Rethinking Meet the Teacher Event

This past summer I was lucky enough to attend the Teaching for Creativity Institute at the Columbus Art Museum for four days in June.  My teaching soul felt hopeful and excited to revisit ideas that grounded my early days of teaching and gather some new thinking.  We talked about our stakeholders and how we can advocate for creativity teaching.  Ideas were tossed around for working with parents during curriculum nights and I began thinking about the two hour window new students and families can stop by to visit our learning space and meet me.  For many years it’s been an opportunity to unpack your school supplies and find out who is in your classroom.  I began thinking about the messages I wanted to start expressing right away and thought this format could be tweaked.

I saw an idea at the art museum in the Wonder Room and wanted to replicate it.  I thought about how they could express and foster messages about our classroom.  We will be inspired.  We will work together.  We will make things.  We will talk.  We will come together.  We will imagine.  When I thought about picking up my phone for some photos tonight, I had another family to meet and visit with.  I wish you could see the room in action.  It was beautiful.

Creative spaces

  1.  Coming Together – pick a fabric strip and add to chicken wire to make a class weaving
  2.  Imagine – explore with post it notes and make something new, tape and colored pencils were offered too
  3. Drawing with Friends – new markers and a square piece of paper hung together in a larger square grid.
  4. Be Inspired – offered four picture books about bugs, tissue paper squares and rectangles, pipe cleaners, and bendable wire

At first, I was worried the creative spaces weren’t going to be used very much.  It was probably a new option for my students.  They loved adding a strip of fabric to a collaborative weave.  When the room was quieter nudging was needed to engage my new friends.  I turned around at a busy moment and there was more engagement.  Old friends were reconnecting.  Neighbors were laughing.  Parents were reconnecting.  A new student, just moved this weekend to be with us and my new friend V did a great job talking to her while her grandpa snapped photos of her new learning space.  As the two hours ended, I found used creative spaces and things to hang in our room.  My space is now our space and the messages I wanted to send about our year together have been sent.

Collaborative Weaving

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Summer, Classroom Communities, and You!

Greetings from August!

Summer Beach
Photo Credit: Karen Arnold @ publicdomainpictures.net https://www.publicdomainpictures.net/en/view-image.php?image=33915

I hope that you, like us, have been enjoying a relaxing summer with your family and friends. In this profession, it’s important to recharge and recenter yourself.

Many teachers also use summer as a chance for self-directed professional development. Reading new books and brainstorming new ideas, bouncing thoughts off other educators. It was great to see so many of you at Nerd Camp doing exactly that.

A lot of you are already back at school, or will be soon. I, for one, look forward to seeing your tweets about the things you’re doing as you start the school year.

We’d also like to invite you to share your work here on the Classroom Communities blog. If you’d like to write here about what you’re doing in the classroom, especially in terms of developing community and relationships, we’d love to have you!

Fill out the form at this page: https://classroomcommunities.com/want-to-be-a-contributor, and we’ll be in touch with you from there to schedule your post. Can’t wait to hear your stories!

What’s it going to be like to be a learner in this room?

In June, I had the privilege to attend the Teaching for Creativity Institute at our local Columbus Art Museum. Four days of connecting with area educators while focusing on what creativity is, looks like, and how to foster creativity.  Creativity can be practiced, you can get better at it, and creativity is the basis of change.  Learning and growth require change. To help develop creativity we studied and learned about thinking and how to create cultures of thinking.  As our learning continued, we started talking about how to explain and justify to parents things we may do to foster creativity.  Ideas were shared for engaging parents and changing up the traditional curriculum night format.  I loved the ideas shared and I’m sure I will incorporate some this coming year.

Fred Burton, one of my former principals was a guest speaker during the institute and as he discussed studying and fostering cultures of thinking he proposed an essential question to guide that work.  “What’s it going to be like to be a learner in this room?”  I loved this question and kept pondering it.  This is a big question and an important one to be answered.  It would probably help with the beginning of the year jitters, I think everyone feels on some level.

At the end of day three I visited an area of the museum that’s called the Wonder Room.  It’s a place where families and children can interact with materials either by doing something or making something.  The activities connect in some way and during my visit my head began to swirl with thinking from my time at the institute and Fred’s essential question.  If I was a student, I would hope to find out some answers about learning in our classroom right away.  All the routines and things we do can bog down our first days, if we aren’t careful.

When families visit my room before school starts to meet me and see our learning space I typically have them work together to unpack and sort the student’s school supplies.  This doesn’t answer the question, What’s it going to be like to be a learner in this room?”  I found myself wanting to change the format of coming to see the classroom and meet your teacher before school starts.  What if their time in our classroom had creativity moments and opportunities to talk to others?  What if it involved collaboration and sharing ideas?  What if it generated student work to display and welcome them on their first day?  These photos are ideas I may borrow in one way or another to revamp meet the teacher.

 

 

 

 

 

“Thanks”

This post will be short. Practically a tweet in the blogging world.

But there’s something I’ve been doing, for about 10 years now, and I think I need to share it.

It’s simple, really. But has framed most professional interactions I’ve had for a decade.

I say thank you.

Meeting with a student? End with a thank you.
Meeting with a colleague? End with a thank you.
Meeting with a parent? End with a thank you.

What am I thanking them for, exactly? Their time. Their attention. Their energy. Their ideas. Their willingness to work with me.

Sometimes, the thank you is very natural. Someone is doing something for me, so I thank them.

But sometimes, it’s the exact opposite: I’m doing something for them. And I thank them.

To this point: nobody has thought it weird. Most have probably not noticed. Certainly, there have been times when I haven’t said thank you. I’m not batting 1.000.

And while I like to think it’s helped others have a more positive view of me, that is not very likely. I mean, it’s a throwaway phrase sometimes, so others may not even notice it.

But for me, it’s been a reminder. Every interaction I have, someone is giving me something: their time, their advice, their work. Something. It has helped me be mindful of what others have done for me, in every interaction of every day.

I hope this has helped me better appreciate those around me and better serve those entrusted to my care. I know it certainly hasn’t hurt.

Thanks for reading.

Visiting My Room Too Early…

entering

I went back and it had only been a week and a half since the last day of school.  I was only going to use the laminator in the workroom and head right back out the front door.  I was waiting for the laminator to warm up and got curious.  I began wondering what the room looked like now?  Had anything been cleaned yet?  Was everything out in the hallway?  It hadn’t been that long since I left and I didn’t really want to know the answers to any of these questions but I took a walk down the hall to room 127 while the laminator warmed up.

I work really hard at the end of the year to finish up on our last teacher work day.  I put the room to rest, my work to rest, and close the door.  For years I’ve been under the assumption I do this to rush home and be a full time mother to my three girls.  I love being with them full time.  I was completely surprised to learn this may not be the only reason I put my room to rest, my work to rest, and close the door.

As I rounded the bend in my hallway I saw doors open in some rooms before mine and things shifted a bit but things weren’t out in the hallway and rooms empty.  I kept walking even know I knew things were in the same place as when I left.  I walked in and it felt all out of sorts.  A few physical things had been moved.  My carpet might have been cleaned and then I froze.  Strange feelings surfaced.  I felt alone.  I started envisioning my students working collaboratively at the tables.  I started seeing the books and writing/creating tools on the shelves as they should be.  I started to feel lonely and creepy at the same time.  This is my space and yet it felt all wrong.

It felt all wrong because I was hanging on to what and who I had.  I think putting my room to rest, my work to rest, and closing the door has done more than let me be a full time mom.  It’s let me savor the end of the school year with a community I came to adore.  It’s let me read professional books and connect with others on social media with open eyes and for myself.  Maybe having time to think on my own without student faces in front of me gives me a clearer space for thinking ahead.  I think summers are more than trips to the pool and physical rest.  I think we need time to process the year and put to rest what is behind us.  I think space away from my classroom has let me find time to open my heart and thinking to a new set of students.

 

Recess Baseball Club: Season 2 (The Sugar Beets Edition)

“Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.”  – Helen Keller

Two years ago I started a recess baseball club at Hemmeter Elementary School.  It was a way for me to share my passion for baseball with the students while also building relationships.  When kids see their principal in a t-shirt, shorts, and Detroit Tigers baseball cap, it allows them to see you through a different lens.  I first wrote about recess baseball club in the following blog post:

https://classroomcommunities.com/2017/09/09/building-relationships-in-unexpected-ways-the-story-of-recess-baseball-club/

I noticed that sometime around the beginning of April, the kids were buzzing on the playground about baseball.  Not a day would go by that someone didn’t ask, “Are we doing recess baseball club again this year?” I set the dates for each day in May and decided to see if I could find some community support to help with recess baseball this year.  A friend suggested contacting a new Collegiate Summer Baseball team that had just formed in Saginaw, the Saginaw Sugar Beets. I was hoping that we could get them to come out for one recess baseball game to play with the students. I knew the students would think it was awesome to play with some real college baseball players.  The community has amazing potential to provide wonderful experiences to students, all you have to do is just reach out and ask.

I met with a representative from the Sugar Beets the following week.  We talked about the team coming to Saginaw and how they really wanted to put roots in the community.  They wanted to be more than just a local baseball team; they wanted to help grow a love for baseball with kids in the community as well.  I told him about our recess baseball club and asked if the players would be willing to visit for a day to play with the students. He loved the idea, but asked if we would be interested in having the Sugar Beets more involved.  Of course I was!

After a 45 minute brainstorming session, ideas for a way to form an awesome partnership between the Sugar Beets and Hemmeter Elementary were created.  The Sugar Beets agreed to send players to every single recess baseball club game in May. The students were so excited for the first day, and the Sugar Beet players didn’t disappoint.  I was immediately impressed with how well the players connected with the students. They took time to talk to each student. They would talk about video games, school work, and (of course) baseball.  They were always positive and genuinely interested in each student and the students loved talking to them. The following two interactions impressed me the most and really show the great community and school partnership that was formed during this experience.  

A kindergarten student was swinging at pitch after pitch, but the result was miss after miss.  The kindergarten student told him, “I never hit the ball. I haven’t hit it once in my tee ball games yet.” The Sugar Beet pitcher came over to the player and asked him his name and where he played tee ball.  He showed him how he was chopping at the ball and explained in kid-friendly language why chopping made it hard to hit the ball. He corrected his stance and had him take some level practice swings. He asked the student when his next tee ball game was before going back to pitching.  Sure enough, after a couple more misses, the student started hitting the ball fairly consistently. Two days later, I heard the player call the student over, by name, and ask him how his tee ball game went the night before and if he got a hit. He did. The Sugar Beets players see over 200 students during their time at recess baseball club.  The fact that he remembered the student’s name and the day of his next tee ball game shows how invested the players were in the students.

recess baseball2

During the same week, I watched another Sugar Beet player working one on one with a student on pitching.  The student told him he was going to be pitching for the first time ever in his Little League game. The player took the time to show him some tricks of the trade to help his first experience be a successful one.  After the practice, the Sugar Beet player that was working with him asked me where South Little League was located because if he got done with a meeting early, he wanted to go watch the student pitch. This Sugar Beet player was going to watch a student pitch in his Little League game.  That is the powerful bond that can be formed when you build community and school relationships. Can you imagine that students excitement when a Sugar Beet player showed up to his Little League game?

The Sugar Beet players had such a great time at recess ball club that they offered to do some after school camps for the students. The camps provided fun, high-quality instruction on the basics in softball and baseball.  At the end of camp, I was blown away when the Sugar Beets said they had a surprise for the students. They provided every student that participated in the camp with a Sugar Beets t-shirt, bubblegum, and two tickets to the first Sugar Beets game.  Furthermore, they gave the students a code so they could get $4 tickets to all Sugar Beets games during the season. All of this was done as a complete surprise. The organization said the players had enjoyed their time so much that they wanted to do something nice for the kids and were so excited to see the kids they had gotten to know over the past month at the games cheering them on.  

recess baseball

Recess baseball club continues to be an experience the kids look forward to each year.  I am so glad that I reached out to the Saginaw Sugar Beets to form a community partnership this year.  It has been a great relationship for all of us. This wonderful experience already has me thinking about more relationship building we can do next year in the community.  These partnerships provide experiences that we will never forget.

Some Summers

The summers of my childhood were filled with
Hawaiian Punch popsicles and
Lemonade stands
Polka-dot ruffle-butt swimsuits
Leaping through sprinklers
Inflatable kiddie pools filled with icy water from the green garden hose
Sundresses and pigtails
Scraped knees and
Care Bear bandages
Watching Mom’s soap opera
Digging in the garden with Dad
Petting worms
Itchy grass
Potato bugs
Tree climbing
Hill rolling
Bike riding
Roller skates and jump ropes
Singing on the back stoop
Sidewalk chalk dust up to my elbows
YMCA Day camp
Girl Scout equestrian camp
JCC Jewish camp
Neighborhood block parties
Burgers on the grill
The ice cream man. THE ICE CREAM MAN!
Wiffle ball with the big red Mickey Mouse bat
Sweltering Brewers baseball games
Frigid put-your-sweatshirt-on-in-the-house air conditioning
Road trips to see
Mountains
Deserts
Canyons
Parks
Prairies
Oceans

My summers felt endless.
I felt carefree, creative, busy.
I couldn’t wait for summer to begin.

As teachers, we quickly learn that many of our students do not look forward to summer at all, the way some of us did as children. While some miss the companionship of their classmates, daily routines, and their teachers, others know that summer brings uncertainty, anxiety, disruption, and instability.

Their summers feel endless.
They feel anxious, bored, overloaded.
They can’t wait for summer to end.

Some children, anticipating change, need extra hugs, reassurances, and positive mindset coaching.

But for those who dread summer because they do not know where their daily meals will come from, cannot afford summer camp, return to respite care as foster children, worry for their safety, lack books in their home or a library within walking distance…these months away from the insulation of schools only raise anxiety instead of inducing relaxation.

These are the children who have started to cling. To worry. To whine. To act out. To cry. To argue. To resist. To build walls. To withdraw. They push away so the leaving doesn’t feel so hard. They fall apart because their million separate pieces feel safer at school than their whole, anywhere else.

Notice them now. Acknowledge them now. Help them with how to move on. Tell them that it may not feel like it, but summer will eventually come to an end. Show them that they will always be in your thoughts.

Send them into their summers with hope.
Love them now.

Spend your time now until the last day of school to
Read more aloud in class
Build summer TBR (to be read) lists
Check out classroom library books for students to take home and return next year
Teach families how to keep summer reading love burning
Talk about the value of a library card
Connect with your kids on Goodreads
Embark on literacy passion projects and studio time to pursue writing ideas
Give students the gift of their very own book (Scholastic Reading Club $1 books!)
Share your school or personal email so your kids can reach out over the summer
Decorate new Writer’s Notebooks: blank, fresh, and full of possibility
Build idea jars with writing prompts, thoughts, and inspirations to take home
Remind students that a good book can take them to
Mountains
Deserts
Canyons
Parks
Prairies
Oceans
And beyond, in their minds, in case they want to go somewhere, but need to stay here at home for the summer.

On the last day of school, they will leave your care, and know that they were, and are, loved.

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