What am I thankful for?

Another blogging challenge came across the way! I, of course, couldn’t resist taking part!

Jason Strate (Twitter|blog) challenged folks in his circle to post on the topic of what they are thankful for this Thanksgiving season.

This year, I have a lot to be thankful for! First and foremost, I am thankful for my kids. Grace and Michael make every day fun and challenging all at the same time! They each have their unique personalities. Grace is a 9 year old, who acts like a ‘tween! She loves music, dancing, clothes, and boys. She is a very talented singer and is a great reader! Michael is a typical 5 year old boy. He’s both fiesty and snuggly. His heroes are Iron Man and Batman. Someday, he wants to fight bad guys just like them! He’s learning how to read and write, and is so proud to finally have his first loose tooth!

Second, I am thankful for my family and friends. I have had many major changes in my life over the past 2 years… Without the love and support of them, it would have been extremely difficult to get through. My Mom, especially, has not only supported me, she’s encouraged me, and has helped me learn how to stand on my own two feet. I am thankful that I’ve come through the rough patch, and have a bright future ahead of me! Thank you to everyone who has encouraged me when things got tough!

I am thankful for my fiance (it’s still pretty awesome to me to be able to say that, given we JUST got engaged)! Jason was there as a friend before I even got divorced. Back then, we were chatting on facebook, just as old friends, catching up. I don’t think either of us had a clue that some day, we’d be dating, let alone getting married! He gives me new outlooks on situations that I might not see. He helped me through a lot of uncertainties – being that he had been through a lot of what I was going through… In the past year, he has inspired me to follow my passions. Blogging is something I always wanted to do, but never felt like I could.

I am thankful for making the right career choice in college! I have always been a bit of a child-magnet, being a preschool teacher was a natural choice for me. I know I am in the right field! The kids in my class make every day a new adventure! I love watching the little kids explore and learn every day!

I am thankful for my Faith. I don’t know if “thankful” is the right word, but, I think you get my point. The following verse has been my “Life Verse.” Jeremiah 29:11 – For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. When things get tough, I hold fast to this verse, and pray that those plans will be revealed. I try to remember that everything happens for a reason, even if it sucks going through it. I hold fast to knowing God’s promise of hope and a future.

Lastly, I am thankful that my 1st Thanksgiving with my future in-laws went well, and is done! Now, I can relax and go to bed!

Personal Branding – make people know who you are

The MidnightDBA team (Twitter) challenged the SQL Community (and their followers) to write for “Un-SQL Friday“. This is basically a blogging party where anyone who wants can contribute blogs on a given topic. This week’s topic was on “branding”.

Well, I am not a SQL person (though, I have been dubbed an “Honorary” SQL Geek). As a teacher, branding ourselves isn’t really something we worry much about. That said, I have recently been doing a lot of research on blogging. I have read all sorts of articles on how to get more people to view my blog, how to make my writing more effective, etc. Needless to say, the UN-SQL topic was very timely. I have read ALMOST all the contributed posts, and feel compelled to write my own. I could put links here to all the blogs that inspired me, but I don’t think you really want 20 or so links.

What it all comes down to, is questions. What are your passions? What are your goals? How do you want people to see you? How can you best represent who you are without feeling like a fraud? I wrote a while back about having the courage to take control of my life and my career. I have done a lot of thinking about the previous questions since then.

1. I am passionate about children. I want to be seen as an incredible teacher that brings out the best in every child. Ok, now that that’s clarified, am I intentionally presenting myself in a way that is going to make that happen? The answer, my friends, is blowing in the wind… just kidding. Seriously though, I don’t think I always am. There are days that my energy level is not up to par with being the kind of teacher I want to be. Is that an excuse? I don’t know. I am going to be more intentional more often about being the very best teacher I can be. That’s not to say that I have been lazy, but it’s easy to fall into doing what comes easy!

2. I have recently rediscovered my passion for writing. When I was in high school, my favorite classes were writing classes (I had a teacher in 11th grade constantly tell me she couldn’t wait for my next paper because she enjoyed reading them so much). When I worked for a consulting company, I was in charge of putting together the company’s newsletter. When I was in college, I was the Editor (and main contributor) for the school’s newspaper. Now that I am teaching, I really enjoy putting together monthly newsletters…

That’s where blogging comes in. I don’t pretend to be the funniest or smartest person out there (at 1 am, I DO tend to get a little punchy)! I enjoy writing my blogs on a whole variety of topics (though many “experts” will say, stick to one topic or niche). It’s awesome to me that other people actually read what I write! Watching the numbers go up on my blog stats is thrilling! What a HUGE compliment, when other people retweet my posts!! I think my writing has matured quite a bit over the last 6 months or so because of it.

I recently realized that I would love to have articles published someday (and get paid for them). My “niche” would be parenting or teaching topics. I have begun to work towards those goals by submitting a few of my blog posts to ezine.com and Mamapedia. The articles are still in the “being reviewed” phase (since I only sent them a few days ago). What counts to me, is that I am taking steps.

3. As much as I love teaching children, I enjoy interacting with adults (I spent way too much time in chat rooms back in the day because of this). I think it would be awesome to travel on weekends doing teacher or parenting seminars. I have had so much fun traveling with Jason Strate (twitter|blog) to SQL Saturdays when he is speaking. Why not have some of those weekends away be me doing the training? I would love to excite and inspire other teachers to be better at what they do! I thrive on that kind of thing!

OK, that’s a long round about way to get to the topic of personal branding. What does any of this have to do with the topic at hand? Simple. In order to meet points 2 and 3, I need to continue working to get my name out there.

While having a “brand ” works great for some people, I want to know people’s names (and I want them to know my name)! Many of the blogs I have read, I have no way of knowing who wrote the article. It is simply signed by the “brand name” of the person (or not at all). That does me a whole lot of no good in most instances! The assumption that I must know who you are, just because I am at your blog is not true. How many of us retweet articles/posts that we find interesting? I might click on a post that someone tweeted, having NO CLUE who it’s from. I want to know who wrote the darn thing! Looking at my own blog, my name is not on the Main page either! How am I branding myself then? How is my name going to get out there if I’m not signing my posts??? That is going to change!

The point that nearly every Un-SQL Friday (even though it’s now Saturday) post has made, is that it is a good idea to be intentional about getting your name out there. Make people believe in who you are, and what you have to offer! Believe in who you are, and other people will believe in you too!

By: Sarah Sjolander (aka Dancem0m)

How a Teacher is like a DBA

Recently, a SQL friend of mine, Bob Pusateri (Twitter|blog), wrote a post about planning ahead. It’s a great idea to plan ahead for everything from meals, to your family, to your career.

Here’s an excerpt from Bob’s blog that got me thinking…

I got to thinking that planning ahead isn’t much different then the planning that good DBAs carry out, even when there isn’t any bacon on the menu.

Being a DBA typically means lots of different types of planning including (but certainly not limited to):

Disaster Recovery planning (bleach, stain remover)
Capacity Planning (how much awesomesauce can the pantry hold?)
Regular Maintenance Planning (fiber)

Things like that aren’t just limited to DBA roles either

Teachers need to plan ahead all the time. Our job is primarily akin to “capacity planning”. We take into consideration the number of children scheduled on a given day, their ages, and their abilities. Activities are planned based on what they can do now, with pieces built in that will push them to the next level. Future lesson plans are based on the understanding that their abilities will increase over the school year. For example, right now, my 2 1/2 – 3 year olds have had limited exposure to scissors. We have plastic ones available for them to cut play dough, but we haven’t tried paper yet. We have practiced tearing paper, but even that is difficult for some children. I will be introducing “paper tearing” as an ongoing learning center. Once most, if not all the children have mastered that, we will begin practicing with scissors. In the mean time, the children who are ready, can keep cutting play dough.

As we are introducing new materials, we sometimes need to do “monitoring and compliance checks”. (Thank you Jason Strate [Twitter|blog]) Continuing with the scissors example; when we first introduce children to using scissors, we don’t just hand them the scissors and say, “Now cut.” There is an intentional introduction of how to hold the scissors, safety rules, and a reminder for them to “Open, shut, open, shut.” Children often will say it to remind themselves what to do. As they are practicing, we monitor them. Sometimes they need a little extra help, or a reminder of safety rules.

“Normal operating mode” in any class, is to have children that are attentive, exploring, and learning. Sometimes, things come up that are outside of that norm, and there is a “performance problem.” It is the teacher’s job to “troubleshoot” it. Teachers need a back up plan, in case things do not go as planned. This happens often, so we need a “Disaster Recovery Plan”. Sometimes, we have to pull all the children back in (their focus that is), and/or get them on the right track with something else. Some examples might be: we have extra children show up, the management may need to move a teacher around to accommodate and keep classrooms within ratio. We may find an activity that we have planned is too hard for them, we can re-evaluate, and then revise the activity. Sometimes, a child might throw up in the middle of Group Time. The Recovery Plan kicks into place as we redirect them to somewhere and something else while another person cleans up the mess. We need to practice our backup plans regularly. Practice may be done in the form of fire drills, CPR training, etc. That way when an issue arises, we are prepared and know exactly what to do. Teachers also need to take continuing education hours, to help us better recognize and adderss performance issues.

Classroom management is like the “Regular Maintenance Planning”. We are continually looking at how things are going in our classroom. We may need to make changes to the environment we have set up, or to our schedule, in order for things to run more smoothly. We hold Parent-Teacher Conferences 1-2 times a year as a way to touch base about the children in our care. We also use conferences as another opportunity to build relationships with the parents. As concerns come up in between those meetings, we, of course, talk about them. With the foundations built during our “regular maintenance,” those outside issues are more comfortable to deal with. Daily cleaning is another important form of maintenance. Through the daily cleaning of our classrooms, disinfecting toys and materials, etc. we are keeping germs away. This will help our children stay within the normal operating mode by being healthy enough to attend class.

While teaching and being a DBA may seem worlds apart, there are actually similar functions to what we do. Both professions require education, a need to continue learning, and constant evaluation and re-evaluation of what we do. DBAs work on computers, teachers work with children… Now, if only teachers were paid like DBAs, it might be a perfect world! :-D

Continuing Education

Teachers are required to take a certain number of Continuing Education hours every year. These continuing education or clock hours come in a variety of ways on a variety of topics.

Different employers may offer different training opportunities. My first job was at a child care center in MN. We did not receive any clock hours or ongoing training there. While it was a requirement, we had to take care of our own training outside of the workplace. The easiest way at the time, was to read articles and write a report on them (I’m not sure if this means of earning clock hours is even allowed anymore). When I worked for the school district in MN, we received pretty much all of the training/hours we needed. Now I am working at a child care center in WI. While we do receive some training, the opportunities aren’t there to receive all the required hours. What many people may not realize is that this can actually be a good thing. It allows us to choose our own training, depending on what our personal needs are.

Training is available on behavior issues, working with parents, as well as developing literacy, math, science, music, art, etc. Clock hours can be earned through short workshops, all day conferences, online courses, home study courses, and even work experience (such as mentoring student teachers). Requirements vary on the state and type of organization. A MN teaching license requires 125 clock hours over a 5 year period to renew. Child care teachers are required to earn anywhere from 25-40 hours a year, depending on their position.

My preference is to attend conferences filled with other teachers that deal with the same issues and concerns. One of the best parts of attending conferences with other teachers, is the sharing of ideas. A few years back, I attended the Early Childhood Conference at Stout University. I got so many great ideas for art, math, and science activities, as well as being introduced to some great children’s musicians, Colleen and Uncle Squaty. These conferences inspire me to be a better teacher. Any time someone is stuck in a rut of doing the same old things, or burning out, I recommend they go to events like this to have their energy renewed. You can’t help but remember why we’re in this business in the first place. It’s all about the love of children, and wanting to make their world a better place to be!

Personal Goals
As I have mentioned in an earlier post, I let my MN Teaching License lapse, as it was up for renewal during the time preceding my divorce. Much of my training was more than 5 years old, so it no longer counts towards renewal. Now, I am working hard to get the remainder of my clock hours done. My goal is to finish them by the end of the year.

Just yesterday, I sent in 17 more hours that I finished in the past couple of months. I am now up to 85 out of 125 hours completed. I am currently working on a Care Course (home study on Stress and Child Care) worth an additional 25 hours. I also have a couple more online classes through the Professional Learning Board that I will be taking. When these are complete, I will have enough hours to renew my MN teaching license in Family and Early Childhood Education. I am very excited about getting that done!

Once my license is renewed, I will not cram all my training in at the last minute. I will spread them across the next 5 years. I will continue to go to workshops, such as those offered by the Appelbaum Training Institute. I will also continue to mentor student teachers, take home study courses, and attend training offered by my place of employment.

I encourage other teachers to explore the many methods training is available. Find a variety of ways to get training in a variety of areas. I can almost guarantee you will become a better teacher for it…

The Lost Art of Storytelling

Once upon a time, there was a group of two year old children. They were tired and they missed their families. They just wanted to go home. You see, they had spent the whole day exploring, creating, and learning all sorts of new things. By the end of the day, they had had enough! They didn’t want to sing, they didn’t want to dance, they didn’t want Do anything else. They just wanted their Mommies and Daddies to come get them!

Down came the Fairy God-teacher… she started weaving tales of mystery and adventure. Soon, all the children were gathered around her, engaged in the tales she had to tell. They were mesmerized by the changes in her voice and her amazing sound effects. As the tales went on, more and more children were picked up by their parents. Instead of going home crabby, all the children went home with smiles on their faces. And they all lived happily ever after! The End

Real Life
I bet once you saw the words “Once Upon a Time,” you were roped in… at least a little. We all are! Those words are like magic! The story above is true. OK, there wasn’t a Fairy God-teacher, there was just me (though, there are times, I wish such a person existed). It was yesterday. I had a group of children who just wanted to be done with their day. I tried putting on music, they didn’t want to dance. When music doesn’t work, a sense of panic can set in, because that is usually the magic trick! I knew a book wouldn’t work, so I began telling a story. It was a simple story, one I had known since I was a little girl. It involved a cottage in the woods, 3 Bears, and a little girl. I bet right now, you know exactly which story I am talking about!

Sadly, many children these days don’t know the stories we all grew up with. They’ve never heard of Goldilocks and the 3 Bears, or the story of the 3 Little Pigs. They don’t know nursery rhymes, or fairy tales. These stories are important for children. They promote imagination and vocabulary. There’s a lesson to be learned in many of them. Nursery rhymes help children learn rhyming words, rhythm, and other important literacy skills.

When my daughter was a toddler, I struggled to even find a book of nursery rhymes and fairy tales. Eventually, I did find one, and it quickly became her favorite book! Children love to hear these stories!

Tall Tales
My (now ex) brother-in-law was an amazing storyteller! He could make up stories that would have my daughter and her cousin mesmerized for quite a long time. It didn’t really matter what the story was that he was telling, they would sit, in total awe, listening to him! Some people have that gift. I do not. I do however, have a lot of stories from my childhood (or those I have read a million or so times as a teacher) memorized. Simple things like changing a voice, raising or lowering my volume, and involving children in the story (for example, to help “blow the house down”) all pull children right in.

The other day, a little boy on the playground, asked me to tell him a story with the Big Bad Wolf. He has been asking me to do this every time he sees me, for about the past year. I started with the story of the 3 Little Pigs. Within minutes, I had about 10 children around me, listening and participating in the story. I felt a little like the Fairy God-Teacher!! Those moments are just as magical for me, as for them! Last night, I attempted the story of Snow White. I need to practice a bit with that one! The part that got them the most excited, was when the Dwarves started singing “Hi Ho, Hi Ho, it’s off to work we go…” If a story isn’t going as well as you hoped, just bust into a song. It’s so unexpected, it will pull them right back in!

My point, is not that you need to be a fabulous story-teller. It is simply this: children want to hear stories. You can tell them, read to them, or even put in a CD with a story on it and give them the book to “follow along.” You will be doing them a favor as they are preparing to go to school and to read!

Letting Kids Win – part 2

Yesterday, I wrote about my choice to not “let” my child win at Connect 4. I chose instead to teach her the art of strategizing to create her own win. After a few games of me blocking her moves, she started to figure out how to create multiple strategies at the same time. I was very proud of her, but also a bit proud of me for making her work for the win. It got me thinking about “tough love.” At what point do we stop “letting them win”? When do we stop trying to make things easy for them?

When I play with my 5 year old, I still make things easy for him. I only recently stopped doing that for my 9 year old. I think I may have done her an injustice by “letting her win” for so long! When we play catch, she wants me to throw it gently under-hand to make it easy for her to catch, I am not doing that any more (at least not every time). This past spring, she was in softball. She didn’t like it much because she could strike out (and often did). The year before, she had been in Instructional Baseball where if they didn’t hit the ball by the 7th pitch, they could hit off the T. She loved it!

I thought back to when I was a kid. I don’t remember a time when my Mom made things easy for me, but I know she sometimes did. I don’t recall her pushing me much either, but I know she did. As a teacher, I strive to always push kids just a little past where they are at. Why am I not doing the same thing with my own kids? Sometimes I do, but other times, I could do better.

One of the challenges of parenting, is to find the balances. We need to find the balance between work and play, challenging and helping, giving and taking… It is a challenge. If we can help our children become well-rounded individuals, who can be good sports about whatever life throws their way, it will be well worth the end results!

Letting kids win

Tonight, I spent an hour or more playing games with my kids. These opportunities don’t come around very often, with work, school, dance, etc. When we do have time to play, the kids usually want to play outside with friends, watch TV, or play Wii. Other times, I am busy working on Conferences, writing blogs, etc. I was grateful for the opportunity tonight!

We started out playing a card game similar to Old Maid. It had been in Grace’s Trick-or-Treat basket. After we played a game or two, Michael decided he wanted to join. We played a few more games, then switched to Connect 4. Michael told me that when he plays at his dad’s, they play so that when he loses, he gets “another chance.”

We played by the rules. My inclination was to let the kids win (or make it easy to win). I did somewhat when I played against Michael, but since his big sister was helping him, I really didn’t need to. Playing against Grace, I gradually played harder and harder. I forgot how much fun that game is! Finally, she asked me why I wasn’t “letting her win.” I told her I wanted her to learn how to strategize. I wanted her to learn to plan ahead, watch the whole board, and win on her own. After a few more games, I could see her starting to “get it.” It was so cool to watch her pick her moves carefully… It reminded me of when I was in 5th and 6th grade, and we’d play Connect 4 during winter recesses. I was never very good, but I sure liked to play! I’m glad to say, my strategy skills have increased since those days. I’m also very happy that Grace has far superior skills than I did at that age! She started beating me fair and square (though, I was still able to Mastermind a win or two)!

It was a Proud Mama moment! I am so glad I took the time to play with my kids tonight!!!