being a teacher, community, parents

It Is Not Just Student Relationship We Should Worry About

Today our incoming 7th graders found out which teachers they will have.  I hope they are happy.  I hope they are excited.  I hope they have heard wonderful things about our team.  I know we can’t wait.  Today was also the day that Thea, my now 1st grader, found out her teacher, a moment that was exciting yet filled with questions as well.  Will her teacher “get” her?  Will she love school?  Will this be another incredible school year for her?  What will my role be as a parent of a 1st grader?

For years I have tried to create a welcoming environment for all the people that are attached to our classroom.  For years I have tried, along with my team, to create spaces where parents/guardians can feel like they have a voice, are welcome, and also can engage in tough dialogue with us when needed.  It is something that we pride ourselves on because it has not just happened, we have had to work at it knowing that parent/guardian relationship is vital to a child’s success.   So I was dumbfounded when I came across an article titled “Ten Types of Parents that Teachers Secretly Hate.”  I read it  (I won’t link it here because I don’t feel like giving it traffic) and I was so disappointed in it.  Is this really what we as educators want to tell parents?  That we secretly hate them when they are involved in their child’s education?  That if they don’t follow our rules for engagement then we will complain about them behind their backs?  Is this even what we want to be told as parents?  That teachers secretly label us and hate some of us?

Yet, it wasn’t just the labeling of the various types of parents that upset me, it was the complete disregard for the cause behind this behavior.  There was no discussion of why a parent might be over-involved, might be absent, might be going straight to the principal rather than us.  There was no acknowledgement of what can lead to these types of parental behavior that we “secretly hate.”  No discussion of what a poor school experience can do to future relationships.

I have worked alongside many types of parents and guardians.  Some have been wonderful interactions, others have been tough.  Some led me to tears while others led to great moments of joy.  I am thankful for every single interaction I have had, even if it was a hard one, because each one has made me grow as a teacher.  And sometimes the hardest ones have been the ones I have grown the most from.

So before we assume that parents are a certain way to annoy us, to discount us, to somehow make our workdays harder, how about we assume that all parents/guardians want what is best for their child?  How about we assume that the reason they approach us in a certain way is because that is what they have had to do in the past? How about we assume that they may be absent because circumstance is keeping them from our schools, not choices?  How about we afford them the benefit of the doubt and try to get o know them before we label them as being a certain way.

Much like we try to uncover the past of our students to find out how it affects them now, we should also be trying to uncover the pasts of the adults attached to them.  I am sure I will meet many of the archetypes of parents listed in the article in the coming year, but what I won’t do is assume that I know why.  What I won’t do is hate them.  What good will ever come from that?

We all know relationships matter most when it comes to a successful school year, so why not actively build a relationship with adults as well?  It starts now, not when something comes up, not when it is too late.  What will you do to reach out to them before they reach out to you?

PS:  I posted my welcome parent survey today, I cannot wait to read their answers.

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.  

being a teacher, books, community, Reading

Our Favorite Picture Books for Middle School 2015

I used to think picture books were best placed behind my desk, labeled for teaching use.  Stowed away neatly so that they wouldn’t be lost, not the pages too creased.  After all, picture books were for little kids and certainly not the big kids I was teaching.  One day, a student asked me if he could borrow one of the books that were perched behind my desk fortress, I wanted to say no, but instead asked him why?  Why did he want to read that book and not the mature books in our classroom library?  Sheepishly he glanced at me and then muttered, “For fun….?”  And so I handed him the book.  It wasn’t long after that all of my students would ask for the picture books squared away and I soon realized what a fool I had been.  Picture books were not for little kids.  They were instead the perfect text to use in mini-lessons, to lead discussions, and to create a community of readers.  I have never stored my picture books away from students since.

But what do you bring into the middle school classroom?  Is there some sort of rule that applies for which books will work with these fantastically diverse years or does it not matter?  It turns out that the only thing that matters is the quality of the picture book itself, once that is taken care of, the students will not stop reading them.  If you are just adding picture books to your classroom library, pick wisely in the beginning, but don’t get too caught up in whether or not it will make a great mentor text, I have found that the most unlikely of books can always be used for something as long as the students are into the story.  So the favorite picture books we have in our room, in no particular order, are…

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A Sweet Smell of Roses by Angela Johnson

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The North Star by Peter H. Reynolds

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One by Kathryn Otoshi

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Pete & Pickles by Berkeley Breathed

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The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore by William Joyce

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Malala, A Brave Girl From Afghanistan/Iqbal, A Brave Boy From Pakistan by Jeanette Winter

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Bad News for Outlaws:The Remarkable Life of Bass Reeves, Deputy U.S. Marshall by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson

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This Is Not My Hat by Jon Klassen

The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt

The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt

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Bluebird by Bob Staake

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Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson

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Wolfie the Bunny by Ame Dyckman

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The Most Magnificent Thing by Ashley Spires

What Do You Do with an Idea? by Kobi Yamada

What Do You Do With An Idea?  by Kobi Yamada

Unicorn Thinks He's Pretty Great by Bob Shea

Unicorn Thinks He’s Pretty Great by Bob Shea

The Adventures of Beekle by Dan Santat

The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend by Dan Santat

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Froodle by Antoinette Portis

Gaston by Kelly DiPucchio

Gaston by Kelly DiPucchio

Sparky! by Jenny Offill

Sparky by Jenny Offill

Knock Knock by Daniel Beaty

Knock, Knock: My Dad’s Dreams For Me by Daniel Beaty

Product Details

Open This Little Book by Jesse Klausmeier

Creepy Carrots! by Aaron Reynolds

Creepy Carrots by Aaron Reynolds

It's a Book by Lane Smith

It’s A Book by Lane Smith

That Is Not a Good Idea! by Mo Willems

That Is Not A Good Idea by Mo Willems (Or anything by Mo!)

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The Invisible Boy by Trudy Ludwig

And the list could go on and on, but at least this is start for those of you looking to add incredible picture books to your classroom library.  And don’t start like me; let the kids read them whenever they want, even the big kids, especially the big kids.  Which books would you recommend?

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” is available for pre-order now.   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.

aha moment, being a teacher, being me, community, Passion, Student

7 Things to Try Before You Almost Give Up On A Student

I have to admit it; I have not loved all of my students in the same way.  Not all of my students and I have clicked.  Not all of my students and I have had the best relationships.  Not for lack of wanting to.  Not for lack of trying, but sometimes it seems that bigger things are in play and the universe just doesn’t align.  And yet, even if I had a harder time connecting with a child, whatever the reason, I still had to be the very best teacher I could be.  So what are some techniques I have used to make sure that I connected on some level, even with the seemingly most challenging students?

Take it personal sometimes.  My mantra used to be “don’t take it personal” until I realized that sometimes a poor relationship with a student is indeed a direct reflection to how they feel about me, not what I am doing.  So rather than dismiss it, I ask them questions, engage them as an equal to express my concern and then try to reflect on what it is they are reacting to.  If it is something I can adapt to or change from, then I do.  Other times, I have just had to suck it up and try a different approach.

Speak kindly about them.  The quickest way to build personal dislike is to constantly stay focused on the negative attributes of a child; those things that drive you crazy.  So turn your thinking around; whenever you feel yourself wanting to say something negative, stop, and find something positive to say instead.  Yes, even if it seems contrived, because what you say, you start to believe.  So if a child is having a particularly rough day in my classroom or with me, I go out of my way mentally to find something nice to say to others about them.  After all, they are running through my mind anyway, why not spread something positive.  This doesn’t mean you can’t vent, I think venting about situations can be very powerful, but keep it short and to the point.  Prolonged venting only exacerbates the negative emotions already attached to a student or situation.

Find the humor in the situation.  Even the kids who have driven me the most crazy can usually make me laugh by now.  It wasn’t always that way, but it has become a way for me to create a relationship with someone who I otherwise would probably label as a troublemaker in my mind.  So find the funny in the misbehavior, share a funny moment when they are not acting out, use humor as a way to bridge your personalities, even if you still don’t see eye to eye.

Forge a relationship outside of the classroom.  Some of my hardest students to teach have also been the ones that I made sure I checked in with outside of school, even if it just meant a casual conversation in the hallway or by the buses.  It is a chance for me to see them as kids, not that kid who does everything in their power to disrupt the teaching of others or whatever the situation is inside of class.

Keep digging.  I have never met a child who had nothing to like about them, but sometimes you really have to dig for it. Some of my students expect you to hate them when they walk through your doors because that is what they have experienced other times, some of my students hate school so much that they will never love it no matter what we change.  Some of my students have to be tough as nails to survive their own lives.  Those kids still deserve a teacher that tries to connect with them, even if they rebuff them 100 times, then you try 100 more times, even a little bitty connection is better than giving up.

Treat them as a human being.  Too often we start treating them like the label they may have, so a child who is angry becomes known as the angry child, or a student who is disrespectful or disruptive becomes known just for that.  Their negative label becomes their identity and nothing else.  We cannot let this happen, not in our minds and not in the way we speak of them.  They are children, yes, children who seem to have mastered the art of driving you up the wall, but children none the less.  And every child deserves to be treated with dignity.

Know when to admit defeat, but not out loud.  Sometimes no matter how hard we try, how much we change, how much we reflect and think and do; that child still hates it, that child still hates us.  Then our job becomes not to give up but to find another ally for them, to find another adult that can have a great relationship with them and for us not to get in the way.  No, that doesn’t mean asking for them to be transferred from our class, but instead allowing for opportunities where they can possibly forge a relationship with another educator or person in your building.  Every child deserves someone that will see the good in them, even if you can’t.

PS:  A few notes since this post was published a few days ago.  I tweaked the title to include the world almost because I don’t think we ever truly give up on child, even if we cannot forge a strong connection with them.  We still keep them in our hearts, they still wake us up at night, we still keep trying even when we feel like giving up.  That’s what teachers do.  Another note is the little bit of wondering there has been on knowing when to admit defeat, some people have viewed this as giving up and that is far from my intent.  Admitting defeat to me is humbling because it involves us realizing that we are humans and not every kid will like us.  Sometimes a child naturally connects with another adult in our building and rather than get jealous, which yes, can happen, we need to help foster that relationship.   I hope this clears everything up a bit.

I am a passionate teacher in Oregon, Wisconsin, USA,  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. 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.   Second book“Empowered Schools, Empowered Students – Creating Connected and Invested Learners” is out now from Corwin Press.  Follow me on Twitter @PernilleRipp.

classroom expectations, classroom management, community, discipline, punishment, student choice, student driven, Student-centered

Don’t Act Like An Idiot – My 5th Graders Make Our Rules

image from icanread

Silence…not something that happens in a room full of 27 students.

Then one hand cautiously rises, then another, but still mostly silence…

A minute ago I had asked my students, “What do we do in this classroom when you don’t behave well?”

This was now the reaction I faced; confused looks and silence.  4 years ago, my students would have prattled off a list: we write our name on the boards, you give us a checkmark, we lose recess, we lose free time, we call home, we go to the principal’s office.   All very common consequences in classrooms.  But now, 4 years later, I have unintentionally stumped my students.

One student finally says, “Well, you expect us to not act like idiots, so we don’t.”

Another student jumps in, “Yeah, and if we do something stupid then you tell us to fix it.”

And a third, “So we just talk about it and figure it out.”

Aha!  We discuss their behavior and then we fix it in whichever way it needs to be fixed.

I threw away punishment because I always punished the same students.  It also never solved the problem but just added a grudge between the student and myself.  Today, some question whether students can truly act well when you don’t punish.  When they don’t know the consequences of their behavior.  Some think that no punishment equals no rules, no perimeters, but it couldn’t be further from the truth.

No punishment means no public shaming, no loss of privileges, no loss of recess unless we need private time to talk.  It doesn’t mean no structure, no expectations, or a free for all of student chosen behavior.  It means I expect my students to make the classroom rules.  I expect them to behave well.  I expect them to make good choices.  I don’t have a perfect classroom, but I have kids that try.  I have kids that know what the expectation is.  I have kids that make a choice everyday, whether to be active participants in our learning journey, or whether to act like idiots.  They don’t always make the right choice, but if they don’t, then we deal with it on a situational basis.

So no, I don’t need to punish my students into behaving, and not because they are all angels (ha, far from it) but because as a classroom we have decided to learn, to share, to behave like a typical 5th grader.

Don’t act like idiots, in true 5th grade language, and represent.  Those are some of the rules for our classroom.  I din’t make them but I do give them to grow and become part of our culture.  Most kids know how to act in school, it is time we gave them our trust and a chance to prove it.

Edit:  As you can see from a comment, the word idiot can be taken to something much deeper than is its intention here.  When my students and I use the word “idiot” it is meant to convey a 5th grader that deliberately chooses to do something they shouldn’t, not someone with an intellectual disability.  I never mean to offend but here I chose to let the word stand since it portrays the conversation we had. 

being me, community

Who Are the Lonely?

I have never been good at making friends.  Acquaintances I have mastered, but people who reach out and check on you, people who notice when you are not there, yeah, those I am not good at finding.   Sure, I am part of larger groups and I know, sometimes, too many people, but those connections that sustain us, those that travel with us, have proven themselves elusive to me; a fully functioning adult.  It didn’t use to be this way, in Denmark where I fit better into society I wasn’t lonely, but in America where the social rules are so different and everyone’s friendships seems to have been cemented way back when, it is hard for foreigners to fit in.

Yet there sits Thea, my 3 year old, who makes friends at the drop of a hat.  Whose whole personally exudes friendliness and “play with me.”  Who is not afraid to approach or include, who is not afraid to reach out.  I wish I could be more like her because in the end as Ms. Night writes; we all need people.

I wonder which of my students go home lonely?  Which of my students may seem like they have plenty of people but then no one comes over to play?  No one reaches out or worries about when their seat is empty.  I wonder if they hide it like I do, whether they follow the rules of friendships and pretend they feel they belong, hoping that someday it will come true.  How can we integrate them, whether they are new or old students,  into friendships?  How can we help them feel like they belong, because in the end, community is what can make or break school.

I am not sure I am the one with the answers here, after all, I am still trying to fit in myself.

collaboration, community, global, global read aloud

10 Tips On How to Create a Global Collaborative Project

image from icanread

While the third annual Global Read Aloud is in full swing and more than 28,000 kids participating, I cannot help but be in awe.  After all, as I have said many times, this idea seemed so simple, so minor when first discussed, and now here we are; 6 continents involved in reading the same two books and global connections being formed around the clock.  So how do you get to this point, what is the secret? Well, I’m not sure, but here are some ideas:

  1. Be simple!  No collaborative idea ever took off if it required hours of explanation.  The Global Read Aloud’s strength lies in its simplicity; read a book aloud and connect with others to discuss it. No convoluted rules, no disclaimers.  And the core premise has not changed.
  2. Make sure the idea is easily translatable.  Both in explanation but also in doing.  If it centers around a book make sure others can get it and that it wont cost them too much.  Whatever you are collaborating around has to be easily accesible for educators all over and for varying skill levels.
  3. Don’t make too many rules.  If there are too many rules the project may get stifled.  Relax and let the project develop, guidelines can be developed together and changed as needed.
  4. Invite others to contribute ideas.  Another reason I love the Global Read Aloud is all of the ideas being shared by people who are much smarter and much more creative than me.  This is what has made the project so special to so many people; they are invested in it because they helped create it.
  5. Don’t get stuck in a rut.  After the first year of the Global Read Aloud I pondered whether we should use the same book year after year and then realized that it would be too easy that way.  I love discovering new texts and must admit that I had not read “The One and Only Ivan” before its selection this year, now I count it as one of my favorite books.
  6. Use the tools.  We have an incredible array of technological tools available to us as educators and everybody feels comfortable with different things, so use them all or let people choose.  Schools, in particular, often block certain things but it varies from school to school, so if you let people use many different tools to connect chances are one of those use will be accesible.
  7. Create a community.  We established our Edmodo community in June so people had time to get to know each other and create connections before the October 1st kick off.  This has been valuable to many participating and the readiness level was more prominent this year than in prior years.  So find a venue to create a community outside of the project; Twitter or Edmodo are great places to start.
  8. Be accessible.  I love connecting with people and I love helping out so make sure people can get a hold of you.  I answer emails quickly, as well as tweets, and do my best to leave comments and showcase cool things people are doing.  I am as much of a participant as everyone else.
  9. Trust other people.  Again, another strength of the Global Read Aloud is all of the people involved and everything they bring to the project   So while it may have started as my idea, there are so many others now involved that it has evolved into true collaboration.  Everybody adds ideas and it benefits everyone.  Don’t be the only one making decisions, create a group to help plan and they will also spread the word.
  10. Make it fun!  Even if you are tackling serious subjects have an element of fun.  We tend to get excited over things we can see our students get excited over.  So whether it is the topic, the process, or how you will connect, do something that will bring out the smiles and cheers.