Monday, November 14, 2011

"That Was Unexpected!"

I have the luxury of doing brain gym with our school community two days a week at our Community Time. Day one usually consists of teaching and modeling a new Brain Gym strategy that we can use, with day two being a pop quiz and taking a picture of a student modeling the strategy for our Brain Gym Wall. (We have pictures of all the strategies the students have learned this year posted so they can trigger their memory.) Each week, I give it my best while trying to inspire students to be all they were created to be. (All within five minutes of course!)
One particular week, I was giving it my best and I hear “Hey Mrs. X, Mrs. X… hey, hey!” I’m looking in the middle of our 350+ faces to see a precious special needs student who was in my class last year, enthusiastically participating and trying to get my attention. I acknowledged him as he became even more verbal and excited. I thought, ‘This is what it feels like to be heckled!’ (by a 6 year old) I couldn’t help but laugh.  Well, later in the day, this little fella approaches me with letter in hand. “Dear Mrs. X, I am so sorry I was hollering at you during Brain Gym. That was unexpected.” Well… that cracked me up. He evidently didn’t expect to holler at me! It was unexpected for both of us! His little face was so serious… but with a hint of ‘I wonder what I’m going to eat for dinner.’ This had me smiling the rest of the day. The unexpected behaviors are often the ones that get my attention and help me to notice the blessing in life.
From this point forward, I will march on, with my lesson plan in hand, but make sure along the way to let the “unexpected” grab my attention and remind me of how blessed I am to do what I do!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Teaching is like my golf game!

Today, I spent the day at the golf course! No, I wasn’t playing golf. Long gone are the days of summer… prior to the beginning of school! When school started, suddenly, my reading load became a bit intensified! I have found myself spending time with many of the greats: Doug Reeves, Lucy Calkins, Reggie Routman, Bear, Johnston, Invernizzi, and Templeton. Today, I spent the day in the cart reading! I love reading and synthesizing material to figure out just how I can implement it in the classroom! If the truth be told, my entire Masters was done… in the golf cart! Don’t get me wrong… I have come to love playing golf. My mind can get so wrapped up in my swing, where I want to place the ball and the complete frustration of trying to figure out what needs changed in my swing! I have learned it’s my motor, not my equipment! I love it… but when fall arrives, the reading takes over. I have found getting outside and being carted around while reading is a terrific way for me to ‘go deep’ with reading material. Let’s face it… I know I am there for at least 4 hours on a short day at the course! So it is a great place to study. There are always snacks and an occasional squirrel that has lost a nut!
This fall, instead of working on my game, I am trying to take Word Work to a more developed level in our classroom. In the past, I have used Fountas and Pinnell’s Phonics combined with Cunningham and Hall’s Word Work material for 1st grade. I feel very comfortable teaching with the material. Our grade level has put it into slides to make it easier to manage when introducing it to the class before turning them loose to do the activities.  I appreciate how the two (Fountas and Pinnell and Cunningham and Hall) have worked together so well, plan to continue using them, but I am ready to amp it up a bit. I spent the day reading Words Their Way. I noticed in the Lucy Calkins Common Core for Reading, she talks about using Fountas and Pinnell’s Phonics with Words Their Way to round out the Word Work in a classroom. So,  I have had my precious volunteer (she is in her upper 80’s) do  the copying and laminating of the material in Words Their Way while I am working to put this additional study in a manageable system to use in the classroom. But this Words Their Way is a bit more intensive. It is such fun to analyze where your students are as spellers. Word Work visually show us what students believe to be true about reading and writing. I have realized I have been using too much of a ‘spray and pray’ approach to Word Work.  I am already enjoying the differentiation that is about to take place in the classroom. It has been a fun day in the cart to attempt to synthesize this material. When I think of reading instruction, I always think of reading ‘to’, ‘with’ and ‘by’ the students. I am learning it is no different with Word Work. Fountas and Pinnell is the ‘to.’ Words Their Way is the ‘with’ the students. Using personal word work study for frequently misspelled personal words is the ‘by’ practice the students need! So really, teaching is much like golf! In order to improve you have to do the work, spend the time and let’s face it… keep your head down! 

Monday, October 24, 2011

Time for Student Led Conferences

It’s finally time! The children have worked so hard and it’s time for them to shine! The performance centers are in place, the children have talked and walked through their jobs and visualized their Student Led Conference. They know the material and they know how their conference will go. There will be no surprises. The parents have been well-informed up to this point so all that is left is for them to ‘witness’ what I have been telling them. Seeing is believing.

Even though there will be no surprises, I can be certain there will be an eye opener. Sometimes the children go through the entire conference seamlessly, while other times you see lights come on for a parent, a child, and sometimes the light comes on for the teacher. There is the occasional parent who struggles to grasp the concept their child might find a task a challenge.  When the parent actually sees the child working through a center, it’s hard not to acknowledge a beautiful answer or an answer that lacks substance. There is an occasional child who has continued to chug through a task while you have been teaching the concept (chug…chug…c-h-u-g) and finally, during conference time, the light comes on and ‘poof’! They get it! Right there in front of the parent and teacher. To see the light come on and the grin spread across that face… it’s just the best. As the child and parents (siblings are provided childcare) move through the ‘centers,’ the parents are invited to record what they notice about the child in each center. (The parent typically writes about their child’s use of reading strategies, their awareness of writing skills and traits, math skills, science and social studies concepts while navigating the smart board. ) The parents are usually shocked at all the things their child has been up to.  The parent might state, “Bobby needs to notice capitals and periods.” Or “Emma is great at her math facts.” Sometimes there is a different concern voiced, “I noticed Carson has a hard time focusing.” This opens the door for a future conversation.

As the families move through the centers, I typically stay out of the way and watch the pride shine all over the child’s face.  I love the time I get to share with the family during this conference. My involvement goes like this… I share a chair with the student behind my desk directly across from the parent. I always ask the child first, “What have you noticed about your learning?” Then I ask the parent, “What have you noticed about your child this year?” This is always a fun conversation. Usually we are all on a similar page. I often learn of something new I can use in my teaching to engage the child. Possibly an independent study… who knows what it could be this year. Then I share what I have noticed about the student’s learning.  (Strengths, areas that need attention and what can be done at home to help.) This is where it gets fun. I let the parents know they can contact me at any time with questions or concerns and excuse myself from the conference. The child, still seated in the teacher’s chair, takes over the conference by going through their portfolio and grade card with the parent. The child delights in being the expert. I usually leave school that late evening so inspired by what I have witnessed that I can hardly wait to get to school the next day.  So, as I write this, I am hoping the children are asleep rather than watching the World Series! I suppose I should hit the hay, because tomorrow will be a late night of grins and eye openers at our Student Led Conferences.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Collaboratively Planning a Literacy Party

Collaborative planning has risen to a new level for me this year. I am honored  to plan the reading workshop for our first grade team. Reading is one, among many tasks in teaching I adore. After our team decided on a planning template, I could hardly wait to get started. I diligently poured over all ‘the literacy greats’! It is so much fun to revisit our reading resources! They are like old friends. From our  resources provided by our beloved trainers,  to the gurus I love so much; Calkins, Fountas and Pinnell, Routman, Taberski, Miller… I could go on and on. I love those resources. I love this work…

The Reader’s Workshop model invites the true gems to the literacy party: 

·        Read alouds (complete with a comprehension focus anchored by charts)

·        Interactive read aloud (got to have the turn and talks)

·        Guided reading (careful to include that differentiation to meet the needs of all of our readers)

·        Shared reading (focusing on accuracy and fluency and fun!)

·        Thoughtful and focused centers (for learners to practice the newest tricks)

·        Plenty of independent practice (to settle in and develop that love of reading!)

·        The mini lessons focused on word patterns.

Needless to say, I was really enjoying this work.  Until… over the past couple of weeks I have found myself pouring over these materials (seriously 8-10 additional hours on Saturdays) to attempt to meet the needs of four different classes while planning this balanced literacy workshop. The pressure has settled in as I realize… this can’t be done. Balanced literacy can’t be scripted.  Balanced literacy isn’t a neat lesson plan. As much as I adore the reader’s workshop- it must be personalized from class to class. When done well, the party gets messy! I have a passion pulling the mess together for my learners, but I would be a fool to assume teachers don’t enjoy the ownership of orchestrating their own literacy party.  A teacher knows their own class and is able to take advantage of those ‘teachable moments’ on the fly! We all have to make those decisions for our students. I am fortunate to work with top notch professionals. Yes, I can plan the party, but I would seriously diminish credibility and professionalism when I try to step in (on paper, in a plan) and influence a teacher’s workshop.  Literacy instruction is the heart and community of the classroom. This year, our school has divided the planning duties and I am honored to provide the reader’s workshop piece. (Did I mention, in addition, I will be helping out a teammate by taking on planning the writer’s workshop in the following weeks.) I have done this with ease in years past for myself and I have loved the planning. Yes, I have wonderful resources and feel I can pass along the suggestions of ‘the greats.’ Remember, I love those resources. However, I am so open to hearing how others collaboratively plan their literacy party.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

A Community of Learners

This year things have just felt different. The first 30 days have come and gone and we are still trying to become that community of learners! The working hum is sooo close…but, just a bit off. Last week, I worked the kinks out of the Guided Reading. So now, I decided to take a closer look at my schedule and notice where we can enhance the rest and rigor to get the most bang or the buck! Eric Jensen talks about alternating the rest and rigor so the children can maintain a cognitive and emotional balance that encourages learning.
 Our morning is much longer this year. The children are having lunch almost 30 minutes later. (Yeah! More time for Writer’s Workshop… but empty bellies that require an additional brain snack! Note to self: The kids need another brain snack!) The longer amount of time spent in the classroom has also made me look at the rest and rigor relationship to decide if it is working efficiently. It clearly isn’t. The expectations are off.  The children are getting plenty of rigor and they are working their hearts out… but I know if I can give them more rest (brain gym break, make sure they know they are to take drink breaks when they need them, high energy poetry, fun and expressive stories, 2 minute word sorts…Note to self: Add more of these brain rest activities!) I know they will be able to work better! So… I made an executive decision! (Can I do that?) We have been hitting the floor running! Go, go, go!!! All day. Our schedules are handed to us with all the blocks built in; reading block-CHECK, writing block-CHECK and math block-CHECK!  Already built in. I am so grateful I don’t have to work out the gruesome details of the schedule… but I have come to realize our longer morning sets us up for play…THEY NEED PLAY! Good old run and scream or swing so high you feel like you are in the clouds! PLAY! So this week instead of returning for Math Workshop, (Which has felt like a push and pull relationship… not the comfortable flow of learning.) we returned to the classroom and did Word Work. A hugely kinesthetic and often loud activity. After stomping, clapping, funky spelling the words and lots of belly laughs… not only did the children write the words beautifully, they were focused and ready to work. We did this prior to math and I couldn’t believe how much more productive the children were during the entire math workshop. (I should have known better! Note to self- When I know better- THEN JUST DO IT!) This process has reminded me, I need to invest in their interests (fun!) and then they will invest in mine (learning). By golly, if we continue to vary the rest and rigor… the individual interests become a focused team effort. All of us pulling together, alternating giggles, fun experiences, emotional experiences… and gee – we just become a community of learners!

Monday, September 26, 2011

I Thought I Was Prepared!

We have been preparing for this day since day 1 and we were ready… or so I thought! At approximately 10:00 am on Monday, the wheels came off! It was time to implement the guided reading groups that I had planned for. Detail, by detail… I was ready. I had created the flexible groups with much attention being paid to the zones of proximal development. I pulled engaging books while thinking about the interest level of the students. I created lesson plans with these specific children in mind. The children were prepared. The Reader’s Workshop is up and running. We practiced the guided reading routines last week. This wasn’t my first time at this rodeo, I was prepared! The students knew their jobs! So what happened?

This year, I have a revolving door. I have 5 kiddos who are leaving during Reader’s Workshop, at rotating times to get the much needed help from our Reading Recovery teachers. (Did you hear the angels sing when I said ‘Reading Recovery’? You should have because the Reading Recovery teachers hold the keys that help struggling readers unlock their reading success.) So imagine this: We begin our workshop, kids are off and doing their job beautifully. I head to the Guided Reading table with my first group awaiting my arrival and ready to go! We begin. While introducing the book, I scan the room, on the sly, to see if the children are engaged and, YES, everyone is on task. So far, so good. Then the door opens, 2 Reading Recovery kids return, tap the shoulders of the two who are to go next (the ones who are in my group at the time…) and out the door they go…. No disruptions. Everyone is doing their job. This routine continues, but as we continue… I am quickly unraveling… I hadn’t accounted for so many leaving at awkward times. Not one group had been completed without someone leaving. The flow of the workshop is fine at a glance, however, my instruction feels disjointed. This is driving me nuts and I watch for the kids to become distracted during group. That doesn’t seem to be happening. The children are reading their little hearts out. Why am I feeling so frazzled? I tell myself, “Be patient.” I know the first day or two can be tricky, but the kids are doing what has been asked. The last group I notice is having a particular difficult time with the book that has been selected. Oh my Goodness… how could I have misjudged this. I was way off.  The children continued to plug away and give it their best shot using their reading strategies.

The morning finally ended. I reflected during my 10 minute lunch and realized, in my frazzled state, I had given the struggling group the wrong book! Bless their little reading hearts. So, I went in for a visit with the reading teachers during my planning time. I expressed my huge flop of a morning. I needed to talk this thing out. I took a closer look at my groups and the order of the groups. I did some slight adjusting and thanked them for their flexibility and helpfulness. (These experts are quick to listen, willing to assist in any way and most importantly, wonderful sounding boards.)

Following our day, ( and by the way, the kids seemed great the whole way!) I headed into the classroom, to make some adjustments. 1. Hone the order of the groups to ensure there are no interruptions of the guided reading group at hand. 2. Create one additional group. Yes, it’s more work but it is what is best for kids. No more than 4 in a group if possible. This sets the stage for better instruction and better learning! 3. (This one is essential, but incredibly difficult.) Start our Reader’s Workshop earlier to minimize distractions. That means read the 1st Read Aloud (our community builder) the best I possibly can to get their attention and get everyone into the current of learning. After that, we need to make hay. Get moving through calendar and lunch count. Take a bit more time with the Morning Message, as it sets so many important notes for the day. (We range from quick community builders to introducing new concepts.) We already have our morning bathroom break under 3:30 minutes so I can’t ask for more there. When we re-enter the classroom, following the break, we need to slip right into our Reader’s Workshop.

So after I changed the material tubs and prepared for the next day, the frustration was still there, but rewarded by the thinking and planning to make tomorrow a better day. I have never had a first day of Guided Reading with this type of result. If I need to rehash it tomorrow, so be it. Frustration or not, I do know it is essential these children have the best possible introduction to reading. I can’t wait to see what tomorrow holds.

Monday, September 19, 2011

My Good Fortune

It was Friday at 4:30 and the clock was ticking. I was due to be at the golf course for our Friday Night Couples League. This is the one evening I must leave the classroom on time… or else I would suffer the wrath of the spousal puppy dog eyes. In walked a colleague which I hold with the utmost respect. This colleague has stopped by on occasion over the past few years and I always look forward to our visits. Our visits range from his child’s education to grade cards and what immediate feedback means to students. He is a Cognitive Coaching trainer. I went through Cognitive Coaching training a couple of years ago and just ate it up! The experience changed how I go about business in the classroom, team meetings and daily life. I love the whole process of helping someone become self-directed. I believe Cognitive Coaching, however limited or in depth, will only improve our classroom experiences. So as I checked the clock, I knew I was on verge of getting into a wonderful, rich conversation that would leave me contemplating improvement and growth for my class. He said he had a proposal for me. I listened (like a good coach) as he expressed his interest in using Cognitive Coaching through a full school year with a teacher. This colleague believes Cognitive Coaching can expose a teacher’s thinking if the teacher has a ‘growth’ mindset.  I could hardly believe the good fortune that had walked into the classroom.  As I listened to his plan, I began to look forward to the instructional planning conversations, problem resolving conversations and the growth that I know is inevitable. He will be helping me by gathering data in the classroom during instruction, helping me process the data and create a plan of action for that instruction. The risk is, all the thinking is on my end. Being metacognitive is great but it is exhausting! He will mediate my thinking while monitoring the states of mind. (efficacy, flexibility, craftsmanship, consciousness and interdependence) These are the foundations that nurture high performance. These are exactly the sources we look for in our students to determine where we need to go in our instruction. My gut has always told me teachers would really benefit from coaches.  So… I could hardly wait to jump at the opportunity. Yes, I left the classroom a bit late on Friday. I still made it to Couples League.  I can’t imagine where this adventure might lead our class, my craft of instruction or who knows, maybe even my golf game!

Monday, September 12, 2011

We are 15 days in! Now what?

We are 15 days in! Now what? I am feeling this sense of urgency to get the climate of the classroom established during the first 30 days.  I am taking some time to evaluate where we have been and where we are going. After all, we are ½ way to the 30 day mark. The routine of the day is slowly coming along. The children are starting to predict what the next routine or procedure will be. The voices were sing songy today as we read the ABC chart and our class poem. This is comforting to me because I truly enjoy getting out of the way of students and watching them shine. As I assess our Readers Workshop, the children are building stamina daily in independent reading and beginning to use the early reading strategies we have discussed. Today they were so happy to get back into their book baskets. They are engaged and so proud of that accomplishment. The initial assessments are slowly winding up. I am beginning to think about guided reading groups and the routines that will need to take shape. This is a huge task we tackle every year. I know the importance of articulate language while teaching in order for these routines to be flawless and automatic for the students as they meet my expectations. But what about the expectations the students might have? This year, I am going to ask the children to give input regarding their expectations for reading and Readers Workshop. Novel thought for me! My hope is that early conversations and goal setting will create a collaborative urgency around our reading. If I invest in their personal expectations, I hope this will affect our collective literacy outcome.  

     So… what will these conversations sound like? Probably, “Now that you know the types activities we will be doing during Readers Workshop (I will have generally explained prior to training; Guided Reading, Independent Reading, Shared Reading, Literacy Centers) what might be some interesting activities you would want to do or try?”  I could ask, “Have you ever done an activity that you loved so much that you didn’t want to stop? What might be some activities or books you would love to explore? Can you think of some things that you would enjoy doing so much that you wouldn’t want to stop?”

So… knowing if I ask the opinion of the stakeholders…and I want to maintain credibility with the stakeholders…  I will need to prepare to following through with their marvelous suggestions and thoughts. Hmmm... this might get interesting.

Monday, September 5, 2011

I WONDER What's In the Bag?

       Picture this: I receive a text from a good friend that reads: ‘I have something for you. You are going to love it.’ My friend and I were preparing to meet later that afternoon for pedicures. I could hardly wait to see what this treasure might be. Possibly an edible treat! She is magical in the kitchen. How about a lovely jeweled bobble? She is a wizard with beads and jewels. Maybe a new book to share? This friend is a true book lover in the purest sense of the concept! I could hardly wait to get there to check out my good fortune. So, when I arrive, and she is already plopped in the bowl with her pedicure in action. I take my place beside her eager with excitement and kindly getting the niceties out of the way while awaiting my treasure. She reaches into her purse and pulls out a bag of bones! Road kill. She begins to tell me about her find which you can read for yourself at: Immediately we were enthralled in this tale of discovery as we were getting pampered. The girl who was working on her had the most curious or possibly confused look on her face.

          Now most of my friends wouldn’t bring me bones! This is a true friend who knows where I am heading in our first grade classroom. This will be the second year I have used A Place for Wonder, Reading and Writing Nonfiction in the Primary Grades by Georgia Heard and Jennifer McDonough. After my experience last year, I can hardly wait to get started.

 Last year, our classroom was a culture of researchers who were exploring from an authentic starting place. The children and parents were invested in the commitment of ‘wonder.’ We explored centers that evoked a sense of wonder while promoting literacy. We ended up having two writing times a day! One was for a traditional Lucy Calkins approach to a writing workshop and the other was completely based on wonder and exploration. The kids were begging to write! Students enjoyed a ‘Wonder of the Week’ in which we explored topics such as, “I wonder if turtles get water in their shells.” and “I wonder how our bones stick together.”  Each week the children got to weigh in and give their personal opinion before we researched the particular Wonder of the Week during our weekly Ponder Time. During Ponder Time, we explored the current wonder of the week while researching it in books, on the computer, magazines and we even asked experts to come in and help us out! The children took to it like ducks to water. I think I learned as much as they did! We also enjoyed a Pet Observation Center in which we brought Goldie and Daisy into our classroom. I am certain this is the first and only time if a parent offers to buy books and I requested gold fish instead! The children learned to write like researchers from their observations. They loved it! Observations such as; ‘Goldie is swimming faster than Daisy. I wonder if Daisy is sick today.’ Often they would measure the fish and record their thoughts and predictions! The children also enjoyed our Observation Window in which they could record the events they saw taking place which ranged from the changing of the seasons to the baby birds leaving the birdhouse in our Outdoor Classroom. We formed a Wonder Club that met every Tuesday during lunch to simply discuss what they were wondering.  The children became better listeners because they were truly learning on a sea of talk. The synthesis was observable.

We experienced so many terrific activities together regarding ‘wonder.’ I highly recommend the book! The activities eventually lead to the children creating nonfiction books of their own. They were amazing. Our class motto became, “Never stop wondering. When you stop wondering, you stop learning!” We even created our own t-shirts with this slogan! We finished the year by inviting the parents for an evening event called A Celebration of Wonder. We watched videos of all the activities the children experienced and the children got to showcase their beautiful books.

So was I disappointed to see the bones? No… the bones made me grin because I am thinking about the fun that is in store for my students and me! I can hardly wait to discover what this new class is curious and passionate about! Next week I will be inviting the children in our class to bring in treasures from nature for our Discovery Table and the bones will be front and center!

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Keeping Time With Classroom Management

With the first full week of school being in the book and the foundation for a great year being laid, I am reminded classroom management is a dance between my class and me.  As soon as I think I am in control of the dance… I am already out of time with the music! Classroom management is a joint effort with mutual respect, expectations and responsibility being the primary steps. The students are watching me to see if I actually am accountable in these areas… just as I am watching them for the same thing! They want to know if I will be their consistent partner in this education dance and that this partnership is a commitment. The children are watching my eyes and my actions while wondering if “they” are really my first priority. My job and a big part of classroom management, is to show them by my words and actions that I truly am there for them. This dance is about the love of learning.  Children are quick to learn these simple truths. My moves must be consistent with my heart. This dynamic is such an important part of the dance. Will you be there when your partner needs you? New partnerships take time to develop trust. It’s so easy to want to jump ahead and teach the next move, but I know too much too fast won’t last. The children are trying their best to figure out just what the steps are to this new dance, while I am trying to see who is a natural dancer and determine the children who need a bit of help getting on the dance floor! Sometimes when children aren’t sure what is coming up next, I see negative behaviors or missteps in our new routine! If I am careful to foreshadow the upcoming steps, we are able to complete the twists and turns effortlessly. Eric Jensen says when students lack choices and control, negative behaviors increase. On the contrary, Jensen says when children have choices, behaviors are much more manageable.

As we navigate our dance, I am constantly on the lookout for places the children can create and name the moves of the dance. I find myself wanting to push ahead to the next sequence but I am quickly reminded we need time with these steps. They are still new. The more we practice, the closer we get to moving in the right direction. Daily routines and rituals will enable us to perform in way we can learn our best while encouraging others to learn their best too. I must say these first graders are becoming familiar with the beat of their new dance and in time, they will be realizing their fancy moves will set them up for a crescendo in learning.

Monday, August 22, 2011

This mentor teacher has a lot to learn from her protege!

The last few years I have been called upon to share, present and host visitors in my classroom. This has been a rewarding experience because often educators don’t get the feedback from the work they put into the classroom. This year is a bit different.  I am a mentor. I have been a mentor in the past and have tried very hard to avoid this situation because it can be time consuming and down-right draining! But this year… the bright little spark plug that I have the honor of working with has brought a fresh perspective to my surroundings. We meet and I listen to her concerns, but I’m doing a significant amount of observing as well. I haven’t been in to observe her in action yet… but I am more fascinated by her organization of materials. Have you ever noticed there is no clutter in your first year of teaching? You haven’t accumulated your clutter yet! You don’t have the lovely bookends from the class of ’04 or the plaque from a former student who graduated and was in your first class ever! The new teacher rooms use a minimalist approach. It is with a refreshed and energized heart I am now able to let go of the literacy games I handmade that haven’t been touched in years! If I am not using it, I don’t need it! (Or at least I hope I don’t!!)
As I have watched this protege observe the interactions and quick exchanges between the veteran teachers, I know she is trying to see where she fits in. I want to do my best to see she has a good introduction to our profession. It is important to show her high expectations for myself without imposing them on others. I want her to see me set goals that are challenging but realistic and to persevere in the face of barriers. I want her to know the 3 non-negotiable in teaching; collaboration, thinking and change! She is a talent and the education world needs her. A professional and nurturing environment is imperative. As I am observing her, I am seeing my former self- fresh out of college. The mentor and protege are on parallel courses. She is filling her bag with teaching tricks and I continue to fill my bag with teaching tricks as well.
This new protege is so excited and grabs on to all the new information and easily sorts it and retrieves it at an amazing speed! I on the other hand, think… ‘Which book did I read that in?’ ‘Which book study was that?’ ‘Where did I file that?’ and I consider myself an organized person! After years of workshops and ‘the significant training of the season’, I now know, you don’t hold on to all of it. You hold on to the pieces you know to be accurate, helpful and true to work for kids. Over time, when you have experience and worthwhile training, you can weigh to determine the most important piece. You know, the piece or pieces that are going to make the most significant difference in the classroom. It is inevitable your bag of tricks will grow with experience.  I am also finding it is inevitable you will need to place lesser important information on the back burner or sometimes in the recycling bin to allow the cream to rise to the top.
So, as I clean out my cabinets and make room for clear space and new information, I know my job with my protegee is to listen, paraphrase and consult when it’s necessary. But along the way, I’m noticing… it can be done without the clutter… you know all the unused ‘treasures’ in our cabinets.  The protege is showing me the ‘treasures’ don’t make the learning happen. The teaching clutter in the cabinets can actually inhibit your craft. It’s the efficacious teacher who makes it happen. This mentor teacher has a lot to learn from her protege.  

Sunday, August 14, 2011

New School Year

Well, yet again, it's time for a new school year. The cicadas are winding down and reminding me it is the end of summer. I have had time to relax, rejuvenate and pray I am ready for the challenges the new school year brings. After 16 years of teaching, I thought it might be fun to shake things up a bit by blogging the experiences in our first grade classroom. It's always more fun to share the joys and discoveries. I hope you will join me and share your experiences too.

The tasks of  this week are seriously monumental; meeting and greeting the new families with hopeful faces and getting in the 1st two days of school.  Each family needs to be assured their child will be valued, heard and honored in our classroom. My job is to make that happen. Each family has written me a letter to tell me about their child. This helps me on so many different levels. From matching children to special book interests or simply making sure we have the unique snack request on hand. The more upfront information parents can give me, the more prepared I am to initiate that bond between students and teachers that is essential to learning to read and write.

As teachers, we work so hard to make our classrooms the 'home away from home' for our students. We want an inviting experience that says, "This is where I belong." When I look around my room, my walls are bare except for the signs that say, "Waiting for the Splendid Work of Your Child."  Brightly colored planters are loaded in the windowsills. The seven read alouds for each day are already picked for the first week of school. This is my favorite part! From First Day Jitters  by Julie Dannenberg to Bootsie Barker Bites by Barbara Botner, it's fun to pick the books that will set the tone for our year. I've taken some time revisit the important routines that need to be in place for the children to take charge of their learning. The sooner these routines and transitions are in place, the sooner I can get out of their way and let them shine. I have notes to remind me to hold down the teacher talk and remember to let them share often.

This is an adventure. After 15 years, parts feel the same but the anticipation is always special.