Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Is it what I want, or what I think THEY want?

As the end of the 3rd week of the 2014-2015 school year approaches, I've found myself reflecting on this year and years past.  I've always enjoyed each year and all of my students, in good times and bad.  Of course, I've complained and wondered, "Why in the world did so-and-so do this?", or "How in the heck did that go wrong?" and even thought, "What am I doing wrong?" (This last one probably most often)

My first and second year were stressful.  Most new teachers first years are.  They are full of new learning, experimenting, and figuring things out.  Of course, these things stressed me out... but this year, I figured out that during these years I was mostly stressed not because of kids behaviors, or because of parents, or all of the work that teaching is... I was stressed because of what I THOUGHT my classroom HAD to be like.

I worried about every time someone walked into my classroom and if they saw what THEY expected.  If they would say that I was a bad teacher because of what they saw.  I thought that I had to have a clip chart, and I had to have kids sitting silently doing a reader's response at there desks, and there must not be any talking or moving during writing.  After all, it was what I saw when I walked into most other classrooms of teachers who "had control". This thinking coming from me is pretty surprising because I was the one to never follow "the plan".  I always take risks and try new things.... but I was still always worried about what other people thought of my classroom and stressing about making it what they want it to be.

Then this year came along.  I decided I was dropping the clip chart, and ya know, I really want my Students to build a LOVE of reading and become book worms; not reader's response robots.  I want my students to talk and collaborate.. be messy and creative.. to share ideas and get ideas from others.  I want them to take risks and not be afraid of failing in front of a room of peers.  I don't mind students sitting on my back counter to do their work or under the couch.  I don't expect them to be quiet, or even neat if that works for them.  I DO expect them to be kind, compassionate, hard workers who give everything they do their all.  I expect them to make their own choices (with guidance-of course) and know that they are in charge of themselves. The learning is fun and not a worksheet filled hole.  This is my classroom, this is our classroom, this is where we learn.  And I have to tell you; this year has been so much LESS stressful!  Why? Because instead of worrying about what everyone expects of my classroom, I thought about MY expectations and realized that I'm happy with my classroom and how it runs.  And if at any point I am not happy with it, then I will change it...but I won't change my room for anyone other than myself and my students. Because what works for us is what is best.

I also attribute this stress-less attitude to my amazing PLN all over the world.  I have to thank you for helping me believe in myself and who I am as an educator because I was starting to doubt who I really was...  (@tritonkory @sjbates @btcostello05, @mrkempz, @Theweirdteacher, @candylandcaper, @johnwick, @wyowayne68, @RusulAlrubail just to name a very small few)

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Our First Week

We made it through our first week of the 2014-2015 school year! Hooray.  It was such a great, successful week.  I think it's one of the best starts to a school year yet!  This week we spent a lot of time building routines, going over expectations, and building a positive classroom community! Here are a few pictures from our week!

I always love to take a picture of my kiddos sometime the first week and then the last week to show them how much they've grown/changed!

Each morning, we make 3 nominations of classmates who did an excellent job the day before.  Maybe they helped a friend or someone just noticed they worked really hard.  Then one of them gets chosen to turn on our Creative Minds Light.  I'll be getting one of the neon plug in boards to put up but for now this works.  We chant "Flip that Sign" and do a little fireworks cheer when it gets turned on to symbolize the start of our day.

We spent a lot of time this week talking about what our mascot "Splash" would encourage us to do.  We are in the process of implementing PBIS and our 5 expectations are "Be Respectful, Be Responsible, Be Safe, Be Engaged, and Be a Leader"

We've been focusing on our routines in all parts of our day.  Eventually, our workshops will encompass many things going on at once, but for now we all do the same things at the same time until we get the hang of it!  Watching video from the end of the year last year I was amazed at all of the different things going on and working effectively in my classroom during a workshop (even when I thought maybe they weren't) and I can't wait to see these kids doing the same things!

I haven't quite been able to figure out a Math routine that truly works for me so I'm hoping this year will be it!  We do a warm-up which can be a number talk, problem solving, or fact quiz.  Our Movement skill helps us practice skip counting, counting by 1's, facts, etc.  Then our lesson.  After the lesson, students will fill out an exit tickets that will help me form intervention groups for the next day.  Followed by work time where they might be creating games, working at workstations, on the computers, or any number of things.

One of my favorite things from this week is learning about how we are all beautiful and unique...but that together we create the beautiful masterpiece that is our classroom.  We put together this piece of art that will hopefully stay up all year (heat and tape, be good to me!) We read 2 stories, ! (yes that's the name- if you haven't heard of it, check it out!) and The Crayons that Talked.  While I worked with a few students at a time, the entire class was spread across the classroom all working on a collaborative piece of art...Working together at its finest.  It made me smile from ear to ear!

And just a few more pictures from our week...

A little reading time...

Everyone wants to sit in the library! No room!

Overall the week was absolutely exhausting but really wonderful!  I'm looking forward to see what week 2 brings us! :)

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Come tour my classroom!

It's hard to believe that tomorrow is the day.  The first day of the 2014-2015 school year.  It seems like it was only yesterday that I was saying "See ya later" to last year kiddos, oh how I will miss them!  But now it's time for a whole new group of lovely students and a new start.  I have big plans for this year and I'm super excited to get started!  

I thought I would take you on a little tour of my classroom today... :)

Above is our calendar, objectives, schedule, and our supply area.  The empty white shelves will house all of our journals, our writing binder, and our data folders.  The blue and green bins are our book boxes!  And of course, the board is lined with all of our beginning of the year read alouds.

This lovely adorable light is our symbol for when we are hard at work.  We'll turn it on in the morning during our morning meeting and turn it off before we leave for the day.  Unfortunately it's not as bright as I thought so I'm going to have to try to look for something else, but this will work for now!

The students desks are all ready for the first day!  Many students brought their supplies to our "Meet the teacher" on Thursday, but others were not able to make it so tomorrow morning might be a little chaotic.  I don't like to make the first morning too demanding because I'll need to talk to parents, organize supplies, etc.. so they are this adorable little coloring sheet to work on.

Our cubbies that hold our backpacks and jackets.  This was built for our class by one of my students and his dad!

This is normally our collaboration station, the place where students will work when it is otherwise independent work time.  It is covered in supplies that my students brought on Thursday right now.

Our math tools/games are stored on this shelf.  It has anything students will need for math: unfix cubes, tiles, dice, money, counters, place value blocks, rulers.  

Our small group table/ my area.  Hopefully I can keep this clean!

Lunch choice board. (Ignore the collection on top tehehe!)

Our library area with lots of comfy seating is above.  In the corner by the couch you can see a collection of folding chairs the students will be able to use.  You can also see that the sheet was messed up after Meet the Teacher - I really need to get it stapled!!

Word Wall!  Soon it will be full of words and students will be able to interact with those words.  This is the first year I'm implementing this word wall in addition to their personal dictionaries.

One of our computer stations.

Whole group area.  We're going to attempt to sit in a circle this year instead of in the squares to create more of a family atmosphere.  I think this will also keep students more accountable because everybody will be able to see them the whole time we are on the carpet. I'm just not sure there is enough room for 23 students + me, we shall see. 

2 students tables and our mailboxes / important notes turn in spot behind them.

This is what you see when you enter into my classroom.  We got our stability balls in January this past year and we absolutely loved them! 

First week begins tomorrow.  I can't wait to get started with my new students and make this year even more epic than the last!

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Building excitement before the first day

The anticipation of a new school year can always bring some nerves and worries (for both teachers and students).... As my students new teacher, I find it my duty to change that anticipation from worried to excited and the yearning to get back into the classroom ASAP. This all starts with my welcome letter!

I like to tell my students that I've thought about them, that I can't wait to spend the year together, and that I have high expectations for our class. This makes them want to be in my class. It  makes them want to come to school. It makes them want to do their best. Here is my welcome letter from this past year....

I feel that this letter builds a sense of belonging, the feeling of confidence, and a certain camaraderie in our room that general welcome letters don't  accomplish. Every child that walked into my room this afternoon during Meet the Teacher gave me the biggest hug with a ginormous smile on their face. Not one said that were not excited to start the school year, and that, to me, is one of the very best feelings in the world & one of the most important things I can do for my students.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Why I'm giving up the color charts

First let me start by saying I have never been a fan of the color chart. You know the one I'm talking about. The one where the kids start on green and move to blue for an great job or yellow for misbehaving. I tried it my first year and I failed miserably at implementing it. In fact, I gave it up 
Halfway through the year. Why? Because the kids who were always good we're always on green or blue, and the kids who struggled a bit more were always on yellow or red. Changing their color didn't change their behavior. I couldn't move Annie anymore for laying on the carpet when she is usually up not paying attention just because Duncan is always paying attention and if he did it, he would move to yellow...

I've been struggling with this battle for the past few weeks. How am I going to motivate these students and keep them accountable? What will I reward them, what will be their consequences? I knew it had to be something that wasn't too time consuming or demanding on me ( I already have enough I need to do and keeping up with 1 more thing is just not feasible). Then, I was talking with some great educators on Twitter...

"I don't use a system, I just build strong relationships, have high expectations, and teach my students them" is what they told me. "we have family meetings, learn to solve problems, and they don't want to feel that feeling they get when I am disappointed in them... They want to be happy, they want to make me happy, they want to have fun!" 

Intriguing... No incentives and no set in stone consequences (they need to be logical anyway - otherwise the students won't learn)

So, in true me form: I asked questions, I did research, I became more intrigued, I became energized!

If I spend even more time at the beginning of the year building our class family, helping students understand how our classroom should look like, feel like, in order for us to all be successful, if I taught them the true value behind compliments, a high five, a good grade, feeling confident...then we would all feel rewarded every single day without the silly stickers , pencils, or other things they may pick from the "treasure chest" that they play with for 1 day then forget all about tomorrow.  I want to create learners who are excited about school, excited about learning, and who feel that a "Great Job" is much more treasure than any tattoo they grab out of the treasure chest. 

Of course, kids will misbehave, kids will need consequences, I will need to solve problems and figure out how it best help my students...but this is a challenge I am ready to take on full force...because I believe that in the long run, this decision is going to make a long lasting, positive impact on my classroom and the lives of every student who steps foot inside my classroom.

I will be sharing my journey through this year with no "formal" behavior plan in my room. I hope you'll stop back, check my progress, and maybe I can energize and inspire you, too, to give up your color chart for good!

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Book of the Month Display: Another Bright Idea!

I love this time of the month (mostly because it's the only time where I am forced to actually get on here and blog)... I have to admit that the end of the year has me extremely exhausted and is keeping me quite busy.  I just finished coordination our schools first annual talent show.  Our students performed on the same stage as Ike and Tina Turner (We have quite a historic school!)  Sooo that's mostly why I am exhausted and absent from the world of blogging. I do have to say that getting these flowers from one family made the whole thing completely worth it (along with the smiles of performing kiddo)... This families Kindergartner came up to me and said, "I got you roses!"  Melt my heart!

Well, why don't we stop talking about how exhausted I am and talk about this seriously awesome bright ideas hop!!

Is this your first stop, second, fiftieth?  How many bright ideas are filling up your notebook? :)

Today I am bringing you a quick little idea to display books every month.  Each month, my book display changes based on what we are working on.  To go along with it, I put up a little sign to remind my kids what type of literature we are learning about.  Here is my April one (that stayed into May because we were super behind!)

I simple hang it over my display case and the kids can see it all month long (then it gets engraved into the brains! muahahaha)

Well, why not head on to another stop & pick up another bright idea?  There are over 100 to choose from!  Go ahead, don't stop here!  Choose your topic, choose your grade, the choice is up to you!

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Dear First Year Me...

I recently joined the May "Talks with Teachers" challenge to refresh my teaching soul.  Our first challenge is to write a letter to ourselves our first year of teaching.  It was just 2 years ago that I began on my journey, but here goes...

A letter to my July 2012 self:

Your first year of teaching is going to be full of joy, happiness, laughter, epic lessons, exhaustion, stress, many bad lessons, and difficult decisions.  I know you will pour your whole heart into this career, doing everything you can for these kids.  You will stay at school late, go in early, and stay up until crazy hours- just to be sure that everything you need for the following day, week, project  is the best you could possibly do.  You will research tons of blogs every night, to find the best possible way to teach that math concept or reading strategy.  Know that those long, late nights won't always turn out the way you expected them to but that doesn't mean you are a failure.  You are a first year teacher and will learn from those lessons gone wrong.  Cut yourself some slack.  You can't always be on your game, even though you try to be.

In your first year, you will lose 3 of your students and gain another (which will prove to be difficult transitions on their own, know that you did all you could for all 3 of these students- especially one in particular: you will know her when you see her - She will test your patience and drive you crazy, but she will also make you laugh and smile everyday with her hugs, smile, and appreciation of you- she is one that needs you the most), you'll deal with difficult behaviors (don't worry, you learn the best ways to handle these by building strong relationships with your students and holding high expectations) and a new curriculum (Everyone else is on this boat with you!).  You'll also deal with, what I guess you can call, "tough" parents, but they only want what is best for their child, listen to them...then don't be afraid to tell them what you see as well because you want what's best for them too! 

Even though this year will be difficult and exhausting, you will have many things to celebrate.  You and your students will have fun learning.  You will laugh, joke, dance, and smile.  You will plan exciting, engaging lessons and projects, and sometimes even be late to lunch because you are all having so much fun that you lose track of time.  Your students will tell you how much they love you and what a great teacher you are (especially when you are feeling like the worst teacher in the world).  And though you don't feel like it at the end of the year, know you have made an impact on those 22 little 8 year olds.  You showed them how much you truly cared (and always will care) about them, and taught them a whole lot more than just the curriculum.  These babies will put a stamp on your heart forever and you on theirs.

So this year, don't be so hard on yourself.  Reach out if you need help.  Don't be afraid of people "judging" you: we are all in this thing together.  And last, be proud of being a teacher, it is the most important job anyone could ever do.


Your Future Self