Sunday, November 30, 2014

Truth #3: Don't Miss Today's Magic

"We must not, in trying to think about how we can make a big difference, ignore the small daily differences we can make which, over time, add up to big differences that we often cannot foresee." 
-Marian Wright Edleman

I recently returned from one of my favorite annual conferences (NCTE-National Council of Teachers of English). I came home energized and inspired by hundreds of colleagues, authors, and old friends I reconnect with and learn alongside once a year right before Thanksgiving. I was blown away by the writing, the thinking, the blogging, and the book publishing that these mentors and friends are creating and sharing with the education profession. 

As I returned home from the conference and entered my classroom on Monday morning, Kaleb was busy taking care of his morning job- writing the daily quote on the board for us to Tweet out to the world.

"What you do every day matters more than what you do every once in a while."
-Author Unknown

This quote immediately reminded me of a conversation I had with a friend at NCTE about writing my second book.  
Confession. I've been stuck in the land of perfectionism. I've been completely avoiding the work I was born to do: to share my learning from the children in my classroom with our profession, our community, our state, and our world.    

I've been teaching my little heart out, but I've hardly written about any of that work for fear that what I write won't be "big" enough or important enough to post. I'm supposed to have grand, important truths to share and wisdom to impart on this blog all the time. 
You know... Long, eloquent, alabamateacheroftheyearish thinking and writing and blog posting. Right?

Here's what reflecting from NCTE's learning, slowing down for Thanksgiving, and recognizing all that I have to be thankful for did for me. 
I've learned that I'm so busy persevering about the the big differences I'm supposed to be making that lots of times I completely miss the small, but extraordinary daily moments with children in the classroom.

Our lives as educators are filled with these seemingly "ordinary" teaching and learning moments, but if we slow down long enough to look closely, listen, and pay attention, it will be easy to document these moments and celebrate the simple magic of the day.

I am going to recommit to valuing these moments with children and see them as not just ordinary, but extraordinary. 
Then, as I make sure to soak in the magic that happens in the classroom right in front of my eyes, I can also write about and share that learning and not worry about the daily grind, the daily learning and growing being anything but what it is....imperfect and magical. 

Let's remember that the small, rough-drafted, ordinary moments of our teaching lives will add up to big differences in the lives of the children we teach.  It's not about perfection, but about recognizing that our work can make the kind of difference that we may never foresee or even imagine.

Off to pay attention to the magic.

Ann Marie

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Truths From the Alabama Teacher of the Year: Truth #2--Children Matter More Than Report Cards

It's the end of the first nine weeks, and lots of learning and growing has happened every single day since that very first day of school.
Somehow, we're supposed to capture that learning and the worth of that learning in a report card and then share it with the students and parents this week.  Yes, I will follow the rules and post grades and give a report card to every child in my class.

But here's the deal....the report card won't ever give the true picture of a child, and I don't ever want children or their families to base a child's worth and learning on numbers, letters, or standards printed on a fancy piece of paper.
Here's the letter, printed on not so fancy paper, that I'll ask the children and parents to read first, before they even look at the report card.

It's a gift and a blessing to live inside a classroom each day with these children and see the true learning and teaching that takes place. If you'd like to see what learning looks like in a 21st century elementary classroom, we invite you to come spend the day with us anytime.
October 15, 2014
Dear Amazing Kids (Who are Learning AND Teaching),

It’s report card time, and before you look at your report card we would like for you to read this letter.  We want you to always remember that YOU are more important than numbers, letter grades, or scores.  It’s your hard work, your never-give-up-attitude, your determination, your willingness to help others, and your character that matter most….not just now, but forever. 

Please remember that one grade on a report card doesn’t always assess all of what it is that make each of you special and unique, and it certainly can’t tell the complete and wonderful story of you.

The report card can never show that you are a guitar player or that you want to be a fashion designer or a vet when you grow up. It won’t ever show how your friends count on you to be there for them or that your laughter brightens our days.

The report card doesn’t show that you are writing sophisticated pieces with wisdom worth quoting each day, that you beg for reading workshop to continue and lead your own book clubs, that you know All in a Day by heart, and that you are in the middle of planning the next project to make the world more awesome!

The report card will never be able to tell everyone how hard you work each day in developing a growth mindset or that you remember to save a seat for a friend who needs a lunch buddy or that you have created your very own Twitter account to share your learning with the world.

The report card has no way of showing what you wonder about the future, or that sometimes you take care of your little brother or sister and wipe their tears when they are sad.

It doesn’t show that you have traveled to really neat places with sugar sandy beaches or snow capped mountains, that you’re being brave for your dad and working to find a cure for his illness or that you’ve been through a big change in home and school these first few months.

The report card can’t tell that you know how to tell a great story or that you really love spending time with special family members and friends.  It won’t tell us that you are tenderhearted and have secretly penned a beautiful poem to honor your mom’s best friend who lost her battle with cancer.

It doesn’t show that you are trustworthy, kind or thoughtful, and that you try, every day, to be your very best.

The report card will tell you something, but it will not tell you everything. You are growing forward as a learner and a person every day, and you are evidence that there are many ways to be smart and kind and awesome (even if you never kiss Beyoncé : >)

We’re looking forward to even more learning and growing and teaching with you this year!

Love and happy first nine weeks,
Ms. Corgill and Ms. D.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Truths From the Alabama Teacher of the Year: Truth #1- The Common Core is Not a Person

We've been in school almost a month in Alabama, and I am teaching and learning daily with an incredible group of fourth graders and a wise-beyond-her-years student teacher at Cherokee Bend Elementary. 
In addition to teaching every day, I've had the opportunity to participate in lots of summer and after school meetings, presentations, and committee meetings where "fixing schools and public education" is the main topic of conversation.  
In the past few weeks, I have had the privilege of hearing Dr. Tommy Bice, Alabama's State Superintendent of Education, speak in several cities across the state on the future of public education in Alabama. 
I've celebrated and been inspired by our superintendent's vision for Alabama's children, but I've also been disturbed by the rumors and misinformation that gets spread so rapidly across our state, nation, and world. 

For weeks I had been wondering how to actually start this blog to document my journey as Alabama Teacher of the Year, and this afternoon, it hit me square in the face.
After reading comments attached to Dr. Bice's amazing speech last Thursday night at Carver High School in Birmingham, I knew what I must do: Write about what's TRUE in public education. It's time to stop the misinformation madness, so this blog will be my year long attempt (and invitation to all of you master teachers out there) to share what's true, what's right, and what's best for the children of our state, country, and world.

So this year's journey will document learning, thinking, and lots of reflecting after twenty years in the classroom on what I know is TRUE about our work with children.

Truth #1: The Common Core is Not A Person
(Based on the psycho-freak-out about the implementation of The Alabama College and Career Readiness Standards--AKA Common Core)

It cannot dumb-down your child's education.
It cannot destroy your child's self esteem.
It cannot make your child cry.
It cannot make your child stupid.
It cannot ignite homework fights.
It cannot give poor grades for not meeting the standards.
It cannot destroy your child's love for reading, writing, mathematics, science, social studies, the arts, or school. Period.

But a teacher can.

Good teachers, effective teachers, matter much more than particular curriculum materials, pedagogical approaches, or "proven programs" 
(Allington & Johnston, 2001; Darling-Hammond, 1999; Duffy, 1997; Pressley, et al, 2001; Sanders, 1998; Taylor, Pearson, Clark & Walpole, 2000).

It's the teacher in the classroom that can make or break your child's life and learning, and we MUST start focusing on and investing in the people, the relationships, the personal and professional expertise in classrooms across our state and country. 

It’s teachers who can light that forever-learning fire in our students. It’s teachers who, when trusted, use their common sense and deep-rooted knowledge about children and best practice to make decisions that guide instruction and benefit all learners. It’s those teachers who know that the Common Core State Standards are a support and a living document, one that will grow and change over time.

Every good teacher knows that no amount of standards or new, shiny shrink-wrapped curriculum materials can ensure student engagement and success. Only the teacher can make that happen.

So instead of bashing the CCSS/ACCRS, and fighting about standards that are “failing your child”, I encourage everyone to put his/her energy into supporting our state’s efforts to hire and retain the best and brightest professionals.

Put your money and your mouth towards long-term, in-classroom mentor/teacher intern programs, collaborative, in-house university and school partnerships, ongoing staff development and reflection opportunities for both new and seasoned teachers, and government support of salaries that reflect the impact of a master teacher year after year on classrooms of students. 

And if you don’t believe me, visit the classroom of a master teacher. Our doors are always open. We welcome you to see the truth.

(By the way, if you haven't heard Dr. Bice speak and you care about our state's children and the future of public education, then make it a priority to go hear him speak on his Future of Public Education Tour!)
Ann Marie

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Open Invitation To Learn With Us

Dear Friends and Colleagues,
Most of my work as Alabama's Teacher of the Year will be based in my fourth grade classroom at Cherokee Bend this year. Why? Because I cannot fulfill my responsibilities outside of the classroom without first living and learning inside a classroom with children on a daily basis.

If I spend my days with children (those who should be at the center of education conversations, policy decisions, and reform efforts), I can then speak confidently to all stakeholders and share what's most important in moving our profession forward. Children should be at the heart of every decision we make about educational improvement, but it's difficult to know what's best for children if we aren't living and learning alongside them.

So, this is an open invitation to come and learn alongside my amazing student teacher, Taylor Drozenski, a group of fabulous fourth graders, the Cherokee Bend family, and me this year.  If you are interested in visiting, please contact my principal, Betsy Bell, or Ann Starks at the Alabama State Department of Education to schedule a visit.

Happy New School Year!
Ann Marie

Monday, June 23, 2014


Dear Fellow Learners,
Welcome to my new blog documenting my learning journey as Alabama's Teacher of the Year for 2014-15.  I'll be posting my thinking, learning, teaching, reflecting, and fun as I learn daily in my classroom, with kids and teachers of our state, and with those colleagues and children from around the country and world this year.

I hope this blog can be a place that represents the honest and hopeful voices for the future of education, and also as Ellen, one of my wise fourth graders said, a place "where conversations spark, voices rise, and mindsets grow."

part of a letter Ellen A. wrote in May at the end of our fourth grade year together

I look forward to the learning and growing with all of you.

With thankfulness and hope,
Ann Marie