being a teacher, first day, first week, Student dreams

No Matter

What matters most will always be how they feel when they are with us.

Am I good enough?  Will I be enough?  Will this be a great year?  These thoughts have haunted me this summer.  Perhaps it is because I will start my third year as a teacher of seventh graders.  Perhaps it is because I have eight and a half years under my belt and I have seen what great teaching can look like.  This summer as I have traveled across the country working with fellow educators, I have seen what great teaching can be.

I have spent hours at home reading, learning, listening.  Taking notes and finding ideas.  I have run through scenarios, plotted possible courses.  This week I have spent many hours in our classroom, moving furniture, fixing borders, shelving books, and dreaming.  Dreaming of this year.  Dreaming of what we can accomplish.  Dreaming of the type of teacher I used to be, of the one I want to be.

So no matter how panicked I feel…

No matter the fears…

No matter the dreams, the ideas, the hopes and the wishes…

No matter the furniture, the planning, or even the bulletin boards…

What matters will never be found before school starts.

What matters will never be dreamt in my head.  Concocted with colleagues or pinned for in a book.

What matters will never just be those ideas we came up with, that new thing we are going to try, or even the lessons we spent the most time on.

What matters will always be the kids.

And until they show up all we can do is dream.  Is hope.  Is wish.  Is rest so that when they do arrive we know that all of that sleep lost and all of that time spent planning was worth it.

My friend, Jed Dearbury, says “Love first, teach second,” and he is so right.  Because at the end of the day what matters most is not how much we got done or even how well prepared we were.  What matters is how they feel when they are in our classroom and how we feel as their teachers.  I am waiting for those kids to show up next week so that I finally can feel like a real teacher again.

If you like what you read here, consider reading my 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, building community, first day, first week, new year

Have You Asked Parents Yet?

 

Give them a chance to tell you about their child...their stories deserve to be heard.

I have 30 more emails to go tonight.  30 more individual responses as a way to reach out.  30 more individual responses as a way to say thank you.  30 more individual responses as a way to plant a seed.  Why so many emails to go?  My team and I teach more than 150 students and every year we ask the parents/guardians to take a beginning of the year survey.  We ask a few simple questions to start to get to know our students more.  To get to know the families more.  To start the relationship that we hope to have with them all year, and every single person that takes the survey deserves to get an email in response.

If you teach younger students, this may be nothing new for you, after all, the parent survey seems to be a pillar of beginning of the year.  Yet, I don’t hear of it often at the middle and high school level. I don’t see many middle or high school teachers discuss their beginning of the year surveys.  Which is such a shame because the information that we get with our few questions is invaluable.  This is how we know that a child may have lost a parent.  This is how we know if a child has had a tough school experience, if they love to read, if they cannot sit still.  If all they hope for is a day full of PE or if they really hope that this is the year that their teachers will like them.  This is how we know if those at home may not like school much and would therefore prefer to not be contacted.

What we have found the last few years is that this small beginning of the year survey is a chance for those at home to know that we value their knowledge of their child.  That we value their commitment to school.  That we value who their child is and the journey they are on, as well as take the role we play very seriously.  We ask them how involved they would like to be to help us gauge their feelings about middle school.  We ask them how they would like to be contacted so those who do not want an email can be called instead. We ask what their goals for their learner is so that we can help them achieve that, not calling it a weakness, but instead having them help us become better teachers.

I know that we often want students to become more independent and not so reliant on those at home, yet a survey is still in place.  What those at home know about their child is worth sharing.  What those at home know about what their learner still needs or strives for is worth hearing.

So if you haven’t done a beginning of the year parent/guardian survey do it now, even if the year has already started.  Ask a few questions, send it out electronically and then hand paper copies to those who do not fill it out.  Send a few reminders and then send a thank you email.  Plant the seed of goodwill that will hopefully carry you throughout the year as you try to create a learning experience that works for every child and every parent/guardian.  Trust me, you will be glad you did.

To see our current parent/guardian survey, go here.  In the past we have also used the standard “What are your hopes and dreams for 7th grade?” but found that this survey gave us more information.

PS:  I think I blog about this every year, but it is because I am blown away every year by the knowledge we receive.

being a teacher, first day, first week, new year

On the Very First Day

How do you want students to feel after the first day of school? @pernilleripp

19 days.  19 days before my back to school nightmares will stop.  19 days before all of those dreams, hopes, wishes and fears become reality.  19 days before the first day of school.  Before they come.  Before they enter our classroom, see all of our books, and hope that this year will be amazing.  19 days seems so close yet so very far away.

I have spent a great part of the summer being afraid of the year to come.  Being afraid of the dreams I have for the year.  Being afraid of how I want it to be better than the last year but now quite sure how to make it better.  I think fear is common when we strive to be better.  I have run lesson plans through my mind, thought of possible scenarios, created and torn down the paths we may walk.  It is so hard to plan for a year when the students are not here yet.

Yesterday, I finally realized that while the curriculum calls, it is not what is most important right now.  It is not what I need to first focus on.  I speak about how our classrooms should be all about the students and how important that first day is and then forget to listen to my own words.  I am probably sick of my own voice by now.

So on the first day of school we will start with a picture book, we will start with conversation.  We will start not by speaking of all the things we have to get done, but all of the hopes that we have.  The students will speak more than me.  On the first day of school I will not worry about curriculum, but rather about how they feel.  How they feel after our first class together.  How they feel about the year.

Because we can prepare and plan.  Because we can create and get ready.  Because we can see the path that lies before us and take the very first steps.  And we will do all of that.  But we will also celebrate that we get to be together.  That we get to share 7th grade together.  So I will not plan much to do.   I will not plan for many things to be completed.  I will instead plan for the emotional experience that I would like them to experience; that this room is theirs, that this room is safe, that this year will be special.  That they matter and that their voice matters..

Now I just have to remember my own plans.

If you like what you read here, consider reading my 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.

aha moment, being a teacher, first day, new year

3 Non-Ice Breaker Things to Do the First Week of School

I always wonder how students felt about doing the ice breaker activities I had planned for them.  How I asked them on the very first day to let loose, lighten up, and live a little.  How some of them seemed to light up while some barely went through the motions, no amount of coaching from me helping them. And some just stood there mortified.  I figured a little embarrassment didn’t hurt them that much.

Then I was asked to do ice breakers myself.  To share something I had never told someone else.  To take part in a scavenger hunt where I had to do things I didn’t feel comfortable with.  I didn’t feel like I knew people, I was mortified.  That night I swore to myself never to do anymore ice breakers, at least not in the traditional sense.

Yet we still have to break the ice.  We still have to plant the seeds of community.  So while I have discussed what I will be doing on the first day of school already here, here are three more ideas for forming a community with your students.

How We Are Connected Web

I wish I could remember who taught me this one, but I cannot.  You take a large piece of paper (bulletin board paper will do nicely) and then every students gets a sharpie.  All students and you sit around the piece of paper and then write their name down in front of them.  A students will then share something they like or dislike, if you agree with their statement you draw line from your name to their name.  You then go around the paper until everyone has shared.  In the end you will have a spiderweb image on your paper showing just how many things you have in common with each other.

Find A Picture Book

It is no secret that I am obsessed with picture books, so I love this way to get a hint at their personality.  All this requires is a lot of different picture books spread out.  Tell the students that they should find a picture book that speaks to them in some way, perhaps the cover reminds them of something, perhaps they remember it from their childhood, perhaps the story connects to them?  Once everyone has found a book, have them gather in groups and share why they selected the book they chose.  Students get a chance to speak about themselves and it is a great way for them to get excited about the books they will have access to.

The Circle

This is taken straight from our restorative circle program at school, an incredibly powerful program.  All members sit in a circle and one person holds the talking piece.  A question is asked such as; what is your favorite memory or something else non-threatening, and students take turns sharing and more importantly listening to each other.  We use circles all throughout the year and the way they build community is extraordinary.  Students learn to be a part of a protected environment where they can share whatever they need to share and know that their words are private within the circle.

Building community and getting to know students should not be something that embarrasses kids or leaves them riddled with anxiety.  It should be a positive experience that sows the seeds for the community you will build the rest of the year.  So be mindful of all of the students, not just those that you know will love the games.  Make sure they all feel accepted or you may be causing more rifts than building connections.

Jenn Gonzales from Cult of Pedagogy just published “Icebreakers That Rock” – check out her post too for more inspiration.

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.

being a teacher, first day, new year, reflection, Student

On the First Day of School

recite-bjldbu

Today I was reminded of the stark reality that is the 45 minutes blocks of time that I teach in every day.  As I sat and planned my first quarter, or at the very least wrote down some of the ideas I have, I kept glancing at that first day; the one that seems so magical.  I have so many ideas.  So many things I would like to do on that very first day.  Yet, the 45 minutes really stifles a lot of creativity.  The 45 minutes really forces me to see what is most important.

On the first day of school I don’t want to do activities.  I don’t want to play games.  Nor do I want to fake my enthusiasm.

On the first day of school I don’t want to force student into awkward ice breakers, while they hope the teacher will forget it is their turn next.  I will not force them to bare their soul, nor to share their dreams.

On the first day of school, we will not have many things planned.  We will not spend precious time listening to me drone on.  We will not run around hectically trying to figure it all out.

Instead, on the first day of school we will sit quietly and listen to a book read aloud.  We will have the time to speak to one another.  We will cautiously start to feel each other out, find our friends, glance at the new people.

We will ask the questions about 7th grade that we have, not because we have to but because we will take the time if needed.  Students will set the rules of the classroom, as always, and it will take as much time as it needs.

The first day of school is meant to be a great experience, but that does not mean we cram it full of things to do.  That doesn’t mean that we put on our entertainer hat and try to juggle as many balls as we possibly can.  Instead, it means that we take the very first step to get to know these students that have been thrust into our lives.  That they take the very first step in trusting us and trusting the community.  That can only happen in a genuine way if we take things slow.  If we allow time to just be, to just sit, to just talk.  So as you plan for the very first day of school, plan for the quiet, for the reflection, for the conversation.  Don’t spend so much time planning for all of the things.  Because this isn’t about how to prove how fun you will be this year, it is about showing the kids that you care.

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.

first day, hopes, new year

A Hope for the First Day of School

In the movies they often speak about that one day that changes everything.  The moment in which the world stood still or tilted on its side or whatever cosmic thing that can happen, happened.  That day that changed someone forever.  And as much as I love the movies, I don’t think our lives can depend on just one day.  I think it can depend on many “one day’s,” a collection of big days that compounds us and define us, creating the person we want to be.

One of those days is the first day of school.  The real first day, not the ones where parents show up and you wear your finest clothes and you smile and socialize and talk and try to not show how insanely nervous you are.  No, the one after that.  The one where the students show up after the bell rings and try to remember where their desks are, try to remember your name, try to remember what was all said the day before.  That day can change everything.
We worry about the impression we make on parents, did we get our message across?  Did we plant the seed of relationship?  Do they really trust us as professionals?  But do we worry enough about the impression we make on our students?  Has that seed of trust been planted or is it simply taken for granted?
So on that first day of school, that real first day, I want to reach out and connect.  I want to laugh a lot.  I want to excite, I want to work, and I want to bare myself.  I want to invest, to relish, and to trust my students.  I want them to feel they are at home, that our room is safe, and that 5th grade will be just as magical as they hoped it would.  I want to make a day that changes their lives, I want to be part of their collection of “one day’s.”  I hope it is not asking too much.