Conclusions

For around 7 hours a day I am responsible for 30+ wonderful humans and interact with hundreds more over the course of the year. During that time I am responsible for their learning but I am also responsible to make sure they can critically think about the events that are going on in the world around them.

It is not however my job to make sure they think the same way I do. It is not my job to make sure they think the way their parents do. It is my job to help them learn how to look at any scenario with as many lenses as they possibly can and come to a conclusion that they can defend and that makes sense to them that is my job.

There is a lot going on in the world today. A lot of bad and a lot of good. Unfortunately we do not spend a lot of time focusing on the good. The other day we discussed why people felt like they needed to protest President Trump (who many in the class think is a Rockstar, I do not). Kids asked why he was “so bad” I could have taken the opportunity to list a million reasons why I feel he is dangerous (I have them) Instead we listened to “I have a dream” We discussed that time in American history, we discussed how change came about then and then looked at things Trump had said. Kids asked why he has said the things he had said, why people would vote for him, we looked at finding answers to those questions as well. Once we were done they had information why some did vote for him and why some didn’t. They understood why some feel worried for their rights but they were given the opportunity to come to that conclusion on their own.

It is hard be neutral when you are opposed to one thing so much but I know it is my job to teach my students to think, not like me but for themselves. The world is changing, it is already very different from when I grew up, kids have to deal with so much more, they are exposed to so much more and with the proper tools and ability to think hopefully they do not have to struggle too much with coming to their own conclusions.

 

 

Imagination needs exercise

This year I have been trying Genius Hour with my class and while they are coming up with some fun ideas to research they are not really looking outside the box. They want to discuss tangible things, the best hotels, why the leaves change colours, which hockey sticks are the best, wolves… the list goes on.

We do writing activities and they have the hardest time coming up with ideas, give them a picture to write about and they “don’t have ideas”, tell them to write about anything they want…”I don’t have any ideas”.

Where does this lack of ideas come from? Who knows for sure, we can blame video games and screen time, or over scheduling or even just the idea of “When would you do this in real life?” As a teacher I think that often, why do I ask my students to write a story in the first place? How is that a skill that we need to take into the world outside of school? One of my students actually said the other day, “None of this really matters for life after school” In the moment I said of course it does but then couldn’t really find the connection to story writing and life after school unless you want to be a writer. Then I read a few picture books and I think I get it.

We do creative writing and story writing to build our imagination, we build our imaginations so we can think outside the box and we think outside the box so we can solve problems. This  might seem like a stretch but it is not. A strong imagination comes in handy when you hit a wall and don’t know what to do. With a strong imagination you say, “what about this…” versus “I don’t get it”.

Imaginations are important but you have to use them or you lose them. That is why kids are so creative because they have imaginary friends, they make up games, they live in a fantasy world even for 15 minutes at a time at recess. Slowly that is eroded by requiring everyone to be too serious.

We should try not to be so serious all the time. Picture Books can help with that 🙂

A time to be Grateful even on the hard days.

The holidays are coming and as the natural “half way” point (not literal) I want to reflect on the things I am grateful for so far this year.

  1. First and foremost I am grateful for my students. I am grateful for their fun energetic nature, even though I have “shushed” far more than any year before the joy that they have just visiting with each other, playing games and even talking about books makes it hard to get after them. I am grateful for their drive to succeed. I am grateful for the smiles when they realize they have achieved a goal. I am grateful they are willing to try new things that interest me as a teacher and trust that it will help them understand things more in the long run. I am grateful they still want to be kids. We are all in too big of a hurry to get older and I am so grateful that my students just want to play cards and listen to me read them a book (it can be the highlight of my day)
  2. I am grateful that I get to be a teacher. It is a wonderful job even on the hard days. The moments when learning is evident, helping kids solve a problem, laughing and playing. Today I raced some grade 3 kids up the hall, their teacher may not have approved of the running the halls but this teacher approved of the fun. Playing a role in the development of good people is a responsibility that I take very seriously and I am grateful that I am trusted to play that role.
  3. I am grateful for good co-workers. I work with the best team. On the hard days they are the best support a teacher could ask for and on the good days we celebrate together. We are a team and I am so grateful because not all teachers have that support.
  4. I am grateful for parents that are supportive of both me and their children. I am grateful they have taught their children to be good people, to be respectful and to be kind. On the whole that is the description for my students and I am grateful for the parents that have helped them to become those kids.

It becomes so easy this time of year to get lost in the crazy, the busy, the “holiday”. We tend to forget that this is a time to be grateful. Of course there is always the day a student “helps” you to temporarily forget that you are grateful for them too. Or the hard parts of the job make you forget you are grateful for the good parts. Or you have a co-worker that does not see your vision (that is my kind way of saying drives you crazy). Or maybe even that parent that makes you feel like you just can’t get it right. This is why taking a moment to recognize what you are grateful for is so important. Even on the hard days we need to recognize that there is more than just a silver lining. There is far more to be grateful for than tired of, you just have to look for it.

Merry Christmas-Happy Holidays-Thank You.

Good Leadership Leads

I saw a meme that pops up often with the quote, “I want every girl that is told she is bossy to instead say she is developing leadership skills”…the thing is a true leader is the furthest thing from bossy. A true leader inspires, lifts up and leads those who work with them to be successful.

In the past I had group leaders, it worked in Grade 3 because I think they are still a bit more innocent, they take their job seriously and those in the table took it seriously as well. In grade 6 there is a larger degree of class system setting up in the social structure. An appointed leader is less likely to be successful because there are so many more parts to the puzzle.

I have a great group of kids this year and many capable leaders, but they do need the same guidance on what being a good leader looks like that most adults still need (this one included).

So my thoughts are pretty simple

  1. A leader leads by example– Asking the members of the group to work hard but then sitting back on the couch and letting them do everything for you is just not going to fly. If you want people to work hard don’t give them a reason to question if you do.
  2. A leader builds up those around them– The other day a few of the kids were working on a project and I walked over questioning why one was giving out what looked like orders. They both explained that since one was the better artist and that portion required illustration that they were using their talents and the partner was going to write. Both building each other up with compliments of their strengths.
  3. A leader isn’t always the person that asks for it, but sometimes it is– People will surprise us sometimes. The quiet kid in the corner that never volunteers to be captain might just be shy. The loud kid that always volunteers may have the qualities of a great leader and just needs them channelled properly. In the end the moral is don’t judge based on just your perception. Everyone deserves a chance to build their leadership muscles.

Leadership like so many skills goes so much further than school. This life skill is important to start developing at a young age but equally as important is pointing out that Bossy does not equal Leader. The common adult answer “because I said so” or “because I am in charge” doesn’t work for adults so why should it work for kids?

So many misunderstand the mantle of leadership, my goal in the new year is to help my students (and myself) realize that leadership is so much more than being “in charge” Leadership is about building strong bridges, strong foundations for others to build on. Being Bossy and pushing others around because you can does nothing to build that strong foundation.

Funny what a silly little meme can make you think about.

Reading words is great but…

There is so much emphasis put on kids being able to “read the words” especially in the younger grades that I think we forget that reading should be two things. Most importantly reading should be FUN. I know that kids need to learn to read words but by the time they get old enough to really realize they are not good at that part it becomes a chore, a task that they struggle with. The idea of it being fun is outrageous. At the start of the year I asked kids what they liked about reading. A few talked about the adventures, the other worlds, the humour. Most however simply said they didn’t. They didn’t like reading, some even claimed they hated it. At some point the journey to “read the words” stopped being fun (probably once they could not do it as well as everyone else) and became work and really “work” and “fun” are not typically synonymous.

The second thing reading should be is thinking. Even those who struggle with the words should be shown how to unlock the meaning of text. Asking questions, looking for answers, thinking about the text they are working with is not a skill that should be reserved just for the “proficient”.

This year I have tried to bring the fun back to reading and we are doing it a few different ways.

1.Time-There is nothing worse that getting into a book and being told to put it away, or be constantly interrupted being asked to write notes, get out the “post its” or take out the response journals. There is a time for those activities because they work right into the “thinking” portion of reading but it should be when it is natural not at a teacher demands.

2. Choice- I have read multiple “teacher books” this year that all said choice and time are the biggest factor in making reading fun again. Kids need to be able to pick a text that they are interested in reading. This does not mean they should be able to pick any book because if they can’t read it there is no use in just staring at the pages pretending to read. But as someone who has been assigned reading before, it is a lot more difficult to find the fun when you are being told “read it because…” because why you may ask? Usually there isn’t as good of an answer for that one.

3. Instruction- We want readers to be thinkers. You will enjoy a book or any text more if you understand it. So we need  the tools to understand what we read beyond just knowing the words. This year I am working with the typical strategies to fix up misunderstandings. Questioning, Connections, Visualizations and on and on, but I am adding more targeted thinking. Clues of what to look for to  know what to think about. In terms some of my boys would understand, if you are going hunting you don’t just walk into the woods without an idea of what you are looking for, and my hope is that the tools we develop  will help us to know what we are hunting for in our reading.

Reading words is great…but it can’t be everything. Reading as thinking becomes thinking. Thinking about the messages they read, they hear and they are presented with. That is a skill that all kids need and instruction in it is not something that can wait until they get the words right every time.

 

[insert name] you’re a star!

I go back to my recent find Billy’s Booger (check out my summary in the book box) for todays blog post.

I am a firm believer in the idea that if given the chance everyone can be a star. Given the freedom to explore what interests them, given a chance to lead most will take the opportunity and shine. When they do not it is a great time to discuss perseverance but that post can be found elsewhere.

For now we are talking about letting people shine. As a teacher I think a part of my job is providing a safe place for kids to learn what they are good at or with effort could be good at. A chance to safely explore knowing that I will help them when they stumble and pick them up when they fall.

Some of us shine in math others reading, others everything. Today we read an article about how teachers tend to focus more instruction on boys, because they are rowdy we go to them for the answers to keep them busy, because they are active we tend to let them choose the games at recess or gym. Generally I think this is still the case, it is the reason, the article claimed, that boys tend to do better than girls in Science and Math (for the record I try very hard to spread out all the question asking and I believe girls are just as good at science and math as boys, also I have girls this year that kick butt in sports and academics, just to be clear)

Setting limitations, holding people back, not letting them shine has detrimental ongoing effects. The more we are told, “It is not your turn”, “This really isn’t your thing” ” This person does it better” and so on the more we believe it.

My favourite thing to see is kids finding something that they are good at, even more so finding something that they are good at that they never would have imagined. If we do not give kids the chance to shine they won’t. They will hide in the corner keeping the light low. As adults we need to help them, give them a chance to shine and see where they take it.

 

More than a mark

It is the time of year when the report card goes out. As a kid I dreaded this moment. A child of the letter grades and percentages I worked hard enough to get by but I was never an over achiever. Solid B- or C+ I was average. My parents always told me I was not an “average” student. I could have done better but my moms proudest moment was not when I brought home a report card full of A’s. My moms proudest moment of me was when my 3rd grade teacher called her at home to tell her how kind and inviting I was to a new student. I had demonstrated a quality that lasts far longer than the tally of A+’s or 100% or 5’s or whatever a report card reports on.

As a teacher we are required to report on what our students have learned and what they still need to learn. As time goes on we move further away from A+ or E for excellent and closer to, “Johnny has excelled in decimals but still is developing in factors and multiples” Descriptive feedback that means something. But as one of my kids pointed out the other day, “this is grade 6 and in the big picture it is not that important” while I disagree I was in grade 6 once and I think I said the same thing.

The marks I get in math might not matter, the percentage of questions I get right on a Science test on trees will not impact my college acceptance. But the skills I learn, the attitude I hold towards education and ultimately the kind of person I am is something that is being developed more at this age.

My goal as a teacher is to help my students see that if at first they are not successful it is ok as long as they don’t think the answer is to quit. When they struggle, that they know asking for help is ok and shows you are strong enough to realize you need it. That treating each other with respect and kindness will make you far more memorable to your peers than having the best report card. Students should strive to be more than a collection of marks.

Don’t get me wrong I think the learning is important, I am thrilled for my students when they reach or exceed their goals but I am more excited when they realize they can be successful and their confidence is bolstered. The R on their reading test is not the important part or that it correlates to a 2 on their report card, numbers and letter are numbers and letters but the smile on a student that gained confidence and the knowledge that they CAN do hard things, that they can learn, that they can grow, that is worth its weight in gold.

Please remember that of course achievement is important but it is only a snapshot. After all it isn’t like we sit around talking about how Johnny won the gold medal in his grade 6 track meet thirty years later but we do remember our friends, the classmates that were kind to everyone. That is what leaves an impression. We are all more than just a mark.

Why I will always give chances

“Giving up is the only sure way to fail.” – Gena Showalter

There has been a lot of conversation over the years in the change in education where kids seem to “not be aloud to fail”. I disagree with the idea they are not aloud to but if they end up not being successful it is not going to be because I have limited their opportunities to try and get it right.

We had a Science test last week and today kids found out how they did. I had set bench marks for when I would give an opportunity to take an addition assessment to help their mark. Some were excited about their mark others were crushed. I reminded those who would be doing a follow up that this was to help them, that we would work together and look at what they really needed to know and how I could help them get there.

I feel my job is to keep trying DIFFERENT things if at first I don’t succeed. The idea that an assessment is THE END is such an opposing idea to learning.

Can you imagine a baby trying to walk? Oh I didn’t make it guess I better just crawl forever!

Heck, failed a drivers test…No car for you ever.

I hope my students learn to study, apply our lessons to their work and all the other things teachers hope for. But more than that I hope they learn that they get to keep trying until they get it right. Learning should not be a one and done. Learning is a journey, sometimes we make a wrong turns. My hope and goal is to teach them that a few steps the wrong way doesn’t mean we are lost we just have to take a few steps back to find our way.

 

Community Building

In the past I have always structured a part of my class time around TRIBES. A community building and cooperative learning program. This year because of other obligations I did not start my year with it because I did not feel like I had the extra time. That was a mistake that I plan to rectify.

Over the past weeks there has been an increase in small altercations, a disconnect in how to handle conflict in a way that deescalates the problem. I don’t believe kids are naturally malicious. Mean is a learned behaviour but I think it becomes much harder to be mean when you view everyone as part of the community. TRIBES aims to help with that.

TRIBES is framed around 4 agreements that really everyone should adopt.

1.Attentive Listening– So often when having a disagreement or discussion when the other person is speaking we are already thinking of our response. We don’t listen to the person fully and many times misunderstandings come  from the small fact that we didn’t listen.

2.Mutual Respect– The GOLDEN RULE. So frequently taught and just as quickly forgotten when frustrated or feeling wronged. You can not solve your differences with others by treating them poorly by devaluing them.

3. Appreciations, No putdowns– I mention this lots but we need to focus on the positives not the negatives. Getting cut or breaking a bone takes moments but it takes a long time to heal. This is the same for mean words and put downs. We remember them much longer than the moments it took for someone to say them. Positives stay with us a lot longer as well.

4. Right to Pass– There has to be a safety built in when asking people to share and make themselves vulnerable. Permission to say, “I am not ready to share yet” ensures that when they are ready it is because they are comfortable and not because they are forced.

In a world that is becoming more and more divisive  we should all respect one another as people. Sure people we disagree with at times but not to the point that we devalue them. Once we see others as less than we make it “Us vs Them” I do not want a class room that operates that way and I do not want students leaving my room at the end of the year thinking that some people have more worth than others. Next week we start with some games and discussion.

Stay Tuned.

 

 

International Picture Book Month

How is this the first I am hearing that November is International Picture Book Month? Yesterday after buying some great picture books that I will be sharing with the class I stumbled on this little fact and it got me thinking about how as we grow older we stop reading picture books.

One of the books I picked up this weekend is A Child of Books. Wonderful little read and it touches on the fact that our reading often changes as we get older, we forget the fun of reading, the adventures that we can take in a picture book. We become busy, we read for information more for fun. This year we are focusing much more on reading for pleasure, reading by choice not just because we have to. We read a lot and it is great but we read novels and non fiction. Novels are an investment of time, a worthy one, but an investment. The pay back is not immediate. Non-fiction is interesting to so many but if all we read is facts and information we start to forget to use our imaginations.

Picture books teach us lessons in only a few short pages and at the same time can take us on an adventure. I love finding fun books that are unique. My friend Donna once helped me find the wonderful author Timothy Basil Ering and his book “The Story of Frog Belly Ratbone” with messages about bullying and the importance of protecting the environment and very unique art this book grabbed my attention and imagination almost immediately.

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Picture Books like all the stories of Peter Reynolds can have powerful messages about identity, perseverance, acceptance and simply being yourself. Picture Books are a great way to address important issues like bullying and acceptance with kids in a way they can understand. The story Zero is one of my favourites for this reason.

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And Picture Books can just be fun ways to tell fun stories. Robert Munsch stories, Berenstain Bears, these are the books I grew up with and still remember. My favourite was the clean up the room book, I liked the toys and wished I had them.

Picture Books are important. As a teacher they are a great way to model writing, teach lessons and build engagement in the classroom. The trick is that you have to sell it. You need to be a fan of reading and a fan of picture books to make sure the “older” kids don’t see them as childish but as fun.

This month I am going to read a picture book a day to my class. Share some of my favourites and invite them to share theirs. The fun of reading is the best part and it would be a shame if I was a part of letting that happen.