Tuesday, October 25, 2016

These Books Changed My (Teaching) Life

Well, the Cubbies are in the the World Series and every day here at our Dorchester apartment I hear "Go Cubs, go!" The BF is a huge Cubs fan and as I may have mentioned before THIS IS THE YEAR! He's off with a friend from Cleveland to watch the game in neutral territory - our local pub.

I'm curled up with the kitties, game is definitely on, but figured I would catch up on some blogging.

Last week I read an article about a conversation overheard on the T (our subway) about teaching. While the two gentlemen in conversation clearly lack perspective, they, sadly, reflect what I believe is our society's current view of teaching. What I appreciated most about this letter was not the laundry list of completely true information about teachers - I feel like a lot of it has been said before. What really got me is that the writer owned up to the fact that she didn't even last as a teacher. I often read articles about education from folks who were in the profession for a year as their volunteer as an unqualified professional and totally devalue the profession of teaching in Teach for America, and act as the authority on education. Or they teach for one or two years to "get to know the job" so when they become a principal they can say they really know what it's like to be a teacher. While I appreciate their insight into this job I love, I cringe a little at their seemingly expert advice. One year, in one school, does not an educator make. Hell, I'm in my 12th year and I still feel like I am in the shallow end of the pool. (All opinions, btw are my own. Feel free to disagree with me. I'm open to hearing opinions. I have close friends who disagree with me on this notion of teaching experience and volunteering.)

In my years as an educator, there have been a few seminal books that drastically changed the way I thought about education and the way I worked as an educator. I have come back to these books time and time again and have even purchased updated versions as they are published. In addition to the numerous mentors, co-teachers and co-workers who have shaped my career - these books push me to think outside my frames of reference and help make teaching more than just a job - they help me create my craft.

The Explosive Child by Ross W. Greene

About a year ago, as a part of an ice breaker, teachers at my school were asked to share their worst job ever. I found it hard to pick a job - no, not because I disliked all previous jobs and definitely not because I loved them all. It was hard to pick because I learned and gained so much in every job I've had. I worked at a bakery for a miserable boss - but met Will the Pie Guy who taught me I have a right to learn. I worked for a principal who believed white flight was good for our school (yes, seriously). But I worked with a co-teacher who brought student-led conferences into my life. I worked in a school where the parents complained when I mistakenly called a progress report a report card and didn't I know how emotionally damaging that could be?? (I quit that school after a year.) That was the year The Explosive Child came into my life. My principal suggested I read it to gain insight into some heavy hitters in my class. It sparked one of my most dramatic shifts as a teacher. I learned moves as simple as rewording a sentence or how to change the inflection of my voice to help a child through a challenging moment. I learned to look for motivations behind behaviors and speak to those motivations, rather than my perception of a situation, in order to help a child change the way he or she reacts. The best part of this book? It not only helped me rethink how I approach students who are challenging, but it also greatly improved my communication with ALL students in my classroom.


Responsive Classroom

Responsive Classroom publishes a lot of books. I read, and reread, and reread The First Six Weeks of School and Yardsticks: Children in the classroom ages 4 - 14 every single year. I read their blog religiously. Responsive Classroom offers suggestions for creating a classroom culture safe and welcoming to all students. Setting up a structured Morning Meeting, fair consequences, and more, are some of the ways in which teachers can learn how to turn a classroom into a place and space that feels like home. Yardsticks, specifically, focuses on developmental changes that often occur during each year of a child's life. Not sure why your students have such a difficult time working in groups? Maybe they are developmentally at a stage where they value independence. Some of these developmental suggestions can feel a bit culture specific, but the book offers great insight into what might be happening with a student in your classroom. I copy chapters for parents, I give copies to co-workers, and I reread every single year.

Leaders of Their Own Learning: Transforming schools through student engaged assessment by Ron Berger, Leah Rugen, and Libby Woodfin

One of my challenging years as a teacher - another silver lining was a visit to the Odyssey School of Denver, an Expeditionary Learning school. Teachers in our school were sent for a two-day conference all about assessment. Up until this point, I strongly believed that "data" and "assessment" meant high-stakes standardized testing. The world, and importance, of assessment was opened up for me that weekend. I observed the P.E. teacher assessing students, on the spot, about basketball skills and teamwork. I saw a 4th grade class use a student critique lesson to asses their own writing. No longer did assessment mean high-stakes testing. Assessing was important at every step of the teaching process. How else can we know if a student is making progress if we aren't able to assess their understanding? This year I am introducing data folders, critique lessons, and student-led conferences in kindergarten. While preparing, I felt like my knowledge was very 4th grade specific so I ordered this book last week to fill in some gaps. Holy moly was I blown away. I read the entire book in 2 days. On Sunday night, when I usually have the Sunday-Night-Blues, I was excitedly awaiting Monday so I could start to make small steps toward implementing ideas from this book. That is the highest recommendation I could offer.

My classroom is far from perfect. I struggle to implement some of the best practices I so desperately want to use. I find I am still playing catch up in my first year in kindergarten. When I finally have one unit somewhat planned - something is right around the corner. Did you know I have report cards next week!?! I don't even know what they look like in kindergarten. (You definitely know where to find me this weekend.)

Me - on report card week

What about you? What books have shaped your teaching? Not a teacher (hi Mom!)? Tell me books that have shaped your life!

(P.S. Honorable mention goes to Other People's Words: The cycle of low literacy by Victoria Purcell-Gates, exploring the notion of the invisible minority - white, urban, Appalachian children and Reading with Meaning by Debbie Miller, an in-depth look at teaching comprehension in lower grades. I read Reading with Meaning again this summer and I just about cried it is so beautifully done and so stinking inspiring.) 

Sunday, October 16, 2016

It's Not Me, It's You

Dear Facebook Friends,
 We need to take a break. I've noticed in the last few months you have changed. You aren't the Facebook Friends I used to know. It's ok if you still see other people - I won't be mad at all. But you should know I've deleted you from my phone and I won't see if you send me notifications. I mean, I still care for you all, so I'll check in from time to time to make sure you are ok. But I just need some space.
 You might ask what it was you did wrong. It's just that, well, your new friend, the Political Campaign, is really negative. Every day when I open you up to look for updates on adventures I am bombarded by negative comments. Your use of profanity is at an all time high. Trump is racist and abusive to women. Hillary, also known as Killary, is a big fat liar. Everybody thinks they know the right thing and everyone else is basically a stinky doo-doo-head. Friends make claims, on both sides and third sides, that if you support Trump/Hillary/Johnson/Stein/FillInTheBlank, you are the worst piece of filth to walk the planet. Friends I love, friends who I know are full of love, who have shown me love, are spewing hate at other friends simply because they disagree. Honestly, Facebook Friends, you just don't make me happy anymore.
  I used to think the few political comments would educate me and I tried to read the news articles you posted, thinking I might be educated. Now, I think the news is against us. Nobody is being educated. People are just mad. I long for the days when I joked about the millions of pictures of babies, cliche inspirational quotes, and minute-by-minute updates on all the food everyone was eating.
  Facebook Friends, your new personality is just too much for me. I tried to skip past all the politics but it's exhausting. So I'm spending my time taking care of me. Here's a few things you should know are still happening in the world.

* Today I saw a young family walking up to a house that was for sale. I smiled at the thought of their excitement in starting over.

Our living room, feeling like home

* Dogs are still hanging out backseat windows, letting the wind wildly blow their fur.

* The air in New England, as it should, smells of cinnamon and apple pie. You should take a break from politics and peep those leaves. Gorgeous.

Vermont we love you

Public Garden - yesterday

Get off your Facebook and walk under leaves

* Soups and casseroles and warm dishes are on the rise as the temperatures start to drop.

* Humans are still being creative and inspiring. In the past seven days, I have seen one unbelievably talented band rock a crowd like no other, a spirit moving tiny concert in which a mother looked with joy at her daughter as they both sang their hearts out, and a children's author talk about the silliness surrounding his art.
Lake Street Dive - always the best (Thanks for the pic, BF!)

Amel Larrieux and her daughter Sky - simply beautiful

Hanging out with Jon Klassen, nbd

* Cats still cuddle. They don't care about the election.

So, I am sorry Facebook friends, but I'm not sorry. There is far too much beauty and joy and happiness and love for me to believe in your incessant negativity. I hope someday you will find happiness again.