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…

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.

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

Was It Enough?

Was it enough?

Do they
Feel
Prepared for middle school?

Do they
Feel
Prepared for life?

Do they
Feel
Physically and emotionally safe?

Do they
Know
Their own potential?

Do they
Know
How much they’ve taught me this year?

Do they
Know
How much I care?

Was it enough?

Will they
Fail?

Will they
Fail
forward?

Will they
Act
With purpose and drive?

Will they
Do
The right thing, even when it’s hard?

Will they
Read
With the same excitement and passion as they do now?

Will they
Write
With the same tenacity and courage as they do now?

Will they
Respect
Everyone’s differences?

Will they
Embrace
Productive discomfort?

Will they
Return
To visit and share their successes?

Was it enough?

Please continue to
Collaborate well.

Please continue to
Use your voice.

Please continue to
See the power of the word “yet”.

Please continue to
Stay curious.

Please continue to
Notice and wonder.

Please continue to
Find your passion.

Was it enough?

Did I
Provide
Books that mirrored their life experience?

Did I
Listen
To them sufficiently?

Did I
Push
Them beyond their comfort zones?

Did I
Empower
Them to own their learning?

Did I
Give
Enough high fives?

Did I
Treat
Them all fairly?

Did I
Tell
Them how proud I am?

Was it enough?

How My Fitbit Made Me a Better Principal

Earlier this week, I received an email that I have been waiting four months to receive.  This long awaited email was from Fitbit and it was my 30 pound weight loss badge. Fitbit awards users various types of badges for accomplishing different things: number of steps in a day, total steps since joining, flights of stairs climbed, and total weight loss.  I’m very proud of this accomplishment. I have stuck with my New Year’s resolution for four months. During that time, I have logged at least 10,000 steps every single day. I have more energy, my blood pressure has greatly improved, and I even started playing hockey in a men’s league.  My health is better thanks to a change in diet and exercise. My Fitbit plays a big part in keeping me motivated with both. My Fitbit has also helped to make me a better principal.

30 lbs

I didn’t notice it right away.  In fact, when I first bought my Fitbit, I thought it would be a pretty useless tool for me.  My daily routine was pretty set, and I was certain I had about 10,000 steps every day. To prove this, I decided to make no lifestyle changes when I first bought the Fitbit.  I was just going to follow my normal week and check the results. As an elementary principal, I am pretty active during the day and assumed I easily would amass 10,000 steps without even thinking about it.  Wrong! I was shocked to see that during my test week my steps per day ranged from 3,238 (Did someone carry me to work? I am pretty sure it’s more steps than that to walk to and from the building.) to 14,730 (Recess soccer with the fifth graders is so much fun).  My average for the week was 8,340 steps.

When I reflected back on the week, I noticed 2 days were really low (3,238 steps and 5,098 steps).  Furthermore, I had 2 days that were pretty high (13,294 steps and 14,730 steps). I thought about my attitude during the week, my stress level on those days, and how much energy I had for family time at the end of the day.  It is probably not surprising that there was a direct correlation between number of steps I took in a day and how I felt at the end of the day. More steps = more energy, less stress, and a better attitude. My Fitbit became a tool for school culture.  I am the leader of the school, and I can’t be the best me if I have low energy, high stress, and a bad attitude.

I quickly realized that I didn’t feel better just because I was taking more steps during the day.  I felt better because the activities that required me to take steps were also the activities that are essential for being a good principal.  Coincidentally, these are also the activities that make being a principal an awesome job. Examples include activities like frequently visiting classrooms in the building, talking to kids and engaging in recess games with them, and walking around before and after school talking to parents and teachers.  I also realized that the activities that didn’t require me to take steps are also the activities that are necessary but also the boring part about being principal. They are activities like answering emails, filling out never ending reports, and reading memos…long, long memos. All of those things are essential parts of my job that I am required to complete.  However, it is way too easy to get stuck in my office doing those things and neglect the importance of being out in the building.

One feature on my Fitbit that I love is the hourly reminder to get at least 250 steps.  There is no excuse for me, as a principal, to go a full hour without ever talking to a student during the school day.  Reports have to be completed and emails have to be answered, but students are the most important part of my job. That alert on my Fitbit reminds me of that very thing.  Principals have more and more responsibilities every year. Recent surveys show that principals are more stressed than ever and have more demands on their time than ever before.  It is easy to get stuck in my office all day long. My Fitbit helps to remind me how important it is to not let that happen.

Last week was the perfect example of how powerful this simple tool has been for me as a principal.  I was bogged down with state testing paperwork and school improvement surveys. I needed to send letters to incoming families, write a 504 plan, and hadn’t even started writing an evaluation report that was due to the Superintendent.  No way was I getting out of my office but that pesky buzz reminded me that I had been sitting for 50 minutes without taking a single step. Although I almost ignored it, I also can’t deal with a missing red dot on my Fitbit app, so I stood up and headed out of my office.  Get the 250 steps and get back to work on the reports.
Amazing things happen at Hemmeter every day and I can’t ignore them even if I have a mound of reports due.  Outside the office, I started talking to students and visiting classrooms and chatting about books and posting pictures to our Facebook page.  An hour (and 3,300 steps later) I felt recharged. I helped a teacher fix their Promethean Board, watched students present to parents about what they learned during a coding unit, learned from students how to use MicroBits, witnessed the largest Keva block tower I have ever seen, and did an impromptu book talk on Ghost Boys to a student browsing my principal’s bookshelf.  I’m glad I didn’t ignore that Fitbit alert. I would have missed an awful lot sitting in my office.

Enough

I am.

 

I am struggling.

 

I am struggling to write this post.

 

I have known I was on the schedule to post on May 3, 2018, for months now. I have begun a post at least 5 times in the past week. But when I go back to reread or revise I know my writing is awful.

 

I am.

 

I am struggling.

 

I am struggling with stress and worry.

 

I have had too many restless nights. It is impossible to focus when you are consumed with uncertainty.

 

I am.

 

I am struggling.

 

I am struggling because I can’t control the cause of my stress and worry.

 

I am struggling because I want to scream out into the void – all the time – but I can’t.

 

———————————————————-

 

I am.

 

I am learning.

 

I am learning that it is ok for me to be stressed and worried.

 

I am learning that I am not quite the extremely rational and logical thinker I thought I was.

 

I am learning a great deal about humility and empathy.

 

Since the cause of my stress and worry is something I am not ready to share to share with my fellow writers and readers of Classroom Communities I feel like I am being a dishonest member of this community.

 

However, while I know that I am struggling, I am learning a great deal about myself. I am realizing that it is not so easy to compartmentalize when something out of your control is taking up so mental energy.

 

I am struggling.

 

I am learning.

 

I am enough.