SECRET REVEALED: I’m pretty much a word kind of person. I minored in English in college, and spent seven glorious years teaching freshman English. I like books and whatnot. It has only been in the later part of my life that I’ve come to see the beauty found in numbers. Anywho, for some reason the poem by Wordsworth has been stuck in my head tonight.
The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon;
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers,
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not.—Great God! I'd rather be
A pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathèd horn.
The poem was basically Wordsworth’s complaint against the first industrial revolution. He was saying that people are too focused on materialism, and are missing out on the beauty all around them. I guess I was thinking about the poem because lately, I’ve been trying to be really focused on INTENT. In my classes I am trying to keep my purpose right in front of me — honing in on what support my student’s growth and understanding. I am also trying to push my students to focus on WHY they are here at school. I actually said to a fourth grader today, “It isn’t enough for you to sit here. You have to be present and mindful while we are together. We are doing something important.” I don’t know. He probably just thought I was a crazy hippy, bu the did lean in and actually begin to put some effort into his work.
I like to watch/listen to “Real Rap with Reynolds”. He is teaching school in Philadelphia - in fact today was his first day of classes. He is a thoughtful teacher who recognizes the power of making connections with students. It is impossible to teach someone when you don’t know them at all. I need to understand my students if I can help them develop stronger reading skills. This is a fact that I’ve known for a long time, but lately my intent has been to behave as though this truth is important. This means that I have to be fully present in the classroom, and I have to listen.
PRO TIP: You should listen to your students. Teachers are NOT naturally good listeners. We are pretty great talkers, and sometimes great explainers, but listening isn’t always our strongest muscle. Yet, when it comes to real learning - listening is EVERYTHING. When I lean in to my intent for the day - for the lesson — for the section of the lesson that I am on — my objective becomes clear. If you throw actually knowing my students into the mix, while then what happens in the classroom becomes much more powerful.
“This is a pretty sticky lesson,” one of my 4th grades told me at the end of reading. After I briefly panicked thinking someone had spilled something, I let him explain what he meant. He explained that reading about the Civil Rights Movement (our unit topic in reading) was good, but since we’d been acting it out, he felt like it was sticking in his brain. By the way, that was entire purpose, to get the content and the technique of making things “stick” into his brain, so that’s a pretty good Monday.
Meanwhile, I keep coming home to extra Offspring. Both the Offspring have discovered Besties who live nearby and they keep coming over here. I don’t mind one bit. Of course listening to a couple of boys discuss the ins and outs of various video games can be a little bit much, and hyper-active teenage girls are surprisingly loud, but it is great to see your kids happily enjoying life.
Keep moving forward,
Real Rap with Reynolds
WHEN I GOT TO SCHOOL, just slight before 7 a.m. this morning (I know, Debbie, you are right), it was already warm. Worse than it being warm early; it was muggy. My air conditioner kicked on around 7:30 a.m. and I knew it was gonna be a hot day out on the blacktop.
Today was also the first day of our newest session of Leadership Academy. I’ve got a brand new crop of 4th and 5th graders. The first day is always interesting because the group of students gathered aren’t necessarily friends who hang out with each other. It takes a little bit of time for the group to find their groove. The group of students we have gathered seemed particularly able to think about group dynamics and what it means to be a leader. We discussed why they had joined and many said things like, “I want to be around people who are leaders,” and one kid even said, “I want to spend my time with scholars”. It was pretty impressive vocabulary for a 9 year old.
I was slightly off my game today. Our schedule is all new, and I was thinking of an old transition time towards the later 1/2 of the day. I wasn’t late for my class, but the transition was sudden to me because I caught it just in time. The internal workings of a teacher’s thoughts have a tremendous impact on the students. I had to really lean in and focus to stay on track. I see the same group of students tomorrow, so I have an opportunity to be better prepared.
I suppose in a larger sense, our internal life is what impacts everyone around us. It isn’t just teachers. You can see it easily in a classroom, but it is true of my life outside of school, as well. When I am off-kilter internally it can easily spill out onto how I treat people around me, and how I react to whatever rolls my way. I desire to be the kind of person that can manage my own stresses in such a way that it doesn’t impact those around me, but sometimes I fall short. You know that feeling, right? You are running late, so you arrive short of breath and sort of discombobulated and that isn’t how you want to be. I was able to settle in, and focus. Using mindfulness in class has really helped me to remember to slow down and be in the moment.
Meanwhile, my 1st graders were so adorable today. They are so genuinely filled with joy at every tiny victory. They are working their way through a reading game, and got so excited as they leveled up. It was fantastic to see their faces glowing with joy as they correctly identified each letter and sound. I want to live in that kind of simple, honest happiness. Children are so naturally curious and open which is why it is such an awesome thing to be a teacher.
You probably won’t hear from me about day 8, as it happens to fall on the Offspring’s 14th birthday. That’s write I am HECKA old. We will no doubt spend the evening at Chipotle and then basking in the glory of her birthday.
Keep moving forward,
IT WAS THE FIRST professional development meeting of the new school year. If you crash-land in the middle of twitter, you’ll see a whole bunch of teachers posting about PD these days. As school starts, staff have many things that they have to do - figuring out schedules, complying with health and safety guidelines, determine after school (adjunct) duties, and all that kind of stuff. All of it is necessary, but not all of it is exciting. I happen to work for the greatest admin team ever, and they do a great job of finding ways to efficiently accomplish these things. Teachers meetings are a reality and finding ways to streamline them is an art.
Today we began the work of deciding the best ways to communicate with each other. This is really important work as we are only as strong as the ties that bind us together. A school can accomplish tons if it has a great group of teachers, but a school that has a united team of teachers can move mountains.
Teachers throw their hearts into their work, so it is no surprise that sometimes difficult or uncomfortable conversations pop up. As the year stretches on, and folks are hip-deep in the work, emotions can flare. It is no small thing to live in community, and it is even more difficult to be a community that is working together.
Communication is something I’ve thought about a lot. I don’t think it is my strongest ability. I can be bossy and slow to listen. I can also walk around with undiscussed hurt feelings. None of these things can lead to being able to function at the highest level. I have been working FOR YEARS on listening to others, and receiving information without being defensive. This is crazy, wicked tricky.
Lemme tell you what happened today. I am uber active in the teacher community on twitter. @jellison23. Twitter has an AMAZING community of teachers, and I’ve met some AWESOME real-life friends online. (Hey, Stephanie! What’s up, Clarissa!) . I made a comment today in one of the teacher feeds and got this reply: Why dismiss their feelings? Why not recognize that many people have math phobia and try to support them so that they being to transform their thoughts about math” . My first reaction was: “WHAT? How about you don’t slam me on the twitterverse. But then I thought about it. As far as the conversation goes, they had a valid point. I didn’t agree with them 100%, but listening to their view was actually helpful. So instead of posting an “Oh, no, you didn’t “ meme, I thanked them for helping me rethinking my response. See, growth. Of course, that is much, much, much easier in the digital world where I don’t have someone looking at me. Face to face is a lot more difficult. But here’s to continuing down that long, and winding road toward humanity.
Meanwhile, my leadership class starts tomorrow. I got over 30 applications for our after school club. We take 24 or so kids per semester, and so we have a wait list. I’m excited to work with a new group of kids. Who knows what they will pull off this year! It is always great to see a group of kids come together, and begin to build a team.
Keep moving forward,
NONE OF MY STUDENTS have ever read, had read to them, or seen the movie version of The LIon, The Witch and the Wardrobe. I have vivid memories of my dad reading this story to me and it is a pretty awesome story about a pretty amazing place. I’ve been reading it out loud to my reading class, and they sit in stunned silence listening as the story unfolds. Today we read chapter three in which, if you aren’t an expert, is when Lucy’s brother Edmond goes through the wardrobe into the magical land of Narnia, too. Up to this point, everyone just thought Lucy was crazy. One of my students sighed in relief when Edmund showed up, and turning to a neighbor said, “Now, they will believe her.”
I haven’t read them chapter four yet.
SPOILER ALERT. In chapter four, they return back home, and Lucy gleefully tells the rest of her siblings that she isn’t crazy and that Edmund went to Narnia too. AND THEN, Edmund says, “What are you going on about? I never went to Narnia.” That’s what I’m reading to them tomorrow, and I can only imagine how they are going to react. I remember having to re-read that section myself because there is NO WAY that is what Edmund said and did. It was.
I love watching children fall into a book; when they get pulled in by an interesting story and they can’t wait to hear what happens next. One of my awesome admins heard I was reading The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe to my reading class and said, “We have a whole set of it. They can follow along.” She delivered the pile of books, and sure enough, even though it is far above their reading level, written by an Englishman, and takes places in the 1940s, they are leaning in and reading it.
A good story is magic.
Last year, I ended every day with my reading class. My students were tired and all kinds of things have happened during all the recesses - someone wouldn’t let someone sit with someone else — it wasn’t a great time for reading. Now students arrive, fresh and open. We start each morning getting things sorted out — I call this start-up time. They make sure they have what they need for the day to begin. Each day, one student from each group is Captain. They get their official Captain’s badge, check reading logs, and make sure their team is ready to go. Then we read for ten minutes — all of us. The room is peaceful, and focused. I expected to have to spend a lot of time working on making sure that they read silently. I thought we would have to work our way up to reading for ten minutes. I was wrong. The pour over the books that we have, and I don’t have a ton in my room. They haven’t even had their turn at the library yet. None of this stops them, though. I walk around the room reading my book which currently is Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech. It is young adult fiction but if you’ve never read it — you really, really should. It is such a well-told story. I plan to read it to my class AFTER we finish finding out what happens in Narnia.
Also, thanks to some great training I received this summer, my students are also ACTING OUT some of the stories that we are beginning to read in our OFFICIAL TEXT. Our first unit is about government, and it can be pretty tough. I had to do some serious heavy lifting to help my students connect to the text last year. This year, however, we have an end goal in site: They will be creating a brief tableau for the Living History Museum exhibit on Times of Change in America. If you don’t know a tableau is basically a frozen scene. We are already working on our acting skills which is a great break from the rigorous text we are trying to tackle. “I need to move around.” One of my students said on Monday after we’d been working for awhile. I loved how clear he was about his own needs, and how comfortable he was about sharing them with me. It wasn’t too long after his comment that he, and his classmates found themselves trying to walk across the room as though they were traveling through knee-deep mud. That five minutes of acting gave him the movement he needed to return to the complex reading task at hand.
I guess today was all about not just a love of books, but a love of a school that thoughtfully pursues the best way to support students. We are always refining our craft and even upending a familiar schedule to make room for what is best for our students. This community is fortunate to have such a gathering of thoughtful administrators, and I feel blessed to spend my days with all my coworkers, and our students. As we all strive to provide the best education possible for our students, they lean in, straining to achieve their secret dreams, and all of us just . . .
Keep moving forward,
P.S. There is a giant movement on twitter called #clearthelists. Teachers are posting their classroom wishlists on Amazon and strangers from all over are clearing out those lists. I’ve included mine here, but if you are elsewhere around the globe, see if you can support a teacher in your area.
I took a couple of yoga classes awhile back, and discovered that among other obvious flaws, my balance is kind of crumby. I have a tendency to lean to the right. I blame gravity, but my instructor said otherwise. She pointed out that my muscles weren’t evenly developed and that, for whatever reason, my left side was able to maintain a pose and my right side had some serious work to do. The lesson I learned was that being off kilter pushes you to develop new muscles.
That’s how I have been looking at each school year. Every year I have new groups of students coming into my classroom, and every year I have new responsibilities. This year all these changes are highlighted by our vastly different schedule. Today was our first full day with all classes coming to my room. I am not yet comfortable with the timing of all my classes, and so rely heavily on my lesson plans, notes, and alarms. It takes a little bit of time to become familiar and comfortable with a new schedule, but again this pushes me to be thoughtful about what I need to do to develop those new muscles.
Although, I am a HUGE believer in my bullet journal to manage my life; love the feel of pen and pencil on paper, I write my lesson plans on the computer. I use this great free source chalk.com and love their planboard. I write out my lessons, but often at the end of each class write notes reflecting on what worked and what didn’t. This isn’t busy work. I run the technology design lab for the whole school, and so as classes cycle through, they all get opportunities to work on the same project. These notes and reflections are really informative as I consider the next group coming through. One of the notes I made today read, “Smoother transitions. Be clear in the next step.” I also wrote, “Creating the assignment in Cospaces takes a little bit of time, so let students know that they need to show patience.” In the same way that my yoga instructor taught me to shift and refocus, I try to adjust to the needs of my students. Teaching is a complicated process and takes constant thinking and rethinking.
I also got to administer some placement assessments with our youngest students today. Our TK students are pretty adorable. I would bring them in small groups, three at a time, to my classroom. Two of them would color as I asked the other student to tell me the names of various letters. They just started school, and are barely four years old, so I was as likely to hear, “I have a kitty,” as I was to hear, “That’s the letter ‘B’”. One triumvirate of girls decided to sing as we made the long journey back to their classroom. The same TK’ers who couldn’t identify any letters on their assessment, broke out in the ABC song, and got MOST of the letters right. One girl belted out the letters with joy. It was pretty adorable.
Tomorrow is day 5 of school, but it is also day 2 of our “normal” schedule, and that means I’m moving closer and closer to feeling the groove of this new school year. Whatever the case, I will continue to . . .
Keep moving forward,
THE BIGGEST CHANGE SINCE the first day of school is that the temperate has dropped to a level that makes living possible. Last week we had several days that hovered right around 106. The kids were hot. The teachers were hot and the blacktop was hot enough to feel through your shoes. The weekend has been gloriously breezy.
I spend the weekend working a few projects. I realized that although I’ve been working since mid-July on prepping for the school year, I still had a pile of things that I wanted to get finished. Any teacher on the planet can tell you that no matter how hard you work, there are always 8 more things you want to do. I’ve learned during my busiest times that two things will save you: 1. Getting really organized. My family makes fun of me, but I always have clothes ready to go for the next day. I meal plan on the weekends and review my planner before I go to bed. This makes me the ultimate nerd, but it also keeps me on track — more or less. 2. I think of all the things that I have to do as little boxes and as I finish one, I mentally check it off. I only worry about the task in front of me until it is finished and then move on to the next one. I have been know to say out loud, “What’s next?” not just because I love the West Wing, but also because I am thinking about the next item on my list.
Next week is our first REAL week of school. We are all adjusting to the dramatic changes that have been made to our schedules. I just set all my alarms for my classes, and it is a very different looking list than in past years. It might not seem like a big deal, but I have 40 minute classes this year, instead of 50. Ten minutes can be a lifetime in the classroom. I’m rolling out my first unit and am hoping that things work well, but if not, I just need to adjust.
Another new concept that I am embracing this year is to plan things out in smaller chunks. I am working with choice boards this year - which means that while I have a specific learning goal for my students, I’ve created multiple paths to get there. As I worked on my plans this summer, I planned out every project and began working on each choice board, but then realized that I should wait and see how my FIRST choice board works, and then plan the details of the next one. This has helped me thinking with a lot of clarity about each piece of my project. I am only focused on our first lesson right now.
Maybe that’s more teacher-thinking they you wanted to read about, but I think what is true in the classroom is true elsewhere, too. Outside of my classroom, I can get lost in giant plans when really I should just focus on what is directly in front of me; this day, this hour, now.
One of the best parts of the weekend, was that the Husband actually played a local show. I was able to watch him play IN TOWN. His show started at 10 p.m. though which was pretty hilarious because we are not night owls. He had a 3 hour time slot, too. My first question to him was, “Are you going to stay awake?” He did. His band killed it, and my favorite part was around 11:30 p.m. when an entire wedding party, including the bride and groom danced their way into the place he was playing. Their energy was great, and it was just fun. I love watching his shows, but he almost never plays in our hometown, so it was a fantastic treat.
Here’s to a new week stretched out before us and filled with possibilities. My newest stickers came this weekend, so I get to show my students what they can earn when they complete their first unit. I hope they love them as much as I do.
Keep moving forward,
I WROTE A FANTASTIC blog for day one, but now you will never get to read it because the internet ate it. This is why I can tell you with great conviction that it was amazingly groundbreaking —- no one can prove me wrong. I suppose it is just as well, I had no students the first day of school. We are on 1/2 days this week, and my computer class falls in the afternoon. I do teach reading in the morning but it is FIRST THING and we thought we ought to let students get to know their homeroom before sending them spinning out the door to another class.
I think it is a cruel plot-twist that in the days leading up to school starting, we had lovely breezy mornings, and moderate afternoons. However, as soon as the first day of school hit, we saw 107 degrees. Kids returned to their classrooms dripping with sweat from their 10 a.m. recess. I have end-of-day crossing guard responsibilities, and it was HOT. I never take off my old-lady sweaters that I wear with dresses because of my old-lady, flabby arms, but I was SORELY tempted yesterday during that 15 minute job.
I suppose it is for the best that the interwebs consumed yesterday’s brilliant blog, as I had not meet with any students yet. I was absolutely overjoyed to meet with my reading students this morning. I am so excited to travel this journey with them. I try to start out my classes with really clear intention so I explained my purpose to them; to help them become stronger readers every day. We talked a lot about what that looks like - me celebrating with their success, as well as forging a path forward when they struggle. We played some games and discussed our MUTUAL hatred of homework — their only job for me is to read — all the time and every day.
At the end of class, I asked them what their purpose way — why were they in class. Their answers varied from, “They sent me here,” to “I want to read out loud better” or “I want to read in English”. Then I asked them what they needed from me so that they could be successful, and I loved some of my responses: “I need a minute when I get to class because my brain isn’t ready yet,” and my all-time favorite “I need to read out loud and know they won’t laugh at me.” I love the advocacy and thoughtfulness of those responses. Teaching is such a tremendous responsibility, and understanding what my students need is so crucial.
I also gave them their newly-minted reading class stickers. If you follow my social, you saw the design I posted. They were really proud of them. I really wanted my students to have a sense of community and to be proud of who they are, and the journey they are traveling. I am often tasked with teaching resistant/reluctant readers. I have loved reading since before I ever attended school, so I need to challenge myself to find the perspective of someone who finds book dull, or even worse a source of revealing all their own flaws. Pulling them along the path of reading is a delicate balance between being gently encouraging, and finding ways to give them a gentle nudge to toward the world of books. Most resistant readers love a good story, it is the decoding of words that challenges them. Today was only our FIRST day of reading class, and the SECOND day of this new school year. I am excited to see what comes next, and hope that as the days begin to pile up, I will grow in compassion, understanding and support.
Keep moving forward,
THE END. No one is on campus except for teachers and school staff today. Our students wouldn’t recognize us. Clad in jeans, and t-shirts with music blaring in our rooms, we are packing everything away. During the summer maintenance will come throw and scrub our carpets and fix whatever is broken.
The end of the school year is abrupt. Last week, we were knee deep in lessons, and squeezing everything we could out of every day we had. Our classrooms were filled with students, pencils and books. Now, our rooms have all the furniture stacked and pushed in a corner so that the cleaning team can do their work. Yesterday, our campus was teeming with kinder students dressed in their best - which included one kinder who interpreted best as come dressed as Cinderella. It was adorable, and perfect for a kinder promotion ceremony. Now the school is devoid of students, and none of the teachers I’ve seen are dressed in their finest. Although, I’ve seen some pretty hilarious teacher-themed t-shirts.
We have been together in the trenches of trying to empower our students to do their best. We have been united in the struggle as Malala Yousafazi has said, “wage a glorious struggle against illiteracy, poverty and terrorism.” We have “picked up our books and pens - our mightiest weapons.” It takes a powerful team for a school to truly be effective. We have that, and we’ve been working together day after day, but after noon today, we will scatter to the winds.
There is a strange harshness to the end of the school year. I imagine it is similar to what it is like to work in the entertainment industry. You work together day after day after day, and then BOOM hiatus. You separate for a few months, and then unite together again; maybe with all the same characters, and maybe with some cast changes. There are people that I have talked to every day for nine months, and I might talk to them once a week after today for the next two months. This makes the celebration of summer, tinged with a sort of quiet sadness.
Don’t get me wrong, I am ready for the break. The pace of the school year is pretty relentless. It is glorious to have a few weeks off. And just as a reminder, we don’t get paid for NOT working, all yearlong a part of paycheck was put on reserve for these months. We are simply getting paid the rest of our money over the summer. In the olden days, teachers just didn’t get a paycheck from June until the end of August and were expected to set aside money themselves. I am really grateful for the change in policy!
And so we crash land abruptly into summer. Like people leaving a dark movie house, we blink blindly at the bright summer sun, and separate into our outside lives. We turn off all our school alarms, and find ourselves settling into a new pace. We take a moment to breathe and reflect. I cannot wait to be in the clear air of Tahoe and sit near the lake with a book in hand. Until then, even at rest, I will . . .
Keep moving forward,
OUR LAST STAFF MEETING OF THE SCHOOL year ended with singing. Don’t get me wrong, we aren’t people naturally prone to sing together. Rather, our administration is not only deeply invested in providing support for our staff, but they also have an openness to try new ideas. One of those ideas involves a choir that has both teachers, staff and parents singing together. And so on this last meeting, we sang. We had a choir director and everything. It was super enjoyable, and such a pleasant way to end the year.
We still have day 179, though. Our 5th graders were promoted today. They looked lovely in their sport coats and flowing dresses. They looked both older and younger at the same time. The 5th grade teachers decided to go ahead and let everyone who submitted a speech, speak at the ceremony, as a result, there were ten student speakers. Many of those who spoke were from my leadership class, and it was hard not to get all caught up in my feelings. They are leaving us, and I want them to stay.
After school let out this afternoon, we had our end-of-year luncheon. The worst part is that due to budget cuts, we had to bid some really great friends farewell. We also got to celebrate the retirement of some hard-working souls, who we will miss dearly, but we all recognize they deserve a break! And then we all gathered to sing.
Tomorrow our kinders get promoted. They are so adorable in their fancy dresses. I love their cute faces, and their sweet little voices as they sing songs about the months of the year, and the days of the week. They’ve been practicing for weeks, and tomorrow is their big moment to shine.
After that, everyone packs things up and we leave. Instead of seeing my teacher friends every day, I will have to wait several weeks to see them. Some will travel far and wide, and others will teach summer school or run summer camps. I taught extended school year, last summer and loved it, but this year someone else gets that job. I will be poolside with my kids, and later will head to Philadelphia to hang out with all my tech best friends.
I cannot believe that summer is here. I always feel nostalgic as it comes to an end. We each pack up our classrooms and disappear. We return later, tanned and well-rested. It is sort of like the world’s longest weekend. Right now, though, my classroom is in shambles. I have pulled the stuff out of every cabinet and am focused on getting ORGANIZED for next school year. This is NOT my natural state. I spent far too much time chatting today, too. I have got to STAY focused if I am going to get things back in order by tomorrow afternoon!
Enjoy the warmth of the summer sun and . . .
Keep moving forward,
P.S. BUD!! I hope you liked your yearbook!
OUR 177th DAY OF SCHOOL MARKS THE END of regular classes. From here on out it is promotion ceremonies, field trips, and barbecues. My reading students sweated out the last hour in my classroom. In an effort to lower overall cost, the district took control of all our thermostats. The lowest I can turn my air down to is 72 degrees, which might not seem that warm unless you’ve got a room filled with 26 4th and 5th graders who just spent twenty minutes playing soccer in 90 degree heat.
We enjoyed one last assignment, and when one student started to complain about having to “work”, another one said, “Remember, she told us she doesn’t quit.” It is true. I did say that last week when they pleaded to quit working and have a snack party instead. Apparently, someone was listening when I gave my standard, “If we are here together, we might as well work.”
Truth be told, they just had to fill out a survey so they could reflect on their school year. As far as work goes it wasn’t much. I let them play some games on the computer. They are currently OBSESSED with this typing game with racing cars. The fast you type, the faster you car goes. Most of them are typing around 40 wpm. I get some serious street cred because they know I can type around 90 WPM. They brag to other classes, “No way, your teacher types faster than Mrs. Ellison.” Hey, you gotta do whatever it takes to bring ‘em to your side in the classroom. It turns out that Napa High’s blank keyboards were something I was grateful for later in life. That’s right my typing class had typewriters (ask your grandma) with BLANK KEYS. It was a sink or swim situation.
Now, I begin the work of cleaning and organizing my classroom. Some schools make you take EVERYTHING down - even if you are staying in the same room. We just need everything picked up and the floors clear so they can clean the carpets. I’m thinking of REALLY going through my cabinets tomorrow. It has become sort of a DISASTER in there. Some teachers use the last day or so of school to enlist their students to help with clean up. I let them do small things like help me carry all my computers to the lab where they get locked up for the summer, or carry some books to the classroom next door. But I have a hard time going beyond that. My first teaching years were at a private school, and I know one teacher got chewed out by parent after she had her students help her sort out her room. “I’m not paying $15,000 a year for my kid to do YOUR manual labor.” Fair point. Beside we have so few days with our students.
Here’s how the end of school year goes: As a teacher, I get super reflective and nostalgic. I am filled with all kinds of feelings as I see my students. I wish we’d had more time together. I wonder if I have taught them enough. My students, on the other hand, are super excited to go their friend’s house, or have a slice of the 5th grade promotion cake, or get that ONE BOY to sign their yearbook. Their emotions have very little to do with me. This year, more than any other year, I have been hearing so many of our 5th graders saying they don’t want to leave us. That is just what you want them to say. You want to build a place so warm, and happy that they don’t want to go. “You will always be part of the #phillipsfam I tell them. You are always my student.”
Tomorrow is kind of a funny day. I am doing the messy work of cleaning up, but pause in the middle of it all in order to present awards at our 5th grade promotion. I have to dress both nice, and kind of messy. The first year I worked at this school, I didn’t realize that. I was dressed in jeans and a t-shirt to award trophies to the top tech and reading students. It was a little bit embarrassing.
So we’ve come to the end of another year. As for this blog, I imagine I will update it for the next few days, but might take a little break for a bit. I’ve tried to write mostly about my year in the classroom, and I won’t be hanging around that room for a little bit of time. My boring summer life might not enthrall you. Then again maybe I’ve been boring all along . . . Either way, I am going to . . .
Keep moving forward,
OUR YEARBOOK IS IMPERFECT. This fact would have destroyed me just a few years ago. Like most teachers, I learn toward a strong desire to be perfect; all day and every day. This can create a state of perpetual angst as it turns out perfection is hard to achieve. In fact, a quote from a recent TED Talk I had my students watch sums it up best, “Perfection is NOT a human condition.” True story.
I suppose the lesson to learn, and it has probably taken me longer than most, is what you do with your errors. Now, I was super bummed to discover the mistakes in the yearbook, but I also didn’t spin out dwelling on them, and instead, set to work to fix them as much as was within my grasp. You have to do the best you can, and then apologize for all the rest.
The biggest problem with my obsession with being perfect is that I do not live this out in a vacuum. My students are watching me. When a student pointed to a picture in the yearbook, “Hey, that’s not the right kid”, they waited to see what I would say and do. My reaction mattered. After apologizing to the student in question, I set to work creating a solution. It would have been easier to blame someone else, or think of excuses, but none of that would actually solve the problem. We came up with a pretty good solution — not as perfect as getting it right the first time, but the best solution under the circumstances.
My students have spent the last 176 days in my classroom and I wonder what they’ve learned. I know I can look at the data and see how the reading scores have changed over time. I can look at all the assessment numbers, and compare writing samples from the beginning of the year to the end, but that doesn’t necessarily given an accurate portrait of our school year. We’ve been on a journey together for so long, and I hope that we’ve grown together. I hope that within the walls of my classroom my students felt listened to, and respected. I hope that they discovered the power of their voices, and the power of disciplined mind. I hope that they understand that their teacher was a human, on a journey. I hope they know that hard as I might try I am not perfect.
Tomorrow is my very last day with my reading students. Today, we had a class rivalry soccer game during reading so I didn’t really get any time with them. I will miss them. And here’s the thing, most of my students are saying two things as the school year winds down: 1. I don’t want to go to 6th grade. I want to stay here. and 2. I like school better. Summer is boring. I feel the same way. Don’t get me wrong, I am a big fan of sleeping late, and sitting around the house. But I like school. I miss my coworkers and all my students. Also, I wish our school went to the 8th grade. I want more time with our students. Sending them off to middle school after 5th grade feels too soon.
I just now realized that this particular blog is all over the place. I couldn’t get to sleep last night and so am inordinately tired. We had been watching the “When They See Us” docu-series and finished it up last night. As a result, I couldn’t sleep. And so this particular entry is a little bit all over the place, but I suppose there’s a lesson in that - something about imperfection being a part of life, perhaps. ;)
Keep moving forward,
SOMETIMES WHEN A DAY IS REALLY BUSY you can’t even feel everything that is happening. Your brain is usually divided between the now and the next. Today was like that for me. We had so many good things going on, but it was almost too much to process.
I arrived at school just before 7 a.m. (I love the quiet of the early morning), and used that time to finish up the Secret Project that another teacher pal and I have been working on. It is going out in our last news broadcast tomorrow, so if you are SUPER INTERESTED you can check it out at my website.
After lunch, my TED Talk students gathered NERVOUSLY in my classroom as parents and sweet administrators. I was actually pretty nervous MYSELF. I was so proud of my students. One student got so INTO having an audience that she expanded on her talk. She expanded on her talk a LOT. It was right around the seven minute mark that I thought maybe I should drag her offstage, but she wrapped it up at 8 minutes and 3 seconds. She was thrilled to be listened to.
One of the best parts was when one of my differently-abled students insisted on giving his talk. His two best buddies were giving theirs and he wanted to join in. His mother even came to hear him speak, and I know she must have been so proud. I know that I was really proud. They all did great, and I know that over time our TED Talks will grow and improve and expand.
After school, I had to keep my Leadership kids under control until their presentation at 5:30 tonight. It was no easy task. Thankfully, pizza’s were delivered and that helped sustain them for the LONG DAY. They also had to present on the work they had been doing all year. They were nervous, but pulled through. One of the BEST moments was when a student who had NEVER been able to say a word in front of anyone, actually spoke on stage and into a microphone. He was terrified, but he did it. I was really proud of him!
Now, I am home and the year is officially winding down to nothing. We have our final leadership class tomorrow which consists of eating a WHOLE bunch of ice cream sandwiches, and saying goodbye. I’ll miss my sweet, crazy knuckleheads, and hope that my 5th grader choose to join leadership next year. I hope they’ve learned to use their voices. I hope they’ve learned that those voices are powerful, and what they have to say matters.
Now, I’m going to put my little feet up and relax.
Keep moving forward,
I JUST ORDERED 24 ICE CREAM SANDWICHES. The lady standing next to me had huge eyes when I said, “Let’s start with the ones that are the same. I’ll take eight . . . “ When I kept ordering people gave funny looks. Friday is our last day of Leadership Academy. We are celebrating with ice cream sandwiches. The kids had to bring in money to pay for them, but we are still getting them all the same. Most of them have never been to Cream, which is a new ice cream place in town. They were baffled by the complex choices they were given.
“Mrs. E? It says ‘choose your base’? What does that mean?” I had printed out from the ice cream shops website the menu for their sandwiches. Kids got to pick their cookie, pick their ice cream AND pick their topping. It was almost too much for some. “Maybe I won’t have ice cream.” They said nervously. Between classes I walked a bunch of them through the process, and one student even insisted on choosing soy mint chip ice cream. “I think they have regular mint chip.” I told her. “Soy sounds interesting to me.” She explained. “Like maybe it is good for the earth.”
Most of them were able to cover the cost of the ice cream, but I ordered enough for everyone. We will figure out the money aspect later. Our parent faculty club just reminded me yesterday that they would be happy to help with an end of year celebration. I’ll check with them to cover the cost. They do a lot for our kids.
Before we get to the peace and calm of ice cream on Friday, we have to manage Thursday. Tomorrow is our Showcase. All of my Leadership kids have to present to parents, teachers, other kids. They will be sharing the projects that they worked on with all the grownups that have supported them over the school year. This is happening in the evening - from 5:30 - 7:00. But of course we still meet from 3:00 - 5:00 which is our regular time to prep and make sure we are ready to go. In other words, my family had better cook for themselves.
During the school day, thirteen of my students will be giving their TED Talk one more time, to a few distinguished guests that I’ve invited. It seemed like a GREAT idea at the time, but now I am tasked with making sure my classroom, my students and my equipment is ready to go. And you know how much I enjoy a good worry.
Of course, after all of this, is the roll down hill toward summer. Once our presentations and showcase is over, I can relax back into the regular roll of things. This Friday is our very last news broadcast, and a teacher pal and I have put together a pretty awesome “secret project” which involves every person on staff. (If you are reading this and work at my school, and I haven’t videoed you waving — see me tomorrow ASAP!!) . It has turned out pretty sweet, and I hope everyone loves it as much as we do.
Today was our principal’s birthday. (I got him a yearbook for his present!) . You could track where he was on campus all day because wherever he would show up, students would start singing “Happy birthday”. It was pretty funny listening as he made his way down the halls. It was also pretty sweet too. I mean birthday’s at school aren’t the same as birthdays in Cabo, but they have their own magic, right?
So, I am apologizing to Terina in advance, tomorrow’s blog might be a little bit late — as it will be a long day. I hope it is filled with stories of my amazing students shared their talks, stories and projects. I hope it is filled with glorious, joyful excitement as I recount showcase and our TED Talks. Basically, I hope. Either way, we always . . .
Keep moving forward,
TODAY WAS THE DAY OF DAYS, again. I could hardly fall asleep last night knowing that I would FINALLY be able to hold our yearbook in my fingers. Would it be horrible? Had I accidentally order the wrong size and our yearbooks would only be 3 x 5? Would the awesome price I managed to find mean that the pages would be made out of newsprint and the whole yearbook look like something that someone made in their garage? Did I mess up on the checking and double and triple checking and accidentally spell everything incorrectly? Would they get delivered after 4 pm. and the office would be closed so they would go back to Wisconsin where they started?
Our infinitely patient school secretary, who I had warned of our impending delivery first thing in the morning, called just before lunch that the boxes had arrived. Heartbreakingly, I had to wait another twenty-five minutes for my class to end. In the meantime, she told me, “I am going to peek at one.” This killed me! I couldn’t wait to see it. I waited a reasonable 5 minutes and then emailed her. “Did you peek? Is it horrible? Is it wonderful?”
When I finally opened that box, I was pleased to discover that our yearbooks looked just as I had envisioned them. I had picked the right size. I had chosen the right quality of paper, and thanks to a crew of people helping me proofread, the words are spelled correctly.
This is the first yearbook I have ever made. It was born out of my principal saying to me earlier this year, “Hey, what do you think about your leadership class also putting together a yearbook. “ As bosses go, he’s pretty awesome, and so when he asks you to do something, you pretty much want to give it a go. It was not too long after this that I had remembered someone, somewhere saying something about making a yearbook in google slides.
Jen Scott is a genius. Her slidesyearbook.com website was everything I needed to make a yearbook. She has templates, and our awesome Parent Faculty Club even paid so that I could take her yearbook making course. It not only improved my own photography skills, but you should SEE the pictures that my leadership class took. THEY ARE GORGEOUS. You actually can see a ton of them because we often use the pictures they took for our school social media sites.
Here is the thing. Yearbooks are for the rich kids. You know this to be true. Yearbooks have gotten even more expensive over the years. Many high schools charge over $100 for their yearbooks. My sister and I had to share yearbooks all the time — which is how parents really cut the cost. But thanks to Jen Scott, my leadership kids made a 66 page, full color yearbook and we only have to charge $10 for it. It took a lot of searching on my part to find a company that could put together a reasonably priced yearbook, but I did. Those yearbook companies are a racket. I had to approach many publishing companies gently. “I’m looking to produce a book for our students - a sort of collection of memories . . .” The second that you use the word yearbook — they add $12. My goal was to charge $10 for the yearbook, and that is just what we are charging. The company we worked with, Blossom Books, was AWESOME. We designed the whole thing ourselves with support from Jen Scott’s amazingness, and uploaded it to their website and BOOM, we had a beautiful, glorious yearbook.
This is probably more talk about yearbooks than you want, but my teacher friends need to know this. You can make a beautiful yearbook — soft cover, hard cover — and you can make it for so much less than you are currently making one. SERIOUSLY. You don’t need to charge kids $100. You could make a hard cover book for $30. Imagine making sure that EVERYONE could have a yearbook! Tomorrow my leadership team, who were all on a field trip today, will get to see what months of their hard work has produced and I can’t wait to see their faces.
Keep moving forward,
PICTURE THIS: A group of end-of-the-year 5th graders, sit expectantly as their differently-abled classmate struggles to begin his TED Talk. “You got this!” They tell him, as his eyes begin to fill with tears, and then he asks, “Can Remy* stand next to me?” Sure enough, a very tall 5th grader pops up and stands directly in front of him. “Just tell your talk to me. Don’t worry about anyone else.” He says encouragingly. And bolstered by his friend and his classmates, he does just that.
THIS. This is why you want your child to go to a school that includes EVERYONE. The level of patience and compassion that they will game cannot be calculated. Another one of my students a deeply compassionate 4th grader gets anxious every time I switch groups. “You will keep Paul* and me together, right, Mrs. Ellison?” His friend is also differently-abled and he always wants to make sure that he is near Paul so that he can support him.
My own Offspring were stunned as they left our inclusive, supportive elementary school to discover that other schools had different approaches with differently-abled students. They were genuinely surprised if they saw someone tease or lose their patience with them simply because they hadn’t really seen it before. It perplexed them. “They should know that they need extra time.” My son wants told me. “Why don’t they get that?” The answer to his question is simple; they had no experience with students who didn’t fit the expected mold.
I love our school. You’ve probably figured it out by now. If you were to see it you would think it looks like any other school built back in the 40s. We got a new paint job last year, and got some gorgeous new furniture, but our school is pretty old. No one would look at it and think, “You can see it! This place is AMAZING!” But it is amazing. Our administration is amazing. Our teachers are amazing. Our after school care team is amazing. We are a hidden gem.
In the same way that people can look at the outside of kid and make assumptions, missing out on all the incredible depths of intelligence and creativity hidden within. People can look at the outside of our school and miss out on something that is truly unique. If you come to our school, you will not only receive a solid education but they also get to experience a true community. We are a community of learners who try to find ways to encourage, support and uplift all learners; helping everyone to build on their strengths, and strengthen areas of growth. It might be Day 170 out of 179, but we are still here - working, learning, supporting each other and we strive every single day to . . .
Keep moving forward,
*all names have been changed
HOW MANY DAYS ARE LEFT was a question that greeted me this morning. I blinked four times and tried to figure it out. I know that it is definitely more than 6 because the yearbooks will be delivered in 6 days. The most important issue for me, of course, is making sure the yearbooks get here BEFORE the last day of school. That is pretty crucial. It turns out we are in the lower double-digits — 12 or something like that — without counting weekends.
Today I pulled out a the new reader for my next year’s class. I wanted to start wrapping my brain around next year, even as I finish up this year. One of my reading students saw the book. “Are we getting a new book?” She asked. I explained I was thinking about next year. “So was my homeroom teacher. You guys never stop.” True Story.
I was explaining to someone, AGAIN, that teachers do NOT GET PAID TO DO NOTHING during the summer months. We have a small portion of our paychecks set aside all year long, so that we can have a paycheck in the summer. Our paycheck in the summer consist of money we already earned. On top of which, teachers work in the summer. We will be cleaning, finishing paperwork, and reorganizing after the students have left the building on the last day. And many of us will spend our summers, planning, researching, meeting and attending training sessions. The work doesn’t end.
SPEAKING OF WORK THAT DOESN’T END, all it took was a notification of FREE DELIVERY for Door Dash for me to cave and order dinner. I really try to cook every single night because family dinner is so important. Every now and then, I forget to defrost something, and the temptation to order becomes pretty intense. I had a really late lunch today, too, so I was really NOT motivated to cook. All of which are pretty lame excuses, but there you have it. Also, if you have never, ever had Filipi’s Garlic Knots, I can’t even explain to you how delicious they are.
So, the clock is ticking. It is day 169, and I only have a few more days with me students. Some have their eye on the door knowing that soon it will be summer. For some of these students the impending summer days, fill them with all kinds of restless energy, and for others it fills them with anxiety and nervousness. School is a safe place for tons of kids. They can consistently expect two meals a day, and a steady routine where they are nurtured and responsible only for themselves. This can make those last few days more challenging as students feel unsettled and excited. It takes thought and clarity to keep that learning train going. “You guys are wearing me out, today.” I told my reading class. One of my sweet 4th graders responded, “We are making sure your brain works until the very last day.” I am going to take this as a compliment. Either way, I am going to . . .
Keep moving forward,
ONE OF THE BEST THINGS about our student TED Talks is that the room is filled with the sound of my student’s voices. Today was another round of talks, and the first day of my reading classes’ talks. My reading class has worked on this project longer than anyone, and so their talks have graphics, and are more detailed than my technology students’ talks. I was sitting beside one of my third graders today; they were responsible for running the camera (we film the talks so students can watch themselves later), and just listening to everything. At that specific moment my students were giving feedback to the student who had just completed their talk. We have two ways to give feedback: Students can say “I like . . .” and provide a specific compliment regarding the speech, or they can say “I wonder. . .” which provides a way for them to ask a question. The student beside me was struggling to share his thoughts. It sounded something like this, “I like how . . . I mean I like the way . . . the way. . . during your talking . . .” It was a moment that seemed to stretch for awhile, and I thought, “He just needs more time.” I didn’t just mean time to finish his sentence, but time to talk. He need practice expressing his ideas out loud.
SPOILER: Kids are really young. I remember once, a coworker from another school was expressing his frustration over his students. He kept complaining about their immaturity and how they acted - giggling and spending all their time thinking about the dumbest things - sports, girls, boys, and movies. It was at this point in the conversation that I found myself having to say, “Well, they are kids, you know?” He shook his head and stormed off, probably now frustrated with me. But I think sometimes people forget that students are - you know, KIDS. This was especially true during the years I taught high school, but when you hit thirty you begin to understand that fourteen is really, really young.
I enjoyed sitting back and watching them interact with one another. One student would run the camera, basically calling the whole class. They would tell everyone else to quiet down, and then count backwards - 3, 2, 1 and then point a finger at the speaker. The best part was that no one kid got to run the camera. After the speaker finished, they would pick their replacement and take over filming; everyone got an opportunity to be in charge.
The feedback they gave each other was specific, too. It wasn’t, “I like your speech. It was good.” Instead students said things like, “I like that you started with a story, but then had research to make your point,” and “I wonder why you didn’t say why you love basketball so much.” We had practiced giving feedback and had discussed what makes feedback powerful and effective and it was good to see it in action.
Here’s my TED Talk highlights:
A struggling reader who created a thoughtful and beautiful talk about the positive impact of drawing, quoting multiple articles to support her ideas. These quotes included words far beyond the reach of her vocabulary, but she not only pronounced them correctly and easily (thanks to all that practice) but she understood them. Her desire to share her thoughts about art pushed her to reach well beyond her own reading level.
A very shy student volunteering to speak, and speaking with a bold, clear voice. After she took her turn, two other shy girls also volunteered and during feedback time, she told them each. “I like your bravery. You got up there and spoke.”
A good friend gave me a new book as birthday present. It is a picture book entitled “Say Something” and it is an amazing book about finding and using your voice. I love every page and every word of it, and read it to my students before they began their talk. If that wasn’t good enough, the book is dedicated to Emma Gonzalez. SWOON
Two boys who wrote their talk together, and took turns explaining how they became best friends before going on to explain the value of friendship. They tag-teamed the speaking and the story. Kid 1: When I started Kindergarten, I was nervous, but then I looked up . and saw this kid. Kid 2: I was sitting at my desk on that first day, and I saw another boy across the room and I thought, “I wonder if we can be friends?” It was adorable.