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.