#Classroom Community, Creating a Community, Distance Learning, Education, Self Care, Wellness

Make your own headline

Stressed, overwhelmed, frustrated, scared, disillusioned, divided…I have seen or heard so many people share these emotions since school began. There is no doubt that the start of this school year has put educators, students, and parents in a situation that offers no easy answers. There is argument about the school model (full time, hybrid, distance learning), the amount of work assigned (too much, too little), the way teachers present the material, the live on-line learning model and platform, the parent’s role in supporting their child’s learning at home, and on and on and on.

All of this has made too many of us turn on each other. Every group is critical of the intentions, performance, expectations, and style of the other. It is enough to make all of us throw up our hands and admit defeat. This is simply not working.

Then, you look up from your frustration to see a nation in utter chaos and it seems hopeless.

Each one of us has a choice in this moment. A choice to be part of the solution instead of adding to the problem. Each one of us has a choice to make our own headlines.

(original article link from Aleteia https://www.google.com/amp/s/aleteia.org/2020/06/29/87-year-old-man-rewrites-news-headlines-for-2020-and-inspires-us-all/amp/ )

I read this on social media a few weeks ago and the thought has been swirling around my brain – we ALL need to make our own headlines – every day, in every way that we can. Here are the headlines I want all of us to see right now!

  • September is for learning how we learn together – give it time… we will all get there.
  • Teachers give their best and learn from their challenges – be their biggest supporters.
  • Parents give their kids tools to be successful and overcome challenges.
  • School is teachers teaching and students learning – not a physical place or a specific format.
  • Be your best, give yourself grace, and make it work.
  • School becomes fun when we build a community together.
  • Everybody is going through a struggle you know nothing about…be KIND always.

What headlines have you been making over the last week? Negative, destructive, and divisive ones or positive, supportive, and encouraging ones? It is the time for all of us to choose our own daily headlines and stay focused on making the 2020/2021 school year great. Yes, we can make this year work, if we get out of our negative, divisive, way of thinking and move forward with making it the best it can be….wherever, however, and whatever happens. Choose to write daily headlines that make your life better and the lives of the people around you better. That is the real power each one of us has to make this year a good school year for our children, our educators, and ourselves….no matter what.

# Professional Development, #Classroom Community, Creating a Community, Distance Learning, Education, Self Care, Teamwork

Circle of Control

WOW! These are historic and unprecedented times. My friends and I joked we felt like we were in the beginning scenes of a major Hollywood pandemic blockbuster. Sadly, we are not in a movie. This can bring feelings of stress, worry, anxiety, and fear. As educators, we worry about our own families AND our kids that we have just sent home for an undisclosed amount of time if your school has closed. So – I go back to a lesson learned from the Leader in Me, 7 Habits of Highly Successful People by Franklin Covey. This concept is the idea that some things are in our control and that is where our power is. Our energy spent worrying about the things outside of our control ultimately harm us rather than help us. So – here are some tips to helping you take control for yourself, your family, and your students in distance learning as we go through these uncharted waters together.

  • Alexandra Keilen, Technology Facilitator and Super Friend, helped me create this one stop shopping resource for all of the supports in place for educators, families, and students during this time. Click here to get information which we will continue to update as we find information. bit.ly/remotelearn
  • Make a schedule – Endless days of rest, relaxation, and hanging out sound great in theory…but after a short patch these become tedious and boring. Set some work hours, play hours, rest hours, etc. Here is a great sample schedule: undefined
  • Zoom to keep in contact – My daughter had an amazing playdate yesterday with a friend and they were in TWO DIFFERENT HOUSES! Zoom is a free video conferencing app that you can download from the play store or the apple store.  To create an account, all you need is a working email. You can set up a sign up genius and do individual zoom teaching or conferences with students or parents. (This would be great for students with IEP, 504 Plans, or LEP Plans) You can do whole class daily live lessons at a scheduled time. You can meet remotely with your PLC or team of educators to figure out next ideas or steps. You can use it to set up times with your family and friends to “hang out”. Here is a great starter video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-ik5o6WptX0 
  • Use tools like Google Classroom or Microsoft Teams to provide students with assignments, materials, or resources – We are so fortunate to live in a world with these technology resources. For our students without internet access or appropriate devices – Spectrum and Comcast are both providing free internet service for families simply by calling their number. Encourage families to consider using an old cell phone that can attach to the wi-fi, tablets, etc. to have students work. For our most at-risk/needy students, look for ways to mail information or drop it off if there is little chance they will get any kind of internet support.
  • Finally, take care of yourself, your family, and your community. We have all heard and seen the stories of people ripping toilet paper out of each other’s hands or mistreating each other as fear sets in. What has NOT been as widely shared is the community of people everywhere that are reaching out to each other, providing services for the community, helping a neighbor, and so much more. If we lead as educators in modeling kindness, respect, and treating our fellow humans with love…we will all come out of this time with a renewed sense of who we are as part of the human family!

#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, Creating a Community, Education, Leadership, Teamwork

Leading your tribe

All of us in education are leaders of a tribe. For some of us, it is a general education classroom of students, an EC classroom, a special area class, a department, or as an administrator, a team of educators. This group is our tribe. Ubuntu is an African concept that focuses on the power of a tribe. Translated it means “I am because you are.”. Creating a tribe that is effective, inclusive, authentic, and fosters individual member’s well being is the highest art form in education. But when a tribe is created and led with greatness….the possibilities are endless.

So, how do you create a tribe in your classroom, with your team/department, or as an administrator? Here are some great tips:

  1. Lead by example – Children will not always do what we say, but very often they will do what they see us do. Staff at a school are a reflection of their administration and leadership team for better or for worse. What example are you setting in the way you talk to others, about others, treat others, and problem solve? How do you show the core values of your school, personal faith or belief system, or what you expect of your tribe? How do you care for others? I just had a parent contact me to tell me about a conversation she had with her son this week. I taught this student several years ago. His mom was discussing gossiping and he said “It is important not to stir the pot” (meaning spreading gossip and sharing what unkind things have been said). She asked where he had heard this concept and he said “From Mrs. B” I had no idea that years later this idea I try to demonstrate (sometimes not so successfully) stayed with him. Lead by example and your tribe will follow.
  2. Take responsibility – I saw a post on a social media educator group I belong to this week where a teacher asked of the group how to overcome making a mistake in front of her class. She said she did not know how to get over the humiliation of getting something wrong in front of everyone. She asked for advice from the group. My advice – openly and proudly admit YOU WERE WRONG. If we want students, our team/department, or our staff to learn from their mistakes…we have to show them how. I make so many mistakes while talking (I feel it is because of how fast my brain works, my mouth can’t keep up…but probably it is just because I am a mess..) that several years ago I had a student who was spending the day with me due to some behavior concerns from another 5th grade classroom notice this issue. I told the students to take out their science notebooks, but of course, I actually meant their reading notebooks. Every kid in my homeroom pulled out their reading notebook. I heard the kid whisper to the student I had paired him with for the day “Why are you guys getting out your reading notebooks, she said science?” My student calmly looked at him and whispered back, ” She speaks Barbenglish (my last name is Barberio). It is a different language – you just have to translate what she really means.” Since that day, I have informed all of my students they will become fluent in another language “Barbenglish” because I so frequently mess up when speaking. The growth mindset tell us to teach our students how to use failure and defeat as feedback (FADAF) and that every mistake is an opportunity to learn from. If you are unwilling to take responsibility for your mistakes as a leader, how can you expect anybody else to? You will foster a culture of “It’s not my fault because….” rather than “I messed up…how can I fix it?”
  3. Listen – I am often guilty of being a know it all. A common problem among educators and administrators is believing that they have all the answers. People want to be heard. They want to have their ideas valued and their concerns addressed. Too often, we don’t want to hear the complaining so we shut down any negative talk or become defensive. What always happens when we shut down people’s concerns? Their concerns grow and their hurt and frustration explode. Your job as the leader of the tribe is to find intentional ways to LISTEN to your tribe and allow them to determine how to move forward (within the parameters you set). My favorite tools as a classroom teacher – my weekly reflection and class meeting. https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Weekly-Class-Meeting-Lesson-Plan-Template-4837084 https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Weekly-Reflection-4750316 These two tools allow me to have a built in system to listen to students (not one of my natural strengths) and to allow them to find ways to make our tribe function better. Every time I implement a suggestion from a student our tribe gets stronger and better.
  4. Allow for different ways to make things work – In addition to my fabulous quality of being a know it all, I am a teensy tiny control freak! Okay, a really huge control freak…but I have learned over and over again that there are dozens of ways to get things done. One of my greatest frustrations in modern American education is the concept that “Research says this is the only way to teach/do…xyz) First, the research based practices wave is based on flawed thinking. Who does the research? Someone who generally wants to sell a curriculum or a training model. The research is designed to yield results that support why their curriculum, idea, training model is the best. As a friend says “You can find research to support anything.” Too many times in education, we are told that the way we were teaching with success for many years, is research proven not to work. Huh?? I was teaching that way…with success…but your research says it doesn’t work anymore? We get in our way with this idea that there is only one way to do anything. Listening to your tribe, reflecting on their needs, and ensuring that whatever you are doing meets the needs or culture of your group makes things work. I got stuck on having my seats arranged in a very specific pattern. This year, I was unable to make it work no matter how hard I tried. A friend of mine said “You are getting in your own way – think about it differently based on what THIS group needs”…and it worked. My most influential educational theory comes from the Research for Better Teaching. https://www.rbteach.com/ This organization did a long term study on what made great teachers. They found that great teachers had “drawers” in a variety of categories (management, organization, instruction, etc.) and they had a large repertoire of skills in each drawer. They would match the skill to the students in front of them to achieve success. So – leading a tribe successfully…well…it depends on the tribe and your skills.
  5. Be a servant leader – The most effective principal I ever had, started at a new school the same year I did. He spent the first month of his new principalship DOING EVERY JOB IN THE BUILDING FOR A DAY. I mean, every job, all day! He spent a full day serving food in the cafeteria, cleaning the campus, in a classroom in each grade level (without the real teacher there), in the front office, etc. He said that his role was to serve us and empower us with all the tools we needed to do our jobs. If he did not not know what we needed to do our jobs, how would he serve us going forward? WOW! Too many times, we do not take into consideration what our tribe NEEDS to be successful. We come from a place of “This is my tribe…I have all the answers…they need to do what I tell them.” Stop and think – do you even know what your tribe would say they need to be more successful? Have you asked? Listened? Responded? Leaders are not forcing people to do it their way…they are backing up their people with what THEY need to get the job done themselves. Leaders serve the tribe and grow more leaders.
  6. Communicate – How many times have people had the best of intentions with the worst of results from a failure to communicate effectively? Email is such a challenging tool because as my husband says “You can’t interpret somebody’s tone from an email.” How many times have you assumed everybody in your room, group, or team understood what you wanted…only to find out there was a barrier you never took the time to discover. A true leader IS RESPONSIBLE FOR EFFECTIVE COMMUNICATION. It is not the responsibility of the tribe to foster effective communication…it is the JOB of the leader to create effective communication tools. Communication involves listening (already covered), gathering input BEFORE you move forward, notifying people of changes or the plan, explaining your thinking/rationale, accepting feedback and rethinking, and/or apologizing when your communication was ineffective (also discussed). Communication involves authenticity and sharing who you are with your tribe. Being authentic in your communication allows for others to do the same.
  7. Grace – This was my grandmother’s name and my daughter’s middle name…it is one of my all time favorite words. Grace is this concept that you allow people to mess up, be human, be flawed, and you forgive them for it. Grace is the concept that we can be accepted and loved – even if we don’t deserve it. Grace is the most powerful tool in a tribe. Are you allowing for, modeling, and expecting your tribe to show grace to each other? There is a story that has made it way around social media. It seems like such a powerful concept of grace:

This story was recorded by Leonard Zunin in his book Contact: The First Four Minutes. Here is an excerpt:

“When a person acts irresponsibly or unjustly, he is placed in the center of the village, alone and unfettered. All work ceases, and every man, woman and child in the village gathers in a large circle around the accused individual. Then each person in the tribe, regardless of age, begins to talk aloud to the accused, one at a time, about all the good things the person in the center of the circle has done in his lifetime. Every incident, every experience that can be recalled with any detail and accuracy is recounted…the person is symbolically and literally welcomed back into the tribe…Perhaps this overwhelming positive bombardment not only strengthens his positive self-image, but also helps him choose to live up to the ‘expectations’ of his tribe” (Zunin 207-208).

Leading your tribe will be the most important thing you do to achieve success. Go and Ubuntu… I am because you are!

#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, Behavior Management, Books, Creating a Community, Education, PLC, Reading, Self Care, Teamwork, Wellness

Giving Thanks

We are just a few school days away from Thanksgiving and every teacher and student is counting down the days. For some of us the countdown is all about “the break”…getting ready for sleeping in, using the bathroom whenever we want, drinking HOT coffee out of a regular coffee mug, eating food at a table at our own pace and other basic joys of the teacher at home. We may be excited about family, friends, and a big feast. Our students may be ready for no homework, video games, travel to distant relatives, or long days spent doing what they want.

For some children (and some teachers), the break is not a break they are looking forward to. 5 days is a long time to go without consistent food, experience domestic violence, addiction, or family fighting. For some it is 5 days to survive until the safety of school returns. Many children will escalate their negative behavior at school to prepare for the transition to this tumultuous environment. Studies have been done that show that our most challenging students must create chaos at school to mentally prepare for the chaos they may experience at home. So, as teachers we must pay attention to these needy children and help them these last few days before break with a little extra kindness and patience.

This year, our team of teachers, has started a “wellness plan”. Each month, we set up 2 – 3 wellness based activities a week to keep us as healthy as possible. We share food, take a power walk together, practice the calm app in PLC, schedule nights out, and every Friday after school meet for Gratitude Friday. This has rapidly become the most important part of the week for me. We share some candy, cry, vent, laugh, and then we each take a moment to write things we are grateful for. We read them aloud and then pass our books around to write for each person present what we appreciate about them. I enter the room miserable many Friday afternoons and leave the room ready to go home and be mom. So, let’s give some thanks and gratitude for all we have. Here is my list of things I am grateful for:

  1. My family and its good health.
  2. The students in my class are growing in many areas.
  3. I have made a difference in people’s lives – a true gift to me.
  4. I have friends who I can laugh or cry with.
  5. Teachers have a voice growing with unity across our state and nation.
  6. I have food on my table, a warm house, and all I need to live a comfortable life.
  7. I am constantly learning new things because I am teaching new things.
  8. There are endless books to read that give my life meaning.
  9. I have health care… which is a surprisingly important thing that almost wasn’t… here in NC.
  10. I saw 2 former students working at fast food restaurants in the last 2 days…their joy, excitement, and enthusiasm when they saw me made every hard day worthwhile.

What are you grateful for this Thanksgiving season? Share your list here or on our social media sites! Let’s start a gratitude chain! Wait and see how powerful it can be!

#Classroom Community, PLC

Nobody told me I was going to have to say that…

For years, I have been planning 2 books. One for parents and one for teachers on all the stuff that nobody told me I was going to have to say. When my boys were little, I read all the “What to expect” and Parenting 101 books full of great advice. But NONE of the books managed to convey the absolute unpredictable reality of being a parent or a teacher. The idea came to me when I actually had to say to my boys “No, you can NOT wrestle in the dark , on the front lawn, with bags on your head.” THAT is an actual sentence…I said…out loud…and meant it!

So, this week’s post is a little different! I want us to have some fun with things we have to say as teachers that we never imagined saying. I was inspired by this hilarious instagram site from Live from Snack time who are the authors of ” I did my homework in my head!” https://instagram.com/livefromsnacktime?igshid=kh9jlt0sru8w Check these out and prepare to belly laugh and maybe even cry a little.

Here are my top 5 things I never imagined I would be saying as a teacher:

  • Number 5 – Please stop swinging your lunchbox like a ninja.
  • Number 4 – It is not okay to lick your hands while I am giving instruction.
  • Number 3 – If you ever see a snake at my feet during instruction again, you are allowed to speak without raising your hand.
  • Number 2 – People do not like it when you stand that close to them without speaking.
  • Number 1 – For the last time, you may not use your food or food trash as toys. No more frito bag puppets or fruit roll up ninja headbands.

Now – these gems are real statements I have made. But, the list is way longer and way wilder. Kids are an unpredictable, wild, and sometimes shocking ride. Teaching involves saying things you never imagined you would say that are hilarious and some that are heartbreaking. A friend of mine had a student in his class pass away due to a tragic accident. He made the decision to be the one to tell his class. He felt his commitment to being a classroom “family” required him to share the news and help this group through it. It was the hardest words he ever had to say. Words he never imagined he would have to say.

So, as you take a moment to laugh about all the things you have had to say to students over the years, I want you to do a couple of things:

  1. Share any funny statements you have made in the comments below or on the Authentic Teaching social media pages. It’s great to laugh.
  2. Reflect on the hard words you have had to say. The unimaginable words you have had to say and know that you said them for a really important reason.
  3. Know that your words have POWER. Use them carefully!

#Classroom Community, Classroom Organization, Creating a Community, Education

Filling the Space

Many of us spend more time at school with our students than with our own families during the school year. My classroom acts as a kitchen, therapist couch, cool teacher hangout, and of course, a learning environment. I keep all kinds of “stuff” in my classroom that makes the day work easier, that reminds me of past students and their gifts to me, and supports our day of learning. My classroom is often full of broken pencils, abandoned on the floor when my students “drop the mic” on learning at the end of the school day. (At least that is what I think happens…seriously how many students can just drop a pencil and not pick it up???) It has notes, lost papers, leftover sweatshirts or jackets, and a few odds and ends.

Every teacher creates their learning space. For some, it is gorgeous and color coded and super organized. For others, it is sparse, lean, and to the point. For me, it is homey, colorful, and a place for students to feel comfortable (which often means super messy). My focus is on learning and growing – so cleaning rarely makes my top 10 list of activities to accomplish in a day. But, this year, we were moved into a new building and our new classrooms have been a struggle. It has made me realize how essential your learning environment is and what message it sends to your students about learning. So, I have decided to “Marie Kondo” my classroom.

For those of you unfamiliar, Marie Kondo is a household organizer and decorator who has shared a very specific way of viewing our “stuff” and the role it plays in our lives. Here is an overview from her website: https://shop.konmari.com/pages/about She has a great article about cleaning with kids that I thought was super relevant: https://konmari.com/marie-kondos-tips-for-tidying-with-children/

So, as we enter the dark days of late fall/early winter (literally DARK with daylight savings time), I want to challenge all of us to fill our space specifically and purposefully to create the learning environment that fosters our classroom community. Here is my plan:

(1) Consider the seating arrangement – NOTHING and I mean, nothing, affects how your class runs more than your seating plan. Flexible seating, lecture style rows, collaborative grouping, partners, or any other style tell your students what you expect of them for whole group instruction, guided practice, or partner work. It sets the tone for community and how you expect them to interact. Here are some ideas I found online to spark your thinking!

(2) Focus on YOUR stuff and what role it plays in the classroom – I am sadly a teacher “hoarder”. I keep every picture, card, gift, little item given to me by a student. I store old magazines and even a couple of overhead transparencies of former lessons (you never know when they will make a comeback). I have worked hard over the years to get rid of a TON, but I can tell it is time for another intervention on my stuff. I am going to box some things, throw some things away, give some things away, and decided what I NEED for my classroom to run well.

(3) Look at your SYSTEMS for “stuff” – Where do your papers get turned in? Where do the kids keep their materials? Are there classroom materials available to people and how do they access them? Where do extra supplies go? Where do your papers and materials stay? What jobs do students have to maintain their desks, supplies, classroom cleanliness, etc.?

(4) Focus on the environment itself – What is on your walls? What is the decor, information, or ambiance of your classroom? Does it match your teaching goals and style? Take some time to look at your classroom from the student’s perspective and find out what message you are sending.

The physical environment of your classroom can define so much about your classroom community and how kids learn. In spite of the million things on our to-do list, this essential component should not be overlooked. I know when my house is organized and neat, I feel better, work better, and relax better. Now, it is time to get out the trash bags and cleaning supplies to reorganize my room into the learning environment I am always trying to create! Find some joy in your environment because an organized, clean space can be the boost we all need this time of year!

#Classroom Community, Character Education, PLC, Recipes, Self Care

Remembering your Purpose

Being a teacher comes with wearing many different hats. Today’s educators are instructors, counselors, social workers, behavioral specialists, special educators, nurses, and much more. These different roles can cause a teacher to feel overwhelmed or to struggle. So, it is time, in the late days of October when the weather causes inside recess more often; to reflect on your PURPOSE as an educator.

I watched two contestants on a singing competition who had both overcome great tragedy in their childhood and early adult life and were now on national TV. As they entered their first coaching session with superstars one of them looked at the other and said “There is a reason I am here so that some little girl can see someone like them who made it here and there is a reason you are here so that some little boy can see someone like them who made it here. Let’s go fulfill our purpose.” WOW…it was emotional and inspiring to watch people overcoming adversity, recognizing their power, and seeking to give back. So, we teachers need to take a breath and remind ourselves of our purpose. Here are a few words for thought:

  1. There is a child in your class who needs you. You…specifically you…to show them the way. Most likely they are your biggest challenge. So, remember your purpose!
  2. Take time to self-correct. I shared this amazing clip from the Ellen show when teaching a character lesson on helpfulness. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QntBkDFkiuY&disable_polymer=true In it, the boys were noted for having the presence of mind to “self correct”. What are you doing that needs some self correcting? Complaining too much, overworking yourself, staying mired in the “admin says I have to” mindset….whatever it is self correct and remember your purpose.
  3. Be kind. Everybody is going through a struggle you know nothing about – be kind always. This quote is so important in our world today. Be intentionally kind to kids, parents, teammates, yourself – whether or not they deserve it or ask for it. Remember your purpose.
  4. Focus on your world inside your classroom. Never forget that there is ALWAYS more work than you can do in a day. You can always get caught up in the million issues outside your doors. So, re-focus on your classroom and remember your purpose.
  5. Remember to laugh. Sometimes you have to laugh so you don’t cry. That is absolutely true and sometimes you really do need to just have a good laugh (or a good cry) and remember your purpose.

Now – a vegetable with several purposes is the Zucchini. You may want to ask me “Why are you talking about zucchini all of the sudden?” That was an odd jump, I know! I am talking about zucchini because of my new obsession – zucchini bread. Zucchini can be savory or sweet. Zucchini has many purposes in the kitchen – just like a teacher does at school. So, here is my favorite recipe for zucchini bread – seriously delish! Enjoy!

Zucchini Bread

Preheat your oven to 325 degrees. Decide on your pan (traditional loaf or mini-loaf pans). Then, get your zucchini ready. I think the easiest way is to put it into your food processor until it is in little tiny bits. You can also grate it – but that takes forever…so go with the food processor.

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 t. salt
  • 1 t. baking soda
  • 1 t. baking powder
  • 1 Tablespoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 – 1 t. fresh ground nutmeg
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 c. vegetable oil (not olive oil)
  • 2 1/4 c. white granulated sugar
  • 3 t. vanilla extract (real not imitation)
  • 2 c. grated (see directions above) zucchini
  • OPTIONAL – 1 c. nuts (walnuts or pecans are best) and/or 1/2 c. of raisins
  1. After you have grated your zucchini – set it to the side.
  2. Into a stand mixer or large mixing bowl (with a hand mixer) put your eggs, oil, and granulated sugar. Mix these for a good 2 – 3 minutes until light and fluffy.
  3. Add in flour with salt, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, and nutmeg. NOW – I am not a sifter – but in theory – you should sift these together. What I do is measure out 1 c. of the flour and put the salt, baking soda, and baking powder on top. Then I mix that in fully. I then add in one more cup of flour with the cinnamon on top and mix that in fully. Finally, I add in the third cup of flour with the ground nutmeg on top (which I grate myself with a microplane) and mix that in fully.
  4. Add in your vanilla and zucchini – the batter will seem super thick and weird until you add in the zucchini. Magically, it will loosen up and form this sticky, amazing batter.
  5. Finally, if your kids are not picky like mine are – fold in the nuts and/or raisins. If your kids are picky – make one loaf pan WITH and one loaf pan without. (I pour out the batter without the good stuff in it first into a pan I have sprayed with cooking spray). Then, I add in my nuts/raisins to the leftover batter in my mixing bowl and pour that into the other loaf pan. The beauty of this is you get one whole loaf pan basically to yourself…since the kids will only eat when desperate.
  6. Bake for 40-60 min. until the center comes out clean. This bread is NOT great undercooked (like I suggested with banana bread). So, make sure it is cooked all the way. The top gets super crunchy, toasty brown, and delicious.
  7. NOW – if you are going for the “Be Kind” step up top – take it to work and share with your friends. If you are going for the “Remember to laugh”, then hide it in your kitchen and laugh while nobody else gets any! 🙂

We all have a purpose in the world. Zucchini has MANY purposes – which is why it is a delicious choice! What is your purpose in the world and how do you remind yourself of it? While you eat your zucchini bread – take some time to figure out your purpose right now, right here, in this place in your life and education career.

#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!