Mentorship Matters: 8 Pieces of Advice For New Teachers-Series 3

This blog series is being written from my perspective as I am a Mentor Coordinator K-12 in a school district in Long Island, N.Y. I will share my experiences as my mission and vision are to continuously develop a Mentor Program that will build a strong foundation to support educators during their first years of teaching and for the rest of their educational journeys. Refer to the Mentor Program tabs,#LBLeads 2019-2020 and#LBLeads 2020-21 in my digital portfolio as a window into my experiences. Refer to my previous blogs in this series titled Mentorship Matters: 8 Tips for Developing a Strong Mentor Program-Series 1 and Mentorship Matters: The 6 Cs to Successful Mentor/Mentee Relationships-Series 2 for insight into how to develop a strong Mentor Program and develop Mentor/Mentee relationships.

The Invisible Roadmap

Think back to your first years of teaching. Were you ever handed a roadmap to success? I remember thinking that I’d enter the school building on my very first day and be given a handbook that would include secret magical ingredients to the perfect recipe for becoming a successful educator. Well, that never happened because it just doesn’t exist! Even after experiencing years of schooling, internships, student teaching adventures, and a lot of reading, I know now that nothing really prepares a new educator more than being thrown right into the trenches. I am pretty sure that every educator who has ever had their own classroom of learners understands that it’s a tremendous responsibility that is both gratifying and overwhelming at the same time. Also, anyone who gets placed in a position to influence the lives of children must recognize that they have been given the unique opportunity to make an everlasting impact. Moments of influence and impact have the potential to live within learners for the rest of their lives. Those gifts live within great educators and are waiting to be unwrapped at the right place, at the right time, with the right people! Those moments cannot be prescribed in any handbook or roadmap to success because there is no winning in education and learning. According to Simon Sinek, author of The Infinite Game, education is not finite. There is no beginning, middle, and end because the players, curricula, policies and procedures, are continuously changing. Rather, education is an infinite game because there is no finish line or end. “Infinite games have infinite time horizons. And because there is no finish line, no practical end to the game, there is no such thing as “winning” an infinite game. In an infinite game, the primary objective is to keep playing to perpetuate the game” (p.4). So who is responsible for creating the invisible roadmap to success?

Mentors Are Everywhere

Although New York State provided me with a formal mentor when I was a new teacher, I was fortunate to have many educators around me who I viewed as mentors. They too shared words of wisdom, resources, and new ideas that would impact the way I chose to approach teaching and learning for the rest of my career. As a matter of fact, I perceive every single educator I have ever come into contact with since the beginning of my career as a mentor. Why is that? Some have gifted me with pieces of advice that I will indefinitely hold close, while others have modeled practices that I would never even consider employing. That being said, I have taken all of the wisdom that’s been shared with me over the years and created an open roadmap that includes 8 pieces of advice for new teachers!

Discover the How

I call this an “open road map” of advice because these are only suggestions, a framework, a guide. These are signposts that will point any new educator toward the right direction, but it will be ultimately up to them to choose their path and decide what kind of educator they want to be. That’s the beautiful part about being an educator. Educators come with different backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives. Educators see the world from a unique lens and approach their practice with stories that push on their hearts. The open roadmap will provide the “what” and the “why” for those who plan to approach education with an infinite mindset. It is up to the educator and the mentors who are placed in their paths along the way to discover the “how”. My hope is that this open roadmap of advice can be placed into the hands of the mentors who are helping build strong foundations for educators and any new teachers who are committed to lifelong learning and view the process as a journey. Let this be advice to inspire you to imagine what the future could hold for yourself and the people you will continue to influence throughout your career.

8 Pieces of Advice for New Teachers

1. Keep Connections at the Core: Getting to know your learners, their families, stories, passions, and interests will show them that you are human first and that you care. Be that person who wears an empathy lens. Be that person who will take the time to walk in the shoes of every student and colleague who crosses your path. By creating those connections and cultivating meaningful relationships, you are opening the pathways to deeper learning and exponential growth!

2. Embrace the Community: Make an effort to get to know the vision and mission at the community, district, and building levels. The people who make up the culture and climate of your organization are trying to row in the same direction to best serve the students! Every role in an organization is important and should be valued. You are now part of a team and it certainly takes a village to provide students with the right opportunities to thrive. You do not have to work in isolation. Observe and talk with the people around you; you will be surprised about how much you will learn from them. Those conversations will stretch your thinking and have an immediate impact on your role. You will also have a better understanding about who you can turn to for direction and advice when you need it! Also, for additional support, consider joining an online community like Chuck Poole’s Facebook Group Teacher’s Success Lounge or Rachelle Dene Poth’s Thrive in EDU Facebook Group. There may be people in those spaces that embrace and invite other thinking partners.

3. Build a Network: Although having an outstanding formal mentor is crucial to the growth process, it is vital to connect and collaborate with other educators and staff members in your educational communities. Everyone has knowledge and gifts to share. We are truly better together. Try not to compare yourself to others. According to Theodore Roosevelt, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” We are not here to compete! We are here for kids! Just like we have different friends for various reasons (those who make us laugh, seek advice from, listen to understand, talk so we don’t have to), the same holds true for the educators we meet. Find those people in your organization who can make you better and help you see and learn other practices and perspectives. Also, consider expanding your network by using one or more social media platforms. Twitter has been a gamechanger for me. I have met some of the most impactful people to push my thinking in ways I never knew they could. Some have also become great friends! The #EduTwitter space can be overwhelming, but when you find the right network, it can be magical! Just remember, great minds don’t always think alike, they think differently too!

4. Discover and Document: One of the best things I was afforded the opportunity of doing was watching other great educators teach! Inter-visitations, lab sites, and debriefing time will allow you to discover and embed new practices into your repertoire of teaching and learning tools! If this doesn’t happen in your school district, ask! Perhaps your administrators can arrange for it (even virtually). If you are lucky enough to have Instructional Coaches, ask them if they could organize this authentic learning experience, but also invite them to come in and offer you constructive feedback. I always loved when my coaches and peers gave me new ideas. They encouraged me to try new approaches and made me better! Also, you may want to consider creating a digital portfolio. A digital portfolio will allow you to document and think about your learning in the most intentional and meaningful ways. I am grateful to George Couros for encouraging me to recently start mine after 14 years in education! Luckily I took his incredible Digital Portfolio Master Course where he walked me through the process of why I should create one and how I can use it! The experience has been reflective and allows me to create a digital footprint of my students’ and my own learning. It’s never too late to start! Don’t think too hard about it. Just jump right in and make it happen… you won’t be sorry!

5. Pursue Professional Development: I am fortunate to work in a school district that provides a tremendous amount of professional development for all teachers. My Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction, Dr. Paul Romanelli sees the value in offering a wide range of courses that fit with the district vision and meet the needs of the staff and student population. He believes in empowering and elevating the teachers within the district coupled with bringing in great educators and thought leaders from outside of the organization to facilitate targeted professional learning experiences. Together, we also make sure that the Mentor Program provides appropriate, relevant, and innovative PD for our new teachers. I am also a big believer in not waiting for your school district to provide professional development for you. I REPEAT. Do not wait! If there is something out there that will help meet the needs of your learners and you, then pursue it and find it! Then, ask if you can attend it! Twitter has been a space to professionally grow and it’s FREE! Consider joining a Twitter chat that is rooted in a topic you are interested in! I personally enjoy #CultureEd, #FutureReady, #G2Great, #Empathetic_Educators, and #Read2Lead (just to name a few). Read professional books, articles, blog posts, and listen to podcasts. In my previous blog post, What Are Educators Doing? I mention some of my favorite professional learning resources! If you are having difficulty finding a professional learning opportunity that meets your needs, then consider CREATING IT!! You should always be in the driver’s seat of your learning!

6. Be a Mirror: Think about all of the educators who have influenced your practice. You may have not even met some of them yet! I know that some of the great educators who have made the most impact on me have only come into my life recently. The thought of meeting more people I don’t know yet is exciting! Think about why those people have been an important part of your journey. What did they say or do to influence the choices you make on a daily basis? Take the best qualities of all of those educators, mirror those attributes, and make them your own! If possible, reach out to those people and tell them exactly why and how they have inspired you. They will be happy to hear it! Sometimes, we don’t recognize the impact we are having when we are in the moment. Be the mirror and best versions of all of those people!

7. Celebrate Successes and Failures: It is crucial to give yourself recognition for all successes big and small! This is hard work and you should be able to share those amazing moments of growth and awe with those who support and cheer you on! There is nothing more gratifying than knowing you have made a difference in the lives of your students and colleagues alike. At the same time, you must consider that when you enter the field of education, be prepared to fail at things many times throughout your career. THIS IS A GOOD THING. I repeat. THIS IS A GOOD THING. When you aren’t failing, it means that you are not trying new things. It means that you are comfortable with the status quo. It means that you are not pushing yourself outside your comfort zone. So celebrate success AND failure. You earned it!

8. Pause and Reflect: Educators are working hard and exhausting all of the minutes in their precious days. Great educators also have servant hearts and are usually thinking about everyone else’s needs but their own. Take the time to pause and reflect. That means, take a break! Pursue your personal passions and interests, practice self-care in the best way it suits you. This will look different for everyone. Some will indulge in their favorite exercise routines or go on a shopping spree. Others will take a painting class, read for pleasure, and/or write a blog like I am right now! The point is, whatever makes you happy on the inside, whatever pleasures your heart, do it! Taking that break to focus on YOU will actually make you a better educator than you were before!

Mentorship Matters: The 6 Cs to Successful Mentor/Mentee Relationships-Series 2

This blog series is being written from my perspective as I am a Mentor Coordinator K-12 in a school district in Long Island, N.Y. I will share my experiences as my mission and vision are to continuously develop a Mentor Program that will build a strong foundation to support educators during their first years of teaching and for the rest of their educational journeys. Refer to the Mentor Program tabs,#LBLeads 2019-2020 and#LBLeads 2020-21 in my digital portfolio as a window into my experiences. My previous blog Mentorship Matters: 8 Tips for Developing a Strong Mentor Program-Series 1 will provide insight into how to develop a strong Mentor Program.

Limitless Possibilities

Educators have limitless possibilities for shaping and developing the mindsets, actions, and choices for many future generations over the course of their career timelines. They have unique opportunities to create experiences that empower learners to choose a lens that paves the way to purposeful pathways of happiness and success. Since education is in a constant state of transformation, it is critical that educators are provided with the essential tools and supports to navigate the changes, challenges, and systems they live in. These supports will help them develop agency, self-efficacy, instill the confidence to share their own strengths, and unleash the talents of every human being they will ever encounter on their journey. Educators also understand that  time is valuable and at times, difficult to balance. Every minute, every interaction, every moment in their days are precious. However, out of all the ways they can spend their time, mentoring has one of the highest returns on investment because they are shaping the next generation of leaders. 

Who is On the Bus

There is no magic wand for mentoring. The success of strong mentor/mentee relationships rests on the shoulders of WHO. WHO puts in the effort, WHO has sensibility, WHO has the dedication, WHO commits to the process. All of these things matter, but there is a little bit of strategy that goes along with this too. I mention strategy because it is vital to consider WHO will be the right people to guide and create strong foundations for new teachers that lead to long, meaningful, impactful careers. In Brené Brown’s Dare to Lead podcast, titled Brené with Jim Collins on Curiosity, Generosity, and the Hedgehog, Jim Collins discusses the importance of inviting people into your life who will open the doors to greatness. “Pick great people in your life. Those people are your mirror and will tell you if you’re doing ok.” The idea of viewing the people in your life as a mirror of yourself only magnifies the significance of WHO is selected to be placed in a position to mentor, inspire, and influence teachers during the induction process. In his book Good to Great, Collins reinforces this idea by discussing how getting people committed and aligned with a vision and direction will lead to avenues of great realizations, progress, and prosperity. Getting the “right people” on the bus because of “who” is on it rather than being concerned about “where” it is going, makes it easier to change your course. “For no matter what we achieve, if we don’t spend the vast majority of our time with people we love and respect, we cannot possibly have a great life. But if we spend the vast majority of our time with people we love and respect-people we really enjoy being on the bus with and who will never disappoint us-then we will almost certainly have a great life, no matter where the bus goes” (p. 62).

A Mentor/Mentee is Someone WHO:

What is a Mentor? According to the Miriam-Webster dictionary a Mentor is defined as “a trusted counselor or guide.”

What is a Mentee? According to the Miriam-Webster dictionary a Mentee is defined as “someone who is being mentored.”


HERE is the link to the infographic “A Mentor/Mentee is someone WHO”

The 6 Cs to Successful Mentor/Mentee Relationships

The mentor/mentee relationship is symbiotic in nature. The qualities and attributes in both mentees and mentors are synonymous. When mentorship is approached from a holistic lens, it has the power to build social capital and unlock human potential. Great educators have the ability to leave everlasting legacies in the hearts and minds of everyone they serve. This makes the induction years a critical component of the learning journey. That being said, I created a blueprint to sustaining successful mentor/mentee relationships by embracing the 6cs: Connect. Communicate. Collaborate. Circulate. Cultivate. Celebrate.

HERE is the link to the infographic “The 6 Cs to Successful Mentor/Mentee Relationships”

Connect: Get to know each other on a personal level. Share your stories. This will transform the path of a mentoring relationship because you are showing the other person that you truly care about them as humans first. This is a window into a person’s journey which enables you to make more intentional and targeted inquiries over the course of time. In the podcast mentioned above, Jim Collins says “Real conversations happen at the feeling level…The quality of the day is not what you think about it, it’s what you feel about it.”

Communicate: Although informal interactions will naturally be embedded into the mentoring experience, schedule protected time to communicate on personal and professional levels on a regular basis. This protected time values the process and provides a space to ask questions, share knowledge, and learn from various experiences. Come up with mutually agreeable ways to communicate as there are many avenues to reach out to one another. Talking through and reflecting on experiences are important parts of the growth process.

Collaborate: Work together to strengthen and share best teaching and learning practices, how to navigate relationships, and the day-to-day operations. Collaboration can transpire synchronously by interacting in real time with face-to-face, in online meetings, texting, and/or instant messaging through various learning management systems. It can also take place asynchronously by working independently and then uploading documents or annotations to shared workspaces (e.g. Google Docs). The benefits of Mentor/Mentee collaboration are exploring new and better ideas, teamwork, discovering new solutions, and embedding new perspectives into practices.

Circulate: Mentors can be well-connected as they have been in the education field for some time. They should invite their mentees into various professional learning communities (PLCs) and encourage them to think and look beyond their school organizations for ideas by expanding their professional learning network (PLN). As a mentor, you can also broaden your own network by connecting with other mentors and great educators, while also leveraging the opportunity to network with their mentee’s connections.

Cultivate: Mentees come with their own expertise and gifts to share. Help them unwrap those gifts, passions, and interests. Capitalize on, cultivate, and learn from their strengths. Ask questions and allow them to reflect on their areas for growth and development. Use this as an opportunity to let them come up with actionable steps for improvement while providing direction and insights. These interactions are cyclical in nature and should be continuously revisited.

Celebrate: Mentors serve as the greatest and most impactful support system. They should encourage and cheer on their mentee for taking risks and believing in themselves. Celebrate successes big and small and use failure and change as opportunities for growth. Human beings thrive on recognition. When they feel validated and valued, they continue to approach their work with passion and purpose!

Mentorship Matters: 8 Tips for Developing a Strong Mentor Program-Series 1

This blog series is being written from my perspective as I am a Mentor Coordinator K-12 in a school district in Long Island, N.Y. I will share my experiences as my mission and vision is to continuously develop a Mentor Program that will build a strong foundation to support educators during their first years of teaching and for the rest of their educational journeys. Refer to the Mentor Program tabs, #LBLeads 2019-2020 and #LBLeads 2020-21 in my digital portfolio as a window into my experiences.

Making the Commitment

Every year, school districts around the world entrust thousands of new educators to serve their communities as they hire and provide them with a special opportunity to begin long, meaningful educational careers. Most likely, these educators have endured rigorous processes that have determined that they are capable of making an unmistakable and everlasting impact on the lives of the world’s most precious gifts….children.  Make no mistake about it, when one makes a commitment to becoming an educator, they are assuming a tremendous responsibility to create pathways of promise that have the power to influence learners for the rest of their lives. 

A Calling
Teaching is not just something you do, it’s a calling; it’s a beautiful gift; it’s an opportunity to unleash the talents within every human being you encounter; it’s a time to cultivate powerful relationships that have the chance to stand the test of time; teaching creates a space to collaborate with colleagues and builds bridges to connect previous learning to new and innovative ideas. Educators are responsible for shaping significant moments in time that can leave profound imprints in the hearts and minds of every learner they touch. Teaching is also hard work. It can be extremely emotional. It can be draining. But, it’s so incredibly rewarding. That being said, how can school districts build on the strengths of new teachers while providing them with the appropriate support for continuous growth and development? There is one phrase that comes to mind: Mentorship Matters!

Why Mentorship Matters

Developing a strong mentor program has one of the highest returns on investment. Leveraging the creation of powerful professional learning communities will foster the next generation of teacher leaders and help educators see the value of being in a constant state of learning and transformation. According to the New York State Mentoring Standards, “Teacher induction is critical to the overall preparation and professional development of beginning teachers and builds on their continuum of experiences from pre-service programs to ongoing career development spanning time as described within the Teacher Career Development Continuum. Coupled with mentoring standards, induction accelerates the process of creating highly effective teachers whose goal is to enhance student learning and achievement.” Establishing and implementing a strong mentor program enables novice teachers to be guided by mentors to help learners reach their maximum social-emotional, cognitive, and academic growth throughout their school years and beyond. This distinguished responsibility empowers more experienced educators to take everything they have learned and “pay it forward,” to help new teachers acclimate to the culture and climate of an organization, shatter the walls of isolation during the inception of their careers, and shape the next generation of teacher leaders.

8 Tips for Developing a Strong Mentor Program

8 Tips for Developing a Strong Mentor Program

  1. Align with State Mentoring Standards– It is paramount to refer to the Mentoring Standards provided by the state/country you reside in. These standards offer a set of guidelines that are critical to teacher induction and to the design and implementation of relevant and meaningful learning experiences. This enables the Mentor Coordinator to establish systemic efforts that will shape and sustain the first experiences in the careers of new teachers. 
  1. Voice and Choice– It is vital to include educators in the decision making process to share what kinds of professional learning they want to experience. It is also critical to recognize that educators enter the teaching profession with many strengths and areas for growth. It is also the responsibility of the Mentor Coordinator to ensure that the professional learning choices are grounded in the vision and mission of your school district. As an example, providing educators with a Google Form with a list of choices as well as a space to add any additional thoughts/ideas for professional growth will empower them to take ownership over their learning.
  1. Professional Learning Communities- By establishing a learner-centered culture of trust, connection, communication, and collaboration, educators have an opportunity to see the value in intentionally creating spaces to collectively set reasonable, learner-driven, evidence informed goals and share ideas of instructional practice that will benefit ALL learners in their organizations they live in. Not only will this improve the skills, expertise, and knowledge through professional dialogue, it will foster a desire to improve educational aspirations, achievement, and cultivate the next generation of teacher leaders. These teacher leaders will become an integral part of a cycle that improves and encourages innovative teaching and learning practices.
  1. Select a Professional Book as a Framework- One of the most valuable components of a strong Mentor Program is to find timeless professional books by outstanding authors who can share their authentic experiences as educators at different levels of an organization. These are books that encompass innovative and relevant messages that will stand the test of time regardless of what transpires in education. These leaders in education bring a special and unique value to the learning experiences you commit to embark on. Take a deep dive into these books and be sure to connect the messages of the authors with your district’s mission and vision. These are the books that will serve as frameworks to drive the learning process. The books I intentionally chose are The Innovator’s Mindset by George Couros and Personal and Authentic by Thomas C. Murray. Both of these authors have shared incredible resources and have been continuously accessible and supportive to the new teachers, their mentors, and me in our efforts to keep learners at the heart of decision-making and implement lifelong practices that will prepare learners for any path they choose to create.
  1. Invite Other Voices- It is crucial to highlight the educators within your organization to facilitate professional learning experiences. This provides new teachers with opportunities to connect with other educators across the school district, but also elevates the teacher leaders and administrators that can share their knowledge and best teaching and learning practices with your educational community. Additionally, you will want to invite educators/speakers outside of your school district who can offer a fresh perspective on various topics in education. Those voices are also valued as they have seen the work of other school districts around the world and can share a lens that can push your thinking outside of your comfort zones!
  1. Create a Digital Footprint: I have always stressed the importance of making your learning visible by sharing best teaching and learning practices with colleagues in your organization and beyond. By creating a Mentor Program hashtag and Twitter handle, this allows participants in the program to showcase the incredible work within their learning spaces to a larger community. This will in turn help other educators create and form ideas that will ultimately benefit all learners! Feel free to check out the #LBLeads and @LBMentorProgram hashtag I created for the Mentor Program I facilitate.
  1. Connected and Networked: In The Innovator’s Mindset, George Couros says, “Being in spaces where people actively share ideas makes us smarter.” Social media provides a space to connect with other educators who can share our mindsets, but also push our thinking to create new and better ideas. It is in these spaces where we can get inspiration from other educators and organizations outside of education to try something we haven’t thought of before. Creating a culture of learning and innovation happens when meaningful connections are made beyond the walls of the organizations we live in. It is within these spaces that new possibilities are discovered to benefit learners who have the potential to make change today and in the future!
  1. Give Recognition: Everyone within an educational organization works tirelessly to meet the needs of their learners. New teachers are acclimating to the culture and climate of a district, are learning to understand their community, are building new relationships, learning new standards, and a new curriculum, while meeting the needs of all families and students. They deserve all the recognition in the world! Celebrate your teacher leaders. It is human nature to want to feel valued and recognized. At Mentor Meetings, highlight the work they have been doing by looking through the hashtag you created and put those tweets on a few slides! Have them explain their “why” behind their practices. For the educators who are not on social media, have them send pictures of their work and get their permission to share! The return on this investment of time will be monumental! 
Chapter 1 Book Quote– Personal and Authentic by Thomas C. Murray

Moments of Wonder

Roadways and Bridges to Learning

Have you ever experienced moments of wonder? To me, it’s a moment when the world stops around you and you are walking towards a path of discovery. It’s that moment when you see or hear something that pauses your heartbeat and stretches your mind. It’s that moment that clouds extraneous noise and magnifies the awe and curiosity within. It’s that moment that causes you to step back, observe, listen, and create roadways and bridges to new learning. Recently, I had been hoping for another moment of wonder. But, I know that life just doesn’t work like that. Through my experience, moments of wonder happen when we least expect them. They happen when we are living our lives with passion and purpose; if we are open, flexible, and willing, we can stumble upon those moments and appreciate their value.

Learning About Liveware
Recently, I experienced a moment of wonder when I decided to listen to Brené Brown’s podcast, Unlocking Us with special guest David Eagleman, a neuroscientist and New York Times best-selling author. From the moment he started talking, I was captivated by how relatable he is. I was enthralled by the way he eloquently and simply described the human brain and its functions. He has the natural ability to communicate in a way that resonates with people who are not living in his world. He paves a path to do the important work of studying the brain and then shares the information with people who are not in the medical field. He describes the brain as liveware; all of its experiences reshape the brain. “It’s a living, dynamic, electric fabric that is constantly changing.” Every time we take in new information and are evolving as people, our malleable brain is perpetually reconfiguring. While listening to this podcast, I immediately added Eagleman’s new book Livewired: The Inside Story of the Ever-Changing Brain to my Amazon cart. Another moment of wonder is when I began reading his book. One quote that struck me was, “As we grow, we constantly rewrite our brain’s circuitry to tackle challenges, leverage opportunities, and understand the social structures around us” (p.3).

A Connection to Education

After reading just a few paragraphs of this blog, your brain has already changed. At the end of chapter 1 in Livewired, Eagleman says, “Just a handful of pages into this book, your brain has already changed: these symbols on the page have orchestrated millions of tiny changes across the vast seas of your neural connections, crafting you into someone just slightly different than you were at the beginning of the chapter” (p.16). This moment of wonder catapulted me into a state of reflection about the current state of the educational landscape we are living in. Here is a moment of wonder: If our brains are changing by reading a few paragraphs of a blog, then how much have they metamorphosed since the beginning of a global pandemic? When people ask me if teaching in virtual and physical spaces simultaneously is hard, my answer remains constant: Yes it is hard, yes it is challenging, and yes, the educators who are living this, well their cognitive capacity is being stretched beyond what anyone could have ever imagined. Another moment of wonder … when I realized I have learned more about teaching and learning in the last 9 months than I have learned in my 15 years in education while putting the learner at the heart of decision making, responding to what they need to know, thinking about how they should get there, and figuring out ways to track their learning. And since technology is second to the learner, then I incorporate digital tools to support the process. I have tested my limits in multiple ways and have perseverated over what I can do better. These moments of wonder made me realize that you can learn and achieve anything you want to if you embrace flexible intelligence, the willingness to collect the important details and create experiences that make the learning process worthwhile. Have you ever experienced a moment of wonder? To me, it’s a vessel of curiosity and awe. It’s the way we perceive the world and take in information. It’s that moment when you realize that there is so much more to know and learn. Moments of wonder are spaces and time that question our beliefs, who we are, and push us to places that make us better versions of ourselves.

Reimagining the Magic of the Workshop Model Series 3: Non-Negotiables in Physical and Virtual Spaces

Special Note:  This is blog post entry 3 of a blog series titled: Reimagining the Magic of the Workshop Model. Blog post 1 in the series can be found here: Reimagining the Magic of the Workshop Model Series 1: Inviting Change.  Blog post 2 can be found here: Reimagining the Magic of the Workshop Model Series 2: Rallying Learners and Building Community. This blog post series is written from my perspective, as I teach face-to-face and virtual cohorts of middle school learners simultaneously.

Like the Speed of Light

Recently, the educational landscape we have always known has been challenged and has shifted faster than we could have ever comprehended…way beyond our imaginations. It’s as if we have instantaneously soared into a virtual learning universe that seems faster than the speed of light. Did you know that the speed of light in a vacuum is 186,282 miles per second, and in theory, nothing travels faster than light? So, if we were actually able to travel at the speed of light, you could go around the Earth 7.5 times in one second. This seems incomprehensible, doesn’t it? Well, wasn’t there once a time where many of the practices we employed in education seemed light-years away? The fact of the matter is that education has always evolved and changed, yet, those deviations seemed much easier to consume and digest because they happened more gradually. On the other hand, in the spring of 2020, educators were urgently launched into another dimension of teaching and learning. We were left questioning whether or not the instructional practices we have always held close to our hearts would still be significant in virtual and physical spaces. We were left questioning whether we could connect with learners and develop meaningful relationships. We were left questioning whether or not we could honor the teaching frameworks that have historically impacted learners in positive ways. We were left questioning if the resources we have worked so hard to curate throughout our years of teaching would still be compatible virtually. We were left wondering how we could monitor and track learning through meaningful formative and summative assessments. 

What I Know Now

For me, the first question that stirred within was whether or not educators would be able to keep the magic of the workshop model alive in our new physical and virtual atmospheres. As I continue to question, reflect, revise, and shift how I approach cultivating relationships, analyze curriculum, deliver instruction, and administer assessments, I know now more than ever that no matter where our learning spaces exist, it is up to us, the educators to embrace it. I know now, it is up to us to own it. I know now, it is up to us to navigate this new territory with open hearts, flexible minds, and positive spirits. I know now that it is up to us to take the instructional practices we know have always worked, and fine-tune our techniques to meet the needs of ALL learners throughout the process.  And since I am knee-deep into the experience of  Hyflex teaching, the philosophy and implementation of the Workshop Model can be achieved by keeping these 6 non-negotiables at the core of the work.

6 Non-Negotiables in Physical and Virtual Spaces

(Click on the link above for access to the infographic)

Connection Before Content– When you place cultivating relationships and building community front and center, it is likely that you will leave a lasting impact on the learners you encounter throughout your educational career. I am pretty sure that the legacy we choose to leave is not in the time we took to plan and execute a lesson; it is not in the homework or assessments we assigned or graded; I am positive that it is in the time we took to get to know our students as human beings first. If you commit to leading with passion and empathy. If you take the time to find common ground. If you create inviting, safe, nurturing learning spaces for ALL learners, you will see a big return on your investment. In a recent Future Ready podcast titled Universally Designed Connection and Reflection with Brianna Hodges and Dr. Katie Novak, Dr. Novak brilliantly and simply states,  “If you can connect with students, then that’s a good enough tool right now.” Learners have an emotional compass and will use social referencing to take cues from adults they admire. With that being said, by connecting and sharing your authenticity and passion, students will believe in and be an integral part of the magic in the important work that lies ahead.

Honor the Architecture– When planning and executing a minilesson, keep in mind that the content, focus, and/or space may change, but the architecture of the minilesson and it’s components don’t! In the book Leading Well: Building Schoolwide Excellence in Reading and Writing by Lucy Calkins, (written before the COVID-19 global pandemic, but still remains true) she says, “When teachers lead effective minilessons, these short bursts of instruction will mobilize the whole community to be on fire as readers and writers and will immerse the kids in an understanding of the work they are doing” (p. 69). However, keep in mind that since there are new and different learning spaces to consider (physical and virtual) when delivering a minilesson, educators must be flexible with each component, the pacing, and the way learners are engaged throughout the process. According to the Heinemann article, How the Essentials of Reading and Writing Workshop Do-and Don’t Change with Virtual Teaching, “Traditionally, the architecture of minilessons remains largely the same from day to day—and contains a connection, teach, active engagement, and link. For virtual minilessons we keep the “connection” and “teach,” but often combine the “active engagement” and the “link” as a way to set kids up to practice the strategy demonstrated. So instead of kids trying the work during the minilesson—hard to do virtually, especially with recorded instruction—after the teacher demonstrates, we set the kids up to go off to work.” Honoring the gradual release of responsibility, the effective transfer of skills and strategies, and leading learners towards independence will always remain a constant in any learning environment.

Architecture of a minilesson anchor chart.

Conferring is a Cornerstone- 1:1 and small group conferencing is a key ingredient to having learners practice, improve, and elevate their literacy skills. This sacred time spent with students can be messy as the learner guides the direction the conference will take. In turn, the teacher should be able to notice and name a learner’s strengths and areas for growth and adjust the direction and goals of the conference accordingly. According to Jennifer Serravallo, in her book A Teacher’s Guide to Reading Conferences K-8, she beautifully conveys, “Conferring is where the magic happens. It’s the heartbeat of the literacy block…. Conferring blurs the lines between teacher and student” (p. 1). In a conference, the teacher and student are both learners, except, the student is doing most of the work while the teacher coaches in and offers thinking prompts to lift the level of the work. Students need to understand the goal(s) of the conference in order to make the necessary progress in their learning and during independent reading. In virtual spaces, these vital interactions take place in Zoom or Meet breakout rooms. This is a more personalized space to connect, interact, and personalize learning. Katie Martin confirms this in her blog titled, To Engage Students, Focus on Connection Over Content, “Scheduling time with each student to connect, learn more about their circumstances, their goals, and ideas, created a different dynamic that built empathy and allowed for more personalization and meaningful connection.” In her blog Using Feedback to Build a Sense of Connection, Purpose, and Ownership Dr. Martin states, “5-minute conferences can be a really powerful way to check in with students and provide timely meaningful feedback based on their needs.  Teachers who are remote might use breakout rooms to meet with a few different students or small groups each day to check-in. If you are in person you can call students up while others are working or giving each other feedback.”

Curate Relevant Resources

-Print and Digital Texts

In a workshop classroom, readers should have access to a tremendous volume of books in a mutlitude of genres and topics that spark their interest. As a matter of fact, Richard Allington suggests that schools have a minimum of 1,000 books per classroom! Over the last few years, learners have also been introduced to digital readers. Since we are attending to the needs of learners in both physical and virtual spaces, it is important to provide students with access to rich classroom libraries as well as websites and apps that house a plethora of digital texts. I am fortunate that my school district has provided our students with digital texts on Raz-Kids, Epic, Bookflix, and Sora (just to name a few). In the physical classroom, books are checked out when readers go book shopping, and then they are quarantined for 4 days until they can be checked out again! We must continue to keep in mind that maintaining a classroom library is an ongoing process to ensure that there are high-interest, high quality texts that represent various genres, topics, and series that students will embrace.

-Purposeful Anchor Charts 

Purposeful anchor charts that are created with students is an essential part of the workshop experience! If you walk into my classroom, you will see that the walls are adorned with meaningful charts that help learners access skills/strategies that are needed to navigate various texts they encounter. These tools are meant to maximize students’ independence, encourage choice and risk-taking, and celebrate the productive struggle along the way. In the book Smarter Charts by Marjorie Martinelli and Kristine Mraz, they explicitly state, “Charts help to make our teaching explicit and clear by providing step-by-step directions and key tips and strategies for how to do something” (p. 86). For students in the virtual space, I recreate mini versions of these charts and intentionally attach them to a digital notebook of strategies for learners to access when they need the support.

Physical Space Anchort Chart (left) and Virtual Space Anchor Chart (right)

Preserving Independent Reading-Independent reading is the heart of the workshop model. Within the gradual release of responsibility, it is critical to be able to guide learners towards independence in physical and virtual spaces. This is where they will be able to apply the skills and strategies that are taught during the demonstration portion of the minilesson. Independent reading is a routine and protected practice that transpires across grade levels. According to the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) Position Statement on Independent Reading, “Effective independent reading practices include time for students to read, access to books that represent a wide range of characters and experiences, and support within a reading community that includes teachers and students. Student choice in text is essential because it motivates, engages, and reaches a wide variety of readers. The goal of independent reading as an instructional practice is to build habitual readers with conscious reading identities.” If you are an educator who embraces the workshop model philosophy, it is a professional obligation to model your own reading life and create the time and space for learners to independently read.

Ongoing Assessment & Feedback– Meaningful assessment can propel the teaching and learning process. It is a way to collect information about the learners’ strengths and areas of need.  In a workshop model framework, it is important to embed thoughtful assessments that drive daily instruction. Assessments help teachers provide thoughtful feedback, create small groups, create personalized goals for all learners, and structure minilessons accordingly. This includes, but is not limited to formal and informal running records, spelling inventories, checklists, rubrics, and anecdotal notes. When adminstering assessments in physical and virtual spaces, it is vital to plan accordingly. It is beneficial to be transparent with learners and families about the “why” behind each assessment. Learning shouldn’t be a secret! Personally, I always spend time discussing the expectations in rubrics and checklists with learners. We analyze the nuances in language and develop a shared understanding of the goals. In Katie Martin’s blog titled, Using Feedback to Build a Sense of Connection, Purpose, and Ownership, she expresses, “When students are clear about the learning goals and criteria for success, they can self assess their work and take ownership of the process. Checklists and rubrics can be really helpful, especially if they are co created and the students have a clear grasp of what is expected of them. Creating time and building the routine for this practice is critical to understand where they are and determine next steps.” Furthermore, it is valuable to provide learners with ongoing, cyclical feedback that clearly paints a picture of where they are in relation to the learning targets, what the next steps are, and what it will take to get there. Katie Martin goes on to say, “Meaningful feedback is not the same as a grade or an evaluation. Feedback is information for the learner about where they are in relationship to the goal or target to help them get there. If we can prioritize the learning goals and only assign meaningful work, we can make the time for students to go deep, get feedback, revise and do something meaningful.”

Learners highlighted the shifts in language on a 1-4 scale Reading Workshop Rubric for physical and virtual spaces.

Stay tuned for the next blog in this series: Reimagining the Magic of the Workshop Model Series 4: Honoring the Workshop Model Framework 

Reimagining the Magic of the Workshop Model Series 1: Inviting Change

A Special Note: Many months ago, I was encouraged by George Couros to create a digital portfolio in order to highlight and archive my learning. These conversations started before the COVID-19 global pandemic emerged as one of the most challenging and life-changing events in history. During the quarantine, I connected with Kristen Nan and Jacie Maslyk, co-authors of All In: Taking a Gamble on Education in a book study Voxer group. This is when Kristen invited me to co-blog on her website. This was a great opportunity to test drive blogging. The experience was incredible and gave me the confidence to take George’s advice and create my own platform. One of the first blogs I wrote during this time was Reimagining the Magic of the Workshop Model. The purpose of this blog was to keep the workshop model alive during emergency remote learning. I wanted to share my experiences with other educators and show them that what may seem impossible is in fact, possible.

With that being said, as I learn more about implementing the workshop model in physical and virtual learning spaces simultaneously, I want to share my process with other educators. So, I welcome you to the beginning of a series of blogs titled: Reimagining the Magic of the Workshop Model. I will break up my learning process and the workshop model framework into various components so that they are easier to digest. Please understand that my learning is constantly evolving and all of these ideas may be revised over the course of time!

This blog series is dedicated to George Couros, Jacie Maslyk, Thomas C. MurrayKristen Nan, my PLN: #Read2Lead, #EdCampLI, #LBLeads, and my Long Beach colleagues who have inspired, motivated, supported, and encouraged me to write and share my learning and voice with the rest of the world. I am forever grateful.

What Happened to the Magic?

There is a certain kind of magic that lives within an educational universe. If you orbit around an organization and open the doors, you will find sparks of light. These sparks of light shine brightly because they are ignited by communities of educators who pour their souls into maximizing and elevating learning experiences for kids. It’s that spark that ignites into flames when curiosity and wonder spread like wildfire. It’s that spark that rallies a community of learners together to support one another through the learning process. It’s that spark that embraces the idea of agency, voice, choice, and productive struggle. It’s that spark that empowers and guides learners towards independence. And just as the flames happily dance and spread around our magical learning hubs, the intensity of the flames can just as easily be disrupted, startled, dimmed, faded. What happened to the magic? I’ll tell you in one word: CHANGE. When change invites itself through our doors, it can be paralyzing. It can be suffocating. It can be stressful. It can be shocking. It can also be eye-opening.

Change is the Epicenter of the Journey

I have been in education for 15 years and I can assure you that change has been the epicenter of my journey. Most of the time, change has been a gradual occurrence that happens over a steady course of time. It’s so slow, that at times, it cannot be recognized until it’s looking you straight in the eyes. However, recently change has looked quite different in the world of education. Across the globe, educators have been pushed to rethink education. Educators have been challenged to question their core values. Educators have been pushed to revisit their philosophical beliefs. Educators have been remixing existing teaching and learning practices that have lived in the nucleus of their daily lives and in the book Innovate Inside the Box, George Couros brilliantly states, “I’ve long believed that change isn’t to be feared; it is an opportunity to do something amazing…Change will come our way. We can “go” through it or “grow” through it. We grow when we seek out solutions rather than letting those obstacles hinder us.” This quote resonates even more deeply since the Covid-19 global pandemic has jolted the more traditional educational landscape we have always lived and known. I’ll admit when shifting to emergency remote learning and now teaching in physical and virtual spaces simultaneously, I have paused multiple times and questioned the what and the how. I have questioned whether or not the philosophy of the workshop model can live on in virtual environments. I have questioned if I can make the workshop model come alive for learners the same way I did in physical learning environments. Katie Martin, author of Learner-Centered Innovation confirms how vital developing solutions are to the barriers of change with this astute notion, “If the world is changing, the evidence and research become irrelevant if you don’t consider a new context.” And if we want to reach learners effectively, we MUST consider the new educational contexts that have been thrust upon us. We cannot look back, we must keep moving forward! And then, I came across a tweet from Thomas C. Murray, author of Personal & Authentic that spoke to my core, solidified these ideas, and reminded me of my why. And when I revisited my WHY, I knew it is to continuously cultivate lifelong learners who feel empowered to reach their social, emotional, and academic potential. And then, I realized that through the workshop model, I can continue to rally together a community of learners and build community by prioritizing the social-emotional needs of students and keeping “who” we teach at the heart of the learning journey.

Choosing What is Right

I have encountered many people who have embraced different educational philosophies. I have listened to theories and have read multiple books and articles by countless leaders and experts in the field of education. I have indulged in and have digested several perspectives about various topics with the intention of catapulting learners to academic success through multiple kinds of curricula and teaching and learning practices. And every time I have read an article, a book, or listened to a podcast, I used to think, wow, this must be the magic prescription for success. In my earlier years of teaching, when I was handed a curriculum, I followed it to a T. I thought that the curriculum itself was the key driver of developing a learner’s social, emotional, and academic potential. I thought that the people who were responsible for making decisions about the curriculum knew best and I looked to them as the experts. Now I know better. Now I know that the learners are the curriculum. They tell you what they need. I learned that there is not one single curriculum that works best for all learners. I know that every curriculum must be viewed as flexible and should be modified to meet learners’ needs. Knowing this made me realize that I can adapt the Workshop Model in both physical and virtual spaces. Knowing this helped me understand that I can revise the implementation and the process at any time. Knowing this made me feel more comfortable with taking risks, sometimes meet those risks with failure, share and reflect on those experiences with colleagues, and recognize that it’s an opportunity for growth.

Thomas C. Murray invites Kristen Nan to share how important it is to take risks and step out of your comfort zone in this #LeadershipMinute!

The Workshop Model Will Live On

Suddenly, a spark was ignited within me…I knew that by inviting this change, I was still going to continue to honor my belief system and keep the magic of the workshop model alive. I felt committed to implementing what I have known to be best practices in the new context we are living in. It is because I believe that this is the framework that empowers learners to become confident readers and writers. This is the framework that guides them towards independence. On October 17, 2020, the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project held their first virtual Saturday Reunion. When I logged in to watch and listen from the comfort of my own home, Lucy Calkins was delivering her opening remarks. She said “We need to be as connected as we can be…Teaching is about holding onto the faith that the work we do matters. This is hard to hold onto right now. Even if it feels that nothing is going well, we need to show up.” These are powerful words that made me ask myself again…How can I rally learners together and build community when we are teaching in both physical and virtual learning spaces simultaneously? What can I do to cultivate meaningful connections and develop relationships with face-to-face and virtual learners? What new and existing tools can I utilize to support the execution of the gradual release of responsibility? I know that while navigating this learning journey, I must continue to be patient, I must continue to give myself grace, I must continue to be open to feedback from my colleagues, my PLN, and my students who are living this with me, and I must show up. And as Calkins suggests, I will show up for my students, their families, my community, and my country. EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. The fact of the matter is that change has already invited itself through our doors. As George Couros says, “You can fight change, adapt to change, embrace change, create change, or lead change. No matter your choice, change is not going away.” And do you know what else I will not let go away? The Magic of the Workshop Model.

Lucy Calkins passionately delivered her introduction at the October 17, 2020 TCRWP
Saturday Virtual Reunion.

Stay tuned for the next blog in this series: Reimagining the Magic of the Workshop Model Series 2: Rallying Learners and Building Community

Lifelong Practices Live Within

My Educational Journey

I have been in education for 15 years and throughout my career, I have served in many roles at the Elementary level. This includes Teaching Assistant, Classroom Teacher, Reading Specialist, and most recently, Instructional Coach. Throughout the trajectory of my career, I have always worked to challenge myself in every position I have ever served in. Each position has taught me how to fine-tune what I know and do; each position has allowed me to see and focus on my strengths and the strengths of others in order to provide the best opportunities for students to reach their social, emotional, and academic potential; each position has allowed to me stay true to my core beliefs while learning new ways to approach teaching and learning. And because I have been fortunate to travel this path, I recognize the value every role brings to an organization. Over the course of time, I have asked myself, “How can I continue to honor my core belief system as I navigate the different roles I serve in?” At the heart of this journey, it became clear to me that developing relationships, connecting, being human, and leading with empathy and grace, opens doors to creating a community of learners who work together to ambitiously develop solutions to instructional challenges.

Not the Same Educator

Five years ago my school district decided to invest in job-embedded professional learning at the Elementary level. They reached to educators within the organization who had a strong background in literacy to elevate literacy practices and bring shared experiences to four buildings. When I took on the role of Literacy Coach, my school district had already committed to embracing the balanced literacy approach; this is an approach to reading and writing instruction I feel very strongly about to the core as learners can authentically engage in rich literacy experiences including the reading and writing workshop, interactive read alouds, shared reading, small group instruction, one-on-one conferencing, and have choice and voice as they get to self-select from diverse texts across a plethora of genres. This was an opportunity to work side-by-side with teachers as I got to collaboratively write curriculum and develop meaningful assessments with teachers, students, administrators, and literacy consultants. Over the course of a few years, we developed 73 Units of Study that were grounded in the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project philosophy. I got to work intimately with the other Literacy Coach, a brilliant colleague, and friend as we rallied teachers together to analyze, reflect, and revise a live curriculum to meet the needs of a diverse population. Additionally, we purposefully and intentionally took an audit of all elementary classroom libraries and ordered books and mentor texts to support learners and enhance the curriculum. Furthermore, we vertically aligned the curriculum, so there was a smooth progression of literacy development from K-5 that was aligned to the learning standards. In the last few years, I worked with my other Instructional Coach colleagues to ensure continuity of instruction in the Reading and Writing Workshop model, provided meaningful professional learning experiences during faculty and grade-level meetings, and participated in formal and informal conversations about student learning. All of this heart work has always been grounded in best practice. Best practices and systems are what guided this incredible experience. During this time, my coaching belief system was shaped by Jim Knight’s Seven Partnership Principles (introduced to me by Jessica Gruttola during an Instructional Coaching workshop). These principles influenced conversations, theory, and practice. These are the principles that supported my team as we embarked on the mission of creating positive change. If we modeled the change we wanted to see by consistently using the Partnership Principles as a guide while keeping learners at the heart of the decision-making process, we were off to great things!

Jim Knight

It was this work that led me to deeply understand what teaching and learning practices would best support learners in order to move them to higher levels, guide them towards independence, and create lifelong learners.

Coaching 1        Coaching 2Coaching 3  Coaching 4

Coaching work I facilitated in faculty, grade level, and one-on-one meetings.

Taking A Leap of Faith

This year I am taking a leap of faith as I enthusiastically join the Middle School team where I will serve as a Literacy Specialist. Although I will always keep my years of elementary experience close to my heart, I am incredibly excited to continue to collaborate, connect, network, reflect, and share all I have learned in every role I have ever had the privilege of serving in with colleagues and learners. I am also inviting the learning curve that will come with acclimating to a new culture and climate. I will learn for, about, and with new leadership, colleagues, and learners. In making the transition from Elementary to Middle School, I believe that there is great strength in knowing and understanding the building blocks of learning, where the students are coming from, and what skills they should have mastered. If we work together towards building a bridge that will reinforce what they know while making new connections to learning, there will be a strong vertical progression of literacy development.  As I make this transformation to the middle level, there is one thing I know for sure… I will continue to honor my own core belief system and the teaching and learning practices I am so insanely passionate about. As I continue on my educational journey, I will never forget the experiences I have been a part of and the people who have impacted my growth along the way. They are all a part of who I am, and that will never change!

Keeping Partnership Principles at the Core

I created the infographic below to demonstrate how Jim Knight’s Instructional Coaching Partnership Principles translate to working with learners using a balanced literacy approach. I believe that belief systems in education can be applied to any learning environment, if they are in fact, best practices!

Keeping Partnership Principles at the Core (2)

Keeping Partnership Principles at the Core