11/21/13

Eleven things you may not know about me


There has been a game? going around facebook, I was given the number 11, so here are 11 things you may not know about me:


1. Sometimes I think it would be great to live in a world where speaking wasn't required, then I realize I would miss listening to children talk. . . 

2. I was a cheerleader in HS. this was highly classified info, till an old classmate spilled the beans to my husband's best friend a few years ago ;-0
3. I was socially clueless in HS, and on and on 
4. ya know the odd guy in HS with facial hair and who was kicked out (often) for fighting. . .he considered me a friend because I smiled and said hi to him every day. He was actually a nice guy.
5. Having Joey was the most powerful experience in my life. I remember the day I realized that he had become a year old sumo wrestler on breast milk alone!
5. 2nd most powerful experience was managing to keep really regular yoga practice for over a year- felt like I could kick ass and take numbers 
6. I really miss YOGAAAAAA!!!
7. I taught aerobics through college, (not as great as YOGA) :-)

8. After being straight A honor student in HS I flunked out of UMASS and went on to study art at local CC, now I have AS, BA, and MA (don't give up peeps! find your path)
9. Ever since my Dad took me to see Scott Prior's art work I have been obsessed with noticing "light", Ferry beach, Maine has the most amazing mid day light I have ever seen. . .
10. I still think true "girl" friends are hard to find and baffling to keep---thank God for Sisters in Law---they are stuck with me!!
11. I have lived with my best friend for 22 years and we have been married for 17.

11/11/13

From Stating my philosophy to Identifying the Questions that Guide Me

New teachers have been asked for generations to identify our own personal philosophy on education in order to guide our teaching and inform our decisionmaking.  Now that I am reentering the teaching proffession after years as a parent I have evolved from making statements to asking questions.  I feel like questions are more forgiving to change, more flexible by nature, and lead to more questions, and perhaps more answers than statements can allow.

I used to say:

  • I want to create a safe environment for learning.
  • I intend to meet the needs of different learners.
  • I will teach children using the arts to build bridges.
  • I will make learning fun.
  • I will plan interdisciplinary units of study.
This year I revisit my philosophy in the form of questions that guide me, because as each day passess, with each child I meet or each book I read, I bring new answers to the table.  I do the best I can with what I know right now and that will never be the same from one minute, day, week, or year to the next.  My philosophy should reflect that and be reflected in the questions I choose to ask:
  • How do I meet the needs of a range of students and teach them to move themselves forward?
  • How do I create an environment that reduces or at least equalizes the stress that learning situations can create for some kids?
  • How do I talk to children in a way that models and encourages respect, thinking, growth, and movement toward independence?
  • What questions can I ask all of my students so that each child, regardless of skill level, can see, hear, feel, and model what it means to be a "thinker"?
  • How do I find and use childrens' strengths to navigate rough terrain (ie. the hard stuff)?
  • How do I change the mindset of children, families, coworkers and myself to a mindset of success for all our children?
  • How can the questions I ask myself and my students create an atmosphere that maximizes growth and potential?  What are those questions?  How do they work?  Where do I apply them?
This is just the beginning really, a work in progress.

10/22/13

Power of Positive in Education and Life

Almost five years ago, my new baby girl, (two months old) was admitted to the hospital between Christmas and New Year's for a weeklong stay of wondering, wishing, and praying that the mysterious tumorous mass in her tiny abdomen was just some benign oddity of cell division gone wild, or pretty much anything else besides what so many minds thought it might be.

During that week, I hardly talked to anyone.  I didn't want to hear the worries of others, because I was way too busy pushing any negative thoughts out of my mind and I didn't want to be responsible for struggling against anyone elses negative thoughts on top of that.  For days it was mostly just me and her and an irregular parade of doctors, nurses, and almost doctors, so it was easy in a way to just focus on her little old soul of a baby self and all the prayers and positive thoughts so many people sent our way and I let the rest go.  Importantly, I felt like if I protected myself and my baby from the negative words, there was a chance, a little bitty chance, that they would not become a reality.
That plan almost worked till my actual people showed up the day she was headed to the operating room and the mere sight of them all made all that holding and pushing away feel impossible.  Down came the weight and tears and fears like a wool blanket, heavy and scratchy, hot and uncomfortable and there was no shoving it off.
When the news came to us that the "unknown mass" really was benign we just kept asking. . "You mean benign, as in not cancerous? Are you sure?  Are you really sure?  You mean we really won't be getting well acquainted with the oncologist who has already been in to meet our dear, sweet baby girl?  You mean it is the ‘ok to tell our people’ kind of sure? . ." 
Once home it often felt as if we had suffered through a nightmare and awoke with all the world still as it was, having no idea that we had dreamt this crazy, surreal, horrific thing.  Acquaintances or parents from our boys' school asked "How was your Christmas break?", My thought bubble:  "Well actually we spent the week in a whirlwind of Doctors, Nurses, a variety of ineffective blood pressure cuffs, a tumor that weighed almost as much as my baby and topped it off with a happy ending/ beginning the new year, how was your's?"
It wasn't long after that my oldest kiddo began showing some serious difficulties in school, and looking back on that year, I realize that when it comes to positive thinking, I am a sprinter.  With intent focus and solitude I could carry a mountain of doubt and worry for days, never allowing those negative thoughts to penetrate my mind and heart.  Unfortunately, the long haul is a different story.  That year of kindergarten, the negativity was persistent for the long haul.  It was here at home and flooding from the school and it persisted through the middle of third grade. There was no escaping the weight of it all, because it built up slowly over time with hardly a notice, like a pile of leaves that is light as air in the fall, but damned if you can lift them off the lawn come mud season.  As a result I became aware of how susceptible my son was/is to the negativity of others, and of course through our children we come to understand ourselves.   How easy it is to slide back into that complaining, discontented angry mindset when surrounded by the like.

Today, I was thinking about an important discussion lead by a principal I respect.  Staff was asked to consider what measures we take as people, educators and a school to create a positive environment for ourselves to work in and for our children to learn in, and what kinds of things hinder our efforts to keep a positive mindset.  The answers were many, as you can imagine, but common themes recurred.  Feeling that one must carry the weight of the negativity of others was definitely a hindrance, as was feeling unheard or unappreciated. Feeling like a welcome member of the learning community alternately was key to well being, as was the use of humor, and a feeling of understanding from others.

 It occurs to me now that there will never be a complete lack of frustrations in the world of education.  (A revelation, I know! :))  Really though, some schools are struggling with a mountain of negativity traveling into the schools on the backs of educators who are feeling unheard, disrespected, and overworked.  Staffs where a simple "hello", a word of welcome, or any form of helpfulness are foregone only to be buried under the weight of a critical eye, harsh word, or blatant lack of trust.  I know for my self, I cannot sustain a positive attitude under such long haul conditions, when each morning begins with a new version of “What is wrong with this place. . .”  I am a sprinter, or actually a walker who stops for water breaks often ;-)  My drink of choice is a friendly greeting, a word of appreciation, or a request for help from another (which is high complement really, to be trusted to carry some weight for another). 
    
My wish is that all administrators from the Superintendents  and school committee on down, could see, or would look at the Mountains of negativity forming on the shoulders of the teachers and support staff in many schools, because this is important to acknowledge.  Like it or not those mountains slowly or sometimes not so slowly erode and the only place for them to land in school is on the students or each other.  I wish they would see the way that the slide of many mountains near each other can be catastrophic to educating our children.  Running a marathon with no one cheering you on, or handing you water?  I don’t think it can be done.
Sometimes, simply acknowledging a heavy load is enough to lighten it.  Notice those for the good  they contribute, the hard work they put in and help them see the positive impact of their work.  Remind them of the small accomplishments, the baby steps, that make educating our children worth their effort.  Help us all to see the babies within the children, tweens and teens.  Help us see them because they need our care, compassion, wisdom, and respect and humor in tact in order to learn from us.  They need us to feel positive that we can teach them.  Remember that holding off one’s negative thoughts is hard work and holding back the negativity rolling off of many is nearly impossible, it is a marathon with no water.  Imagine being at the bottom of that mountain.  Begin with one positive thought.  Today I am posting a statement for my colleagues, "You do hard things.  Thank you."  tomorrow I will post another. . .



7/22/13

A Look at: "Deciding to Teach Them All"

One of the most enjoyable things about the courses I have been taking recently, besides getting to converse with other educators and soon to be educators, is the variety of articles and reading materials that we are required to read.  One of those articles is called “Deciding to teach them All”  by Carol Ann Tomlinson.  The article is about one teacher's decision to move from teaching at a school for children with IQ's of 140+, and her return to a regular ed classroom.  At the heart of this article is differentiation and excellence for all. From this article I chose a word, a phrase and a paragraph that spoke to me.

I found the Tomlinson article to be inspiring and thought provoking overall, beginning with the first page, second to last paragraph, where I will look at the word, “adaptations”.   I chose this word because I think it is an important one to consider as a teacher and because it applies to both my chosen phrase and paragraph as well.  Who do I expect to do the adapting in my class?. . .(or even in my family?)  For me I feel like the thing that has helped me develop my skills working with children, particularly challenging ones (either behaviorally, or academically), is that I have accepted that it is my role to do the adapting to the greatest extent possible, just as the teacher in this article accepted that she would need to make adaptations when moving to a new kind of class.  I am aware that not all teachers feel this way, or perhaps they share that view to some extent on a continuum.  I know that my oldest son struggled at our small school, where the expectation largely seemed to be that he needed to change, something, anything, everything in order to succeed there or receive positive feedback.  That may seem a harsh interpretation, but if we truly think about how very often we require children to bend in a school setting to begin with and then multiply that by a million for how that feels for struggling, emotionally fragile or at risk students.  For my son to succeed in school, I found an environment that first adapted to his needs, that had to happen first before he could work on some of the adaptations he needs to make to create success in school and overall in life.  This experience has inspired me to adapt my thinking and my teaching, to learn as much as I can to supply myself with the tools necessary to create a learning environment with a growing level of differentiation and understanding of diverse learners.

The phrase I picked up on was, “’excellence’ devoid of challenge and sweat” in the last paragraph pg. 3. I love that she points out the crippling effect of letting kids coast along without true challenge or thinking work.  If we are truly to seek equity and excellence, we must allow, enable, challenge (ie. Teach) all our children.  My second grader was placed in a group of 3rd and 4th graders this year to work on a special math project for the school.  It had purpose, it was hands on and he was working with his cognitive peers measuring areas to determine how much garden space the school had available, and thus how much room each class would have for planting.  He was so incredibly proud, he about bubbled over telling anyone who would listen about his privilege.  It was the single most positive academic experience he had encountered so far and it took moving him to an Innovation School to make it happen for him.  I agree with her decision to move to her new position as a way “to ensure that a maximum number of students see themselves as worthy of wrestling with ideas and issues, just as adults do.”  I think it is important to remember that the best teaching ideas and innovations for the brightest of the bright will benefit ALL kids.  (of course realizing the added structure and support for struggling learners) This is for me about adapting my teaching for kids who are at the high end as well as the low end.  It is about adapting my thinking to include great expectations and outcomes for children all across the bell.  This is the kind of teaching I will strive for when I finally get my own classroom once again.

I chose this paragraph, second to last paragraph on pg. 4.
“If we reframe the questions that we ask, a tectonic shift might occur in how we make decisions on behalf of academically diverse learners.  Not, What labels? But , What interests and needs?  Not, what deficits?  But,  What strengths?  Not, how do we remediate?  (or even How do we enrich the standard curriculum?) but How do we maximize access to the richest possible curriculum and instruction?  Not, How do we motivate? But What would it take to tap the motivation already within this learner?  Not, Which kind of setting? But, What circumstances maximize the student’s 
full possibilities? 

I loved this paragraph.  I felt it truly summed up the article and what children need teachers to be asking.  I discovered how useless labels feel, after trying to find the right one to fit my oldest son, only to find that didn’t really help teachers help him.  His new school doesn’t use labels.  I started reading Ross Green and Mel Levine to find the lagging skills that were in the way of his learning.  Strengths are crucial to keep in mind, they are the root, the seed, the sprout of a source of confidence and further learning and growth.  “Richest possible curriculum and instruction?”. . . life and the world is the Richest, how can we bring that to our classrooms?  That is how we tap into the motivation already within this learner! J  Once again, the idea of adapting, “what circumstances” can I the teacher create, to “maximize the student’s full possibilities?”  This paragraph will be posted on the cover of my planning folder every year, on my door, on my steering wheel.  It is something I want to keep in mind as often as possible while teaching and planning.

Of course then I read the last question on Page 4 and immediately wanted to choose this one as the most important as well, because it has to be considered.  “What can we do to support educators in developing the skill and the will to teach for each learner’s equity of access to excellence?”  This is what every community, school comittee, administration should be asking themselves and their teachers.  I can see a parallel between children needing to wrestle with real ideas and teachers being given the autonomy to wrestle with real teaching issues as opposed to imposed issues of rotation of new curriculum every few years, or teaching steered by a higher power, testing, administrative decisions and so on.  Educators need to have opportunities to develop the skill.  Teachers all begin with will to teach, just as children begin with a will to learn.  Another question is how do we best make decisions that can sustain that will, and encourage it’s growth?

7/15/13

Nurturing Introverts in an Extroverted World


Nurturing Introverts in an Extroverted World

This week I came across this article "Embracing Introversion:  Ways to Stimulate Reserved Students
 in the Classroom" 
 (go ahead and take time to read it- but don't forget to come back :-) 
 It is a subject I feel strongly about, maybe moreso as I get a little older and more comfortable in my
 introverted skin.  Plus the article has reminded me to get back to reading Susan Cain's book, the one
 collecting dust on my nightstand, Quiet:  The Power of Introverts in a World that Can't Stop Talking.
  I will let you know when I finish. 

It is common for teachers to be trained and expected to encourage cooperation and the new buzzword, "collaboration" in their classrooms.  I have been known to use them myself because I know that learning to work together is a skill they will likely need on some level in the future.  However, I am uncomfortable for the introverts in a classroom where the teacher insists on frequent and almost constant talking and collaboration.  I found myself in this situation at one point in my life's adventures and I was not in a position to suggest any changes.  I found it sad, as the children who seemed to me to be hiding behind their own skin, were all but invisible to this teacher.  This statement sums up some of my own frustrations in middle school "the introvert may be pushed out as the extroverts of the group dominate the conversation even if their thinking is not on target."

One of the most interesting tidbits from this article comes from Cain's book and the idea that shyness and introversion are two different things.  Where shyness is a painful experience that tends to hold a person back, introversion has more to do with a person's style of processing information and how they "re-energize".  A shy person may be introverted or extroverted, and an introverted person may be shy or not.  This is something I have reflected on a lot in recent years.  I truly am an introvert in need of time and space for thinking, reflecting, restoring. . .  I am a bit shy too, but I can turn on the extrovert occasionally, or even regularly as a teacher.  I know that my self reflection can be seen through my growing understandings of how children learn, behave, and develop.  I have learned to be a participator in discussions, though I still give myself time to listen and think first.

Three main tips, time, space, and "asynchronous learning opportunities".  Give them time.  I can see this as giving a child a heads up about something they will be called on to talk about in discussion, providing partner or smaller group opportunities rather than all large group, and allowing other more natural forms of expression as often as possible.

Give them space.  I can recall a time in 6th grade when I just screamed at a student sitting behind me.  He was making constant noise, bumping my chair and my desk at every opportunity, just simply 'driving me crazy'.  I was a quiet, well behaved student otherwise.  Frankly I didn't say much at all, most of the time.  I think of the cramped rows of most classrooms I grew up in, with little space or opportunity to disengage from the group and know that my own classroom, will be different, because I know about needing space.  At home when I was pregnant with my third child, we expanded our house a bit.  It wasn't the obligatory extra bedroom, nursery, or a playroom for the kids, though.  It was to enclose a porch (lots of windows, air, and nature) that is just a little out of hearing range from the rest of the family fray.  It was the best decision we ever made for this introverted mom who sometimes needs a little space.

It has taken me a minute to wrap my brain around the third suggestion "Asynchronous Learning Opportunities" in this context.  Asynchronous to me brings to me a varied level of development in different areas of one person.  The article suggests online opportunities for collaboration, which provide collaboration and alone time all in one.  I know people are leary of allowing children too much tech time, letting introverts hide behind the screen, but I can relate to the idea that sitting at the computer is a cathartic, and enjoyable means of self expression, and a fairly safe way to participate in group discussions that I sometimes wish was around when I was growing up.  

So, I am off.  I will continue reading Susan Cain's book and pondering the best ways to meet the needs of diverse learners, family members, and myself.


7/8/13

Summer Social Time

When I was a kid, I dreaded the weeklong camp experience most of the time.  I was never particularly fast to make friends and spent most of the week either trying to figure out how to fit in, or trying to pretend I didn't want to.  I was caught between the dream of wanting to have friends and the reality, most other kids and their various unpredictable ways drove me nuts!

So on the tails of that experience, I have my own children and the understanding that they should have opportunities for social interaction outside our family sphere.  The predicament is that I am highly aware of the challenges of trying to create summer friendships as a kid.  Vacation friendships are always hit or miss, and it always seems my kids find the "perfect companion" the day before we head home.

We haven't tried camp, but we go to the same vacation destination each year where a core group of regulars reside.  This poses it's own set of challenges when you have a core group of kids roaming the beach and neighborhood like their own little island, where parents seem to live in their own parallel world until something goes wildly wrong.  This week, that was a bunch of kids tormenting and repeatedly pantsing another child while simultaneously having a rock throwing 'war'.  My guess is this is not what my son's teachers had in mind when they recommended social interaction over the summer.  Yet at other times, moments of harmony occur around looking for turtles in the bog, explaining how to tie a fly, or the all American backyard baseball game.

So here I am straddling the helicopter parent vs. keep your child out of harms way with as little interference as possible line.  Glad that at least one boy had the sense to walk away from a bad situation, greatful neither child was involved in the commotion, I am left uneasy.  I would hope one day they would have the courage to speak out against bullying behavior, or what I am sure some parents think of as "boys will be boys" that got a little out of hand.  I think standing up to a group of ten boys you don't see often or know well is a bit much to ask of an 8 & a 10 year old.  Right now though, I am just happy they came out unharmed and a little wiser.


7/1/13

Like Riding a Bike

It has been so long since I posted, I feel like I fell off my bike and am afraid to get back on.  In response to that feeling I am just going to start typing here directly in this blog, (no draft 1, draft 2, final draft), hit publish and hope for the best!!  I feel like I need to just dive in, the way I have had to since summer vacation began just one week ago.  It never occured to me, when I went back to work this school year, that I would feel like  I had fallen off the parenting bike once summer came along plopping at home once again with all three of my children.  That sounds a bit drastic perhaps, because I didn't really crash at parenting during the school year, but now that summer is here I definitely have had to rediscover my balance with new summer routines.

We are all adjusting to less structured time and renegotiating our boundaries.  With the school behind them for two months or so, home, library and the world are now our classrooms (says Teacher Mom).  Social emotional goals for my kids are being reestablished within the framework of family.  Limits on computer and tablet time were first on my list for boundary setting.  After a daylong 'cleanse' (no tech devices for the day), which began with half a day of whining and pleading, my boys finally got together and actually started playing, inventing, and creating like the good ol days.  Yesterday, they even worked together on a story, (should I mention it is called "A Time to Kill"  and is about the Blue team and Red team kicking each other in the "nuts". . .  It's early in the summer yet, give me a little time. . .)

Of course the thing that I struggle with the most is how to balance my own time.  Do I sit and enjoy coffee and read blog posts in the morning? do Yoga?  do Dishes?  Do I fold laundry or play hide and seek?  Do I only go in the pool for the soul purpose of providing a hanging post for my 4 year old or do I establish "float time"?  (4 year old swims in her floaty while mom floats on the tube in the warm sun)  Do I let the boys bring their tech devices to the library while the 4 year old and I participate in preschool storytime so all hell doesn't break loose and I have to haul all their sorry butts out of there. . . again.  Heck YES!!!  But then I insist they find new reading material for the week when I can supervise.

So here I am starting out week 2 of summer vaca and restoring balance to my family bicycle.  I am establishing little routines for my family for the summer like squeaking yoga in during "Daniel Tiger", swimming in the morning, and reading time in the afternoon, an art project here and there.  We are again talking about the "Golden Rule" and that it is about stopping the bird poop instead of spreading it.  (If a bird poops on our head (someone hurts us or makes us upset) we have a choice of being nasty to that person or others because we are upset (essentially spreading the poop).  Or we can choose to stop the poop in it's tracks and only pass along goodness, friendliness, and love.  Not the most pretty analogy, but I think my boys understood the Golden Rule for the first time ever, or at least laughed trying. . .

Just as an endnote, I wanted to pass along this tidbit for those of you helping your kids establish summer routines.  A Reading Specialist I met this year told her students (so I am telling you) to read over the summer in an intersting way.  She said, "If you want to stay at your present reading level, Read 6 books over the summer.  For every book after that you can increase your reading level for the Fall."  Even at one book a week that sounds pretty good and gives your kids and you a tangible goal for the summer.  

5/19/13

Sporting Good Time

Ahh. . . a weekend off from kids' baseball, an Oasis in the desert of endless games and practices that is the life of a parent of multiple players in different age groups.  I have a love hate relationship with this season.  I love the warm weather and the boys' enthusiasm and the chance to visit with other parents while the kids whack balls, steal bases and learn to work as a team.  I hate the craze that the baseball schedule brings to our family schedule and the destruction of our evening routine and general sense of peace and tranquility (ok. a little exaggeration here :)  But seriously, we enjoy this season that puts us on a fast course to summer vacation.

It is interesting though.  I overheard a parent who was commenting at one of my son's games about a kid who was "really intense", but I didn't really hear the whole conversation.  I immediately felt self conscious, "is she talking about my guy?"  I know he fits the description.  He is definitely intense, and is one of the older kids on a team dominated by younger players.  And. . . his daddy, my husband is coach. . .so I can see why some might think (coaches son:  intense player).  That thought makes me laugh out loud, because yes my husband is coach, but intense about baseball he is not, he just hopes to teach them the little he has picked up watching our older son's games and practices and make sure the kids have some fun.  He is coach, because he was willing to coach.

Actually, neither of us played sports in school at all, but we hoped the team sport would benefit our kids and that they would have some fun with friends and neighbors around town.  So in true 'us' fashion, in the week that followed this game my older son, who is one of the youngest on a team of older players was fidgeting out in the field, (I always wish I could control his "strings" like a marionette when he does this as I think to myself, "What on earth is he doing out there??")

Fortunately, he has improved from last year.  He actually was paying attention in his own way and didn't miss any plays that I know of that day.  He also did had some great up to bats, walking and fouling against a fast pitcher on the other team. Again I caught a piece of conversation, ". . cant' pick your nose. . .this isn't tee ball. . " the rest was lost to the wind, literally the wind was crazy that day.  It is no wonder that when this woman's son, who is a fantastic outfielder, was up to bat and struck out quickly as he stood while the balls whizzed by, the thought crossed my mind, "See lady, nobody's perfect."

I didn't say a word though, because I don't think it is our job as parents of children on the teams to be snarky about the other players, children of our neighbors.  I miss last year's team where the all the parents rooted for each others' kids, we knew how far each of the kids had come since t-ball.  We rooted for kids who were more or less skilled, lower or higher on the intensity scale, having a good game or an off day, and it was our job to cheer them on and encourage them to do their best.

I




5/14/13

Reflection


I sat down tonight wondering what to write about, and knowing I just needed to start, my mind wandered to school this year,  and to my return to classroom life as a paraprofessional lucky enough to work with a really great 3rd grade team.  It was a good choice to return as a paraprofessional, and begin to work out the new routine of being a working mom.  I have enjoyed the experience immensely and really have regained confidence in my own joy at working with children on a daily basis.  This has been not a small part due to the congenial nature of my colleagues who I have learned so much from this year.  
This opportunity has given me a handle on some of the challenges we are faced  within this high stakes testing era and reminded me of the challenges of facing a diverse group of children with various needs both educational and emotional each and every day.  I am lucky enough to say I have learned great things from each and every staff I have been in contact and hope to recall many (but in no way all) now.
  • From Kevin, I have learned a clear expectations and quiet patience go a long way in providing a safe learning atmosphere for some of our most challenging students.
  • Chris’s careful attention to time creates a steady pace and structure for a variety of learning, while making it possible for even the smallest moments to be capitalized on for a group game or sharing of news.
  • Alan’s enthusiasm for literature inspires his class to read, and me to revisit old favorites from my youth and the many wonderful books that I seem to have missed along the way.
  • Sherill’s attention to detail and seemingly endless tales of teaching experiences and wisdom have taught me new perspectives on meeting the needs of our diverse student population.
  • Caitlin’s fresh enthusiasm and ideals, backed up with clear understandings give me confidence and hope for up and rising teachers and the future of our profession.
  • Danny’s calm and quiet, yet unyielding presence in the face of challenging students is truly a bar set high to strive for.
  • Danielle’s unflappable nature and quiet humor is a joy to see in motion with children.
  • Anne’s insight and dedication to the emotional needs of students reminds me to reflect and avoid assumptions about children.
  • Naihsin’s and Linda’s ability and determination to get to the bottom of conflicts and issues with our children is both a motivation and comfort.
  • From James I have learned that consistent compassion is a gift to be given freely.
  • Nick’s vision as a principal for a school that meets the needs of students and staff alike inspires me to do my best, and help my children see the best in themselves.

Overall, this year has been wonderful, and as any the nearing end is bittersweet.  The downfall in regaining confidence to search for a full time teacher position this year is that my search may lead me away from new colleagues and friends, but who knows really what the future will bring. . .

5/3/13

Embrace the Struggle, yourself

What is it that makes humans too often, (at all, is too often) reject rather than accept or embrace the strugglers in the world?  I used to think it was strong dominating the weak, or rejecting the weak, as is common in nature.  But human nature is different.  It occurs to me, more often than not, people doing the pushing, rejecting, the sqashing, are simply avoiding facing some "truth".  Perhaps they act not out of strength, but out out of weakness, because  To embrace a struggling soul would require some recognition of something they don't want to face.  Maybe they too struggle, but are too afraid of the perceived dangers on the path that could lead them away from the struggle.  Are they living in a mold created by someone, always careful not to fracture the memory of that person?  Maybe they are made of glass, hard, shiny, and unyielding on the outside, but inescapably fragile. . .

Before we can have a world run on love and acceptance for all, people must become brave and willing to crack their own fears, look weakness in the mirror, and take charge of their own struggle.  We must first accept ourselves.

4/21/13

One of a zillion essays/letters in the job hunt process.


I was ‘raised up’ as a Responsive Classroom teacher.  The summer before my first year as teacher I was an active participant in a week long Responsive Classroom training where I learned how to “unpack” a classroom with my students, create choices for learners,  and use guided discovery to teach my children how to use tools, be learners, and become good citizens in our classroom, our school, and our community.  Through the years at that school, I collaborated with staff around Responsive Classroom Ideas and ways to continue our joint mission in creating a safe, welcoming, learning environment for all our students and families.  Re starting my career at W Elementary has felt like a continuum, as if I never took time for starting a family of my own.  I am right back in it, helping to build another safe community of learners, thinking about the best kinds of language to use with students, participating in PBIS meetings to establish lunchroom protocols, and thinking, always thinking about how to show our students what it looks and sounds like to be respectful, responsible, caring and safe citizens of our learning community.  This, I believe, is the beginning of a greatness all our students can achieve, the foundation upon which we build learners and citizens.  Without safety and acceptance among students and teachers, fear and anxiety and misunderstanding can, and likely will, block the path to learning.  
Children are all different, yet as humans they are all alike.  They need to understand themselves and feel understood by others, especially to maximize learning.  As a teacher I can support this by truly getting to know my kids interests, strengths, and weaknesses.  Each child needs to know, see, and hear that the strengths of each student (themselves and others) are important and useful and will serve our classroom community. Each child will learn how to best support classmates when it is hard, because at some point they will each wear those shoes, and will appreciate the consideration and goodwill of others.  Each child in my class will feel that school has a purpose for them, that they are important and have something to offer our class and community.  They will come to understand that things they CAN do can help create a bridge to the things they cannot yet do. 
In practical terms, I will use a combination of whole group, small group, partner and individual instruction to teach my class. I will make learning goals explicit using child friendly language.  There will be opportunities for collaboration and contemplation.  Daily observations, anecdotal records, checklists, check ins,  and rubrics will be among the tools to guide my daily preparation to meet the needs of what is sure to be a diverse group of learners.  The classroom will be organized and accessible to all learners and a variety of materials will be available to students to learn and express their knowledge with.  Predictable opportunities for developing reading, writing and arithmetic skills (practice in addition to instruction) will occur throughout the day while global concepts in social studies and science will provide a conceptual framework throughout the year that provides not only organization, but motivation for the class and many opportunities for reading and writing across the curriculum.
Keeping on top of challenging the students who are ready for a challenge is equally as important to me as being diligent and creative in teaching children who are struggling to learn a skill.  It is key to a smooth running classroom and also the goal of developing lifelong learners that children be engaged daily.  These two points are even clearer to me as I near completion of two courses (Learning Disabilities and Instructional Techniques, & Positive Behavior Supports) this spring through HEC.  I believe all children can and should be learning daily.  I know how to follow a curriculum and to teach common standards, yet to be sure all children are progressing my goal is to be tooled with an understanding of the issues that can get in the way and be able to develop a clear plan with a child or a team of colleagues for how to best remove or work around obstacles to learning, set realistic goals, and achieve them.  That is how I plan to ensure academic excellence for every student in my class, every day!

3/26/13

Good cop, Bad cop, Or Balancing with Help?

I recently had one of those encounters that left me questioning myself, and I see that as a good thing, because I don't think it is healthy to feel like I have all the answers.  The particular day I am thinking of was a sort of 'good cop/bad cop' experience with a student, between me and another teacher ( a somewhat regular substitute where I work).  The child came in to class with his coat on, hood up and attitude in place.  He sat down and promptly ignored the morning work and took out a graphic novel to read instead.  He has a hard life and has seen more hardship in 9 years than I could dream of in 40.  The previous week had been a particularly difficult one for him.  My take on this child, since it was first thing in the morning, was to see if I could engage him and help him to shift his mood to a more positive one where he might get some work done.    The substitute interrupted to tell him to get out his morning work.  After only a few more minutes she returned, "Since you aren't doing your morning work now, you will have to do it at recess."  You can see the good cop bad cop scenario taking form, but unlike a Law and Order episode, the two of us were not working together.  I will admit I was a little flustered by the interaction, and couldn't imagine what on earth this teacher was thinking.

The next day, I saw the other teacher and we had time to talk.  I explained that my intention was to try to help the student shift gears so he might have a chance at being a productive learner throughout the rest of the day.  The other teacher expressed her frustration with the student "Getting away with not doing his work" and feeling like "He needs to be held accountable.", that "He needs to learn."  They are legitimate concerns.  When kids with hard lives show up at the classroom door, not ready to learn, still carrying the baggage that is their life it is not a situation conducive to learning.  We both, we all, agree on that.

Where the dichotomy begins is how we approach trying to solve the problem.  I realize, after pondering this situation right now, that this child could benefit from Ross Greene's Collaborative Problem Solving between teacher and student.  That's is not where I intended to go with this, but the connection is legitimate based on some information I have been reading about on The Center For Confidence and Well Being website.  There is an abundance of information on this site that I find useful in thinking of how to help kids like the one I described here.  For instance the article Resilience and Vulnerable Children includes Proffessor Bridgit Daniel's outline of 6 ways teachers, counselors, and other significant adults can help a child who has been put in a vulnerable position in life.  These ways take into account her belief that the approach we take with kids should not emphasise their vulnerability but "honor and build on human qualities for survival".

The six areas comprise:
  • Secure base – where the focus is on secure attachment relationships
  • Education – where school is a place, teachers are seen as people and learning is seen as a process
  • Friendship – where the ability to get on with peers is supported
  • Talents and interests – where opportunities to boost self esteem are nurtured
  • Positive values – where kindness to others is encouraged
  • Social competencies – where the ability to behave appropriately is developed.
This further endears me to Dr.Ross Greene and Collaborative Problem Solving because it is based in the kind of trusting relationship that must be established to help the children who need it most. (And don't get me wrong, All children need it) If the child does not yet have a secure relationship in school CPS could play a key role.  In CPS we as teachers are learning and trying new problem solving strategies right along with the children, we are not just telling them what to do.  CPS takes into account children's  strengths and allows and encourages the child to build on those.  Through CPS we can address positive values and social competencies in a humane way, with the goal being that the child will develop skills in those areas with time and attention.  This will also, potentially play a key role in helping a child move from a fixed mindset, ex. "My life is terrible." to a growth mindset, "I can learn, I can change my life" as noted in works and audio of Carol Dweck, also highlighted on this website.  If you have never heard Dweck's Mindset talks you should check them out, they are really enlightening.

Back to my Good cop/ Bad cop scenario, I realize we are all balancing our need to feel like we are helping these kids and at the same time trying to provide the the kind of structure and limits that will help them develop life long skills.  I find myself on either side of the beam on any given day with the child I mentioned above.  Despite, my frustration with the teacher mentioned, I get her.  Now more than ever I believe the key to stay on the beam is to take the hand of the child and work on the problem together, to meet the needs of the teacher (ie. limits set) and child (emotional and learning needs met)

3/2/13

Paper Trail :)

A funny thing is I just sat down with a pen and paper a minute ago trying to figure out what it was I was going to write about today.  I had a fleeting idea, but I wanted to get some chores done first, then when I decided, "this is going to be a while I better write that down"  The idea whoooshed out of my brain.  So, not one to give up on an idea I found a scrap of blank paper and a pen anyway and just wrote what popped into my mind that wasn't my idea.  On the paper I wrote:
  • flimsy
  • flip
  • trash
  • paperwork
Aha!!!  It struck me! (I thought this was cool, because I did not know it would work) Earlier today, as I was cleaning off a flat surface in my kitchen of the familial rubble that piles up there, I planned to perhaps write about the paperwork dilemma.  If I thought junkmail and the paper burden was a problem before I had kids, I was not even in the slightest bit prepared for the onslaught of paperwork that is dumped out of the backpacks of three kids attending different schools.  I had no idea that such piles of paperwork had the capability to bury even my thoughts and ideas so that I would have to find a quiet place to pull them out as I did today with my pen and paper experiment.  

The beginning of the year is the worst, as you could probably guess, because the school actually expects you to look at everything, read, gather info, sign, return x 3 and every school has different forms for the same stuff so I can't just copy one and be on my way. To be sure my kids start school off on the right "foot", I have to make note of phys ed and dance days, (and other movement oriented days that I always mess up the names of and am sure to have my kids correct me), and on which day of the week they fall for each child.  I pin up the lunch menus, which the kids never need unless I throw them away.  I post the school calendars and try to figure out if any of our days off synchronize, rarely.  

Then, there's the kids' work that comes home. . .  Don't get me wrong, I love to see what my kids are doing at school, check out their writing, see their artwork, and all, but then what?  I usually choose a few things to hang for too long on the fridge or tack board, striking artwork or other cool stuff goes into my cellar stairway ie. shrine to my kids. (pics below)  But let's be honest folks, there is a lot of crap that comes home.  Piles of worksheets with nouns circled and mad minute math fact sheets, blah!  So for those things I do not deem worthy of long term visiblity, I leave in a pile somewhere until I can sneak it into the recycling or the wood furnace without one or more children noticing and guilting me with the looks of shock, horror, disappointment, and lagging self esteem that result when they realize I do not keep every scrap of paper that falls out of their backpacks.

I take some strength from a friend who refuses to keep all that stuff.  But I haven't mastered the ruthless toss.  I balance it with trying to keep some of it, a few choice things.  I know that my way is more exhausting though. Now, in the age of pinterest, the process of deciding is even more excruciating because I feel inclined to keep every finger or toeprint project that comes through the front door, and damned if they don't have  a bazillion (is that even a number??) different ideas for fingers, toes, and paint!!! 

On a side note, writing this was a lovely distraction from sorting and "filing" the endless paperwork, thanks for reading :)



This last photo is my almost finished glass mosaic underwater scene which is on the wall below the child artwork shrine :)

2/23/13

Trying Not to feel Unaccomplished

It is a funny thing being in touch with people who I haven't seen in a very long while.  It is very seldom, (ie: has never happened) that I meet up with an old classmate or coworker and discover, yes, she also has been home with her kids for the last ten years and is perhaps just returning to her proffession.  Ten years is a lot of career building, a pile of work experience, a bazillion accomplished goals and places traveled, or in my case 3 kids ages 4,8,& eek! a boy who will be 10 in seventeen days! The most jarring to me though, is when I meet up with old coworkers or other teachers who have been teaching all this time while I have been home. It makes me feel like I dodged the draft by leaving my proffession right when all the hoop jumping began for MCAS, No Child Left Behind, and now Race to the Top.  I start to feel a little like I have no right to have an opinion, or to voice it, with regards to the state of education at present, and I feel a little unaccomplished having SAHM on my resume for the past 10 years.  I worry that my determination to return to teaching, to do better for the kids, will be viewed as idealistic know-it-allism from a wannabe teacher who has stayed home for more years now than she has teaching time under her belt.

For better or worse, I managed to transition from a newbie teacher to a stay at home parent with my idealism about education in tact.  That idealism was challenged while trap tripping over to the other side of the bridge.  It took me a couple years to hurd my little ones over the bridge, past the troll, and on to the green, green grass of schools that taste better, and nourish more readily than the barren rocky landscape that we left.  The experience has been a different kind of education about teaching and learning, different than slogging through the fog of high stakes testing and accountability that teachers have had to do.  I like to think that being on the other side of the bridge gives me the kind of perspective that will be necessary to improving the state of public education in the years to come, toward balancing accountabity with sound and innovative teaching practices. I worry though, about being perceived as someone who thinks it is all in the power of the teachers to control, as someone who thinks most teachers are not doing the best they CAN within a system that is not working well.  

I am particularly sensitive to the fact that I had to fight hard to get one of my kids what he needs in public school and the glinting notion that I may somehow be seen as an enemy, upstart, or merely an idealistic fool by folks who have "dedicated their lives to the education of our children" while I stayed home dedicated to raising my own.  Do they see this huge chunk of my education, this badge of honor as a scarlet letter?  Then of course I flip it and ask, why do I care?  I guess I can get over the idea of others not readily "seeing" my experiences as education, but I care really, because I want to get a teaching job.  My solution is to create current references and experiences with the courses I am taking and the job I currently hold that will validate my teacherness somehow and pave the way to reigniting my teaching career in this current climate. 

Just occured to me. . .Is this post just nerves at the thought of beginning the interview process again this year?  or fear of the question "Will there be any jobs to interview for?" hmm. . .    Breath, Amy






2/22/13

Return to 'Student' Status

So here I am, a mom, a teacher, a student, and I realize that I have been practicing the harmony of these three areas of my life for some time now, but without the all the imposed schedules and formal deadlines.  So this year I have returned to work/ school as a class size paraproffessional (working with 3 third grade teachers to support the close to 70 kiddos of diverse educational and behavioral needs in their classes) and I have returned to student status so I can keep growing my skills and credentials as a teacher.

 So testing. . . "Get up and go to work on schedule while getting children to and from schools". . . Check.

I can do this.  Not only that, I am really enjoying getting to know the children and the teachers, and figuring out how I can best support them all, it is an intersting job.  It is a relief to me really how much I am enjoying getting to know the teachers and how to best support each of them and their unique needs.  And it is a great feeling because I realize I can do it and I like it. They are each so different, just like the kids, and the classes.

Next layer of challenge:  For a month or so, I have also been enrolled in two hybrid online courses.  (For those of you who need that decoded, it means we meet in person for 3 classess, while completing most of our coursework and weekly discussions and assignments on line.)  What can I say, just one sounded too doable *smirk*, I wanted to challenge myself.  It is an interesting combination so far and the classes are right up my ally.  Positive Behavior Supports, and Learning Disabilities and Instructional Techniques, are both taught by the same instructor and fairly compatible to take together.  My biggest challenge is keeping from getting the two tangled up in my mind.  But isn't that what we really want in the end?  So, while trying to keep the assignments organized by class, is a bit of a challenge, I think allowing the two courses to mix in my mind and experience is a good thing overall.  (And all this while the clean laundry pile stares me down as I read-that adds another element. . . you wouldn't believe how much energy it takes to be stared down by your own clean laundry!)

Another challenge, because I have focused particularly on the behavior piece on my own for a couple years now, it to really stretch myself and go beyond the understandings I have already reached to try to shape a managable classroom philosophy.  One that is strong enough to not be swayed by the peer pressure of other teachers who may not understand or agree, and flexible enough to meet the needs of a diverse population of learners.  As you know, if you have been reading here for any length of time, Dr. Ross Greene is my hero.  Now how do I shape what I have learned from him into a practical, doable, classroom philosophy for management that opens the door for learning and acceptance of differences in a classroom setting.

As you know, that is my end goal.  To be the classroom teacher who sets up the environment for success.  I have had the added benefit of working with a diverse set of teachers, and even more diverse set of kids, and learning from them each day what techniques work, what seems to work at first, and what strategies get in the way despite good intentions.  It is an interesting mix and a constant reminder to me of these three truths


  • "Nobody's perfect." 
  • "Everyone is different"
  • "Everyone can learn"

1/14/13

"I am the decisive element. ."


Quote:
I’ve come  to a frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element in the classroom. It’s my personal approach that creates the climate. It’s my daily mood that makes the weather. As a teacher, I possess a tremendous power to make a child’s life miserable or joyous. I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration. I can humiliate or heal. In all situations, it is my response that decides whether a crisis will be escalated or de-escalated and a child humanized or dehumanized.”
― Haim G. Ginott

"A frightening conclusion". . .  If I were afraid of the responsibility, I might run from this proffession of educating our young, like right. . .now. . . after reading this quote.  But, I won't.  It is at the heart of why I am working to get back in the classroom as classroom teacher after ten years of staying home with my own kids.   It is the idea that a teacher is “the decisive element in the classroom” and that “As a teacher, I possess a tremendous power” that is the scariest, because if I am not extremely thoughtful and cautious I could actually miss an opportunity (or many) to inspire my students to grow as humans not just as students.  Our children who are different kinds of learners, but also different kinds of humans need that education just as much as learning to read.  As teachers we are in the position to help children grow their humanity.

This quote speaks to why my favorite year as first grade teacher was the year I discovered that greeting each child at the door every morning was key.  Well, that is not all that revolutionary really, but I didn’t just greet them, I insisted (very patiently for some) that they each share with me something about their life, anything from weekend plans to hopes and dreams.  I wanted to get to know my kids as humans.  I tried to create an environment where it was ok to bring your self to school.  I insisted they bring who they are into the classroom rather than leave a piece of themselves at the door.  I wanted to be able to see them as their family saw them. . . at least a little.
When I think of this quote, and our current society where bullying, hate and violence are still all too prevalent, it brings out a desire in me to take my greeting even a step further and not only appreciate each student for who he or she is, but also to create a community where they will learn not just about math, or reading, but also about each other.  My goal is to learn and practice how to choose words, create experiences, and capitalize on moments that will not only allow but also teach and encourage a classroom of children from different backgrounds to appreciate and support each others’ strengths, weaknesses, differences, similarities and all.

For better or worse, teachers set the tone for the classroom community.  In order to foster  little humans, the act of being human ourselves is not the only answer.  Sure our children should understand that we have good days and bad days as anyone else, but we should be thoughtful about it.  As educator, a teacher must take care of herself first the classroom is not the place for depression, arrogance, or ego. Sometimes we need to be performers.   

Whether we are experiencing painful events  outside of school, or looking for teaching moments within our classroom it is sometimes necessary to choose which pieces of our own life or self to carry to school with us.   I once heard a teacher in mourning for a loved one say, “Being here with the kids is so helpful to me.”  Yet in response to that same teacher, a parent I know was concerned that her child was so sad and worried for her teacher all the time she didn’t feel it was fair for the teacher to bring all that to school with her and lay it on her students.  In a different kind of situation I witnessed a teacher laugh it off when children laughed and cajoled after he knocked down some supplies at morning meeting.   I wonder was it his responsibility to act his own age and brush it off?  Or would the situation have been more suited to a little play acting?  At the very least, perhaps open up  a discussion about  how to react to foibles in a safe learning community.

I realize these were two well meaning teachers, and situations like this occur every day in classrooms around the globe.  Even just one techno mishap can result in a frazzled teacher and can effect the class.  We really do affect the weather in a classroom, but I hope that considering these experiences will drive my own growth and decisionmaking in the classroom. I will continue to gather thoughts and ideas that keep me thinking about how I could do it better than the last time, help more children, inspire more humanity.  I will continue to seek words from those who lead before me and soak up their inspiration.  I have come to the frightening conclusion that I want to be in the position to help create the kind of positive learning environment that allows children to be both different and themselves, to grow and yet remain the same.

1/2/13

Kickoff

Here I am, like you all, just beginning 2013.  I have been ruminating for days over what to write for this post.      I have been asking myself, "What would be a great kickoff to the New Year?"  I haven't come up with anything earth shaking, so I will just start with my first day of 2013, and my five personal New Year's Goals for the year that start right here. It is the most positive day of the year for me, and I think the rest of the family as well, unless you are the poor guy or girl to show up late due to a hangover, at which point you get your 10 minutes of fame, ie. serious ribbing from "loving family" who've been there done that. . .  This year, my first goal became apparent before we even left the house.

For 2013, unlike others before it, I was reminded on day 1, via email, that I have a 5 class credit with my yoga instructor!  That is a great way to start the year, and I take it as a sign, because I am just a little bit fatalistic, but equally optimistic that sometimes there are signs of things to come.  So I start my day, my year with dancing and singing around my house like a happy fool, because I have one less obstacle to jumpstarting my yoga practice this year.  New Year's Goal  #1:  dance and sing like a fool it's good for you (don't let anyone try to tell you otherwise) . . .and find a way to do what you love (I really love yoga)

For 2013, like many before it, we packed our New Year's selves up with gifts and food to hang out with family at the kids Great Grammy's house.  We gather, kids, cousins, aunts, uncles, and grammy, ages 4 to 94.  We talk, laugh, eat tasty food, and rib each other mercilessly about foolish foibles past and present.  We go out in the freezing cold and snow to play our traditional football game so there will be more foibles to laugh about next year.  New Year's Goal #2:  Laugh.  simply laugh. open silly emails you usually recycle and laugh.  New Year's Goal #3:  Continue to grow familiy traditions is a must, especially with generations of "kids" 4-94 to reap the benefits.

After football we eat desert, more than one, because it tastes good , but then we forgo supper that night. New Year's Goal #4: go nuts, but know when to quit.   Find balance people.

Overall, our New Year's Day get togethers are thought of fondly and looked forward to by all.  Even when we were the one ribbed on the year before, even when the day starts with 2 or 3 kids fighting in the car for a half an hour, or when we know we will be the one ribbed on this year for any number of random and subjective conditions.   For me New Year's Day always boils down to fun, family, love, and food.  I always think of the day by recalling the good stuff.  New Year's Goal #5: Notice the Good stuff, let the rest go.  We can use this every day, with our kids, with our students, with our coworkers, with our friends, with ourselves.  Notice the good stuff and build  from there.