Friday, January 30, 2009
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
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
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.
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.
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
Thursday, January 22, 2009
- In my wandering tonight, mining the internet for gems of inspiration, I came across Wordle, http://www.wordle.net/ which is a great way to make word clouds and designs. ( Thank you to fellow blogger, Ed Shepherd !) http://learningtocollaborate.blogspot.com/
- 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!
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
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.
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
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
- 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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
Tuesday, January 6, 2009
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.