My Most Important Job

Today was National Teacher Appreciation Day, but the most important gift I received today was from my oldest daughter.

My room was 80 degrees. Half an hour after students left, so did I. The room was too hot to work in so I brought my work home.

I met my own children at daycare. I even made it before they arrived from being picked up at their school. Emma, my oldest, was the first off the daycare bus. She held a hand-made card in her hand. “Mom, you have to read this!” she shouted enthusiastically. 

We made the five minute trip home listening to classic rock (my girls’ favorite). As we unpacked the car, Emma said, “Mom, read the card!” 

I unpacked our school items and proceeded to read the hand-made card. It read, “Happy Mothers Day” on the front. Inside she wrote, “You are the best mom I could ever have!” On the other side, Emma drew a picture of us exchanging the card. She was so proud. 

I was surprised because Mother’s Day is not until Sunday, yet Emma felt the need to give her mom a card early. 

This was a message I received loud and clear. My children (and being a mother) is my MOST important job. Yes, I LOVE being a teacher and do my very best for my “school children” everyday. But, my children are still the most important and most deserving of my time. 

When you work with a needy population of kids, it can be hard to let your “school kids”and their issues go, when you are at home, away from them. But, when I am home, MY children are the most important.

Thank you Emma, for the Mother’s Day card I received early from you today. You will never know how the card was THE most important gift I received on Teacher Appreciation Day.

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Time for the Little Things

  
I built a Lego house with my girls today. Yesterday, I cleaned the house. I didn’t grade papers or plan lessons.

I spent time on the little things. I took time to relax and keep away from my job for the weekend. It was nice. It was refreshing. It was calming.

I didn’t worry about falling behind. I was present in the moment. I was able to do this because I am doing the same thing with my students this year.

I am taking time for “Yoga Breaks.” I take time to play transition music. I take time to just “be” with my students. 

I am a person who loves schedules and checklists. I am efficient and know how to throw out the “fluff.” But what I am realizing is that I can be too good at this. I need to take the time for the little things. And I finally am. 

I’m adding back in the joy in my job and in my life. It is okay to just “be.” Be in the moment. Be present. Be there for your students and your own children. Be there for your spouse. Take the time for the little things.

Make Mistakes

  
Make mistakes. This phrase is our fourth-grade class focus for the year. Yesterday was the first day of school. I explained to my class how effort=success and that mistakes are okay. In fact, they are to be celebrated, because making mistakes is the only way we learn.

“Make mistakes,” I said. Many heads nodded. A few look at me confused. I then continued to explain to the anxious faces that I will not focus on getting the “right” answer, but I will focus on learning. And we learn by making mistakes.

Make mistakes. Today we tried a challenge to “Save Fred.” Six out of the seven groups successfully completed the challenge. One group broke the life preserver and did not save Fred. We discussed what we learned from the mistake the group made. The group responded that the life preserver was stretched too far, so next time they would make sure to not stretch the life preserver too far. They made a mistake, but they learned from it. They enjoyed the challenge. They had fun. 

Make mistakes. What can we learn from our mistakes? Isn’t learning what school is all about? How do you celebrate mistakes?

Do You Correct?

As students were working on Concept Card Mapping from Page Keely’s book, Formative Assessment in Science, I asked a student why she made a placement with her card and how it relates to the other cards in her group. What happend next disturbed me. She immediately removed the card, thinking I was telling her she was wrong. I responded with a quick, “No! Put it back.” 

Why do kids assume when asked why, they are automatically wrong? I then began to reflect on my questioning. Do I contribute to this problem?

After talking to each group of students during the Concept Card Mapping formative activity, I noticed some misconceptions they had about food webs and energy transfer in science.

Instead of telling students where their thinking was wrong, I facilitated a fishbowl activity where four students sat in the middle of our class circle. The four discussed energy transfer in an ecosystem of their choice while the rest of us observed. The four of them disagreed on if water provides energy for plants and animals like the sun does. The outside observers then stated whether they agreed or disagreed with the statements. What happend from here was an amazing discussion that I facilitated without correcting the misconception that water provides energy. All but one had reasons they thought water provides energy. You might think they will always think this, but hearing their reasoning opened my eyes for what I needed to do next to address their misconception. Because I listened, I discovered the root of the idea. 

The next day I told them scientists measure energy in what we consume by calories. We looked at food labels to see how much energy was in a serving of various food and drinks. Then they made a T chart with items that contained no energy (0 Calories) and items with energy ( 1 or more Calories). They discovered many things like sugar comes from a plant and salt contains no energy but is a mineral nutrient. 

If I would have corrected the misconception right away, none of this learning would of happend. I would have not thought of bringing in the energy as calories piece. 

Do you correct every misconception right away? I know it is hard for me to not do this. Page Keely’s book is helping me get better. I want students to feel safe discussing their thinking instead of assuming they are wrong. How do you facilitate this?

Student Choice, Student Voice

Photo credit: Sky Druffel

 

I am continuously amazed at my fifth grade students. Today we had an insightful discussion on how they learn best. An overwhelming majority talked about choice.

Our district has a new GVC (Garenteed and Viable Curriculum) this year for language arts. Our current unit focuses on how readers integrate information from multiple texts on the same topic. In this unit, the topic and texts are about grizzly bears. 

I gave my students choice on the texts, maps, and videos to work with from the provided resources, but it was still like pulling teeth to get students to put much effort into their work. I heard a lot of moans and groans.

After three days of this, I decided to ask why this was so hard and unmotivating. The unanimous response, “We wish we could pick the topic, at least from a list of choices.” A great discussion continued on how to do this. I thanked the students for their honest responses. 

I was reminded, once again, just how important it is to our students to have choice. This enables them to take pride in their work, motivates them, and helps students internalize their learning. I was also reminded of the importance of student voice. Listening to them, involving them, planning with them, is one of the most powerful things teachers can do. How do you offer choice? How do you facilitate student voice?

Through the Eyes of a Student

 

Photo Credit: Sky Druffel

As I spend the first official day of Spring Break planning for the rest of the year, I reflect on the survey my students kindly filled out about our classroom and my teaching. I noticed a lot of trends and commonalities, but also many differences. 

Many wrote they love when I use humor and suggested I use it more. My goal is to plan at least one humor related item a day. Some of my ideas include jokes, stories, silly movements, and role-playing.

Students also wrote they needed more practice with math concepts. I plan on using a workshop model this spring to provide more practice time and small group instruction.

Using the single point rubric to provide feedback instead of giving a grade on formative assessments was a huge success with students this winter. Students wrote they want to keep doing this and feel it helps them succeed.

Finally, I noticed many individual differences which reminded me of the unique needs of each student. A strategy that works for one may not work for another. I am reminded of the importance of differentiation to meet as many needs of each student as possible. 

In my process of reflection, I asked my daughter today to tell me her favorite part of school (she is a first grader). Library was her response. I asked her to tell me why. She talked about books, the teacher read alouds and bringing rocks to her librarian. Rocks? Her librarian has a different theme each year, this year’s theme is rocks. She allows them to being in rocks they have found. I asked if she is funny. My daughter responded no, but said she is nice.

Nice. My daughter’s last statement brought me back to the most important word in education, relationships. If a child can see that you truly care (there is no faking it) amazing things can and will happen. We have the privilege to work with children everyday. Our relationship with each one of them makes the most impact. Notice them, listen to them, celebrate with them, love them.

Benefits of Student Blogging (and things to let go)

As I reflect on my students’ progress in the area of writing, I cannot ignore the positive impact blogging has had with my students. 

  • Motivation: Students write because they have an authentic audience. The Global Read Aloud enabled us to make connections easily with classrooms around the world. Students receive comments from other students. (Which they value way more than teacher comments). We have continued many of these connections throughout the year. Blogging Through the Fourth Dimension has a vast resource on student blogging by Pernille Ripp, founder of the Global Read Aloud.
  • Knowing Your Audience If I had to pick the biggest change in my students’ writing ability, it is writing FOR an audience. When I read my students’ writing, it sounds like they are talking to me, actually having a conversation with me. As a reader, I am genuinely engaged and enjoy the voice that leaps from the paper. Parents have commented on this as well.
  • Practice We all know, readers become better readers by reading and writers become better writers by writing. Students actually enjoy writing for a real audience and tend to write more even on their free time.

Things to Let Go When Blogging with Students

  • Perfection Students will post writing that is not perfect. If you pick apart their writing, they will stop. Allow for mistakes, but teach them how to use spell check and peer edit. Approve posts even when they are not perfect. The struggling writer will actually write way more than you imagined if you live by this! Trust me.
  • Fear If you have thought about starting student blogging, but are afraid, just do it! Kidblog.org is a great classroom blogging site that allows the teacher to filter everything before it is posted, even comments from around the world. It is free and user friendly. 

This is just the tip of the iceberg about the benefits of student blogging. If anything, give it a shot! If you have any other benefits you have noticed in your class on blogging, please share. 

How I use the Single Point Rubric to Provide Feedback

I have been using the single point rubric template I found on the cultofpedagogy website by Jennifer Gonzalez.  My students find the tool useful because I am able to give them written feedback based on the criteria instead of giving them a grade. I then meet with students in small groups and we go over the feedback and reteach if necessary. Students then use the feedback to make changes to meet the criteria. They appreciate that the rubric is not the end product (grade), instead, it is the tool to help them progress towards the goal/criteria. Students get the opportunity to continue their learning journey. Below are links to two of my rubrics for Fifth Grade and an example of how I use this tool. Let me know what you think.

Link to multiplication and division of fractions document: Single-Point-Rubric CCSS Mult and Divide Fractions Fifth Grade

Link to the document below: Single-Point-Rubric-Writing an opinion Fifth Grade

March 205
Student sample of opinion writing. This student has struggled with writing in the past.
March 206
Single Point Rubric used to provide the students with feedback

Ways to Communicate with Parents

Here are a few ways I communicate with parents in my fifth grade classroom. I am hoping to give ideas to others teachers and gain ideas at the same time. Please help spread the word.

  

  • Homeroom: This app/website has been a great “window” into our daily classroom environment. I post a picture everyday or every two days showcasing what is going on in our classroom. Parents are notified when I post something new. I would compare it to an Intsagram, but for our classroom only. I am the only one able to post, but parents have the ability to like and comment. This tool has made a positive impact this year with parents being able to actually view our classroom and learning on a daily basis. I highly recommend it.
  • Email: This has been a handy tool for years, especially with parents who check their email often. I even started emailing the weekly homework. Parents love receiving a copy of homework even before their child beings it home!
  • Friday Folders: Our school sends home flyers every Friday. Parents are expected to check these. Often school events and classroom newsletters are included.
  • Progress Reports: This year I created progress reports using our new online standards based grading system. Parents liked knowing how their child was progressing mid-trimester.
  • Phone Calls: I need to do this more often, but have found them to be very effective, especially with behavioral issues or to communicate positive information as well.

How do you communicate with parents? I’d love to gather more ideas. I believe involving parents as much as possible is critical to each child’s education and well-being.

When You Feel Like Giving Up

I know, this title is a little dramatic, but it was how I felt during my third year of teaching. I wanted to give up. I felt alone.

It was an exciting year, I had two wonderful years of teaching experience under my belt. Our brand new school building was opening. I just got married, and we just bought a house. The outlook could of not have been better. Little did I know, it was going to be the worst, and best teaching year of my career.

  

You know when you get the “perfect storm” of students. The group that all the regular strategies just do not work for. Well, this was THE group, times ten. Many times I felt like giving up. Maybe this isn’t the career for me. I would go home and lay on the couch and fall asleep at 5pm. I was exhausted. I still do not know how I made it through. 

And yet, at the end of the school year, this was the class that was the hardest to let go. Students cried and parents spoke highly of my ability to bring out the best of a not-so-perfect situation. 

I reflect back on that year often, especially when the going gets tough. I feel like I gained five years of teaching experience in that one year. I am no longer the same teacher, or person, after that experience, but in a positive way.

I gained confidence in knowing if I could survive a year like that, I could survive any year, EVER. It also helped me increase my toolbelt of classroom management strategies and helped me realize I need to be my own advocate. I need to be an advocate for my students as well.

Thankfully, I was completing my masters in education at the time and the group helped me problem-solve and listened when I needed it. I also had an amazing husband who listened and helped me reflect.

Looking back, I’d never take away that experience. It helped shape who I am as a teacher today. I am a better teacher for my current students because of it. 

I’m writing this to be the voice for all educators. We all have experiences in our life, career related or not, that make you feel like you hit rock bottom, and that it will never end. Yet, these moments can be the most powerful moments to learn from.

I challenge you to think about the one thing that is currently driving you nuts, causing you the most stress. Instead of beating yourself up and seeing yourself as a failure, think about when it is all said and done, you will be a stronger person because of it, even if you currently do not have the answer.

Even more important than that, know you are NOT alone. We’ve all been there and will be there again!