Saturday, July 26, 2014

Celebrate This Week - Best Part of Teaching

I’m joining up with Ruth Ayres for her weekly link-up, Celebrate This Week. Check out all of the posts linked up at her blog HERE. Thanks for starting this, Ruth!

I love Ruth’s weekly link-up because it reminds me to look for celebrations every day. For example, I could celebrate that Liam finally let me clean out his room and he finally agreed to parting with some of his “stuff.” Or, I could celebrate the amount of reading time my boys and I have squeezed in this week. Or even the fact that Chris and I have actually had time to sit and talk this week since we weren’t running kids to a practice or a game for the first time since April. So many reasons.

However the celebration I have on my mind happened last night. Luke was at a friend’s house and Liam asked if we could go to the Mexican restaurant uptown. We got the chance to be a family of three, he actually got some undivided attention, which he soaked up. While that is an awesome part of our evening as well, what is on my mind happened while we waited for our food. We were sitting in the back in a booth. Glancing up at the front, I thought I saw a student from this past year come in, and then head back out. That isn’t unusual, if you are grabbing a table outside you come in first to tell them you are there. I wondered how she was doing, and then continued talking with Chris and Liam. A few minutes later I looked up and she was headed to the back. Apparently she had seen me and went to tell her parents she was going to come in.

After a quick hug hello, she plopped down in the booth next to me to tell me all about the book she is currently reading. We talked about what genre it was – I had never heard of it – overall plot, and if I could recommend it to another former student who had just texted me asking for recommendations. She shared what parts made it probably inappropriate for my grade level, but also why she loved it. Then we moved on to talking about her summer, what she was looking forward to in middle school, and then she left. It was only a probably five minute conversation, but it left me with a smile on my face.

I love my students. I love the current class you get each year, the opportunity to help them grow as readers, writers, and grow as people. I love my former students – the ones I see around town, or who come to visit me when I’m out, or who knock on my front door and want to talk. I love the students who send me emails, text messages, or notes through the mail. Teaching is a tough job. There are times it feels like it takes over. There are times when it feels like I’m not enough to fight against an evil empire like Pearson. There are times when I wonder if it is worth it. And then, a student talks to me while I wait for my dinner, or sends me a quick note on Instagram, and I know that it most certainly is worth it. That’s what I’m celebrating this week - the best part of teaching, the connections with my students. I cannot wait to meet my next class in just a few weeks.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Thinking about Routines and Procedures

I’ve been reflecting a lot on routines for a variety of reasons. One, because I’m attempting to write a book about classroom management, and routines always seem to fit into that topic. I recently read this book about the start of the school year:

Have you ever read something and thought, “Yes, that’s why I do that…” While parts of the book were new to me, so much of what I do each year was written in those pages. It was both affirming and enlightening. I just wrote to a friend today that I’d love to see a building PreK-6 (or higher!) that used the responsive classroom approach. I bet it would be amazing.

The second reason I’ve been reflecting on routines is that Ruth Ayres and Christy Rush-Levine are starting a Twitter chat called Teach & Celebrate Writers. The first chat is on August 3rd at 8pm EST. I’ve agreed to guest host. Want to guess the topic? Routines and procedures for writing workshop. I’m SOOOOOO excited. I love the start of the school year. I love introducing students unfamiliar with workshop model to our classroom. I love showing them how we work as a classroom community. It is the best! Well, maybe the best is when the classroom is humming along, but I do love the start of the school year when everything is ripe with possibility.

I hope you will join us on the 3rd at 8pm EST! I’d love to learn from you all and have a conversation. What routines and procedures do you teach at the start of the school year? Which do you struggle with? Is there something new you’re going to try this year in writing? Share in the comments and then come to Twitter on the 3rd to continue the conversation. Can’t wait to see you there!

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Lessons for the Classroom from the Baseball Field

Today I drove to a nearby town to get groceries and reflected on the end of Luke’s baseball season. It was a truly amazing season and I hated to see it end. That is unusual for me, to say the least. Luke and Liam have played in various sports each season since they were old enough for t-ball, so for Luke that equals eight years of sports, often three sports a year. I always embrace the end of a season, looking forward to a short break before the next sport begins. Why would I care this year? This picture from last night sums it up well, it’s about relationships.
Photo bomb courtesy of Luke's coach, Seth.
When watching Luke’s coaches all season I saw excellent teachers. Luke has had great coaches over the years, but Seth, Kurt, and Ryan are on another level. They knew each player well. Some players need few words and short directions. Others need to be built up, reassurance and encouragement to be given regularly. These guys made practices fun, games competitive, and ensured each player felt valued and a part of a team. If there was an issue, they dealt with it quickly, decisively, but kindly. They knew when to step in, and when to let the kids lead the way. All qualities of excellent coaches and teachers. I was impressed and grateful.

When we signed up, I was a bit worried about Luke joining the team simply because he didn’t have any friends on it. Luke can be shy and have a hard time joining others. He is absolutely loud and outspoken with his friends, but around kids he doesn’t know, he hangs back. This group had a couple kids from his grade whom he really didn’t know, and many kids from the grades above. They were amazing. I knew most of them from teaching and was consistently impressed with how they encouraged each other, but also how well they knew each other. They knew who could handle being razzed, but who (Luke) needed more encouragement.

Today I watched Luke strike out for the second time in the game. My heart broke as I felt paralyzed. I obviously wasn’t going to go over to the dugout to talk to him, that would mortify him in front of the older boys. But I also knew he would be beating himself up over that out. Looking over at the dugout from my chair, I watched him brush away a tear, and several immediately popped into my own eyes. I then saw two older boys grab him in a bear hug, pat him on the back, and continue to watch the game with their arms across his shoulders. My heart swelled with gratitude.

It was in watching this scene unfold that I realized what an excellent community had been created with this team.
  •       Kids led all warm-up activities. They knew what was expected of them, did it without trying to get out of work, and took turns leading.
  • When one child would be at the end of the running exercise, another would automatically drop back to join and finish with them. No adult prodding needed, they supported their teammates.
  • If someone was struggling with pressure on the field or off, encouraging words were offered.
  • Coaches connected with every kid, not just the better athletes. Each child got individualized instruction.
  • Hard work was recognized and rewarded always.
  • Praise was specific and given to all kids.
  • Mistakes were faced head on and advice was given how to improve in the future. 

I’ve been writing a lot about classroom management lately, so it is constantly on my mind. Luke’s team had a wide range of kids on it and all achieved levels of success. Relationships and community lead to engagement and ownership. This season left me inspired for what potential there is in a good team – on the field or in the classroom. I’m grateful Luke had the chance to be part of this one.  

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Celebrate This Week - Being Brave

I’m joining up with Ruth Ayres for her weekly link-up, Celebrate This Week. Check out all of the posts linked up at her blog HERE. Thanks for starting this, Ruth!

I’m squeezing my weekly celebration in under the wire, typing here at 9 pm Saturday night. There are many weeks I forget to write this post, but today my celebrations were just popping up everywhere and I had to take a moment to reflect.

One, I’m celebrating friends that inspire. In June I attended a writing retreat with these folks, among others. Jen (on the right) had a great idea to begin a Google Spreadsheet to keep each other accountable for writing when we got back, and we began this week. It has only been seven days and I wrote 7,000 words this week. Not all were great, some were horrid, but it was 7,000 more than I had last week at this time, so I’m celebrating being brave enough to ignore the inner critic and write anyway.

Two, I was excited to find out that Ruth Ayres and Christy Rush-Levine are beginning a Twitter chat called Teach and Celebrate Writers. #TandCwriters will be on the first Sunday of the month at 8:00 pm EST. I am beyond pumped to join in this chat and am honored that they asked me to co-host the first one this August. Hope to see you there on August 3rd.

Third, and finally, I’m celebrating this guy.

Luke is twelve and has had a unusual baseball season. He was on two teams—one team was a super positive experience, one was a learning experience, both had value. He is wrapping up the season with his second team, the super positive team, this weekend.

Luke was also in my reading class this year when we read this book:

We had great discussions over Snail’s actions and what it means to be brave. Hitting has been a struggle this year for a variety of reasons. I’m beyond proud of Luke for choosing to be in the Homerun Derby tonight. You didn’t have to be in any of the skills contests, but he chose to participate in this one.

He tried knowing many games have gone by this year with nary a hit.
He tried knowing others would be hitting it over the fence.
He still tried.

When he was bummed he got four or five hits out of seven pitches, but none went to the fence, I told him how proud I was that he jumped, just as Snail did.

That he was brave.

I think, no I know, that he thinks I’m sappy—and maybe I am—but I’m so happy he made that decision tonight. Being brave is important. I teach that to all of my students, and sometimes they listen, sometimes they don’t.

I’m grateful Luke did.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Our Classroom, Not Mine: Thinking Through Classroom Arrangements

The plan was not to write a blog post this morning. Even as I type this, I’m baking cupcakes for my son’s party this afternoon, taking a break from picking up our home, shouting to my boys to read, do their jobs, and clean up before video games, and, and, and. There is so much to do and a blog post was not in the cards.

Then I read Ben Gilpin’s post. I met Ben briefly at NerdCamp and have followed him on Twitter – and read his blog – for some time. Ben is an amazing administrator. I’m consistently impressed by how he’s leading his building. Today’s post can be found HERE. It focuses on what he took away from NerdCamp, specifically in regard to learning spaces. He ends his posts with these questions:

First, classrooms must be hinged around student learning.  Is the space student-friendly and flexible in meeting the diverse needs of our students?

Second, classrooms should be interactive, creative and adaptive.  Does the space allow for communication and collaboration?

Finally, is your learning space teacher-centric or student-centric?  Have you ever asked the students how they feel in the space?

I love these questions. My classroom has undergone a transformation in the last few years. Four years ago I got rid of student desks and moved to tables. Two years ago I got rid of my desk. What I noticed about my room – what made me feel icky – a few years ago was just that, it was my room. I had to make some decisions. Now I try and make sure it is our room. I knew I was succeeding when Brenda Power came to visit for a day in May about a year ago. She commented on my phone – how it was always with me to Google, confer, etc., but also how I readily handed it to a student when they needed a device. Absolutely, what is mine is theirs. Simple.

Here are some guiding beliefs I have when looking at our classroom:
·      As I mentioned, it is not my room, but ours.
·      There is no student space/ teacher space. It is all our space.
·      We need to all be in a comfortable environment that works for us.
·      Our space needs to be flexibly.
·      Our space needs to be relaxing.
·      If something isn’t working, any member of the class (including me) can bring that up for problem solving.

Students are just as likely to bring up noise level, crowding, or something they don’t think is working as I am. I’m good with moving the room around on a whim, finding a better flow. In my ideal world, I would not have a spot at a table for every kid. Right now I do. I’d prefer there were tables if you needed, but floor space, standing tables, etc. as well. In my dream world I would have the furniture that makes it much more conducive to moving the classroom around, but I don’t have a silent backer funding my classroom (beyond my husband funding my library – and he’s not so silent.)
My "desk" is a table to meet at.
My classroom is not going to be found on a style blog for amazing decorations. I’d rather spend money on books. Beyond painting the bulletin boards all a quiet mint color because I thought it was calming, I don’t spend money on decorations for my classroom. I accept donated furniture, found tables in our building no one is using, and keep the clutter at bay. I love the space we’re in, but have dreams of what it could be in the future as well. I’m constantly thinking of different arrangements and how I could make more space for the kids, not less.

How about you? What are your big thoughts on classroom arrangements? Are you trying anything new out this year? I’d love to hear from all of you. I know I was inspired just reading over Gretchen and Franki’s presentation from NerdCamp (HERE). Idea paint? Might need to try that!

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