Saturday, December 27, 2014

I wonder. Do the benefits of educational technology outweigh the risks?

This is the conversation that got me thinking:

A teacher friend that I respect, was talking about math homework.  She said, “I don’t send those pages anymore because I’ve had too many complaints.”

We asked her about the complaints, and discovered that some parents thought the math was too easy for their kids, it was just busy work.  Other parents thought it was too hard and took too long.

I shared that I have had this concern in the past (as both a parent, and as a teacher reflecting on the homework I send).  I offered that the IXL math program the PTA pays for is a great compromise.  I tell parents at conferences that I know the math pages are perfect for a small group of my students, and that instead of sending individual homework for each of my kids I send reminders about this online program that adjusts to the individual needs and skills of students.  Students can find both challenge and practice.

This thoughtful (full of thinking) friend said that if she received the assignment of math practice online for her own children she would not be very pleased.  Her children wouldn't be doing this homework.  

When I asked her why? She said that she would not assign “screen time”.  That it is harmful for kids.

My thoughtful friend, has got me thinking.  These are genuine questions, and I hope someone will answer them.

What are the dangers of screen time for students?

Technology is a tool. When is it the best tool?  

I used to make lots of lists.  I remember thinking that if the list of pros was longer than the list of cons, the choice would be made clear.  Then, I discovered that all items placed on this scale are not of equal weight.  But, it’s a place to start.

Pro-Educational Technology

Highly motivating
Holds focus and attention
Communication tool
Collaborative tool
Creative tool
Access to data, knowledge, ideas
Scaffolds inabilities
Con-Educational Technology

Impact on the developing brain
Eye damage

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Trust us! Experience Counts.

Overheard in the staffroom this week during inservice day lunch break:  “Why don’t they trust us? It’s always something new, it’s like they think my twenty-something years of experience mean nothing!”

She is feeling overwhelmed with new initiatives and curriculum, with directives from the district office. Me, I completely enjoy these training days, these opportunities to gather with my grade level colleagues from across the district.  I love the chance to align our practice, to hear new ideas, to learn and to grow.  But, I get it.  I know what she is talking about: the pendulum, the theories that come and go, the energy required to keep up when it’s likely to come back to a basic idea we thought was innovative 20 years ago. We live in a culture of bright and shiny, youth and vitality, rapid change and constant pressure to keep up.  Yes, it’s always something new.

Let me just pause.  Take a break.  

A blog challenge breather.  I made it to daily reflection number 17, but it is the 30th today.  November is done and the list remains, another item in my pile of things to do.  Maybe the moment has passed.  The 17th of November has come and gone.  Gratitude however, is never ending.  

Let’s stop for a minute to appreciate the years, the experience, the tried and true.

I am thankful for my twenty-something years in education.  I am also thankful for the wisdom of my friends and colleagues who have spent their careers developing this craft.  Teaching is an art, and it is refined, practiced and improved over time.  Though the artist’s genre may change (grade level, subject, school) he will certainly bring his tools, techniques and depth of understanding to each new initiative or adventure.

The Teacher’s Bag of Tricks:  We’ve got ‘em!  Give us new curriculum and we can adapt it with ease.  I can apply the cooperative learning structures to any content area:  we go to 4 corners to chat about geometry, use the inside-outside-circle to discuss community, and select talking-heads to present ideas about magnetism.  I can set up literacy centers where kids work on words from any spelling list. I can present graphic organizers to clarify any vocabulary.  The learning games, the sorting mats, the routines and rituals; I’ve got my bag of tricks.  Remember what it was like when everything was new?  I’m very grateful for my years.  And thankful for the friendly face across the hall who is willing to share hers with me.  And still, I want a bigger bag!

Patience:  Close your eyes for a minute and picture the perfect kindergarten teacher.  Is her hair grey? Is she wearing an apron and a flowery skirt?  Glasses on the end of her nose? Wrinkles on those hands that are tying a shoe? Somewhere this archetype still exists.  Grandmotherly understanding.  Love and care and patience.  The kindly smile that knows, Young Mom, that your baby will stop crying when you say goodbye and shut the door.  The knowledge that tantrums will end, fears will be relieved, help will arrive, learning will come.  We know.  We’ve been here before.  And with this knowledge comes a certain calm, and a knowing patient smile.

Perspective:  I think that experienced teachers are able to take a step back.  We can see this child with a view to the future.  I know it’s a cliche, but it’s so true: You will let your youngest do all of those things you didn’t let the oldest do.  I was the mom who pureed veggies to make my own baby food, protecting him from preservatives!  I sprinkled wheat germ on his baby cereal and banned ice-cream until the age of 20.  NO weapons whatsoever… spitting dolphins not squirt guns.  But now I know.  In spite of my protection boys turn sticks into swords, and the game of tag is no fun without the story of good guys and bad guys to give it a context.  And they will be ok.  I’m not going to worry anymore about imposing a rule, instead I will enforce the big ideas - be kind, be forgiving, take care of each other.  Let them play.  Let them go.  And, I will nurture curiosity and creativity.  Let kids be kids, because love of learning comes naturally!

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Grateful for the Opportunity to Reflect

Blogging Challenge Continued:

Well, I have to admit that it has been hard to find the time to keep up with this challenge!  I thought that I would do a mini-reflection on each, once each week.  But now two weeks have passed me by.  Oops.  So, I will just do what seems to make sense.  Here we go…

9.  What can I do to create an attitude of gratitude in my classroom?

Today’s #sunchat was on the topic of gratitude.  I loved so many of the ideas that were presented, and there are a few I wish I had done.  It isn’t too late to incorporate them into my classroom.  

One idea is to keep “thank you” box where students can write notes to say thanks to someone.  The teacher reads them once a week.  My only concern here is that it could become like a popularity contest with some kids getting lots of notes and others none.

Another idea that I like is making this part of kids writing habit.  They should write thoughts of gratitude as a journal reflection once in awhile.  I really like this one, because it is private and might urge kids to kindness when they reflect on the kindness of others.

I love the idea of communicating with parents about the great things kids have done.  Positive phone calls and emails home to say, “I am thankful for your child because ___.” This is one that I have meant to do, but never seem to make time for.  It’s been one of those resolutions that I haven't been good at fulfilling.  I so much appreciated the notes from Ben’s 3rd grade teacher, Maestra Reed, who would email to say…”Right now, Ben is helping __ with math.  He might make a great teacher one day!” and other similar comments.  I know his friends parents got these sort of emails too!  

So… here it is, my "to do":  journal prompts, and notes home.

Otherwise, as I said in the chat, gratitude should be be expressed in the moment. It should be specific and genuine.  I want my classroom to be a place where kindness is a habit, and appreciation comes naturally out of care and affection for one another.

10.  Being grateful for humor. Share a story where humor played a part.

This one is the hardest on the list for me.  I find little things funny, or amusing.  Situations in which we giggle at an unexpected coincidence or appreciate silly word play.  Although I am not the type to tell jokes or create humorous situations, I can smile when they occur.  I enjoy the crazy things that kids do, and I smile at my own mistakes. Humor in my classroom comes from those wonderfully gifted kids who make us laugh every day, and from talented authors who share their craft with us.  I love to read aloud.  I’m not good at creating the humor myself, but I find it and share it when I can!  

11.  What is the most important “lesson” I want to teach my students?

I want my kids to learn that they are capable, creative thinkers.  I want them to experience the feeling that comes from completing a challenging task, that hard work and persistence provide a sense of accomplishment and pride.  I want them to know the intrinsic value of learning.  I hope that my students will learn to love learning!

12.  Share photos of things/people I am grateful for.  Family adventures!


13.  What do I do to take time out for myself?

I get up early in the morning!  Usually I am up about 5:30 am, and I read or I write.  At 6:00 my husband joins me and we have a little time to drink coffee together before the craziness of the day begins.

14.  What are 5 things I am grateful to have learned in my teaching career?

  • At St. Gregory’s I learned to value the talents of my colleagues, and what it means to work together as a team.
  • In working for Head Start, I learned that every family loves their children and all have strengths.
  • As a mentor to childhood care and education providers, I discovered that I learn the most when I am teaching others.
  • As a kindergarten teacher, I learned that organization is the key to maximizing learning opportunities for kids.
  • As an ELL teacher and Title I specialist, I learned to appreciate the relationships that develop over years of working with a student and his or her family.

15.  What tech tools am I most grateful for? How have they changed what I do?

I love the Book Creator app on my classroom iPads!  The kids are so motivated to publish their writing, and can be totally creative.  Right now, they are making magnet books to share the knowledge they gained during our science unit.  They must follow the pattern of organized writing with a page that introduces the topic, at least three ideas explained with interesting detail (3 pages) and a conclusion (final page of the book).  They are drawing, recording their voices, making magnet videos… my kids are creating!  I love the enthusiasm for both the science and the writing.

16.  What is the most powerful aspect of being a connected educator?  What am I grateful for?

I am thrilled to have discovered the twitter #edchat because it led me to #satchatwc and #sunchat which have become my favorites.  I have found other educators who are just as passionate as I am about learning and trying new things.  I’m grateful for a listening ear that doesn’t tire of my talking and talking and talking about my kids, my work, my plans for school.

More Attitude of Gratitude to come... on a day when I can find a few more minutes before my morning coffee!

Saturday, November 8, 2014

A November Blogging Challenge, A Big Job!

We've got a BIG job!
And in the words of my teaching partner Cindy, 
"We put our whole heart into it every day."

When I started this blog, it was my intention to follow the advice given to Skeeter in Kathryn Stockett’s book, The Help.  It was suggested that she "Write about what disturbs you, particularly if it bothers no one else."  

Not that I intend my blog to revolutionary or even challenging.  It’s that I am a teacher who questions the purpose of everything I do.  I value efficiency and relevance.  Everything that happens in my classroom is intentional.  So, I question the activities that don’t seem to fulfill my intent. To make a difference, I think we need to do things differently. Last year's November file, won't meet the needs of this November's 2nd Graders.

But back to the topic. Here’s what has been bugging me lately.  This is the thing I wish were different.

Worrying, complaining, blaming, criticizing.  

We don’t mean to do it.  We really do love each other.  We really do appreciate the great teaching that happens here.  But we don’t say it.  We don’t tell each other.  At Thursday’s staff meeting, the most frequently heard phrase was… "but, we have such a hard job!"  It’s like when I grump at my kids and then say, I’m so sorry boys it’s just that I didn’t sleep very well last night with this stupid cold.  I’m sorry friend, I know you wanted my help but I just couldn’t do that one more thing.  I’m sorry teacher-across-the hall, I wasn’t really complaining about you it’s just that I have too many (kids, new curriculum standards, expectations), too much (to do, to learn, to prep, to read) and not enough (time, energy, books, resources, materials).

Wouldn't it be easier, just to stop?  One of the things too many, that I know we can let go of, is the complaining.

Let's remember why we do this job that we love.  Let's remember that we love this job!

So the Te@chthought #reflectiveeducator blog challenge Teaching Through An Attitude of Gratitude comes at the perfect moment in my year.

And coincidentally, last week I also discovered the twitter #sunchat where teachers are spreading the #edjoy with each other and the world.  Here is their manifesto.

So the November blogging challenge begins!  
I’ve got a little catching up to do:

1. Best part of being a teacher - The positive energy that bursts from my 2nd graders every day!

2. One small delight I look forward to every day - Playing my guitar and singing with the kids who don’t mind at all if I am a little off key or miss a beat.

3. Most proud of in my teaching career - When a kid or a parent comes to me to say that I have made a difference.  “He loves reading now!”  “I am so glad she has you for a teacher!”

4. The nicest gift I have received - A note that says “thank you for… incorporating music every day, your creative ideas, challenging my child, communicating well…”  It means so much when a parent or student notices and appreciates something specific (though the “you are the best teacher ever” cards are nice too).

5. What are my strengths and which am I most grateful for? - I am reflective, I love learning, and I am a thinker.  I am most grateful for my varied experience in education.  I think it provides me with perspective and an appreciation for diversity.

6. A quote that has inspired me - Mother Teresa said, “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.”  We live in a culture of BIG and I don’t believe this is best. 

7. What new learning has inspired me? - Learning a second language has given me insight into what it is to be a learner… how it feels to be in the “silent period”, how it feels to be the only speaker of my language in the room, how it feels to be challenged out of my comfort zone.  Reflecting on what helps me learn, has helped me find ways to support learners in my classroom.

8. A memorable moment that reminds me of why I teach - a mom and dad at conferences who told me how great it felt to be parents talking with their daughter’s teacher about what a great kid she is!

And my first #edjoy on the topic of fun:
Good morning I love talking with others who are excited about learning at 6am on a Sunday morning. Fun!

Saturday, November 1, 2014

More or Less

Sometimes, I know I can be a little too…  

A little too passionate about my kids.  I probably talk too much. My husband tells me he is trying to be a good listener, but I can tell when he’d rather be reading his book or watching the soccer game.  

A little too eager to try try something new.  Yay for the Maker Station! Overwhelming and so exciting!  Glitter and glue, clay, paintbrushes, paisley, clay, wood scraps, hair from a wig… all in one creation.  Oops!  Fun exploring, but now we need to back up and do this thing right.

A little too happy to share.  My friend came to show me her smiley folders, colored with sunshine to present at parent-teacher conferences.  Naturally, I had to show her the ebooks where my kids are collecting photos and stories of learning and growth.  Oh… I’m so sorry I didn’t really mean for it to feel like a contest.  I might have made her feel a little less.  I wanted her to know that without her reminder, her conference check-list, I never would have thought of making a digital portfolio.  But that wasn’t the message I sent.

The thing is, I really do love to learn!  For me, there is no better way to spend a lazy Saturday than talking with authors and pirates like @burgessdave at #tlap and @burgess_shelley at #satchatwc or @donalynbooks on a #titletalk.  Watching videos about pre-Ks who state claims, cite evidence and justify their opinion.  Writing up lesson plans to share with the 2nd grade teachers at our grade level meeting.  I am so full of love of learning, that sometimes I forget others would rather be shopping or hiking or baking cupcakes in their time away from school.  Really.  I know there are others out there, in the twitter verse, the blogosphere, who just can't stop talking about school, and kids, and science, and writing...  So, let us grow each other so that at school I can be a little less and therefore, maybe a little more.  Meet me at a Tuesday #edchat or follow me @LovesSummerSun and let me add you to my PLN. I want to be a teacher leader (that was the topic of a twitter #edchat the other week).  But, this time, in this place, I need to do it quietly. gently. slowly.  After all, that is what we do with kids, right?  Meet them where they are and walk together to the next place.


Here they are, my ideas, my fun, my Saturday mornings.
They are ready and waiting, I’m happy to share.  My blog.  
A link here and there (writing below).
But, I will be a little bit less.  So someone else can be a little bit more.

I will wait until you are ready.  When you ask the pdf can quickly pop into an email, and we will grow together.  If I can be a little less, then maybe together we will be a little more.

And when she is a little bit more, she will come tell me about her math lesson, and I will share it with my kids and I will be a little bit more than before.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

So, I am thinking about conferences next week.

As a parent, there are a few things I have hoped to learn when I attend my boys' conferences.  By sharing this letter with you, (never really sent since they are older now) I hope you will know I am looking forward to and am anticipating your questions.

As a teacher, I hope you understand that I might not be able to answer all of these questions for you in October since we are still getting to know each other in class, but I wish I could.  So, I have written you a letter to get you thinking about our possible conversation.  Please help me to know your sweet kids!

Dear Teacher,

     Who are you?  Please help me get to know you, because you will be spending this year with one of my most important people!

     What are the interesting, cool, projects that you have planned this year?  If I know what you are excited about, I can help you!

     What do you know about my boy?  Please tell me something that you have discovered about my child... without checking your grade book.

     How will you inspire and support my son?  Let’s help him grow his talents and gain confidence where he struggles, together.

     Do you know what I know?  I know he can be difficult, I know he sometimes challenges you, I know he is shy and sometimes a show off and a little bit wiggly.  I also know he is brilliant and passionate and curious and cautious.

     But, what is he like at school?  Please share the moments you have seen him shine, and also your observations of the times he has been frustrated or sad or lonely.

     What will work?  You have more experience than I do with 9th graders, with geometry, with ... so much that I am not even aware of.  


Ben’s Mom
Thomas’ Mom
Christopher’s Mom

Dear Parent,

     Who are you?  Please help me to understand your values and goals and hopes for your child!

     What will inspire and interest your child?  Please give me a hint... how can I connect to your child’s passion?

     Am I on the right track?  I plan every minute of the day with so much care... seating arrangements, talking partners, activities for interaction and movement and reflecting and challenge and support.  But, I know I have missed something.  What is it?

     What does your most precious person say about school when he or she comes home?  Do you hear the stories about our inventions, our math talk, our book making?

     How do you talk about school at home?  Do you share excitement and love of learning?  Do you ask about our magnet experiment and whether our maps were helpful in finding a route to the library?  Are you eager to sit and read together?

     Have you read my blog?  Got my email?  Seen the newsletters?  And if you have... what do you think?  Are they helpful?  Is there a better way to communicate?

     How do you feel about your child’s experience in my class?  I hope you feel confident in my abilities, in my care and thought for your child, in my openness to hear from you!


Your child’s reflective teacher, Mrs. Davies

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Learning Targets: Teachers are learners too!

Learning Targets: Teachers are learners too!
The data is in... on my professional learning goals.

Do you ever wonder what parents think about you?  Wonder if they really understand why you do what you do?  Do they know that everything you do is done with careful intention?  Well, I wonder these things all the time.  So, I decided to find out!  

Teachers are always planning for student learning. We have Common Core State Standards for our students, and we make individual student goals with parents during Fall conferences to tweak these learning targets.  But, let’s not forget that teachers are learners too!

Though these were not all written up (our district requires two) I had four goals that drove my planning and preparation this year.  These were the things that I was hoping to achieve as a teacher.  

I reflect on these things every day, and after parent emails or student issues, or in weekly collaborative team meetings when we compare student data.  But, I thought it would be more meaningful to get some input from the people who were impacted most by the things I did in class each day, so I sent a survey to my parents after school was out for the Summer.

I asked them to rate me on a scale of 1 to 5 on the following items.

Goal #1 - To create a peaceful classroom community.
1= Sorry Mrs. Davies, you did not meet this goal.
5= Fantastic job. You went above and beyond in this area.

Goal #2 - To make sure that every child makes academic growth.
1= Sorry Mrs. Davies, you did not meet this goal for my child.
5= My child made exceptional growth this year.

Goal #3 - To make learning meaningful and relevant for students.
1= Most activities were boring or lacked purpose.
5= This year was full of interesting projects and activities.

Goal #4 - Parents will feel that their culture and family values are respected.
1= I did not feel part of this classroom community.
5= I always felt that my opinions, suggestions and views were respected.

The results:
The area in which I did the best, with an average score of 4.85 was Goal #3
The area in which my scores were lowest, with an average score of 4.3 was Goal #2

A problem with the data:  With only seven responses, this is not a very representative sample.  Hoping for more next year!

This year, I will continue work in these four areas.  There are a few things that I plan to do differently this year, and it will be interesting to see if the changes impact the results.

A Community of Peace and Respect
1.  I will discontinue practices that feel like punishment, even if I seem to be paddling upstream in my school community.  That means, no kids standing by the wall during “Beary Quiet Recess.”  We will earn it as a whole class, and I will award it more frequently.  In my observation, these wall flowers are the ones who need an extra recess the most!  

2.  I am re-thinking the behavior chart (flip a card from green to yellow to red, and if it’s red miss the school-wide reward) so it can be a positive tool in our school-wide PBIS (positive behavioral interventions and supports) system.  I need to have a conversation with the ILT (instructional leadership team), principal and intervention specialist about my feelings, and possible adaptations.  Can the system we are using evolve?

3.  I will continue and refine my use of Peace Circles (rooted in restorative justice practices) as a way of developing community and as a forum for listening, sharing, and problem solving.  I would love if this would entirely replace “flip a card” or “you owe me 5 minutes of recess” strategies.

4. I will ask parents for feedback on a more frequent basis.  I plan to use technology better, to ask quick questions more frequently.  I love the google survey - but plan to ask more simply and more often.  Need more homework or Less?  Morning conference or Evening?  Interested in a home visit?  What did your child tell you about school today?

Meaningful & Relevant Learning for Every Child

1.  I will increase opportunities for students to work in small groups, for intervention and also for challenge.  As the reading specialist in my school, I am very aware of the impact targeted small group instruction has on individual progress.  I have taken pride in sharing the learning graphs of struggling students,  at parent teacher conferences and with my colleagues.  But, I have also had discussions about closing achievement gap for a high achieving student (his gap was closing, becoming closer to the middle because he was growing at a slower rate than his peers).  So, make space for small groups at every opportunity (science exploration, math challenge, reading support, writing conferences).

2.  I will introduce a version of genius hour (passion projects, or 20% time) and a maker space in my classroom, in order to personalize learning for students.  I want to develop motivation and a love of learning that comes from exploring a genuine question or personal interest.  I want to help my students find joy in discovery.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Twitter #edchat provides good food for thought


This Summer, I have been trying to learn some new technology strategies, and one has been to participate in twitter chats.  #Edchat seems to be the most popular and occurs regularly, twice on Tuesdays.  Since the purpose of my blog is personal & professional reflection I though that some mini-posts once in awhile in response to the day's chat topic would be a good idea.

Honestly, it's really about the fact that it is soooooo hard for me to contain my thoughts to just the 140 characters of a tweet.  The hashtags and @ personIamrespondingto even take up characters!

This morning's chat was about staff meetings. The question was, how can they be more productive?

My thoughts...

1. Yes, share info though it has already been sent via email.  Some of us are auditory learners, or just busy, or might have missed it in daily many emails.  But, share info quickly.

2. Someone said that they should be called staff conversations instead of meetings.  I agree, if we are coming together, it should be for sharing and communicating.

3. Someone said that they value more informal gatherings, and hallway conversations.  Though I really appreciate those conversations, I think that if the ideas are not shared it can create cliques and exclusive elements within the school culture.  I want to be part of the great idea that fourth grade teachers are trying, and recreate it with and for my 2nd graders.  I feel left out if I hear about it a year later, and have missed some of the shared excitement of figuring it out together.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Why did she ask for a marble jar?

"Mrs. Davies, do you think we could earn marbles for a pajama party?"

Hmmm.... well, yes.  I suppose we can.
How will we earn the marbles?

"For being quiet, for cleaning up and working hard."

Maybe I think too much, but this simple question had me wondering about so many things...
  • Is my classroom too noisy?
  • How do I make quiet work spaces in a crowded room with 32 second graders?
  • Should a quiet classroom even be a goal?
  • Should I be trying to teach the kids who are distracted by noise and activity to tune it out?
  • Does she go home and tell her mom it's too noisy (Mom sent a glass mug and mason jar for me to choose from)?
  • Who will earn the marbles?  Can the finished early clean up crew earn for the class?
  • Do I have to wait for every student in the class to be... quiet, cleaning up, and working hard... before I give out a marble?
  • Will the marbles interrupt our lessons?  
  • Do I really want to stop mid-interesting magnet exploration to award a marble?
  • Do I set aside my desire for intrinsic motivation, to reward this student's initiative?
  • We just had a day filled with Valentine's treats and cards, do I want another party?
  • How many parties are appropriate at school anyway?
  • Behavior reward parties, or learning celebrations?
Let me tell you a bit about my experience and my classroom management philosophy.  But, just so you know... it is evolving.  

The Teacher Voice
As a student teacher, my mentor teacher from Liverpool University told me that I needed to learn to "use my voice, to project" as a strategy for classroom management.  I thought to myself, "I was a cheerleader in high school, I know how to use my voice!"  I like a quiet classroom, and I want to be a teacher who manages the room with a gentle voice.  My mentor was right in the end, the teacher voice is a wonderful teaching tool!  I use my voice to create calm, to inspire interest, to question and probe, for emphasis and dramatic effect in read aloud, to sing, to reinforce routines, and yes... to gain attention.  

Interest and Engagement
As a first year teacher, with 34 first graders and half a world away from home, my Mom was worried about me.  And, she had heard about this great strategy for classroom management from one of her teacher friends. She sent me stickers for rewards, and told me I should start a marble jar.  Yes, the marble jar has been around for a very long time!  Well, I gave out stickers... I used them to let kids decorate book marks, and folders.  But I never did institute "The Marble Jar".  My kids didn't seem to need a behavior system.  When I looked around the room I found the kids busy... reading and writing, painting and glueing, building and talking, exploring and making.  I don't remember any classroom rewards or celebrations from that time, in that school.  But there was a teacher who longed for the "good old days, when you could wave that stick and the kids would behave."  Was I just blind to the misbehavior?  More tolerant than some?  Are some teachers just tired and cranky?

Building on Strengths
This was part of the mission statement from Mt. Hood Community College Head Start when I joined them as a teacher/home visitor.   I was home again!  And I found myself experiencing some culture shock.  In the Land of the Free, the Home of the Brave, kids are encouraged to shout out their independence!  My most difficult student, in England, sometimes crawled under the table.  Here, every student had a mind of his own and was eager to let you know it.  Sometimes kids would express their feelings with words or hands or feet that hurt.  Naptime, "Not for me!"  Story time, "I'd rather build a road with blocks."  Some kids were loud, others were quiet.  Some were defiant.  I had a new challenge as a teacher for sure, to find what motivates each child.  Is it making my family happy?  Is it sharing my art?  Is it expressing my ideas?  Building on strengths, is about forming relationships.  When you know what someone is good at, or what makes him happy... he isn't the naughty kid.  Now, I have a mover who needs to wiggle.  I have a thinker who needs some space.  I have a leader who needs to a team.  I have a child who needs a hug.

Lesson Design, Pacing and Grouping
Eleven years ago, I joined a team of fantastic kindergarten teachers in the school district where I still work.  In my interview, I was asked about classroom management and I talked about knowing kids.  I was thinking about individualizing for interest and personality.  Part of knowing kids though, is understanding child development.  It is about setting goals and knowing what each student needs in order to meet his objectives.  It is about being able to find exactly where a student is on a learning path and providing the right support at the right time, and the encouragement needed to persist.  I simply can't do this for 32 kids all at once.  So, for me, it means making small groups.  It means pacing the lesson appropriately.  I do my best teaching... I mean, my kids do their best learning... when they can work at their own pace.  I encourage choice and independence by creating learning stations.  I love the math workplaces in the Investigations Math Curriculum we use, and when I learned about the Daily 5 routines for reading workshop I said, "Yes!  That is how it's done."

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Classroom Community: Who was included? Who was left out?

Who was included?  Who was left out?

One of my goals for this school year, as I found myself back in the role of classroom teacher with 32 second graders, was to build a true classroom community.  I read about Peace Circles last Summer, and remembered sitting in a "Magic Circle" myself in 1970something.  I made a collection of songs, and practiced them on my guitar.  I taught my kids to sing This Land is Your Land, This land is My Land and It's A Small World.  Today, in my mind, there is a bit of a negative connotation to the idea of peace and love, but also something nostalgic and idealistic.  I am an idealist.  I'll admit it, I like lofty goals.  The pragmatic part of me knows it isn't always easy or practical to include that kid who can't keep himself from bouncing all around the room.  It's hard not to send away the little girl who so often hurts others with the words she can't hold back.  But the peace loving hippy, the novice teacher at heart, loves the idea of creating a place for kids to feel safe and supported, valued and encouraged, inspired and loved.  I'm going to keep working on it!

Isn't this a beautiful picture of kids?  A circle of gentle hands, patience and sunshine?  Yes, it is! And, they are mine.  My little community of learners.  But upon reflection...  how many do you see in this picture?

     Who is included?  

These are my strongest personalities.  These are the ones who listened to my advice, "Be still... stay back... watch them fly... make sure everyone can see!"  But then, they couldn't resist the urge to inch forward.

  • Neither could I... but I'm the teacher, right?  The teacher gets to move, to touch!
  • The boy with the mohawk.  He's our scientist, so of course he can't resist the natural impulse to get closer.  Can't stop that curiosity!  Let him move forward, he brought us the tadpoles and newts.  He brought cow magnets, geodes and homemade tornadoes for sharing time.
  • The boy in the baseball cap.  He's the one who sits on a ball in class to help him control his body and pay better attention.  Look how gentle he is!  Of course I can't stop him from creeping forward.
  • The little girl I mentioned before, the one with angry words.  Oh my!  She reaches out her hand and crawls on her knees toward the butterfly... just wishing, just hoping, she might be the one it chooses to land on.  Just once, to be the one selected.  Wouldn't it be wonderful?
  • Front and center.  She is strong and brave and kind.  She is wiggling in, so she can scoop up that sweet little butterfly, and bring it to her friend still sitting in the circle criss cross apple sauce just waiting for his turn.  But notice, her hand is on the bottom of the pile?  She will bring us all up and along with her where she goes.  Can't wait to see who she turns out to be!
Who is left behind?

With 32 kids, this has been my biggest struggle all year long.  Who do I spend that extra few minutes of one-on-one time with?  Who do I leave be, because he will do just fine without me?  Oh... but is that the one who needed me most, and was too polite to say?  After 45 minutes of math workplaces, the one who whispers, "I was waiting... and you never got to me."  In the butterfly circle... I can tell you who is left behind.  But I worry because there are some, that maybe I can't tell you enough about.  Next year, I will do better.  

  • The independent, creative, and well... sometimes stubborn one.  She likes to do things her way, in her time, and yes... sometimes it's all about her.  Today, she wants so badly to participate and prove me wrong.  She can do it, she will listen.  She will wait her turn.  And, because she waited today... she didn't get to touch the butterfly.  But, she saw him fly!
  • Our wonderful funny one.  He's telling us all about it, and has his own little community in the corner of the courtyard.  Butterflies?  What about beetles, and ants and ... hey!?  What will happen to our butterfly with the bent wing?  What about that robin over there?  Does he eat butterflies?
  • The girl with all the stories in her head.  Is looking enough?  Will that butterfly fly so she can tell his tale?  Or will he get crumpled under too many feet?
  • The kids in the middle.  I didn't think to give them extra attention, to clear a path for each of them to see... I tried, but there were too many.  The moment passed too quickly.  Because butterflies sit still for a moment, and then they are off!

Some things I have read lately, that inspired this question of Who was included?  Who was left out?...

Peace Circles: A Talking and Listening Community

And these, make me wonder about our Positive Behavior Support policies.  In my classroom, in our school.  Who is included?  Who is left out?

Peaceful Playgrounds Campaign

Why Kids Need Recess

One Way to Wreck a Child's Education: Take Away Recess (Huffington Post Parents)

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Humpty, do you need a hand? I promise to be careful.

Teacher friends, I know change is difficult.  Humpty Dumpty is so fragile, but should we help him off the wall?

It has been a few years since I read the book The Help by Kathryn Stockett, but there is a quote from the book that I have thought about, when I have been thinking about writing...

Skeeter is given the advice, "Write about what disturbs you, particularly if it bothers no one else."

Sometimes I have pondered using this advice, but though I know most of the page views to this blog are my own, I am not so sure I am as brave as Stockett's character.  I don't want to unintentionally paint any of my hard working, dedicated colleagues in a negative light.  We all have strengths and weaknesses, and also differing points of view.  I know that the teachers in my building are all 100% committed to doing their absolute best for our children.  So, to write about things that I don't necessarily feel are right does not mean that I have less admiration for these friends.

My divergent opinions may not inspire an educational movement, or bring to light any issue as glaring as those impacting the civil rights of folks living in Stockett's Jackson Mississippi, but there are a few things that I wonder about.

Titles and Topics for future blog posts

1.  I have been waiting for Common Core Curriculum Standards!  I am an American, born and raised to be an individual, trained to teach to the National Curriculum in the United Kingdom.   What can be wrong about high standards for everyone, shouldn't we all have this in common?

2.  Floatin' down the river!  My bulletin board as a metaphor for what happens inside my classroom...

3. Time to teach vs. Time for Pinterest.  Cutsie vs. Content or can we work together?  Let's think carefully about how we use arts and crafts to inspire creativity, and teach skills.

So... which should I write about first?

Monday, February 17, 2014

Just because I can, doesn't make it right.

So I did a little research today, and the only colored illustrations of Alice in Wonderland by Sir John Tenniel (as far as I can tell) are from the Nursery Alice.  And, in the public domain.  It is so nice to find art to use on my blog page that I know is honest...

I will be honest, I have gotten in the habit of taking whatever images meet my purposes... for my daily schedule displayed in class, or for a classroom illustration of a concept.  Does this count as personal use?  Is this legal?  Am I pushing the boundaries of copyright law?  I need to do some further research, it is clear...

A good resource:
And a great edublog post: