Thursday, May 18, 2017

No More Countdowns!

An Open Love Letter to My Teaching Job

Dear Teaching,
My name is Kristin Richey and I’m currently completing my 9th year in education. As the school year is coming to a close, I wanted to take a moment to reflect on this past year, the good and the bad, the new and the old, and where I stand moving forward in this profession.

If you’ve read my posts (which, you’re probably busy so I’ll give you a pass), you’d know how much I respect you. I think teaching is a challenging, rewarding, maddening, and joyous profession. I don’t think just anyone is called to this job- but I think many are called away from it. There’s so many reasons for this and aside from getting into a philosophical debate, it’s safe to say that educators can and sometimes do feel overworked and undervalued. My way to get around this? Positivity. And literally being in love with the job I get to do everyday. 

I have a couple of rules this time of year- you know- when the days are numbered and everyone seems to have sunshine and sleeping in on their minds. My biggest rule: no countdowns. I know, I’m a buzzkill. But remember, I love my job. And I want students to love being in my classroom. What better way to ruin that then to have a countdown on the board exclaiming how many days I have left with them? I know, I know. It’s not like that, they say. It’s just a countdown, no hidden agenda. To that I ask, when isn’t there an agenda? Even an accidental one? Think about bullying. The person saying the hurtful words often quips, “I was just joking! She’s my friend!” and yet, the victim of those words is still hurt. Sure they didn’t mean to hurt them, but the agenda was there. The setup was there. Moral of the story: Don’t give students a reason to believe you don’t care 100% about being with them. When I walk into my classroom, I want my students to think there’s nowhere else I’d rather be.Do I succeed at that everyday? Of course not. Do I try my best? You’re damn right. 

Another rule I have at this time of year is to sit down and write this blog post. I like to think, reflect, dwell, and focus on the year that is winding down and get excited about my future in the field. This time last year I was writing an entirely different post. I was working at an elementary school in my district as a Reading Specialist. I learned so much about my district, myself, and quality reading instruction. I was all set to continue at another elementary school in my same district when the opportunity arose to go back to my original setting- one of the middle schools. Now, I’m a middle level person. Yes, we are a breed. I actually went to school (#redbirdproud) with the intention of graduating and teaching reading to middle school students. Crazy? Maybe. Amazing? Definitely.

So I took the opportunity to go back to middle school and began my 9th year teaching a class called Strategic Reading. I got to write my own curriculum due to a boss who trusts me and knows I wouldn’t put anything less than my best in front of students. I have  the kind of instructional leader who implores me to create AND destroy, succeed AND fail, and I am continuously thankful for that. I am able to be the teacher I am because of people behind me who support me. I know that doesn’t happen everywhere, but it should.

This year I taught every student in 6,7,and 8 grade in my school of about 700. It was phenomenal. I got to know all of them. High/low, shy/extrovert, lovers and haters of reading. They all walked through my doors. And you know what? I read to all of them. I taught them all the joys of reading and I discussed with all of them their strengths and goals. Every. Single. One. I made them read. I made them write. I made them think. I even made some of them rethink their disdain for reading. After all, a middle school student with an opinion is hard to break. But I persisted. I hooked many of my students with my read aloud choices. We start every class with 13 minutes of read aloud. For my 6th graders, it was Skeleton Man and Return of Skeleton Man by Joseph Bruchac. A gruesome and visual book about a cannibal skeleton monster from stories is manifested in the real life world of a 6th grade girl. Try reading about a man eating the flesh off his bones without being able to hear a pin drop. I dare you. For my 7th grade, it was Zen and the Art of Faking It by Jordan Sonnenblick. This book is about an 8th grade boy who is reinventing himself- trying to find out who he will be and why. Sound like middle school to you?I thought so. It also starts a secret author study, as my 8th graders also get a dose of Sonneblick. 8th grade students hear Drums, Girls, and Dangerous Pie- a life-changing book about the 8th grade year of Steven and his 5 year old brother Jeffrey. Every quarter I get new students. Every quarter at least 5-6 cry at the end of this book. I mean, I cry every time, but even some of my toughest students do, too. It’s kind of adorable and I promise not to tell. So shh. 

I read aloud, I teach, they read, we work, they collaborate- in essence- we get down to the business of learning/studying/loving reading. And I’m the lucky person who gets to teach them all.

So, Teaching, thanks for listening. Thanks for challenging me this year. Thanks for continuing to be the profession I was born to do- not without it’s complications. I’m thankful everyday that I get to do this job and I can confidently say there’s nowhere else I’d rather be.

Mrs. Richey

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Start. Right. Now. #D100bloggerPD Conclusion!

Thank you for tuning in for the finale post of the #D100bloggerPD blog book study on #StartRightNow by Todd Whitaker, Jeffrey Zoul, and Jimmy Casas. If you have missed any of the previous posts, be sure to view the first post of the study here, which has all the links and locations of the fabulous previous blogs. 

If you’ve been following along the last few weeks, you know that members of the #D100bloggerPD crew have been reading, reflecting, and blogging on the book Start. Right. Now. and that in our school district (Berwyn South District 100), we host an amazing ed-tech conference called iEngage every April. This year, one of the three keynote speakers is Jimmy Casas- one of the three authors of this book. If you stick around at the end of this blog post, you’ll find some “next steps” to take as well as even a couple great prizes for participating and following along with us on this blogging journey.

In my kickoff post for this book, I mentioned how I just felt like this book really hit home for me. That this study was truly helpful in my reflection as a teacher and how grateful I am that these three authors wrote this book. And that was only after the first chapter! Upon finishing the book, I can confidently say that I think every educator must read this book. In fact, sorry to all my teacher friends and my principal for bugging you and making you stop everything to read this book right now- but it’s worth it. I’m also married to an educator who *luckily* gets to listen to excerpts out loud as I find them and read all these posts- but truly- the book changed me- and it will do the same for you.

In all the previous posts from this study, I’ve noticed that there is a common thread. That all my fellow #D100bloggerPD bloggers say something about how just reading this book has pushed them to become a better educator. For example, in Jenny’s reflection post on Know the Way, she concluded with, “And with that, I am off to build my confidence, learn more about my craft and build relationships.” Or how about Amy, in her Go the Way reflection, ending with, “There needs to be a desire to learn, to grow. Don't we want our best selves to be on display?” Or lastly, Lauren who, when writing her Grow Each Day part, concluded with, “Thanks to Todd, Jeff and Jimmy for writing this book that helped me reflect and grow as a leader.”

It’s certainly no coincidence that we all had such a deep connection to this book- because all of us are educators who strive to be excellent. We are all educational professionals in some way who want to get better. I found it so perfect that the final chapter of this book begins with the famous Maya Angelou quote about knowing and doing better. At the beginning of this year, I made a post about my #OneWord2017 and it happened to be better and that quote was included in my post. I love how it’s a quote that doesn’t point fingers or place blame. It also focuses around something I very much believe about good humans- which is that we are all doing the best we can. But like this book, Angelou’s quote pushes us to do more. Yes, of course, do the best you can. But please, learn. Grow. Improve. Study. Try. Fail. Listen. And when you’ve done all those things and you’ve learned something new, do that now. Until you need to do something more. And better. Then repeat all those steps over and over. There’s no end point. Only a continuous journey of self and student improvement. How lucky are we to be able to continuously mold ourselves into our best possible version? 

As this final chapter puts a concluding touch on the four behaviors of excellence, it reminds us that not every educator will be perfectly in sync with these four ideals at all times. That, naturally, in every school, there will be those who do not share the same beliefs. I love how the authors point out how excellent educators do not fall victim to this idea of “getting everyone on board” with a plan or belief. Instead, they “carry the torch” if you will, for the excellent ideas, and hope that the light of the torch lights the way for their colleagues.

One of my favorite parts of the whole book, is near the end, when the authors are taking about “Happiness in the Daily Doing” and how yes, we celebrate the big victories- but that those big victories are made possible by the smaller, often overlooked day to day tasks in a school. For example, stepping into my Strategic Reading classroom, you might not be impressed by the students working together to fill out a google form on what meaningful matches they found in their texts during reading that day. However, what I see is a group of 30 students who have: 
  1. Found a new partner each day we have done this and therefore expanded their personal network of friends and introduced themselves to someone new that day.
  2. Discussed with that new friend their book that they read that day and therefore expanded their literacy minds as well as social and communication skills.
  3. Partners filling out a google form on what they discussed to turn it in to me for feedback and therefore are practicing 21st century skills and nurturing their skills in an ever increasing technological world.
  4. Upon submitting the form, conclude their conversation by sharing book recommendations, saying thank you, and getting back to their reading therefore, in general, are just being two nice humans (an ANY century skill) and growing in reading.

So yes, at first glance, this activity might not look like much. And I had to teach each one of those “mundane” tasks of “say thank you to your partner for listening” but you better believe that when I stand back and watch this- I am certain I am watching magic happen. That sight is my victory. And excellent educators have these victories everyday in their classroom. Not by accident- but by careful planning and many, many “mundane” tasks that add up to something incredible. 

I’m going to conclude my reflection on this book by simply showing one of my favorite quotes from the whole piece. Remember how at the beginning of this post, I mentioned I was so thankful for this book? Thankful because of how I have learned so much and grown as an educator. And yet, wonderfully, the authors have this message for us readers:

At the beginning of this post, I promised you some next steps you can take after reading this post (and the others) in this #D100bloggerPD blog book study. Here they are:
  1. Set your calendar for next Tuesday (4/18) at 8:00pm central time when author Jimmy Casas joins for a special edition of #D100chat. Just follow that hashtag on Twitter and you’ll find everything you need to know!
  2. Sign up for iEngage-Berwyn- our amazing 2 day Ed-Tech Conference where you can hear Jimmy Casas speak- along with two amazing days of learning. You can find more information about the conference and tickets here, but, I’m going to give a FREE 2 Day Conference Ticket to the first person who replies to this blog post!
  3. Everyone else who comments here (but isn’t the first person) will receive a code for 20% off their ticket AND be entered into a drawing to win their own copy of the book Start. Right. Now. by Todd Whitaker, Jeffrey Zoul, and Jimmy Casas. 
    1. You can then get your copy of the book SIGNED by Jimmy Casas at the conference!
Thank you so much for following along with us on the #D100bloggerPD journey! If you have any questions or comments, please leave them below- we love to hear from you! Also, thank you to all my fellow #D100bloggerPD members for partaking in this study- I have and continue to learn so much from all of you!

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Start. Right. Now. with #D100bloggerPD!

Welcome to the kickoff post for #D100bloggerPD's newest blog book study- a quest into Start.Right.Now. by Todd Whitaker, Jeffrey Zoul, and Jimmy Casas. This book was chosen by some members of #D100bloggerPD as the perfect study to coincide with our district's 3rd Annual iEngage Berwyn Conference on April 28-29, 2017. One of the authors, the fantastic Jimmy Casas, is a keynote speaker on Saturday at iEngage. He also graciously accepted an offer to partake in a #D100chat on Tuesday, April 18- explaining why this blog book study will be concluded in time for that wonderful guest moderated chat.

Here’s a little background on how #D100bloggerPD works- if you’re joining us for the first time today. #D100bloggerPD is a movement that began in Berwyn South School District 100 (hence the D100) by Colleen Noffsinger, a Reading Specialist at Irving Elementary (one of our six elementary schools), and myself, a Reading Specialist at Freedom Middle School (one of our two middle schools) in November of 2015. Since then, we have completed more than a handful of blog book studies that range from Reading in the Wild by Donalyn Miller to many of the various Hack Learning Books (Hacking Education, Hacking the Common Core), and more.

You can check along the right side of this blog and click the #D100bloggerPD label- which will take you to all of my previous posts and all the previous studies and you'll find everything you need to catch you up to speed.

Basically, #D100bloggerPD is a fresh take on blogging and professional development and involves many staff members and administrators from across our wonderful school district.

Here is the schedule for this blog study- and the date and location of where to find each post. As they are posted, I will link them here for ease of accessibility.

Following my Chapter 1 Kickoff today, you will find:
-Chapter 3: Show the Way, Part 1- April 4 
-Chapter 3: Show the Way, Part 2- April 4 
-Chapter 4: Go the Way, Part 1- April 6 
-Chapter 4: Go the Way, Part 2- April 6
-Chapter 5: Grow Each Day, Part 1- April 11 
-Chapter 5: Grow Each Day, Part 2- April 11 
-Chapter 6: Behaviors to Beliefs and Back Again- April 13 
back here on Reading and Owl of the Above

As you can see, for chapters 3, 4, and 5- even though they are split up into two parts, they will still be posted on the same day. So basically, starting today (3/28) you can follow along with a new post every Tuesday and Thursday until the finale on April 13- just in time for the Jimmy Casas #D100chat!

Alright, enough with the logistics, lets get on to the actual study! One of the things I love most about these #D100bloggerPD studies is that everyone who participates takes a different approach. You’ll notice in mine, it’s very reflective. I like to pick out parts or quotes from the book that really speak to me and write about them. Other blogger/authors build their posts in different ways. It’s really a treat to learn from others and their own personal way of sharing. 

I felt, from the moment I began this book, that the authors were really speaking to me. Having the added bonus of hearing Jimmy Casas speak in person at an institute day in my district, I knew the kind of passion and devotion that would undoubtedly be poured into this book. However, I was wrong in the best of ways. This book is hard to put down- and even though I’m only introducing the first chapter- let me just say that the best likening I can give to this book is that it’s almost like a love letter. A piece of writing from 3 people to so many that tugs at the heartstrings of fabulous teachers everywhere. I feel like they get me. I feel like they understand that teaching is hard. That teaching requires more. It’s almost like they read my mind in what I was trying to say in my #OneWord2017 post about better. I needed this book in my life right now- and I am so thankful that this study is happening.

Okay, no more mushy stuff. Let’s dig in! Chapter One serves a great purpose of really outlining and explaining the format of the book. It also drives home a message from the very cover of the book, which is to “Teach and Lead for Excellence” and they (the authors: Todd Whitaker, Jeff Zoul, and Jimmy Casas) explain this point thoroughly. If you’ve ever been in a classroom, you know that teachers are leaders. But they do a fantastic job of really driving that point home by using their personal experiences along with some famous leadership quotes (where they switched out leader for teacher and it still made sense!) that sells me (as the reader) that regardless of my role in the school “system”, I can be both a teacher and a leader. 

Yet- they don’t stop there. Much of this introduction is like that. They make a statement….but don’t stop there. So yes, I CAN be a teacher and a leader- they proved that. But they don’t stop there. They go on to set up the rest of the book- which drives home that just because I CAN do it, doesn’t mean it’s enough. I NEED to do it. I SHOULD do it. For me and for my students. 

Same thing with beliefs and behaviors- a large part of the philosophy in this book. I love that the authors made such a big deal about this in their book because it’s just so spot on. Yes, we all believe in students. Yes, we all believe we can be a great teacher. Yes, of course, we all believe in education. But then what? What are you doing about it? What are you doing to SHOW you believe in students? This round of questions could obviously go around and around- but the point is that sometimes the best of intentions are just that. Intentions. I can only speak for myself, a teacher in a 21st century classroom, but I feel like my sentiments would be echoed in saying that we don't want intentions anymore. We want ACTION. And make no mistake, it starts with us.

The authors go on to outline the format of the book- which centers around the Four Core Behaviors of Excellence. It’s a group of values (the first three of which are commonly credited to John Maxwell) that exemplify, obviously, excellence, but in this book, do so much more.
The Four Core Behaviors are:
  1. Know the Way
  2. Show the Way
  3. Go the Way
  4. Grow Each Day
You’ll recognize those values as the chapters of this book- which means I won’t get into them too much, as that is the task of my fellow bloggers.

What I can say, though, is that not much else in education has made so much sense to me lately than these four ideals. It sounds so simple, right? Know the Way. Of course, teachers should know their stuff. But this is more. And Show the Way. Again, duh, show not tell. But they way these three explain this value is magical. And Go the Way, well yeah. Of course we need to model. But are we modeling? This book is like an amazing reminder of all the things we know we should be/do/believe/act but it sells us on them over and over again. And last, Grow Each Day. The only district I’ve ever taught in is D100 (for almost 10 years now!) and if there’s one thing we know how to do- it’s professional development. I mean, that’s what inspired Colleen and I to start up this #D100bloggerPD after all. We are blessed (as teachers in this district) with leadership on every level that supports our learning. Not just perfect learning, either. Sometimes it’s downright ugly, mistake-filled, close your eyes and don’t look learning.  Yet still, we persist. And still, they support. To me, this is not a novelty. To many others, I think it is. I’m very lucky and this book reminds me of that.

The remainder of this first chapter goes on to work with the idea of “Teachers Who Lead” and “Leaders Who Teach” and explains how this book is for both of them. As I said, I’m a Reading Specialist who has a full classroom of students everyday. I loved the section about Teachers Who Lead because it showed me exactly how I should approach this book. But I’ll admit, I also loved the Leaders Who Teach part. It signaled out what to expect out of my administration and gave us the ever present reminder that education isn’t even ultimately about Teachers or Leaders. It’s about students. See what I mean about this book being so simple yet so profound? 

I strongly recommend you stick around with our #D100bloggerPD study and come back on Thursday 3/30 to read Jenny’s take on Chapter 2: Know the Way. Jenny is a fantastic iCoach/Teacher/Leader who will no doubt knock our socks off with her reflection. 

Also, if you’d like to purchase your own copy of Start.Right.Now. by Todd Whitaker, Jeff Zoul, and Jimmy Casas so that you can follow along- you can do so here:

If you get it right now, with prime shipping, it will be here in time for the next post! You can’t beat that.

As always, thanks for reading/learning/growing with me. If you have any questions or comments, please leave them below.

Monday, January 16, 2017


It took me longer than I originally anticipated to pick my "OneWord" for 2017. At first, a bunch of different words came to mind and I started compiling a mental list. Once my mental list got a bit out of control, I moved my list to the notes on my phone. I would add some words, delete some words, and even modify others. I was struggling to choose because I wanted to select the perfect word for my upcoming year. As the guilt of delay kept piling up, I began to wonder if this challenge of selecting my word wasn't something that deserved a deeper look. I often fall victim to this idea of perfect. Naturally, I want to do everything to the my best my abilities, but sometimes this notion of perfect gets in the way. As time dragged on and I still wasn't deciding, I remembered a quote that I once heard from Kevin Honeycutt- "Perfection is the enemy of done." I was truly stranded from completing my "OneWord" because I was waiting for the perfect word. And then it hit me. I don't have to find the perfect word. I don't have to have the perfect year. I only need to be BETTER than last year. I realized that the word  better applies to so many facets of my life and can be the perfect (pun intended) guide as I navigate through 2017. So here we go- here is what I plan on accomplishing with my #OneWord2017!

Be a better education professional:

Notice how I didn't just say teacher? Being a teacher is just not that simple anymore (was it ever simple?). Being a teacher doesn't involve only standing in front of a room and delivering instruction. It's not only planning lessons, grading assignments and assessments, fostering relationships with students, communicating with parents, collaborating with colleagues, and the list could go on forever. In order to be a better teacher, I need to think of all the aspects of my job that I want to improve. First, I want to get better at regularly posting on my blog. I was really good at this last year and this year it has taken a back seat. Yet every time I sit down to actually write a blog post, it brings me so much joy. In the same vein, I want to be better about Twitter.
Like my blog, this is something I was able to devote more time to last year, and has fallen off this year. I just need to make a plan and assign some time- doesn't have to be much- but make a plan and stick to it. Being better at these two aspects of being an educator will help me in so many ways- growing my professional development, collaborating with other educators, and reflecting on my own teaching. The field of education is constantly changing- and just because we need to change to stay fresh, doesn't mean what we were doing before is wrong. It simply means that things are changing. In order to stay current, relevant, and important, we change, too. This acknowledgment that we need to change it difficult but honorable. I love this quote from Maya Angelou because it points out exactly this logic. Good teachers are always doing the best they can. And that's fantastic and wonderful and kids are learning. However, that best isn't going to be best forever. Once better comes along, we need to adapt ourselves for the sake of our students. It's not undermining what we have done, created, or accomplished in the past. It's simply making a commitment to be better.

Be a better friend, wife, mom, and family member.

This is the point in the reading, when, if you're also a teacher/parent/friend, you're laughing at me- because you know as well as I do that in order to become better at all these things, I am going to need more time. And I'm certainly not going to be creating more hours in the day anytime soon- but part of being the better person at all those things is finding the time and devoting it to where it need to be spent. I'm sure I can spend 25 minutes on laundry instead of 25 minutes catching up on my queue in Hulu, I'd certainly be helping out my fabulous husband who carries the weight of all of us more often than I'd like to admit here.
Or instead of checking my phone/facebook/twitter a million times a day (don't judge!), I could use that phone to call my friends/family to check in and simply talk- for the sake of cultivating the relationships and nothing more. In terms of being a better mom, I could elevate the time I already spend with them into more meaningful activities. Sometimes it's all I can do to just come home from work and sit and talk/hang out with them. And that's great and wonderful and 100% acceptable. But I'm thinking that at least a couple of those instances can be upgraded to playing a game (even if it is the same one over and over!) or creating something together. Considering time has gone so quickly this far,  I'm not delusional to think my tiny humans will stay ages 5 and 4 forever- but I am crazy if I think that I can cash in these "play a game with me, mom!" and "mom, do you want to color?" moments forever. They're growing up, and the better me this year simply can't afford to miss a single moment. I will never, ever, ever (X a million) be the perfect mom, but I can definitely be better.

This blog post is more humbling than I originally anticipated. I feel like in order to write this, I've been more reflective than I originally thought and more open to criticism than I would've planned. But hey, that's what being better is all about. It's safe to say that I knew I wasn't perfect when I began this post- hence my "OneWord" selection, but I didn't know how much thinking about being better would actually change my outlook on the upcoming year. As I stated in the opening- I was so torn on finding the perfect word- yet now that this post is coming to an end, I really feel at peace with my choice- and do think, strangely, that better  really is the perfect word for me. And who knows, maybe we can grow together this year...after all:

Here's to becoming better together in 2017!