Me Making Morning Meetings Magical

Don’t ya just love some great alliteration! I sure do, clearly! While titling the blog was fun, truly digging into the content of it has been even better. I won’t lie, I have been trying to nail this down for weeks. To backtrack a bit, lets start from the beginning. This spring I started talking with another teacher in my school about culturally responsive classrooms. At that time I was planning a move from my technology specialist role, back to my love, teaching 3rd grade. Our discussions made me dig deeper and take time to look into what might be relevant in my #JVand3rd classroom this fall. In no time at all, I fell in love with the idea of morning meetings and closing circles. Herein lies the planning vision of the past weeks!

Let’s start with morning meeting. It is designed to build a strong classroom culture, social emotional skills, teamwork, and communication. It rides on basic expectations and can be set up in a variety of different ways. It teaches kids (and adults) to have eye contact, to give speakers their true attention, and to engage in 15 or 20 minutes of becoming a stronger team. Here is my 5 step plan.

  1. Greeting – Students greet one another in a variety of ways. I watched a great video on Twitter of a hand stack greeting, and there are tons more on You Tube! What an amazing way to make every child in your class engaged from the start of the day. How many kids come into classrooms and don’t feel like others see them, or don’t feel like they are a part of the group. Why not eliminate that in your morning meeting?
  2.  Skill- Our meeting will have us circled up on my carpet, and of course kids will find their friends to sit by. This second part will mix them up. Using index cards I will choose an academic skill and put the individual parts on a index card. Every student will get one card, and then they need to find their partners. Say students have the following cards:


You can probably see we would be reviewing place value and expanded form. The kids with these cards would need to find each other, then share something with one another. I may just have them share their favorites in week one. It will help them learn more about each other. Then those kids will sit down together for the rest of the meeting. I can switch up the skill and the share every day!

3. Team Builder – I saw a few neat ideas here.. puzzles they must work together to put together, class jenga, kerplunk.. so many choices. What a great way to teach cooperation, as well as supporting all members of them team, especially when your tower falls!

4. Share – Each day up to 5 kids will know in advance it is their day to share. It can be anything they want us to know about them. This is going to help us learn so much about each other, and give all kids a voice! This won’t be a show and tell… they won’t bring anything to morning meeting, rather they will learn to share from the heart. Sure they can tell us about their soccer accomplishment, but it won’t be about a trophy, it will be about THEM!

5. Day Preview/ SeeSaw Review – As we wrap up, I will give us a view of the day. Knowing what is coming takes so much pressure off the day. It will also be the time we review our learning challenge replies on SeeSaw. In lieu of homework, we will have weekly learning challenges. That blog is to come. I will share what we will be doing over traditional homework, and WHY checking in each day on Seesaw matters! Hope that is a sweet little teaser for ya!

Lastly – Closing circle… the last 10 or 15 minutes before dismissal we will wrap up the day. We will share victories, set new goals for the day to come, and who knows… let’s just say I still have some planning to do there. What I do know for sure is this.. it is going to be our SHAKE IT OFF time. If you had some struggles in that day… shake them OFF. Tomorrow is a fresh start! These are what I hope will be the keys to building a classroom where instruction isn’t interrupted, rather it is fostered by our teamwork and culture!





My Little ole View on the Leadership Ladder


Let’s face it, educational leadership is a climb. It starts somewhere in the classroom, evolves over time, and becomes a opportunity for change. It takes time, energy, focus, and a willingness to reflect along the way. My climb is one I think has a great message, and may perhaps help others to see that climbing the ladder is one thing, but knowing when to take a couple steps back is crucial.

If you don’t know much about me, know I have been a teacher, a consultant, and a school based instructional technology specialist. That climb was a lengthy one, and took a lot of patience. It required a great PLN, connecting and sharing, but most importantly, it took a willingness to keep climbing. I have held the role of the technology specialist for three years, and in that time I felt I had a nice little view from the top rungs of the ladder. I was afforded the opportunity to be a part of our connected classroom initiative, which will put amazing resources in our classrooms this fall. I served on committees, presented, and promoted our school in every way I could. What I found was that when I really took a hard look at my view from the top of that ladder, what I found was that I was pretty lonely. I could look far and wide, but when I looked deep, I didn’t see the change I wanted to see. I was sitting atop a pretty quiet and solemn ladder. It was time to make a change, and a change I certainly made.

Next year I am climbing back into the classroom. I plan to be sitting on the ladder and looking across at others who are going to climb with me, making this a far better climb indeed. You see, I have done tons of reflecting, and what I truly believe is that a title is just that. Being a knowledgeable and driven technology specialist doesn’t magically make change happen. Change comes from within. So as I settle into my new role, my goal is simple. I intend to show that teacher leadership is the difference maker. I plan to show that strong teachers who are growing and sharing will make growth happen. I will be part of a growing vision rather than the cheerleader calling out from the ladder above.  I will be walking the journey with my peers, and that I truly believe will be what makes change happen. So if you want to take some bets… or just watch it all unfold.. follow me @jaimevanderg and watch #TeamMinter and #JVand3rd in 2017-18!

Let’s just see what happens when climbing the ladder isn’t as important as being part of a team committed to growing!



Don’t Put Me in a Box: Technology Titles Don’t Represent Us

When you have a dynamic group of friends who are also your professional sounding board, you get some very deep conversations going, and often a blog is formed. Amy Pietrowski  started us off with this great blog post that asks some pretty solid questions about what our roles are.  When I say “our roles” I am talking about those of us who hold a technology titled role in education. For months now I have been seriously thinking about how others see me, and considering how very limited that title I hold is. When I was a teacher, you saw me as a education professional with abundant knowledge that I shared with students and peers. Since I am in elementary, my knowledge ranged from content, to assessment, parent engagement, curriculum mapping, and more. You could make a pretty good judgement about my daily role. That was my TEACHER title.

Fast forward to today.  I don’t think I have an official title, but I know the job posting title isn’t what is in my email signature. I titled myself the Instructional Technology Specialist, as that was a close as I could get to what the job asked, and how I morphed it. When I say I morphed it, I did, but without a doubt I could never have done it without a leader who had the same vision I had. If you don’t follow Erinn Angelo on Twitter, you should. While she tweets mostly from Sara Harp Minter, she would be a great person to connect with in educational leadership for sure. Her leadership has allowed me to make that role exactly what I wanted it to be… and for three straight years it has looked different every year. Year one I just wanted to redesign a lab and rethink a learning space. She supported that. Year two I wanted flexible furniture and yes, you guessed it, that happened too. Year three I suggested I change rooms, change resources, and change my whole schedule. As you probably guessed, that happened too. So to say the least, my role has been very different in all three years. So how on earth do you define my role?
In three years I have.. just to name a few

Taught 1:1 PC’s with K-5

Taught 1:1 Tablets with K-5

Taught 1:1 Chromebooks with K-5

Mobile Device Management

Lead Professional Learning

Redesigned Learning Spaces

Troubleshooting Like A BoSS

Led our school to two straight years of Common Sense Education Certification

Led our school into a contest that yielded us 15,ooo dollars in new Chromebooks

Brought Google Expeditions to our school


While all of this sounds delightfully in line with the title I hold, guess what is missing?

Building Leadership

Curriculum and Instruction


School Culture

Teacher Instructional Support

Stakeholder Engagement



You see, it is so easy to put me in a BOX. It is so easy to assume I don’t know much about true leadership, curriculum, instructional practices, evaluating assessment data to drive instruction, and building culture. It might be easy, but it is all WRONG. I know all of those things. When given the opportunity, I can contribute to success in any one, or all of those practices. I simply feel that the last few months I have been put in a BOX, and I hate that feeling. I hate that you can’t see who I am beyond the fact that I am helpful when there is a technology problem to be solved. I hate that this week I sat in a large room with teachers, and when the speaker needed technology support, I hesitated. I hesitated because all I could think of was that BOX that room was about to put me in. That BOX that was strictly knowledgeable troubleshooting. I hate that I cringed in a room with a speaker who kept asking if the tool she was showing was good with us “techs”, as in separating us from the teachers in the room. I don’t like that BOX. In fact I want out of that box so bad I can’t stand it. I no longer want the word technology in my title. I think I want to be the Digital Literacy Specialist, yep, free of the stigma that we “techs” just know how to make the technology work. Let it be known that no matter the title, I am way more than technology. I am a strong educational leader, and I think if my Voxer group helps me shout it from the rooftops, maybe someone will listen!









Why I Didn’t Choose #OneWord2017


First and foremost.. Happy New Year! What a wonderful opportunity to refresh, rethink life habits, and gain a wonderful new perspective on it all! I love seeing so many people embrace writing, processing, and digging deep with new practices for the year to come. It reminds me that I am surrounded by amazing people with growth mindsets and determination strong and true!

Now you are probably thinking I am hating on the #OneWord2017 practice, but really I am not. I simply chose to instead write a 2017 mission with FOUR words that need to drive me this year. This year I plan to live FIERCE, FUELED, FUN and FULFILLED. Each word means something important to me, and is designed to help me walk away from 2017 stronger in mind, body, and spirit. Here is how I believe each word will make me a better version of myself in 2017.

FIERCE- I am going for it. I simply can’t sit on the sidelines. I need to step out there and show others who I am. I am way more than technology. I know curriculum. I am a leader. I am a strong partner in planning and implementation. I will be fierce this year, and hope others will see me for way more than just a knowledgeable technology specialist.

FUELED – As we know, if the gas tank is empty, the car isn’t going very far. I am no different. I have to have fuel to make the kind of impact I want to make. I have to be rested, clear minded, and sharp. That is going to take some disconnecting, curling up with a good book, working out, socializing, and just focusing on me.

FUN- I have recently realized how little I truly laugh. I am not talking about your everyday chuckle, but a real belly laugh, the kind that makes your ribs hurt! I realized that when I have to look for joy in a day, I am not in the place where I can find deep gratitude in a day. I want that to be something I drop kick in 2017. I want to laugh, hard! I want to see joy, and have gratitude no matter the day. I want fun!

FULFILLED – This one is met pretty easily if I can keep up with the other three, but being fulfilled for me is simply having a well rounded life. I want to have a good balance of work, family, fitness, socializing, volunteering, and taking time for me. When all those buckets get filled a bit, fulfillment is achieved. It is only when one of those things overrides all the other that fulfillment is lost.

So instead of #OneWord2017 I chose a mission comprised of four words that will hold me accountable this year. I made the graphic on Canva, and now when I open my Chromebook, I see it every time! Having a visual is crucial.

How are you tacking 2017?



Rethinking the Grading Practice : Badging For Success


Grading, like so much in our educational system, is long overdue for an overhaul. Just in my lifetime, the grading systems of the early 80’s are the same ones we employ on a day to day basis today. While it serves a purpose, it really doesn’t co-exist very nicely with the ideas of individualized or personalized learning, differentiation, and teaching the whole child. Grading simply can’t be the only means by which we provide feedback to students, and while there are a variety of ways to give deeper and more specific feedback, I personally think giving badges is a practice worth exploring.

Think about those students you have taught in your days as a teacher. Think about the varying skills, interests, and abilities they brought in each and every day. Now think about evaluating those varying attributes using the same exact set of expectations each and every day. What might happen if we looked at daily feedback as a way to engage the core of a child in an effort to bring out the best they have to offer, not just an understanding of math facts?

What I love about they idea of badging is that it is so continually open. Grading is closed. We give a test, we score a test, we record the grade, and we return the test. More often than not, that is where the door closes. You were either successful, or you were not.  Badging allows you to identify the elements of that make the child a strong learner, and while you can certainly provide instructional, you can additionally award badges for skills, interests, and non-instructional abilities.

Imagine you could tell every kid in your class that you saw much more than a spelling grade. Imagine you show each child you see them for far more than a letter or number grade. Awarding badges can be done in a variety of ways, but when using a learning management system, you can not only award the badges throughout the year, but keep a running record of the growth and strengths each child possesses. I personally love Classflow for awarding badges. In the middle of a lesson delivery, I can look out at a student who is struggling, award them a perseverance badge, and open the door rather than shutting it. I can identify the student might not understand the math problem, but has some great artistic skills, and in time find a way to bridge the two. Drawing math problems might be solution to engagement, all because you build that confidence in other ways. I can award one student a badge, multiple students, or the whole group. I have the ability to create my own badges if I choose, and make it truly meaningful to my classroom culture. The opportunities are endless!

Have you tried badging? Are you considering it? I would love to hear your experiences. Learning together is always better!



Teaching #DigCit Through Creation & Questioning


During this time of the school year, we immerse ourselves back into the classroom and embrace starting over again. With that, digital citizenship becomes incredibly important to teach as we pull out those Chromebooks and get started learning and sharing.  Common Sense Education certainly has helped us get a great start on kicking off the year, and keeping it going, but what happens when you are ready to move on and teach new things and integrate more tools? I suggest you bring it all together… and here are a few ideas on how!

I kicked off the year using the Digital Life 101 video with students in grades 2-5. It started such a great conversation on how none of the technology practices are bad, rather we were able to talk about the human element and how that is what makes technology look bad. I loved helping them connect the dots on how actions shape how technology is represented.

With this being our 3rd year together, one of the things I really wanted to see in our second week, was how much prior knowledge my students in grades 4 & 5 had. I whipped up a Classflow lesson with a few question sets that focused on responsible sharing, privacy, and online voice. I loved delivering that lesson and seeing my students perform WAY better than I ever imagined. It was great to see that teaching #digcit every year consistently pays off! If you want to check out the question sets I created, you can grab it from the Classflow Marketplace here!

In 3rd grade I have loved building great conversations around #digcit through Digital Passport and Storybird. This gave my students a game based learning experience, as well as a creative outlet for sharing what they knew about being safe and responsible online.

Last, but certainly not least.. I was so excited to use Recap with my 2nd graders to assess their knowledge on #digcit after all these years. It is crazy to think that I started teaching these kiddos #digcit in kindergarten. Since the age of 5 they have heard this from me. It certainly will be interesting to see what a difference that makes! Check out one of our 2nd grade recap responses…. (Yes I have permission to share, as this one is my little guy!)

So you see, #DigCit isn’t just a lesson, or an activity. It is a continual conversation, an ongoing vision, and a culture. It can be taught in so many ways. Do you have other ways to teach digital citizenship? If so, share in the comments!




With ClassFlow We Grow




Growing is something that I have become quite accustomed to in this instructional technology career of mine. I know as a teacher I did similar things each year, but I feel like in this role the growth jumps are so much bigger, better, and eye opening. In our Meet the Teacher event two weeks ago, I had a student come back, who is now in 7th grade, and in talking to her she mentioned how she thought it was cool that her class was the first I had used Google Classroom with. It was a conversation that left me thinking about how far I have come in just two short years in terms of instructional technology and learning tools. I have used so many tools, I sometimes look back and wonder how I kept them all going in the craziness of the year. This year I do believe it is going to be quite different. This year I found Classflow!

Last spring Classflow hit my radar at the Google Apps for Education Southern Summit, and since then I have been quite intrigued with just what potential lies in this content management system.  I was thrilled to jump in and start learning about how Classflow worked, and what place it might just have in my instructional planning. I had no idea how far this would go, but now I sure am glad I started exploring!

Classflow combines so many of the tools I already use into one FREE classroom content management program. It lets me search thousands of already created interactive resources, run lessons, assign tasks, award badges, deliver content that students can connect to, and provides me opportunities to send live questions straight to student devices. I can send a question to all students, or just a select group. I have a class stream for sharing announcements with each class, and I can even run Classflow Desktop on the fly with any web based lesson with full annotation tools! This really is only the tip of the iceberg in terms of how Classflow can impact the teaching and learning in my room… and my school!

I personally think I have gained such a better understanding of Classflow because I have jumped in to it from three different perspectives. I have looked at it from the role of a teacher, a student, and an Instructional Technology Specialist. Those different perspectives have given me a deeper appreciation for what I can do to change teaching and learning in my building and beyond though using Classflow!

So where do you start? I suggest you check out Camp Classflow as a great starter resource. Head back to school with a new Classflow account and be ready to wow your students, parents, and fellow teachers! Kick off the year with something that is going to make a difference in how you teach your class each daily!




‘Tis the Season for Learning and Growing

Hang on tight as this blog is going to be a multi-media production. Text alone simply can’t convey the amazing things happening at Sara Harp Minter! This was the whole month of December!




Spaces (3)


Spaces (4)



Spaces (2)


If you hung in for all four Voxer messages… you are amazing! It was a whole month of greatness! If I could just get a point of blogging weekly it wouldn’t go as long! Someone be my accountability partner on that! 🙂





Sharing the Victories as They Come


What a crazy fall it has been in our little part of the education world @saraharpminter. I truly believe it is imperative that we share the amazing things that happen in our schools, as the media sure can do a pretty good job showing the other side of it all. I don’t want to tell you about test scores… the media will tell you that. I don’t want to tell you about new initiatives, as what is the fun in that? I want to tell you about the great instructional gains that have happened in our school, as that is a great story to tell!


Let’s start with Common Sense Media, and our 6 week journey to becoming a Common Sense Media Certified School and my work in becoming a Common Sense Media Certified Educator. It took plenty of time, planning, instruction, and collaboration, but it was so very worth it. We started with grades 3-5 and used the great resources in Digital Passport to get the data we needed to have some great wrap around lessons in the weeks to follow. The honest conversations we had, the real situations we discussed, and the feedback we received was truly what made the whole experience come together. If you are considering taking this path and working toward this certification, I highly recommend it! I am also always willing to share how I did it. Find me on Voxer @jaimevanderg and I will share our Common Sense journey with you!


This little journey was a trial run of virtual reality as a writing center in first grade. As those of us without Google Expeditions in our reach know, we have to get creative with how we use Google Cardboard and VR viewers in our instructional practices. For this group the students all had one opportunity before the writing center to take a walk in Virtual Reality Jurassic Land. They could see a T-Rex, and a couple of other dinosaurs running around, and  were captivated that the Dinos ran right by them. We talked about looking for what habitat the Dinos lived in, and what they ate. It was the starting spot for the writing to come. One of my amazing first grade teachers made a virtual story writing page, and students when in that center could re-view the Dinos, and then draw a picture and tell a story about their virtual journey. Each day for a week a new group had the opportunity to go virtual and tell all about it. This for me was a trial run. Here is what I learned. Cardboard won’t hold up in the hands of our little ones. I bought a real viewer recently to give it a try in our other first grade classes. I also think that the viewer in our primary grades will be best served with an adult guiding the virtual journey and overseeing the use of the viewer. I see so much potential for this, and hope that in December we can get this into our other first grade classes too. What a great learning experience, and all it takes in some passion, drive, and some easily attainable resources. The devices inside are ones I had lying around the house. If you have some of those, why not turn those into virtual journeys for our kids?


Lastly, I have been quite busy professionally as well. I am better to those I work with and for if I am always growing and learning, and that is just what I have done! First, I passed my Instructional Technology Certification Test in October, and I am elated! What a journey to have behind me. I have been asked if the EdS courses helped in preparing for the test, and I can easily say in fact they did! Then on a spur of the moment decision, I jumped on an email in my inbox about working toward becoming a Newsela Certified Educator. My school district has Newsela Pro, and I haven’t truly felt I could be supportive in helping my teachers learn how to use this Non-Fiction Gold Mine as an instructional tool. So off I went in meeting the requirements to become a Newsela Certified Educator. It was a great learning experience as well, and I am so glad I did it! I am so excited to share Newsela with my teachers, as well as anyone else who has an interest! Sharing is what it is all about!



True Adventures of the Tablet Lab – Minter Style

Where has the last 12 weeks gone? From pre-planning and un-boxing new Nexus 7’s, to starting the year off and hoping for the best, here we are headed into November! My original plan was to blog about our adventures each week. (Insert belly laughs here!) Clearly my estimation of “free time” was off just a bit! So here we are in the second nine weeks, and I have committed to documenting the journey, so I guess it might have to be just a grading period at a time. So here we go… The first 9 weeks of Tab Lab!20150826_095052

Week 1: Tablet 101 & Paint App – (Communication ) I probably didn’t consider how different it would be to teach a 1:1 tablet lab from a 1:1 Chromebook or PC lab. Tablets in 2nd grade were not new, yet the structure of a class sure was.  We role played the right and wrong ways to handle tablets, how we carried them, and what they needed to do once they got them. (Upside down in those laps!) We have a saying… when it is time to start we say “Flip Up, Wake Up, Swipe Up, Find Your App.) Now the first few times we also made them ‘put their apps on their heads’. This helped us to see they were in the right place and simply meant they raised tablets up for us to visually sweep the room quickly for a check of each tablet status. As for the instruction, we asked a series of 3-5 questions, and asked students to illustrate the answers. It was fun watching them illustrate ideas, and enjoy sharing them with others. Computer screens and wired set ups keep us from truly sharing our work with the group sometimes, so this was a nice welcome change!

Week 2: Georgia Symbols Using Pic Collage – (Research and Information Fluency) In an effort to tie in some instructional connection, we helped our 2nd grade teachers by introducing some Georgia State Symbols through images with Pic Collage. We brainstormed search ideas (which I HIGHLY recommend due to content available on that app) and had students type or use voice -to- text those symbols into the search. They learned a lot, and so did we. As a WV girl, I didn’t know much about Georgia, so it was a learning win for us all!

comiccreatorWeek 3: Comic Creator – (Creativity) I always tend to lean toward ELA based learning practices, so this was a great way to help students spend more time on characters, settings, and sequence of a story. We talked about time order words, and using images to tell a story. They loved all the possible character and setting options, and it was so fun watching them create their own comic based stories!

Week 4: The Foos – (Critical Thinking) Why wait until December to work with students on coding? This will be something we do every  9 weeks, and each time we will use a different app to facilitate the practice.  I love that we have so many options to make coding a regular instructional plan for the Tablet Lab!

20150903_130238Week 5: Cat Physics – This is what we call in Tab Lab as “Winner Winner Chicken Dinner” lesson planning! I won the lottery on this one. The 2nd graders were in love. So many of them went home and asked their parents to download the app too! Cat Physics was so much trial and error. It was angles, estimation, problem solving and planning. What was additionally great about this app was the discussion we heard from students. Each level increased in complexity, and watching 7 and 8 year-olds talk though strategies together, ask each other for help, and see them celebrate with each passing level, simply made me the happiest little teacher I could be!



Week 6: Lego Creator Island (Critical Thinking) What fun we had creating our own little islands with this app! We collected gold lego bricks, turned them into great little products, and found out the hard way that if you don’t keep that bunny busy he might get into some trouble! He he… Sorry, to know what that means you are going to have to try this fun app out with your kids! The bunny can help you though… Hint… He can dig up a few extra lego bricks for you if you want him too! Oh the fun learning we do! Again, if you want to know the real learning, you really have to hear it for yourself. By week six they have mastered the collaboration standard and rarely ever come for teacher help now. They try something, but know when to ask for help, and know their classmates will give them that help! #TeacherWin



Week 8: Sprinkle and Sprinkle Island (Critical Thinking) – We needed to put out fires, and do it fast. We had to conserve our water, look at ways to use the water with regards to force and motion, and so much more. It was a great way to wrap up the grading period, and as a collective decision, we decided week 9 of every grading period would be a free choice to go back and work on any of the above mentioned apps! I think I can say that Cat Physics won out as crowd favorite, but Lego Creator Island and Pic Collage were not far behind! So much learning happened for all of us in the first 9 weeks of Tab Lab!

Lastly, let me say it takes a village! I can’t say enough how much my partner in crime Mrs. Bates has made this a success. She is amazing in every way, and not only do the kids love learning with her, she pushes me to think even deeper about what I plan so that I can in turn help her understand how to instructionally communicate it to kids! Having someone like her to co-teach with is a win in my book every day! Thank you Mrs. Bates!!