Safe and Sound

Being a 5th Grade Teacher is bittersweet.  Memories from the last few days of school are still so vivid in my mind – 5th Grade Promotion (and the amazing video slideshow by Hannah!), our 5th Grade Picnic, the end of the year assembly, and tear-filled eyes as students paraded through the hallways of Sully for the last time.  The Capital Cities song “Safe and Sound” is jumping out in my head, because in these final moments that is how our kids felt about Sully.  Walking out of those doors was walking away from that “safe and sound” place where everyone knows them and they “know” themselves.  I don’t know what will come next for my amazing group of students as they begin their next adventure, so it was my task to be the one to make an impact in their last year of elementary school.

Be the One Who Creates Community

5th Graders have baggage and they think they have school all figured out!  They know their classmates – the troublemaker, the brain, the class clown and they have already picked their friends.  They have also developed strong opinions about themselves as a student – “Reading is my thing”…”I suck at Math”…”Science is boring”… and so on.  How do we, as teachers, break down the walls that this fixed mindset build and promote a growth mindset in our students?  For me, one way was making sure that our classroom community was as strong as it could be.  If students feel safe and sound, then they will take risks.  If students know perfection isn’t the end goal, then they’ll try it without fear of messing up.  If students know that they should always be themselves (including their teacher who might just break into song at any moment) then they will know it’s okay to let their true personality shine.  If students know that learning is awesome, then hopefully they will leave the walls of Sully and carry the spark of lifelong learning with them!

As we get closer to a new school year beginning, I still hold onto last year’s ending.  Hugging countless students with tears in their eyes as they closed a chapter made me sad that I can’t continue the journey with them, but hopeful that memories of our time together will be the ones to encourage them moving forward.

I am inspired to be the one that creates a strong classroom community with the next group of students I meet!  Anyone have great beginning of the year community builder ideas?


Captivated and Motivated

I started and finished The Wild Card on a flight to California a couple weeks ago. This is not common for me. I’m often distracted by food, people, slight turbulence, or literally anything else a plane has to offer. This time, I found myself extremely focused- connecting to every chapter and most anecdotes. I wrote all over the margins about potential class transformations for our gigantic Oceans unit, restaurants for our Fractions and Decimals units, and so much more. I’m sure the person next to me on the plane thinks I’m a little crazy.

I love the enthusiasm about bringing music into the classroom! Thinking back to last year, it was linking the parts of an animal cell to to the tune of Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes (hand motions included) that helped my students remember what the parts are and what their function is. My goal for myself this year is to write (and perform…) more curriculum focused songs to help my students remember and better understand some of the more complex and abstract topics we learn together. The 5th graders loved hearing the band instruments and are excited to play as 6th graders, so if there is anyone out there that has a musical instrument talent, give me a shout so we can invite you to play for us!

The Wild Card has motivated me to make the dense and intense 5th grade curriculum more fun and accessible to all learners because, “Kids don’t buy boring.” I might just be doing odd jobs around my house to convince my husband to help me build a stage for my classroom next year…

What content area would you like to grow in this year? Why?

Be Better For Kids

Be The One For Kids is a powerful reminder to do what’s right each day to help our kids succeed academically as well as in life. The author does a wonderful job refreshing the ideals I try to bring into my life everyday, and the way he relates these ideals to our profession is inspiring. After reading the book, there are many ideas I want to challenge myself to bring into my teaching style and everyday life this year. Some of these ideas include:

1- It’s okay to fail. We hear this over and over again, but how do we teach this concept to kids? I know for myself, I have been working on going outside my comfort zone more, but I am really inspired to carry this over into my teaching practice, especially as an SLP where every student I see has a significant difficulty in one or more areas of communication. Trying new things puts us in a position where it is possible to fail and ultimately makes us vulnerable. I want to not only talk to my students about this, but I also want to put myself in positions where they can learn not only from my words, but also from how I handle potential failure. “It’s not only okay to fail- you need to fail harder!”

2- “Be the one who reflects.” This is something I struggle to give enough time too, but if I am going to be challenging myself to try new things with my students then I also need to push myself to reflect on those that work or do not work, and how I can make them better.

3- “Be the one who asks for feedback.” In my position, collaborating with others is a daily task, but I want to push myself to receive feedback from those I work with to ultimately be better for my students.

Life-fit — being a better teacher

Chapter 3- Carry the Banner (p.110-113)

I really reflected over these pages because the topic, balance, was something I have really been working on, and will continue this upcoming year.  I like the term “life-fit” that Casas uses; “creating an ebb and flow that works for us” {as teachers}.

About “life-fit”

  • creating an ebb and flow that works for each individual teacher
  • what we can actually do
  • different for everyone

To Do: (p.113)

1. Be purposeful in scheduling down time.
2. Drop activities that zap your time and energy.
3. Set aside time weekly to do something you truly enjoy doing and honor it.
4. Consider what can you delegate to someone else.
5. Trust that others will follow through on  your expectations.
6. Take care of your body by exercising and making healthy food choices.

Be One for the Kids

A lot of the book refreshes my mind of the ideas I would like to follow everyday. As the saying goes, “Easier said then done.” There were three main points I have taken from this book so far.
1) The author spoke about having fun in the classroom. I ALWAYS make an effort to smile or make kids laugh. The only issue I have is balancing that with firmness. I want the kids to be comfortable and come up to me for anything, but I also want to also be taken seriously.
2) Advocating was something else that stuck out for me. When I speak to kids to find out what is wrong, even when we have a good relationship, they tend to not want to say what is wrong because they think they will get in trouble with either friends or family. I do not know how to break down that barrier so I can advocate for the student.
And 3) This is going back to my past after reading, “they chose not to try something new because no one else would try it.” I remember a fourth grade teacher I had that was always trying new things and made 4th grade very different from any other class I ever experienced. For example, she would have us create plays for the parents out of books we read, had us be teachers for the day, and create our own books. I remember being on the lunch line and she was yelled at because she had tried a new science experiment with us and it ended up messing up the walls (we were creating slime). She was crying while we were on the lunch line. She was a new teacher and she was trying something new and I wish I could go back to that time and tell her while she was getting yelled at that she didn’t deserve it because she was making learning fun for us. I think teachers need to be told that they are doing great things constantly because we focus so much on the negative.

Creating Experiences as Opportunities for Kindness.

p. 166 “How do you/can we create experiences for students, teachers, and families that focus on supporting one another and kindness?”

In Chapter Five of Culturize, Jimmy Casas discusses the merchant of hope. This is a teacher or administrator who supports, inspires, and believes in all students (especially those who are struggling to see the hope themselves). Casas used disciplinary responses as opportunities to keep students focused on positivity (“picking up the pieces” p. 137). In each anecdote in this chapter, he writes about students who were close to giving up, or had given up, and identifies the merchants of hope as the people who acknowledged these individuals, stayed positive with these individuals, and appreciated the gifts of these individuals.

So how will I create experiences in my classroom that allow students to support each other? Casas writes about intentionally setting aside time to communicate with one student and one staff member each day, and focusing on those who need to be seen (p. 146). This is actually something that I could build into a lesson plan. I can provide students with an opportunity to become their own merchants of hope. Students can play their peers’ “BIGGEST FAN”s following presentations and performances, and I can give students time to write or speak kind words to individual peers.

The author also quotes Irving Berlin on p. 148, “Life is ten percent of what you make it. The other ninety percent is how you take it.” I need to model positive, celebration, and growth mindset thought patterns when reflecting on a project or performance. If I provide the language for students to appreciate their work, then they can begin to use it on their own to appreciate themselves in other instances.

On p. 159, Casas indicates that we should not only believe that all students can be successful, but also follow up with, “a genuine smile, a sincere hello, or an intentional conversation to ask how their day is going.” Music is inherently an empathetic art form because the product is an expression of the composer’s human experience. Providing more opportunities to create is one of my goals for this year. I would like to scaffold those projects, so that students are given language to consider their genuine feelings, and explore how those feelings might be expressed in sound. Long-term, after exploring their own experience, students will be sharing their compositions with each other. While they won’t be asked to share the feeling that inspired the composition, each student will know that their peers’ work came from a real place. This will lead to a discussion about how we can use music to understand others better and practice empathy.

Being OK with my way of being creative!

The Wild Card is such a great read. I have enjoyed learning new ways to tap into my creativity and the way that I want to do it. Through the stories of Hope and Wade, I feel more comfortable to try new things. They both tell their stories of success’ and failures when it came to trying new things in the classroom.  I really like the fact that they talk about what they do and that it is always for the kids, even of they are going out of their comfort zone, they know that the students will really benefit from it so they take the risk.

I really love that Hope does a lot of room transformations, I love room transformations. I have only done this is small amounts with preschool students, but they loved and I could tell that they were learning so much from being immersed in the curriculum. I think that this is so critical for a demographic like the one we have Sully, they have very little background knowledge on so many things. Room transformations gives the students an opportunity to experience it. Hope and Wade also talk about doing these room transformations for topics that are hard for students to understand, this gives them more of a hands on experience and they end up learning the standards a lot better this way.

I am looking forward to reading more about how Hope and Wade have got students excited about coming to school. They have made it very easy for anyone to be creative, even if you think that you are not creative at all. They really help the reader to find their own way to be creative and to bring what they like into their classroom. One thing that Hope and Wade say that really stands out to me is, if you are not excited about what you are teaching then the students won’t be either. I truly believe that, I have seen both teachers that are excited and ones that are not and I could see how it effects their students, and it make a huge difference is performance from students. This book has been a great way to continue to be creative and provide a lot of hands on experiences for my students, because they need it. I can’t wait to finish it and read the stories Hope and Wade have to tell.

Wild about Creativity

Given so many choices on what professional book to read this summer was more difficult than I thought it would be. There were many choices and I remember how amazing I felt after finishing TEACH like a Pirate last summer and the courage it gave me to give into my passion and share it with my students. I decided to read The Wild Card so that I can work on bringing my creativity into the classroom throughout the school year and not just as I am setting up my classroom. I started reading and instantly connected with Hope and Wade, I love the different perspectives they give throughout the book and giving the reader’s an insight into what their own personal lives were like. I love how they make it that creativity is something that anyone can have and it can be different from one person to the next no matter what kind of background you come from. This is uplifting to me as I continue to read this book and get excited about what I will continue to learn.

Creativity Drives Engagement

The Wild Card was the perfect book to get me back in the mindset of how I can be a better teacher. Hope and Wade King use their personal experiences to encourage teachers to be a Wild Card for students, because the kids deserve it! After reading the first page, I was already thinking of ways to think outside the box and create experiences for our students.

One anecdote on p. 15 stuck out to me and reminded me of some of our student’s reality. Our students may not have the best home life. We know how sad and upset our students can get before a long break. They may not have their basic needs met at home, so they may not care about the differences in states of matter or writing a sentence with a capital letter and period. But we as teachers have the power to change this! We can think creatively and provide our students with engaging experiences so they want to come back to school to learn! As teachers, we can wear a silly costume, come up with a song/dance, or transform the room in order to engage students in learning. When they are engaged, they learn the best and actually retain the information. They then have a better chance to succeed on any mandated assessments. By thinking creatively, we also create life long learners who will continue to have the desire to learn more and be the change in the world we need. I am looking forward to the rest of this book and working with my team to come up with creative ideas so our students can having awesome learning experiences!

Creative Breakthrough

Part two of the book is about Creative Breakthrough. It talks about the steps/traits that an educator should try to develop – Awareness, Desire, Reflection, Engagement, Authenticity, Grit, and Persistence.

Hope and Wade talked about Rebecca, a middle-aged teacher, who had been teaching in fifth grade for many years in the same public school. She had built up large supply of teaching materials and knew her lesson plans by heart. She was at the stage where she is getting tired of all the repetitions and was experiencing burnout. This made me pause and reflect! Am I at the stage where I am now like Rebecca; uninspired, burned out, and just marking my time until retirement? This book is bringing me back that beautiful feeling of passion when I was starting my teaching career. It is making me reflect on my strengths and weaknesses, going out of my comfort zone, and find encouragement and support. I am excited to be the new ME!