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.

 

 

 

 

 

Visiting My Room Too Early…

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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.

 

All About Me to All About Us

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I had the pleasure to attend The Ohio State University’s Commencement this past Sunday as a proud parent of an undergraduate senior.  I had no idea I would find a topic to share today and start taking notes during the keynote address while listening to, Dr. Sue Desmond-Hellmann, CEO of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Dr. Desmond-Hellmann shared her story; growing up, education, and research.  She had bumps, valleys and success.  Her message to the graduates was based on her own journey.  Shifting her thinking from all about me to thinking all about us; brought depth and purpose to her work.  She urged the audience to ask, What can I do for our world?  This will shift our thinking from me to thinking about us.  She urged us to question ourselves and cautioned us that good intentions are not enough.  Good intentions are still about me.  She wants us to ask; What was the impact?  What improved?

She urged the graduates to shift their thinking as soon as possible from me to us!  I began thinking about my second graders.  Why do we need to wait to start thinking broader? Can we shift our thinking at seven and eight years old to be bigger than me? I started brainstorming questions and ideas  –

  1.  What can we do for a younger grade?
  2.  What can we do for a special group of students?
  3.   What can we do for families staying at our local childrens hospital?
  4.   What can we do to impact our world?
  5.   What can we do to make a difference in our own building or classroom?

 

  1.  Read biographies about those not so famous.
  2.  Find stories about kids making a difference.
  3.  Discuss and identify feelings we have.
  4. Do things locally now to make a difference and make it concrete.
  5. Encourage and foster inquiry.
  6. Foster a relationship with an organization that needs help.
  7. Do community service more than once with an organization.
  8. Field trips are so limited – bring speakers from the organization to us.
  9. Share photos with the organization or video for visuals.
  10. Spark and provide creative moments to be a maker.

When Dr. Desmond-Hellmann said, “we under estimate ourselves” I instantly thought about our elementary age students.  I think they get under estimated. They are powerful and filled with potential.  Listening to her speak on Sunday made me think about fostering a community and how that is really taking the thinking all about me and making it all about us.  However, can we take that all about us and make a difference?  Can we go outside our four walls and have an impact on others?

I’d love to know what others are doing to take help their communities to make a difference and impact others.  Please share ideas in our comments.

The Power of a Smile – Published

Last month I shared the beginning of a project that was an idea just being tossed around from my students, The Power of a Smile.  This project started as a seed idea and developed as it grew into a powerful piece of work.  The final product is beautiful but the journey is what always captures the learning and my heart.

Ten Things That Came From Creating a Collaborative Project

  1. My students were highly motivated and wanted to create.
  2. My students were active with the work they were doing.
  3. My students were engaged with their own thinking.
  4. My students were thinking about word choice.
  5. My students were thinking about images to show their word choice.
  6. My students were thinking about their audience.
  7. My students were a bit messy.
  8. My students were custodians.
  9. My students were passionate.
  10. My students felt pride.

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.

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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

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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.