being a teacher, being me, classroom management, end of year, life choices

It’s the Very Least We Can Do

The comment keeps showing up on my end of year surveys, slipped in between suggestions, hard truths, and great advice.  It makes me smile every time.  It has been a comment I have heard throughout the year from students in blog posts, in small conversations, and even from parents.  “Mrs. Ripp smiles a lot…” “You always have a smile on your face…” “You smile every day.”  And while it is not true, I don’t think I smile every single day for every minute, this little comment means the world to me because every day I make a choice to smile.  Every day, when I pull up to the parking lot, when I open the days, when the crazy noise of the students coming up our stairs reaches my door, I make sure I have a smile ready to greet them because it is the very least I can do.

As educators, we spend so much time planning meticulous lessons.  We do professional development to continue to be lifelong learners.  We lay awake worrying about kids, about parents, about what we said, what we asked our students to do that day.  We spend so much energy on the big picture stuff that we forget about the easiest thing we can do; smile.  Show all the kids of your school that you really want to be there.  That it matters to you that they are there.  That you are happy to see them.  That their very existence makes your life better.  Even if you don’t totally feel it.  Even if you don’t feel like it.  If you can’t do it for yourself, then do it for the kids.

Our actions speak louder than our words and you wouldn’t believe how much the sight of a smile in a busy hallway can change the mood of a day.  But don’t take my word for it; try it.  Make it a habit.  Smile as if your life depended on it, who knows, whose life it will change?

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.

aha moment, authentic learning, being a teacher, being me, life choices, Reading, student choice

When Your Child Hates Reading- Some Advice From Those of Us Who Try

Note with content: When your child hates reading

One of the top questions I work through with friends, family, parents of my students, and even my own children is what to do when a child doesn’t want to read.  Or  I am asked for ideas for how to increase a child’s desire to read.  This is not a question I take lightly, nor one that I have a magical solution to.  I wish.  But I do have a few ideas that may help a reluctant reader get more interested in reading taken from my own experience as a teacher and parent.

First of all; be a reader yourself.  Nothing speaks louder to a child than having reading role models.  Read as much as you can, discuss your reading, share your reading, and read widely.  Switch it up to showcase that reading is not just one thing to you, but can consists of many types of books and genres.  I always have a book in my purse, backpack, and in my house.  I read when I am waiting for people, when we sit a traffic lights, whenever we have an errand to run and I stay back in the car.  Be a reader yourself so that the children in your life can see the value of it, not just hear about it.  Also pass books on in front of your children, I often hand books to others and discuss why they might love it.  My children and students have started doing the same.

Secondly, keep reading aloud.  We read aloud to all four of our children every single night.  They pick the books and we gladly comply.  It is a perfect way to end the day and allows a moment to create a shared experience.  This goes for older children as well.  Several of my students have reported sharing a book with a parent and I can tell you; it makes a huge difference to them.  I also cherish the read aloud time we have in class, much too little of it unfortunately, but again it allows us to have a shared experience that will shape future conversations about books.  (One tip:  Read the first book in a series aloud to ensure students get hooked and have more books to read).  Create a shared read aloud experience with the world by joining The Global Read Aloud or other shared read aloud projects.  This helps students connect with the world and also gets them excited about incredible books.

Third, take them to the book store.  Yes, I love a great library but there seems to be a stigma to some kids about “those old books” that they can find in the library versus the new and shiny ones they can see in a book store.  My trick, so that I don’t go bankrupt is to take my own children to the book store first , let them select all of the amazing books they cannot wait to read, write them all down, and then head straight to the library to get them from there.  Once in a while they get to select a book to purchase from the book store and we make a big deal out of it.

Fourth, keep handing them books.  Be specific with why you are handing it to them.  “I read this book and think you might like it because…” and keep doing it every chance you have.  Don’t be offended when they don’t want to read it.  I tell my students all of the time that even if I think a book is great they may hate it, which always turns into a great discussion of taste.  Children need chances to develop their own taste and in order to do that they need to be presented with a lot of books to choose from.  (This is also why I have a large classroom library and many books at my house).  And don’t just hand them the Classics, or whatever you think they should read, if they express interest in something hand that to them.  My mother never limited what I read even if she felt something was too hard or outside of my interest, she just let me read.  When we micromanage we stop children from discovering themselves as readers.

Fifth, don’t let your own ideas of what great reading looks like ruin great readings for others.  I think we are all super guilty of thinking we know what great reading looks like.  Whether it is reading a certain book or genre, whether it is reading in a certain type of environment or noise level, whatever we prefer is what we assume must be best for all.  Just don’t.  I have had students get deep into the reading zone while listening to soft music.  I have had students only want to read one certain genre and nothing else no matter what I presented them with.  I have had students swear that the best reading they can do is when they walk around the room.  Yes, really!  And guess what?  They were right.  Their best reading is their best reading, not the silent lying on the couch method I prefer. But you should have the conversation with them, ask them what it looks like and then have them cultivate that.  Discuss your own reading preference so they can find their style as well.

Sixth, don’t do rewards.  Ever.  Reading is its own reward.  The minute we start to tie reading with a tangible reward, we remove the intrinsic pleasure we hope our readers discover.  Although reading for a reward can offer a short-term solution to get a child reading, it will set a long-term precedent of what reading is for.  It is not worth it.  It will almost never lead to some sort of revelation of how pleasurable reading is and instead you have created a new bad habit; the “give-me” monster whose outstretched hand will only read when there is a tangible prize at the end.  So don’t start, even if it seem  like it might help a little, the damage it will do will not be worth it in the end.

Seven, give it a break.  I can be a high-strung reading parent, particularly because reading has not come super easy for one of my own children.  When we saw her struggle, my immediate reaction was to want her to read for longer periods of time in order to practice more.  My husband intervened, thankfully, and reminded me that when she does read it is hard, concentrated work and so we want to keep it short and sweet.  Make it a pleasurable experience, not a drill sergeant moment.  So if your child is really fighting you on reading, or struggling, don’t force them to read for a long period of time every day, keep it short, pleasant, and predictable.   Let them browse books, read a bit and support them throughout. They will get there, it may just take time and that one great book, but making something already difficult or hated into a long battle is not going to change their mind or help them love reading.

Eight, talk about reading but in a non-threatening way.  My daughter and I invent stories a lot on our drive home, sometimes based off of read alouds we have done.  My students and I discuss movies all of the time, particularly if they are based on a book and we need to compare it.  I show book trailers, I do impromptu picture book read alouds, and I get very, very excited about new books that I am reading.  Books are a constant undercurrent of my life and I do my best to bring it to the attention of the children I am surrounded by, but in a non-obvious way.  So go to author talks and signings, do read alouds, go to movies based on books, leave books out, listen to audio books on road trips, be excited about being a reader and don’t give up.  You never know at what moment a child will start to love reading.

Nine, realize it’s ok if they don’t love reading.  I can’t believe I just write that but it is true.  Yes, we should make opportunities for all children to love reading but we also need to be ok with a child if they don’t.  My mother raised my 4 siblings and I to love reading (I really have 11 siblings but these were the ones at my mom’s house) and 4 out of the 5 kids love it more than anything.  My one brother… not so much.  He is a great reader and once in a while will fall in love with a book series, but most of the time he is busy doing other things.  His life is not less full or less pleasurable than mine.  So we need to be ok with having a child that doesn’t love reading as much as we do…That doesn’t mean we stop, but it means we stop judging them on it.

What did I miss?  What ideas do you have to share?  I know many of us struggle with this.

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, being me, life choices

There Is No Such Thing As Balance

It’s 9 PM and I have spent 30 minutes with my husband.  2 hours with my four children.  10 hours at work.  1 hour after work working on work and 1 more hour thinking about it.  Just another day in the life of most teachers.  I used to think that days like this meant my life was out of balance.  That adding up all of the hours spent away from those that matter the most meant that I was an abject failure at being a great human being and that I had to restore my balance.  In the past few weeks though, I have realized that there is no such as balance.

In fact, I would like to state that balance is much like a unicorn.  Wonderful to dream about even though we all know it doesn’t really exist.

What I do have though is choice.  And for the past 7 years I have chosen to give the best of me to my students.  I have chosen to give most of my energy, most of my thoughts, most of my hopes and dreams to those students I have been lucky enough to teach.  I have taught with my emotions on my sleeve and at a breakneck pace.  I have chosen to do this, whether intentionally or not, and so my own children?  They have gotten whatever was left of me when I finally made it home.  The final smiles, the tired eyes, the overloaded mind.  And that is no longer enough.

We forget that as teachers we cannot save the world.  That yes, we can try to change the life of a child in our classrooms but we hold a much greater power at home.  We are the people that can change our own children’s lives for good.  We are the people who can make sure that some children will show up to school knowing they are loved, knowing that they have support no matter what happens to them.  We are the people who can make a difference, but that difference needs to start with our own children.

So I am ready to stop searching for balance and instead spend the time and energy making better choices.  There are moments of my day I cannot choose, I will devote myself fully to those hours I get to teach.  But the rest of the day belongs to me and to the choices that I want to make.  No longer should my family get what is left of me, but instead what they deserve; a person who is fully present, not thinking about work or the next thing to write.  A mother who looks at them like they matter.  A wife that shows how crazy in love she still is.  I will never find that unicorn, but I have come to accept it.  Now it is time for a change, how about you?

assumptions, being me, Decisions, life choices, students

We Should All Be Surprised

image from icanread

A teacher contacts me at the beginning of the year at their wits end; they have this one student, you know the one, the one that doesn’t listen, the one with the rap sheet miles long even though they are just in 5th grade.  That student that smiles and laughs and then turns deadly the moment you turn your back.  yeah that one is now in their room and this teacher tries everything.  Throughout the year we share tips and ideas, what if’s and have you tried’s.  Sometimes there are small victories but most often the honeymoon is over before it began.  At the end of the year the teacher is exhausted and the student is about the same except maybe taller, faster, and even more hellbent on saying no and getting their way.

Over the summer I hear once more from the teacher, this time telling me that the student had been in trouble with police.  Something minor but still a gateway to worse, a gateway to things we so diligently try to shield our kids from.  What comes next floors me; “I’m not surprised, just thought it would happen later, that’s all…”  The words form a rope around my neck and I feel myself at a loss for words.  I don’t know how to answer that, not then, but now I do.  You should be surprised!  You should be shocked that any kid decides to go down that path.  We should never lose our surprise when students, kids, make bad decisions.  I don’t care what path they were on in our classrooms.  I don’t care how destructive they may have come off as.  We should be surprised when they make terrible decisions and not just say, “See, I knew it would happen…”

I know this may be idealistic and perhaps I have one foot in utopia, but yet, we have to be surprised when our students fail our expectations.  We have to be surprised when they wander into dangerous territory and make poor decisions.  Be surprised when all of our hard work, all of our efforts, don’t seem to make a difference.  Someone has to keep believing in these kids, even the ones we think are lost.  Even the ones that give us the hardest time, sometimes, because after all, they are the ones that need it the most.  So stay surprised and keep believing.

Be the change, life choices

It Takes One

“Here you go, you can have this one.”  A little boy gives a train to Thea and she eagerly grabs it from him.

“You can also have this one,” he says and once again happy fingers snag the train.
Another little boy approaches the train set and Thea turns to him, “Here you go, we’re sharing.”  And with that, 3 happy strangers each with their own train piece playing alongside each other.
It takes one child to start a behavior.  One child who shows others what to do or not to do.  One child to be the leader; right or wrong.  That child can choose to bully or that child can choose to lead.  A choice to think something is “cool” or not, a choice to accept or reject.  Sometimes the choice is made deliberately, other times it is matter of timing, comfort and perhaps even manners.  
It takes one adult to start a behavior, to set the precedent, to take their mood and view and influence others. It takes on adult to either welcome or dismiss ideas, new people, or even students.  One adult to show what to do so that others may follow.  Are you that adult?  And if yes, how do you lead?
Be the change, being me, challenge, life choices

I Must Apologize Beforehand – A Serial Apologizer Apologizes

Image from here

I have to start out by saying I am sorry for what I am about to post.  It may offend, it may irk you a little, so thus the apology beforehand.  See there now you are disarmed and perhaps it wont really be so bad, after all, the apology has already been given.

I am serial apologizer.  Not for my life really but for the way I teach.  I don’t flash the way I work in my classroom, which sounds ludicrous since I blog about it, but if you catch me in conversation, I am not one to tell you that what my kids do is pretty spectacular.  That the kind of community I am part sometimes makes me deliriously happy.  That I am so proud of all the work my students do, of the risks we take, and the mountains we climb.  I don’t flaunt it because that would be too offensive.

And yet, for every time I hide what I do.  For every time I don’t stand by the choices I have made in case I may offend someone, I chip away at my own desire as a teacher to be a world changer.  My own world, the world of my students, and perhaps even the greater world outside of my room.  For every time I wrap my teaching philosophy in apologies a little bit of it gets duller, less fantastic, until I wonder what I will be left with.

So why is it I feel the need to apologize?  Because I am different?  Because I have opinions?  Because I vehemently believe that the focus has to be on the needs of the students and not that of the teacher?  Because I believe in honest communication and not veiled lingo?  Because I believe that you have to fight for change from within in any way you can and give your students that voice?  Because I believe that we have to get the students involved in their own education so we don’t lose them, after all education should not be done to them but with them?

I am not sure, I am sorry, I really don’t know  But it is making me think that I need to stop.  I am starting to think that I need to stand by what I do a little taller, a little prouder and not diminish the choices I have made.  The choice to be different in an otherwise cookie-cutter educational system because it is what I believe in.  The choice to throw away punishment, lecturing, homework and grades as much as I can and instead focus on knowledge, exploration and the need to fail over and over again.  The choice to change, the choice to not do it the way I was taught, and the choice to take risks.  After all, it is working, I am sorry, but it is true.