What Kind of Class Do We Want?

img_6072I love the way winter break is like pushing the reset button. I’ve enjoyed relaxed days with friends, family, books and the mountains. It’s been fabulous. It’s recharged my mind, my body and my soul. I’ve allowed myself to step away from my classroom (physically and mentally) and now I feel a renewed sense of excitement, energy and possibility as I get ready to return in a few days.

My kids and I have enjoyed 17 days off. While it’s been wonderful, I know that January 3rd is going to be like starting all over again in many ways. Seventeen days to a five and six year old is an eternity. But I love the idea of a second “first day” of sorts. It’s a chance to re-establish our community, to get to know one another again, to reteach those things that were falling apart in December and to revisit what kind of class we are. It’s like a blank slate that we can create together again.

One thing I always do that first week back is to ask my kids, “what kind of class do we want to be? What kind of community do we want to have? Who are we?” Those are big questions, but my kindergarteners never fail to think deeply, to reflect on what was working and what wasn’t, and to create a promise of sorts that guides us for the rest of the year.

We start this conversation in our morning meeting on the first day back. I take notes on chart paper as we talk and start to determine what really matters to us. We read new books and revisit old favorites that first week back and talk about what makes characters kind and likable, or unkind and unlikable, and how that might look in our classroom. Books like Grumpy Bird, Each Kindness, It’s Okay to Make Mistakes – and any Todd Parr book, Red, A Crayon’s Story, I Used to Be Afraid, Walter Was Worried, The OK Book, Elephants Cannot Dance, Ish, The Invisible Boy, Have You Filled a Bucket Today?  and Last Stop on Market Street – just to name a few of our favorites. The main idea here is to determine what would make our classroom a wonderful place to be – and how can we contribute to that.

We revisit the chart daily, adding and revising our thinking. After a week or so, we create our own chart – through interactive writing – that reflects who we are in this classroom. We always display it in a prominent place so that, as one of my kids said last year, “everyone who comes in here knows that this is how they have to be. You can’t be mean and come in our room.”

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Last year’s chart as a work in progress – adding things to it as we discuss.

This document serves as a class pledge or promise for the rest of the year. We read it and use it as a tool to solve problems, resolve issues and remind us of what kind of class we are. It’s a powerful tool to come back to when the inevitable problems arise.

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Last year’s  finished chart with photos!

How do you reset after a long winter break? Best wishes to everyone for a fantastic second “first day”!

Update: Here is our chart from last week (January 2017). We will be working on making our class chart next week. Stay tuned!

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Be the Change – Reflections on #NCTE12

I just spent four days in Las Vegas at the NCTE annual conference engaging, learning and sharing with some of the most amazing educators on the planet. My head is spinning, my brain is full, and I cannot wait to get back in my classroom tomorrow. I have many thoughts to reflect on and share in upcoming blog posts, but for now, all I can think of is how lucky I am to be a teacher. The last four days reminded me of how much hope, possibility, passion and love there is in education. It is so easy to get bogged down in the day to day struggles, the isolation that can occur in our profession, the frustration from policies, standards, inequities, injustices and the overall feeling that teaching is being disrespected as a profession. But spending the last four days with thousands of educators who took time off school, flew across the country, many (if not most) on their own dime, prepared presentations to share the joyful work they are doing with students, and engaged in dialogue about making the world a better place through teaching, reminded me just how committed teachers are.

We can make a difference. And we are. Let’s keep the conversations that began at NCTE going, and let’s invite others in. Twitter is a fabulous place to see what was shared and discussed at NCTE (#NCTE12), and I’m sure there will be many, many blog posts, articles and even books that come out of the networking, conversations and pure possibility that occurred in Las Vegas. There are many teachers all over this country doing amazing work with children – engaging them in pursuing their passions, collaborating all over the globe, supporting them in making sense of struggle and injustices in our world while encouraging them to take action and teaching them that their words are power and that their voices matter.

It’s truly a great time to be a teacher. And as Mahatma Gandhi said, “be the change you wish to see in the world.”

What change will YOU be?

Joy

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what brings me joy in my teaching life. Joy, by definition, is a source or cause of delight. I think back to my favorite teachers as a child, and it was clear that they found joy in teaching. I’m sure they had many of the same stressors that teachers today have, and yet, they remained joyful in spite of it all. Today, teachers are challenged daily with a zillion things that don’t hold a lot of joy, and in fact, some can be downright spirit crushing. But it’s up to us to create joy in our teaching lives, and share that joy with our kids and our colleagues.

Here are five things that bring joy to my teaching life.

  1. Sharing a new book with kids. I love books, and I love sharing books with kids. This week I shared a Piggie and Elephant book (We Are in a Book! by Mo Willems) with a class of first graders. Their laughter and excitement as I read the book was fabulous. They had such a hard time staying “criss-cross applesauce” on the rug – they wanted to stand up and get closer to the book.  And when I said they could find more of this series in the library they cheered. Seeing kids this excited about books and familiar authors is truly joyful!
  2. Inquiry. As a learner, I am most engaged when following a topic that I am passionate about and have a personal interest in. Inquiry projects with kids encourage questioning and allow them to pursue learning that directly relates to their lives. There is much joy in seeing a class constantly questioning and experiencing learning by co-constructing an evolving curriculum.
  3. Writing with kids. Teaching within a Writer’s Workshop is an amazing thing. I love how excited kids get when I share a new writer’s technique with them or when we discover something together about an author’s piece. I’m always impressed with how bravely and fearlessly young writers try on a new technique and play with it in their own writing. Sitting side-by-side with a writer gives me an opportunity to connect with that child and his or her writing and see the possibilities that hide within each writer. A child’s writing is something to celebrate and find joy in.
  4. Play. I believe in the importance of play. Through play we can learn so much about each other, the curriculum and ourselves. When we are playful, it is difficult to get upset, stressed out or cynical. Play should infiltrate our teaching lives (as well as our personal lives!).
  5. Kids. Kids bring joy to my life. The hugs, the funny things they say, the way they light up when they figure out a tricky part in a book or publish a story or solve a challenging math problem or discover a spider web on the playground.  My life wouldn’t be complete without a daily dose of kid joy.

What brings joy to your teaching life?