The Day After MLK Day

I subbed in second grade today, a day after Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. To my delight I was asked to read to the class. And right away I knew what read alouds I would choose! I went to my old kindergarten room and there, as if those books knew I would be looking for them, were On The Other Side and Each Kindness by Jaqueline Woodson. I sat down with the class and explained where these book were from and one boy quickly shouted out, “Oh I remember On The Other Side, but I’m sure there’s so much I forgot. Can you read it again?” And then many others chimed in agreement. As I read we discussed what was happening and as they looked at the pictures they had more questions. At the end Woodson writes about fences coming down, their understanding of the multi-layers of meaning to the fences, gave me such joy and hope. Then I read Each Kindnesses. Only a few children knew about this book. Again, concern, trying to understand why the children ignored and isolated a new student, generated so many questions. We talked about “hand-me downs” and second-hand stores. And the end will always touch me as the teacher helps her students understand the “ripple”effect in how they treated Maya.

Woodson writes: The next day her seat is empty, the same day that teacher Ms. Albert drops a stone into a bowl of water, and the children watch as waves ripple away. “This is what kindness does, Ms. Albert said. Each little thing we do goes out, like a ripple, into the world.”

When the students drop the stone in the water they recall an act of kindness. One little girl remembers the many times she missed a chance to be kind to Maya. That stone had its own impact, a ripple effect that couldn’t be taken back. The students sat mesmerized listening to the stories. These second graders asked thoughtful questions and made connections as they discussed kindness and the ripple effect it has.

From taking a stand to include a new friend while breaking down barriers in, On The Other Side to reflecting about missing an opportunity to reach out to another in an act of kindness in, Each Kindness, the children looked around at their classmates and I believe they saw the beautiful smiles of friends, not their skin colors, but who they played and worked with. Who they’re growing up with and how they make room for new friends, as they continue learning about the stone and the ripple effect of kindness.

        

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New Buildings, Old Questions, POV

Working in the same school environment for over 36 years, there have, of course, been bumps along the road; but now in hindsight, I realize that these experiences have shaped who I am and my outlook on life. I often have strong reactions to situations and voiced my opinions, concerns and points of view. Did I listen and consider others’ perspectives? As I grew older often times yes, but to be truthful, sometimes, no! When I first started teaching, I though I knew so much (as a parent I had first hand experience with kids, didn’t I?). I might have scoffed at what others thought or said, thinking, well if it doesn’t effect me, how can they be right! But in a short time I knew that there was so much more for me to learn! And so I lead into this post.

My school is going through major renovation and construction. A building demolished, classes moving to temporary (maybe 18 months) modulars and offices relocated to other spaces. There is excitement, anticipation and questions; so much work and coordination involved. I am beginning to understood how choreographers or sports coaches work to coordinate their dances and plays.

I have been fascinated by the different responses to this upheaval. One new building is up and almost ready for the occupants (classes)! The modulars that will house toddlers, 3s and 4s are ready. There has been incredible group effort in moving (packing up the old rooms) and now unpacking into the new classrooms. And as I looked at the teachers, administrators, staff, maintenance and all who are involved in the daily life of the school, I wondered how many talk to each other. Do they share their perspectives? Do they have opportunities to voice their POV (point of view); not to the like minded participants necessarily, but to those who might disagree or have another POV? Do they share their concerns and opinions? Were they heard? Who was their “go to person?” I know we all need one.  Someone who is ready to listen, not necessarily to agree, but to be there to listen to our perspective.

Since the beginning of this academic year, I have seen the dedicated teachers supporting each other as they got ready for the big move. Some glitches of course, but Monday school starts after winter break. For some students there will be very little impact, but for others a bigger adjustment. And the same can be said for the adults (teachers, administrators and staff) on campus. Parents, as well, will be making accommodations to the change. This truly is a “village” undertaking.

As I reflect about this, I also think about student perspectives. How do our students see or perceive situations, either academic or social? Do we stop and consider those messages from our students? How do we read their body language? How do we read each other’s body language? Do we allow time to discuss our differing perspectives? Do we give our students that same consideration? And if we don’t have the space, place and time to talk, then where does that leave us? Do we just have a voice but then no venue to understand each other’s POV? We don’t have to agree, but in listening we might learn a little more about each other.

Have you found yourself in situations where your ideas are at odds with colleagues?  Are you able to find a common ground? Have you been stopped in your tracks by your students’ unexpected response to a situation or question? And then, I wonder if we can see a connection between “PERSPECTIVE” and “EMPATHY” – do we need one to build the other?

My #wintercamp days with the 3s. Spending  time in the library means you read books and look at all the construction going on outside.

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BeingPresent #oneword2018

The road we take and the journey along the way, is, at times, not in our control, but what is, is the present. And that’s how I came to my #oneword2018 “BePresent or BeingPresent.”

I think of it often when I’m with family, friends or in a classroom of eager, energetic and curious kids. Their wonder energizes me. It always has and when the road was rough those kids kept me grounded with hope and love.

Now whether I sub in a classroom of toddlers, 3s, 4s, kinders, 1st or 2nd graders, I look at where they are and what I can do to support their learning and what they need. A wait and see attitude has held me in good stead, along with a smile and BeingPresent. And I listen. Learning not to jump in, has taken awhile, but I’ve seen students problem solve academic or social issues; giving them agency to be competent, self-sufficient and resilient.

And now BeingPresent feels a little different, but in many ways for me, more imperative. I continue to look at building relationships, since I will often sub in the same classrooms; lucky to be part of these students’ school experience, seeing them grow from year to year. The time I spend in a classroom as a sub means every moment of being present is a moment that I can get to know the students a little better, learn about them and be there for them as they go along their roads.

Have you thought of your #oneword2018? Is it evolving, changing or continuing from years’ past?

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The Snowy Day: More Than A Picture Book

It’s winter break: whether we wish each other a Happy Hanukkah, Merry Christmas, Happy Kwanzaa or Happy Holidays, teachers and kids are or will be enjoying Winter Break. Celebrating this time of year with my grandkids is always the best holiday season for me. And yet I still take time to look at my Twitterverse and Facebook posts. I like the connections it offers me at my fingertips. So when I came across this Post about The Snowy Day, I knew it was time to blog.

My first introduction to Ezra Jack Keats was as a preschool teacher in the 1970s. (I may have read some of his books to my own kids before then, but I can’t say for sure.) I loved Peter’s adventures. What an incredible storyteller (and illustrator) Mr. Keats was! With a few words on the page, the pictures that accompanied and supported the story, we learn so much about Peter, his friends and their neighborhood. The Skirball Museum in Los Angeles had a wonderful exhibit a few years ago (July 2014) and my daughter, grandkids and I were drawn into Keats’ world.

      
Continue reading

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On My Mind

It’s so rare we get to do a “redo” and my role as a substitute teacher doesn’t mean I get a “redo” but it does give me time for “rethinks” or as bloggers call it “reflections!” On my mind as I’ve subbed in the various classrooms (3s, kinders and 1sts) these past few weeks:

1. We talk too much

2. Validate feelings, then be pragmatic

3. When a dream is reality

Number one and two are intertwined and I’ll get to it. There are so many Social Emotional Learning (SEL) programs out there and schools can choose which program meets their criteria and needs. Teachers go to PD seminars, to conferences and get “training” in them. Then application in the classroom quickly takes shape. After awhile for the uninitiated (me) it sounds like a script that everyone has memorized. (I found that true when we all used very similar language and anchor charts to help teach our reading/writing programs. Here, me too.) Now don’t get me wrong, I support and feel strongly about helping our students understand their feelings, emotions, Self-regulation and the importance of empathy, kindness, being an Upstander, doing the right thing (even though it may make you unpopular, thinking about children who are bullied), feeling empowered and all that entails in helping develop the “whole child” way beyond the academic programs. Without leaning into the inner being, the outer is just a shell. So if I buy into all of this what’s my problem? IT’S THAT WE TALK TOO MUCH! We belabor our point and go on and on in our discussion. After the first few points, student’s have tuned us out!! (Sounds familiar? Also true for academic lessons.) We are so busy “teaching,” we forget to listen. So I get to point number two. Validate the kid’s feelings, hear him/her out. See where you, the teacher, can be helpful and then move on. Don’t find a hundred ways to say the same thing! Be pragmatic, less is more, just give in to it.

Now to number three. My last few dreams have woken me up; they were unsettling. I tried to go back to sleep, but when my dream continued, I decided to get up. My ah-ha moment today after this happened, was thinking about some of our students whose dream is their reality. And for my metaphor. The good dreams, the kids who have the basic needs and more, well in their reality, they can sleep some more. But I thought about those kids whose dreams and reality were so intertwined with longings for more: food, shelter, families that could take care of them, opportunities to enjoy life like the kids with the “good dreams.” I often think about this; unless we really get to know our students (and through them their families), as we develop a relationship that builds on trust, how do teach, until we learn.

Sometimes when things are “on my mind” writing and sharing helps me along my journey. As we head into our “Winter” break, what are your thoughts in what’s next. Wishing all a great holiday and a Happy New Year. Hope 2018 brings peace and joy.

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What I Learned Watching Hamilton: The Musical

I came home from seeing Hamilton and all I could think about was the “brilliance of the words;” the lyrics blew me away. It truly was “poetry in motion.” Not a fan of rap (a cacophony of noise unfamiliar to me), this was much more then a musical in rap. . The poignancy of the songs of love and loss, the shout out to “perseverance” and the humorous interludes each portrayed in the varied musical genre. But connecting them all were the lyrics. And what incredible words! Mesmerized, my eyes never left the stage and my ears stayed tuned to sound of the actors. Listening to good advice from friends who had seen the musical, I did find a Hamilton YouTube sung by the original cast and accompanied by the lyrics for each song. Reading the words as I listened to the music, helped with the unfamiliar cadence of the songs in rap form (and truthfully the ballads and the rest of the score as well).

I subbed in kinders today and listened to the classroom sounds in a different way. I thought of the words the students used in playful interactions, in working out disagreements, in asking for help during their directed lessons and the joyful outburst, for whatever reason warranted them. The room was filled with the “lyrical” overtures of the Kinders.

How powerful are words and how often we take them for granted! Teaching young children we take nothing for granted and model language all the time; to express joy, disappointment, frustration; to ask questions; to problem solve; to share stories, books, games and information. Words and language are everywhere. And in Hamilton we are reminded of the power of the word, the daggers of language as well. (We don’t have to look far. In today’s world open the newspaper, listen to the news, to our world leaders, words are everywhere and language like daggers.) But I digress.

In articles, blogs, Twitter chats and tweets I have explored many views of the reading, writing and language process. These discussions often resonate with me and support my beliefs and understanding. Interacting with students as we teach langauge arts: reading, writing and literature, the importance in giving them time to absorb, reflect, and process the information was brought home as I listened to Hamilton. I need to go back and listen to that YouTube again. I need to read the words as the I hear the songs that bring me back to the stage. I need to internalize all the pieces so I get to understand it better. I need to be

IN THE ROOM WHERE IT HAPPENED.  

And we teachers get to be in the “room where it happens.”

Have their been songs, plays or musicals that bring that ah-ha moment to mind and stops you in your tracks, as you think back to the work you’ve done as an educator? This has not been the first one, but this time WORDS are whorling in my mind.

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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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