Saturday, December 31, 2011

Daily 5 gets a face lift

Our family just returned from spending Christmas at Disney. Have you ever been? To say it's magical is an understatement. My sister, brother-in-law, husband and I surprised our 4 girls by giving them t-shirts that said "I'm going Disney World for Christmas". They unwrapped them minutes before we whisked them off to the airport. It was exactly what I needed after a rough fall; I smiled every minute of every day for 6 days. I feel so unbelievably refreshed. Laughter is indeed the best medicine.

While I promised my family (and more importantly, myself) that I wouldn't think about teaching while we were at Disney, I came home inspired. I decided that it was time to make learning magical and fun again.

If you've read my previous posts this fall, you'll know that we've been in learning lock-down. A big part of what finally got us on the learning track was the "no stimulation"  plan I put my firsties on. What had always worked with my other classes simply did not work with this one. On the flight home I began to think seriously about how I could keep the teaching ball rolling, but make my students thrown down their cereal spoons and rush off to school every morning.

The one area that I had reduced down to a simple stock was our Daily 5 routine. We had gone from free choice of a lovely variety to whole-group activities. As I began thinking about how I could change it up, I broke up readers workshop into the 4 main areas we, as a class, focus on: reading, working with words, writing, and listening to reading (you'll notice on the wheel that Read to Self is missing. For now, we do this all together at the end of the day). These 4 areas support the learning areas of fluency, accuracy, writing, and some comprehension. Comprehension is still an activity that we do as whole group/guided release. Each area has many activities that we do; as I just said, up until now we have done nearly all of them together at one time. I decided to add some new activities; they will have to be taught and practiced one at a time until I can release them to be done independently. I will lose some instruction time doing this, but it's important to spice things up for the long stretch between Christmas and spring break.

I have 22 students, and the best way I could divide up the 4 D5 areas was to create 24 activities. I used a wheel configuration, because the activities need to rotate, and I needed it to be as easy to do mechanically as possible. I knew that moving clips or clothespins would be too time-consuming for me, and would have me scrambling when what we really need are smooth transitions. The double-faced wheel has a gromit in the middle that holds that names and activities together, and allows quick and easy changing.

Here is the table I used to organize my thoughts about the order of the activities. (You can download my templates at https://sites.google.com/site/mrsmsstuff/matrix) You can alter as you need to, since it's a word doc. The wheel is a bit more difficult to share, since I created it in Adobe Illustrator. I created a blank PDF so that it can be printed, assembled and personalized with drawing and handwriting. You will need to print 8 of the wheel templates; it is broken into a aingle quarter, and you will need a full circle for the names, and a full circle for the activities (simply cut the outer ring off for the inner circle).

As far as adding a little excitement goes, the time has come to finally implement those darn iTouches as well. I have them all set up identically, with videos of the songs and lyrics that we sing in class (to work on fluency). The one exception has the game "Don't Let the Pigeon Run This App", which will be a real treat for the kids once every full rotation.

Now it's just to print, trim, and laminate. Then I'll be ready to relaunch a new and improved D5 guaranteed to spice up our mid-winter.

Monday, December 19, 2011

All that glitters...

Next December, please remind me that hand-painted ornaments coated in glitter are a huge time commitment and a giant mess-maker. Remind me that I said the kids won't really ever remember them, or hang onto them into old age ("Oh Johnny, careful with that ornament. It's an antique, and very special. Granny's first grade teacher made that for her. She must have really loved your Granny!") and remind me that I said it would be ok to just buy something already made or maybe a pre-fab kit could do the trick.

I won't listen to you, but remind me anyway. That way I can't say I wasn't warned when I embark on yet another long night of painting and glittering. I'll have no one to blame but myself.

Like it's all torture, right? Face it, if I didn't sacrifice at least one long December night to making ornaments for my kiddos, then it just wouldn't be right. And it's true that the kids will grow up into adults and these hand-made bits of love won't follow them to college, but I can't help but think that someday they will realize that only people who really, really care about you make you things by hand. They will understand that nothing says I Love You like Martha Stewart fine glitter.

The "No Stimulus" package seems to be working. My kids have been teachable, and that's a dream this time of year. It's true I had to ban Smencils, and movies are out of the question, but things are good. We are clipping along, making up for lost time. I am teaching, they are learning, and everything is right in the world.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Headlights

I was startled out of my post-concert stupor by 5 first graders gathered around the sink shrieking "Headlights! Headlights in the sink! Headlights in the sink!" I know what they think headlights are, so I scrambled over to see what the heck they were talking about. Sure enough, scurrying around the bottom of the sink is a Silverfish.

I had to admit, I could see the resemblance. Five years ago I was teaching guided reading and watched in horror as a giant lice came out for a stroll on one of my student's forehead. Granted, I was a little traumatized, but I do remember thinking the pencil-lead grey bug did look a bit like a Silverfish. Except not so shiny and pretty.

The "headlight" sent them off on into a frenzy, and it took awhile to settle everyone back down.


Veering off onto a completely different topic (but one almost as icky as lice), we received an email about a revision to our "employee handbook". In case you haven't been keeping up with the news, in Wisconsin things are a bit unsettled for teachers and other public employees. We lost our contracts, which the wording of had been built over decades and lots of finessing on the parts of the school board and our negotiators who represented us teachers. With that gone, something had to replace the legal-and-business aspects of our employment. Enter the "employee handbook".

Let's just put politics aside for a moment, as this has less to do with left or right and more about the assumption that we are still waiting for Superman. The issue that has everyone in an uproar is a new way to determine layoff potentials. Instead of the usual tenure-based system of seniority by years in service, it appears now that our employment will be based on a) performance b) credentials and beyond-initial-licensure education and c) years in service - in that order.

At first glance, I was actually a bit psyched about this. I'm a good teacher, I'm getting my masters and thinking about education beyond that, but I have few years in the district. It would seem unwise to keep a more senior, but less talented teacher in the place of a newer but more effective teacher. Cut and dry, right? Not so much, it appears. Should I be sweating it because my students are not making the expected progress in reading this year? I am working hard to teach them and help them learn, but would that be enough in the light of an evaluation that took reading levels into account as a priority?

I can understand the fear of this new system, even though I think it might keep us all on our toes. And we really do need to be on our toes if we are going to teach the kids that we are raising these days. I wouldn't accept mediocre care from a doctor, and if the oil-change guy consistently shorted me half of a quart of oil every change I'd be finding a new place to change my oil. I don't think that we can accept any less than the highest standards for our art and ourselves. If only teaching wasn't such a subjective art.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

"...because it was full of peanuts!" and other Big Thoughts for the day

Today was our first grade singing concert. If you've read my prior posts, you know that nearly everything we do this year is an uphill battle. I know what my kids are capable of, in all their glory for good or bad. But know this, I believe in them so strongly that I wasn't as worried as I could have been.

It's so funny, the way I worry about them. I find myself being rigid and hard, demanding perfection knowing that any small infraction will escalate into uncontrolled chaos that I won't be able to call them back from. I laid down the law like a witchy schoolmarm, and as I paced the front of the rug my children were staring at me from, I felt like I was delivering a fire and brimstone sermon about the evils of temptation. The temptation to talk. The temptation to jiggle. The temptation to pinch a neighbor or stick hands down the front of pants. While the kids were rehearsing on stage I kept narrow-eyed watch over every one of them as I strode back and forth. "Hands at your sides." "Eyes on the teacher." "Face forward, please." "Honey, put your shirt down."

During lunch, I began to worry if the kids rose to the expectations or if I had beaten them emotionally into submission. Then I remembered the smiles, the small hidden waves I got as I walked by, the thumbs up with raised eyebrows. "Am I doing good, Mrs. M?" They accepted the challenge and rose to meet it. Goodness knows it wasn't because they were afraid of me. There is no healthy fear of anything at school anymore, except maybe the peach cup at snack time.

I am so proud of my kiddos. I mean, I'm always proud of them, but today I am tears-in-the-eyes proud of them. Chest-squeezing, heart-pinching proud.

It should be noted that concerts are occasions for big events and memorable escapades. Three years ago today, five of my first graders found a "candy bar" in the boy's toilet. Unwrapped. Chocolate. How did they know it was a candy bar? Why Mrs. M, it was "the kind that is full of peanuts." And if that doesn't make you want to eat a Baby Ruth, well then, you obviously aren't cut out for first grade.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Something old, Something new

Why is it when things get the busiest, we find ourselves manic? There is no other real way to describe how I'm feeling this December.

An especially inspiring co-worker turned me on to virtual scrapbooking materials. I had no idea people did this; I'm a scrapbooker from the days when Creative Memories ruled supreme and a fancy page consisted of your best stickers. When my daughters were babies I scrapbooked for them, but found the time and energy to keep up with it vanish as I entered college for my undergrad in education. Since then, scrapbooking has become a hazy memory, and I had all but forgotten the last year when I discovered a deep affection for gromits and other vintage-y looking hardware.

When I discovered that you could actually get papers and embellishments online (for free!), the dormant scrapbooker in me woke up. Now I can hardly stand to look at older anchor charts and posters in my room without imagining them with ribbon and a really great font. It's gotten so bad that I spent a day off (daughter was unwell) re-designing my "puke plans" (emergency sub plans).
Crazy.  And here are my new "How can I solve it?" anchor charts.




And what I could be doing instead? About a million other meaningful and more urgent things. But just like the rearranging, I am beginning to believe that creating is an outlet, and is often a symptom of something bigger.

So a huge thanks to Nicky. Being manic can have a plus side.

For links, check out my Pinboard that deals with design elements: http://pinterest.com/bhmathews/design-elements/

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Score!

So we're meandering through Home Depot, trying to get our Christmas shopping done. I get waylaid in the paint aisle collecting paint cards so I can do this, and on my way back to find my husband I spy this...
Call me crazy, but while my husband is checking off who this would be a good gift for, I'm thinking "Literacy Center!" It has all those pockets for sparkle pens, E.Z.Readers, Paint-chip word makers, stamp sets, crayons, markers, glue sticks, scissors, and whatever you fancy for teaching Guided Reading. Inside there are 4 divider boxes with room for magnetic letters, letter tiles, scrabble letters, etc. It is made for hauling tools, so it should be heavy duty enough for using with my Firsties. AND it has  carrying handles and a clip on strap. 

Best part? On sale for $19.00!! This will only seem like a deal if you've ever tried to put something like this together from School Discounts or Really Good Stuff. 

I can't wait to set it up.

Next, we went to Michaels (which is usually an extended but creatively inspiring trip). Tearing myself away from the Martha Stewart glitter and heading to the check out aisle, I spy small sets of alphabet stamps and ink for $1.00!! Holy guacamole! I found cheap little take-out boxes, and voila! cheap and simple stamping sets for Word Work. 

Don't you just love Christmas shopping?

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Rearranging


I noticed a pattern today.

Whenever I have a rough day (or rough streak of days) with the kids, I do this thing I like to call "updating the room". It's not really updating. What it is, is searching for a solution; it's an easy-way-out. Tearing down bulletin boards or moving furniture around may sound like a lot of work, but in my mind it seems easier than sitting down and trying to sort out the cause to the effect then figuring out how to fix it.

Today was one of those days that I feel like crawling under my desk and having a little time out for myself. The kids were a bit restless, I was cranky; my crankies made them more restless, and the restlessness made me cranky. See the pattern? I wish I could see the pattern for the behaviors as easily. There were meltdowns, there was blurting, blurting, blurting, scuttle-butting, pencil-throwing, name-calling, you-name-it. At around 11:00 I started eyeing my calendar board. Maybe it would be fun to change it? How about my Reader's Workshop board? Should I tear down my CAFE board and put up a board about character traits? Should I create a writing board someplace different?

I was so caught up in the excitement of change that I almost missed the big A-ha. This is what I do when the day has been rough. It's my SMO. Somewhere deep inside I must think the answer lies in layout.

What a silly notion. I resisted changing anything.

Then I came home and obsessively created lessons. Crazy life. I wonder what that means?

Monday, December 5, 2011

I See You


Tonight was my second-to-last meditation class. It has been such a good practice to try to linger in the present. I find it such an exquisite challenge. My mind always wants to be where ever I am not.

During the discussion about being mindful in relationships, I shared my thoughts and feelings about the importance of being mindful with the children I work with. I am careful to let each one know I 'see" them, and I "hear" them. I don't always do a perfect job, but I know every time I do it is meaningful and important to that child.

It made me reflect on how I can improve being in the here and now while working with my students. I truly, truly cannot be the caliber of teacher I dream of being without this critical aspect of bonds and relationships.

photo courtesy of Flickr, by by HaPe_Gera

How to Share Documents?

I was thinking about Pinterest today. I create so much stuff, I wanted to be able to share with other teachers through Pinterest. I needed to have a way to upload files that could then be downloaded. True to form, Google once again has the answers.

I created a new site on Google Pages. It's nothing very fancy, and I really don't care so much for the design, but it seems easy enough to navigate and create. It's just a baby little thing right now, but I wanted to launch it so that I could play around with the particulars a bit. Check back often for more ideas and files to use.

So, without much applause or grand gestures, here it is:

Update:
I can't seem to get the google page to pin in Pinterest. Any ideas why? I knew it all seemed too easy.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

and back to Pinterest

Things have been busy...too busy to blog. Report cards, holidays and the management style that I am now calling "The New Regime"; there's not a lot of time for anything else this week.

I did, however, hit a gold mine in the form of a new Pinterest site. It's a major score from my Masters friend, Kim. How cool is this...I have linked another degree away from my own PLN, and it took less than one hour to get her name, find her site, repin my favorite ideas, and then blog about it? Can I get on my knees and give thanks for networking?

This lady has the best ideas!! Can I say how much I love having a digital storage file? Check my own Pinterest site.

I'm back to Peacocks. Turns out that another (well-known) educator wrote a book called Teach like your Hair in on Fire. No wonder I thought it was such a catchy title - it already is!
Maybe I should teach like my penguins are on fire.

and back to Pinterest

Things have been busy...too busy to blog. Report cards, holidays and the management style that I am now calling "The New Regime"; there's not a lot of time for anything else this week.

I did, however, hit a gold mine in the form of a new Pinterest site. This lady has the best ideas!! Can I say how much I love having a digital storage file? Check my own Pinterest site.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Headphone Dilemma

I'm getting ready to introduce the iTouches to the kids. The only thing holding me back now is having enough head phones for the kids to wear. Here are my thoughts on having individual sets or class sets:

Expense:
The cheapest I can find headphones are 4.99 a pair. We can't use the ear buds because they are too large to fit into the firstie's ears. I would have to purchase 18 pairs. The kids could all use the same ones, as I've done for the Shuffles. Then I would only need 4 additional pairs.

Asking so much already:
I've already asked for class money to help pay for class parties, but then the small amount I got I used towards ball chairs (that I can no longer use). Should I ask for parents to pitch in for a pair if they don't want their kid to share with others, and then pick up the tab for those who don't? Gotta keep it equitable.

Parent Choice?:
Do I let the parents send in their own, or have a set price and purchase them so they are all the same?

Licing on the Cake:
Um, would you want to share headphones with the Class Lice? I think I would pass.

Just thinking out loud. Would love to hear ideas and suggestions.

Thinking ahead to the short week...I hope it is free of parasites and dog poo. I don't think I can take on much more. I can't imagine what could be next....well, I could, but I won't in case there is some suggestive power of thought.

National Dialogue about Working Class

It's difficult to explain how it feels to have your state government undermine your profession and passion. Those who teach in Ohio, and us in Wisconsin, can hardly put into words how unsupported, demoralized and attacked our Governors have made us feel. Ohio pulled together and overruled; our eyes are now turned to our state government here in Wisconsin.

I'm pretty sure that no one anticipated the 2010-11 school year evolving like it did. In Hudson, a border town that gets all it's news from the Twin Cities, Madison was barely on our radar. Shame on us for not paying closer attention to state and local politics. It took a nightmare to wake us up. Now our eyes are turned towards Madison, and we are fearful of turning our backs on what has become the worst predator of public education.

Governor Walker has been pummeled with name-calling; he's a moron, an idiot, imbecile. I have to disagree. Even though it is highly satisfying to think of him as a stupid man, I think his plan was smart marketing. He had an agenda he wanted to push through, and he needed an enemy. Polarize communities and get results. Bring the fight into homes and towns and you can sit back and watch the dominoes topple. Of course, you need to have a scapegoat - one that folks love to vilify.

Bring in the public workers.

Isn't it true that they have it better than everybody else? Unbeatable benefits, lengthy vacations, unbelievable retirements. They work half as much as everyone else, but get four times the perks. And those teachers...lazy, whiny, ungrateful.

I think Walker knew exactly what he was doing when he launched his insidious attack. He had the smarts to do something that Ohio didn't; he exempted our fire fighters, our police officers, and our emergency workers. You can't slant a congregation against our bravest in a post-9/11 nation. But leave them out of the fight, and you take away the greatest emotional outrage. What's left are the people that the people love to hate - state workers and the teachers.

My heart broke last year as I was told, in our papers, on blogs, and in the right media, that I was greedy, unbending, and self-serving. If I defend myself, I'm defending my lazy and egocentric livelihood.

Here's an invitation: come and spend a day with me and my students. Let me show you what it means to be a teacher. I can't say anything that won't be construed as hiding the truth of my cushy lifestyle. So let me show you.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

The Licing on Top of the Cake

We have The Lice. That's what my daughter called it when she was in Kindergarten - "Mommy, we have The Lice in school."

The first graders couldn't understand why I was bagging up all of the pillows, and I explained that there was head lice in the school (trying to not say we had lice in our class). When another student walked in the from the bathroom and asked why the pillows were getting bagged a student stood up and yelled excitedly "We have high lighters! We have high lighters!". They may be a tough crowd, but they sure do make me smile.

We were having a fairly smooth day until the The Lice came. Then it was all about trips to the nurse to "have their hair fixed". Then we had a lock down drill. The rest of the afternoon spun out of control. It became very, very clear that this new practice of few transitions, little movement, and no distractions is working. Dare I hope that I may actually get to teach them after Thanksgiving when things settle down until Christmas?

Now, off to the shower (again) to get the crawly feeling out of my head.


Friday, November 18, 2011

Relief and Grief

For the first time this year, I was able to give DRA's while my students worked independently. I cannot believe how focused and quiet they were. I'm torn between being relieved that the adjustments seem to be working, and sad that my students have to learn in such a rigidly structure environment.

Yesterday the bunnies went on vacation to a 5th grade room. I cancelled all holiday activities that my team does with our firsties. No changing rooms, no rotating craft projects. I didn't realize how anxious I was thinking about these on the horizon. Once again, relief and grief at the same time.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Struggling

This has been a tough week.

Things were going better. My students were beginning to work independently, I was able to meet with small groups for guided reading. I don't know what shifted, but something is different. It might be me; I don't even know anymore.

I spent yesterday afternoon sobbing in the guidance counselor's office. I think I just reached the end of my patience, the end of what felt like hope. I got worn out from the kids acting like I was an annoyance that got in the way of their fun.

A good cry can really help. After Maren and Chris, the counselor, told me what I really needed to hear (that I am a good teacher) and then got all that frustration out with the tears, I was able to look more clearly at my class than I have been able to. I was able to look at myself more honestly than I have been able to.

What I had to rethink, very deliberately, was:
  • placement
  • transitions
  • choice
  • distractions

I am desperate enough to move away from some of my fundamental beliefs. Here's what changed:
  • Seating was planned to be deliberately balanced at tables; students that can not work in a group setting were moved to quiet places within our working space.
  • Table supplies were streamlined and consolidated. Everything the students need are at hand, eliminating the need for helpers to fetch crayons or markers.
  • Water bottles were sent home - they were proving to be too distracting. Despite deliberate teaching and retraining often on bottles, spills were too frequent and upsetting. Less hydration means less bathroom breaks, a good thing when the kids can't use the restrooms unattended.
  • Decluttering; the cleaner the lines the less visual distractions. Things were put into cupboards or out of view.
  • The bunnies are getting fostered by a 5th grade classroom.
  • Daily 5 choice was removed. I will now instruct the students what they will be doing during this time, and most of it will be whole-group work. It kills me to take choice away from them; we just can't afford the time this demanded.

These were major restructures. Ideals I had worked hard to put into place over the last 4 years had to be dismissed so that I could teach my students. I feel like I have stripped down a complicated mechanism so that the bones are finally visible.

I am so weary, and so wary. Nothing about teaching feels right this year.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

iTouch, step 3 - songs for learning

For my graduate action research I am observing whether singing can produce better fluency than reading. I introduce a new poem or song every week. They kids glue the poem or lyrics into their poetry books to practice reading at home, and we practice reading it every day at school for that week. I do a running record every Monday and Friday, hoping the data I am collecting will show that kids can read more fluently after learning a song than a poem.

I have lots of poems that I've collected over the years; everything from Jack Prelunsky to Robert Frost. The songs presented more of a challenge. What songs should I use and how do I present them? I decided that I could kill two birds with one stone if I used learning songs, like the ones Dr. Jean has created. It's not that I wouldn't rather be using popular music, but I needed songs that were short, simple and to familiar tunes. It's a plus to match them to learning about money, verbs, vowel sounds, contractions, etc.

I came up with the idea to make PowerPoints with the songs embedded, and then turn them into videos. We watch these on the smart board. Here is a short clip of one:


It was a short mental hop to think about how these songs could be used with the iTouch in a way that I can't use them on the Shuffles. The video includes the music and the lyrics, so the kids will be listening and reading at the same time.

video

Idea management - What to do with all those good ideas?


I have folders, binders, storage containers, ziplocs, piles, papers, papers, papers. I couldn't seem to find a good way to organize good ideas...until now.

Pinterest is a digital idea-storage facility. There are no papers to lose, files to organize, or tubs to store. This is an excellent solution for me since 90% of what I find for my class is from the internet. Anyone who has seen my desk knows that the less printed papers I have, the better.

I'm still getting used to the interface, and am still moving around Pinterest like a blind newborn kitten. It's another thing to add to my plate, but I think the potential is huge and worth my time to become familiar with it.

Who knew that there was a digital way to store and organize ideas?

Friday, November 11, 2011

iTouch, step 3 - video

One of the aspects of the iTouch I was most excited about what the video capability. I love to take videos of my class; I do candids, interviews, and would love to get into student-created videos. I can upload the videos for the parents to see evidence of learning, and it makes a great addition to the students' portfolios.

I have been using the digital camera that the school gave me up to this point. It does so-so video, but fair enough quality for what I'm doing with it. The sound, however, is another issue. It doesn't do much good to have an ok picture if the mic doesn't do a good job of picking up voices.

Today was the first day I tried out the video capability on the iTouch. It was not only so easy it seemed a little silly, but I loved that I could quickly switch between photos and video with a flick of my finger. When I got home and uploaded the videos, I discovered that the sound is great. Way better than I expected, and wayyyyyy beyond my camera.

Now I have a slim digital video recorder that seconds as a camera to tote along in a pocket, to go wherever we find ourselves going.

You know you're a teacher when...

Your young student eyes your can of diet coke and asks, "Mrs. M, why are you drinking beer in the morning?"

Thursday, November 10, 2011

You know you're a teacher when...

you are sitting on the floor with your first graders at the 2nd-3rd grade singing concert, and the cherub sitting in front you picks something out of his shoe and tosses it over his shoulder. It lands in your hair, and when you shake your head because you think it's a bug stuck in your hair, a piece of dog poop falls out and lands in your lap.

And that pretty much sums up my day.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

iTouch, step 2 - Apps

Here's what I have so far:

Glow Draw! and Glow Draw!! ~
This is a free app for finger drawing. Glow Draw! is very very simple, which I like for the age of the kids I teach. But who am I kidding? They can already run my smartboard. Glow Draw!! is more complex, but way cooler with the FX's.

My thinking is that it would be an excellent app for writing sight words and word-family words

Don't Let the Pigeon Run This App ~
NOT free. But for Mo Willems I though I would spring the $6.99. Seriously a splurge, considering my intent was to outfit these suckers for free. It's pretty, graphics are great, and the story telling feature is repetitive but fun. I'm a bit disappointed in the lack of things you can do, but my 12 and 9 yr old have been at it for a half an hour. Great for creating audio stories with a video that is supplied.
VLC Streamer Free~
for playing WMA's. I also downloaded Good Player, which was 99 cents. Both do the same thing so you do the math on which is a better (free) buy.

And now the 12 year old is filling in the Pigeon story with inappropriate words. I would be disgusted if I wasn't trying so hard to stifle my giggles.

iTouch, a step-by-step adventure


As I wrote over the weekend, I came home with 5 shiny new iTouches last Friday. I had been waiting for them since the end of August, and when a fellow teacher walked in with the bag I did a little happy dance. I think I might have actually moon-walked.

They actually scare me a little, though. I ended up calling in the big guns, my friend Brian who is a bonafide Mac fiend. Now I know how to get apps, organize the apps, get videos I made onto the iTouches, and get them them all synced identically.

So far, I have Glow Draw and a MVA player on them.What's next? We'll see.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Being Mindful

So I'm taking a meditation class. Not mediation, meditation. Trying to see if I can slow that hamster down; he never stops running on the wheel in my head.

So while we are practicing being mindful while eating a grape, I had to keep telling my thoughts "grape. Grape!" when my mind would wander to teaching. We are an obsessed lot, us teachers. I realized how very un-mindful I am most of the time. I am hardly ever present, it feels.

Our conversation turned to being mindful at work or while doing a sport, and someone asked "isn't that like being 'in the zone'?" I thought about how my brain works while teaching, and I realized that I really am mindful while teaching. In fact, a lot of the world ceases to exist while I'm teaching.

As we were leaving the class, I was feeling rather happy and relaxed and a little wooshy. I told my friend that I was not going to get on the computer when I got home, I was just going to ride out the meditation all night long. But then I needed to check noaa.gov and Paul Huttner's weather blog and then facebook to inform everyone of the snow that's coming and that jumped to telling my students about the weather and how can I turn this into a teachable moment and then I jumped on my blog and then I realized that I was so NOT sitting in my kitchen...my body was but my head is miles away.

When is that next class?

Sunday, November 6, 2011

iTouch, birthday, friends

Here's a whole heap of blither-blather for today:

I received 5 iTouches for my classroom. I'm so excited to see what we can do with them, I can hardly stand it. Would love ideas or links to ideas! First I need to get the little buggars working; I couldn't get iTunes loaded on my work laptop - of course. Why should technology ever be easy?

It is Sunday and I went into work today. It took me 6 hours to prep for this week. I have come to the understanding that this year I need to be on my game every minute. There is no room for "flying" by the seat of my pants. It is also my birthday. Happy work-all-day-on-the-weekend birthday to me. The next person who tells me teachers have it easy gets a knuckle sandwich.

Lastly, I don't know if I have ever written about how much I love my team. The two teachers I work along side are the kindest, warmest, most fun people to work with . They make my heart happy, and I know a big part of my feel-good job is because of them. It's like working with sisters. Love ya, ladies.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Ice Ice, baby

We got a big chunk of dry ice yesterday. I don't think that we are ever to old to be amazed by the fun things a person can do with it. My favorite part was creating giant bubbles with a bowl, water, dry ice and a soapy strip of towel. The bubble that formed over the rim of the bowl would grow and grow until it popped into a puff of mist. We made pennies sizzle and dance on the ice, and poured the mist into our hands like it was water. I even froze my glove to my hand at one point!

We made a video of the fun (which I can't upload do to a music infringement), and shared it with parents. I love that they were able to peek at this small slice of our day.

And then, after all the fun craziness, my principal popped in for an unannounced quick evaluation during reading. Nice timing!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Coolest new idea I've seen lately

Here I am, sitting in the dark on a late Tuesday night. I've just had an argument with my husband over the time commitments and energy commitments of my job, and tomorrow I will be sitting in a surgical waiting room while my dad has heart surgery. I'm torn between stamping my foot like a petulant little girl and crying my eyes out. I've edited and posted video of our dry ice experiment today, canvassed the Twittersphere, and searched the blogs for something to think about that isn't scary or sad.

What I found what this, which I happen to think is the most exciting thing I have seen for a long time. Can you imagine the application???? Props go to WM Chamberlain.

At the Teacher's Desk: How to Create Your Own Interactive Art Display: Mrs. Smith (our Art teacher) and I have teamed up to create an interactive art "museum" for our students' work. This is how we are doing i...

Sunday, October 30, 2011

How Blogging has Rocked my World

October is a busy month. Professional development, conferences, meetings, lots of running my girls around. Throw in all new curriculum and the prep and you find yourself standing in the desert of your own blog.

I was selected by Nancy Carroll for the Rockstar Meme Award (#rockstarmeme), and now it's become clear that I've got some catch-up to do. Nancy writes a fab education blog full of great ideas and innovative teaching.

So how has blogging rocked my world? It's all about three things: building relationships, developing myself professionally, and reflecting.

I have come to understand the power of connecting; connecting with students, peers, parents and other teachers. It's like being a spider and throwing out your line to others. Blogging has given me many new threads, all connected to others in education. These fine educators continually inspire me and ask me to look at my own teaching. They are the ones who can share in the joy that comes from educating.

Blogging gives me ideas. It's like a giant mind-map. I can always rely on the blogs I follow to get that hamster in my head to start running on her wheel. The best part is when I come across a great idea I wasn't even looking for. It's like Christmas every day.

Lastly, blogging continually asks me to look at myself and my own practices. It's a constant check and balance. You can't pretend everything you do is perfect and without the need for improvement and change when you are always reading what other teachers are doing, and when you are writing about your own practice. Stopping reflection encourages complacency, and there is no room for that when you are responsible for kids' learning.

I am passing this #Rockstar Meme onto the following people:

Award recipients, here's your challenge:
When one is awarded the meme, according to the originator Guhlin, they are supposed to Write a Post about how Blogging has Rocked your World then:
  1. respond to the meme and link back to this blog entry
  2. leave a comment on this blog entry and then ask 5 more people to participate
  3. Notify those 5 people by sending them a quick note (a tweet prob would work).

Blog on!!


Sunday, October 16, 2011

Changing it up

Someone asked me today why I changed the design and title of my blog. Here's why:

If you've read my first posts, you'll remember that I identify strongly with the story Perry the Peacock. It helped me through the second year of teaching, when I knew that my style was a little different in comparison to other teachers I knew. It took some bravery and serious self-belief to stay true to myself.

The thing is, I really looked at the teaching world through an "us" and "them" lens. I felt like I was blazing a trail, and I was mostly blazing it alone. Perry made me feel like I was strong enough to go it alone.

I realized a few days ago that I'm really not alone. I think I felt more alone before I discovered Twitter and a window to a whole world of teachers doing their thing was opened for me. I found myself in the company of nothing but peacocks.

I guess in that moment teaching became something more than "us" and "them". It became a circle made of many different styles and energies. When I look at the talent I am surrounded by every day at school, I guess that I see many individuals doing their thing. We all have a little peacock in us, just as we all have a little bit of penguin.

I didn't feel I could embrace our uniqueness if I only looked at it as I saw my own. I choose to foster individuality in others instead of making it an exclusive club only certain types of teachers can join.

Talking Responsibility for Learning


I attended our Master's fall conference today. As always, I was inspired by the passion and creativity of the teachers I spent time with. I was particularly excited by the self evaluations some of the other first grade teachers were using with their students. I have wanted to have my first graders self-check their progress in reading and writing for awhile, and this was the jump start I needed.

I came home and thought about where I wanted to start. I decided that Reader's Workshop would be good, since we already have some of our routines in place. At the moment, Read-to-Self is at the top of the list of importance. At this time, we are practicing reading for 5-10 minutes; expectations are that we read the whole time, we stay in our spots, and we do not talk.

Here is the rubric I created for this. We will do it together for the first few days, until I know the students can do it independently. I will use the rubric to discuss how Read-to-Self is going with each student.

I am looking for feedback. What do you think works? What would you change?


Sunday, October 9, 2011

The Sunday Night Edge


Have you ever been sitting on the far edge of Sunday evening, looking out onto Monday? That's where I am, right now.

We spent the weekend up at the lake, and there was a terrible accident on the Interstate on the way home. It was 10 miles ahead of us, and took us 2 hours to reach and get past. I am sad for whoever (if anyone) that was hurt or suffered the types of losses associated with auto accidents. I am grateful my family was far enough behind to only be inconvenienced. Instead of 3 hours to get home, it took us 6.

I had brought my work up to the lake with me (don't all teachers lug a milk crate full of work wherever they go?). I forgot my school laptop on my desk, though. I did have my home laptop, so I have some things I can email to school, but I feel disjointed and not at all ready for the week.

I should be getting for bed, but am restless from the long car ride and anxious about feeling unprepared. I do not have the luxury to fly by the seat of my pants with my kiddos this year. I need to have it all set up and ready to go.

The homework that my 6th grader was going to finish at 7:00 when we got home is also not done, so we'll be working on that early in the morning.

Some Sunday nights I'm ready to leap off the edge and glide into Monday. Tonight, all I want to do is walk back into Saturday.

Friday, October 7, 2011

... but is it appropriate?

We went on our first field trip of the year, to the New Richmond Heritage Center. The experience ties into our social studies unit "past and present". There is lots to see; there is little to touch.

What I find happens with my kiddos, year after year, is that interest starts out strong and then slowly wanes throughout the day until there is nothing left. By the time we get to the 5th building, the realization that all they will get to do is walk, look, and be talked at sinks in. Their brain is in overload. Too much information, but no way to make it stick.

I question whether this field trip is developmentally appropriate for them. If I can't remember much from it, how much do they retain? It's difficult to experience joyful learning when you are sitting on your hands. How can I make it more engaging? I need some ideas.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Defend Your Tirade (in other words: Educate Yourself)

At lunch today my team was discussing our new district-wide phonics program (Fountas and Pinnell). Being a groupie of F&P (along with Caulkins, Boushey and Moser, etc.) I was jazzed to have a sturdy phonics program created by highly esteemed researchers.

I admit I'm a chronic band-wagoneer. For being a peacock-type person, I have serious buy-in tendencies. I love to implement whatever latest and greatest I come across. If it fits within my beliefs and philosophies, I'm game. The upside is that I'm fearless when it comes to implementing new things, including technology; change doesn't make me uncomfortable. The downside is that I find myself hurtling onto that wagon before I have done adequate research. Leap first and look later.

Our lunch conversation brought us to where we are at in the phonics lessons. Everything I've taught up to this point has been pretty cool. I love the substantial base it builds for our Firsties. I will agree that it appears the program takes us a step back from what we usually teach in first grade, but I think the thorough attention to letters and sounds is a benefit to even my advanced readers. After all, what we were doing before (Sitton) wasn't producing good spellers.

My colleagues disagreed. They thought we had taken a major step back with our students, and this was to their disadvantage. What struck me wasn't the fact that we were disagreeing; that's cool, as long as we respect each other. What I didn't hear was any facts or researched-based opinions on the appropriateness, relativity, and reason backing what we are (or are not) teaching. This included myself.

How often do we form opinions about what we teach without really knowing what we are teaching and why? How easy is it for us to create assumptions based on the small slice of students in our learning communities? It seems exhausting to dig deep into every curriculum we have no choice in teaching, but why should we blindly follow the scripted lessons, either happily or unhappily?

It's time we picked up the accountability and learned a little more about what we are teaching our kids.


Tuesday, October 4, 2011

We are only as great...

...as those we surround ourselves with.

Today we were told, in a closed after-school meeting, that our admin to our principal was moving to another school. We all assumed that since the principal hadn't put boxes of tissues on all the tables that we weren't in for bad news. But it was bad news. Really, really bad news.

See, our school isn't just a community. We're family.

It didn't happen by chance, either. There's some good chemistry, for sure, but our family was forged by tragedies that bound us together in grief that no one else shared as intimately as we shared with each other. In the course of three years we lost a student to cancer, battled breast and colon cancer with two co-workers, grieved the loss of a teenage daughter from an accident, journeyed through infertility and were later devastated by the loss of the miracle baby three weeks from delivery.

Instead of mourning alone, we pulled together. There is strength in numbers, and it was all we could do to hold together so that we could weather the storms. But we did weather them, and while I would take back every single tragedy in a heartbeat, I can only admire the love and support that was born out of them.

So losing a co-worker isn't something we take lightly. Not a dry eye in the house, and no tissues on the tables.

We are really only ever as great as those we surround ourselves with. Maureen is one of the reasons we can achieve what we do with our children.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Reach

I love my class.

We all say that, right?

I mean it. I really really mean it.

I got to thinking about why I love my students so much this year. I always love my students; I care about them, I worry about them, and they become a part of my family. But this year is different. I would put any and all of them in my pocket and bring them home. I love them like we love puppies, or snuggling or chocolate.

So what's the difference this year? I've been thinking about it for a week. If I always love my students, then why the extra boost this year? This class is 10 times more challenging than any class I've ever taught, so it would figure that I would connect with them less. Something has to be different with the connections I have made with them and the relationships we formed.

Aha. That's it. It's (obviously) all about the relationships. So what's different this year?

We, the first grade team, knew that our group of kiddos coming up to us this year were challenging. Last year, people talked. The K teachers looked exhausted all the time, and let's face it, K teachers are the best at not becoming exhausted. The final judgement fell when one of the K teachers did not reapply for a teaching position. Lastly, we walked by their rooms every day, always curious about our next group of students. We heard what was coming. We saw it with our own eyes.

We also went from 4 sections down to 3. As with the rest of the states, teaching in Wisconsin has brought a whole new set of budgeting challenges to our classrooms. The decision was made to take 4 classrooms of kindergartners and squeeze them into 3 first grade classes.

We had all kinds of alerts that this year would have it's challenges. There was some panicking as we faced the largest classes we had ever had, with students that we knew would stretch us into the realm of extreme teaching. I knew that I couldn't handle this group like I had in the past, and some preemptive strikes were going to be necessary. What I learned has changed my teaching forever.

I began by considering my parents. Would I be calling home more often? Would I be sending home "fix-it" plans weekly? If that was going to be the case, then I needed to have a good relationship started before school began. I was inspired by a teacher in my master's cohort who makes home visits to her students. You cannot even imagine how inspired by her I am. I had gotten my class list late, so I knew that time wasn't going to allow for home visits; and to be honest, it was so far out of my comfort zone.

Instead, I opted to set up 1-on-1 meetings in my classroom. The kids came and poked around, got to meet me before Open House Night. I had folders with important information ready for the parents. We talked. I wanted them to know me, and know how passionate I was about their kids. Did it take a lot of time? Yes. Each meeting was about 30 minutes. Did I get paid? Nope. But I laid a base to build a relation with each of my families.

I set up an Edmodo account to use with my families. I knew that quick and frequent communication was going to be important. I wanted my families to feel a part of our learning, because with a sense of belonging comes a sense of ownership and responsibility.

Next, I set to working on a relationship with my students. I began with a picture-filled "All About Mrs. M" letter. I wanted them to see what I liked, and have a teeny peek into my life. It became very important for them to make connections with things I did and things I like. I had 5 students tell me at our meetings that they "liked getting their hands dirty", too.

Then came the postcards. I picked up a postcard from Sea World for each of them, hand addressed and personalized for each one. "Hi!" it said. "This is what I'm up to, how about you?", "I care" it said.

A remarkable thing happened, then. I watched Angela Maiers Ted Talk, "You Matter". Her words inspired me to a whole new level, and that's what clinched it. I realized that each student needed to know that I "heard" them, and each student knew I "saw" them. Every day I think to myself as I look at them, "You matter". Not a day goes by that I don't hunker down next to a dozen kids and whisper to them something I noticed them doing, or asking them how they are.

So you see, telling them they matter made them matter, to me. It is reinforced each day. Because I made them and their families matter, they became something more than regular students to me. These aren't just children I spent all day with and teach. These are children who are amazing, and unique, and wonderful, and important.


Saturday, October 1, 2011

Flock of Peacocks

Twitter has become one of the exciting and relevant resources for teachers. It's like a buffet of information. You belly up to the bar and decide what flavor suits you the most at that moment. Hash tags sort and categorize the multitude of tweets. Want to read about Daily 5? Web 2.0 in the classroom? iPads or blogs? You will be pointed in the direction you want to go by teachers who are as passionate about learning as you are.

My favorite thing about Twitter, though, is this: it is bringing teachers together who refuse to remain stagnant. In schools, where the pressures to perform exhausts teachers, there is often a lack of energy and excitement about new technologies and new ideas. Other teachers don't always want you popping into their rooms and chattering about the great new idea you heard. Twitter is a place where everyone welcomes ideas. You don't stress your colleagues out, and information is a valuable commodity.

If you don't have a Personal Learning Network (your very own PLN) started on Twitter, consider it.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Acknowledging Greatness

I've always thought that Greatness was a bit of an oxymoron. Great would suggest largeness, would it not? Vastness, largeness, grand. But some of the greatest greatness I have seen comes pint sized and in nibble-sized droplets. And when you notice greatness, you need to acknowledge it.

A month ago I watched a Ted Talk by a woman named Angela Maiers, entitled You Matter. Ted Talks almost always inspire me, but You Matter really hit home. I've always felt that building relationships is a critical part of education, but I could never really pin down why it mattered that my students mattered. I was just going by gut that this was the right thing to do.

My heart nearly burst after listening to Angela. Acknowledging is the most important truth of what we do as educators, because it is the key to unlocking our students and getting them to stay along for the ride. There is value in recognition, but the gift is truly in noticing and then having the sense to say so.

Have you ever noticed that the most well-loved Principals are the ones who stand at the entryway and greet each student by name? There is a magic in names; there is nothing quite so powerful or simple at the same time. To say a name is to acknowledge - to let someone know you see them. Angela speaks beautifully about this; to let someone know they matter is to hear them, see them, notice them.

I've been trying to let my students know that I notice them, as many times a day as possible. This class of beautiful and challenging children needs to hear, as individuals, that I hear them. That I see them. It has been the winning stroke as they transform into learners.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Push

This year has been one big learning experience for me. Always one to focus on intrinsically motivating my students, especially for behaviors, it's been tough to run a heavy reward program. I honestly tried every tactic I could before realizing that if I didn't change something fast then I wouldn't be able to teach these children anything.

My team members have long used a reward system in their classrooms, and there's always been an undercurrent of tension when it comes to our philosophies about behaviors. I love and respect my teammates, but this is one area where we diverge into two completely different styles.

Since I'm so against using a reward system, I've had a hard time committing to one thing for more than two weeks. Not only can I feel myself pushing back against this becoming a standard part of our classroom life, I have noticed that any one thing only lasts a maximum of two weeks before the interest fades for my kiddos. I was explaining this to my team member and friend, and suddenly I found myself standing on ground that made me uneasy. As resistant as I am to giving out rewards, I found myself at the end of a sales pitch for using a specific system. The more she tried to convince me, the more I felt my heart pushing back against this idea.

Why do we feel so compelled to sell our believes and practices to other educators? We perceive the hard-sell warily, like we might listen to a salesman or political pitch. There is always a tipping moment where the seller crosses some line, maybe because they become a little too earnest, or they step across the threshold of our personal space. But it's almost a perceivable shift in the air. That's the moment we become suddenly protective of our philosophies and practices, and the seller feels the lack of validation for their own.

Why do we take such fierce ownership over our teaching practice, to the extent that it sometimes feels like "my way or the highway"?

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Sparking the Fire

Today is one of my all-time favorite days of teaching. I've been keeping the library off-limits while we catch on to routines and practice being learners. It's not been ignored, though. I dangle it like a golden ticket, promising adventures that will ensue promptly when we can handle the excitement and responsibility of reading.

We begin this day sharing what good readers do. I can tell that these kids are already readers; they know so much about what we do when we read. What they don't know yet is that reading can fill you so completely that you lose yourself to the world within the ink. It's like telling your children all about Disney World, knowing that someday soon you will take them there to experience it themselves.

20 pairs of eyes were shining back at me, and hands were waving around as the question blurted out "Can we read now, Mrs. M? Can we read our books now?"

And so the first spark caught fire, just like that.



Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Pop Tabs


I've hit on the goldmine of extrinsic motivation. Simple, cheap, and ridiculously ordinary.




Pop tabs.

Let me first post this disclaimer that I am a hardcore Kohn fan...it has only been through an extremely challenging class that I have decided to take the path of least resistance. It's not an option to not teach my students anything this year, so dangle the carrot I must.

Here's the spiel: whatever result I am looking for can earn a kid a pop tab. There are plain silver ones, and there are extra special colored ones.I can up the ante whenever I need to.

When the kids earn 25 tabs, I bring them (the pop tabs, not the kids) home and make them a bracelet that looks something like this:

Ask me how great of an idea I think it is when I'm making 22 bracelets.

I always say, if you're going to do something, you might as well do it big.


Monday, September 26, 2011

No, it's just bad hair

Quote of the day:

From the mouths of babes and former first grade students, "Mrs. Mathews, is it Crazy Hair Day today?"

Sunday, September 25, 2011

airing dirty laundry

I was out three days this week with an awful sore throat and fever. I am so thankful for the sub I had, because she is incredibly reliable and trustworthy. The problem is that no matter how good your sub, you always walk into a tangle of work when you come back.

I literally dragged myself in this morning to untangle that tangle I knew waited for me. It didn't help that my room was close to disaster when I left before getting sick, so it didn't have far to go to get to the status of catastrophe.

No one likes to air their own dirty laundry, but I'm going to admit something to you. Keeping tidy is really not a strength of mine. I'm hanging my grundies out the window, I know, but I figure something good has to come from confession. Here is the mess my room had become over the first three challenging weeks.






You can see that I'm obviously no Beth Newingham or Jessica Meacham.

My friend and team-teacher Kim was also in her room today, which really does look like a photo-ready classroom. I was picking her brain about
how she kept her desk clear of papers and what she did with all her, well, "stuff". She started to
show me, and then stopped. Kim looked at me and said "You know, you may not always be organized and neat, but you do have other strengths."

Thanks, Kim. I needed that reminder.

I then spent 6 perfect hours on this lovely autumn Sunday cleaning my room.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Change


I was reading through Facebook this morning. There were lots of grumbling posts about the changes FB made. I admit that I felt a few disgruntled and frustrated moments when they changed it again, but once I had a chance to look through the differences I realized they were fairly harmless changes. Maybe improvements, even.

That got me thinking about how shook up we can get when something we rely on changes. We all use FB everyday, and have gotten so used to the look and way it moves that even small changes ripple out across the FB-sphere. It's a lot like introducing technology into teaching practice. One day we're standing above an overhead and the next we're trying to figure out which button on the new remote switches the Smartboard from video to computer.

There is a definite fear and loathing to changes that involve technology in our practice. Not everyone, of course. There are fearless souls who embrace wikis, blogs, and Wordle like they are new babies to the family. But others have a much, much tougher time with adding technology to their teaching.


This diagram shows the cycle we experience when change happens. We move through the steps at different rates; our learning styles apply to change as easily as academics. Where are you on the cycle? When someone walks into your classroom at 6:45 in the morning and starts to chatter with enthusiasm about how Twitter can be used to learn about the Civil War, where do you find yourself?

Change is ok. It's scary, but it's ok.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Connections

I've been out sick for three days. I've had three days to rest. Three days that, as miserable that I felt, I took advantage of. Time away from our classrooms in the first month of school are rare.

I read an article this morning that made me start to reflect on why I went into teaching. The link is here: http://minnesota.cbslocal.com/2011/09/22/a-life-changing-reunion-20-years-in-the-making/ . When people ask me why I do what I do, I always answer that it's highly rewarding and I love sharing information. The article I read this morning added another factor I had been overlooking - making connections.

I make connections every day I go into work. With my co-workers, with parents, and most importantly with my kiddos. I have no way of knowing if they go home and talk about something significant that passed between us, but I know that I do. Our dinner table is filled with talk about middle school, fourth grade, railroad engineering, and teaching; the talk is dominated about the connections I made during they day. These connections impact me enough that I can't not share them when I get home.

Making a connection with another person is one of the most significant experiences we can have. For that single moment another person makes a difference to you; and you get to make a difference to them.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

on death and dying

This isn’t about the death of the body. I would never presume to know enough about grieving to write about it. That conversation is saved for those who have had grief touch them so fundamentally that is has changed their lives forever. My grief is more selfish than that.
I’m writing about the death and dying of a belief.

There are some things you learn that resonate so strongly within you that they become a fundamental part of you. You take it into yourself and it changes how you teach. You build a framework of learning around this belief and it supports your words and actions.

It seems that there inevitably comes a time, though, where you must turn away from this belief and question it. You doubt it. You discover an ugliness in this belief, because you see it contrasted it against its negative.

Your whole system of values and reason tip over, and you feel something die in your heart. It is the death of a conviction, the ending of an era. You turn to a viewpoint that you never thought you would, and it saves you as the other part, which was so righteous and unreasonable, crumbles and loses its strength.

And then you understand that there are no absolutes, no guarantees, and no one can really save you if you aren’t willing to save yourself.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Selling out instead of settling in

I'm not a very experienced teacher, but I've spent a fair amount of time in classrooms. I am the first to admit that every group of kids that walks across the threshold to your room has some challenge. It usually comes in the flavor of "needing". Needing love, needing acceptance, needing care, needing learning. And it's all yours to give. What a priceless mission we have been given, that we can be so much to so many.
It's been a rough year. 12 days in, and I can't even see a mile up the road. I've sweetened, cajoled, promised, yelled, slammed doors, scowled, and then cried. I've been sleepless, upset and pushed into a place I never thought I'd see - to leave the career that holds my heart.
What do you do when you have a class that is nothing but needs? Is it possible for one person to be so much to so many all at once? These children, who I have promised to lead for an entire year of their lives, can't come together but instead fall apart at every seam. I am catching marbles that crash and scatter, only to be put into a bag with a hole in the bottom.
What do you do?
You look beyond what you think you know. You swallow your pride and ask for help. You look at ideas you would never have considered, because desperation gives everything a new taste. You might even sell out to the most fundamental of your beliefs.
I made a promise to these 22 children, that I would shepard them for a year and teach them. They have become more important than my most precious beliefs in teaching.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Singing the Blues

A few minutes ago, I was lying as still as a log on the sofa. It was where I crashed after coming home from school, too tired and too weary to do anything else. I was chased out by my daughters fighting, which roused me from my coma on the couch and turned me into a dragon. Now my daughters are sobbing upstairs in their rooms, (one of the periodically wails - please, if you think that is going to work, you don't know the kind of day I've had.)
I have a secret weapon that I keep for the most dire of circumstances. Like all good strategies and tricks,I know that it has a shelf life of only a week or two, and I am loath to use it up; it works that well. When my firsties are at their worst, I slide my secret weapon out of it's holster; I sing.
I sing directions, I sing their names, I sing praise of their actions.
Today I sang all day long.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Of Peacocks and Penguins

When I was beginning my second year of teaching, our principal showed us a video that (as silly as it sounds) changed my teaching. It was during a staff meeting, a few days into professional development, tucked in right before the first day of school. The video was Perry the Peacock.

Perry gets it; he feels the dilemma all peacocks face at one point or another. The truth is that most educators are Penguins. They may like your work, but your style makes them uncomfortable.

This blog is dedicated to any teacher who shrugs off the penguin suit so that they can teach to the best of their abilities. It is not always easy, and at times your footprints may be the only ones you can see on your path. But if you stop and listen, you can hear feather rustling. If you look closely, you can find bright feathers sprinkled along the way.

~ Heather