On Being Grateful

I spent two days subbing in second grade and one day with the three year olds. It filled me with awe, amazement and such a sense of “we can do it!” I’ve known most of these second graders since their days in Toddlers. Subbing in a wide range of grade and age levels is an incredible privilege. I have seen these children grow, watch them learn and navigate their social-emotional learning and their math, reading and writing/academic skills. These experiences are a microcosm of life’s journey. School is not about getting “ready,” school is about their life now. As  many who read my blog know, I am an observer. I learn by watching, waiting to see where I’m needed and ask “why” before jumping in. The road to not fixing things hasn’t been easy, nor at times successful for me. From the heart that is ready to help, comes the slow understanding that, taking over, making it better, means I problem solve, not the person who needs to build the resilience to figure things out. And so I continue to learn.

I can’t say it enough times, how important I feel it is to build trusting relationships with our students (and with their parents). The sense that we care is inherent in this foundation. Implicit is the joy we have in teaching (if not, maybe time for another career choice).

Now how I see this played out in the classroom; a vignette or two. Morning meeting, responsive classroom games, some new, some I know. Kids kindly explain the game, I succeed, they applaud, cheer me on. I’m the guest, kids ask questions to learn about me. Answers surprise them, some do the “I’m the same or I relate” motion. I smile from ear to ear. Time to let then know who I am, time to build that trust.

Settling down at their desks, 2nd graders get books. It’s time to read. They choose, no leveled books. From graphic novels, to chapter books to Mo Willem books to non fiction, they read.  Daily 5 Rotations: RAZ kids on the iPad, small groups, Read To Someone, Word Work, they’re all busy. They now how this routine works.

Now it’s writing. Expanding on a letter they’re writing about a book they like and why someone should read it. New rubric to check their work. They’re good at sharing their work with me as they look at their checklist. Some start right away. I look around and wait to see what they need to get started. Again I reflect on how much they know and how at ease they are, even when unsure. It’s a safe learning space for them. How I wish it were so for everyone!

It’s math time and I get to play a game as part of the math rotation. They’ve played this before. Reinforcing regrouping. I ask if they can show me how they play this with ones, tens, and hundred units and dice. Excitedly, they tell me they’ll show me. When needed we used a wipe board to add another layer to the work. They helped each other. A safe place when mistakes are made and we figure it out together.

Base Ten 

Wednesday with the 3s. A different experience. Some of these children I met last year when they were in Toddlers. Some remember me from subbing in the class next door. Some know me because I taught their siblings. Some are comfortable asking me to read a story. Some stay away till a friend comes over and they join in. It’s all good. We’re learning about each other. It’s all good.  We have time.

It’s getting close to Thanksgiving. A very different one for me this year. But for now my constant is working with kids. I’m grateful. I always have been, when I’m at school.

And now my questions to you? It’s been a few months into the school year and how do you feel your students have settled into their routines? For some, Parent Teacher Conferences are in full swing. Are you comfortable with the relationships you’ve built with your students and families? Were you able to share with the parents all the positives about their children?

Grateful and gratitude. Life never taken for granted. Family, friends, colleagues, far or close by wishing you a great Thanksgiving.

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Teaching In The Time Of Chaos

Don’t know where to start. Hope this post won’t be a disjointed ramble of thoughts waiting to get out, but please indulge…

Since coming home from a wonderful trip spending time in Israel with family, friends and my sweet, incredible grandchildren, I’ve hardly had time to unpack and certainly not the thoughts about my trip. And I don’t even now;  from the horrific killing of Jews in Pittsburgh, in their house of worship to the carnage today in Thousand Oaks, California at the Borderline Bar & Grill, an event for college kids: College Night. Midterm elections done. Cheerleaders out there, some so happy, others not so and then, the uncertainty.

The hate is big, the anger is palpable, the uncertainty like a dagger never seems to ease up. Dramatic language you might say, but maybe not enough. Who to lay blame, who to admonish, we all have our opinions, our certainty that points the finger at the “other.”

I remember writing a post right after the Orlando Pulse shooting here   And here we are again, “teaching in the time of chaos.” We take a deep breath, enter our room, check out the daily schedule and get ready to greet our students each day. We smile, but the hurt is raw. What do we say when our students ask what’s going on? Why does this happen over and over again? Why do bad things happen to good people? That question that haunts us all with no satisfactory answer. How do we change the culture of hate, of vilifying the other? The us and them that tortures our world. I’ve always had more questions then answers. But this I do know, “teaching in the time of chaos,” is what we do. It’s what we cling to; to open up safe spaces to question, share and learn. We are sensitive and respectful to the students, their families and to the many points of view that come across our classrooms, not to lay blame, but start the dialogue, to find a way to heal.

TEACHING IN THE TIME OF CHAOS means being there. Be the voice that understands sometimes we just need time; time to worry, time to question, time to grieve and time to learn what we can do. It can’t be business as usual, it can’t be ignored as if it didn’t happen, and it can’t be that the curriculum has to be covered. The kids we teach need to be respected and listened to. “Teaching in the time of chaos” means that caring is what our students, parents, faculty, staff and administrators need from each other.

I hope this makes sense. My teaching experience for 38 years has been in early childhood programs and kindergarten. And now as a substitute teacher also in Lower Elementary. I realize for the most part they and I have been shielded from many of these discussions, always keeping in mind developmentally appropriate information shared; but the hugs are always ready just in case they are needed. A page in a math or language arts book is secondary, when “teaching in the time of chaos.”

Subbing for the librarian. 

 

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Here With Kids

I am back home from a wonderful three weeks in Israel, visiting with my grandkids and other family members. It was so hard to say good bye, it always is, even when they lived so much closer in Dallas. But I’m grateful for the modern conveniences of video phone calls. Did I say conveniences, my mistake, my life line for now!

I came home to my routine which helped me settle into the rhythm of my day. The horror of the antisemitism and killing of Jews in Pittsburgh still weighs heavily on me. Glued as I am to the news, whether the elections, the hate in this world and never far off my radar, kids and teaching, I have lots to mull over.

But this post veers to my excitement that I have so many substitute teaching days already booked. I will wear many teacher “hats” as I work as a librarian, an early childhood teacher with 3s and 4s and then as a 1st and 2nd Grade teacher. And I’m ready to be here. Here with kids is where my hope is empowered. Here with kids is where I’ve found joy, laughter and immeasurable wonder. Here with kids that I know will challenge me, engage me and teach me. Here with kids I have words, I have books, I have dreams I can share. Here with kids I get to listen and I get to learn!

Never from from Twitter chats and the wise words from many in my PLN I know there is so much to question and we do it because we care.

With so much turmoil in our everyday lives how do you approach what’s happening with your students?

HERE WITH KIDS!

Wise words from first grade: 

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It’s All About Balance

Let’s talk about balance. The reality check about balance is that it’s different for everyone! And the annoying part, once you think you’ve find that “magic” formula, “Ta Dah” it changes over and over again. Then all those pundits who say you should do this, you should do that, don’t live in my world and don’t know me. Traveling my road I discovered what works for me now and recognizing it will change again. What stress we put on ourselves trying to be like “others!” Understanding others is so important, but understanding yourself, is immeasurable.

It’s like teaching and learning, barely does that cookie cutter turn out those cookies the way you expected. We’re sold a bill of goods telling us “follow the program step by step” and you’re guaranteed success. Not true and at what cost! Know your people folks, know your audience, the balance here starts with you and them, not the program. And each year it changes. The hard part of teaching occurs when that program, that formula comes first; your students need you to know them, build relationships and be their guide as they travel the curriculum in your class. I’ll preach it, “Teach from your heart, the brain will catch up.”

I write this far from home, visiting family and friends, seeing both familiar and unfamiliar sites as I travel in Israel. A trip that focuses on balance. Not designed, unexpected but an accommodation that’s working for all of us (I hope). As my grandkids go off to school each morning (as well as their parents), I wait for them at home. In the early afternoon we (my daughter, son-in-law, my son and I) go off on an adventure close by. Then in the early evening we’re all together till bedtime. We’ve (my son and I) had days away visiting other family, seeing more of the country and getting a better perspective of life here.

A quiet neighborhood  

A reflective quiet morning, time to write because the words in my mind need a passage way. In a week we’ll be on our way home. The balance there will be so different. I’ve retired and I’m so grateful that I continue to sub at my school; dates to sub already on my calendar. First a week to readjust and take care of stuff. Friends will ask, “Don’t you need more time to rest before you start working?” Me, “It’s all good, I figured out how to balance it, for now.”

                  

Caesarea                                                                                         Rosh Hanikra

                                       

Baha’i Temple                                                                         Bet Guvrin-Maresha (caves)

How do you look at balance in your life? Does it continue to change?

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Preventive Care: Sketch Out

This crazy thought percolated in my head as I scratched and scratched my awful spider bites. Oh I know, don’t shout at me, I should not be doing that! But, but I made a mistake. Not earth shattering, nothing that I can’t stop (I hope). I have home remedies that work and when the next urge to scratch overwhelms, I’ll use one of them. But maybe better yet, I’ll do some preventive care.

If you read my blog you’ll know that this is connected to teaching and learning. How often do our students say “I made a mistake?” How often do kids say “What if I make a mistake?” How those worries impact our students often depends on how we, their teachers, respond.

In our hurray to get going, to start our “teaching” do we take time to set up an environment where “be brave” is as respected and encouraged as the “A” kids may seek. As I sub in various classrooms I see, what I’ll call ‘class rules/core values’ anchor charts that students developed with their teachers, to reflect what’s important in their learning space. Be kind, play safely, respect property, listen respectfully and others that set the classroom tone. Kids sign their chart and can refer to them when incidents occur. Kindness, building relationships, respecting differences are wonderful powerful talking points.

And then the caveat, you don’t say it once and walk away. Kids (and many adults) don’t learn that way. New work, of any kind, needs a gentle reminder that some stuff may be more challenging to understand, it takes time and practice. And some stuff has no right or wrong. And in most stuff there are NO MISTAKE! It’s really about the trying, the joy and effort in discovery.

So when we had a delightful Geniushour Lego Challenge and the chorus of  ‘I did this wrong’ and ‘I made a mistake’ reminded us to let these adventurous first graders know that working together, problem solving and enjoying the challenge was doing it,  just fine!

I have found that Heart Maps are a great way to generate writing  prompts that are authentic to the individual student. After a mini lesson the kids went back to their seats to work on their ‘maps.’ They were so excited to get going, but a few were uncertain (not an unusual occurrence). Some asked ‘What if I make a mistake?’ ‘What if I do it wrong?’ Here again that gentle reminder about mistakes and this was a chance to sketch out what was important to them.

So yes I like that term SKETCH OUT. That’s can be their ‘preventive care.’ Let’s let our students ‘sketch out’ what’s important to them so they can leave those mistake worries behind. We need to remember to listen. So next time I sub, going to share with my students that it’s important to figure out what we want do and then try it, before the “making mistake cacophony.” How about you? Is this something you see? How do you help your students overcome their ‘mistakes’ worry?

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That Takes Time (Leo the Late Bloomer)

I’m writing this from the parents’ lens, but read till the end, your teacher connection is right there. 

I had lunch with a kindergarten teacher. We taught next door to each other for 23 years. We called ourselves sisters from different parents. Both born a month apart, both in Germany. The reasons for our birth places quite different; she the child of a dad who was  in Germany, employed by our government after the war and I the daughter of survivors. We have always been kindred spirits and our dedication to teaching keeps us close to this day. But mostly we enjoy each other’s company. When we meet we have so much to catch up, reminiscing about teaching kinders and inevitably we talk about our families and grandkids. Today’s conversation lead to an epiphany, another a-ha moment as we shared where our grandkids were in their school life. And then like a flash I thought of Leo the Late Bloomer by Robert Kraus, illustrated by Jose Aruego. Like Leo’s dad, we all worry about our kids;

how they measure up to our definition of “on target” development. We wait and wait, cajole, encourage, prompt and worry. And then it becomes “their” time to reach those milestones (generalizing to get to school): they play, crawl, walk, talk, scribble, draw, write, count and read. And we sigh with relief as they hit those “markers.” But then we’re not done, we compare. Where does my kid fit in with their peers? That one knows what they want to be. That one’s so passionate about (you choose). That one’s an artist, for sure! That one’s athleticism will get them far. That one’s a thinker. That one’s a doer. And you wonder about yours. How often do we get to lazy, unmotivated, spoiled, pampered? How often do we hear we have to get them to shape up. Life is not a joy ride!

And to this I would say WHOA! Take it easy. Look at them with an open mind and heart. Things take time. They have the foundation, you’ve given them that. You’re their role model. And things take time. They’re all different. What they need is for you to believe in them and that they’ll get there. They will bloom. That takes time.

And now from my seat at the table as a teacher, how empowering is it for these kids when we remember, there are often many “late bloomers” that come into our classroom. They’re not cookie cutters. They’re all different in their interests and abilities. There strengths and needs vary. They’ll put you to the test many times. Build those relationships, find a connection. Enjoy them, cherish them, be their champion! Make that commitment. That’s what we do with “all bloomers!”

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Change And A Parable

I went to temple for Rosh Hashanah services and listened to an interesting sermon each day of the holiday. One was on change: how some change may appear as good and how some change may appear as bad. Basically my take-a-way: it’s what we do about the change that confronts us, that is up to us. Continue reading

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