I Can Finally Reveal…

The new cover of my 2nd edition!

A log story short, but my first book Passionate Learners will finally come out as a print version and a e-book in September!  Not only that but it will be relased on Amazon and internationally.  I was overwhelmed by the positive response that the book had when it came out in 2014, even as it was released just in e-book version, but so thrilled that I will finally be able to hold it in my hands.

Along with it coming out as a print book, it has been updated, thus the 2nd edition!  Being a middle school teacher has allowed me to really expand upon some of the ideas as I have met my biggest challenge in the classroom with my 7th graders, and I mean that in the best of ways.  I loved re-writing this book, coming up with new ideas and adding more of the journey that I am on for empowering and engaging students.  My students are a part of this book as well and I am so grateful for their words and how I have been given the chance to let them speak to teachers all around the globe.  I am so thankful to Routledge for taking a chance with me and this book.  Let the book release countdown begin!

Drumroll please…

I am a passionate teacher in Oregon, Wisconsin, USA but originally from Denmark,  who has taught 4th, 5th, and 7th grade.  Proud techy geek, and mass consumer of incredible books. Creator of the Global Read Aloud Project, Co-founder of EdCamp MadWI, and believer in all children.  The second edition of my first book “Passionate Learners – Giving Our Classrooms Back to Our Students” will be published by Routledge in the fall.   Second book“Empowered Schools, Empowered Students – Creating Connected and Invested Learners” is out now from Corwin Press.  Join our Passionate Learners community on Facebook and follow me on Twitter @PernilleRipp.

#WhatIWishAmericaKnew

I read the note cards and my heart sank; the what I wish my teacher knew note cards coming from a 3rd grade classroom that spoke of lives so much harder than that of my own children.  Of wishes that seem so basic yet mean so much to the life of a child; a pencil, a friend, a parent.  After spending many hours thinking about it while gardening, I realized that my heart is sad that these are the stories of those children and so many others.  And even sadder that, as Rafranz Davis pointed out, no concern has been given to the privacy of the parents of those children or what the full story is behind the note cards, yet what upset me the most was how surprised people are that kids may have these stories to share.  That these are the things they wish their teachers knew.

So what I wish America knew is that when we speak of children living in poverty, children whose families have split apart, or children who have no friends, we are not speaking about children in other countries.  We are not speaking of some kids that live somewhere, but children that are in our communities, attending our schools.

What I wish America knew is that when poverty comes out as the biggest cause of educational failure the researchers are not joking.   They have not made up the data that says that poverty is one of the biggest inhibitors for any child to be successful in life.

What I wish America knew is that we should be ashamed that we live in one of the world’s richest countries, yet we have 30 million children living in poverty

What I wish America knew is that none of those note cards should have been startling.  We have kids with lives that we cannot even fathom residing in our classrooms every day.  Why are we so surprised?  We seem to forget the stories of the children we teach when we leave our classrooms.  At least we bear witness, it is a lot harder to pretend that poverty, loneliness, or broken apart families do not destroy lives when you aren’t faced with it every single day.  Trying to pick up the pieces and help a child find success.

In the end, the prompt has spurned on so many to ask their students what they wish their teachers knew, yet I wonder where the bigger story is.  Are we in an educational time where the mad rush for covering content so deeply, testing so much, and always pushing kids to do more, be more, dream more, that we have no time to speak to our students?  That building community and really getting to know the kids we are lucky enough to teach is something we simply don’t have time for anymore?  So I wish America knew that we only get one chance to raise these kids.  And even if a kid is not ours, we all share the responsibility for trying to help them find a better life and help them pursue their dream.  That is what I wish we all knew.

I am a passionate teacher in Oregon, Wisconsin, USA but originally from Denmark,  who has taught 4th, 5th, and 7th grade.  Proud techy geek, and mass consumer of incredible books. Creator of the Global Read Aloud Project, Co-founder of EdCamp MadWI, and believer in all children.  The second edition of my first book “Passionate Learners – Giving Our Classrooms Back to Our Students” will be published by Routledge in the fall.   Second book“Empowered Schools, Empowered Students – Creating Connected and Invested Learners” is out now from Corwin Press.  Join our Passionate Learners community on Facebook and follow me on Twitter @PernilleRipp.

Let’s Discuss Class Dojo For a Moment

I get asked a lot about my feelings about Class Dojo and whether or not I use it.  I think it has to do with my very public stance on the use of public rewards and public punishment, which can be a component of this program.  So I am finally taking the plunge; let’s discuss Class Dojo for a moment.

I have never used Class Dojo, which is why I hesitate to give my opinion, yet that very opinion is why I won’t use it.  My first hesitation is cemented in the public ranking system that it uses. As a parent of a child who often has more energy than her peers, I can only imagine how she would feel if her name was constantly shown to be on the bottom because she is that kid that talks out of turn or gets out of her seat.  Ranking her would not help her curb those behaviors, nor make her more aware, she knows already, she works on it every single day, and yes, she feels bad.  She is also 6 years old and can only focus on so much at a time.   As a teacher who gave up public punishment and rewards five years ago, I don’t see the need for any child to know how another child is doing in a class.  I don’t think it fosters community. I don’t think it makes kids feel good about their role in the classroom.  I know that some will argue that having a visual reminder of how they are doing, much like a public behavior chart, is just fine, yet the parent heart in my breaks.  Visual reminders of consequences is one thing, but having students names attached to the levels of behavior is another.  Yes, kids should be held accountable for their actions, but if we use a system that often ranks children and we don’t see a change in their behavior then that ranking does not work.

My second hesitation is the time factor.  I cannot imagine spending time in my day entering in behavior information for every child and handing them points for both good and bad behavior, even if there is an app for my phone.  I cannot imagine trying to track student engagement through a program, I track that through my eyes and my reading of the classroom all the time.  I teach 130+ students, if I had to enter points or take them away every time they did something good or bad, that is all I would do.  Plus, in my own experience with point systems, I almost always forgot to award good points which meant that once again my focus was just on the negative behaviors.  Praise, in my opinion, should be delivered immediately and be sincere, not entered on a computer.  I have seen kids light up because I noticed something they did, and I have seen praise spread from child to child just because someone said something.  While behavior is an essential part of our day it should be an undercurrent, constantly running, not a major focus all day, every day.  I wonder, does this program bring behavior into the spotlight so much that it takes up more time than it needs to?

My third, and final, major hesitation is the direct communication to parents through the reports.  I am a huge believer in thorough parent communication, but I wonder whether parents need to be able to check on their child’s behavior every single day, every single moment.  I think back to my own school days and my “off days,” where I was glad that my mother didn’t always know.  Not because she would punish me if she did, but because it gave me a chance to have an off day and still be ok.  To change my behavior because I wanted to, not because I was told to do so by my mother.   I also worry about those few kids that do face major consequences from parents if they are seemingly misbehaving.  Those students where any small infractions causes physical harm or deprivation in their home environment.  Sure, this does not happen with every child, but for some it does.  Class Dojo highlights it product with this line “Get parents informed and on your side quickly and easily.”  Yet, I didn’t know parents weren’t on our side, or that sides even had to be taken?  If parents are on our side, who are we fighting against?  The kids?  Finally, as a parent, I would not want to know how my child does every single day.  I trust that she is having good days unless I am told otherwise.  She is often the first one to tell me if she gets in trouble, which leads to a good conversation about choices.  If I knew every single day about every single thing, I wonder how hyper-focused I would become?  What would my focus be when my kid came home from school?

Yet, within my doubts about the positives of this program, I have also met good teachers that have implemented it in a meaningful way, where they have not used the ranking, nor made it public, but rather used it as way to track behaviors within the classroom.  I have discussed it with teachers that have made the program their own and swear by it.  I am not here to judge those teachers, but instead start a discussion.  So if you are one of those teachers, please add your voice, because in the end, I wonder whether a program like Class Dojo is good for students?  Not for teachers or for parents because that is not who school is for, but for students?  Is this program, or something similar, re-engaging students in their classrooms, creating positive learning environments for all, and creating permanent changes in behavior?  Or is it one more tool to punish those kids that already have enough negativity associated with schools?  What do you say?  What is your experience?

I am a passionate teacher in Oregon, Wisconsin, USA but originally from Denmark,  who has taught 4th, 5th, and 7th grade.  Proud techy geek, and mass consumer of incredible books. Creator of the Global Read Aloud Project, Co-founder of EdCamp MadWI, and believer in all children.  The second edition of my first book “Passionate Learners – Giving Our Classrooms Back to Our Students” will be published by Routledge in the fall.   Second book“Empowered Schools, Empowered Students – Creating Connected and Invested Learners” is out now from Corwin Press.  Join our Passionate Learners community on Facebook and follow me on Twitter @PernilleRipp.

The Story of A Poster – How Hanging a Consequence Poster Changed the Way I Taught

I remember the poster well,  I had spent more than an hour on it, I had really taken my time to make sure each letter was meticulously printed, outlined, and filled in with sharpie.  In fact, I had started over several times when the result was not quite as eye catching as I wanted it to be.  I remember sending the poster through the laminator holding my breath a bit, after all, sometimes that pesky laminator ate all of my hard work.  Not this time though; this poster made it through and now graced the best location on my wall; right above the sink so that every single time a student washed their hands or threw something out, this poster would catch their eye.   In fact, it hung in the one spot that you could see all the way from the hallway; any person who walked by the classroom would know what mattered most to us.  What was this magical poster that I was so proud of, you may ask?  My consequences for breaking the rules.

Yup, my first two years of teaching the one thing I was most proud off was the poster that stated what would happen if you misbehaved in my classroom.  I loved it.  I thought it sent a clear message to the students about the type of classroom they were in, who held the power, and just what the expectations would be every single day.  I loved that it was the first thing people noticed, after all, that must have meant that others knew how serious I was about classroom management.  That although I was a new teacher, I knew how to control these 4th graders.

I loved the message it sent because it certainly sent one loud and clear; every day my students knew that they could be punished.  That if they screwed up there would be consequences.  That the whole class would know if they had done something wrong, because the very first consequence was to write your name on the board.  If you broke the rules again a check mark got added, and if you broke the rules one more time then it was an automatic phone call home, in front of the class.  Infractions included talking during class, leaving the class without permission, and any kind of rude behavior.  If you were a kid who had trouble sitting still, your name was almost always on the board by the end of the day.  The poster ruled the day.

After two years, when I changed the way I taught, I pulled down that poster.  Terrified of the future and breaking the rules, yet I knew there had to be a better way to handle misbehaviors than what the poster said.  That check-marks and names on the board was not a way to build community, but instead splintered it every single day.  My students didn’t need the constant reminder, they already knew that there were behavior expectations.  They already knew who the teacher was.  They already knew how to behave in school.  What they needed to know instead was that there was also flexibility.  That I saw them as a whole person and not as a person to be controlled or punished into behaving.

When I first hung the consequence poster on my wall, I thought it signaled strength, management, and someone who was on top of their teaching game.  What I didn’t realize was all of the other things it signaled as well.  That this was my classroom, my rules, and that they didn’t have a say in how situations would be handled because the rules were clear.  It told them that every situation, no matter the back-story, would be given the same consequences no matter what.    By hanging that poser on the wall, I could never make my students believe that this was our classroom because the poster would always signal otherwise. It made a liar out of me.

Five years without a consequence poster on my wall and I have no regrets.  My students have shown me that they know who the teacher is, what the expectations are, and that this is a community of learners.   They know if they make poor decisions there will be consequences, but more than likely those consequences will be figured out with them, not thrust upon them without hesitation.  They know that the rest of the class no longer needs to know who is in trouble, because it is a private matter.  I pulled down a poster so that my students would finally believe that within these four walls, we share the control.  Are you able to pull down yours?

I am a passionate teacher in Oregon, Wisconsin, USA but originally from Denmark,  who has taught 4th, 5th, and 7th grade.  Proud techy geek, and mass consumer of incredible books. Creator of the Global Read Aloud Project, Co-founder of EdCamp MadWI, and believer in all children.  The second edition of my first book “Passionate Learners – Giving Our Classrooms Back to Our Students” will be published by Routledge in the fall.   Second book“Empowered Schools, Empowered Students – Creating Connected and Invested Learners” is out now from Corwin Press.  Join our Passionate Learners community on Facebook and follow me on Twitter @PernilleRipp.

How I Want to Be Remembered – My Students Tell the World

I asked my students how they wanted to be remembered by the end of 7th grade.  What did they wish that everyone knew, what everyone would think of when their name was spoken.  I asked them to reflect and then write a speech.  Just a minute.  No pressure.  No judgment.  Just their own beliefs about themselves.  I thought it would be easy.  A quick little assignment as we kicked off our quarter long exploration of public speaking.  I was wrong.

The past two days my students have bared their souls.  Put their strengths and challenges out for the world to see.  Looked at their classmates with a leveled head and asked them to take care of what they had to say.  To not judge.  To not snicker.  To not comment, but just embrace.  To see them how they want to be seen and I have been amazed.

Their courage to say who they believe they are.

Their audacity to tell us that they don’t care about school or what others think.

Their purpose of enlightening others who think they may be a freak, a weirdo, someone who doesn’t care, who doesn’t pay attention.

What my students have done takes guts.  They sat poised with their secrets written down and delivered them with a calm face.  Delivered them sometimes with shaky voices and other times with steely gazes.  They did it, because I asked them to, and boy did I learn a lot in the process.

Below, a few of my students have graciously agreed to share their truths.  I have removed their names to protect their privacy.

One student writes:

 When I walk out of OMS on the last day of my eighth grade year I want to be known as a good student not “that one girl with ADHD”. My ADHD shouldn’t define who I am.  I am the only person, thing or disorder that can do that.  One day I told my class a story about how when I was in first grade that’s when the doctors figured out that I had ADHD.  After that class two boys came up to me and one of them said to me “I didn’t know that you have ADHD” I nodded with a light laugh. The other boy had said to me “Yeah, I didn’t know that you were ADHD either.” I looked at him confused and said “I’m not.” That boy then continued to ask questions such as “But that’s what you just said” I smiled again and said to him with a straight face “I said that I have ADHD.  I am a human being not a disorder”.  I have ADHD but I am ADHD . Living with ADHD does have some challenges.  But my ADHD shall not define me. I will not let it. It is just something that I live with daily.   On the last day of my eighth year at OMS when I walk out of the doors i want to be known as a good student not ‘ that one girl with ADHD’.

Another writes:

I want to be remembered as the girl who is everyone’s friend.  If I leave, I want people to remember me as not just another student that went to OMS, but as a human who existed as a joyful child.  I want to be known as not an average kid with school always on my mind but as a Muslim who had different thoughts, religion, dreams, and even feelings.  I want my remembrance to not just be a memory of name but a memory of feelings.  I am the only Muslim in this school, with love in my mind and bravery in my heart.  I don’t want to be labeled as normal.  I am proud of who I am and not afraid to meet new people.  A girl who has opinions but still respected the presence of other human beings.  A girl who cared what people told her and put meaning into the words said to her every day.  To end off, I want my memory to have meaning of where I stood today telling people how important a human life can actually be.

And finally:

I don’t want to be remembered, because being in 7th grade is a small portion of life and when I move away 7th grade wont matter.  I don’t want to be remembered by the little pieces that get you where you are.  Those help but they are just like a speck of paint on a large canvas.  personally, I really don’t care about 7th grade, it’s just another school year to do better than the next and that’s how live our lives, doing the same thing every day.  I think there are bigger things in life to be remembered by.  I don’t see a point of having a legacy in 7th grade, because I like to move on and don’t talk to any of my old teachers from that year.  I think going out of your way to be remembered is not what I want to do.  Honestly, I have o give a craps left for a 7th grade legacy.  Also, I don’t care what my teachers think.  Some of them can’t even teach well.  That’s why I don’t care if I have a legacy in 7th grade.

We think we know our students through the relationships we build.  We think through our careful observations we can discuss the strengths and weaknesses of a child and then help them grow.  We ask the students to describe themselves at the beginning of the year but then often forget to re-ask the question.  How are they now?  How have they grown?  How do they worry?  What do they care about?

We think we know so we forget to ask, but I am telling you; ask them how they want to be remembered.  Have them speak their truths and open your mind to their reality.  My students once again amazed me, and I am not even sure they know.  In their honesty, I found new hope for how my students will change the world.

PS: Hat-tip to Josh Stumpenhorst for the prompt

I am a passionate teacher in Oregon, Wisconsin, USA but originally from Denmark,  who has taught 4th, 5th, and 7th grade.  Proud techy geek, and mass consumer of incredible books. Creator of the Global Read Aloud Project, Co-founder of EdCamp MadWI, and believer in all children.  The second edition of my first book “Passionate Learners – Giving Our Classrooms Back to Our Students” will be published by Routledge in the fall.   Second book“Empowered Schools, Empowered Students – Creating Connected and Invested Learners” is out now from Corwin Press.  Join our Passionate Learners community on Facebook and follow me on Twitter @PernilleRipp.

When Your Child Is Given a Label

Although we were the ones that asked for an observation.  Although we were the ones that raised our eyebrows and rang the alarm.  Although we were the ones that thought maybe something was slightly amiss and weren’t quite sure if we were crazy or not.  Although it was us that started the process, when the news came, it still stopped us for just a moment.

When your child is given a label, if even for a second, your body seems to freeze.  For a moment  the world stops spinning.  For a moment you feel the crushing weight of parental failure.  For a moment you know you did something wrong.  Like that kid that you have been raising all those years somehow isn’t the kid they are actually talking about.  Like that kid that you have found to be absolutely incredible, sure a tad bit crazy at times, but still just a little bit of a miracle cannot possibly be the same kid that now is dissected on paper in front of you.  But just for a moment.

Because then that kid gives you a hug afterwards and asks you for snacks.  They ask to go run around and be a soccer girl so they can burn off all that energy. They ask you to come to their bedside so they can read you a book.   And you remember, when your heart starts beating again and your breathing calms, that they are a kid.  That as a kid they have many facets, and those labels that were uncovered, are just another facet.  That those labels while on paper seem terrifying are just that; on paper, and they don’t have to define the kid that stands in front of you asking for just one more book.  Asking for just one more hug.  Asking to sleep in your bed when the thunder comes.  Telling you that one day they are going to be something big, they just haven’t decided what that big is going to be.

We asked for answers and we got them.  We are grateful because now we know that our energetic little girl is perfectly fine, even though there are now labels that can help us help her.  Even though there are now things we can discuss as we support her learning.  Those labels will not define her, they were never meant to, even if my heart stopped beating for just a moment, and my eyes filled with tears.  Those labels are not all there is to her, nor will they ever be.  They are just another piece of the puzzle, of our amazing little girl, who will some day be an amazing young woman.  I am so proud to be her mother.  And that is a label that will always define her.

I am a passionate teacher in Oregon, Wisconsin, USA but originally from Denmark,  who has taught 4th, 5th, and 7th grade.  Proud techy geek, and mass consumer of incredible books. Creator of the Global Read Aloud Project, Co-founder of EdCamp MadWI, and believer in all children.  The second edition of my first book “Passionate Learners – Giving Our Classrooms Back to Our Students” will be published by Routledge in the fall.   Second book“Empowered Schools, Empowered Students – Creating Connected and Invested Learners” is out now from Corwin Press.  Join our Passionate Learners community on Facebook and follow me on Twitter @PernilleRipp.

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