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,


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


Education in Flux

Tech-EducationToday I read this article published by EdTech Magazine. It reminded me of a conversation amongst colleagues about our school, and how it adds up with the challenges faced by teachers in our region’s schools. I have to say, we have really been able to stay at the forefront of educational technology integration, despite being a school of 500 and a “tech department” consisting of one person.

The article cites the 2015 State of Education Technology survey. This poll of more than 150 education leaders and teachers found that schools are underfunded. I was surprised to see how significantly teachers are under-trained. Considering how much professional development exists in the educational realm, there are so many opportunities being missed to get teachers engaged and empowered to integrate edtech.

The eight top issues cited in the survey were:

  • 75.9% — Budget limits
  • 53.9% — Inadequate professional training
  • 41.4% — Teachers resistant to change
  • 38.2% — Inadequate network infrastructure
  • 30.9% — Unreliable device/software options
  • 29.6% — No systems to use technology for curriculum
  • 17.8% — Other
  • 13.2% — District doesn’t see immediate need for more technology

The article describes “education in flux.” Educators are trying to catch up to a world that has moved beyond the technological “status quo” of many classrooms.

education_blue_key_on_keyboardI have presented at many different types of conferences: edtech, foreign language, literacy, etc. I am always remarked by the educators that choose to come to my sessions on educational technology. The breadth of their incorporation of tools in resources is as vast as one can fathom. I often find myself differentiating during presentation sessions based on the needs of my breakout session attendees.

The great thing is that edtech can be used in any content area… from physics to physical education. Many, if not most, of our students know how to use devices that support most edtech tools. A great number of students even have their own device.

We can leverage these devices and knowledge further, but we have to have teachers willing to take risks. In my life, I’ve always been taught “the bigger the risk, the bigger the reward.”

So what does this mean for a beginner of technology integration?

Find a professional development session/seminar near you to introduce you to new ideas. Better yet, search the internet for free webinars or Twitter chats to expose yourself to new ideas?

So what does this mean for an edtech enthusiast?

Educational technology is changing faster than we can keep up with most of the time. There is always something new to explore. I’ve been salivating for the “next exciting thing” to come into my pedagogical practice… ideas?

Let’s share!

HMU on Twitter @KirstenKenny1 with the hashtag #edtechinspired !