Why You and Your Students Need Malala

I recently read the book I Am Malala: How One Girl Stood Up for Education and Changed the World (Young Readers Edition) and to say it changed my perspective on education does not come close to how vastly this book impacted my life. I have heard the words “Taliban” and “terrorist” in my lifetime, in fact, quite often. However, I was completely blind to what exactly has been going on with these parties, and I regret that. Fortunately, Malala helped me fix that.

Schools across the nation have picked up on this young readers edition of I Am Malala, having their students read the words of Malala Yousafzai, one of these schools being Edith Bowen Laboratory School in Logan, Utah. I spoke with a few older students reading this book and their reactions amazed me! They made comments on how brave she had been and how inspiring she was to each of them. 

“She loves going to school and getting good grades and I want to be just like her!” one girl told me. I was inspired by her story before I had even read it. Once I did get my hands on a copy, I was not disappointed. Malala truly does have such an influential story that everyone needs to hear. 

Malala writes about her experience gaining a hard-to-obtain education in Pakistan because the Taliban is against girls learning. She speaks up to news stations, writes online under a pseudonym, and gives speeches when possible to speak about how unfair the Taliban treats everyone, especially women. While standing as an advocate for education, she was also studying hard for exams and even breaking rules to continue going to school. 

This book can be so beneficial in schools not only for the inspiring, hard-working story that Malala wrote but also because of the raw information she tells of her first-hand experience watching the Taliban in action. In parts of the book, I was emotional trying to imagine my family going through similar situations, leaving homes and pets, sometimes even loved ones. My life here in the United States is very comfortable living. I have ready access to food, water, shelter, and love, the simple, absolute needs that may not even be available in other countries. 

Why is it important for students to know and study current events? It can teach empathy, tolerance, and build communication skills. This article from Education World goes into more detail on how impactful current events can be in the classroom. 

I Am Malala is a book that should be on the shelves of every classroom and library. It brings two worlds together, inspiring and educating students. 

Have you read I Am Malala? Did you feel like it inspired you or your students? 

Let’s Add One Hour of Instruction Time to Everyone’s School Day

Research shows when teachers spend time greeting students as they walk into the classroom, it can improve student behavior. There was higher academic engagement with the students, as well as less disruptive behavior. It increased their learning time by one hour. Teachers also commented on how easy the effort was for such a great outcome. 

One key point that I find very interesting in this study is the simplicity of human engagement and interaction. Students may come to school for an education, but long for relationships and trust to be built before real learning can happen. Another way I have observed this in my teaching is the use of personal storytelling to connect concepts. I often retold stories of my childhood to my first-grade students that would assist them in understanding concepts, which helped them feel connected to me in a new way by knowing me on a personal level. I truly believe that relationships are key in teaching, and research now shows that it is, even by simply standing at the door to greet students. 

Another aspect I find very interesting is the ratio of time spent to time earned. How long does it take to stand at the door to greet students? Maybe five to seven minutes max? In return, the study suggests that because of increased student engagement and decreased disruptive behaviors, a full hour was added in instruction time. 7 minutes: 1 hour seems to be a very fair ratio to me! 

Less disruptive behavior is appealing to any educator. Time spent redirecting and keeping students on track is not only unprofitable to the classroom but can also be wearing on the teacher over time, causing both the teacher and the students more stress. Spending a few minutes every day standing near the doorway to greet students truly can be very lucrative.     

Applying this to the classroom may look simple at first, however, once put into action, it can also seem too time-consuming. How often are you running through your classroom sorting last-minute papers, or writing up information on the whiteboard as students walk in? It can be so easy to use these last few minutes to finish up work before the day must begin. 

When we check our expectations of ourselves and remember that relationships must come before learning can happen, spending a few minutes greeting students will come before that last-minute work. It also does not happen in one day. This happens over time and with consistency. 

I challenge you to give it a try for a few weeks and let me know what you find. Do you have less disruptive behavior in your classroom? Are your students more actively engaged in the learning process? Was it hard to give up that time in order to greet students, or did you find it easy? 

Photo Credit: deathtothestockphoto.com

Helicopter Mom

It was a beautiful summer night and I was outside spending time with my family. My two-year-old with less than perfect gross motor skills walked toward the playset in our backyard, looking at the rope ladder with a light in her eyes like she was about to accomplish something monumental. We spent time practicing this rope ladder with her often, however, this would be the first solo trip she would take on it. 

The second her foot hit the rope, I ran to her. 

I immediately stood directly behind her, putting my hands close to her without touching because obviously I would never be a helicopter mom. “Be careful! Be careful!” I kept telling her. All while her feet never left the ground. 

“Your blades are turning,” my husband said from across the lawn. That’s our code for me to take a step back and stop letting my “helicopter blades” do the parenting for me. I always promised myself I wouldn’t become a helicopter parent, but after becoming a mom I quickly realized it was much harder than I initially believed. I’ve come to realize this is a common story for many parents. Why is this? 

It is so hard to watch someone, especially a loved one, fail or hurt themselves. If we can help our kids avoid pain or failure, why wouldn’t we stop it from happening for them? I know that if we all stepped back and analyzed it, the answer is clear. We shouldn’t intervene because mistakes are how we learn and grow. This video shows this concept perfectly. 

So how do we put ourselves out of a job as a parent? Here are a few ways. 

-Watch and wait. When your son is struggling to dismantle his new, bigger bike and you’re ready to run over and help, watch and wait. You may end up needing to help, or he may surprise you.  

-Remember that failing is learning. When you’re in full-on “lifesaver” mode, running your child’s forgotten history report to school minutes before she needs to turn it, take a split second to remember that maybe just maybe if you don’t bring it to her and she receives a poor grade this one time, maybe she will remember her English paper tomorrow. 

-Realize that we cannot protect our kids from the world. Bad things will happen, but good things will happen too. 

-Trust your child. Really trust them. 

-Scaffolding doesn’t make you a helicopter parent. Do it for them, do it with them, watch, let them do it alone. This process will look different with every task and every kid. 

-They will not solve problems or handle situations the same way you do, and that’s okay. Let them. 

-Most importantly, remember that YOU are the mom these kids need. There is no better mom than you, and you are doing an incredible job.  

I took a step back after I was reminded that my helicopter blades were turning, I watched and waited to be absolutely amazed by my daughter. I was convinced she couldn’t do it and that she would end up falling, I didn’t have trust in her. Once I presented her with the opportunity to prove me wrong, she did. She climbed that rope ladder with confidence and grace, one step after the next, showing me just how capable she was, putting me out of my “rope ladder spotter” job. 

How do you promote independence in your children or students? Do you find yourself being a helicopter mom too? How do you handle it? 

Photo credit: https://deathtothestockphoto.com/

Great Advice that Led to Great Planning

When I found out I was able to write for this blog, I was overwhelmed with a mixture of emotions. First, excitement! I finally have a window back into the education world, one where I could stay updated on the latest trends and write while I’m researching and learning. Once the excitement faded, I quickly became overwhelmed. How in the world would I come up with enough content to write about? Writer’s block was bound to happen. 

I was gifted the best advice on how to combat this. I needed to come up with a weekly schedule on the topics I would write about, giving me a starting point with each post. Brilliant! Answer me this- What teacher doesn’t love themselves a great outline? I spent a few days brainstorming the three topics I wanted to cover, fine-tuned them, and came to a decision. The three categories I landed on are easy for me because I’m still new to this. My hope is to let these topics be fluid and change based on my comfort levels as I continue. I have plenty of other topics I would love to write about in the future, but confidence needs to build before I am willing to jump in and write about them. So without further ado, here is my less than perfect outline. 

Monday- Play is a Child’s Work: Writing in my Realm 

My current students are a two-year-old and one month old. I am choosing not to teach in a classroom setting right now because I have the wonderful opportunity to be home with my kids to raise and teach them instead. We learn every day through play, whether it’s them doing the learning, or myself doing the learning through their actions, we’re all growing. 

Wednesday- Research Shows 

I have often read articles or participated in conversations that state “Research shows…..” followed by a fairly bold statement. What is this research? Where was it done? How was it conducted? And how can we best apply it in our teaching? These are the questions I would like to explore and analyze in my writing, with the hope of using my findings to have a more solid idea of what research shows, how to find the real research, and what exactly the research means in the classroom setting. 

Friday- Using Books in Teaching 

Confession: I may have graduated with a degree in Elementary Education with every intention of using it to teach K-6 someday. (More on this in my introduction post) However, if you were to ask me what my dream job is, like what I really, really would love to spend my days doing, it would be a librarian in an elementary setting. I love reading and I love using books to teach, just like *almost* every other teacher out there. Fridays are my day to choose a book, or books, that have helped me in my teaching profession and share them with you on how to use and apply it in the classroom. 

I am eager to work on each of these topics and share it with you. My hope is that they will direct but not limit me. I am going in with complete fluidity, changing where needed, and expanding when possible, and my hope is that you will come along on this journey with me. 

What are some ways you have overcome writer’s block? Has a writing schedule benefited you in your writing, or limited you? 

Photo Credit: https://deathtothestockphoto.com/

An Introduction to Me- McKenzie Ross

My name is McKenzie Ross and I graduated from Utah State University in 2016 with a Bachelors of Science degree in Elementary Education and an emphasis in Language Arts. 

Hi. I’ve just been waiting three years for the opportunity to say that. I spent a good chunk of my life going to school to study education and how to become the best teacher possible, only to quickly become a stay at home mom soon after. It’s not exactly how I planned my life to go, but alas, it’s how it happened and I wouldn’t give it up for the world. 

Here I am now, with the opportunity to finally say those words in a meaningful space. My name is McKenzie Ross and I graduated from Utah State University in 2016 with a Bachelors of Science degree in Elementary Education and an emphasis in Language Arts. 

Gosh, that feels so good. 

Let me give you some background on me. My teaching experience started in my parents’ basement out in the sticks in Idaho at just six years old. I would sit at our little white desk making worksheets and coloring pages for my sister to do. I would sit her down at the desk and say, “this is the letter A. It says a like a-a-apple. Now draw A’s on your paper and color this apple.” 

Thank goodness my teaching has improved since then. 

I knew early on that teaching was my calling in life. In fact, I don’t remember a single time that I didn’t want to be a teacher. In high school I took an Early Childhood Development class that helped me obtain my CDA- Child Development Associates. Basically I could run a daycare if I wanted to. Not much of an accomplishment, but it was one step closer to where I wanted to be, and that was exciting! 

Later on in high school I did a volunteer project teaching a second grade class music twice a week, because at the time in Idaho, music classes had been cut. Although I spent countless afternoons making my sister color pages and learn from me, I truly do attribute teaching music as my first real ”teaching” experience. While I do feel like it was a great start, I am still so glad I went on to continue my learning to become an educator and improve my skills.  

I attended school at quite possibly the best university in the nation (okay, maybe I’m biased). Utah State University will always be near and dear to my heart and I will forever teach my kids to say “Go Aggies!” because I believe in teaching them important values in life, like which school is the best. While attending school there, I volunteered in a 4th grade classroom grading papers and reading with kids for a semester because I longed to be back in the school system and working in a classroom while I was still in my general studies. 

Later on, I found a job working in an after school club tutoring elementary aged kids. A year into this job, I was bumped up to supervisor of the after school club, which was an incredible opportunity for me to run an entire kids program at the age of 19. Once my school work started interfering with this position, I went back to nannying two kids that I had been working with on and off since I had initially moved to Logan for school. 

The way the education department is set up at USU, by the time I was graduating I had already worked in five different classrooms, all in different grades, each in a different school. Along with two seperate P.E. classes at, yet again, another school. Just from my schooling, I was exposed to six different elementary schools in Cache Valley, with different principals, teachers, and styles at each of them. Not to mention the after school program I ran and the volunteer work I did. 

I graduated from school in December of 2016, and in an area so saturated with teachers, that finding a teaching job mid school year was not an option. I signed up to become a substitute teacher, then exposing myself to the secondary education world. While I did enjoy being in these classrooms for a day, it reassured me that as far as long term goes, elementary is where I needed to be. 

During my time subbing, I was given an incredible, life changing opportunity to become a long term sub in a first grade classroom. I spent the last nine weeks of school (which we all know are the hardest weeks of school!) with these 27 kids. Yes, you read that right. My first grade class had TWENTY-SEVEN kids. This was the bulk of my teaching exposure, and something I will write about later on. 

Shortly after that school year ended, my daughter, Emersyn, was born. I made the decision to stay home with her instead of working, however, I couldn’t COMPLETELY rid myself of the school system. So I found a job as a crossing guard, stuck my tiny baby in a backpack carrier every morning and afternoon, and became best friends with the 50 or so kids that would cross my cross walk every day. Also during this time I attended conferences and seminars to keep up my teaching licence and continue my networking in the education system. Later when she was older I started substitute teaching again.  

She is now two years old, and I just had my second baby one month ago, so no more subbing for awhile. My son Easton was born at the beginning of August, and now I teach the two cutest students I’ve ever taught. Staying home with them has been the biggest blessing (challenge?) for me, and I am so lucky to do so. 

When I heard that Mary had a job option that allowed me to still stay home, but also still be connected to teaching, I knew I had to look into it. It all happened so fast, and I’m still a little blown away that they would choose me to do this. 

I have only known Mary for about a year now, but she is still one of the most inspiring people I know. The more I’ve learned about her, the more I’ve realized we have a lot in common. Often times I’ve read her #teachermom posts and thought to myself, “Okay, how did Mary read my mind, and who gave her permission to write about it and claim it as her own?!” 

She’s an incredible woman, and the reason I have this incredible opportunity. I cannot promise to write as amazing of content as she did, but by golly I am going to try! I am so excited for this little platform to give me a window back into the educator world while I am stepped away for now. My goal is to raise my family and go back to teaching once they are in school themselves. 

I dream of the day I have my own classroom that my kiddos run to once school is over. I long to be back in the trenches of grading papers and writing notes home to parents about field trips and movie days. I so badly look forward to the fresh smell of crayons and pencils at the beginning of the school year. Weirdly enough, I long for those frustrating days with students that misbehave and make the day plain hard, because I know deep down it’ll be rewarding somehow. But until then, I’ll just be right here, happily teaching my two little students and writing blog posts. 

My Teacher Values

*Deep breath.* I know I shared last spring that I am planning on returning to the classroom in 2020, but I have decided to start applying to return to the classroom this year. Many back-to-school events have already started, so at the moment I’m looking at last-minute positions that have opened up unexpectedly, with little to no classroom prep time before the kids are in school.

I have said many times that there will be many changes to my approach to teaching and learning when I return to the classroom–it’s hard to know where to even start! So I’m trying to mentally organize and distill the strategies, ideas, & priorities that have meant most to me over the years. Not only do I want be oriented for a potential quick jump back into a classroom, but I want to be articulate when interviewing with administrators about what matters most to me as a teacher. So here are a few stand-outs:

Lens of strengths over lens of deficit ~Lanny Ball

Writing and reading workshops for independent tinkering & exploration. Marina Rodriguez (& all the teachers over at Two Writing Teachers!)

Caring for students vs simply caring about them. ~Taryn BondClegg

Helping students start with their why. ~Taryn BondClegg (also Taryn’s Questions, Problems, Ideas board, which I like a lot better than my old suggestion box)

#ClassroomBookADay ~ Jillian Heise

Self Regulation ~Aviva Dunsinger, Christine Hertz

“I intend to…because…” by Marina Gijzen

Culture of agency ~ Edna Sackson

Culture of inquiry ~ Kath Murdoch

Soft Starts ~ Kathleen Neagle Sokolowski

Need for cultivating both reading skills and love of reading ~ Pernille Ripp

Holistic, integrated approaches to subjects ~ Anamaria Ralph

Learning through play ~ Kelsey Corter

I don’t know exactly what the future holds at this moment (keep in mind that this post is queued up and changes may happen before this actually publishes!) But I do know that, although I have missed being in the classroom over the last 5 years, I am profoundly grateful for the time I’ve had to read, learn, and discuss learning with teachers all over the world. They have been so generous with their own learning and strategies. A PLN is truly an incredible gift! Thank you to all here, and to many more not on this particular list!

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

What’s The Difference Between Teaching And Learning? #TeacherMom

Have you ever asked your kids the difference? Can they distinguish one from the other?

I tried asking one of my kids, who responded, “Teaching is when a person who knows everything teaching other people what they know. Learning is people listening to the person teaching.”

That answer made me wonder: how might we help our children and students see teachers as learners every bit as themselves? How might we let go of the idea of the teacher of the main know-er of things in our classrooms? What are the benefits of children making these kinds of shifts in perspective?

Perhaps we might…

…share our (authentic) personal learning journeys with our students.

…ask students to help plan the learning that happens.

…ask students to help lead workshops on the concepts they are learning about.

…minimize “secret teacher business” by demystifying planning and letting students in on curricula (think “I can” statements that students revisit throughout the year).

What do you think? What kinds of values do you see in helping students compare and contrast teaching and learning?

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto