Innovators Mindset: School From Scratch

I came across this Blog Hop last evening and I have been playing with the idea of what an innovative school could look like.    With this notion in mind I was reminded of a project I worked on in undergrad, where I designed a dream classroom.  Of course, the design of a dream classroom by a teacher in training with little experience in the actual classroom was more of a challenge than I realized setting in to it.  There was just so much I didn't yet know about teaching, learning, managing and innovating in a classroom.  I would like to think I know a little more now, but honestly, imagining a truly innovative school is a bit intimidating still, because I know more than I did back then.  So I will forge on with this idea here, knowing these ideas are fluid and changing as each day passes and new information and innovation comes in to light.  

To make way for innovation, formative, process oriented assessments with a continuum of benchmarks would replace standardized testing and provide useful information to students and teachers about what is next.  Right now we spend so much time,even unintentionally, teaching kids to be the same.  Yet we live in a world that, more than ever before, appreciates and advocates for individuals to be themselves, know themselves and find their path to happiness first.  Prosperity will follow. 

That leads me to my next innovation.  Joy!  Joy should be a big piece of everyday at school.  Research supports that a happy brain is a learning brain, without joy the pathways to learning narrow. That means movement, choice, play, arts, creation and many new experiences to capitalize on the brain's natural ways of learning, and to increase students' exposure to the world and their likelihood of finding their own path to a happy/prosperous life.

Some of my best learning experiences have come after primary and secondary school where students of an age were plopped together for conformity's sake.  Some of my best learning has happened and is still happening while collaborating with people of varied backgrounds and ages and abilities, because we have plenty of opportunities to learn from and teach each other and I find nothing more motivating or invigorating.  My innovation school would combine children across ages and would combine educators in a  collaborative  teaching model where teachers with different levels of experience would work together daily.  From my own experience with coteaching, The shared load reduces stress and increases a creative flow of ideas.

There is so much to think about when imagining a truly innovative school!  I have at least implied, but want to state clearly the need for real life connections not only in what we teach but where we teach.  Freedom of movement around our town and state at least will open the door to connecting learning with life.  imagine if you weren't limited to one or two field trips a year!  Which leads me to think about the physical space of school.  I would want the school itself to be flexible with open areas, flexible furnishings that can be used and moved for multiple purposes, plenty of room for movement, collaboration, quiet spaces, and connections to the world outdoors through accessible outdoor spaces for play and learning and life.  My most recent brainstorm would be for my innovative school to have it's own on site museum and I can't even begin to list all the possibilities for learning and connecting to the world and community that could provide.  

Thank you for reading and sharing your own ideas, this was a great brain break for me this morning!
#innovatorsmindset #OSSEHOOC


Hunkered Down against a Restless night

Severe cold crept into the region over the weekend, then a flurry gave way to steady snowfall.  The kids were distracted with friends most of the day and I distracted myself with baking breads and keeping the fireplace crackling.  My husband settled, restless, by the fireplace comfortable and warm yet unable to be fully at home.  

Kids and I read,  played games, colored, and chilled out while he rested, an air of anticipation separating us all ever so slightly.  It was past dinner time and the children had just settled under their quilts for the night when the phone rang.  "There it is."  He said.

A hug and well wishes, and he was off to sit behind the wheel, lights flashing, and engine roaring over roads slick with snow, perhaps some ice soon.  I picture him in his truck, With heat blasting too hot, to keep his windshield clean, and window open to keep his mind clear, as I hunker down myself, both cozy and restless by the fire with the television on and a book to occupy my mind into the cold night.


Mom & Boys Ramble

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Had this thought the other day about raising boys.  Mine seem to at times go out of their way to do and say things that drive me absolutely bonkers.  They know, for instance that screaming Metallica lyrics at random quiet moments or chaotic moments like when we're all trying to get out of the house on time, are equally frazzling to my brain.  Yet, just as often (and it's easy not to notice if I'm in bonkersville) they do things, like ask for a back rub before bed just like they have since they were toddlers, or find a way to make me something I have been talking about, that remind me they are still my little boys who somewhere under all the sass need every bit as much love and positive parenting as they ever did! 

My husband said he thinks it's normal for moms and boys to go head to head with their tween/teen, maybe it is, but it feels like crap and then the snowball just gets bigger from there picking up steam as it goes.  I live for those little moment when the snowball busts apart and there's just that shiny stone inside that started it all. 


Dance of Seven


Saturday, Lila lay slumped across my lap holding me down lest I try to actually be helpful as  the boys (her brothers) set up their bunk bed.  She just kept saying, "I'm sad." or "I'm jealous." or the whole of it, "I wish I had a bunk bed."

Spending so much time with the boys clearing a hole in their room for the bunk bed was salt in her wound.  She flopped in and out of the way of bed parts, dipping in and out the door and under feet, pausing long enough to hold me down or hang from my arm as I attempt to help tighten screws.  Not only did they get a bunk bed, but "Can't you do something with me?  You only do stuff with the boys."

So, on Sunday we spent some time together in her room.  Job number one, "I want a job!" was to collect all stuffies in one basket. . . Three baskets later there were still plenty of stuffies for her bed too!  Job number two, pull old warn and summer items out of circulation, "to Lucy, (Lila's cousin), Get rid of, to Lucy, to Lucy. . ."  Now, job number three, the books.  I hauled up and repurposed a shelf from the basement.  The little organizer was in heaven, "I'll put all the Biscuit books on this shelf, the Elephant and Piggie books over here. . .

Before we knew it Lila had a large expanse of shining wood floor rediscovered!  But, apparently we weren't finished, "Mom, I really always wanted a dance space."  Silly me, I thought a big open room would make a perfect dance space.  Aghast, "Mom, anyone could come in and see me!  It needs a curtain."  Alas, the final touch, one pink and white checked sheet turned "Dance space curtain"

The Grande Finale:  "Now, watch me dance!"


Four Responsive Reasons to Read Ramona Books Before School Starts

When we opened our first Ramona book, not in any particular order, I read my daughter one chapter and stopped for bedtime.  My little girl was incensed that I would stop “so soon”.  She insisted, “This is the most exciting book ever!”  Ramona Quimby is one of my favorite characters, and I find the Ramona books to include fantastic reminders of Responsive Classroom practices and why we need them.   Ramona is such a true character!  With each book we watch her childish wisdom grow, her thoughts and actions true to her own person always.  Her stories are filled with insights into classroom and life that every teacher should remember.  That is why I believe every elementary teacher should revisite at least one Ramona book (bet you can’t stop at one!) by Beverly Cleary, before the start of school.
We all are familiar with the four main Responsive Classroom practices,
  • ·       Engaging Academics
  • ·       Positive Community
  • ·       Effective Management
  • ·       Developmental Awareness

Ramona and her family teach us a lot about what is engaging and that engagement is highly connected to happiness.  After being harangued by family members for coming home late and soaked. . .
She simply stood there, cold, dripping and feeling good.  She felt good from making a lot of noise, she felt good from the hard work of walking so far on her tin-can stilts, she felt good from calling a grown-up pieface and from the triumph of singing backwards from ninety-nine to one.  She felt good being out after dark with rain on her face and the street lights shining down on her.  (Ramona and Her Father, p134)

. . .and while playing ‘Brick Factory’ with Howie for hours and the importance of physical effort. . .
Each grasped a rock in both hands and with it pounded a brick into pieces and the pieces into smithereens.  The pounding was hard, tiring work.  Pow!  Pow!  Pow!  Then they were reduced to smithereens to dust.  (Ramona the Brave, p47)

. . . and Ramona teaches us what happens when academics are not engaging. . .
“Ramona” Said Mrs. Griggs in a voice that hinted she had caught Ramona napping. 
“Five” answered Ramona.  She was bored, not napping she had learned to think about schoolwork, and at the same time think about other things in a private corner of her mind.  ‘Mrs. Griggs, when do we get to make paper bag owls?’”  (Ramona the Brave, p79)

Ramona and Beezus Quimby teach us the importance of a positive learning community.  Sometimes good isn’t always good enough. . .

“There wasn’t anything really wrong with her, I guess,”  answered Beezus. (Regarding Ramona’s teacher) “She just wasn’t very exciting is all. . .” 
“Was she unfair?” asked Mrs. Quimby. 
Beezus considered the question, “No. But I was the kind of child she liked.”  (Ramona the Brave, p158)

Ramona’s feelings on public apologies. . .
Ramona was horrified.  Now?  In front of the whole class?  (Ramona the Brave p113)

. . .and that the effect a teacher can have on a child, both bad. . .
Ramona dreaded school because she felt Mrs. Griggs did not like her, and she did not enjoy spending the whole day in a room with someone who did not like her, especially when that person was in charge.  (Ramona the Brave p122)

. . .and great!
(Ramona sitting in the hall avoiding going to class was approached by her sister’s teacher.)
“I know you! . . .You are Ramona Quimby. Also known as Ramona Q.”  Ramona was astonished she had expected him to tell her, if he knew who she was at all, that she was Beatrice’s little sister. . . (watching him leave up the stairs). . . She suddenly felt more cheerful, cheerful enough to face Room one once more.
Ramona reminds us praise is not always an effective management technique and must be used cautiously. ..
(When her teacher makes an announcement and Ramona discovers Susan copied her owl.) 
Mrs. Griggs paused between Ramona’s and Susan’s desks.  Ramona bent over her owl because she wanted to surprise Mrs. Griggs when it was finished, “What a wise old owl Susan has made!”  Mrs. Griggs held up Susan’s owl for the class to see, while Susan tried to look modest and pleased at the same time.  Ramona was furious. . . copycat!  (Ramona the Brave, p83-85)

Lucky for Ramona, her family exhibits some effective management techniques. . .
Beezus:  “Maybe if we feed them right away they’ll think the party is over and go home.”  (Beezus and Ramona p121)

Aunt Beatrice:  “Lots of times little children are naughty because they want to attract attention.  I have an idea that saying nothing about her naughtiness will worry Ramona more than a scolding.”  (Beezus and Ramona, p98)

And not so effective. . .
Mother, who had bought The Littlest Steam Shovel at the Supermarket to keep Ramona quiet while she shopped one afternoon, was so tired of Scoopy that she always managed to be too busy to read to Ramona. (Beezus and Ramona, p15)

One aspect that Beverly Cleary brings to each and every book is a sense of where Ramona and Beezus are in their development from the preschool Ramona, breathing in and out of a harmonica, while riding in circles on her trike in the livingroom, to Beezus blushing in preteen emotions as being cast as Mary opposite her school crush, cast as Joseph in the school play.  The adults in the book occasionally tune into the girls developmental stages.

(When Ramona signed her mother up to sew her a sheep costume)
“I know,”. . . “But she is little and these things are so important to her.  I’ll manage somehow.”  (Ramona and her Father, p150)

And sometimes they underestimate the depth of her thinking. . .
Didn’t grown-ups think children worried about anything but jack-o-lanterns?  Didn’t they know children worried about grown-ups?  (Ramona and Her Father, p85)

These are just a few of the many reasons I recommend reading at least one Ramona book before school begins.  Ramona will remind you of the innocence of the children we will be working with, the joy, the frustrations, and that it is all a part of life as a little human and the people responsible for raising them.  Ramona will remind you why we embrace Responsive Classroom practices for creating safe communities with engaging academics, and why we strive to use effective management techniques and knowledge of developmental stages while we teach. 
Feel funny reading to yourself?  Find someone to read to they will appreciate Ramona too!




A new Page

It is midsummer.  I haven't been writing. I blame it on the fact that I need a new writer's notebook!  I actually shouldn't say I haven't been writing, but it has felt like a stale, stuck in the lines, and stagnant kind of writing.  For a while now, more often than not, I have been using just an ordinary composition book, bound white paper with faint lines. I had a large stash of them purchased a few years ago after the start of school, they were on clearance for only 10 cents a piece!But my newest composition book has a too bendy cover and too thin paper, and bleh. . . I just am not enjoying the experience.  Did I mention the lines?  Like a coloring book, the lines hold me in places I don't want to be held.

 My favorite thing to write in is a large black covered artist's sketchbook with sturdy clear white paper held by a book spine and opens flat to expose an expanse of white to write or draw my thinking out.  I have had several of these over the years.

I enjoy the way my favorite pen, a fine tip black uniball glides over the surface leaving a clean black line in contrast to the stark page.  I love the way the clear page leaves me free to draw, doodle, list, sketch, diagram, map, or write my ideas out.  But alas, this is one of the last clean pages.

The cover has fallen apart!

Sigh.  I will be heading to the store to buy school supplies soon.  A new "sketchbook" is in order, but until then, no more excuses.  A writer must write, I must turn the page, whatever the page.

My next project is to take my notes from a day by the pond, and create a poem, wish me luck!


Morning a musing and poem

I wake and have a cup of tea, but even that is a labor, to keep my eyes opened.  I try to get a jumpstart with icy cold water on my face, it helps my eyes to not feel quite as hot and heavy from sleep. . . Then, I sit in the cushy chair, while my husband sits drinking his coffee nearby, our feet touching on the stool between us.  We talk a bit about the day before or the day to come and then it is time to move.

Morning poem

Coffee and cold water
Eyes still heavy
Quiet, slow waking in the still darkness soft chair morning
Build sandwiches, 
stuff backpacks,
match socks, 
wake children, wash hair
Pull on pants
Where are my red shoes?
Stop arguing. 
Where's your coat it's only 15 degrees?!


Phoenix rises From Ashes

 One week ago, I took these photos.  Lila and I spent the day at the sugarhouse for Sunday's boiling.  It was a weekend like so many others in early spring, shared over generations, in both sides of my husband's family tree.  I just happened to stop and take this photo of the sugarhouse itself last week, because I thought I might share it with students at school.  I knew this weekend would be busy and I was feeling sad Lila and I would not have much time to spend sugaring.
 This weekend, my boys headed to Conway on Saturday morning to spend the weekend doing sugaring projects.  Even when the sap isn't running there are jobs to be done and plenty to keep the boys busy, so they were happy to go.  I was committed to escorting Lila to a weekend of dance performances, and a plan to bring supper on Sunday afternoon when I would meet the boys, my husband and family at the sugarhouse with Lila.

Her show (Cinderella) on Sunday, was at 2 and I just got on the highway when my phone rang.  A friend of my husband from the local fire dept was trying to reach him to see if he heard the news, a call had just come in for a fire at Boyden's Sugarhouse in Conway.  My heart was racing as I tried to reach my husband.  I didn't know till later his phone was hanging, in the pocket of his coat, on the mirror of his truck where he was splitting wood.  Once off the highway, I pulled over to track down someone in town, and I heard the report, "fully involved structure fire."

Many thoughts came to mind.  "Where are my boys?" I was not so much concerned they were in it, I was confident Howard and Jeanne would be sure they were safe, as I worried they were hysterically watching their beloved sugarhouse burn while adults bustled around them.  I needed to get there.  I also was alarmed to think of a fully involved blaze while my brother in law was boiling, is he ok? what happened? no way in hell he would let it go without a fight. . . over his dead body. . . when hell freezes over. . .

 Little did I know he was inside at that moment about a foot or 2 from the flames with just a one inch pine wall between him and the blazing wood shed.  He was holding fire from racing across the peak with a water hose, electric pump and his thumb and the very generous help of a passerby who grabbed the fire extinguishers and blasted them under the door at the fire on the otherside!
 (these 7 photos of the fire and FD response came from Fireground 360)
They attacked the fire from the door where Howard was holding off the fire, trying desparately to keep it back away from the main operation.  Howard talks now about the minutes (which seemed like hours) he spent planning the attack, while awaiting the fire department's arrival.  He is humbled by the respect of the department, who followed his plan without question though it has been years since he held the title of Captain on the department.  

True to form.  Howard was quick to see the bright side of the story.  Despite the loss of one third of the structure, the main operation was saved, and no one was hurt!  I was never so greatful to see anything as I was to see the building standing with family looking on when I arrived. To look at pictures of the building engulfed in flames, it is just amazing that it was not a total loss.  It is a wonder to think about the man holding a garden hose, a passerby offering help, Jeanne and her helper (a cousin's daughter) hauling out anything they could grab to save it from what seemed both inevitable, and impossible at the same time.  Quick response from the local volunteer FD was crucial and yet the whole stream of events came together to say, not this sugarhouse, not this time. . .

Howard had a quick positive response to inquiries of a workbee the next day.  He began seeking out folks he knew had skills he needed, but little did he know how many would seek him out on this day of blue sky, bitter cold, and optimism.  Out of the ashes they rose like a phoenix, a beautiful sight after the fire.


Vehicles everywhere. . . 




 a community

working together




                      learning important lessons


 and eating well



the phoenix

productive day

Coming together. .. Howard and JeanneA new beginning. . . 

Boiling again Thursday, March 26, 2015!!