This is My Fight… Post?

There is a pop song called “Fight Song” that came out a few years ago; however, it couldn’t ring more true in my own life than right now.

You know what song I’m talking about, right? It’s the one you probably jam out to when you’re in the car by yourself. It’s the one you turn on when you’re looking for some motivation. It might even be the song you belt out in the shower…


A few lines from the chorus are my favorite:

“This is my fight song.

Take back my life song.

Prove I’m alright song.

…’Cause I still got a lot of fight left in me.”

If you don’t know the rest of the lyrics to the song, you are welcome to look them up. You can tell the gist of the song, though, just from these few chorus lyrics. The singer declares that she is going to “fight” through certain experiences, challenging ones we can assume, to better herself. You get a very inspiring vibe from the song and can tell that the artist is working hard to believe in herself- “I might only have one match, but I can make an explosion.”

During the past 6 months, I have been on my own challenging journey and have had to work very hard to inspire myself and believe in myself.

It all started with the very cliché “New Year’s Resolution.”

At the beginning of 2018, I made a promise to myself to live a more healthy lifestyle. At the time, I didn’t know what that meant exactly… but I certainly know now!

Now, even though I was unsure of how I was going to accomplish this goal, I knew that I didn’t want it to be the cliché that it sounded like it was. I didn’t want to attempt some silly diet, go to the gym a little more, and call it quits there. I knew that wasn’t going to give me the sustainable results I was looking for. I knew if I wanted big results, I’d have to make big changes.

I got in contact with a nutritional therapist to discuss where I was currently and where I wanted to be. I was excited to be working side-by-side with someone who actually knew what they were doing, versus just trying to look up some healthy dinners on Pinterest and trying a new machine at the gym.

Together, we made a plan.

^^ If you’ve ever attempted something along these lines, you know that is the easy part. The harder part is following through with the plan and sticking to it.

…and guess what? I did JUST that! Was it as easy as me typing, “I did JUST that?” Hahahaha. Not even close. However, if I gave you ALL the details, this would be one long blog post. Keeping it short and sweet today!

6 months later, I am living a whole new life.

I’m feeding my body the nutritious things it needs; I’m exercising in a productive, healthy way; and most importantly, I’ve LEARNED.

The first thing that comes to most people’s minds when they think about nutrition, health, and/or fitness usually is not learning. But I’m telling you, this has been the most impactful part of my entire journey so far.

Was it great losing weight? Duh.

Was it awesome to feel more confident in myself? Of course.

Was it cool to watch myself get stronger? Yeah!

But the thing that I am MOST thankful for from this journey thus far is the learning process I was able to go through (and am still going through!)

I was able to learn about proper nutrition, what my body personally needs, how to address my body’s needs, how to research ACTUAL data backed by science, how to analyze differing opinions and information, etc.

SIDE NOTE: Don’t a lot of the things I just listed sound like standards/learning targets we have for our students? Maybe minus the “nutrition/body” aspects? Who knew I would be practicing some of the exact same things I teach?


Anyway, this 6 month journey that continues today is my own version of the “Fight Song,” and this post is my “Fight Post!”

My journey was my way of fighting through my own personal frustrations and my way of learning to believe in myself again.

I am so thankful to my nutritionist, Justin Nault, for the patience he practiced and the information he taught me!

And… just like Rachel Platten (the artist of the song), I know that…

I’ve still got a lot of fight left in me!


As always, you can reach out to me with any questions or comments about my lifestyle change and/or fitness journey if you are interested in more information/details! 🙂


Why Do We Have to Do This?

We’ve all been there: The moment when you announce a lesson/assignment/project and a student (or multiple students) say/complain/whine…

“Why do we have to do this?” or “Why are we doing this?”

You know what… that is an excellent question.


Have you ever responded to a student’s griping with this mindset? By acknowledging the great question they’ve asked? By telling them the question they’ve just formed is very insightful?

For the record, I am not being sarcastic here. Let me explain.

Studies have shown that, on average, kids ask around (and many times more than) 200 questions per day. That is a lot of stinking questions! Obviously this number varies between children and age, but still, that is a lot!

There are a couple of pretty neat things to think about regarding what we see as the infamous “why” question in school:

  • To vocalize a question like this, it shows a student’s genuine concern and attention to their education.  I know, it is easy to think that the student asking is just bored, annoyed, or whatever other negative-type word you could insert here. But, what if they’re actually not? What if they are actually wondering why? Shouldn’t that be celebrated?
  • To ask the “why” question is to demonstrate higher-level thinking. If you take a look at the good ‘ol Bloom’s Taxonomy model, creating questions and the act of questioning is work that is done in the analysis section of the model, one of the higher-leveled sections. Students who ask the “why” question are working towards higher-level thinking and processing, even if it is an inconvenience to our lesson, we should embrace this moment.
  •  Sometimes, students ask this question because they feel there is something better they could be doing. Teachers, use this to your advantage! If you do some digging and you realize a student is asking this because they feel their time could be better spent, engage in this conversation. I realize this could lead down a sticky road, but give it a shot. You may be surprised at his/her thoughts or ideas. Maybe there is a more engaging route to address that learning target or a more creative route to assess student progress.

The most important take-away here is to not dismiss the “why” question. It doesn’t matter if your most difficult student is interrupting a lesson by asking; don’t let this prime opportunity to reinforce your deliberate purpose in a lesson go by. Take a minute to address this. Our kids deserve to know why. If they are asking, and they truly don’t know the purpose, they need to. It is key to their progress and overall education. If they are asking because they believe they have a better idea, hear them out. If you’ve ever asked for student feedback, you know that it is gold. Their thoughts and opinions are extremely valuable.

Let’s try and shift our mindset- instead of assuming the worst when we hear a student blurt out, “Why are we doing this?” put a smile on. Don’t dismiss, do some digging and delight in the asked question!






Student Blogging: The Why, How, & What

What could the list below possibly represent?

  • Fitness and well-being
  • Dog breed specific legislation and news
  • Football team trivia
  • Best places to travel
  • Student life
  • Photography
  • Sports car talk
  • Getting faster at Pyraminx
  • Importance of medical science
  • Poetry

Could it be article topics from buzzfeed.com? Possibly, but that’s not quite what it represents to me.

That list represents just a few student-chosen topics you’d see if you visited a few of the blogs created by my 8th graders.

You might be thinking, “Wow! I didn’t even know 8th graders were interested in some of those kinds of things.” My response to you would be me either! But, that’s just one of the things incorporating student blogging has brought into my classroom– more of an awareness, on my part, of what my students are passionate about!

Student Blogging: The Why

If you’re looking to have the learners in your classroom take more ownership over their writing, read more, collaborate with peers, and/or practice creativity, student blogging is the answer.

Sylvia Duckworth tweeted this phenomenal sketchnote that summarizes basically everything I would have typed here (and more). Check out her top 10 reasons for students to blog.


student blogging

Our district uses a writing curriculum that has specific units focused around standards, but I was finding that there wasn’t a unit that focused around students sharing all the knowledge they held regarding the things they were passionate about- the things they talked about after school, the things they participated in during the weekends, the things they YouTubed (that is a verb now, right?) in their free time.

Student-created and student-driven blogs solved that one for us while still meeting several of the expected standards in 8th grade.

Student Blogging: The How

I wish I could tell you that having students create blogs is a seamless process that will only take a day or two out of your set schedule.

Actually, I don’t wish that. Here’s why…

If the blog creating process was nice and neat, students wouldn’t have challenged themselves, learned new things, or taught each other as much.

If the blog creating process only took a day or two, students wouldn’t have been able to really be creative or truly take ownership over their site.

So, although the process was messy and my classroom was “controlled chaos” (the chaos was controlling us, that’s for sure), I really enjoyed every second of it; more importantly, the students did.

Basic Steps to Embrace Student Blogging in Your Classroom:

  1. Discuss this with your admin. Use Sylvia’s sketchnote as a persuasive tool 👍
  2. Get parent permission. Even if you don’t need the permission, it is still a great way to include families in their children’s education and show off the awesomeness taking place in your classroom.
  3. Decide on a platform. Basically, decide on a site that you want to use to. I use www.edublogs.org and have only ever used this site, so I may not have anything else to compare it to, but I’ve loved my experience with it.
  4. Explain to students the why behind student blogging. I promise they’ll love it, but showing your students that you care about what they care about is important. (I had one student who didn’t want to blog because he didn’t like using computers. He’s now got a blog set up around his favorite sport and actually enjoys creating posts!)
  5. CREATE A BLOG YOURSELF. I know there’s some cliché phrase out there that says something like, “You learn best by doing,” and it is absolutely true. Playing around with your own blog will help you so much when you go to help students!
  6. Guide your students through setting up their blogs. Depending on what platform you use, the steps will be different. If you decide to use Edublogs, shoot me a tweet/comment/message and I can share my step-by-step doc that I used with my kids.
  7. (Optional, but extremely helpful) Design a FAQ sheet/doc for your students to reference during blog creation work days. This sheet/doc will take some time on your part to create, but you’ll be thanking yourself on those work days when you don’t have 23 hands in the air asking questions that could be easily answered. Again, I have created one of these for Edublogs. Reach out if you need me to share it with you.

Tips from Me to You:

  • Give your students TIME IN CLASS to customize their blogs AND write blog posts. If you want students to take this seriously, you need to show them that you’re serious about it. Giving them time with you in class will do that!
  • On that same note, customization is not a 1-2 day thing. It can be, but if you are looking for a quality blog, you’ll need to give students more time.
  • Allow collaboration and discussion during blogging time. You’ll be surprised how quickly your students pick up on this blogging stuff. They’ll be able to answer questions from their peers; let them be the teachers too!

Student Blogging: The What

When it comes to the topic and content of the student blogs, that’s obviously going to be your call. Many teachers do it different ways. I’ve seen teachers give students blog post topics to write on. I’ve seen teachers use blogs as class journals and/or portfolios.

The route that I took was, to me, the one that was most like any other real-world blog: students had complete control over topic and content.

Obviously, there were some guidelines. Blog topics had to be school appropriate and approved by me. Content needed to be purposeful. My biggest “rule” though, was that the topic had to be something that they geeked out over, as John Spencer would say. It had to be something they really, really liked. I encouraged students to pick topics regarding things they knew a lot about or things they wanted to know more about.

Again, it is completely up to you. Decide what works best for your learners.

Student Blogging: My Reflections Thus Far

As I type this blog post out and reflect on how student blogging has been going in our classroom, two things come to mind:

  1. Why did I not start this sooner?
  2. What opportunities will arise for my students through this?

Every time we have blogging days, I am amazed at the learners in my classroom. Amazed at the knowledge they hold, amazed at how creative they are, amazed at the ideas they come up with.

My kids have completely blown me away. The posts I read and the sites I’ve seen are simply amazing. The uniqueness of each one of my students shows through their blog.

As I explained to my students, their blogs will stay with them after middle school, through high school and beyond. It is up to them to make what they want out of it. I am eager to see where their blogs take them. Will their writing land them a scholarship? Will their site be possibly the only place they feel comfortable enough to open up and be who they truly are? Will the skills they’ve acquired from this process assist them in their future careers? I can’t wait to find out!

Honestly, I could probably start a whole new blog and write just about student blogging, which is why I’m going to cut myself off here.

I hope you at least entertain the idea of incorporating student blogging into your classroom (you don’t have to be an ELA teacher to do student blogging). Your students have so much to share with you and the rest of the world. Why not support them in that?

Reach out to me on Twitter (@itsmrspenrod) for any of the resources I’ve mentioned or to chat about how you use student blogging in your classroom. This is new to me, so I’d love feedback, questions, and ideas!


You Can Only Get Extra Credit If…

The other day, I was scrolling my Instagram feed; to be honest, it was one of those days where you scroll but don’t really pay attention to what you’re actually scrolling past. I’m not the only one who does that… right? A couple minutes into my mindless scrolling, I came across a post that made me stop dead in my tracks. I found myself re-reading it a few times to make sure what I was reading was actually there.

I literally said to myself, out loud, “Wait… is this real life?”

At first, the post made me angry. I was angry at this teacher for posting AND suggesting a concept to other educators that, to me, was completely unfair. I also felt heartbroken. I was heartbroken for the students who had to be in a classroom where something like this was taking place.

However, there was something positive that followed these negative feelings: I reflected. I thought about my own classroom and my own students. Had I done something like this before, not knowing how careless and inconsiderate it was? How many other teachers were doing things like this, unaware of what they were actually doing/asking?

Let me ask you a few questions before I get to the content of the post.

  • Have you ever publicly pointed out the students who come from low-income families in your classroom?
  • Have you ever asked the free/reduced lunch students to sit apart from the rest of the students?
  • Have you ever given a bad grade to a student because his/her parents were not as involved as the “average” parent?

I’m going to assume (and pray) that you didn’t answer “Yes” to any of the questions above.

Now, let me ask you just a couple more.

  • Have you ever offered extra credit for students who brought in classroom supplies like tissues, hand sanitizer, pencils, etc.?
  • Have you ever thrown a class party but only allowed the students who brought in a treat to stay in the room and/or participate?
  • Have you ever put points in the grade book for whether or not a student returned that movie permission slip signed?

How did answering the second round of questions go? Answer “Yes” to one of these? Maybe a few or even all three?

Are you catching on yet? 

What if Sarah could benefit from extra credit points, but can’t get Dad to stop by the local dollar store to pick up pencils because he works 2 jobs and gets 2 hours of sleep per night? Now she doesn’t even get a fair chance to get extra points?

What if Devin, a student who is so desperately trying to hide the fact that he’s been sleeping at the local shelter all week, forgets that he signed up to bring brownies to the class party? Now he’s going to be excluded from the celebration?

What if Kelsey says she “doesn’t even want to watch the movie” that is playing in class, but only says that because she knew she wouldn’t be able to get her permission slip signed because she’s secretly living at home alone 6 days a week while Mom is “out.” Now she gets a zero in the grade book?

On Twitter, I expressed my feelings after this “Instagram post reading experience” by saying…

Screen Shot 2017-11-22 at 11.16.11 PM

Even if we have great intentions, like trying to teach responsibility or rewarding positive behaviors, we must make sure we aren’t asking students to perform their poverty or punish/downgrade them for things that are out of their control.

We all need to take a moment to reflect for the sake of our current/future students. Are there any grades, requirements, or extra opportunities that are offered to your students that might not be completely fair?

All of our kids deserve a chance; remember, they’re just kids.

If you’re wondering what the Instagram post was, or who posted it, I’m afraid you’re out of luck. I’m sure many of you can infer what the gist of the post was; however, my purpose in this blog post was not to grill/embarrass the teacher from Instagram. The purpose of this post was to remind us that we could all probably use a moment to reflect on how equitable our classrooms are.


Letter to Mrs. Penrod

I love everything that the first day of school brings: new school supplies, new bulletin boards, and most importantly, new students! I always find myself full of excitement the night before the first day and I basically wake up like Nemo here on day one.


My favorite first day/week activity to get to know my students is something I call “Letter to Mrs. Penrod.” I can’t remember where I found the inspiration for this activity, but I am so thankful for it.

“Letter to Mrs. Penrod” is a very simple activity that produces one of the most honest and insightful writing pieces you’ll ever get from the learners in your classroom. If you are looking for a way to get to know your students, both in and outside of the classroom, this is something you must try. If you want to do more than the basic “Tell me 5 of Your Favorite Things” game, this is for you. If you’re wishing you could get your students to really open up about themselves in a low-risk setting, you’ve got to do this.

“Letter to Mrs. Penrod” is a writing prompt in which students are asked to write a letter to me to describe themselves as individuals and learners. The catch? Students must write pretending they are one of their parents/guardians.

What makes this so meaningful and unique is the catch of the activity– students don’t write from their point of view, they write from their parent’s/guardian’s point of view.

Think about what the students consider before writing this piece:

  • What would (parent/guardian) say?
  • How would (parent/guardian) say it?


This activity gives you, as the teacher, way more than your typical “About Me” writing prompt would. Our students know that their parents/guardians are willing to open up and talk about things with another adult, so they write that way in this activity. Our students know their parents/guardians are going to be honest, so they write that way in this activity. Our students know that their parents/guardians would write in a mature fashion, so they write that way in this activity.

Every year, I am absolutely amazed at the letters I read from students. I can’t believe how truthful the letters are, how thoughtful students are when they write, and how much they are willing to share through this format of writing. The fact that they get to pretend they are someone else allows them to be more comfortable in sharing things about themselves. It makes the whole situation a little less risky-feeling, which in turn leads to students being more open. This letter is also a great way to informally assess the writing skills a student holds.

Skeptics of this activity might ask, “Well, how do you know the kids are being honest. What if they are just telling you what they want you to hear?” Trust me, the students are being honest. I can always tell based on what they are sharing, but I can also tell when I compare their letters to the family questionnaire I ask parents/guardians to fill out. I have never had a student letter that greatly differed from the information parents/guardians shared with me.

I’m going to leave you with a few lines from letters I’ve received in the past, just to give you an idea of the kinds of things you learn from this activity about the learners in your classroom. (I have changed all of the names in these letters to keep the privacy of my past students) Give this activity a shot this year, and/or share it with a colleague. I promise it won’t disappoint!

Remember, these are all written by students who were pretending to be their parents/guardians.

  • “John is a good kid, but he doesn’t always act good. He isn’t always a perfect kid, but he can be.”
  • “George commonly fails to let me know when he has an assignment due, so I am unable to help him. I get frustrated with him and I’m not sure why he does this.”
  • “When Sallie was little, she learned Spanish and I think that kind of messed up her English. She tries to remember the rules with grammar, but she still messed up.”
  • “I recommend asking her if she needs help because she is too shy to ask for it herself.”
  • “Please help my son by pushing him to his potential. He doesn’t always try his best but you can push him.”
  • “My daughter gets distracted a lot. Can you move her to the front to help her focus?”
  • “I don’t mean to be rude, but your class has always been his least favorite, so hopefully you can change that.”
  • “He does not want to try in school because he does not think he’s smart, but he is. He is afraid to mess up.”
  • “Right now, my husband and I are going through a divorce and it seems like it affects her in many ways.”
  • “Many nights she is in charge of taking care of her younger brother, so please understand if she didn’t get her homework done on time.”
  • “I know it is hard to deal with her sometimes.”
  • “Sometimes, he can’t focus because he is thinking about too many other things.”
  • “ADHD can be a problem and makes learning tough, especially when the medication wears off.”
  • “He is very nice and always looking for friends.”



Perspective: The Way We Approach a Freak Out Matters

If you’ve been following my blogging journey, (it really isn’t a long one, I only have a couple of posts at this point) then you would know that it all started with embracing freak outs. I had written about how I was going to stop making excuses for things that put me outside of my comfort zone and start embracing the unknown (or as I like to call them, the freak outs).

What I didn’t know when I wrote that post was that I would really be putting my mantra to the test… A MONTH BEFORE SCHOOL STARTS

As of Monday, I am officially changing schools, districts, and cities (not grade or subject though… I do need SOME sort of consistency in my life). Not only is my school life changing, but my home life is as well. My husband and I are looking for houses closer to his current job and my new job, which means packing up an old classroom, moving into a new one, packing up our home AND moving into a new one.


Now, I would like to clarify that these are all really good things. I am so excited for the change that will come with a new school, new students, new co-workers, new classroom, etc. Also, I can’t wait to get out of apartment living and move into a house with more space! However, all of this change in ONE MONTH is freak out worthy. 

I have to remind myself that it is the way in which we approach our freak outs that will determine the outcome.

It isn’t about not freaking out… I mean, that would be pretty impossible, right? (Especially in my situation- there is no way I can’t not freak out!) It’s about how we handle the freak outs; it’s about embracing them. It’s all about perspective.

I could…

  • stress and worry about the fact that I have one month to completely pack up my old classroom, move it into my new classroom, set up a new classroom, and prepare new curriculum.
  • panic because we are moving out of our apartment in one month, and as of right now, do not have a place to live after this month.
  • wonder why in the world I am sitting here blogging about all of the things I have to do instead of actually going and doing them. 😂

I could be doing all of those things. To be honest, my initial reactions to all of these freak outs were these things. But then I stopped for a moment to take a new perspective on these situations.

  • Yes, moving classrooms in one month is really cutting it close. Isn’t it awesome though that we (my new students and myself) have a new space to make our own? Isn’t this a great time to re-think classroom design and try new things? My new students deserve me at my best, and I plan to give them just that!
  • Yes, the possibility of not having a home in one month did cause some panic in me, but I know that we’ll figure it out (if not, it’s a good thing my parents have some extra space in their house). I need to recognize how blessed we are to even be looking at houses and take in this house-hunting experience.
  • Yes, realistically, I don’t need to be here blogging about my freak outs, but I am. I am because I enjoy it- it’s a way for me to relieve stress and make sense of everything going on in my head.

I wish that I could say that this spark of perspective hit me on my own, but it didn’t; I needed reminders from some very important people in my life.

My husband reminded me that although I’ll be entering a new city, district, and school, there will still be kids there who need me.

The superintendent of my previous district, who has been a mentor for me through this entire process, basically told me I need to snap out of it. “You might have some crazy things going on, but you also have some crazy things to be excited about!”

My previous principal, who supported me during this journey, constantly reminded me of the value and importance of family. Leaving my current school was not an easy decision, but I know it will be the best for my family.

I am so thankful for the support that I have received throughout all of this change and throughout all of these freak outs.


What I am most appreciative of is the reminder from others to shift my perspective. Again, freak outs are inevitable; there are bound to be things in life that will require us to change or journey into the unknown. It’s about the way we approach the freak outs that matter.

Here’s to a great year of shifting perspectives and truly embracing the freak outs.







Channel Your Inner Frizzle

Lightning bolt earrings. Solar system themed dress. Pet lizard. Red hair.

Guess who?

No, I’m not talking about Lady Gaga (although the characteristics above may very well also describe Gaga).

What if I told you she drove a big, yellow, magical school bus?


You got it. The one and only Ms. Frizzle: the legendary teacher who will always be known for her wacky-themed outfits, unforgettable field trips, and consistently positive attitude (even when one of her students froze his head after taking off his helmet in space!)

The Magic School Bus was an epic children’s show airing in the late 1990’s about a classroom that went on wild field trips on their magic yellow school bus. Ms. Frizzle, the teacher of this class, was dedicated to providing her students with once-in-a-lifetime experiences, all for the sake of learning! The magic school bus took the class to space, to prehistoric times, inside the body of another classmate, along with many other unusual field trip destinations. Ms. Frizzle was known for her unique educational opportunities; her students knew to expect out-of-the-ordinary from her.

One of Ms. Frizzle’s most classic, well-known quotes is…

 “Take chances, make mistakes, and get messy!”

How awesome is that? Ms. Frizzle had a completely sincere and purposeful mindset towards learning and she had her student-centered educational pedagogy down to a science (pun intended… 😂), and she was just a fictional, animated teacher in the 90’s!

We obviously can’t turn our students into bees so they can learn more about hives and we can’t take our kids through the digestive system of one of their peers to learn about the breakdown of food in our bodies. We would obviously need a magic school bus for that…


What we can do, though, is mimic the mindset and characteristics of Ms. Frizzle.

We can take our learners outside of the classroom to learn, or bring others inside of our classroom. We can be a little (or a lot) crazy in order to accentuate a lesson. We can dress up in crazy costumes and outfits to get our students curious about that day’s agenda (Dave Burgess does this all the time, as he mentions in his book, Teach Like a Pirate).


We can design our lessons to be more hands-on, and dare I say… messy! We can display positivity, even when times are tough. We can remind students that, “if you keep an open mind, you never know who might walk in!” (Another famous Frizzle quote). We can encourage the kids to take a closer look at things, to think deeper about their learning.

We can make learning fun.

We all have the opportunities to be our own versions of Ms. Frizzle. It might not mean showing up to the first day of school with a dress that lights up and flashing earrings (or maybe it does to you!), but it might mean taking a chance on something different this coming year.


Think of ways you can channel your inner Frizzle to leave a legacy just as she did. Imagine what students would say about your class. Think about how high the engagement levels would be. Consider the fun you’d have with students. As Frizze would, and did, say… “Let’s get out there and explore!”


*Thank you to Jena Ball for reminding me of Ms. Frizzle’s awesomeness in a Twitter chat the other night and inspiring this post!


Being a GRAND teacher in 2017

The Oxford dictionary states that the word great (when being used as an adjective) describes something considerably above average, impressive, and/or grand.

So, when I posed the question, “What makes a great teacher in 2017?” to the Twitter world, what I was really asking was “What makes an above average, impressive and/or grand teacher in today’s times?” However, I like this version of the question best…

What makes a GRAND teacher in 2017?

Can you imagine being described as a grand teacher? What a powerful compliment. To me, the word grand has so much more of a significant connotation than good or even great. They don’t call it the “Great Canyon,” do they? (To be honest, I don’t know the history behind the naming of the Grand Canyon, so I could be totally off here, but it works for the point I’m making here… just go with it!)

Being a grand teacher in today’s times is not easy to achieve. Being a grand teacher while still being a grand spouse, mother/father, etc. is difficult. Being a grand teacher on those days where you feel anything but impressive is a struggle.


Notice how I didn’t use the word impossible though…

When I posed the question to my network on Twitter, not one person answered the question by saying, “it can’t be done,” or “it’s a hopeless cause.” Is it because they are unrealistic people? Actually, I believe it is quite the opposite- they are realistic people. They recognize that to be great requires hard work, sacrifices, and dedication; however, it is not beyond the bounds of possibility.


Here are 5 characteristics of grand teachers, the kind of teachers our students desire. What characteristic(s) do you possess already? Which characteristic(s) could use some work? Are there any characteristic(s) you haven’t considered yet? *Big shoutout to my PLN on Twitter for contributing descriptions for each of these characteristics! You all are true rockstars!

  1. A grand teacher cares most about students- first as people, then as learners.
  • A grand teacher values relationships over rules. (@michelelkelly)
  • A grand teacher is powerful, transparent and puts relationships first. (@Latimer1Kristi)
  • A grand teacher knows that no matter what content or skills are being learned in the classroom, relationships with students are the most important. (@MpapaEdu)
  • A grand teacher holds the ability to connect and create healthy relationships with students and peers. (@RustyMayInc)
  • A grand teacher recognizes that it doesn’t matter if it’s 2017, 1917, or 1017; a great teacher sincerely wants her/his students to succeed. (@arhi39)
  • A grand teacher believes that every child can and will succeed. (@ShawnFord51)

2. A grand teacher takes student-centered risks, both in lessons and in pedagogy.

  • A grand teacher asks themselves what they can do differently this year that wasn’t done last year. (@mrdsengclass)
  • A grand teacher needs to be willing try new things in the classroom, whether that is technology or a pedagogical shift. (@mrdsengclass)
  • A grand teacher is one who is willing to give as much control and choice as possible over to his/her students. (@evsmomgen)
  • A grand teacher is able to put kids at the center. (@tinkering2learn)
  • A grand teacher is willing to take risks and knows his/her students will experience growth this way. (@MpapaEdu)
  • A grand teacher asks students more questions rather than providing answers. (@hollysking)
  • A grand teacher helps their students work through challenges and failures, rather than help them achieve a score or grade. (@michelelkelly)
  • A grand teacher opens doors for students, doesn’t close them. (@brianrozinsky)
  • A grand teacher is willing to share their own struggles with students. (@bart_miriam)
  • A grand teacher is flexible as we need to be able to change course as needed in order to meet students needs, connect to their experiences, or try something new.(@thinkdreamdare1)
  • A grand teacher is willing to be innovative (@Terencewhite23)

3. A grand teacher is always learning and growing; he/she embraces the unknown and the freak outs.

  • A grand teacher is willing to take constructive criticism to allow for growth. (@mrdsengclass)
  • A grand teacher realizes that the teaching role does not have to be done on your own, and lets others help! (@elizabethutch)
  • A grand teacher is a connected educator who realizes the importance of learning from others. (@MpapaEdu)
  • A grand teacher creates a culture of growth of students & self. (@SteinbrinkLaura)
  • A grand teacher is excited about learning and students. (@SaraKiffe)

4. A grand teacher, especially in 2017, knows and models the significance of technology to students, parents, and peers.

  • A grand teacher is relevant! (@michelelkelly)
  • A grand teacher knows how to relate to their students in today’s world. (@jbdgab)
  • A grand teacher teaches life skills like digital citizenship so their students know how to be behave online and how to stay safe while using technology. (@jbdgab)
  • A grand teacher is tech savvy but understands how to keep a balance between technology and the physical world. (@polonerd)

5. A grand teacher recognizes that critical thinking is one of the skills we have to hold as a top priority in our classrooms.

  • A grand teacher fosters conversations, rather than monopolizes them. (@brianrozinsky)
  • A grand teacher models critical thinking and provides many opportunities for students to engage in critical thinking. (@thinkdreamdare1)
  • A grand teacher teaches students to be problem solvers and independent. (@ebgtech)
  • A grand teacher realizes that innovation is a skill that must be passed on to his/her students. (@MpapaEdu)

Take some time to really reflect on these 5 characteristics. Be honest with yourself when reflecting. I know there are many things that I need to improve on and change, especially #3, as noted in one of my previous posts.


Most importantly, remember that being a grand teacher will not be simple or comfortable, but it sure as heck will be worth it.


Would You Tweet a #Fail?

February of 2017 was when I first created my Twitter account (@itsmrspenrod). I was encouraged by my principal, at the time, to join Twitter; she stated that it was a great place to connect with other educators and that it was basically free professional development. After a couple of months of thinking it over, I decided, “What the heck, why not?”

Joining Twitter was one of the best things to happen to my educational journey thus far.


I’ve had the opportunity to connect with so many inspirational, wise and innovative educators who push me every day to try new things and think differently about teaching and learning. I am so thankful for the 140-character interactions I have daily with people around the world.

Lately, however, I have noticed something about educators and Twitter…

No one seems to tweet about the mistakes they’ve made, the lessons that failed, or the struggles they face.

Please note: I am including myself in this observation, as I can’t really recall tweeting out something like, “Man, that grammar lesson today on gerunds was a no-go w/ Ss- engagement was low :/ #fail” (For the record I could have very well tweeted out this exact tweet because it was 100% true…)

Now, I could ask why, but I won’t because I know the answer. What teacher wants to advertise a failed lesson? What teacher wants to actually admit to the world-wide-web that kids in his/her class weren’t 100% engaged? What person, educator or not, wants to voluntarily talk about mistakes they made at work?

Teachers, this is a tough situation we find ourselves in. We want to showcase our greatest lessons, talents, and skills- which there is nothing wrong with- but what happens when that’s the ONLY thing we showcase? Are we raising the stakes too high for ourselves? Do we push ourselves too hard? Is the image we are portraying online the “photoshopped image” of our actual selves?

I know that we want to share the best of the best because we want to positively represent our schools and students, as we should! I just don’t think we should be so afraid of also being a little transparent.(Please don’t mistake transparency here for complaining or whining… don’t be that teacher on social media!)

What would happen if we started tweeting about lessons that need more student engagement? What if we tweeted questions about how to handle certain behaviors displayed in our classrooms (without naming names of course)? Could we tweet about how we tried that new app and how things didn’t go as planned? What if we admitted on social media that we are actual human beings instead of the super-humans we pressure ourselves to be?

I believe that if we all were a little more transparent, we would find that we aren’t the only ones dealing with failed lessons, struggles in the classroom, and things that could have gone better.

Twitter has been a great place for us to learn from each other’s successes; what if it also became a great place for us to learn from each other’s experiences, even if the experience was a #fail?



How Do You Deal With Splashing and Shouting?

“Claire, stop that.

Stop shouting.

Claire, no splashing.

Stop it right now.

Don’t hang on the railing.

If you do that one more time, we are going home.

That’s enough, Claire.

Knock it off.”

I happened to overhear a mother spewing these commands almost every five seconds at our apartment complex’s pool yesterday. They were directed toward her daughter, who, if I had to guess, was around 4-5 years old. In the span of a half hour, I heard just about every version of any “stop that” statement you could imagine.

I had two thoughts during this experience:

  • Thought #1: I am not a parent, so maybe I’m not allowed to have Thought #2. However, I work with middle school students… do you remember how kind, wonderful, and never sassy or mean middle schoolers can be? (No offense to any of my lovely students… it’s not your fault, it’s the hormones!) It’s safe to say I know a little something about kids.
  • Thought #2: The message that I heard Claire’s mom sending through the scolding was this: The outdoor pool is not a place for splashing, shouting, or any other version of fun. Please swim in silence. 

Did Claire’s mom actually say these things from Thought #2? Of course not.

Did Claire’s mom actually mean to scold in a way that sent off the message from Thought #2? I highly doubt it.

If I could imagine for a moment here, I’m sure Claire and her mother had a long morning; since it was a nice day out, she probably wanted to take Claire outdoors to the pool. At the pool, Claire was excited. How do 4-5 year olds show their excitement at the pool? By screaming and splashing, of course. But, I’m sure after a long morning, Mom was tired. (Even though I’m not a parent, I do know that 4-5 year olds can be tiring!)


Claire’s excitement + Mom’s tiredness = Mom’s annoyance and Mom’s scolding.

This whole poolside scenario made me think of the classrooms our students enter every day. How do we interact with students when they are “splashing and shouting” in the classroom? Do we scold them, tell them to knock it off, and hope they work in silence? Even on days when we’re tired, do we take a moment to try and recognize where a student’s behavior is coming from before threatening to “go home if they don’t stop?” What do we do when kids are “hanging on the railing?” Are we portraying our classrooms as places to go as a “treat after a long morning?”

Now, I’d like to be clear… I am NOT critiquing Mom’s parenting skills in any way. Let’s face it, we’ve all been “Claire’s mom” before in some variation of this situation, whether it was with our own kids at home or with our students in the classroom.

That doesn’t mean though, that we can just ignore Claire’s perspective here. Claire was excited to be at the pool. To show her excitement, she splashed around. She shouted her enjoyment. She wanted to hang on the railing and kick her feet because it was fun. Isn’t a pool the place for splashing? (Especially one where there was no one else around except me who was at the opposite end.) Isn’t the outdoors a place for shouting?

Sometimes, our students are loud. Sometimes, they do things without thinking. Sometimes, they don’t listen. Sometimes, our students “splash and shout,” don’t they?

Might our students be excited to see their friends? Might some of our students be happy to leave the unknowns of their home for the routine and safety of our classrooms? Might our students look forward to school? Might our students be acting the way they do because that’s how a kid at (insert student age here) acts?

Have we ever considered that our students act the way they do because they are excited, comfortable, or just because they are at “that age?”

Are we encouraging students or are we scolding them, showing them that school is not the place for “splashing and shouting?”

I’d like to share with you a letter that one of my students wrote me that forever changed the way I viewed and reacted to student behavior.

“Your class really changed how I act in a classroom. Before, I never rose my hand and never shared unless picked randomly. Some classes I still do that but I’m actually raising my hand more now. Sometimes (most of the time) I blurt out in your class. It is because I feel welcome in this class. I know it’s annoying sometimes, but I feel like I’m at home.”

Never in a million years would I have thought that the reason this student was blurting out all the time was because he was comfortable in our classroom. Now, is blurting out something I want my students to think is acceptable? No. But isn’t it just amazing to hear a student say they feel as comfortable in class as they do when they’re at home?

The reasoning behind student behavior might be due to situations you were unaware of, feelings you never thought of, or circumstances you never considered. However, we won’t always know every student’s story, and we can’t expect every student to write us a letter like one of my students did. So, what do we do?

We remind ourselves at every “poolside” scenario in our classrooms to consider “Claire’s” perspective, even when we’re tempted to “scold like Mom.”


Maybe that student is blurting out because he/she feels comfortable enough to share what’s on his/her mind. Maybe that student came to class crabby that morning because he/she stayed up all night waiting for Dad to come home and he never did. Maybe that student acts out to get some attention because he/she doesn’t get any at home. Maybe that student asks so many questions in your class because he/she only feels comfortable asking you things. Maybe that student gives you a hard time because that is his/her way of showing he/she actually enjoys you. Maybe that student doesn’t ever do his/her homework because he/she is in charge of watching 4 younger siblings every night while Mom works the night shift.

Obviously, we can’t control how students act, but we can control how we react. We don’t want to suppress creativity by scolding the every move of our students. We want them to know that school is a place to express themselves, just like an outdoor pool is a place to splash and shout. We don’t want to constantly say “stop that” to students when they do something wrong. We want them to feel comfortable making mistakes within the walls of our classrooms, knowing they have our support and direction to make right choices.

The next time you have a “Claire” moment in your classroom, why don’t you jump in the pool and splash and shout with them? 🙂