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.

Be the change, first week, Reading, reflection, students

So You Want a Reading Classroom – 12 Ideas to Help You

I have always been a passionate reader and this year was no different, what was different though was that I finally unveiled this to my students.  I don’t quite know what took me so long.  So as I go into my second year as a reading classroom – and by that I mean, a room where reading takes center stage,  students cannot wait to read, and there are books being passed around every single day – I am thinking of how to create that.  Here are some of my ideas:

  1. Showcase your reading – this year through the inspiration of Jillian Heise I did a Mrs. Ripp reading display.  I cannot tell you how many book discussions this sparked with not just my students, but many students who just walked by the room.  

                                                     

  1. Get rid of books – I know this seems so simple but in honesty my classroom library had plenty of books but not a lot of great books.  So I weeded more than 100 books last year and then started replenishing as I saw fit.
  2. Invest in great books – I lost count of how much money I poured into books this year and while I wish teachers didn’t have to pay so much out of pocket for things, it seems to be just the way it is.  One great thing that happened was that my students would give the classroom giftcards for more books when they saw my passion – now that was awesome.
  3. Give your library space – I have always had a decent sized library but it was more tucked in a corner and not fully getting the attention it deserved.  While it is still in a corner, it is nice and open with short shelves and all of the books in labeled bins.  I label them by genre, author, or interest, it just depends on the book.  Books are easy to find and put back, which I think is a must as well and students take ownership over it.  They want it to work well for them so they can spend more time reading.
  4. Give choice – nothing will kill reading faster than constantly requiring students to read certain books.  I hate it, my students hate it, so I had to find a way around doing small group instruction without using chapter books.  I now use short high-interest articles instead to accomplish the same thing with my students and when they are done they get to read whatever they want.
  5. Challenge them – I love the concept of some sort of a book challenge and am contemplating doing the 40 book challenge by Donalyn Miller.  I love the idea that it is not about succeeding or failing but rather pushing yourself as a reader.
  6. Give reading priority– the first thing I would sacrifice in our busy schedule was always independent reading time.  Now it is the last thing to go; students crave uninterrupted reading time and many of them need it as a way to work on their skills.  All students get this every day, after all, to become a better reader you need to read!
  7. Read great picture books – I have always loved a great picture book but I had never really used them jus to hook kids.  Now we start many days with a picture book and then cherish the story-telling.  What I discovered is that every picture book can teach us something about reading or writing, thus making them both entertaining and purposeful.
  8. Make it authentic – ask adults; when we read a great book we cannot wait to tell others about it so that they may read it as well.  Students are no different, so many of them cannot wait to recommend a book to a classmate or me but you have to give them the time to do it.  We did through blog writing, speed book dating – 1 minute book recommendations – and informal conversations.  Students always had a to-read list going which made their next book selection so much easier.
  9. Read the books yourself – this is a must for any teacher that want a great reading classroom.  You have to read the books!  Students need to know whether the book is a great book or not and the person they trust is you.  So take the time and read the books; I have and I love discovering all of these incredible books that I need to get into the hands of students.  
  10. Talk about it – I book-talk books all the time, I show students my to-read list, I rush in excited about a new book I cannot wait to read and I created the Global Read Aloud.  I even created a book review blog so my students can see what I am reading after they leave my classroom.  I live the life of a passionate reader!  Be a role model for the students and show them that it is okay to really love reading.
  11. Don’t diminish reading – I ask students to read 30 minutes every day outside of school but what they read is completely up to them: magazines, books, websites, or whatever they think.  I do not check whether they do it, I assume they do.  I do not want them to think that they can only get better at reading by reading what I think is worthy, they need to see the power of any kind of reading (and we need to honor that).
  12. Plant the seed early – I had my students create book bins with favorite books for the incoming 5th graders.  These bins will be sitting on their desk the very first day of school and that is what we will start with; a discussion of why reading is the most incredible thing in the world – I cannot wait!
community, first week, new year

Hold Off on that Curriculum – Slowing Down Now Speeds You Up Later

image from icanread

You feel the sense of urgency as you enter, the hallways are buzzing with sounds, and everywhere you look teachers and students are engaged in activities; welcome to the first few days of school.  And while we all feel the curriculum rushing up on us, here is why taking your time with your students those first few days will be the ultimate payoff for the rest of the year.

  • We are all brand new to each other.  Yes, you may have had their sister, or you may have started a relationship with them in an earlier grade but let’s face it; they are a brand new kid who just wants to be liked by their teacher.  How will you ever find common ground if you don’t find the time to actually hear about their lives?
  • We are cementing our routines.  I am not always a fan of prescriptive programs but there are certain routines that the students have to master for our days to get started quickly and for us to work more effectively.  Those routines will not be secured if we don’t take the time not just to practice them, but also to discover and discuss the need for them.  I don’t set the rules but I do show routines.
  • We are discovering our rules.  As I said, I don’t set the rules, my students do, so to do that we have to take the time to discuss what we want our year to look like, feel like, sound like.  What do we want to leave 5th grade with?  So we create a vision video for our room on Animoto and we talk a lot about what we need in order to be successful learners.  We do not write the rules down but bring them up throughout the year.  This takes time and that time needs to be given at the start of the year, later on it is too late.
  • The curriculum will mean nothing if we don’t get excited.  School has been done for too many years to students so I would rather see students get excited about what this coming year of learning will mean for them.  To do that you have to invest time in exploring just what the year will look like.  We pull our curriculum a little bit apart just so we know where we are headed and all of the things we have to look forward to.  It is wonderful to see a child get excited about something they will explore in February already.
  • We relish our freedom.  We sometimes have to unteach certain behaviors because we work a little bit differently in our room.  So instead of always raising our hand to answer, we figure out  how to do “adult” discussions.  We figure out how to work independently, what our help resources are, as well as how to take control of our misguided attempts or abject failures and figure out where to go from there.  Students tend to think at first that I am trying to trick them into misbehaving, they have to see that it isn’t a trick.  This takes time but is so important to the rest of the year.
  • We have to build trust.  Without trust our blogging does not work, and neither do many of the other learning activities we do.  I don’t demand their trust, I earn it just as they have to earn mine. Respect and representing ourselves well is something I hold very dear and I try to pass on those values to my students.  If we don’t trust each other to learn together then we cannot overcome all of the challenges we need to conquer.  Trust is a main tenet of our room.

Being on maternity leave doesn’t mean that I won’t have a first day of school, it jst means that it comes a little bit later and there may be changes for the students.  When I go back, I know that i will have to invest the time to start our relationships.  Right now, my 5th graders are not my kids, they belong to my sub, so to become mine, we have to build our relationship.  So yes, I will be taking the time to do so even if that means the curriculum has to wait a little.

Some of the activities I plan on using such as the human treasure hunt, our time capsule, as well as the letter to me can be found as a printable packet on Teachers Pay Teachers with 13 pages of ideas.