On a quiet Monday last July, we embarked on a journey together.
[Okay, it wasn’t that quiet of a Monday; it was Day One of Nerd Camp]
But on that day, July 10, 2017, we started this blog and planted a flag in it with the banner of community waving for all to see.
Since that day, we have had 98 other posts celebrating the highs and lows of the school year and the communities we are a part of, have helped build, or hope to build. It has been a lot of fun and a lot of learning.
Today, we have another thing to celebrate. Today, the blog runs its 100th post.
So in the spirit of community, I ask you all to join us in a 100s Day Celebration!
In many elementary schools, this day is met with a dress-up day, where many will get in costume and pretend to be 100 years old. There’s lots of laughs and pictures and sharing.
Well, this community is a virtual community, so we’re going to have to get a little creative. And perhaps a little technological.
I ask you to join us in celebrating by uploading an old picture of yourself. Scratch that: a picture of your old self. No, that’s still not quite right.
A picture of old yourself.
(English is tricky)
There are some apps out there that will age your face for you; I’m going to use AgingBooth. But find an app, or dress up and snap a picture, but show us you at 100 years old as we celebrate the community we have here.
Add the picture in the comments to this post, or tag it with #ClassroomCommunities on social media.
A few years ago, I invited a friend of mine, who was working as a local television meteorologist, to do a weather presentation for our third graders. He talked about thunderstorms and rainbows, and even did that awesome tornado-in-a-bottle trick to teach them about a twister’s rotating winds. At the end of his presentation, he opened it up for a Q&A. Kids asked questions about his job, and more questions about tornadoes. Then he called on a student who happened to be one of the most brilliantly gifted children anyone on my team had ever taught. Using vocabulary I didn’t even know, she proceeded to ask a complex question about positively and negatively charged lightning.
Needless to say, our weatherman was stunned, the teachers shot the “this-kid-is-smarter-than-I’ll-ever-be” look at each other, and the students sat waiting to know if the expert knew the answer. After a moment of shocked silence, he was able to answer her question, but later shared with me that it made him sweat!
Now, he is an expert in this field. Adept in math, science, and technology, he was well-equipped to respond, even if he didn’t expect such a high level question from an 8 year old.
We, as educators, especially elementary educators who teach across curricular areas, are experts in our field, but I will be the first to admit that my students stump me regularly. And you don’t have to be a child genius to be able to do that to teachers. I don’t always have the answers.
Early in my teaching career, when I was asked a question, I remember scrambling to compose coherent responses, because I was the teacher. Wasn’t I supposed to know and have the answers? I have learned a lot in my journey as an educator, but one of the most valuable realizations was this:
My job as an educator is not to have all the answers. My job as an educator is not to demand that students have all the answers either. My job as an educator is to teach students that questions are worth asking, how to ask questions, and how to seek answers through critical thinking and problem solving.
The most powerfully honest words you can speak to a child who has asked a question you don’t know the answer to are “I don’t know…yet.”
Modeling what it looks like to not know yet, and then sharing how to seek knowledge and understanding is what we are ultimately hoping to teach our children in their pursuit of lifelong learning.
And sometimes, our students come to us, with a bounty of expertise and background knowledge on subjects we have barely dabbled in. If we insist on being the “sage on the stage”, only our experiences and range of knowledge is shared and blessed. But if we create student-centered environments in which learners have opportunities to be teachers, and teachers become learners, we communicate to children that they are worthy and capable of being heard and acknowledged. They see that even teachers are always in the midst of a learning process.
No one has proved that more than the brave teenagers of Parkland, Florida who have demanded “never again”. They have taught their peers, and young ones looking up, but especially adults, that they will not be defined by others’ generational marks of criticism: they are addicted to their phones, lazy, and have no attention span. Instead, they started a movement. They leveraged their social media skills to garner international attention for gun reform, organizing a nationwide walkout just a week ago to honor the victims and to make visible their voices. They changed laws. They are unrelenting. Grassroots planning, conducting interviews, giving speeches, organizing a march in the nation’s capital. Every single day since that tragedy, they have been active and vocal. They wondered what could be done to ensure this never happens again, and they have been seeking the answers since then.
No adult told them to initiate this movement. It is of their own creation. Circumstances demanded that the kids become the teachers this time, and if we are wise, we will support and sustain them, because this time, this time, the adults need to listen.
Being the expert in the room doesn’t mean we have all the answers. It means we are experts in teaching children that learning is wondering, thinking, and following their inquiries. We should be expert enough to know that it also means descending from the stage and taking a seat to listen to our next generation of wonderers, thinkers, and doers. What will they learn, accomplish, invent, change, and solve?
About a month ago, one of our other divisional specialists and I started to work with an after-school group. This group, comprised of immigrant students who are at varying stages of learning English, was to be working on incorporating technology to find creative ways to tell stories of important things in their lives. It made sense for myself (the Ed Tech Specialist) and my colleague (the EAL Specialist) to work with them.
It has been a blast. I don’t get to work one-on-one with students much this year, so I jumped at the chance. I get the added bonus of being surrounded by 10-15 students (depending on the day) who speak 5-6 different languages among them, and have a wealth of culture to share. It’s a very positive environment, and I count myself fortunate to be a part of it.
But there is one student–I’ll call her Jasmine for the sake of this post–whom I’ve had a hard time connecting with.
Jasmine speaks Spanish, but very little English. She is also quite shy, and those two things together sometimes become obstacles to engaging her in the activities.
I know some Spanish, but I’m often intimidated when attempting to speak it in front of those more fluent than I am. I realized, though, that Jasmine probably feels the same way about speaking English. So I put my pride aside, and started to do my job.
When she was working on identifying parts of her story, I asked her if I could see what she had. Her work was mostly in Spanish, but I did my best to read and ask her questions about what she had written. My questions were mostly in English, but then there was a question I needed to ask, and I knew the Spanish words. So I used them.
I had not seen Jasmine smile until that point, though the group had been together nearly a dozen times. Her face lit up, just for a second. She answered me, as best as she could, and we had a difficult but doable conversation about her story.
That’s when it really hit me. What her story was about.
It could have been her journey from her home country to Canada.
It could have been about family or foods she misses.
It could have been about how difficult it has been being in a country where she doesn’t speak the language.
Her story was about slime. Glitter slime, specifically.
I couldn’t not ask! I didn’t know the Spanish, and she didn’t know the English, but we talked about slime for 5 minutes. At some point, we both smiled as we didn’t know the words we needed, but we could understand each other.
At that moment, I knew Jasmine felt different. Sometimes, she has a Spanish interpreter who is with her. Sometimes, her friends can act as translator. Translating apps help as well. But in that moment, it was just her and a teacher, having a conversation.
As we packed up to leave that day, Jasmine came up to me with something in her hands. She held it out to me–it was slime! I took it and played with it. It was slimy but clean. Liquid yet solid. It was fun! It’s no wonder kids love the stuff! I thanked her as I handed it back, and for the first time in the 6 weeks I’d been working with this group, she said goodbye as she left.
The next time we met, Jasmine didn’t sit off to the side, nor did she sit super close to one of her Spanish-speaking friends. She was just a member of the group, like any other. She finally felt the truth that we knew all along: she belonged.
We recently had a speaker to our school who was talking about bullying. As a staff, we were asked to have a follow-up discussion with our students. I wanted to help my students take preventative action and pulled a few picture books to help us discuss kindness. We enjoyed each story and I planned to collect our own ideas, Ways We Can Be Kind.
The collection process was filled with good ideas. They have honest and intentional thinking for showing kindness. Then the magic happened. A student shared the idea; give smiles. I probably commented on how that is a simple thing we can all do. We were currently doing a morning greeting at our morning meeting where we greet each other nonverbally with a handshake and smile; encouraging eye contact. The student sharing reminded us about our morning greeting and said, The Power of a Smile. All of my senses perked up. I rambled for a bit with the students about her thinking and commented that these words sounded like a book. I instantly began thinking and wondering what each student would say about the power of a smile.
The students got very excited about making a book. They were literally begging me to make this into a book. We discussed the phrase; The Power of a Smile. We made our first draft. I looked them over and thought the ideas were okay but I thought they could be bigger and better in a simple way. The next day we did our morning greeting. I wanted my students to experience a smile, many smiles and then before revising their writing. Most of them chose to completely rewrite their ideas.
I consulted my art teacher with our idea to publish a book and that I wanted to look into really publishing it outside of our classroom and she pounced on helping with the art work. I love to paint and I love to create with my students but her enthusiasm was hard to turn down. She believed in our project; The Power of a Smile.
Today I can share our some of our text because our illustrations are in process. I hope next month I can share the visuals and let you know our publishing plans.
-When my mom smiles at me, she encourages me at doing something.
-I think the power of a smile is when someone is feeling lonely. You go over and smile at them and say do you want to play?
-You take aboard the smile train! You take a smile and the engine starts to go and the train feels warm!
-I felt like a sign of happiness hit my heart.
-A smile makes me feel better even if I’m having a good day.
-When somebody gives me a smile, it makes the clouds blow away and makes me fly.
-A smile is super strong. A smile can make your day. You should give a smile every day.
-A smile is not just a smile. A smile can make everybody feel better. The power of a smile can make everybody’s day better even better than normal. If you see somebody crying first smile then have a little talk.
-When somebody smiles at me, I know my day is going to be awesome!
-A smile makes me feel like a super hero and like I have kindness magic powers. It makes me feel like I am welcomed in the world.
I hope you have a moment today where you can give a smile and feel like a super hero.
The * Feels /thə feelz/ n. shorthand for the word “feelings” that is used to describe an intense emotional response about something that has deeply affected the speaker. (source: knowyourmeme.com)
The past week in my classroom has been hitting me right in the feels. I’m so blessed to have a job passion that allows me to get this intense emotional responses every so often. These past five days have been a roller coaster of emotion in Room 27. Here is why…
Feels #1 – March Book Madness
After months of build-up, Tony and I are launching the voting rounds for the March Book Madness book tournament. For the next four weeks, schools all over the US (and some in Asia) will be reading, discussing and voting for books in our brackets trying to determine the TOP book for “Compelling Characters.”
The response to this year’s MBM is unprecedented. Tony and I receive tweets daily from teachers and librarians showing us how much MBM is inspiring the love of books and reading in their schools. Nothing brings me more joy than to see photos of kids examining and pointing at the bulletin board in their classroom with the MBM bracket. I’ve seen Flipgrids, Padlets and iMovies with students sharing their love of a particular book and persuading their peers to pick it to advance to the next round.
Tony and I text regularly about how we can’t believe how this small idea we hatched during a twitter chat in 2014 could give thousands of young readers such excitement and joy about books.
Feels #2 – Refugee
Last Friday, we finished reading Refugee by Alan Gratz for our read aloud. (If you have not read this book, you must, after reading this post of course, go straight to your local independent bookstore or reserve this book from your library.) This particular read aloud with my fifth graders has been like no other. Not only did I have students begging to miss recess to keep reading another chapter, I had students getting copies from the library so they could start reading it again during their free time. But, the suspense and action-packed plot was only part of what made this book truly magical.
Refugee is not just a book. It’s an experience. An experience that allowed me to connect to my students’ lives unlike any other book has. I teach in a school that is almost 30% English language learners and 25-30 students have refugee status. One of them is in my class. He is old enough to remember his journey, yet comfortable enough to pull me aside and tell me that this book made him sad.
Throughout the book, I would show videos about refugees from Nazi Germany in 1940, Cuba in 1994 and Syria in 2015 to provide context to the characters. I will never forget hearing students say “That’s not fair!” or “Why are they doing that?” as they watched Hungarian border patrol aggressively deny entrance to a group of refugees. Forever etched in my mind is the image of three girls huddled together, arm in arm, as we read the author’s note. I’ll always remember watching Mason wipe away a single tear from his cheek as we listened to the final chapter. And perhaps he will always remember watching Mr. Jones wipe away a single tear at the same time.
This book is powerful. Students have talked about it every day since finishing it.
Feels #3 – Letters of Thanks
Each planning period, I walk to my staff mailbox and look to see what annoying professional development pamphlet I’m going to recycle that day. But, this week, I didn’t get any. Instead, I received three envelopes all addressed to me in “not-adult” handwriting. I opened each envelope to find handwritten thank you cards from former students. I took them back to my classroom and began to read. Here are a few samples of their words that are the epitome of right in the feels.
“Thank you for making school fun and making me glad to actually come to school.” “In your class, school became a happier place that I used to think about it.” “Thank you for teaching me things that I can pass on to other people to help them too.” “Thank you for kickstarting my confidence. I’m taking high school math classes in 8th grade.” “You have made me see what is worth seeing.” “Thank you so much for boosting my confidence to keep going and never give up.” “After your class, I feel like I see the value of education.”
My intention is sharing these is not to be self-congratulatory. Rather, it is to show how their thank-yous are not directed towards the assessments, daily lessons or academic standards we provide for our students. Instead, their appreciation is rooted in how our classroom community made them feel.
Most teachers get into this profession to make a difference in the lives of children. It is often a thankless job, and we don’t always get the recognition from our students or the community. Yet, our jobs as teachers is unlike any other job.
We get to see the excitement on our students’ faces first hand when they finally solve that math problem.
We get to experience a great book with our students every day.
We get to provide safe spaces for our students to ask, wonder and notice.
We get to kick start a child’s confidence.
We get to see learning take place first hand!
What makes our job so special is that we actually get to feel the feels.
Did you allow yourself to feel the feels this week? I invite you to share the source of your feels in the comments section.
Here at Classroom Communities, we didn’t have a post prepared for today. We dropped the ball in our scheduling, and left a gap that was unfilled for far too long. We’re sorry. We’ll be sure to double-check the schedule well in advance in the future to avoid this happening again.
That could have been today’s entire post. The truth is, we had a gap, and we didn’t fill it. We try to run a post every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. We’ve been pretty good at this since our start in July of last year, though we have left a couple unfilled gaps in the schedule. We have missed some days.
But let me ask you this, if you’re a regular reader of the blog. When we missed a day in the past, did you notice? Maybe you did. Maybe you didn’t. If you did, did you wonder what had happened? Perhaps you thought someone was sick? Or that we abandoned the blog? Perhaps you thought something was wrong on your end, or that the internet had somehow conspired against you to keep you from reading our post that day. [Perhaps I think we have a readership far more concerned about us than it actually is]
My point here is that, in the past, we have made a mistake, and yet you may have been the ones left with unanswered questions. That’s not really a good burden to bear for those who did no wrong.
What if we ran a post that was rude, intentionally or otherwise? What if we claimed something as fact, and it turned out that we didn’t do our due diligence, and we were wrong? What if we sent you away from our post, fuming mad? Not exactly the sort of reaction we hope to inspire as we discuss the importance of community.
If we had done that, though (and perhaps we unknowingly have–please leave a comment here if this is the case so we can address that), then an apology would be in order. Because again, we would have made a mistake, and you would have been left with unanswered questions or a justified anger. We could have issued a simple, “Hey. We screwed up. Here’s what we did that was wrong. Here’s what we’re going to do to fix it. Here’s what we’re going to do to try to avoid that in the future. We’re sorry.”
A simple action, and one that we’ve all probably had to do before.
And yet, and yet, and yet…
Do we take this path with our students? Surely we’ve helped them apologize to us, or to each other. But do we apologize to them?
Raise your hand if you’ve made a mistake as an educator. Okay, hands down, I can’t see anything but palms and fingers. Some of you had 6 hands up; not sure how you managed that.
I bet if I asked for the same show of hands for who has apologized for those mistakes, it would be fewer. I hope not by much. But I know I’ve made mistakes as a teacher I haven’t apologized for.
We need to apologize to our students when we make mistakes. Here’s why:
1. It models appropriate behavior
Would we not expect our students to apologize when they make mistakes? I don’t mean making mistakes in their attempts at learning; I mean when they accidentally (or “accidentally”) knock a classmate down. Or when they speak in a way they know hurts others.
What if they don’t know how, or have never experienced what that’s like?
How could we reasonably expect them to apologize to others if we don’t apologize to them?
2. It humanizes you
You know who doesn’t make mistakes? Robots. And that’s only assuming a mistake means to go against how they were programmed. Humans make mistakes all the time. If we pretend we didn’t, it’s as if we pretend we’re not human. Not a good thing if you’re trying to run a classroom built upon relationships and community.
This also takes us back to bullet #1. We can draw upon our own modeling to help a student navigate how to apologize when there’s a lot of conflicting human emotions at play (regret and pride to name two big ones). Also, if you apologize…
3. It keeps you from looking like a fool
Do you really think your students don’t know when you screwed up? Please. Show them that you also know you made a mistake, and what to do when that happens.
4. It levels the playing field
Similar to humanizing you as a teacher, it also makes it okay for anyone in the room to apologize to anyone in the room. The person with the most positional authority apologized to those with the least. That flips the standard model, and it allows for all kinds of positive actions if your classroom is set up with the respectful environment that permits those actions.
5. It empowers your students
When you apologize, to anyone, it gives them the power. They can accept your apology or not. They can move forward with your plan to make it right or not. They can learn to apologize when they make mistakes. Or not. They hold the cards.
How often do we give the students the cards? How often do we let them accept an apology from us? Trust them with this power. I promise you, they won’t let you down.
Again, we’re sorry we didn’t have a post ready to go for today. We will work to ensure that doesn’t happen in the future.
I long for a decent snowfall here in Central Ohio. I dream of days when snow was always around; bright, shiny, and glistening. Snow was a daily part of my life growing up in the Finger Lakes Region of New York State and I bet you can image what my college days in Buffalo looked like. Snow was just a way of life.
Last week we got our first decent snowfall during the week and had a snow day. I walked outside. I shoveled the driveway. I tried to help my dog find his tennis ball we lost in the cul-de-sac snow piles. I added bird seed to my feeders to help my feathered friends. As evening came, I got restless. I knew recess would be inside tomorrow and my heart and soul said it shouldn’t be inside.
At 8:10pm I sent an email and a See Saw message to families. I wanted to double guarantee everyone saw this classroom news. I asked everyone to bring snow pants, boots, hats, mittens or gloves because we would be spending recess outside. I technically had recess duty and I wanted to watch my children have fun and feel joyful. I do believe snow can be joyful.
The students got themselves dressed with excitement and independence. We went outside to embrace the sunshine and the snow. Then I had a moment of weakness amongst the joy and fun my students were feeling. I thought, “What if someone questions me being out here?” I had asked my team to join me but they chose not to. I get it, not everyone likes snow. Then I watched and listened.
We were investing in our community. We were smiling and laughing. We were collaborating while digging tunnels in a bank of snow. We were creating new games when we made a snowball and tried to make a basket with the basketball hoop. We asked to do something we couldn’t normally do in winter; go out into the field. Have you ever watched 19 students flopping around and making snow angels? Pure joy. We had to problem solve when someone pushed snow into something we were trying to do. We got to be kids. We got to enjoy life. We got to be together.
There are lots of ideas for ways to create a community. Once we create communities we need to invest on fostering communities. Communities need tweaking and uplifting every once in a while. I realized this day tweaking and uplifting didn’t need elaboration. It just needed simple, different, and an embracing environment.