To My Daughter

OK. My daughter read a recent post I wrote on this blog and she says I’m too hard on myself. Instead of beating myself up about what didn’t go well in my classroom she wants me to celebrate all the things that do go well. So, here it goes, my end-of-year present to myself – a list of all the positive things that have transpired this year, not in order of importance, with little or no additional commentary from me.

1. A parent who could not attend the recent literacy session I did for families asked when I was doing the next one because she’d heard the first one was very informative.
2. Our last Professional Learning Community (PLC) meeting went really well; I shifted the focus to teacher practice and pedagogy.
3. My students freely give each other appreciations during closing circle.
4. My most challenging student is gradually and successfully becoming a valued and valuable member of our class.
5. Five students have made considerable progress in their spelling development.
6. Many children are using Junior Writer at home.
7. Although perpetually overwhelmed with everything that I do, I am less stressed out than many of my colleagues.
8. I’m spending more quality time with my husband and I love it! (This might have something to do with item #7 above.)
9. I have augmented our regular classroom academic program with various “expert visits” by my students’ family members.
10. I am finally starting to feel like a graduate student – loving it more every day.
11. I am proud of myself for juggling various hats and sticking to my principles.

New Year’s Resolutions
1. To get back to an exercise routine.
2. To keep writing, a little bit every day, as it keeps me focused and energized.
3. To continue to find the balance between my home and school lives.

Closing Circle

At the end of the day we have a closing circle in my classroom. It is intended to give the children and me a moment of quiet and reflection at the end of the day in the same way that morning meeting energizes us to spend the day learning and playing together. Depending on how much time we have for closing circle – I find that 5 – 7 minutes is just right – we may do a quick check in about our day by putting our thumbs up for an excellent day or thumbs sideways for a good or OK day. If we are not rushed then I will may ask the kids to answer the following question: what will you share about your day with your families tonight? Lately, we’ve been doing appreciations or thank you’s. The only provisos are that you appreciate someone who is present in the room, that you start your appreciation by saying, “(Child’s name), I appreciate you for…”, and that you look that person in the eyes as you speak to them.

I’ve noticed that the children’s comments have been limited to appreciating their friends for playing with them at recess. As a start this was OK but I remind them to notice what others do during the day that merits an appreciation. The day I mentioned this there was a flurry of appreciations related to other than recess play but that didn’t go any further than that moment. I have tried to remember to talk about this at morning meeting but I haven’t been successful. I will be writing this down on my first day plan back to school in January.

Our last closing circle before the winter holidays reminded me to remain vigilant of everything that we do in the classroom for how it affects the children, either positively or negatively. Here’s what happened: one little girl appreciated a classmate for playing with her and the child being appreciated breathed a big sigh of relief and said, “Finally! Someone’s appreciating me!” My heart sank at the same moment that I recognized a teaching opportunity and before the next child could hurry in to get his appreciation, I said: “OK. Let’s stop for a moment, here. Susan (not the child’s real name), how did it feel to be appreciated?” She said, “Good.” Not a very deep response but nevertheless it gets at the core of how it feels for others to show their appreciation for us: it feels good. I then reminded the children to notice others’ actions during the school day and to remember to appreciate those children during closing circle. It always amazes me how just when you think they haven’t noticed or don’t seem to care they really do.

I will help the children make a list of things that others do that merit an appreciation, either publicly or privately, and point these out when I notice them in the classroom. Hopefully, their appreciations will become more genuine over time. Just like math and reading, social interactions need to be modelled and taught.

On a last note…a few days one one of my more challenging students went up to a parent who had given a presentation on her work to our class that morning, and said: “I want to give you an appreciation. I appreciate you for coming to our class and teaching us about the operating room.”

Such are the melodious moments of teaching.

Student Reflection

At the end of every marking period, my grade 2 team asks students to give themselves report card marks on a modified one-page sheet with descriptors similar to those on the report card that teachers are required to complete. The children score themselves on a scale of 1 – 5 in the same way that we teachers do on the report cards. As part of my doctoral work I am reading an article entitled, Rewriting narratives of self: reflections from an action research study by James Pauline, Educational Action Research, 7: 1, 85 – 103 in which the researcher recounts his back and forth use of quantitative and qualitative data, and how the qualitative data gave him more useful and interesting information than was available from the quantitative data. He especially remarks on the fact that the numbers and rankings gleaned from the quantitative data are beside the point to the information he gets from the conversations, written reflections, and comments of his research participants. While he initially surmised that the quantitative data would support and perhaps even reinforce the qualitative data he quickly discovered that, if anything was true, it was the opposite. In fact, my conclusion is that the quantitative data simply adds work but does not enlighten the process and conclusions of a research project.

Therefore, I am rethinking my use of what we call the “self-report card”. Instead of using this scoring system I will give the children a few statements to comment on as part of the next report card reflection period. Currently, there are over 15 items on the self-report card. I will need to sift through these items and pick out the most cogent ones, possibly rewriting them to elicit deeper levels of reflection by my students. I am excited by this plan. I realize that I was merely going through the motions of what my team had put in place years before and I have followed unquestioningly. It’s time to break the mold.

Morning Message

Last month I attended the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) annual conference in Orlando, Florida. I am one of three newly elected members to the Elementary Section Steering Committee (ESSC). The NCTE annual conference is one of my favorite conferences. It provides for three days of excellent professional development and conversation, and the possibility of meeting like-minded educators who continually explore their practice in order to improve it. And, it’s an opportunity to catch up with old friends. I always learn a lot when I go.

This year I attended a session where a first grade teacher shared how she uses morning message to build classroom community. I was so energized and excited by her presentation that I decided to try this out in my classroom. I told my students about this session and that I wanted them to write the morning message from now on. I told them that I thought their messages would be more interesting than mine and that it was a way to tell the class about themselves. I guided the first three students by reviewing how we write a greeting, the date, and a farewell. After that no one has needed any help.

The messages vary in length but they all convey something important to the writer. After each child writes his or her message we read it and discuss what we learned about the student who wrote it. It has been wonderful watching each child look forward to writing his or her message, and the growing interest exhibited by the rest of the class in discussing what they’ve discovered about each other. So far, we have learned about Chinese school, swimming lessons, and holiday preparations, to name a few. In today’s message, the word “I” and the child’s name were written in Chinese!

Every day I look forward to reading what that day’s morning message will be. If you don’t already do this in your class you may want to give it a try. It is a great way to engage children in an authentic reading and writing activity and to build community at the same time.

Every once in a while

Every once in a while a student does something wonderful that sends my head spinning. Usually, this incident is out of character and even though you hope he’ll do this precise thing he’s just done some day, you’re just not prepared for it when it happens. You hope that it will happen even if you are not the one to witness it. But you don’t hold your breath because you might just be disappointed. When it does happen you suck in your breath and hold it there for a moment not believing your ears and your eyes. But, there it is. The moment you’ve been hoping for: a student takes the initiative to verbalize his appreciation for someone else without being prodded, enticed, encouraged, coached or any of the other things we do in the hopes that, if we do them often enough, they’ll stick.

“What a great holiday gift,” someone said. So true!