Community = Positive…Mostly

One of the things I most clearly and firmly believe about education is the importance of relationships. Since our oldest entered middle school and high school I’ve seen this on a new scale. The classes she most enjoys each year haven’t been because of the content, but because of the teacher. This year our musical theater loving, fan fiction writing, highly empathetic kid loves geometry and biology over everything (except maybe American Sign Language). Those two teachers have built relationships with her and communities in their classrooms that have made those classes places she loves to be.

Her experiences have only solidified what I already believed and worked for in our classroom. Every morning I stand at our door and greet my students with a handshake, high five, or hug, their choice (or an elbow bump, something we started when I wasn’t feeling great and didn’t want to risk passing on germs). And, most critically, their name and a smile. That way I can be sure every kid gets a smile from me every day. Given how many hours they spend with me, it would be nice to think I needn’t worry about that. But sometimes there’s that kid who is just getting to me and I want to know that they get a smile. Plus, starting off the day that way can’t be bad.

I apologize when I screw up. That isn’t always easy, but it is important. I try hard to really focus on students and listen as they share things with me. (I may find it dull at times, but it is important to them so it matters.) I invite families in once a month to do something with us in our classroom. I send postcards home to students celebrating something they did. I want to know my students and I want them to know me. I want them to feel seen and heard. I believe that will make it easier for them to learn, feel invested in their learning, and take risks.

a postcard from earlier this year

All of which is good.

This past week I began to wonder if there wasn’t a downside. Not a downside to relationships or community per se. A downside to what it meant for my behavior and choices. As a result of the relationships I’ve worked hard to build (although, it’s really not that hard with young children, to be honest) I wonder if I take advantage of that.

If I’m really truthful, I’m not wondering. I have realized I do this. Maybe not all the time, but definitely some. Having strong relationships with young children gives one power over them. Even more power than one already has as an adult and teacher, which is plenty of power.

My students trust me, they like me, they want to make me happy. I trust them, like them, and want to make them happy as well. That’s part of having a strong relationship. What I’ve realized recently, and it’s taken longer than it should because I’m really good at denial, is that I use that trust and respect to manipulate their behavior. I know that they want to make me happy and I can use that to get them to behave or complete work. That’s not terrible, but I’d rather they behave to be respectful and kind to others and I’d rather they complete work because they’re interested in learning. They are human and I don’t expect them to do this all the time, but it is a goal.

Sometimes I manage to make this our focus. Sometimes I discuss with them why I expect them to behave a certain way. Other times…I just give them a look or a sharp word.

Sometimes I make sure the work I’m asking them to do is challenging in an interesting way. Sometimes I make sure they have choice in what they’re doing. Sometimes I make sure they get to share their thinking about their learning and what is and isn’t working for them. Sometimes…Other times, I threaten repercussions if things don’t get done.

I recognize that, like my students, I am human and I will screw up. My goal is to screw up less often. My goal is to work with my students in the community we’ve built rather than resort to manipulation and coercion.

Math Properties, Ugh

Properties in math are one of my least favorite things to teach. Not the ideas of them, those are fine (at least most of the time). But the names and connecting those names to the property. Especially for my second language learners, this is a challenge. In a teammate’s room recently I noticed something on her easel that was so brilliant I immediately stole the idea.

She had written one of her student’s names X 1 = the student’s name. For example:

Jennifer X 1 = Jennifer

I brought up one of my students and asked her who she is. She gave her name, looking at me a little oddly. I asked her who she is at home. She gave her name again, looking at me even more oddly. I asked her who she is if she wears a dress. She gave her name, but qualified it by saying that would never happen. I asked who she is on the playground, who she is if we cut her hair really short, who she is if she’s standing on her head. After a few, she and her classmates were chuckling. We talked about the fact that she is herself, no matter what. That is her identity.

We then connected to math and figured out which numbers in addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division allow a number to keep its identity. So far, so good.

Next up we tackled the commutative property. I asked if they were familiar with commuters, but that was a flop. I did take a moment to explain what it means to commute somewhere and how it is all about moving. I brought up two students and asked the class who they were. Then I swapped their places and asked again. Of course, this time my kiddos got it immediately. I moved the kids a bit more, but they didn’t need me to do so.

We wrote a few equations on the board to model this, such as:

8 + 13 = 13 + 8 and 8 X 13 = 13 X 8

We figured out, through our conversation, that this only works for addition and multiplication. Not bad.

Building our math identities at our Family Math Night.

I don’t think we’re experts on these properties yet, but we’ve got a better handle on them than I’ve ever managed before. One of the goals from here on out, for me, will be to use the names of the properties regularly to be sure students are hanging on to those. Vocabulary is a challenge. I feel confident they have the identity property, if not the name, solidly. The commutative is one we’ll need to keep playing around with to cement it more.

I feel like I should bake cookies for my teammate!

One of My Writers

One of my 3rd graders came in after a long weekend in January (we had a lot of them) and brought me this book. She had created it over the weekend and wanted me to see it. (After taking pictures of it and getting her permission to share, I returned it to her. It’s too good. She needs to keep it.)

The title, of course, brought me joy. How could you go wrong? Plus, she told me that she messed up the ‘h’ but fixed it with the rainbow. So awesome.

Such a fun lede. And the dancing cupcake is so unexpected and clever.

I love that Blue Happy Cat has musical notes around him. I firmly believe that it’s hard to be joyful without music. And Grumpy Turtle’s eyebrows are fabulous. And those crossed eyes. This girl is on.

The first time I skimmed through the book I didn’t really process this page. “His friends said to read a book called ‘The happiest book ever’!” His friends told him to read this book. The one he is in. So meta. Just perfect.

Every time I look at this page I have to slow down a bit because, initially, I swear it says The Fndu. And that confuses me. (Fonts are important. Sometimes I forget that.)

I don’t know if she had an extra page at the end or if she just wanted to draw wormy. Either way it makes me smile.

I adore that this child sees herself as an author and illustrator. That this is how she chooses to spend her time. A week or so later she brought in another book, The Naughty Llama. I don’t seem to have taken a picture of it, but that title cracked me up.

High-Quality Compliments

The day before Educon was the last day for one of my students. At the end of the day we all gathered on the carpet in a circle for our goodbye ceremony. I had a shell, held it in my hands, and said something special about the girl who was moving. I then passed the shell on to the student beside me who did the same. The shell slowly worked its way around the circle, gathering all the things we like about this girl or things that made her special. At the end, the shell made it to her and she took it with all the good thoughts.

Multiple kids were teary or crying during our goodbye ceremony. Some shared such thoughtful, caring ideas. Many of these kids, I would have sworn, did not know this girl all that well. I was wrong. They had noticed wonderful things about her.

I left that day thinking about how to bring that kindness and thoughtfulness toward each other into our classroom more regularly. I didn’t want us to wait for a classmate to leave for us to share how special they are to us.

Fortunately, the next morning I headed to Educon. In Matthew Kay‘s session he shared some things he does to help build trust and community in his English classes. One of the ideas, which was actually described by Zac Chase (as he’s the one from whom Matt got the idea), was High Quality Compliments*. In Zac’s and Matt’s rooms, if I remember correctly, the teacher gives random high quality compliments (compliments about you as a human being). These are random even to the teacher (chosen similar to pulling a name out of a hat). Zac mentioned this required him to always be focused on the positives of each student in order to be prepared for a high quality compliment. I knew this was my answer.

from duncan c’s flickr – and these would not count as high quality, at least not most of them

This past week I started it. Not exactly as Zac described, but modified for my 3rd grade classroom. Each morning one student is our meeting manager and is in charge of our morning meeting. At the midpoint of our morning meeting now I pause things and give a high quality compliment to that day’s meeting manager. My hope is that the kids will take it on as well.

The second day of trying this was a challenge for me. The meeting manager that morning is not a traditionally challenging kid. He’s well behaved and smart. He’s challenging for me because he often isn’t doing anything. During independent reading he will sit and stare off into space or reorganize the books in his book box (all five or six of them). During math he’ll look at the work but not get started. He’s quiet and not distracting to others, but he doesn’t seem to be doing much thinking. Knowing that morning that I would need a high quality compliment for him I started thinking.

We just finished up a nonfiction writing unit and his book turned out very well. (It was a challenge to get it down and often required he sit right beside me so that I could remind him to keep going. The work was all his. It just required me to keep pushing to get it done.) So I praised his nonfiction writing. My words were genuine, as they have to be for this to matter.

We had indoor recess that day and I watched this boy go get his writing notebook immediately. Maybe he was just excited about the new writing project we just started. And, I’ll be honest, he didn’t write for that long before joining other friends in a game. But I think it’s quite possible the high quality compliment that morning helped him see himself in a new way. A way he liked and wanted to continue building.

I believe there’s power in this.


*That’s what I’ve been calling them anyway. But looking back through my pictures I see that Zac and Matt call them High Grade Compliments.

EduGen Dialogues

At Educon last weekend Michael Doyle and I did a session together about gender. It was the last session of the conference. As Educon tends to be quite intense I was concerned the last session  would be a serious challenge, that those who were still there would be too intellectually tired to do much. I was definitely worried I would be that way! In fact, I tweeted that basic idea about half an hour before our session.

Luckily, I needn’t have worried. The folks who were there definitely engaged. We had some really interesting conversations about gender broadly in society, our personal experiences, and in education. People didn’t always agree, which I think is a good thing because it makes me think more deeply. One of the things that came up very briefly was dress codes. The conversation didn’t follow that tack but I would have been interested if it had (as I was interested in the various directions it did go).

Michael and I had talked about our own personal dress choices for school and we talked some about the societal expectations for men and women. But we didn’t talk much about dress codes for students.

Then I returned to school this week at the start of our third quarter. Our administration had made a video to review our district’s Student Rights and Responsibilities with all of our students. I showed the video to my class. It started off and I was on board. It focused on every student having a right to feel safe and able to learn at school. Before too long, however, it got into dress code.

So much of my district’s dress code is about girls covering their bodies. I know of kindergartners who have been told what they are wearing is inappropriate because it has spaghetti straps. Anyone who finds a five year old’s shoulders to be a distraction is a pedophile. Five year old boys are not distracted by their classmates’ shoulders. That argument is absurd. We should not be telling young girls that their shoulders are a problem.

As girls get older I am no more convinced this argument is valid. We should not be policing girls’ bodies in this way. What message are girls getting when they are told from a very young age that  their bodies are sexual? Not strong or powerful bodies, just sexual. And that the sexuality of their bodies is a problem? What message are we sending boys when they are told that girls’ bodies are such a distraction? I don’t think anyone is learning anything healthy from this.

Like far too many policies and practices in education I believe many dress codes are in place simply because it is what we have done for so long. Because no one is willing to ask why we do it.

Curiouser and Curiouser

As usual, in the days after Educon I just want hours to sit, reread, and reflect. That doesn’t ever seem to happen. (This week included the regular school stuff, Monday evening fencing class for our youngest, and the past two evenings spent trying, and eventually succeeding, in getting the same child the gerbils she wanted for her birthday.) At this point I’m not sure my brain is functioning at even 10% much less at a level that will allow me to reflect in a meaningful way.

So, if you’re looking for some great reflecting, I highly suggest you check out Jose Vilson‘s recent post and Michael Doyle‘s as well. I’m sure there are others, but…brain at 10% at best.

If you’re less picky about your reflecting, I’m struck by one of my tweets that got retweeted and liked an unusual amount of times (for me).

I tweeted that during the Friday night panel on curiosity. Trying to pay attention to the panel, think about what is being said, and pull it together in a tweet is a challenge for me. But I like being able to return to these tweets later.

This one kept popping up for me as people liked or retweeted it. At first I was surprised, it didn’t seem like something that would strike a chord. But the more I saw it, the more I realized it is actually something I believe at my core. The best teachers are the ones who stay curious. Teachers who keep asking questions, who keep trying something new, who keep seeking out new mentors and supports.

i feel pretty strongly about those four ideas too. Being curious about our students is a must have. If we aren’t curious about them are we genuinely interested in them, caring for them beyond their basic academic growth? Teachers should want to understand their students, know their students’ interests, and be interested in building as full of picture of each student as possible.

Curiosity about content and curiosity about pedagogy often go hand in hand. When a teacher is curious about one, it often leads to learning about the other. That said, if a teacher lacks curiosity about their students, then it won’t truly matter how well they know their content and pedagogy.

Finally, I believe it is critical that teachers are curious about social justice. Teachers should be interested in understanding the systemic issues that impact our students. Teachers should be interested in helping students understand those issues. Denying the existence of such structures and process that are build into our systems does not protect our students. It does the exact opposite.

This is why I tweet during the panel. I may miss some things but what I don’t miss will stick with me and give me food for thought for the long haul.

Multicultural Children’s Book Day

The actual day was Saturday so I am tardy to this party. However, as a firm believer in the importance of having diverse books available for children (being published, being sold, in libraries, in classrooms) I love this day.

This year I received Let’s Celebrate 5 days of Diwali!, the first book in the Maya & Neel’s India Adventure Series. Having had a surprising number of conversations in that last week about respecting cultural differences and respecting one another, books that help us understand other cultures are appreciated. The authors of this book, Ajanta and Vivek, are from India and have lived in the US for some time. I think that makes a difference in their ability to present one culture to another.

Image result for let's celebrate 5 days of diwali

The book is beautiful, with colors that are vibrant and inviting. It briefly explains the history of Diwali and then follows two children, Maya and Neel, on a trip to India during the festival. Through their experiences the reader learns about the five days of Diwali, some traditions, food, art, and language. Each page has a little text and lots of pictures, making it a good fit for early elementary. This was a treat because often books introducing other cultures contain a lot of information and vocabulary that are challenging for younger children.

I teach in a school with a significant population of Latinx students, close to 85% of our kiddos. I’m excited to share this book with them to give them a window into another culture. They often see themselves and their culture as ‘other’ in our society and showing them how many cultures truly coexist here could help them feel more a part.


Many folks work to make Multicultural Children’s Book Day happen.

Multicultural Children’s Book Day 2017 (1/27/18) is in its 5th year and was founded by Valarie Budayr from Jump Into A Book and Mia Wenjen from PragmaticMom. Our mission is to raise awareness of the ongoing need to include kids’ books that celebrate diversity in home and school bookshelves while also working diligently to get more of these types of books into the hands of young readers, parents and educators.  

MCBD 2018 is honored to have some amazing Sponsors on board. View our 2018 MCBD Medallion Sponsors here:

View our 2018 MCBD Author Sponsors here:

We’d like to also give a shout-out to MCBD’s impressive CoHost Team who not only hosts the book review link-up on celebration day, but who also works tirelessly to spread the word of this event. View our CoHosts:


Free Multicultural Books for Teachers:

Free Empathy Classroom Kit for Homeschoolers, Organizations, Librarians and Educators:

Hashtag: Don’t forget to connect with us on social media and be sure and look for/use our official hashtag #ReadYourWorld.

Post-Conference Thought

On the drive home from Educon this afternoon it hit me that I expect one of my colleagues to ask me about the conference tomorrow. When I return from a conference she always says something to me about how I should share with the team what I’ve learned, how they’d love to hear about it. I believe she’s letting me know that she thinks what I am doing is valuable and that she genuinely would like to learn what I have learned.

When it hit me tonight, however, it stressed me out. I don’t ever feel like I have anything to say. Not that I haven’t learned anything at a conference, just that I can’t figure out what to share. I think my colleague is hoping I can bring new ideas about teaching students to become better readers or writers or historians or such. I can’t.

Which isn’t to say that what I learn at a conference doesn’t help my students grow as learners, thinkers, and teachers themselves. It definitely does. It’s just that I can’t turn around and say, “Here’s an interesting idea you can try in your classroom tomorrow.” I no longer attend sessions that would give me something like that (not that such sessions really exist at Educon).

I want sessions that look beyond my classroom, that are bigger and broader. I want to talk about systems and change and theories.

I could still learn from sessions that share specific teaching strategies, of course. I am not a perfect teacher. But, two decades into this, I’m a pretty good teacher and I believe my time is better spent working on bigger issues. We could all be perfect teachers when it comes to helping our students learn the required content and skills and we still wouldn’t be fully serving them. The required content and skills are important, but so is helping our students look at their world thoughtfully and critically and know they are able to improve it. So is thinking about how we improve ourselves, facing our own biases and analyzing our own values. So is discussing how to have difficult conversations around these ideas with colleagues and families and community. If I could only figure out how to have what should be a simple conversation with my colleague.

One of the few pictures I took at Educon. This is Matthew Kay, a teacher at SLA, as he led us in a discussion about having difficult conversations about race.

I have every intention of writing more about Matthew’s session as well as several others and other moments from Educon soon. There is much for me to think about, reflect upon, and process.

So Many People to Love

I have a digital frame in my classroom. I got it after our second daughter was born because I wanted to have lots of pictures of my girls and it would take up too much space to do so. A digital frame gave me lots of pictures in a small amount of space. My plan is always to update the pictures on the frame and add some recent ones to what is already there, but that doesn’t happen too often. As a result, there are lots of pictures of my girls, now 14 and 11, at young ages. I catch sight of those pictures throughout my day and I’m struck by an overwhelming sense of love for those kids. Not for the people my girls are now, although I feel that plenty often too, but for the kids they were at 2 or 6 or as infants. I don’t want another infant or 2 year old or 6 year old, but it hits me how much I loved the person they were then. How much I adored that kid.

I feel some of the same emotions as a teacher. Seeing former students brings up some of those same feelings, that sense of love for a person who no longer exists. It isn’t that I don’t love the person they are now, just that the person they were at 6 can be very different from the person they are at 9. I can love both of those people. This year is unique in this for me as I am teaching students I had before. Years ago I looped with my classes but the summer break wasn’t long enough for them to change significantly. This year I’m teaching third graders that I taught as kindergartners. I look back at the pictures of them three years ago and am reminded of who they were. They’re the same person and yet not the same at all.

Who they were – the circled ones are in both pictures

Who they are now

Even as I love and adore the person they are now, whether it is my daughters or my students, there is a sense of loss of the person they were. They’ll never be that two year old or six year old again. In fact, before too long they won’t be who they are right now. While this sounds a bit tragic or sad, it actually feels like a blessing to me. How lucky I am to have the opportunity, as a parent and a teacher, to love so many for so long.

Morning Message Success

Not only did my Friday morning start beautifully with the boy who wanted to read more than he wanted to eat, but our morning message lifted me up as well. We do our morning message on the Smartboard and there’s an interactive component to it. Some days the kids write about something on it, some days they measure things, some days they drag and sort things. Whatever I can figure out that will support our learning and, hopefully, be a bit fun.

Friday’s message had them sorting books into the categories of fiction and nonfiction. Most of the books I included are ones we have read together this year: Last Stop on Market StreetUp in the Garden and Down in the Dirt, Bink and Gollie, Two Truths and a Lie: It’s Alive!, Marty McGuire, Mango, Abuela, and Me, Inspector Flytrap, The Three Ninja Pigs, and Juana and Lucas. A few were titles I have read parts of to the students or I have book talked for them: Shark School Deep-Sea Disaster, Hands Around the Library, Frightlopedia, Zoobornsand Everything Sports.

I took this picture before they finished. This was the first day, ever, they ran out of things to sort and were disappointed. Typically some kids don’t manage to sort things because they’re eating breakfast and run out of time before the morning news show so I often have between 15 and 18 things to sort for 19 students. On Friday, though, everyone wanted a turn.

The best part was after some kids had picked a book and sorted it they kept talking about it. They discussed other books we’ve read that I hadn’t included, like Enginerds and This Is How We Do It. On their own they looked around at the books we’ve read this year in our displays by the carpet and talked about how they would sort them. It was exactly what I want from our morning message.