being a teacher, being me, Lesson Planning, Student-centered, teaching


As I prep for the upcoming week of lessons, I find myself cutting ideas out and slimming things down.  I am simplifying my lessons.  And not because I am “dumbing” them down, not at all, instead I am offering my students the luxury of only having to focus on key concepts rather than overwhelming them with all the bells and whistles.

In order for my students to take ownership of the learning they have to understand what they are owning.  They have to be able to take an idea, make it their own and then push it through.  if I add too many components to something, they will end up confused, bogged down, or just plain bored.

In college I was taught to make it exciting, to add visuals, support, brainstorming sheets and even hand signals.  I now rebel against that notion of having to add more every time. Perhaps that is why I am no longer a supporter of IWB’s in every classroom.  I don’t need to be more interactive, my students do.

So this week, I am cutting back all the extras.  I am focusing on what the goal is and letting students add their distinctive spins on it.  I will have supports ready if needed but I will not assume they need them.  I will speak less and engage more.  Simplify my teaching = expand their learning.  I am excited.

This post was partially inspired by this excellent post written Josh Stumpenhorst @stumpteacher.

assumptions, hopes, inspiration, personality, students, teaching, vision

Which Lens Do You View the World With?

We choose how we view the world, a line taken from an excellent post recounting a mother whose daughter has autism speaking to a group of MIT professors. Think about it for a moment, it is a quite deep sentence, we choose how we view to world…

Now flip that to your classroom, your school, your community; we also choose how we view these. Do we come to school with dark colored lenses where no matter what our students do, it is simply not good enough? Are our lenses wonky where we end up treating our students unequally? Is one eye closed to the world so we only see one side of the story? Or do we wear rose-colored lenses so that the world always seems bright and cheerful?

My lenses are clear, therein lies no fog. I view the world every day with a slight rosy tint to it but clear nonetheless. And more importantly, my lenses work both ways; they view the world and they view myself. I am always checking, readjusting and cleaning off my lens, so that whomever I encounter gets a clear view and not one tinted by perception. Is it time you clean your lenses?

being a teacher, believe, life choices, Passion, personality, teachers, teaching

They Call Me…

They call me Mrs. Ripp and I look around for my mother-in-law, oh wait, that’s me now

They call me mom and I smile a little and then laugh with them when they apologize

They call me “hey you” when they are in a hurry

Or “dude…” when they are steaming from their recess kickball game

They call me a force, whether good or bad, but always believing

They call me honest, to your face and very, very direct

They call me early-riser because I love coming to my classroom

They call me a believer because that is what I do

They call me passionate

They call me a difference maker

They call me a changer

Because I am a teacher

being a teacher, community, students, teachers, teaching

Sneaking into Inference

Two weeks ago we started the dreaded WKCE (Our standardized testing) and I could tell that kids were stressed over whether or not they would do well on these horrid tests. It is not that I am totally against tests, I am not, but these ones do nothing for my instruction. They are so secretive, that we must sign confidentiality agreements, and lock them up after each session, just in case someone uninvited wanted to sneak a peek at them. What’s worse is that we do not get the results until March, so how are they supposed to inform my instruction? I am at the very least staying hopeful since we have been promised that this type of test will be phased out within the next years, to be replaced by something else.

Either way, here were my poor students getting more frazzled as the testing week grew closer so I suggested we sing a song to lighten the mood a bit. I wish this were my idea but it is really inspired by this post from Greta Sandler and this one by Joan Young. I love singing, in fact, I sing all of the time. I sing instructions to my students, I ask for their attention through singing, and at home I am unstoppable show-tune belter. I majored in music in my native Denmark, and always thought I was going to be a performer. (I guess that sort of came true as we do nothing short of perform every day in front of our students). But I digress. I asked my students which song they would like to sing? Crickets…. Then I asked them which song did they know? Row, Row, Row your boat was one option and Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star was another. Not to be discouraged, we sang a hearty rendition of Row, Row, Row Your Boat, or rather I sang my little heart out while the students mumbled under their breath.

That day, I told my husband my horror of how few songs they knew. You see, in Denmark, you sing all of the time in schools. We sing at every assembly, we sing with our teachers; music is everywhere so by the time you graduate you have quite the repertoire of well-known and beloved songs that the rest of the Danish population also knows and will gladly sing with you at a festive gathering. Oh, my stoic American husband absolutely died when he realized how much my family sings. So what’s a teacher to do?

I have long been a believer in exposing students to poetry that is not deemed “kid poetry” so I took the same approach to songs. So Tuesday’s are now Music/Poetry days in my room. We take a classic song – our first one was “Imagine” by John Lennon, the students predict what the theme is based on the title and then we listen to it. Students are asked to write down anything they think of while they listen. Afterwards we read the lyrics and it is now up to the students to figure out what the song is really about. So ta da; we are now teaching inference and they don’t even know it. The best part is; the kids then want to sing the song, and then sing it some more. In fact, “Imagine” has become our go-to song whenever we need a break. The parents have noticed their kids coming home singing some of the classics. Students are even requesting to sing/learn certain songs now and I find myself constantly searching for songs that they may like or have a great message. “Another Brick in the Wall Pt. 2” was a favorite hit and the kids could not believe that I let them listen to the song, why not I say, it made them think after all.

So if you happen to be around my room, don’t be surprised if you hear kids belting out a tune. For this coming week, it will be one of my favorites again, “New York, New York” because after all “if you can make it there, you can make it anywhere.” So why not let them sing, let them find their inner voice, who knows who you will inspire?

believe, choices, community, connect, education, educators, honesty, hopes, inspiration, invest, leader, learning, life choices, Mentor, promise, reform, Superman, teaching, trust

I am the Reform

I am the reform when I trust other teachers.

I am the reform when I stand united, and not divided.

I am the reform when I discuss, assess, and learn with my students.

I am the reform when I trust in others.

I am the reform when I ask for observation, feedback, and growth opportunities.

I am the reform when I discuss, even with people with whom I disagree.

I am the reform when I reflect, reject and reinvent.

I am the reform when I ask for help.

I am the reform when I learn more.

I am the reform when I am not afraid.

I am the reform when I listen and I speak.

I am the reform when I believe.

Are you the reform?

advice, aha moment, behavior, being a teacher, believe, choices, community, connections, hopes, inspiration, teaching

Give Them Strength to Grow – Chris’s Aha Moment

This week’s aha moment is shared by Chris Wejr, a K-6 principal in Agassiz, BC, Canada.  Chris is always quick with an understanding word, encouragement and advice even in non-school matters.  Never too busy to discuss or care, he is a wonderful person to have in your PLN.  This is his first time as a guest blogger do make sure you comment, follow him on Twitter at @mrwejr and add his blog to your must read list

“We don’t know who we can be until we know what we can do.” – Sir Ken Robinson

How can we truly see the potential of our students if we fail to provide the environment to bring out their talents?

I have always wanted to be a high school teacher and I was exactly that for 7 years. You never know where your life will lead you and, while completing my Master’s Degree, I was offered the opportunity to work with an amazing principal at an elementary school. Roxanne taught me to seek out the strengths in people and bring these talents out from within and opened my eyes to the power of strength-based, rather than deficit-based, teaching and leadership. My aha moment came in my first few months of being an elementary school teacher and a new vice principal.

When I did the tour of the school I was to be a teacher/vice principal, I met Daniel (pseudonym). Daniel had a smile that was contagious but was disengaged and struggled in school; the reason I met him that day was that he was in the hall after being asked to leave class. I never asked him why he was in the hall, I just started asking him about his life outside of school; we talked about music and friendships in the few moments we shared together on that day.

The next year, I was to teach a 5/6 class (in addition to the vice principal duties) so when we were creating the classes, I requested that Daniel be placed in my class. To be honest, in the first month, I really struggled with the transition from teaching 17 year-olds to teaching 11 year-olds. Many of the students had behaviour, social, emotional, and academic challenges so I spent many hours bouncing ideas off Roxanne and other teachers trying to find out how to reach these kids. I specifically started to talk about Daniel as he was so withdrawn in class – always refusing to take part in any learning activities and that smile that drew me to him seemed to have disappeared. She asked me what I knew about him; the truth was that I knew very little about him other than he struggled in class and liked music. She encouraged me to find out more about him; find out what he loved, what he was good at and try to bring that out in him.

During the next week, I spent a recess having a snack with Dan. I found out that he lived in a nearby community in which he spent two hours on the bus each day, lived with his Grandmother because his mother was far too young, and we shared a common interest in Johnny Cash. We spent much of the recess singing a variety of Cash songs and just laughing. Later that day, I was speaking with the First Nation Support Worker (Nelson), sharing with him about the moment that had occurred, and he let me in on another strength of Daniel: First Nation drumming and singing. He said this was something that he recently witnessed in his community but maybe something that we could support. The FNSW asked me if he could take Daniel and a few others to work on this interest; I believed this was a great opportunity so for 2 weeks, Nelson spent a few mornings a week drumming with Daniel and two others. What progressed after this changed the way I teach and live my life.

I asked Daniel if I could come watch one recess. I was blown away. Daniel was so into the drumming and singing that he would actually be sweating with pride as he was doing this. A few weeks later, I asked him if he could perform for our class – he unfortunately declined. Nelson encouraged him to sing and drum with him in front of our class. He nervously agreed and blew us all away when he performed; other students cheered when he finished and then asked if they could be part of “his group”. Daniel was now not only working with his strengths but also leading others to do the same. His group added girls and grew from 3 to 6 and then 8, including 2 students from another class. They played for our class every Monday morning, to start our week, and every Friday afternoon, to finish our week. They even gave themselves a name, Sacred Connections, and began to play for other schools and community events.

The moment that brought me almost to tears was right before Christmas. Each week, 1-2 new students would join up front in the singing and drumming. We often don’t see the impact of small changes but right before Christmas, the group actually had no people to play for, because every single student was up there singing with Daniel! To create an audience, I invited Roxanne and a grade 4 class to come and see the performance. We all sat there in awe of what Daniel had done not only as a performer, but also as a leader.

The other parts of Daniel’s school and life were drastically changing too. His friendships grew, his efforts in school improved and he became very engaged in learning activities. His reputation grew as a leader in the school and community and his group was asked to play at a local pre-Olympic Games (2010) event and in the spring he was asked to perform with Pow Wow drummers at a huge event in front of our entire school and community! Daniel had gone from a disengaged, quiet student who refused to take part in the learning to a proud leader and confident learner in our school.

That year was one that changed my life. It was not just one aha moment but a series of moments that shaped me as a person. I want to thank Roxanne, Nelson, and most importantly Daniel for teaching me that, as educators, the most important thing we can do is provide the optimal conditions for people to grow, bring out their strengths, and truly flourish.