Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Weeding the Garden {SOL 5-31-16}

In the area between my garage and patio, I have a perennial garden. For the past 13 years, I have enjoyed the purple coneflowers, daisies, Russian sage and black eyed susans that have grown there. Butterflies, goldfinches, and hummingbirds are regular summer visitors.
I began that garden with maybe two or three plants of each variety. Over the years, they would put out off shoots or reseed themselves until you couldn't see any of the ground below them.  It was beautiful, but was getting to be a bit crazy.

This past weekend, I decided that it was time to do something about the craziness.  With the help of my husband, we dug up the garden, taking out every single plant. It was quite the job. Then, we replanted the garden in some semblance of order, using maybe 1/10 of the plants that we had dug up.

Some of  extras were replanted in other parts of our yard (we have almost six acres), but most of them were given away. I have a few friends who just bought new houses who were happy to take some. Another friend said he'd be happy to take a few to plant at his house. One of my husband's co-workers brought her truck over and loaded up about 20 plants to take to her place.

It makes me feel good to know that someone else will get enjoyment out of something that has added so much beauty to my life.

It also made me feel good that I could now see each and every plant in the garden.

Working on weeding out my garden got me thinking about how much it paralleled my life. Sometimes I take on too much, either because I like it, I think I need it, or I simply avoid letting go of it. Overloading on too much of a good thing (like my garden was overloaded with flowers) creates craziness.

Every now and then, I need to stop and weed things out. The craziness will be less and the things that I have left will have room to thrive.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

That's a Wrap {Celebrate This Week 5-28-16}

With the sounding of one final bell at 3:35 yesterday afternoon, another school year has come to a close.

The last day of school is always bittersweet. We all look forward to the restful days of summer that stretch before us, but the last day means we have to say goodbye to some faces we may never see again.

Our 5th graders will be heading off to the middle school next year. For some, our school has been their educational home for the last seven years. For others, it has been stability in a rocky home life. With us, they had routine, expectations, and boundaries. They knew they would be cared for when they walked through our doors.

We have a tradition of gathering at the end of the bus line on the last day of school to wave goodbye as the busses pull away. Students reach from lowered windows to wave back, some smiling, but many sobbing because they will miss the connections they have made with others inside our school walls.

As teachers, we all know that our job is about more than lesson plans, assessment, and learning, although many outside of the educational world think that this is all that teaching is all about.

As teachers, we tend to more than just our students' minds. We also care for their hearts, their character, their consciences, and so much more. We understand that learning cannot take place if a child is hungry, upset, or in need of basic necessities.  When talking with others about our students, we call them "my kids" not by accident, but because our classrooms have become a home away from home for all of us. We are a family.

As those busses pulled away and the tears began to flow, I became even more thankful that I get to work in a profession based on so much love and connection. There's really nothing I'd rather do.

For this, I celebrate.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

What's In Between {SOL 5-24-16}

I love it when an idea pops into my mind at the perfect time, completely unsought, but needed nonetheless.

Yesterday, I decided to spend our read aloud time reading some of the picture books I haven't gotten to yet this year.  I pulled out one my son gave me for Christmas, One Day, The End by Rebecca Kai Dotlich.
I loved the very first page:

When I finished reading, I turned back to this first page and we talked about how it's what is in between the beginning and the ending that matters.

Then the idea hit me....

Being as this is the end of the school year, I thought we would all write our own "One day I started 4th grade/Then it ended. The End" stories. We would fill our in betweens with our favorite memories of our year.

I had not planned on this writing activity, but it sure was a good one.

Today, we are  going to share our stories in circle time and relive some of our favorite memories from the past nine months.

As this year draws to a close, I want my students to remember not just the beginning and the ending, but the good stuff in between that matters most.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Seeing the Growth {Celebrate this Week 5-21-16}

The school year is quickly coming to a close and like many teachers, I find myself reflecting on how much my students have grown this year.

Sure, there are the physical changes.  A few weeks ago we received our class picture, the one with everyone's photo from the beginning of the year. It was incredible to see how much everyone had changed. It was like they came in as little kids and are going out as almost teenagers.

Because I will be looping with this class and will see them back in September, I am especially interested in seeing how far they've come in their learning over the course of this year because it will help us set our goals for next year.

I found myself thinking about this during our writing class yesterday.  It was Friday, the weather was beautiful, and the looming full moon was making everyone a little wiggly, so we took our writing class outside.  We settled into the grassy side of the school and began our notebooking.

Being a bit sneaky, I set the timer on my phone for 20 minutes instead of our usual 10 minutes, just to see what would happen.

There wasn't much to see, other than writers hard at work the entire time.

When my timer went off, I called the group back together. About half of my students continued writing, carefully finishing their last words.

We gathered in a circle to share. As we went around the circle, I smiled at the variety of writing that took place -- the risks that some of my writers were now taking that seemed impossible just nine months ago. Yesterday, we had joke writers, poets, listers, memoirists, mystery writers and storytellers all offer up their words to our group.

Nine months ago, there would have been many blank pages.

Nine months ago, there would have been writers afraid to share their words.

Nine months ago, there would have been groans and moans and pained expressions as we set to our work of writing.

Yesterday, it was clear that much has changed over the past nine months.

For that, I celebrate.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Unexpected Growth Mindset Moment {SOL 5.17.16}

I stood at the entrance gate to the rink and watched them walk toward me, their ankles wobbling and the expressions on their faces revealing their uncertainty.

Most of my 4th graders had never ice skated before. Sure, it sounded fun, but now that the skates were laced up and the rink was before them, many began to doubt themselves.

"You've got this," I told them as I helped them move forward toward the rink.

They walked through the gate, stepped onto the ice, and began to shuffle their feet.  The rink's wall provided the support many of them needed to get going.
After our last student had stepped onto the ice, I stood back and watched.

Some students began to let go of the wall and tried to skate unsupported. Many fell, but all got back up, often with the help of friends.

Some students began to skate in partnerships, linking elbows or holding hands to help each other move around the rink.

Some students held tight to the wall, moving at a snail's pace...but moving nonetheless.

Before long, many (if not most) of the students had left the wall and had picked up speed. Some tried doing something fancy -- skating backwards, taking little jumps, mini-spins.  

You could literally feel the excitement in the air as these kiddos realized they could skate and that it was actually fun!

As I stood on the safety of the hard concrete and took it all in, I realized that what I was seeing before me was true growth mindset at work. It was the microcosm of our classroom applied to a new experience.

I stood as the encourager, choosing words that supported and reminded the kids of their ability to succeed. 

Everyone began using the wall as a support, but each let go at their own time.  Some took off right away, getting the hang of it and challenging themselves with fancier moves.  Others needed to hold on to the wall for a bit longer as they found their own groove that led to their success. Many needed the help of a friend to get going.

Words of "I can't do this" changed to "Look at me!"

I couldn't have planned this lesson if I tried.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Believe in Your Wings {Positive Thinking Thursday 5.12.16}

The Comfort Zone is overrated.

Sure, it's easy to hang out there -- you've certainly got lots of company -- but that's not where you were meant to stay. 

After awhile, the Comfort Zone becomes quite boring. 

Nothing new really happens. 

Routine is The Rule in the comfort zone.

But watch out -- You can get stale in the Comfort Zone if you're not careful.

Life in the comfort zone applies to our classrooms as well. 

Think about it...How much time do you spend doing the same thing day in and day out, staying stuck in a routine? 

How about your students? Do they know that the best learning often comes from taking chances and  trying to do new things? 

What is calling you to reach out? 

To leave your Comfort Zone?

Give yourself permission to try.

Give your students permission to try.

Believe in your wings.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Rollercoasters {SOL 5.10.16}

I'm a total baby when it comes to rollercoasters.

They've always terrified me.

When I was younger and would go to Six Flags Great America with my family, I remember waiting in line with my mom, dad, and sister, watching the people exit the line after riding. I would justify to myself that they survived the ride and nothing happened to them, so I would be fine.

Talk about a stretch.

Not riding was not a choice my mother offered to me. There would be no waiting at the exit gate as the rest of my family rode. I had to ride.

Now that I'm an adult, I don't have to ride any more. No one can make me.  If my family wants to ride, I will walk through the line with them and wait at the exit.
See that empty seat next to my husband? 
I'm not sure what it is about rollercoasters that scares me so much.

A few times, I have faced my fear and given rollercoasters another try. The result was always the same. I literally wedged myself into my seat as much as I could so I wouldn't move. I checked the lap bar a hundred times.  On the way up the lift, I kept my eyes closed tight so I couldn't see the ground becoming smaller as I moved higher. I screamed my head off as we drop, drop, dropped down the hill for fear that I would fly out of my seat.

It was not fun.

Yet I put a smile on as I walked down the exit line, just in case there was a little kid anxiously watching me, trying to work up the nerve to ride themselves.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Perseverance {Positive Thinking Thursday 5.05.16}

The days are winding down.

I don't have to look at a calendar to see it.

I can feel it.

Our students are perhaps a bit more chatty and perhaps a bit less enthusiastic about the lesson we have planned for the day.

But we have worked hard this year.  Our students have worked hard.

There's still a little work to do......

Finish strong!

      Keep going!

End big!

     We've got this!


{It's what we do.}

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

An Overdue Thank You {SOL 5.03.16}

To My Former Teachers,

This Teacher Appreciation Week, it is important that I stop and think of you and all you did to get me where I am today.  I'm sure I didn't fully appreciate you when I was your student, but now that I'm (just a little) older and (hopefully a lot) wiser, I want you to know that I think of you often and truly do appreciate your efforts.

To Ms. Mullen-Teofilo:  I was lucky enough to have you as my teacher for three years in a row.  You were the kind of teacher that I always wanted to be. You shared your love of Paddington the Bear and Mickey Mouse with all of us and even welcomed the whole class into your home for dinner. You taught me long division, how to read a newspaper, and how to write a play. We took a trip to Hawaii by turning our classroom into a mock airplane at the end of one of our science units. You were lightyears ahead of your time. You are the reason I am a teacher today.

To Ms. Seefeldt:  I don't think I would have made it through high school without you. You counseled me through a very bad break up with my first boyfriend and were always there whether I needed an open ear, an open mind, or open arms.

To Mr. Foss & Mr. McNally: As my high school English teachers, you infused me with a love of all things literacy. You taught me to write, to think critically, and to not take life so seriously. We read Shakespeare and Beowulf together and thought about qualities that a modern day Renaissance Man would possess. You are the reasons I majored in English once I went to college. (I'm also really sorry I gave you a hard time when you wanted me to go out for the girls' golf team. To this day, I still don't know how to golf, but I sure wish I had let you teach me.)

To Dr. Corey Thompson:  As I was preparing to enter the classroom, you taught me that classroom management doesn't have to be  about stoplights and "go move your clip," but rather about culture and community. I learned that "Kids don't care how much you know, until they know how much you care" and "It's your attitude, not your aptitude, that determines your altitude." You had us read Robert Marzano and Alfie Kohn to show us sides we had never considered.  Erin Gruwell and her Freedom Writers taught me about the power writing has to connect us to each other. Later, your undergrad students became pen pals with my 4th graders to get their advice on how to be a good teacher. Turns out, they never even needed to ask my kids -- They could learn just from watching you.

So to all my former teachers, whether you are mentioned here by name or not, I want to thank you. I stand on the shoulders of giants in my classroom every day, having learned from the best of the best so that I can be my best.  For that, you have my deepest gratitude.