A Tree Is A Life, Save It

I’m not sure why this quote (mine and a 5th grade boy long forgotten) keeps ruminating in my head. In elementary school a long time ago I partnered up with a boy in my class to write and illustrate a slogan about saving our environment. How could that even be? It was the late 1950s. He and I won or at least placed (memory being tricky as it were) and we met the mayor of Montreal, Mayor Jean Drapeau (how I remember his name could only be how significant this whole incident remains in my life to this day. And I looked it up to verify a certainty!) Students from different schools met the Mayor, shook his hand and received a certificate for their school. I came home and told my parents I would never wash my right hand again. That’s how proud I was. I didn’t want to wash away this stupendous honor! Needless to say I did wash my hands but the memory has stayed forever. In some ways this was a highlight for this young girl who ended up navigating some pretty challenging years. It reinforced the idea for me, that yes there are so many obstacles we face, but somewhere, in time, we have that moment that shines through and we hold on to it when it’s most needed. And I segue to this post because whenever we interact with our students, we may be the catalyst for them to cherish “a moment in time.”

I subbed in two kindergarten classes and one first grade this week. If I say I loved every moment of it, you might cynically be thinking, sure that’s just it, you’re subbing. I know so well the difference between inherent responsibility of a classroom teacher and the luxury of laid back interactions of the substitute teacher! But that’s just not me. I jump in ready to support the co-teachers and the students in any way I can. One kinder boy walked around with his wipe off board proclaiming and sharing his love of school. His joy was contagious. 

Before I read this book, 

another kinder boy said, “I think I’ll call you ‘caramel.’ Surprised I asked him why, since it didn’t sound anything like ‘Fay.’ He replied, “Because you’re sweet like caramel.” The teachers in the room all smiled with delight! What an interesting comment from this child. We talked about Giving Thanks and #worldkindnessday. They made the connections. And they got it! Another day in kinder, the students were so excited about doing a podcast related to Thanksgiving and then learning how to use PicCollage. They also tried adding “loose parts” to create their self portraits. There was so much excitement after the initial “how do I do it?” They tried different materials and were eager to share with me and each other the materials they used and their purpose.

 

And then a day in 1st grade. A day where we all learned to go with the flow. An upside down day of letting go of schedule and being flexible to meet the needs of the kids in the moments of situations. We were reminded about Kindness, in fact and deed, not just a word on an anchor chart. We talked about Thanksgiving and recognized that not all felt the same way, reflecting about Native Americans at this time. We worked on our “listening to stories and answering questions skills,” we had math activities and tech time with iPads and laptops. A busy day, a time to celebrate November birthdays.

Making spirit arrows. Practicing motor skills, patience and learning more about Native American culture and contributions. A busy day.

So where am I with all this. A little bit all over the place, I know. But really looking at all the tweets from people at #ncte2017 especially those about “stories” and listening, hearing and encouraging people to share their stories. It’s really about making “room” for our students to know their stories are important to us. How do we make room for our students stories? What does this say about our classroom and who we are as teachers? What are our values and what is our culture in promoting a place for all of our students?

Thinking, “If a tree is a life, save it” go from there with a “a kid in our classroom..what can we do?”

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My Name Is Faige

This is a little awkward to share because I can’t believe how long it has taken me to share this. Not only on my blog, but with my friends.

I’ve covered up too long and it’s made me realize that I’m not the only one, as I think back about all th children I’ve taught and their families. And what I’ve covered is the essence of my past and part of the physical me. My name is Faige (not Paige with an F but FAY GEE- G like in Gate and then the long vowel sound of E). When I started teaching I became “Fay” easier to say, to prounce and to deal with.  I’m proud of the Faige me. Named for a relative who past away, a tradition of my Jewish faith, that continued with the naming of my children and then my grandchildren. It brings me solice to know that we keep family close to our heart to remember in this way. I am so proud of who I am because of the past that has formed me. And the physical me has often been a challenge, from the tall, long-legged awkward young girl; wide-eyed eager to take it all in. Hopefully you have recognized the passion and compassion that’s been with me for always. The ears that stick out, the nose that I finally grew into and then the scar on my chest (two open heart surgeries) that I have embraced as my badge of courage, but covered it up for many years.

At 70 it’s really time, well overdue, to let it go. Not to worry about the physical me, but relish the time I have for more adventures, experiences, family and friends. Time to sub and cherish the unbelievable satisfaction I get from being in my school environments.

The teacher in me is always part of my blog, and as I said in the beginning of this post, I wonder what students and families cover up so we see them in the best light. I imagine until we really get to know them, build trust and relationships, everything is superficial.

Remembering that, hopefully opens our eyes to what is and what might be. As always your comments and discussions are welcomed.

My nephew took this picture trying out his new iPhone. Being me is just fine! 
An addendum: I want to add I love my Faige name. I also love my Fay/Faye name. They are both part of who I am. They both complete me. 

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Trust Me

Going through immigration and security control as I traveled through Thailand and Bali I thought of how often we say “trust me.” It popped up in my mind when I wondered what my response would be when I was asked questions as part of this process. Would I say, “no I’m not bringing in … Trust me. No, no one gave me anything to bring in. Trust me.” No I don’t have any fresh food products. Trust me.” I know I’ve often used that phrase in reference to so many topics. Was the show good? “Trust me,” it was great! How is the lasagne? Not so great, “Trust me.” Will the glitter come off their clothes? Yes, “Trust me.” Are the kids getting enough time for play? They really are, “Trust me.” Will I need to get a shot at the doctors office? Not sure, but if yes it won’t hurt much, “Trust me.” Do you feel the reading/writing/math programs meet the needs of all the students? Oh yes these are the top rated programs out there, “Trust me.” (In full transparency some of these examples are used to make my case.) I think you get it. We can all reflect how often we say, “Trust me.” BUT why should any one trust us? Have we proven that we are somone to be trusted? Someone with integrity, honesty, who understands the responsibility inherent in trust, and has taken the time to establish that trust? In most professions that trust is so important and speaking from my educator’s hat (we all wear so many hats) it can elevate or crush a student’s journey.

In the early years, we are the surrogate parent, as the toddler trusts us to meet every need. In the preschool years, they learn that we’ve created a safe trusting environment for their socialization and exploration choices. They enter kindergarten and the primary grades (1st through 3rd for now) and building that trust takes time and work, it’s not a given and not automatic. But those relationships built on trust sets the stage for the students to find their potential, explore their interests in a place and space that says it’s okay to try here; a promise we have made as teachers.

I know this post might be pushing some buttons. Reflections, mine and others, often make me think, as I challenge me to do better and be better.

I trust that we can do it.

Photo from a recent trip my son and I took to Thailand and Bali. I was determined to get to a waterfall. After two, “not possibles,” we made it! I trusted people to help me navigate my fears and the climb to reach the waterfalls.

 

 

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It’s How You Look At It

I recently read this post from @gcouros and was so engaged in reflecting about the mindshift from “I got to” to “I get to” that I decided it was time to blog. I retired two years ago and always knew that I wanted to continue teaching. Luckily and fortunately I am a substitute teacher at my old school and another one, not to far from my house. I even get to choose my preferences for the age/grade levels that I am interested to be on call! Of course the prearranged, planned sub days are much preferred, but I’m comfortable with the early morning texts or phone calls as I jump out of bed and get ready to go. I GET TO work with delightful, energetic, inquisitive kids, wonderful teachers, and observe their interactions with their students and the curriculum. It’s been all that I could have asked for! That’s why I continue to be surprised when people question why I still stay “in this business.” They question why I do it and see it as a “Got To” for whatever reason they might attribute the necessity of continued work after retirement. And I, well I see it as “I Get To” learn some more, to be engaged in the wonder and to be in an environment that keeps me hopeful for the next generation of leaders. I “Get To” participate in Twitter chats,   ask questions, share experiences and express my opinions. The student choice/voice that I am a firm believer in advocating also applies to adults, so there you have it, here’s my voice. Not a “GOT TO” but a “GET TO.”

After reading the post I tweeted:

I hope after reading @gcouros post you might take a few minutes to reflect where you are on the I GOT TO or I GET TO mindset. From Professional Development to seminars to faculty meetings, to whatever is part of your job, what’s your approach, what’s your perspective? Whatever your field may be, how does this feel for you? And then the hard part, how can we create an environment where our students see the work they do as I GET TO and not an I GOT TO.

 

 

 

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Wonder By Any Other Name

Before we called it makerspace, innovation, STEM or STEAM, we did it and called it “discovery/wonder” as students had fun exploring their world. That wonder would lead the learning. Students problem solved, wrote stories, read stories to family, teachers and friends and then went out to play, at school and at home. Now fast forward many, many years, various ideations and we see how this works today.

What joy it is to walk into a classroom where “wonder” is valued as part and parcel to learning; where questions stop the lesson and searching for the answer involves those who are challenged by the questions. We can call it differentiation, we can give it many names if we need to pigeon hole it in our minds or validate why we do, what we do. I’ve done that. I’ve justified digressing from the lesson and I was comfortable and confident when this occurred. I was lucky! I worked in a school that valued not only students’ spreading their wings, but also teachers. And I had a teaching partner who was supportive and caring. We talked, brainstormed and when that teachable, a-ha moment stopped us in our tracks, well, we went for it.

Makerspace, innovation, STEM and STEAM are now part of our lexicon, penciled into our class schedules and curriculum. They have empowered our students with voice, choice and agency in their learning. And that is incredibly rewarding.

I wrote this post after I read @gcouros post Small Change, Big Difference. And I thought of the impact this has on our students.

I share these picture of kids’ curiosity and wonder.

Making a fort in an outdoor space. 

Visiting a “makerspace”.

       

The classroom as a “Makerspace.”

  

  Collaboration using technology:PSA on our environment.

Innovation Bins:  (Created by Rachel one of the kinder teachers at my school.) 

However we see it or define the “wonder” in learning, when it happens we know it. Our job is to take those little steps to make it happen. We did it for years, let’s see where it continues to go. How do we make space/time for “innovation” in whatever way works for our students and us. Is this important and supported by your institution?

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That Slow Start: There’s No Rush

I subbed in kinder this week. My old room, my old partner and my old assistant. Old in terms of familiar and comfortable as our rhythm and old established synchronism was as if I never left! New stuff, new room arrangements and new kids yes, but passion to teach, as fresh as ever. And that needs to be when faced with a “new” crop of kids each year. Nothing here is old to them! My heart soared with pride as I saw teachers’ embrace the idea of a “slow gradual start” of the school year. Kinders have much to learn as routines and schedules in their six day rotation, becomes part of their schema, internalized with repetition, posted/pictured daily schedule and patience. In time the questions, the uncertainty of which group they go to specialists, which group is theirs for Daily 5 rotations and where they sit for guided reading, writer’s workshop or math will be accomplished with more ease. But not now. Now their eyes widen with questions, concerns, fear of being lost, doing something wrong and challenging the expectations when they’re not ready to stop their activity. These are all typical responses, ones that we see as kinders gradual learn the “ropes.” Till then our job becomes that of the caring adult to let our kinders know we’re here for them, to help when needed, to guide when uncertain, and to lead with reassurance; that although confusing, we’ll figure it out together and of course with hugs! For now morning play time helps with the goodbyes, putting away backpacks and getting settled for the day. From morning meeting to recess on the yard to that big chunk of work time to lunch/recess, then to specialists, PE, snack and dismissal; so much to do, so much to remember. But we will get there, because that slow start lets the kinders know we have time, there is no rush.

Today Jenny and I introduced how to use our iPads. While half the group worked with the iPads the other half had a math activity with Roger and then we switched groups. Can’t wait to see how the kinders will use the STEAM Bins. 

Some schools have kinders enter the program in gradual entry points the first week of school. Is that how your school works? Do you start the academic components right away or do you have discretionary leeway?

 

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Bystander vs Upstander

My day in 2nd Grade and a post from @gcouros here  gave me a focus for a thought and a reflection. I subbed in 2nd Grade on Friday and the students were working with their teacher on their “CHARTER” (looking at the class culture they want for their group) and they were finishing up with “inclusion” after discussions on what “safe, friends, proud” would look like in their room. This seemed so much more student generated then the usual list of class rules! When they thought about what “safe” might mean, they came up with a terrific through line and I was so proud of these 2nd graders that I have know since kindergarten.  (This is the first kindergarten group after my retirement; but I have subbed in their classes these past two and half years). The students referenced “safe” as in playing, the physical space and helping. For whatever reason this led me to the idea of the Bystander vs Upstander  (on bullying but it sends a similar message: Do Something). The other teacher was very kind in letting me share my ideas with the group. We talked how many people might notice an “incident” be aware of it, but wait to see if someone would come and help (the bystander). Then we talked about the “upstander” being the person who takes action, who goes to help or seeks help and doesn’t wait for someone else. We hoped this would help the children see that they have the “agency” to be that person. And then I read this quote from @gcouros post, “Kids need more than a “few” teachers that make them feel they think the world of them.” I thought of Rita Pierson’s TedTalk “Every kid needs a champion here  Each of us needs to look at oursleves as the teacher who lets that kid know #youmatter We don’t wait for someone else to be “that champion,” we get to be the Upstander and through the years our students will have many, many Champions because all #KidsDeserveIt


Have you had a discussion with your students about Bystander vs Upstanders? Have you looked at yourself as that students’ Champion? 

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