Making the Day After Work

I spent Tuesday night and very early Wednesday morning depressed but, even more, worried about how to get through the day. First, I was dreading telling our daughters the election results. I sobbed talking with each of them. (On the plus side, the 9 year old is young enough to be disappointed and frustrated but not fully aware of possible ramifications and the 13 year old is immediately move to actions on behalf of those with less privilege.)

School was also a concern for me. My 3rd graders had already been sharing concerns about Trump being elected because of his language about immigrants and people of color (my students all fit into at least one of those groups). I wanted to be open to their needs but not to add any stress if they weren’t feeling any. I had lesson plans that had been written prior to election day that we could use. I also began thinking about books to read, ideas for writing, and thoughts on how to allow my students to process their feelings and thoughts.

My students arrived and were immediately talking about the election. We ate breakfast without rushing (we often are rushing because our grade level is the first to go P.E., music, art, and such). Instead of cramming in our daily calendar lesson we gathered on the carpet in a circle after eating and I asked, “Is there anything you want to talk about as our day begins? Any questions or thoughts in your brain that you want to get out?” And I waited. If no one wanted to say anything that would have been just fine with me.

In fact, the first thing one student asked cracked me up. He said, “What’s in your shake?” (I make protein shakes for my breakfast and I drink them in the car on the way to work. On this day I couldn’t drink it so I took it in with me and drank it throughout the morning so the students had never seen this before.) I answered the question and then waited again. Another boy then said, “Donald Trump won the election.” Immediately voiced jumped in. About half the class was now talking. I stopped them and asked, “Who would like to talk about this?” All but about four kids raised their hands. “If your hand is raised, find a partner whose hand is raised and buddy up to talk. If you’re hand isn’t raised, you can’t find a partner whose hand isn’t raised and talk about something else if you want.” We went on to talk for the seven or eight minutes until we had to head to P.E.

When we returned to the classroom we had our morning meeting, greeting each other, playing a math game, and talking about how we’re all feeling in pretty general terms. One of the books I had decided upon before the kids arrived was Scaredy Squirrel. The book is funny and we needed to laugh but it also has some good things to discuss. So we read it. Then we started making a list of things that scare us. I started with ones from the book that also scare me, bees and poison ivy. Then I added heights because that’s a great fear of mine. The kids then shared some thoughts.

scared

As, at the end of every writing focus lesson, I told the students they could continue writing like we had done or they could write about anything they wanted. Almost all of my students grabbed their writing notebooks and began lists of things that scare them. As I walked around I found that most of my students had Donald Trump on their list. We didn’t specifically talk about that, but I hope that writing it down helped ease some of the anxiety.

After writing and sharing with a partner, we read Extra Yarn. I choose this book because it’s about someone doing something kind for others. It’s not an in-your-face story and there’s a lot of surprising twists in the story. We had some good conversation throughout the book about the main character and the ending.

After lunch and recess we spent some time reading independently. It’s always good to have some quiet time lost in books.

To wrap up our day we watched the final few minutes of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s I Have a Dream speech. Then we wrote about and drew our dreams. Here are a few:

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My dream is making people in the army be safe and people out of the army to not have guns.

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My dream is to be equal rights like don’t be racist and be kind and if you’re the boss of your job please don’t fire them and army thank you for saving us.

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My dream is that I want the world to be equal rights. I want people to use their words and no swords and no guns. We need our world be freedom.

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My dream is to tell people to keep the world clean. And never be mean to people that have different skin color. Friends are more important than things.

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My dream is to the world to be equal rights and to people to be nice to each other. And I wish we never fight. I wish nobody to care what skin they have.

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Everyone to be together and to not be mean to each other because that makes problems.

These are their words, their ideas, their hopes and dreams. That gives me hope.

Weekly Wrap Up

It’s an ongoing goal of mine to share or comment on blog posts regularly. Sadly, it’s an ongoing goal at which I fail regularly. Here are a few that really struck me recently.

bubble-wrap

from Aiza Zainol’s flickr This was a bubble wrap kind of week.

One Good Thing is a blog I never miss. I don’t always understand the math being discussed, but the celebrations of things that go well in classrooms is universal. This post especially struck me because it recognizes that students face many challenges outside of school that impact them in school. This teacher (who I adore thanks to her posts on this blog) went the extra mile of recognizing challenges, believing that negative behavior was not about her, and taking steps to show the student love and support.

I love the poems Miss Rumphius writes and shares. (Someday I’ll get to meet her…) This poem, inspired by Langston Hughes, is absolutely heartbreaking and hopeful. It left me astounded.

Another one I regularly love is Dean Dad who writes brilliantly about community colleges. His thinking around professors trading papers seems like a brilliant idea to me. I think it would make a lot of sense for high school teachers too, in many ways.

Reading Aloud

Ever since I learned I’d be teaching third graders this year (after eight years with first graders and kinders) I’ve been thinking about what books I want to read aloud this year. There are so many purposes for reading aloud and so many wonderful books. (Just to be clear, this is about our sacred read aloud time after recess each day. We read picture books, fiction and nonfiction, during lessons throughout the day frequently.)

  • To help students discover new authors or series that they will want to continue reading independently. These read alouds are chosen to help hook students as readers. I am considering Mercy Watson, Time Warp Trio, Dork Diaries, 39 Clues, Percy Jackson, and so many others.
  • To introduce students to new genres they may not know. We have an extensive classroom library and helping students find the right books for them is a big job. Read alouds is one tool in that work.

Day Before Kids Library 2

Day Before Kids Library

 

  • To help students see what proficient readers do. These read alouds are chosen so that I can model what I am doing as a reader. (This does happen with all read alouds, but some are books are chosen specifically for this.)
  • To help students think about the world in new ways.

We began the year with Donovan’s Word Jar. It’s at a great reading level for my students, it’s about a boy who loves words, and it is full of diverse characters. It was a wonderful choice to start off our year. Students found some copies at our Reading Is Fundamental giveaway so a few got to go home with their own copy of the book.

Then we read the first Mercy Watson book, Mercy Watson to the Rescue. As soon as we unveiled our basket of Mercy Watson books in the classroom library it was empty. It has remained that way almost constantly for several weeks.

We followed Mercy with the first Key Hunters book, The Mysterious Moonstone. Geeky, diverse characters who cleverly solve a mystery, fantastic. Now I need to get more of this series for my students.

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This week we started Princeless. This graphic novel is actually a collection of the first four issues of the Princeless comic books. It addresses racism and sexism with humor but quite significantly. I’m trying something new with this one. Thanks to Franki Sibberson I’ve given my students little notepads and pens to draw or write as we read. I’m putting the book under our document camera so students can see it clearly. We spent the first day with the book just looking at and discussing the front and back covers. I’ve planned the first two weeks of this book carefully, where we’ll stop, questions I’ll ask, things I want to help them notice.

I’ve always enjoyed read aloud time but I’ve never been this thoughtful about it. I’m excited to see where it takes us in our discussions, our thinking, and our interests in further reading.

There’s Nothing That Your Mind Can’t Do

I’m so grateful to Leah for this beautiful piece for my classroom. Not only does it manage to bring Hamilton in and is just gorgeous, but she couldn’t have chosen a phrase more suited to my philosophy about learning.

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I firmly believe that the human brain is an incredible machine. There is nothing that your mind can’t do. In Hamilton, when the line is sung, it’s not entirely a good thing. Eliza is singing about her worry as Hamilton speaks to her father about marriage. The human brain does seem to have an impressive capacity for anxiety. And anxiety certainly plays a role in my life in the classroom. I am amazed at all my brain can do when it comes to worrying about my students and whether or not I’m doing everything I can for them or if what I’m doing is the right thing.

But this quote speaks to me in a different way. I believe we are all capable of so much, often so much more than we believe we are. We doubt our minds and our abilities all the time. Having this constant reminder that ‘there is nothing that your mind can’t do’ hanging in my classroom will help me and my kiddos believe in ourselves.

I’ve worked with about 25 students every year now for nearly two decades. That’s a lot of students. I never cease to be amazed by their thinking, their questioning, and their brilliance. One of my greatest fears as a teacher is that I am consistently underestimating my students, not asking as much of them as they are capable of giving.

My goal is to start with a really high bar for myself and my students. If I need to add scaffolds to help us get there, that’s fine. But I don’t want to assume their minds can’t do something before we even begin. What I’ve found this year, with my 3rd graders, is that the more challenging something is, the more effort they’re willing to give it. I’ve watched them stretch and push when I think I would have given up. There’s nothing that your mind can’t do.

In Hamilton this line comes from the song, Helpless. I believe that because there is nothing that our minds can’t do we won’t ever be helpless.

Wait For It

wait

from Vadim Timoshkin’s flickr

One recent morning as I got ready for school the song, Wait For It, was stuck in my head. As I checked on my daughters, took a shower, and got my things ready for school I could not get this song out of my head. I finally paused to think about it and realized this title speaks to me so strongly as a teacher. There are so many reasons why I need to wait for it. I stopped my morning routine and began listing all the thoughts I had about waiting as a teacher.

Waiting is a sign of respect. When I am talking with others, especially with my students, I need to wait for them. It often takes children a bit to get their thoughts in order as they are talking and adults, myself included, often try to fill in the words for them. We finish sentences and thoughts for children rather than allowing them the time to do so. Waiting tells them that we value what they have to say, that their voices are important.

In a similar vein, I need to wait for it when students are answering questions. Some students are ready to answer immediately, hands waving in the air. Other students need a bit of time to prepare their thoughts before they want to share them publically. Both groups need wait time from me. Those that are ready need that that wait time to think through what they are ready (or think they are ready) to say. They can refine or even completely change their mind as they have a moment to think. Those who don’t feel ready need wait time from me in order to feel ready, to compose their thoughts into words. If I don’t wait, I’ll never hear from those students. I find myself, as I look out over my class, counting in my head to five or ten, forcing myself to wait and give them time.

Waiting for students to answer or share their thinking is about me giving them time. Waiting to respond to student behavior, one of my greatest challenges, is about giving me time. In nearly two decades in the classroom I’m learning that my gut response to student behavior is often not the best one. Sometimes it’s because I assume students are off task or goofing around when in reality they are having thoughtful conversations about their learning. Sometimes it’s because I am ready to jump in and remind students of expectations so quickly that I don’t give them a chance to self-monitor. If my goal is that my students become independent learners who are thoughtful, kind people, then I need to give them space to take those roles on now. They can’t do that if I am always jumping in immediately. Teacher Tom wrote about a similar idea with a much younger child recently.

Several years ago I coined the word ‘preflection’ (can I say I coined a word if I had never heard it before but apparently it did exist?). I wrote briefly about it then. All the waiting I’ve discussed here has been after something, waiting for students to respond after I ask a question or waiting to respond to students’ thinking or behavior. Preflection is about waiting before something, waiting before reacting or before asking a question. It’s about pausing to reflect on what I will do next. If I were better at preflecting I might not be as frustrated with myself about the “Talk Less” piece. I might more thoughtfully choose my words and therefore use fewer of them. The questions I ask might be ones that really push a student’s thinking in a new direction. Preflection is about giving myself the wait time I give to my students.

Waiting is one of the hardest things for me to do as a teacher. There’s a constant sense of urgency in the classroom, a constant sense of needing to keep moving forward. I have to fight that feeling every moment in order to slow down and wait. As Burr says, “I’m not falling behind or running late. I am not standing still I am lying in wait.”

Who Tells Your Story

Just as being “in the room where it happens” is critical for teachers, this question from Hamilton is a big one. This presidential election is a solid reminder of the importance of telling your own story. The same story is so different depending on who is telling it. We need to be telling our stories and we need to be doing so thoughtfully.

Far too often stories about education are told by those removed from it. Some reporters manage to tell educational stories well after talking with teachers, students, and families. Of course, telling stories is their job.

At other times educational stories are told by people in think tanks, politicians, educational consultants, and administrators. Some of those people tell these stories well. Others less so. The stories they are telling, though, are ours. We need to raise our voices. We need to tell our stories. We, the teachers, more than anyone else in education, know what is happening in classrooms (in the room where it happens for our students). We are the ones with students every day. We are the ones working with families. We are navigating the challenging rivers of local, state, and federal education policy while manning a boat full of students.

story-teller

from Nick Piggott’s flickr

Who tells your story? Tell it. Own it. Share your successes and your challenges and your questions. Talk about what is happening in your classroom and your school. Tell your story. But please, do so thoughtfully.

Do:

  • discuss challenges without complaining
  • share your love for and pride in your students
  • encourage your students to raise their voices and tell their stories
  • join forces with other educators to amplify your voices

Don’t:

  • whine about education
  • tell your students’ stories for them
  • divulge private information

In the Room Where It Happens

This is such a powerful song in Hamilton. Burr’s desire to be “in the room where it happens” is so strong and so understandable. Doors keep closing in his face. He keeps being left out of important discussions and times when decisions are being made.

It’s possible this song strikes me so much because I feel it too. As a teacher I feel great frustration at how rarely we are in the room where it happens. This can be as small as at a school level. Many principals and administrative teams do not include teachers in their decision making process. I recognize that including teachers is hard to do because we spent the great majority of our day with students. We do not have flexible schedules that allow us to be at meetings or ‘in the room where it happens’ when it is happening. It requires administrators to be highly thoughtful and creative to make it work to include teachers regularly. That said, I firmly believe it pays off in the long run to have teachers in the room. No one has a better understanding of how policies and decisions are impacting students and families than teachers do. As the ones living those policies and decisions every day, teachers’ perspectives are invaluable. However, not everyone agrees.

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I’m not convinced we need to be in these rooms, but why not reach for the sky…

As you move farther and farther from students, including teachers in decisions becomes even more challenging. But that also suggests how much more critical it becomes. At district levels, state levels, and at the federal level, those in the room where it happens are often far removed from students and from the realities of teaching at that moment. Teachers are with students every day. Teachers interpret the curriculum and regulations handed to them. Teachers make those things: students and curriculum and regulations work together. Sometimes that’s a significant challenge. Having teachers in the room where it happens would improve education for all students, families, and teachers. That’s worth whatever it takes.

Elementary School Teachers Do Rock

Quick break from the fun I’m having with Hamilton to vent some frustration. You may have seen this article, Why 3rd Grade Teachers Would Make the Best Debate Moderators. As a 3rd grade teacher and one who has been frustrated with presidential debates through multiple election cycles I was excited to read this. I was wildly disappointed.

It started off alright:

It’s time to do away with journalists moderating political debates and bring in the big guns: elementary school teachers.

I can be a big gun. That works for me.

It went on to describe the vice presidential debate. Then to explain why an elementary school teacher should be the moderator. That’s where it went so wrong for me.

If you interrupt or talk over the other person, your name will go up on a white board. Every following infraction will incur a check mark next to your name. Three or more, you’ll be removed from the stage.

Are there still elementary school teachers putting students’ names on the board? Still shaming students in that specific way? If so, that’s upsetting. I haven’t seen that in many, many years, probably not since I was in elementary school.

Then we move on to extrinsic motivation:

For every question they actually answer on the first try, they’ll get a sticker. If they get five stickers, they can go to the treasure box and pick out one of those cool pens with six different colored inks, or a “Make America Great Again” hat.

If teachers used this as frequently as is suggested here that’s all they’d have time to do. Thoughtful teachers move away from extrinsic motivation as quickly as possible. It’s far better for students to do things based on intrinsic motivation. That is something they’ll take with them when they finish that grade or leave that school. That’s what helps students become independent.

The final line is a good one:

Elementary school teachers know the importance of communication and words and how they’re conveyed, and should be our secret weapon in the fight against debates that don’t live up to their potential.

We elementary school teachers can be secret weapons in a lot of different ways. I feel confident that those will include affirming students and people rather than shaming them and supporting students and others in becoming better people for the long term rather than just for the moment.

Talk Less, Smile More

I may not agree with Burr’s reasoning for this adage, talk less, smile more, in Hamilton, but I think it’s a pretty good mantra in general. Especially for teachers to have. I’m pretty good at the ‘smile more’ part but I really stink at the ‘talk less’ piece.

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Leslie Odom Jr, who played Burr in Hamilton from photos taken by the White House

Talk Less

One problem I have is that I often start talking too soon. My brain hasn’t fully fleshed out the idea I want to get across. So I talk my way to it. Not a good strategy. It means I use a good ten times as many words as I should need. By the time I’ve figured out what I’m really trying to say, my students have likely tuned out. I would have. Talking less doesn’t have to mean I’m saying less. It means I need to be thoughtful about the words I’m choosing in order to succinctly say I what I want to say.

I also believe, not surprisingly, that talking is a great way to move thinking forward. As a result, I want my kiddos to talk. If I’m talking, they probably aren’t (although it’s not a guarantee!). On occasion I’ve asked colleagues to come in and observe who is talking for how much of the time. My own perception can be off in either direction and it helps to have an impartial set of ears focused on this question. I’ve also recorded lessons so that I can watch and listen later to see how much talking we’re all doing. My goal would be to have my students talking at a significantly higher percentage than I. Of course, this also requires that I’m better at the planning as noted above. When I do talk in my classroom, I want my words and questions to push my students’ thinking. (This is a place I fear I fail as parent as well as a teacher.)

Smile More

I know as a busy person that I don’t always smile as much as I’d like at my own daughters (or my husband, but this is about kids). I get caught up in everything that needs to be done, in the details of our days, and lose sight of the big picture. I would be surprised if I were alone in this as a parent.

I face similar challenges at school. There’s always more to do. Getting X, Y, and Z done before lunch and then A, B, and C before we head home. I have trouble living each moment instead of rushing into the next one. Because of this, I make sure I greet every student at the door with a smile and their name in the mornings. I want to be sure I smile at everyone at least once. Hopefully they get many more smiles throughout the day, but just in case…

In the hallways and lunchroom I try to smile at everyone, kids and adults. I know seeing a smile can lift one up. I believe if we all smiled at one another throughout the day it would shift the atmosphere just a tad with each smile. Our school would become an even brighter, happier place to be for all of us. It’s tough to be in a bad mood when you’re smiling and it’s tough not to smile when everyone else is smiling at you.

Talk less, smile more. I believe my youngest daughter’s fourth grade teacher has this hanging in a frame in her classroom. That might not be a bad idea, a constant reminder to myself. Four words, nothing life-changing in some ways, and yet maybe it could be.

Never Be Satisfied

In Hamilton, the fact that he will “never be satisfied” has positives and some significant negatives. He pushes himself to do more and do better as a result of never being satisfied but he also doesn’t ever feel finished. There’s no contentment with a job well done. Because, to him, the job has never been done well enough.

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Photo by Jurvetson on flickr

In my mind, this is surprisingly similar to most teachers. We will never be satisfied. I know this to be true for myself. It’s true for how I look at both myself and my students. Early in my teaching career summers were really rough for me. Life would slow down and I would have time to reflect, which mostly meant thinking about all the things I had not done as well as I had hoped. I would spend a good portion of the summer beating myself up for not being the teacher I wanted to be. (The difference now is that summers are far too busy for this so I just do it regularly instead of saving it up.)

I believe the positive to this is that I continually keep growing as a teacher. I keep reading, thinking, reflecting, and trying new things. Never being satisfied means never getting complacent. I’ll never be good enough but I’ll never stop getting better either.

When it comes to my students, this is a bit more challenging for me in that I’m not as confident of the positive side. As soon as my students reach a bar I’ve set for them, I raise it. Often I do so without even realizing I have. On one hand, that means I’m always keeping the expectations high. On the other hand, my students deserve a chance to recognize and celebrate their accomplishments.

Never being satisfied has its good points for both teachers and kids. I think it’s important to recognize it, however, in order to not go overboard. Keep stretching, keep pushing, but don’t forget to stop sometimes and see how far you’ve come.