being a teacher, first day

A True First Day Back

I have been stopping by our classroom, dropping off books, bringing in new yoga balls, rearranging, cleaning, taking the time to do all of those little things that get us started as we think of the year ahead.  As we get excited for the year ahead.  As we plan in our heads, hold on to our dreams, and try to make a path for the year that lies ahead.

I have been thinking about that first day, the almost 80 minutes I will have with each of our new classes as I pour over their names and class lists get settled.  About the type of experience, I want to try to set up for these kids who may be nervous about middle school, who may be excited or not to come back to school.  About that very first day and the first impression that I would like to give these kids.  After all, I want them to feel welcome, I want them to feel safe, I want them to feel challenged, and I want them to want to come back.

That can be a tall order for just a simple first day.

And while there is an abundance of great first day ideas online; puzzles, team building, challenges, no work, no syllabus! I also worry about whether some of these activities set kids up to only disappoint them later.  Do these activities entice kids to think that this year, that our class, will be different than what they are used to – yeah! – but then only to be disappointed the next day when all of the first day “fun” is now gone and the traditional structure of school begins? I guess it depends on the type of classroom we create.  If our class is not one filled with choice, if our class is not one filled with hands-on challenges, if our class is one mostly centered around the teacher but the first day isn’t like that, then what are we trying to make the students believe?

So I think there is a balance to be had.  Yes, of course, get kids excited but at the same time don’t hide the type of class it will be.  Find components that will give students a feel for what they can expect so that they can legitimately start to feel welcome.  Be honest in your expectations and set the groundwork.  Ease back into school but do it through meaningful work.

Besides, it will never truly be about the activities, but always about how the kids end up feeling after being with us.

As for my own first day back?  I am not sure, yet.  There will be picture books, there will be book shopping, there will be choice and there will be conversation.  There will be a chance for us to feel each other out and for students to start to fill in the gaps of what this year may be like.  I still have a few weeks left of summer to dream, we shall see what happens.

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, first day, first week, Reading, Reading Identity

Questions to Assess our Classroom Library Before Back-to-School

I have been spending some time in my classroom these last few weeks. Getting ready,  getting excited.  At the end of last school year, I moved all of our bookshelves, rearranged the furniture, and tried to update this little space that hopefully becomes our space as it is filled with students.  Tried to create some sort of new space that would shape the experiences we are bound to have; places to gather, places to pull away.  Slowly, but surely, it is starting to come together.

The tables stand ready, the ideas are too, but the books? They are not ready.  Not yet. They beckon to be looked at, sorted, re-displayed, and yes, even gotten rid of.  New readers mean new book adventures ahead, new needs arising for the kids I am entrusted with, new relationships waiting to happen.  Weeding through my classroom library is always a must before the beginning of the year.

Books are an extension of our beliefs and so when students enter into our school or classroom libraries, they become the very first indicator of who we are and what we believe in.  They are a direct reflection of which type of reading experience we want o create with our students.  Which type of teacher we are.  What we hold dear, what we value.  This is why book displays cannot and should not be haphazardly put together.  This is why we must look at the books we bring in, the books we offer up for students to experience, and see which experience they are actually creating.

So to go through our classroom library, I ask myself the following questions starting with the fairly simple to the more in-depth.

How do the books look?  Which books are falling apart and need to either be thrown out or replaced?  Which books have really outdated covers that are preventing them from being read?  How about text size and font?  For books that I know would be read but might not be because of “outside” factors, I create a replacement wishlist.

How do the bins look?  Just like the books, some of our bins get fairly beat up, do they need to be replaced?  Relabeled?  Moved around?

How is our overall organization?  Because our library is one based on genres and sub-genres, these are changeable, meaning if I feel like we have a large collection of some books perhaps they need their own sub-genre?  Perhaps a genre is not being read and needs to be reorganized?  That also includes which bookshelves the bins are on, are they being read where they are or do they need to be moved somewhere else?

How is our checkout system?  Ours is a simple one – paperbacks you just grab, hardcovers you give me the dust cover with a post-it with your name on it and I file it away until the book is brought back.  Will this still work for the students I have?

How will I introduce our library?  Students will bookshop on the very first day of school with piles of books awaiting them on the tables but how will they be introduced to our library?  This year, as in past years, it will be an actual lesson on book-shopping, yes, even in 7th grade, and an exploration of different genres as we start our to-be-read list.

Will this book be read more somewhere else?  Sometimes when we have a book abundance problem, books are simply not being discovered.  So looking through and pulling books you wish students were reading but they aren’t and then handing them to another teacher may just get that book back in circulation.  This is also a great way to create space for incoming books in your library because chances are you will be adding more books this year.

Whose stories are being represented in our library?  And whose stories are not?  Where are my book gaps, which genres of books or authors do we not have a lot of?  Can all children find windows, mirrors, and sliding glass doors to quote Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop.

Not just whose,  but how are people’s stories represented?  Are we only representing the Native experience as a thing of the past?  Is the African American experience only represented through slavery, Civil Rights, or police brutality?  Are all the books featuring everyday things featuring white characters?  This is an ongoing assessment that needs to be attended to with every book purchase we make.

Do we have harmful representation?  Back to school is also a good time to be on the lookout for problematic text.  Knowing what is being questioned in the wider literary world is really important and provides us with a chance to learn.  I think about books like Little House on the Prairie or even newer books that come out that may not be healthy to have in our libraries.  I turn to people like Debbie Reese and Edi Campbell to guide me in this work.

Which books are you blessing?  Critically evaluate which books are on display whether it is first in a bin or on an actual shelf.  Whose experiences are you highlighting?  Whose voices are you urging others to read?  I take a lot of time pulling books and displaying to offer our students a varied reading experience from day one.  I want them to see the possibilities in our classroom library of what types of reading experiences they can have and that starts with all of the books enticing them.

As summer winds down and the school year beckons, I am excited to meet the kids that will soon become part of our family.  I am excited to help them have meaningful experiences with text that will help them in their reading lives.  I am excited to see who they are and how they will grow this year.  This work starts in our library, in what is the heart of our classroom, so it needs to be ready for all of the readers that are coming our way.

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, first day, students

On the First Day of School

White, Black,  Free Image

Sitting next to the ocean on vacation with three feverish children has given me a lot of time to think.  To relax.  To lay puzzles.  Read books.  Take walks.  Recharge.  I wish everyone could have a quiet time like this.

In the quiet, the new school year sneaks in.  Thoughts and ideas spring forth, the excitement starts to build.  There are changes this year once again; only three classes to teach, each 90 minutes long.  New focuses brought in.  New ideas to try.  A sense of urgency that cannot be replicated.  I cannot wait.

And so I think about the very first day of school.  Of the experience, we will have.  Of the things, we will do together.  But most importantly, how I want our students to feel after they leave our classroom experience together. How I would love for them to feel at the end of the day.  Hopefully excited, hopefully intrigued.  Hopefully safe.  Hopefully accepted. Hopefully wanting to come back.

Because when we plan for the first day of school, that’s what we should be planning for; how they feel after they leave us.

Not just all of the things we need to do, but the very tone we set.  Not just all we have to cover,  but the beginnings of the relationships we will create.

And so I plan for a picture book read aloud.  I plan for book shopping.  I plan for conversation, for the beginning moments of community.  I plan for laughter.  I plan for fun.

The stuff?  The projects?  The nuts and bolts of our year together?  That will come.  But on that very first day, it is not what is most important; our beginning relationship as a community is.  And so that’s what we focus on.

Everything else can wait.

How do you want your students to feel after the first 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, first day, first week, new year

A Sign to Welcome Them All

I have been in my current classroom for three years, about to begin year number four.  Never have I stayed in one classroom for so long and so my room, well, it is looking like I have been there a while.  Everything has its place, everything is where it feels comfortable, but comfort doesn’t equal excitement, so in order to show off the excitement I have for this new batch of students, I want to change it up a little bit.  As much as I can anyway with all of our book shelves, with all of our tables and chairs. And where does the change begin?  Right as they enter the door.

One of the biggest components of our classrooms is the need for students to feel like they belong so I knew I wanted something to signal how glad I am that they, the very child they are, showed up.  I also wanted something to communicate that all children are welcome, no matter their identity, no matter how they view themselves or are viewed by others.  I kept coming back to a blog post I wrote in the aftermath of some of the hateful acts here in the USA and realized that I knew exactly what the sign should say.  So here it is, I am so excited with how it looks, feel free to use the saying but please give credit.  I used Jenna Sue Design on Etsy because I have used her before and love her style.

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Change starts with us and so does safety and feeling like you belong.  I am glad this sign will be the first thing students see when they come through the door of our classroom.

If you like what you read here, consider reading my newest book, Passionate Readers – The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child, out August 2017.  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, first day, first week

On the First Day

On the first day of school, how will the students be greeted by you?  Will you stand by the door, saying hello, welcoming them in, or will you be busy with last minute preparations for the kids who already showed up?

On the first day of school will the kids be told where to sit or will they be given choice right away?

On the first day of school will the rules already be posted?  The expectations already made?  Or will you have that discussion with the kids so they can be involved in how they want to feel?

On the first day of school will the whole year have been planned out already or will you wait to see who these kids are and what they need?  Will their voices be used to shape the curriculum or has that been done for them already?

On the first day of school will you be excited to start another year?  Will you be honored to be a teacher?  Will you be aware of the immense responsibility and opportunity that comes with what we get to call a job?

On the first day of school will you worry more about all of the information that you have to share and the things you have to get done, rather than how the students feel as they leave your classroom?

On the first day of school will you plant the seeds of the future learning that will take place?  Will your students’ voices be heard already or will the day be dominated by yours?  Will the work you do be meaningful or something just to get through?

Will you be honored to meet each child?  Will you welcome each one, no matter their past, no matter their needs?  Will you face your own fears and teach courageously so we can begin to right the wrongs in this world?  Will you find your own voice to start courageous conversations?

On the first day of school will you be glad you showed up, perhaps exhausted at the end, yet happy or will you dread the year that has just started, unsure of why you chose to come back?  Will the students leave thinking that perhaps this year will be amazing, that perhaps they will be interested, that perhaps they will be challenged, that perhaps you will care about them?  Or will they drag their feet and answer “fine…” when their parents ask them how the first day was.

On the first day of school will you know that this year will be worth it?  That this will be an opportunity to grow?  That yes, there may be hard days, but there will also be so many great ones?  Will you tell the kids thank you when they leave and mean it?

On the first day of school, we set the tone for the learning that will happen the rest of the year.  For how kids will feel when they enter our learning spaces.  For how we will be viewed as a new adult in their life.  Let’s do it right this year.

If you like what you read here, consider reading my newest book, Passionate Readers – The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child, out August 2017.  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.

 

 

 

 

administration, Be the change, being a teacher, first day, first week, new teacher, new year

On In-Service and Back to School Training

For many of us, it has been a summer of learning.

For many of us, it has been a summer of renewal.

Of finding new ideas

Of tweaking the old ones.

Of refocusing, re-thinking, and perhaps even re-committing.

We eagerly await the arrival of those kids, we hope will become our kids, and we dream of the year to come.

But before the first day of school there is bound to be training.  There is bound to be new programs, new initiatives, new things added on to our already heavy shoulders in order to make this year the possibly best year we have ever had.  And I try to be excited and I try to be ready and I try to be open-minded, but I realize now that while the program may be amazing.  While the research may be compelling.  While the intentions may be the best, it doesn’t really matter.

You could bring us the very best program in the world, but it may never be enough.

Because school is not really about implementing programs.  School is not really about the lesson plan.  Or the curriculum.  Or even about the research.  It is about the kids, of course.  We say it all the time.  And yet, where is the time spent in our back-to-school days?  What are our discussions centered on?  What do we walk away from our in-service days knowing more about?  The program or the kids?

I for one hope it is the kids, but often see them left to the end, brought up as data points and survey results.  Brought up in lofty dreams and grand ambitions.  Why not make in-service about the very kids we teach and invite a few in?  Why not interview them to ask about their hopes for the school year?  Why not have them craft questions or areas they would like us to get better at.  Why do so many of our decisions that center around kids never involve the kids?

So if you are in charge, if you are the one making the agenda, bring in the kids.  Add their voice.  Add their presence.  Let us focus not on the training of more curriculum implementation, on all the new initiatives, at least not the entire time, but instead on the problems the students challenge us to solve.  Let us focus on what we say we are really there for; the kids and let them guide us into making this the best year yet.

If you like what you read here, consider reading my newest book, Passionate Readers – The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child, out August 2017.  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.