Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Cracking the Shell

So when it comes to teaching respect there are always a few kids who are hard to reach. While they often appear disinterested and resistant, those are the kids who need it the most. Watch for them and plan for them.

I've seen them ignore me, defy the rules--either passively or agressively, even turn against their friends. I'm talking children, not even teenagers!

The issue at heart is TRUST. Of course respect sounds good--really, but can they really trust us. I think for me that's why the beginning of a new school year is so exhausting. They are trying to read my signals, and I'm trying to read their signals and respond in a trustworthy and respectful manner (in addition to teaching routines, procedures, and some subject matter).

So why would they trust us? They don't know us. They've already been disappointed in their short life by people they thought they could trust.

What are ways you develop trust and respect at your work place? or with kids?

Monday, August 30, 2010

Inspired To Ask

Today's inspirational focus is on asking to have our needs met. This was (sometimes still is) a foreign concept to me. I think I was trained to believe that I could actually meet my own and everyone else's needs. Based on that premise you might imagine how difficult it was for me almost 2 years ago when I spent 11 weeks on bedrest. In a lot of ways it took that extreme for me to even realize I couldn't meet all my needs and I couldn't expect others to read my mind to meet my needs.

Fast forward to the here and now. I'm surprised how really shy I still am about asking. It certainly doesn't feel good or right. I'm even more surprised when my needs actually do get met. And boy is it starting to happen a lot!

I've gotten a little bit obsessed about Flip Camcorders, so I registered at digitalwish.com. I asked parents to consider contributing toward them. I can't even wrap my brain around all the possibilities. So anyway, I find out that I may be able to take a class and get a Flip for less than the price of buying one outright.

Crazy, huh! What's even crazier is that I believe if I had not put it out there I would not have found this opportunity--or did it find me? Oh sure, the workshop was there in an email, but I've deleted more of those emails than I can count. Why did I open this one. I don't know if it's God or karma or old age wisdom. All I know is that the more I put my needs out there (which is still really uncomfortable) the more they are met.

My disclaimer is that there are things I've put out there that have not materialized. I believe those are the ones I don't really need now--maybe later, maybe never?? I don't know. I can't explain it.

Join me in graciously asking and joyfully receiving today.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Breath In Some Fresh Air

I survived the first week of school! YIPEEEE!

The 2 brighest spots in my day involved breathing. This afternoon I took my students outside to write under a big shady tree. I wish I had a picture of this. It was fun to see kids writing and working but not sitting at desks. (Note to self: do this more.) It was also great to just breath in some fresh air.

After they wrote we sat in a big circle and told a story. It's an activity I call Story Circle. It's my personal take on an activity I heard discussed by Adele Diamond about educating mind, body, and heart. As far as most kids are concerned the oral tradition of storytelling is a dead art form, but I'm trying to revive it. In its most structured form I start a story and we go around the circle adding to it. The first few are always shaking, and some kids refuse to contribute. It's all good because we are trying to ignite a creative spark by rubbing the flint of different people's ideas together. I could go crazy when kids aren't listening to each other, but they're just beginning to learn how to respect themselves and the people around them. Ahh.

I have a little breathing room for the weekend because I stayed late and worked very diligently. I'm trying some new organizational strategies, and they're starting to work for me--instead of the other way around.

Many of my strategies are taken out of the book I'm recommending today: The Cornerstone by Angela Powell Watson. Her webpage is a wealth of downloadable resources, too. I find her approach practical and no nonsense.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Respect the Day

Here is the view from my desk. . .

Having survived 2 painful days of meetings and Open House, it was a relief to spend the day with a room full of bright eyed and eager children. It was also absolutely exhasuting.

So instead of some marvelous writing I'm going to show respect for the day and say it was wonderful and tough and exhausting. Sometimes the most respectful course is to acknowledge what it is and move on.

I've also really been struck by one of my 8 little motivators--Is it necessary? How much of what I say and do is necessary? How much of what is said and done around me is necessary? I just keep seeing it in so many places--especially those pockets of education where people don't really work with kids, but they want to impart all the answers--which are often not only unnecessary but useless.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Inspiration for the New Year

So every year at this moment my professional goal is to support children in learning as much as they can and becoming the best people they can be. But how is this achieved? I labor over year long plans for each subject and specific daily plans. I hone procedures and classroom layout.

While those things are happening this year I'm also taking a more intropective approach. I want to learn as much as I can and be the best person I can be. So I have a little list that will be hanging by my desk. There are 8 little items. The first 5 relate to how I let the world make and mold me. They came to me through the wonderful and amazing online class Mondo Beyondo.


The last three I found in "a life of being, having, and doing enough" by Wayne Muller. They are the goal I have for how my voice is projected into the world:

`Is it true?
`Is it necessary?
`Is it kind?

These are my goals to which I aspire and hopefully inspire this year. Best wishes to everyone returning to school this week! What are your goals for the year?

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Before School Picnic A Success

So the before school picnic was a great success. I loved that both kids and adults started to mingle and talk really quickly. It's always fun to watch other people socialize! About half the class showed up. It's always good to meet kids and families and infuse some enthusiasm.

Not one to lose a great opportunity, I took shameless advantage of my captive audience. I passed out this years "Inspiration Guide" filled with some important highlights about the beginning of the year. I passed out a wish list, which included everything from recycled coffee cans to 4 flip camcorders on digitalwish.com. I asked for volunteers, and I've already received 4--yippee!!!
And I passed out book order forms. (The first one is always a sweet deal for teachers and hard to pass up.) I loved that kids were already previewing!

We ended with a crazy twist for charades. Kids are the guessers and adults are the actors. It's great because the adults are embarrassed, and the kids love it!

I'm sure will put it on the calendar for next year! Here's a little video:

Create your own video slideshow at animoto.com.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Book Recommendation Friday

I saw this book as I quickly rushed through a bookstore, and then my husband brought it home to me from the library. (I'm not sure who found whom--the book or the woman!)

Oh No! by Mac Barnett with amazing illustrations by Dan Santat. I also saw another book by Mac Barnett that is a very creative mystery in board book form titled, The Clock Without A Face. It is definitely a book for older kids--maybe 8-12.

Back to Oh No!--I adore this little book. It's both surprisingly simple and complex. As an adult it feels quite predictable, but I think kids will enjoy it just the same.

I think it has appeal for a broad audience. (OK, I even read it to my 18 month old, who nodded vigorously when I asked him if he like it.) I like that the main character is a girl science nerd, but my husband says it will have great appeal to boys, too.

Some ideas for how to use it:

~I think it would be a fun lead into an elementary science fair project
~I like the many possibilities for writing prompts--what happens next? or What science project can you think of that might go horribly wrong?
~I also love doing a little tease (if you've ever thought of building a robot or creating a science project in your garage, this book is for you), and then putting it in the class library and watching kids desperate to get their hands on the book.

What ideas do you have for ways to use picture books in middle grades or wherever you are?

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Respectful Wednesday


It might just getting you humming along with Aretha Franklin. . . baby, I'm asking for a little more, just a little more, respect.

For me RESPECT is a word full of hopeful and idealistic optimism.

One online definition I found said:

Esteem; the condition of being honored.

I LOVE the idea of honoring people, just for their humanity--not because they agree with us or make us feel good. . .just respecting the humanity and that being enough.

It feels good to respect people, most of the time. Sometimes it's scary. Sometimes people exploit respectful people as being push-overs. (I think this happens out of fear and uncertainty.)

From now on Wednesday will be a day I focus on respect--for ourselves, for children (which I often find easier than respecting many adults), respect for our profession, what it looks like in the classroom, and so on.

I know I could not teach without respect for myself, my profession, and my students. What/Who do you respect? Why?

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Calling Ants, Students and Families to a Picnic

I've wanted to write about hosting a before school picnic and the benefits. Last year was the first year I had a picnic in my backyard the week before school started, but the idea had been brewing for about 6 years.

I took one crazy (I mean INSANE!) and educational (for me more than the kids) year and taught in a bush village in Alaska. I was feeling a little smug about my teaching, and boy, was I humbled. (--thought I'd never teach again, but 2 years later I got back in the saddle!) So I thought about what I wished I had done differently to feel more success in Alaska, and one thing I always came back to was feeding my students and their families before I had them set foot in my classroom. Feeding people has a different value in their culture than mine, but food and hospitality are important everywhere.

So last year I finally got brave enough to collect addresses, send out flyers, and wait in my backyard to see who would show up. You might think that I teach in a place that supports this sort of thing, think again! Many of my coworkers don't even know I did this, and some of those who do look at me ascance. (nothing new there!)

And if you think I must live in an amazing place to invite these people over, I'll paint you a picture: I live in a rental in a city neighborhood. The paint is completely peeling off the garage and the yard is a little weed patch. (It looks lots better with lots of blankets thrown down.) I prayed it wouldn't rain, because even with all the furniture pushed back, I don't know if we have standing room for 30 people--and that's if no one moves their elbows! I love my home, and I love to offer hospitality. It's more about opening the heart than opening the home.

So over half of the students came on out! Kudos to their families, too. I mean who's ever heard of going to the teacher's house before school starts?

So I provided soft tacos and the fixings, lemonade and water, and paper products. People brought other foods, and there was more than enough. Everyone wore nametags. Kids enjoyed seeing old friends. I shared a little information about the year that was about to begin. The most fun part was a game of charades where the adults were the actors and kids were the guessers. It was a great ice breaker, even though it was late in the event.


Well I did not have many parent issues last year.

I think it builds more trust and makes the teacher a real person (not the Charlie Brown teacher robot voice.)

We were more of a team together than versus each other.

Great way to offer family outreach.

Good start on communication

Shy kids had already met me, so I saw a lot more comfort on the first day.

Kids and families already knew some of what to expect on the first day.

It is a tangible manifestation of my belief that teaching is not just a job.

I could recognize student family members and didn't just spend time wondering if I should know who they are.

I'm sure there are many more, too! Was it just a fluke? I don't know, but I'm testing it out by hosting another picnic later this week!

Monday, August 16, 2010

Inspiration Monday

If a picture is worth a thousand words, than these photos are worth a great number of words. I'm really fascinated with texture right now.

Do these inspire anything in you?

Friday, August 13, 2010

Book Recommendation Friday

This week I am pleased to recommend a book that's been around a little while. It was a 2005 National Book Award Finalist. It is Each Little Bird That Sings by Deborah Wiles. It is the middle book, and in my opinion the best, in her Aurora County Trilogy.

I am always surprised by how disarmed I am by it's down home charm and how close to the heart is its treatment of grief and loss. The main character is 10 year old Comfort Snowberger, and her family runs the local funeral home. She has attended so many funerals. Yes, Comfort is not the only unusual name--like her annoying little cousin, Peach Shuggers.

I love to see how kids respond to this book, especially the plot twists and the amount of death--a topic many people don't discuss with kids.

For teachers there is rich vocabulary, many opportunities for writing lessons, and so much more.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Surprises Close To Home

It's easy to think that all the amazing stuff is far from where I live, especially when I live close to where I grew up. After all, if it was cool and amazing, wouldn't I have already seen it or at least heard about it?

I think it's about a mental fantasy, that what is accessible to me is not enough, or even if it seems like enough it must be much better somewhere else.

Today that myth was debunked.

I wanted to take a trip to IKEA before school started, 2hours away, but there is no way the little boy would sit contentedly in a carseat that long. So now it was up to me to find some cool place where he could stop and stretch his legs. (Read this: RUN!)

And now enters Lanterman's Mill. This place is amazing and beautiful and historical and run by Metro Parks. I love metro parks! It's a real working mill. The view is spectacular. (See photos!) You can even buy flour and meal ground there.

This is about 1 hour from my house. I wonder what other surprises are close to home? What surprises do you find close to your home?

Monday, August 9, 2010

Inspiration Monday

So here are some of the things that are inspiring me, today:

~Where Women Create--a magazine, a book, a webpage--all filled with beautiful and inspiring places where women create. It's soooo yummy--a feast for the eyes.

~Artful Blogging--another gorgeous magazine filled with beautiful and creative blogs and the bloggers who create them.

~Laptop skins designed by Kelly Rae Roberts

~Finding shoes at Goodwill that are comfortable and good for school

~Finding a table cloth and table runner for my Writing Center and a lamp, mirror, games and books for the classroom. It is going to be such an inspiring place for me and my students!

~All those amazing teachers who put great resources for science notebooking on the web. Thank you.

~New school supplies

~Flip camcorders--oh how I want these for my classroom!

~The beginning stages of the first issue of my upcoming newsletter--Tips, Tricks, Tools, and Tales--I bet you're going to like it, too.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Book Recommendation Friday

Last year the first book I read to my class was We Can't All Be Rattlesnakes by Patrick Jennings. You might not expect to be inspired by a book whose main character is a female gopher snake named Crusher, but I and my students really enjoyed the creative descriptions of the world from a snakes perspective.

I think this book is a great example of perspective and descriptive language. It also has strong themes about family and relationships.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Science Notebooking

I spend lots of my summer time seeking out new stuff for my classroom that excites me. I look through books and magazines and online, and I can often be heard saying, "That's fantastic!" However I am seasoned enough to know that I can only implement a small percentage of those ideas, and even fewer can be done well.

So when August rolls around I'm always curious about what will rise to the top for the new year. This year I am particularly excited about interactive science notebooking. This is a process were students keep everything they do in a notebook--notes, vocabulary, lab activities. But they add to it, so they are basically creating their own one of a kind science text.

Some of the benefits are:

~learning organizational skills
~using both sides of the brain
~highly differentiated
~applying creativity to the content
~writing in response to the content

It's just an amazing tool. I can't wait to keep you updated.

What is exciting to you about your job today?

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Little Poem and Enoughness

I'm reading and digesting little bits of the book A Life of Having, Being, and Doing Enough by Wayne Muller. The concept of enoughness is one that I simultaneously struggle with and embrace. I'm really hoping to enter each day and the new school year as and with enough.

This little poem by John O'Donohue is in the book and spoke to me this morning:


I would love to live
Like a river flows,
Carried by the surprise
Of its own unfolding.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

More Inspiration

So I really love free gadgets online that do cool things. One that I discovered this summer is animoto. Anyone can open a free account, upload photos and short video clips and make fun FREE 30 second videos. It's amazing. Here is a little inspiration video I made of photos I took hiking this summer:

Create your own video slideshow at animoto.com.

Check it out!

Monday, August 2, 2010

My Passion Devours the Terror

"I'm not scared. My passion devours the terror."

Isn't that an inspiring statement for Inspiration Monday? I cut it out of a magazine and put it on a collage I made. Part of the collage is in the photo above.

For more than half my life now I have been inspired by cutting up magazines and making collages. I'm always surprised by what appears. This most recent collage was meant to inspire me. I'm planning to put it in my workspace in my classroom soon. It's a completely imperfect art form. The words and pictures usually aren't cut out straight. I usually glue them on construction paper--most often black paper.

The power of the process is that one of two things ALWAYS happens. Either something from my heart spills out, or something my heart needs floats in. This time "My passion devours the terror." lept to me.

I'm feeling many internal shifts about how I view myself, my little family, my workplace. I know these are really good, but change always feels scary to me, and that little line just gives me courage.

I highly recommend making your own imperfect magazine collage. This is what you do:

1. Gather old magazines, glue, scissors, paper.
2. Browse through the magazines for anything that jumps out at you and cut it out.
3. Keep doing this until you feel like stopping--minutes or hours or days.
4. Start to arrange them on the paper you have and glue them down.
5. Look at your work without judgement only asking what this says or shows about or to you.

Hint: If you don't like your collage, put it away for a bit until you're feeling less judgemental.
Hint 2: This is also fun to do with other people for a crafternoon or party.