being a teacher, building community, community, new year, students

They Are Not Mine…Yet

image from icanread
image from icanread

I almost know all of their names.  All 118 of them.  Not because I have some magical brain penchant for memorizing names and faces.  Not because they all wear name tags.  No.  Every night I have pored over their faces, trying to remember each one, trying to figure out who they are.  Because I still teach strangers.  Strangers that I am trying to establish a community with, strangers I am trying to get to trust me.

So this week has been about them.  About why they love or hate reading.  About how they see themselves.  About how they react to picture book upon picture book as we try to weave a common thread.  And it seems to be working.  Slowly.  The stories are gently coming, the nervous laughter disappearing.  The hand raised a little faster.  We have a long way to go but ever so slowly the seeds have been planted, the foundation is being laid.

So today I will do my name competition; do I really know all of their names after just 3 days?  I will read another picture book as I rock in my chair and they share the tattered bean bags.  I will thank them for the few days we have spent together and wish them a happy long weekend.  I will hope for a smile, a high five, and a farewell, knowing that hopefully some day I will get to take these things for granted.  I will hope for a hallway greeting, a quick goodbye before the bus comes.  Little things that show the relationship we have built.  Those things that I miss so much.

I don’t know my students.  Not yet.  But it will happen.  Even if it feels like they will never be our kids.  They will.  They just don’t know it yet.

If you like what you read here, consider reading my book Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.  The 2nd edition and actual book-book (not just e-book!) comes out September 22nd from Routledge, but rumor has it that it is out on Kindle already!

Be the change, being a teacher, being me, building community, classroom management, punishment, rank, Student-centered, students

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.

Be the change, being a teacher, being me, building community, making a difference, new year, principals

Dear Administrators, Please Don’t Forget About the Little Things

Dear Administrators,

I know you are excited.  I see it on Twitter, I hear it on Voxer, and in the conversations I am lucky enough to be a part of.  School is starting and another year is about to begin.  The big ideas are ready, the new initiatives, the dreams, hopes, wishes that come bundled with the start of a new school year.  There is so much potential surrounding you.  So much to do.  And so little time to waste.

But before you get too far in your dreams, think small first, please.  Before you roll out all of the new initiatives, the changes that you know will make everything so much better for everyone, yourself included, make me a promise first; promise to take care of the little things as soon as possible.

Yes, I know it is not fun or exciting to think about those things that you promise teachers that you will do, like approving a form, emailing a parent, looking up that long lost order.  But those little things?  They make a big difference to us teachers.  Those little things that you may not think deserves your limited time right now, those are the ones we need you to also take care of because those things add up to a whole lot of stress for us when left undone.  In fact, some of those little things may be stopping us from fulfilling our big dreams, hopes, and wishes.  

An amazing school doesn’t just come from dreams.  It is built upon a foundation of trust, of accountability, of feeling respected.  And all three of those are built on getting the management side of your job done for those who need it.  There are certain things that we teachers can only ask you to do, we don’t mean to burden you, we don’t mean to add more tasks to your already busy day, but there are some things we are not allowed to do or we are not capable of doing.  There are some things we need you for to make our jobs easier.

So this year, please do dream big.  Please do work for change.  Get excited about the big things.  But don’t forget the little things, those boring to-do tasks that don’t seem pressing.  To you they may be able to wait, but to me, it matters so much that you got them done.  That I can trust you to get them done.  That I know that even the small things deserve attention in the journey we are on.  

Thank you,


PS: Shannon or Jason, if you read this, you do this.  Thank you from the bottom of my very excited heart.

I am a passionate  teacher in Wisconsin, USA,  who has taught 4, 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. I have no awards or accolades except for the lightbulbs that go off in my students’ heads every day.  First book “Passionate Learners – Giving Our Classrooms Back to Our Students” can be purchased now from Powerful Learning Press.   Second book“Empowered Schools, Empowered Students – Creating Connected and Invested Learners” can be pre-ordered from Corwin Press now.  Follow me on Twitter @PernilleRipp.

Be the change, being me, building community, new year, Student-centered

May I Speak to You Privately?

image from icanread

“Hey Pernille, can I speak to you in my office?”  My new principal asked me today.  Immediately my heart dropped; what had I done?  Had I screwed up already?  Were they regretting their decision to hire me?

I followed her in, sat down, took a deep breath and waited for the inevitable.  I must have screwed up somehow, why else would she want to speak to me privately?  And then she surprised me.  It wasn’t to yell or reprimand, nor was it to point out my rookie mistakes.  It was to connect, to ask questions, to ask how she could help.  To further welcome me and discuss the year ahead.  I stayed for almost 30 minutes, inwardly amazed at the moment.  So thankful that this is the kind of person I get to work for and with.  That this is the community I get to represent.

As I left I couldn’t help but cringe at my initial reaction.  My assumptions had gotten the better of me.  Yet, I realized that those assumptions are based upon my experience, that asking to speak privately with someone has a negative connotation.  That being asked to step into an office is usually not positive.

So think of how our students feel when we do the same to them? When we ask them to stay back for a moment? To come in during recess?  To hang on?  Wait up?  Don’t go?  Do they assume we have something positive to share or something negative?  I can tell you right now, that I have missed so many opportunities to use this moment for praise.  I have reserved the private moment for corrections, reprimands, careful questions of concern.  I have almost never used it for good. Have you?

This year that will change.  I want to reclaim the power of the private moment and change the assumption.  I want students to not automatically assume that staying behind means something bad.  That waiting for a moment does not signify trouble.  Sure, there will be times where a private moment is needed to discuss decisions or actions, but there should be more of celebration.  There should be more positive surprises.

So just as I tell students what I notice on post-it notes, I will look for the moment to praise privately.  I will look for that small sliver of time where I get to speak one to one to someone and tell them what I see, how proud I am, how I am here to help.  I hope they leave feeling relieved like I did and then proud.  I hope they will see that I care.

I am a passionate  teacher in Wisconsin, USA,  who has taught 4, 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. I have no awards or accolades except for the lightbulbs that go off in my students’ heads every day.  First book “Passionate Learners – Giving Our Classrooms Back to Our Students” can be purchased now from Powerful Learning Press.   Second book“Empowered Schools, Empowered Students – Creating Connected and Invested Learners” can be pre-ordered from Corwin Press now.  Follow me on Twitter @PernilleRipp.


being a teacher, building community, classroom expectations, classroom setup, new year, Student-centered, Uncategorized

Back to School – January Edition

image from icanread

January comes at us like a lion it seems bringing students who were just getting used to being on break, miserably cold winter days where no sledding is allowed at school, and more assessments. Every year January always reminds me of the beginning of the year and last year I started to treat it as such.  Goodbye January humdrum, welcome January excitement.  So what will we be doing to battle the January blues?

  • Reassess our classroom rules.  Students get a little tired and a little more restless so it is the perfect opportunity for them to set new rules for the classroom.  They also know each other a lot better, particularly each others’ quirks, and so I find the conversation tends to go much deeper then it did in September.
  • Set up the classroom.  While I think our work space works really well, I am not the one constantly using it. Time to ask the students if things need to be moved around and then do it.  Also time for me to re-evaluate the room.
  • A heart to heart on work habits. While I ask the students to self-assess constantly throughout the year, we need to have some honest reflection on how they have been working independently.  I like to think of it as new year’s resolutions set with an eye on middle school.
  • Take stock of projects.  How have they been doing on projects, are they pushing themselves into new venues or are they sticking to much of the same old same old?  What are new ideas they can’t wait to try and how will they try them?
  • Re-introduce genius hour.  We took a break from genius hour in the last month or so because we have been too busy, but January is the perfect time to refocus on it, this time in science rather than social studies.  Students have been busy at work learning about landforms, now is the time for them to take charge of what they want to learn.
  • Have a classroom reading challenge.  The students have been excited about reading but January is typically the time they start to feel overwhelmed or bogged down.  Last year we did the classroom reading challenge and it really brought in a lot of excitement.  It is quite simple:  Every child sets a secret goal (they only share it with me) for how many books they will read in the month of January, the goal can include picture books, graphic novels, or chapter books.  We then reveal the total number of books we pledge to read on a bulletin board.  They then read as much as they can and report to me whenever they finish a book (paper on my desk), I print out a picture of the cover and add it to our huge bulletin board.  Nobody knows who read what or how many books they have each read but everybody is reading and if we meet our goal, we have a huge read-in party as a celebration with an author Skype call.  I cannot wait!
  • Re-do routines.  We have great routines but now is the time to re-assess, what do we still need to work on, what is no longer needed, what should we streamline?  Again, this discussion is student-led with input from me.
  • Throw some surprise challenges their way.  They have been working hard on our team challenges  throughout the year and now is the time to give them even more.  I am thinking the boat building challenge, as well as marshmallow catapults.  Oh, and I do believe we have to build some vinegar rockets as well.
  • Re-assess my own opinions.  Have I labeled students unknowingly, do I really know the child in front of me?  What are the priorities we need to have for their learning journey and what will I do to help them accomplish their goals?  Now is the time to reflect about each child.

What will you be doing to re-energize the classroom?

Be the change, building community, challenge, Student-centered, students

Hey, It’s Ok To Go Outside the Curriculum Once in a While


I have felt like a new teacher this year.  Chalk it up to 27 students with a crazy range of learning needs, new program implementations, and just an insane amount of meetings to make sure everyone is on the same page.  We also have a new block schedule to implement, which has been amazing in some ways and limiting in others.  Most nights I work 2 or 3 extra hours at home making up for the time I don’t get in school.   While I love this year, it has also been a crazy one and every day I feel the curriculum pressing down on me urging me forward, to just get it done.

So why on Friday, with the pressure of everything we need to get through, did I have my students do the spaghetti and marshmallow tower challenge, swallowing up 40 minutes of our day?  Why “stop” the curriculum so the kids could have a team challenge?  Haven’t we already built community?

I did it because the kids need it.  They need to continue working in new teams.  They need to be challenged.  They need to think differently and deal directly with failure (there were epic attempts!).  And if you look closely, you would have seen how it absolutely was curriculum, even if FOSS science had not mandated it.  The students worked with design, creating a standard prototype and then testing their theory, adjusting along the way.  They changed and tried to control the different variables and engaged in deep on-the-spot thinking to ensure success.  In fact, as I looked up the Common Core standards for speaking and listening, I couldn’t believe how many of them we had covered.

Yet it’s bigger than that.  I made the teams so that kids who would not pick each other worked together.  I told them they would more than likely fail (based on previous years’ experience) and it was what they did with that failing moment that mattered.  The spirit of living up to expectations swallowed the room and carried the children home.  They did it together, and even though there was a winning team all of the kids celebrated and laughed about it.

We may think that when we leave the confines of our curriculum, we are breaking the rules or not teaching.  And sure there are times when the educational value can be hard to uncover.  But if the challenges are right, we are teaching the children more than some lessons do.  It takes courage to step outside the boundaries, but do it right, and the pay off will be immense.  My students left asking when they would do the next challenge, I told them “Soon!” and I meant it.  We have to think outside the lines of our own rush and needs to keep those kids challenged and engaged.

I am a passionate (female) 5th grade teacher in Wisconsin, USA, 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. I have no awards or accolades except for the lightbulbs that go off in my students’ heads every day.  First book “Passionate Learners – Giving Our Classroom Back to Our Students Starting Today” will be released this fall from PLPress.   Follow me on Twitter @PernilleRipp.