The Best in 2016 – My Favorite Posts of the Year

Who would have known what this year would bring, how the world would look so different from the promises we arose with in our minds on January 1st.  We have made it another trip around the sun and tomorrow we start a new year, a new book so so to speak.  Who knows what will grace this blog in 2017.

This was a year of change for my family.  Theadora, our oldest, changed school districts, the twins, Ida and Oskar, started 4-K, and my husband left the construction business after 19 years to become a stay-at-home dad and also go back to school to pursue his dream of being a teacher.  It seems in a family life of change, I was the only constant.  A new book was published, another one almost written and so many opportunities to grow as a teacher.   There were 154 posts published on this post, many of them involving literacy, many of them involving books, so which are the ones that stood out to me?

Broken Child

A post about our oldest daughter and realizing that while she does not learn in a typical fashion at times, she was never broken.  Excerpt:

She’s got my eyes, you know.

Blue mixed with gray depending  on the weather.   She’s got my long legs, arms for miles, and a laugh that comes from her heart.  Her hands look like my grandfather’s who gave her her name.  And those feet of hers are just like mine, growing too fast for her shoes to keep up.

She’s got her daddy’s sense of humor, always ready to make you smile.  And also his artistic eye, declaring one day she will be an artist.  She will paint the sky with every color she knows.

But she doesn’t have my skills of sitting still.  Of staying quiet.  Of focusing in.

She doesn’t smile easy or understand when others are kidding.  Friendships are sometimes hard to find.

Some would say she is a broken child.  Some would say she is a broken child.

12 Ways I Got My Life Back in Balance As a Teacher

A post I needed to remind myself that while teaching is an incredible job it is not the only thing I want my life to be consumed with.  Excerpt:

I get asked often how I do it all.  How do I teach full-time, have 4 children, a happy marriage, and also write, speak, and all of those other things that I am so lucky to do without losing my mind.  And the truth is; I don’t know.  There are good days where I feel like I have succeeded in most things and there are days where I feel woefully overworked.  There is definitely a chase of balance always going on.  Yet, there are some things that have simplified my teaching life that I now take for granted.  Things that used to take up a lot of time that I no longer do or have changed to allow me to not work as much as I used to.  Because the truth is; being a teacher is a never-ending job.  Your to-do list is never done.  There will always be one more thing that should get done, one more idea to try.  Knowing that, I knew I needed to change a few things, in and out of the classroom in order to save my sanity and have a life.

On the Need for Classroom Libraries for All Ages

A post to remind ourselves that the need for classroom libraries coupled with a school library (and librarian!) does not end after elementary school.  We need classroom libraries in all of our classrooms, no matter the age.

It took me 3 seconds to decide that I was going to move my entire classroom library into my 7th grade classroom.  Coming from 5th grade I wasn’t quite sure what the use of a classroom library would be on my new adventure, after all, we would only have 45 minutes together, but I couldn’t leave my books behind.  I couldn’t leave them in boxes.  Even if we didn’t need the books as a class, I needed them.  My books were home to me and when you change schools, when you change districts, when you change grade levels, you need all of the pieces of home you can find.

My husband carried every single box of books into my classroom.  There were more than 100 and they took up an entire wall as I waited for my bookshelves to arrive.  He didn’t mind too much, he has realized a long time ago that I my obsession with books is part of who I am.  As I opened each box and shelved the books in their new home, I couldn’t help but wonder if any child would ever read them?  If dust would soon become their second skin rather than the hands of children.  Was there any point in my meticulous placement of books?

Reading Conferences Within the 45 Minute English Classroom, Yes, It Is Possible

I have tried for the past three years to find time to confer with my students within the 45 minutes that I teach.  It is so hard, but here are the ideas that have helped it become more of a reality.

Confession time; I am terrible at conferring with my students.  This once proud foundation of my elementary classroom is now a crumbling pillar in my 7th grade English class.  Call it a victim of the 45 minute I have to teach everything in.  A victim of the so much to do.  A victim of not quite knowing how to make it productive.  Whatever it is, the conferring that I know I should be doing has simply not been getting done.

Yet a few weeks ago, I realized that the one thing I needed the most (besides more time, more books, more knowledge) was the simple conference.  The one to one interaction with every single one of my students if even for just a few minutes.   Because conferring is the one way I can really reach all students.  Is the one way we can connect the best.  Is the one way that I can really see what each child needs.  Conferring is the best way for me to be a better teacher to all of the needs must of us are faced with.   So even within the 45 minute English class, with almost 120 students spread over 5 classes, there had to be a way.  There had to be tweaks that could be made to make it work so an experiment began.

The Test Does Not Care

Every spring I am confronted with the hours of tests my students have to take, this year was no different.  I have realized though that the test does not care about my kids and it never will.

We teach our students to ask questions, to share, to discuss.  We teach them to find help when they need it, take their time when they can, and to always use their tools.

They sit where they are comfortable in order to access the learning best.  They reach out to those they trust and they use us whenever they are lost or just want to make sure that the path they are headed down is, indeed, the right one.

We try to create learning environments where discovering facts is only the first step of the journey, using them as a way to further understanding is the next.  We use our shared ideas to further the knowledge of others.  Where mistakes happen and we try again.  We try to create learning environments where students have a voice, where they have choices, where we try to make it personal so that the experience they have makes sense for who they are.

What Every Teacher of Reading Should Do According to My Students

Besides my own children my students have always been the biggest professional development I have received.  So it made sense to share their truths as they told me what made them love or hate reading with the world.

I have watched in amazement day upon day as our 7th graders have fallen into reading.  Have become still.  Have been whisked away to other worlds with their books in their hands and nothing to do but read.  I have listened as they have spoken of books, have handed them to each other, have recommended and requested.  Have been in competition with one another to read the book first, have asked me for that one book that they just can’t seem to find.

I have watched as my 118 learners became readers.  Not that they weren’t before, well some weren’t, but now; books are a part of who they are, at least in the 45 minutes we share.  Readers who were dormant are now awake.  Readers who were resistant are now in a fragile dance with books that entice them to keep reading.  Readers who already read have found bigger challenges to keep themselves engaged.  And I am so grateful.  Because these kids gave me a chance  and I now see the difference as we race toward the end.

So today I asked them; what do you wish every teacher would do for you as a reader and they told me, and then they told me to tell the world.

I’ve Had Enough  – No More Public Behavior Management Systems

For years I have fought against the use of public behavior management systems for kids and yet I still see, hear, and read about them every month.  Our job is not to publicly shame children, it never was, why do we seem to forget that?

When I was a 5th grade teacher, my classroom was the very last one before the buses.  Every day, all of the school’s students would pass by and inevitably some of those students and I would strike up a conversation.  Day after day, a little kindergartener would tell me about his day, his shoes, his new fish, or whatever else popped into his mind.  One day, he saw me and beamed,”Guess what, Mrs. Ripp!”  “What?” I asked.  “Peter was on yellow today!”  He told this news as if it was the biggest gift, excitement spilling from his little body.  Momentarily confused, because wasn’t this child’s name distinctly not Peter, it finally dawned on me; he was talking about another student.  “Oh yeah?” I said.  “Yes, Mrs. Ripp, it’s exciting, he hasn’t been on yellow all year…”  It was November.  My heart dropped.

Here was a kindergarten student who every single day so far of the year had been on red. Who every day had their behavior dissected in front of the rest of the class.   Whose classroom identity was being distinctly shaped by poor decisions and whose biggest identifier was his behavior.  I can only imagine what my kindergarten friend would tell his parent every day about Peter.

The Reading Rules We Would Never Follow As Adult Readers

Written as a reminder to myself, this post resonated with many when we spoke about the insanity of reading rules we sometimes create in our classrooms.  I am grateful for the discussions this one continues to generate.

Choice.

The number one thing all the students I have polled through theJust an ImmigrantJust  years want the most when it comes to reading.  No matter how I phrase the question, this answer in all of its versions is always at the top.  Sometimes pleading, sometimes demanding, sometimes just stated as a matter of fact; please let us choose the books we want to read.

Yet, how often is this a reality for the students we teach?  How often, in our eagerness to be great teachers, do we remove or disallow the very things students yearn for to have meaningful literacy experiences?  How many of the things we do to students would we never put up with ourselves?  In our quest to create lifelong readers, we seem to be missing some very basic truths about what makes a reader.  So what are the rules we would probably not always follow ourselves?

Just an Immigrant

Many people are not aware that I am not an American and this year I became even more aware of the privilege my origin and skin color carries.  I had to write about it.

Eighteen years ago, almost to the day, I stood in a small office in the Logan International Airport, Boston, Massachusetts clutching a sealed envelope to my chest as I tried to slow my galloping heart.  In the envelope was a copy of my chest x-rays, not seen by anyone until the official in front of me would open them up.  My pile of papers had been handed over and he riffled through them, tossing those aside that seemed unimportant.  I am not sure I took a breath at all.  I knew that if he found a mistake, if something seemed out of sorts, if something was missing, or a box was not checked, that was it.  No questions, no explanations, I would be back on a plane to Denmark and all of the time, money, and hoping would have been for nothing.  Standing there as an eighteen year old, I remember feeling so little, so scared, and so unsure of myself.  My fate was in the hands of a stranger and all I could do was smile.

“What are you doing here?” or something similar is all I remember being asked.  I must have answered correctly, in my perfect English, because he finally stamped my passport and handed it back to me.  “Welcome to the United States of America…”

The Worst Class in (X) Years

What do we do when a class’ reputation defines them as a group?

My last year as a 5th grade teacher we were warned, in a friendly way ,of course, as these warnings tend to be.  “Oh, you will have your hands full…”  Oh, THAT group is coming up.”  My team and I had seen these kids come up through the years, that is the beauty of elementary school.  Yes, we had seen the tantrums, the fighting, the crazy behavior that made many label this group as the worst in (insert however many) years.  But we also had seen the kindness, the energy, the fun that these kids projected and knew that while we may have our hands full, the year with them would be a year where we would always strive to look for the good, rather than the bad because although the bad was so easy to spot, it should not define a group of kids.  Sure there were days where we could not believe what was going on but what I remember most about that year was how incredible the kids were.  How much fun we had.  How there were these incredible lows but also days that were some of the best of my teaching career.  My team would agree with me on this.  Yes we had THAT group but also loved THAT group.

Every year since then I have taken that same pledge; to always look for the good first.  To always praise, to always point out how great of a group this group is.  To change the group narrative in some small way.   To always assume that this will be an incredible year no matter the reputation of a group.  I think it is so easy to fall prey to the notion of the worst class ever.  I think it is so easy to just want to get through a year as quickly as possible, I know there are days that seem never ending where we question everything we do.  Yet when we do, we forget something very important; not every kid is going to have a bad day every day.  Not every kid is going to have a bad class every class.  Sometimes it may seem like this is the toughest day yet, but that too shall pass and just like we hope for a better day tomorrow, so do the very kids we teach.

 

The Least We Can Do 

I was asked to do an Ignite at ITEC, I realized that there was one story I wanted to tell above all; the story of Augustine and her much too soon arrival and how it reminds me that the least we can do is love the kids who show up.

On December 19th, 2013, our youngest daughter, Augustine, was born almost 10 weeks early.  She came so fast that there was no doctor in the room, just the nurse.  She came so fast that I now know what the big red emergency button in a hospital room does.  She came so fast that I did not see her.  I did not hold her.  She did not cry.  For the first minute of her life, I did not know if she was alive.  It wasn’t until my husband, Brandon, told me she was breathing that I think I took a breath.  That life started up again because for that longest minute of my life, with no wailing to calm me down, I had no idea if I was still the mother of three or the mother of four.

They whisked her away from me into their machines, into the equipment that would help her tiny body breathe, stay warm, and her heart keep beating.  See when babies are born that early they need help with everything.  And we can prepare all we want but it is not until they actually arrive and we see how much they need us that we realize that all of a sudden we have started a new journey, one that will take us down a perilous path where we might not be able to see our destination for a long time.

Dear Dav Pilkey

I have long chronicled Thea’s reading journey on this blog and how it has shaped me as a teacher and as a human being.  This letter of gratitude to Dav Pilkey sums her journey up to now.

Dear Dav Pilkey,

You don’t know me, not unless you count the every brief moment I stood in front of you a few hours ago in your book signing line.  Yet I feel like I know you, perhaps that is what happens when your books have shaped the reading lives of so many of my students, I have seen the power they hold to transform children, I am grateful.  But just recently your books have taken on a new meaning for me.

You see, our oldest daughter, Thea, is what some would define as a struggling reader, we choose not to but instead just see her as a child who has not yet found her place in the world of reading, who so desperately wants to belong but still feels like she is on the outside looking in.  Who is developing with every book encounter she has.  Who has to work so hard when it comes to something that others find to be so easy.  Who for all of the years of her school experience has been given support by extraordinary teachers who have helped her believe that one day those words will come off the page and come alive.   Just not yet…

A Quiet Moment

These kids we teach and the books we read, oh what a combination it can be at times.

Life is full right now.  Full of so many wonderful things.  Full of so many privileges, but also challenges, things that will make me grow as a person, as a teacher, as a human being trying to be a better human being.  One of my privileges is to get to teach a class with some pretty incredible kids in it.  They are bouncy, creative, loud at times.  Sometimes they need reeling in that can take more than few minutes and yet every day as they walk out, although I am a little bit tired, I cannot wait for them to come back.

Today, the day after Halloween, I did not know what to expect.  After all, one child had declared to me the day before that really all school should just be cancelled the week of Halloween.  As a mother witnessing my own children’s lethargy this morning, I had to wonder what the day would bring.  Would these boys even be ready for anything?  Would it be a day of wasted time?  As the day grew on and the kids seemed to wake up from their tiredness, I started to ponder just how loud the end of the day would be?  Where would the crescendo hit?

A Story of A Child That Can

Rather than viewing our children through what they cannot do, we need to view them as they are now; capable, changed, and facing a whole life of possibilities ahead.

For the past three years, on December 19th, I have written about the miracle that is our youngest daughter, Augustine.  About her much too soon arrival.  About the fear.  The uncertainty.  The guilt…

I have written about my hope for others to see how a child’s start in life may still haunt them many years later when they show up in our classrooms.  I have written about how the very least we can do is love them when they come.  How we can prepare all we want and yet never be fully ready.

Augustine’s much too soon arrival has shaped our lives in many ways, and yet…last night when I came home from school I did not see a baby that arrived too early.  I did not see a 4 pound miracle.  I did not see a child wrapped up in long nights and frightening futures.  In machines and medical personel.  I saw an almost three year old showing me her pig, Pua.  I saw an almost three year old that wanted to watch that monster show.  I saw an almost three year old that kept her siblings awake by making cat noises.

As I look ahead to 2017, I cannot wait to see what I will write about.

 

 

How to Have Better Student Discussions

Today was the sixth day of school.  It has been a whirlwind of reading habits, book shopping, learning how to email, and today; how to actually have a decent discussion.  This may seem really simple but year after year I find that many students lack confidence when it comes to discussions, even when previous teachers have had them engaged in their classes.  So this year rather than just try to teach them throughout the year, we decided to create a foundation for it now, so what did we do? We combined a few tried-and-true strategies.

We fishbowled to start with. 

I invited four volunteers to come up and discuss an unknown text with me.  I had to follow the same expectations as them.  For the first few classes we did a poem with mixed results, for the final three we did an op-ed piece on why tweens should not have cell phones with better results.

So what was the set up?

  • Everyone gets a copy of the text, one classroom set,  so they do not have to share.
  • Everyone gets two cards or two of something else.
  • Groups either sat at whiteboard tables (tables covered in whiteboard contact paper – they are brilliant) or had a two-dollar whiteboard (take a shower panel and get it cut down into six pieces, they cost $2 a piece, I have twelve of them for collaboration).
  • Everyone gets a “Bounce card.”
  • Everyone gets an expo marker.

Expo marker and whiteboard:  After the text has been read (typically by themselves not out loud so make the text accessible for all.  This is not a reading strategy lesson per say but rather a discussion lesson), every child should take a few moments to write down their reactions or questions before the discussion starts.  That way everyone has a moment to think before the conversation ensues.

Two cards:   We used the tried-and-true way to get everyone to speak.  When a person speaks, they put their card into the middle.  They cannot speak again then until everyone else has also spoken and put a card in the middle.  This is to help everyone actually add their voice. I do two cards so that they all have to participate at least twice.  After the cards are used up, they can speak as much as they would like.

Bounce card:  Again, not my idea but from the book Total Participation Techniques: Making Every Student an Active Learner via our awesome 8th grade team.  The Bounce card is a visual tool for kids to remember to “bounce” off each other’s ideas rather than just state their own opinions.  There are three different paths they can take, they can bounce, sum up, or inquire.  Having the card in front of them is a helpful reminder to how they should be discussing.  Here is what our cards look like.

Teacher role:  Coaching, not teaching after the fishbowl.  Our job is not to lad the conversation but to let the kids figure it out.

After the fishbowl, it was their turn.  I numbered students off so they would be in mixed groups and let them loose, all supplies were already set up for them.

img_1370

I did not give them any questions to discuss because I want them to start thinking about their own reactions to text.  My students wanted me to but I did not, at some point they have to start generating their own questions so why not start today?

We kept this trial run short, around 15 minutes to make sure they stayed on track.  It worked pretty well.   As I walked around I loved seeing how engaged the kids were, how they were trying to help each other out and add their voice, and how they asked for people to “bounce off” of their ideas.

At the end of the class, I asked them to please reflect on themselves.  We spoke about how often we reflect on how others do in a task but forget to look inward and that we are the ones we need to be concerned with, not how others do.

On Monday, our follow-up lesson will be six different tables set up with three different types of topics.  Two tables are set up with wordless picture books (Unspoken by Henry Cole and Bluebird by Bob Staake), two are set up with op-ed pieces (why kids should have homework and why schools should have uniforms), and finally two tables will have poems (Langston Hughes I, Too and The Abandoned Farmhouse by Ted Kooser).  Students will pick which table they would like to be at but then have to select the other two formats the two next days.  Therefore all students will get to try discussing all three types of formats.  I am excited to see how this foundational skill will play out this year.

I am currently working on a new literacy book.  While the task is daunting and intimidating, it is incredible to once again get to share the phenomenal words of my students as they push me to be a better teacher.  The book, which I am still writing, is tentatively Passionate Readers and will be published in the summer of 2017 by Routledge.  So until then 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.

 

Yet…

So much depends on the word "yet..."

It happens every year without fail.  We get a few days in, the year slowly starting, and all of a sudden it hits me; I am doing something wrong.  Whatever I thought I was good at, I am clearly not.   After all, how can anyone feel this exhausted and consider themselves good at anything?

Driving home today, I kept thinking about how far we still have to go.  How much these brand new kids don’t know.  How they don’t get me or us.  How hard it is to get them started with something, how even the smallest thing takes a long time.  How every day goes by in a flash yet seems so long.  How a new year is hard and you end up questioning every single thing you do because surely you must be doing something wrong because didn’t this go much better the year before?

But that’s it, isn’t it; it’s a new year. And we forget that when we compare these kids to the kids we just said goodbye to.  We forget just how far we came last year and how hard we worked to get there.   Those kids that we remember so fondly because of how much learning happened started out confused, unsure, and just a little bit rowdy as well.  We forget how much work it is to set up a well functioning classroom, to help kids read, to help kids write, to help kids feel safe, because last year now seems so far away.

So before we give up on ourselves and assume this year is doomed.  Before we beat ourselves up too much.  Before we wonder if we really know what we are doing, just remember this…

We haven’t figured each other out…yet.

We don’t know each other’s habits…yet.

We don’t have a bond…yet.

We haven’t established our routines…yet.

We haven’t accomplished much…yet.

We do not feel quite like a class…yet.

That takes time, and right now that is one of the biggest things we have.  So tomorrow if you go to school wondering if you really know what you are doing, remember this; every single thing you are doing right now is planting a seed for what your classroom will feel like later in the year.  So much like we wait to see seed grow into flowers, we also have to wait for our students to bloom.   Because the whole year is ahead, a whole year to make this year great, a whole year to have these kids become those kids that we remember fondly when we stand in despair the following year.  No matter how long we teach, we seem to always forget that starting a new year is hard, is exhausting, and yet is one of the best parts of the year.  After all, we don’t know each other yet, but we are starting to.

 

A Letter from My Principal for the New School Year

If you have ever spoken to me about the amazing district I work for, Oregon School District in Wisconsin, chances are you will have heard tales of how amazing our principal, Shannon Anderson, is.  Shannon is a huge reason to why I am a seventh grade teacher, she is the reason many of us love our school, and she is also the type of principal that I wish every single educator could have.  The following blog is her welcome back letter to us, it moved me, I hope it will move you, and I am so grateful that she allowed me to share it here.

Twenty-two years ago I was a first year teacher at Verona Area High School. There was more than one occasion that first year when I paused during class in a moment of panic and thought to myself, “Why in the world did someone actually entrust me with this classroom full of students? I have no idea what I am doing!” I was teaching five different classes in four different classrooms. I was planning lessons the night before, I was afraid of parents, and I had crazy grading practices (Why not give extra credit for bringing in boxes of Kleenex? I needed Kleenex boxes!). I look back on that first year of teaching and cringe.

That same year Jacklyn Keller was a ninth grade student in my Art Foundations class. She drew with confidence and grace. I remember her maturity and inquisitive nature. Jacklyn took several classes with me while in high school, and she never ceased to amaze me with her artistic skills and insightful observations about art-making and life in general.  Sometimes when I stop to pause and reflect on my former life as a high school teacher, Jacklyn is one of the students that brings a smile to my face.

Several weeks ago, I was attending Literacy by the Lakes, a three-day conference for Wisconsin teachers sponsored by the University of Wisconsin-Madison. On the first day, I noticed a woman sitting in front of me that looked like Jacklyn. I tried to read her name tag every time she passed me, but I could not read it. Finally, I gathered up the courage to ask her if she ever attended school in Verona. Before the words were even out of my mouth, she exclaimed, “Ms. Roper, it is you! You were my favorite teacher in high school!” (Yes, Ms. Roper was my maiden name.) I was stunned for a minute. I was stunned because it was indeed Jacklyn. I was stunned because she actually remembered me. But I was even more stunned that I was her favorite teacher from high school. Sure, I remember having a good relationship with her when she was in high school, but I never thought I was her favorite.

Jacklyn, a former high school teacher, is now a elementary school librarian in Madison. During our short conversation, it was clear to me that she is passionate about the learners she serves and committed to making learning engaging and successful. As we ended our conversation, I was a bit overwhelmed with the sense of pride I felt. Jacklyn was no longer the amazing teenager I remembered; she is now a passionate and successful educator.

During the 2016-17 school year, you will touch the lives of hundreds of students like Jacklyn. The relationships you develop with them will likely last longer in their memories than the curriculum or lessons you teach them. Some students will let you know how much you mean to them, and some will not. In fact, in many cases you will likely never know the impact you will have on their lives. I think that is one of the most amazing things about dedicating your life to education: you can make a difference every single day and not even realize it. Something you do or say can change students’ thinking. You can inspire them to take risks. You can encourage them when they are ready to to give up. You can help them to see something within themselves they cannot yet see. You can expose them to new possibilities. You can help them turn mistakes into opportunities. But most importantly, you can show them you love and care for them.

Looking back, I acknowledge the fact that I did not have much of clue about curriculum, assessment, best practices, engaging lessons, or communication with parents that first year of teaching. However, my brief reunion with Jacklyn reminded me of Maya Angelou’s words: “At the end of the day people won’t remember what you said or did, they will remember how you made them feel.” Even though I had a lot to learn about teaching as a first year teacher, I was able to develop some positive relationships with my students that made a difference.

As we prepare to welcome students back into our learning spaces (at OMS), I want to thank you in advance for the impact you will have on their lives. You will make a difference every single day!

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.

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.