The Power of a Smile

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.


Communities Don’t Need Elaboration


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.

Fostering Talk

It had been years since I saw my college roommate!  I pulled into her driveway and there she was waiting for me.  She had pulled a lawn chair onto the blacktop just watching the road.  It reminded me of myself as a little girl waiting for my grandparents to come over for my birthday.  We both hurried to hug and squeeze and we couldn’t stop talking.  My high school daughter was with me and slowly walked around the mini-van and shut my door.  It was so good to see her.  All those years melted away and didn’t matter.  We picked right up where we left off.   Our whole time together was filled with talk; we had so much to catch up on and discuss.  This experience reminded me about the entrance to my classroom after a long break and how could I create, foster, or embrace this same experience for a classroom community.  Everyone should feel such joy to see others.

When I began teaching, one of my mentors shared with me an activity to help students get to know each other.  It’s a Find Someone Who (people scavenger hunt)…read a book, went to the zoo, played outside, ate cookies, or saw their grandma.  It gives new friends an invitation for talk.  They can’t use themselves and they can’t repeat a friend.  It’s hard to meet new friends and I love how this provides some direction and language to foster talk.  The students have really enjoyed this activity over the years and I soon created other versions for after long breaks from each other.

After many years, I added to a previous version with more talk support.  I added a question to help foster more conversation; find someone who read a book followed with what book did you read?  It changed the pace of this activity.  They lingered more.  They shared more information with each other and sometimes extended their talk beyond the prompt.  They were focused on finding out a bit more information and not just “fill” a spot with a name.  It felt natural.  It reminded me about those first few moments in the driveway.   Reconnecting with my college roommate felt good.  It was easy and comfortable.  How can we expect students to jump right back to learning if they don’t reconnect socially and share what they’ve been doing?  Talk fosters a community and a community can make things easy and comfortable.


Thinking About Safely

“Community is so important.  Who can we walk through the world safely with?” Jacqueline Woodson – NCTE convention in St. Louis.


If you are a reader of this blog, I bet you agree with Jacqueline’s first sentence; Community is so important.  I think each of our posts here at Classroom Communities reinforces this idea but my thinking was stretched this day when it followed with the question; Who can we walk through the world safely with?

A community may be where you live geographically and the places you share physically for day to day living.  A community may be a gathering of people with the same beliefs; social, religious, or work related.  A community might be a group of people you do the same activity with on a regular basis.  I hadn’t really thought about walking through the world with my different communities.  I had to stop and ponder Jacqueline’s words, “Who can we walk through the world safely with?”

In looking up the word safely, of course states it’s an adverb and leads the reader to the word safe.  I started pulling out words I felt I wanted within the four walls of my classroom; secure, free from hurt, dependable, trustworthy, careful, and avoid danger.  Our world does bring uncertainty in many forms.  Our world brings hills, valleys, and plateaus even within a classroom.  I now have goals to provide a net of safety so our walk can be easier in second grade.   I’m so glad Jacqueline Woods made me stop and reflect on communities and how they help us navigate our world safely.


When You Know…

Dismissal time comes and goes every day and every day I start to worry a little bit.  Our school procedure is involved.  It requires me to walk with my students through the hallways to various drop of points and then taking my bus riders outside to their individual buses.

I worry about this time of day.  I have a clipboard with daily sheets for our “going home” plans.  Changes happen and I note them with post it notes.  I “lost” a kindergartener once and quickly found her in a different drop off location but I’ll never forget that worry and shutting my classroom door to burst into tears.  I am blessed to spend each day with my students and I think my biggest job is to get each student back home safely to their families.

It was about a month or two into this school year and we were getting organized for dismissal.  The students had their backpacks.  They were sitting at the carpet and I had started to line them up according to the order of their drop off location.  Everything seemed to be in order when I heard, “George come here, she already called your name.  Right here is where bus 51 goes.”

I watched and thought, Bingo; we have a classroom community!  It was such a small moment and one that could be easily over looked.  A student was looking out for a classmate and wanted to make sure he was on the bus with him to go home.  I wish you could have heard his voice; the helping student had a kind and caring inflection.  A nurturing voice with a sense of urgency.

When do you know…what small things can we look for to confirm there is a community in our classroom?  These two boys don’t necessarily share common characteristics or interests besides attending our classroom together but I would add to the dictionary’s definition of community to include – individuals who spend a lot of time together and care about each other; showing acts of kindness.

Profesional Self-Care

I recently had something happen outside of my classroom community personally and I needed to reach out for some guidance and advice. The guidance and advice I got was helpful. I was feeling more at peace and then a twist came, “make sure you practice some self-care for you. Whether that means going for a run, eating ice cream, watching TV – take time for you, alone.” I was completely caught off guard. I wasn’t seeking guidance and advice for me but someone thought I needed a nudge. This idea of self-care has been on my mind a lot this week personally and trickled over to my professional life.

In the past seven days, I’ve spent three of them in professional communities; physically and not online. These professional communities took me away from my classroom for two days and away from home for half a day. As I wrapped up the second day yesterday, I realized these three days were burst of professional self-care. Not only do I need to take care of myself personally but my professional life needs nurturing too. I’ve been attending workshops outside my school day for years and extending my learning beyond my teaching degrees. I had an administrator ask me once why I like going to conferences and reading so much. I wasn’t prepared for that question and was a bit surprised but now I have an answer. It’s my professional self-care. I learn new things and often my thinking is reaffirmed. I connect with other people and have conversations to help me process my work with students. I get guidance and nudges to push my thinking. This may sound silly – but I feel loved. When people choose to come together the energy in the room is positive and uplifting. The positives of professional self-care make “the hard to make it happen feelings” diminish.

Tips to Make Professional Self-Care Happen

  1. Find a local organization that brings people together from different districts.
  2. Attend a weekend event. Weekends are more relaxing, it feels more enjoyable,     there are no sub plans and hopefully your personal life can support some time                                  away.
  3. Attend with a friend, there’s accountability here to make it happen.
  4. Commit to attending and get it on the calendar.
  5. Find a state organization hosting an event.
  6. Make new connections, often a simple hello is the doorway to more and wear your name badge.
  7. Attend a session out of your comfort zone to stretch yourself.
  8. Find a way to stay connected with people in your professional communities.
  9. Offer to present because sometimes the conference can be free or discounted.
  10. Offer to share your learning with the staff when you return for financial support.


Classroom communities nurture learners as a whole and as individuals. Make sure you take some time to step away from your classroom community to nurture your professional side of life. I promise it will give you strength, hope, and fresh thinking to carry on.



Little Things Foster Communities

When I read our first post by Tony and Brian introducing our vision for this space I instantly got my writer’s notebook out and started writing a list.  They shared ‘little things’ that helped create meaningful relationships in the post, Looking at Teaching and Learning through a “Relationship” Lens.  I started my own list, wondering if I could think of five small things that might have an impact on our community.  I decided to let this list percolate and study them during the first month of school.  I was quite surprised last night at parent teacher conferences each of my five things were mentioned at some point by parents.

  1. Each morning during our morning meeting greet each other.  Each week I pick a different greeting for the students and I to do with each other as each child is welcomed.  We started with a formal greeting – Good morning, Sam.  Good morning, Mrs. Robek.  Parents shared last night their child was plotting out how they would “hit the floor” the next day during a greeting chant we did last week and were disappointed we were doing something different this week.  This week we did an ankle shake around our circle; they laughed and giggled as they tried to balance.
  2. Use student names for labels.  Names are special gifts from parents with meaning and thought.  Every time I write a label with a name I feel like I’m creating a special spot for that child this school year.  A notebook or folder or coat hook that will be a place to nurture.
  3. Send snail mail notes home to share good news.  Life is busy and technology can make communication easy but I miss getting meaningful, touching mail in my physical mailbox.  When I do, I get a little flutter of joy.  I had some postcards made to hopefully bring my students and their families a flutter of joy.  I find handwriting a note brings a little more intention to my observations.  Just today as we lined up for dismissal a student didn’t hear his name called and another student who rides the same bus got out of line and helped him find a place within the line that was growing to help him get home.  Screen Shot 2017-09-22 at 9.56.18 PM
  4. Start the year with empty walls and curate them together with the class.
  5. End the school day in song.  One summer I worked at a day camp and they had a tradition to end their day.  They sang a song; staff and campers.  It had a message of closure, wishes for our time away, and a time frame for when we’d be together again.  Enjoy our sharing.