Saturday, September 17, 2016

Walking the Walk

One of the life skills I try to impress upon my students is the fact that every mistake is an opportunity to learn. I also try to teach my kids to get the whole story or get to know a person before they make a judgment. The first is especially important for me because I feel like all of the pressure to score well on the tests we gives makes students feel like mistakes are bad things. 

It's easy to look at these things from the lens of doing school work - what is one mistake on a math paper? Butting in front of your friend in line? Calling out while somebody else is talking? All mistakes we can learn from, but at the end of the day they won't change our lives. 

But what about real life? This week I was part of a very challenging situation. It made me judgmental. I assumed. I didn't think about the fact that there's always part of the story that we'll probably never know. I questioned and "what if-ed" many different things. I forgot that every experience in our lives should be looked at as an opportunity to learn. 

After some time I was able to look at the event from a different perspective. And as I've reflected over the past few days, I realized that I needed to do what I teach my kids. We all make mistakes. While there are always some sort of consequences (another valuable lesson I try to teach my kids), mistakes don't have to define a person. People deserve a chance to learn from their mistakes. Judging a person based on one event means that you never really get to know who that person truly is beyond that one action. 

My hope is that everybody involved in this situation has the opportunity to learn from their mistakes and move on. I know I have, and I hope to do my part to help others do so as well. 

Sunday, September 4, 2016

First Week Reflection

Well, week 1 is in the books. As I look back over the learning and thinking I did this summer, I found some things that I wanted to do that I didn't (yet) and some things that I wasn't even thinking about that I did.

For example, in this post I talked about letting my kids set up the classroom. That didn't happen. I arranged my desk, my other furniture, and my students' desks so I would have a large group area, places for small groups to work, some places where individual students could go to have quiet time, and specific places for my two groups to have their materials. I haven't given up on this idea, but it just hasn't happened yet. What I did decide to do came from our experience at our first inservice day. I felt comfortable and was willing to take risks that day because of the people who were in my group. So I decided to let my kids pick their seats, which I have done in the past, but this year I'm going to let them stay there. Usually, after the first week, I would get an idea of who the talkers were, which best buds sat next to each other, which groups needed a better mix of stronger learners, and then I would regroup the kids. This year I'm not. I'm going to let them stay there for another week or so, and then I'm going to ask them who they'd like their new group to be. It was actually a really cool experience because when my afternoon class came in to pick their seats, one boy even said, "I don't think we should sit together. Sometimes we don't get along." And the other boy agreed and picked a different seat. I'm curious to see where this little seating experiment takes me.

One of the best things I did this summer was set my goals for the year, and one of them was to incorporate more student directed learning. To start off each year I do the same set of team building activities, and the purpose of these is to help the kids get to know each other and to create reminder posters for the students to refer back to throughout the year. The result of my first activity is typically a "how my actions affect others" poster, then I do a "problem maker" poster and a "problem solver" poster. This year, as we did the first activity and started to reflect, my kids made some awesome statements that didn't really fit into the framework I had used in the past. I caught myself starting to tell the kids that their ideas were good, but I wanted to focus on something else. I stopped, and I wrote down their statements. I used those statements to start a "Wall of Learning" in my classroom (pictures coming on Tuesday) where we will be posting any comments the kids make that show they have learned something about life. Does it feel weird to not have my model charts up on the wall? It sure does. But I'm excited to take the ideas of growth mindset and student directed learning and put them into practice. I'm also happy to realize that I have already given my students the opportunity to direct the learning in our classroom.

A final change came on parent night. Our directions were to start with a brief, 2-3 minute introduction about ourselves and then speak about the curriculum. What the students will learn was to be the focus of our parent night. I respectfully disagree with that. If the parents want to know what the kids will learn, they'll look up our curriculum documents. I believe that parents are coming to see who their child is spending their days with and what their child's life will be like while they are at school. So with that in mind, I introduced myself, I talked about the required topics, and then I did a growth mindset activity with the parents that I had done with my students. It was amazing! I learned that my parents are as scared, if not more scared, than the kids to share their ideas and make mistakes. But I also learned that the parents thought the ideas of growth mindset made sense and were great things to practice. I hope to use our discussion about being brave as a connection for all of my communication with my parents this year.

It wasn't all butterflies and unicorns, but I will say that it was a pretty good start. I'm still adjusting to having two distinct groups of kids in my room, and I'm still struggling with how to feel equally connected to each. But I'm sure that will come with time. Right now I'm going to enjoy the rest of my long weekend with family and friends, and I hope that you all will do the same!