Shameless Optimism: 4 Ways to Get to Know Your Students

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In her TED Talk, Every Kid Needs a Champion, educator Rita Pierson said, “You know, kids don’t learn from people they don’t like.” When I first watched this video, everything seemed to make more sense. I was having issues with classroom management for many reasons and among these was the fact that not all my kids knew me well enough to like or respect me. Once I cultivated strong relationships with my students, I noticed that things in the classroom went much smoother. Here are four things that I did to get to know the kids in my classroom:

  1. Say How You Feel. One of the best things I ever decided to do was to be totally honest with my first graders about my feelings. I tell them when I’m disappointed or when I’m really proud of them. I hope that my kids never feel as though they have to guess what’s on my mind. I also encourage them to be honest with me by using sentence starters like, “Ms. Grant, I didn’t like when you did this because…” or “Ms. Grant, when you said ______ it made me feel _______.” Being honest and sharing your feelings (the good and the bad) help strengthen relationships and build trust.
  1. Call Home. There is one student in my classroom where this really strengthened our relationship. I would call his mom and talk to her for a few minutes, but I would spend the rest of those ten minutes talking to him about his day or what he was watching on television. Sometimes I would even watch the same show he was watching. Calling home and talking to a student is another way to show him/her that you care.
  1. Have Lunch Together. I think most kids—especially those in elementary school—love having lunch with their teachers. It’s the perfect chance to chat about the day and to see how a student is feeling about life in general. This is also a great time to find out about their interests.
  1. Give Pep Talks. In my classroom, I give at least three pep talks a day. These might be in reaction to extreme behavior or for something small. I always make sure that my demeanor is calm and that my tone is neutral. Pep talks help to remind students of their full potential and how much you believe in their success.

Tell us in the comments: How do you get to know the kids in your classroom?

Shameless Optimism is a regular column by Deniann Grant about keeping calm and maintaining a positive attitude in the classroom.

An Exhausting, True Love Called Teaching

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10,000 hours. That’s how long it takes for a job to become an expertise, but the trouble is I wanted to be an expert on day one. I walked into school, guns blazing, ready to create a perfect classroom. My students were going to be diligent and kind, and they were sure as hell going to get the highest scores in 1st grade. I was confident and hopeful. I wrote it down—didn’t that make it destiny?

As September came to a close, I was clearly aware of my incompetence as an educator. How do I teach phonics? How do I adhere to this schedule? How do I document? How did my evaluation score that low? It was impossible to check off everything on my to-do list, and I had never felt so inept in my entire life. I harbored a lot of anger. There was not (and is not) enough time or administrative assistance to make me the teacher that I need to be for my students, and it took me a couple of months (and a couple of cry sessions behind the cafeteria) to put on my big girl panties and get over it.

I’m not here to be the very best teacher for myself. I’m here to be the very best teacher for my students. Of course, I’m going to put my heart and soul into my work, but even that won’t be the work of an expert, and that’s okay. It’s going to take 10,000 hours.

So I wake up and remind myself that I have kids to love. I cannot allow my exhaustions and frustrations to restrain my passion for who I want them to be. Loving them unconditionally requires selflessness. Out of true love for them, I strive for their excellence—not my own.

For years to come, my students will remember me. Perhaps only a few will remember that I taught them how to read, but most will remember my love. They’ll remember our class meetings. They’ll remember those phone calls home when all I did was brag. They’ll remember my sweet notes. They’ll remember my happy tears. They’ll remember me, Ms. Berger, their 1st grade teacher, who taught them how to love themselves, their community, and the world. Loving them didn’t take 10,000 hours. It didn’t even take one.

Motivation Monday: Speak Up

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By |January 26th, 2015|General Pop|0 Comments|

Weekend Sales: 10 Hot Deals for Teachers

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Happy Friday, teachers! We surprised ourselves even with the breadth and depth of this week’s discounts we rounded up especially for you. From a one-day discount on Amazon Prime (yassss, free shipping and Transparent!), to a shopping pass for non-members at Sam’s Club, we have you covered.

As mentioned (breathlessly) above, Amazon Prime is slashing its annual fee for one day only on January 24. Get to it, people.

Macy’s has two nice little sales happening: 15% off handbags with code BAGIT, and an extra 25% off menswear.

Rice cookers can save your busy school week from fast food nation. Walmart is giving up a 20-cup rice cooker for just $22.

Speaking of small appliances that make your life easier, Best Buy slashed its regular-priced, small kitchen appliances by a respectable 20%. Use coupon code SMALLKITCHEN20; plus, you’ll get free shipping on orders of $35 and up.

You can never have too many pretty pens and paper clips, which is why we turn to Poppin, especially when they shower us with free shipping on orders of $35 or more.

Okay, we’ll admit it: this one got us. We clicked, we cheered, we purchased (no shame). Baggu, purveyor of hip handbags is offering 40% off leather bags and cotton backpacks with code SPRING40.

Ever find yourself doing a quick Office Depot run after work? Yeah, us too. Here’s a coupon for $10 off a purchase of $30 (valid through Jan. 30) for those late-night runs for paper and supplies.

A delicious green smoothie is just $2 (crazy cheap!) at Jamba Juice through Jan. 27 with this coupon.

Brighten up those long winter nights with a buy-two-get-a third-free candle from Yankee Candle.

Last but not least, not a member of Sam’s Club but dream of stocking up on party-sized lasagnas and mini quiche? You are in luck, my friends. Here is an invitation for non-members to shop at Sam’s for the day—but hurry, it expires on Jan. 31.

Have an amazing weekend, everyone!

How to Use Social Media in a Low-Tech Classroom

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Sarah Varland uses Twitter to show multiple character perspectives from the same play in her 9th grade classroom at Schurz High School, 2014.

No tech? No problem. Even if you’re teaching in a low-tech school, chances are your students know the basics of popular social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. As an ELA teacher looking to engage struggling and reluctant readers, I have been able to use modified versions of social media in the classroom without any technology at all. Here are a few ideas:

1) Facebook Profile Printouts

What they are: Empty graphic organizers in the format of a Facebook profile.

Linking to Common Core: Assess understanding of characterization by having students use textual evidence to complete one of these. You can also assess basic comprehension of a biographical article by attaching one of these organizers as an accompaniment.

What to do with them: Though many of my colleagues have created their own, there are many options already available online! When creating a character portfolio or scrapbook, these are a fun addition. I have also seen them posted on walls with yarn showing which characters are “friends” with one another within a given text. I have used them in non-fiction units, too, when students researched a political leader to compare and contrast with a leader in Lord of the Flies. It was much more interesting for students to compare and contrast the created profiles of Jack Merridew and Fidel Castro than to simply complete a Venn Diagram.

2) Tweet Sheets

What they are: Slips of paper with space for a username and 140 characters, meant to simulate a tweet.

Linking to Common Core: Assess understanding of summary or theme by having students use their own name as the username and “tweet” a summary or theme of what happened in the text. You can also have students use character names as usernames and post character feelings and reactions from that character’s voice to assess characterization, point of view, tone, or how elements in a story interact.

What to do with them: One of my creative colleagues, Sarah Varland, posted the tweets (pictured above) that best fulfilled the objectives on one of her whiteboards that was sectioned by character. This helped her students visualize character experiences side by side, which was extremely helpful during Romeo and Juliet. Instead of students struggling to remember major plot points from day to day, they could simply look at the “feed” on the whiteboard for a helpful and engaging reference point.

3) Instagram Tableaus

What they are: In hard copy form, this could be a sketch of a scene or a posed photograph followed by writing space with a 2,200 character limit. If you were to go paperless, you could have groups of students tableau, or pose for a still image, while one student reads the caption aloud.

Linking to Common Core: Assess understanding of summary or main idea by having students create tableaus and posts determining the major plot points in a reading. Have students use character names as usernames and thread their feelings and reactions onto other students’ posts using that character’s voice to assess characterization, tone, point of view, or how elements in a story interact. Assess theme by having students create a series of posts and comments that are all thematically connected.

What to do with them: Like the Twitter feed can be posted in the classroom, I posted my students’ Instagram tableaus on the walls of my own. From there, students can post comments on post-its, add on using the same hashtags, or like the posts. This can work when students use their own created usernames and interact with events of fiction or non-fiction, or this can work when students interact by embodying a character and using a username based on that character. In my classroom, we posted as ourselves reacting to the events and characters within A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Though I only used examples from ELA, there are so many possibilities of modifying these activities to reach other content areas. To all of you looking to engage your learners without technology, happy modifying!

 

Don’t Take It Personally

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I refuse to participate in the online dating scene. Here’s why: Imagine you’re at a bar, and your blind date is running late. You sit awkwardly at the bar swiping through Instagram posts and old text messages in an attempt to look less lame.

Why are you really fiddling with your phone? You don’t have any new Instagram updates and (let’s be real) no one has texted you. This habit is a coping mechanism, something to make you feel less weird and to help you put up with the uncomfortable emotions you are experiencing during your wait.

Well, it is the same with kids. In the classroom, your kids also display a range of coping mechanisms for the awkward, uncomfortable, strange, frustrating, anxious, and unfamiliar situations they encounter every day. I can fondly remember a number of coping mechanisms that my students displayed during my time in the classroom: head on the desk during a difficult lesson, relentlessly vying for my attention or asking to go to the bathroom, or—my favorite—slamming the door with every ounce of their strength after being asked to step in the hallway due to a behavior infraction.

In the moment, all of these behaviors can make your blood boil because of their conspicuous and seemingly confrontational nature; however, I’m here to tell you—don’t take it personally. In general, these performances are manifestations of the reality that in some social situations, under certain stresses, and when encountering unfamiliar emotions, we often don’t know how to embody our feelings.

For instance, last year, on the first day of classes, when I looked over a student’s shoulder as he completed coursework, he yelled in a very angry tone, “Don’t look at my paper!” However, I knew not to take the offense personally. I leaned down to the student’s desk and replied, “I apologize. Next time, I will ask before looking at your paper.” (Of course, I had to explain to the student why his tone was inappropriate for addressing a teacher, but that’s another article.)

When I debriefed with other teachers, they cited the student’s behavior as inappropriate, offensive, and disruptive. I had another view. After observing the student throughout the class period, I noticed he expressed anger on his face every time the teachers moved to the next slide; it was clear he hadn’t finished writing down the necessary information.

It became apparent to me that contrary to the outburst being a personal attack, the student was expressing the uncomfortable emotion of feeling frustrated because he couldn’t keep up with the pace of the class. He didn’t want to seem like he wasn’t trying his best. His reaction was not a mischievous act, but a call for help.

In this way, whenever interacting with students, always remember to distance your emotions from their actions. Give them the same grace you give yourself when you turn to coping mechanisms like texting at a boring party, twisting your hair when you’re talking to a cute guy, or chewing your fingernails when you’re stressed: Don’t take it personally.

Practicing Mindfulness for Teacher Stress Relief

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In the early spring of 2007, I took my first graders on a field trip to the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens. Back in the classroom in an effort to occupy ten minutes before dismissal, I had my students take out a notecard and write about the trip.

I saw a tulip and a duck and a daffodil. And I was happy.

I couldn’t put my finger on it at the time, but something about Ethan’s reflection stopped me in my tracks that afternoon. I have held onto that notecard for almost eight years.

Have you ever noticed how little kids play? Those of you who teach PreK and Kindergarten and those of you with young children, nieces, and nephews will know exactly what I’m talking about. Young children play attentively, joyously, and presently. They tend to be so absorbed in their blocks, or Play-Doh, or Ninja Turtles, that it never occurs to them to be (physically or mentally) anywhere but here, now. Young children don’t unplug the Easy Bake Oven to take a few minutes to dwell on yesterday, nor do they ditch the Legos in favor of fretting about tomorrow. Young children at play stay in the present moment. Young children play mindfully.

This fall I kicked off my dissertation research project, which aimed to use mindfulness as an antidote to teacher stress in a local Austin school. Mindfulness, as defined by John Kabat-Zinn, is the act of paying attention in a specific way: (a) on purpose, (b) in the present moment, and doing so (c) non-judgmentally.

In other words, being mindful involves intentionally focusing your mind upon this moment right now while simultaneously shutting up the Voice, that tape-reel of judgments and labels with which we attack so many thoughts and ideas.

Research studies document the positive effects that mindfulness practice can have on various symptoms of stress, anxiety, and physical pain. My goal, therefore, was to see if a six-week mindfulness group tailored to teachers might reduce their symptoms of stress. Quantitatively, the jury’s still out (the data should be analyzed some time next month), but qualitatively, participating teachers at this Austin middle school claim to have benefited significantly from the experience. One teacher even said that one six-minute session of mindfulness, in which he sat in silence and practiced focusing on the present, was, “one of the most profound experiences of my adult life.”

Mindfulness practice works like exercise or strength-building (with practice, results build over time), so while this blog post alone isn’t going to Zen you out immediately, my hope is that it might inspire you to start your own mindfulness practice, even just a few minutes a day. My hypothesis for the aforementioned teacher’s reaction, and for my own reaction to Ethan’s botanic garden reflection, is that both individuals were present in their surroundings. Six minutes of mindfulness for that teacher, and a mere six years of age for my student allowed each to stop, marvel, and smell the roses (tulips, and daffodils).

Weekend Sales: 10 Hot Deals for Teachers

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Happy Friday, teachers! TeacherPop has pulled together some epic, and we mean EPIC, sales for this #FrugalFriday. So, cuddle up with your laptop, and enjoy these deep discounts on goods and services you’re sure to love.

Let’s start by feeding our brains, shall we? First up, publisher McGraw-Hill has launched its Big Book Sale! Get 40% off science, computing, and business books.

We all love a good craft store, especially when you receive 15% off your entire purchase. Jo-Ann is making it happen with code TOTAL019, in-store and online, through Monday.

Is your car missing a bumper? We sincerely hope not, but just in case, here’s a coupon from AutoZone for $10 off any purchase of $50 or more.

Stock up on smell-goods at Bath and Body Works with 20% off sitewide (use code: BBWGIFT20) and up to 75% sale items.

Two of our favorite home stores are having great sales this weekend. Williams-Sonoma is offering 20% off with code PRIVATESALE, and Pier 1 is bringing the savings to your tables with 10% off when you sign up for the store’s newsletter.

Teacher favorite J. Crew is offering up to 50% off some final sale items with code SHOPNOW. Ann Taylor LOFT is also keeping some cash in your pocket with up to 60% off sale items.

Not to be outdone, C.Wonder has launched its major, semi-annual Big Sale, offering 75% off your entire purchase.

Finally, you’ve made it to the Finish Line’s end-of-season sale, where you can stock up on exercise gear for 50% off to keep yourself healthy and happy all year long.

Have a great holiday weekend!