We Did It!

Dear Children of Room 215,

We did it!

You made it to the end of your second grade year without having to use a classroom behavior chart.

If you can even remember this was a very hot topic during the beginning of the year. Several of you wondered why we didn’t have one. You were upset that other classrooms had one but we did not. You were nervous about what it would be like to not have the classroom behavior chart. You asked questions like, “Well what about us who always move up? What will we get?” You also asked questions like, “How will we know we are being good or bad?”

I remember listening to your passionate concerns. Not answering…just listening. I wrote down many of your questions and concerns as it helped me to better understand your needs. Ultimately, you wanted to feel successful. You wanted others to know you were successful. You wanted the classroom to feel “good”. And you also wanted to celebrate success.

We spent a significant part of the first three months of school having conversations around living as a community. We agreed that we would all work to be respectful, kind, safe, and brave. We also agreed to use these four practices to help us navigate situations and issues that arise in the classroom community. As we discussed your questions and concerns about how you will know if you are good and bad and what will happen if someone is not following our four practices we decided to use our words instead of using a chart.

We learned to use our words to praise…

We learned to use our words to debate…

We learned to use our words to encourage…

We learned to use our words to express hurt and sadness…

We learned to use our words to heal…

We learned to use our words problem solve…

We learned to use our words to say, “Stop, I don’t like it!”

We learned to use our words to communicate joy…

We learned to use our words to compliment…

We learned to use our words to say, “I’m getting angry!”

We learned to use our words to say, “I need my space.”

We learned to use our words to help others feel good…

WE LEARNED TO USE OUR WORDS…

As I watched all of you learn to use your words I noticed that I was no longer the person you approached to help solve a problem. You began working issues out on your own. At times some of you would ask for a class discussion and we would have it. I did not have to suggest that for you. I noticed that positive feedback did not only come from me…it MOSTLY came from ALL of YOU! I witnessed smiles, tears, laughter, frowns, and joyfulness. I noticed an eagerness to work things out because you cared to.

My hope for all of you is that you can take the power of your words with you and know that the chart does not give you power…You DO!

Love,

Mrs. Burkins

What Does it Mean to be a Community?

What does it mean to be a community?

A classroom community?

Is it the way we take care of each other? The way we anticipate the emotional moves of one another? How we can collectively see an issue and care about it? How we know each other and seek to learn more about each other?

With only 26 more school days left of this year I’m not sure I’m ready to answer these questions. What I do know is that this year I’ve gotten closer than I’ve ever been to being able to understand the power in the collective voice of a classroom community. Our classroom community has been ever-changing. Since the start of the school year we have had 13 students move in and 13 students move out. Building and maintaining community has been a priority since day one and has not stopped.

This past Monday my literacy coach and dear friend Heather Halli purchased a book a for the readers in room 215. She told me that when she read this story it reminded her of the students in my classroom and she wanted them to have the story. The book she purchased was Alma and How She Got Her Name by Juana Martinez-Neal. Heather knows how much we talk about our names and history behind our names. We are always talking names because of the flow of students coming and going.

On Monday I read the story to my class. Listening to their talk during the story helped me to realize how important it is to each one of them that they know about their own names and each other’s. Once we arrived to the author’s note my students couldn’t wait to hear what Juana had to say. Juana talked about the importance of her name and her story. She ended her note with two questions in which my students took as a call to action.

Her questions were:

What is the story of your name?

What story would you like to tell?

My students immediately said, “We already know the answer to the first question…lets answer her second question!” And then we stopped and we all went off to answer Juana’s question. There was no turn and talk to think about what we might say. There was no discussion about what the question meant. The only thing that was agreed on was that we wanted to put our whole name at the top.

As I read through their work I felt a sense of community that had been building all year. A sense of community that I can feel but not give words to yet. Today I dedicate this post to the classroom community of room 215. Here are their words…

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Slowing Down

“Remind teachers to slow down now so they can move fast later” were the wise words of a mentor of mine Jill Reinhart as she spoke to a group of us literacy coaches during a summer retreat. Although I heard this a few years back these words are ever ringing in my mind especially as I prepared to come back after spring break.

My mind was busy with the number of weeks and days we had left, curriculum demands, grade level team initiatives, field trips, learning goals and outcomes…you name it I was thinking it. I began to get my mind and body in the busy state of hurry now and hurry later. The place where no one wins. What I had forgotten for just a moment was that very phrase that saved me in the beginning of the year, “slow down”.  See slowing down meant that I could trust my knowledge and understanding of curriculum, student learning, and assessment to listen to what students need. Slowing down also meant that I could watch, document, and plan more efficiently to meet my students where they are at.

I could also help facilitate the type of classroom environment that my students would want to come to each and every day.

So, on Monday evening, the night before coming back to school after spring break I took time to plan to slow down. I spent time thinking and wondering:

What are my students thinking about, hoping about, and wondering about tonight?

What are they most looking forward to? What are they not looking forward to?

Have I met their expectations? Have they met their own expectation’s?

As I tried to think about possible answers to these questions I realized even more that going slow at the end of the year is just as important as going slow in the beginning. The moving fast part happens as we launch our students into the summer with their own high expectations of what their learning journey will look like as they take ownership of it during the summer. Our classroom community has been carefully shaped and woven by the 24 personalities that show up each day and feed and nurture it. They deserve for me to slow down and listen, slow down and watch, slow down and trust.

Domino Effect

If you haven’t gotten your hands on Carol Ann Tomlinson’s article in Educational Leadership, November 2017 it is a must read! Her article, Citizenship at Its Core, reminds us that if we want to prepare our students to become good citizens of our world we must start in the classroom.

She writes about how complicated our world is and as teachers how we are charged with helping our students navigate heavy issues like conflict, injustice, poverty, and much more. This article reads much like a guide to how we work to create classroom communities where students can be dignified with the heavy task of learning to be a good citizen of our world.

She states…“It’s daunting work to create a classroom world that models what we hope the broader world could be.” –Carol Ann Tomlinson

I was highly encouraged by her piece. Encouraged make time to listen, respond, and make space for children to explore the issues they see in their world. Also to be more intentional about taking instructional leads from their voices.

In late February, Aliza sent me a tweet to check out the kid section in the New York Times. Little did I know the domino effect the tweet would cause. At the end of the kid section there was a page of opinion lines that sparked emotional conversations that lasted for days and left a trail of passionate learning artifacts that looks like this:

IMG_0017These statements led to this…

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Which prompted students to create this…

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That sparked the idea to make this…

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And excited others to think about this…

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Which made others want to develop this…

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My students have been busy creating public service announcements, writing speeches, making signs for our school, and trying to plan field trips to places they can go and make a difference. As Carol Ann Tomlinson reminds us that, creating citizens starts in our classrooms, as a classroom teacher I see everyday how passionate these young citizens are about what happens around them.  This group of second graders, much like most children around them, want to save the world NOW as in TODAY! Exciting times.

“There’s no room for you here…you can’t play”

I’ve always been intrigued by play. I knew going back into the classroom this year, after being out in a coaching role, that there was going to be space for play throughout the day in our second grade classroom. Our classroom community was built on the principles of play. Play is how we learn, how we think, how we connect.

Throughout this year I have learned a lot about my students by watching them play. I would argue that they have learned more about each other from their play. But just recently their play has started to feel different.

I first noticed a change during indoor recess where I heard a student say, “There’s no room for you here…you can’t play.” Nothing anyone who works with children hasn’t heard before but this idea of “no room” and “you can’t play” started to spread. Not only was it continuing to show up at recess but also during the other parts of our day.  Questions like, “Can I be your partner?”  and “Hey, can I join?” went ignored or even rejected at times. This was new. New behavior that I hadn’t noticed happening before.

It was apparent that we had to stop and address it. Vivian Gussin Paley, who in my mind, is the expert in children’s play wrote a book called, You Can’t Say You Can’t Play. In this book she writes about this rule in her classroom and her students experiences with it. I decided to take a move from her practice and introduce this statement to my class, You Can’t Say You Can’t Play.

Before I showed them the poster with the saying I asked them a series of questions to help me understand what was happening better. It looked like this…

I’m going to ask you all some questions that will help me think. I want you to close your eyes and lower your head. I’m going to begin asking questions now and please just keep your heads down and be as honest as you can.

Raise your hand if you have felt left out in this classroom.

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Raise your hand if someone has told you that you couldn’t play in this classroom.

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Raise your hand if your feelings have been hurt because someone in here wouldn’t play with you.

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Raise your hand if you have told someone they couldn’t play.

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Raise your hand if you have left someone out.

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Once we were finished I put the number of hands raised next to the statements and then showed them the poster.

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The conversation that followed was powerful and eye-opening. My students have worked hard on being kind, safe, respectful, and brave throughout this year but there was a hiccup and they realized that they had to figure it out.  At the end the students wanted to sign the poster and keep it up as a reminder. But for me, my reminder, wasn’t the poster. The reminders are the questions I can’t get out of my mind as witnessed those tiny hands raising again and again.

Questions like:

Who raised their hand every time?

Who didn’t raise their hand because they were scared too?

Who am I missing?

What am I missing?

Who feels like they have power?

Who could might feel powerless?

These pictures are also a constant reminder that each and every day I have to do better. I have to do better at continuing to build the inclusive community we all want. I have to do better because now I know better.

“By kindergarten…a structure begins to be revealed and soon will be carved in stone. Certain children will have the right to limit the social experiences of their classmates. Henceforth a ruling class will notify others of their acceptability, and the outsiders learn to anticipate the sting of rejection…spreading like a weed from grade to grade.”

Vivian Gussin Paley

You Can’t Say You Can’t Play

 

Celebrating through Stories

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September 15 through October 15 is National Hispanic Heritage month.  As a country we celebrate the heritage, culture, and contributions of Hispanic and Latino Americans. Of course this type of celebrating does not just happen during this month but is incorporated throughout all we do all year long.

As a young African-American girl it was hard for me during the month of February when I felt that Black History month was spent learning about slavery and hardship. The celebratory aspect was often lost for me. As a teacher I have tremendous power over how students feel during these months of celebration. In our classroom community we choose to celebrate stories, authors, and people who represent this rich culture of beauty and strength.  It is important to acknowledge and participate with the rest of the country as we pause to lift up our fellow Hispanic and Latino Americans. Here are the stories, biographies, and histories our classroom community has enjoyed during this time…

Little Night, Nochecita by Yuyi Morales Screen Shot 2017-10-05 at 7.57.17 PM

My class fell in love with the playful nature of Little Night. They wanted to take time to look through all the pictures  to find all the places Mother Sky looked for Little Night. They also enjoyed having the Spanish text to go along with the English text. One student commented, “I feel like we are playing hide and seek too!”

 

 

Little People, Big Dreams Frida Kahlo

“Frida Kahlo taught the world to wave goodbye to bad things and say “Viva la vida…Live Screen Shot 2017-10-05 at 7.58.00 PMlife.”

This quote from the text has sparked a saying in our classroom community as things happen throughout the day you can often hear someone saying, “viva la vida”. This picture book biography was the first introduction to the life and work of Frida Kahlo for each and every one of my students. They were fascinated by how she overcame so many things. They couldn’t believe how she was able to draw from her bed or how she used mirrors to draw self-portraits.

 

Nino Wrestles the World and Rudas by Yuyi Morales

These two laugh out loud stories captured the attention of all my students almost immediately. They jumped right in and read along with me as the author so beautifully combined Spanish and English to tell and adventure tale of Nino. Students said that you couldn’t read one without the other and many tried to use many of Morales craft moves in their own writing. Screen Shot 2017-10-05 at 7.58.44 PM

Separate is Never Equal by Duncan Tonatiuh

Screen Shot 2017-10-05 at 7.59.30 PMBut why? But why? But why? This question could be heard over and over again as students listened to the story of Sylvia Mendez in this beautifully written account of her family’s fight for justice. This is definitely a book we will visit again and again as we think about people who have overcome adversity.

 

 

 

Maya’s Blanket, La Manta De Maya by Monica Brown

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According to my students this book read like a guessing game. They couldn’t wait to see what Maya and her abuelita would create next with the 

fabric from the blanket.  I noticed that his book also sparked many ideas for writing. Students used the example of the playful text structure to create their own recycling tale.

 

 

Maybe Something Beautiful by F. Isabel Campoy and Theresa Howell

In addition to the wonderful story of Mira and how she joined forces with an artist to create beautiful murals in her community my students were captivated by the author’s note in the end. Once they discovered that this story was based on the true story of Rafael and Candice Lopez ,who organized to create beautiful murals around their city, they started thinking of how they could do similar things in our community.

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Just a Minute: A Trickster Tale and Counting Book by Yuyi Morales

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We got to the last page where Grandma Beetle gave a wink and the class erupted, “

READ IT AGAIN” and so we did! Students love to read it along with me as the text has a playful repetitive structure that was fun to read. But the most fun was listening to all the theories around who was Senor Calavera and where did he want to take her?!

 

Screen Shot 2017-10-05 at 8.01.27 PMDanza! Amalia Hernandez and El Ballet Folklorico de Mexico by Duncan Tonatiuh

“I can’t wait to tell my mom about her, she will be so excited because she’s from Mexico City too!” A student couldn’t hold this in as I read the first few pages of Danza.  Students enjoyed listening to Ami’s story and how she worked hard and was able to start her own dance school that became famous and toured all over the world.

 

Pancho Rabbit and the Coyote by Duncan Tonatiuh

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Many of students shared connections or stories while listening to this migrant’s tale. We took our time through this book and read it over a couple of days. Our conversations were deep, but felt as if they brought us a little more together. This tale takes readers through the experience of what it may be like to leave everything you k

now to go to the unknown. It was a powerful read for us.

 

Bravo by Margarita Engle

These poems were a window for most but also for some a mirror. They got to see themselves, their heritage, and culture celebrated through the hard work of the people honored in this book. We will continue to revisit these poems as a way to learn about people who have made a difference in our world.

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Call me Tree, Llamame Arbol by Maya Christina GonzalezScreen Shot 2017-10-05 at 8.03.08 PM

“Is this a yoga book Mrs. Burkins?” This bilingual text invites students to want to read both the English and Spanish. Many students physically tried the poses as the book was read aloud. One student even suggested we play soft music the next time we read it. They enjoyed the way the illustrations completely matched what the children were doing in the book. This was a very fun read with them.

Silence Is Not Always Golden

Over the summer I came across two tweets in the wake of the Charlottesville tragedy that caused me to stop and immediately reflect. This was during a time where again the top of headline news was injustice. The tweets pictured below felt true, sincere, and were a call for action.

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Personally, I have been struggling with silence. More specifically, with battling my own perceptions of who is silent around issues of injustice and who is not. I have been struggling with jealousy of people who could choose to be silent and their day not be affected. Because for me, silence has been the cause of deep pain.

So when I read these tweets and others like them, I knew I did not want a classroom community where silence was the status quo. I did not want children who live in the same world as I do,  hear the same headlines, and live the same truth as I do to feel silence from me. Most importantly, I didn’t want children in my classroom to feel the sting that silence can bring.

I made a promise to myself and the community of learners that would soon walk into my classroom that I would not be silent. Rather I would be a careful listener and a patient facilitator ready to slow down and welcome critical conversations as they arise.

Screen Shot 2017-08-30 at 6.53.58 PMWell it wasn’t long before I had to make good on my promise. The second day of school while reading, Rulers of the Playground by Joseph Kuefler, a student raised their hand and states, “Mrs. Burkins, the author said ‘he’ and called him a ‘king’ and that character is a girl it should be ‘she’ and ‘queen’.” This comment sparked a lively conversation on gender stereotypes and gender qualifiers that didn’t end with students agreeing. Students made comments back and forth suggesting what girls and boys can do, should wear, and be like. Students dissected the character’s names and tried to make claims around what constituted as “girl” names and “boy” names. At the tender age of 7 these children had strong ideas

Screen Shot 2017-08-30 at 6.52.34 PMaround gender and the role gender plays in their lives. In this conversation my role was that of a careful listener and patient facilitator ready to help guide the conversation with questions like these: What make you say that? Who gets to decide what “girls” and “boys” can wear? What in the illustration and words made you feel this?

 

The very  next day while reading Jabari Jumps by Gaia Cornwell, the opportunity to discuss presented itself again. As I turned to the secoScreen Shot 2017-08-30 at 6.57.23 PMnd page of the story a student states, “Mrs. Burkins, he has black skin like you.” There was an immediate feeling in the room that I couldn’t read. I just knew it felt different than when we started the book. During the pause another student said, “She doesn’t have black skin her skin is brown…see!” “No”, the student replied, “her skin is black she has black skin”.

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I then waited. The conversation continued. More students joined with their ideas and feelings. Most students seemed to struggle with what they wanted to say. I asked, “What does it mean to have black skin?” Then one student said, “look at this shirt…it is black. Her skin does not look like this.” I walked next to the shirt and the conversation shifted. I then asked what they noticed? As the conversation continued students started to talk about skin being brown but then asked why people say “black people” when no one has “black” skin? We left the conversation with that question and decided to think about it. One student even suggested maybe we could read about it. Which we will do.

 

In both instances the conversations didn’t end with the issue solved and wrapped up. They ended inviting more room for continuous thinking about the issues and wonders we are all having as we hear and see things in our world. I’m not sure where our journey will take us but I am committed to constant reflection, allowing space and time for conversations, and supporting the conversations through critical questions.

My roles in these conversations are that of a careful listener and patient facilitator ready with questions that help guide thinking. I don’t take a silent stance but rather a stance that invites healthy reflective conversations around issues that matter to the group. My hope is that our budding classroom community feels welcome to have conversations that are pressing on their minds and it’s a normal part of the way we live as a community to slow down and have them. There are many ways not to be silent. What does not being silent mean to you and the community of learners around you?