Last year I failed, miserably, at creating a positive class culture. I could go into all the ‘reasons’ why I failed, but in all honesty, they just sound like excuses when I say them out loud. I mean, this is how bad it got: at the end of the school year I ask students to list positive qualities about their classmates. This led to the majority of my class saying, “she gives good burns,” about one girl. And they meant it in an honoring way. They looked up to her because she could cut others down. Yeah, I don’t want THAT again!
So as a part of my reflection, I asked myself, “How can I do better this year?” I decided that ‘Motivation Monday’ might be in order. I’m sure I read or saw this somewhere. The idea is that each Monday (or Tuesday when we have Monday’s off) I will show a short inspirational video to the class; some ‘feel good’ video. I have begun curating a collection of these videos on YouTube. I will continue to add to them as the year progresses. There are so many wonderfully inspiring people, and in some cases animals, out there. I would much rather my students value the uplifting actions and words of others than the cutting ‘burns’ one spews upon others.
It’s summer and I”m doing what most teachers do; reflecting, researching, and preparing for the upcoming school year. Yeah, I know it’s still June, it’s what I do. Recently, I joined a teacher Facebook group. It’s great. Teachers are asking questions, looking for ideas, gathering resources, and the like. Then there was a run on teachers asking about classroom themes and names. This got me thinking.
You see, I don’t ‘pimp out’ my room with a theme or a cutesy name. I never have. I’d like to say that it’s because of some philosophical reason but sadly, it boils down to sheer laziness. I mean, that’s a lot of extra work. I”m am definitely NOT the type of person who is all on board with creating more work for myself. And so seeing all these teachers being enthusiastic about themes and names (i.e. Ms. N’s RockStars) had me reevaluating my thoughts on the subject.
I came to the conclusion that I’m STILL not going to do that. Why? a lot of the same reasons: I don’t create extra work for myself. But looking at it deeper, why would I want to? Personally, I like to focus my creativity on lessons. I rarely do the same lesson twice. I don’t reinvent the wheel each year, I tweak or change up lessons based on latest research, tools, and needs of my students.
I’m not creating a ‘Pinterest Classroom’; it doesn’t help my students. It might make me feel good to have a cutesy room and others might look at it and think it’s cute too, but that’s not my job. My goal is to help my students learn and succeed. That’s not to say that I don’t try to create an organized classroom; I do. I try to create a safe, calming, relaxing, and a caring classroom. So if your looking for a cute ‘Pinterest’ classroom with a fun name; my classroom isn’t for you. If you’re looking for innovative lessons with successes and failures; look no further.
The end of the school year is upon us. Today someone pointed out that we only have four more weeks of school. That’s not a lot of time. I know many teachers, and students, are in full ‘countdown mode’. Meaning, they are counting down the days until summer. I can’t fault them. The idea of a long vacation sounds wonderful. Time to do all the things that I’ve been putting off: steam cleaning the carpets, revamping lessons, relaxing, training ‘bat dog’ (aka Goldilocks, the 4-month-old puppy). Except, I don’t countdown. I used to, but I don’t anymore.
A few years ago I read a post (I can’t remember who wrote it) that changed my viewpoint. Basically, counting down sends the wrong message to the kids: learning isn’t that important. Learning is exciting and we should want it to continue. I am paraphrasing, but that was the message. I originally agreed, but have since changed my thoughts slightly.
While counting down and sending the message, “I can’t wait to get out of here” is what got me to change my thinking it’s not how I think now. For me, this time of year is bittersweet. I know what makes my kids tick. I know what will set them off. I know what to look for in others. I KNOW my kids. We are a family. We operate like a well-oiled machine. And now, I have to say good-bye. I don’t want to. I want to continue learning and growing with them.
Today I had a student upset about a personal problem. The student confided in another student. It warmed my heart to see the other student being compassionate and a good friend. We are a family and our family will be splitting up in a month.
It took us a long time to get to this point: us being a family. This is why I don’t do countdowns. I want to give it my all until the last day. I want to keep our family moving forward.
And next year I will start fresh. I will cultivate a new family. I will reflect on my new family in one year. I will be sad that we will soon go in different directions, but I will also marvel at their growth.
This is one question I try not to ask. This and “Did you have a good break?” When dealing with many students from differing backgrounds, it’s easy to forget that not everyone has a ‘good break’. It’s a natural question for many of us to ask. We come back not really ready to be back. I mean, we all love to sleep in and get things done around the house or hang with family/friends or go on trips. But for many students coming back to school is a welcome break from their home lives. And for that reason, I no longer ask students these questions.
I write this because I was reminded over my break that not all our students have ideal home lives. Some are dealing with the threat of a parent being deported or being evicted from their homes. Others are visiting a parent in jail over the holidays. Some don’t have money for presents. And yet others have had to deal with trauma and situations we can’t imagine. For these students, school IS their safe place; school is a welcome break from their everyday lives.
So what do I do? What do I say to my students when they come back? I’ve found that questions and statements such as: “I’m so happy to see you,” or “Are you glad to be back?” work well. “Are you glad to be back?” allows students to tell me about their trips to Mexico, all the toys they received, or the family they spent time with. While allowing those in less than ideal situations to feel safe to say, “Yes, I’m happy to be back.” Many times they follow that statement with, “It was so boring.” Knowing their lives, I know this isn’t really the case, but rather they are happy to feel safe for 7 hours out of their day.
And it’s not just our students who don’t always have ‘good breaks’. Some of our colleagues have had to deal with situations that were less than an ideal Holiday. Remember: “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle,” – Ian Maclaren.
When a first-grade teacher expressed interest in doing a Breakout, I was thrilled to help. As she had never seen one in action she asked if I could lead. Of course, I said yes!
We worked together to find a Breakout that would work for her and her class. We settled on ‘Number Ninjas’. It’s all about numbers to 100: great for first-trimester first-graders.
There was LOTS of excitement and enthusiasm during the game. The students worked well together after they got the hang of it.
In the end, all the groups broke out.
So, to all those naysayers who think that first grade is too young to do a Breakout, we proved you wrong. This will hopefully be the first of many Breakouts in this classroom. And this will hopefully inspire other early elementary grades to give it a try!
During class today, I assigned a quick summary of what we read together. It was at that point that I pulled a small group aside so that they would be successful and get small group instruction on specific skills.
While working with the small group, I noticed a few students who seemed to not be working. So I pulled out my phone! I quickly pulled up the Classroom App and went into select students’ work to monitor their progress. Needless to say, my observations proved correct. This allowed me to have a quick correction with those students and at the same time putting the rest of the class on notice. Just because I am working with a small group doesn’t mean I don’t know what you’re doing!
Ah, the wonders of modern technology. Used correctly, it can be a powerful tool.
Each Friday our 5th-Graders participate in Genius Hour. This year, there is a large group of students that either create slime – in order to sell – or draw. They hop on either Google Images or YouTube to hone their skills. I have encouraged them to create a website to showcase their work. Silly me, no one wants to do that. BUT, showcasing their work on their Instagram accounts, that’s another story.
Yes, I am aware that Instagram is for 13-year-olds and older. Each time a student tells me they have an account I remind them of this and ask if their parents are aware of their account and do they have the password. If their parents are okay with it the best I can do is teach them how to be responsible: no locations, birthdates, first or last names, etc.
When we were cleaning up on Friday, I watched one student pull out his phone, snap a pic, tag people, and post to one of his Instagram accounts. I thought this was a brilliant way to document and share his work! Now I need to work with the district’s IT department to unblock Instagram so my class can have an account and document our work.