Week 1 Theme
This year our assistant superintendent is challenging us to consider a variety of themes are we move through the year and to reflect on these themes.
This Week's Theme:
What will you do to make certain that each child in your class knows that they matter and that you care for them?
Relationships matter. Rita Pierson is right. Kids don't learn from people they don't like. Getting kids to like us is not all that simple. You are not going to get kids to like you by being cool or being funny. Kids don't fall for that kind of stuff. Kids have this inane ability to sense a phony a million miles. away. In my experience,, the very best way to get kids to like you is to sincerely like them. Every kid, even those who are able to locate all our "buttons" and press them with great frequency, have likable traits. The best way to like a student is to listen to a student. Before you can like a student, you have to get to know them. Sitting with a child and listening is the best way to get to know him or her. This can happen throughout the school day. There are lots of opportunities to chat up our kids. I use the Daily Cafe to structure our reading/literature lessons. Literature, and connecting to literature, offers many opportunities to connect with kids. Listening as kids share from their experiences is a great way to connect with them. During these chats, I often ask questions to better understand my students. I really think this accomplishes two goals, I learn more about my students and they grow to see me as an adult who listens to them with care. Of course, there are lots of opportunities to connect like this with kids. Recess duty and daily dismissal give more casual opportunities to chat with kids, listen to their stories, and send the message that I care.
Once kids know that we care about them, we can inspire them to take greater risks knowing that we'll be there to support and encourage them along the way and to catch them should they fall. I am often taken aback by the stories that our students walk around with. They carry such burdens for such little people. Learning, despite everything they have going on in their lives must seem like an impossible feat. Knowing that they can share their stories and that I'll be there for them, even when the falter, makes a difference.
When they falter, we take a step back, and give them a little time. Then, we can ask how we can help. I don't pretend to know what went wrong. I can't lecture. I listen. I offer to help in any way that I can. Generally, kids want to be successful and will ask for the help they need. Knowing their individual stories or, at the very least, appreciating that there is something going on that is challenging my student, helps me to be empathetic. More than anything, these kids need their teachers to come back again and again, despite their behavior, their attempts to push us away, or the fact that they don't seem to want a relationship with us at all.
So, what is the application to my practice? I will be a champion for my students. I will listen. I may be surprised that the child who is hardest to like is the one who needs me the most. I will be relentless in my attempts to build relationships with my kids, especially the ones who seem to distance themselves. I won't give up on kids when they disappoint me. I'll be their champion, by listening, asking, "how can I help?", and really working to meet each student where he or she is at. Every kid needs a champion. I'm hoping that, this year, I can be the champion for the kids who have never had a champion before and for kids who need a champion more than ever.
I really get the attraction to social media. It sucks me in just like everyone else. I check it far too often. I also manage accounts for our school district so while I might not be apt to tune in as much to my own accounts, I often think to check them if I'm already in updating for the district. I'm appalled at how much time can pass without me even being aware. I was ashamed when my phone sent me a notification outlining my weekly social media use. I was using social media more than the average person. YIKES!
I'm the mother of two teenagers. Social media is a major concern. While I think my son manages his consumption fairly well, I know that my daughter does not. She is 100% addicted to social media. She is a great kid. She takes honors classes and gets all As. She plays sports and dances. And, she will resort to any means in order to get a social media fix. We recently turned social media off of her phone. She snuck an old phone into her room and used our home's wifi to access Snap Chat, Instagram, etc. Reviewing her activity on these sites is like a full time job. Our smart girl exercises terrible judgement on social media. We've talked about the power of this technology and how it can have long lasting impacts on reputation but this has not resonated with her. Her addiction to social media drives a wedge between us. It is a constant battle.
Social media is a battle in my household and it is also a battle in the classroom. It amazes me how students are drawn to the social media aspects of every app we use. They quickly find the chat feature in Google classroom and they love to comment on their classmates' work in SeeSaw. Apps like FlipGrid use their social media components to engage students. Teenagers are social. There is a good deal of evidence that points to the fact that we need to make their learning social in order for it to be impactful and stick.
I wish I could look into the future so that I could know today what is best for my students and children. I worry about social media's impact on our kids. I worry about the impact on their bodies, on their self-esteems, and on their futures. Trust me, I do work with my kids, teaching them about responsible use. I demand kindness from my kids. I demand decency. Still, I've been disappointed by them. I wonder about their ability to responsibly use these platforms given their maturity. They know I'm watching. They know I read texts and check all their social media interactions. Nonetheless, they falter.
Right now, my daughter doesn't have access to her phone. When she gets it back, social media apps will not be available to her. After she earns those back, she'll have access to them between 3PM and 8:30 PM only. Also, time limits have been set. She will have one hour of access daily. Am I doing it right? No idea! I'm guessing my way through these unchartered parenting challenges and I'm quite sure I'm making a ton of mistakes. My daughter would agree! (And yes, I set a one hour daily time limit for myself too!)
Of course, I'll continue to be a teacher, a coach, and a cheerleader for my kids and students. But I worry. A lot.
Today was a crummy day. There are so many reasons for me to say this. Until, late this afternoon, it was just a bunch of little things eating away at me.
There wasn't one thing in particular that was eating at me, it was all the little things. Toward the end of the day, we got our MCAS scores from our principal. Honestly, I typically obsess over these stupid things. In the past, I've let them define me. Now, I've written about how challenging the year prior to this one was. Math was especially challenging. I knew my results were going to be poor. This was hard because my results are typically excellent. I hold myself to high standards and I beat myself up when children don't do well. I wasn't looking forward to getting them back. Even so, I hadn't been obsessing over them like I generally do. In fact, I'm not sure I had given them a single thought over the summer. I had hardly thought about them at all aside from one fleeting thought last week when a funny student assessment video came out on FaceBook. Honestly though, even though I knew they were going to be bad, I wasn't giving my MCAS scores much thought.
They were every bit as bad as I feared they would be and maybe a little worse. I have always had an overall teacher rating of "high impact" on student learning in both ELA and math. This year, my rating in math is "moderate" impact. The ELA score is still "high impact" but just barely. Given my school and district scores and what I know about my own scores, there is a really good chance that my scores are the lowest fourth grade math scores in our district. This is not a superlative I'm okay with. In fact, I came home feeling dejected. My head was spinning and I just wanted to crawl into bed. I know it sounds stupid but I felt like every muscle in my body was clenched and I was nauseous.
Then, I spoke with a colleague from our middle school. She asked if I'd had a specific little girl last year. I had. She shared that it was rumored that her mom had passed away. She had had a cancerous brain tumor and had fought bravely all last year. I contacted my principal right away. She made a few calls and confirmed that it was true. This sweet, young, hard-working, student of mine had lost her beautiful mother.
None of the rest matters. My heart is aching. There are no words. The child, her mother - it hurts. This beautiful mother was gorgeous and sincere and loving. She never stopped thinking of her children even when she was fighting cancer with everything she had. I still have all her emails. They are filled with concern and diligence and a deep, deep, love.. This mamma never took a break from putting her daughter first. She was simply lovely.
None of my petty little problems matter. Not tonight.
I had an I.E.P. meeting today. The purpose was to review some outside testing. Generally, the testing affirmed what the team already knew. This kiddo had made tremendous progress in a handful of years. While there was some work still to be done, and there were some definite social challenges to consider, this student was on the right track.
Toward the end of the meeting, the conversation turned to homework. The parent shared that their family life had improved dramatically this year due to the fact that I do not assign homework. She shared what the experience had looked like last year. They were always at odds with their child. There was crying and frustration and stress. The student's self esteem was always a concern. This year, the family was opting to do other things with their after school time instead of homework. They have started a tradition of playing boardgames together. They love Yahtzee. The family also makes nightly reading a priority. Prior to this year, the reading was often passed over because, by the time the child finished the homework, there was no energy or time for reading.
I am a little concerned about last year's class. I worry about whether they'll be able to adapt to the demands of fifth grade. I wonder if they'll have the organizational skills, work ethic, stamina, etc. to keep up with the homework expectations.. I worry that I may have done them an injustice. While the short term benefits are great, I hope that I didn't set my students up for an even greater amount of stress because they didn't have homework in fourth grade.
I haven't taught science for a few years now. Because we're a team of three now, we've had to get a little creative with how we teach science and social studies. Our rotation is hard to explain. In the end, the students will have all three teachers this year. One of my colleagues will teach all social studies. One will teach mostly science but will also teach a single social studies unit to one of our classes at the end of the year. I'm teaching a combination of science and social studies. It is actually pretty perfect. It is just enough to get me back in the swing of things.
We're starting off the year with some basic science. So far the students have explored the following:
We're using PBS's resources for our work around the Design Process and STEAM activities. Their Design Squad Global materials are really excellent. The website is a little tough to navigate. Now, once I find resources I like, I bookmark them because I sometimes have a difficult time finding the same resources twice! Today, our students accepted their watercraft challenge. The students were challenged to work in groups of 3-4 to brainstorm, design, build, test, evaluate, and redesign a boat that would support 25 pennies for at least ten seconds. Their supplies consisted of two paper cups, 6 inches of duct tape, ten plastic drinking straws (straight), and a 10"x12" piece of Saran wrap. The design process was introduced on Monday using the PBS resources. They have some great graphics and video clips that allow students to visualize every step of the process before diving in themselves.
I did a lot of pre-teaching to ensure that my students would not only be able to present their ideas to their design team but they'd also be able to truly listen to and consider the ideas of others. I asked the kids to do the brainstorming piece independently, even before they knew who their teammates would be. This helped to generate lots of ideas and helped all kids to become invested in the problem.
I couldn't have hoped for a better outcome. The kids and the science really amazed me. Each of the seven boats was completely unique. The kids looked like they were 100% into their work. They didn't even notice me snapping photos. There was not a single tattle in the room and no one looked frowny or complained. Surprising to me, every boat was able to float and support the weight of the pennies for ten seconds. I chuckled a little when one of my students confessed, "I really thought I was going to be a loser." He was pleasantly surprised. So was I! I'm looking forward to the debriefing time tomorrow. I won't hesitate to take on a lesson like this in the near future with this group of kids.
I don't know that there has ever been a more exciting time to be a science teacher, maybe during the Race for Space, although I'm not even sure. I feel lucky to be teaching science this year and lucky to be teaching these kids.
This is not a rant. At least that is the plan.
I stayed at school till 7:30. I do this one or two times a week. I do work on the weekends. I get to school early in the morning. Nope. Actually that is a complete lie. I'm not a morning person, I stay up too late for that. I can't function till I've had a cup of coffee and a fair amount of down time. It is better for me and better for the little humans who I teach. But I really do put in a ton of hours. I don't actually mind putting in the time. I enjoy the work. What I mind a whole lot is the fact that I feel like I'm ALWAYS in the weeds. I'm never all set with grading, or planning, or communicating with parents. I especially suck at keeping up with paperwork and deadlines. Oh, I have the best of intentions. The truth is, I received an email from my principal today personally requesting that I sign off on my educator plan and electronically share my goals with her. The plan should have been signed off on. It takes all of two seconds to get it done. I should have done it the minute that I got the notification that the principal had shared the doc with me. I should have done it then because when I wait, stuff like that, stuff that doesn't feel uber important to me, just slips through the cracks. Then, I miss a silly deadline.
Now the goals are another story. My team has met with the principal and reviewed the draft goals. I wanted to tweak the goals before submitting them. When are they due? Not for weeks. My principal likes to check things off her list. I'm on her list. I shouldn't have let her email reminder bother me. Instead, I let it feel like harassment. I allow myself to get all bogged down. I get pretty cranky around the fact that just one more thing is being demanded of me and I'm already feeling like I'm in the weeds.
So much is expected of us. One of the brightest moment of my day was when I realized I had an IEP meeting coming up on Thursday and that it required no paperwork on my part. The work feels never-ending. I don't mind working hard. I just wish I felt better about myself at the end of the day.
Sorry. It was a rant.
If you have taught or worked with children in any capacity, you know that full moon fever is a real thing. Prior to the full moon, energy levels rise and with rising energy comes the increase of impulsive behaviors and general inattention. I'm going to go ahead and blame last Friday on the full harvest moon. Today was a fantastic day but it didn't just happen. Here is what I did to get our class back on track.
First, remember that young boy who had me feeling deflated? I met with him first thing this morning. We spoke for a short time about the day he had on Friday and the impact it had on him. As impulsive and inattentive as he is, he is a very reflective child who shares his thinking and who always gives me the impression that he is sincere. To start our conversation I acknowledged a few of the things I notice him doing well. He is a very confident and engaged mathematician who stays tuned in during instruction and who doesn't hesitate to get his voice in the room. I acknowledged this very real strength. Next, I reflected on how focused he is during #classroombookaday. I thanked him for always being so willing to make and share out the connections that he makes between the literature and our lives. I told him that kids pipe up in their seats when he shares his observations. This is true. No embellishment here! Next, I talked about the fact that this kiddo is bilingual. In a short amount of time, he has learned English! In fact, his conversational English is so good that I'd never suspect that English wasn't his first language. I shared my own struggles with second language acquisition. He really seemed to absorb the fact that I know he is smart and that I think he is already accomplished.
Then, we talked about his struggles. He acknowledged that learning to read and write in English is hard work. We also acknowledged that paying attention and fighting his impulsivity is also really hard. It made sense to both of us that it would be hardest for him to focus and give a good effort when he is being asked to do something that is truly hard like reading or writing. I shared some of the behaviors I had noticed and also shared how the behaviors were impacting me and some of his classmates. For example, I sometimes had a hard time keeping my train of thought when he was making noises, or chatting, or rolling around, or squirming. He seemed to understand my concerns. Then we talked about the kind of things he could do when he was feeling fidgety or frustrated. I told him that I believe in him and I asked if it would be okay if we checked in with each other at the end of the day to talk about how the day went.
Honestly, he wasn't perfect. He told a girl who is working so hard to make social connections that she stunk at soccer. This was pretty terrible because it probably took every fiber of her being to join that soccer game. I can't explain why he does things like that . However, he made a very real effort to have a better day in class. During the Daily CAFE he put noise reducing headphones on and read a good fit book. This is HUGE. Generally, he sits in the inflatable chair (ya know, before it became deflated) with a thick book in his hands and makes little effort to even fake read. Today, he made an effort. It was a much better day.
I'm not crazy or naive or so optimistic to think that our five minute conversation had a life-altering impact on him. I know we have tons of work ahead of us. I sense it won't be easy work. I'm committed though. Today was a better day. I'll take it.
Here's the thing: my class had a bad day on Friday, in addition to this one child's indiscretions, we had a bad day. I had spent the weekend pouring over some of their math assignments...I even blogged about them. On Monday, I shared their work and what I had observed. or actually, hadn't been able to observe. We looked at the work together. With their help, I modeled what the work should have looked like. We brainstormed lots of ways that the students could SHOW what they were thinking and the math processes that were happening in their heads. We worked together so that they could share the strategies that had allowed them to solve problems.
I told my students that I had some good and bad news for them. I told them that I'd never give up on them. I told them that when they give me work that doesn't seem to be equal to their potential, they';; get another chance to try the work. Ya, that's right. They'd be retrying this assignment. Then, I asked them to post before and after photos in SeeSaw. I asked them to write a caption to explain the two pieces and what they illustrated.
Today was a better day. Those captions, in a addition to the change in behavior of that student who may or may not have deflated my chair, gave me a little bit of hope. I know we'll have more bad days. i know that there will be LOTS of average days. But I'm holding out for another awesome day.
Our principal gave us homework. Yup, the teachers have homework. In her defense, she gave us lots of options around when we could complete the homework. She is letting us use our Data Block and even offered to get us class coverage to get the chapter read. That seems a little sad...that teachers would opt out of teaching time to do this assignment. It is kind of sad that she had to offer that option. Plenty of teachers were up in arms over having this assignment. I can't lie, the email caused me to roll my eyes a little. I'm not even sure why. I don't think I minded the fact that she gave us this assignment. I might have been annoyed at all the options for completing the assignment. I don't even know why and quite honestly, I don't want to give it another moment's thought.
This is the book we're reading:
One of our district initiatives is a focus on SOCIAL EMOTIONAL LEARNING. It is important. Really, it is. Our students seem to come to class less ready to learn and have fewer skills for self-regulation and cooperation. If our goal is student learning, then we have to address their social emotional learning too. I'm hoping this book gets a lot better. The introduction and first chapter did not engage me. Instead, I had to force myself to stick with the book. There were some sections that caused me to pause and reflect but overall, I'm not loving it yet.
For me, the most compelling part of the first chapter was the story of two brothers. Both were tracked. One thrived and the other did not. Only, it was the brother who was sent to a vocational school because he demonstrated less potential than his brother who ended up thriving. The authors pointed to the fact that this brother, who was encouraged by his boss, had a growth mindset.
As the chapter developed, the author's talked about how students can mask their belief that they're not smart enough. I got to wondering about the successful brother. While some students who doubt their ability might mask their lack of intelligence with behavior or laziness, I'm wondering if the brother with the growth mindset had a growth mindset at all.
They brother in the story reminded me of my own dad and myself. First, I'll share my dad's story. While never quite as successful as the brother in the story, my dad went to an inner-city public school where he could not attend the high school where college-bound kids went because he didn't show that kind of potential. He grew up in a very poor family who was busy raising 6 kids. His oldest sister was mentally retarded. His parents had their hands full. They were able to provide the basics most of the time. My dad never felt supported in school. He never felt like he connected with any of his teachers. He dropped out of school before graduating. He enlisted in the Air Force. After an honorable discharge he began his career at an electrical distributor/contractor. Over the years, he demonstrated good work ethic and a commitment to learning the business. He was eventually promoted to management and earned a salary that afforded him the ability to send his four kids to parochial school and a few of us to college. I'm just not sure there was a growth mindset at play. My guess is that my dad questioned whether he was smart enough. In an effort to mask his inability to measure up, my dad worked hard until he attained success.
My story is a bit different. I was always very young for my grade. I went off to Kindergarten at just four years old. I struggled early on with reading and missing a good deal of school in first grade due to pneumonia and other illnesses didn't help. I was in low reading groups and was always aware that I was less smart. In sixth grade I transferred to a new school. I was eager for a fresh start. After taking a placement test, I was placed in the lower track and had to use the same reading book I had used in the fifth grade at my previous school. I was humiliated. I started to hang around with kids from the upper level class. I tried to act like they acted. I even worked to improve my handwriting so that it was more like their neat handwriting. I really started to focus in on my school work. I slowly made gains. I never really caught up with my peers until high school. I'm not sure I had a growth mindset. To this day, I work hard. Sometimes I think I work hard to mask this still-present notion that I'm not as smart. I don't think I'm much different than those kids who mask their inability with poor behavior or laziness. I just chose to mask my inability in a way that was socially acceptable and positive such that it benefited me in the long run.
I did my homework. I even responded to the two comprehension questions we were asked to answer. I'm reserving the right to change my mind about the quality of the book. For now, it is just okay.
It was time to upgrade some of my classroom seating. It is important to me that kids have cozy places to cuddle up and read. I also think that having some inviting seating gives a warm look to the classroom that makes kids feel welcome. Two of the chairs I purchased were inflatable with a corduroy type texture to them.
Yesterday, one of my students "noticed" that the chair nearest my desk was deflating. I thought that maybe one of the pluggie things had come unplugged. As I wondered about what could be going on, my student, the one that noticed that the chair was deflating, the one who often sits in that chair, noticed a whole in it. The hole was minuscule. I never would have found it on my own. I don't want to think that my student punctured the chair. I don't want to think that he did it on purpose. What I know is this boy often sat in this chair. This boy noticed the deflating chair. He knew right where to look for the leak.
The chair and the pin hole are the least of my problems. This boy has got me feeling a little deflated. He is sort of a big kid with a ton of energy. Every time he moves about the classroom, he does so while sort of dancing and leaping about. During whole class instruction, this student is either blurting out or completely disengaged. Morning is definitely his best time of day. He thrives during number talks and during #classroombookaday. There is no doubt in my mind that this boy is bright. I just need to figure out how to reach him.
During the first week of school our class was talking about student growth. We talked about how we're all working on something. Some of us are working on developing as mathematicians while other students really have to focus in on literacy skill development. Other children need to focus their energy on developing age appropriate social skills so that they can finally earn a friend. During this conversation, this particular boy confessed that he used to really struggle with behavior and attention and he used to take a medicine to help. He let the class and me know that he no longer needs this medicine to attend and comply with behavior demands.
There is no doubt in my mind that this boy is very bright. The truth is, he has made remarkable gains in just a few years. He is bilingual and is supported by our English Language Learner (ELL) teacher. Despite being bright, this student falls apart when it is time to express himself on paper with pencil. It is hard to tell whether the root cause of his struggle is language, skills, attention, or work ethic. He definitely requires frequent teacher checkins or teacher nearness when possible. It is early days. I keep telling myself this, but still, I'm feeling a little deflated.
No way to sugar coat it. Today wasn't awesome. Today was Friday. I love a Friday. Not just because it is Friday but because I generally plan something a little fun and celebratory. We had focused on using doubles and near doubles to add during our number talks. I had excellent reason to believe that the kids had that strategy down. Instead of another number talk, I had planned to use number Splats with the class. A few of my students (who don't attend chorus) had been introduced to Splats the week previous. The Splats are presented using PowerPoint. My computer was operating pretty slow. As a result, the slide sorter was visible. Ideally, I would have had the Smart Board off till I was successfully in presentation mode. When I finally brought up the first slide the students should have worked independently to count the dots. Instead, a couple of kids, who had seen the answer when they had viewed the slide sorter shouted out "17" and then a few more echoed them.
I was annoyed. I had a few choices. I could have skipped this puzzle and moved to the next one. That might have been a better option. There is a good chance that they had only seen the number of dots on the first puzzle. I could have dismissed the shout outs altogether and brought in the splats and moved forward with the rest of the task. I could have closed this presentation and opened another.
I didn't do any of those things. I didn't yell. There really wasn't even any tone when I spoke to the little darlings. Maybe that is scarier. Kind of like a serial killer. Anyway, I shut it down. I calmly explained that we don't "DO" math that way. We do math to learn. We do math to expand our thinking. We do math so that everyone learns and no one is left behind. We don't shout answers. We don't shout out saying that it is "easy" and we don't yell, "done" when we're finished. I explained that as teachers we always come prepared with a few plans up our sleeves. Plan A is always the preferred pathway to learning but that there is often a plan B or C that will get us where we're going...but they're not as fun. I explained that we were going with plan B today.
The rest of our math class went just fine. The objectives were met. The math was engaging. It wasn't "Fun-Friday-Awesome." Culture is critical. I own the fact that I set us up to fail with my tech gaff. However, a handful of my students did not respect the culture we're working to establish in our math class. I needed to close down the fun. They need to see that the way we conduct business has to be centered around respect for one another, respect for the work we're doing, and respect for ourselves. I wish I could fast-forward to next Friday and be comforted by the fact that I did the right thing. I hope so!
Number Splats by Steve Wyborney (@SteveWyborney) really are awesome. Check them out if you haven't already.