Three Things to Help You Become a Better Teacher

Hopefully you are finding yourself rested and relaxed after taking a well deserved break from the classroom. In the midst of all our "resting and relaxing," I know we were also pinning, instagramming and dollar spotting our way into this school year.  There is just no easy way to turn off the teacher brain. But...'Tis the season to really start thinking about your next group of students.  So, I am here to share with you a few more ways, that aren't so #InstagramMadeMeDoIt worthy, that you can do to make this the best school year ever. 

Build Connections

For two years, I was the ONLY reading teacher in my district. My island was very lonely. It took me almost a year (a very sad year, where I wanted to leave the profession all together) to realize that I needed help. I needed to find like minded people who understood my struggles, and shared the same passion for teaching, and that could lift me up when I needed it. Social media was not enough, clicking a like button or saving my favorite ideas were motivating, but not inspiring. 

So, my first bit of advice, is to FIND YOUR PEOPLE! Which, good news, you have already started doing. You have some how stumbled upon my blog - if this is your first time here, I hope stay to look around and get to know me a little bit. If this is not your first time here, welcome back! I hope you have found the tips and strategies I share to be helpful. Please, whether you are a new friend, or a long time friend, reach out and let me know you are here. I want to connect with you. If there is another blogger you like, reach out and email them too. Our community is large, but it can be very tight. You are never alone, and other teachers are your best resources. 

A few years ago, I attended a conference that briefly spoke about "capital" in education. Yes, like the actual wealth or value of resources available in education. It is no surprise that the schools that invested in their "professional capital" - their teachers, their professional development, and their well being showed positive achieving outcomes. This almost seems like a no brainer, but this is what motivated me even more to truly make friendships with some of the teachers I admired on social media.  If you are interested in reading more about "professional capital" you can check out this link HERE.

Set Goals

Rome really was not built in a day, week or year... and your classroom won't be either. My second bit of advice is to take things SLOW. I know we all have a lot of ground to cover, so we strive for immediate perfection. However, I don't think that ultimately benefits our students. So, rather than spreading yourself thin, dig deeper, and do it REALLY WELL. Take time to get to know your standards, curriculum, and students. 

It is OK, to be OK while you are building your toolbox. Consider setting a goal for yourself each month, and work to become an "expert" in that area. The month before school, you may choose to research your plans for a classroom management system. Next month, you could set a goal to "nail down" your phonics instruction. Then following month, set a goal to improve your math instruction. You can do this by seeking out the guidance of colleagues, requesting to attend professional development sessions (or finding them free online), reading professional texts, etc. I have followed this "tip" every year, and it allows me to improve on one thing, and not overwhelm myself with "all the things."

Please don't read "take is slow" as permission to "take it easy". The purpose of setting goals, is to identify the areas in your classroom that will promote the most success for students. It may be based on areas of academic need for your students - for instance maybe your students this year need help in an area where your past students really succeeded, so it is time to brush up on that area. Or maybe it is an area in need of improvement based on an evaluation from last year. No matter what it is, set your goals, with the clear purpose of improving your professional practice and the success of your students. Then execute, you and your students deserve only the best! 

Don't Forget to Take a Break

As the good 'ole saying goes "Happy Wife = Happy Life" and we all know the truth this statement carries. But, we are talking about ourselves as teachers, not as parents, or spouses, or friends.... but maybe we should be? Being a teacher is only part of our identity. We have to honor the other parts of who we are, so we can be the best teachers possible. Don't forget to take time for your family, your friends and most importantly yourself. Do some soul searching to find out what really recharges your batteries. Is it running, crafting, reading, working in a garden, volunteering with animals? Whatever it is, do more of it. Schedule time on your weekends not just for lesson planning, but for you. 

I struggle with this the most. As teachers, we give so much of ourselves and there is often little time for us to be "selfish" so we can do something we love - even if it is just taking a nap (no judgements)! But, when I do take a break. I always head back to school on Monday feeling like a better version of myself. I take more risks that week, and my students have more fun learning. It is really a win, win. 

I hope you are ready to tackle this year head on, and make it the best year ever! In the comments, please share other tips you have, or ways you like to "take a break"
We are all in this together, and I look forward to hearing from you.

Check out these related posts: 


How to Teach Decoding by Teaching Syllable Types

Learn more about how you can help to provide your students with a systematic approach to decoding multi-syllable words.
This video tutorial can help you to provide your students with a systematic approach to decoding multi-syllable words.

If you teach/have taught 2nd grade, I'm sure this story is going to resonate pretty closely with you. If you don't teach 2nd, stick with me for a moment, because I (and your students) need your help. 
As a reading intervention teacher, I am (in part) responsible for assessing all students in September. We use these universal screenings to determine what students qualify for services, and what students we should keep a closer eye on, because they may need support in the near future. Well, after years of doing these assessments, I can tell you this happens EVERY YEAR, and quite often it happens to more than one student. 

UMM....what happened? 

help your students to feel successful with the big words by teaching decoding with syllabicationA little 2nd grader, let's just call him Noah, assesses well on the September assessments. He was never on anyone's radar in 1st grade either, so things are looking good. He is placed in a reading group that suits him well, and for the first part of the year, he is keep up with all the new material. BUT...then all of a sudden by mid-year, he is starting to struggle. He is not progressing in his reading level, he is becoming increasingly frustrated and less confident. 

(In my personal opinion) The demands a mid-year second grade text puts on our students is a huge jump from what they are used to. All of a sudden, multi-syllabic words appear and some of our kiddos, like Noah, crack under the pressure.  They do not have the strategies to move from single syllable words to multi-syllabic words! Yikes.
Well, the good news is, we can combat this struggle, and even be proactive in giving our students the tools they need to be successful with decoding multisyllabic words! 

Teaching decoding through syllabication is much easier than it sounds, and it is something even our Kinders can handle (K and 1 teachers, I told you I needed your help!). Starting this early awareness of consonants, vowels and syllables, will help develop automaticity in recognizing syllables as our students encounter more difficult texts.

It may be as simple as having your Kinder circle the vowel in a CVC word, and then talking about why the vowel makes the short sound (because it is closed in by the consonant). Then once they have a strong background on CVC words, give them a two syllable word to try like 'catnip' or even a three syllable word like 'fantastic'. They WILL rise to the occasion.

In first grade, as we are teaching all of the vowel patterns, encourage your students to continue circling the vowel patterns because it will allow them to see the patterns as a single sound unit. Even if your students are not 100% ready for "the big words" LET THEM TRY! The language you will use with them will help to support them in a few months, or maybe even next year when they are ready.

empower students to decode multisyllable words with a systematic strategy

Learning about syllables also helps with vocabulary acquisition. So many times I have seen a student not being able to decode a word or actually just get the word "out of their mouth". Being able to hear the word, is half of being able to understand a word. Do your students succeed more with verbal vocabulary than written vocabulary? Don't worry, mine do too, and decoding strategically can help. 

The process I use with my students, is very predicable, and once my students have the process down, it only requires a little fine tuning when applying it to the different vowels sounds (vc/cv, v/cv, vc/v, silent e, vowel teams, diphthongs and r-controlled vowels). 

I have put together a video tutorial to share this decoding strategy with you. You can follow along with this video tutorial to learn how to instruct your students on the seven different syllable types and help them to become determined decoders.  The video is hosted on Teachers Pay Teachers, and free for you to watch. It is a streaming video, so you will need internet access to watch. Also included is a supporting document that supplements the video, and will help to provide you with guided practice when learning more about this systematic approach to decoding. 

This video tutorial can help you to provide your students with a systematic approach to decoding multi-syllable words.

This video tutorial can help you to provide your students with a systematic approach to decoding multi-syllable words.
Table of Contents
1:26 - Syllable Types
1:49 - Let's Get Started
2:04 - Closed Syllable VC/CV
4:08 - Closed Syllable VC/CV with blends and digraphs
6:10 - Closed Syllable VC/CV 3 syllable words
8:30 - Open Syllable V/CV
10:10 - Open Syllable V/CV or Closed Syllable VC/C
11:50 - V/V
12:32 - Silent E
15:41 - Vowel Teams
17:38 - R-Controlled Vowels
18:55 - Diphthongs
20:48 - Consonant + le
22:10 - Frequently Asked Questions
24:28 - Wrap up and closing

empower students to read multisyllable words with a systematic strategyI first teach this strategy to my students in isolation. I feel they need the explicit instruction and guidance to manipulate the sounds. If they are new to this strategy in 2nd grade and above, like I said, it is not too late for them, but they need to re-learn what counts as a vowel sound. This means I circle back and re-teach the vowel sounds in single syllable words (using my blending binder), but quickly moving to multi-syllables words.

I also teach my students how this strategy can support them while reading a text. All my students need is a pack of post-its and a pencil. Because we can't write in every book, they simply write the word down and follow the same procedure to decode the word. I give each of my intervention students a pack of fun post-its to take back to the classroom, so they can transfer what we do in group, to the classroom.

This strategy is not one that is meant exclusively for the intervention setting! I have been fortunate enough to push into some classrooms, and a few times the classroom teacher has overheard my decoding lesson during small groups. They have opened the doors of their classroom, admitted they did not know how to take students from single syllable to multi syllable words, and allowed me to teach a whole class lesson on decoding.

My friends, some of our students will "just get it" and they won't NEED this instruction. However, others would benefit from this strategy during our phonics block as it unlocks the countless words they will encounter.

This video tutorial can help you to provide your students with a systematic approach to decoding multi-syllable words.

This is a very passionate topic to me, because I get so sad when a skilled reader doubts their ability to read the big words, only because they do not know a reliable strategy to use yet. So, as I step down off my soapbox, I want to say thank you for joining me! I hope you will give this strategy a try in your classroom, or intervention groups. And again, please know I am here to support you. Feel free to reach out, and don't forget to come back to share your success stories once you've tried it!

Check out these related posts:
Proven Strategies to Fuel Your Phonics Instruction
Improve Your Phonics Instruction with Concrete Objects
10 Things You Need for Small Groups
Establishing Meaningful Word Work Routines

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