Character Education, Child Development, diverse learning, Education

Let’s Keep Talking

My last post was about my struggle to know what to say in the tumultuous times our nation is going through. As I worked through that issue and found ways to spread kindness, respect, and empathy…I realized the power of talking. There are some really tough conversations going on in America today…AND THEY ARE ESSENTIAL. We have spent a long time struggling to discuss tough issues and it has made us separate to our corners, pointing fingers, and refusing to compromise. As we look at our children and the world we want them to inherit (in not very long), THAT is not my dream for them. Let’s find ways to keep talking to create a better world for our kids and students to move into.

I have been a part of a couple of conversations this last week that highlight the need for these conversations. The first is with a group of friends who are always in each other’s corners. This group has held each other up through personal, work, and a variety of other struggles. We are super diverse and different but always supportive. As we discussed the protests, I saw the unique perspective of the police officers and their spouses. These conversations allowed us to all learn from each other the challenges, fears, and commonalities that exist in a world altering issue like systemic racism. We listened to each other, learned from each other, and still loved each other even if our viewpoints were not exactly alike.

The next conversation took me utterly by surprise. I was at Target the day after our big 5th grade end of year all day event. I was end of year teacher tired…which means utterly exhausted. I was at the register with a relatively new employee that I think is super nice and fast (always a plus)…who also happened to be an African American young man. I began asking him how his day was, how busy it was…babbling his ear off like usual. Then, I moved into discussing masks and how it seemed more people had them on this week which surprised me as so many people are refusing to follow social distancing state guidelines. Out of this, and I am not sure how, we began discussing the protests. He said he felt like these protests felt different and hoped it would bring real change. I told him (while crying just to amp up the embarrassment level) that for me the difference was when George Floyd called out for his mother. I felt like that moment crossed all boundaries and made EVERY mother who heard it understand our common humanity. It made me want to reach out and be there for him. I explained that I thought many mamas had felt the same way. I then apologized both for crying and going on and on, told him I was an exhausted teacher, and he looked at me and smiled. He said his mom is a teacher and he totally understood. As I went to leave, I turned and said “I hope you have a great day and sorry again…” He looked at me and quietly said “This conversation has been the highlight of my day.” Sobbing…I said “mine, too.”

Both of these examples made me feel uncomfortable, scared, worried of offending others, unsure of what was right to say, and left me feeling that I was both helping to spread and gaining understanding. I am sure the other people in these conversations felt some of the same feelings. But discomfort aside, we decided to keep talking. I have seen many articles that discuss the absolute REQUIREMENT that educators lead the way in opening these challenging conversations and begin helping our students change the world and learn from our mistakes. As a parent, there is the same requirement, to educate your kids on the tough issues…the ones without a simple solution. As educators, let us lead the way in fostering conversations that encourage the development of disagreeing without arguing and compromising without criticizing. The whole wide world may just depend on our ability to keep talking.

Here is a great set of steps from https://www.google.com/amp/s/brandyouinc.org/2013/06/01/5-steps-to-prepare-for-a-crucial-conversation/amp/

Here are some resources and examples of some powerful tools to use for yourself, with your students, and/or with your own family. Please add some of your own in the comment area:

For adults:

Resources to support children as an educator and/or parent:

Behavior Management, Child Development, Creating a Community, Education, Self Care, Wellness

No rest for the weary….

I am the child of true work horses. Both of my parents, by example, showed the value of working exceptionally hard and consistently giving effort. This is a valuable and important skill set. As a teacher, I am known for my high expectations for working hard, pushing beyond what you think you are capable of, and the value of constantly having a next assignment, activity, etc. I am not a fan of down time, games, hanging out….which is highly ironic given that these were my skill set as a student.

I am however being gently nudged to rethink this concept. Here is how the nudging has happened… First, I get tired and worn out more as I get older, teach longer, and face the challenges all teachers face. Second, this year my students have required me to keep moving in new directions to meet them where they are. I have realized that the stamina required to work hard all day with our extra long day may just not be there…yet (growth mindset)! Third, I watched a fascinating news story on the increasing research that supports the power of a daily nap or rest time. As I watched in awe, the CEO of a major tech firm, WRITES IN HIS CALENDAR DAILY A 30 MINUTE NAP!!!!! My first thought was, I want to work there…I last truly slept around 15 years ago pre-kids….and that I was mesmerized to hear him discuss that his most effective and highest resulting ideas came as he was drifting off to sleep or waking up from sleep. Here is the news story if you are interested: https://www.cbsnews.com/video/the-benefits-of-napping-on-the-job/

So – I would like us to discuss the power of rest. The news story today had lots of medical, mental health, and other experts discussing rest. They also shared that historically some of the world’s greatest minds and leaders (Aristotle, Leonardo DaVinci, Roosevelt, Truman, etc.) spoke of regular naps in their journals and other historical documents. It is clear, that the American idea of “pull yourself up by your bootstraps and make anything out of yourself by hard work” is just not aligned with the concept of rest. As Americans, we view rest for the lazy, uninspired, and somehow damaged people. The challenge now is to alter our thinking enough to see the value of rest in an educational environment. So, I got to thinking…what could rest look like in the classroom? Here are some ideas I have either used in the past without knowing what I was doing or even better, have learned about someone else using this with great success.

  1. Brain Breaks, Yoga, Mindfulness, Movement in the classroom: This is a growing trend in education for a reason. Teaching children the value and importance of the mind, spirit, body connection is literally life saving. Check out this amazing article from Mindful.org https://www.mindful.org/mindfulness-in-education/ and my favorite calming video by Julie Bayer Salzman & Josh Salzman (Wavecrest Films) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RVA2N6tX2cg
  2. Outdoor Education: My first career was in the non-profit world running large resident and day camps (along with many other programs). I love nature and KNOW its value. Yet – I have become stagnant with gritting it out in my classroom…some days never seeing the sun. Taking your class outside for a lesson, activity, or even a 5 min. refresh and regroup walk can center and refocus the mind.
  3. Genius Hour: Genius hour is a new, trendy academic concept of giving students time to spend learning about whatever they want, however they want. It is based on the idea that Google has in their company of giving daily “down time” for people to play and create. I just learned about this at a conference and am toying with the idea of when, where, why, and how to integrate. Here is a great starter site I found: https://geniushour.com/what-is-genius-hour/
  4. Maker’s Space – Every year after Spring Break, I have opened a “Maker’s Space” in my classroom. It is designed to help make the final push to standardized testing more balanced with this highly engaging and out of the norm concept. Every year, I vow I will never do it again and every year, I see the value of this program. Here is a link to Authentic Teaching’s Maker’s Space packet that helps align this concept with standards https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Makers-Space-Package-4777241
  5. Explicit instruction in work pacing, study, and standardized testing stamina and focus skills: For most of us around the U.S., we are entering the time of final preparation for standardized testing. In our state, students starting in 3rd grade (8 years old), are expected to sit for up to 4 hours, completely silently, no movement, while the teacher paces the classroom, and take a test. This is something most of us adults could not do. So, until this kind of rigorous testing changes (advocate and vote, my friends!), we must teach our students healthy ways to pace their class work, studying, and during standardized tests. I use this resource every year as a way to encourage students to realize stamina and focus are HARD, but skills they can learn. http://staff.katyisd.org/sites/raefourth/PublishingImages/Pages/default/Test%20Anxiety%20-%20Taming%20the%20Test%20Monsters.pptx

My new goal for remainder of this school year, is to shift my paradigm ever so slightly, to see the value of rest. I get the idea that students must learn balance in order to achieve. I tend to be so driven, that I forget that balance for myself and for my students sometimes. Take a moment and reflect for yourself, with your team, and/or with your students on ways to add a little rest into the school day and beyond! Maybe, the best idea, will come when we rest!

#Classroom Community, Behavior Management, Behavior Plan, Character Education, Child Development, Class Meeting, Education, Intervention, MTSS

Joy and Pain

Life is a series of moments….some are ordinary, some are joy filled, and some are full of pain. As an educator, you experience your own moments both at work and in your personal life. This is challenging enough. Then, you look at a room full of people, little developing people and you have to manage their response to life’s moments. It can be overwhelming, but for most of us that love teaching, it is our humanity with our students in moments of joy and pain that stay with us and make our job worthwhile.

Joy and Pain are a part of all things in life. As an educator, you are challenged with educating kids in whatever subjects you are asked to teach them in. This is a huge challenge in and of itself. One of my core philosophical beliefs is that students will not take academic risks (the foundation of learning) when they do not feel safe. Emotionally safe, physically safe, and socially safe are requirements for a student to be willing to take the risk that true learning requires. So, facing and managing your students joys and pains must happen to create learning.

This week, I experienced some amazing joys and some terrible pain. It was a roller coaster. I saw people at their very best – generous, thoughtful, kind and at their very worst – angry, irrational, and out of control. These extremes made me recognize the essential role a teacher can play in creating a classroom community that acknowledges and addresses these joys and pains. Here are a few ideas how you can do this:

JOY – Celebrations and traditions are a part of every culture and community around the globe. The reasons for this is that celebrating our human connections (birthdays, holidays, honoring tragedy) is the link that binds us. A strong classroom teacher focuses on creating moments of joy in their classroom both intentional and organic. Here are a few ways to foster joy:

  • Classroom Compliments – Fill your bucket, Leader in Me, Character Counts, and a host of other programs all highlight the importance of teaching children to compliment other children. Create a regular way for students to compliment each other. I use our school’s core values to have students pick one student each week at our class meeting to write and verbally present a compliment to. This is undeniably powerful.
  • Celebrations – It is a commonly held joke among my students and friends that I am not the most festive of teachers. We work…really hard…pretty much most of the time. That being said, I do make time for celebrations. Setting up class goals and then picking a whole class reward or picking a specific event to really celebrate with your students create a time for students to build community.
  • Content that focuses on life’s triumphs – Kids want to learn about people who have overcome adversity, heartwarming stories, or those fabulous silly moments in life (Mo Willems books anybody?). Read great books, study current events, history, or the magnificence of science and help kids see the joy in life.
  • Informal moments of joy – laugh, giggle, smile, take a moment to let joy into your classroom. Relationships based on genuine joy and care in each other will foster learning AND create a life long impact.

PAIN – It is hard to live through or watch those painful times in life. Teaching is filled with moments that can be agonizing, hurtful, and challenge you to decide again if you really want to be a teacher. Watching students struggle with pain from trauma, social pressure or isolation, or self doubt to name a few can be a very helpless feeling. A teacher has the power to provide a child with tools to address their pain and offer a soft place to land. However, a teacher must acknowledge and address their own pain with honesty and courage to do the work that must be done. You know, take the oxygen mask for yourself first philosophy! Here are some ways to address pain with our students:

  • Manage Anger – Anger is an emotion that is always masking some other feeling (anxiety, fear, stress, hopelessness, etc.). Angry kids in our classrooms don’t know effective coping skills to deal with their anger. Managing anger through a specific plan of learned skills is a gift to the angry child and your classroom. Check out Authentic Teaching TPT for great resources for managing student behavior full of tips. https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Student-Behavior-Motivation-Educator-Plan-4800920 https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Student-Behavior-Intervention-Plan-4800875
  • Create a tool to check in with students regularly – Weekly reflections, class meetings, a “concern” box, or daily individual check-ins with students can foster a way for you to key into a student’s pain. Once you know what is hurting them, you can be their advocate and guide through the pain allowing them to function better in your class and life. Check our Authentic Teaching TPT for my weekly reflection: https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Weekly-Reflection-4750316
  • Build relationships – Your students will learn from what you say and what you do. They will watch the way you care for them, your colleagues, and yourself. Build an authentic relationship with your students that allows them to see you work through painful moments for you at school and gives them the freedom to face their painful moments.

Watching some really angry people this weekend and feeling their overwhelming pain masked by anger, I realized that educators in today’s world are more essential than ever. We could be the only person who will look a child in the eye and say “Amazing, this is wonderful, you are wonderful, let’s celebrate!” We may also be the only person who says to a child “your pain is allowed here and let me help you find a way through it”. Creating a community of caring people who honor each other’s highs and lows may the most important teaching we will ever do. This will not be measured by any standardized test or score. This may be a tiny seed a teacher plants without ever seeing it grow. In today’s world that seems full of anger and pain, we must consciously and intentionally be the voice that calls out – I am here and I care!

#Classroom Community, Child Development, Creating a Community, Education, Self Care, Wellness

What is possible…

Oh, mylanta…as one of my good friends often says! The holiday season as a teacher is like riding a tornado, while holding an egg, and trying to still educate somebody! This short time between Thanksgiving and the winter break can be really challenging with special events, holiday festivities and crafts, and endless other things. All of this while we are trying to be merry, keep the order, and keep up with our own hectic holiday hustle and bustle outside of school.

Today, we managed to get our house ready for the holidays and my daughter is over the moon waiting for the return of our elf on the shelf. In our house, he does not make an appearance until the tree is up. So, tree is up…lights are on…and here comes Kelf. (My boys named him when they were little…enough said!) One tradition we have is after the tree is finished, we turn off every light we can find and sit for a minute to wonder at the beauty of the tree lighting the dark. In that moment, you can feel every one of us holding our breath and waiting for what is possible.

As a teacher in this season it is easy to lose sight of what is possible in our classrooms, with our teams, or in our schools. It is so easy to just be counting down the days with no objective but survival. So – I want to challenge us all to commit to determining what is possible. Here is the plan:

  1. Get a blank piece of paper and write “WHAT IS POSSIBLE” across the top. (If you are creative and color coordinated have at it…if you are like me…wipe the coffee stains off a piece of paper and find whatever writing utensil that will write closest to you and scribble it out.)
  2. Take that paper and seal it up in an envelope and address it to yourself.
  3. Choose one of two options: (1) Place this in your mailbox at school or on your desk when you have cleaned it off before break or (2) Actually place it in a mailbox (don’t forget a stamp) and mail it to yourself.

You see…when you return from this chaotic time and you are rested up…it is time to imagine and plan for what is possible. Do you have students who are struggling academically, emotionally, socially, or behaviorally? Are you struggling with the pacing for the remainder of the year – too much to teach, not enough time? Are you worrying about how to intervene with students not showing enough growth? Need to reset your classroom community and expectations? Whatever it is – open that envelope to find a blank paper where you can now write what is possible. New year, new possibilities, new opportunities to make a difference. It is an actual CLEAN SLATE – where you can imagine the possibilities.

For some reason, I have had several powerful reminders of what is possible when I am a teacher that doesn’t lose myself to the chaos. I have had students share strong emotions and feelings that need me to be my best. I keep running into former students these last few weeks who look at me and make me realize that for our time together, I made a difference. I have been unable to get one of these students off my mind…new mom to a 2 month old at 17, working at fast food, and seems better…much better than the last time I saw her in full trauma and crisis. I keep thinking about my time with her and how I never imagined this possibility for her. I hope that someone, something, and possibly in some small way my time with her has led her to a possibility that I hope will lead her to more possibilities.

You see…the holiday season for all of its extra work, craziness, and stress is really about what is possible. Regardless of your belief system, look around you at the faces waiting for something, some possibility. Every culture, faith, and people somehow view this time of year as the time of newness. What will you do to help make things possible? What will you do to move into the fresh new year with a focus on what is possible? It is a big job to be a teacher – but oh, the possibilities!

#Classroom Community, Child Development, Education, Guided Reading, Higher Level Thinking, MTSS, Reading, Small Group Novel Study

A link in a chain

Being a teacher is truly one of the most essential roles in a child’s development. As they move from childhood to adulthood, a series of significant and necessary changes must happen for them to become healthy, functioning adults. Our job is to be a link in the chain towards this development of higher level thinking and functioning. Parents, siblings, family members, community members, and other caring adults have a role to play in this chain but teachers must recognize their role and act on it.

The human brain is a pretty amazing thing. As we develop and learn, the brain changes, grows, and alters with us. I love to tell my students about “growing synapses”. First, because it makes me sound really smart, but more importantly it encourages them to understand the growth mindset causes ACTUAL GROWTH. In the human brain, small neural pathways form as we learn new things. These pathways carry the electrical impulses throughout the brain that give the world around us meaning. When we learn something new, new synapses are formed connecting new information to existing in our brains. This is why if you learn a new word, suddenly you see it everywhere. The word was always all around you – but you literally had no pathway for the word to connect to meaning. Once you learn it, “POP”, a synapse is born causing a link between new information and what you already knew. Try it…the word canoodling is a verb that means hugging and kissing with someone. Bet you see the word canoodling now in lots of places! 🙂

So, how can you be a link in the chain of development for a child? Here are some important things to keep in mind as you work towards this:

  1. Recognize the importance of words – A pivotal study was done that examined the number of words between poverty, middle class, and upper middle class homes spoken to children by the age of 5. The gap between children living in poverty and upper middle class homes was nearly 30 million words. This article links this study to the growth mindset. It is a must read! https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2010/03/the-32-million-word-gap/36856/ In your classroom, value words. Read to them all the time, talk to them all the time, expose them to words all the time! Make the development of language essential in your classroom. Here is Authentic Teaching’s vocabulary contract on Teachers Pay Teachers which supports the use of vocabulary in context. https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Vocabulary-Contract-4956632
  2. Don’t let fluency stop you from developing thinking skills – Fluency in reading and writing is an essential step in developing the foundation skills kids need. However, we must explicitly teach our kids to develop their thinking WHILE teaching fluency.
  • I love guided reading groups for this purpose. Guided reading allows students to talk about their thinking in a safe place where there are no right or wrong answers. Check out Authentic Teaching TPT for details. https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Small-Group-Novel-Study-Guided-Reading-4836948
  • I also find ways around the fluency by using read aloud for non-assessment activities allowing students to access text and demonstrate their THINKING without fluency in the way. Readworks, Storyworks, ActivelyLearn, RAZ kids, and Newsela all have read aloud features to support students.
  • Voice typing which is free on most platforms allows students to demonstrate their written thinking skills without their writing fluency stopping them.
  • I sometimes have really low and reluctant writers record themselves in a video of their story (Flipgrid is an amazing tool to support this) to get their ideas out. Then, we work to move the story from the video to the page by listening, pausing, and writing each sentence.

3. Explicitly teach higher level thinking – Inferencing and Drawing Conclusion reading skills are the most challenging and essential skills in developing great readers. However, we rarely teach these skills explicitly. Both need to be taught the way we teach a math skill like adding fractions with uncommon denominators – in steps that build on each other. However, we rarely teach the steps to students. Check out these resources on Authentic Teaching TPT on both skills broken down: https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Drawing-Conclusions-Flow-chart-4956576 https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Introduction-to-Inferencing-4956564

4. Be aware of the impact of childhood trauma on learning – Brain development is altered by adverse childhood experiences (ACE). It literally CHANGES a child’s brain. Our students that have experienced this childhood trauma learn differently, need different supports, and literally REQUIRE US TO PROVIDE SAFETY, STABILITY, AND FOSTER RESILIENCE. This is an incredibly challenging prospect, but can literally save a child’s life. I was absolutely floored by this article and corresponding study from the CDC/Kaiser Permanente. I encourage you to carefully read this article and study to impact your students who experience trauma. It happens in all socioeconomic groups, in all commmunities, and we must be aware of its devastating impacts on brain development. https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2015/03/02/387007941/take-the-ace-quiz-and-learn-what-it-does-and-doesnt-mean

5. Develop the social skills and behaviors required for their age – Understanding social cues and having the skills to navigate appropriately in the age group they are in is ESSENTIAL for a child. As a teacher, we must create a classroom that has high expectations of behavior in all areas: academic behaviors, emotional behaviors, social behaviors, and personal behaviors. Some students require explicit instruction on these skills to help them develop the self control to demonstrate these behaviors. If we do not teach the appropriate skills and behaviors to our children, we stop them from being able to function in the world. Stop and consider what the student who demonstrates the most appropriate age level behaviors in your classroom does in all areas. Now, start intentionally teaching ALL students in your class how to achieve these behaviors. Just like our academic instruction, we have to differentiate for some students and find alternate ways to help them on this growth.

Being a link in a chain of development is a daunting task. As a teacher, we can often lose sight of the pivotal role we have in our student’s lives. A friend of mine worked for years in high poverty schools. Each year at the end of the year, he would write a letter to each student in his class telling them what he hoped for them, admired in them, and what he celebrated in their growth during the year. He would frame these and give them to his students. Over the years, many students have found him on social media and shared the letters that they kept. They thanked him for being an essential link in the chain of their lives, helping them build resilience to overcome adversity, and for linking the broken parts of their lives with his teaching. We can all strive towards this kind of impact in a child’s life….THAT IS THE REASON WE SHOULD TEACH! Be a link in a chain for every child in your class…somebody’s development depends on it!