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?

Choice

Conferences are always so inspiring. I love attending them and talking with like-minded educators, meeting new people and having time from my busy school life to reflect on my practice. This past weekend, Pat and I attended the Reading Recovery conference in Columbus, Ohio. We enjoyed meeting some of you and sharing our thinking at our sessions. We also enjoyed learning from the many smart people who presented. If you’ve never been, it’s a “must-do” February conference, so mark your calendars for next year!

I attended many fantastic sessions, but I continue thinking about Lucy Calkins’ keynote. She spoke about where education is today, and how we have a choice as to what role we might play in the future of public education. Her words, “as educators standing in this place in our field, we have a choice. We can look out and see problems and despair or possibility and promise,” have echoed in my brain all week as I returned to my school.

If we see our job and schools as sources of problems and despair, do we have the energy to make a difference with the kids we teach every day? Do we wake up full of joy and enthusiasm in our role as educators? No. But some days it’s very hard to look past the testing frenzy, the new mandates made by people who have never set foot in a classroom, the budget cuts, the overcrowded classrooms, the lack of support and so on and so on. It’s easier to see despair and problems over possibility and promise.  Easier? Perhaps. Justified? Absolutely. But it sucks the life and energy out of us as teachers.

So what if we focus on the kids?

As Lucy said, “not one of us can be hiding behind someone else’s proclamation of what we need to do as teachers”. We are in this profession because we love kids. We want to make a difference in the world and see teaching as the way to do it. There have been way too many proclamations about what we need to do as teachers. It’s time for us to stand up and bring possibility and promise back to our schools, our teaching and our professional lives. Focusing on the kids, and what we know is best for them, allows us to see possibility for who we are as teachers, professionals and learners. Standing up for best practices and for our students is empowering. When we can be passionate learners and passionate teachers, when “our teaching is alive and powerful”, when “we are doing work that feels big and significant” – it’s hard to see the problems and feel despair. It’s much easier to see possibility and promise.

Lucy ended her keynote with this question, “are we going to be who we say we want to be? We have the choice as educators.” I am taking this opportunity to really think about who I say I want to be as an educator. And then make sure that my actions, thoughts and words reflect that vision. I want to walk into school every day looking towards possibility and promise. I want to rekindle the passion in teaching that called me to this profession 19 years ago. I want to remember that my focus is on the kids, and that my work here is “big and significant”, joyful and passionate.

How about you? What choice are you making?