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.

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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What Changes

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Over the past few weeks, I have rediscovered reading and enjoying poetry. Most mornings before I get moving into the day, I read at least one poem. The act of opening my phone and searching online “poem about ______” or grabbing a favorite volume of poetry from my family room or classroom shelf has created a place and time for me to reflect.

This beginning of this practice started in a failed attempt to try to plan something for National Poetry Month for my seventh-grade students. A classroom study of poetry still hasn’t happened yet. And to be honest, it might not happen this year. However, I have been really enjoying these two to three-minute adventures into a form of communication I adore, but often ignore. Spending some time thinking about the words of Maya Angelou, Czesław Miłosz, Anna Akhmatova, Naomi Shihab Nye, Billy Collins, Kwame Alexander, Justin Runge, Jacqueline Woodson, Alan Dugan and others have given me the chance to slow down for a moment or two each day.

The time I spend reading a poem is short, but most days thinking lingers throughout the day. About ten days ago, I read “What Changes” by Naomi Shihab Nye.

 

What Changes

My father’s hopes travel with me

years after he died. Someday

we will learn how to live.  All of us

surviving without violence

never stop dreaming how to cure it.

What changes? Crossing a small street

in Doha Souk, nut shops shuttered,

a handkerchief lies crumpled in the street,

maroon and white, like one my father had,

from Jordan.  Perfectly placed

in his pocket under his smile, for years.

He would have given it to anyone.

How do we continue all these days?

 

“Someday we will learn how to live” was in my mind for the rest of the day and into the next several days. The line also inspired this post.

For me, there is a juxtaposition of hope and frustration in that line – like the coming end of the school year. The hope we have built learning communities that were worthwhile for our students combined with the frustration that we don’t have the time to accomplish everything we intended. The hope that our students will finish the year better than they started combined with the frustration of state testing windows. The hope of seeing students act kindly toward each other combined with the frustration of students ostracizing each other. Hope and frustration are typical partners in the last weeks of school.

During the end of your school year, take the time to look for the hopeful places. I know I will get stuck in the frustrations. I will need to consciously search for the evidence that the 180 days spent with my seventh graders were good. The moments like seeing two friends recommend books to each other, a student complimenting the writing of another, the class groaning a little when our independent reading time is over, the eager smiles when it is time to discuss a shared text.

If you have the time, try reading poetry daily or at least give yourself the opportunity to reflect. Find the hopefulness and good.

A Safety Net

It has been a rough week. I know that our readers come to this blog looking for passion, positivity and inspiration about their classroom community. But, for the past three days, I’ve left school feeling frustrated and discouraged. Rarely do I wake up and feel worried about going to work. But, this week is wearing me down.

First and foremost, it’s state testing season in Ohio. Enough said.

Secondly, there has been a drastic increase of behavior issues in the classroom, in the cafeteria, on the playground and on the bus. It seems like students are being more disrespectful to each other and to me. The quality of work is diminishing. The enthusiasm for reading and writing seems dormant. When I think about how much time and energy my students and I have put into building our a solid classroom culture, it frustrates me to think that I see it starting to crack. I’ve spent a great deal of time this week asking myself…why?

Maybe some of these fifth graders are starting to realize this is the end of elementary school.

Maybe they are frightened and intimidated by the unknown bigness of middle school, unsure of what awaits them.

Maybe they sense how close sixth grade is and can’t wait to get there.

Maybe some are getting a surge of hormones and they don’t know how to handle it.

Maybe they are apprehensive about the summer where there will be less structured days at home.

Maybe they are worried about not being guaranteed a breakfast and lunch every day like they get during the school year.

Maybe they’d rather be outside or exploring sound and light energy projects instead of sitting for two hours taking a state test.

Maybe they are worried about the lock down drills that seem just a little bit more real these days.

Maybe they’re worried about what their families’ future in this country will be like.

Maybe some feel “targeted” and treated unfairly by me or other teachers.

As teachers, we all have our rough days, rough weeks and maybe even a rough year. What this week is teaching me is the importance of having a strong classroom culture. With the increase of behavior problems and struggles, I am thankful that we have a solid culture that we can fall back on. We have our mission statement that we created together which reinforces our purpose for coming to school, even for the last two months. We have our five essential agreements, which act as our “bill of rights” and outline how we treat each other. We have our collaboration norms anchor chart that we created together in September.

While we are experiencing some challenges lately, nobody can deny the expectations and structure or the classroom. When we forget how to act towards one another, we must return to our community mindset that we’ve spent seven months establishing. I am starting each morning by reviewing our essential agreements and mission statement. These tools provide a common language–a safety net to catch us if we stumble. While we may fall or stumble, our classroom culture will prevent us from getting hurt further.

The power of this website Classroom Communities is that it reinforces just how necessary it is for teachers and students to work at strengthening their classroom culture on a daily basis. We must put the time in at the beginning of the year to set up our classroom norms. We must practice how to talk to each other. We must train ourselves how to collaborate. We must learn from each other. We must push through the tough times. We must work and fight for our classroom community so we have something to catch us when we fall.