Sunday, January 11, 2015

Our Future Will Be Great! Part 1

Each month, the teachers in our school are tasked with the incredibly impossible job of choosing one student from each grade level to be Linc's Leader. This one person shows their PRIDE (our PBIS acronym) and deserves the honor of recognition in front of the whole school. As a first grade team, we started off by each putting five students from our classrooms into a bucket and drawing out a name. We've been rotating through classrooms so someone from each room receives the honor. It's down between my room and one other room this month.

Here's my problem: What do I do if each one of my students deserves to be Linc's Leader? How do I choose just one (or five to be put in the bucket with only one receiving the honor)? I truly believe each one of my students is doing something that deserves to be honored. I also believe that just because some students make mistakes doesn't mean they don't deserve to be known and recognized. In fact, I believe their mistakes and ability to learn and bounce back from them make them even more deserving.

This is where I'm stuck. I want to the whole world to know about the 19 incredible students I have the honor and privilege of spending time with everyday. I want the world to know about the tender hearts and sweet thoughts that make each one of them shine. Since I only get to recognize one (maybe two by the end of the year) at our school-wide assemblies, I'm so, so glad I have this little blog where I can introduce the world to the joy, creativity, and love I experience each day! So, World, over the next couple of days, let me introduce you to 19 examples of the greatness our future will hold! (I've numbered my students to protect their privacy, but please know that each number represents a real student in my classroom.)

1 - I have had the privilege of spending the last two years with this sweetheart. She works hard everyday and takes pride in her work. She is gentle and cares for the people around her. What I'm discovering this year is she also has a goofy, fun side. She laughs often and is fun to be around. She has an uncanny ability to make the people around her feel good about themselves and have a good time. I'm was excited to see her on my class list for this year, and I'm realizing now what a blessing I have been given with her in my room for two years.

2 - If I had known this summer how much this little guy would make me laugh, I think my summer would have been even more full of anticipation for a new year. My favorite thing about him is that he finds a way to lighten the mood in each moment, but he rarely lets this silliness get out of hand. What incredible self-control! He is one of my hardest workers too. He works carefully and slowly ensuring that each ounce of work he produces is the absolute best. It's hard for me to imagine my life without him, and I'm not looking forward to saying goodbye to him at the end of this year.

3 - When I first met him, I instantly noticed his quiet demeanor. I knew from that moment that we were kindred spirits. This little introvert has a smile that will melt away any ice. He notices things other students don't notice. He's the kid that picks up the marker that found its way into the whiteboard basket and puts it back where it belongs. He's the kid who notices the chaos and in his quiet way handles the situation calmly and respectfully. In the half-year we have spent together, I've noticed how he is beginning to take on challenges. He truly wants to become a better version of himself, and while he makes mistakes along the way, he is taking on something new everyday. I couldn't be more proud of him!

4 - This guy is our resident Minecraft and Transformer genius. Seriously, you could ask him anything about either of those topics, and he'd gladly talk with you for hours. I've had the pleasure of spending two years with this guy too, and I'm so, very grateful for that opportunity. My favorite thing about him is the courage he shows everyday in his work. Just before break, we were working on a blog post. His post was ok to start with, but I knew he could do more. I told him this and I could sense his hesitation. With a little bit of support and encouragement, he turned an ok post into a fantastic post. That type of perseverance and push is admirable in this 7 year old. It blows my mind that he shows these traits everyday!

5 - This guy is my inspiration. He makes me want to be better at what I do, and he challenges me to find new ways to look at life. What I admire most about him is how he can come to school tired and grumpy (his words, not mine :) ) and he can turn that around within seconds and work hard all day. He cares deeply for the people around him and often exercises incredible self control as he joins in the daily activities. When he overcomes his shyness and self-consciousness to contribute to our conversations and to try something new, my heart grows three times in size. He is a fighter and a true gem in my room!

6 - This eager little girl is always right where I need for her to be. She's excited about school and ready to go every day. She keeps me on my toes. My favorite thing about her is her tender heart. She feels deeply, and this tenderness allows her to be a great friend. As we wrote our new years resolutions last week, I was touched that she chose a goal of being a better friend. She understands kindness on a different level than some of her peers. She's a sweetheart, and I'm glad I've gotten to know her!

It breaks my heart to end here, but I want to make sure I can share all of the great things about my students while respecting your time in reading them. I'll be back to share the next 6 kiddos soon!

Thursday, January 8, 2015

A Lesson on Kindness

We finally made it back to school today! We had a professional development day on Monday and a work day on Tuesday. We were supposed to have students yesterday, but it was stinkin' cold (thank you Iowa winters...) so we ended up with a cold day. I was more than ready to get back to my students today.

As most teachers do, I typically spend the first couple of days back from Christmas break reviewing rules and procedures in order to lay the groundwork for a successful second half to the year. This year, I wanted to add in some goal setting to give us a direction. I began by talking about resolutions and about why people make resolutions. I shared with them that one of my resolutions is to show kindness to as many people as possible. To help illustrate why kindness is important to me, I read them one of my favorite books, Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson. I discovered this book last year when I was in the midst of teaching a series of character lessons to my challenging kindergarten class. It is easily one of the most powerful books I've ever read to children.

(image from

In this incredible story, Maya moves to a new school. The girls at this new school immediately notice that Maya isn't like them. She wears secondhand clothes and isn't interested in the same things they are. Because of this, the girls decide to exclude her. When their teacher does a lesson on kindness in which she describes the ripple effect of kindness, Chloe (the main character) realizes how she has been treating Maya and vows to change. Unfortunately, Maya moves away and Chloe never gets the chance to repair their relationship.

As I read the story, stopping occasionally to discuss what was happening, my students had all kinds of insightful thoughts about what was happening. When we finished the book, I asked the question, "Can you ever take back your hurtful actions?" At first my students said yes, but as we talked a little more, they came to the realization that no matter what we do to fix the situation we can never take back the mean things we do. This is why kindness is so important. I could feel this sinking in for my students. It has been quite a while since they have been that quiet after reading a book. It was a powerful moment for us and a great way to begin a new year!

We followed that up with setting some reading goals and writing a rough draft of a blog post about our goals for 2015. Their goals ranged from getting better at football to being a better friend to getting better at math. I chuckled at some of them and was inspired by others. All in all, I think we're all set to go for another semester!

Now, if only we could just get ourselves back to school we'd really be set. We got out early today due to blizzard-like conditions and we're already delayed two hours tomorrow. Once again, gotta love these Iowa winters...

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Finding Their Greatness

Maya Angelou once said,

"People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel."

The reality of that beautiful quote is hitting me hard these last few days. We had a district-wide training yesterday on The Nurtured Heart Approach (NHA), and this quote floated around the back of my head all day. Briefly, NHA is a system that allows adults to shape kids' understanding of themselves and teach them how use that understanding to make good life choices. It involves putting all of our energy toward the success of the kids and limiting the amount of energy given to their negative choices. I'm not going to lie, at first, as I sat in that cafeteria, I thought the presenters were full of it - there was no way this would work. You see, in order to successfully use NHA, you have to be able to find a success in any situation. Our presenter told a story about her son to show us exactly how to do this. One day when her son was a junior in high school, she checked his grades. He had a few Fs and two D-s. She was not happy about this and really wanted to just let him have it. Instead, she went home that night and said, "Son, I checked your grades today, and I saw that you have a few Fs and two D-s. Those D-s tell me that you showed up to class and you turned in some work. That tells me you can be responsible, and I appreciate that." 

If you're like me, you're probably thinking, "What? That works?"

Here's the thing though, in that tough moment, she recognized something good he had done. Yes, it seems like a stretch, but it was one thing he was doing right. By emphasizing that right thing and the fact that he was capable of doing that right thing, she was building him up. She was helping him find his greatness. She went on to tell how she continued this process of recognizing the work he was doing, and within three weeks he had moved those grades up to As, Bs, and Cs. 

She made him feel good. She made him feel worthy and loved. That made a difference in his life. What a powerful tool!

That just scratches the surface of NHA, and I'm still learning about this process. I have no proof that it works. I haven't had the chance to apply it yet. What I do know is that if I have the chance to impact a child by helping him see his greatness, I'm going to do it. 

I want my students to leave my classroom feeling like they can do anything. I want them to be empowered to make good choices in life, and I want them to have the courage they need to get through it. I know that some of my students come from tough situations. If I don't say something about how incredibly awesome they are, they might not ever hear it from someone else. After participating in that session yesterday, I don't know how I could ever feel good about myself if I let my students go through their year with me not knowing how truly wonderful they are.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Respect the Introverts!

In my attempt to remain a lifelong learner, I have become a student again this year. Being a student in a traditional classroom setting has brought back all kinds of feelings I haven't felt since college (which wasn't actually all that long ago - 4.5 years - but hang with me people). Along with the overall excitement to be learning something new, the nerves and anxieties of trying to apply the new learning, and the thrill of meeting people with similar interests, comes the inner battle I fight between my introverted self and class expectations.

I am perfectly okay with the fact that I'm an introvert. Sure my intense fear of small talk of any kind makes things difficult from time to time, but in general, I'm happy with who I am. I love that I'm happiest when I'm tucked under a cozy blanket in my house enjoying a good book. I love to have conversations about life and issues with people who know and appreciate me. It doesn't bother me at all that I'm not outgoing and adventurous.

The hardest part about being an introvert,though, is that I'm not always understood by the people around me. This plays a role in nearly every aspect of my life. Here's an example. On Saturday, my husband and I attended our first class on the road to becoming foster parents. I didn't know any of the people in the room, and I had no idea what to expect from the day. We arrived a little before class started and were asked to make a couple of name tags. I was patiently waiting for my husband to finish up with the marker when the lady across the table said, "I don't know what's wrong Jess, but it'll be okay." I wasn't smiling and talking with the people around me, so this woman assumed I was upset about something. She didn't understand that I was simply adjusting to a new situation. It'll probably take me a few weeks before I'm comfortable enough to happily converse with the people around me. That's just who I am.

School, in general, does not have the tendency to be friendly to introverts. Think about all the times we ask our students to get in front of the group and answer questions or share thoughts. Think about the emphasis we put on participation, which is often only measured by how often a student talks. In our class on Saturday, we were told we are expected to participate throughout the ten weeks of class. We will be role-playing, reading aloud, and discussing ideas. At the mention of role-playing, I nearly got up and walked out. Luckily, the instructor saved me from having to throw foster care away by saying we're allowed to pass. I'll read and I'll discuss, but I probably will not role play. We also receive stickers to put on our name tents every time we volunteer to read or participate. There's nothing like a public log of how many times I have not participated to make myself feel good (end sarcasm). Needless to say, I left class on Saturday with more negative feelings than positive feelings and I certainly did not feel valued and respected. (I'm not giving up, of course. I'm a forgiving person. I'll give my instructors the benefit of the doubt and the chance to get to know me.)

All of this got me thinking about those introverts who hide themselves in midst of the craziness in my classroom. I know I have more than a couple. Do I treat them with respect and understanding? Do I give them enough opportunities to express themselves in a comfortable way? Do I ask them to do things too far from their comfort zone? Do I handle sensitive subjects in a way that doesn't embarrass them?

It's something to think about this week when I welcome my 19 lovelies back to my room.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

What Exactly Do You Do At Work?

Today, I was filling out a questionnaire for something I'm pursuing in my personal life. When I got to the question, "What do you do at work?" I stopped. Below the question were two lines. How in the world do I describe what I do at work in just two lines? I settled for something along the lines of "teach, inspire, and love my group of first graders." What I'd like to say is this:

At my work, I:

  • Get kiddos out of snow pants that just don't want to unzip.
  • Restart 3 iPads after panicked students come to me because they can't slide the slider.
  • Talk with a lovely about how it's not okay to tell someone they are stupid.
  • Read books.
  • Give directions for the third time to the lovely who is trying his absolute hardest but is just not interested in listening to his dear old teacher.
  • Tie a shoe.
  • Put Bandaids on scraped elbows.
  • Turn the tables on their sides to create the ultimate snowball battle experience to engage my students in math review.
  • Unstick a lovely's finger from the zipper pull she had to put said finger through.
  • Wipe all tables with Clorox wipes to ward off the illnesses sweeping through the room.
  • Kindly remind a lovely for the third or fourth time that he doesn't have to interrupt my teaching to ask for a tissue; he can simply go get one. 
  • Log a student onto a Netbook that is just not cooperating.
  • Teach a lovely that it's not okay to go into the drawers of my desk and take stuff.
  • Put together a Kahoot to review basic addition facts in an attempt to create a fun experience in math.
  • Snap a picture of the students doing the above Kahoot and tweet this picture so parents know what is going on in the classroom.
  • Bundle up for recess duty during which I jump rope, hula hoop, and go across the monkey bars all for the sake of the students' thrills.
  • Attempt to inspire a lovely to give his absolute best on his blog post.
  • Tweet a plea for a first grade classroom somewhere in the world to share the above lovely's awesome blog post with.
  • Feel disappointed when no one responds to the Twitter plea.
  • Log another student onto another Netbook that is just not cooperating.
  • Consult with a young reader about her use of the Monitor and Fix-Up strategy.
  • Throw my hands up in the air and exclaim, "Woohoo!"causing all students to stop what they're doing and stare at their crazy teacher when above reader appropriately uses the Monitor and Fix-Up strategy. 
  • Remind a lovely that it's not okay to push someone out of line to stand next to his best friend. 
  • Talk with my grade-level team about upcoming events, test scores, intervention groups, and technology.
  • Log yet another student onto yet another Netbook that is just not cooperating.
  • Eat lunch in my classroom with the company of four lovelies.
  • Laugh when one of the lovelies says, "--, I think you should just let him die and come play with me." 
  • Take all four lunch trays down to the cafeteria to give those four lovelies all of their recess time.
  • Check to make sure one lovely is riding the bus home and not being picked up like usual.
  • Email a parent about a health concern she is having with her lovely.
  • Invite the principal into my classroom to talk with all the boys about the appropriate way to use the bathroom. (Pay attention and aim guys!)
  • Tell students to give up on the silly Netbooks that are just not cooperating until I can seek technical assistance with them. (Technical assistance, by now, means throwing them out the window...)
  • Get frustrated when I forget to hand out my targeted five tickets for showing PRIDE and try to sneak them into the last 45 minutes of the day.
  • Make the decision to get all lovelies a mechanical pencil in order to avoid sharpening another pencil.
  • Smile as each student leaves my classroom and hope they come back the next day with a smile on their face.
Oh yeah, I also:
  • Teach math
  • Teach reading
  • Teach social studies
  • Teach science
How do I get that all down in two lines?