What Ever Happened to Professional Memberships?

When I went back to school to get my master’s degree, one of the requirements was to join a professional organization related to education. I joined the Niagara Frontier Reading Council, International Literacy Association, Kappa Delta Pi, the PBS Digital Innovators Edmodo group, etc.

professional learning community, or PLC, is a group of educators that meets regularly, shares expertise, and works collaboratively to improve teaching skills and the academic performance of students.


A colleague recently told me that some academic programs no longer require this.  Now, I am sure there are reasonable explanations for this, but the inevitable has happened: some professional communities have seen their membership numbers decline in recent years.

As a delegate to the New York State Reading Association (NYSRA),  this was a topic of great conversation amongst councils across the state: How do we get educators to see the value of membership in our organizations, when they are not obligated to participate?

I must say, I have met some of the most incredible people through my involvement with professional memberships and learning communities (PLC).  I’ve learned so much,  maintained my passion for literacy and educational technology, and  had so many opportunities to demonstrate leadership and enthusiasm for my profession.

If you’re not a member of a professional council/organization, or maybe let your membership lapse – please consider (re)joining. Many councils are in distress, and are perplexed as to how to garner members. I can also attest to the fact that educational affiliations would love to hear your ideas, and areas of interest for programming/outreach.

 If you are a member, please encourage your colleagues to join an organization that is near and dear to them.

One thing to remember: You are an important piece of the puzzle. It wouldn’t exist without you and the other  impassioned, committed, altruistic group of pedagogy-focused individuals. Also, many organizations want new/returning members, and can seem insular. My advice is not to allow a small group intimidate you by being an “insiders club.” They want you and your ideas to make their mission, values, and programming more robust and meaningful!

So, add “join a professional community” to your new year’s resolutions!

If you’d like to collaborate or gain specific ideas on how to garner more members in your PLC, please contact me: kirstenburkesmith@gmail.com. I’m happy to help you in any way I can.

Peace and all prosperity for 2019!


It’s Easy… Just Like Changing Lanes, Right???

Copious research demonstrates that changing a teacher’s grade level is not efficacious for teacher happiness or student achievement. Research also states that the more experience a teacher has, the better student outcomes (including achievement and attendance). I explore all of these notions and reflect on my own experiences, and encourage you to reflect and share your thoughts!

Teachers are expected to shift grade levels flawlessly, right, especially inveterate ones. 

Many teachers spend most or all of their careers focused on one grade or area of teaching. As this post and linked research will illustrate, they have a professional advantage in terms of effectiveness, happiness, etc.

As for me, I have been in the realm of teaching for 18 years now. I can honestly say that there is not one grade level that I have not worked with on some level, from preschool to grade 12 in the past 18 years. And truthfully, every grade level has been a pleasure – with its own advantages, disadvantages, and learning experiences.

However, that doesn’t necessarily prepare me for the specific life circumstances of my students, group dynamics, prior learning experiences/environments, ingrained behavior patterns, etc.

As for me, I have now been teaching exclusively in traditional schools for 10 years. Prior to that, I taught dance and yoga in public and private schools, camps, community centers, and independent studios. I was a“guest artist” in performing arts programs in New York City Public Schools, and a choreographer for public middle schools in Westchester County. I led children’s and adult classes in New York City at Broadway Dance Center.

So, pedagogy has been in my repertoire forever, it seems.

Continuously Shifting Gears

But in my current district, I have had three different placements in three years: reading teacher, 3rd gradeENL classroom teacher, and now 1st grade general education classroom teacher. And yes, I feel like my head is spinning with the constant change. I feel as though I’ve handled it as gracefully as I can, but I have definitely had the sense that I am constantly fighting to stay ahead and feel prepared.

Also, the constant shifting of placements and grade levels means constant shifting not just with curricula, but classroom management, positive reinforcements, timing of transitions and attention spans, etc. I’m not going to lie – my second year teaching third grade was exponentially easier than my first. Just when I thought I was going to sail into my third year of 3rd grade feeling less anxious about keeping all the plates spinning in the air, I again got shifted involuntarily. And so now that I’m shifted into primary, there have been some bumps and tweaks in how to approach all aspects of my work.

Current Research

In February 2018, the National Council on Teacher Quality published Hannah Putman, Nick Ledyard’s: Can Moving Teachers Between Grade Levels Actually Hurt Student Learning? And to get straight to their answer: unequivocally yes.

A Meta-Analysis on this Topic

In 2016, Tara Kini and Anne Podolsky of the Learning Policy Institute published a paper on the correlation between teaching experience and teacher effectiveness. The paper, a meta-analysis of 30 peer-reviewed studies in the last 15 years, positively related experience to effectiveness. Teachers tend to gain the most significant increase ineffectiveness in the first period of their careers, but the increase in students’ potential for achievement continues into the second and third decades of a teachers’ careers. (Kini and Podolsky, 2016)

Kini and Podolsky’s meta-analysis confirmed a lot of my feelings this year. Here are their findings:

  1. Teaching experience is positively associated with student achievement gains throughout a teacher’s career.
  2. As teachers gain experience, their students are more likely to do better on other measures of success beyond test scores, such as school attendance.
  3. Teachers make greater gains in their effectiveness when they teach in a supportive and collegial working environment, or accumulate experience in the same grade level, subject, or district.
  4. More experienced teachers confer benefits to their colleagues, their students, and to the school as a whole.  (Kini and Podolsky, 2016)

At the risk of being too frank, here are some thoughts, especially in regards to #3:

  • I feel like I hold myself to a high standard, and am a perfectionist. So my burnout from constant change is increasing, becauseI have such a strong desire to be incredibly good at whatever I do. No one can be “perfect” off the bat at anything. I crave time, support, professional development, camaraderie, and a less-anxious teaching environment.
  • My entire teaching career, I have felt so happy and excited to get up and get to work every day…until recently. I fear my devotion to this profession is going to dwindle quickly if I do not find stability. I am yearning for a consistent placement and hoping that the data continue to support the claims above, so I can use empirical evidence to fight for myself professionally.
  • Primarily because of substitute teacher shortages (is this going on in your district too?), I have been told “NO” to going to conferences and professional development (PD) outside the district. On several occasions. I have been discouraged from going to things, even in the summertime. I’ve been encouraged to rely on the PD that my district offers. You may know that I regularly present at conferences, so this is difficult for me. Especially since conferences are where I can “recharge my teacher batteries.”It is something I need to reinvigorate my ever-shifting practices. (I liken it to taking supplements to enhance performance, or a self-care regimen for invigorated teaching!)


  • I have teachers around me I know I can reach out to, if need be. My neighboring teachers in my hallway are incredible women who repeatedly offer mentorship, exchanging of ideas and resources, etc. I am incredibly grateful for them!
  • I have made a direct, clear communication with my superintendent about wanting to be a great reflection on her district when I am asked to speak at conferences. I feel as though I can reach out to her directly, and that she understands my desire to be a part of the educational community at-large.
  • My current principal (new to our building this year) is open to hearing my thoughts and is receptive to any concerns I voice.He is always willing to find solutions within his capabilities.
  • I have taken it upon myself to create positivity and community in my building, by facilitating a “Morning Mindfulness” before school every Wednesday morning. It is a brief, 10-minute practice to focus on our breath, become present, and approach the day with hope and openness.

Cutting the Slack

On my way to a conference just this past week, I stumbled on a podcast that is becoming a “game-changer” for me. It is the Vibrant, Happy Women Podcast by Dr. Jen Riday. I’ve been listening to a lot of podcasts lately, but this one speaks to me in a way none of the others I’ve found do. There are different women who are guests on the program, and several talk about the importance of acknowledging that things are not easy, and giving yourself a break.

Now that’s a novel idea! 

So, I know that I must mindfully acknowledge that I am doing the absolute best with the knowledge, training, and resources I have at this moment. And that is enough. At least for now. I cannot keep beating myself down for the ideal in my head I’m not spring-boarding into with each new placement. I also have to give myself credit for being the only adult in the room, when many other teachers have aide support or special education/ENL teachers that push-in during instruction. I’ve been able to evaluate 18 students’ complete literacy profiles (reading level, writing development, spelling inventories, and sight word knowledge) twice so far this year, whilst managing a whole classroom alone, with only partial help on sight word assessments. (Thank you Mrs. Finney! You are a godsend!)

So maybe….just maybe…I’m not doing as badly as I am making it out to be? Regardless, the proof will be in the pudding. I await gains in student achievement, and only then will I know if my instruction has been effective.

Here’s what I’d love to know from you:

  • How do you manage shifts in teaching placements?
  • Disparate ideologies in your professional environment?
  • Feeling like you don’t have a professionally supportive work situation?

I’d love to hear from you! kirstenburkesmith@gmail.com

Until next time… go forth and love what you do despite any obstacles!

Peace and understanding,



PS: You might also want to check out Angela Watson’s website for more on this topic! 

Kini, Tara, and Anne Podolsky . “Does Teaching Experience Increase Teacher Effectiveness? A Review of the Research.” Www.learningpolicyinstitute.org, Learning Policy Institute, June 2016,learningpolicyinstitute.org/sites/default/files/product-files/Teaching_Experience_Brief_June_2016.pdf.

National Council on Teacher Quality, ed. “Can Moving Teachers Between
Grade Levels Actually Hurt Student Learning?” February 1, 2018. “Can https://www.nctq.org/dmsView/17-000834_Can_Moving_Teachers_v2_02-01-18


I’ve made the shift back to primary instruction, and taken on a first grade classroom. Come with me on an adventure as I explore pedagogical concepts and ruminations on this shift.

So I’ve made a shift. From intermediate to primary education. I stepped into a great first grade team with three incredible teachers. Two have varying levels of special education “consultant teacher” rooms, the other is an ENL/ELL room. My room is general education, first grade. However, the vast majority (13 out of 18 students) are reading at a Fountas & Pinnell/Guided Reading Level “B.” Since my background and passion is literacy, I take this as a formidable, personal challenge. 

If I was continuing in third grade this year, the wheels would have been in motion a lot more reflexively. However, I had to “dust off my first grade mojo” and jump back to primary with both feet. 

Noto Bene: There were a lot of changes district-wide with how classrooms were structured, and many veteran teachers found themselves placed in entirely new grade levels they have never taught in before. I was originally supposed to change buildings AND grade levels, but in the end I was able to shift from the intermediate hallways of my building to the primary building. I’m not going to lie, it was a bit of a scramble to unpack with the amount of changes to my ultimate placement this year, but every day I feel a bit more settled in.

I did one of my student teaching placements in first grade, and always hung onto the materials that my cooperating teacher gave me. Thank goodness! It is like the Holy Grail! I was also fortunate to sit in on a presentation by a former colleague who teaches in a Montessori classroom, to refresh myself on some pedagogical techniques that I can translate to my gen-ed classroom. (More to come on the Montessori ideas later….stay tuned!)

So, I’ve done my running records, sight word assessments, primary spelling inventories, and I’m off to the races! I am slowly guiding my students toward independently accessing educational technology on our 1:1 iPads, and seeing how I can pair up tasks with our New York State first grade curricula. 

So here are my “elite eight” thoughts for my first quarter back, which may . or may not inspire further blog posts:

  1. First graders respond much more to positive behavior management systems. Negative reinforcement directly damages their self-esteem and self-worth.
  2. Walking down the hallway in one straight line can be really hard, especially in the advent of The Floss and The Shoot dances!
  3. I need a tattle monster to take up residence in my classroom.
  4. Flexible seating is really tricky to establish with super-wiggly kiddos.
  5. Parent communication in the primary grades is even more critical for students’ success. Finding the right streams of communication with each parent/family is equally as critical.
  6. STEM/STEAM/STREAM offers engagement that “sage on the stage” pedagogy can’t always offer.
  7. Primary education requires a modicum of cuteness that intermediate-level students don’t subscribe to.
  8. Teacher blogs, Pinterest, and Teachers Pay Teachers have become such fantastic resources for teachers – albeit most are not vetted and one should proceed with caution!

Thanks in advance for coming on this journey with me! Stay tuned for more fun… and as always, please share/follow this blog! Your comments, questions, and discussion ideas are welcome too.


If This Xennial Can Do It, So Can You! ;)

I continuously admire other educators’ blogs. They are inviting, colorful, and engaging. So, I decided to delve into the sophisticated world of blogs, web hosting, etc. What a huge learning curve it is! I am now steadfast in my notion that coding and web-based content is an indispensable skill. Therefore, EdTechInspired is shifting from WordPress.com to WordPress.org. Who knew there was such a difference… It turns out they are two incredibly different platforms. If you’d like to read more about it, this is a great article that helped me understand the disparities.

In any case, I will be documenting my journey into some deeper re-branding of EdTechInspired, as well as my self-inflicted journey into web design. (Just kidding, I’m thoroughly enjoying this exploration. I get to push myself to be able to offer you more sophisticated material.) Have you ever done web hosting, design, or blogging? How do you best present your own material?

Falling Back, to Reach the Present…

Finding balance and engaging in self-care are two tasks that should be on ALL our priority lists! Not just for teachers, but for everyone…

I hope everyone has settled into a great new school year. By now new routines and schedules have been established, new relationships and bonds are beginning to form, and students are beginning to grow under our tutelage.
Fall reminds me of the shedding of last school year, and the beginning of redefining ourselves once more. Not everyone loves autumn, but in Western New York State, we have some of the most beautiful foliage. The air has a crispness to it that seems to break the cycle of a not-so-spectacular summer weather cycle.
New things are seemingly always on the horizon, but lately I’ve really been trying to stop worrying about the past or feeling anxious towards the future. I really want to images-3focus on enjoying the present. Being in the moment is becoming so important to me. Call it “growing up,” but the concept of mindfulness is my unofficial theme for this year… and hopefully for life.
There is this beautiful Lao Tzu quote: “If you are depressed, you are living in the past. If you are anxious, you are living in the future. If you are at peace, you are living in the present.”
Isn’t that beautiful? Don’t we all need more peace in our lives? The world outside of ourselves is one thing, but we have the ability to partake in self-care. Moreover, we have a responsibility to make self-care a priority. I always denied that I needed self-care. I convinced myself that being strong and capable meant proving you needed less time for it.download
But how wrong I was. Enjoying the little things, taking moments to breathe and refocus, and shedding the frenetic energy that envelopes us in our quest to “have it all” is more compulsory the “older and wiser” I get.
How about you? How do you rebalance your energy?

Angry or Sad?

Anyone suddenly experiencing particularly bad behavior in your classroom???
e056ccd28de3079e1c0b64d71ef689ddThe school psychologist and I had an interesting conversation the other day:

  1. The end of the year is coming.
  2. For some kids in our population, school is the only structure in their lives.
  3. It is also where they are fed, loved, etc.
  4. A lot of kids are anticipating the summer recess as a loss of that structure.
  5. The instability creates a feeling of being upset.
  6. Instead of becoming emotional, students become angry.

The gist: It is easier to be mad than upset.
Here is an article from Psychology Today that outlines these phenomena. As for the classroom, I found the most applicable part to be:

“…just behind the anger that is so evident, and often encouraged, in our lives, are two emotions that are much harder to express: fear and sadness. Both of these very common feelings are seen as weaknesses and are hard to tolerate for long. One way to escape them is to get mad and allocate blame. If we can find a target, we can indulge our outrage and assign responsibility for our misery to someone else. Now we are a victim.”

My belief is that several kids are using this coping mechanism at this point in the school year. However, that does NOT make it okay to be rude, nasty, or mistreat others. My heart hurts when I hear mean things. I take it just as seriously as a lapse in academic performance.
I want my students to take much more away from my classroom than academic knowledge. I want them to be better people because they were in my room.
So how do we, as educators, tackle this? I feel as though addressing this issue is important, beyond classroom management and counting down to the last day of school. Not addressing this specific behavioral phenomena would be a lost opportunity to a monumental “teachable moment.” After all, this is one that a person will experience throughout their lives, right?!

My mom will be the first one to tell you that I was a textbook case of this phenomena. Precisely the week before I would head 330 miles back to my small, liberal arts college in Ohio, I would become easily agitated and incite arguments over the most ridiculous things. 

Unfortunately, it wasn’t until I was an undergrad that I had it pointed out to me, and was then able to recognize when I was doing it. 

The Solution
IMHO, the solution should involve explicitly teaching students about vulnerability. (Yes, I am a raging Brene Brown fan. If you don’t know her, please take a few moments to acquaint yourself. Here is her first amazing TED talkHere is the follow up TED talk.)
I tell my students that I have been observing an uptick in anger. I tell them that I have been through a lot in my own life, and use the going-back-to-college example.
Anger and sadness are basic feelings. Kids get that. Even younger kids can discuss the differences between being mad and sad.  Giving students permission and opportunities to express their sadness, and vulnerability is another part of it. Whether it be in their writing journals, during reading/writing conferences, during transition times, class discussions, etc.

Do you see this in your classroom? In your life?

How do you handle it? What is your approach?

Thanks for reading all the way to this point. And please feel free to create a dialogue below. 😉

Brushes with Greatness…

Wow, it has been far too long since I have added to this educators’ blog. Now I know what my New Year’s Resolution will be!
Let’s catch up, shall we?!
I’ve recently presented with the New York State Reading Association (NYSRA), Niagara Frontier Reading Council, and Diocese of Buffalo. I’ve met so many impassioned educators around me, and made some wonderful professional connections. I was also fortunate to have my administrators attend the 2016 NYSRA conference, where I presented to a standing-room only crowd! I had conference attendees listening from the hallway! It was an incredible honor, and so affirming to the work I do in sharing my love for pedagogy, educational technology, and intrinsic motivation as an educator.

One of the highlights of my fall was meeting THE Nell Duke. She was a keynote speaker during the closing luncheon of NYSRA. Luckily, I had a spot up front and was able to hear her approach to usage of text in project-based learning, as it fits across curricula, and supports literacy skills.
After her keynote, she was gracious enough to let me have a moment with her. Here I was, rubbing elbows with a figurehead in education/literacy research… someone I quoted/referenced in many of my graduate school papers! We even managed a selfie and she asked me to tag her so she could retweet it! (And she did!)
Dr. Nell Duke is definitely someone I look up to as a source of knowledge and inspiration. There are two of her articles that particularly speak to me. One is regarding all the USELESS literacy instruction practices we should abandon. The other is in regards to vetting websites as viable informational text resources.
As a literacy specialist, the former particularly resonates with me. Having students look up words in a dictionary and write them out is a skill they should have, but only if the vocabulary is in their zone of proximal development. I use Words their Way (WtW) to fulfill the phonics/word study component of my Readers Workshop, and differentiate word lists and tasks based upon individual students’ needs.

(And I’d like to shout-out my son’s first grade teacher for giving me a treasure trove of WtW resources beyond the commercial materials!)

There is so much high-quality, research-based, accessible and useful information in Duke’s work. I savor it as much as I can! As a person, I found her so authentic, sincere, and dedicated to making sure the time we are spending with our students is being used as efficiently as possible. I know I have been inspired to use as much of my time in the classroom for instruction, discovery, and growth!
Happy Holidays to all of you. Thank you for continuing to read my blog, and I wish all of you a happy, healthy, productive 2017!
– Kirsten

Bouquets of Sharpened Pencils

unknownWell, tomorrow is officially the first day of autumn. This evening was Open House at my school. I am in a new building as of this fall, and have shifted into a 3rd grade classroom. Having an empty shell of a classroom to call my home was a daunting task, but one I took on like a true Joanna Gaines wannabe. It was admittedly overwhelming – having benchmark assessments ready to be administered and scored, Common Core pacing calendars aligned with my lesson plans, and pulling together a classroom library to facilitate Readers’ and Writers’ Workshops.
Having spent some time in the smallest elementary school in my district as a reading teacher, this was quite a dynamic shift. I moved from a “neighborhood school” where I would pass many students walking to school as I pulled into the parking lot, to the largest elementary school in my district. My new building is also the predominant K-4 building in our district based on standardized test scores too.
It really doesn’t matter where I am teaching. It just matters that I am teaching. I love to get up every day and go into school. The rhythm of the academic year suits me best- with the denouement of summer closing one chapter, and the inception of autumn being the next volume to write.august-school-clipart-welcome-august-back-to-school-22ptad-clipart
Of all the experiences in life I have had professionally, none makes me feel more joyful than to teach. There is a “night-before-Christmas” energy that is palpable – not just for students but for teachers. We study our roster, laminate everything we can, help co-workers clear paper jams in printers and photocopiers just like we would “make a list and check it twice,” prepare ingredients for recipes, etc.
I even get impassioned reading the scope and sequence of Lucy Calkins’s Units of Study manuals. They are written so passionately – it invokes a spirit of the back-to-school season. You can truly sense her charisma for the written word in her pedagogical guidebooks. Having met her and heard her speak, I can channel her voice reading me the pages.
It’s pure magic.
I have found myself coming full-circle. The little girl I was in the Waldenbooks Store in unknown-2the Lockport Mall back in the 1980’s is now trying to connect my students with “just right” books, so that it will open doors of opportunity/exploration in their lives. I know, I’m just one educator in their long academic careers, but if I can make the difference for just one child’s life – I have truly served my calling.
So every morning this year, coffee in hand, I will be eagerly preparing for my 21 sweet, squirmy, energetic, thoughtful, sensitive third graders to come cavorting into Room 206. I guess life isn’t so bad after all…
I wish you all a happy, productive year full of “bouquets of sharpened pencils!” (And if you know that movie reference…you get bonus points!)

Long Time No See!

Hi everyone! images
It has been a while since I posted. I thought I would check in with you on the “latest and greatest” from my end.
Literacy: My Other Specialty
In January, I accepted a position as a literacy specialist (i.e. reading teacher) in my hometown district. It has been an incredible change, but one I was ready for and feel blessed to have been offered. In my role, I serve a kindergarten to fourth grade population, and assist struggling readers. The groups of students I “pull out” are mostly third and fourth graders, although I see a couple second graders. I also have a very lively trio of kindergarteners. Several times a week, I also “push in” to help support ELA activities for elementary classrooms.
My building has a 1:1 iPad program instituted, and I try to infuse my love for educational technology in with intervention strategies. Having recently taken a one-credit course in Digital Strategies in the Inclusive Classroom, I think edtech and literacy work very symbiotically – especially to engage and motivate elementary students.
In a very short period of time, I have adapted and grown so much in the practices of Response to Intervention (RtI). Everyday I come to school, I hope to inch every student along their path toward seeing themselves as readers. I am very direct about expecting them to make progress, and encouraging students to find their “sea of strengths” in order to decode and comprehend texts.
imagesDecoding and Comprehension
One thing that has been amazing, that my graduate training did not necessarily touch upon, is finding students who are not strong at decoding words (deciphering them) but can understand the gist of what they read. Luckily, I had some wonderful graduate professors (whom I still have contact with) that taught me how to diagnose and create strategies for attacking some of the problems struggling readers face.
Stay Tuned
Overall, I am right where I need to be, and I am loving it! I hope you will stay tuned to experience this journey, and help me create a dialogue in pedagogy of literacy and technology integration!images-1
All my very best,

NYSRA 2015

In November, I was fortunate to present at the 2015 New York State Reading Association (NYSRA) Conference.

There, I was fortunate to meet Lucy Calkins, before her keynote address. I participated one-on-one in a conferring exercise with her protégé, Dr. Gravity Goldberg. I also immersed myself in the keynote address by Dr. Richard Allington. I attended several sessions given by grammar guru Marvin Turban. Having the opportunity to present at the same conferences as these figureheads in reading, writing, and literacy research was humbling, and a great honor.