Top Takeaways From A Summer Conference

This week, I’m sharing my thoughts, feelings, observations, and gratitudes from a recent summer conference.

“Is it over?!”

“But I LOVE Spanish now!”

“I’m going to miss Y’ALL!!!” (emphasis on the y’all)

“Can we learn more Spanish this summer??!”

These were some of my favorite quotes from my students at the end of iFLT this year.

I led the Elementary Language Lab this year and had 18 lovely, dynamic, smart, GOOFY students. We had an amazing time together!

Nothing against my previous groups of students in learning labs, but this one was different. I’ve spent the last few days trying to pinpoint exactly what it is that made this year feel so special, so unique, so “different” than in previous years… 

I came up with many things because I couldn’t identify just one reason. I began to dissect some of them below but I have a feeling I will continue to reflect on the experience throughout the upcoming year and promise to continue sharing with you both here in my blog, in my emails, and in my podcast “Teaching La Vida Loca”.

Buckle up my friend, this is the longest one I’ve written in a WHILE….

Building Community is Important

The first thing I want to comment on is something that we know is important, but all too often we forget that it is the KEY to building trust, relationships, and a space where students feel comfortable enough to share and take risks in the target language. I was INCREDIBLY nervous this year to host a lab because I missed the first day with them. This is a day where it is just you and the kids and NO observers can come into the room. I’ve found it ESSENTIAL in previous years for establishing a certain level of trust and comfort with the kids because the rest of the week you never know how many people will be coming in and out of the room.

I filmed a lesson for them. I recorded the whole entire class, and a local teacher named Astrid, whose daughter was in the class, facilitated for me. 

  • I pretended like I was there.
  • I introduced myself and told them what I like and where I live.
  • I spoke to them using their NAMES.
  • I anticipated when they’d try to do things like get into groups before I said go, and told them “Not yet, silly kids!”
  • I taught my call response and we practiced it! 
  • I asked personalized questions and provided answers to build community and learn about them, and Astrid took notes for me.
  • I taught them Brain Breaks (4 of them!!!), and they had so much fun with them!
  • I worked hard to make them laugh and lower their affective filters.
  • I assigned them an interest survey to learn their name, pronouns, and anything else they felt like sharing with me.

What happened the next day was amazing….

I walked in on Tuesday, and there was an immediate connection. They felt like they already knew me.

They knew the call response PERFECTLY and were at a level zero after just one time calling it! 

Each child randomly would remark on how funny the movie was or how cool it was that I knew their names.

One child said “It was crazy, like you were there watching us because you’d say, “Wait! Not yet!” like you knew when we were excited and already starting the Brain Break or activity!

They experienced that magic together. It was a community experience!

During the debrief on Tuesday, only ONE teacher knew I wasn’t there the day prior and that was because she was in the room helping Astrid. The teachers were GOBSMACKED that community could be built that fast!

Now you may be thinking, cool, but I teach high school, it isn’t quite the same. To that, I’ll push back and say that I make videos just like these for my 8th graders any time I have to be out for a sub because it:

  • is the only thing that gets them to ACTUALLY engage when I’m not there.
  • keeps them in the TL even if my sub doesn’t speak Spanish.
  • is a HUGE classroom management tool.
  • is FUN and JOYFUL (and even my most apathetic students love it….)

I don’t disagree that community feels easier to build with littles than it does with middle school and high school students, but that doesn’t make it any less important or powerful!


The rest of the week I worked to build community through:

  • Brain Breaks: Ones that allowed them to work together in lightning fast ways so they were “playing” with EVERYONE in the classroom in short bursts & Whole class brain breaks where we all played together!
  • Activities where students were grouped together and had to work together to read or complete something
  • Choral reading… this feels so much safer than asking kiddos to read individually
  • Gimmicks (I’ll talk about that in a minute)
  • Taking the time to LISTEN and let THEM steer the conversation. (Please see my notes on this later)

How To Apply This In The New School Year

I am eager to apply this to the new school year and have you do as well. Let’s:

  • make the time to use lots of community building brain breaks early on
  • use student’s names and as much as possible, and let them know just how much their name means to us and the community that is our classroom.
  • ask for and USE their correct pronouns.
  • share about ourselves and ask about them!
  • joke and be goofy, let’s work to make them laugh, and bring ourselves (and ALL of them JOY)
  • listen!

How I Eased Into Learning

Another thing that I think made this year unique was that I didn’t feel pressured to “get” to a certain point with kids. I didn’t concern myself with what people observing might be expecting of me or of them.

I eased in and spoke the English I wanted to speak to make them feel comfortable.

The first ten minutes of Tuesday were ALL in English. During the first five of Wednesday, I sat with them at the beginning of every class, walked around and noticed their cool shirts and earrings, and connected with them in English.

I spent time forming little connections with them as I would in my own class and worried LESS about what people thought about me NOT jumping straight into the strategies they were all there to observe.

How To Apply This In The New School Year

I recognize we are all in different boats. Some of us work in schools where you HAVE to meet certain standards, expectations, and benchmarks. Perhaps you HAVE to get your students to do X,Y,Z before they can move onto the next level, BUT:

  • There is SO much value in slowing down
  • SO much power in easing in

For one, students AND yourself feel more present, calm, and prepared to take on the learning!

Students will also immediately notice that we’re taking the time to build those relationships first, that we’re placing a HIGH importance on the people in the room, not just the content we are sharing with them.

Let’s ease in, slow down, make eye contact (if it is culturally appropriate! ?), be observant, and listen!

How To Handle Absent and New Learners

Ugh… I was sick to my stomach the last day of iFLT when 5 or so of my students were absent and a BRAND NEW STUDENT walked through the door!

Kids were asking, “Maestra who’s that!?? Maestra who are they!?!?!” I was like “HA! I don’t know! Let’s meet them!” 

He reassured me he wasn’t worried about having missed the week because he knew all of his colors already and the days of the week and months of the year. I high-fived him and thought to myself “Bless…. (said with my Welsh auntie’s accent) you’re in for a wild ride my love”.

Then, I knelt down next to him and told him I’d be doing a lot of gestures, pausing and pointing to a lot of words, and that ALL he needed to do was to keep his eyes on me. I told him he wasn’t expected to understand 100% of what I was saying, but that his #1 job was to listen to  me, not just with his ears, but with his eyes too, and I was CONFIDENT he would be successful!

And, he was!

Half way through the class, I had to remind him gently 3 times to not translate what I was saying out loud! I said that I was SOOOOO proud he could understand me but that we can learn even MORE if he keeps listening! He did great, and he acquired a whole lot more than colors and days of the week!

How To Apply This In The New School Year

Don’t freak out when you get a new student midyear. It happens to all of us. Here is a funny reel I made about it last year, all you can do is laugh!

Then, do everything in your power to welcome that student into the fold of your classroom community. Give them the confidence and reassurance they need to be able to push through the rigor of listening to you speak 97% of the time in the TL (that is literally the point we were at by Friday in my language lab!). Ensure their “Success is Inevitable” (Thank you, John Bracey for that)

Then, go back to ROCKING it because we KNOW that teaching for acquisition is the PERFECT way to get that kiddo up to speed!!! Let’s take a breath, remember to smile at them, welcome them, and listen!

How I EnJOYed the Process

You wanna know the REAL reason I was so freaking exhausted last week?!?!!?

I had SO MUCH FREAKING FUN! Not just in my evenings with my friends and colleagues, but I connected with La Familia Loca PLC peeps for the first time in a couple of years and it felt SOOOO good!

I had fun with the kids in my lab, enJOYed my time with them, smiled a LOT, laughed, from my belly A LOT, and I allowed myself the TIME to play and just be fully “present” with them in the classroom!

How To Apply This In The New School Year

I think this is easy. Let’s:

  • smile more… (did you know it automatically increases your endorphins?!)
  • laugh more!
  • be fully present in every moment!
  • let THEM be silly! Our older students grow up WAY too fast!
  • lean in to the FUN, to the JOY.
  • listen!

How to Take the Risk

Earlier in this blog, I mentioned that I took a lot of risks throughout the week, and when side conversations or something totally off-topic and unexpected came up in class, I leaned in and let it completely derail whatever it was I had planned for that “moment” in class. I let the conversation be organic and student led.

Rather than worrying about accomplishing what I had planned for the day, I focused on the direction students were driving the conversation, thought about how the high frequency language we were using that week “FIT” with that conversation, and went with it.

I leaned in and listened!

And let me tell you, it is the FIRST thing people noticed EVERY day at the start of the learning lab debrief.

Folx would say, “I loved how you just “went” with whatever kids wanted to talk about”, OR “Rather than chastising kids for side conversations, you just seamlessly integrated them into your lesson!”

How To Apply This In The New School Year

Stop right there! If you’re new to acquisition driven instruction and comprehensible input, please do not try to LEAN into this TOO much this year.

I was SO defeated in my first few years of teaching because I was surrounded by mentors who did this SO well. I felt SO frustrated that any time I did it it would BOMB. In fact, I LOST students’ attention.

This is a skill it took me 5+ years to develop. It feels “easy”-ish now but it is STILL a risk. So, if you’re experienced, this year, I want you to lean in and GO with the flow.

Trust yourself and your ability to “keep it comprehensible”. Lean in and listen.

Donna the Unicorn…

Really…. Donna the Unicorn deserves a WHOLE section of this blog!?!?!? 

Yes, yes she does. Tuesday morning, my dear friend Donna Tatum Johns came to my room to help me hang up posters and she didn’t leave without giving me Donna, My newest Unicorn, who became an ESSENTIAL part of our classroom community.

Kids wanted Donna to participate in every Brain Break. They wanted to come in early to class just for the opportunity to toss her up into the air to see if she could touch the ceiling.

She was the “reason” behind my magic “OBVIO!” because I drank her unicorn pee every morning. They LOVED her! They wrote her CARDS and drew her PICTURES.

Again you may be thinking, yea, but I teach high school. I’ll push back and say again, when I taught high school kids used to HIDE certain stuffies from me. They stole them to take selfies with them and asked to borrow them for other classes because of the “magical” powers they possessed, and the WHOLE school knew about each of them. They even knew their names. This is another reminder that our middle and high school kiddos are forced to grow up way too quickly.

How To Apply This In The New School Year

Now, I’m not saying you have to go out and adopt a unicorn, but I am suggesting that you figure out what your “thing” is. What’s your gimmick?

What is something you wear or DO that is SOOOOO you, it wouldn’t be the same class without it?

Ms. Kanaine was my first grade teacher. She ALWAYS had one of those root beer candies in her mouth when she was rotating to work with us or working with us in small groups.

Ms. Michaud always smelled like lavender. Mr. Rhodes teaches with 20 felt tip pens hooked to his lanyard. Ms. Minshall uses a goofy voice any time she switches to a Brain Break! Like clockwork!

Is it something you wear? 

The way you smell? 

Is it something you say???

A teacher tool that you’re never without?!?

Think about it! And if you don’t have something, find something!


That last point leads perfectly into this one. Every time we go into conference season and we see teachers teaching, be it at Conference in the Cloud, or iFLT, imposter syndrome seems to be lurking at every corner.

We are QUICK to compare ourselves to the teachers we are observing. Quick to wish we had their voice, their energy, their ability to connect, their language abilities. Whatever it is, it is TOXIC!

I realized yesterday that the NUMBER ONE thing that helped this week, being as unique and incredible as it was, was that I cared 0% about what anyone thought of me. This was my 7th time teaching a language lab, and 7th time was a charm.

I went in NOT WORRIED about what the people in the back of the room thought of me. NOT WORRIED about the mistakes I might make with the language because it is my second language and I am teaching STUDENTS that mistakes are PART of the language acquisition journey.

I was NOT CONCERNED with people’s opinions of how I used unicorns in my classroom, and was DONE worrying in advance about the negative comments or “constructive criticism” that happen LITERALLY every year. I didn’t try to “turn down” the loca in an effort to make other people feel more comfortable or confident. Please, I don’t want you emulating me anyways! Be YOU!

It was about being present with my kids, and I was UNAPOLOGETICALLY and AUTHENTICALLY ME!

I want that for them too, to feel comfortable enough to be unapologetically and authentically THEM!

That took time! There was one student in particular that I was worried was not even enjoying class. I couldn’t get a smile out of him and he didn’t speak a word for three days. I later learned from his mom that he was loving EVERY second! And by the last day, he was showing his SUPER silly side and even switched name tags with his sister so that I would talk to him as if he was her!

How To Apply This In The New School Year

Stop trying to be anyone but you! Enjoy where YOU are in your journey to facilitate language acquisition for your students.  

Be present with them and model the same authenticity you want them to show you! Worry LESS about how you may be perceived and focus on being present as YOU with your students. 

Trust yourself! Lean in, and listen to what your GUT is telling you is “you”!

Feeling so grateful (and slightly amazed) for those of you who made it to the end of this blog!

I love what I do, and I am so glad I get to share it with you!

Now, back to resting and relaxing! I’m more than half way done with this year’s #SunSationalSummer2022 challenge and loving every minute of it!

Until next teacher, 

I’ll be enjoying every last minute of my summer!


La Maestra Loca

P.S. Don’t forget to join the #SunSationalSummerChallenge Click HERE for more info!