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!

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Schneider Family Book Award 10th Anniversary Blog Tour & Giveaway

Recently Alyson Beecher asked if I’d like to participate in a blog tour. She was creating a tour to honor the tenth anniversary of the Schneider Family Book Award. I have to say, it wasn’t until four or five years ago that I was even aware of the Schneider award. If you are as in the dark as I was, Alyson did a great summary of what this award stands for:

This award honors an author or illustrator for a book that embodies an artistic expression of the disability experience for child and adolescent audiences.

With that in mind, Alyson mentioned that I could pick a favorite book from the winners and talk about it on my blog. Hmm, I scanned over the list of books that have been honored at ALA. 

How to pick? This year my students went crazy over Splash of Red, I should go with that one. Wait, but last year had the amazing book A Dog Called Homeless. I can talk about that. Yet, Wonderstruck and the unusual format would be a good discussion. It always helps my students understand dual plot lines. But, Anything But Typical….no, Waiting for Normal…no, Rules… so many good books.

I finally had to settle, I do need to pick one. The first year a special book won the award – Things Not Seen by Andrew Clements. I was in my third year of teaching in Monticello when this book came out. I book talked it then as I do now…

Imagine, you wake up in the morning, stumble into the bathroom and jump into the shower. You’re tired, why does school start so darn early? You quickly rinse off and step out, towel drying yourself as you walk over to the mirror. Glancing up, you do a double take. You’re looking into the mirror, but you aren’t there. Where you’re reflection should be is nothing. Nothing. And you have no idea what has happened.

Usually the book talk enough creates a waiting list for the book. When I explain that Bobby – the boy that is suddenly invisible – runs to the library naked so no one will notice him, they giggle. When I share how he befriends a blind girl, questions begin immediately.

I love this story. Bobby immediately drew me in. He has such a string of bad luck in the beginning of the book that I just wanted to be able to take care of him. My students adore this book as do I. What an amazing and unforgettable tale.

For more information about the Schneider Family Book Awardwebpage | list of winners  
Check out all of the links of the Schneider Family Book Award 10th Anniversary Blog Tour & Giveaway:
July 6, 2014    Nerdy Book Club
July 6, 2014    Kid Lit Frenzy 
July 7, 2014    Nonfiction Detectives
July 9, 2014    Teach Mentor Texts
July 10, 2014    There’s a Book For That
July 11, 2014    Kathie Comments
July 12, 2014   Disability in Kidlit 
July 14, 2014    Librarian in Cute Shoes
July 15, 2014    The Late Bloomer’s Book Blog

July 15, 2014    CLCD
July 16, 2014    Read, Write, and Reflect
July 17, 2014    Read Now Sleep Later
July 18, 2014    Unleashing Readers
July 19, 2014    Great Kid Books
July 20, 2014    Maria’s Mélange

To celebrate the 10th Anniversary of the Schneider Family Book Award, we are providing readers with an opportunity to win a set of all three 2014 Schneider Family Book Award Winners. Participants must be 13 years or older and have a US or Canadian mailing address. 

Click HERE to be taken to the giveaway! 

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