Friday, November 27, 2015

The Time is NOW to Innovate

I would like to thank George Couros, author of The Innovator's Mindset, for inspiring me to foster my own mindset. He is an innovative educator with a passion for sharing, collaborating, and learning alongside others. His book is a game changer, and for me...a life changer. It has changed the way I view school, helping me realize that what I want for kids is possible and attainable. George and his words have motivated me to jump way outside of comfort zone and into a world of endless possibilties. I am grateful for his leadership and transparency. The reflection below is just that---a transparent display of my learning, thinking, and attempt to organize my thoughts in order to move forward with my school family. Thank you for reflecting along with me! seems everywhere we look, we see this term. It isn't a new word, yet it has become a "trendy" word in education. We hear people say things such as, "This too shall pass", or "What goes around, comes around", or "This is just the latest trend". What we should really be doing is asking ourselves a crucial question...
I know what you are thinking! This is a HUGE question. It has a very simple answer...NO...a "shout it from the rooftop" kind of NO! The irony in this simplistic answer is considering what must happen after we shout from the rooftop. 

I have spent months reflecting and pondering on the idea of an innovative school culture, in fact, I haven't written a blog post since July! It was not until I began reading The Innovator's Mindset by George Couros that my thoughts began to organize, and my vision began to form. I realized quickly that I was overthinking the entire concpet of innovation. I was creating barriers such as resources, budget, professional learning, etc., that were driving a wedge between my current reality and what COULD be. Innovation doesn't require a complete reconstruction of everything we have in place. In his book, George Couros refers to innovation not being about the stuff, but instead a way of thinking (p.35 #InnovatorsMindset). When I read this statement, it served as an awakening of sorts. I began to see my mind shifting away from the barriers and toward the possibilities! An innovative culture cannot happen overnight, but there is no excuse to wait on beginning to think through the filter an innovator's mindset. Kids need us to keep our minds open to new possibilities and methods. We owe it to our kids to create conditions where they can explore, discover, create, fail, and LEARN in the process. Kids can do these things, and WILL!  School leaders must provide their teachers, families, and community the same conditions. Adults can do these things and WILL!  We simply have to open our minds to the possibilities. So...where to begin? This has been my question for months now. Global thinkers such as myself often think so big that they find it impossible to get started. I have determined my starting place, and it's quite simple. I share with everyone as a learner--as someone who needs to hear from others regarding school culture. As you read my thoughts, please consider commenting with yours. Together we are better. 

The Starting Point: A Common Understanding of Innovation

When entering new territory of learning, I always begin with questions in order to organize my own thoughts. Listed below are my wonderings about establishing an innovative culture within my school.
  • What exactly IS innovation?
  • What should it LOOK like in kids and adults? 
  • What do we already have in place to support an innovative culture for our entire school family?
  • What do we have in place that could get in the way of fostering our culture of innovation? 
I could add to this list because there is so much to consider and learn, but decided to focus on a few questions to guide my thinking, learning, and leading through the process of shifting to an innovative culture. As Michael Fullan says, "Change is a process, not an event." Narrowing my focus will support the process, and guiding questions will support my conversations will all shareholders connected to our school. After all, doesn't the best learning happen when we refrain from telling and instead ask questions? 
Innovation is abundant;it's common. What's uncommon, and desperately needed in today's education systems, is the innovator's mindset. ~George Couros
The above quote resonates with me daily as I begin the process of cultivating an innovative culture for kids and teachers. Yes, it is uncommon, but do the people invovlved not deserve more than 'common'?  I shout from the rooftop, "YES!" Our teachers deserve lead learners who empower them by giving them autonomy with their planning and schedules. They deserve conditions suitable for them to facilitate their own learning, to explore, to collaborate, to dream, to fail, to perservere. Our kids deserve teachers who can model the traits of a life long learner so they too will have the same learning conditions. If a learning community commits to viewing school this way, a reciprocity of teaching and learning for ALL...well let's just say I get chill bumps when I imagine it. 

The flipside to this is allowing the horrible Ttwwadi Monster to lurk in our school, waiting for the optimal moment to show his ugly face and squelch our ability to think differently. He's always there...waiting on us to have a weak moment and revert to what is comfortable. When we leave our comfort zones and begin to try something new, we take away his power to infest the culture and attempt to keep it from moving forward. When a school community comes together and decides that an innovator's mindset is necessary in order for our kids to have the learning environment they deserve, the culture will begin to grow, and become a place where the Ttwwadi Monster can no longer lurk.

Cultivating a culture of innovation begins (for me) with questioning the status quo as a collective group. It begins with looking at adult learning differently in order for adults to support kids' need to learn differently. We will all feel some cognitive dissoance. We will all feel a level of discomfort. We will all grapple with our own practice and wonder if it's enough for ALL kids. I believe the struggle is REAL (trendy phrase), but well worth the experience. I plan to get comfortable being uncomfortable, and admit that my school culture needs to be cultivated. The people within my school need to be empowered. Passions need to be discovered. Talents need to be tapped into. Lives need to changed for the better. Learners and teachers need to reverse roles depending on the situations we find ourselves in. Learning needs to be evident in adults by the way they network with one another, and through their connections in a Professional Learning Network (PLN). 
WE are better together. 
My school recently began contributing to a hash tag that supports the professional community of learners we are growing. Our staff can post specific happenings from their classrooms, pictures, videos, blogs, articles, inspirational quotes, graphics, people to follow, and more! It is new, and will grow over time as the school staff begins to feel more comfortable with this type of collaboration. In my opinion, this is some of the best professional learning and use of time we can foster. Consider the balance of time it takes to discover a great resource, post it on Twitter using the #CElearningpartners hash tag, and grab a resource from a coworker, compared to a six hour workshop. I know which option I prefer our teachers and staff to do. We will learn together as we grow an innovative culture together. 

The Time to Start is NOW.
It starts with me. I am the lead learner. I must blaze the trail. It is up to me to create conditions for adults to feel autonomy to innovate. It is up to me to empower, not to manage, to ask questions rather than give directions, to allocate resources, not wait for teachers to ask, to dream out loud, and to invite the school family to dream with me. 

We all want our teachers to BE this for kids, so we as lead learners must BE this for teachers. Teachers are responsible for their learning, but lead learners/administrators/principals are responsible for creating conditions where this can happen naturally. A culture of learning will feed a culture of innovation, and in time, become a marriage bound by the people who were part of building it. The time is NOW. Let's do this. 


Sunday, July 26, 2015

The Hard Truths of Leadership

The following reflections are a compilation of thoughts by Heidi Veal and myself.

When you think about it, teams are actually everywhere. And I’m not necessarily referring to the typical sports teams that dominate the American consciousness when the concept of a team is discussed. A family unit thrives as a team. Service, church, and civic organizations touch thousands of lives as teams. Musicians who play and perform together do so as a team. Aside from the Lone Ranger (who interestingly had a trusty steed that he depended on), the majority of the world’s work force function in teams. They are all around us at all times, but sometimes difficult to see because they are often so close in sight. Think of the phrase “Can’t see the forest for the trees”.  
Team dynamics are a very interesting thing because every member brings something unique to the table. On high functioning teams, diverse strengths along with a strong commitment to put students first often leads to an outcome of team-work dream-work.
Over the years, I have had the personal joy of working on multiple highly functioning and collaborative teams. There was much sharing and encouragement for professional growth. We studied student data together to identify our students’ needs and worked cohesively to design engaging units of study. We were empowered by leaders that allowed teammates to lead with their strengths.
During my years as an educator I also worked on teams and have observed teams from the outside looking in that wrestled with dysfunction. It threatened to barricade the team from accomplishing their goals. These teams function more-or-less as a group of individuals who work next to each other and often uncomfortably bump into each other rather than cohesively pursuing a goal with excellence. Kind of like kids can sometimes do in a sandbox, you get the idea. This reminds me of Roland Barth’s metaphor of collegiality comparing sandboxes and beehives in his book Improving Schools from Within. Linked here is a great article written by Barth for ASCD titled Improving Relationships Within the Schoolhouse for more on the topic.
Recently, the John Maxwell Team shared several honest truths about the way teams function and work together during a Twitter #LeadUpChat. Bethany and I were equally inspired by their truths that day! Our hope is that, like us, you are also inspired by Maxwell’s wisdom to build teams that collaborate at the highest levels in spite of the inevitable challenges that arise.
The first is this, “The team cannot continually cover up its weakness.” The team has to honestly face up to weaknesses that exist. No excuses, no matter what! Own the weakness and see it as a grand opportunity to innovate. If the team is always glossing over weaknesses it will never get better. Don’t be the team with their head buried in the sand! Confront weakness respectfully and in a timely way. When you consider this wisdom in the context of schools, the stakes are incredibly high, and I’m not referring to mandated high stakes testing! I’m talking about the education of our nation’s most precious resource, our children.
The next truth John Maxwell Team shared was this, “When the team you have doesn’t match up to the team of your dreams there are two choices: give up your dream or grow up your team.”  Only two choices exist here because doing mediocre work is NOT an option. That actually falls in the category of “give up your dream”.  When the team settles for less than collaborative, supportive, collegial functioning, that’s a give up! Educators, we chose to pursue this noble profession in response to following a personal dream. None of us are willing to give up our dream of impacting our world by educating the next generation therefore growth is our only option! Team growing can come in many forms such as spending social time together to forge trusting relationships, spurring one another on in professional growth, welcome colleagues into your classroom to coach and give you feedback, using protocols to facilitate cohesive team communication, examining student data and flexibly sharing students across classrooms, and so on… What would you add? What have your tried?
As Heidi stated earlier, she and I were very inspired by the #Leadupchat discussion and felt it deserved more reflection on our part. One particular truth that resonates within me is the following:

You lose the respect of the best when you don’t deal properly with the worst.

All teams must have a variety of personalities and strengths in order to function properly. There will be people who are somewhat hesitant of the team vision, and that is perfectly normal. We need these people in order to challenge our action plan and to become more grounded in our goals/beliefs. When the hesitance turns to resistance, we begin to lose ground toward the common goal and vision. Negativity, including resistance to change, disrespect toward others, gossip, etc., can intoxicate a culture. Leaders must face these issues head on without hesitation in order to preserve the health of the organization. The more negative conditions become, the more difficult it becomes to keep the trust and respect of the people impacted by them. When problems within are addressed, the people feel protected. Teams are stronger when leaders have the hard conversations. This forces the naysayers to jump on the bus, or find new one! Connections with people support our ability to have hard conversations, thus making our efforts to move the group forward more seamless. In John Maxwell’s book Everyone Communicates, Few Connect, he states, “Connecting increases your influence in every situation.” This cannot be more true! Our ability to connect is directly related to our ability to influence others.
The following clip gives a glimpse of Maxwell's thinking about connections and influence: 

Our last truth from the John Maxwell Team is, in my opinion, the most difficult and profound.

The strength of the team is impacted by its weakest link.

Many leaders will tell you their experiences of being forced to focus on the people who tend to be the weakest or who cause the most conflict within a team. I have found myself in this trap of losing my focus of the entire team. It is easy to become burdened by negative and resistant people. Our strongest team members surely feel alienated by the fact that they do what’s right and beyond, yet at times the focus of the team becomes the few individuals who are not on board. Leaders must be constantly testing the waters for negativity and discomfort from team members who feel threatened by others. It is crucial to know your weakest link and use that knowledge to drive your efforts in supporting that person or group. Once identifying the weakest link, ask yourself these questions:

*Why is this person a weak link?
*Does this person KNOW he/she is a weak link?
*Where do I desire this person to be?
*Where does this person desire to be?
*What are this person’s strengths, and how can I use
them to support him/her?

We can look the other way, or we can face the weak links, assess the situation, and establish an action plan for support. The goal is to coach the weak links, leading them UP to improvement and growth. The alternative is to coach them OUT and on to a new path better suited for them. I believe strongly in the ability to lead UP. We can use our ability to connect to influence in a positive way. It all begins with our relationships with the people around us. Strong and lasting relationships foster the ability to lead UP, and allow others to grow into leaders themselves.

In summary, we must remember the impact we have as leaders. Through a fearless nature, a strong vision, and the ability to connect, we can influence in ways we never imagined. It comes down to knowing people and appreciating where they are in their own development. When we establish that, we can face the hard conversations that will help us all reach a common vision. No one is constrained, and we can continue chasing excellence. After all...#KidsDeserveIt!

Special thanks to:
Heidi Veal (@VealHeidi)
The John Maxwell Team (@JohnMaxwellTeam)
#LeadupChat and LeadUpNow (@Leadupchat)

Monday, May 25, 2015

You are Part of the Fourteen Year Path

PreK Class at Central Elementary
Class of 2028

The prek students who come to school in my building each day are just beginning their school experience. They, along with their families, are headed for thirteen more years of education before graduating high school in 2028. I look at each one of their little faces and have so much hope for their future. I want each and every one of them to achieve and earn a high school diploma. Out of the 80 prek students at school, how many will graduate in 2028? I would like to say 100%! It all starts in prek for our students, and we
Central Elementary Class of 2028
must look ahead to their senior year and beyond. We must see a future for them that is so bright...(yes, it's coming...) they have to wear SHADES! If every teacher a child has believes their students WILL succeed, WILL graduate, and WILL contribute to our communitiy and society, we have a chance for all 80 prek kids to graduate in 2028. It starts in prek, but it continues throughout a child's education. One incompetent, uncaring, or unconformable teacher could break the path of graduation for a child. It starts in prek, but it takes all of us to contribute and invest in our children so we can achieve the 100% success of graduating all of our students. 

My son, Tyler and his teacher, Mrs. Snipes
Never doubt the power you possess as a teacher. You are part of their fourteen years of education. You have the ability to keep them on the path to graduation and success beyond school. You have the power to become a positive role model, supplying memorable experiences while looking forward to them returning as adults to let you know how important you are to them. My son recently gave a life impact award to one of his teachers. He entered her room in a cap and gown, surprising her in front of her students in second period. He went on to read her an essay he had written on how she had impacted his life. He didn't mention academics, although she taught him well. He defined her as someone who was strong in her faith, a wonderful caregiver for her children and grandchildren, and one of the strongest people he knows. What a difference she has made in his life. I am forever thankful to her for the impression she made on my son. She, along with the other teachers in his fourteen year path to graduation, contributed to his success as a high school graduate and upcoming college freshman. 

So, whether you teach prek or high school math, YOU matter. YOU are a difference maker. YOU are part of their path. What an incredible blessing and honor it is to play such an important part. I pray we always remember our role, and remain relentless on making a difference. 


Cabot High School, Class of 2015

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Finishing Strong

The end of another school year is upon us. May is the season of graduations, field trips, celebrations, art shows, field days, and so much more. Schedules become interrupted, making instructional time more sacred than ever before. Kids, families, and teachers are TIRED. It seems harder to get out of bed during the last weeks of school...for kids and teachers alike! We can easily slack off, lower our expectations, sway from the daily instructional schedule, and allow more ¨free time¨ in our classrooms. Should we relax more, or should we continue pressing on? The answer to that questions is...we should do BOTH. 

Press On to the Finish Line
The truth is that kids cannot afford for us to loosen the school day and take away instructional time from them. Consider the most at risk child in your classroom. What does three to four weeks of instruction mean to her? When she moves to the next grade in the fall, how will ¨the summer slide¨ impact her? Pressing forward by honoring instructional time will support kids all the way to the end, and help them carry over into the summer months. 

A More Appealing Path
Finishing strong requires a level of motivation that looks different than the starting line. At the beginning of a race, runners are highly motivated by the energy stored in the body. They know it won't be easy, but feel ready to face the path ahead. The finish line is not in sight, yet they envision getting there. Throughout the race, runners' level of energy begins to decrease, and their motivation may be hindered by negative thoughts or emotions, fatigue, etc. The end may be in sight, but the stretch to the finish line seems too far out of reach. Finishing requires a new mindset; one of determination, renewal, and positive thinking. Finishing requires something different than starting. It requires MORE. We can keep kids focused and motivated, but doing so requires us to go the extra mile, considering it will take more to ¨edutain¨ students in May than it did in September. 

Relax a Little
When the home stretch reveals the finish line, runners can relax their minds and begin to enjoy the accomplishment before them. Although they must muster up every ounce of strength and will within, their minds can begin to celebrate where they are. We can do the same with our students. It is a FACT that teaching kids in May takes more energy, creativity, and patience than teaching kids in September. Instead of allowing stress and fatigue to consume us, we can take the time to relax and ENJOY our surroundings. We have invested in these kids for nine months...they are ours. They are leaving us, moving on to another chapter in their little worlds. Enjoy them. Play with them. Tell them stories. Engage them. Entertain them. Do all of these things while continuing to teach them. Finish so strong that they will always remember you for great things. You are a huge part of their world. You have been their leader for nine months. You will forever be part of their development. 

Finish strong this school year. Allow your mindset to shift so you can push through the finish line and look back to see your accomplishments. 

Press On, Relax...and enjoy the finish. 


Sunday, May 3, 2015

The Heart of a Teacher

Becoming an educator requires particular knowledge, skills, and dispositions. In order for applicants to shine in an interview or screening, they must have the ability to articulate what they know and believe about the profession. As with any career, becoming a teacher requires a particular skill base which is learned throughout a program of study. Upon leaving a program, a preservice teacher has everything necessary in order to be successful...right? Surely no education program would produce ill prepared educators who will shortly be connecting with children and families...right? 

The programs of study are a huge part of becoming an educator, but the heart of a teacher is there long before learning pedagogy. 
The most important trait of a teacher is something that cannot be taught. No skill set, training, degree, or experience will compensate for this vital part which makes a teacher whole. I am speaking of the heart. The heart of a teacher is different from other hearts. (By the way, this is not based on research, but on my own heart and soul, biblical views on having a purpose, and experience in the field of education.) A teacher's heart has the capacity to hold an endless amount of children within it, knowing each one individually. Call it a superpower of sorts--the ability to love unconditionally from year to year, and use the phrase, "My Kids" with 100% investment. 

I work alongside some amazing teachers each day, and I continue to be blown away by their dedication, concern, and committment. There are moments where I envy educators who are in a classroom teacher position, because I miss it terribly. The teacher is the number one contributing factor in the amount of success a child will experience at school. The classroom is where "the rubber hits the road", where the magic happens, where the impact is forever made. As a principal, I have moments where I painfully miss the classroom family setting and having "my own kids". I am then reminded that in this role I have the incredible opportunity to observe the magic throughout my school, and to celebrate it daily. What a gift and a blessing that is. 

Teachers have a thankless job, one where they fill many voids in the lives of children. They serve as parent, caregiver, nurse, hugger, provider, and a gateway to hope. Teachers are often the only encourager in childrens' lives; the only person who believes in them and what they can be. They have a huge responsibility to be everything for certain children. Some may consider that a huge burden. I see it as an incredible opportunity. 

The following is an email sent to my school family by one of its own. It refers to how our dispositions directly affect kids (A little background...our school family read The Energy Bus, by Jon Gordon).  I think this sums up the hearts of our teachers: 

I had some extensive time sitting in the woods this weekend, turkey hunting, and hope you all don't care if I share this with you...
You all know I'm not the emotional type. Better yet, I'm the "find something funny in an awkward situation" type! I found myself this weekend to be the "a lot of thinking type." While I sat this weekend doing everything I could to put school out of my mind, I always came back to it. This is the downhill slide for us, and with that, comes major stress. I couldn't help thinking about all that I had to do and how I needed to be able to get myself ready. And then, I couldn't help but think about the kids. And how I'm sure this would affect them. So many things started racing through my childhood was never like some of these kids...I've got to get my vibe right....I can't let them down. I know we all say that we have no idea what these kids go home to, but really think about it...we don't! We have to be those people! I don't care if they have 15 of those people or no one, let us be the one! I am not perfect and don't give100% every day...that's real life! In these last 20 something days, let's give it our all, nothing but positive vibes and encouragement, leave the negativity and stress behind, thank someone that has helped you this year, enjoy each other, hug a kid, ask for help, smile, and make our school the best in the district! Say what you want about this email, but my bus just picked up a little extra gas!
~Lisa Hardage, Kindergarten Teacher at Central Elementary

Thank a teacher this week! Your colleagues, former educators, and those who teach your own children. Let them know they are appreciated. 


Sunday, April 26, 2015

We Have to Stop Pretending: Challenge Accepted!

Challenges help us step out of our comfort zone of daily routines and remind us we have much to learn. If we are too comfortable, we are not growing. My personal learning network (PLN) challenges me each and every day to learn something new, and try something new. I am continuously stretched by the diversity and perspective of the thousands I follow via Twitter. I was recently challenged by David J Huber (@DavidJHuber) and his blog entitled Challenge Accepted: We Have to Stop Pretending! This challenge asks educators to identify five things we need to stop pretending about the way we see education for all students. 

In an effort to improve ALL schools for ALL students, here is my list of five things we need to stop pretending:

1. Compliant students are automatically engaged.
We often assume that if kids are following directions, completing work, and behaving that they are engaged. The fact is that kids can go through the motions just as adults do. Think about when you are mopping the floor, driving a familiar route in your car, etc. Most times we are not fully engaged with those particular activities, rather we are completing a task. In order for educators to avoid compliant students, an intentional effort must be made to determine what engagement looks like for individual students. Until then, compliance will prevail. 

2. Kids should conform to how we see school should be. 
Having high expectations for students is a nonnegotiable for schools. We must expect greatness from students, and help them find ways to achieve. Many children struggle with the hidden rules of school, and systems we have in place that have become tradition. "The way we have always done it" methods in our schools force some children to be unsuccessful. It is time for a paradigm shift where we conform to them. Our expectations for students can remain high, but we must look at ways for individuals to achieve that are more personalized and flexible. 

3. Kids are getting enough time to play during the school day.
Preschool children play all day, and learn during every second of it. As they progress through school, their playtime decreases, as content and expectations for learning specific standards increases. Play opens opportunities for children of all ages to practice social cues, face conflict and problem solve, express empathy, take turns, and so much more. We should consider the ramifications for lessening the amount of play we offer to students, and how it is impacting their ability to increase their emotional intelligence. 

4. Traditional Workshop and Professional Development Sessions are a sufficient means for educators to improve their practice. 
Educators face many challenges day to day, and truthfully we never know fully what a day will entail when it comes to working with students. Summer professional development sessions will not meet the needs of educators throughout a school year. We are developed, but we need to continue our learning and deepen our understanding on particular topics, trends, strategies, etc. in education. When an issue arises with a particular student, we need to know where to go for resources. Social media such as Twitter should count for teachers' professional learning credits, because more of us go to a media source for direct support and to learn something new. 

5. Grading practices are effective and serve the students who are being graded. 
Letter grades and even some standards based learning environments will not be effective unless quality, authentic, and timely feedback is given to individuals. Student goals, progress monitoring, and reflection must be integrated into the learning and grading process in order for kids, families, and teachers to benefit fully from grading practices. Grades often represent the finale of learning, and we need to stop pretending that they are always a true reflection of what has been learned, or a support for the students involved. 

And now, to continue the "We Have to Stop Pretending Challenge"...I call upon a few incredible educators from my PLN to reflect and create their own list. 

Dr. Ryan Jackson (@RyanBJackson1)
Ben Gilpin (@benjamingilpin)
Heidi Veal (@VealHeidi)

Have a great week! 

Sunday, April 19, 2015

The Power of Teacher Reflection on Student Success

The end of the year is near, and we often begin the process of looking back on the progress our kids have made. They have changed, grown, and evolved. They know more now than they did in August. They will leave us to enter summer with another year of learning behind them, and return in the fall ready to embrace a new year with different challenges.

As educators, have we learned along with our students? Have we grown professionally and personally since August? How are we different now than we were then? If we are not learning and evolving along with our students, it is impossible to make the largest impact we can make.

Reflective practice is necessary in order for educators to be honest with themselves as a learner. After all, the lead learner of the classroom should be learning the most. Children will teach us if we listen to them. They will push us out of our comfort zones and into a world of continuous growth.

The following is a blog posting from a teacher at Central Elementary who took hold of what her students where telling her. They guided her into new territory...far out of her comfort zone. The result was a happy classroom full of kids who have their needs met, thus making the learning environment more productive. She reflects in this post about how the process helped her realize what questions to ask herself regarding specific student behavior, and how she adpated her learning space in order to strengthen the learning community.

The blog posting below was written by Liz Savage, a first grade teacher at Central Elementary.

It Doesn't Mean Jumping Through Hoops!

Sometimes teaching feels a little like we're jumping through hoops.  We're moving and going, staying up late planning, and trying with all our might to make our lessons interesting.  We've been taught to do things in a certain way, at a certain time, with certain expectations.  However, what if you found out you were doing it backwards for some learners.  What if you discovered that the very students you felt weren't successful or cooperative were actually frustrated learners because of the way the information was presented to them.  Mind blowing right? It was for me!

EVERYTHING about the way you teach a child determines their successes as well as their failures.  There are so many things we need to consider when we think of our students.  As you know I recently converted my classroom into an alternative learning environment.  My students have choices in their seating, which is strangely more empowering for them than you might think it would be.  The funny thing is I learned so much about my students just by where they chose to work.  I found that I had students that focused more when they were on the floor, students that would pick a Rubbermaid container to snuggle up and read every time they had a chance, as well as those that preferred to stand.  It opened up a line of communication that needed no words and yet shared so much information!

I adopted the attitude of 'WHY NOT?'.  Why not sit in a Rubbermaid container to do your work?  Why not lay on the floor to write your story?  Why not let a child take a break if you see their frustrated with the work?  We have to remember some key things:

  • If you are having to ask a child to sit down multiple times throughout the day, they probably would rather stand to do their work and ... why not let them?
  • If you have a child that frequently melts down in the middle of writing or math it probably means the amount of work is overwhelming and they need it broken into smaller chunks and... why not give it to them that way?
  • If you have  a child who repeatedly has problems with disrupting class by talking out or even defiant behavior they are probably attention seekers so why not give them some positive attention by assigning them a responsibility... why not?
  • If you notice your student learns better with visual aids or movements...why not provide one every time?
Children are just like adults in the sense that they want to be heard, they want to be comfortable, they want to be respected, and most importantly they want to be successful.  If we take the time to really listen and pay attention to what they are telling us, we would find that they are willing and able to learn.  All it takes is us letting a child know we care and providing them with the tools they need to learn.  Remember it doesn't mean your jumping through hoops, it simply means you're empowering the students in your classroom to be successful!

Our new look now that ALL of the desks have been removed.

The room feels so peaceful and comfortable!  I just love it!
Taken from the blog Fearless and Fabulous in First Grade
Teacher Reflection is necessary in order for us to grow in our profession and to ensure we are doing everything in our power to support our kids. Blogging is a great way to reflect, and provides encouragement for others who may be facing the same issues. We are in this together, which means we must learn from each other. Reflect, refocus, and return to kids even stronger and more prepared...that is what our kids deserve.