What Having Twins Taught Me About Teaching

Ida and Oskar in a quiet moment

At 8 PM you can finally feel it; the silence seems to creep down the stairs until my husband and I finally breathe a little easier, knowing that another crazy day has been lived.  That another day with four kids under the age of six has successfully been traversed through fits and fights, hugs and laughter.  Having children was one of the best decisions we ever made.

Yet, when we made that decision we didn’t hope for twins.  (Well, to be perfectly honest, I always thought it would be sooo cool because twins were always so cute)  Yet, when we had our first baby, Theadora, and felt the crushing responsibility of caring for a single little one, I was so grateful that we only had the one because how would you ever take care of two at the same time? How could you ever sleep?  How could you ever shower?  Or eat?  Or get anywhere on time?  And how could you ever leave the house with your sanity intact?  Having that first kid was hard.   And so we giggled a bit when my friend had twins, was exhausted when we babysat them, and felt so thankful that we just had the one because having twins was nuts.  Who would ever wish for twins?!?  Which of course meant that when I finally had a viable pregnancy again, the universe laughed at our foolishness and gave us the gift of twins.  Oh the irony…

Yet, the universe must have known what we needed because having twins was a gift.  Becoming a parent of twins was the universe’s way of teaching me to chill out.  To stop striving for perfection.  To stop working all of the time.  To laugh at the crazy.  To hug and hug and hug even when the hands are sticky and the diapers are smelly.  In fact, becoming the mother of twins didn’t just mean I became a better parent, but it also helped me become a better teacher.

You see, when you have twins and you feed them the same food, you play with them in the same way, you challenge them in the same way, you start to notice something.  You start to notice that even though you put them to bed at the same time, read them the same book, they sleep the same amount, and you speak to them the same way.   Even though you do pretty much everything the same, they don’t seem to care; they learn to crawl at different times.  They learn to walk four months apart.  One learns to speak three months before the other.  One learns to ride her bike two months later.  They don’t develop the same way, even though they grow up with you doing the same thing.  You realize what you thought you knew all along; kids learn at different rates.  Kids develop differently, even if they share the same family, same learning environment, even the same birth-date.

As a teacher, this is something I sometimes forget.  I forget that even though my students are all born in the same year’s span, they do not all have the same skills.  That even though my students have followed the same path in school, they do not have the same knowledge.  That even though they have been on the same path as so many other students, they may have significant differences.  And it is not because they are lazy.  It is not because their parents didn’t provide for them.  It is not because they don’t like to be challenged, or aren’t’ as smart, or just don’t try.  It is not even because of the teachers they had before.  They may just be developing at a different rate.  They may just be at a different part of their journey.  And that’s ok.

What our twins, Ida and Oskar, taught us is that we have to remember that all kids learn differently.  That age is nothing but a number.  That even providing two kids with the very same environment does not mean that their outcome will be the same.  That there is nothing wrong with taking a longer time to get a skill, what matters is getting it.  That’s what we can’t forget as teachers.  That even though we are teaching all of the students the same lesson, they are on different parts of their journey and some will not be ready for what we are teaching them.  Our job is then to discover what they do need and teach them where they are.

Ida and Oskar taught us to laugh a little more.  To not sweat the small things.  To look back at our first 3 1/2 years with just one amazing kid and realize how easy we had it.  Every day, when the yelling starts and the feet start to run, we have learned to run with them, to harness their energy, and to revel in the life we have.  And what a life it is indeed.

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 – How to Engage and Empower Your 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.

Would You Be Our Audience?

The students have been hard at work figuring out how to be better speakers and they are now ready to show the world.  Next week, my students will be performing Elephant & Piggie stories to their peers while I am recording them. We are looking for K, 1st, or 2nd grade classes to view some of these performances and rate them using a form posted right below the video.  While students appreciate the feedback I give them, they really need a bigger audience than just their classmates and me to grow as real speakers.

If you are interested in perhaps viewing a few, please fill out the form below.  You can view just one or as many as you want, what matters is the feedback!  I will email you further details once the videos go live.  Thank you so much for considering helping out these amazing 7th graders.

Student-Led Conferences, Even at the Middle School…

I sit here quietly, listening to them speak…

“I read 26 books this year, last year I read just read 10.”

“I learned that if I study I do much better.”

“I found out that I don’t work so well with my friends, so I can’t sit by them.”

They say this with downcast eyes, shy glances, waiting for the reaction.  Waiting for the comments they know will come.

And they do.

“Wow, that’s a lot of books!”

“What a great thing to learn…”

“Yeah, I don’t learn with my friends so well either…”

They tell their stories in front of us, knowing that our faces can corroborate or distort their versions.  They put themselves out there for us to see; teachers and parents.  They gather, they practice, and they decide; what story will they share?  What will their parents leave knowing?  Who will they become once their parents come into these hallowed hallways and they are no longer surrounded by friends?

So I sit here grateful that I get to listen in.  That I get to see the care they take.  The consideration they put into their words and how their parents thoughtfully ponder and prod when needed.  I didn’t know if student-led conferences would be enough for parents at the middle school level.  I didn’t know if the kids could do it.  I didn’t know what they would say, if they would care, if their parents would get all of the information they needed.  But they did and they have.  And I sit here listening to their stories and uncover the bits and pieces that have seemed to be missing for me all year.  Now, I understand why a child reacts that way.  Now I see how they tick.  I wish I would have know that much sooner.

When our students share their stories, we let them figure themselves out.  We let them decide what they need to tell, what they need to work on.  We help them prepare, push them harder to uncover their challenges and embrace them rather than hide them away.  When we do student-led conferences, whether completely or as part of our conference, we let the students decide how they will be known.  Think of the power in that.  Think of what that tells their students about their voice and the choices they make.

PS:  Want to learn more about actually doing student-led conferences, go here

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.

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…

What’s even better, you can pre-order it now from either Routledge or Amazon, yes Amazon!  Oh, I am just so excited.

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.

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