our classroom, pictures, school staff, tour

Ten Picture Tour – Plus One

Inspired by three fantastic people Cale Birk @birklearns, Katie Hellerman @TheTeachingGame and Jabiz Raisdana @Intrepid Teacher, I am happy to open up and share 10 pictures + 1 of my school environment.  So this is West Middleton Elementary…

The long hallway that I walk countless times a day.  Our building has been added to  3 times at least, each time it seems, adding another hallway.

As the founder of the Global Read Aloud, we have the Little Prince watching over us and all of the connections we make around the globe.

A very unmessy desk day, usually I have piles of stuff my students want me to watch or read, as well as all their work.  However, I leave a clean desk every single night – sick habit.  Notice my daughter’s picture on the computer, I change it weekly so the kids can see her too.

The school lies off a busy road leading out of Madison but my window looks into the playground area.  I have the most divine sunlight come in and we almost never have all of our artificial lights on in the room.

We are taking part in the Students Rebuild crane folding, I never knew how to fold origami before this and the kids are way better than I am.  It has been amazing to see student leaders emerge in this and the kids get fired up over helping others.

Being a native Dane I was raised on the fairy-tales of Hans Christian Andersen so a big thrill of mine is the annual fairy tale unit I do.  We go all the way back to the gruesome versions and then discuss the moral of the story from back then.  Right now we are reading “The Little Mermaid.”

A special collection of gifts for a care package we are mailing to Mr Foteah’s class in New York City – Matt, no peeking!  

A Venn diagram given to me by my favorite Nolan.  He surprised me with it on our last day together as a split class.  One circle is him, the other is me.  If I ever have a bad day; this is what matters.

Another reference to The Little Prince reminds me every day what my teaching philosophy is; if the kids fail, it is my fault.

They put me in the kindergarten wing, which means I get to look at incredible colorful art every day.

A glimpse at our office run by the amazing Sue.  Our school is fighting bullying and 5th graders have put up slogans all over.

 For other amazing 10 picture tours make sure you check out:
@mmhoward: http://bit.ly/gIjcDg@johnnybevacqua: http://bit.ly/gxJDqH
@birklearns: http://tiny.cc/18o9s@justintarte: http://tiny.cc/kawd1

@thetheachingGame:  http://ow.ly/4vGcW 

classroom expectations, classroom management, our classroom, punishment, rewards, Student-centered

Put Your Name on the Board – a Tale of Why I Gave Up Classroom Discipline Systems

Image from here

Put your name on the board! Those words spoken in a very stern voice accompanied by a teacher look was enough to whip the toughest student into shape. Except when it didn’t which for me was enough times to make me wonder. Could my discipline systems really be thrown out and replaced with nothing? Would chaos then reign supreme?

If you had come by my room last year you would have seen them. Those sticks in the cups or the names on the boards with checks, sometimes double checks and plenty of stern looks to go around. I was doing exactly what I had been taught in school, exerting my control as the main authority figure and if students misbehaved, well, then there was some form of punishment. Oh don’t worry; there were plenty of rewards as well. If students didn’t move their stick or get their name on the board for a week then their name got entered into drawing for pizza with me. At the end of the month if they didn’t have their name in my book for not doing their homework, they could also enter their name, and then I would finally draw names and five lucky students would have pizza with me. Confused? I was! I could hardly keep check Of all those names, checks, and punishments.

However, last year I realized something after reading Alfie Kohn; I knew I had to change. By perpetually focusing negative energy on the same students, who, lets face it, are most often the ones having their name singled out somehow already, I was indeed just adding more to their self doubt. While I believe in discipline for all students, I also believe in compassion and that philosophy simply was not fitting in with my chosen system. So I did as many teachers may do; I threw it all out. However, instead of hunting for a new system, I decided to detox myself, start this year with no system for reward and punishment and instead strive to create a classroom community where students just know what the expectation is.

I was petrified that first month. I run a tough classroom in my expectations for my students and I know that if you do not set the tone those first weeks, it can be detrimental to the rest of the year. And yet I held strong in my conviction that even the more unruly students would eventually figure this out through repeated conversations and respect. And boy, did we talk. We talked about expectations, rules, how to speak to one another, and what to do when something goes wrong. A lot of the time, I just listened to these amazing students come up with solutions to problems, listened to them explain how they envisioned our classroom, how they wanted fourth grade to be. And I was in awe; these kids knew how to behave without me telling them over and over. And they certainly would figure it out without me alternating punishment and rewards.

So after the first month I started to breathe again. I let our new system flex itself and watched the students help keep the classroom stabile. Sure, there are times when I think ooh if I just had a way to “punish” it would fix this and this and then I realize that perhaps I just need to find some time to speak to that particular student. Now instead of an exasperated tone and a system to keep them in check, we discuss, we try to fix, and we reevaluate. I don’t run the classroom with a complicated system of checks and balances, rewards and punishments, but rather with an atmosphere of community, of belonging. Is it perfect? No, but neither am I, nor my students. I am just glad I believed in my own skills enough to realize that perhaps, just perhaps, my students would know how to behave without me rewarding them for it. Once again, they blew away all of my expectations.

being a teacher, classroom expectations, inspiration, our classroom, students

The Perfect Classroom

Did you see those students? How focused and engaged they were? Did you see that quiet classroom, that looks to be the perfect classroom. My insides cringe. Quiet = learning, since when?

I used to be a believer in quiet. After all, if the students were not quiet how could they listen to all of my wisdom? After all, I was the one with the degree, the answers, the path, the years, and mostly the responsibility for any and all learning. I was a trained professional and they were just students, empty vessels ready to be filled.

And then I thought about all that energy put into saying “shhh….” into asking for silence, not to speak with partners, face me, me, me, me. But it wasn’t about me and it never should have been. It is about the students and them finding their voice, the knowledge, the confidence to believe in themselves and their brains.

So my perfect classroom now: a little messy, (after all learning is kind if messy), student-owned, pods, choices and that wonderful noise of learning. There are still guidelines, we are not crazy, but there is life, excitement and joy. So if you walk by my room and think we are a little bit loud, hey, that just shows there is learning going on.

inspiration, our classroom, Social studies, students

Letting Students Rule

Social studies was getting stagnant with packetwork meant to establish background knowledge for a Native American simulation. So work before the fun; going against my philosophy. The students kept asking amazing questions to which I replied that maybe later we would study that.

So I decided to do a circle discussion of social studies and the kids asked me if they could please research something of their choice about Native Americans. Sure. They even had ideas for how they would present the info: posters, models, skits, glogsters, research papers – boundless creativity.

So today my room was filled with noise, kids partnering up, books being shared, questions being thrown out and discarded, research being questioned. In short; it was beautiful.