01 September 2014

Visiting Historic Fort Clinch State Park on Amelia Island

Standing atop an outer wall overlooking Cumberland Sound

I've pretty much been cooped up in my house for the past six weeks with my broken right ankle. Thank goodness for virtual technologies and the ability to work from home. However, this has also meant infrequent outings for business and even more infrequent outings for pleasure, and I am longing for a trip, big time. Travel is a need for me. As I usually do, I've been reading about far away places and even nearby places, and of course, this is all making me want to travel even more. With school back in session and my inability to drive myself anywhere right now, I'll have to settle for armchair travel. In fact, I think I'll spend some time in the next couple of weeks of my still limited mobility thinking and writing about a great places I've visited in the past few months starting with Fort Clinch State Park on Amelia Island.

Fort Clinch State Park is one of those must-see attractions you hear about when planning your family vacation, especially for families like ours who enjoy a mixture of learning and lounging. Though these cannons look impressive, we learned during our visit that no battles were ever fought at Fort Clinch, but it was occupied by soldiers during the Spanish American War and during the Civil War.

Interior Buildings

Shaped like a pentagon, the fort has outer walls and interior courtyards along with interior barracks.

Outer Walls at Fort Clinch

Officers' quarters were much more plush than the soldiers' barracks, and we enjoyed seeing both and listening to the historic reenacters from the Civil War Era. They explained to us why they were wearing Union uniforms. Federal troops controlled the fort for most of the Civil War (even though there was a brief take-over by the Confederates). In fact, the fort was mostly used as the base of Union operations, allowing the Federal troops to gain control over the Florida and Georgia Coastlines.
Soldiers' Barracks  

Officers' Quarters

We enjoyed climbing to the top of the outer walls and looking out over the Cumberland Sound, and we also enjoyed capturing interesting photos of stairwells and walkways.

31 August 2014

Sunday Salon: What I Read Onlline August 25-August 31

 Posts from Kentucky that Matter Beyond Kentucky

Because she knows I'm interested in improving as a writer and blogger, my boss shared this woman's website with me. Suzanne Gray lives in Frankfort, Kentucky and writes about creativity and art and has this beautiful website not to be missed.

You may have heard by now, but Kentucky is seeking feedback to make changes to the Common Core State Standards in KY.

This week we celebrated the anniversary of a woman's right to vote. Read this blog  by Heather Watson to learn how women from Kentucky played an important role in passing the 19th amendment.

Jason Linden, a public school teacher in Louisville, writes about homeschooling his daughter because the school system places too much emphasis on test prep. I can relate completely, even though my children still attend public school. If you read my blog, you know how much this issue matters to me!

Lexington teacher, Liz Prather, writes about why it's important to pronounce students' names correctly.

Speaking of Lexington, my city made the list of top cities to live for a quality life.

Health & Well Being

Since I was having my cast removed this week, I was eager to read this article about when I might be able to use my right leg again and drive. When I visited the doctor, he confirmed what I read in this article--12 weeks after the break. Well, I'm 6 weeks down with 6 to go...

Helen Bamber, a therapist to torture victims, died this week. Read about her life here.

24 August 2014

Sunday Salon: What I Read Online August 18-24


This important blog post from our state commissioner, Dr. Holliday, discusses possible hindrances to innovation in our state because of new USED action that infringes upon our state rights. A topic of huge concern is that the USED now expects Kentucky to test students on old science standards in the spring of 2015. We've been excited about the new Next Generation Science Standards and our students learning science in more innovative ways, and as it stands now, the USED expects Kentucky to assess students on old standards using a ridiculous multiple-choice test.

In Lexington, where I live, one of the middle schools across town created a new mentoring program for incoming sixth graders. Read about it here.

 Since I've long been passionate about pre-service teaching programs and also teach one class at the University of Kentucky, I was interested in reading about this e-mentoring program for teacher candidates offered by a neighboring city's university. 

I am thrilled to be working in education for a non-profit aimed at encouraging and supporting innovative practices in schools. Also exciting is this upcoming education summit our organization is hosting.


In "Building Better Teachers" Sara Mosle writes for The Atlantic about teacher time to collaborate--something American schools don't provide. If you've read some of my own posts this week, you will know this is a topic my husband and I are exploring in our new written conversation series.

Since I now have two middle school sons, I was interested in this article by Michelle Icard, because she offers tips for letting middle school students take risks.

For some time now, I've been following the work of Josh Boldt because he writes about the plight of adjuncts, and for so long, that was the world in which our family lived as my husband worked as an adjunct for years before deciding to become a high school English teacher. In this post, Boldt write about why he, too, left the adjunct gig behind.

The Common Core debate continues, and I was excited in this post to see praise for Kentucky's implementation. Indeed, we have many hard working teachers and leaders who have striven for successful implementation with teacher voices leading the way. The post isn't all about Kentucky though, so read for yourself to see how CC is playing out in various places.


The New Yorker writer, Dani Shapiro, shares thoughts about writing memoirs versus sharing Facebook status updates.

I'm contstantly reminded lately of the importance of stories, so I was excited to learn about this new book, Minds Made for Stories, that's been written by Thomas Newkirk

If you're looking for a new book to read or if you want to share book suggestions with your students, check out Malala Yousafzai's suggestions here.

As a woman who's been advocating for education for women and girls around the world, I was excited to learn that Malala Yousafzai's mom is learning to read.


For a couple of weeks now, I've been following the story of the killing of Michael Brown, and my heart has ached as a mother and as a teacher. In this post you read about how hard his mom worked to keep him in school. He graduated just weeks before his death and was planning to attend trade school.
Issues of inequality keep me moving as an educator because I can't stand to see students treated differently or offered different schooling options because of their race, ethnicity, or socioeconomic status. In this New York Times article, I saw hope because one of the largest school districts in America is aiming to reduce the arrest rate in their schools.

I can't help but feel for the family of James Foley. This post honors his life.

Just when we're feeling down about many dire situations in our world, we are reminded by Gwyn Ridenhour that there remains hope for the future.

23 August 2014

A World Enough and Time

...and so begins...a written conversation series between husband (PhD and first year high school English teacher) and wife (NBCT English teacher w/11 years in HS classroom and currently trying to impact the profession from outside the classroom)

Since I’ve blogged previously about leaving the classroom and listed lack of time to plan, grade, etc. as one of my reasons for leaving, I’d be curious to know what you remember about the stress I faced was when I was in the classroom, especially with regard to having time and balancing life while trying to be an effective teacher and also being a mom & wife.

Yes. I remember your stress very well. And I remember how I thought, “Good grief, it’s not worth it. 70 hours a week for that salary?” And I can’t believe you were able to do it when our boys were toddlers. Wow!  You really are amazing. I also remember wondering if you weren’t giving yourself more work than was necessary. Now, I realize what you were doing as I am doing it myself. To be effective, particularly with the content we teach, it requires daily feedback. And that takes a lot of time (for sure) but also mental strain--and I don’t think anyone has ever really taken that into consideration when they make our schedules and dole out our requirements. To write comments to 100+ individual students requires extreme mental effort. That doesn’t enter into the equation of contracts, and that’s a bona fide problem in education, especially for English teachers.

Since you are coming from the college setting where instructors typically don't teach all day every day, how are you adjusting to your new schedule of 5 classes back to back in a 7 hour school day five days a week?

Teaching is exhausting!  One thing I’ve observed about teaching high school is the amount of concentrated effort it requires. Teaching college classes, I always had a break of at least one day between meeting with those students. That break allowed me time to reflect and rest and get prepared. Teaching high school classes that meet every day means there is no break, so to speak. Further, teaching high school requires one to be “on” pretty much non-stop during the day. From bell to bell, I have to be engaged, obviously. But, what’s different is that there’s virtually no time between classes to gather one’s self and get ready for the next task. I mean to say, from period to period there is five minutes time. But, students start arriving at any moment and I have to engage them and be ready to go as soon as the bell rings. During that five minutes, there are always various questions to answer (like, students who missed the previous day need to know what they missed or a teacher comes to you and asks a favor, etc.). It rarely happened teaching college that I had two classes back to back. And even when I did, there was at least 15 minutes and really, and most importantly, there wasn’t the need to be “on” in the same way. In high school, I’m finding that I have to be “on” in ways that maintain classroom order.  In college, classroom management was basically not an issue.

Time to prepare is really an issue for me teaching high school.  I don’t have it. Because I teach writing and reading, I have to spend physical time and exert considerable mental effort to respond to student work on a daily basis so that the next class can proceed. That has to happen after school, during the time that I also need to be tending to my family, eating dinner, exercising, going to whatever extra curricular activities my children have, and, oh, sleeping. So, it’s really hard to do the job I need to do with the schedule I have. I do have a planning period, but, honestly, that’s 50 minutes spend responding to emails, “sweeping” the halls, managing a student aid, and just catching my breath.

So, I really think that the high school schedule needs to be revised. I think that teachers should be required to teach three classes and expected to use the remainder of the day grading, planning, and doing the necessary research in order to provide quality instruction. The current schedule of teaching 5 classes in a 6 period school day isn’t sustainable. No wonder teachers get burned out and are ineffective. They aren’t given the time to do the job that they need do. Now, what do we do about the teachers who wouldn’t use that time as needed.  Well, I hope you’ll ask me about that because I have tons to say about the profession and what constitutes being a member of the teaching profession. 

“Had we but world enough and time.”  Ah, one day!

22 August 2014

Intro to a Written Conversation Series on Teaching and Elevating the Profession

A year and a half ago I wrote about how our original sole purpose for moving to Kentucky was complete when my husband finished his English doctoral program at the University of Kentucky. Since then, I've blogged about his graduation, search for a job, and our family vacations. If you read regularly, you've also read posts about my travel for work, my musings on a new job, my thoughts about literacy instruction, and my personal reading goals.

NEWS UPDATE: The most recent family and professional news to share is that my husband finally found a job, and he found that job right here in Kentucky when he decided that the world of higher education and academia left plenty to be desired. What interests him most is teaching and impacting lives, so he entered the world of K-12 education and accepted a high school teaching job in a neighboring town. Two and a half weeks ago he entered the high school English classroom and now teaches juniors and seniors. Fortuantely, the school recognized what he has to offer and also has him teaching a dual enrollment class for seniors earning college credit and high school credit at the same time.

The best part for me in all of this (other than that I get to stay in Kentucky for now)? Each evening I get to talk about teaching with Chris (Dr. Boss), and I get to collaborate on planning lessons with him. You know how much I love teaching, right? But, you likely also know that I left the high school classroom a few years back because I was weary and in need of a change. Since leaving, I've made it my mission to raise the voice of teachers and the profession. This is not a job for a single individual or even a small group of individuals, so I hope you will join me and my husband as we work together to impact the teaching profession. Stay tuned for future posts because Dr. Boss and I have a plan for sharing some of our conversations about teaching and elevating the profession.

17 August 2014

Sunday Salon: What I Read Online August 11-17

 Kentucky specific

One of the most fun things I've had the opportunity to do in my new job at The Fund for Transforming Education in Kentucky was calling two of the grant award recipients to let them know they received an innovation grant.  Read about the grants for innovation here.

Pretty cool when Kentucky makes The New York Times.  In this article, you read about a university partnership with the community in Bowling Green.

I'm always interested in learning about how we ensure students are fed because it's hard to learn when you're hungry. Catch my post from last year on this topic or read this new article about Lexington participating in a new federal program to feed all students at 27 of our local public schools.

Effective Teaching

Read about how leader, Dr. Kiela Snider, a National Board Certified Teacher, used the NBCT process to turn around a failing school.

Another controversial week surrounding the Common Core took place in social media, so I enjoyed reading this blog by Sarah Brown Wessling where she debunks myths associated with the Common Core.

Anyone who knows me at all knows about my knee jerk reaction and passionate advocacy opposing worksheets in schools.  Check out this article shared by Lauren Hill but guest blogged by her daughter's first and third grade teacher, Shelly Praria.  Even the title of the worksheet "I Remember That Worksheet" Said No Child Ever! makes me want to shout in agreement.

Overall life in general

Have you ever considered telling a story about what you do? In this article, Alexandra Franzen shares how to tell people what you do and be remembered for it.

Speaking of story, if you haven't checked out the magazine Cake & Whiskey, you should definitely read it for a fresh perspective on women in the business world. The magazine is beautiful and in our online dominated world, this magazine presents itself primarily in print with gorgeous photos and stories to enjoy (and minimal advertisements). The article I read originally appeared in print, but was shared online this week in remembrance of Edith Flagg.

Finally, I'm always looking for healthy lunch alternatives for my sons since they want me to pack their lunches every single day, every single week, every single year.  That's hundreds of peanut butter and banana sandwiches. We don't buy lunchables, but I certainly don't nail all the healthy suggestions by Lisa Leake either.  Her blog is always inspiring though!

12 August 2014

Kentucky and Colorado Teachers Collaborate to Create Units of Study with LDC Modules Embedded Within

Seattle, Washington
From Seattle to Colorado to right here in Kentucky the collaborative spirit has been an important  productive struggle for teachers and partners participating in the Common Assignment Study (CAS). In the CAS, Kentucky and Colorado teachers continue to lead the way with the implementation of new standards in both states.  For the past year, teachers from Kentucky and Colorado have been collaborating to create units of study containing embedded Literacy Design Collaborative (LDC) modules.  Hundreds of students in each state have been impacted by these high quality units, and dozens of teachers have learned from one another about what makes an effective unit and what quality student work looks like.

This summer we expanded our participation from 24 Kentucky teachers to 64 from five different Kentucky districts. Colorado has similar numbers of teachers from multiple districts participating in the study. To launch the expansion, The Fund for Transforming Education in Kentucky hosted Colorado educators and all our CAS partners twice this summer. We held the first session in northern Kentucky at Dixie Heights High School in late June. High School English Language Arts teachers and middle school history teachers joined forces to revise the units they implemented in 2013-2014 based on the results of student work they analyzed together using CAS partner created protocols. Joining us at this work session were school and district leaders from participating sites because we continue to learn the importance of school and district leadership with ensuring successful implementation. The leaders need to hear from teachers about what they need (time is always a big one) for collaborating with colleagues.
My son running XC on beautiful day in Lexington, KY

Our second session, in mid-July, was held in Lexington at Edith J. Hayes Middle School, and included a larger group of high school social studies, middle school English language arts, and both middle and high school science. Following the same protocols used at the June convening, teachers again worked to refine lessons and collaborate with teachers experienced in the CAS project and teachers joining new for the first time this year. This intentional design allowed teachers new to the project this year to work collaboratively with teachers who created the initial units last summer. This approach, though not easy, encouraged the newly joining teachers to take equal ownership of the units they will teach in 2014-2015.

As The Fund's Initiative Director for this project, one of my favorite parts is the equal focus on process and product. Yes, we're working to create units, rubrics, and protocols, but we are also experimenting with collaborative processes across school, district, and state lines. I'm not alone in thinking collaboration is a valuable part of our Common Assignment Study.  When asked what they liked about the collaborative process at the summer convenings, here's what we heard from some of the teachers...

"collaborative efforts of a lot of great minds"

"I liked that we came from different backgrounds"

"multiple perspectives"

"Collaboration was streamlined, and everyone was more comfortable speaking up"

"Again, collaboration with like minded experts always leads to new and productive ideas.  I always get better with my craft when surrounded by comrades."
Loveland, Colorado

Other posts about this project by me & by others

Common Assignment Study Gears Up for Second Year

Online Tools for Collaborating Across States

Common Assignment Study Post 1

Bridging the Digital Divide in Classrooms by Brison Harvey

Introducing Common Assignment Study  A three part post by Brison Harvey

A Storify all about the HS English Spring Unit by Colorado Teacher, Danny Holloweg