Friday, September 21, 2012

Relax Partner

School has begun.  It's official, my carefree mornings of sipping coffee and taking brisk walks by the water have been replaced by frantic packings of lunches and barking commands to the young ones to put on shoes and socks so we can all get to school on time.

I kept pretty faithful to the walking as it reduced my stress level, until I caught the first flu going around the school.  Then it was rushing to bed to battle migraines.  My walking routine diminished, but didn't disappear.  It was rushed.  Everything is now rushed.

Rush to call parents, rush to the photocopier, rush to the playground, rush to the meetings, rush to get my bio-children  and most importantly RUSH TO THE BATHROOM!  This week we had an Open House in the evening, giving me three hours between work and the open house.  I rushed to make copies, charts, and plans hoping to squeeze in a quick walk (on the road, not by the water) before the Open House.

Then in walked Pam.  She is one of those people in my life who exemplifies the character and integrity I aspire to.  She asked me if I'd like to go to her house for a cup of tea.  I looked at my walking shoes, unanswered e-mails, unfiled RTI documents, unfinished plans and said, "SURE." I had never been to Pam's house before.  This two hundred year old farmhouse just kept whispering "relax" to me.  The tea, the chair in the sunlit kitchen, the amazing woman sitting next to me.  These all pressed an invisible release valve in my brain.  For the first time since school started I just WAS.  Sipping hot tea and enjoying conversation with a friend was the Rx for my rushing ways.

The next day we were both saying how much we enjoyed our time together and I had an epiphany.  Just like we need workout partners to keep us motivated to stick to our exercise, we also need Relaxing Partners, folks who keep us true to taking care of our souls.  Thank you, Pam.  I just took a deep breath in honor of you.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Learning with Chutes and Ladders

I was hanging with my favorite six year old last night, trying to put off the requests for Sponge Bob.  We sought out other options and lit upon this unopened Chutes and Ladders game. Immediately ripping off the plastic Lil' Buddy opened the box and started putting players into the little stands.  I was folding clothes in the laundry room as he asked me which piece I wanted. I asked him to describe the pieces to me.  He did so with great detail, describing the hair color, shirts, and pants, and even throwing in evaluative statements about the pieces he favored. (classifying, isn't it exciting?)

Then we needed to put the spinner together.  It was a struggle to snap the spinner out of the plastic rigging and then set it correctly into the cardboard. Yet we persevered and accomplished the task.  (objects can be made of smaller parts)

With the pieces selected and the spinner assembled it was time to play.  Lil' Buddy went first, according to the rules we read.  (that's right, reading informational text)  He spun a six and counted off six spaces. (one to one counting) Then I had a turn, but before I was finished moving my player, Lil' Buddy spun again!  That Lil' Buddy was turning into a Lil' Rascal.  I explained that when we play games the deal is you have to wait for the other person's turn to end before you start a new turn. (guiding principle: collaborative worker/ responsible citizen)

If you've ever played Chutes and Ladders, you will note the board has one hundred numbered squares to navigate through.  The squares move numerically left to right in one row, then right to left in the next.  Lil' Buddy was struggling to figure out which direction to travel.  I suggested he always move toward the largest number. (identifying numbers and then comparing numbers)

The game has advantages and pitfalls.  When you land on a square that shows a child making a good choice there is a ladder that advances the player to a square with a "reward" of sorts.  If you land on a square with a child making a negative choice there is a slide moving you backward landing on a picture with the consequence of that choice. For instance, the square with a child who ate an entire plate of cookies slides down to a square showing the child with a belly ache.  Lil' Buddy and I got buggered up on that one several times.  (wait for it...wait for it.... my two favorite words in education and life are coming up.... LOGICAL CONSEQUENCES as detailed by the philosophy of Responsive Classroom)

We had a super time playing Chutes and Ladders, giggling when we got caught eating the cookies and squealing when we mowed the lawn and went to the circus.  Then the Papa Bear came home.  He sat down and watched for a while, making the comment that teachers could exploit Chutes and Ladders if they were having a not so stellar day and needed to coast.  Ah, Papa Bear.....thanks for the inspiration for this blog.  I explained all the great learning that was taking place while playing this "simple" game.  Amused by my sincerity and looking at the clock ticking toward Lil' Buddy's bedtime he suggested we make it a little more interesting.  

His idea was to DOUBLE the number we spun to speed things up a little.  I tell you, that cookie square was really holding us up.  Now Lil' Buddy was spinning a four, and yelling EIGHT! (using strategies to add and subtract)  We finally made it through the last game, thanks to a last minute ladder, and Lil' Buddy scurried off to bed.

As Papa Bear and Lil' Buddy went through the nighttime rituals I sat back and thought about my upcoming class.  Sure, I make games available to my kids, but usually during inside recess.  This year I'll be playing these games with my class, using them as informal assessment tools to see which kids can recognize numbers, compare numbers, use addition strategies, etc.  These games have the potential to give me lots of information about my class with the added benefit of being able to PLAY!

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Independence for Mama and the Boys

Just a few days before the Fourth of July the boys and I went camping.  Though they played in the water while I set up the tent, collected rocks while I prepared the foil packet meals, and decided to read in the tent while I cleaned up, they were REMARKABLY present when it came time for dessert.  In fact, they jumped for the roasting sticks and commenced scorching marshmallows over the fire.  I collapsed at the picnic table, content that once again, my children were experiencing another rite of passage in growing up.

But...I was tired, sore (my bones don't sleep on the ground well anymore), and perhaps a little cranky.  These two boys, ages eight and ten were certainly capable of helping me.  To their credit, they did help lug the gear on the trolley to and from the campsite.  Yet they could have done more.  The question I pose today is SHOULD they have done more?

A week later I have been scurrying around the house, sweeping the floors, gathering the recycling, putting the clothes in the appropriate dressers, making breakfast and lunch while the  Remember, I am a HUGE advocate for play.  I believe much learning takes place during unstructured play.  Yet in the last few days I have also become a huge advocate of "Not-being-the-maid."  

When do I start expecting my children to start helping more?  What is appropriate to expect of my eight and ten year old boys?  The boys will help if I repeat a directive over and over, threaten to take away the Wii or gnash my teeth in a scary manner.  When do they begin to help independently? When can I expect them to get their own lunch?

Now this "teacher on vacation" is recalling the Responsive Classroom approach.  I need to teach the skills I want my boys to practice independently.  I have to show it, discuss it, allow them to practice, coach, and then observe them practice the skill on their own.  For instance, this noon I taught the youngest how to make a tuna fish sandwich.  From using the can opener, to adding basil and onion, to taking care of the tin can for recycling my kiddo made his (and my) lunch.  I showed him how to add just enough spice, he practiced, I offered feedback.  We dined together and he was clearly excited about his creation.

As I become giddy with the thought of my boys becoming more independent in helping around the house, I seek feedback.  Help me, oh parents of older, younger, and same age children.  What do you expect from your kids, and when do you expect it?  How do I work best to assure my boys won't be paralyzed at the age of twenty five when it comes to sweeping floors or preparing meals?  

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Go Go Overboard!

Yup, that's me, riding in the back of my friend's boat on Damariscotta river.  I'm sucking up as much summer weather and fun as I can before going back to the schoolhouse to prepare for another exciting year of molding young minds.  In Maine we get about three weeks of spectacular weather.  Those of us who teach are fortunate to have the time to enjoy this weather.

I put a bunch of pressure on myself to go go go and do do do.  My agenda on one Monday read:  go to Botanical Gardens (paint while there), find sea glass in Boothbay, make strawberry jam, weed garden, write blog, work on sweater....... and so on and so forth.  I inherited this list making habit from my mom.  The difference between she and I is she actually gets all the stuff checked off her list, while I only make it about halfway through mine.

Last night, after deciding AGAINST fireworks I put my head on my pillow and thought long and hard about why I was so tired.  I started the morning making white chocolate covered strawberries dipped in blue sugar (thank you Pinterest). The kids and I went to our town's 4th of July celebration for three hours, went to my family's cookout until 7:30 (missing another cookout we were invited to), and then came home to play with sparklers.  I was tuckered out from the family fun.  It dawned on me, sometimes in the course of trying to do EVERYTHING, I end up just "getting through" instead of enjoying what I'm doing.

I like to be busy. This year I'm going for National Board Certification, I'm also going to be a facilitator for Take One candidates.  I'll be working on the science curriculum and acting as a peer coach.  I've been asked to run another mentor program and my team at school is looking for a team leader.  The move back to kindergarten is welcome, but I have to set up my room quite differently than I did for fourth grade.  There's an excellent dine and discuss opportunity to work with teachers in the area of math.  And that's just SCHOOL.  There is soccer to coach, knitting for Christmas, a play I'd like to audition for.....

ENOUGH.  How can I do it all?  Simply put, I can't. I need to pick and choose what the best uses of my time are.  

Now I'm starting to think school districts could do the same.  Last year our schools were mandated to participate in the Take One program (though a deferral option was offered after much gnashing of teeth).  We were also asked to rework our curriculum and add it to an online program called Atlas. RTI is now in full swing and we need to keep the records that keep changing for kids on Tiers Two and Three.  By the way, if you aren't a teacher I apologize for the foreign language I'm currently using.  There was a school wide challenge to improve math scores.  Staff Development days required people to be in two places at once.  We were running in too many directions feeling that nothing was being done well.

As summer goes by I'm spending time thinking about how I'm going to slow things down a bit.  I will focus my time more wisely. If the to do list gets whittled down perhaps I'll have a greater sense of accomplishment at the end of the day.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Playing on the Water

I know, I know, I didn't post any connections of play to standards in the last two days.  That's because I was PLAYING!  You heard me, taking the first few days of summer vacation with my boys and PLAYING.  Call it research for today's post.  

On the first day the boys and I hosted a pool party at my folks' pool.  How could you POSSIBLY have learned ANYTHING you ask?  Just wait for it my friend..... In preparation for this party we prepared food, and lots of it.  We cut up watermelon, kohlrabi, celery, and carrots.  We made chocolate covered strawberries and Nutella cookies (a deadly recipe).  We prepared lemon water and lemonade.  Quick quiz here kiddies, how many standards did I just cover?  Let me plot out what I came up with:
Follow words from left to right, top to bottom (reading the recipe)

Understand that words are separated by print (reading the recipe) 

Plan and carry out investigations to test the idea that warming some materials causes them to change from solid to liquid and cooling causes them to change from liquid to solid. (chocolate covered strawberries.

Classify objects and count the number of objects in each category (putting the vegetables on the platter)

Compare and share observations of solids and liquids at room temperature (talking about all the refreshments we set out)

And that was just the getting ready part.  Then came the pool party. This is where we go more to Maine's guiding principles.  To me, the Guiding Principles are really why I show up to teach each day.  I loved watching the eight little yahoos scrambling around in the pool:
 playing Marco Polo and jumping into the water at the count of three: collaborative worker

figuring out that the pool noodle turns into a faucet if you hook it onto the pump thing in the water: creative and pratical problem solver

 and taking care of the kid with the bloody nose: responsible and involved citizen

Oh golly, what a fun day we had.  Then we went for a boat ride on the Damariscotta River yesterday,  We saw baby oysters on the dock, a bunch of seagulls (or should I call it a flock?), four seals, big fish chasing little fish, ospreys nesting on big buoys and five peacocks on the way home.  Yes, peacocks, I was just as surprised as you. We read the names of all the boats we saw in the river.  We went to Lobsterman's Wharf for lunch, then took a little swim in the river before heading back.  Does this qualify for a day of learning?  You bet your bippy it does!  Let's review:

Big fish chasing little fish:  Use observations and information to identify how animals get their food

Ospreys on buoys:  Use observations to describe how plants and animals depend on the air, land and water where they live to meet their needs

Lobsterman's Wharf for lunch and reading boat names:  Follow words from left to right, top to bottom, understand that words are spearated by spaces in print,

Talking about the peacocks to EVERYONE we saw: Use words and phrases acquired through conversations

Regaling others with tales of the great fish chase:  Distinguish shades of meaning among verbs describing the same general action

I could add more, but it's time for the Pirate Fest.  I can't wait to see what kinds of standards I'll gather there!

Thursday, June 21, 2012

In Defense of PLAY

The day I often thought might never arrive has come.  My students have departed.  My classroom is empty, save for a box of garbage bags.  One of my fourth grade kiddos just popped over for a visit and I sent him off with the chore of putting my worms in the car. Now it's time to make the jump back to kindergarten.  

One of the kindergarten teachers just passed me her sacred file of articles defending play  for children.  She knew I would give it a place of honor in my desk, keeping it near for when childhood needs to be rescued from the constantly increasing demands of test preparation and increased standards.  The truth is, I consider play to be preparation for tests, reading, math, writing, and navigating tricky social waters.
After my post about homework I felt as though I needed to follow up a bit.  Though I don't like dictating what children should do when they are home, I want to recognize all the learning that takes place in the joyful act of play.  I wanted to wait until I had time to really dive into this and the time has come. 

In the next few blogs I will be looking at the Common Core Standards for English Language Arts and Math as well as the NEXT GEN Standards for Math and connecting common play activities to the standards.  Let me just start with a quickie.

From the Common Core Reading Standards for Literature Key Ideas and Details K-5:
Kindergartners will:  
Ask and answer questions about key details in the text.
Kind of a no-brainer here, my kids ask me questions about EVERYTHING we read. Nothing is taken for granted. Now as a teacher I can encourage folks ask and answer questions about the books they read with their kids. I won't ask them to document the questions and answers.
Retell familiar stories.
Sounds like car ride conversation to me.
Identify characters, settings, and major events in a story. 
This sounds like the dramatic play area, puppets tell of Hansel and Gretel's adventures, colorful drawings can detail settings.

Learning doesn't have to be "work."  It doesn't have to take place on a "worksheet," though I am chastened to remember that some kids actually do well with the support of a worksheet and therefore swallow the bitter pill of handing them out occasionally.

Enough for today, time to "play" in the garden....

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Know Thy Class

I have quite a crew of kids this year.  This is my first experience teaching fourth grade, and let's just say it's been a trial by fire.  My little darlings have a unique set of quirks and interests.  The poor secretary at my school had been hard pressed to find guest teachers willing to return after one day with them when I was out.  We finally found a retired principal I cajoled and begged to work with the kiddos.

Though my crew is tough, I adore the little buggers.  As I pleaded with them to behave for guest teachers and asked why they were so naughty they explained that guest teachers just aren't me.  My lesson plans are four pages long. Single spaced.  A guest teacher doesn't even get to HOW to start the day until he or she has read the proper care and feeding guide for individual students.  Then there are the instructions of "how we roll" in the room and explanations of how Beck bucks are given and taken.  I try to be as thorough as possible, yet it's just not "me" teaching the kids.

I know my class intimately.  When their little faces go vacant we stop midstream and sing "Mother Gooney Bird" or "Shark Attack."  Before a test we do breathing exercises.  No academics begin until the kids have stretched out with downward dog and child's pose.  I know who needs to run an "errand" for a movement break and who needs a few minutes to chill alone because of an altercation at recess.  These quick subtle adjustments to the day come as easily to me as singing the alphabet, but I can't just put that on paper, though I've tried.

One of the tenets of Responsive Classroom is "knowing the children you teach is as important as knowing what you teach."  After 160 days with this gang I know them well.  As I prepare this group to move onto middle school I want to tuck a note in each child's folder explaining the intricacies of him or her.  I want the future teachers to appreciate their beautiful strengths even in the face of some aggravating challenges.  These kids are mine, and as I've learned from my past 17 classes, they always will be.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Let's Take the "Home" Out of Homework

Let me start with a warning.  If you are easily threatened when the status quo is challenged, best you stop reading now.  Go check out the Everyday Math website for parent help with homework.  If you are a teacher who swears by homework, stop reading. Please.  I'm sure you are a wonderful teacher; we'll just need to agree to disagree.

Now, here's a shocking revelation.  I HATE homework.  I don't like assigning it, grading it or doing it with my bio-kids at home.  It hasn't always been this way.  When I started teaching second grade almost twenty years ago I assigned weekly spelling homework, because that's just what we did.  I tried to provide choice and make it "fun," but let's call a spade a spade, when you "assign" something, it's work. Plain and simple.

Parents would challenge me once in a while and I stood my ground, homework was assigned Monday and due Friday, they had ALL WEEK to do it.  I couldn't understand the fuss.  Then I had kids.

I now go to school, teach fourth grade all day.  Do all the e-mailing of parents and prep required for the next day and rush home to my own kids.  We eat a snack and then sit at the counter to do MORE fourth grade work.  Then we rush off to dance, or baseball, soccer, whatever happens to be on the docket (and trust me, I limit the docket). As I was helping my oldest son with his latest unclear homework assignment, that irritated feeling struck me again.  Who the heck are teachers to dictate how families spend their precious home time with their children?  

I know teaching is an exception, but how many hourly employees go to work all day and then come home to continue their hourly work?  We teachers bemoan how kids come to school without imagination, unable to think for themselves, their parents aren't having rich conversations with them.  Perhaps it's because these families are too busy completing worksheet after worksheet.

As a mom it's my job to love my kids, to teach them right from wrong, to nurture their interests and develop their little spirits.  As a teacher it's my job to teach my students how to read, write, compute, think, and present their ideas.  I'm not saying that these two jobs should never cross, but I am getting a little tired of the lines crossing too much.  

Great cognitive development happens through unstructured outside play.  As I sit inside on the first sunny day we've had all week working on this infernal famous person report I feel that both the teacher and I are doing a disservice to my son by denying him the opportunity to let home be home.  It is insulting to families to assume that without a teacher's directive they are incapable of raising their students.  What if the reverse were true?  What if I sent to the teacher the list of what my son should be doing at school?

If a parent would like suggestions of how to enhance the work of the school at home I am happy to provide direction.  In fact, next year I think my "homework" will consist of a monthly letter of "cool stuff to try with your kid at home." In other words, here's a list of things I don't have the money or time to do with all the kids, but it's pretty neat.  I will not collect homework, unless mandated to do so by administration (I sure hope they aren't reading this).  

It comes down to this:  I trust parents to do what they feel is best for their kids at home, and I hope to earn their trust that I do what I feel is best for their kids at school.  Now go play with your kid.    

Friday, May 11, 2012

Mama, Mama, Mama, Mama !!!!!!!!!

If you have ever raised a toddler you've enjoyed the cacophony of your name, most likely high pitched and whiny, called without respite at the most inconvenient time.  Mama, mama, mommy, moooooo----oooooommmm! I've barely processed the fact my kid needs me from hearing my name the first time when my name is called a dozen more times. Aggravating?  Oh yes.  So after a particularly arduous road trip with two boys armed with my name and a million requests I decided it was time to introduce "wait time" to my kids.

Sitting in the driver's seat (literally only, though my greatest dream is to say that metaphorically) of my little Corolla I explained to the boys a very "grown up" idea.  They had to count to ten between saying my name the first time and repeating any version of my name.  We practiced trying it by counting out loud.  Then they used their fingers, then they needed to count in their heads.  It worked pretty well for the rest of the trip and  I smugly congratulated myself for a moment of parenting GENIUS.

Then I went to school.  I have some kids, let's call them all Tammy for convenience.  These Tammys were slow to respond to directives, either due to auditory processing delays or attitude complications.  I caught myself saying, within one breathe, "Tammy, come see me...I need you to come to my's time to come see me....we need to conference...Tammy I told you to come see me NOW!"  It dawned on me I was doing exactly what drove me crazy in the car.  

In an effort to be efficient with time and to make sure my questions are phrased so all kids will understand, I tend to talk.  A LOT.  Without stop.  My poor students.  My poor sons.  It's time to practice what I preach.  I ask a question.  I count to ten in my head.  Then I look for answers, this gives the thoughtful quiet kids a fighting chance again the chair hopping arm wavers.  I give a student a directive.  I count to ten.  If the student doesn't respond I reduce my words and rephrase the request. Once.  

What's the moral?  The less I talk, the more kids learn.  Enough said.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Versatile Blogger!

After a long day of four hours driving to a conference that was, well....underwhelming (and it was about writing too), I came home to hungry kids and a slew of unchecked e-mail.  Ignoring both I played a game of Monopoly with the kids as we ate.  When I sent their stinky little selves off to shower and check for ticks I checked e-mail.  What a lovely surprise to discover I'd been recognized by one of my former student's parents for the Beck Meets Bastet blog.  It was an honor to know she was reading and a kick in the pants to get back to writing.

So, next topic will be about waiting.  It seems like all I write about is patience....

Before I get to that please allow me to thank
mamcita spins the globe
If I were more savvy with this whole blogging thing I'd have made that a link.

The boys are emerging clean and tick free, off to finish our game....

Monday, April 23, 2012


I don't know who is sadder at the end of a school vacation, the kids or the teachers.  We all know the parents are ready.  As I started putting my school bag together for this morning I tried to think of a way to make the return to school less painful, and maybe

As we returned from February vacation I threw a bag of balloons into my school bag.  The class was reviewing the "oo" sound.  They were delighted to record "oo" words on balloons instead of paper.  Each day after that return from vacation I tried to find something memorable for the class to do.  I wanted to find a "hook" for the kids so when the conversation at dinner turned to the school day my students would respond with enthusiasm.

Then I became sick.  I haven't seen my class for over two weeks.  They've had a host of guest teachers, including a retired principal who was very good with my merry band of men and women.  My ducks need to be in a row as I re-enter the classroom.  I need a big hook.

When we start morning meeting today and it's my turn to share I'm going to show the kids a selection of sea glass and rocks that I have drilled holes through.  We will turn these pieces into necklaces as I tell the class how I used the internet to find instructions on how to drill through sea glass.  Then the kids will be instructed to write their own "how-to" piece detailing the procedures of the classroom.

Tomorrow's hook will involve the kids poring over "artifacts" I gathered from all over my house.  As they explore the assortment of odds and ends they will be asked to draw conclusions about the person who owns all these clues.  This will lead into a discussion of making inferences while reading.  Every day, a new hook.

As my fellow teachers head back to the classroom this morning I wish them all an enjoyable, albeit rainy return to their eager (or not) students.  Good luck!

Friday, April 13, 2012


       My niece is teething.  Her mom didn't tell me.  I just knew.  As I held her on my lap and tried to dam the steady flow from her nose with a tissue I had my suspicions. Then the drool started, as did the "mamamamamamamama" chorus.  Sometimes you just know.  These are the signals of a teething baby.
      At school we can learn the signals of our kids.  A furrowed eyebrow, agitated rummaging through the desk, a hood pulled over the eyes....all indicators of "something wicked this way comes."  We can ignore these signals.  We can wait for the child to reach boiling point and then redress him for the outburst we knew was coming.  Or maybe.....
    We can acknowledge the signal.  When the agitation at the desk begins we can offer a fidget toy and space away from the group.  A quiet check-in can detect what's bothering the furrowed eyebrow child.  The hood over the eyes can often be defused with a little humor and gentle encouragement.  The better we know our kids, the faster we can intervene to help everyone has a successful day.
    Think of it this way, you can ignore the low fuel signal while driving, but you're just going to end up out of gas on the side of the road.  Take the time to fill up your kids, it'll make for a smoother journey.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Hard to Say I'm Sorry

One of the first concerts I attended was a Chicago/Beach Boys concert at a ballpark.  The only pertinence that fact has to today's post is that the song "Hard to Say I'm Sorry" was performed.  It was an okay song, quickly forgotten until recently when I threatened to make my class listen to Chicago instead of Adele if they didn't shape up.  When "Hard to Say I'm Sorry" started playing I recalled a situation that happened a few years ago when I taught a K/1 class.

I had quite a band of merry men that year: the scholars, the spitters, the singers, the chair huckers, and because this was MY class, the yogis. One of my darlings was such a bright kid, a perfectionist.  He didn't want ANY attention, positive or negative.  If only I could oblige at all times we got on quite nicely. However, when we shared space with 15 other younglings this little one would inevitably tussle with someone once in a while.

One morning he bumped into a little girl "on accident" (I love that term).  The other kiddo fell and squawked for a while.  She had already mastered the histrionic outburst we all expect in middle school.  The others grew indignant on her behalf and DEMANDED an apology from my young friend.  He, in turn, shut down and grew more agitated by the second.

*****an aside here.....forcing kids to apologize can be a futile practice.  It's not like teaching kids to say "excuse me," "please and thank you."  Making a kiddo say "I'm sorry," is forcing them to admit to an emotion they might not be feeling.  It's a tough call, but something to consider when you have two aggrieved parties.******

Back to the "crisis."  I knew this kid was NOT going to apologize.  He was embarrassed, the star of one of those "wanna get away" commercials. So I called a meeting.  He reluctantly came, sitting just outside the circle.  When everyone gathered I started talking about how we can apologize.  Sometimes we can say "I'm sorry," and that is sufficient.  But other times we really mess up and "sorry" just doesn't cut it.  That's when we need to practice "apologies of action" (check it out with Responsive Classroom).  These apologies of action are based on FIXING the offense.  Examples include fixing a toppled tower of blocks, getting a new sheet of paper for the one that got ripped, sharing things one admires about a friend whose feelings one just hurt, etc.

 I also said that the words "I'm sorry" can be tough to spit out.

Then I shared with the class how I would use the ASL apology sign with my husband.  Sometimes we would offend the other in a group setting, without intention, and the sign language apology was a subtle way to make amends without a great deal of fuss. I showed the class this sign.  They all practiced it, and then we went onto other ways to apologize.  As I encouraged the kids to share their ideas I noticed my little guy call out to the girl he bumped.  Once he had her attention he signed "I'm sorry."

Could any teacher be more proud?  I was elated my kiddo found a safe way to communicate.  Needless to say, I now include this lesson with every class of any age, early on in the school year.  It's hard to say "I'm sorry."  Hopefully my students find it a little easier now.

ASL sign for apologize:  How to sign "I'm sorry."

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Push it REAL good, or maybe not....

If you've ever been to Maine you might have noticed the fickle weather.  Three weeks of rain in the summer can be offset by a 70 degree day in December (true stories).  This past November we had one of those "gift" days.  Everyone was giddy with the "hot" weather.  I tore out of school, taking care to not burn rubber in front of the busses, and headed straight home to grab my kayak and hit Clary Lake.  Now the weather was like summer, but the length of day was still a short November.  

Imagine my chagrin when I realized the kayak racks were off my little Corolla.  No problem, I overcame and found a way to strap the boat onto the Jeep and took off.  Unfortunately, the five mile drive to the lake told me my tie down method did not benefit from the rush job (see last post's topic of PATIENCE).  But no matter, I sallied forth to the lake, untied the kayak and "put boat in water."

What a gorgeous paddle, doesn't the lake look beautiful?  I stayed on the water until the sun went down.  By the time I made it back to the car it was dark.  My hands were a little chilly and I just didn't want to fuss around with the straps.  So my "brilliant" solution was to take down the back seats of the Jeep and throw the boat in the car. It had worked with my sons' two kayaks, so OF COURSE it would work again.

I slid that puppy in, congratulating myself for being a creative and practical problem solver (see Maine Learning Results).  As I brought down the tailgate I met with some resistance.  Hmmm, if at first you don't succeed, try HARDER.  So I brought the tailgate down again, with GUSTO.  The tailgate latched just as I heard a sickening crack.  The boat was tucked safely in my car, nestled up close and personal with my windshield.

When I talked with the insurance company it was hard to tell the truth about what happened, and to be honest, I might have tried lying about it, but I simply couldn't come up with any other logical explanation.

As I sat in the glass shop, waiting for my windshield to be replaced I thought about how forcing anything (except maybe plant bulbs) just isn't the smart route.  There are some kids in my class who are reluctant learners.  They have experienced failure in school and wish to avoid that sensation as much as possible.  I can try to force these kids to learn.  Pushing them and pushing them in the same manner relentlessly.  But all that gets me is a metaphoric cracked windshield, and the damage is deeper that that spider web crack in the glass.  Another alternative is to step back.  Look at the situation, and use my brain to create a different solution.

My class math block is after lunch and recess.  For an hour and a half.  Yowzer.  It wasn't so bad at the beginning of the year, but as the material became more difficult I started losing even the most engaged students.  It was painful, root canal painful.  I didn't even like the block and yet I kept pushing and pushing... The best case scenario was the kids just didn't latch onto the concept.  The worst case scenario was my more emotionally fragile kids had meltdowns, resulting in their departure from the classroom.

Finally I stopped pushing and looked at the situation.  I had a half hour of wiggle room in the morning before I started losing kids to different teachers. If we moved morning meeting up a little I might even get forty minutes.  So I changed it up.  We started the hard core part of the math lesson early in the morning with follow up in the afternoon.  The kids immediately perked up. When we did a fist to five evaluation of our new math schedule the result was an overwhelming number of fives.

It's not in my nature to stop and assess a situation.  I'm guilty of jumping in the pool before checking to see if there's water in it.  Yet when I do just pause, breathe a little and think around a challenge I meet with much greater success than pushing through.  And my Jeep will thank me to remember it.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Patience, the lost virtue

      I have the most wonderful health care provider.  She has seen me through several "quirky" little conditions and is now "rooting for me" to recover from mono.  One of my favorite things about Kristin is that because she has seen me through falls while bouldering and back injuries while doing wood, she knows how difficult it is for me to just ....sit.
     Today I saw her for the third time regarding this fabulous little virus that is robbing me of all the wonderful energy I enjoy while teaching and parenting and just living.  She put her arm around me and  told me she knows how hard it is for me to be patient for recovery.  She told me how frustrated is that she can't "fix" this for me.  
     After getting sent to the lab for blood work I had to wait behind a woman who must have had at least thirteen orders for different blood tests.  There was only one receptionist as it was lunch time.  I was already exhausted and beginning to get cranky with waiting.  So I took a seat, started to rustle through the newspaper for distraction from this aggravation.  Then I noticed some artwork in the hall.  Instead of seeking distraction I just stopped and looked at it.  Took in the details.  Found it to be quite lovely, and was startled when another receptionist came back from lunch and called to me.
     As I drove home, a car pulled out in front of me.  Perhaps the driver thought it was Sunday, as he was practically crawling with his car.  This time, instead of pulling out to pass, I removed my foot from the accelerator and settled in for an extended journey home.  In doing so I was able to notice some crocuses that had bloomed by a church, a heron in the marsh, little sparks of nature.
     Several friends texted me today, checking in.  They want a report of improvement.  I loathe not being able to provide that great news.  Lord knows it's what I WANT to say.  Then I recalled doing the same thing to my ailing friends.  I just want them to feel better.  Now.  I have so often failed to be patient with those I care about when they are physically or emotionally unwell.  I throw out the obligatory "Let me know if I can do anything..." and then just wish they would get the heck better.   And now here I am, feeling like a failure for not recovering faster.  Patience.  I try to be gentle with myself and practice patience.  I'm going to need a lot more practice before I start feeling successful with the concept.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Lessons from Mono

If you've ever watched me teach you would think to yourself, "Where DOES she get her energy to sing and dance and do yoga with these little rapscallions?"  The second question you might find yourself asking is, "How can she be so PATIENT?"

The answers are that I love to sing and play and be creative with my students.  It's what makes my day fun.  As for patience, well, my bio-kids might sing you a different tune.  The slow people holding me up in a grocery store or on a sidewalk would most certainly tell you I have the patience of a gnat.

That is, before I was diagnosed with mono.  At age 40.  And as my mom will tell you, I'm not a young girl anymore (there goes HER birthday gift).  Now all this boundless energy and patience (for my class) has evaporated.  I can't walk to the basement without being winded.  Forget the fast pace I use to roam the halls at school, or the scurrying like behavior I use when I shop.  

Now I must stroll instead of march.  In order to go to the photocopier down the hall I first make sure I have ABSOLUTELY everything I need, even telling the computer to make the correct number of copies so I don't have to stand any longer than necessary.  I ask my students to walk across the room to get my water bottle for me.  I sit to teach.  If the kids want to sing and dance, THEY need to lead it.  I ask for and accept help.  

At home my two boys now get the wood for me to fill the stove.  I sit to fold laundry.  When I wake up after twelve hours of sleep I write down what MUST happen today and attack the list with as much efficiency as possible before I lose steam again.  

Mono has taught me that energy is not an infinite resource.  It has taught me to be intentional in the way I spend time.  It has taught me that people are not always slow by choice, though, it isn't such a bad idea.  It has taught me to accept my limits without guilt or a sense of failure (actually, I'm only partially meeting standards on that lesson).

Given my druthers, I would have heard back from the doctor that the blood test for mono was negative.  However, in every situation there's always something to be learned.  Mono is teaching me well.