Saturday, August 20, 2016

Even the Smallest Moments Count

As teachers, we go into school with a million things buzzing in our minds; there's the plan for our teaching, the students we want to focus on for the day, the books we plan to read, the language we want to use, the change of schedule because of an assembly, the meeting we need to attend during our planning time, the parent we need to contact and so much more.  Across the years I've discovered there are many things for which I'm responsible, but perhaps it is the little things that matter most - the things I might not even have a true awareness of on a day-to-day basis.

Such was the case at the end of last year.  The last day of school was an emotional day, more so than usual as I was changing positions and would be leaving my home school.  Though I was excited about the opportunities ahead, it was hard to leave a community that had become such a part of who I was (truly #teacherheaven).  The day was full of kind words, sweet cards, small tokens of appreciation that filled my heart with much joy.  After the bell rang, students and families buzzed around the school.  I was putting the final load of items into my bag when a student walked into my door, her mom stayed in my doorway as she entered.  I hadn't had this student in class, hadn't supported her in reading, hadn't had her in any of my after school groups, but recognized her face from around the building.

The girl, one of our older students, was holding a blue piece of paper, but she was obviously a bit uncomfortable.  I smiled and greeted her, unsure of what she might need.  I started to talk about the last day, and her mom soon interjected, "My daughter stayed up last night writing a note for you.  She wanted to tell you what a difference you have made."  I looked into the young girl's eyes as she handed me the note, her face began to relax and her smile grew.

As she handed me the note her mom added, "We can't stay, but she wanted you to have it."  I sensed the girl didn't want me to read the note with her there so I thanked her and we said our summer goodbyes.  After she walked out, I read the note.  In it she wrote about those little moments she saw me:  in the hall, in the cafeteria, working with her friends.  I was surprised by how much she had noticed about what I did from day to day in our school.  She thanked me for talking to her as we passed.  I could tell she felt noticed in these times; these times that were such a small part of both of our days.  "I will miss you.  A lot of people will miss you.  The staff, the students, and even the parents love you and will miss you."

The letter from this student really meant so much to me.  It was completely unexpected and such a kind, heartfelt gesture.  It serves to remind me now that it's the little moments that matter.  We don't always know we're making a difference, but perhaps every moment counts more than we realize.

(You've probably already seen this video, Eye-Opening Video Will Make Adults Reconsider the Way They Talk to Kids.  It speaks to these little moments...but make sure you watch it to the end.)

Friday, August 19, 2016

First Things First

Our district has been working to be intentional about our culture.  As a community, we are continually talking about our commitment to being our best for one another.  In this conversation, we talk a lot about choosing our response to an event based upon the outcomes we want.  Nowhere is this more important than during the beginning of our school year.  It's easy to get caught up in the requirements for assessment, to worry about students who may need to make large gains in a school year, to want to make use of time by diving in quickly to challenging learning, or to teach in ways we think might help students perform better on tests though in our hearts we know may not be what is best for the children sitting in front of us each day.

These are the days we have to put all of this worry aside and attend to first things first.

I was reminded of the importance of staying focused on building learning communities today as I chatted with an old friend.

At the end of the day today, I stopped by one of our elementary schools for a meeting.  While I was there, I decided to wander into the primary hallway to chat with some of the teachers.  As I was walking down the hall, I ran into a colleague whom I've known for some time.  She and I took classes together at Ohio State University and have had many discussions about learning across the years.  I always learn so much talking with her.  I admire her love of literacy, her creativity, and her gift for keeping children first.  

"How's the first few days been?" I inquired.

"Great," she smiled and began telling me about all they had been doing.  Though she had to be exhausted from these first days of school, she didn't show it.   

We talked as we walked toward her classroom; immediately I found her space welcoming.  There were frames outside the door for their learning gallery, a space to celebrate their steps along the way.  The wall inside was lined with letters from the previous year's class positioned close to the new students' first day of school writing; their proximity reminded me how much second graders learn in a year.  

There were other parts of her room that welcomed young learners.  The library was brimming with carefully selected picture books.  If a reader walked into the space, she/he would be surrounded by books.  Along the wall colorful large squares of warm earth tones had been hung to display the learning students would soon do as conversations grow in their community.  There was a large meeting area on one side of the room which was surround by books, learning tools, and a chart stand.  There was a place on the wall that would soon feature a timeline that would tell the stories of their days.

Her room called me in, but it was her conversation that warmed my heart.  As we chatted she told me about the way they were focusing on finding happiness. The books around the carpet were about finding your happiness.  Their morning meeting had started with a suggestion that students look for the happiness in their day and they ended the day by writing about the happiness they had discovered.  These were just some of the ways she was connecting her community.  She told me how they would grow their library and make it their own.  She showed me how they would celebrate the reading they do together all year.  She walked me to the wall that would highlight their learning journey and the books students would use to individualize that story.  Everywhere we walked she talked about the intentional plans she had for these first days of school.   

"I want them to leave my room loving learning," she said finally.  I had to smile.  I didn't know how they could do anything but love learning in this room so thoughtfully prepared for their next steps.  

The outcome she wants is a classroom where students love to learn and take care of one another.  It is obvious that all voices are valued here.  These first days matter in the days we cannot yet see.

Links to Keep First Things First:  

(If you have favorite beginning of the year posts, I hope you'll share them in the comments.)  


Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Picture Book Lessons for Teaching #pb10for10's the day.  Each year, on August 10th, picture book lovers from near and far join together to share favorite picture books.  Classroom teachers, librarians, parents, authors, and other book lovers join the #pb10for10 community to share their favorite titles.  Stop by the community to share your favorites and to discover new titles you won't be able to resist.  Enter at your own risk!

My Past 10 Collections

My 2016 #pb10for10:  Stories for My Son (The Student Teacher)
Determining my focus for this year's picture book celebration wasn't hard.  You see, this year our son will be completing his education program.  We're pretty excited for him.  He is an early education major and will be doing his student teaching in the coming school year.  These next months will teach him much.  My #pb10for10 collection this year has him in mind.  I'm sharing ten books his young readers will love, but titles that will also help him to remember some important things about growing a community of learners.  In no particular order....

"Love them for who they are."
Some kids like to do new things, want to talk, and enjoy being the center of everything.  Other kids like the quiet, prefer working by themselves and aren't as eager to volunteer.  Get to know your students and their preferences...and respect them for who they are.  Help them to feel safe in your learning community. 

I Love You Already by Jory John and Benji Davies (2016):  Bear is all settled in for a quiet day.  Duck has a different idea.  Duck comes over to Bear's house to get him to come out and do something.  What happens when two friends want to do completely different things?  Readers will fall in love with these characters who help us to understand you can be different, but still be friends.

"Let them move."
Kids need to move.  Books are one way to give them opportunities to let them move around.

Is Everyone Ready for Fun?  by Jan Thomas (2011).  This book has never let me down.  Kids love to join the cows as they dance and move on chicken's sofa.  The repetitive pattern in the text, bright illustrations, and fun characters make this a book that is loved by all.

"Make them laugh."  
Kids love to laugh.  Yes, books with titles like this one will surely get a laugh.  There will be so many opportunities to laugh with your students.  Enjoy them.

Whose Butt?  by Stan Tekiela (2012).  Yes, I'm sliding in an informational text, but how could I resist?  There's nothing like laughing with students, and kids won't be able to resist a laugh with this one.  The author shows photographs of the back end of animals and readers have to try to guess the animal.  He includes interesting facts that will surely get kids asking questions.

"Every problem is an opportunity."
We can see problems as problems or we can view them as opportunities.    

What Do You do with a Problem written by Kobi Yamada and illustrated by Mae Besom (2016):  In this story, the boy is given a problem.  He didn't want a problem, but he had one anyway.  He tried to get rid of it with no luck.  What could he do?  We can learn a lot from this character as he works his way through this challenge and finds a way to begin to fix it.  The illustrator starts the story with little color as the problem takes over.  Illustrations are brown (or maybe dark gray) and white.  As he begins to work through it, the illustrator begins to add color and the situation brightens.

"Mix it up."  
While routine and structure can make it easy for students to work and learn, there are times to mix it up.  When the pace of the work seems too slow or the enthusiasm wanes, mix it up.  

The Blobfish Book by Jessica Olien (2016):  This book is so much fun.  This book is supposed to be an informational book about the ocean, but Blobfish is sure he should be a part of it.  He walks across pages campaigning to be a part of the story.  The author has used ocean photographs that cover the page from top to bottom which often include ocean information.  A caricature of Blobfish is imposed on each page.  Through speech bubbles, Blobfish interrupts the story to tell his part.

"Help your students find their stories."
Young writers often don't know the power of their stories.  Though a lot happens in their daily lives, they don't often realize the significance.   

My Dog Spot by Jack E. Levin and Norma R. Levin (2016):  In this story, the authors write about their dog, Spot.  Each double page spread tells us about Spot's looks, life, and activities.  This book, with its simplistic structure and illustrations, makes a great mentor text for young writers.

"Learn to walk beside your students."  
Help students to see all that is possible by modeling.  Showing students how will help them to take next steps.  

Lion Lessons by Jon Agee (2016):  When this student tries to earn his lion diploma, things don't go quite as planned.  Being a lion isn't easy work.  His teacher patiently models lion technique and shows him how to do all the things a lion should do.
"Get to know your students and their families."
Learning is a partnership between us, students, and their families.  The more we take the time to communicate with families and get to know them, the easier it is to meet the needs of our learners.  

Hello, My Name is Octicorn by Kevin Diller and Justin Lowe (2016):  Octicorn isn't your ordinary octopus.  His mom is an octopus and his dad is a unicorn.  Octicorn tells readers about his life and his family.  He also shares how hard it can be to fit in when you are an octicorn.  This book could help support conversations about differences, fitting in, acceptance, and family diversity.

"Be ready for surprises."  
Sometimes you'll be unsure of next steps, but if you listen carefully the kids will tell where you to go.  They'll throw out the perfect gem at just right the moment.  

It Came in the Mail by Ben Clanton (2016):
Liam loved to get mail.  The problem was, he wasn't getting any.  Though he patiently waited and waited no mail came.  Liam decided he'd have to write a letter if he wanted to get something in the mail.
"Teach like an explorer."
Remember that every day is an adventure.  Learn from those around you, both students and other educators.  Climb the biggest hills, dig deep into the dirt, discover new paths, and take a few risks.  As Atkinson reminds us in this book, "Explorers are prepared for everything."

Explorers of the Wild by Cale Atkinson (2016):  This picture book,  from the author of To the Sea, is one of my favorite new finds.  In this book, a young boy goes out to explore.  He's pretty excited about his upcoming journey into the woods, but he knows there can be danger in the wild.  When he runs into a bear he is, at first, a little frightened, but Bear is an explorer too.  Together exploring is even better.

This story inspires curiosity, exploration, and could help begin the discussion about being willing to try new things and take risks.  While the story is well worth a read, the illustrations add to the adventure.  These full page illustrations and double page spread help to tell the story of two explorers.    The brightness of the illustrations and detail of each page make this a book children will love to hear.