With Gratitude 2019

Today I started the day by playing with a room of delightful 18-month to 3 year olds at church, had a delightful meal with family and read a good chunk of my current read The Toll. I had a goal to finish it this weekend but I won’t quite make it. As Julie and I drove out to her parents with the beautiful mountains on the horizon I could not help but think about the things I am grateful for on this still snow covered Thanksgiving eve.

First I would like to start with my job. This year has started a bit bumpier then I am use to. I would chalk it up to interruptions and familiarity. I have looped with some of my kids for 3 years and so we are looking for new ways to engage and work with beautiful text. The biggest struggle is that for one of my classes this term we only meet 3 times a week and it just so happens that on those three days we tend to have things come up that causes class to be cancelled. It has been difficult finding a flow that works. But I am grateful for their energy, I am grateful for the group that comes ready to write so many beautiful words last week that I wrote about taking the time to celebrate. I am grateful for the student that has already read more novels from start to finish this year than all of last year…one. I am grateful for the ones that make me stretch and look to other ways to engage them because it only makes me better. See, gratitude is a mindset. I can choose to focus on the cloud or the silver lining. Today I am choosing the silver lining so here goes.

Things I am grateful for

  1. A wife who supports me in my rants, learning and book buying. Not every wife will accept that their husband spends hundreds of dollars some times a week on books. That they would prefer to stay home and learn through reading articles or participating in educational discussions online. Most certainly not all wives will patiently listen while their husband rants about everything that has annoyed him that day. Julie does though and most of the time supports the rants. On occasion she doesn’t agree but that helps me to fully explore the topic as well.
  2. Friends who push my learning. Not all teachers from small rural Alberta towns have been blessed with the friends that I have been blessed with. Many of these friends are fellow educators who I have connected with over our shared experiences some double as mentors. Daily I have the opportunity to visit with Dr.Mary Howard, I have not met many who have the passion she does for kids and learning she has been a constant support since sharing my blog years ago and she is a constant gift with the learning she shares. My friend Travis Crowder and his work inspires me to be a better teacher daily. He is an artist and the work his students produce is magic. I am so grateful for the opportunity to learn from him. I spent a day with Donalyn Miller this week. Julie and I had the best time visiting with her over dinner and then learning from her the following day. If I were to have a list of teachers who have influenced me the most in my practice Donalyn would be among the top and the gratitude I have that I can count her as a friend at this point in my teaching career is immeasurable. There are so many more educators that I count among my friends that push me in the best ways to continue to learn and improve. I could never list them all.
  3. The students I get to work with every day. I am grateful even on the tougher days for all my students. They bring a joy and enthusiasm to the day. I am in my third year at my current assignment. My first year I taught a group of 8th graders, 44 of them I think, they told me in the past that teachers hated their group. I could not imagine it. We bonded that year. I have not taught that group the last two years. But a day does not pass that a few of them do not come by my room during a prep to visit or even while I am teaching (we are working on that) just to chat. Sometimes they just want a snack and I am grateful they know where to go for that as well. We talk books, how their lives are going, what their classes are like. They bring me treats they have cooked in foods class, I am particularly grateful for that, and they just reinforce what I know. That when we build relationships with students they last far longer than the time we teach our kids.
  4. Things that frustrate me. This might be an odd one for the gratitude list but I am grateful for these challenging situations and people. They help me to centre around what I know is important. I need to likely focus less on them but they fuel a certain fire that I can use to keep going when I need it.

I have so many things to be grateful for. Tomorrow morning it will be my gym, some good breakfast and time to finish The Toll (fingers crossed). I will be grateful for the chance to plan my week and look at new and engaging ways to work with my students. I will be grateful for the day off from work that gives me the time to do all these things. It is crazy to think we are already half way through our second month of school.

On we go. Learning and growing.

Lifting Literacy- Training requires increase.

Sitting at PD with Donalyn Miller taking a little time to reflect on Monday and some moments.

I spent the weekend reading through some of my Grade 9 student work and was just so excited with how they are developing as writers. I wanted to take a moment to share with my kids that not only was I impressed with their writing but that at times it moved me. From fits of laughter to moments of WOW and the golden lines they bravely shared. A student wrote about the quiet moments as he sat in the shop watching his Grandpa work, another about the “meat rabbit” named Lucifer that her sister purchased at an odd and unusual sale, the friendships tested by a conflict over boys…or girls, and a beautiful piece written as a tribute to the Basketball court. My writers are unique. Our writing so far has been anchored in experience. We are looking at following the writing plans of Kelly Gallagher and Penny Kittle in 180 Days so we have started by exploring narratives. We started with places and moved around to others areas. As I read out student samples anonymously the most incredible thing happened. Students started to smile. They noticed their work but perhaps more importantly they noticed the work of their peers. There were gasps as I crossed over a beautiful line. Demands of who wrote each piece as I read them out and their peers wanted to celebrate with them. There was PRIDE in both our classmates and the individual writers. When we stretch ourselves we grow.

Shifting over to my reading and the reading lives of my students I reflect on the practice of book talks. I have challenged my students to read at least 1 book a month. I know it is difficult and if not for audiobooks I am not sure I could meet that goal myself some months. Currently I am spending my time in The Toll by Neal Shusterman. I love it but I don’t have time to always sit and read it. Neither do all my students so we adjust. We do book talks when we finish. A student currently reading Internment by Samira Ahmed came up to me at the end of a class yesterday. She had tears in her eyes and told me she needed to hand the book in. “I am just too busy and I know other kids are waiting for it”. I asked 2 questions, “Are you enjoying it?” and “Do you want to keep reading it?” She answered yes to both and I said keep it. I can buy a few more copies if other readers really can’t wait. My copy of The Hate You Give has been stolen and I am happy about it. I have purchased more copies of the Crossover than I care to admit and now that the Graphic Novel is out I will buy more. But I still have a problem I am trying to figure out. How do I help my students, the self professed non-readers get over that hurdle. The hurdle of “happy with a single book in the year”. The hurdle of fake reading. So after our IR time ended and the same students who are begging to book talk volunteered and the same who hide, ask to go to the bathroom or simple say I am not done yet I decided to talk to my students. Those that follow me and my blog or Twitter know that I have a few passions. Beyond teaching, reading, talking books and talking smack about AR and Teachers Pay Teachers I love to spend my mornings in the weight room. I am taking a Personal Training course currently and learning about the science of working out not just the “how to” but the why. One point stuck out that I was reviewing last week as I thought about my students reading lives, especially those who resist reading at all costs. A principle of training popped up. My students had settled into books they find easy, books that did not push them. So I shared how we become stronger. About adding more weight and that when we don’t our body gets use to what we are lifting and eventually we start to perform less. At first I didn’t think this theory was true. I discovered it was when forced to limit my workouts because of gym renovations. I was lifting for months at my repping weight. I could not add more but assumed I would stay status quo if I just kept lifting at that level. To my shock and horror things became harder to do. I actually was losing gains despite staying at my established level. I explained this principle of training to my kids, with reference to reading. If we just stay in the comfort zone, if we don’t try to stretch, we don’t add a bit more in difficulty or length or perhaps dipping our toes into different genres we limit our growth. We experience a bit of atrophy. If we allow ourselves to just live in comfort we jeopardize our growth.

To my students in both our reading and writing lives it is time to increase the weight. Even just a bit. A couple pounds on the bar counts as training. A couple more lines written a couple more pages read. This is how we lift literacy.

Digging Out

Last Friday night it started to snow. It started to snow a lot. By Saturday afternoon we had a couple inches of snow on the ground. By Sunday morning we had a few feet. We spent the day shovelling and shovelling and shovelling just to make sure the dogs had some snow free areas to hang out. In the process of all of that I hurt my back and was pretty miserable. Sunday night our school division called a snow day for Monday and the RCMP closed highways because of the dangerous conditions of the roads. The thing is that while there was weather warnings, we were getting news reports that this thing, this massive storm was coming we couldn’t do much to prepare other than have the groceries we needed to avoid highway travel and hope for the best. If you have not tried to walk in 2 -3 feet of fresh heavy snow it is a bit difficult. You sink in and pulling your leg out is a task, you fall over and get wet and cold. Your mobility becomes limited. The snow just weighs everything down.

This year has felt like a snowstorm.

Things have not gone totally as planned. I have felt like I am sinking in that snow, stepping on unstable ground. I saw the year coming, but didn’t expect how different the same kids could be. I think about how school itself can be a snowstorm for our students. All the responsibilities that they have beyond the work they do in our class. A parent told me yesterday that her kids have homework every night. More snow. Problems with friends. More snow. Struggles with other teachers. More snow. Family struggles. More snow.

Snow

Snow

Snow

Snow

Snow

Before long we can’t move. We think things can’t get better. Monday morning I got in the truck and tried to drive to the gym, through the drifts and into a parking lot that had easily 2+ feet of snow and more in the drifts. I thought the truck would get stuck so before I stopped and tried to go in I decided to attempt another visit later, perhaps the plows would come. Perhaps we could dig out.

This is the daily work in the classroom. Our jobs as teachers is to dig out. To help our students with the things that pile up and become insurmountable. Too much homework? Teachers, we need to look at our practice and time use in class. If our students are in class for 70 minutes and still having to do hours of homework there is something wrong. Problems with friends? Family? Other teachers? We need to be aware, we need to get to know our students. We need to work as a community to support each other. When the snow is falling that fast and you don’t have the tools to dig yourself out you depend on others for help.

By Monday afternoon the plows were clearing the streets, community members had out they machines to dig out those who could not help themselves. Private companies joined the town crews to help clear the roads. The snow finally slowed and the sun broke through the clouds. Things began to melt. The shovelling was still a lot of work but slowly we dig ourselves out.

This is the promise of sound practice in teaching. Things are tough at times but if we keep at it with the support of our teaching community we can dig out. Class is getting better across the board. Today I had an alright lesson that other teachers and administrators sat in on. We had moments of brilliance and powerful reflection. Later in the day I sat with a room full of students new to Notice and Note and we discussed how 3 signposts helped us to look at the conflicts both internal and external as well as the theme of the movie and I think they started to see the “WHY?”. The day ended with three students book talking. One with the enthusiasm of a motivational speaker performing for a crowd, another with a quiet reserved reflection for their peers on the beautiful Ghost Boys and a final one, a single student in an empty room whose paper shook as she read about her book, overcoming her own snow storm. These kids of mine will help to dig me out. Some days it feels the snow won’t end and other days the sun is shining and the melt has begun.

We dig out.

Just let them have a sticker

It is funny, a while back I saw a post that discussed how kids don’t care about Gold Star stickers. In the moment I had read it and really stopped in my tracks. I could understand what they were saying. The argument that we needed to stop with this extrinsic motivation tool of getting something for compliance and using the Gold Star as an example of that. I pondered a lot about the times I had used extrinsic motivators in the past. I was confusing compliance with engagement as kids were accomplishing their work to receive their reward. This model is something that programs like my nemesis Accelerated Reader depend on. The rewards based model of compliance. I say all this but I am going to defend the Gold Star sticker in the way I feel it should be rewarded.

I want to be the Oprah of Gold Star sticker giveaways.

You get a star and you get a star and you get a star.

One day last year some of my students were doing some super creative work. We were practicing our Notice and Note and Response Notebook work with bookclubs and I stumbled upon their books during walk throughs. The work was gorgeous. I off handedly said, “This needs a gold sticker” every student lit up. They asked if I actually had some, if I would seriously give them one for their work. I went into the back of a drawer and still had a few sheets and started making my way through all my groups finding something that was deserving of a gold star in each group. It was joyful literacy at its finest.

This year I have not felt the pure and total joy I have in years past. I don’t know what it is for sure. I think there are a few issues that I am working out but one really has been the the retirement of a seasoned teacher that brought joy to our school every single day. He brought the light up for every student through a simple high five or fist bump and a hello with every student that crossed his path. Our days were better because the energy was positive with such a simple act.

Yesterday I got up with this whole “gold stars are not for middle school” idea in my head and decided to test a theory. I began greeting kids with gold stars. At first they wondered what they were for. I told them it is Wednesday and it seemed like a good day to hand out some gold stars. As I did this kids asked if they could hand some out as well. More and more kids were excitedly talking about their gold star. I wondered around to adults on star and gave them theirs as well. More than one staff member seemed genuinely touched by the simple gesture. Imagine the power to bring joy that one sparkly sticker a couple centimetres wide had.

As the day went on more kids who did not get a star in the initial, before the bell rush, popped in to ask if they could have one too, so did some adults. This simple recognition, I see you, was day changing for me.

We can choose to go about our day worried about what a gold star might represent, what it might enforce or we can let kids be kids again. Time is moving too fast. We expect too much of our young people and really too much of the not so young as well. Take a moment to say Hello, pass on some kind words, give a high five, greet kids in the hall or just let them have the sticker.

Heck why not do it all?

Lessons Learned in 3 Weeks

Ok I want to start by saying that today was a great day. It was the first full teaching day that I felt was a success in each class. I started this year with ridiculously high expectations of both myself and my students. The imposter syndrome set in as I approached the beginning of the year and as kids started coming in and parents started reaching out it only amplified. You would think that hearing how excited kids are, or how happy parents are that kids are in your class, because you are the “reading teacher” that it would excite you. But it really had the opposite effect. I developed a sense of impending doom and really have been battling it a lot until tonight. It was our final day of back to school meet the teacher and the kindness extended to me by parents and the events of the day finally helped me shake this feeling that I am not enough. Today was amazing, my students wrote about events in their lives and absolutely kicked butt as we looked at theme and conflict in a short story. Our classroom discussion was rich and their words were beautiful. After a 145 minute (yes you read that right) Language Arts block with amazing 8th graders ended I had my 9th grade students waiting at the door. This year so far has been a struggle. Grade 9 is hard. Kids deal with too much and the emotions and hormones and silliness and all of those other wonderful things that impact our students seem to all be added into a pot and the results have been Thursday before lunch and mayhem. Mayhem that has until today derailed my room. But today was different. After an initial talking to about hallway etiquette, because WOW, they all sat down with their books. They all started reading. I was checking in on them and asking how books were going and then as time wrapped up and we needed to move on to writing I checked in on a student reading A Very Large Expanse of Sea I could see she was near the end and asked her how it was going and if she liked it, the response was “It is good but could you stop talking to me because I am trying to read” ummm she then realized the rest of the room was staring at her and asked if I had announced it was time to write. We all laughed and I introduced the Scars writing activity to work on narratives from 180 Days by the phenomenal Kelly Gallagher and Penny Kittle. The activity was a hit, students were laughing at my scar stories and quickly working on reflecting on their own. We were engaged, we were writing and we were laughing. It literally felt like a cloud had parted. It was one day but it was a great day. And here are the three things I have learned in 3 weeks

  1. Kids have a lot of stuff going on. It might be at school it might be at home, it might be in their heads and it might be in their heart. But we have to meet them where they are. Show them compassion and grace before anything else because they are still little humans developing into adults. We can’t forget we were there one day.
  2. A caring teacher will never replace a caring parent but we are so important. Kids and parents remember the teachers that are all in. We need to be all in for at the very least the 7 or 8 hours we have them. It is hard and some days we are tired (as I type this it is 8:11 PM and aside from a 1.5 hour break between going home to shower after the gym this morning I have been at the school since 4:45 AM) but when we snap at a kid they remember it like a scar reminds them of an injury. It stays with them. The words we wield are powerful. Today a student wrote that meeting me when he was in Kindergarten was a Watermark moment because now 8 years later we get to talk about cool things and sometimes play Pokemon.
  3. The work we do is important but it needs time to rise. It is like baking a cake or bread or whatever analogy that you are not suppose to open the oven too early. We start with all these awesome ingredients and we mix them all together and we put it in the oven and then we wait. The baking process with my 9s has been 3 years for many. We grow together but I almost opened the oven too early. Too much too soon was day one. Day four was a seating plan threat and day 6 was a meeting with parents to figure out what to do next. More time was what we decided was needed, to figure things out and day 7 was today and it was better than ok.

It is hard to imagine that we are only 19 days into September. I need to pump the brakes a bit in a few areas and let it go in others. Teaching is all about learning and we are doing a lot of that in Room 157 this year.

Notice and Note and the First Full Week

It is no secret to anyone that reads my blog, I am a huge fan of Notice and Note. I am a fan of the conversations and realizations my students have as they are reading with purpose. I have been incredibly blessed as an educator to have many of my student for 3 years now. This week I was so excited to jump right in to Notice and Note. I was reading our read aloud Patron Saints of Nothing and students in class where jumping right in to things, writing in their journals as I asked what they were hearing as I read kids where mentioning the Contrast and Contradictions they were seeing in the family dynamic and writing about it. That is when I noticed another student, new to the class, was pretty confused. In a moment of completed error I had neglected to work through some review/introduction with those less familiar. In the excitement that I had 20+ students from last year and all the awesome we were going to showcase as we looked at texts I jumped the gun.

The next day I decided to review with all my classes. The 7s have generally been following the brilliance of the text book and examples of how to teach the signposts. I am venturing into some new territory using other texts this year with my 8s and 9s. To spice it up a bit but also to stretch my own thinking and learning. We are moving through the signposts faster in my 8th and 9th grade classes as it is more a review. For Contrast and Contradiction I used the first chapter of Nightbooks by J.A White. It is a fantastically creepy chapter that had my students engaged and before I walked back to my desk the book was in a students hand to continue reading. The Contrast and Contradictions were clear and my students were able to use them to predict what was going to happen next. A great example of the signpost and how to follow through with the anchor question.

We covered Aha moments, Tough Questions and Again and Again with different picture books. Mr. Nogginbody Gets a Hammer is hilarious I had a room of 15 year olds reading along and the Aha Moment is so easy to identify and after we paused and reflected on the theme. It was easy, fun and everyone could accomplish the task. I followed up with Each Kindness and this was one of my favourite moments of the week. I told the class I wanted them thinking about Aha moments but also Contrast and Contradiction. As I mentioned earlier the inspiration to return to the start was because of visible frustration with the unknown some had having never experienced Notice and Note (I would like to visit with their past teachers), today as we finished the beautiful story of each kindness my students all wrote. I could see the newest member of Room 157 wanted to share but they were hesitant. The idea that wrong no longer exist and that discussion around reading in Room 157 is about sharing ideas is hard to overcome. But she did and identified what she thought was a contrast and contradiction as Chloe and her classmates are mean to the newly arrived Maya, she expected as a new student herself for the kids to first be kind. We then had a great conversation about how this CC lead to an Aha moment later for the character and how these simple pieces of evidence helped us determine both the theme and conflict and provide support from the text.

In the past I have always saved the story I am Not a Number for Tough Questions but also for Orange Shirt day which honours the survivors and remembers the thousands of First Nations students lost to the abuses and harsh conditions of Residential School. This year I decided to use this haunting story for both Tough Questions and Again and Again. Students listened and wrote respectfully and our class conversation was rich as students discussed the contrast and contradiction in the fact that a church, something they have been raised to see as good, inflicted so much harm and how that CC helped them to discuss the text in a more meaningful way looking at racism and inhumane treatment of the innocent children kidnapped and forced to attend these schools.

I took a break from the picture books and had my students look at the short story Raymonds Run. We are still early in the annotative process and I need to model it more and share my thinking but below are some of our examples.

The first full week of school was filled with reading and reflecting and a little writing. Notice and Note is a tool to increase that reflection and dialogue. I love it for that purpose. I am hoping to help my students dive deep into their books as Kylene says and only coming up for air before diving back in.

This year the goal is not to just Notice and Note but to expand and write on a more purposeful level about the things we find. We are looking at texts that do not reflect our lives to better learn about the world. The signposts will come in handy to help us navigate those new ideas.

Welcome to Room 157

The Year Begins Tomorrow

Standing beside the river catching toadlets with my nieces and nephews I couldn’t help but take a moment and just appreciate the small things. It has been an amazingly relaxing summer. Julie and I have read a ton of books, enjoyed the river, took part in some learning experiences and generally recharged. Tomorrow I start my 10th year teaching and she starts her first as a Principal and I could not be more proud or excited for her. I am excited for what the new year brings and wanted to take a moment to talk to all those who will be joining me in Room 157 this year.

I am excited for great books that push us to explore ourselves and the world around us. I am excited for opportunities to write and grow together. I am excited to meet new students and SO EXCITED for my returning ones. I will miss those who I do not get to teach this year but the door is always open.

I want to create a community. It is why we are Room 157. We will celebrate our successes and lift each other up when we struggle. We will talk about what we are all doing, share our writing and our books. In the past students have shared they do not feel seen in our school. I want Room 157 to be a place about so much more than that. Let’s celebrate our stories. This year in all of our classes the stories will be our focus because in the end that is Language Arts. The reading, writing and sharing of stories. To help us grow and see the world in different ways. Like Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop says, books should be mirrors, windows and sliding glass doors. I hope that Room 157 can be the place stories become that for my kids.

I hope the kids are ready because I am.

Here we go

Saturday morning and I find myself in my room trying to get things ready. I have struggled with that term “ready”. I don’t know why this year feels different but it does. Maybe it is wanting to try new things and the fear that comes from that. I am excited to get started but more nervous this year than I have been in the past.

The structure will remain the same. We Read, We Write, We Talk, We Grow. As Pernille Ripp said, Our students don’t need us to be perfect. They just need to know we care and are there to support them. I need to hold on to that as my first run in with imposter syndrome seems to be coming in waves.

Year 10 and on we grow.

Grade 7, 8 and 9 Read Aloud Choices to start the year
Room 157 so far
My favourite bulletin board ever

10 years

A reflection

My first teaching position started in September of 2010. I just realized that this will be my 10th year teaching as I prepare for my students to return. My first position was a half time teacher in a Grade 3 classroom. Those kids are graduating high school this year. I was responsible for their creative writing and Social Studies. My team teacher took care of Reading, Math and Science. I had a class of 16 kids and we did a lot of cool things. I didn’t know how to “teach” beyond what was taught in University. To say I was ill prepared to help my students become writers and critical thinkers was an understatement. I have learned a lot about myself over these last 10 years. I have learned the most from my kids. As I prepare to embark on this 10th year I wanted to reflect a bit on a few points that I have learned that will help guide this year.

One size most certainly does not fit all

I bought a hat once, it said on the label O/S, one size. I pulled it over my head and while it went on it sure was not comfortable. It was not that the hat didn’t fit but it didn’t fit right. I needed a better hat for my head. When I first started teaching I left university and the first teachers I learned from, for the most part, had students doing a lot of workbooks. We had phonics workbooks, we had grammar workbooks, we had vocabulary workbooks and there was a ton of time with the teacher going over these books and doing corrections and then the kids worked through days of testing each term on all these important pieces of Language Arts. What wasn’t happening was a lot of joyful reading. Kids read and had to then complete their AR quizzes for their points and then each term we had to administer the STAR exam and look at their trends. Some students did very well with this model. Others did not. Beyond this not creating a joyful classroom I found it so boring. I wanted more for my class and my students. So I started to explore different practices that I might be able to individualize my instruction for my students a bit more. This brought me to Daily 5 and the Cafe model. It also brought me to work to end things like workbooks and Accelerated Readers as supplementary tools in reading instruction. My approach to literacy instruction has continued to develop each year. As I moved to 6th grade I moved away from Daily 5 and built in more of a workshop model for my class while doing a more individualized and small group in class intervention. I discovered people like Kelly Gallagher, Penny Kittle, Donalyn Miller and Kylene Beers. I was inspired by their work tom make my students literacy experience something different than what the traditional classes looked like. We borrow from the work of others, we craft our class around our interests, we read and we write and we talk. WE are building a literacy community that addresses our individual needs.

Communities require communication

Over 10 years I have learned that the most important part of the classroom is not relationships…before you lose your minds bear with me. Relationships are important but communication is what leads to that. If we do not figure out a way to open the doors the relationships can’t form. I am not talking about anything fancy. In third grade we had community circle. We had a question of the day and we each took turns sharing and communicating with one another. In 6th grade we had debate time and discussed topics. In junior high I realized that while my kids talked and communicated well with me I was not always guided by their needs. That idea that I have a curriculum I must teach so they just need to learn it was strong in me. I tried to make it fun but leaving Grade 6, a year we have Provincial tests, I was pretty solidly in the camp of “this is our curriculum, so lets just get through it” I heard my kids complaints but I didn’t really listen. That changed in Junior High largely because of one student who was very vocal about not liking how school was, “You are our favourite teacher but seriously man school is boring” That was the daily commentary. So I started to hear their voices and work the curriculum that I had to cover to fit them. We talked about ways to make reading better thanks to inspiration from Pernille Ripp, how our Notebooks could be better, writing instruction was influenced by Kelly Gallagher at first and then by the book 180 Days by he and Penny Kittle. My students voices, their interests and their strengths began to shine through providing options based on that communication that we had. Relationships are important but if we are sacrificing the learning that needs to be done we are not providing the balanced education our students deserve. Listening to what my students needed was transformative to my teaching.

Our students don’t need us to be perfect

I saw a tweet the other day that I really should put a section of as a screen saver.

But I will also tell you this; kids don’t need you to be perfect, they need you to love them and be present. That gets me through when I feel less than a great mom with my four— Pernille Ripp (@pernilleripp) August 24, 2019

I thought this tweet is actually something all teachers really need to hear. Over the last 10 years I have been so hard on myself in wanting to be perfect. To the best lessons, the best classes the best moments. I want to be the teacher that every student wants to have. That class that they all think is awesome and because of that I push myself to the limit and sometimes past it. I have reread this tweet a few times. We don’t need to be perfect, we need to be present.

10 years

10 years of students and I still remember moments with them all. That didn’t come from the perfect lessons, the perfect room, the perfect day. That came from the conversations around world injustice with 8 year olds in my first year of teaching, that came from sitting in the hall with a distraught student in my second, laughing about using lallygagged incorrectly in a story trying to use WOW words in my third, friendship keepers and the hello project in my 4th. The being sworn at and table cleared off the chairs thrown at me and the moment we got past the anger in my 5th. The mice in the classroom catching in my 6th and the year we read millions of words in my 7th. Understanding the depth of control trauma has on our students lives in my 8th and breaking through in my 9th. Year 10 begins with students in just over a week. I am not sure where this one goes, it sure as heck won’t be perfect but I am hopeful and ready to learn.

Because if we aren’t learning…

In two and a half weeks I will be sitting in my classroom getting ready for my students to come the following week. I love these last few weeks of summer as my brain gradually starts to slide back to work mode. I start to lean into PD texts more, look for new ideas or new ways to build my skill set. I look at the room and ponder what sorts of additions or subtractions might need to be made to produce the best learning environment I can for my team. I look at the books I have used in the past to address the learning we plan to do and weight the options of replacing with a different text. I do look at the year and decide what needs to stay, what needs to change and what needs to go. It is all about reflection. What influences those decisions? Often it is the kids, mostly it is around success. I focus on what works well. What I am mulling over this morning is how readily I am adopting the successful versus looking at ways to stretch and grow.

I have this thinking bouncing around tying my love for the gym and lifting weights to the work I do in my classroom. If I do the same lifts every other day they get easier, I can do more of them and the strength increases for those muscle groups. If I never introduce a different movement, a different lift other areas will weaken. We stretch ourselves to strengthen ourselves. I will not be successful at this new lift the first time, I will be weak, I will need to practice but a more complete workout will develop. I think this is the same with our instruction. We are more well rounded as educators as we introduce, try and practice new things. Stumbles happen but so will successes. To really put a exclamation point on my thinking this morning my friend Laurie McIntosh shared a line that Jimmy Casas used at a recent PD she attended, ‘What would you do differently if you were not afraid?” I thought about that and it really led me to consider the things I only have do because of fear of failure. The things I quit because I would rather succeed at times at doing less than fail at doing more. With that in mind I want to talk about what I want to do this school year. Some new, some old and some that are a little scary.

Try and True but maybe some tweaks

I have written about my reading and writing notebooks/journals in the past. I love them. I love getting to see the thought process from my students, I love looking at their writing craft developing. We are going to be using the journals again without question. For myself I need to be more consistent on feedback and expectations. I have the fear in the back of my mind that a reading journal will contribute to Readicide is I ask students to do anything more than just read. I need to put that aside. Do I think having my students refelct on all their reading is a good idea? NOPE. Do I think that they can and should reflect on some of their reading? ABSOLUTELY. THe balance is the trick and the area I plan to work on more. Book Clubs are another practice that will be returning this year. Last year we only got in one round of book clubs with a larger emphasis being on whole class novels. I figure part of that was fear of turning over control, fear that other teachers may not see the value. This year I will be making a switch from Whole Class to Book Clubs being the majority of our focus. The how to of book clubs for my room will be posted in the coming weeks on Middle Web as I discuss the nuts and bolts of a literacy year for me so tune in for that. Quick Writes and Writing Portfolio will make up the returning practices for writing in my class but I hope to do portfolios justice more this year. Last year we started strong but stumbled along the way as students just wanted to have completed pieces instead of multiple pieces on the go. I hope this year I can really help to convey the idea that writing is more of a journey with the writer returning to a piece as they develop their craft and ideas.

Something New(ish)

I really love the work that the incomparable Paul Hankins does regarding Multigenre work. I dabbled in it last year but this year I plan to jump in head first. I have projects outlined, books to read to build my comfort level with the work and back up plans as things go sideways. I just love the idea of giving students multiple ways to represent their understanding aside from the 5 paragraph essay and a book report. I plan to build on this with smaller assignments throughout the year with a culminating assignment to end each year.

No more fear holding me back

There are two things that I really want to do this year that I have not had the nerve to do and used that fear as a perfect excuse to walk away. First is Presenting. I suffer from pretty intense stage fright. I love teaching kids but being up in front of a room of adults makes me sweat a bit too much. The voice shakes, I almost cry, really it is a mess. Last year I did my first solo presentation and because it was something near and dear to my heart (Notice and Note by Kylene Beers and Bob Probst) It was pretty easy. I was nervous to start but I was armed with awesome topics, great picture books to help and a groups of staff eager to learn. I left feeling like I could do it again and I applied to share on my passion project which is second on my list. I mentioned before the idea of taking my working out knowledge and passion and marrying it to my literacy passion. The result is a book I want to write. Lifting up Literacy a fun idea tying together the things I enjoy most. The fear is real but I think it can be overcome.

As I start every school year I ask myself the question, “What am I doing to grow?” This summer it has been trying to learn more about the work of antiracism. I will be building this work into my lessons and daily actions. Back to the gym I look at how the body feels after we do a new lift for the first time, the day after you are a little sore maybe the muscles don’t want to cooperate as much. I look at learning new things much the same way. We try it and it is tough, we stumble and maybe we can’t do as well the next time but it will come. Learning is growing and with growing comes growing pains. Embrace these opportunities to learn and grow because if we are not trying to grow, if we are not learning, what are we doing?