I. Teachers demonstrate leadership. · II. Teachers establish a respectful environment for a diverse population of students. · V. Teachers reflect on their practice.

Speaking Up because #BLM

IMG_7279After much deep reflection over the last series of days and today, #blackouttuesday, I am ready to speak up, but I’ll admit that these words are difficult to type out. Difficult for many reasons. I write with a heavy heart due to devastation that the life of yet another person of color, George Floyd, has been taken unjustly at the hands of police (just to name the most recent); and because of the systemic racism that continues to remain in and impact our leaders, cities, communities, and homes. But it’s also difficult to reflect and share here and now because of my white privilege. Sometimes silence is just easier to avoid confronting or offending others. Silence on race isn’t necessarily ill-intentioned; but the negative impact of not speaking up ultimately outweighs the neutral intentions of silence.

IMG_7275To be totally transparent, speaking up on race is something I have been and am still learning; and in the face of this continued injustice, I’m now seeing that silence is not enough. Recent events show that we are currently not doing enough to fix this overwhelming problem, and with racism being modeled and taught  in our communities (whether intentional or not), it will continue to take even more hard work and united efforts to undo and re-teach.

I am a person who prioritizes being in harmony with others and being on good terms in all my relationships; and in the past, being neutral about race has at times been an easier way to keep the peace in conversation. I realize that that innate tendency to be neutral is white privilege. But now in acknowledgement of that, I know that I need to use my voice and speak up even when it’s uncomfortable, because I’m seeing a greater need for harmony and justice in our world than harmony in my own conversations. I wish it hadn’t taken me until now to be more vocal about racial injustice. I also do acknowledge that speaking up looks different for different people. This space, Learning with the Littles, is simply where I reflect and document my journey of teaching Kinders/learning alongside them, so it’s where I felt led to share.


There are multiple ways to look at anything – perspective. Our perspectives can always be sharpened, widened, and improved. When thinking about difficult and complex topics like race, we first must believe we are capable of learning and growing in perspective.

If you’ve ever argued with someone who is raising their voice at you, how do you choose to listen to their angry words or passionate yells? I’ve noticed 2 general perspectives people usually have when responding to a passionate argument or attack: either 1) they are overwhelmed by the angry, yelling, assumed to be “crazy” person and simply correct, judge, or critique their “abrasive” and loud argument style, or 2) they listen to the words being spoken and reflect both inwardly and outwardly on how they may have been at fault or could at least help the situation. Personally in a heated argument or situation like this, I choose to listen carefully to the words the other person is saying and the feelings they’re expressing, and seek to get to the root cause even if I somehow play some fault in their anger. But I have encountered many people who, when conflict arises, can only hear the noise and see the destruction. They aren’t hearing the real words being spoken or real stories being shared; they aren’t seeing why the person is actually upset, how they could’ve played a role in someone else’s problems, or how they could’ve even helped be a part of a solution.

IMG_7278

So thinking more broadly, how do you choose to “listen” to the riots, what MLK Jr. deemed as the “language of the unheard”? The perspective you take is a choice, and perspectives can always be improved. It can be easy to get caught up in the destruction and violence, and those things are not the solution. But before we point out the devastation on our cities – the more outwardly visible effects that happen to impact all people this time – we must carefully examine the causes. And we must always be willing to acknowledge that the root causes of these protests and riots and the systemic racism they represent could relate to the ways that we either hurt or did not more effectively help along the way. Many of the protests taking place are not violent. But remembering the reasons for the protests, both peaceful and not, along with looking closely at ourselves and how we can help, is the most important place that we can focus our time and energy during this time.IMG_7277

For those of us who are white, acknowledging and believing that we have white privilege is a way we can further unite with people of color. Until white people can each recognize white privilege, it will be difficult to adapt the empathetic perspective needed to create change. And without that transformed perspective, white people will see black people as fighting their own battles, when we need to be actively joining them.

There are so many awesome resources circulating for ways anyone can help right now. Here’s a quick list of some of the more everyday/long-term things I plan to do or continue so that I can be part of the solution:

  • Read texts/listen to podcasts that further deepen my perspective about and understanding of race. Reflect individually and with others.
  • Listen to black people and to anyone who can help me learn more.
  • Be friends with people of different backgrounds, races, beliefs, etc., including both those who challenge my thinking and those who I may end up challenging too.
  • Have courageous conversations about race in my own home and in my community. Speaking up to peers can be difficult. My friend and co-worker Claire recently reminded me of this resource, a guide that gives educators (and non-educators) specific strategies for responding to biased or prejudiced comments.
  • Increase racial representation in the literature I read in my classroom and, as possible, in staffing at my school.
  • Use my voice in relevant ways that arise to help actively fight racism and support racial justice.

We have come a long way over the decades and we also have a long way to go. I stand beside my friends, colleagues, and students of color, along with people of color who I do not know. I want to be more than a person who isn’t racist. I want to be actively anti-racist and do my part as an ally. Black lives matter. Period. IMG_7269

 

Personal

In Memory of My Nonna

I’m getting a little more personal than usual with this reflection, but nonetheless reflecting on a person who has hugely impacted my life. Exactly 2 weeks ago today on Thursday, May 14th, 2020, Joann Norma Eacho Turner, my grandmother and my person, passed away in her sleep. I lovingly called her Nonna (the Italian word for grandmother), or more commonly Nonnie (the nickname I made up for her when I was little that always stuck); and she was a strong, loving, and special woman. I have admired and adored my Nonna since I was a little girl, and our strong bond only continued to grow over the years. Reflecting on her life and our times together reminds me of the amazing impact she’s had on me and how thankful I am to have learned from and been loved by her for 28 years.

Nonna moved to be closer to family in Raleigh over 5 years ago, which is time I’m so thankful to have had close by to her. It was during this time in our lives that she and I grew to be more like best friends. These past 5 years were an amazing phase that we had as such a strong part in one another’s lives- my first 5 years of post grad life after college and what we did not know would be her last 5 years of aging and living.

Growing up, I remember Nonna being such a unique grandmother figure. Compared to many other grandparents I had been around, she was hip, relatable, silly, endearing, and more in touch with pop culture than I ever have been. Not to mention, as a young girl, the pride that I took in Nonna’s good looks. She used to always remind me of the day when I told her proudly that I was the only child in my class with a grandparent who didn’t have gray hair. That’s the day Nonna broke me the news that she dyed her hair brown. She always thought my devastation about her true hair color was hilarious, and she re-told me that story many times.

I will say, Nonna really enjoyed skin care and beauty routines, something else that made her such a fun grandmother growing up. When I was little, she would let me go through all her powders, blushes, eye shadows, & lipsticks, and put on her make up. We would even spend time mixing together concoctions of her old makeup to make new homeade makeup colors. I learned a lot about skin care and beauty from her, and she always loved to shower me with new products to try. I was shocked the first time she gave me an anti-aging cream a few years ago, but she felt strongly I should start preventing wrinkles early. She never did care much for aging. During the many months of her hospitalization and transitions that consumed the past half a year of her life, the nurses always got a kick out of how she insisted on having her Number 7 moisturizer and Obsession perfume (just to name a couple) on her bedside table.

When I think back on my 28 years I spent with Nonna in my life, so many other wonderful memories and stories come to mind too. The Italian heritage she passed down to me was something special we shared, and I am so lucky for around 15 years of opportunities that I have gotten to cook and spend time in the kitchen with her. Cooking together was always an all day event. She would buy ingredients in bulk, and we would make giant pots-full of something delicious covered in red sauce. I do remember how picky and blatantly honest she was if she thought a batch of meatballs and sauce just didn’t turn out “right” that time. But I also remember how proud she would be to share our cooking with other family members if the batch met her standards. She loved to give away containers upon containers of frozen homeade goods to family near and far. And this didn’t start when Nonna moved to Raleigh- she had been cooking her go-to Italian meals in bulk and sharing with family for as long as I can remember. We would always leave her Charlotte home stocked up on all the best Italian cooking.

My Nonna was truly a giving person. She always took genuine joy in giving me little gifts and surprises. When we were younger, my parents couldn’t escape the piles of nick nacks and Dollar Store goodies she would excitedly share and send us home with. And throughout her time in Raleigh, she used to get so excited to head back to her closet to bring out little random surprises she had picked up for me that week. She absolutely loved to buy things for my classroom and students too. Nonna cared deeply about my job as a teacher and about my students, and she would check on them and ask about them by name.

Nonna’s big heart didn’t end there, but extended to the dogs in her life too. It may seem silly to devote 2 paragraphs to her love for dogs; but she absolutely adored her dog Nee Cee, as well as her great granddogs and every friend and family dog in her life. She was just a total dog lover of a person. Being around dogs honestly brought out a joy in her unlike any other. She would actually tell me that she liked and understood dogs more than people, which I think may have been true and always made me laugh. Prior to all the life transitions Nonna experienced over the past 6 months, Josh and I would bring the dogs over for weekly visits with Nonna and her dog Nee Cee. During our visits, she loved to spoil our own dogs with way too many treats and toys. For Nonna, our visits were all about playing with the 3 dogs and giving them love and attention. This time was the highlight of her weeks and ours too.

Years ago, it was very hard for Nonna to cope with the loss of her collie Mechelle in Charlotte, so when she moved to Raleigh it was important to my family that we help her find another dog to fill that void. Having Nee Cee in her life brought her more purpose and happiness than we ever could’ve hoped. I’m so glad that Nee Cee got to spend the first few years of her life with Nonna, and that they each had each other during Nonna’s time living in Raleigh.

Our time with Nonna in Raleigh has also had its challenges at times. But I often reflect more so on the things that she has overcome in her life, things on a level that many of us haven’t had to handle or work through in our own lives. And Nonna had significant obstacles to overcome not just during her childhood; but also as a young, single mom; as a working woman in a male-dominated work force; and as a senior. Those obstacles undoubtedly impacted her as a person, but they also gave her a strength and determination and wisdom that I will always look up to.

There are certain things that I will always think of when I think back on Nonnie: her bright-colored, extra tall plastic cups she’d love to fill with a fresh coke; her favorite comfy clothes of nothing less than 100% cotton; her 2 freezers always stocked full of red sauce meals to eat and share; her silly rhymes and songs she’d make up and sing to us as children and later to all the pups; her sweet tooth and love of anything dark chocolate; our many long conversations, paired with her open-mindedness, deep perspective, and genuine, judgment-free advice I could always count on; her forever love of the 70s and the classic music of that and surrounding decades; her self-made success and the resulting strength and independence she held onto throughout her final years and months; the list goes on. I will continue to miss weekend visits more than words can say, and I wish we could have at least one more hug or one more good talk or laugh together. Nonna showed me such immense love during our time together, which for me has been my whole life until now. Figuring out life without her will be difficult, and I know my life won’t ever be the same without her in it. But Nonna always expressed how proud she is of me, and as I reflect on her life, I also want to express how proud I am of her.

nonnie
Nonnie, I love you, I miss you so much, and I’m holding onto you forever in my heart. No words can express how thankful I am to be your granddaughter.

IV. Teachers facilitate learning for their students. · V. Teachers reflect on their practice.

Remote Learning in 3-2-1…Go!

It’s hard to remember what life felt like a month ago, interacting face-to-face 5 days a week with my students and teammates. And here we are now, “enjoying spring break”…AKA making final preparations for a totally different way of doing school that will all begin next week. Education across the world is seeing some temporary yet significant shifts (and who knows what the long-term impacts on education will be). Shifts toward virtual/online options for “doing life” – education related or non –  have been happening for years, and we are so lucky to live during time when we have all of these digital options. But in the last month across our state, country, and world, things have reached a new level of “remote.”

In education, when the governor of the state you live in says that schools are going to shift to remote learning during this time of school closures, that is indeed what the schools of that state will do. One day at a time, teachers have been getting new bits of clarity on what this remote learning will look like and what our district’s expectations for this state-promised remote learning are. And each day therefore has become more overwhelming, not just for educators, but for our families too. There isn’t physically enough time to work out the kinks that impact both teachers and families prior to the start of remote learning: access to devices for students, access to internet for students, building a remote learning plan that fits the needs of everyone involved, planning new ways of teaching content, creating virtual instruction, creating assignments and options for submitting them, informing students and families of all the expectations, and assisting families as they too prepare and connect to our virtual classrooms.

Then you add the element of Kindergarten to the whole situation: how will such a young group of learners be able to independently access, create, and submit work for remote learning? IMG_6814The Kindergarten grade level has rigorous curriculum standards, so just telling the kids to have some playtime or build something creative or paint something they like for every assignment would unfortunately be failing to meet the expectations of the grade level (not that we don’t try to integrate those types of play-based activities into the curriculum any chance we get). But just as high schoolers on the Common Core will follow a remote learning schedule, receive virtual CORE instruction, and submit assignments digitally, so will Kindergartners. Imagine the kind of pressure that puts on the parents and guardians of Kindergarten and elementary-aged students right now. And then imagine the pressure on parents, particularly working parents, with MULTIPLE children of this age group.

My team and I, among many other educators right now, are in an entire realm of unknown. Yes, the WCPSS district is emphasizing grace, grace right now for all the educators and families who are traveling through this uncharted territory. But giving grace does not mean that this isn’t all starting on April 13th. So being aware of the inequities, impossibilities, and uncertainties embedded in the remote learning we are heading for next week, here is how my Kindergarten team is navigating it all:

1. Make a teacher space within our homes. IMG_7069Here is what was previously my kitchen table, but now serves as my classroom! All I need is an iPad, iPad stand, whiteboard/marker/eraser, and my laptop/its resources to make this happen! Oh, and some pasta shells that I used as my math manipulatives to video a lesson on adding. But that’s it! Which just further shows that the most important part of learning is what is not pictured here……the teachers and the students!

2. Connect with families and listen to their needs and concerns. Our team called each of our families to check on them and find out about their device and internet needs prior to even knowing anything about what remote learning would look like. We gave them a chance to voice concerns they had health-wise as well as with remote learning. Their concerns helped shape our understanding of the impact that learning at home will have on their lives, and gave us insight we needed before jumping into all the planning.

3. Get ready for a whole lotta Google Meets together. IMG_7058

The Google Meet seen above was from last week and lasted almost 4 hours…it takes so much planning to make decisions about how and what to teach and create in this new school “environment,” while also taking into account how families will receive and be impacted by whatever decisions we make. You may notice the blurry picture quality, due to poor/shared internet connections at home. You might also see that the Google Meet screenshot pictured says that “Lisa Baildon left the meeting,” while she is also there at the top of the screen- we’ve only had a few of these little “technical difficulties” (and lots of laughs about them) so far.

4. Make a hyperlinked schedule that outlines weekly expectations with as much flexibility as possible.
Screen Shot 2020-04-09 at 1.05.39 PMWe created a hyperlinked schedule, which has become both how we plan/embed instruction and assignments, as well as how students will access the learning. Our schedule incorporates a lot of flexibility. We’ve given recommended time blocks for different subjects, but not a time of the day it must be done. We plan to share the schedule of instruction and assignments a week at a time so that families can have access to 5 days at a time and see what lies ahead. Assignments are not due on the day they are given, but the following week. We hold daily office hours, as well as flexible Fridays, to connect with students and answer questions students and families have.

5. Create a letter for parents, with embedded videos, outlining what to expect and how to access the learning. This letter to families from our team explains how to access online learning, what to expect, and as much as we know about how it will all work. Parents are receiving this letter over a week prior to the start of online learning, so that we have time to answer their questions and get everyone prepared for a successful start.

6. Give choice in how to complete and submit assignments, and not ALL tasks are digital. We created a box at the bottom of the hyperlinked schedule that gives options for submitting work. Students might type a document, hand-write a writing piece and take a photo of it, or video themselves presenting the content on any given assignment! We’ve also given them multiple online platform options to access and submit work so that they and their parents can do it the way that they are comfortable. Printing materials is an option for some student assignments, but never a requirement. And most importantly, not every assignment involves learning and working on a digital device. While tasks have to be accessed digitally, not all work has to be completed digitally. It was important to parents to have a balance of learning with and without technology.

7. Get feedback using a Google Form to see how things went and what changes we could potentially make for improvement.

Screen Shot 2020-04-09 at 10.40.34 AMWe will share this Google Form with families after week one. Thanks to our Literacy Coach, Dan Gridley, for this idea! This will allow us to continue gaining feedback to improve what, in some ways, feels like a brand new practice!


These are stressful times, but I’m so thankful to take this on in collaboration with an incredible, supportive team and in partnership with amazing school community and families! We whole-heartedly support our families through this change in education and understand that they will each complete and prioritize online learning differently. People don’t always think about the role parents must play in order for young children to take part in remote learning- parents deserve major recognition during this time for any efforts they are able to put forward to support their children’s learning while schools are closed. We are ready to give this our best try, and hope to be back together, face-to-face with each other and with our students again soon!

II. Teachers establish a respectful environment for a diverse population of students. · IV. Teachers facilitate learning for their students. · V. Teachers reflect on their practice.

Behind the Scenes: Kindergarten in Real Life

No matter what you see me showcasing from my classroom and the amazing world of Kindergarten…there is a real life element that is ever-present, though you may not always see it or think of it. After all, my students have been alive for only 5 or 6 years; though that real life element still exists in classrooms of all ages. In the day-to-day routines, students are so busy stepping up to meet the immense curriculum demands, along with my own high expectations for structure and hard work, that I often forget how young they are. It’s the little imperfections that bring me back to reality and remind me how little they really are. And many of the imperfections I encounter daily as an educator aren’t even related to the students themselves! There are so many intricate pieces of the job that make being an educator highly stressful and highly demanding.

One really tough day, I found myself adding a post to Twitter about an incredible learning experience where my students had really blown me away!

After posting it, I felt a little odd, seeing as it had been an extremely difficult day. I had even spent the majority of my lunch break crying about an upsetting situation with one of my families, while my team comforted and gave me advice. Any form of social media or online post usually tends to highlight the positives, but there is also a real life element there we don’t always see. I am not a magician, and the amazing classroom experiences I showcase are never perfect.  My students and I are human, so it is important that we don’t let mistakes, chaotic moments, and imperfections discourage us. They happen in every classroom everyday…and of course beyond the classroom walls as well! It’s how we reflect on and handle those mistakes that matters.

I’m going to do something a little out of the ordinary and take the time to highlight the not so perfect moments of this particular day, the same day where I posted the above Twitter post. So here is a different view of this day – a day that included a lesson that in many ways, I considered to be a huge success! And if you manage to get through the whole school day bulleted below, you may be in for some laughs along the way…

  • You know it’s gonna be a rough day when you find yourself at Walmart at 6:30AM buying supplies you forgot you needed. It was a big day with more than usual added pressure. In the afternoon, I would be implementing one of my Kenan Fellow lessons where students would be exploring all different types of adhesives and building structures (see more about that here)! A photographer, observing visitors, and parent volunteers were coming for the lesson. It was in the middle of the night that I had made the decision to go to Walmart before school. I had woken up around 2AM realizing that I needed enough craft sticks for 20 students to rotate and build structures at 5 different stations. I was doing some crazy middle-of-the-night math…if 20 students used 10 craft sticks at each of the 5 stations, then I could need up to 1,000 craft sticks?!?!?! What if they went crazy and used more than 10 craft sticks at a table???? That was when I knew I’d be starting my day at Walmart.
    • Sidenote- it was POURING DOWN RAIN that morning….just a little added depression.
  • I pulled into school ready to get inside and get all my velcro dots cut in half and added to craft sticks, along with the many other lesson elements I needed to prepare. Right before getting out of my car I checked my parent messages, only to find a very upsetting message from a parent revealing an entire situation that needed to be handled right then and there. I had gotten to school an hour and a half early to prepare for the day, yet this situation consumed my whole morning prior to the arrival bell ringing!
  • I got through the morning alright. Then SURPRISE! Students will be eating lunch in the classrooms today. Those situations are never thrilling, particularly when the room should ideally look clean for the photographer who is coming later. It also makes my own lunch break shorter while I supervise students in the room and my assistant takes lunch buyers to the cafeteria and back. However many teachers don’t get a “duty free” lunch, so I am thankful for any lunch break I can get.
  • My team and I ate lunch in the hallway while the assistants supervised students eating in classrooms. I was late to our 30 minute lunch, as I had been supervising students with lunch boxes in the classroom and assembling all the velcro dot craft sticks I hadn’t gotten to in the morning. And as mentioned earlier, I cried through most of that lunch once I did arrive, still emotional from the student/parent situation that had come up earlier and was still not fully resolved.
  • I picked my students up from specials right before our big, exciting lesson. I gave them a little pep talk about showing self-control in the hallway all the way back to the classroom to earn our fun adhesive exploration lesson. Less than 30 seconds later, I turned around to witness a student spanking another right on the bottom, followed by a combination of laughing, yelling, and tattling.
  • Time for a fresh start, refocus, and ANOTHER pep talk on the carpet 5 minutes before visitors are scheduled to arrive. 30 seconds in and I hear the words, “I did pee pee.” I look down, and there was a puddle of pee on the classroom rug. This was the 2nd potty accident I had helped with in the classroom that day.
  • I call a custodian, and while we wait, I threw some paper towels on the spot to soak it up. The students were amazingly patient and quiet during this little mis-hap, which made me proud.
  • The lesson goes on, potty accident soaking into the carpet and all. We rearranged students to new places on the carpet, and those routine switch-ups of course set off 2 of my students. It caused them to react anxiously and impulsively throughout the entire time I gave directions during the whole group part of the lesson.
  • We were not as far into our shapes/geometry unit as I had hoped before getting to this lesson, where students would build 2D and 3D structures. Visitors watched eagerly as we reviewed the difference between 2D and 3D shapes. During this review, students basically acted like they had never heard the terms 2D or 3D, always a great feeling for a teacher! Inside I was cringing, but I tried not to let it discourage me too much…I instead looked at this lesson as an opportunity to reinforce these apparently unknown concepts, as students built flat and solid structures. If they didn’t know the terms before the lesson, hopefully they would by the end!
  • When it was time to rotate after the first center, I realized I hadn’t discussed any sort of clean-up procedures. And that was very evident as we cleaned up. Students were so excited and distracted that it was pure chaos…they were running around the room with their sticky structures, materials were spilled all over the place, and it was all I could do to get students to freeze and listen to procedures.
  • 2nd rotation in, and the custodian finally makes it down to clean the rug, which the photographer is doing a great job of avoiding in photos. The custodian starts up the carpet cleaning machine, which lets off a terrible odor and makes it so that none of us can hear one another. Students continued building their structures amidst the distractions, only a couple of students set off by the noise and change in routine.
  • When you’re trying a lesson for the first time, there is a lot of unknown and risk-taking involved. I had planned to implement some accountability into the lesson by having students carry a recording sheet with them from station to station, to record structures created and what adhesive was used. Students were so engaged in the building of structures that many recording sheets were untouched and blank at the end of the 5 rotations.

It would be easy to call it quits after this list of “fails” but that is why teaching has caused me to re-think the meaning and implications of the word failure. Sure, if I didn’t reflect on or change any of my practices after that lesson, there might be a problem; but reflection is the entire purpose embedded in failure. I have worked so hard this year to help my students accept and even appreciate failure, and I have to do the same thing with failures of my own. There are many instructional tweaks that I would make if I tried this lesson again. But here are my big takeaways from my reflection on failure itself…the failure that happened throughout this lesson, along with the fails we educators experience every day.

  1. You can’t always control what happens in the classroom, and even when you can, you don’t always facilitate each moment of the day perfectly. Instead, what’s important is how you respond to those “fails” in the moment and reflect on them for future instruction.
  2. It’s important to highlight the imperfections, as well as the awesome moments, that happen in the classroom. Not only should parents and community members be aware of the reality of education, but other teachers need to know they are not alone in these moments.
  3. The “fails” in life are what help us learn, not just in the classroom, but beyond. We should all be more honest about the imperfect parts. They often have just as much or more value.
  4. Failure is ever-present. No matter how amazing something looks on social media or however else it is displayed outwardly to the world, there were imperfect moments along the way too…in every single case.

Coming soon: more on how failure, yes failure, has become a central part of our classroom conversations, reflections, and learning.

I. Teachers demonstrate leadership. · II. Teachers establish a respectful environment for a diverse population of students. · IV. Teachers facilitate learning for their students. · V. Teachers reflect on their practice.

Collaborative Learning: Misconceptions, Misrepresentations, & What We’re Doing About It

Students and parents, raise your hand if you jump up and down when you hear the words “group work”?! If you’re raising your hand, you are not the norm. For most, phrases like “group work” or “group projects” create anxiety, dread, and resent. But why??? Collaboration as a means of 21st century learning has been a buzz word since before I started teaching 4 and a half years ago, and for great reason! Collaborative learning is an authentic replication of work in the real world, a way for students to learn from one another and experience other perspectives, a way of appealing to the interpersonal intelligence for those whose are motivated to learn with others, and so much more. Sure, collaboration is challenging…no one every said that putting a bunch of different ideas in the mix made it easier to come to an agreement. But collaborative learning should be seen as an engaging and worthwhile challenge for both those participating (students) and watching from afar (parents). I’ve noticed parents requesting more worksheets over collaborative learning, and heard of parents not choosing particular schools because of a focus on collaborative work. So why do the people being affected by collaborative learning often dislike it so much? They are the ones who should be benefiting!

In shifting from the role of a student myself to a teacher, I’ve gradually noticed a shift in my own perspective on collaboration as a means of learning. As a student, I generally didn’t care for it. As the stereotypical student overachiever, working in groups generally resulted in me attempting to micromanage the whole project as if it were my own individual project, or if that didn’t work, resulted in me stressing over whether others would follow through with their parts or negatively affect my grade. In both types of scenarios, grades were the focus and learning was stifled for me and/or other group members. Additionally, these types of activities were more about dividing the large project into smaller “sub-projects,” so each group member usually ended up working independently rather than collaboratively. But my shift to the role of teacher has opened my eyes to the value that collaboration can genuinely have on both social-emotional and content-specific learning. So what exactly are the problems students are experiencing in this dreaded type of collaborative learning, and what can we teachers do about it?

1. Teamwork vs. Collaboration

First things first, let’s be clear on the definitions of terms. Many “group projects” are not collaborative in nature, but activities requiring teamwork.

Teamwork is when everyone takes on a smaller piece of the larger project; and when each of those small pieces are put together, the larger project is complete. There is definitely a time and place for teamwork, whether students each take on a specific job in the work or complete a certain section of the work. Yes, in the real world, this is a realistic model for work completion. But the goal of these activities should not necessarily be to teach the concept of working together, or collaboration. When taking part in teamwork, people work more so individually.

Collaboration, on the other hand, is when a group creates something together from the ground up. The team creates the idea collectively, and all members pitch in however possible to put the idea into action. These collaborative activities are the ones that genuinely teach students how to work effectively with others, appreciate perspectives different from their own, and respond to different ideas and opinions.

2. Grades vs. Reflection

In either situation, whether teamwork or collaboration, the emphasis should be on reflection to become better rather than on grades.

Grades often squelch learning, particularly collaborative learning, which is already a challenge without tying a grade to it. Placing a grade on collaborative activities creates a pressure that causes the learners involved increased frustration and resentment. When disagreements arise, now the goal has shifted from “How can we effectively come to an agreement?” to “If we don’t hurry up and come to an agreement, we won’t get a good grade,” or “If these people don’t listen to my idea we’re gonna fail.” Grades have the potential to teach ineffective collaboration and add frustration to an already challenging process.

Reflection helps learners think back on the experience in an honest way. Without the pressure of grades, students can feel freedom to be realistic about their learning and collaborative efforts in a given activity. When reflecting honestly, students can acknowledge mistakes they might have made during the process, in efforts to learn from those mistakes and become better for next time. In fact, reflection (over grades) might help learners see the positive, rather than the negative and failure, in mistakes.

3. Culminating Projects vs. Learning

Collaborative learning often takes place at the end of a unit, as a summative project reflecting what students learned (to give a grade), rather than as PART of the learning process.

Culminating projects involving collaboration usually remove learning from the experience. Often, collaborative projects are simply supposed to reflect what members of the group have learned for a final grade. Similar to the idea of projects versus project-based learning, a culminating project may as well be the word “test,” again creating added pressure to an already challenging skill.

Learning happens throughout a unit, not at the end. Collaboration is a great, engaging way to teach new content, while also building students’ collaborative skillset. A collaborative type of activity should more often happen along the way as students learn, not always at the end of the unit. If it could just be approached as part of the learning process, rather than a final “show what you know” group project, it might not be so intimidating and stressful.

In closing, if collaboration isn’t challenging students in a motivating way, something is wrong. So let’s reflect on our teaching practices, so that we can do something about it!

I. Teachers demonstrate leadership. · II. Teachers establish a respectful environment for a diverse population of students. · III. Teachers know the content they teach. · IV. Teachers facilitate learning for their students. · V. Teachers reflect on their practice.

New Year, New Cats to Herd

Kindergarten is a lot like herding cats. I had never actually heard that expression until I became a Kindergarten teacher, and it is the perfect visual to reflect what our classes may look like at times, particularly at first.

 

And for that reason, every time that a new Kindergarten year circles back around, I find myself unsure of how to get started. So much growth occurs during the school year, that it’s hard to even remember what those little 5 year olds are like in the beginning, entering the formal school setting for the first time. It seems like every year I have to physically stop myself from planning a full-out writing activity for the first day/week…wait, we’re still learning letters and sounds! And I just never quite account for the amount of time it will truly take to complete activities…everything takes double the time to get through between expectation reviews, new routines to explain, thorough modeling needed, and transitions. They grow so much during the Kindergarten year that they make you forget just how much structuring it took first quarter to bring the chaos to a controlled and productive level. What makes it even more challenging: while students need to learn the structures, routines, and expectations of the classroom in order to actually function in school and activities, the curriculum doesn’t wait.

So how do I begin, teaching students how to go to school while jumping into the “real” learning right away?  

IMG_8627While this problem may be magnified on the Kindergarten level due to their young age and newness to school, I know that this is something that teachers of all grade levels encounter: starting over with a new class, a year younger than the class you just finished with. Shout-out to my friend Aubrey Diorio for getting me pumped for the new school year with her recent post on new school year must do’s, and for inspiring this reflection. While Aubrey’s post gives awesome examples of specific, beginning of school must do’s to set your class up for success (go read it!!!), my post more specifically tackles how to actually dive into and structure the beginning of the year. Unfortunately, just looking back at last year’s lesson plans isn’t always enough: those plans may not account for how routines and expectations were taught and embedded throughout the day, and for things you want to do better or differently for the upcoming year. Each year, it feels like I am re-learning how to structure the beginning of year chaos; but after some time reflecting, I have outlined some of my tips, priorities, and strategies for starting a new school year, or in a Kindergarten teacher’s case…”herding those cats,” as smoothly and effectively as possible.

1. Make lists

IMG_7326Before the kids arrive, I have found it helpful to make lists. Not just a list for the thousand things I have to do to get the room ready, but a list, broken into categories, to outline expectations, routines, activities, flexible seating expectations, and protocols students need to learn to get the classroom up and running. My list is categorized into 3 sections: expectations (embodying all behavioral expectations, flexible seating expectations, routines, protocols, and day-to-day skills needed), centers (both beginning of year literacy/STEAM and initial Daily 5 literacy centers), and technology (apps, systems, and activities for beginning of year). Your list may be more broad or more specific than that. In essence, this is a “Planning To Do List”…what your students need to learn in order to learn in your classroom for the year. Don’t just make the list, but try to prioritize it. For example, students can’t get through the first day of school without carpet time and work time, so expectations for sitting on the carpet, using supplies, and using flexible seating should be taught day 1. This is a list that I print off, cross items off of, and pull un-taught items from to put into my weekly lesson plans. And in the world of Kindergarten, these are lists I pull from throughout the entire first quarter. Time to spare? Teach something else from “the list.”

2. Build a strong foundation

All students need a strong foundation to learn the expectations and routines of their new classroom, but Kindergarten takes this one to another level! Using my running list of all the new “school things,”  daily expectations, and routines students need to learn, I will teach, practice, and reinforce new skills daily. Sometimes I act out the procedure, sometimes peers act it out, sometimes students illustrate a picture of themselves following the expectation, sometimes we search for examples and non-examples in literature, sometimes we make “do’s” and “don’ts” anchor charts. And while expectations are embedded into all areas, some aspects taught are more behavioral and some are more like classroom systems or routines for certain parts of the day. Our first writing project is all about behavioral expectations, as students practice their illustrating skills to reflect themselves showing given school expectations. Regardless of what foundational concept is being taught, there is SO much to learn in this department for Kinders that I’m usually building the foundation throughout first quarter, and of course throughout the year as things become more challenging.

 

3. Take the time to fill in gaps

IMG_9341Sometimes a routine or procedure has already been taught, but each day we complete it, there are issues. Whether it’s a flexible seating or classroom library procedure, it’s easy to become frustrated when it was taught but isn’t being followed. I used to keep the mindset that it has been taught, I just reviewed it impatiently, and it will be a waste of our time to go back and fully re-teach; but at a BT meeting a couple years ago, the mentors in the room reminded me that it was never a waste of time to strengthen a routine in the classroom. At the time, I had been feeling so pressured to keep up with the curriculum that I had undermined the importance of filling in those gaps. Filling in the foundational gaps students may have missed not only brings sanity to you, it brings clarity to them and helps the classroom run more efficiently in the long-run. So rather than become frustrated with myself or them, I’m learning to take the time to fully re-teach the expectation in a new way.

4. Make modifications

Certain groups handle things differently than others, and some groups aren’t ready for certain routines others may have handled easily right away. There’s no shame in modifications for success! Some years, I have had to make a special beginning of year classroom library, because the large sticker system library was too overwhelming for most students for the first quarter or two. Students still had books to access, so they could still complete tasks, but without as many choices and without as structured of an organizational system. Another example- last year, my class needed assigned numbers to line-up on for greater structure. We still got where we needed to go, but we modified how.

5. STATIONS

Many activities, both at the beginning and throughout the year, are structured into student stations. I have found student learning stations (or centers) to be effective for many reasons: they provide a variety of activities, they can be easily differentiated for ability and interest, they promote a small group learning structure, and they allow for a teacher (and/or instructional assistant) to lead stations that require greater student support and allow for less independence. In the beginning of the year, we ease our way into stations, with the eventual goal of implementing literacy centers in the Daily 5 structure. Beginning of year stations, implemented for a portion of our literacy block (but we also do math stations throughout the year!!), integrate different STEAM, reading, and writing elements. While keeping up with the curriculum, I try to implement as many themes for play (and creativity) as possible, since play sadly diminishes little by little throughout the year. I plan for 2 teacher-led (usually literacy and art), and 3 independent stations for students to rotate through. To go into a little more depth on some of the subjects and station activities we implement on the Kindergarten level-

  • IMG_7195Writing: We often work on self-portraits, illustrations to tell a story, and sketches to sequence events of a story. While sketching, we think in shapes; and while illustrating, we practice coloring neatly and using colors that make sense.
  • Reading: If a teacher directed station, we often work on parts of a book, print concepts, and reading behaviors at this point in the year. Students can all use any classroom library books of their choice with these open-ended tasks! As time progresses during the quarter, students begin to learn and implement an independent read to self time, either telling the story using the pictures in the book or using sticky notes to search for given items (sight words, colors, literacy concepts, punctuation, letters) in text.

 

  • Art: Students can create name art in different ways: crumbled tissue paper balls, miscellaneous craft materials, foam squares, newspaper cutting, etc. Students also create art that goes with read-clouds we read, which helps them build their fine motor skills and learn to follow multi-step directions.img_7181-e1533144487715.jpg
  • IMG_9374Tech: Students play with an app that has been newly introduced. While keeping it open-ended, it is helpful to give students challenges, for example: try to use the typing feature, camera feature, and drawing feature in your creation. After students have explored the app and can make connections to it and its features, I phase into some collaborative tech activities that begin to integrate curriculum and prepare for the ways they will use different creation-based apps in Daily 5 literacy centers. Implementing a tech station is also an opportunity for students to practice logging into their Google Drive accounts with our brand new Chromebooks.
  • IMG_9338Imaginative play: Students can participate in a free choice play center, like blocks, housekeeping, legos, or doll house.
  • Engineering/Makerspace: We have many “building tubs” in our classroom that enhance student fine motor and also give opportunities for imaginative play. These tubs often start the year without constraints, promoting free play. This year, I plan to start adding in more structure as students get comfortable, giving a specific category or challenge for students to create around. Students can also create using the makerspace.

 

6. Introduce permanent structures gradually

For students to take part in these stations, there is a lot of modeling and direction-giving that happens so that they can be successful independently. Young students struggle so much to actively listen for long periods on the carpet, so this can make simultaneously introducing more permanent, long-term routines and activities a challenge. It takes long enough to master the open-ended station structure described above, but by the end of first quarter, students also have to be ready to jump into our more permanent Daily 5 centers. It takes strategy to prepare students for the long-term, while promoting success in the short-term as well. To do this, I make time for 15-minute mini-lessons throughout first quarter, to teach the literacy centers (read to self, word work options, tech options, and work on writing options) that students will need to independently access as we make the transition.

 

Again, making a list helps. I’ve written down all of the centers students will have to jump into 2nd quarter, and that’s what you’ll want to break into mini-lessons. In the mini-lesson, I usually model completing the center myself, then complete it again with a partner to model the collaborative aspect, and finally have students repeat the directions back to me. Then, that particular center that has been taught may slowly make its way into our beginning of year stations, so that students see it again soon and get practice completing it independently. Tech is a little bit different, as young Kindergarten students need plenty of time to play with an app, with some specific challenges of features to try, before integrating a subject area right away. So modeling tech may start as modeling creating a “for fun” project, rather than giving students a task aligned with the curriculum right away. Implementing mini-lessons has helped me make a smooth transition from beginning of year centers to permanent centers.

7. Longer morning meetings

Morning meeting is a great way to integrate so many of the foundational skills students need: expectations, social skills, team building, and growth mindset. This year, I want to plan my morning meetings even more intentionally and do a better job sticking to my daily structure I’ve outlined:

Math Monday (Math games, critical thinking, hundreds chart mystery number)

Character Trait Tuesday (Growth mindset, Empathy, Perseverence, etc.)

Wonder Wednesday (Mystery Doug video/critical thinking protocols)

 

 

Thoughtful Thursday (Positive words/interaction focus)

4C Friday (Collaborative challenge)

These themes follow a daily handshake and greeting that students give each other around the circle. First quarter, a longer morning meeting not only helps better build that foundation and classroom community, it also gives an opportunity to explicitly teach social skills. Students also, of course, need time to actually learn morning meeting routines (that handshake feels like it takes hours to get through at first!). And morning meeting is a time to review things that are and aren’t working in the classroom, so it is a great time to re-teach expectations needing review and for students to bring expectation suggestions and questions to the table. Last year, students suggested early on that I tape the floor to indicate where to put away flexible seating items after an activity.

8. 4C activities

IMG_9463Going along with the social skills foundation that students need, it is important to get students collaborating, communicating, thinking critically, and creating right away. While keeping up with the curriculum and teaching it effectively creates curriculum experts, we want well-rounded experts with 21st century foundational skills! Each of the 4Cs can be taught through one larger 4C activity, or through individual 4C activities highlighting each C. It is helpful to integrate literacy as these skills are introduced. Last year, Chris Tuttell and Janet Pride led our school in some PD, introducing us to 4 different texts that go along with and help teach each of the 4Cs. Along with each text, there are plenty of individual activities that highlight and have students practice each of the Cs. Last year, I instead ended up using one text to introduce a STEM challenge to students, and highlighted a different C that went with each day of our work as I added to our anchor chart. I later used the 4 texts mentioned above to reinforce the 4 Cs throughout the year. Regardless of how the 4Cs are introduced and practiced, it is helpful to define the 4Cs individually, so that students begin understanding and using the language. There are many ways to jump in, but the main takeaways: introduce each C, define each C, have students practice each C, and use literature as a springboard.


IMG_7357Taking the time to reflect on my beginning of year organization strategies for diving in with a new class has allowed me to more clearly define the structures I’ve informally adopted. Maybe this structure has given others some thoughts or ideas to ponder or tweak to make your own, or maybe you have some of your own tips to share in the comments below! I love the beginning of school and tend to want to rush right into the fun learning and excitement, but I and my students also thrive in a structured, organized environment. We teachers have to be strategic in order to dive right in WHILE building the foundation up! Even though I’ve worked most of my summer away and feel like I’ve hardly had a chance to blink since the last school year, I am ready and SO excited to get started with my 18-19 class of Kindergarteners!!!

I. Teachers demonstrate leadership. · IV. Teachers facilitate learning for their students. · V. Teachers reflect on their practice.

Warning: Kinder Teacher Enters the “Real World”

The Kenan Fellowship Experience Continues…

I entered the Structural Adhesive Department of LORD Corporation’s Process Development Center early Monday morning, the first day of my Kenan Fellows externship. Mistake number one: wearing a dress and sandals, not exactly “lab attire.” But that didn’t matter, because I was quickly overwhelmed with the buzzing excitement of the real world. As teachers, we prepare our students for the real world every single day, and hopefully we are providing ample opportunities for our students to interact with authentic, real world situations and materials…but as teachers, we rarely get the chance to be in the real world.

As I toured the facilities, my excitement for this special opportunity grew and my eyes IMG_1553were opened to the true value of the Kenan Fellowship program. There should be thousands of innovative opportunities like this, to broaden our educator perspectives and to remind of us of why we do what we do. Inside the labs were chemists and chemical engineers, working to create adhesives that both strengthen and increase the aesthetics of cars. My mentor John Lean described some of the new types of adhesives they were working on for electric car batteries, along with showing me the hundreds of thousands of dollars of equipment used to test LORD’s adhesives. One machine even crash tests the strength of their adhesives to mimic that of a car crash…woah. 

My mind churned with ideas I could bring back to my kinders…big picture ideas that would help them see the value in science and how it solves problems and affects our daily lives. At this point, I still had no clue what I would be doing in the labs during my 3 weeks, yet I already had the beginnings of ideas for what my students might explore or create. I met with my mentor at the end of my first day to discuss my project, which would relate to my project for my students. Starting with the end in mind, I asked him what he sees as a need in preparing students for STEM careers like LORD. He began describing the impact that many variables play in affecting different outcomes of the same process, and then handed me a large notebook of process mapping information, accompanied by the actual process I would be experimenting with. I would be completing the same process repeatedly, bonding 2 metal coupons with the same adhesive, and after a day taken to cure for each batch, I would use an Instron machine to measure the force required to pull the coupons apart. He explained that while I might follow the same steps each time, there are different variables that will affect different outcomes in the force measurement each time. I was tasked with creating a process map to outline the steps, and then identifying any variables (room temperature, dispersion of adhesive, coverage of substrate, amount of glass beads, size of static mixer, etc.) that could possibly influence different outcomes in the process. The ultimate goal of my experimentation was to control the outside variables as much as possible in order to obtain similar results each time. Ready….GO!

My first thought: Kindergarteners? Variables? Process mapping? Hmmm…this should be interesting.

My second thought: Me? Dispensing adhesive? Bonding metal? Process mapping? Measuring force?

My third thought: There must be value in this process…what is it, and how can I share it with my students?

And when I thought back to how LORD affects the daily lives and safety of people with their products, I realized why it was so important that a process be as controlled as possible so that it can produce the consistently proven results it was designed to produce – results that end up in people’s cars. And that moment was when my head started spinning with ways I could not only keep the big picture ideas I had started with in mind, but blend those ideas with this new important aspect that my experience was already beginning to teach me.

IMG_1551Now you might be wondering how I’m so comfortable using the lingo and terms above, maybe not…but if I had read this post before I began my externship, I would most definitely be wondering. The open-ended experience of creating a process map for my task, with nothing to go off of other than an abstract formula and example of the process mapping for making scrambled eggs (and Google), is what got me to this point of comfort with the terminology and steps of the process. And the best part – creating the process map gave me a genuine appreciation for how a challenge, without prior modeling or an outline of steps to follow for completion, can engage and grow someone. It also effectively prepared me for the chemical research and experimentation I began this past week. No one gave chemical engineers a guide to the adhesives they would create: they used their background knowledge and resources to problem-solve through trial and error, making mistakes along the way as I have. And it’s not often that I’m on the learning side of a challenge, but I am LOVING it! THANK YOU, KENAN FELLOWS PROGRAM!!!!

Wrap-Up: My Transforming View of Science

When I was offered this externship, I really wasn’t sure how I would get the job done. The description sounded so cool but also so out of my element, which is part of what drew me to it, but also what made it a little intimidating. But it has also taught me about myself and how I should never be scared to take on something that seems “not me.” Just because I have to wear a lab coat and safety glasses and am tasked with chemical research does not mean I can’t do it! The stigmas embedded in the words science and chemistry are probably what have held me back from diving all in for many years, and I know I’m not alone in that – there are many other teachers and students who feel that same way. Using a bunch of big words and conducting random experiments can seem confusing and meaningless…science is not. Now science can be complex, but with a growth mindset, those complex things can be learned when there is meaning and purpose behind them. This experience in the real world is just what I needed to continue transforming my view of science, and I am so excited to present science to my students from the new perspective I am learning this summer! Stay tuned to see how my project for Kindergarteners develops!

I. Teachers demonstrate leadership. · IV. Teachers facilitate learning for their students. · V. Teachers reflect on their practice.

Year-long Journey, Lifelong Connections #18KFPD

Photo Jun 20, 11 27 02 AMI started my summer this year packing my bags to head for Cullowhee, North Carolina, almost the farthest western point of the state! What I knew: I’d get to meet the 24 other educators from across the state, who had also been selected as 2018-19 Kenan Fellows; and that I would have a week packed with valuable professional development and fun! On my 4.5 hour drive though, my mind was full of wonders about what the trip would be like and who I’d connect with!

The Kenan Fellows program gives educators the opportunity to learn for several weeks in the STEM fields we should be preparing our students for, so I had no doubt that everyone I encountered would have a passion for authentic learning experiences that prepare students for the real world. As I prepared for the trip, the words of former Kenan Fellow and friend Janet Pride resonated with me- that I will learn so much during my fellowship year and connect with SO many awesome educators who will impact my journey forever! And those are the words I clung to during that overwhelming first afternoon, loaded with initial information in a room full of new faces. It always takes a little bit of time to get settled into those new situations that throw you out of your comfort zone. However I knew this week would be a key time to meet and connect with other fellows who are in the same intimidating position as myself, each of us tasked with creating an internship classroom application product (many of us working with no other fellows assigned to our specific company), still uncertain of what exactly that product will look like or how to make it happen. Knowing we would only have a couple chances to bond face-to-face during the entire fellowship, I went into the trip wanting to make the most of my time at the Summer Institute week and soak in as many relationships and as much learning as I could!

As I reflect on the Summer Institute experience now, it is evident that the connections I made in that week are what got me through the uncertainties I entered the week with and what will continue to get me through the remaining uncertainty ahead. Collaborating and building relationships with others last week helped relieve my fears and grow me in many ways.

-Collaborative coding: Right off the bat, we were broken into teams for an ice-breaker activity to code a Sphero ball to follow a given path without any measuring device. The word coding always intimidated me, because I didn’t really understand it myself and consequently, was slightly scared to bring it down to the Kindergarten level. This was something I would have been scared to try without working in a team setting. The collaborative nature of the activity not only helped me approach the challenge with confidence, but it also helped me see ways coding could be integrated into the Kindergarten curriculum. Brainstorming time with a team, particularly Lisa Cook, my fellow Kinder teacher Kenan Fellow, was so valuable and inspired me to do more with coding next year!!

-I’m not alone: For my particular internship, I am tasked with the challenge of bringing work with adhesives and material coatings through chemical research to the Kindergarten level (#kindersCAN) . I want to make this a meaningful project that will help our youngest students to learn and create in the ways of STEM careers in need of prepared employees. I have not started the internship aspect of the fellowship, but I am still unsure as to where my project will go. Getting to know the other fellows reminded me that I’m not alone in this uncertainty; there is also opportunity to give feedback to and collaborate with others on projects along the way. I’m so pumped to work closely with my team, Tamara Barabasz, Annah Riedel, Carrie Robledo, and Ashley Luersman, over the course of the year!

Photo Jun 22, 9 38 18 AM.jpg

-Digital scavenger hunt: I had never used the Goosechase app for a scavenger hunt, much less did I understand how our team would approach and solve all the missions we were tasked with. But working as a team, our different strengths made it possible to attempt it all and have fun while doing it! And it modeled what an educational cross-curricular scavenger hunt could look like in the classroom! It was a day-long endeavor!

–The classroom perspective: Many times, we all mentioned that we could relate to how our students probably feel at times. It’s important for me to take that piece back to my classroom, remembering how clueless or overwhelmed students may feel when presented with a challenging task. And reflecting on how much the collaborative environment positively impacted me in those situations during the week, I want my students to feel that same way about collaborating, even if they’re only 5. You don’t have to do it all alone..we are better together.

Advice: find your “marigolds”: Closing advice from Kenan Fellows Alumni Network members echoed what I had been reflecting on throughout the week, particularly when Erin Fisher mentioned the importance of finding your “marigolds”- your educator “people” who can be found both inside and outside of your school building. Education can be an isolating profession at times, as it can cause teachers to feel boxed into their classrooms without adult connections that help them grow. Your “marigolds” are the people who support you and your risk-taking and help make your experience as an educator connected, collaborative, and amazing. And I am so grateful to this experience for connecting me with a whole new network of people!


With the challenging year ahead, I know I couldn’t do it without this group of professionals and friends that I’ve gained this past week! The networking aspect of the fellowship, while just one part of it, has already been so valuable in connecting me with amazing people who I will continue to learn from for more than just our fellowship year. So Janet, you were right! In those slightly uncomfortable experiences, it’s the people that make it all feel possible – people to build relationships with, to collaborate with, to relate to, to learn from. People and the relationships they build are similarly the foundation of what a classroom community should be, and what often motivates and drives and success. I look forward to continuing to grow outside my comfort zone, not alone, but alongside my marigolds!

I. Teachers demonstrate leadership. · IV. Teachers facilitate learning for their students. · V. Teachers reflect on their practice.

A Much Needed Reminder that #kindersCAN

IMG_1106It is hard to believe that my 4th year of teaching is coming to a close. Being completely transparent, this year has challenged me in ways I have never experienced, both resulting from professional growth opportunities that I have voluntarily taken on and from the quality and quantity of needs among the students in my class. There have been glimpses of joy and rewarding moments that have of course made the year worthwhile, but I have also experienced my fair share of difficulty in a variety of ways. Even though I know it is my job to meet my learners where they are, it has felt discouraging at times to modify and even totally change routines and activities that have worked for past years. With many years ahead of me in my career and only a few behind me, I predict that there will be many “types” of school years, each unique in growing my practice and building the educator stamina that I have been building since year 1.

I have been aching to introduce my class to my brand new cart of 7 Chromebooks, devices recently rolled out to WCPSS classrooms at the end of this school year. But for several weeks, the feelings of a challenging and overwhelming school year, combined with continuous end of year literacy and math testing, prevented me from jumping right in with those devices. But with 6 days left of school and a newfound inspiration to take a risk, I decided to go for it. All year, I had planned to facilitate the creation of digital portfolios for each student in my room, and I was determined not to let that goal slip away. Student digital portfolios are a new push in the district, as a means of student housing of and reflection on work over time. The Kindergarten team and school leaders at my school believe that this should start for students at the beginning of their school experience in Kindergarten. So here is how I used our new Chromebook devices to make this happen on the Kindergarten level!

1. Practice logging in right away first quarter.

Yes, there is QR code option for younger elementary students to log into their Google account (a very long, time consuming process), and yes, that makes it faster. But in the long run, if students have been logging in the same way since Kindergarten, they will be faster in 3rd grade rather than having to learn “the long way” then. My team has learned the value in this over the past few years working alongside our ITF Chris Tuttell, and we have learned and evolved in our practice of working with Kinders in Google over the years. This was the first year we started the logging in process right away first quarter, and it has paid off! And now that we have our Chromebooks, several steps of this process (computer login + going into Chrome + entering web address) are eliminated and will allow us to move even more quickly next year!

2. Add work in Google Drive throughout the year.

Digital portfolios are really just a reflection on favorite pieces of work from the year, including work done in Google Drives. As the group prepared to create their Sites, they completed work in their Google Drives that would be linked to their sites, such as an animal picture and shape replication in Google Draw and an all about me Google Slide.

3. Advance student leaders in the digital portfolio process.

We have used upper grade student mentors while logging in and working in Google over the years, and I highly recommend this with younger students. With ambitions of having students create digital portfolios on Google Sites to link work from throughout the year, we started with a small cohort of K students from a couple of classrooms. This had 2 benefits: we could provide greater support to a small group of students as they created, and then these students could be tech leaders to assist the whole group in creating theirs.

These student leaders even taught our staff, along with educators around the state, about the benefit of a learning portfolio and how they reflected on their work from the year.

 

4. Start small with new devices.

With my own uncertainty about how to structure the use of 7 Chromebooks for 21 students, coupled with never having used a Chromebook myself, I decided that our after school program with 5 Kinders in my room would be the perfect setting to try them out! Starting small gave me the comfort I needed to go big! 

5. Create and add work to sites in small groups, with student tech helpers.

After reviewing Chromebook etiquette and procedures for taking out and putting away, students were put into 3 groups of 7. Student leaders who had already made Google Sites portfolios were strategically dispersed into each group. Groups of 7 rotated to 3 learning centers, one of which being Google Site creation on the Chromebooks. In this first step, students created a Site through their Google Drive, using the New Google Sites option. They worked specifically on the home page, typing their name and site title, customizing colors and background images, and linking in an all about me Google Slide. Next, we will add a Kindergarten page and link in more work!


After a tough school year, and with only 6 days left with this group of students, this was just the joy that I and they needed. Having 21 Kindergarten students successfully get their sites up and running reminded me of my strong belief in the capability of young learners. Each year brings a new set of challenges, talents, needs, gifts, and unpredictable circumstances. But I am reminded to embrace change and challenged to find the structures and modifications so that each year, #kindersCAN continue to do amazing things.

I. Teachers demonstrate leadership. · II. Teachers establish a respectful environment for a diverse population of students. · IV. Teachers facilitate learning for their students. · V. Teachers reflect on their practice.

The Game-Changer for Success

Opportunity context plays a large role in a person’s confidence, and therefore, learning. I was lucky to grow up in an environment where all influences encouraged me to pursue my dreams. Not only was I taught to go after my dreams, I was told that I would reach them if I put my mind to it with practice and determination. I could be anything I wanted to be with the right amount of studying and schooling. I never had to question what I was capable of because of the mindset instilled in me since birth.

As early as Kindergarten, it is clear who comes in with a work ethic to persist through challenges, who is learning that practice leads to growth, and who already believes that “you either have smarts or you don’t.” Growth versus fixed mindsets within students not only affect their overall confidence, the type of mindset a child carries also affects his or her level of academic achievement. Students who don’t believe they can grow come in believing they will not be successful, and their mindset causes the outcome to be a “self-fulfilling prophecy”- what they believe about themselves comes true. For many students entering Kindergarten, school is a foreign concept. Not only is picking up a pencil a new thing for some, but following multi-step directions, asking for help, and independently taking responsibility for personal items are all brand new concepts. It takes practice for many students to adapt when they have not been to school at all, did not receive quality preschool with valuable Kindergarten preparation, or did not go for the length of time of their peers. Children are aware of this gap, and many of those who have not had as much school and academic exposure seem to believe that they will always struggle. Many are scared to try new things…like tracing the letters in their name or raising their hand to respond to a question. They see others doing it with such confidence and believe “they just don’t have it.”

Here are some quotes, some amidst tears and hyperventilation, that I have heard this year reflecting a fixed mindset:

“I can’t do it.”

“This is too hard.”

“I’m scared…I can’t….”

“But I don’t know how.”

“Oh I wasn’t raising my hand…I wouldn’t know that answer.”

“I’m always gonna have bad days and everyone else is always gonna have good days.” (referring to behavior)

IMG_0115This fixed mindset in students becomes a problem. And Kindergarten is the pivotal age to begin addressing this issue of mindset, as the achievement and opportunity gap begins dividing students from the first day of K on. Their beliefs about themselves are holding them back from where they could be. Research shows that when we practice a skill, our brain gets stronger and more proficient with that skill; and the more we get into the habit of absorbing new information and taking part in the struggle of the learning process, the better we get at new skills and at learning in general. Contrary to what was believed for many years, there aren’t “math” people or “word” people…we can all be any kind of people we want if we practice and persist through challenges.

This year more than years past, it was clear that I needed to teach students about the science behind their brains. Many students weren’t going to do much growing until they believed they COULD grow. So here are some ways that we are learning about and practicing a growth mindset on a weekly basis:

Morning Meeting: Morning meeting is a time to come together as a class each morning, greet one another, share out, and focus our day for a successful start. Morning meeting has provided a lot of outlets for focusing on growth mindset. We have used this time to learn about a growth mindset, and that intelligence is not fixed. Additionally, when sharing out, students often respond to mindset prompts and share with others what they are proud of, something that is a challenge for them, something they can’t do YET, etc. We also use morning meeting to reflect on growth and show new student work compared to previous student work, giving students visual evidence that their brain has grown.

Class Dojo Videos: This is where the bulk of growth mindset instruction took place and how students learned about the secret behind their brains. Even if your school does not use Class Dojo, these videos can be located on youtube as well. These videos have given us the language (matched with visuals) to talk about how our learning can change, rather than our learning being fixed. The first video showed us Mojo’s (the main character) original thinking: that you’re either good at something (like math), or you aren’t. His thinking isn’t resolved until the 2nd video. After watching the first video, I took a vote to see who believed that “smarts” are either something you have or you don’t; and who believed you could get better with practice. Only 2 students originally believed you could get better with practice.. A couple weeks later, I took the vote again, and everyone unanimously believed practice helps you improve and learning is not fixed. Below is the first of the five growth mindset videos, and the first of three perseverance videos.

IMG_0131Language: The videos we have watched and conversations happening in our morning meeting have transformed our overall language. Now you might hear an “I can’t do it…YET.” And if that yet doesn’t make it to the end of the phrase, you can bet the people sitting near that student will chime in with a YET to remind their friend of a growth mindset. Another phrase we love and have adopted from the Class Dojo videos is to “take the challenge,” rather than run away or give up. That has really taken the place of “this is too hard,” as students are now inspired to “take the challenge” and get better at whatever skill they are practicing. A fellow K teacher on my team, Claire Morrison, does an amazing job instilling a growth mindset in her students! She has also adopted similar language with her students through the Class Dojo videos, and they took the phrase to the next level and made it their class motto (see below). It is hanging in the front of the room signed by all the students in her class. Also, check out her anchor chart (see right) on transforming language to reflect a growth mindset! This anchor chart is our next step during Morning Meeting this week…thanks, Claire!

IMG_0107Focus on practice: We talk about practice all the time now. Students are seeing that the learning activities we take part in throughout the day ARE practice that help us learn.  Tasks are no longer scary, they are practice. And students are less scared to take risks, because they know that trying it is how you learn. This has been a big mindset shift. A couple of students have used the phrase “practice makes perfect,” and are usually now stopped by other students who remind them, “there’s no such thing as perfect…we can always get better!” Once recently, a student got an answer wrong, and another student giggled. One student got very defensive for her peer who had gotten the answer wrong, and said “It’s not funny! He is learning, and you have to try it to learn!” In another instance, a couple of students were questioned by another student for having to complete their work at a teacher’s table for extra support, an outsider listening in again jumped to their defense, saying “They may not have had as much practice as you before…sitting with the teacher helps them get better practice to learn!” As a group, our language has transformed, and when we go back to “old language,” you can see how other students jump to the defense.

Activities where learning isn’t easy: Various 4C/STEM activities have helped us practice using a growth mindset. These activities really show students what taking on a challenge feels like. And we have seen, just like in our videos, that just because you take on a challenge does not mean you’ll get it figured out in the snap of a finger. You have to persist through the challenge even when it continues to be difficult, or even when you sometimes fall into “the dip.” We are finding that learning can feel like a struggle, and not to run away from the struggle.

 

Screen Shot 2018-01-20 at 10.37.26 AMReflection: After these challenging STEM activities, it is always important to reflect on the activities and on student mindset. We ask what was easy, what was hard, and next steps. Students are now identifying times when they went into “the dip,” or when they really had to show perseverance to get through a challenge, or how they still need a little more practice to master a skill. Reflection is also what we do in our Morning Meeting, when sharing personal experiences or responding to Mojo’s experiences in the video clips we watch. We reflect orally often, and at this point in the year, have also started reflecting using self-assessment exit tickets after a lesson. We’re seeing how reflection helps us identify areas of struggle so that we can improve.

Taking some time out of the day to teach growth mindset has been critical to my students’ learning this year. You can see through the above example descriptions the new and improved ways students are talking about and approaching learning. Growth mindset, in essence, embodies the #kindersCAN movement – a belief in the capabilities of our youngest learners, and consequently, a belief in all learners and ourselves.

During my first year of teaching (around 3 years ago), growth mindset was a big district push, and I learned a lot about it; but this is the first time I have shared about it with my students, and the outcome has been amazing: students are learning how to think of themselves as learners, but also learning character strengths that will bring them success in life. I believe that growth mindset is a springboard for overall confidence which, in many senses, is vital to a person’s success. Confidence- a belief in oneself- is what makes someone unstoppable, and confidence starts building from birth on. Often, confidence makes the difference between thinking you have value or not, being able to effectively defend yourself or not, creating aspirations you want to live up to or not, turning that tassel or not, going to college or not, following your dreams or not, maybe even taking a path no one else in your family took or not.  It is easy to take confidence for granted when it was instilled in you since birth, but more than any other content I learned in school, I recognize that confidence is what got me where I am now. Growing up, I didn’t realize how privileged I was to always know in my mind that I would be successful if I put my mind to it (aka confidence)….and to never confidence1worry about whether taking a risk could result in complete failure, or whether I’d have to defend a questionable choice I made, or whether I’d be capable of making it through school. I always had confidence I could do it all, and it is vital to remember that not everyone’s experiences instill that level of confidence! Building up confidence in learners from day one is really more important than anything else they could learn; and it is part of what many groups or students need in order to be on an equitable playing field with their peers. So before assuming students “can’t do it,” help them believe that they can; give them the right level of instruction, tools, and opportunities for practice; have them reflect on what they can do when they have a growth mindset; and work with them to build confidence that pours into all the areas of their lives. That’s one of the best ways we can ensure equity and genuinely change lives in this profession.