Saturday, January 28, 2012


Those of you faithful (and patient) followers who have been reading along since Twist of Liam was in it's infancy can attest to the fact that this blog has grown, changed, and evolved over the last 8 months. Design changes, html, flavicons, twitter, and comment replying are just a few of the changes that you may have witnessed as I incorporated this technological talent into my own repertoire.

Feedback has been lovely with kind remarks abound. I love reading that I made someone giggle, chuckle, laugh out loud, or so hard that they snorted their coffee out their nose (sorry if it made a mess on the keyboard). I feel that the time I spend writing Twist of Liam is quickly justified when someone comments that they appreciate, or better yet will be using, or even BETTER yet HAVE used, an idea that I've shared. Yes, feedback is fabulous.

Sometimes you get feedback that isn't so fun to read.

An old post I wrote, called Punctuation Ninjas, recieved a recent visitor and, subsequently, a little comment.
Tony said
"I googled 'punctuation ninja' (as you do) and thought I would have quite liked to read this, until Firefox finished rendering and I saw the font. I can tell from the recent posts lists that there's a lot of content here, but I wouldn't be surprised to find that I'm not the only one who just bypasses it entirely because of the presentation. Just thought you might like to know."

When I first read it, I thought to myself, Wow...what a goof! He let a stupid little thing like the font prevent him from reading and possibly even gaining a new idea. What a dumb-dumb. I even started to type up a little reply that said basically that same thing. Time was limited so I left it to return to later.

Lucky Liam.

Leaving it for later meant I had time to stew over it, get angry, moan and mutter to myself, and then come back to it. And isn't it funny? When I clicked on repy the second time around, my attitude had completely changed! I wasn't angry and offended anymore, I was thankful that someone took the time to help me be better! He saw something that could be holding me back and offered his two cents worth.

And it's funny how things work out.

Not long later, I got a wonderful comment on a more current blog. I was beside myself in shock as I read that I was Jodi's next pick as Feature Teacher. I told Ms M, authour at Ms. M's Blog and A Teacher's Plan and one of the longest standing ToL readers (Yes, I've adopted my own acronym), "I guess this is how it must feel if you were to save a kitten from a burning tree in the middle of nowhere while sleepwalking only to wake up and not have a clue what you did that everyone is applauding you for!" I didn't think I was doing anything special. Jodi disagrees, apparently.

Expect company, she said.

Ya think?!? ToL is still only young so, yeah, I still check out my stats practically daily. And to be honest, I will probably continue to watch my stats well into it's awkward adolescence. But thanks to that Jodi's feature, that was the busiest traffic day I've had. Ever. Thanks to the traffic, My followers have doubled. DOUBLED.

And thanks to Tony, I had changed the font and my recent visitors have been able to enjoy the content easier. Put the two together and it's funny how things work out.

So, thank you Tony for the feedback. I hope you come back soon and see the changes.

Thank you Jodi for the wonderful praise and attention that your feature has afforded me. I hope I can live up to the expectations of your readers who have hopped aboard.

Thank you readers who have been around and helped Twist of Liam grow. There are too many to mention here but you know and I know who you are. I hope you all continue to enjoy reading my blog.

And thank you to the new readers that have joined in and given my blog a chance. I hope you find it worth following and, if you do, share the ideas you find here.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Clutter-Free Week #4: Daily Decontamination

Now that I'm ALMOST caught up with the Clutter-Free Project, I had a chance to read the current post on Jodi's Clutter-Free Classrooms. Reading through, I think I can manage this week's focus as it was something I had been trying to improve last year.

Papers are the bane of my desk's existence. They are prolific at my school with notices, weekly outlines, memos, notes, thises, thats, these, those, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. My principal has a philosophy about dealing with paper clutter:

"Touch every piece of paper once."

He says "if you pick a sheet of paper up, put it down where it is meant to be, be it a file, a notice board, or the recycling". I say "cool". 

Now while I can't quite get to that standard YET, I would like to share a little resource that I posted back in September to help you keep organised. This is what I make a habit of doing at the end of everyday.

Click the link to visit the original post:
I hope it helps.

Happy Sterilising!

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Clutter-Free Week #3: What have I gotten in to???

I went in to my classroom on Tuesday. I was so stoked. I had my camera, I had my rules for dealing with the clutter, and I had my plan of attack.

You wouldn't believe how quickly I got to step 3.

...The trouble was I skipped Steps 1 and 2. It took nearly an hour before I even made it to my classroom. There was such a buzz of excitement amongst staff who were so happy to see each other after the summer holidays, that it was virtually impossible to not give in and start handing out hugs.

Regardless, I eventually made it into the room and did my best to stare down the shelves. A wall-to-wall shelving unit filled haphazardly by a team of unfocussed and unmotivated eleven year olds can hold an AWFUL lot of stuff. I thought if I just gave it The Look (you teachers know the one I'm talking about), the clutter might sort itself out. No such luck. I guess, as a third year teacher, that's one more thing I will have to work on.

Alright then. We'll do this the HARD way. That's code for manually and autonimously. That's code for I pulled absolutely everything out by hand. 1pm rolled around and here I was.

No, that's not me smiling. That's a teacher buddy that is about to start his first year. I was multitasking (that's sure to earn me SOME points, right?) and helping him get himself sorted as I tried to do the same for myself.

But this is what came off shelves and what I faced this morning when I returned. The magic elves did NOT show up, despite leaving out cookies and shotglasses of Starbucks, so I had to deal with it myself.

Not fun and not done (and the clock isn't working either).

But the shelves have been cleaned and I got started on refilling them.

Tomorrow's mission is to get the rest of the mess off the desks, start thinking about displays and try to catch up with Jodi's mounting pile of tips and tasks.

All in all, I'm feeling good about this mission. I don't suspect I will ever make it to the "hall of tidy-fame" (where all the awards are level, aligned, alphabetised, and colour-coded) but it's better already. And that's why I joined in in the first place.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Clutter-Free Classroom Week #3: Cover me... I'm going in!

This is it. Tomorrow morning I'm heading in to my classroom after a month and a half hiatus! To say I'm excited to clean up my act is a bit of an understatement. Anyone who has been patiently following my blog (waiting for SOMETHING ANYTHING to happen) will attest to my eagerness to get this party started.

Alas, the time hath come!
Doing my best to keep up with the Clutter-Free Classroom Project, I've spent the evening watching Piha Rescue, Criminal Minds, and Minority Report, all while typing, printing, laminating, and cutting away, making up "stuff" in anticipation for D(e-clutter)-Day. I've got agenda cards made up, I've got out of class passes ready, book box labels prepped, and heaps of stuff just waiting for me to get in to the school so I can use, abuse, and extort my colour printing priveledges!

The plan is pretty simple:
1. take better pictures so I can gloat about how messy my classroom is.
2. Turn on iTunes to get the groove going.
3. Procrastinate.
4. Lay out boxes for "free-to-a-good-home" stuff and bags for "no-one-in-their-right-mind-would-want-this" things.
5. Procrastinate some more.
6. Tackle shelves, one by one, wiping, purging, and kissing goodbye.
7. Itemise everything that (miraculously) makes the cut and survives my 10 rules.
8. Wonder how the heck I am going to put everything away before I have to leave.
9. Haul my "winnings" outta sight.
10. Pat myself on the back for a job well done.
11. Take pictures to make myself feel good.
12. Share and hope I can keep up with this project! Wow. Week 3 and I'm already falling behind. ~sigh.~

Well, that's the plan anyways. We'll see how it goes.

Chat soon.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Biting at the Bit

I was all good with the pace of this whole "Clutter-Free Classroom" project. I thought to myself
'Self, this is a good pace for us.'
In fact, the timing was perfect! I am (in New Zealand so we are...) on summer holiday and this is a great project to start in on as the year is about to approach. Fully energised and eager to get on with it, I joined in.

Week One: post some pictures of the clutter. Luckily I had already taken them at the end of last year. Done.
Week Two: make a plan. Rules for decluttering took a bit of effort but I eventually ended up with 10 that seem pretty good.
Week Three: start purging --WHAT? Already?? Jodi, You're kidding, right? Right?? Umm, ...Jodi?

She wasn't kidding. And to make matters worse, I can't help but notice a few of you are doing quite well getting on with the project. Rubbish bags filled and tied, free to a good home tables filled for picking through, shelves emptied, sorted, and (dare I say it?) dusted! Tsk, tsk. You kids are too much!

So the pressure's on.

I've got two days to go till I get the green light to drive in and dive in so I can try and keep up with you Keeners and Declutterers!

Despite all this ranting and raving, I am pretty excited to get in there and toss the things that don't pass Rules Test. My only worry is that I'm going to end up with a cereal box-sized pile of things that get tossed and end up hardly any further ahead. Fingers crossed.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Clutter-Free Week #2: My 10 Rules for Decluttering

Having spent the last few hours hyperventilating into a paper bag and rocking back and forth in an anxious fit, I've managed to come to terms with the fact that I've committed to this challenge and I am about to clean up my act.

Okay. That's a bit of a stretch. I wasn't really in such a desperate state. Instead, I chose to ignore it all and go watch Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows. (Good movie, by the way)

I'm home now, flipping through my blogroll and it's reminding me of the looming task set before me. Thanks a lot, Jodie.

"Compose a list of 'non-negotiable must-purge' rules"
After a great deal of thought, here's what I got:

Twist of Liam's 10 Rules for Decluttering
It's gotta "go" if:
It isn't actually mine/signed out by me.
This one's the easiest one. It's pretty obvious when you own something. And most people generally have a good idea if they are supposed to have something of someone else's. If they're neither, they're out.

It's in embarassing shape.
You know what I'm talking about. Those ratty old things that have seen better days and should have been thrown out years ago. The things that you make sure are out of sight when visitors are expected and direct attention away from when they show up without notice. Simply put: Broken, battered, bruised, beyond repair - buh-bye!

It's been in a cupboard/box/shelf for a year and not used.
I've been teaching for two years; this will be my third. That being said, there are things on my shelves that I had every intention of using but haven't. If it hasn't been used yet, chances are I won't use it this year. Like a basketball coach, you want everyone to win but it starts with having a lot of difficult talks that go something like this: "Sorry kiddo. You've got real potential but I just don't have a place on the team where you can really show your talents. Miss Elsewhere is starting soccer tryouts this week though. You should give it a go." You wish them well and suggest they go practice their corner kick... with Miss Elsewhere.

I can find it online/in an easliy accessible resource.
I like convenience. I like knowing that if i need something, I can pull it out of the cupboard at a moment's notice. I know there are items on those shelves purely for the purpose of saving me a from trotting or surfing to find it where it is meant to be found. Get over it and put more steps (or clicks) in your day!

The only reason I have it in my room is so I don't have to go next door/to the resource room and borrow it.
Practically the same as the rule above but regarding tools/stationary. I know nobody likes a teacher that borrows EVERYTHING from you and nobody wants to be "that guy/girl" but we don't all need a phillips screwdriver in our drawer. We don't all need a paper guillotine. I have the set of scredrivers and a few screws (loose?). Karen knows she can pop in if she needs them. I know I can borrow the paper cutter from Karen. They say don't reninvent the wheel but we don't all have to go out and buy one each either.

It doesn't belong in a toolbox/pencilcase/desk/backpack.
If if doesn't go in either of these conventional storage devices, I probably don't need it. I know that science materials are an obvious challenge to this one but I don't teach science, ergo I shouldn't have it in my room. If I do find myself needing a set of testtubes or a bunsen burner, I know where I can find one thanks to Rule {5}. And on that note, if I do borrow a bunsen burner, I then follow Rule {1} and return it to where it belongs.

The only box label that is really appropriate is "Stuff".
After all of this, I should be thinning out the clutter in my room and I should be down to the proverbial "odds and ends" of teaching. The rubberband ball, the lock and key that isn't securing anything, and these sorts of things. I think decluttering and having a box marked "Misc." is like swearing off of coffee unless it's lunchtime. It's probably going to fail Rule {8}, anyways.

I don't have an actual plan for it's use.
Remember my pegboard question? I do. I inherited this great piece of pegboard that I knew had a purpose so I kept it...and kept it...and kept it. Nearly a year later and it has been standing in a corner like a British guard. Doing nothing (no offence to any British guards who are reading this), not even looking pretty (again, no offence), just there. Well, "no more" I say! If I don't know what I'm going to do with it, I do know: get rid of it. Sorry to British guards and pegboards everywhere.

It's not appropriate for the ages I'm teaching.
I have some things that I have collected and acquired because I know to expect teaching kids at different levels. These are the kinds of things that I know will make my life so much easier if when I get a Grade 2 class. Until that day, however, those things have no purpose in my classroom. Plain and simple: If it's not for these students, it's not for this classroom. It's almost peotic.

I'm keeping it because it was a gift from a student.
I'm really sorry, James. I enjoyed teaching you but I'm not keeping this snowglobe on my desk. I know, sentimental thingamajiggies are sweet and thoughtful. They remind us of the kids we connected with and inspired. They collect dust. They take up space. They serve no purpose. Too harsh? Maybe. But If I'm sitting at my desk after school, I probably have something better to do than stare at a World's Best Teacher card from Sally and reminisce. If not, I should go home and take a well-deserved break.

There you have it. Twist of Liam's 10 Rules for Decluttering. I hope they help you come up with your own. I would love to hear what you think of these and if you want to some of them for your own endeavours be my guest. My only request is you cite your source and link back to this post so others can do the same!

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Clutter-Free in 2012? Don't mind if I do!

Situation #1. For the third year in a row, I have moved classrooms. If you include the fact that my first class got renovated halfway through the year and I had to move into the library until it was finished and then move back, I will have set up a learning environment five times in three school years. That is ignoring the times throughout the year when I re-evaluated the arrangement and moved things around.

Upside: I've had lots of practice moving furniture and supplies around in the search for the most effective use of space.

Downside: I'm not there yet. I'm frustrated by clutter, piles, stacks, and heaps of things. I like organisation and each year I put in my reflection that I will be more organised.

Situation #2. Clutter-Free Classrooms is willing to help the likes of me. It seems as though I/we can look forward to tips, tools, and strategies to help me along. Wicked. Thanks. Let's get started.

Upside: Duh! I need help and Littlestlearners is willing to support us in this endeavour {She really has no idea what she has volunteered for. Don't tell her!}.

Downside: I'm not able to get into my classroom the second half of January. That's a while to wait to get things going. I hope I can catch up.

Situation #3. My new classroom has HEAPS of shelving. These pictures don't really show it but one wall is covered by three sliding whiteboards that conceal shelf after shelf after shelf. Below the whiteboards are, you guessed it, more shelves! I have what is best described as a miniature kitchen with sink, counter, cupboards, and drawers. all of this is at the other end of my room nearest the Smart Board. I have another mobile cupboard that is almost as big as my Teacher Desk. My classroom is in disarray so the cleaners can get around and do a real thorough job over summer.


Downside: I'm struggling to actually come up with a downside to this except that I have HEAPS of stuff that will need to be organised. It's doable but I need a plan.

So this is it. I'm joining in the fun. I promise to take photos once I'm in my classroom and I look forward to following along as we join together as a unified force and tackle our collective messes!


Monday, January 2, 2012

Looking ahead to 2012

Some of my colleagues think I'm nuts.

Actually many of them do but some are convinced due to the fact that I am a few weeks into my summer break and thinking about the next school year.

I can't help it.

I'm thinking about it now because it is going to be a wicked, wonderful challenge. Again.

I'm heading into my third year as a specialist teacher. First year was Maths (yes, North Americans, there is supposed to be an 's' there in New Zealand). That was a challenge because I was teaching Maths to three classes and {duh} because I was a first year teacher. Second year I moved to English. Reputed to be the subject with the largest workload due to marking and assessments, it was a challenge because I needed to get comfortable and get organised...FAST.

Third year: Third challenge.
In 2012, I will still be in the English faculty, teaching reading and writing to Year 7 and 8 students but there's a twist! This year, my form class is the enrichment class!

How do I feel about this?
1. Honoured! I didn't ask for it. I hadn't even considered it. I was looking at 2012 as a year to consolidate my learning over the last two years and really make a go of it. Instead, I was called in to the office and asked if I would be willing to teach this incredibly bright bunch of boys and girls. Stammering and caught off guard, I accepted.
2. Excited! What a wicked, wonderful opportunity to challenge myself and the children with a degree of freedom that comes with an adapted learning class. I was soon after asked to draft up the class outline so we could get it published.
"Huh? Write up the outline for the class? What?"
"Yeah, write what you hope to achieve by the end of each term. Here's a sample to help guide you"
Practically 'Carte Blanche'! The opportunity to take some of the big ideas I've heard about {read about on blogs ;) } and dreamed about implementing and put them into practice is more than I could have hoped for!
3. Nervous! Third year teacher, getting himself organised in his teaching career. These are bright kids. The brightest we've got. I can't help but worry if I will miss the target with them. Will I shoot too low and bore them? Will I shoot too high and rob them of the opportunity to excel? Naturally, my inclination is to aim high and bring it down to their level but I'm still stuck wondering 'how high?'

Altogether, I am super-stoked to be working with these students! I have big ideas {and so does the school} for these children.

So I'm thinking about school.

And some of my colleagues think I'm nuts.

Sunday, January 1, 2012


What a great way to start 2012! Here in New Zealand, the calendars have already turned and we are getting a start on the new year. We are enjoying our summer break and (many of us) are looking forward to the new teaching year. Starting a new year is an exciting time (as many of you were very effective at reminding me about half a year ago) and it's about to bring lots of challenges {will post about THAT later}. But as I was saying...

What a great way to start 2012! I have been following Crazy For Fifth {she's on my blogroll, check it out} and her post today was a welcome surprise. She is linking up on a a linky party from Secondary Solutions to get Middle and High School teachers together and build a bit of a community. I had been trying to do this myself, jumping from blog to blog to blog, from one blogroll to another to another, chasing the white rabbit of high school teaching. It was exhausting and while I found many interesting and wonderful bloggers, but there had to be a better way.

Here it is: an easier way. Link up. Comment below so I can check out your blog. Join in. Enjoy.
{Middle and High School New Year Blog Party}

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