It’s that time of year again! Time to head back to the classroom and meet my new kids’ crew! I’ll be back in first grade this year, and I am looking forward to seeing their eager faces and hearing about their summer adventures. So here it is! My classroom has bare walls, flexible seating, and a lot of room for the personalities of my students. My classroom offers tables at low middle and standing height, it has different types of seating from pillows on the floor to crates covered with cushions, to Hokki stools and chairs that rock slightly when you sit in them. There are covered benches for reading together and giant bean bags to lounge in the cozy corner. There is a Wonder Wall, full of great books right now, but waiting to be filled with all of the things the kids wonder about.
We will spend the next few weeks getting to know each other, and finding out how we need to work together in our learning space. Together, we will create our learning community, adding to it the artwork and messages we want in our classroom. This happens with structure and routine. We will most likely redesign the space a few times throughout the year, once we know how we learn best and what my learners need to be successful. We will have many chats at our Town Hall meetings each morning about our learning community.
There is so much more than the environment to build a learning community in our classroom. We will begin this week by looking at how we are connected, and finding how we are all alike, and how we are different. We will read books by Kevin Henkes to learn about getting along with others, and we will also use the book Do Nice, Be Kind, Spread Happy by Bernadette Russell to help us work on compassion and kindness in the classroom.
I hope that my students are as excited as I am to come to school!
There is so much to do , and I can’t wait to get started!
January: a month to reinvent yourself. And reimagine your classroom. We begin tomorrow with 2016, the second half of the school year. My theme this week is Review, Reflect, and Reorganize.
REVIEW: Together, with my students, we will talk about our first half of the year, and review expectations, routines, and how our classroom feels. We are going to review our book boxes – clean out the old stuff and re-introduce what’s there and how to use the tools we have in front of us. We will refresh our minds by cleaning out the clutter and refocus on what we want to accomplish by the end of the year.
REFLECT: We are going back in our portfolios to look at goals we set for ourselves at the beginning of the year, and reflect on what we did to work toward that goal. We will set new goals, and one goal I have for my students is to design digital portfolios. We will reflect on what we’ve learned and reimagine what we want to learn.
REORGANIZE: or redesign, or redecorate. Whichever term you prefer. We are going to reflect on what is working for us, and make revisions, and refocus our minds on what matters most. I am excited to hear the input of my students and see what they think is important to be the best learner they can be.
It’s the most wonderful time of year, but for teachers, it is like running a marathon to get to the finish line. Teachers are required to complete progress reports, evaluate their students’ achievements, conference with students about progress, teach their lessons, and maintain some control as the students enjoy the excitement of December. As I begin to question, “Is this all worth it?”, it is my students who remind me, with messages of love and care, and random acts of kindness, why I chose this life.
Our last day before break was Friday, and as I was driving home, I realized how important it is to have a relationship with your students. During our last day, one student asked me if he could take books home over the break. He wanted to do “school” at home since we would be off for two weeks. I also received a lovely gift from one of my students, with a note tucked inside from his mom saying that he wanted to spend his own money on a special gift for me. At the end of the day, I sent my students on their way, and quickly followed them out the door to get to a teacher workshop. I was spotted by one of my students who ran up to me and said, ” I miss you already!”. I know many teachers have similar stories of students who appreciate all you do for them. They are the reason I chose to continue on this journey.
In my classroom, we have asked questions and looked for answers, we’ve learned how to work together, how to lead, and how to be flexible. Most of all, we’ve learned how to take care of ourselves and each other. We realize that it is the little things that remind us how to do good things. Our class worked on sharing notes of appreciation, handing out treats, encouraging each other with words and actions, and thanking people that helped us out along the way. I am humbled by my students’ kindness, and through their words and actions, I know I have made a difference in their lives. Always remember the little things and the importance of small gestures.
This year, my mantra is “Believe in yourself!”. I am taking some advice from a singer my daughter love, Shawn Mendes, and celebrating the mistakes we make and being extraordinary. Our theme song is “I believe in you” by Mendes, and the learners are moving and grooving as they sing along. We have a Wonder Wall in our room that is a place to share things we wonder about. I have added some thing to get it started, however, it didn’t take long for the learners to bring in things they wanted to share. Many are interested in rocks and fossils, while others have brought pictures to share. It will be a great place to add things we are learning more about as the year evolves.
We worked on collaboration this week, and I’ve been putting up a question each day for the learners to answer ( How do you act when you are working with another person?; Who do you show someone you care?; What are your talents? ) The answers they come up with and the discussions we are having about character development and how we act are amazing!
I am learning how to build their knowledge of reading, writing, and math skills alongside lifelong skills of collaboration, creativity, communication, and critical thinking. We worked in collaborative groups this week on a Box Project: There were so many creative ideas they shared, and they came up with their own set of rules for collaboration, and they could describe what creativity looks like! I walked around and could hear the conversations they were having about how to improve their project. I loved listening in on how their projects evolved! I am looking forward to working with this class of learners this year. We are off to a great start!
An army base out of boxes
Where do you find your inspiration for your classroom? It’s the time of year where I am mentally preparing for the new school year. I am reflecting on the previous year, thinking of what worked well for us, and what needs tweaking. I’m thinking of how my students have inspired me to look beyond our lessons and focus on ourselves.
Many learners who have come before us have left their thoughts and ideas as their legacy. For example, Walt Disney, an innovator who made his dreams come true, has inspired me. On a recent trip to Walt Disney World with my family for a much needed vacation, I discovered his quotes all over the parks. He is still building dreams and inspiring others to follow their dreams.
Walt Disney is my inspiration, and his words are becoming my mantra. I want to get things going in my room.This year, I want to create a more flexible learning environment for my students, so that they have ownership of their learning because every student needs time for personalized learning.
I also find inspiration in colleagues who share my vision of student directed learning. This year, I am making a change in me. I am redesigning my teaching and reflecting on the process. So find your inspiration, and join me on my journey through rethinking and redesigning curriculum using 21st century skills, focusing mostly on the 4C’s – communication, collaboration, critical thinking, and creativity.
A few weeks ago, we were reading a book titled Superhero ABC by Bob McLeod. He uses alliteration to create zany superhero characters. So I asked my students, “What would be your superpower?” They came up with different ways to make their lives easier and ways to conquer “bad guys”. They had all kinds of great ideas about how to freeze things and use laser beams and fly above the earth.
It got me thinking about how all of us have an inner superhero that empowers us – to do good things for the community, combat “the bad guys”, and save the day. Everyday as teachers we channel our inner superhero to do what we know is best for kids. We “power on” to reach all of our students, address individual wants, needs, and interests, and provide students with our best. Lately, I find myself seeking balance between how to reach and teach all of my learners in my room and how to make sure they have a choice in what they are learning. Teaching has changed significantly in the past ten years, from teacher centered to student centered. Reigning in the kids’ excitement for learning and setting them on their own path has been challenging. I have been reading blog by Pernille Ripp, who is an inspiration to others who want to make a change in how they are teaching kids. This is her experience in how she changed for the good of her students.
While learning more about my individual students, I know I need to be more of a coach, leading my sidekicks on their path to superhero greatness. I recently read the article called The Five Habits of Great Coaches which helped me to realize that coaching students, guiding them alongside as they go about their own path, is a great way to provide each student with what they need to reach their goals. Listening to their plans, and discussing options, and guiding them along their learning plan are natural conversations we have throughout the day. Even though they are 6 and 7, my students have a lot to say and they let me know what they need every day. They are inquisitive and all knowing. They have a thirst for knowledge, and I need to keep them moving forward. And the best part of my world each day!
Teachers, we can do this! We can take all of our sidekicks and guide them into developing into the superheroes they were meant to be. So go forth, superheroes, and conquer your world today!
How do we make learning meaningful for all learners? How do you know when students are engaged? These are questions that I have been asking myself recently. What I have found is that meaning is found in making connections and building trust within your community of learners. In the article Making School about the Connection by Joshua Block, he states that meaning comes from relationships, and sense of belonging. It also comes from exploration and self-expression.
To be truly engaged, students must feel safe sharing in their environment. Then, they need to be able to understand the material and internalized it, and make it their own. So, how do you know when students are truly engaged? Well, check out your class. What are they doing when you’re “not looking?” I peeked at my students this week , during Daily 5, to see if they were truly engaged, and I listened to their conversations ( because they are always talking) and I found that they were talking about …books, and reading, and making words together …exactly what I had taught them to do! ( There were a few who needed some additional reminders). They had moved from practicing the strategies to actually using them and talking about books with classmates.
I also took a peek while they were collaborating with peers about how to make our school a better community. And I witnessed these same students talking about ways to make some changes, or how to improve areas of our school. While it may look messy and sound loud, the class was truly engaged and took ownership of what they were doing.
Students also need to be flexible, and adaptable. They need to be able build relationships with their peers and establish trust. Maryellen Weimer writes about students who engage in higher level thinking in her article10 ways to Promote Student Engagement. Teachers who make the learning more active and meaningful will have more engaged learners.
Here is a list of resources for keeping students engaged. It is no small task.