Teachers & Parents: Who Deals with the Pressure of Mandates?

“I just don’t know what to do. He has zero interest in the paper books that come home to practice sight words.”

Anxiety. Fear. Worries about falling behind. It was like I was looking in a mirror from several years back when I was stressing about my reluctant kindergartner.

Only this time, as the kindergarten teacher (and as a somewhat-less-neurotic parent than I once was), I was able to offer all the reassurance that I wished I had received for my kindergartner.

I told the parent, “If he is expressing disinterest in those practice books, please don’t push them. It means he just isn’t ready yet, and that is perfectly ok.”

That precise concern was what made me hesitate in sending home those books to begin with. They are part of a program that pushes reading faster and earlier than was ever expected of kindergarten even a few years ago (our state now has standardized testing even for kindergarten that expects them to be reading by the end of the year).

Schools here must comply with these standards in order to keep their doors open. And so, cushioned by as much developmentally-appropriate play as possible, we engage in guided reading, word study, shared/independent reading and writing, and sending home these paper books to practice sight word recognition, in order to coax literacy along.

But just because I’m feeling the pressure of the latest state standard, does that mean I should transfer that pressure to parents, or heaven forbid, to the children themselves?

There are those who believe that warning parents of the growing demands–that if they don’t push, the kids will fall behind–is a kindness; I can see why they would feel that way. They do not want parents to be blind-sided by the increasing pressures from grade level to grade level.

But we can equip parents with tools without alarming them, or putting them in a scarcity mindset with their young children that will only make children hate learning before they’ve even really started. It may be the teacher’s role to shoulder the pressures from educational mandates, but I don’t believe we need to push that on parents. Rather, we can focus on our shared roles as teachers and parents on nurturing a lifelong learner, on preserving and cultivating the innate curiosity we all inherit.

Which is why my weekly emails now include this reminder about those paper books:

“Thank you so much for doing your best to read these with your children at home. These are meant to help your child retain our sight words throughout the year, but of course the most important reading is the kind that makes your child love reading! Stories they choose, text you guys identify as you drive or look at restaurant menus, and other forms of reading are all so beneficial.” 

As I often try to point out, capital “S” struggles–such as developmental delays, disability, and profound lack of access to resources–these are all caveats that should never be dismissed when making decisions on the timing for and types of interventions that might be needed. But barring these extreme circumstances, most children will flourish at their own developmental pace if given the space and resources to do so.

It just so happened that that readiness was closer than either I or my student’s parent thought. Not 2 weeks later, this parent returned and told me, “I don’t know happened! I did what you said and stopped pushing those practice books. And now suddenly he is excited about trying to read everything! It’s hard to keep up!”

And I just smiled to see this beautiful & familiar pattern unfold yet again: when in doubt, go with the child.

Last-Minute Kindergarten: Distilling What Matters Most

Hi, there! Mary Wade back again for a quick post as promised on Twitter a few weeks back:

Jumping from teaching 5th grade to kindergarten certainly made for a steep learning curve in those first several weeks, intensified by the fact that everyone in my family has taken turns passing around various illnesses ever since school started.

But now that things have finally settled down and I’m feeling more like myself as a teacher again, I’d like to share some insights. When necessity forces us to keep things simple, what matters most? We already know the answer, of course: relationships, relationships, and more relationships.

That was not really a surprise. But what did surprise me was what does not matter as much. It turns out that contrary to what Pinterest or other pressures might have us thinking, being a kindergarten teacher does not require…

love of crafts (nope; hands-on exploration through centers is my jam)

Our Look Closer Center is probably my favorite.

Perfect handwriting (I really thought this would be so much more important for kindergarten as they are learning to form letters, but it’s just been a great chance for me to revisit my own letter formation!)

Haha, one of my favorite discussions on the year so far! We wanted to know the difference before practicing writing our letters and numbers in shaving cream. I definitely did not anticipate the conversation would go this direction, but that’s kindergarten for you!

Drawing skills for labeling everything (kids are more than willing to help with this, and it creates more shared ownership anyway).

I love our class calendar. Students draw pictures representing each day on halves of index cards and then staple them up. They are always so proud of their shared work.
A few students volunteered to draw pictures of the different emotions and problem-solving strategies we generated together.

Every manipulative or tool under the sun (I felt crushed at first under the weight of things advertised at LakeShore Learning; I since have learned that an exacto-knife + recycled cardboard can make letter tiles on the cheap in a much more environmentally-friendly manner, anyway). However, I would be remiss if I did not give a shout-out to my many incredible and generous family members and friends that donated all sorts of beautiful supplies and furniture to get my room assembled nearly overnight!

I didn’t have student whiteboards, but I did have dry-erase sentence strips, clipboards, and a basket. Viola! Student whiteboard for practice writing.
My classroom on the first day of school, thanks to the hard work of many family and friends.

Posters for everything under the sun, waiting and ready for kids (turns out, the kids pay more attention to things they help create anyway; and it really is OK to build things up slowly over time. I have had many moments where I felt the impulse to prepare something for students, but then realized that it would be a more meaningful learning experience to co-construct it).

This poster is full of “sneaky letters” students have found or made that I snap a photo of. It kind of makes me crazy that it skips around and is incomplete, but it’s been an excellent exercise for me to let go and let the students take the lead!
We talked about the different kinds of stories people make during writing workshop, and I drew pictures of students’ ideas; I ended up printing the photo of this discussion, and it is now posted by our writing workshop cart for students to remember possible picture stories.

Signing my contract to teach kindergarten 6 days before school started was one of the crazier things I’ve ever done in my life. But now, I’m grateful for the way that it forced me to let go of less-important extras, and to focus on co-construction, sustainability, and ultimately, better work-life balance for me and more ownership for students.

What are the most important elements that have distilled in your room over the years? What are you glad you’ve let go of? How have these decisions improved what matters most for you and your students?

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

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

Inquiry Into Symbiosis

Today’s inquiry post is by Melissa Sosa. Melissa is a mother of 2 young boys and a firm believer that life is a constant learning process. She currently lives in Humacao, Puerto Rico with her children and cat Quenepa.

I’ve always considered symbiosis to be a pretty interesting concept. Different species of animals and plants not only coexisting but collaborating together? I thought only humans did that! Well it turns out animals and plants are experts at maintaining symbiotic relationships that are crucial to the survival of our ecosystem.

When I created this provocation post I wanted to find fun resources that illustrated a fresh perspective to symbiosis, encouraging kids’ curiosity and understanding.  These resources have some examples of symbiotic relationships that may not be so common or well-known.

Resource #1: Symbiosis: A surprising tale of species cooperation by Ted Ed via The Kid Should See This

Resource #2: The Wood Wide Web by BBC News via The Kid Should See This

Resource #3: Butterflies drinking turtle tears!? via The Kid Should See This

Resource #4: Vanishing of the Bees trailer by Bee The Change

Resource #5: Carl & the Meaning of Life by Deborah Freedman

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Provocation Questions:

  • Why is the connection between humans, bees and flowers so important to our ecosystem?
  • How does symbiosis work like a partnership?
  • Can you think of an example of a symbiotic relationship in nature?

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

How Might We Remove the “Floaties” & Give Students “Goggles” Instead? #TeacherMom

A great Costco deal led to goggles for everyone in the family this summer. However, I didn’t bother with them for my 2 year-old since we were dealing with his floaties, which generally kept his face about water anyway. For those unfamiliar, they look something like these:

One day, he snatched his pair of goggles and insisted on wearing them, too. I realized that if he was going to get any use out of them, we would definitely need to give goggles a shot without with floaties:

Image result for speedo kids comfort fit goggles

I couldn’t believe what happened next.

Within about 30 minutes of swimming in the 2-foot end of the pool, he went from a formerly clingy, somewhat nervous state to confident explorer.

Where I had once struggled to convince him to try blowing bubbles, or to let go of me even to stand up on a bench, he was now diving under the water. He couldn’t get enough of enthusiastic underwater waving, suspending himself with his feet off the floor, and testing his breath-holding ability.

As with hiking (and pretty much everything else!), I have been pondering teaching connections to this shift. In what ways might we similarly replace the floaties with goggles? How might we give our students tools for deep experimentation, and remove structures that might actually be impeding that opportunity?

Perhaps we might:

I think the real reason for my toddler’s transformation was that the goggles literally gave him a new lens with which to see water. No longer was it a threatening, mysterious body, but something with which he could actually interact and discover his own capacity. Meanwhile, without the floaties, I could no longer push him beyond his comfort level and had to stay near his side. Yet with the goggles, he was pushing himself in his own way.

What shifts have you seen give students a new lens for the structures and concepts around them? How else might we allow students to dive in when given some “goggles instead of floaties?”

featured image: Thomas Hawk

Miscellaneous Thought-Provoking Goodness for Students

My curation doesn’t always fit neatly into broader themes and concepts. Sometimes I squirrel away videos and resources that are just plain fascinating. I hope you can find uses for these to inspire thinking & wonder with your students this year!

Resource #1: The Icebreaker. Short flim by Timlab.pro

Which makes me wonder…

…How quickly does the ice form over the water?

…How does the crew deal with all the snow?

…What kinds of jobs take people out to these dangerous waters, and why?

Resource #2: Changemaker Quiz by Obama Foundation

Which makes me wonder…

…How can our personalities impact our communities for change?

…What kinds of change do we need and how can communities find out what they are?

Resource #3:

Which makes me wonder…

…How do our environments impact the way we move? The way we live?

What makes a place interesting to visit?

…How is movement and travel part of the human experience?

Resource #4: What Have You Changed Your Mind About? by SoulPancake

Which makes me wonder…

…What makes it hard for people to change their minds about things?

What makes people change their minds over time?

Resource #5: The true story of Mary Anning: The Girl Who Discovered Dinosaurs by BBC via The Kid Should See This

Which makes me wonder…

…How does our upbringing impact our interests and what we’re able to achieve?

…Why have women been excluded from science and most other fields over time? Why/how has this changed today?

Resource #6: These items worn down over time tell pretty interesting stories

Which makes me wonder…

What are other ways humans can observe change over time?

…How is critical thinking needed to tell the stories of change over time?

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto