I Can Do It If I Try!

Positive affirmations are such a great tool for kids and adults alike. I’ve been doing them with my daughter recently. At three years old she commonly found situations where she was stuck and not able to complete what she was hoping to do. Such as climb a ladder or go down a scary slide. 

I taught her to say “I can do it!” in hard situations and it seemed to help give her the confidence, but it also felt like something was missing. The affirmation was there, but the work behind it was absent.

I needed her to learn that yes, she can do it, but she needs to put in the work to get there. So I adapted her affirmation. 

“I can do it if I try.” 

We can get so caught up constantly telling our students, “You can do it! You know you can do it! I know you can do it!” But maybe what we are missing is reminding them of the work they must put into it in order to accomplish the goal. 

“You can do it if you try.” 

“You can do it if you practice.” because not everything comes right away. 

Try it out and tell me if you think it makes a difference. 

What positive affirmations do you practice with your students and children? How have they helped you as well?

Photos by Kayla Wright

Independent Chores At Two Years Old- How We Do It

I recently created a chore chart for my two-year-old. I knew I should set one up for her around the time that she became more and more interested in housework and started seeing the benefit of helping. When coming up with the exact chore chart I wanted in my mind, I went through a lot of ideas before eventually lining out exactly what I wanted. Here were my stipulations. 

It needed to be fairly independent for her, with very little help from me. Both the jobs I was asking her to do and utilizing the chart itself.

It needed to be visual with pictures for her but also labeled with words. You can read more about the labels and the reason why here. 

It needed purpose, she needed to be doing real chores to help around the house, not just busywork. 

It needed to include her day-to-day tasks like getting dressed so that she could easily feel accomplishment from the get go, and see a better sense of the time structure.

It needed to be age-appropriate. 

And thus, our chore chart was born. I picked a central spot in our house so she could see it often and ran with my idea. I made little magnets for each chore, then separated out the day, morning routine, chores for the middle of the day, and night. I wanted her to see a better sequence of time, that’s why it was laid out this way. And then I separated it into to-do and done so she could visualize what she needs to do and what she has done. 

The whole chore chart- on the metal door in our kitchen
Broken down into sections of the day and what she still needs to do.
A close up of her chores. Labeled with words and pictures.

One of my favorite parts of this chore chart was how simple and cheap it was! I made the chore pictures and labels on my computer and printed it off on card stock at home, then glued on the magnets I picked up from Walmart for about $4. Not bad! Just the card stock was working great for a time, but we also have a baby brother to account for here, so eventually, I printed out a new sheet of chores, and changed a few after our first trial run, then brought it to our public library to be laminated. The total lamination cost was 90 cents! I rubbed the backs of cards with a little sandpaper so the magnets could be glued, and voila! A $4.90 customizable chore chart!

The main goal I’ve tried to remember with her is that our lives do not need to revolve around these magnets. I try really hard to put my Type A personality aside and remember that it’s not the end of the world if she did something like getting dressed, but didn’t move the magnet. And our end wasn’t to get everything done every single day but to use it how and where we can. 

It took a lot of modeling, a lot of guidance, and a lot of work. But months later we’ve gotten to the point where she is in charge of her chore chart and can be independent in carrying it out. 

Have you done something similar in your homes or classrooms? I’d love for you to share with me! 

Is Handpicking Your Children’s Teachers Really Benefitting Them?

How often do you hear as a teacher or a parent in a school, “Oh, Sally Sue is in Mrs. Smith’s class because her mom requested her to be there.” Or, “I would never let my child be in that teacher’s classroom, the principal knows this.” 

Is there a benefit to choosing your children’s teachers? There could be because you know your kid best, you know how they work, if they can handle disorganization or not, their interests, and how those line up with the teacher.  

But, could you be doing a disservice to your child by handpicking their teachers? Someday, your kids may not have the opportunity to pick and choose their employers and especially those they work with, they will have to know how to handle different personality types. 

One excuse I hear often from teachers is that their kids do not do well in disorganized classrooms, they are too Type A to handle it and their grades would be affected. But here is a question we all need to consider. Is it better for your child to struggle and learn coping skills in 5th grade, or in college with their professors? Or roommates? What about their first boss? 

Also, let’s dive into the teacher’s perspective. First, it can be slightly offensive to them when they hear a student cannot be in their classroom because their parents had a hand in who educates their child, it can make the teacher feel inadequate or unappreciated. Maybe an unorganized teacher has had a Type A student in the classroom before and they know what tools to use to help these students. 

Maybe you’d be surprised at what students can accomplish in circumstances that are less than ideal for them. Maybe they will struggle for a time, but then know how to learn in various ways, a tool they will need for the rest of their lives.

So maybe we shouldn’t handpick teachers for our kids. Maybe we should let our kids grow and learn outside of their comfort zones. 

 Do you choose your children’s teachers? Teachers, how does it affect you when you find out parents choose their kid’s teachers?   

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.

Is the Mindfulness Really For Them? And Why that Matters

I shared an observation this week that generated a bit of discussion:

Mindfulness in itself is not the issue for me; in fact, I think it’s a huge part of students being able to take ownership over their own learning and to feel confident about being in the drivers seat of their own lives. The same might be said of Self-Reg, social-emotional learning, and every other related trend.

I think it’s precisely because we’re delving into students’ personal feelings that it’s so important that we get our why right. There are 2 levels working here.

First, if we’re not truly doing it for them, but we’re pretending we are, that’s emotional manipulation. Plain and simple. We might counter that if the end results are the same, it doesn’t really matter. But it does. It’s the difference between feeling that someone is nurturing you vs programming you. And kids can tell that difference.

Second, if we are looking at broad systemic issues that have less to do with learning and mindsets & more about money and race, and then we try to put that on the kids by making them more mindful of themselves…words fail me.

Issues like suspension. Where not only are black kids over-represented in suspension rates, but pretty much every other race is under-represented. Where we see the problem show up as young as preschool. We need to check our practices before trying to put this on the kids.

Or like standardized tests, which “are almost universally correlated with household income: more income, higher scores.” (Why They Can’t Write by John Warner).

Of course, we teachers only have so much control over mandates. But we can reflect upon our own why. Only then will we have the transparency and true emotional support that our students need as they wade through the system.

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

On Allowing Children to NEED the Learning

This quote resonated hard with me today:


If we step back from the pressures and expectations and chaos for a moment, I think we can all agree: reading truly is a gift. Indeed, all of learning is a gift.

But do our fears for readiness and standards swallow up this truth? Particularly where our youngest learners are concerned?

I have been loving Kelsey Corter’s pieces lately on Two Writing Teachers where she emphasizes children learning to read and write because the children themselves realize they need it. In “Finding Purpose: The Key to Making High Frequency Words Stick,” she writes:

“Kaylee learned two words very quickly in the first weeks of kindergarten — two words which she wrote again and again: love and Kaylee.

…Kaylee learned these words before learning all of the names of the letters they are comprised of. She learned these words because they were important to her. She needed them. She needed to know these words to spread her message.”

~Kelsey Corter

Isn’t that just beautiful? What if, instead of being daunted by the lists and the letters and knowledge, we spend time finding out what our children need right now? What if we trust that they will, in fact, come to realize for themselves that they need those letters as a next step in making meaning for themselves? This is another example of choosing trust over fear.

In another post, Kelsey elaborates on all the many ways children will find they need writing through play. To inform, to convince, to observe, to create, to connect, to remember.

When we invite children to read or write, we offer them a magnificent gift to do all of these things, and when we make these invitations in the most natural of settings as play, it becomes even more accessible.

Treasure reading and writing as a gift. Especially when you are worried about your children showing zero interest in those flash cards or letter sounds. If you hold to it as the gift it really is, your children will build a stronger, more beautiful foundation of reading and writing as their own readiness unfolds.

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

My Professional Portfolio

My precise timeline for returning to the classroom has been unknown for some time. I am pleased to share that a clearer plan has lately emerged: I intend to resume teaching in the fall of 2020. Not only will this coincide nicely for school schedules for all my kids, but it will allow me to spend additional time building momentum for local Safe Routes to School efforts.

This plan has me realizing that this time next year, I will be submitting resumes and interviewing for jobs. After 5 years, I’m feeling a little nervous, but as I’ve learned time and again, the best remedy for that is reflecting and blogging.

What “aha” moments have I had during 5 years of researching, PLN-building, and writing what is now 456 posts? What would I most want a future administrator to understand about what I have learned? How has all of this built on my previous 4 years of teaching fifth grade, and what will this mean for my future classroom approach?

I’m digging through old posts today to try and find answers to these questions.

March 2016: The Story of a Teacher Without a Classroom: 10 Lessons Learned

This was the first time I wrote plainly about my personal learning since I had left the classroom. Until then, I’d often felt like an impostor for writing about teaching, worried I would be “found out” for not being in the classroom. This was when I first began to understand the way my edu-blogging was helping me grow as a professional, and that that mattered more than any other outcome. Interestingly, it turns out that this mindset shift has also been pivotal for my approach to student learning. Personal meaning & growth > appearances.

May 2016: In My Future Classroom

Key takeaway in this post: the need for students to clearly own and understand what they have mastered, and for them to be given opportunities to convey that to their caregivers. (See also “Inquiry Into Owning My Own Learning“).

September 2017: My Top 5 Defining Teaching Moments

I realized that though my classroom career has been on pause, by no means has my professional learning has been stagnant! Particularly helpful in that journey was the epiphany that I could structure my writing schedule so I could really “write what I know.”

April 2018: I Am Driven

Powerful connection happens when we learn to truly put ourselves in the learning arena alongside our students. How can we possibly expect our students to truly be vulnerable and take risks to grow in their learning if they feel like their teachers are sitting on the sidelines? Brene Brown’s emphasis on Theodore Roosevelt’s quote has settled deep into my teacher soul here:

Image result for brene brown theodore roosevelt quote

June 2018: I Can Never Go Back

My inspiring former student referenced here has profoundly impacted my resolve to truly make building meaning a priority. “After witnessing the way learning can truly transform & empower & matter, I can never go back.” This particular student will be graduating high school this year, and I had the privilege to watch him perform at the State Poetry Out Loud Competition, and to win a scholarship competition with his piece, Cross Stitch. Once our students find their voice, we have no idea what will come next.

February 2019: 5 Things I Want My Students To Know About Me As a Teacher

The idea of building self-regulation skills has been eye-opening to me in the way I approach student ownership and classroom management. I am learning to understand how a child’s choices often reflect more than might meet the eye.

I look forward seeing additional learning unfolds during this last year!

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto