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.