Tuesday, October 9, 2018


Mrs. Fanning will be checking your blog on Saturday, October 27. This month, you may choose the topics for your blog posts OR if you need some help, choose a prompt from the attached list.

You need to make sure your blog has the following work displayed:

Congratulations, Mrs. Sittig!

Twenty years ago, Colleen Sittig joined the faculty at Farnsworth Middle School. For all twenty years, she has passionately taught 7th grade social studies. Today, she is one of our veteran teachers in the building. Colleen is a leader in her department, who works each year to improve her craft and create lessons that respond to the changing demands of NYS as well as to respond to the needs of her students.

As classroom technology has improved, she has always been willing to learn new things, take on new challenges, and make her class engaging for her students. Colleen applied for and was awarded a set of Chromebooks in 2016. Her application was filled with all the ways she had already been using technology in her classroom as she revamped her curriculum from more standard assessments to include more project-based learning.  Instead of taking tests and quizzes, students demonstrate their knowledge and skills by creating commercials to encourage people to come to colonial America or create a Ken Burns-esque mini-documentary video on a particular topic from the Civil War.  Colleen is always pushing herself to find more authentic ways to assess her students.

As a colleague, Colleen has always been the quintessential teammate. She is a good listener, able to compromise, and always has the kids’ best interests at heart. We refer to her as our team manager because she is the key to our being a high-functioning team. She takes notes every day at our team meeting to keep running records of what or who we talked about. She reminds us of the work we need to do as a team, whether it be planning lessons, events, or paperwork we need to complete.  She takes on the role of recorder for all of our parent conferences. Colleen is our task master, who we all truly appreciate.  These strengths are also appreciated by colleagues who serve with Colleen on various committees, such as scheduling, inclusion, technology, and the selection for National Junior Honor Society.  In addition, she was elected and serves as the secretary for our FMS Building Association, for which she attends and takes minutes for TALC and our Building Association meetings.

In the fall of 2010, I returned to Farnsworth after a two-year maternity leave. My former teammates had all either moved on, retired, or were assigned to different teams. When I received my teaming assignment though, I breathed a huge sigh of relief when I learned who I would be working with: Patricia Bonaquist, Alan Fiero, and Colleen Sittig. Each one a veteran member of the faculty who I knew would be supportive as I transitioned back into the classroom. Colleen was not only my teammate, but also my next door neighbor.  As we got closer as colleagues and friends, it didn’t take long before we were opening the wall between our classrooms and teaching collaboratively.

In March of last year, we opened the wall between our classrooms to teach a unit on the U.S. Government collaboratively. Students would be creating a digital picture book on the topic, which would be read by various 4th and 5th grade classes across the district. It was a fantastic unit and by the end, we enjoyed it so much, we decided to keep the wall open for the rest of the year.  We structured it so that one day would be language arts and the next would be social studies. We found that together our students benefitted from having both of us teaching a lesson, not to mention having our special education teacher and teaching assistant in the room as well. At the end of the year, we gave our students a survey to fill out about each of our classes and asked how they felt about keeping the wall open for the last few months of school. The feedback was overwhelmingly positive, which made us think about what this could mean for next year.  We met over the summer and planned how we could keep the wall open but take a more collaborative approach with our subjects. We found new resources that would help invigorate the literacy skills in social studies and realized that we were, in essence, creating a new class, which we christened: Social Arts.  

We also have found ways to share what we have created this year by presenting our work to colleagues. Colleen asked me to present with her last spring at the 2017 New York State Council for Social Studies on the ways we collaborate and incorporate technology, Chromebooks, and the Google platform. We also ran an hour-long workshop at FMS during our superintendent’s conference day, where we were able to present curriculum, lessons, and student-created projects to fellow staff who were interested in what we had started in our classroom. This past fall, Colleen and I presented at the New York State English Council, specifically, on our Social Arts class. We received great feedback from those in attendance. And just last week, I heard from a friend who teaches in another district who told me that our NYSEC presentation was shared at her department meeting.  Lastly, Colleen and I are in the process of submitting a proposal for next fall’s New York State Middle School Association’s annual conference to present again on our Social Arts class.

Through our collaboration, we feel we have enriched both of our curriculums and that our students have a more dynamic 7th grade experience. This left us wondering what else could we do? How could we reach even more students?  In order to cultivate a love of history in more than just our own students, we have begun the process of reinstituting the Washington Studies Club here at FMS. This club has been dormant since 2009. We plan to bring it back in the fall for 8th grade students, who would like to learn even more about American history. As in the past, the club will culminate in a trip to Washington D.C. in the spring of 2019.  Colleen has taken the lead in screening various travel companies as we make initial steps to making this club a reality for next year. I know that I could never have done this work on my own.

If you know anything about teachers, most can be a bit obsessive when it comes to control over their lessons, and collaboration is not so easily achieved. Thankfully, Colleen has been a colleague who is not only flexible but excited when it comes to changing things up. We have been teaching together with our wall open for a year now. And I can’t imagine doing it any other way. In collaborating on our Social Arts class, I have learned so much from Colleen. It is the opportunity to observe a truly talented teacher every day. With all that has changed over my 18-year career, teaching has become a very isolating and lonely profession. In teaching with Colleen, that has not been the case. I get to share each day, each lesson, each student with her. I am never alone.  And while there are many great social studies teachers in this building, I don’t think this collaboration would be possible with anyone else. And that is a credit to Colleen.

I hope that you will take this opportunity to recognize one of Guilderland’s very best. She is a teacher who is beloved by her students and colleagues. I am blessed to call her my teammate and my friend.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Back In The Saddle

It is hard to believe that I haven't written in over a year. As a blogger, I don't feel so terrible. But as a teacher, I feel all sorts of guilt. What kind of a role model am I? I have struggled with writing the past year for a few reasons, but I was finally inspired to hit that new post button. I have my colleague, Mrs. Sittig, to thank for that. This year, my Social Arts co-teacher decided to jump in the writing pool as we got our students' blogs set up for the year. Her first couple of posts were just the reminder I needed to remember that blogging is about writing in the moment. You have to not pressure yourself about if your topic is good enough. Just sit down, start typing, and see what comes out.  I had lost sight of that. I only hope I will be able to keep up with her this year!

Speaking of this year, can I tell you how great my students are? When anyone asks how my year is going I have been answering with, "They laugh at my jokes. That's all that matters." And while I don't mean to sound flippant, I truly believe that after 18 years of teaching that laughter is the number one ingredient to having a good year. To be able to laugh with 12-13 year olds might just mean I am very immature but if you have ever hung around with people this age, you know that they don't always let their guard down. I work hard at the beginning of the year to create an atmosphere, alongside Mrs. Sittig, where kids feel safe. I, of course, think this is important for those times when kids are hurting and need someone. I have already had lunch with a new student who was too scared to eat lunch in the cafeteria, listened as a student struggled with the separation of their parents, and grieved with another who had tragically lost their older brother. But in fostering this trust, I also allow for students to find the humor in things, laugh at themselves and me, and never take anything too seriously.

Kids today seem to be so wrapped up in fear and anxiety. I remember how challenging my middle school years were. I can't imagine if I had to battle panic attacks or digestive issues caused by things I felt I couldn't control. With all the pressures of the world that weigh far too heavily on today's youth, I want my classroom to be a place where those things can be set aside for 80 minutes. And if we haven't had a laugh by the time class ends, then I deem it a bad class. A year where students aren't able to be comfortable enough with themselves to laugh at their dorky teacher, that is a bad year.

This year has been filled with lots of smiles, smirks, and laughs. A good year. And if any of my students are reading this, I hope you feel the same way. I am pretty excited to spend the next nine months with you. You have impressed me not just with your work in the classroom but your willingness to try new things. Our time spent volunteering at the Patroon Land Farm was a great day where you showed how you could work together in order to help others. And the amount of you who are working hard to get in your permission slip to volunteer at the soup kitchen has been overwhelming. I've never seen anything like it. And while I know that we have had and will continue to have some bumps in the road here and there, I truly appreciate the effort you have shown.

See? Blogging isn't so hard? I just wrote all that while waiting for my daughters to finish their gymnastics practice! I can't wait to discover what else I will write about this year.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016


With Teacher Appreciation Week ending with Mother's Day, this past week the two most important roles in my life were honored. I received a few emails from students who expressed how much they enjoyed having me as their teacher this year.  Well, to be honest, I asked students to choose a Guilderland teacher, past or present, to email and show their appreciation. I always preface this task by saying I am not looking for a pat on the back by anyone.  I encourage them to actually not choose me because I am the one asking them to do it.  It is nice though to be ignored.

In addition to receiving thanks from students, I also received appreciation from some of the teachers who were also on the receiving end of my students' emails. There were kindergarten teachers, world language teachers, even retired teachers!  Some of them stopped me in the halls and said how much the email(s) they got in their inbox made their day. Some teachers tweeted their appreciation:

It was fitting that also last week the GTA celebrated its annual Springfest, an evening where Guilderland teachers who are retiring at the end of the school year are honored.  This is always such a wonderful event. While I knew many of the retirees (several were from FMS), it never matters whether I do or not.  After socializing and eating dinner, we all sit down to listen to speeches given by colleagues about each retiree. Some retirees choose to speak for themselves. Some are sentimental, some are hysterical, all are heartfelt expressions of each teacher's dedication to their students and school. This year we also had a new master of ceremonies...Mrs. Nowak from Altamont Elementary. She created "retiree commercials" as interludes between each speech. They were unbelievable and received the biggest laughs of the night. She did an awesome job of moving the night along. I only wish that I could post them here. Instead, here are a few photos from Springfest.
The view from the table that Mrs. Sittig (my date) were sitting at.

Mrs. Nowak doing her thang!

Mrs. Clum-Dolan speaking on behalf of her colleague and friend, Mrs. Hyland.
In continuing with the spirit of appreciation, I also found some among our students this week. This particular expression of appreciation is a daily occurrence here at FMS and is one of my favorite traditions. When it is a student's birthday, their friends will either stay after school or come in early to decorate that student's locker. They use wrapping paper, drawings, photos and other items to let their friend know how special they are. Middle schoolers are usually not viewed as always being kind, but this simple act of appreciation dispels that myth. I love walking the halls and seeing the various ways that friends show their appreciation for each other.
Some of my awesome Hia7A students decorating their friend's locker.
My week ended with Mother's Day on Sunday.  I had a wonderful breakfast at a diner with my husband and two daughters.  We had hoped to all go golfing together but, alas, the weather did not cooperate.  Maybe next year. I got cute cards and gifts that Jane and Sammy made at school. Those are my favorite kinds of gifts. I appreciate their teachers carving out class time to allow their students to create something to give to their moms.

And look at that...I think I have come full circle. I hope all teachers had a great Teacher Appreciation Week and all moms enjoyed their Mother's Day. It was a good week.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Active Membership

This spring, I decided to run for secretary of my union, the Guilderland Teachers Association. I found out that I was not the only one running for the position and needed to write a statement to be distributed to members about my candidacy. As I looked at my blank computer screen, I crossed my fingers and hoped that I could fill a page.  I thought about giving an overview of my involvement in the GTA over my 16 years.  I thought it was a good place to start.

As I finished explaining my experience, I was surprised to find myself near the bottom of a second page. I had never really sat down before and thought through all of the roles I had taken on over the years as a union member. In seeing it all written down, it made me feel even stronger on tackling this larger role of GTA secretary.

Once I was ready, I asked a few colleagues to read and give me feedback before sending it off.  I was relieved to have it finished and nervous to have all of my colleagues across the district read it.

The very next day though I found out that the other candidate had reconsidered and decided not to run after all. I was, of course, relieved but a little disappointed after having crafted my election statement. So I figured not to let it go to waste and share it here.  Being a union member is an important and critical role in my teaching life, of any teacher's life.  I am glad to be able to share that part of myself as a teacher here.

May 3, 2016

Dear fellow GTA members,

I am writing to you to ask for your support on Tuesday, May 10, as I seek the position of GTA secretary.  I hope in this role, I can continue to devote my time and energy into continuing to make our union stronger.

I have taught at Farnsworth Middle School for the past 16 years as a 7th grade language arts teacher. I came to the district and this building at a time when our staff looked very different than what it does today.  At FMS, I was surrounded by veteran teachers who had been here for many years. I was lucky to be placed on a team with some of them. My teammates not only supported me as a young teacher but also as a young union member. Some of my memories in my early career are, of course, populated with my students and my successes and failures in the classroom. But what stands out, too, are the lessons and education I received on why our union was so important. I heard stories of times we had to stand together and fight for the rights and working conditions that I entered the profession taking for granted. I was instilled with a sense of awe at those who were active union members and took on the roles within our building and our larger teaching unit.

I was inspired by those colleagues, and it didn’t take long before I felt I was ready to play a role in the GTA.  My first position was as FMS building secretary. As a young teacher, it was a job that allowed me to support our building president. I attended TALC and building meetings and took the minutes to share with members. I created fliers and promoted events within our building. While building secretary is not exactly a vocal position, it was one that allowed a young teacher like me to put my toe in the water and get a glimpse of the work that our union does for all of us.

My next step in becoming more active was to take on the position of FMS building representative on our GTA Representative Council. This lead me to an even greater understanding of the work of our union. In meeting monthly with representatives from all seven buildings and our Executive Committee, I got a more global sense of the issues all teachers in our district were dealing with, the good work that was happening across buildings, and a better sense of community in making connections with teachers at all three levels.  Being a building representative also encouraged my own voice in the union as I was able to participate and share my views at both Rep Council and then in reporting back to my colleagues at FMS. Developing my own confidence as a professional has been invaluable to me. It has encouraged me to take more risks by presenting at conferences, becoming a leader in other professional organizations, such as the Capital District Writing Project, and ultimately has allowed me to step up in other ways as a GTA member.

In 2008, I left my building representative position to go on maternity leave. When I returned in 2010-11, I gave myself time to acclimate myself back to the world of teaching. I came back though to APPR, increased testing, and an attack on the teaching profession.  I used my voice to write letters to the editor and had two published in the Times Union.  I spoke during a public comment section of our Guilderland Board of Education meeting to voice my concerns on our newly adopted computerized testing, the NWEAs, for use as local assessments. I also started a blog, where I continue to write about my experiences as a teacher and allow myself a space to voice my concerns about the world of education. While I was not in an elected GTA position during this time, I continued to work as an active member.  

In the spring of 2013, FMS learned that our building president was stepping down. I took this as an opportunity to step back into a new role in the GTA and ran as co-building president alongside Emily Mineau. We have been serving as co-presidents since 2013-14, and it has been an invaluable collaboration. This position has given me an even wider scope of the work of our union. It has challenged me in ways that I didn’t know it would. As leaders in our building, Emily and I work with administration to help members who need union representation. We attend bi-weekly meetings with our building principal to address concerns that staff have and troubleshoot problems that arise.  We make sure the FMS membership stays informed on issues in our district, in our state and nationally. We attend monthly meetings of the Executive Committee, Representative Council, and FMS TALC. I also serve as a representative on the Co-Curricular District Review Committee.  More recently, I have volunteered to serve on the new GTA Local Action Plan or LAP team. This is a group that will allow me to take a role in getting even more of our members to be more active in our union and build community support. I am hoping it will give me the chance to do for my fellow colleagues what my veteran colleagues did for me when I entered Guilderland. I wish for all members to find a role that allows them to make our union stronger.

In taking my work in the GTA a step further, I am seeking the position of GTA secretary. This will allow me to continue my work with the Executive Committee and Rep Council. I am hoping to expand the work of secretary to include more communication via social media and our GTA website. I am positive that all my experience over the past 16 years will serve me well as I look to take on this new role.

Thank you for your time. I hope that you will support my bid for GTA secretary on Tuesday, May 10.

In Solidarity,
Molly Fanning

Friday, April 1, 2016

A Conference with Colleagues

I hit the road once again with my social studies teammie, Mrs. Sittig, to the New York State Council of Social Studies (NYSCSS) annual conference in Albany. We had applied to present with another FMS colleague, Mrs. Cahill, and were so excited to find out our proposal was accepted. I was even more excited to find out we were presenting on Friday, April 1. Why you might ask? Have you ever been in a middle school on April Fools Day? #dodgedabullet

Our presentation was on using Google Apps, Chromebooks, and interdisciplinary work. We had the tiniest room imaginable. It seated about twenty people, but we managed to fit a few more since some in our audience were willing to sit on the floor. No pressure.

You can't see them but there are three wonderful ladies sitting on the floor on the left side of the room.
We used this Google Slides presentation as we spoke for an hour and a half. We talked about our favorite apps, extensions, projects and even shared student work.  While we hadn't rehearsed our talk, I thought it was pretty seamless as we took turns speaking off of various slides. I was so impressed with my partners who were presenting to fellow social studies teachers on their approach to content in ways that incorporate technology in cool and interesting ways. The responses we got both throughout the presentation and after confirmed that we are doing work with students that is both innovative and exciting.

I want to take a moment to thank Mrs. Sittig and Mrs. Cahill for inviting me along. They certainly didn't need me! It was a reminder how important it is to make time for collaboration and sharing of your craft as a teacher. I know most of us constantly feel unsure of ourselves and are waiting for someone to call us out on having no clue what we are doing. Presenting for other educators, while we do it each day with our students, should be a necessary part of our pedagogy. It allows us to be critical of our teaching and, at the same time, celebrate what we do. 

This past April Fools Day was no joke for me. I'm already looking into where we can present next!


Sunday, February 21, 2016

What Keeps You Coming Back

It is Sunday morning before we head back to school from our February break. I know students and teachers alike are fighting that knot in our bellies as we gear up for Monday morning. I am choosing this moment to reflect back on a day last month where I and my colleague had the incredible opportunity to take a group of 21 (we had 22 but one sprained her ankle the night before our trip) students along with a couple of parents to volunteer at the St. John's/St.Ann's Outreach Center to serve lunch. 


We gathered at the front entrance to wait for our bus. I used it as a photo op before we headed out. You can see the excitement on each of my 7th graders' faces. Only two in our group had volunteered here before, so we were all looking forward to see what we had in store for us. I should mention that spots for this trip filled up quickly. I had to turn away students who wanted to volunteer.


We headed into the building bringing with us additional donations of hats, gloves and blankets. One of our parents had offered these items, which were collected via a Red Cross drive. We were so happy to be able to not only donate our time but items that are necessary during any northeast winter.


The board announced our arrival, so I quickly grabbed Sreehitha and Nicaya, our two veteran volunteers, for our photo. These two were so excited to be returning to serve lunch. They kept telling about how amazing the people are and how much fun it was to talk and get to know them. Their enthusiasm made us all feel at home at St. John's.


And then there was Cookie. Gloria Towle-Hilt is a retired FMS teacher who started these trips to the soup kitchen to volunteer.  She now serves on the GCSD BOE. She greeted us all and gave us some background on the program. I was blown away to learn that FMS has been bringing students to volunteer for 25 years! I think we all felt very proud to say that we were now part of that history.


We got right to work. In preparation for the 200 people we would be serving, we were quickly shown how to set up each table. 


Each table needed placemats, condiments, and a centerpiece. Cookie reminded us again and again that the main goal was to make the diners feel welcome. They try to make the experience that of a real restaurant: something the diners aren't able to afford.


As the final touches were put on each table, I looked around and was so impressed with how serious the kids were taking the work. Even being here for 20 minutes, they took ownership over each task and wanted to do their very best.

We sat down once the tables were set up so Cookie could explain how the various responsibilities while serving. She is joined in this photo with Chris the chef from Druthers Restaurant. Druthers has committed to donate the meal to St. John's whenever FMS students are volunteering to serve. Another very proud moment!

As Cookie spoke, she stressed again the importance of making the diners feel welcome. Our number one job was simply to smile. Looking at my kids and the grins they already had, I knew they would not let her down!

Next we determined partners for serving each of the 10 tables, who would dish out food and who would clean tables as new diners arrived. I think everyone was happy with their jobs. And while everyone didn't get the partner they asked for, I used it as an opportunity to remind the kids that today is not about us. Not to mention it gave them a chance to make a new friend.


Natalie and Jayden did a great job manning the salad station. They made sure salad bowls were ready to be served so that no one had to wait.


We were very lucky to have two parents volunteering with us as well! Mrs. Clancy and Mrs. DiCaprio plated the main course. It was all hands on deck.


We were so moved by all the different people and stories that we heard during our time serving. One image that struck many of us were the diners who carried all of their belongings with them (as seen in this photo). It made real for us the struggle of the homeless. Each one of us felt humbled and knew that we all have so much to be grateful for.


This woman, who I will refer to as Z, was in awe of her servers Shannon and Camila. She made sure to call me over to say how impressed she was by these two young women. Z shared her own story: how she had been homeless for many months, how she was fighting to gain custody of her younger brother after losing her mother, and her dreams of starting an organization to help those in need. She wanted to be able to use her own story to make a difference in the lives of others. So inspiring!


As our diners became fewer and fewer, we began the process of cleaning up and breaking down tables. Our students continued to work diligently. Their smiles, too, remained (as seen in this photo of Meghan), and we all felt a kinship in our work. A bond had been formed through our time serving together. We all knew this had been a special day.


Mrs. Sittig and I are joined here with Cookie as we thanked her again for the experience she gave not only our students but us as well. On the bus ride home, I quickly emailed the Community Service Club supervisor, Mrs. Cahill, to let her know that we had a wonderful day...and to ask when our team could volunteer again.  For I know that these are the experiences that keep us coming back each day to teach. While it is great to share novels with kids and encourage them as writers, being able to give them a day like this one is so powerful. I wish that we made it more of a priority in public schools to not just share knowledge but to give kids experience in the world, especially places that are outside of their day-to-day lives. I am very grateful for days like this one and will make it a priority to seek out more ways to carve out time to enrich my students' lives.

Don't take my word for it! Check out these blog posts by some of our students who volunteered: