Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Pass the Microphone Please..

On our last day of class before our Winter Break, I was challenged to find ways to make the day peacefully memorable for my kindergartners. Teachers were urged by our leadership to keep any and all "holiday celebrations" limited to the brief period after lunch on Friday, the very last day before break.
We had planned a quiet, low-key celebration after lunch: cookie decorating, hot cocoa drinking, gathering all of our projects and a present for our families to take home, and singing some holiday songs with other K classes in our shared "pod" area. As I reviewed the plans, I decided that something was missing: kid voice. I set aside about 20 minutes for a "karaoke" share, passing the microphone around the circle and inviting the kids to share a custom or ritual they do at this holiday time or any time of year. Even my most reluctant and shy speakers seized the opportunity to share about lighting candles, decorating trees and singing songs. Although there is always the challenge of keeping kids engaged and attentive, I think it's important to build the skill of respectful listening, especially to peers. I wish I had taken pictures of the giggles and serious moments. They were highly engaged!
As we lined up to go home, little voices chimed : " two weeks without school! I'll miss you SO much!" "Are you sure we can't come tomowwow?" In a moment of spontaneity, the kids began hugging each other, and then bounced into line for a teacher hug. 20 hugs and a few tears later, the bright eyed munchkins were on their way to two weeks of time with their families. It was a wonderful way to send them off! Happy Holidays Room 11!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Daily Self Reflection: Building Self-Efficacy in Kindergarten

After much reflection and discussion we have decided to implement a new tool in our Kindergarten class to help students reflect upon and take responsibility for their daily behavior and learning. Each student will decide how well he/she met the goals of being respectful, responsible and safe. Together we will complete and review these mini-forms at the end of each day and each child will take home the form to share with a parent!

Positive Emotions and Engagement

This week I decided to implement an idea that I thought of some time ago. Now that I have an LCD projector and document camera I have so many possibilities for presentations. Anyway, I decided to try to elicit positive emotions using humor and "awe" to help my students transition from the sometimes stressful time of recess.
As they came back from recess, I let my kids know that I was going to show them a few pictures that would make them smile, laugh or think,"wow!" I was delighted to hear their shrieks of laughter as I showed them photos ( sent to me in various emails from friends) of amazing animals in nature. As we viewed a picture of a fish being carried away by a "big" bird, I asked the kids to share what that fish would be saying if it could talk. I then asked them what the bird might be saying. Their answers were creative, sometimes silly, and definitely those of kids who were engaged in the conversation. I decided that this ritual of "after-recess" viewing, which took only 5 minutes of our day, was definitely worth it. After the photo viewing, we took a minute of "silence" where the students closed their eyes, thought of a beautiful scene/place and breathed slowly in and out. I told them that it was important to relax and focus their minds in order to get the most learning in a day.
As we moved on to the next part of our day, I noticed that the mood was upbeat and calm. A relaxed state of alertness certainly improved the learning environment. There were no tattling tales of kids hitting each other or saying they wouldn't be friends any longer. Students transitioned to the following learning activity with an excitement about learning. Mission accomplished!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Industrious Little People

Today was such a great day in our class!! As we always do on Thursdays after lunch, we set out to clean out our desks and complete any remaining work. We had begun a fun book, "Monster Colors," during literacy centers, but this book was definitely a longer project than the allotted 20 minute center time. As a special privilege, because students were following classroom expectations, :-) I allowed the kids to use markers to write the color word and to outline the different colored monsters. They understood and appreciated that outlining with markers provided a nice contrast when they filled them in with colored pencils or crayons. In the background, I played the music from the Curious George soundtrack, particularly focusing on the songs that mentioned sharing and friendship. As many of the kids recognized the songs, I enthusiastically shared how the music makes me feel calm and happy. "It makes me happy too," chimed several little voices. Kids began singing along as they worked, staying focused and on task for much longer than I had ever seen them before. As they found and completed papers in their desks, they energetically popped over to ask me a question or hand me a paper to put in their Thursday envelopes. Each and every student was committed, engaged, and fully present, doing their best to take their time and do their highest quality work. I gave them updates on how much time they had until "calendar time", yet when I announced the ending of our work time, they begged for me to reset the timer so that all of their work could be done and sent home. I smiled to myself as I put 10 more minutes on the timer. Kids were begging to work! Who would have imagined that just a few weeks ago?

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Building a Classroom that Works

Setting up an engaging classroom environment may sound like one of those tasks akin to rearranging your living room. In some ways, it is remarkably similar, evaluating factors such as lighting, air temperature, traffic flow, physical dimensions of space/fitting in the furniture, noise level, and optimal viewing of any screens. In others ways it can be much more complicated, as a classroom is a relatively small space for 20-30 students to spend 6 hours each day, engaged in learning through listening, speaking, writing, reading and many other activities. This year, many teachers like myself are anticipating an increase in enrolled students and must make accommodations. One of the strategies that helped me most in envisioning the best use of my space was to take before and "in progress" classroom layout photos.
As I reviewed my progress in setting up my classroom, I have decided to change a few things, moving furniture to optimize students' ability to view the teaching walls, moving computer desks up to the wall to increase space for student movement, and hanging signs to clearly label the various activity and curricular areas of the classroom. I am also working on designing some sort of paper holder for student chairs so that I can eliminate my wire racks that have worked well but take up flow/floor space.
What are the key factors that affect your classroom layout? How will you fit in more students (if necessary) without compromising comfort and efficiency?

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Using an Interactive Journal to Build Relationship

As I spent the last 2 days in training for the Teacher Education Collaborative at San Jose State, I realized once again the great importance of the work that we do in education. Over and over presenters reminded faculty associates (mentor teachers) of the importance of transparency. How, I began pondering, can I be sure to involve my intern in my thought processes, sharing the rationale for all that I do in my classroom? One way that we have decided to share our thinking is through an interactive journal, a place where we can both record ideas and respond to each other. Here are a few items I plan to include as we begin the journal together.
  • Encouragement: I plan to use the journal to validate emotions such as anxiety of being a newcomer to the classroom.
  • Humor: Sharing funny snippets of observations/kidwatching will surely convey memorable lessons of our time together. Humor broadens the mind, relaxing each person.
  • Rationale: Giving my intern a forum to ask my rationale for certain procedures, lesson plans, parent communications etc. will make my teaching transparent and comprehensible.
  • Opportunities: to ask/answer any questions.
  • Goal Setting: I will use the journal to work with my intern to set SMART goals. I will also convey my own goals and be more accountable for them.
  • Observations/Insights: We can use the journal to record observations and insights each day. These can provide information for our weekly formal collaborative time.
  • Building on Strengths: The journal is a perfect opportunity to express appreciation and awareness of each other's strengths.
  • Increase Clear Communication: Having a dedicated place to jump off and communicate will help both of us remember all of the issues we want to discuss later in person.
I am excited about the challenge and opportunity to mentor my intern this year! How else would you use an interactive journal in a mentoring relationship?

Friday, July 3, 2009

Brain Benefits of Exercise: Applying this Knowledge to the Classroom

I have long believed in the value and importance of aerobic exercise and strive to maintain a routine of at least 30-40 minutes at least 4 times per week. I have also experienced many of the benefits cited in Dr. John Medina's,Brain Rules as well as Dr. John Ratey's, Spark, The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and The Brain. When I exercise, I am calmer, think more clearly, feel more positive and generally experience a much higher level of well-being and peace. I am able to savor and stay in the moment, regulate my emotions, work efficiently and hopefully play better with others. I am now learning that exercise has a key impact on learning; yes, I knew this! Exercise increases attention and reduces impulsivity, both areas of growing concern among teachers. I am quite amazed at the research showing incredible academic gains by students involved in daily aerobic exercise at school. And I am equally dismayed that many teachers, including myself, are often at a loss on how to best accomplish this goal. For an inspiring look at excellent programs producing remarkable gains, click here. ( Don't worry, it's not an ad, just an uplifting video clip!)
Ok.. so what about it? What am I going to do in the upcoming school year to give my students the opportunity to get this essential exercise? I already incorporate "movement breaks" throughout my teaching day, but research seems to call for at least 20, uninterrupted physically challenging minutes of aerobic type exercise. Here are a few ideas I am pondering:

  • Name each day of the week with a theme for the exercise. Perhaps Monday is a "jump rope" day where we intersperse jumping rope segments of a couple minutes with walking in place to keep the heart rate going. Tuesday could be obstacle course day where I set up a small circuit/course in our kindergarten pod or outside. Wednesday could be "jump, hop, skip day" where our movements are all related to bouncing. We could use the relay lines on the kindergarten playground and incorporate teamwork and social skills with out activity. Thursday could be an indoor "kid aerobic" day where we use a fun kid exercise dvd or a yoga based dvd. Friday would be a perfect day for "free form" exercise where I put on music outside and we dance, bounce, jump rope or any other movement of choice, as long as the students keep moving for the entire 20 minutes! I will have to think more about these ideas and hope others will share as well!
  • In the past, I have written mini-grants Donorschoose.org and I have had great success in receiving supplies and materials to engage my students in learning. I plan to do some research in their catalogs to find some fitness equipment to plead for! Some ideas I have include: stability balls for interactive exercise work, jump ropes, exercise mats and activity mats by Lakeshore Learning suggested by a fellow teacher tweeter.
  • I plan to brainstorm with my Kindergarten team;perhaps each member of our team can develop a lesson idea for the day of the week. It would be awesome if we as a grade level could start each day with the exercise that would fuel our brains and prep them for learning. Perhaps we could start an "exercise revolution" at our school!
As my brain ponders the opportunities, I am hoping that folks chime in and tell me what's happening at schools across the globe. How does your school rate? Are your students getting the physically demanding aerobic exercise that John Ratey talks about in Spark? Traditional physical education programs are often not making the cut in terms of keeping the kids in ongoing aerobic movement necessary to obtain the "brain benefits". How can we, as educators, make the changes that will fuel learning? Please share your successes as well as challenges.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Thank you to the Moms who...

In honor of Mother's Day, I would like to say thank you to the moms:

1) who send their children to school rested, fed and ready for the day ( most days!)
2) who encourage their children to try their best and not be afraid to make mistakes
3) who trust me and believe wholeheartedly that teachers and parents are important teammates
4) who understand that although I would love to give each and every child 1:1 attention, all 6 hours of the school day, I am only human.
5) who take the time to nurture their children; talk with them, read to them, laugh, cry, and just "be" with them.
6) who understand that I am a human being who does her best to provide a safe, nurturing and challenging environment for all students in my class.
7) who keep in touch after Kindergarten to share their child's successes, stories, dreams.
8) who contribute Kleenex to our classroom so that the little germ spreaders don't wipe their noses and hands on their shirts.. or worse, on mine!
9) who believe in the importance of modeling a love of life-long learning.
10) who set consistent guidelines and boundaries so that their children understand that rules and expectations are followed at home and at school.

I have met some incredible moms in my teaching career. I thank them for their support, openness and inspiration. Happy Mothers Day to all!

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The Possibility in the Gray

Lately I have been delving into exploring the power of positive emotions as well as cultivating meaningful experiences to engage kids in learning. Books like The Power of Mindful Learning, by Ellen Langer, Positivity, by Barbara Fredrickson, and Curious, by Todd Kashdan have renewed my interest in reflecting upon and re-framing what I do to help kids flourish in and out of the classroom.
One of the most powerful ideas to come out of this exploration is that being "open" matters.

We can get so much more out of an experience, whether it's learning new information, relating to a partner, or calming down a class of chatty, off-task learners by a simple mind shift. That mind shift involves being able to stay in the gray area, "Maybe I don't really know the answer right now." Often, being the thoughtful human creatures we are, we like to categorize things, act like we have all the answers, or at least believe that an "expert" has the answer when we don't. My question is : What happens if we allow ourselves to sit with the wonder of the gray, instead of resorting to the black and white mindset of : "right answer" vs. "wrong answer"?

We sometimes give our students "think time" and ask them to think before raising their hands to answer a question. Allowing ourselves to ponder different scenarios and come up with the "best answer" for right now can actually lead to a more developed, deeper understanding of a concept or situation. This meaningful reflection might, in turn, give us a variety of solutions and a flexibility in applying those answers in the future. What if what we learned actually might help us the next time we encounter such a situation? Isn't that what we want our learners to be able to do: generalize a critical thinking process to areas besides the specific lesson we just taught?

Well, it may sound quite simple, but reflecting and thoughtful exploration seem to run a bit counter to what many of us do at times, as we react instead of act. A myriad of emotions, such as fear, hurt, worry, or anxiety catapult us toward a path of mindless action, instead of stopping to consider our many options. While we could put ourselves in our partners shoes, we often don't; we assume that we know what they think and feel, attack out of hurt and fear. In this age of "instant thought moving to action", many of us simply get caught up in the moment and feel pressured to act. We live in a world that doesn't seem to want to wait for us. The over-stimulation of our surroundings with the multitude of media threaten to aid in our memory lapse. " I must make a decision now, or I might forget, or not have time later to answer this important question." I must post on my blog, tweet on my twitter, fret on facebook and say something important to make my mark on the world. Are we afraid that someone is going to win the race or take our place?

One common approach, reflected in all three of the books mentioned, is to ask open-ended questions when trying to elicit engagement. Ellen Langer demonstrated with her research that directing people to "notice more" when examining something they weren't previously interested in actually got them to take more time, notice more detail and actually report a higher level of positive experience in learning the new information or skill. Todd Kashdan gives many examples where being an open and "curious explorer" helps people combat the anxiety that often holds them back from attaining their goals and achieving meaningful lives. Barbara Fredrickson talks about the power of positive emotions and how being interested in exploring or even amused by something actually broadens your ability to think more creatively and flexibly.

What if, instead of asking a child why he acted a certain way, you expressed curiosity in what was happening? I often say to my students, "Wow, I am really confused about what is going on here." I express wonder and confusion when I want to get them to stop and think about their actions in the moment. Suddenly, before my eyes, they snap out of the off task behavior and get back to work. Now if that worked all the time, I would be set!

I guess all I'm saying... in a round-about way.. is to give yourself and your students the time to ponder. Don't always make up your mind. There isn't always an easy answer, quick-fix, instant message solution. In fact, the deepest and most profound discoveries come when we acknowledge what we don't know. Share that with your students. The teacher doesn't always have to be right. Teachers are learners too.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Put Yourself Out There

About a month ago I did a presentation of my "Silly Songs for Sight Words" at a reading conference down the road in Asilomar, near Monterey. I have always loved going to this conference, as the grounds are right on the coast, with many of the presentation rooms overlooking the beautiful Pacific ocean. Deer walk by on occasion and raccoons entertain folks at night with their scavenging antics. There's nothing like presenting to teachers who are enjoying the fresh ocean breeze and walks on the beach in between sessions. It's always been a wonderfully uplifting experience!
On the day of this conference, however, I was sick, tired and entirely not in the mood to be up on a Saturday morning at 6:00 a.m., driving an hour, schlepping ( is that even a real word?!) all my presentation stuff to find an audience of 6 people. Yep, that's right! 6 teachers were in my session. Thanks to the economy, and budget cuts, the attendance at the conference was down considerably. I was losing my voice, trying to get pumped up for my session, and thoroughly disheartened that hardly anyone was there. I tried to rev myself up and did the best I could. Although people were polite and participated by singing, offering comments and asking questions, I felt somehow as if I had failed to fulfill my purpose. Perhaps my ego had gotten in the way as I thought, "guess no one finds value in my work or they would have come" I had expected to feel good about my idea to give away my cd instead of charging the usual $15. Not even the usual good will feeling budged my mood. I left the conference, exhausted, thinking, "What a waste of time!"
Just yesterday, I received the attendee evaluations in the mail. The memories of the day flooded back and I hesitated before opening the envelope. Nothing "bad" had happened , but I certainly didn't feel like I had given my best performance. To my surprise, all of the feedback was positive, with gushing comments about how useful and innovative my songs and ideas are. I realized then, that if I had reached and inspired each teacher to try just one song or one activity that engaged a learner in their class.. my effort was definitely worthwhile.
Sometimes it may seem that your uphill efforts are far more laborious than rewarding. Don't lose sight of your overall mission. If you have something to share, put yourself out there! Think of the lives you will touch by being an inspiration.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Whose Job is It Anyway?

I am a firm believer in teamwork between caring individuals in a child's life. I can especially attest to success in this arena as I have raised 2 wonderful kids while being on a team with my ex-husband and his wife. As a teacher, I have countless opportunities to work with wonderful parents who are willing to do whatever is necessary to help their children become responsible, respectful, engaged learners. I really appreciate those parents.

This week, one of my kindergarten colleagues was appalled when her students were discovered standing around one of their peers who had been kicked to the ground. She was shocked to hear another teacher (who had been on yard duty) report that her students were kicking him and talking about "teaching him a lesson." As a very caring and competent teacher, she was nevertheless shocked and speechless as her class entered the room after recess. Later that day she asked what I would do if I were her.

"Wow," I thought. "What would I do if this had happened with my students?" I felt the helplessness of my coworker and first became sad that kids could actually do this to each other. 5 year old children were "ganging up" and attacking another student, using the words, "Let's teach him a lesson."
I agreed with my colleague who decided to call each of the parents and inform them of the episode. The following day, one of the students came to school with a letter of apology for the student. Although it was very difficult for him to admit that he had been wrong, his dad stood by him as he apologized to the student. I heartily applaud that parent, as he had used this event as an important teachable moment for his son.

So many times, it seems, parents and teachers point fingers of responsibility about what should be taught at home and at school. It's ALL of our jobs to teach civility and kindness. And it's quite a huge job considering the fact that we live in a society where some people would rather read and be engrossed by the glamorous, "hyped up" lives of celebrities than sit down with their children and learn about their day. ( Oops.. I think I just accidentally stood on my soapbox for a moment!)

It takes all of us caring adults to join together, preparing these young ones for life's challenges. Let's consider it a shared responsibility and move to shared solutions.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Lower the Pressure, Raise the Bar

It was an interesting experiment today. I was to meet with my lowest guided reading group and anticipated a bit of frustration all around. I had a cute book, "Frog" that seemed possibly "too hard" but I was going to do an experiment of sorts. What if I did a picture walk of the book and engaged the students in playful conversation about this frog who ventured out of his pond into the city? Would their amusement and curiosity about the story propel them into making an effort to read?
The answer: a resounding yes!
I am learning more and more that a positive classroom climate, filled with curiosity, fascination and humor enables kids to take risks in learning. Many kids, even at 5, have learned that it's sometimes easier to remain quiet than answer a question and be wrong. I don't let them remain quiet; I ask them to make a guess based on what they know. Because they have been with me for 132 days of school, they trust me. And they know I believe in them.
We need to keep expectations high, but find ways to lower the stress and anxiety that often cripples kids in their learning. A trusting student-teacher relationship is a great place to start.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Development is a Continuum

After a particularly challenging week in the world of teaching Kindergarten, I feel very strongly about discussing the subject of development: academic, social, and emotional development. Sometimes kids need time to work through their own particular kinks in order to show their full potential in school. This is not to say we leave them on their own to work through these challenges. I am simply saying that it's often not helpful to compare a child to his/her peers and decide that something is wrong in the intellectual or cognitive realm, especially at the young age of 5.
I know a girl who is five years old and has been in multiple foster homes during these very critical early years. She is adorable, quirky, and trying to make friends in a class that she joined 6 weeks after the school year began. Only with her new family, foster/adoptive parents, for the last 5 months, she has had a multitude of adjustments to make. Just last week, she got glasses! So, you might be thinking, what's the problem?
Well the problem is not with her. The problem is that the team of people who want to "help" this little girl are underestimating the huge impact of trauma, neglect, emotional abuse and loss on her ability to focus and learn. It seems that some are on a mission to prove that this child has a learning disability because she seems to have difficulty with memory, particularly in remembering numbers and words from short term memory. When in a small group of peers, and the attitude is more "playful" and less pressured, this child performs much better in restating what she just learned. She has shown growth in many areas since starting school in mid-October. In fact, she scored partially proficient in several areas!
Although the team of school professionals believe that this child needs more time before we subject her to the battery of tests that can only be performed once every 3 years, the parents and social workers are demanding the tests, now. The sad part of all of this is that she is getting re-traumatized by well-meaning individuals who are grilling her as she does her work: "What's that number? Come on! What is that number? " Each morning her foster mom comes into the class to help with her morning work, and I hear her asking her over and over. I want to tell her about the impact of stress and trauma on memory and tell her that she is only making matters worse. Unfortunately, that is the role of others: social worker, therapist etc. This parent thinks that I am trying to minimize this child's problems. I just think that she needs a nurturing, supportive yet still challenging environment where she feels safe to take chances and express herself. All children develop at their own time, and I simply believe that she needs more time and supportive work at home and at school.
I hope that the IEP meeting scheduled next month will be the opportunity to come together as a team of professionals to discuss a plan that will help this little girl.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Involve Kids in Changes

In the spirit of the theme of change today I am using a different font! After a long and harrowing first day back from winter break, complete with pouring rain and no recess all day, I thought I would share about one thing that seemed to work well.
Yesterday, I bravely changed the seating chart in my classroom. I know.. "So what!" "Is that such a big deal?" Well, trust me. In Kindergarten, change can be a very big deal.
I decided to try something new. Normally when I rearrange kids' seating, I do it myself, telling students beforehand and introducing them to their new spots the next day as they arrive. This time, I decided, with the assistance of my awesome student teacher Meredith, to let the kids be a part of the process. I wondered if they would adjust better if they actually physically moved their own "stuff" to their new desks.
We had our new chart ready, gave them some time to clean out their desks, ( ooh and that was fun!) and had them bring their "stuff" to the rainbow carpet. Table group by table group, ( there are 5 colored groups in the classroom to match the rainbow carpet) I called them back to their new spots. Students put away their things, greeted their new neighbors and looked around. "Look around, take a picture in your brain of where you sit now." "Ch ch, click", and all sorts of pretend camera sounds filled the air. I celebrated the moment with real pictures of each new table group and will post them today to help the transition.
As the day progressed, I noticed that in contrast to past changes in seating ( in former classes),
everyone seemed to be adjusting well. No one forgot their seat after recess or after lunch. No one really seemed disoriented or confused. Success!
It might seem minor, but this slight change in my approach highlights a trust in myself as a teacher to follow my intuition. I believe, deep down, that kids have the capacity to thrive when we can give them just the right amount of responsibility.
As we were talking about the difference between being at home all week on vacation and being back to school with 22 of us crowded together in one classroom, a five year old wise girl remarked, " Yeah, we have to be much more responsible!" And she is so right. :-)

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Beautiful Heart Girl Turns 21

As I have mentioned, my kids are the greatest bearers of joy to my life. They probably wouldn't like to hear me say this next part, but I must. If I died tomorrow, I would know that my life's purpose was complete; my kids have blossomed into beautifully loving and giving individuals who are pursuing lives based on meaning and strengths. Yes, they are flourishing! Stefanie, pictured here smiling as she enjoys the beauty of nature, is about to turn 21, and has the world at her feet. She is working hard at college, studying, writing papers, taking exams, hiking to beautiful places in between! and trying to decipher the path she will take to find, as Tal Ben Shahar writes about in "Happier", the intersection of meaning, pleasure and strengths.
Much of what I have read lately about flourishing and well-being points to an important factor in my kids' development. Although I have often felt guilty that sometimes my choices as a single parent did not necessarily reflect the desires of my kids, I do know that their life experiences have made them stronger and more resilient. Surely they must have had fantasies of a happy family reunion, where their father and I would reunite and all would live happily ever after. They were babies when we divorced, and only knew that they had two loving places to call home. We did our best to parent as a team, though we had our different styles, for sure. My kids and I moved many times in the early years, trying to find the most affordable safe place to live. This was not exactly easy in Orange County, CA. I tried to keep consistency by not changing their schools,when possible, which seemed to help a bit too.
The bottom line, I suppose, is that I did not, and could not, spare my children from experiencing hardships. I surrounded them with loving extended family members, worked hard as a cashier in a supermarket for 15 years as I returned to school for my M.A. , encouraged them to openly share their feelings, and fostered their strengths and interests as best I could.
Today, I admire the results in my beautiful daughter: ( you can read bout my son in a prior post) creative, insightful, smart, kind and committed to making this world a better place. She cares about issues and causes I have only just learned about. We talk several times a week, typing frantically to each other online as our ideas bounce back and forth, pondering life and the complex dilemmas facing our world. Stefanie is evolved and genuinely interested in finding her place in addressing the complicated future we face.
Yes, I am undeniably proud of her and filled with hope that she will lead a rewarding, fulfilling life. I love her beyond what words can adequately express.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Encourage Kids to Rate Their Effort and Outcome

As a teacher, all day I am approached by enthusiastic kids parading their papers in front of me, seeking my approval for their work. I humorously refer to it as "the paper parade." One day, in a flash of genius ( haha..sometimes in the teaching world, we call those moments genius!!) I told a student to ask himself how he thought his work rated. I modeled the questions I wanted him to ask. I held the paper up, gazed curiously at it, and asked these questions of myself, pretending to be a student.
Is this my best effort?
Does my paper look like the sample paper? ( can be adjusted to rubric in older grades)
Did I write my name?
Is there anything I can do to make this even better?
How many smilies does my paper deserve?
I encourage my young students to self-evaluate and begin to recognize the difference between work done with effort and work completed carelessly. They are thrilled to determine the number of smilies and write their rating on their paper, with special markers reserved for this process.

Teach a New Skill Through Meaningful Content

Through my tutoring/coaching work with older kids, I have often encountered a resistance to using new ways to study and master understanding of new material. Some of this resistance arises out of a time crunch; kids feel pressured by the voluminous demands of homework. Many kids use the same old method of reading and re-reading to study for a test and don't think they have time to learn a new skill.
A recent encounter comes to mind. As I worked with a student, N. on note-taking last week, I encouraged him to use a mind map or graphic organizer to complement his natural visual style of learning. Of course my enthusiasm didn't mean much, as N's goal was to get his notes done in the least time possible so that he could continue his other homework. As he worked, outlining and defining the key words ( bolded in the text) as his guide, N. seemed to be writing verbatim from the book. He was receptive, however, to my suggestion of using some note-taking symbols like @ for at and w/ for with. I asked him the purpose for the notes and was surprised to hear that he can use them during the test. Ah, even more reason to use my strategy, I thought. So I went in.. for the sell.
As N. worked on his outline of terms, I mapped out the chapter in a mind map format, linking key ideas together and condensing definitions. I expected N. to be interested in my solution as I saw how it would be easier for him to use on the test. He glanced at my organizer, mumbled politely, "oh, that's interesting" and announced that he was "done with his notes." N. had absolutely no interest in learning a new tool. And knowing what I know about him, it was not the right time to press my agenda.
It was then time for me to quiz him on the material, an activity I hoped would illustrate the benefits of my note-taking strategy. N. did fairly well answering about the key ideas. Where he broke down, not surprisingly, was in how the ideas linked together to form the main idea of the chapter. He needed to refer back to the chapter for such answers and here was my opportunity to show him the benefit of different strategies. My student was less than thrilled as I demonstrated how my mind map gave me a more solid big picture of the information. I realized in that moment that he "wasn't thrilled" for a big reason. He didn't really care about the content information he was taking notes on.
As I look back with hindsight, I now know that I will need to teach the mind-map strategy using a subject that this student finds interesting. If I teach him how to mind map a story of a science project he has done, or a historical account in his life, or an interesting chapter of a book he is reading, I may hook him on the technique. Just as advertisers must convince consumers that a product will change their lives for the better, a teacher must show students how utilizing a new strategy will make his life easier, especially by shortening study time and increasing test scores.
Not only does using meaningful content help in engaging the student, so does using a strategy that incorporates and highlights their learning strengths. Each learner is unique, so we must not adopt a cookie cutter approach to study skills and strategies.
Teaching is surely a work in progress.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Individualize and Nurture the Passions

It's not always easy to help kids figure out their paths to success in this complicated world. I think back to my own kids, pictured here 17 years ago, and wonder how "what I know now" could have helped them then. I suppose I instinctively encouraged their strengths somehow in allowing my son Nick the space to explore his "creative" interests, even though it often led to inadvertent property damage as something was ground into the carpet, or propelled into walls. Nick loved to build: legos, Knex and just about anything else he could get his hands on. As he grew older I recall his changing voice beckoning to me, "Mom... can we go to Radio Shack? I just need a couple parts.. it will only be a couple dollars!" Of course, wanting to encourage his scientific exploration, off we went to Radio Shack where, yes, the transistors, resistors, whatever they were called! cost me only a couple of dollars. Of course then there was the negotiation for larger, more expensive items, and Nick worked his magic on me. He is the only kid I know who could negotiate a proposal for a birthday/Christmas gift months before the event. "Come on Mom... then you won't have to buy me anything for my birthday.. "
Nick also loved music as he grew up, and at times, loved to sit at the piano, playing by ear. His musical gift comes from both sides of the family, and brings him joy, even now though it is mostly only expressed through his "guitar hero" playing down at UCLA.
Nick has discovered his passions in life, and at 22, is more highly evolved than his mother for sure! Today he awaits his acceptance into the top engineering graduate schools in the nation. He will be the first PhD in our family. And the coolest thing of all, at least for me, is when he says, 'Hey Mom! Why don't you go to school with me? We could get our doctorates at the same time!"
Yes, I am a proud mom.
P.S. And yes, I am equally proud of my beautiful bright daughter Stefanie as well, and will dedicate a future post to her and her quest for discovery. ( with her permission, of course :-) )

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Capture the Moment

I had a great lesson today in seizing the teachable moment! I was teaching my students the sight word, "she" and we had just sung the song with my Silly Songs for Sight Words CD. Since last week we had marched to our word of the week, this morning as I drove to work I had a brainstorm. I thought it would be fun to do a conga line with our "she" pointers. The students cut out their she's and made their pointers, eager to get in line with me. We chanted together "S" "h" "e" , "SHE!" and repeated it as we did the conga line chanting and dancing with our pointers all around the room.
The best part was when we came back to sit on the carpet. I asked the students why we use these activities to learn. One girl raised her hand, " So we can have fun and learn?" I told them all that fun leads to remembering and so they could help themselves learn by being interested and playful with learning. Someone even said, " so we will like to learn?" and another asked, " so our brains are awake?"
Someone's been listening to my soapbox :-) Even 5 year olds can learn about how to learn.

Friday, January 30, 2009


Fascination is one of the positive emotions that seems to flow naturally when students are truly engaged in learning. I decided to teach my students this word today, using my new "Cognitive Content Dictionary", a strategy I learned in GLAD ( Guided Language Acquisition Development) training a couple weeks ago. I was floored when I heard a student use this word spontaneously, only 10 minutes before I was to teach the lesson. He found it "fascinating" that Miss Brown, our new student teacher, had used such "cool" things to make her 100th day of school collage. Groups of 10: bottle caps, marbles, beads, pennies and other fun items studded the 100 outline and my student was "fascinated." And so was I, fascinated that this 5 year old had spontaneously used this word in my classroom while joyfully exclaiming that the collection was, so cool!
As we talked about fascination, I watched the little faces light up as they shared something they were excited to learn about. The energy seemed to take us, effortlessly, into the rest of our learning day.
Later in the morning, I had a brainstorm, perhaps fueled by the mindful time I had spent pondering my students' interest in the word fascination. I decided to give each child a small notebook with the words, "My Fascination Journal" on the front. I told them that they could write about anything they are fascinated about, whenever they have free time or have finished their work. The response was a group cheer, "Awesome!" One boy drew pictures of planets and copied the words "outer space" above. He wrote " I am fascination by..outer space!" It was adorable.
Fascination fuels discovery and work in a classroom. Kids were looking at picture dictionaries to write about space, bugs, tractors and more, and I promised that we would do some "research" to find facts for their new journals.
I am excited to explore more ways to bring positivity and engagement to my classroom. And I am fascinated by the simplicity in implementing strategies to fuel and harness the power of these emotions.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Putting Positivity into Practice

I am so excited that Barbara Fredrickson's book, Positivity, http://www.positivityratio.com/book.php is out! It is on it's way from Amazon and will be here in a few days. I took the online quiz, available free on the book's companion website, http://www.positivityratio.com/, and registered to keep track of my daily positive ratios. There are wonderful tools to help learn more about the process of increasing well-being through positive emotions.
Today, as I thought about the range of positive emotions that can be elicited and built upon in the classroom, I decided to focus in on occasions where kids were amused, curious, silly, fascinated, playful and downright cute! As I purposefully savored those moments, I overheard one little girl say to her neighbor, "Are you kidding me?" in the most adult tone that a 5 year old could muster. As I grinned and noticed her watching me, a warmth flowed through my body and a calmness seemed to fall upon the room. I was reminded that kids watch my face often, looking for signs of my reactions, and I need to be mindful of that power. As easily as I can elicit a giggle, it is far easier to elicit a negative emotion or expression.
As I joined my class in singing our regular good morning song with the puppet we so fondly call, Mr. Monkey, I watched the students' faces as Mr. Monkey tried to sing in my ear, or hang from my chair. Whereas in the past I would not have dared to make my kids "silly" for fear of losing classroom control, I now know that eliciting that joy and silliness gives them a safety and a calmness that increases ability to solve problems as they arise during the day.
When a student interrupted, or wanted to tell me a story that we didn't have time for, instead of reminding him to be quiet, I told him how wonderful it would be for him to share that story at snack time. The look of satisfaction on his face was priceless.
I wondered if I could keep up this positivity as recess approached. Thursday is my yard duty day, a day I normally dread. I decided to intentionally strike up conversation with students who were looking a bit lonely, or seemed to need a chat, instead of my normal tendency to look for students getting into trouble. I hugged former students who came to visit, helped a few kids find classmates to play with, and before I knew it, the bell was ringing and recess was over. I couldn't believe how I calm I felt.
After recess and before lunch, I set out to give the district writing assessment to my kindergarten class. Where normally I can help students as they attempt the very difficult task of writing, I was mandated to remain quiet after verbally administering the writing prompt. I knew this would be a stressful endeavor, so I decided to try an experiment. I decided to use manila folders as dividers between students to reduce distractions and eliminate the possibility of cheating. This technique is hardly original, but my adaptation may have been. I asked my new and wonderful student teacher to draw a big smilie face on the side of the folder that the student would be facing while writing. I told my students that this smilie was to remind them to just do their best and that would be just great! As I suspected, the folder reduced the temptation to talk, and also seemed to calm the students. Perhaps it was just serendipitous, but my students performed better than prior classes had performed on a writing assessment at this time of year. And most importantly, no one was stressed out!
Thursday continued on with its positivity and I am reflecting with gratitude as I write. I can't wait for my book to arrive, and I hope that I one day have the chance to meet the author, Barbara Fredrickson, in person and tell her how grateful I am for her research on positive emotions.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

If We Nourish, Kids Will Flourish

So the big question in my mind these days is: What are the necessary ingredients for kids to flourish? I came up with a rhyme ( hey! I teach Kindergarten, I can't help it) and I think that it's relevant and appropriate. If we nourish, kids will flourish. Sounds pretty basic, and definitely attainable until we realize the immense complexities and domains in which we must nourish kids.

The job description seems daunting at times. If you look at any elementary classroom, you will find a group of kids whose basic needs, such as adequate food, medical and dental care, weather-appropriate clothing, and shelter needs are met. In contrast, you will find kids who come to school each day, hurting because they have never been to the dentist, cold, hot or otherwise uncomfortable because of inappropriate clothing. They may be tired, because they aren't falling asleep at night, or irritable, because they ran out of hot water that morning and had a cold shower as they woke from their night's rest. On any given day you might have a child having a meltdown outside the classroom door because, for some reason, that morning has not gone well due to a bad dream, argument with a parent or sibling, or some other emotional interaction. Many people think that a teacher's responsibility is to teach right? A teacher should be able to walk in , lessons ready and teach. But the real job description, perhaps part of the reason for high teacher turnover, is immense. We are to care for a child across all domains: intellectual, emotional, social, physical and psychological. This sounds like the job of a superhero. And perhaps at times, teachers are.

I have begun many of my days at school trying to help a child regulate emotions. Although the moment that child hits my door I am required to be teaching them the standards, I first must recognize the child's emotional state and its impact on their learning( and everyone around them for that matter). Countless mornings I have been mother, caretaker, counselor, and nurse as kids come to school disoriented, upset and not especially ready to learn.

A recent episode comes to mind.

Susie, ( not her real name of course) is outside the classroom with her older sister. Susie does not want to come into the classroom and is clinging to her sister, making her sister late for class. Although my job is to make sure all 20 students are beginning their morning work after completing the routines of putting their things away, I must stop and take care of Susie. I spend at least 10 minutes coaxing Susie into the classroom talking to her about her "bad morning" as she describes it. I hear about how she had a bad dream last night as she clings to me saying, " I just want to stay with you." She tells me about the dream where mosquitoes were eating her. I help walk her through the process of understanding that dreams are not real and that we can tell ourselves to change our thoughts when we get stuck thinking of something unpleasant. I tell her to think of something she "wants" to think of, something that calms her and makes her feel happy. I see a calm come over her as she realizes she can say "stop" to her upsetting thoughts. After 5 more minutes of trailing me around the classroom, clinging to my side, Susie is ready to get to work and I can leave her at her table. Meanwhile 19 other children need me.

Ironically, Susie is from an upper middle class family who seems to have the means to care for their children, at least materially. Susie falls asleep each night to her television and is often banished to her room for misbehavior. She has older siblings she describes as "mean to her" and a parent who thinks that as a teacher I need to "focus less on her." Although I have attempted to enlist the support of her parents, I am on my own in helping this child. Her parent cannot handle the beacon of truth that I shed on the situation. So I must keep on, doing what I can, without the support that could make all the difference. I am doing my best to help Susie flourish by nourishing her the best I can.

I am not a superhero, but a teacher whose mission is to instill a love for learning and a belief that a child can achieve anything he or she sets out to accomplish. I love the wonderful year of Kindergarten. Sometimes the task seems overwhelming, but the rewards are immense. Now only if I had superpowers.

All This Talk About Hope: What does it Mean to You?

Surgeon and writer Sherwin Nuland meditates on the idea of hope -- the desire to become our better selves and make a better world. In a thoughtful 12 minutes, he explores the connection between "hope" and "change" (TedTalks2003)

What does hope mean to me? Although this TedTalk by Sherwin Nuland was recorded several years ago, (2003), I listened to it today and found it to be a great inspiration and validation of my advocacy and work for the kids I teach and coach.

So what does hope mean to me?

  • Hope means that people will work together to solve the current problems and crises in our world: economic, environmental, social, global.
  • Hope means that the children in my Kindergarten classroom will leave my class in June with a belief that they can achieve anything they set out to do.
  • Hope means that we can imagine and act intentionally to create a better future by taking action, collaborating with others of like minds and working peacefully to resolve conflicts with those of different minds.
  • Hope means that we speak out, in belief that others can "handle it" when we stand up for what we know deep in our hearts and souls to be true.
  • Hope means that we endeavor to act authentically, with a strength and conviction that the human spirit can take us where we need to go.
  • Hope means that I can inspire a student who struggles with any number of learning challenges, to keep working hard, seek out their strengths and find a way to contribute his/her gift of excellence to the world.
  • Hope means building efficacy in kids; building the belief that they can achieve a goal, work hard to be excellent at the pursuit they choose.
  • And finally, hope means that I somehow always seem to know in my heart that any hardship I experience in my life as I strive to make a difference, will make sense later. Life is not always easy; in fact, it rarely is.
How are we all going to continue to fuel hope?


Nuland, Sherwin (2003,February). A Meditation on Hope. Retrieved January 25, 2009, from Ted Talks Web site: http://www.ted.com/index.php/talks/sherwin_nuland_on_hope.html

Savor the Treasures

Today I searched through some of my prior unfinished drafts and serendipitously happened upon this picture and blog entry title: "Savor the Treasures." I decided to reflect for a moment on how often I savor the positives in my classroom. It's all too easy to get caught up in the challenges of classroom/ behavior management each day and forget the sweet treasures my students create and share. This picture from one of my students last year, says her name, my name and then the words "My Friendship". ( Note that we are drawn on a ship surrounded by love!) It is still posted in my classroom as it reminds me not only of her, a very special little girl, but also of the huge importance of relationship with students. We are "in it together" for 180-185 days a year, through tough hours, beautifully inspiring moments and everything in between. It can be incredibly difficult to remember that each word we utter matters and that our actions influence those of our students. As I reflect upon ways to improve individual responsibility as well as classroom cooperation, I will keep in mind this drawing which represents the mutual care that must be present in the classroom. If students don't feel care and respect, they will most certainly be distracted, disruptive or disengaged. My mission this week is to connect with each child in my class in a new way, discussing a new daily reflection mini-page where they will rate themselves on how respectfully, responsibly and safely they behaved each day. Most of all, I will savor the smiles.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

I love Wordle! It's a Great Creative Expression for Kids of all Ages!

  • You can have kids brainstorm all words related to a particular theme or academic subject. You can get started making your clouds from your blog page or any list of words your creative child's mind can imagine.
  • You can let kids write or dictate to you all of the things and people they appreciate too. It's a great gratitude collage!
  • You decide things like font, color, size, shape and you hit the button and Magic!! It's great fun to explore how you can enhance meaning through color and other artistic elements.
  • Your design is created and you can play around and change it, create an image of it to use as a poster or even a mug or t-shirt!
  • I love to play with words and images, so you can imagine what I will be showing my students and all my friends!

Taking Care of Ourselves: A look at Positive Emotion Research

The writing below is one of my favorite inspirational passages, posted on the University of Carolina Chapel Hill Positive Emotions and Psychophysiology Lab website. I am a huge fan of Barbara Fredrickson and her Broaden and Build Theory of Positive Emotions.


You have -- within you -- the fuel to thrive and to flourish,
and to leave this world in better shape than you found it.
Sometimes you tap into this fuel – other times you don’t.
But the sad fact is that most people have no idea
how to tap into this fuel or even recognize it when they do.
Where is this fuel within you?

You tap into it whenever you feel energized and excited by new ideas.
You tap into it whenever you feel at one with your surroundings, at peace.
You tap into it whenever you feel playful, creative, or silly.
You tap into it whenever you feel your soul stirred by the sheer beauty of existence.
You tap into it whenever you feel connected to others and loved.
In short, you tap into it whenever positive emotions resonate within you

The Positive Emotions and Psychophysiology Laboratory at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill exists to answer a single question: 'What good is it to feel good?' Our purpose is to understand and to share the full significance of positive emotions.

We have three core ideals:
• To do high-quality science
• To answer questions that matter to humanity, and
• To have fun and feel good about doing it.

Our goal is to uncover the universal recipe for human flourishing and to give this recipe as a gift to the world. Our science to date tells us that genuine positive emotions may in fact be the single most important active ingredient in this recipe for flourishing. When this ingredient is lacking, or in poor supply – people get stuck. They lose their freedom of choice. They become stagnant and painfully predictable. But when this ingredient is in ample supply – people take off. They become generative, creative, resilient, ripe with possibility and beautifully unpredictable.
Our research team is working to show how it is that being moved by positive emotions can move you forward, and not only lift you to your higher ground, but also create a world that is worth giving to our children.

I think that the ideas expressed above are key to providing an opportunity for children to flourish. We must take action to create opportunities for ourselves to grow and thrive so that we have something to give to our children.

Here are some ways I have incorporated these ideas:

  • I have experienced the power of playfulness with my Kindergarten class as I sing the good morning song with my monkey puppet, Mr. Monkey.
  • I have witnessed the way children feel loved and connected when I use the puppet to give them a good morning hug as we sing together.
  • I try to pursue my creative outlets anytime I can! I spent countless hours making cards for the holidays, making big messes and letting my creative soul wander.
  • I play games with my own college kids when they come to visit: we play Scattergories and laugh about how hard it is to come up with different answers when you are of "like minds".
  • I teach sight words in my classroom with "Silly Songs for Sight Words." I encourage my students to come up with their own silly lyrics!
  • I stop my car along the ocean each morning as I begin my journey to work. I listen to the beautiful roar and watch the waves, savoring the magnificence of nature.
  • I share my passions, soapboxes and ideas with anyone who will listen!
  • I feel incredibly blessed and at peace as I write this, knowing that despite the fact that the rain woke me during the night, I have fueled myself in a positive direction by writing and releasing my creative energy.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Relationships Are the Key

On this historic day when we put our hope and faith into a new president, I can't help but return to my never-ending idealist belief that relationships are truly the key to leading a fulfilling life. I often tell people that one of my greatest dreams in life was to raise my kids to be hardworking, kind, and enlightened individuals who were not afraid to take the challenges of this world head on. And I have seen that dream come true.

My relationship with my kids is one of candor and honesty, trust and communication. We engage in thoughtful philosophical conversations about our world and what we can do to be a part of a positive change. Of course in raising them I surely made mistakes, especially as a single parent, much of the time floundering to find myself, finish my education, and pursue a career with meaning. I do believe that one of the reasons my kids blossomed and flourished is that they had many trusting relationships, with aunts, uncles, grandparents and others. They also had teachers who looked out for them, gave them a safe place to explore and learn, and let them know when they weren't quite working as hard as they could be. I appreciated the honesty of all who cared for my children. And I hope that as we build relationships with teachers, coaches, neighbors and relatives who work with us in caring for our children, that we can communicate honestly and openly for the benefit of us all.

Hope for The Future Generation

What an exciting day as we watched the inauguration of our 44th president. I was thrilled to be able to talk to my class about how we were "watching history." They were engaged and interested to watch the ceremony on the big screen, full of questions later on about where the president will live and what he will do.
As I watched the contagious excitement of those present at the inauguration and listened to the amazingly coherent, moving speech of President Obama, I couldn't help but feel hope for the kids watching him today, perhaps the first president they will remember later in their lives. I feel moved to work with others to achieve common goals to help kids flourish. I feel excited that people will have a trust and hopefully hear the call to action that our new President has sent out.
It's a time of change, yes. It's also a time to take our freedom as a responsibility to do our part in turning this country around. We can start right now, by taking care of the young people in our lives, nourishing them and watching them flourish into hopeful, motivated young adults who will make their marks on the world.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Savor The Moments and The Memories

My beautiful bright daughter Stefanie, pictured at left about 17 years ago with my also amazing son, Nick, just left today after a wonderful visit, and is on her trek back to college for the new semester. I always get a bit reflective when my kids come to visit, and inevitably in the silence that follows their departure I find myself staring wistfully at pictures, wishing I had savored more of the simple, yet special moments as they were growing up. I don't have regrets; my mind doesn't really work that way. I just wish I could go back and feel the excitement with my young children as they prepared to go trick or treating. On that particular evening, pictured at left,I was probably off to my job as a cashier in a supermarket. Their dad, also doing his best as a single parent, had the pleasure of taking them trick or treating that Halloween. My work was a necessity and I did the best I could. But I definitely missed out on some of the priceless moments.
Stefanie reminisced about the year we had an annual pass to Disneyland; how I would pick her and her brother up from school and announce, "We're going to Disneyland," on cloudy winter afternoons. We lived close enough to go just for a few hours and giddily sped through the turnstiles to go on ride after ride with no waiting in line. It was fun to surprise my kids with these fun outings.
Stefanie and I also remembered fondly the many summer days spent on the beach in Laguna and Dana Point, with both kids boogie boarding, body surfing and building sand castles until I had to go work at night at the store. They would entertain each other for hours and I would rest up for my night at work. I can remember playing frisbee and throwing the football around too after a little voice would whisper, "Hey, Mom! Want to play?" Although I am quite certain that I must have made a lot of mistakes as a parent, the one thing that makes me happy is that my kids have grown into amazing, resilient, giving individuals who learned how to be in happy, healthy relationships at about the same time I had mastered that milestone as a mid-life adult.
Stefanie has grown into a thoughtful, sensitive, aware young woman who wants to make a difference in the world. We had several conversations during our visit about the value in savoring experiences, whether it is the delicious blueberry waffles we concocted for breakfast, or the beautiful hike through a state park we ventured to yesterday. I am so happy that she has learned the amazing power of savoring and enjoying the beautiful things in life, from cooking with lots of garlic, "Come on , Mom, it's good for you!" to photographing heart-shaped rocks on her trip to Joshua Tree. Somehow she inherited my passion for all things hearts. And I love that!
Although I am sad to see her leave, I am savoring the memory of her visit. I always tell her that when she is here, I feel like I have all the parts of me and that when she is away, I am somehow missing a limb. I am happy and filled with gratitude for her independence and success but looking forward to the time when I will have her living close-by again. So, all you parents who read this, savor those moments, and don't forget to savor the memories too.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Connect with Your Kids

I often hear people saying, " I ask my kids how their day was, or what they learned in school and all I get is a shrug of the shoulders and a " I don't know." I think it's very helpful to realize that right after school, many kids are tired. Emotionally tired from interacting with others all day, physically tired from thinking and playing all day, and just plain tired! Kids do want to tell us about their lives; just come into Kindergarten for an hour and count how many times a child wants to tell me a story about something going on in his or her life.
I think that having regular modes of fun communication with your child can help bridge this gap between what you want to know and what they tell you! Here are some ideas to make communicating and connecting with your child fun and meaningful.
  • Interactive Journal: If you are a teacher, you can probably talk about the wonderful benefits to literacy when kids write to you in an interactive journal. At home parents and kids can write in a journal as a way of connecting without talking aloud. You could draw a picture, doodle a message, tell a funny joke, or ask a fun question like, " What was one exciting or interesting thing that happened today?" Your child will have a chance to respond to you, ( without you reading over his/her shoulder) with a written answer, a picture, or simply a question back to you. The goal is to continue a conversation, and the conversation is about your child's world. It's not a place to correct spelling, but a place to celebrate the wonderful relationship you have with this amazing thoughtful young person.
  • Model the Way: Model how to share important events of the day by sharing with your spouse or another adult in your child's presence. Many times we don't talk about ourselves with other adults in front of our children because we think they are too young or aren't interested in our stories. Of course it is important to share stories that are appropriate, but the key is that if you want kids to learn to share, you must model the way :-)
  • Magic Message: Kids love magic and fun! At the beach, write a message to your child in the sand. Let him answer and then continue the conversation. At home, write a message with kid shower gel/foam on the bathtub wall. Kids love to write in shaving cream, supervised of course!
  • Family Gratitude Board: Hang a dry erase or bulletin board where everyone will see it at some point each day. It could be a small board in the laundry room, kitchen, even bathroom! Each member of the family writes about something they appreciate about someone in the family. Parents can model their appreciation for each other as well to show children that sometimes people can have a conflict, but still appreciate and thank each other. Let each child choose his color to write with. The key is: be consistent and demonstrate the power of gratitude. Many studies prove that expressing gratitude makes people experience well-being.
  • Surprise them with Sticky Notes: Kids of all ages enjoy notes cheering them on or supporting them through a new challenge. Help your child take on a new challenge by celebrating their little wins. Communicate that you are so thankful to have them in your family. Writing is a powerful way of communicating that leaves something behind for the child to read, again and again. Give them sticky notes to write their own for you :-)
  • There are many ways to connect and build a trusting relationship with your child. Stay tuned for more in our next episode!

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Follow Your Heart

Beautiful Sunset in Santa Cruz
I have been thinking a lot about my decision to move to Santa Cruz about 2 years ago. Although I have to leave very early in the morning to make my commute less stressful, I must say that I did the right thing to live where I feel peaceful. Each morning as I drive along the cliff, I remind myself to stop for at least a minute or 2, roll down the windows, and listen to the ocean, sometimes a roar, and sometimes a quiet swish. As I feel deeply the gratitude for living in such a beautiful place, I prepare myself for my day, and build a confidence that no matter what happens, I can handle it! I live alone currently as I await my new husband's VISA so I have been working 2 jobs to afford my place. I was afraid that I would not be able to afford to live here and can remember those closest to me telling me that a place where I feel peaceful and free will inspire me to be the best I can be. And they were so right.
Since I moved to Santa Cruz, I have explored my love for writing, and recently signed a contract with Scholastic for my "Silly Songs for Sight Words". I have dabbled in creative card-making, hiked to beautiful waterfalls in Big Basin State Park, and have run on the beach at sunset every chance I get get!

Monday, January 12, 2009

Courage to be the Best You Can be

This morning as I drove to work I was bombarded by thoughts of this blogging and new writing kick I have been on. I began to think about how what we really need to do in this world is to have the courage to be the best we can be. I remembered using the analogy of "swimming in the deep end of the pool," when talking with a friend who was frustrated by another friend's willingness to settle for mediocrity in his marriage and his life. In our eventual analysis, we described this person as playing it safe by "staying in the shallow end", occasionally venturing bravely into the deep end of the pool but then hanging onto the side for dear life. He was fairly content to either stay in the shallow end for the duration. To my friend, who cared deeply about him, this option did not make sense.
I'm not sure why today I thought of this analogy. Perhaps I return to it when I step out of my comfort zone. This week I do a presentation at the California Kindergarten Conference, which is a bit challenging! Perhaps I return to it sometimes when I stick my toe into the deep end, wanting desperately to dive in, but afraid that I can't handle it's challenge. This posting on Squidoo, and working on this blog have put me out there for people to evaluate, to judge, to see. I do believe I am up for the challenge. I am diving in.. um.. yeah.. after I get my feet wet.

I think Nelson Mandela's speech, originally written by Marianne Williamson says it all.

"Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn't serve the world. There's nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We are born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us, it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others."

Friday, January 9, 2009

A Letter I Wish I Could Send

Since my post the other day, I have tried all possible avenues to open communication with the parent who so snidely announced that she "wasn't so sure" I was trying to help her daughter. Her daughter, as I described in my last post, displays many disruptive attention seeking behaviors. After speaking with my principal, who agreed that this problem is not going to just "go away," I sent an email, requesting a meeting to discuss her concerns and develop some mutual goals for her daughter. Here is my email along with her response:

Dear Mrs. Z,
I am writing to offer you the opportunity to discuss any concerns you
have regarding ****. I think it's best for us to communicate so that
we are on the same page about our mutual expectations for how to best
support****. Here are 2 options that work with my principal's schedule
as well as mine. Please let me know if either time works and if you would like to meet.
Thank you,
Mrs. Y***

I was quite flabbergasted to get this response less than 30 minutes later:
Dear Mrs. Y,
Thanks for the email.....January is a crazy month for me at work so
neither date works. I don't have any real concerns regarding ****. I
think she is doing great.
Mrs. Z

Of course, I was quite surprised that someone who had so viciously spoken to me just 24 hours earlier, suddenly had no concerns for her child's well-being in my class. I decided to draft this letter in the event that I would eventually have the courage to send it. Who knows if I will.

Dear Mrs. Z,

I wonder if you lose sleep at night the way I do. It may seem odd that I should care so much about the lives of the 20 precious little beings in my class, but the fact is: I do. I care enough to redirect your child when she is being disruptive. I care even more to praise and acknowledge her when she makes a positive choice. Perhaps you don't realize that I care enough to continue to reflect and strive to improve my teaching and connect and make a difference with all kids. I am completely flabbergasted by your request that I "don't focus so much" on your daughter, particularly when my "focusing" was to send an encouraging note home to reinforce her positive behavior.
Ever since that day, just a couple days ago, being with your daughter in my classroom has been a rollercoaster ride. When I talked with all of the students about saying to others meanly, "I'm not going to be your friend," and told them that I intended to send a letter home to parents about this problem in our class, she yelled across the room, "MY MOM DOESN'T WANT ANY NOTES FROM YOU!" In your inappropriate and rude communication to me you have undermined any power that our partnership could have in helping your child.
Your daughter comes to school screaming for attention. She rolls around on the floor, pokes her neighbors with pencils, hangs off her chair, yells across the room, shouts out when I acknowledge another student, and walks up to children on the playground and says to them, "I am not going to play with you." I find it quite amazing that you think she is " doing great."
I am hoping that you have some sort of wake up call so that you can be accessible and open to working with me to help your daughter. I am a teacher, first and foremost, but I am also a very concerned individual who recognizes that behavior is a communication of a child's needs.
Perhaps someday I will have the opportunity and the courage to be this direct with you. For now I am bound by the ridiculous conventions of an educational system that allow you to talk rudely to me but I cannot be honest with you.
I wish you all the luck in the world as you navigate through the next 12 school years with your child. I hope the ride gets easier than the one this week.
Mrs. Y.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

A Not So Typical Day in Kindergarten

Ever had a day that you just knew was going to be a bit rough? Well, today was that day for me. Normally I pride myself on having very positive interactions with parents, but this year, I have a parent of one of my students, who, for some reason, has decided not to like me. In a BIG way!
The student is a bright freckle faced 5 year old who often seems to need more attention than that of her classmates. Shouting out during circle time, wandering around the class when others are seated quietly, refusing to do her work, writing on my things with a permanent marker, not sharing supplies with others, whispering not so sweet somethings into the ears of her peers," If you don't do this, I am not going to be your friend," are just a few of the behaviors we work to curtail and replace with more positive behaviors on a daily basis.
In an effort to reinforce and increase those positive moments, this student and I decided to send a note home yesterday to tell her parents about the wonderful way she worked hard to pay attention, do her work, and get along with others. Today, when I saw her mom, I asked if she had received the note. Scowling at me, the mom stated that she did not want me to "focus so much" on her daughter. I was floored. I had been making so much effort trying to help this child learn and develop social skills and here was her mom telling me pretty much to not care. Or worse yet, implying that I had some interest other than the best interest of her child in mind. I looked at her and quietly said, "I am trying to help her." She bantered back, " I'm not so sure of that!" Quite calmly I assured her that I would be happy to set up a meeting with her to discuss any concerns. I told her to let me know when she would like to do this.
Of course I know that I am fallible. I make mistakes as a teacher, as a human being. But I do know one thing. I care intensely about the kids in my class. Although I am "just their teacher", I am with them a good portion of the day, helping them when they fall down, encouraging them to work hard when learning is a bit of a challenge, and most importantly, helping them understand that they are each very important beings with strengths and gifts to offer the world. Even on the toughest of days, I still love my job. Just not quite as much today.