Sunday, December 16, 2018

New Teaching Tidbits Blog

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When I started blogging in 2014, I was serving as Secondary ESL Teacher and was inspired to blog by my English learners. A few months prior, my students created individual blogs and while the objective was for them to develop their English writing skills, it soon became a powerful driver of both academic and personal growth. As their writing skills grew so did their confidence and I was so inspired by their accomplishments that I felt moved to create my own blog. Read my very first post here.

Initially, my posts consisted of reflections and celebrations from my ESL teaching experience and so my blog was appropriately titled "ESL Musings." However, as I developed as a globally connected educator I found my professional interests expanding and evolving. In January 2016, ESL Musings became Teaching Tidbits. I renamed my blog and purchased "" but I didn't change the blogspot URL. Therefore, although my blog title reflected the change, the blogspot URL did not.

Fast forward to August 2017, I joined a new district and transitioned to an instructional facilitator role. That's when I lost my blogging voice. It's not that I'm not as reflective. Quite the contrary. The longer commute has given me lots of time to ponder and reflect. But frankly, there was so much newness last year- new, role, new school, new district- that I felt that I was in a season of intake.

But I really missed blogging.

While I'm still growing in my facilitator role, I really miss sitting at the keyboard and mulling over my experiences. Sure, I could just keep a journal or enter my thoughts on a Google doc, but there's a creative part of blogging that I really enjoy. I don't care if my posts are read by a single person, but as a technology enthusiast, blogging makes me feel as if I accomplished something as I reflect. It also serves as my professional portfolio.

For 2019, I've decided to restart my blogging practice. Teaching Tidbits will now be housed at and I'm changing this blog back to "ESL Musings."  It will be linked to my new blog so I can go back and read my old posts when I need a little inspiration.

There's still lots I'm taking in and I'm enjoying every bit. I'm forever learning and growing. Celebrating the minute as well as the grandiose. Living every moment to the fullest and sharing my reflections as I travel on this journey of teaching and learning, in the hopes that I may offer a tidbit of inspiration to those who read my pages.
May 2019 be the #BestYearEver

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Reflect Not Regret

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As I reflect on 2017, I must say that I wish I could hit the rewind button and change a few things. 

But I can't.

Most people that know me well will tell you that I am hopelessly optimistic.  I have learned to fail forward, to embrace my flaws, to see problems as opportunities and to make the sweetest lemonade out of the tartest of lemons. But we all go through rough times and for me, it was last year. While I have grown tremendously both professionally and personally through all this, I have to say that my faith and my optimism have been tested. 

My decision to move districts to what I perceived as a growth opportunity, didn't turn out to be what I expected. I then tried to return to my former post but was not able to do so. On the bright side, a casual conversation with a colleague led to my current role. And while I'm still growing in my new position, I feel I am heading in the right direction and believe things are going to work out for the best.

I'm not going to share the details of my professional journey on this forum. However, through all this, I've learned some important life lessons and I'll share them below in the hopes that others will learn from them too.

Speak up when you think someone is about to make a wrong move.
Don't tell people what they want to hear, tell them what you know. Only after I made my move and expressed my regret did colleagues come out of the woodwork and agreed that my previous district was a better fit for me. But rather than sharing insight prior to my leap, they kept it to themselves because they didn't want to step on my toes. They could have spoken, but they didn't.

Listen carefully to those that do speak up.
Professional changes have personal and family implications. When people who know you well, express their hesitations, don't dismiss their comments. Rather talk with them and listen intently to their concerns. Family and close friends often see things we miss in the midst of the excitement and sense when things are not quite right. I should have listened when my daughter told me to not make the jump, but I didn't.

When in doubt, don't do it.
Risk is always scary and it's expected to feel uneasy before taking any leap, but if you are more nervous than excited, trust your instincts. If only I would have followed my gut, but I didn't.

Choose to reflect, not regret.
My head has been spinning with all the coulda, woulda, shoulda. But rather than drowning in my regret, I choose to reflect and move forward. Undoubtedly, I could have made different choices. I should have talked to and listened to more people. If only I would have thought my decisions more carefully, I would have avoided some speed bumps. But I didn't and what's done is done. Looking back will not make my ride any smoother. 

All I can do now and is get back on the road and keep moving forward believing that God will work all of this together for my good because I love Him and am called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28). And so my word for 2018 is "forward."

May 2018 be our best year yet!

Sunday, October 1, 2017

What a Facilitator Is Not

New role, new school, new district. In the words of Bob Dylan, "the times, they are a-changin'..."

As of August 22, 2017, my title is Middle School Academic Facilitator. Although it’s a position I have pursued for quite some time, I’ve been waiting for the right one. This summer when the opportunity came knocking, I went for it.

Ever since I entered the world of education, I've been in a collaborative role. First as a computer applications teacher, which made me the go-to technology person (before the days of technology facilitators). In 2012, I moved into the ESL field, which gave me the opportunity to coach and collaborate with teachers who served English learners. I believe my experience has served to prepare me well for this position, but there's still so much I need to learn.

Despite an extended commute, my new school and the colleagues I'm privileged to work with have made the change very worthwhile. Rather than fret about traffic, I use the longer drive time to ponder and reflect on my goals, expectations, and challenges of this new position. Because I leave while it's still dark and am usually the first one in my wing, I get at least an hour of peaceful solitude. I have to say that (most mornings) I find the commute a blessing in disguise.

So, what is a facilitator? I've received this question from family, friends and even the staff at my school. The middle school facilitator position is not only new to me, but also new to the school. I'm at a K-8 magnet school and am primarily charged with supporting the middle school faculty. While they've had a literacy facilitator and a math facilitator for quite some time, it's been several years since the middle school wing had anyone in an official facilitator role.

Webster defines a facilitator as "someone or something that facilitates something; especially someone who helps to bring about an outcome (such as learning, productivity, or communication) by providing indirect or unobtrusive assistance, guidance or supervision." More specifically an academic facilitator, a term synonymous with instructional coach, is "someone whose chief professional responsibility is to bring evidence-based practices into classrooms by working with teachers and other school leaders"  (Pennsylvania Institute for Instructional Coaching). A facilitator, academic or otherwise, is one that makes things easier.

Facilitators can make or break a school. Like fire, their energy can be productive or destructive. In order for our teachers to achieve professional growth and for our middle school students to thrive, my role needs to be clearly defined. That being said,  in defining my new role, it's crucial that I understand what I'm NOT.  

Here are a few things I've learned thus far, as I'm settling into this new position.

A facilitator is not a know-it-all.  
My job is not to know all the answers, but instead to listen and ask lots of questions. Good listening is the cornerstone of good coaching. Not listening to respond, but rather listen to understand. While my ESL teacher role exposed me to the entire North Carolina's Standard Course of Study, I'm still no expert in all curricula. And I don't have to be. I aim to provide the tools and resources that will facilitate the quest for answers.

A facilitator is not a fixer-upper.
We are all works in progress and there's always something that can be fixed, but my job isn't to fix anyone or any school. Real change and improvement comes from within. Furthermore, nothing or no one is all bad or all good. So, rather than coming in and turning the school upside down, I'm here to shine a light on their successes so that we build up from there. We can improve test scores, step up engagement and implement the latest and greatest tools and strategies, but nothing will improve if we don't keep moving forward.

A facilitator is not an enabler.
Educators have lots on their plates and for a new teacher, the role can be quite overwhelming. In my efforts to be supportive and resourceful to struggling teachers, I must be careful to not end up enabling instead of empowering them. From lesson planning to technology integration to classroom management, making their path easier to navigate doesn't mean I need to drive. Just like an athletic coach, I need to remain on the sideline and let them play their position.

A facilitator is not a principal's eyes and ears.
My principal made it very clear to the staff that I was not in an evaluative role, but while I am not their supervisor, I am there to hold them accountable. However, I'm not a "spy for administration," as one teacher openly asked me. This question made me realize that if I am going to be a successful facilitator, I must first and foremost, earn their trust. I must place personal opinions and biases aside and work for the betterment of all teachers.

While there's much improvement to be made, there's also lots and lots to celebrate at my school. The close-knit staff and small student population make the school warm and inviting, making it easy to connect with students and their families. I'm excited about this school year and am eagerly looking forward to what happens next.

Friday, June 2, 2017

Advice to My First-Year Self

If I only knew then what I know now.  Famous last words.

The Common Sense community of educators recently posed the following question to their Facebook group: "What advice would you give your first-year self?" I could probably write a book, but there are a few points that quickly came to mind as I think back to that adventurous year.

I always say that I didn't find my calling, but rather it was my calling that found me. I embarked on my teaching career in 1996 as a Lateral Entry Business Education teacher in the small, rural town of Sparta, North Carolina - population 10,000.  Two months prior, I lived in Miami, Florida - population 2 million - where I had lived from the age of 18 months and never left until my husband and I had this romantic idea of moving to a cabin in the Blue Ridge Mountains.  My first degree is in Business Administration and I worked in sales and marketing for a  commercial health insurance company. I had not stepped foot in a high school classroom since I graduated in the 1980s. Shortly after arriving in Sparta, I decided to substitute teach until I found a permanent job in the insurance field. That "permanent" job ended up being my vocation. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would be a teacher and now I can't imagine doing anything else.

That first year was almost a blur. Because I came in mid-year, I wasn't assigned an official mentor until my second year. Thankfully, there were a few angels God sent to help me survive as I was flying off the seat of my pants most of the time, especially the first couple of months. Reflecting back, because I drew from my corporate experience, I not only survived but thrived. Furthermore, since I regularly presented in front of large groups, I was comfortable presenting to my new "clients". Nonetheless, if it wasn't for my unofficial mentors, I'm not sure I would have lived to tell this story.

If I could go back and talk to my first-year self, this is what I would tell her:
  • One size does not fit all. Differentiation may appear monumental but it's crucial to ensuring that all students learn and it's really very doable. School is not about you, it's about your students. Remain flexible and find what works so that students meet their learning objectives. It's more than fair to modify a strategy, assignment, or even deadlines. For some students, differentiation is required, but you may find that others simply need a little grace. So long as the students are meeting the learning targets, it's important to remain flexible. In doing so, you will find that you are not only capturing their minds but also their hearts. 
  • A.S.K. (Always Seek Knowledge). Listen more than speak and ask lots and lots of questions. Seek knowledge from colleagues and also from students. Fellow teachers may seem busy but we all remember that first year and no one will deny you a helping hand, but you will usually have to ask. Students, especially teenagers, may seem uninterested in talking to their teachers, but give them a listening ear and they will tell you all you need to know (and often more than you want to hear). It's imperative that you know your students, so you best know how to reach them.

  • Teach, don't just give grades. With ever-increasing class sizes, teaching duties can be quite overwhelming, but remember that our primary duty is to help young people learn. Our mission is to empower, edify and prepare young people for a lifetime of learning and growing. We are so much more than grade givers. When students don't submit work, find out why before entering a zero in the grade book. Chances are they need help and are too afraid to ask. What may appear as laziness or apathy, may actually be a cry for help.
  • View mistakes as stepping stones not as stumbling blocks. Remember that failure is not an end but merely a beginning. We are all works in progress. And don't be afraid to share this message with students. They really need to hear it, especially if you teach at the secondary level.  
What advice would you give your first-year self? I look forward to hearing from you.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Small Changes for the Final Stretch of the School Year

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As we enter this final stretch of the school year, spring fever is in the air and everyone is eager for summer vacation. Warm and sunny days make for beautiful weather, but the classroom climate can be quite tempestuous as students are ready for the school year to be over. They slouch in their seats, slack on their work and whine about anything that's remotely rigorous. And those, of course, are the easy problems - other more challenging students may step up their rebellion a tad bit putting discipline issues on the rise. Like a tired runner on her last lap of the race, it's very easy for teachers to lose momentum, but this is a critical time to pick up speed to ensure we finish strong. For many of us, this may mean making a few small changes. The last lap is crucial as it will determine the year's outcome. We may feel tempted to slow down or drop out, but we can't achieve a win unless we persevere until the very end.

As we near the finish line, we want to be creative, spontaneous and engaging, but also consistent and focused. However, we can't disregard the human factor. It's easy to become frustrated at the disengagement, yet in order to win them over, we may need to adjust our own approaches and shift attitudes.  If we are not excited and positive, much less will our students be.

Here are some small changes that I have found help stir up some positivity and brighten up the remaining school days.
  • Increase positive recognition. I'm usually pretty good about pointing out the good in my students, but I've been trying to dig a little deeper.  And I don't want to just tell them individually, I want to make sure the entire class knows about the treasures I find.
  • Ignore the small stuff.  I'm picking my battles carefully and so I can stay focused on the learning targets.
  • Share myself.  Be open and honest, willing to share joys, successes, and setbacks.  As I tell students about my own stumbling blocks and how I turn them into stepping stones, many may find connections and hopefully be encouraged. 
  • Take time to laugh.  A little amusement can do a lot of good. Happy teachers will make happy students.  Learning and laughing are not mutually exclusive.
  • End the class with a joke.  I try to end my class periods on a positive note by sharing a little motivation or encouragement as they are launched from my room.  This last quarter I'm ending the class period with a riddle or joke.
I believe these small changes, can reap great rewards. Bottom line, kids won't care about learning, if they don't know that we care about them, the learner.

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Monday, May 1, 2017

Kahoot as a Presentation Tool

It all started when one of my classes read an article on titled "Ten Things You May Not Know About Martin Luther King Jr." As a follow-up, students were asked to present "Ten Things You May Not Know" on the topic of their choice using the presentation tool of their choice. Topics ranged from themselves, their native country, favorite sport or a popular celebrity. Most of them used presentation tools such as Google Slides, Keynote or Emaze. Interestingly, one of my learners asked if he could create a Kahoot game in order to make his presentation more engaging and it was a hit! That's when I discovered that Kahoot was not just a formative assessment tool, but it was also a very effective presentation tool for students.

Now that I am at a different high school, I decided to recycle the idea with my current group of English learners, but instead of asking them to just make a presentation, I asked them to present using a Kahoot game as a presentation tool. While I'm all about "voice and choice", this particular group of learners had never used Kahoot as a presentation tool - actually most of them had never created a Kahoot game at all - so I seized the opportunity to teach them a new way to present.

But how is it a presentation when it's simply a game you may ask?  Using a Kahoot as a student presentation tool is similar to a teacher using a Blind Kahoot to introduce a new concept. However, after every question students are expected to expand on the answer by giving an explanation prior to moving on to the next question. Therefore, students must prepare just as they would using any other presentation format.

It's about much more than competition, engagement, and wow-factor. Rather than a sit-and-get slide show of facts that are often uninteresting to both the audience and the presenter, the game-style presentation requires the audience to be alert and engaged. And that engagement is invaluable to the presenter. The more attentive the audience, the more confident, relaxed will the presenters be and they will generally much more effective.  It's a win-win situation.

I used this primarily to help my students develop their English speaking skills, yet there are numerous ways this can be implemented to cover our state standards. Moreover, while I used this for individual presentations, they are ideal for group presentations as well.

If you haven't used Kahoot in this way, I highly encourage you to try it - especially in this last stretch of the school year. It just may be what you need to add a little fun and ensure a strong finish.

Below are links to some of the games my students created last week.  I welcome your feedback or suggestions.

Ecuador -
Italy -
Dominican Republic -

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Spin-Off of Write Around

Vocabulary development, parts of speech review, creative writing and a few laughs along the way! That's the "write around" strategy. If you've never tried it, read on and see if this perks your interest.

Here's how it goes.  First, divide your class into small groups of 4-6 and give each student a sheet of writing paper - in my small ESL classes, the entire class is a small group of 4-6. Next, give the class a writing prompt, topic or term and ask each student to write a topic sentence only. The students pass their papers to the right. Students read the sentence that is there on the sheet and add just one sentence. They again, pass their papers to the right and repeat the process until each student has had the opportunity to write at least one sentence. Ideally, the original writer - the student who wrote the topic sentence - also writes the conclusion. Once the piece is completed, each group member reads their story aloud and writing pieces are collaboratively edited and revised, which can be done one of two ways. I prefer to subdivide the groups into pairs and they will choose one of their papers to edit and revise.  However, when I first learned of the strategy I was instructed to have the entire group work together on editing and revising. I find the former to be more effective because with a larger group one or two dominant members will take over the task while the others sit back and passively observe.

Although designed to be a writing strategy, it's ideal for vocabulary development. After all, a strong vocabulary is essential in developing writing skills. Moreover, this strategy requires creativity and deep thought, which will prove challenging for many learners, but it's a cognitive workout that will further enhance their writing practice. I used a word wheel (see screenshot below) using the "Random Name Picker" from I spin the wheel as we pass papers to the right and the selected term must be used in the sentence. Because I teach English in context, the words are related to a story or unit of study and therefore, the prompts and vocabulary are connected to what was covered in class. As I call out the words, we also review parts of speech and I check for understanding. This is not a quiz, so if a student is unsure of the definition or context, they can certainly ask a peer or their teacher. And because my classes are small, I join in the fun and participate in the writing activity, giving me the opportunity to model.

I learned of "Write Around" at an Exc-ELL Training with Dr. Margarita Calderon a few years ago. While this activity works very well with English learners, it is by no means an ESL strategy and can be adapted to any student population and used in any content area.

If you decide to implement "Write Around" strategy in any form or have used it in the past, I would love to hear from you. It can certainly be a stretch for students but in today's digital, social-media-driven world, creative writing is an essential skill they must develop.

I look forward to hearing from you!