Friday, November 30, 2012

Alternative To Teacher Gifts

I love this time of year.  I love how excited kids are.  I love to decorate my house.  I am a huge fan of winter break.  I am not a fan of getting loads of teacher gifts.  Don't get me wrong, I love teaching kids about giving generously to others and the whole bit.  You can read about something I do with my son here.  I honestly feel embarrassed walking out to my car with loads of stuff I do not need.

Over the past few years I've asked people to consider giving something to the class instead.  We have gotten wonderful games for indoor recess, books for our class library, and extra supplies like pencils and markers.

Another teacher gave me this great idea because of a link her sister has with this school.

Last week I talked to my students at class meeting and sent home a letter that explained what I would like instead of a gift for the teacher.  I am asking for school supplies for a school in New Jersey that basically lost everything in Superstorm Sandy.  I was stunned that in just 2 days we already started getting boxes of pencils, folders, supply pouches and books.  The kids love it, because they feel like they are really doing something to make a difference, too.  I feel great, too.

If you would like to help, here are some suggestions that Angela made over at The Cornerstone.  You might also want to think of a local charity where you can contribute with your students.  I think there are many great alternatives, and I've had great responses from my students and their families!

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Student Led Conferences 2012

Another year of student led conferences have come and gone.  I met with 22 of my 26 students/families.  I think this is a great ratio.

I walked away loving this model of conferences more than I ever have before.   I thought I had written here about this before, but as I looked through the archives, I couldn't find it.

So here is how is basically works:

1.  Have families sign up for a conference time.
2.  Students then make an invitation to remind parents of time. (I didn't do this step this year, but I always have before.)

3.  Create a simple plan form of those things you want students to show.  Usually I just make a checklist with things like:  Share your independent reading book, share the best journal writing you did last week, play a math game, show your science notebook, show the super improvers wall, etc.  Basically anything you want parents to see can go here.  Students make a folder to contain their conference paperwork, too.  Students write a letter to their family, too.

4.  Have students write down goals.  This can be on a piece of notebook paper or on a form you create. This year I had students write down one thing they enjoyed or did well, one goal, and what they need to do to reach their goal.

5.  I have up to 4 conferences going on at the same time.  Most kids are showing the stuff on their plan form.  I also set up a little snack table.

6.  I have one designated area for the goal discussion with parents/caregivers, students, teachers.  Some years I have the students sit in my chair at my desk, with chairs around for the adults.  This year we set up a couple chairs by the couch.  This is the area where I spend most of my time.  I have students share their goals, invite parent input, and after addressing those I just say good stuff.

Thursday is the super busy time for me.  I did not leave the couch area from 3:45 - 7:00, except to clarify or support students.  I write down notes about what students say.

People always worry that there might be something private that won't get said, but the truth is I've usually had correspondence on really tough stuff prior to this.  Usually adults or kids say the stuff I feel like I need to.  {That probably happens 90% of the time, and the other 10% people are usually not ready to address anyway.}  This takes the pressure off the teacher.  I feel like my students were honest and accurate.  It's rare to shock a parent in 4th grade with something they have honestly never heard before!

I've used this model successfully with grades 1 - 4.  I do have a conference night earlier in the year when I try to address the needs of new students or parents with specific concerns.  Kids usually ask when we are going to have conferences again because it is so positive!  Sometimes we do conferences again in February.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Shine: Part 1

I'm committing the next six Mondays to the little word shine.  I've been learning so much about what it means for me to shine and not shine.  Here are some of my thoughts on this little topic:

I want to start with this quote that has always blown me away.  I know it's super powerful because Nelson Mandela used it in his inaugural address.

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, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were 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.  {Marrianne Williamson}

What would life be like if we just took this to heart?  I can't even imagine a world like that, but I want to believe it's possible!

I guess my question for all of us today is two-fold:  Where are you shining brightly?  Where else could you be shining brightly?

Monday, November 12, 2012

Update Of Super Improvers Wall

Here is my Super Improvers Wall, as of Friday.  I'm still loving it and the other Whole Brain Teaching tools I'm using.  If you're feeling frustrated with student behavior, work habits, growth or motivation, this is a great tool!

Here is what I especially like about the wall after using it about 8-9 weeks:

  • It's still motivating most of my students {and EVERYONE want to know what happens after someone reaches "Living Legend"}
  • There is an element of responsibility built in.  Students must keep their star card.  If you lose your card, you start the level over--no exceptions.
  • Most students are supportive of each other.  There is always applause, initiated by students, when someone moves to the next level.
  • I'm less easily frustrated by behavior, because it's easy to shift momentum by looking around and giving stars.
  • It encompasses behavior, work habits, and academic growth.
  • It's positive--no one ever loses starts.
  • It costs me nothing, but a little time.
If you want to learn more about Whole Brain Teaching, check out this site.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Hunting For Hearts

I went out to the woods with my little family.  We were hiking.  I started looking for rocks shaped like hearts along the path.  Sam was very emphatic that I was not on my mission.  As I would stop to take photos, he said things like, "That doesn't look like a heart to me." and "That one is just a triangle."  This cracked me up and simultaneously made me sad that we humans learn to rain on other people's parades so early in life.

He was into the spirit of the thing, because I had to take a picture of this nut shell that Sam found:

Despite Sam's doubt of my artistic eye, I saw lots of hearts when I really started looking:

And so, what is the lesson in all of this {it seems like every situation these days has a lesson for me}  Keep looking for what you want to find, and don't let anyone, even people you love, rain on your parade!

I hope you find what you're looking for!