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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What’s The Rush

I’ve been on the sidelines of chats lately, but still checking in on what’s being questioned, wondered and said. So many supportive educators sharing their thoughts and ideas to  advocate what’s best for their students. I have spent time with my three grandchildren, laughed with them and watched them as they each tackled homework in their own way. I listened to them practice piano, played board games with them and have gone for walks with them. I have enjoyed spending time with them as they shared with me their reading and writings. Each of them came to this place in different ways and times. The reader and writer in me smiles and rejoices in private. This is their journey and I’m there when they need me or when they want to share. And now I once again reflect and think about the different ways children get to the reading and writing.

Then I wonder. Am I being a rebel without a cause or am I rebelling from hindsight and a longing for what was and could be?

I think of a picture book written in a foreign language and wonder if I could read it. I ask  myself if that’s what our kinders might be thinking when we put a book in their hands and tell them it’s reading time. Could I read the pictures? Could I figure out any familiar (foreign) words? Could I retell the story if I’d heard (foreign langauge) it before? We look at this with The Daily5 . I know this has been used (and probably successfully, for the most part) with ELL (English Language Learners), but I wonder about it for the young kindergarten child. The three ways certainly empowers the beginning reader to recognize they can “read”!

Then the process becomes a little muddled, for me, as we group students in leveled readers; following programs that may not be what’s best for our particular students at this time. Have we ever asked an ELL kinder student what books with English text (or in truth any language) looks like to them? Do we wonder where their struggles hinder or what competencies help in their reading journey? Do we ask the same question of our English speaking students or do we just assume this it the right way and the best way? Is early reading an imperative above all? I question the impact on social-emotional fortitude if success does not come as easily for some, as it does for others. How quickly do they identify each other as readers and writers?

Then the writing program takes shape and we follow a program before some kinders can hold a pencil, write their letters or have many phonetic skills. Their writing is guided  based on a formula of units to follow. Do kinders need to know how to write How To books? What happened to the excitement of labeling their pictures? What happened to the squiggles that the kinders wrote and then read to tell us their story?  Did that have to be left behind when they entered kindergarten? Were they ready to let go of their perceived success to discover the adult expectations so differed from their reality? Where are the writings based on topics of their interest or as a way to share a unit of study or a wonder they may have? These that I call “authentic” reasons to write; to write from the heart. Do we give them time? Time to feel okay about labeling their picture and extending their writings independently, when they’re ready and claim ownership of their ideas and work!

     This writer had a great relationship with his teacher and felt comfortable with her guidance to help him complete his How To book.

  Part of their Rainforest Unit of Study, the kinders were excited about sharing their riddles: Writing and Reading them.

When it doesn’t feel right to you as their teacher then it probably isn’t right for them. I have seen the reading and writing programs at work. I have taught them, and they are successful for many children, but at what price? What’s left behind and what is lost? My hope is not our young students’ enthusiasm for learning, their compassion and empathy. Can we bend the rules? I think the structure and order is so enticing for teachers. Knowing what comes next, what language to use makes teaching content easier and smoother. But we need to see the impact on the children we teach. Sometimes sitting with the kindergartener as they draw or read a book saying, “Tell me your story we’ll write it together. Tell me your story we’ll read it together. There’s no rush, we’ll get there together.

    I took this block building picture while subbing in a kindergarten class. New buildings are going up and the kinders have seen the process throughout the year. It was a special day with the “final beam,” going up. The kinders have been observing their environment, to making sense of the process and then they built and drew what they saw. This natural process, as I see it, would be the authentic writing and reading that could follow so smoothly. For those kinders who were excited about this process they could make signs, discuss what was happening as they build and then in what ever way they were ready, to write a “How To” book about the “final beam!”

Where are you in the reading and writing process with your young students? Do you follow a program? If yes, do you need to modify it? What support systems do you have in place to implement changes?

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And Still I Learn

I continue to sub and learn so much from my day to day experiences in the different classrooms as I work with various grades in early childhood and lower elementary classes. But I think I’ve discovered a throughline in my interactions with teachers, students and administrators: we’ve gotta get out of the ME/Mine/I mindset and look towards and embrace the WE/US/OURS mindset. I wonder if we perpetuate some of the “I” over the “We?” Does asking their opinions, their concerns which comes from their perspective,   give students time to reflect and think of  “others” as well? Do conflict discussions allow for a give and take that goes beyond “I” and “you done me wrong?” Does pushing for excellence and mastery, allow for students’ to notice their growth and space for the now? Do we over think, over question, over talk in our attempt to connect to our students and thus take away an important step in learning: “the not knowing?” When I sub, I am part of a team (unless I sub for the science or music teacher, then I rely on their lesson plans), and my role is to help the teachers and students. I also have a chance to observe and then reflect here, on my blog and hopefully engage in conversation with you. In the school culture that “raised” me, working together and thinking about the children we teach, encouraged conversation, communication and brainstorming. And that continues even in my role as a substitute teacher. I ask questions because I truly want to know about the thinking behind an action, a conversation, or decision made. It’s about me learning, not being critical, but understanding or really just listening to what “you” have to say. Then you ask me what I see, my POV and the conversation continues. How the “me/mine/l” plays out often varies with the age groups I work with and the developmentally appropriate responses for the children’s wants and needs. Slowly as we move into the kinder years and lower elementary grades where the “me/mine/I”  is seen in a different light, the expectations change as we work towards a “we/us/our” mindset. I have seen this as students help their classmates with math problems, during their writing workshop lessons, with iPads and sharing stories they’re reading. I see this as they navigate answers to science questions and eagerly ask if they can work with partners. I see this as they wonder about a read aloud and bounce ideas off each other. I see this in their collaborative work whether in geniushour projects, in service learning/outreach activities or holding a friend’s hand who is having a hard day. And I see this, as a sub, when they let me know they will help me if I have any questions.

Sometimes school work gets in the way of what is really important. Instead of  “How do you feel about.. ?” asking, “How do think he/she feels…?” If we value a “we” mindset, how do we support and pave the way for our students to think beyond themselves?

 

           

 

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Play: A Four Letter Word To Embrace

I’ve been thinking about play (when am I not thinking about play), reading about the importance of play here and here and watching children at play. Children playing at home, at school, in the classroom, on the recess yard and in the supermarket. I am a watcher, an observer of people, in general, and children, in particular.  This perspective became a guide to my interactions with students; learning not to jump to conclusions but giving them a chance to share and discuss their actions. Play takes many forms from the solo, independent child discovering that is needed at a given moment in time, to the outgoing, gregarious, activity seeking leaders; shepherding peers through their maze of discovery.

There has been much discussion about what kind of play is most meaningful to kids (for the purpose of this post I look at play in schools); self-directed vs structured, goal focused vs open-ended (without prescribed outcome attached). Some may argue that STEM/STEAM  Geniushour, PBL are a conduit of play and discovery guided by the teacher: purposeful play.  Some proscribe that inherent in play is the child’s self-directed focus; intrinsic motivation to process and search for knowledge, learning and understanding. For many purists at either end of the spectrum, there is little give to the middle ground. But as the argument continues, play is dismissed as time consuming with little educational value since there is so little time to cover all the curriculum in a given day! I won’t go into the plethora of research on the importance of play, suffice it to say that the research supports the need for students to play in order to develop social-emotional skills, motor skills and academic skills: language arts, math, science.

I’ve read many erudite articles on the value of play but here I look at how both play pundits (self-directed & teacher designed) can work together to combine their pedogolical beliefs to benifit their students. Research shows the importance of play and recess for students’ optimal development in the elementary years as well. These students need play as much as their younger counterparts. As a kindergarten teacher I found different ways to bring “play” into the classroom. I incorporated geniushour as a vechile for self-discovery, a focus that could be a solitary endeavor or include peers in the learning process. Geniushour for my kinders was a purposeful play that integrated process and product. Our WonderWall enhanced exploration of the world around us. The outdoor became an endless classroom devoted to awe and discovery. Art incorporated with Nature became another focus when the children playfully learned to navigate pulleys with branches and twigs. Completely enthralled with their discovery, the kinders, on their own, discovered trial and error then stepped aside, talked with each other, and generated ideas that were remarkable in their sophistication.

In a given day play takes on many faces. When curriculum is integrated in the process a different dimension to play is observed. We can’t go back to the way it was. But we can’t stand by idly and exclaim “What can we do, we have no time to play.” Let’s make the time for play, knowing that’s where learning begins. Let’s make time for recess, the exuberant, joyous, ruckus noise of developing friendships.

I continue to mull over play. Not the importance, that I have down pat, but how to help all educators to understand it as well.

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Hiding The Truth: What The Super Bowl Taught Me

I’m not sure why I decided to watch the Super Bowl yesterday; maybe all the hype and also that it was rainy and cold outside, became my impetus to watch. I started to watch bits and pieces a few years ago because of the half time entertainment and the commercials. But this time, Super Bowl 51, from start to finish. I’m still not sure I understand the game, but the excitement was palpable and I enjoyed the energy from the players, spectators/fans and sportscasters. Every once in awhile I checked into Twitter and Facebook to read the comments. I have to admit the seesaw of the game Falcon to Patriots was nerve racking (reminded me how tense I get watching winter and summer Olympic events) and then the Patriots won! I had no stake in the game as far as who I wanted to win. Gone our the days of school Super Bowl pools (random numbers assigned) with my only caveat that I knew who won before I headed back to school! I felt bad for the Falcons and happy for the Patriots. It was really nice not to think about politics for a few hours. But as I sat watching I thought how strange to find myself here. A sport that doesn’t resonate with me, teams that are not my home teams, but still I watched. How easily I could pass for someone who knew what was going on? How much I cared that I was part of this clique of sport aficionados, surprised me.  And then came a connection to school and kids. If it was important for me to be part of this group of Super Bowl fans and then really hide that I was clueless, how is it for our students who face struggles at home, at school or with peers. We ask so much of our students and no matter how we embrace and validate differences, for some and at times, that’s just not where it’s at for them. Those who are challenged as readers, writers and math learners, as they look around at peers who just seem to “get it,” I wonder how much of their energy is used to “hide” that they don’t understand the material. And then they can’t pretend anymore.  It is up to us to build the relationships needed to instill trust between us and our students; and that’s where hope comes in. That’s when I hope there is that someone, that teacher, that mentor to guide them to become the learners all kids can become.

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“Those People” 

I’ve watched bits and pieces of the inauguration, most after the fact. I watched the Women’s March on Washington and Los Angeles, cities and countries throughout the world, throughout the day. And through all of this and leading up to this, I keep going back to the idea of “those people/you people.”  This was a phrase I grew up to abhor, a phrase that my parents taught me put Jews in gas chambers and a phrase that now makes the hair on my body stand up, bristle as I shout, “There are no those people!” It’s got to be We The People, however naive you might think I am.

I sat in a classroom of children for 38 years and those kids were always my kids. Those parents were always my parents and their lives were in so many ways interwoven with mine. How could we ever look at students as not a part of the fabric of  our lives; that it is our responsibility to first do no harm and most of all show them that we care.

I won’t be going into a classroom tomorrow (unless I am called to sub), but many of you are and my hope is that we can all remember that our students read more than books, they read the unspoken words of adults and with unbelievable clarity our body language.  Let them know we are right there next to them, ready to listen.

I saw this on FB and I hope I have attributed rightfully to the person who made it.

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OLW2017 CompassionCaringHope

Education bloggers often begin their New Year with reflections, looking forward, to find the #onelittleword that will propel their vision for the coming year, where they want to go; for themselves and their students. In the past few years I have enjoyed this process; so much better then New Year’s Resolutions that are often forgotten as soon as they are spoken! I now look at finding my inspirational word, not as a classroom teacher, but as an educator that subs and shares my reflections, thoughts and ideas on social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook and on my blog.

I gave myself permission to combine #CompassionCaringHope as my #olw2017. By coincidence I’m writing this post today, January 3, 2017 the anniversary of my father’s passing in January 3, 1957. Compassion, caring and hope were my pillars as I faced this devastating loss, for a young child. But this post is not about loss as I look forward to more opportunities to learn and share.

When I am a substitute teacher in the various classrooms my want to hold onto #CompassionCaringHope as I interact with the students, teachers and parents. I am in the classroom for short periods of time. I try to build relationships through:

a) Compassion, as I acknowledge the students’ hesitation or fears with time to discover their learning at their own pace.

b) Caring, as I show vulnerability doesn’t diminish who they are.

c) Hope, that our time together is joyful, filled with collaborative work that instill wonder and questions.

As teachers we have the best interest of our students on our minds, and I’m sure for the most part we do, but then the heavy load of  “standards/curriculum” surface and we are drawn into this vortex of accountability. My caveat for my #olw is to be intentional about CampassionCaringHope and have it be the driver of my school bus throughout the year.

What is your #olw2017? Have you do you feel about this process as you head back to  school after Winter Break?

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