Do Parents Make Better Teachers? (Part 2)

Wow–I didn’t initially intend for this to be a two-parter, but I got to the end of #3 and figured it made more sense than continuing towards that 15-year-to-read post I mentioned.  Ok, here we go again.  And here’s Part 1 if you missed it.

4. In 2012, our family made another step in the stages of growth when my first baby went to kindergarten.  Um…in case you didn’t know, the first day of kindergarten (i.e. real school) is VERY different than the first days of preschool.  At least for me.  Oh, the tears!  Plus there was an added level of fun stress responsibility because I was sending him to my same school.  That meant I had to quickly dry the tears and get back to my big kids for our first day of school.  Needless to say, being a parent of a school-aged child was a learning experience.  I think I’d say the hardest (and more surprising) part was parent-teacher conferences.  As a mama of a kindergartener I learned that parent-teacher conferences are nerve-wracking from the other side of the table.  No matter what.  And wow–that was a big deal for me.  After over a decade of going through that routine as a teacher, I finally “got it” as a parent.  I knew that from then on I would do everything in my power to ease any nerves that came in with parents to my own conferences.  And even though I’ve now done 5 of my own conferences, I still cry.  I’ve learned to let Mr. Bearden be in charge in this realm. 🙂

5. As I mentioned before, I went back to primary last year, after 9 years with “big” kids.  At first I was super scared.  Ok, I was nervously excited.  I knew it would all come back, but here’s perhaps the biggest way in which I know I am a better teacher a parent.  I was not a mom the last time I taught 1st and 2nd grade, but now I have an 8 1/2 and a 5 YO.  That definitely has added to my arsenal of strategies and tricks that I can use in countless situations.  Remember how I mentioned that classroom management that first year was so hard to learn and how I thought I might die? Ok, I didn’t say that, but it’s funny to see the difference with managing things in a primary grade the second time around.  Yes, part of the ease is that I have now been teaching for so many more years; this has been an education in itself.  But being a mom has also given me another set of eyes in the back of my head.  I know better what to anticipate (and then hopefully prevent) with 7-8 YOs, because I have one at home.  I can speak to little ones in a better and more meaningful way since I’ve had so much more practice since the last time around.  I can better predict what will be the right words to motivate, the right words to encourage, or stop or which words might send a little one into tears (and yes, I try to avoid those!).  The extra treat that I didn’t anticipate was being able to understand the “culture” of this age; I totally understand their games, books, TV shows, etc., because they’re the same as what I have at home!!

Ok, so back to the initial question.  Do parents make better teachers?  For me, that’s definitely true. However, there are many ways to define “better,” and there are of course AMAZING teachers who are not parents.  I have, however, learned many lessons and can better understand many of the ins-and-outs since I am on both sides of the equation.  That education has been such a gift.

What I’ve known–and truly believed–all along though, is that regardless of their career, the job that parents do as their child’s first teachers is priceless.  It is therefore not my job to replace them as the teacher, but to work together on a new team of teachers and parents to help mold our students into the best versions of themselves they can be.  The work that mamas and daddies do before I even get their kiddos is so important to the work that I will then do with each student once they enter my classroom.  What fun to join the family of learners to work together towards a common goal!

Marshmallow Challenge!

Welcome back to school!  We have been very busy already this year–hence the reason why I haven’t updated in a while–and are getting into a groove.  Forgive me if the next few posts are out of order (at least the order in which they happened); I still need pictures of certain things before I post about them.
Anyhow…we have spent much of the last 6 days getting to know each other better as learners (and people in general, really), as well as focusing on how to work well with a group.  One thing that our tribes did together early on was to take the Marshmallow Challenge.  What a great idea shared with me by my new friend and teammate Mrs. Hong! When you’re done here, you should definitely check out her class blog. 🙂

Alright, so here’s the basic idea:

We got ready, and I set the timer.  They built and taped and created, and at the end of the challenge we stepped away from our structures and….Every. Tower. Fell. Over. 😦

For a few minutes my friends wanted to claim “FAIL” on this activity and say it didn’t work.  But instead, I led them to reflect on what went right.  After a conversation, we figured out that many groups had the right idea of focusing on building a strong foundation, many had made a plan first, each group had a common goal and all groups worked well together to create a spaghetti structure.  Even if they fell over, we were successful in a lot of ways.  And so that day, we planned to do the challenge again, knowing that the next time there would  be many things we’d change–but many things we’d try again. 🙂

And so today was that day.  We planned and prepared before we went to lunch, knowing that when we returned we’d get down to business.  It was so great to watch the tribes busy, talking together about what to do this time around.  Many had plans drawn on paper, and most mentioned specific things they wanted to do differently.  Many groups decided that instead of trying to make their tower really TALL, really FAST, they’d focus instead on making it STRONG.

We got ready, and I set the timer.  They built and taped and created, and at the end of the challenge we stepped away from our structures.  This time, this happened:

WAY BETTER, RIGHT?! I was so proud of them!  And yes, granted, two of them still fell over, but sadly it was right at the last minute!  Those last two were upright and fine until the timer buzzed.  Bummer!

Like I said, we focused on what we can learn from this situation.  It wasn’t about the tallest tower, or whether or not it fell over.  It was about the team, the working together, the learning about our strengths and building on them.  And they totally rocked all of those things!  I can’t wait to see the other amazing things they are going to accomplish together this year!

Robinson Road Rules

This post is part information, part reminder.  I figured that since we’ve been talking so much about respect (or the lack thereof) in our classroom lately, I’d remind us of the Road Rules that govern the behavior expectations in our school.

At Robinson, we have many “universals” that everyone everywhere knows and uses.  One of them is an attention-getting signal.  If an adult needs the attention of the kiddos they are working with–remember, anyone, anywhere: teacher, teaching assistant, principal, custodian, etc–they say “May I have your attention please?” while they hold up their hand and count backwards from 4 to 0.  Why 4 to 0, you ask?  Because that coordinates with another universal–our voice levels.

Again, this is an “everyone, everywhere” kind of thing–these signs can be seen everywhere in our school from the cafeteria to classrooms and library to hallways.  There are also signs around that designate which voice level should be used in each area.  It really helps us all to be on the same page as far as expectations, and is really working.   The hallway, for example, is a LEVEL 1 zone, and so the rule is “If you need to talk, you need to whisper.”  This goes for everyone, even teachers.  That’s really hard sometimes, for my kids and for me!

Then the overarching expectations for the whole school are called the Robinson Road Rules.  There are four of them:

Having this framework as the foundation for how we do things at our school is so helpful to both teachers and students alike.  It enables every adult in our school to support every learner because we’re all speaking the same language!  Kids know the language and use it, and since it’s everywhere it’s predictable–there are no surprises or questions about what to do or how to do it.  The rules are the rules and everyone knows them. 🙂

What expectations do you have at your school?  Have you tried building-wide universals? As a parent, what do you hear your kids saying about the Robinson Road Rules?

Rethinking, Rebuilding and Redecorating Rm. 201

Remember this?  Since then we’ve done several other math warmups about geometry and decimals.  But we’ve also been doing some other things–things that started out with math and quickly spread to other areas of our life together in Rm. 201.

Let me explain…

The other day I asked my kiddos a question, and after I did, I realized–by listening to the crickets and seeing their confused faces–that they didn’t get it.  So I rephrased it, and also took them on a little tour to help explain what I meant.

One of the things I’m working on is making our room look and feel like it’s as much a place for mathematicians as it is for readers, writers, and scientists.  So I took them to a place that I knew would help them get a feel for what that looks like–our neighbor next door, Mrs. LeSeure’s 5th grade class.

We sneaked in very quietly and looked around.  The directions  were to pay attention to what they saw that told them that math happened in that room, things that maybe they didn’t see in our own classroom.  We then came back and brainstormed what we noticed.

Here’s what our list looked like:

Ok, I know–you’re distracted by the messy handwriting.  I promise, it’s not usually that bad.  I was writing fast. 🙂

What was really great about what they put on the list was that they noticed things that I know that Pam specifically did for her math environment, but they also caught on to the things about how the room felt, the subliminal messages that were being sent in that space.

As you can see on our chart, Mrs. LeSeure’s class has things that help her students in math, like anchor charts from things they’ve just learned about, like area/perimeter and the difference between similar and congruent, both from our recent 2D geometry unit.  But my students also talked about how her classroom felt.  They said that it felt relaxed.  It was clean and neat and colorful.  This was where I had to be brave.  I had to remember that just because they said her room was like that didn’t mean that ours wasn’t, or that I am a bad teacher, or that her class is better than ours.  It just meant that Rm. 202 had some things that ours doesn’t have, different things.  Things that we want to add to our own room.

Most of what they were saying actually went way beyond the original math-related question I asked.  They went deep.  And they made me nervous.  But like I said, I had to be brave.  Their statements dug deep to the reasons why some things happen in our room, the reasons why we sometimes struggle with paying attention and why it seems like we don’t know what to do next, or why we waste our learning time.  They were really great comments, actually, and come down to the fact that our room just really isn’t working for us anymore.  That was the part I had to be brave about–I am, after all, the one who designed that room, and created the environment in the first place.

Remember when I showed you what it looked like the first time I came in during the summer?  And then how it started to change as I put it together?  Well, even since then, many things have changed since we first started together in August.  But on Wednesday we were talking again about how more change needed to be made.  I loved how Evan put it when he said, “I don’t mean to be mean, but you arranged the room without us, and we’re the ones who spend the most time here.”  And you know what? He’s totally right!  It’s really funny how that whole thing works, really, with the teacher planning and arranging and setting up the room for a group of kiddos she doesn’t even know yet, without their input.  I know it’s just what has to be done, but it would make sense that the people spend all that time and energy there every day should have some say in how it looks.  And feels.

So that’s when it happened.  I gave them a chance to suggest changes they thought should be made.  I asked them to tell me, and to even draw a map if they wanted to, what they thought about what we could take out and what we needed to move.  Everyone got busy, some by themselves and some in pairs or small groups, making lists and floor plans to help us all see the vision of what we could do.

It was so very cool to “see” the classroom through so many new sets of eyes.  I obviously look at and pay attention to different things than my students do as I go through the learning day.  It was also really cool how similar their maps were when we sat down to look at them.  For example, there at least 3 different groups who suggested that our classroom library move to another part of our room (a place where I originally was going to put it, actually, but then changed my mind about) and how everyone agreed that the cubbies as a divider between the carpet and Table 3 just didn’t work.  Most of them had the same idea for how “my” area could change, by turning my desk 90 degrees and putting my computer in a different place.  And I appreciated how they used their new geometry vocabulary to explain it to me!

So I began that very afternoon to make some of the changes that they suggested.  And you know what?  IT LOOKS AMAZING! These kiddos are so darn smart about what they need and what works for them as learners.  They teach me every day, in a respectful and appropriate way, that I don’t know everything! The room has taken on a new and different feel, and most people who have come in have commented on how they like what’s happening.  We’re not quite done yet, but believe me, I’ll definitely show it to you when we’re finished.  I’m really pretty excited about it.  And they are, too.  I love how many kiddos said to me how much they appreciated that they have a say in this.  I’m glad I gave them a say, too.  Because they are saying some pretty great things.

How do you make decisions about your room/environment?  When have you had to be brave?  What ideas do you have for us as we work on the environment of numeracy (and literacy and so on…) in our classroom?

Spread Love, Not Hate

Spread Love, Not Hate

So today is the day! Thanks for joining the bloghop as we speak out against bullying!

I called the last post Perfect Timing, meaning that it was great that I had found the link for this idea at the same time our school was celebrating No-Name Calling Week.  But maybe I should have used that same name again today, as we had another great conversation about what’s been going on with bullies in our classroom.

First, though, a reminder of what happened a few weeks ago.

After that conversation, we made these for our school’s KROB news broadcast to promote No-Name Calling Week:

Dominic tells about a time when he was picked on for his size.

Doniya says she’s sorry for what she’s done.

Kelsey comes clean and apologizes.

Taylor speaks her mind about bullying.

Lauren and Molli talk about the changes that can happen when friends talk and problem solve together.

So, today, as we have for the last few weeks during our class meetings, we came back to the topic of respect and bullying and how we’ve been doing with this.  It seems that all is not perfect in our 5th grade world.  While many in our class wanted to believe that one meeting could change things forever, today we had more concerns bubble up related to how some of us have been speaking to each other in a less than respectful way.

I kind of have a love-hate relationship with this topic lately–I love that they are willing to continue to come back to the table (er, carpet) to talk about it, but I hate that they have to.  I, like many friends in my room, wish it was as easy as saying once that we’ll all change our ways and be friends forever.   Obviously, though, it’s not that simple, and it’s something we’ll continue to work on all year together.

Our meeting was pretty intense at times today, with questions and concerns coming up about some of the same things we dealt with at our first big meeting.  In the end, there were several one-on-one conversations that sparked from it, and we had to just agree to change some pretty big things in the way we deal with our classmates.

As our closing circle, I asked the class to tell me what they would take away from our class meeting today.  I was glad they said what they said; I think they’re reflective like me: at the moment it may not seem like they’ve “gotten” it, but after they have some alone time to process, they come up with some pretty great stuff!  Here’s what they said they learned from our conversation today:

  • I learned we dwell on the past. (Many people mentioned things that had been done to them weeks ago, rather than today or this week.  They were holding on to things that had already been apologized for or that were no longer being done to them.  Many of us were holding grudges and not believing that certain people were changing.)
  • I learned that we should assume positive intent. (I taught them this phrase last week, as a way to work together in a more positive way.  It’s a norm that the teachers in our school work under, and is based on the idea that if we assume that our friends have positive intentions–even if they look or sound like they’re being mean or ugly–we can often avoid problems or confrontations.  We can, after all, only control our own actions, not the actions of others.  We should give our friends the benefit of the doubt, not always assuming that they’re trying to be mean.  Maybe they’re just having a bad day.)
  • I learned that we should say something when someone does something we don’t like, instead of just ignoring it. (Today lots of kids mentioned that they were fed up that others continued to annoy them or do mean things, and they admitted that rather than tell that person to stop, they had continued to let it happen, or responded in an equally mean way.  Eventually, when they were really mad, they’d tell the teacher or bring it up in a class meeting, rather than dealing with it immediately.)
  • I learned that just because someone’s saying my name doesn’t mean they’re saying bad things about me–it might even be a compliment. (Maybe–just maybe–they’re laughing about something completely unrelated to you.)
  • I learned that if someone comes to me and tells me that my friend said something about me, I should go to my friend and find out about it instead of just being mad or doing something mean back.  (Getting the truth out and finding out what really happens helps to clear up misunderstandings.  This is soo much better than being mad at your best friend for what ends up being no reason.)

I can’t decide if I like that class meetings are on Fridays or not.  Sometimes I wish that they could come back the very next day and start working again on getting along and fixing the problems we discussed at our meeting.  But at the same time, I appreciate the space that is afforded us by the weekend.  Being allowed to talk about issues and work through them together, and then have some time (and space away from each other) to continue to think about it on our own before we come back together helps us to be ready to act differently once we see each other again.   Kind of like the “time heals all wounds” idea, a topic that was really hot on Friday can simmer down a little by Monday so we can better respond–rather than react–the very next day.

I love this group of kids I work with this year.  They have their struggles (but what group of people who spends 8 hours everyday closely together doesn’t?), but they are still so willing to work through them.  Deep down they really just want to get along, and they try so hard to figure out how to make that happen.  Even though it’s hard and messy, and sometimes it seems like we’ll never get there, so far we’ve come to some better understandings of each other.  I hope that the lessons we’re learning about relationships this year are ones that will stick with them long after they leave the safety of our Rm. 201 community.

So now it’s your turn:  tell us what you think about our life lessons.  Or tell us about a life lesson you’ve learned lately.  Do you have any advice for us about how to work together or how to work through a conflict?  What advice do you have for us as we tackle bullying head-on?  We’ve love to hear from you!



An Environment of Numeracy

I just started a book study, led by Mrs. Bell and Mrs. LeSeure, on the book Guided Math by Laney Sammons.  I have only read the first few chapters so far, but am really loving it already.  The book is based on the idea of using the strategies that kiddos already know as readers (visualizing, connecting, questioning, rereading, summarizing, etc) in relation to math; the same things that we do to understand what we read can help us understand math (or any other subject, for that matter!).

So, like I said, we’re just at the beginning, but have learned the overview of the big ideas in Guided Math.  Then we were supposed to choose one that we were going to commit to change or add to our math class as we work through the book together.  My goal was to add to the environment of numeracy in my classroom: to find new and innovative ways to add math to parts of our day outside of “math time.”  The goal is to get kids thinking like mathematicians in all parts of their life at school.

One way to do this, even from the minute they walk into the room in the morning is with warm-ups.  These are quick, math-focused questions that kids answer on a chart for everyone to learn from together.  This was our warm-up from this morning:

It wasn’t a ground-breaking question, nor is it the most deeply I’ll ever ask my kids to think, but it got us focused on math right from the beginning.  I loved it when someone said they had no idea what to write and with just one question from a friend, were able to add “I used math when I had to figure out how long I had until I had to leave to go to my dad’s house” to the chart.  That’s what it’s all about really, supporting each other in our learning.

So what math did you use this weekend?  How do you involve your kids in mathematical thinking outside of “math time?”  What suggestions do you have for math questions we can use for a warm-up?  We’ve love to hear your thinking and add to ours!

Geometry Challenge for January 23

Today was one of those days when I decided to totally change my plan for math and it worked out tremendously better than the original plans. Let me tell you about it. 🙂

My kids are used to what I call “geometry challenges”, where they have to prove that a statement is true, by using what they know as mathematicians.  The first one we did was to prove that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line.  They worked alone or with a partner to show how that was true, or to find a way to prove that it wasn’t.  Then next one was to prove that a straight angle equals 180 degrees.  With that one, they used Power Polygons with angles that they know to show whether that statement was true or untrue.  Needless to say, they’ve totally rocked each of those situations, and really shown what they know about geometry.

So today I was headed in a totally different direction, but decided to do today’s lesson as a challenge again.  Here is what they were asked to do:

Like in the past, they had amazing things to show for the work on this challenge.  Before I show you what they did, I’m curious to know what your answer would be.  Could you answer this challenge?