I’d like for you to think about the very first day of school you can remember. I can clearly remember mine - Kindergarten, day one. I specifically remember one very BIG part of it… the dinosaur. I remember walking into Ms. Levi’s class and seeing a HUGE dinosaur skeleton made out of cardboard pieces. I’m sure if I saw that same skeleton now, I would laugh at how not big it probably actually was, but to a five year-old, I’m sure it was pretty impressive.
I remember the wonder. The excitement. The feeling of butterflies in my stomach. The nervousness as my mom let go of my hand and walked out the door. I was alone, but I was ready.
This past spring, I accepted a new position in my district that transitioned me from the high school to several elementary schools. I could easily write a whole post about why I decided to make the move (maybe that will come in the future), but that’s not what this post is about. This post is about a very specific experience that I had the opportunity to be a part of just the other day, that I know was a seriously formative moment in my growth as an educator.
Being the new guy around at the school, I was still taking some time to settle in to my new school. I saw my principal in the hall just as kids were starting to arrive on the first day for students, and I asked how I could help. She encouraged me to help greet the kids, but to definitely go support the Kindergarteners as they arrived a bit later in the morning.
When the time came, I made my way down to the Kindergarten wing and met the teachers. Their energy was contagious. Their excitement for the new year and for greeting their new students was palpable. One of the teachers brought the whole team together just as we were going to open the doors to welcome the families, and said “Alright everyone, HANDS IN! Let’s go, KINDERGARTEN on three! One! Two! Three! KINDERGARTEN!” Like the Patriots getting ready for a big game, Team Kindergarten was ready to go. The doors opened, and parents and our newest students made their way into the school for the first time.
As the doors were flung open, the teachers stood on each side of the hall, clapping, saying hello and cheering for their new students. I’m not sure if this is something the teachers do every year, but I immediately thought of how at the high school graduation, the same graduation that these five year olds will most likely attend in a mere twelve years, the graduating seniors make their way into the gymnasium for the commencement through a cheering and clapping gauntlet of high school teachers.
As the students made their way down the hall way, clutching their parent’s hand, many looked around in awe. This was when I found myself returning to Ms. Levi’s class. I remembered that feeling - that nervous excitement, the feeling of hopeful uncertainty. I watched as the children made their way into their classrooms, found their cubby (all by themselves, one added) and then took a seat at their desks. One girl, as she sat down, took her time, feeling and tracing her name on the laminated name tag on her desk. Full of pride, she looked up at her dad, smiling a big, toothy grin.
These students were ready whether they knew it or not. They were being welcomed into a nurturing place of caring, respect and community. This is what it’s all about.
Okay, yeah, so maybe this post is a bit rosy in the glasses department. Still, I think it’s important for us to think and reflect on new beginnings, no matter how big or how small. For me, at least this year, it’s a whole different kind of first day of school, but one that I welcome and that I’m ready for.
What can we learn from a Kindergartner’s first day of school? I think, as teachers, we can do our best to facilitate and celebrate that same wonder and awe that those little guys felt when they walked in to their classrooms. Believe me - I know (first hand) that fifteen year olds might not be feeling the same way, but I do believe that all students have a little part of them that is excited for a new beginning. Often times at the older grades, understandably new beginnings might manifest more in the social emotional hemisphere of the student experience, and the same might be true for many younger students, but as teachers, it’s our responsibility to nurture these important transitional moments in our students’ lives.
I’m grateful for reliving the wonder, the excitement, those pesky butterflies, that feeling of dread as Mom or Dad walked away and back out through the doors. Over the past few weeks, as I’ve transitioned to my new position, I’ve felt many of the same feelings as those Kindergarteners. I hope those students find their own dinosaur, just like I did, something that they will hold on to and use to help them remember this special time in their lives.
But, just like those kids looked up and saw their teachers clapping and cheering as they walked through those doors, I feel supported. I’m ready, too.
This post was originally published on my co-authored blog, fortheloveofreading.org.
We’ve all been in a class of some kind (professional development, undergrad, graduate) where the instructor hands out sticky notes and asks you to write down a quick response as a check for understanding. In my experience, I’ve had to do a variety of things with this sticky note, including but not limited to: post it on the board, put it on my forehead, post it on a peers forehead, crumple it up and throw it to a random person across the room, etc. The conceits of this tried-and-trusted teaching strategy are no-brainers/important buzzwords: check for understanding, making connections or formative assessments. You get the idea. Teaching 101: student responses frame instruction, in the short-term or the long-term.
We English teachers especially love these kinds of strategies. An essential component of our curriculum (although, unfortunately one that is the first to get the chopping block when we get swamped) is the incorporating the reflective practice. As I tell my students, reflecting is a natural, human being thing that we all need to know how to do in order to be successful. In order to be a real person, you have to know how to take in information, consider how you feel about it and then tell someone about it. Wash. Rinse. Repeat.
But what if we took this to the next level? Are there ways to extend these reflective moments within our practice? Can we make them even more of a natural part of our teaching using a digital learning tool?
I’ve had a lot of success with a tool called Padlet this year. I first heard about it at a conference a few years ago, but never got around to trying it. To be honest, I first associated it with a more elementary level teaching tool (don’t ask why, I can’t remember), but over the past year as I’ve played around with it, I’ve quickly figured out that this tool could be an essential part of my arsenal of digital learning tools, especially in an ELA classroom.
Essentially, Padlet gives teachers and students an opportunity to quickly share work. Think of it as a digital bulletin board that can put sticky notes on, except these sticky notes are even cooler: you can embed images, videos, hyperlinks, etc. Anything you can attach in an email you can attach to a post on padlet. Here’s a screenshot:
In this example, my students used Padlet to share how they thought Rebecca Skloot, the author of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, used primary resource devices to enhance the storytelling.
In my classroom, Padlet has become an essential part of the digital learning landscape. In a flash, students can access my Padlet domain (they have it bookmarked) and can easily add their thoughts to Padlets large and small. I teach my classes in reading groups (students are grouped in fours or fives at all times – inspired by @msbethhughes), so Padlet allows for me to quickly formatively assess my students and the work they are doing in their groups. Plus, it easily allows for me to see where the whole class is at.
Students will often discuss something in their small groups and then add their observations/writing to the Padlet so the whole class can see. I’ve used Padlet in my classes for art critiques, thesis statement sharing, research collaboration and creative writing.
You might be thinking: “this all sounds great, but haven’t you heard of a Google Doc?” Yes, the products created in Padlet could be created in a Google Doc, but in Padlet, the interface and ease of use gives the students a more streamlined and accessible experience.
Padlet is free to use, but if you pay $45 a year, you can upgrade to Padlet Backpack. Backpack gives you added functunality and security, including:
I don’t work for Padlet. Really. If you haven’t checked it out, I say go for it. The more tools we can leverage for student response, the better. Our students are better for it and we are stronger teachers because of it. If we aren’t finding ways to be responsive in our teaching, we are doing our craft, and more importantly our students, a disservice.
Originally published on Edutopia.org on 6/29/2015.
I’ve learned that the most impactful form of discipline isn’t a reactionary approach, but a proactive one. A mentor teacher of mine once told me something that I think about every day:
“Always remember: there are more important people in the room than you.”
In my first five years of teaching, I haven’t thrown a student out of my room yet. Don’t misinterpret: I’ve come close. I’ve been lucky enough to figure something out pretty early on in my career about the way I want to teach. I certainly don’t think I have found the way to promote a culture of respect and authenticity in my classes, but the very least, I’ve figured something out that works for me, something that’s at the root of who I am as a teacher and what I think the profession of teaching should be all about.
I work every day to build and maintain positive, meaningful relationships with my students. It’s a long, hard process that often takes a while. I’ve noticed that when mutual respect is achieved between me and a class of high school students, great things can happen. Powerful conversations take place. The best part? The need for “discipline” disappears. You just don’t need it. There’s no room for it. My classes are respectful of me and interested in what I have to say simply because I reciprocate.
When I was in high school, I respected the teachers who respected me back. I took interest in those teachers who took interest in me. When we reminisce on the “glory days” of high school, I’m sure we all can think of a teacher or two who was more interested in hearing their own voice than relating to teenagers. It’s funny, because we often forget that students (really at any age) are much keener than we presume – they know which of their teachers are interested in establishing relationships, and which aren’t.
As teachers, we show up at work every day for one reason: our students. We are invested in them: their well-being, comfort, and learning rest and rely on the learning community that we establish in our classroom every day. It’s our responsibility to give those students a safe place where they feel valued, accepted, and cared for.
Students need fewer people in their lives telling them “this is how it’s supposed to be” and more trusted adults saying “this is who you are right now, and thats okay.” I try to meet my students where they are when they walk in the door, but not forgetting about where they could be going.
At some point during any given school day, I’ll hear or read about an initiative that doesn’t necessarily make me uncomfortable, but perks up my ears. Don’t get me wrong: I firmly believe that new ideas or policy in education are important, and promote and foster change in the “business” of what we do. Common Core is a good thing. New policies and procedures in educator supervision and evaluation are good things. It is important for the culture of education to continue to evolve, shift, and change based on the world in which our students live. This is a fact. Things are changing, so teachers must too.
But, with that being said, one thing that shouldn’t change is our commitment to the social and emotional well-being of our students. This is at the center of what I do.
High school, like many of us can remember, is a weird time for a lot of reasons. Spoiler alert: most teenagers are more worried about who they are going to sit next to at lunch than their English homework. Instead of condemning this mindset - only continuing to fulfill the role of being the mean adult looking over your shoulder - it’s important for trusted adults (in and out of school) to recognize that adolescence is a critical point in a young person’s life. Neurons are firing on overtime trying to make sense of the stresses of seeking a place to fit in. Of course, social pressures and mores take precedent. It’s natural.
As teachers, we have to make a choice: We can either ignore this behavior, putting it off as just a “phase” and playing down the social-emotional needs of our students; or, we can recognize that this stress has a direct impact on student learning and develop and implement effective strategies that teach our students how to cope with this very normal time. The strategy I’ve chosen to focus on is creating and maintaining positive and meaningful relationships with my students, and when I leverage these relationships to promote a culture of understanding and respect in my classes, amazing things can happen.