Saturday, August 22, 2015

Celebrate This Week - Starting A New School Year

The first week is done and I am exhausted. However, I thought joining Ruth Ayres for her weekly celebration (HERE) would help me reflect as the year begins.

It never fails. Even in my 20th year of teaching, I plan far too much for the first week. Over planning is good, to some degree, but it also makes me feel that I didn’t accomplish what I wanted at the start. So, time for some reflection to realize what we did actually accomplish in the first three days together.

1. Relationships
I make relationships my focus at the start of the year. I begin with my students, sending them a letter in the mail to welcome them to class. I expand to their parents, emailing the parents in all three classes and asking them to write me about their child so I will know more as we begin our year together. I also have the kids fill out a reflection survey for me that shares their likes, dislikes, and feelings about school. I worked hard all week to get to know the 68 students I will be teaching this year. I’d say I’m getting there, but still have work to do.

2. Reading and Writing
We began the year on the first day with homework. I think that some of them might have thought I was crazy, yet there it was. I explained that I want them to read and write daily, all year long. Usually I require 20 minutes a night for reading, 10 minutes a night for writing. This summer I decided to change that. Looking at my own reading and writing, I realized that I never read only for 20 minutes or write for 10. Some days I’m busy, and don’t get to either very much. Some days I read and write for hours. It depended on my schedule and my mood. So I asked them to make goals. I explained that 20 and 10 is a good goal, but might not be feasible every day. So maybe if one day would be super busy, read more the night before and after. So far it seems to have translated to them reading and writing more than my normal groups. We will see how that continues.

3. Art
Two years ago I had my homeroom students create their self-portraits with paint and we hung them around the perimeter of the classroom. I loved it. I stole the idea from Ann Marie Corgill’s brilliant book, Of Primary Importance: What’s Essential In Teaching Young Writers. Last year we didn’t make portraits. I was overwhelmed with my new schedule and couldn’t figure out how I would possibly have time to get out the paint with my homeroom kids. This year I was determined to hang up self-portraits once again. The problem was that I didn’t realize paint went bad. Opening up the paint from two years ago, I was met with globs of jelly. I briefly considered just buying more paint this weekend and then dismissed that notion and decided to have them create their portraits with markers and colored pencils. What followed was an hour of a quiet hum of conversation while we all colored and talked. My friend, Mindy, who teaches special ed in our building was up to check on some students and she joined us. At one point I looked at her and said that I wished every day could end with coloring, that I felt so relaxed and at peace. She agreed. It was amazing.

4. When it Clicks
I always get to know the kids better in my homeroom class. They are with me more of the day than the other two classes. I knew we had clicked at the end of the day on Friday. Kids were sprawled across the room, reading and writing with their friends.  A few were sending their first tweets from our classroom Twitter account, and shouting with joy when an author or classroom Tweeted them back. I was at the front of the room, helping a few students who had come in from other classrooms to find books to read for the weekend. One of my homeroom kids, Zoe, came up, quietly asking if I would want to read what she wrote. It was the start of a story. I read it and was immediately taken with her lead. I asked if I could share it with the class. She agreed. I called out, getting the attention of the group, and read Zoe’s lead. I told them that it captivated me and wondered if anyone else felt the same. Several nodded. I asked why and they shared out the reasons.

As I sat back and watched, I saw kids talking about Zoe’s writing, and then their own. Several commented on what they liked about each other’s writing. Payton showed me the cover of the story she is creating. I told her I loved it. She said she had shared it on our Twitter account to get feedback from other writers. I was impressed.

Payton's cover. If you'd like to give her feedback,
head over to Twitter and reply at @SagesHoots. Thanks! 
We might not have gotten to everything on my plans for these three days, but we are building our community. Kids have made me laugh out loud this week from their comments and actions. I’ve also cried over students this week, wishing life didn’t have to be so hard when you are only ten. We are talking books, sharing writing, and beginning to connect to the outside world. All in all, a successful week indeed.
My homeroom and I, day one. It is going to be a great year!