Empowering Students One Phase at a Time — Innovative Teaching Academy

When I was a student in middle school and high school, life was simple: go to class, write down the assignment, complete the warm up, listen to the teacher, take notes, read the assigned passages, answer the questions, turn in your work, and repeat tomorrow.

Was every class like this? Didn’t any class use other methods of teaching? Well, yes…

  • My 6th grade history teacher had us research someone from history and told us to dress up as that person to give our presentation from that perspective.
  • My 7th grade science teacher was slightly obsessed with Bill Nye the Science Guy, so we experimented with science often after watching his shows.
  • My 9th grade algebra teacher used Gumby the cartoon character in many of her lessons to help us visualize the different strategies.
  • My 10th grade physics teacher constantly had us working on projects either on our own or with a partner in order to learn how things worked.

Image result for quote about school

These teachers stand out. They made learning engaging, and in a few cases empowering for me. These teachers were innovative. These teachers made me want to teach, too (although I didn’t realize it at the time).

What is innovation and why does it matter to me?

Why were those teachers innovative? What made them different? Easy: they stood out, they made sure each student was learning, and they tried new things. I didn’t experience that a often when I was in school, so the times when I did are especially meaningful.

Earlier this school year, I was asked (by our curriculum director, Melissa Bosley) to take part in an Innovative Teaching Academy through our region’s education service center, Region 12 which covers Central Texas. This program is broken down into three phases, which will help today’s teachers better connect and empower the students of this generation. It will help today’s teachers make learning meaningful to their students.

Innovation in teaching is about reaching every student.


I immediately jumped at the chance to improve as a teacher. I have since completed phase one, Learn, of the program, and I’m on to phase two!

I have to pause right here and thank the wonderful leaders of this Academy: Cory CampAndi McNair, and Josh Essary. They have made this experience exciting, enriching, and empowering — I truly enjoy this program and value everything I’ve learned in it.

Phase One

During the first phase of the training, teachers participate in “learning experiences. These are professional development training with hands-on outside learning opportunities (O.L.O.) to learn through doing.

To “graduate” from this step, we need to take part in at least 30 hours of training. The best part is that we get choices! There are numerous learning experiences available, but we only need to choose the ones we’re interested in, which will in turn help us choose our focus for the next two phases.

My focus: empowering students. 

my phase one learning experiences

Every major project or undertaking should have a significant question (we even teach that to students before they start research), so I figured out mine…

How can I empower students to learn without me leading them?

Each of these classes helped me answer that question, but I’ll narrow it down to my two favorites (although that’s not quite fair since we’re in the middle of the book study).

Designing Meaningful Learning Experiences and Student Choice and Voice — State standards mandate what we have to teach, and many schools follow a YAG (year at a glance) to show when they have to teach it. If we’re lucky, we get a choice in how we teach these lessons. Therefore, why shouldn’t students receive choices, too (especially when they impact the students on a deeper level)?

In order to incorporate more meaningful experiences into our classroom, I wanted help from my students, and they wanted to help create their own choices. We keep writer’s notebooks, and every student has personal writing goals each grading period within these notebooks. One major problem they faced: what do I write about when I get stuck?

These bingo ideas are from my students!

BINGO! That’s it! I asked the students to create bingo ideas that would help us create Writing Bingo. I honestly didn’t know what to expect, but I was blown away by their creativity in this task. Not only that, but they’re actually getting Bingo and achieving their goals!

Even though quite a few students have completed a Bingo, they are reluctant to share their voice on our class blog. However, I managed to talk one student into sharing hers today, so she’ll work on that and have a post up next week!

(Update 2/19/18 — Hers is up today! Check it out here!)

The badges I’ve earned in phase one!

Phase Two

The Innovative Teaching Academy seems a bit more complicated now that I’m in phase two. However, these classes have shown me ways to make phase two possible.


I already participate regularly in Twitter chats for writing and education, so continuing to do so isn’t a problem. I can sometimes even be found out-of-state! (These are listed using Central time since that’s the timezone I’m in.)

  • Sunday
    • #sunchat ~8am
    • #TXeduchat ~ 8pm
    • #BCedchat ~ 9pm
  •  Monday
    • #teachwrite (on the first Monday of each month) ~ 6:30pm
    • #NYedchat ~ 7pm
    • KSedchat ~ 8pm
    • #ALedchat ~ 9pm
  • Tuesday
    • #5thchat ~ 7pm
    • #2ndaryELA ~ 7pm
    • #MTedchat ~ 9pm
  • Wednesday
    • #OHedchat ~ 8pm
    • #WeirdEd ~ 9pm
  • Thursday
    • #whatisschool ~ 5pm
    • #eduAR ~ 8:30pm
  • Friday
    • #engagechat ~ 7pm
  • Saturday
    • #EduGladiators ~ 10:30am

I’m working on connecting my class with outside experts. One expert will be a writer from our local writer’s group (after we meet again to discuss it). My students want an author to come speak to them in order to talk about the writing process and their struggles and successes with it.

One of my students in the Teen Leadership elective that I teach wanted to talk to a football player. We are working on a face-to-face talk with former NFL player Quan Cosby, but in the meantime my student was able to research Quan and conduct an email interview. (Talk about a meaningful experience!)

Phase Three

The great thing about phase three is you don’t have to wait until you’re done with phase two to start it! This blog post helps count toward phase three for me, and so does my post about Bingo in the classroom.


I submitted a proposal yesterday to present at the TransformED Conference. While I wait to hear from them, I’m also working with Melissa (our curriculum director) to see what I can do as far as campus leadership goes.


One of the many tools I’ve gained from the ITA is reflection. I’m a firm believer in self-reflection, but I wasn’t holding my students to this to the same degree. We were introduced to this reflection tool, and my students love it! They’ve even started making up their own reflection questions at the end of class.

As far as my reflection thus far on the ITA, I simply have to see how far I’ve come in answering my question from above: How can I empower students to learn without me leading them?

I’ve learned that my students love to do things on their own. They make suggestions for our class in our Anonymous Suggestion Box (one of the ITA ideas). They create amazing things in their writer’s notebook by using the writing process. They take research into their own hands.

from our Anonymous Suggestion Box — who are these kids?

They are EMPOWERED! I simply have to make sure to keep moving in that direction as I continue through this process and beyond.

Proof of Empowerment

Last grading period one student wrote an acrostic poem about herself in her writer’s notebook. She is a quiet student in a large class. She is often overshadowed by others, and she doesn’t share her writing often.

However, I commented in the “Teacher Feedback” section of her writing goals when she turned it in that her poem was beautiful and that I would love to see her enhance it through the writing process. We all know that many students ignore teacher comments.

She didn’t.

Yesterday, she requested a writing conference. She was excited to show me that she had taken her acrostic poem through the writing process. She showed me where she added similes, imagery, and where she had changed capitalization for emphasis.

I hope you get as many goosebumps as I did after reading this incredibly powerful poem from a 7th grade girl.

used with permission

Your Turn…

Have I mentioned anything you want to try? How do you empower your students? Please feel free to share with me in the comments.

“Waiting for True Love” — Flash Fiction, week 5

Allen ran his hand through his short black hair. “They’re not even real.” He turned her back around. “They make a living lying to people, telling them what they want to hear.”

Valentine’s Day is around the corner — what better way to celebrate than with a story about true love? Or is it?

This piece is my week five #52weeks52stories story that is also part of the Voices of the Darkly 800-word flash fiction writing challenge using the prompt “Love after…”.

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Waiting for True Love (rated G, for those who need a rating)

“You can’t be serious.” Allen tried to stop her from packing the final suitcase. “How can one fortune teller make you give up the last four years?”

“I told you what she said,” Rachael snapped. “‘True love will walk up to you at your favorite place during the next full moon.’” She continued packing. “That’s tonight.”

“This is crazy, Rach.” He pulled the top layer of clothes out of the suitcase. “We’re engaged. Doesn’t that mean anything to you?” He grabbed her hands and forced her to face him. “This is already true love.”

Rachael pushed him away. “It can’t be,” she whispered, “not when someone else is out there for me.”

Allen ran his hand through his short black hair. “They’re not even real.” He turned her back around. “They make a living lying to people, telling them what they want to hear.”

“She didn’t know anything about my love life,” Rachael retorted.

“Of course not.” Allen lifted her left hand. “You didn’t wear your engagement ring, so how would she know?”

Rachael jerked her hand back and returned to packing. “You don’t get it Al.” She stuffed the last of her belongings into the suitcase and zipped it. “This isn’t true love. It can’t be.”

A few tears escaped as she walked out the door, leaving behind the tall man with the gorgeous goatee that she’d begged him to grow out.

After lugging everything from her car to her friend’s living room, she walked the short distance to the park. “True love,” she whispered to the full moon, “here I come.”

Her favorite bench sat empty under the pecan tree, so she sat down to wait.

And wait.

She looked down to check her watch before remembering that she left it behind. She didn’t want to bring any reminders of Allen with her, including the silver and gold beauty with an inscription of love.

“Love,” she whispered. “What if-”

A blue blur jumped out from behind a tree, sat down beside her, and took off its hoodie. The short blond hair was quickly hidden by a red hoodie, which seemed to appear out of thin air.

“Who-” Rachael started.

“So sorry. I’m Becca.” She looked over her shoulder, then back at Rachael. “We’re playing Moonlight Madness, but I don’t want anyone to find me.”

“Shouldn’t you hide then?”

Becca laughed. “I am.” She pushed her glasses back up her nose. “The winner is the one who’s best at hiding in plain sight.”

“Right.” Rachael looked around again, wondering if her true love would stop to talk to her with a teenager sitting next to her. “Maybe you should hide somewhere else, then.”

“Please let me sit here with you. I promise I won’t bother you.”

“I don’t…” She saw him walking her way. Tall. Short hair. Face shadowed like the dark side of the moon. “Sure kid,” she whispered, standing. “Stay as long as you want.”

Rachael moved closer to the figure. “True love,” she whispered, heart pounding.

The goatee made her stop in her tracks. “Allen?”


“This isn’t funny, Allen.” She turned away, but he pulled her back.

“Rach,” he coaxed. “You can’t-”

“Can’t what Allen? Can’t be happy? Can’t have true love because you won’t let me go? Can’t-”

“No,” he said. “You can’t possibly throw away what we have. I love you, Rach.” He moved closer. “I love you. Why would you leave me over what a fortune teller said?”

Her heart pounded, and she pushed him back. “Just go, Allen.”

“You know where to find me when you’ve come to your senses.”

She watched him walk away and wondered if she was doing the right thing. Could the fortune teller be wrong?

“Who’s that?” Becca stood next to her crunching on a chip she pulled from her hoodie.

“No one.”

“Oh.” She grabbed another chip. “You went to a fortune teller?”

“Yeah.” Rachael sat back down on the bench. “I had a gift card for my birthday.”

“Cool!” Becca sat next to her. “My mom always said it’s hard to find love after visiting a fortune teller.”


“I don’t know, but my parents split up after-”

“Found you, Becca!” A red-haired kid wearing a ninja costume jumped out from behind them.

Becca screamed. “Tom! What’s wrong with you?” She tackled him, chips spilling everywhere. “Did I win?” she asked when she had him pinned.

“Almost. We still can’t find Timmy.” He escaped her hold and ran off.

She picked up her empty chip bag and ran after him.

“True love,” Rachael whispered. “Full moon. Favorite place.” She looked around.

And waited.

When she couldn’t keep her eyes open any longer, she started walking back to her friend’s apartment. “I’ll just come back tomorrow,” she said to the moon. “You’re still full tomorrow.”


Feel free

Please feel free to leave comments below with your feedback regarding this story! I’d love to hear what you think.

If you’d like to read more, check out the other stories I’ve posted here:

B-I-N-G-O… in the classroom?

I don’t know about you, but one problem for writers is a blank page.

What do I write about?

This question pops up all too often, and it can keep students from achieving their personal writing goals. Students have loved writing bingo in the past, so I created a Google Form for them to submit their own ideas for bingo cards.

I was not disappointed. To be completely honest, I was awestruck by the amount of ideas they generated!

The ideas!

After gathering all their ideas, I created lists of them in Google Docs. The lists make it easier to input the ideas onto the bingo card at Print Bingo.

Each set I input creates 10 cards — all different. My amazing 7th grade students gave me enough ideas for five sets, which equal 50 different cards!

Here are a couple from each set for you to see what their creative minds came up with!


Bingo is by no means a requirement. Students can complete a bingo at any time in their writer’s notebook for a reward, or they can simply use he cards for inspiration. (I have a collection of pens and pencils for them to choose from for rewards.)

The question is, can I expect them to write if I don’t? Can I expect them to complete a bingo if I don’t even try?

My answer is — that depends on the example I, as a teacher, want to set.

I choose to set a positive and encouraging example to the young writers I encounter every school day.

Without further ado, here is my Bingo, and I hope it encourages my students to publish theirs on our class blog when they’re done, too!


My Bingo card is from set 3:


“Write how you feel about winter” — I chose to use a list for this one.

Write a brainstorm in different colored pens” — I doubled up with this one by combining it with “create a character map about a frog.”

“Write about your favorite teacher” — I love poetry, so I chose that format to write about my most memorable teacher.

“Create a character map about a superhero you make up” — This was difficult for me, so I asked Twitter and Facebook for help!

“Write a poem about writing a poem” — Again, poetry is my favorite!


Reflecting on our process is an important part of our class. To emphasize that, I’ll reflect on this process.

I loved that students were excited to share all their writing ideas with me and each other. I can’t wait for them to start sharing their creativity with the world more by using their blog.

I loved creating a new superhero even though it was super difficult — thank you to those who gave me ideas! (Please note, the “stick man” idea is from Corbett Harrison who has a ton of amazing ideas for the classroom!)

In the future, I plan to incorporate a few of these ideas into stories. I also plan to try out some more bingo ideas (maybe even another bingo card)!


Please feel free to share with me your thoughts or questions in the section below. Also, if you use any of the ideas from the above Bingo cards, let us know!

“Poisonous Behavior” — Flash Fiction, week 3

Brenna stepped into the elevator, balancing both coffees in one hand and her office bag in the other in an attempt to locate her keys. She found them as the ding announced the third floor and lifted her elbow in a wave to Naomi as she stepped out. 

I’ve decided not to post all of my stories this year for #52Weeks52Stories, but I will post some of them.

This one (for week 3) is another flash fiction piece written for the Voices of the Darkly group I’m in on Facebook. They conduct a flash fiction challenge every other week with a predetermined topic.

This week: poison.

Image result for calla lily
Image is a painting by Sharon Freeman.

Poisonous Behavior (PG for those who need a rating)

Brenna stepped into the elevator, balancing both coffees in one hand and her office bag in the other in an attempt to locate her keys. She found them as the ding announced the third floor and lifted her elbow in a wave to Naomi as she stepped out.

“Brought your coffee,” she said, rearranging the items in her hand to carefully set one of the cups down.

“Thanks.” Naomi’s burgundy lipstick clung to the lid.

 “No problem.” Brenna set her coffee down, too. “Naomi? Can I ask you a question?”


 “How often do they update that list downstairs? I’m only asking because Jeff’s head of security position is posted. He’s been here for ages, right?”

 “Oh.” Naomi dropped her pen and reached under her desk to retrieve it. “Um, he uh- he… resigned a couple days ago.” She pulled her wavy brown hair from her eyes and clicked her pen.

 “Resigned? I thought he was on vacation. He did get a speeding ticket last week, but other than that he was fine. Did he say why?”

 “He- he didn’t say.”

 “Why would he just leave?”

 “He-” Her phone rang. “Datura Employment Agency. This is Naomi. How may I help you?” She covered the receiver. “Sorry,” she whispered.

Brenna picked up her things and walked down the hall to her office. She jumped when the knob moved before she touched it.

“Late again, Brenna Clary?”

“Mr. Calla?” Brenna looked up into his light brown eyes, which were not as welcoming as they had been a month ago. “I stopped by to talk to Naomi for a minute.”

“Chit-chatting on the job again?” He pointed to his watch. “We had a meeting ten minutes ago.”

“What? We did? I didn’t know.”

“Not checking your emails again?” He stepped into the hallway. “Bring the files and meet me in my office.”

“Which files?”

“All of them.”

“All of them?” she whispered as she watched his perfectly pressed pinstripe suit stride down the hall.

Brenna entered his office trying not to drop the stack of folders up to her ears. “The only ones that haven’t been uploaded yet are from yesterday, but I’m adding them today.” She looked around, and set the stack on one of the empty chairs in front of his desk. “Why did you need the files?”

He motioned toward the other empty seat. “It has come to my attention that your performance at this company has been sub-par.”

“What?” She moved to the edge of her seat. “I don’t-”

“You, Ms. Clary,” he said, pointing to a file on his desk, “have been on my list for three weeks.” He opened the folder. “Loss of keys. Tardiness. Chit-chatting instead of working. Running a stop sign. Dumping grease in the garden outside. Hanging cl-”

“Wait. What? You can’t possibly-”


She did. “But I don’t understand.”

“Since you were fleeing from a bad relationship, we let your poisonous behavior slide. But this town does not tolerate these actions, and as the representatives who manage employment in this community, it is our job to make sure everyone abides by our expectations.”

“I still don’t understand. How does this-”

He stood up. “Here is your letter of resignation.” He held up a pen. “Sign it so we can dismiss you.”


“They’re clearing out your office as we speak.” He laid the pen on the letter and pushed it toward her. “Sign.”

Brenna skimmed the letter where she admits to all the work infractions she’s committed. She took a deep breath, and signed the letter.

“Thank you for making this easier on everyone. Please leave through the back exit.”

Brenna rushed down the stairs, tears smearing her mascara even though she tried to keep them in. Two men stepped out from the other side of the delivery truck when the back door closed.

“Brenna Clary?” The younger of the two men motioned to her. “We’re here to pick you up.”

“Pick me up?” Brenna stepped back and grabbed the door handle. “My car’s out front.” Locked.

“Don’t worry about your car,” the older one said. His scar near his eyebrow seemed to speak as his mouth moved. “Mr. Calla has given us our orders.”

She moved away from the door and away from the men, but they were quicker.

“Wait! There’s been a misunderstanding!” she screamed as they dragged her through the small door at the back of the truck.

“Save your breath.” The younger one clamped her wrists into cold metal restraints. “Lucky for you, tomorrow is delivery day.”


But he closed the door, surrounding her with darkness.

“Don’t tell me that you resigned, too, Brenna?” a hoarse voice whispered beside her.

“Jeff? Is there anyone else in here?”

“Yeah, but he won’t make the delivery.”


Silence. “Jeff?”


Thank you!

Thank you for taking the time to read my story. I’d love to hear your feedback in the comments section below!

5 lessons I’ve learned about writing flash fiction — Author Toolbox

When you try something new, your expectations are set quite high. Some people give up on the new thing when it becomes too difficult or when the high expectations they set for themselves aren’t showing.

Last year I decided to join in on the first #FlashFicHive challenge (hosted by Anjela Curtis). This month-long event challenged writers to create flash fiction stories based on all sorts of topics and prompts.


I’ll admit, I didn’t do so well at keeping up that month or in the following challenges (every other month, which is set to change to a weekly hashtag event starting February 1, 2018).

However, I did learn a lot about writing flash fiction (other than the 1,000-word limit). These skills, which I’m going to share with you, are continuing to help me as I attempt to hone flash fiction in a new goal this year — #52weeks52stories challenge (hosted by Hollie Hausenfluck and Avrin Kelly).

Lesson 1: Start in medias res.

Do you remember this term from high school English class? For some reason, I do. I’m not sure what it was in regards to, but I do remember hearing it in class.

In medias res is Latin for “in the midst of things” — English for “in the middle.”

A flash fiction story most often starts in the middle of the story — at the beginning of the conflict. There aren’t enough words allotted in flash fiction to start with a bunch of fluffy exposition, so the best thing to do is show your character gearing up for the climax.

Lesson 2: Write first without concern for word limits.

It’s true: flash fiction has a word limit. If we wrote the first draft with a limit in mind, then we’d end up missing key pieces to our story.

Therefore, the first draft should be written without any thought to the 1,000-word limit. You can worry about that later when you revise and edit.

Lesson 3: Sometimes you will need to tell instead of show…

*Picks up writer’s notebook to hide behind before going on…*

Of all the advice we writers hear day in and day out, “show don’t tell” resonates the most. We’re always trying to create the perfect image in our reader’s mind.

One-thousand words doesn’t leave a whole lot of room for pretty little descriptions and extensive characterizations. Sometimes a character is simply an old man with a cane instead of the paragraph or two it would take to describe him.

“I’d rather let the reader supply the faces, the builds, and the clothing as well.”

-Stephen King, On Writing

With flash fiction, sometimes we need to let the reader do a little work… Let the reader imagine what the old man looks like.

Lesson 4: Dialogue can leave clues.

A flash fiction story will likely hold clues for the reader throughout, clues that many readers won’t catch until their second read-through. A great place to stash those clues is in the words spoken by the characters.


Not only does dialogue help the writer leave clues, but it’s another way for character building. What they say in combination with what they do can help the reader better understand the story and relate better.

*Challenge: I challenge you to read “On Her Birthday” and find the clues!*

Lesson 5: Seriously consider the hook, the title, and the last line.

The hook is an obvious necessity in any kind of writing. You want your reader to keep reading, after all.

The last line should echo out to your readers, becoming like a song they can’t quite shake. It can show the growth of the character, the theme of your story, or leave the reader thinking about what might happen next.

The title is probably the hardest task of all. You’ve probably lost sleep over titles before, but a title in flash fiction is another part of the story. It’s one of those clues we talked about earlier. It’s a part of the bigger picture. The meaning of the title should be evident by the time the reader thinks about it again, but it shouldn’t give anything away.

Your turn, so tell me…

I’d love to hear from you in the comments. Do you write flash fiction? What have you learned about the genre?

If you’d like a prompt to work with, I’m finding this one from Rowan Fortune to be quite fun!



During the last year, I’ve come across several resources for writing flash fiction. You can pick and choose what helps you:

Author Toolbox

This post is part of the #AuthorToolboxBlogHop (hosted by Raimey Gallant), which is dedicated to helping writers become stronger and more confident in their craft. Click here for more information, to continue hopping through other posts, or to join in!

Nano Blog and Social Media Hop2