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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Once Upon A Time

I had a nostalgic moment yesterday when I brought home these boxes from my old classroom filled with my books. Years of teaching, my love of reading, lead to an extensive class library. My former teaching partner explained that due to the school renovations,  classrooms needed to weed out what they no longer used. They had kept more books then those I brought home, which made me so happy. Some of my favorites were still there and others were now home with me. I can’t keep all these books so some are for my grandchildren to remember how much I loved reading to them, some to a friend’s grandchildren and I hope to donate the rest to my neighborhood school. As I looked through the boxes I had so many wonderful flashbacks to the read alouds and what was discussed and shared with the kinders. And of course a reflection was not far behind!

Once upon a time in a far away land children played. They played at school. They played at home. They played with friends, they played alone.

Once upon a time in a far away land children dug in the sand; they tried to reach China.

Once upon a time in a far away land children used boxes to build forts, space ships to reach Mars, a kitchen or a lemonade stand.

Once upon a time in a far away land children did research on their own to see what would sink, what would float.

Once upon a time in a far away land children stayed outdoors till it was time for dinner; no one worried, it’s just what they did!

Once upon a time in a far away land children played board games and ball games, no coaches no trophies, but winners yes, and then off to the next idea.

Once upon a time in a far away land children were “tryers and doers” if it didn’t work out they tried again. We call it iterate, they just said “Let’s do it again and figure it out!”

As I look forward to all the tomorrows, I squeeze in a Once Upon A time In A far Away Land for good measure!

What are the yesterdays that you continue to value and expose your student to as they navigate today’s world?

Roxaboxen. A favorite book and a great classroom extension to build their city. 

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Do We Just Question Or Do We Make Changes?

This is the week I help out in my school with childcare for “faculty and staff children” as everyone is getting ready for students the day after Labor Day. I am one of the substitute teachers, a role that I am now quite comfortable embracing.

After reading teacher Facebook comments and tweets I started thinking about these discussions and had some of my own reflections. How many of us beat ourselves up for having done things a certain way and now have regrets after learning about other methods or ideas? How many of us wish our rooms were designed like those we see now? How many of us wish our schedule, our routines and our classroom management skills were more in line with what we read now? How many of us look at our curriculum and question how we approach teaching math, reading and writing? How many of us look at play and are amazed at its scarcity in children’s school lives? How many of us read about all those innovative practices and ideas and question how it’s possible to do it all? How many of us would have liked to have done it differently? How many of ask “Was it so wrong, what we did?  Did it do harm?” How many of us become defensive because we wish we knew then what we know now? How many us wonder? And then again how many of  us, don’t?

If we stay put and don’t look around and see what will work best for our students and make changes, then the problems are perpetuated. We can be part of the problem or advance the solution. Putting it out there, what do we want to see when we look back at our role in education?

Top graphic thanks to @woodard_julie. Bottom graphic thanks to @sylviaduckworth

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It’s Okay To Admit Fear

Summer is quickly winding down (or has already) for many teachers and students across the country. Here in Los Angeles many public and private schools have started; a few will be, in the next week or so.

And on Twitter the conversation continued throughout the summer, whether people sharing their Professional Development conferences, seminars, classes or joining chats. I joined in chats learning with incredible professionals looking at “best practices” for their students. I spent a wonderful summer with my daughter and grandkids and then a week in New York City with my son (he worked and I roamed neighborhoods, reacquainting myself with the city, it’s sites, food and attractions)! And that’s how I come to this reflection of “fear and uncertainty”. Putting it out there: it’s ok to admit fear, but not ok if fear holds you back.

The first few days of exploring the city to get to my destinations was by taxi. I walked everywhere once I was there; from downtown to uptown my transportation was by cab. And it got expensive! I quickly realized I was afraid to use the subway; I was a tourist traveling alone. But on the day I wanted to walk the Brooklyn Bridge I knew that a taxi was just plain wrong! I thought it through, went to the subway station and asked the ticket agent how to get to the bridge. Wherever I asked for help, the agents were so helpful and patient. Another time Uber was the best way to go and although I had used it before this was the first time I did the app and process on my own! For some these milestones of overcoming fear and uncertainty, may seem minor but for me they were big hurdles. There were some glitches and I did get turned around while walking in the city, but always in the daytime, and I just kept going.

And here I connect this reflection to kids and education. What’s easy for some is not for others. What some will do without trepidation, others hold back. What some will do with a gung-ho attitude and see a challenge as a road to conquer; others tread lightly, at times frozen in their tracks. Asking for help is ok, not asking and not doing, is not. In my years of teaching (and myself as a learner) I have seen the students who are the doers, the let’s wait, the jumping in with both feet, the let’s figure out all the possibilities before trying and the ones who won’t because of fear! The question then becomes why does the fear hold them back? Have we sent a message that this is something they should be able to do? Have we really laid the groundwork before they try? What do we know about the students that stops them from trying? Answering these questions is a partnership between the teacher and the student. Lecturing on trying is just another put down, another platitude. Asking how we can help, starting a conversation and really listening, as the students reflect for themselves what’s holding them back. And we get to learn!

As the school year begins, looking out at all those new faces, some eager, some ready and some disengaged we ask ourselves how do we make this year different and one they’ll remember as students who are “doers”.

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Is It Lunch, Yet?


Hurray it’s my time for lunch. For many, many years I ate lunch in the classroom with my kinder team mates. We laughed, shared personal and professional stories and planned for unexpected lessons. Then one year a kinder team mate (from next door) said she’d really like to join other faculty in the lunchroom. She went and the three of us (each kinder room had two lead teachers) stayed. Then over the next few weeks she would come back sharing funny incidents that were happening in other classrooms. So while we isolated ourselves, she reached out to her peers. A perfect example of “we’ve always done it that way” was about to be shattered and a growthmindset, before the term was popular, set in!

Here is my take away about the “lunch room.” I have read people writing about the toxicity that occurs in the teacher lounge, the negativity, dissing students, parents, administrators and other teachers and to “stay away!” Is this a place to rejuvenate or regurgitate? Is it sacrosanct: a place to vent, let your hair down? Is this a place to laugh and enjoy the cameradrie of fellow teachers? Do we talk and solve world problems (wish that could be because we had great ideas!)? Or is this a place a teacher brings a concern, a problem and we all put our heads together coming up with ideas and learning from each other?

Through the years of lunch room chatter I learned and shared what was important to me as an educator, a parent and a friend. Nothing was ever cut and dry, nor did we all agree all the time. But we were respectful, loving and caring. As I shared before, this school was my extended family, they had my back and I theirs. You don’t work at one place for 39 years and not recognize that! And I am not naive to say the underside of lunch room chatter did not occur. However for the most part we didn’t feed it. My take away with this is somewhat true about many learning experiences  “What you put in, you get out!” 

I wonder how many enjoy the “lunch room” or stay away because of unfortunate experiences or exposures! How many teachers have that choice or place? How do you deal with being uncomfortable around some conversations that might occur in the lunch room?

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Mentors and Coaches Are Out There

I had been thinking about writing a post on “mentor/mentorship/coaching when I came across this post from @DianeKashin1 She writes about mentors and leadership in Early Childhood Education and I found it so insightful. Understanding mentors and coaching can be a little confusing, however I look at both roles as “helping me become the best I can be in my field.” Wherever we are in our learning, others have paved the way and have much to offer us. When we’re open to listening, asking questions, observing and “trying out” our theories & hypothesis, we can use our classroom as a canvas. Looking at a canvas as a metaphor resonates with me, as I look back at artists over time, reworking their canvas numerous times. In my mind’s eye I see them lean back and observe, reflect where light serves best as they put the finishing touches on their work. And I look back at my classrooms and students throughout the years and reflect on those who’ve guided my academic journey. I don’t remember using the term “mentors” or “coaches” in the 1970’s or 1980’s when I first started teaching and getting my degree in education. But I remember all the wonderful educators who had such faith in me and went that extra mile to observe, comment and give me time and space to find my footing as I wrote here  

That one on one connection built on a trusting relationship can never be replaced; bouncing off ideas and questions. And there is your mentor or coach to help you look at you and your practices. Sitting and chatting openly to understand where you are and where you want to go, is right there!

However not every educator or school has mentors or coaches. Nor is everyone comfortable sharing their vulnerability. In a world of online learning, social media outlets that are available day and night, we can start to look at mentors and coaches a bit differently. You build a PLN at your finger tips, you ask questions, you read blogs, you join webinars, Twitter chats and book club chats, and Facebook groups and in a short time you have resources and guidance. New ideas spring up, new questions and your classroom canvas becomes a place to reach for the stars.

 Starry Night Vincent van Gogh 

Do you have mentors or coaches at your school? How do you work with them? How are they assigned? How do you utilize social media to help you with your learning?

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