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.

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

What Parents Wish We Would Ask Them About Their Child

We tried to have kids for three years before we were successful.  Three years of hoping this was the time.  Three years of doctors shaking their heads, of appointments, of surgery, of medicine to help.  Three years of dreaming.  When she came I cried knowing that the miracle she was would never be fully understood by others who had not traveled our journey.  She cried right along with me.

When she started school I wrote a letter to her telling her of the hopes, the fears, and the dreams we had for her as she embarked on this next phase of her journey.  We held her tight, hugged her, and sent her on her way.

For the past eight years, we have been the parents of her and three more siblings, all with their own winding road into being.  We have watched in awe as their personalities have grown, as their will have formed.  As their knowledge of life, of who they are, of where they fit have expanded and shrank, depending on what happened at any given time.  And we have seen the not-so-great, the tantrums, the curveballs that all kids present you with and we have held our breath at times when we have been in public and this thing that is happening right in front of us that seems to have come out of nowhere is making us both want to just die of embarrassment.

You are our most precious.  You are the things we are the proudest of.  But you are also what we worry about the most.  And so with three kids about to start school, I hope we get a chance to tell your teachers who you are.  Not so we can pretend you are perfect but so we can present you for everything that you are.  Willful and strong, creative and flighty, funny and sometimes mad, but always you, and always a child who is exploring who they are and what life has to offer.

Today, as I prepared our own home survey (Spanish version here) that we send out to all of our incoming parents, I asked my PLN which question do they wish, as parents, they would be asked about their children.  The answers were too good not to share, so thank you, everyone, who responded.  Thank you for sharing your hopes so that we can all become better teachers.  So that we can start the year on the very best foot, hearing who your child is from the people that know them best.

 

What do parents/guardians wish we would ask them about their child?

When you think about your child, what makes you proud?

What are they passionate about?

What do they cry about at home?

How can I help make this a great year for your son/daughter?

How can I make your child feel safe and open to trying new things?

Do you have any suggestions on how to best connect with your child?

What sparks your child’s interest?

What triggers frustration or withdrawal?

What two things I should do and two things that I should avoid?

What are your hopes and dreams for the school year?
What helps to motivate your child to do his/her best?

What else?  What would you add to the list?  How would you like to share the story of who your child is with these new teachers?

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.

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.

 

 

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.

 

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.