Be the change, being me, end of year

On Counting Down the Days…Again

Make those last days count Design

An older post from 2017 that still rings true today. I will not do a countdown for many reasons, even if I know how many days I have left. While the belief started as an epiphany of the wildness it was creating, it now rests more solidly in the notion that not every child has a safe place to be during the summer. And while this year of teaching has been like no other and every single person involved with schools deserves a break, to step away from simply making it through the day, I still know that for some being out of school does not allow them to thrive in the ways I hope every child has the possibility to; with food, a bed, adults to supervise and care, learning opportunities, and true rest. We can still celebrate a conclusion of an extraordinarily hard year without counting down the days together. We can still be glad to have the chance to step away to recharge without notching days.

The other day I was asked, “What is the one thing you would tell teachers to stop doing as the end of the year nears?”  I needed no time to think because my answer is simple; the countdown.

I used to do the countdown with my students.  20, 19, 18 days left of school.  Each day the kids would get more excited.  “We are almost out of here, Mrs. Ripp!”  They got crazier as the countdown neared the end, energy barely contained, and I loosened the reins, had fun, did less curriculum and more community building.  Except the days dragged on.  The kids grew restless, and I even started looking at the clock, wishing the day to be over.  Was this what teaching the last few weeks of school would always be like?

Six years ago,  after a particularly trying week, I had an epiphany – one that many have had before me.  I was creating the excited mess unfolding every day in my classroom.  My choices in doing a countdown and stepping away from our routines were signaling to the kids that school no longer mattered.  That what we were doing no longer mattered.  That all they had to do was wait it out and then this, too, would finally be over.  As if our students needed any more reminders that school is not a great place to be.

So I stopped the countdown, I went back to teaching and have not looked back since.  Because while the countdown may be fun on the surface; another way to show off student accomplishment – you made it through 7th grade! -it also sends a much deeper message; we are done with the year.  I am done with you.   Is that really what we want to tell our students?

Yet, this is not the only reason I hate the countdown.  One year, a child cried under his desk on the last day of school.  Inconsolable, I asked him what had happened.  Had someone said something to him that I had not caught?  Instead, he looked up at me, tears running down his face and said, “Don’t make me leave…I don’t want to go on vacation, I want to stay here.”  I cried with him and did the only thing I could, hug him and tell him I would always be here for him if he needed me.  Yet, his words have stayed with me all of these years.  This child did not look forward to summer.  This child faced a summer of unknowns, of food shortage, of not knowing who he would live with, of who would care for him.  Summer did not represent a break, but an uncertain future where he had to carry the weight of a society who has very few safety nets for children in poverty and home adults who are trying to survive.  Our classroom was his safe space.  In our classroom, he felt cared for, knew he would eat, and knew he had people with him. Outside of school that wasn’t always the case.  By counting down the days, I was reminding him every day of what was ahead after that last day of school; uncertainty, fear, hunger.  None of those messages were what I hoped to convey to my students. None of those messages were what my silly countdown was meant to convey to him. And I am sure there have been others who silently dreaded the end of school, who didn’t show it through their tears but kept it inside or showed in other ways. Who didn’t excitedly tell their peers about all the things they couldn’t wait to do but instead hoped that they could stay together, sta where they were, instead of walking out on that last day of school. So while school certainly doesn’t represent safety for all children, for some it does.

So It is not that I don’t know how many days are left.  That I pretend to be clueless as to the end of the year. It is just that I don’t advertise it. I don’t actively remind children how much better summer will be than what we are doing together, than what we have built together.  It undermines the entire mission we have had all year of instilling the importance of the work we do.  It undermines every single time we have said that school is important, that our community is valuable.  I have less than three weeks left and so much still to teach and learn, so many opportunities to keep connecting with kids, to continue to build community and provide resources that will hopefully make a difference in the days ahead. So now, when a child tells me that they are excited about summer, I tell them I am too, but also that I will miss them, that I will miss our learning, that I will miss our classroom.  That we have so much learning still to do.  That we will work to the very last day because our time is valuable.  Because we need every minute we can get. Because what we have built matters and I am sad to see it go. I am sad to see them go. I don’t need a countdown to remind me of that.

I am excited to be heading out on the road again to be with other educators in-district or at conferences, while continuing my virtual consulting and speaking as well. If you would like me to be a part of your professional development, please reach out. I am here to help.

Be the change, being a teacher, end of year

7 Must Do’s at the End of the Year

With just a few precious days left with the kids I have gotten to call mine for the year, my body is bone-tired.  I think we all are.  Yet, my mind is eager, I am excited to send these kids off for summer, and yes, I am also excited for the next group of kids coming our way.

So within these last few days lies an incredible opportunity to grow.  To prepare for the next year even if this year is not quite over.  I have seen some great posts on things to reflect on as the year ends for so many of us and thought I would share what I plan on doing.  Perhaps, you could use a few ideas yourself?

I plan on surveying my students.  While our school does both a home and student survey, I also need to know what I can work on.  Every year, the words of my students help me shape the experience to come.  Every year, the words of my students help me grow as an educator.  Don’t let the kids leave without helping you grow.

I plan on keeping certain experiences.  Looking through the year and reflecting on what really worked, whether it was a lesson, an idea, or simply a moment, helps me think of the year to come.  Don’t let this year end without you realizing what worked.  Whether you go through lesson plans or simply write a bullet list, take note so that when the time comes for your ideas to come back, you have a place to start.

I plan on getting rid of certain lessons.  While our experience inevitably changes year after year, there are also certain things that despite our best intentions simply didn’t work.  So I am getting rid of them both physically and mentally.  goodbye curation project!  Goodbye identity journals!  Goodbye to you so that I can make room for better things.

I plan on freshening up the room.  In fact, I already did that.  Last week, my husband and I moved all of our bookshelves so that I could reclaim the front of the room as part of our teaching area.  It has made a huge difference to the feel of the room, how welcoming it looks.  Why wait until next year?  Try it out now and see how it feels.

I plan a focus.  This summer, I get to both teach others and learn from others and so I need a focus.  Where does my craft need to grow?  Writing is what comes to mind, as well as the hard work of equity and social justice.  And so I go to conferences with a few goals in mind.  I read PD books with these goals in mind.  I reflect, invent, and write down ideas with these few goals in mind.  In the past, when I have had a broad focus, I feel I have learned little, but when I have a few questions in mind, such as how will I continue to help students understand their role in the world or how we will we create more joyful writing experiences, then I leave summer with a few tangible ideas that shape our experience together.

I plan a challenge.  Every summer, I try to discover the work of new amazing leaders in education.  One year it was educators like Val Brown, Dana Stachoviak, and Cornelius Minor, another it was diving into the work of We Need Diverse Books and figuring out how to work through my own biases and change the way I taught.  Every year, I pick a challenge that will push my thinking, make me realize my own mistakes, and also help me become a better educator.  It can be hard at times, but it is definitely worth taking the time to realize the gaping holes you have and then actually doing something about it.

I plan a break.  Teaching is amazing, it is my favorite thing to do as far as work., but it is also exhausting, heartbreaking at times, and hard.  So summer is time for a break, and not a kind of break where I still work, but one where I feel no guilt for not checking my email.  Where I feel no guilt for reading whatever I want even if it is slightly trashy.  Where I feel no guilt for not checking in, creating something, or coming up with new ideas.  But you have to plan for it or it won’t happen.  We know how consuming teaching can be, how it can spill into every part of summer, but don’t let it.  Allow yourself to detach completely so that you can get excited.  So that you can let ideas marinate in the back of your mind.  So that you can remember what it means to have a life, if even for a little bit, outside of teaching.  Because if you never leave, then you cannot get ready to come back.

Summer is a break.  A much-needed one for many.  But it is also an incredible time to become something more than what we ended as.  To remember why we entered teaching.  To get excited, to catch up on sleep, and to become the very best version that we can be of ourselves so that when September rolls around, or whenever our students come back, we can say, “I am so glad you are here,” and truly mean it.

If you like what you read here, consider reading my newest book, Passionate Readers – The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child.  This book focuses on the five keys we can implement into any reading community to strengthen student reading experiences, even within the 45 minute English block.  If you are looking for solutions and ideas for how to re-engage all of your students consider reading my very first book  Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.      Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.

being a student, being a teacher, books, end of year, Reading, Reading Identity, Student

Best Book of the Year Speech in Just 15 Words

Every year our very last speech is a “Best Book of the Year” Speech.  Every year, my students declare their love for books in front of the class.  They share their favorite reads in order for everyone else to add them to their to-be-read list.  I scribble down each title so I can create a blog post for the rest of the world.  It is always fascinating to see the books that make the cut.

This year, we have worked on brevity.  On the importance of words.  On getting to the point, so we added a twist to this yearly event; you get 15 words exactly.  No more, no less.  15 words to make others write down the title you loved.  15 words to somehow give enough of a glimpse into the book to tempt others.

To inspire my students I read them a Cozy Classic – a 12-word re-telling of some very well-known classics.  Then I have them two days to create their speech, work on their gestures, and prepare for their performance.  The results yesterday were pretty stellar.  Engaged students and lots of titles added.  Lots of laughs while sharing the love of books we have read.  One more step toward creating reading experiences long after they leave us.  Long after the last day of school.

If you like what you read here, consider reading my newest book, Passionate Readers – The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child.  This book focuses on the five keys we can implement into any reading community to strengthen student reading experiences, even within the 45 minute English block.  If you are looking for solutions and ideas for how to re-engage all of your students consider reading my very first book  Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.      Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.

Be the change, being a teacher, end of year

And What Do We End With?

A few days left of school, counting in days instead of weeks, counting in hours rather than units and you can hear the whispers in the corners.

“We will miss these kids…”

“Another great year…”

“They are ready…”

And we mean it as we plan our lessons, down to the very last day, and we try to continue the learning despite the energy, despite the crazy, despite the hint of summer in the air.

And we think of how far we have come, how much they have grown, how much we have grown, and we remember that what they will remember will probably not be the lessons we so meticulously planned.  The grades they got.  The homework they did.  But the moments.  The feeling.  The little things that in the end became the big.

How we stood outside our doors greeting them every day.

How we smiled whenever we saw them.

How we asked what was the matter rather than assumed we knew.

How we asked others how we could be better and actually listened rather than felt judged.

How we took a moment when they needed a moment and how it paid off in the end.

How we told them we were glad they were here rather than tell them they were late.

How we tried to make it matter.

How we tried to make it meaningful.

How we asked them what we could do better and then actually did it.

How no matter the day, no matter our mood, our classrooms and our school was always ready for the child who showed up because that is the child we hoped would come.

 

 

door sign
This sign has hung outside of our door all year, it will stay there for next year.

 

And we vow to keep trying to reach that child that we haven’t quite reached until the very last day, until the very last moment.

We start our years with our hopes and our dreams.  Our hearts ready to love.  With worry and sometimes doubt that we can be what they need us to be.  We start our years with lofty goals and new ideas, ready to make a difference.

And what do we end with?

A year filled with moments that shape us in ways we cannot even comprehend yet.

A year packed with learning that will only help us be better.

A year of opportunities to be something more than we started us.  A year that hopefully taught us as much as we taught them – if we did it right.

And hearts that now hold the names of even more children who went from perfect strangers to be ours.  Our kids.  Our kids who we will miss even though they may forget our names.  Even though they may forget our lessons.  Even though they cannot wait for summer and are even counting down the days.

Who knew we had so much room to love?

Who knew we would be, already, to do it all over again?

If you like what you read here, consider reading my newest book, Passionate Readers – The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child.  This book focuses on the five keys we can implement into any reading community to strengthen student reading experiences, even within the 45 minute English block.  If you are looking for solutions and ideas for how to re-engage all of your students consider reading my very first book  Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.      Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.

 

being a teacher, being me, end of year

And Yet We Grow…

“I don’t think you were a good teacher to me and you did not help me this year at all. I don’t think you should be a teacher here. This year of english is the worst year all.”

Three lines.

Three lines that cut deep.

Three lines that can crash your world.

Three lines that can make you question every single thing you stand for and everything you believe.

We pride ourselves on the difference we hope to make.  On how we try to make our classes more engaging. On all of the ideas we try, hoping to make school somehow better.

And yet…

For some, it is not enough.

For some, you are not good.

For some, you shouldn’t even be a teacher.

I will admit there were tears.  Embarrassment, after all, am I not supposed to have it figured out?  Perhaps even confusion.  I didn’t realize that I would elicit such a strong response from anyone, but I did.

And yet in these words, beyond the surprise, beyond the hurt, there is also a truth.  A truth that must have taken a lot of courage to share, to write, knowing that I would see the words and also see who wrote them.

So rather than wallow, or lick my wounds, or at least not for long, I asked the child to tell me more.  To help me better understand so that I could prevent this reaction in future years.

Their answer was to the point; I just hate English, it is not really you, but the class.  When I asked if they were sure because it sounded like I was a part of the problem, they shrugged and said they didn’t really mean it.  They were just angry and resentful toward English.

I thanked them for their honesty and vowed to do better.

I share these words tonight because they still hurt.

They still are embarrassing.

They are words I would rather hide and pretend I never read.

And yet, within these words is a careful truth, one that is beyond the obvious of being a teacher who seemingly failed a child; we are not perfect.  None of us are.  I am not perfect, not that I have believed that for a long time.  I am still growing.  I am still learning.  And yet sometimes we look to others and think they have it all figured out.  That in their classes all kids love what they are doing.  That every child must love them as a teacher and we look at our own classrooms and wonder why we cannot seem to reach that pinnacle of perfection.

So see these words and know; they hurt, but they are not the full story.  One child’s reaction will never be.  Your story will never be told in just three sentences so do not diminish yourself to three sentences or less.

There may be days where I feel like I figured it out, but there will always be days where I know I haven’t.  The most we can do is to keep coming back and try again.  To reach out again.  To keep asking our questions even if the answers hurt.

We grow because we dare to ask.  Because we tuck our pride away and take the words that are delivered.  I don’t ever want to stop asking.

If you like what you read here, consider reading any of my books; the newest called Reimagining Literacy Through Global Collaboration, a how-to guide for those who would like to infuse global collaboration into their curriculum, was just released.  I am currently working on a new literacy book, called Passionate Readers and it will be published in the summer of 2017 by Routledge.If you are looking for solutions and ideas for how to re-engage all of your students consider reading my very first book  Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.      Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.

being a teacher, end of year, Student, student choice, Student dreams, student driven, Student Engagement

8 Ideas to Make the End of the Year Race Better

Have your students told you yet how many days that are left?  While it has been awhile for me, I can still feel it creeping up, sneaking up, whether we are ready or not; for many of us in the Northern hemisphere, the end of the year is near.  And if your students are anything like ours, then there may be excitement in the air mixed with a special kind of exhaustion that is threatening to derail even the best-laid plans.  So what can you, along with your awesome students, do to make these last few days or weeks better?  Here are a few ideas.

Make it matter.  And by this I mean; make it meaningful, make it count.  Now is the time to dig deep, to go personal, to make it something they will remember for a long time.  we end with out This I believe project, a student and teacher favorite every year and we work all the way up until the very last day.  I love how we end with something that ties us even closer together as a community, rather than just have us fade out in small to-do’s.

Teach with urgency.  This is not the time to slow down, instead, make every minute worth your time.  We start with reading, as always, and then we teach until the bell.  I want the days to go by fast, not drag on for everyone involved.

Increase student movement and talk time.  I love seeing the various projects our students are engaged in throughout our building, with many of them involving more movement and also more student agency.  Now is a perfect time to have students take the lead on projects if you haven’t before and also to incorporate as much choice as possible.  I was lucky enough to watch a PE class where students had to sit and write about their summer fitness goals, the kicker?  Every time they did a section they had to run and do other physical activities.  I loved seeing how even in writing, movement was incorporated.

Make memories.  Even if the students are ready to leave make sure you take the time to reminisce a little.  How has this year been?  What will they remember?  I try to have students write letters to the incoming 7th grade to offer them tips and ideas, these letters not only give me a way to welcome the new students but also to see what made a difference to my current ones.

Take them outside.  I used to shun the outside for teaching, after all, it was just so distracting.  Now we look for the days where we can get outside.  So far it has only been with my homeroom class for a quick walk, but the outside is calling all of my classes and I am thinking of a way to teach out there.

Survey them.  This is ripe reflection time for us as we start to look forward to next year so make sure you ask all of the questions you have.  While I have not finalized my end of year survey yet, last year’s told me a lot about which projects they loved, the ones they hated, and also how I could become a better teacher.  These kids know us so make sure you ask for their advice, after all, we have the best professional development sitting right in our classrooms.

Make plans for the summer.  I don’t think we should pretend that summer is not right around the corner, instead, we need to have some frank conversations about what their plans are and more specifically, what their reading plans are.  Many of my students told me today that they did not plan on reading at all, this is the reality many of us face, and yet I still have four weeks to showcase the most incredible books I can find.  Book talk with urgency and help them create long can’t-wait-to-read lists.  Partner with the next year’s teachers, partner with your school librarian, partner with those at home and help them remember to read.

Reflect on their growth.  I don’t think all of my students know how much they have grown, how much they can do, how much more they are now than when they began.  I think the is common for most kids, after all, growing smarter is a gradual affair.  So build in time for them to actual realize their growth, their successes, and also to goal set for next year.

Stay in the present.  Ah so that makes nine, but this one is so important.  It is so easy to get caught up in thinking about next year and even planning for next year, and yet; these are the kids we still have.  We are still in the current school year, so if we don’t stay in the present, neither will our students.  Love them, keep getting to know them, praise them, laugh with them, believe in them, and keep pushing them to strive for more.  After all, next year, you will miss them, we always do.  And just perhaps, if we are lucky enough, they will pop their heads in on that first day of school, just to say hi.

If you like what you read here, consider reading any of my books; the newest called Reimagining Literacy Through Global Collaboration, a how-to guide for those who would like to infuse global collaboration into their curriculum, was just released.  I am currently working on a new literacy book, called Passionate Readers and it will be published in the summer of 2017 by Routledge.If you are looking for solutions and ideas for how to re-engage all of your students consider reading my very first book  Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.      Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.