Thursday, July 25, 2013

School Year Successes

I have taught for 15 years and so, for 15 summers I have spent quite a bit of time thinking about all the things I did wrong or did not do in the previous year.

I want to break that habit and spend some time reflecting on the things that I did well. Some things, as I think back, are very small and some are pretty significant. But regardless, it's fun to celebrate the successes!
  • Classroom Set Up
I've taught three different grade levels in the past fifteen years, in four different classrooms, including a trailer. Classroom set up has always been fascinating to me. This year, for the first time, I got rid of my teacher desk. Looking back I can see a slow evolution as the classroom became less mine and more my students. They own the space and feel comfortable in all of it. I have a hard time keeping them out of my little corner where I keep my purse and lunch and stuff! I do need a little space that's just mine.

We've got lots of little tables, a low table, a high table, different kinds of chairs (including some bean bags), a couch, and various nooks and crannies. I hope the room is as open as it feels to me and as welcoming and comfortable.

  • Use of Pens
In many ways, this is really small. When I made the switch to first grade I also switched from pencils to pens for my students. My reasoning was that I didn't want them erasing all of their thinking. With pens I teach them to just cross out something and keep going. That allows me to see their thought process. That does work. But I found that pens have an added bonus - they don't have to be sharpened. The sharpening of pencils used to drive me crazy. It was noisy and distracting if done during the day. If I set a rule against that we would often run out of pencils because we didn't remember to sharpen them before the day got going. Now I trade the pencils my kids bring in with their supplies to other teachers for their pens. (This is getting harder to do as more and more teachers are discovering the joys of pens.) One tip, I do not buy pens that click and I remove the lids and get rid of them. I found them to be distracting.
  • Communication with Families
This is an area that I never feel I do well. Lucky for me, I had a parent this year point out all the positives here. I taught her older daughter a few years ago and had her son this last year. She told me that when her daughter moved on to second grade they had "Ms. Orr withdrawal" because they did not know what was going on in her classroom. She went on to detail for me all the ways they knew what was happening in my classroom.
  1. For homework every night my students must share about something from our day. I tell them what to share about (although they are welcome to share about more, of course!). Their homework is always three things: read, S.A. (share about) a part of our day, bed by 8. So they should be talking to their families about school every day. 
  2. Our class blog. I, and the students, try to write on the blog and post pictures about three times per week. That doesn't always happen but we're pretty consistent. I take pictures all the time, including art, P.E., music, library, lunch, recess. So this should give a pretty clear sense of our days.
  3. Postcards home - I try to write to every student once each quarter. When they do something fabulous, academically or socially or whatever, I grab a postcard and write to them about it. I write to the kid because getting mail is super fun when you're six and I'm sure the parents will see it too. It's a win-win.
This was fun! I'm sure there are other things that were good and I may write more later. I'd love to hear what you did well in the past school year. What was a strength? What will you definitely be doing again?

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Week One in the Rear View Mirror

I'm back again at the Northern Virginia Writing Project's Invitational Summer Institute. How many times does one have to do something before it is a tradition? This is my third summer spending four weeks writing and talking about teaching writing with teachers from elementary through college.

At the end of this first week I have a few reflections:

  • I adore my students. It's easy for me to lose sight of this during the school year and easy to get caught up in the chaos, the go, go, go, easy to focus on all the SBIs, SIPs, PLCs, MRAs, DRAs, and SOLs and lose sight of the kids, the actual living, breathing people in my classroom. Removed from them, removed from all that, I can see them clearly. Of course I'm seeing them in my mind but there they are, brilliant, hilarious, stubborn, quirky, frustrating, darling, amazing. There they are, such...people. It saddens me to think about how easy it is to lose sight of their peopleness.
  • I love being with other teachers. There is no question they are my tribe. The teachers I spend time with here, at conferences, online, are all dedicated, thoughtful educators, striving to continually improve. I hope that describes me as well. Time, like this, spent with teachers like these always gives me hope for the future of American education.
  • I like to write. That's another thing that frequently gets lost during the school year. Be it the freedom of morning pages (the 30 minutes we spend writing in silence to start each day) or the assigned writings during demonstration lessons, I truly enjoy it. I believe I write more during the four weeks of the ISI each summer than I do through all the rest of the year. The only challenge is rereading it all and doing something meaningful with it.
  • I enjoy presenting. I've done it twice in the past week and while I'm always nervous, I'm also always excited and enjoy it. In some ways it's like planning a great lesson, laying it out to build the way you want it to. It also means I get to have conversations with all these brilliant people about my teaching passions, the things I am excited to discuss. Plus, I get to show off my amazing students.

Saturday, July 06, 2013

The Most Brilliant Math I've Seen Lately

My gratitude to Bill Ferriter for this slide is immeasurable.

I'm grateful for it as a teacher and as a parent.

In some ways it's easier for me to remember this as a teacher.

I know my students, their strengths and challenges, their amazing talents, their senses of humor, their annoying habits, THEM. I know what they can do as readers, writers, mathematicians, scientists, historians, thinkers. Sometimes their test scores match what I know from our work in the classroom. Sometimes their test scores surprise me in a positive way and I take a closer look. Sometimes their test scores surprise me because they don't show their strengths as I would expect. I take a closer look at those too. I can learn from the test scores.

But they are not my students. They do not define them.

Why is it harder for me to remember that as a parent?

I feel confident that my daughters do not have any idea that this is a struggle for me. We, as parents, work very hard to ensure that our kids understand that we care about their learning, their effort, their thinking more than we do their grades or test scores.