Education · Teaching

Back By Popular Demand

Okay, maybe not popular demand, but back by the convincing words of a few.

I will be honest, I went through a phase of internal debate when it came to “blogging”. At first, I loved the idea of sharing my thoughts and experiences with my family, friends, colleagues and any strangers that happened to stumble (see what I did there those of you in the 25-30 age range — how many hours a day in college did we waste Stumbling online) upon what I have to say. Then, I hit this point of worry and doubt — did anyone really care what I had to say? Do people just think I am trying to make myself look good? What are my short term and long term goals for writing? Do I even have any or am I doing this for no purpose what so ever.

Needless to say, I still love the idea. My kids are too great to NOT share all the amazing things they do. I do have goals– maybe not be willing and ready to share them with the whole world yet, but they are there! Those who truly know my heart, know that I am not the “self promoting type” and have never really been good at “taking a compliment”. I can be flooded with self-doubt, with nervousness, with the fear of disappointing others, even though I promise, I do have self-confidence and determination in what I do! While I try to do better in those avenues, it is still a place for growth and development, and I do not think that is a horrible thing!

When it comes to my “day to day” job as a teacher, sure there are days when that bell rings and a sigh of relief overcomes me. Even on these days, 99.9% of the time, I can think of a student or a moment that brought me joy, happiness or amazement. These moments ALWAYS surround the compassion, giving, growth, achievement or perseverance my students have shown.  The students in my building are nothing short of amazing, and this CAN NOT be attributed to a ‘just me’ mentality. This has EVERYTHING to do with who they are in their hearts– deep to their core. This has EVERYTHING to do with the parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, neighbors and siblings who love them. This has EVERYTHING to do with the phenomenally dedicated staff these kiddos have had willing to do ANYTHING for them since the minute they step into our building. My students are able to accomplish and succeed in 5th and 6th grade because of EVERYTHING they have been taught and learned prior to stepping into my classroom — it is why they can even begin to attempt the tasks and projects I place before them. I am forever grateful for their educational past, even if it is not a perfect picture.

The week leading up to winter break is always one of those love/hate relationship types. As teachers, we are looking forward to “break” (yes, I know most of us are still grading and planning– I am with ya, 7:00 is definitely sleeping in though), but we know the inevitable chaos the days before break have in store. Every year, I am amazed at how much I learn during this time. The holidays allow you to take something as simple as breakfast duty and let you see the true value behind that 20 minutes every morning. There are two brothers who are not in my classes (4th grader and kindergartner) who are either the first ones in the breakfast line, or the last ones because they are running really late. No matter if they are first or last, both of them ALWAYS look like they are still half asleep or sad. Now, this might not seem like a big deal because, duh its morning…but let me tell you, the kids in our building come in with ENERGY in the morning.  No matter when they come in, no matter how tired they look, these two have a way to brighten my day, tug at my heart, fill me with love and make my day better. The kindergartner never fails to give me 2 or 3 hugs before he heads to class, tells me a story that I can not for the life of me determine where it originated from and ask for an extra juice or for help opening his milk. It wasn’t until 2 days before break I realized his older brother (too old for 2-3 hugs a morning, doesn’t need help opening his milk or finding an extra juice) cared just as much as I did. I meant something to him just as he did to me.

The 4th graders spent a portion of their day writing acrostic poems and in the middle of the day, I got hand delivered a “Mrs Rhodes” acrostic poem that brought tears to my eyes. My favorite line “Every morning gets me out of my zombie mood at breakfast with her smile.” I am not kidding you. I lost it. You read those quotes all over the place about how your smile can make a difference and all that jazz and at the risk of sounding like Buddy the Elf, smiling is my favorite. I love to smile, I love the way it makes me feel (even if sometimes its a bit fake)  and I love the way it can make others feel or the way it can make people respond. Often times, my students ask me why I smile all the time (a question I have a difficult time answering sometimes because I teach at a public school — someone let me know how I can tell them “Because God is good, He loves us and His love is in us” without “crossing the line” and I will be overjoyed. In that moment, reading that poem I knew for sure my smile mattered. Relationships Matter.

My point overall (remember, I really didn’t want this to seem  like it was ‘about me’) is that what we do matters. How we show love matters. Our students notice EVERYTHING. They notice the zip lock bag that is always full of sharpened pencils that they can have no questions asked, they notice the cleaned out desks (they might not realize it took you an hour after school to get them that way), they notice our smiles, they notice our frowns. They notice what we do. They notice us.

As we head into the 2018 school year, let’s give our students something loving, something positive and something genuine to notice. Each and every day.

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Education · Teaching

Teaching Collaboration.

Collaboration is vital in the world of education from both the teaching and learning perspective.

As I reflect on my first 5 (and 3 months) years of teaching, there are so many interactions with colleagues I am thankful for. There are so many co-workers and friends who have, because my collaboration with them, led me to be a better thinker, learner and teacher.

The ability to collaborate is one that is held in highest regard in the workplace (and in the classroom), yet I don’t remember at all being taught how to collaborate. This could be because I have a horrible memory of my childhood, or because when “we were kids” collaboration came more natural for whatever reason (I blame technology and the ability to be enthralled with an individual activity or in front of a screen). This year, I have tried to have all of the sections I teach (5th grade science, 5th grade math, 6th grade science and 6th grade math) all be centered around the nature of collaboration.

This was not as easy of a transition as I thought.

Little did I know, I had to teach my students how to collaborate effectively. I like to think with enough time to plan and enough resources (and time to study the material myself) I can teach just about anything. Then the first few days of school hit and I realized, well, this is new. I wanted my kids to work and learn together almost ALL the time, but I had to teach them how to do that. I had to take a step back and think about what my goals for collaboration were, and how slow was I willing to go content wise these first weeks of school to build the collaboration aspect of our learning community.

Thankfully, my school district was a step ahead of me. Our district adopted a new math program for 6th-12th graders that is TOTALLY focused around team learning and collaborative groups. CPM might have saved me. CPM is a math program based out of California, and they envision a world where “mathematics is view as intriguing and useful, is appreciated by all and where powerful mathematical thinking is an essential, ,universal and desirable trait; and where people are empowered by mathematical problem solving and reasoning…”. Their program is based around students working collaboratively in teams (because 4 brains are better than 1) and provide teachers with more tools, professional development and guidance than I could ever imagine to help embed collaboration in each and ever lesson. I will admit, I was apprehensive to make such a strong overall shift in classroom structure (we have always worked in teams problem solving, but that has not typically been the DAILY structure or expectation in class), but I have never been more thrilled with the progress a group of students has made in the first 3-4 weeks of school as I have seen with my current group of 6th graders. Each and every one of them is now committed to working as a team.

The great thing about this curriculum switch, is that it made it even easier for my other class periods (especially the ones with my 5th grade– I can tell them “I just want you to be prepared for 6th grade) to take on more of a collaborative learning approach. While we still have a long way to go,  I am so proud of my students in how quickly they have learned to work and learn together in ways they are not used to. I am energized and excited to see what the next 7-8 months have in store for my team of learners (including myself)!

-AMR

 

 

Education · Teaching

Future.

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Today, I spent 3 hours with 28 wonderful colleagues (25 teachers in my building, our principal and 2 instructional coaches in the district) talking and learning about literacy and how we can incorporate the elements of a balanced literacy framework in our classrooms. That in itself is worth a conversation all on its own. We are less than a week from the 2017-2018 school year being in full swing, and such a large group of teachers chose to spend time learning together instead of relaxing by the pool, taking an extra nap, or lets face it, writing lesson plans.

One of the first tasks of our morning was to remember our “why” for teaching. We were then prompted to write our sentence, phrase or word on a label to keep as a constant reminder throughout the school year. (A fitting task seeing as one of our goals for the day was to understand the hierarchy of written language– from meaning, sentences, phrase, words all the way down to the formation of letters). We couldn’t narrow down our “why” to a phrase or a word unless we had fully developed the meaning behind our “why”.

My why is “future” for more reasons than one. Yes, our students and young people are the future of our nation. But more importantly, EACH AND EVERY ONE of our students’ individual futures are so incredibly valuable.  What motivates me each and every day is the fact that all of those 10, 11 and 12 year olds I have/will have the pleasure of teaching and learning from are full of potential and I am honored to be able to help cultivate that potential and help them realize what they can become. Our principal uses the phrase “every child needs a champion” repeatedly in her messages to us throughout the year. (If you have never seen Rita Pierson’s TedTalk “Every Kid Needs a Champion” take an 8 minute break and watch it now). I couldn’t agree with this statement more. Every kid needs a champion. To be their champion, that means I care about their past, their day today, tomorrow, next week, next month, next year and the years to come.

-AMR