Sunday, June 13, 2021

I Did a Thing: I'm a Newly-Minted Librarian

You can now find me blogging at "From LMNOP to LMS," a site I began as a requirement for a graduate course.  I've shaken off the dust and added two posts so far that chronicle the beginning of my new adventure as a school librarian!

I've not yet decided whether or not to shutter Kindergarten's 3 R's, as I'll likely be inspired to cross-post whenever I encounter books and activities that kindergarteners will enjoy, so feel free to stick around.

Or follow me over to the newish blog.

Or hang out with me at both places.


Saturday, May 29, 2021

That's a Wrap


... and that's a wrap.  My 2020-2021 school year is over.  My annual tradition of decompressing at the end of the year as summer begins by reflecting upon and blogging the lessons I've learned is still exerting some pull over me because, well, habits are habits, but goodness... this year has been a doozie. 

I started with twelve "all mine" remote-learning kindergarteners at the beginning of the year, and by the end, finished with seven original Dream Teamers and two mid-year transfers.  In total, I taught forty-eight students, several of them repeat visitors due to multiple exposures to COVID-19.  Because my exposure when Dear Husband tested positive occurred over winter break, my absences from work were limited. The subs I had on those days were brave, turning themselves into instructional hosts akin to Mr. Rogers on the television screen, though I suspect they were glad that I didn't ask them to put on puppet shows.  

I watched colleagues who taught students on-site at the ends of two long hallways empty their classrooms of furniture and engineer six feet of distance between their students while trying to remember to create and maintain distance between themselves and their learners, the absolute opposite of what any of us were trained or wanted to do.  I witnessed grade-level planning happening with team members standing in their classroom doorways, shouting through masks to one another as they collaborated. I saw the encouragement of confidentiality when colleagues tested positive and/or became ill and for the first time in my career, read not only care and concern in the eyes of teachers and staff when they discovered a colleague would be out of the building for two weeks, but fear. Was I exposed to COVID?  How close were we when we walked to the gym/staff lounge to put our lunches in the refrigerator?  I unsuccessfully tried to calm my anxiety every time a staff member forgot to wear a mask, or chose to mis-wear one because their personal discomfort (or belief that COVID19 was a global hoax) was an inconvenience against which they decided to semi-passively rail.  My need for self-care grew exponentially each time my self-preservation button was casually brushed up against. 

I signed many more sympathy cards than in years past as colleagues lost their parents and grandparents.

I eventually conceded to the utilization of a predictable daily routine, complete with scripted Google Slides that were created a week in advance.  Spontaneity just didn't work for families who needed and wanted to rely upon a school schedule that could mesh with their home routine. My remote-learning colleague was wonderful in helping to plan our students' lessons, activities and special crafts a month in advance, and we kept our communication with our families as consistent as possible. We did what we felt was best for both our students and our guest kindergarteners, and I believe our families could feel the care that we put into teaching.  Administrators didn't police us much, but I can't say whether that was by design or simply because we weren't starting any fires.  Having the autonomy to create our own learning program is an experience I doubt we'll ever forget. 

Tech being glitchy doesn't instill panic in me any longer.  Sometimes it's the platform or website that is having an issue.  Sometimes you just have to close out all the apps, shut down the iPad, and let it rest for a few minutes before powering it up again.  After the ninth new update to the operating system installs itself, the day continues, and so does the learning... in most cases.  I'm glad I was able to create digital resources not only for my students but for colleagues in the district who were able to use them in their on-site classrooms, and I will be forever grateful for all of the sharing teacher communities on social media who donated their own creations in kind.  My device and equipment list for the year included: 
  • Laptop; laptop stand (purchased by me)
  • iPads: teacher (it was my second screen for Zoom, displaying my students' faces, and often their parents' faces and backsides, with regular appearances from siblings, pets and stuffed animals) and student (so I could model all apps and step in as an initial help desk of sorts)
  • iPencil: I fiddled with it once but never used it again, preferring to model writing and drawing using our regular writing tools 
  • Logitech camera, gifted by admin at the Board Office: the extra camera made it possible for me to share other spaces in our classroom daily without giving everyone motion-sickness by carrying my laptop to a new location.  It could pan out to include a view of an entire wall of anchor charts, and zoom in close easily with its handy dandy little remote.  My students were able to see and experience storytime with big books and art lessons modeled by me using a regular kindergarten painting easel. I went from a laptop on a milk crate to a command station pretty quickly:

  • Document camera: for displaying books, worksheets, etc. onto the....
  • SMARTBoard: My daily instructional slides appeared as large as a bulletin board.  Students viewed the board through my laptop and Logitech cameras.  Video content was screen-shared from my laptop via Zoom.

  • Microphone: speakers located in multiple ceiling tiles kept me from having to use my "teacher voice" in locations that weren't within the immediate vicinity of my laptop. 
  • Additional camera (purchased by me) for a desktop computer that I used from my teacher's desk when my laptop was being repaired. 
I know that other remote teachers used fewer devices and equipment than I did, but I just couldn't bring myself to teach in a sitting position all day.  Having my laptop and Logitech camera on an old media cart in front of the SMARTBoard made it possible for me to stand, change locations in the classroom, and share more of our learning environment with my students.

This year became a standalone teaching experience for me, stretching from last March when the stay-at-home order was first issued through yesterday when I signed off of Zoom for the last time with my Super Stars and their families.  Despite some semblance of normalcy provided by curriculum, routine and even decor, I'll admit to having to look through photographs to remember a lot of the finer details of what happened this year.  So much has to be brain-dumped when you're literally trying to stay alive while having to appear professional as you're doing it.  My Super Star Families were gracious, supportive, and (almost all) on board with what Zoom Kindergarten had to be, and my decision to be a remote teacher for my twenty-fifth year in education and their decision to have their children be remote learners for their first year of school were the right ones for us.  I will always appreciate my district providing the remote-learning option that helped to support the health and safety of me, my family, and my Super Stars and their families. 

Even during a pandemic, it takes a village. 

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Groundhog Day Slides

Thanks to Mother Nature, today was a *snow day*!

I took advantage of the extra time to create some Google Slides for Groundhog Day. 

They include links to explanatory videos about groundhogs, shadows and Groundhog Day itself, as well as a story library and some song selections.  One of my ~favorites~ is this one!


The super-cute groundhog clipart is from Teaching in the Tongass.  Visit her TPT Store by tapping on her logo:


These slides and content are appropriate for pre-k, kindergarten, and first-grade students. You can grab a copy of the slides by clicking here.

Saturday, January 23, 2021

Sharing is Caring: Wizard of Oz/Over the Rainbow Interactive Google Slides

Last summer I took a wonderful series of courses addressing effective digital instruction through Kansas State University. I was able to put to immediate use my ability to create Bitmoji classrooms (which are really just very busy Google Slides) to collect resources that my students and I could use to access curricular, thematic, and frankly FUN content.

With Kansas Day just around the corner, I decided to create a set of slides for The Wizard of Oz and versions of Over the Rainbow/Somewhere Over the Rainbow for my Super Stars to compare and contrast. I included presentation notes and details about the links that I used, so if you'd like to grab your own copy, you'll understand how I intend to use the slides, who should receive credit for each resource, and how to modify the linked content if you'd prefer that your own students not navigate away from your planned activity.

Click here to get your copy.

Here's a peek:

Sharing and paying it forward is a good thing, which my instructors this summer reaffirmed to me and my other classmates. You know who else believes in sharing? All of the members of the Bitmoji, distance-ed, remote learning, and teacher-tech groups on Facebook. They have been so generous with their time, feedback, praise, and the sharing of their own creations, that I haven't had to recreate the wheel for my kindergarteners for most of my math and ELA content this year.

Would you like to join these awesome educators?

Bitmoji Classrooms and Digital Learning Materials for Distance Learning

Bitmoji for PreK and Kindergarten Classrooms

Bitmoji Craze for Educators

Pk-1 Bitmoji Theme Rooms

Virtual Kindergarten Support Group

Teaching with Neons

Sharing is caring.

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Inauguration 2021

I'm a member of several teacher groups on social media, many of them created last spring when so many of us were sent home to teach on-screen. I regularly skim posts from these groups because, for the most part, members are there to share and to learn from each other. 

Monday evening, one member of a group asked how other teachers planned to spend today, Inauguration Day, and what, if anything, they'd teach their students about the event.  "Praying for our country now that the socialists are taking over," "Nothing- I won't show my students a fake inauguration because that's what it will be," and "I plan to wear all black, but I'm really worried because I'm not sure I will be able to keep from sobbing as I watch this country being destroyed" were some of the responses.  

I posted the following:

The first female vice president and no one wants to even mention that accomplishment? How about a rescue dog being one of two pets in the White House? How about the fun title of Madame Vice-President's husband, the first Second Gentleman? Students are going to be hearing some new language- it's our job to help them with this schema. No fear. Just facts.

... at which point another group member tagged me, saying "... oh geez, here comes a unicorn!"

Now if "... oh geez" hadn't prefaced my being called a "unicorn" I would have thought R-O-C-K ON! A fellow teacher gets what I'm saying! She relates to this being yet another teachable moment that can (and should) transcend politics!  But the "... oh geez" gave me just enough pause to realize that it was likely I wasn't being complimented. Once I did a little digging and discovered that being called a unicorn was akin to being labeled a "liberal snowflake" amongst Trumpers, I decided this was an appropriate response:

After taking a screenshot of the dialogue (I won't share her identity here), I noticed that the unicorn-labeler's comment disappeared several minutes later. Perhaps she rethought her tone, or maybe she remembered that her comment didn't exactly follow the group's guidelines.  Perhaps simply a page administrator decided to intervene. But after some affirmations from other like-minded colleagues, and the insistance by the naysayers that the inauguration "shouldn't be touched with a ten-foot pole," I resolved to CONTINUE to teach my kindergarteners about what an inauguration is, and to provide a simple introduction to President-Elect Joe Biden and Vice-President-Elect Kamala Harris.

That's right: I've taught my students about presidential inaugurations every four years. I blogged about President Obama's first here, and reflected upon a publisher's message to teachers about content regarding Donald Trump's inauguration here, but I'd also done some deep thinking about Mr. Trump when he was still a presidential candidate.  Caring for my students and their emotional well-being while providing them an introduction to our nation's democracy, curricular content and creating a supportive learning environment have been goals throughout my career.  Providing learners with carefully selected content that communicates factual information and helping them to explore ideas such as leadership are just some of my responsibilities as an educator.  I didn't get to just skip over social studies lessons in 2016 because I didn't like who won the election: I still had to teach.  More importantly, I still wanted to teach.

Yesterday I introduced my Super Stars to the word "inauguration," explaining that it means the beginning or the start of something. I told students that today would be the first day that President Biden and Vice President Harris would go to work together in the White House to help all Americans.  "Oh, like we had the first day of kindergarten?" asked a student.  Yes, just like our first day of kindergarten.  I offered "Maybe Mrs. Sommerville should have called our first day of school together OUR Inauguration Day!" I watched approval spread across my iPad screen as students nodded and gave thumbs-up signs.  I also explained that in addition to reciting the Pledge of Allegiance (just like us!), that our new President and Vice-President would be making another promise to all Americans called the Oath of Office. 

Today I shared some facts about President-Elect Biden and Vice-President-Elect Harris.  The Stars loved seeing pictures of Champ and Major, the new White House pets and were excited to discover that our soon-to-be new vice-president had written a book for children. But the biggest wave of Zoom-screen glee and unmuted laughter came when I explained that President Joe Biden's full name was Joseph Robinette Biden Jr.:

Can you imagine, boys and girls, what it must have sounded like when President Biden was a little boy and he did something that got him in trouble?  His mom and dad probably yelled 'JOSEPH ROBINETTE BIDEN JR.!  DID YOU BREAK THIS BLAH-BLAH-BLAH-BLAH?  COME HERE RIGHT NOW, YOUNG MAN!"

They.  Were.  R-O-L-L-I-N-G. 

"Mrs. Sommerville!!  What about Kamala?" begged a student.  I explained that "Kamala" means "lotus flower."  My Star snickered before breaking into giggles, saying in her best pretend-parent voice "Oh Lotus Flower, come tell me what happened to my blah-blah-blah-blah!  You might be getting grounded, Lotus Flower!"

Two leaders of our country, who they might never meet in person, were instantly relatable to my class of five and six-year-olds learning from home.  That's all the lesson needed after our vocabulary, truly. 


I understand that classes full of students older than mine were going to have more in-depth discussions and voice (or parrot) some uncomfortable thoughts today.  I didn't play any of the inauguration ceremony for my students, leaving that decision to the discretion of their families, and at the request of administrators who wanted to protect students from the possibility of seeing or hearing something unplanned or dangerous.  And I didn't ask why some colleagues were dressed as if in mourning.

I wore red(ish), white, and blue, a charm I made in my crafty nook, and of course, pearls:

... and yes, I absolutely checked Etsy for some teacher-unicorn t-shirts, *wink*. 

... and Kindergarten Teacher Dabbing shirt found here.

Sunday, January 10, 2021

Staying Flexible: Preparing for School at 6:30 AM on a Sunday

My internal clock doesn't ever allow me to sleep in except when I'm sick, or frankly, recovering from surgery.  Thanksgiving Break?  Up at 5:15 AM.  Winter Break?  Same.  Spring Break?  Still an early bird.  Summer?  A cruel irony: I sleep in by about an hour, max, two or three days before autumn PD starts up again, I kid you not.  So it's not at all unusual that I am up, drinking coffee, eating a breakfast sandwich, and being productive at six-thirty this morning.  What has changed is that I'm not crocheting while catching up on DVRd shows, or reading, or participating in a Twitter chat, or throwing a breakfast casserole into the oven.  I've been navigating some work emails and have been updating instructional materials because the week I planned for has been altered quite a bit.  

"Stay flexible" continues to be my professional mantra, carrying over from 2020.  I volunteered to be a remote learning teacher last fall, and am one of those weird teachers who has actually looked forward to and even enjoyed creating a new learning and teaching environment. I've shifted from trying to make my Zoom and digital experiences "just like" on-site or "real" school (with all of the restrictions that on-site students and teachers have to adapt to, why would I wish any of that upon my class?) and to put it bluntly, my body greatly appreciates having multiple breaks scheduled throughout my day.  That's right, I have five, count them, F-I-V-E intermissions where I can and do use the restroom, e-v-e-r-y day.  In twenty-plus years of teaching, this is the most accommodated my bladder has ever been. 

Unlike past teaching years, my class size can accordion greatly.  I began with twelve of my own "permanent" remote learning students in the fall. Families chose my class because they intended to have their kindergarteners learn safely from home for at least the first semester of school.  Two transferred to on-site learning after parents who had lost their jobs during the spring and summer gained employment ("If I don't take this job and move _______ back to school in-person, we won't have Christmas or be able to pay other bills.") while recently another parent working the night-shift couldn't support his kindergartener's daily Zoom and activity schedule.  As a remote learning kindergarten teacher (I have a grade level partner) I host students who test positive and must isolate or who have a family member who has tested positive and must therefore quarantine for up to two weeks. My class size has grown by one, two, three, six, and last week, by sixteen students overnight. Yes, sixteen. Stay flexible.


Though my entire district moved to remote learning right after Thanksgiving Break, on-site classes begin again tomorrow.  Last Thursday and Friday, district students, their families, and teachers and their families were offered the opportunity to be tested for COVID, and as anyone could have guessed, I've already added at least one new student to my roster.  Should a kindergarten teacher in the district have to quarantine in the future, however, and with an extreme shortage of substitute teachers, there's a chance I could yet again, take on another entire class in addition to my own.

This week all of our middle-of-the-year mandated assessments begin.  Will I be screening ten, eleven, or twenty-five students for dyslexia and STAR Reading, or administering curriculum-based measures for math to children who I have not yet met nor even had the time to build a rapport? I'm also having to take Friday off to accompany my husband to his dental surgery, so I'll need to prepare for a guest teacher who has yet to be assigned since my original sub just received a positive COVID test for a family member. 

You know, even flexible tools like pipe cleaners and wikki stix break apart after being bent one too many times. At what point must others release their grip from the mindset of "we-have-to-make-this-year-as-normal-as-every-other-year-because-we-refuse-to-envision-education-in-any-other-way?" Often our ability to effectively apply self-care relies heavily upon the responsibilities thrust upon us even during our hours away from work. Here's hoping that this latest surge doesn't last long and that I can reclaim some of my time for myself and my family, and that my colleagues and their families can do the same. 


Sunday, January 03, 2021

What I Did Over Winter Break, a Teacher's List

I've spent some time over the past few days trying to work some great storytelling into this blogpost to no avail.  Maybe it's because of how everything has been slightly surreal since my winter break began, though most likely it's simply because there's no way that great prose is going to be able to sugarcoat this summary. So here, in *possibly* accurate order (days blended together if they didn't disappear altogether) is what I did over winter break:

I baked one batch of sugar cookie trees which were frosted white.  I added sprinkles.

I also baked my first ever batch of these Reeses Peanut Butter Cup cookie things.  My friend (and former Super Star parent) Kim correctly described them as "sacrificial cookies:" other holiday treats, sweet and savory were able to be sampled by me, myself and I, while The Teenager focused his attention on the pile of peanut butter goodness, yielded from the linked recipe.  I know, I know, these nummies aren't new to any of you, but they were to me, and they now have a permanent spot in my cookie-baking roster of tried-and-true recipes.

I deep-cleaned and disinfected the house, which is an annual agenda item for me each year before Christmas.  This year, it's a good thing I scheduled it early because...

I had to isolate Dear Husband, banishing him to the downstairs for ten days after he tested positive for COVID.  Preparing for dental surgery later in the month, he had been tested in anticipation of his appointment.  No, he didn't show any symptoms.

After contacting my principal, superintendent and colleagues, I managed to facilitate my quarantine and that of The Teenager, me to the master bedroom and he to his room.  It was an unanticipated adjustment for me, and no biggie for him, except for the constant wearing of masks indoors, and the odd state of things having Dad downstairs.  And the open windows everywhere.

I tested negative.  Dear Husband never developed symptoms of COVID. After his isolation ended, he continued to quarantine because The Teenager and I had four more days to go.  I never developed symptoms.  The Teenager never developed symptoms.

I turned fifty-one and was gifted a celebratory meal by the parents of Dear Daughter's best friend.  They bought and delivered to our porch delicious prime rib and chicken alfredo with all of the fixings, including cake and cheesecake slices. 


For the rest of our meals, I used our oven (thank you, Mrs. Stouffers), microwave (what a great reheater of leftovers), electric griddle (hello, French toast) and crockpot (only once) for two weeks after the stovetop blew out and Dear Husband ordered a new one.  It arrived on December 28, after I also purchased an electric skillet which made the best Hamburger Helper we'd had in a month.  We all ate in isolation/quarantine for two weeks, thanks to having a full deep freezer in the garage.

I spent time on the back porch each day, feeding and cuddling with a prairie cat that adopted us earlier this month. His name is "PC."  Yes, for "Prairie Cat." 

I celebrated Christmas with my family on December 29. We prepared our meal using the new cooktop Dear Husband installed, the job that was his first task upon his return to the main floor. Sorry about that, electric skillet, but you'll remain our standby, for sure.

I finished my one-afghan-per-month for December.

After four days of letting the downstairs sit, I deep cleaned it all, and finally made it back to my craft room, my creative spot that I had planned to spend quite a lot of time in during vacation.  I packed up the ornaments and mini-tabletop tree and put them away, and got back to work scheduling assignments and materials in Google Classroom and creating instructional slides for the return to school. 

I helped pack up Christmas and enjoyed a low-key New Year's Eve with Dear Husband, The Teenager and our cats, Buck and Tish-Tish. 

And I gave thanks, so many times, that this brush with COVID resulted in mere inconveniences and the postponement of our celebrations and not something much, much worse.

There you have it: my list. Tomorrow I'm back to work for the start of our second semester, still teaching kindergarten remote learners.  I'll be trying to work ahead in anticipation of the arrival of guest students who will be joining my class from others throughout the district because of having to quarantine while classmates attend on-site the week after next.


Was your winter break what you had hoped it would be?