’t feel they were prepared to teach reading, especially to struggling readers.

I would love to hear more teachers sharing their perspectives and stories around teaching phonics in their classrooms. Do teachers feel prepared and supported in teaching phonics? Are folks discussing the research? What solutions exist, beyond phonics-rich curriculum?

What I know: I’m a teacher and even I needed help raising a reader. And like the best teachers, I am happy to admit what I didn’t know and to grow my practice, in service of kids.

Giving Back

I have never made my love for public education and teaching a secret. I even wrote recently about how teaching and my teacher friends in the MTBoS were a sanctuary for me when life got really hard. I have a deep seeded love of helping kids and teachers that I have a hard time putting into words most of the time.

That is one of the reasons I love my new job as Community Manager at Open Up Resources so much. I get to help teachers and connect them with people that will be for them what the MTBoS was for me…a sounding board, a cheering section, and a refuge.

But I also miss helping kids directly so very much. I had to stop myself from buying school supplies all summer and other things I knew kids would need come August. It was so weird knowing I wouldn’t have a classroom or 120 kids waiting for me to support them at the end of the summer that I began to wonder how I would give back. I found a simple solution to fill the void slightly – and began sending books and other supplies to classrooms across the country to kids who needed them most and I loved it. I had so much fun picking out books and writing notes…even the kids and Kevin joined in!

As you know I am marrying a wonderful and giving man on New Year’s Eve this year and we struggled a lot with what we would “register” for as gifts. We are both older, have lived on our own for years, and have more household things than we could ever need. Kevin has supported my love of public education during the craziness of the last year; picking me up in Frankfort after rallies, standing on the side of busy roads with me while we were rallying, and helping me make signs for support so I don’t know why I was surprised when he said yes to my latest crazy idea (his mom was a public school teacher for 30+ years!)…we decided to register for school supplies and books to give away instead of wedding gifts.

We selected a teacher in our town of Lexington, Kentucky, one of my best friends who is a teacher at a school in Cincinnati, Ohio, a teacher from Indianapolis, Indianapolis (where Kevin’s family is from), and Indianola, Iowa (where my dad’s family is from) and let them select anything they thought would help their classroom from flexible seating to traditional supplies to books for the kids to take home. We would love nothing more than our friends, family, acquaintances, and maybe even strangers to help us provide materials for these deserving teachers and students. There is no better way to show us you love us and care about us than to support our mission to provide materials for these public school children.

I knew I was passionate about this project but I didn’t know how passionate I was until my friend from Cincinnati sent me this note from one of her students last week. Erin elected to let her students pick books they would like to have and keep as her registry items (you would be shocked at how many kids have never had a book of their own).

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Erin asks the kids every week what they appreciated that week. This young man is homeless and by all accounts doesn’t have a lot to be thankful for but yet he is most appreciative and excited about the three books he got to ask for from us. Reading this note with teary eyes made me realize that we have to find a way to get all of these books for these kids. I hope you will help us.

It is truly as simple as hopping on our wedding registry and selecting an item (or two or three haha) and sending them to us! We will make sure they get to the right schools and teachers. I hope you all will make us work hard…make us make many trips, fill up our living room with boxes, and make Kevin write lots of thank you notes!

We would also love it if you would share this idea with anyone you know. We want to make these teachers and students feel loved, cared for, and appreciated and getting books and supplies from around the country is sure to do that.

Kevin and I are forever thankful.

With love,

Kevin and Brooke

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This is 35…

I had to fill out a survey recently that asked how old I was. It gave the typical options:

____ 25–29            _____30–34          _____35–39           _____40–44

That’s when I first realized that I would have to move “up a box” this year to 35–39…the last stop on my way to 40. The number doesn’t really bother me as much as the box and I am not sure why. I have been having some fun during the last week snapchatting what 35 looks like with the hashtag #thisis35. I thought I may as well blog about it.

IMG_820635 is leaving the job you LOVED for 13 years to start a new path that is scary and stressful and like nothing you have ever done before …. but so worth it. I am so thankful that I get to spend my days coming up with new ways to support teachers and connect them around curricula that truly engages kids and pushes them to be stronger learners. I work with the coolest people on the planet and I am so very humbled by the opportunity I have right now.

35 is learning to deal with kids that are starting to go through puberty and are an emotional mess somedays. It is also coming to terms with the fact that I no longer know anything (which is sometimes true…how did I miss that there are 5 Oceans now?!)

35 is still like being an awkward middle school student and trying to make new friends as your old friends move on to different stages of their lives. From career changes, to marriages, new babies, retirements, and more I find myself looking more and more for people to expand my social circle with. That doesn’t seem to get any easier…pretty soon I am going to start passing people notes at the gym that say “want to be friends? check yes or no”.

are making a comeback!

35 is realizing that I thought I would feel more grown up by now but most days still feel like I am fresh out of college and still trying to figure out how to navigate the world. People always want to talk to me these days about retirement funds, life insurance, short term disability, wills, and college funds and most of the time I still miss talking about the new hotspot in town and what I want to be when I grow up (I still don’t know!).

35 is starting to see those first wrinkles and gray hairs and realizing that my hip hurts a lot after barre class. It is trading in milk shakes for protein shakes and cheap beer for  wine (I am still cheap). It is meal planning and ordering your groceries online and being so proud when you stay up until 10pm to finish a whole show!

But 35 isn’t all bad. It is also friends who have had babies that let you cuddle and babysit them because you managed to raise your own two for this long.  It is a niece and nephew that you get to plan Christmas lists, sleepovers, long weekend visits, and surprises their mom and dad don’t need to know about with. It is a “small” wedding list that keeps growing because you have so many special people in your life you want to celebrate with. It is a family that spends lots of time together despite all of your siblings being grown. And it is having the life experience to beat your fiancee every weekend in college pick ’em which is a ton of fun for me.

So onward and upward to the next box for the next few years another chapter for me. I know this blog will be evolving as I am not in the classroom anymore. I have lots of backlogged post to share though so stay tuned!

Brooke

 

 

Being Enough: My MTBoS Thank You

In many ways I can’t believe I am going to be transparent enough to write this post (and I am sure my sweet mama won’t believe it).  Although I wasn’t at TMC18, watching Julie Reulbach’s amazing address afterward and the outpouring of blog spots and tweets that followed from people that felt they weren’t enough sometimes to be a part of the MTBoS group finally inspired me to share my story.

Three years ago I was at the lowest point of my life in more ways than you can imagine.  Most people had no idea of course.  My family and very closest friends new but otherwise I put on enough of a show to keep my struggles internal.  I was fresh off of getting divorced, learning how to be a single mom, had gained nearly 50 pounds and was trapped in depression and anxiety that paralyzed me.

I can remember praying that summer for school to hurry up and start.  Teaching was the one thing I could control.  It was the one thing that I felt I remained good at when I had convinced myself I was failing in all other parts of life.  Once school started I poured myself into writing blogs and tweeting because the affirmation and acceptance I got from the #MTBoS were in many ways the only things I felt I was getting right.  I had a different identity in the group where I was successful, had it all together, and wasn’t the big mess that I saw when I looked in the mirror.

I can remember that at night after the kids went to bed often times I couldn’t sleep because my mind was filled with anxiety and the feelings of depression were crushing me.  I would truly go to Twitter to participate in #msmathchat or to just see what was happening in the math ed world so that for 5 or 10 minutes I could feel important, and strong, and like I mattered.

Fast forward to today and I am in a much better place that I was three years ago.  I crawled out from under the depression that crippled me and I have learned to manage the anxiety better (this is still a work in progress) that caused me not to want to even leave the house somedays.  I am a better mom, lost the 50 pounds that life’s circumstances caused me to gain, met a great man who deals with my crazy life and sees the good in me even when I don’t.

However, every day is never going to be perfect and I still find myself flocking to the MTBoS to remind myself of where I came from and who I really am.  I went through a difficult situation in my district and school this last year that caused me to leave the classroom in May.  I was terrified that maybe I wouldn’t be as welcomed in the MTBoS world without my teacher hat on but instead some of my favorite people there have rallied around me and encouraged me as I stepped away from room 406 for the first time.

I have been so lucky to go to work for a company that is amazing and supportive and very patient with me and my one million questions but I haven’t done anything new in 13 years so my learning curve has been really steep.  I apologize all day every day for what I don’t know, for all the questions I ask, and for not being as independent as I want to be yet.  I am so thankful that all of my new coworkers seem to have the patience of Job.  When those old feelings of insecurity and self-doubt have come creeping in I find myself going back to the MTBoS to read tweets and blogs to remind myself that in that group I have always been enough.

So thank you to everyone in the MTBoS that has been a cheerleader for me whether it be by liking, sharing, or just sending good thoughts from time to time.  You may not have realized it at the time but you were literally saving me from myself and for that I will always be thankful.  Thank you for reminding me that I have always been enough.

Thank you for your trust and supportin everything I do.