Outlier Mindset

 

 

I was driving home from an errand and had one of those “Oh I have a thought and I might develop it into a quick blog.”

So… thinking that one of our teacher mindsets has been to follow rules. We ask kids to follow the rules, because that’s what we as teachers do. We might not like to admit that some of what we do is part of the recipe of schools; schedules, routines, classroom design, classroom rules, administrative directives and so on and so forth. Think about how we implement our curriculum. We read those teacher guidelines and follow verbatim, using the language provided, step by step, teaching our students. Now not an absoulute, not all the time and not everyone, but some of us and sometimes, especially when we start teaching new academic programs. Look back at how we approached teaching the math, reading and writing curriculum so we could do it correctly. So much depended on “getting it right” or how will our students succeed. The pressure on us and the kids was palpable. I saw it; did you? And then there are so many incredible “thinkers” writing about the foibles of these expectations for ourselves and our students. Differentiate they say, think out of the box, include student choice and voice (they’re the true classroom experts); each child learns at a different pace with different skills, teach to their strengths; and we understand that there are also many outside variables in a child’s life, that influences learning.

Most of us have moved away from cookie cutter projects, isn’t it time to rethink what we as teachers need to do? Thinking that it’s time for the outlier mindset. Time to do what feels right for our students. Time to challenge conventional thought and actions. Build that relationship with your students (and their parents) that shows you care and they matter! Encourage all school members to look at their mindset and maybe, just maybe, develop that outlier mindset as well!

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Summer Has Arrived

I said good bye to “my kids” this week. Teary-eyed (me) I knew that next year will be a big step for them. My school (I say that even though I have retired and subbing has fulfilled my need to continue teaching) is under construction and when they come back in September there will be many changes. But they are resilient and the faculty, staff and administration are more then capable to welcome them back to an environment that has always been exemplary in knowing how to take care of kids; physical, social, emotional and academic well being. Toddler hugs, 3s’ smiles, 4s’ good wishes, kinders’ thanks, 1sts’and 2nds’ joyful waves, greeted me this past week. And then the parents sharing with me my impact on the lives of their children now moving on. It has been a very good week. Yesterday the school said good bye to retirees and teachers moving on. (I was so grateful that I could be there for this special event.) The love and memories shared left no dry eye in the room. This is a community that has opened its door and hearts to so many. Looking back at last summer, I reflect on the changes in me as I start this summer. I have found a rhythm to my life that suits me; as I balanced subbing and time with my family. My daughter and grandkids are on their way. My son will also enjoy spending time with them, and, I, well I’m adjusting to my new normal. Life as a widow has been eased because of the support of family and friends. I am lucky, I am resilient.

So good byes though hard reminds us that nothing stays the same. But knowing that tomorrow brings new wonder, different adventures and time to take stock of what we have.

For some summer is PD, coursework, workshops and reading books (professional and joyful escapism), or vacations that are long awaited!  So I hope summer rejuvenates, reenergizes and gives us time to enjoy what’s on our bucket list.

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EOY (A Sub’s Reflections: Past and Present)

It’s almost done.

It’s almost over.

The time has flown and the children have grown.

The year began with questions and tears.

The end is near, again questions and tears.

They came in the room new to me, and me to them.

So much to do, so much to learn.

They came in wondering, how will I succeed if I don’t know?

And me, I too wondered, will I succeed, I have so much to learn. Who are you and what should I know?  What do you like; at school and at home? How do I help you say good bye to the mom or dad or special friend who leads by the hand into the room? Do you love to build sand castles that reach to the sky or climb the structure and cry, “Look how high I can be?” Is reading fun, or is it a chore? When you write, are you excited to learn and do so more? Are those numbers confusing, or do those symbols give you a clue? Whether in books, on the iPad or TV shows what do you want to know about the world to explore?

And when I see you I’m ready to share about me what you might want to know. And together we learned and the time flew by, some days sad, but mostly glad.

And now you want to know, about what’s next? How will it be for me and my friends? Will the teacher like me, know who I am? Know that I’m a runner, an artist a clown? Will the work overwhelm and make me worry or am I ready to move on, as you’ve told me I am?

It’s almost done, the good-byes are hard. You taught me so much about who I am and I thank you for that! It’s almost over, it’s time to move on, but I’ll remember the year we had.

         

A year of subbing (or as a #kinderchat friend shared that substitute teachers are called “guest teacher” in her district) is almost over. It’s been a wonderous year of working with incredible educators and students who continue to inspire and awe. This post is written as a tribute to them as I share my memories and reflections of the beginnings and endings of the year as a classroom teacher. And for me similar feelings I have as their “guest teacher” in the Toddler, 3 and 4 year old programs, kindergarten, 1st and 2nd grades.

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Books, Bibliotherapy and Patience

From the time I put a book in my hands and read about someone else’s life I knew this would be transformative for me! And it has. Instead of wallowing in self pity (many opportunities for that) I read about another’s dilemma, conundrum or challenge in their lives. Old classics just reaffirmed that “we all go through trying times.” And this belief helped me get through the challenges in my life. But so much for that, for now. (A previous post to help you understand.)

I steered my kids to books as outlets for their “drama” and now my grandkids read voraciously, understanding that books can help them as well.

From the day I entered the classroom I knew books held a key and the backbone to my teaching. Whether sharing joyous, humorous stories, informational text, traveling to distant countries, looking at hardships characters endured or deleving into self-help books my go to reservoir was always plentiful! When classroom situations seemed daunting there was always a huge number of books available in our school or classroom library. And what an incredible resource we have in our librarian! I think about this as I reflect on my years of teaching and how often that book, that said it so well, was close at hand. For the child who was bullied, the one with few friends, the one facing the death of a parent or close family member, the one who faced illness, or one who was moving or the daily “goodbyes” when it was time for school; books that looked at empathy, kindness, and the choices we make. There was a book there and a caring adult to read to the class (or one on one to that child), to address their concerns. (To read about Bibliotherapy )

As with all the “tools” in our trade, books are not a panacea but another resource that supports our students to let them know we care. And now I sub and continue to reach out to students with the power of stories and books. I subbed with the 4s this week and read We’re All Wonders by R.J Palacio. Sitting wide eyed they asked incredible questions and tried to make sense of being “not nice.” Now the wait to see how they transfer that story into their own behavior. It will take time and many other stories, but it’s a start.

Does that “perfect” book change a behavior? Do the children get it right away? Is there an immediate transfer to actual circumstances? I’m not naive, just hopeful that discussions and questions when books are shared might  help children reflect before they act. And here is where patience comes into play: change takes time, but it happens.

  

 

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A Thought, An Idea, A Suggestion

It’s rare that I write a post so soon after publishing one a few days before, but this has been on my mind, so I thought I’d share my thinking as I process my ideas and reflections. So I ponder…

I have been so fortunate in subbing at the school I have taught at for over 39 years! I had spent the last 25 of those years teaching kindergarten and the first 14 years in early childhood classrooms with toddlers, 3s and 4s. Over time there have been many changes, some in hindsight are wonderful and allow space for the divergent thinkers, learners (students and teachers) and some I continue to question. But as most situations in life there is a continuum and the pendulum that swings. Philosophical, pedagogical and pragmatic outlooks influence what happens in the classroom. Where these programs will take us, continues to unfold. When teacher autonomy is valued then, in my opinion, the relationships between student and teacher hold the reins for appropriate practices.

My role as a sub is to support the teachers, the students and the curriculum. I am comfortable with this and also feel that my observations and questions have been welcomed. I continue to learn from these incredible educators who participate in Professional Development opportunities to grow in their own practices.

So my first “ponder”: “How do we make suggestions when a aha-ha moment occurs as you watch a teacher lead a group? How do you look back at your own teaching and how you implemented changes after being observed and then the follow up discussion about your work?” I think about those questions before I jump in. I think about the relationship I have with that teacher. I think about how I felt when a question looked like a criticism and a failure, a mistake in my teaching practices.

But I am bold and I am brave! I observed a few group times that involved the children sharing their “treasure” from home. In kinder they have put it under a “Dialogue Share” framework. Those kinders who have brought in their share object have an opportunity to talk about it.  Then the class can ask questions; usually up to three children ask questions. (Over the years share has evolved and had had many iterations in the kindergarten classroom. I like what I see now in the kinder class. I find it manageable and meaningful.) It reminds me of the “Comments and Compliments” group time I have observed in 2nd Grade at the end of the day. I think these are out of Responsive Classroom activities. (A new focus introduced before I retired and now in practice in the kinder class as well.) As I listened to the children share in an early childhood classroom I noticed that all questions centered around “What’s your favorite: color, car, toy” and so on.  I wondered if this was a developmental process of asking questions or could the children get passed the “favorite” question? After watching this for a few days, I raised my hand for a turn and asked a different question, which the child could confidently answer. When it was another child’s turn to ask a questuon, once again it was about the “favorite.” This time I asked the teacher if I could suggest different ways to ask questions. If we could frame it with a Who, When, Why, How, Where and What (with another way to use what) questions since they have done a great job with the What is your favorite! She liked that idea and when it was another child’s turn, guess what, you’re right, they went right back to “What is your favorite”!! The teachers smiled but we were not discouraged. The teacher leading the group added her own twist (knowing this group of children much better than I do) and as soon as she called on another child she gave them a prompt, suggesting they start with Who, Where, How, When and Why question. It worked and the children were delighted in the answers and curious to see what other questions they could ask! And that was my second “ponder”; how to help fascilitate a more engaging “share” experience.

Later in the day the teacher and I discussed how share time went. We have a good relationship and have been colleagues at the same school for some years. We talked about my suggestions (and I hoped I had not overstepped) as I reinforced how much I valued her idea of prompts that would help her students move away from their “go to question.” I can’t wait for the next share time.

Once again another day when I see how “it takes a village!”

My two ponders for this post as I am big proponent in sharing ideas. When ideas hit you how do you feel about sharing  them with colleagues? Which leads me to this: I am curious about share time and how it’s implemented for the various age groups and grades you teach?

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Two Readers

I subbed in kinders this week. So much going on as everyone at school is working on activities for Open House/Art Fair and Grandparents’/Grandfriends’ Day. We had “rotations” and I worked with the children on making their rainforest animal headbands. They colored, cut and chatted. I listened, helped when needed and chatted. Nice to work with all the children and listen to their conversations. Kinders are getting big; more independent, more self-reliant, still filled with awe and wonderment. And asking questions or sharing their authoritative voice on what they really, really know!! It was a good day. In the afternoon after finishing the first part of their Mother’s Day gifts, they could choose to read books from the class library or from a bag donated with many Mo Willems books. They have been working on an author’s study on Mo Willems. One little girl choose to read Amanda & Her Alligator.

I was sitting at a table and she sat down next to me, showing me her book. She looked at the book, then at me and said it looked like it had lots of words she didn’t know. I thought of all the ways I could answer her unasked question, from “I think there are many words you might know already” to “I think there are words you can sound out” to “The picture clues might help you read some words,” but chose to say, “Would you like me to read it to you?” Her face lit up with delight and I started to read. In a few minutes she joined in reading the words she knew and recognizing the unfamiliar words I had just read. We read together and when she needed some help, I helped her and I would read until she was ready to continue. Her friend came over to see what we were doing and quickly let me know that she reads chapter books at home. I acknowledged that it was exciting to read chapter books and she was proud to be able to read them. She also said she could help my “reader” read the Amanda and Her Alligator book. I let her know that she could certainly sit with us while my “reader” and I finished reading our book together. This seemed ok for both girls as we continued reading. Every once in awhile I made a comment about the text  when we all laughed at some of the antics portrayed by the alligator. We didn’t have a chance to finish the book, but both girls liked that a post-it note held their place for next time, when they could finished the book together.

And I, well I was so pleased that we shared a book together, reading without worry, without pressure, without a formal assessment, without a running record; just a joyful experience between two readers!

In your busy days do you have time to read with one child or a small group of students without a reading group focus? Do your students choose books that call to them whether level appropriate or not? How do you share these experiences with readers who so want to read different genres without regard to levels/abilities?

 

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I Choose To Celebrate

Today is my son’s birthday!

50 years of seeing him grow.

50 years of joy mixed with sadness

Embracing the vagaries of life.

This is a good day,

Family and friends wish him well.

This is a good day, we laugh, we joke

All is well.

For a moment a memory of his birthday past,

The death of one that held us fast.

It’s been a year,

How can that be,

Friends and family have no words to console,

A year has past.

Today is my son’s birthday,

I choose to celebrate!

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