This year, after 13 years out of the classroom, I jumped back in with two feet - but I was nervous. Back when my third child was born (Kyler, born January 15, 2005), I loved everything about my job; my amazing team, my Franklin community, the sweetest kindergarten students, a supportive administration team. However, I needed my job to be “culturally responsive” to my world and me. My culture was motherhood of three boys, ages 3, 1 and 0. My nights were short and always interrupted. I struggled to get to work on time as I could not get my three boys and myself ready in the morning without a fight when leaving daycare. I didn’t have a prep time or schedule that was conducive to a nursing mother. When one of my boys was up with a fever due to what felt like a never-ending cold, ear infection or strep, my husband and I would argue about which of us would have to go make sub plans in the middle of the night. Detailed lessons needed to be switched or scripted if I couldn’t be there to manage the lesson. Teaching is difficult as a working mom. I left my full-time classroom job with a leave of absence, to do part-time kindergarten. From there, my classroom-teaching job changed to any part-time role where I could continue to have affordable benefits for my family and stay sane as a mom. Over the course of the next 7 years, I was fortunate to find part-time roles as an Associate Administrator, a Title technology researcher, an After School Academy Teacher, an Interventionist, and a Reading support teacher. I puzzled together pieces of a job that were more responsive to my needs as a mom.
When I think about what we have learned from Dr. Sharroky Hollie (and others) about being culturally responsive, the first thing that comes to mind are the things that directly affect me. When is the world going to be responsive to my needs as a professional teacher, and fund schools the way we all know would be better? I cannot teach 32 fifth graders as well as I could reach and impact 20… can the legislators be responsive to my need to create relationships with each kid? I don’t want to collect milk caps and host a garage sale to replace a playground structure that is not accessible to a portion of our population… can the legislators be responsive to my students with special needs? I spend way more than the $200 that I can claim on taxes on my classroom supplies. How can I close the opportunity gap with so few supplies? The barriers that are put in place that are beyond my control are impacting my success as a teacher – the frustrations rise…can’t those in leadership see this through my lens?
But today, I reflect on the barriers that are in place that are affecting the learners in my classroom. Those barriers that no one mentions, because what 5-9 year old is going to be honest about his understanding of unfairness as it relates to basic needs. One Sudanese boy comes back to the breakfast cart a second time and says someone took his breakfast, only to learn that he has been to both carts two times each, and he is stashing breakfast in his backpack for later where there is no food. He is written up for lying and stealing. One Somali boy comes strutting into the classroom with a gait that is seen as “an attitude” by the substitute. He is immediately kicked out of class. One Hispanic girl is reprimanded daily for walking her sister to her kindergarten class and getting to her class late every single day. In her eyes, she is caretaking as required in her family, but in her teacher’s eyes, she is dawdling and wasting time.
Last week, I barked at one of my fifth graders for having his head down during our CIA reading lesson when I was reading Earthquake Terror. He wasn’t following along. After a conversation during lunch, I learned that he was at the laundromat until 11:30 because they had no clean clothes. My heart was broken. Never did I think about how tough it must be to be a single mom of three who works until 10, with no washing machine readily available. My own situation seems trivial. I’m trying to be thankful for the times I leave a load in the washer and it gets stinky because I haven’t taken it out in 3 days…
Just the other day, I was visibly frustrated that one of my students kept “forgetting” his planner. How can I teach this kid organization, when he can’t keep track of his organization tool?! During his conference, I learned that he is juggled between three caregivers each night; his mom’s home after school, his grandma’s home when mom heads to work, and then his dad’s until school the next morning. The planner is not the most important piece in his life. Suddenly, my own situation of juggling grocery shopping and a few football games throughout the week seems insignificant.
My path to learning about teaching with cultural responsiveness continues to give me opportunities to learn every single day. When I look back at 13 years out of the classroom, I think about the amazing gift I had to be able to work part-time so that I could be the kind of mom I wanted to be. I realize that this is not an opportunity that every family can manage, nor is it a goal for others but maybe because my own mother was a stay-at-home mom, I valued that opportunity. If I were dealt a different hand, been a single mom, or not had the leave of absence in my contract, all would have been different. I also think about all those administrators who were flexible with me, when I performed less than expected. I remember leaving Diane Trisko hanging last minute, crying because I couldn’t present for her staff because I had tested positive for strep. Or the time that Jean Murphy worked with me because I was completely out of sick time and two of my kids had tested positive for Influenza A. These (and many others) have shown empathy for my situations, and me, could understand the situation I was in and were able to relate to my experiences… but what about these learners who come to us and we can’t even begin to have walked in their shoes, lived in their homes, celebrated their important events and lived their experiences? It sure would be life changing for them if we could try.
My experiences out of the classroom supporting different elementary schools in Rochester has given me multiple occasions to learn from others, most of whom I watched first hand with struggling students. The most memorable experiences were supporting those teachers who worked in EBD classrooms, Special Education settings, Newcomer Centers and behavior rooms. Those people show empathy every single minute of every single day. Each of these educators and paras found a path, a success route, for each of these children, without lowering the bar. Each of them proved to me that I am not at all unique with my passion for educating kids and doing whatever it takes to advocate for students, especially those that don’t fit into our system. That’s how we roll here in Rochester. With six years of instructional coaching, I have witnessed my Franklin and Montessori colleagues work passionately to help each other through diligent PLCs and build a strong supportive community among all grade levels because all of us have all of those kinds of kids in our classrooms. Never are these educators willing to accept the data as it is, but always willing to pave the way with a new idea or new strategy, question their practices, or wonder what a child needs in order to be successful.
Culturally responsive teaching, in a nutshell, is having empathy for every situation and uplifting the individual’s life experiences. It is not excusing any behavior, but understanding the reason behind the behavior. Every single day we can choose how we respond to each and every one of the learners in our classroom. Whether or not we agree with another family’s choice to practice hockey from 4am-6am, or whether we think that if a student would read half the time they spend playing Fortnite, that he or she could pass the MCAs - that is not our job as an educator. Our job is educating each kind of kid that walks in our doorway.
This post brought to you by Stephanie Lamb, Grade 5 teacher for the Rochester Public Schools
Feel free to contact Stephanie via email
ENVoY is a reflection of the skills and strategies that make us effective educators. According to Michael Grinder, founder of the ENVoY Trilogy “...it is not an intervention but a noticing.” Giving classroom management a framework allows us, as teachers, the opportunity to be reflective educators. As reflective educators, we are better for the students we serve.
When do we start? There’s no time like the present! In order for ENVoY to become the norm in our classrooms, we should use it to develop healthy relationships with students.
The 4 phases of ENVoY consist of:
Transition to Seat Work
When getting a student’s attention, remember to use The Above strategy. Find your freeze body spot, low breathe while listening to the wave. Smile. Do your Above, Pause and Whisper. All three must be done together in order for it to be most effective.
Remember your Modes of Interaction: Raise your hand, Speak out, and Turn and Talk. Be mindful of your voice in terms of tone, volume, speed. Don’t forget to Ride the Wave by listening to the ups and downs of the volume in your classroom. Never underestimate The Power of the Whisper. If you need kids to follow directions…Whisper. They naturally have to lean in to figure out what you are saying and the calm quiet voice helps to calm them down. Make sure that your Actions Match your Words and pair your verbals and nonverbals. In this strategy, less is more so make sure to eliminate verbal clutter.
Transition to Seat Work
Make sure to give students Exit Directions. Visuals allow a child to be more independent and self-sufficient. In these visuals, include the categories need, do, put and then in order to give the students structure within the task. Be sure to ask, “Are there any questions?” and make revisions. This allows students to process the information a second time. Be mindful of the Most Important Twenty Seconds (M.I.T.S.). During this time the teacher stands still while the students are engaging in the work. Use nonverbal actions to address students who approach or have clarifying question.
During seat work make sure that you are a guide on the side (Influence Approach). Sitting or standing to the side or at a 90 degree angle helps avoid a non-verbal power struggle. Keep your eye on the prize to allow your child to think. Use a private voice to increase safety. During seat work it’s important that you take the canoe rather than the jet ski. Your movement will pull working students off task. Stand and scan. Develop skills to allow them to get your attention during work time. Keep your breathing LOW and slow. If necessary look down and take a long deep breathe giving yourself a small break before addressing students needs.
Developing healthy relationships through ENVoY strategies makes our classrooms a safe place for all our students to learn. Start today by contacting an ENVoY Resident Coach to increase your ENVoY capacity!
This post brought to you by Paula Kuisle, Instructional/ENVoY Coach, Elton Hills Elementary
Feel free to connect with Paula via her email
I love the Verizon ads that always asked that question. Perhaps it is because one of the greatest challenges I hear repeatedly from teachers across the district is in regards to parent communication. Each year as a classroom teacher, I would reflect on how effective my chosen methods of communication were over the course of a school year. I typically had frequent contact with about 25% of my families, moderate contact with about 50% of my families, and little to no contact with about the other 25% of my families. By contact, I mean two-way communication that takes place on a weekly basis.
In looking at my own practices, I realize now that I was great at one-way communication; newsletters, notes in planners, forms sent home with students, etc. However, I was not offering my families any great tools, other than email or phone, to actually converse with me about their student and how things were going at school. Therefore, this summer I set out to find what other educators are using.
What I learned is that there is a TON of apps out there specifically designed to accomplish the task of parent-teacher communication. I spent some time exploring and weeding through the plethora of options out there and have come up with a list of 5 that impressed me the most and had fantastic teacher reviews.
If you are looking to communicate in a timely manner with parents these days, some form of technology is a must. These are just 5 of a multitude of apps that are available to accomplish this task. If none of these strikes your fancy, there are much more from which to choose. Ultimately, all that matters is that our families can hear us.
This post brought to you by Rebecca Mecikalski, Elementary Implementation Associate
With the tragedy of the latest school shooting weighing heavily on many of our minds and social media, congress and the courts taking up the arguments of what should be done, teachers may be asking themselves, “What can I do today, that would make a difference?”
As a nation, we will need to address the issue of keeping our students safe at school. There are no easy answers and it will take time. For today, I believe that the one thing that many of us can agree on is that all children, from early childhood through high school graduation, need to feel safe and have a deep sense of belonging in our schools.
We can build that sense of belonging and community into our classroom and school culture by carving out a very important 20 minutes at the beginning of each day for a morning meeting; the purpose of which is to focus on building relationships. Relationships between teachers and students and relationships among the students; relationships that will build solid friendships, develop empathy, create greater understanding, foster confidence and deepen that important sense of self-worth and belonging. "People who have a sense of belonging are less likely to want to hurt themselves or others" (Oliker 2012).
Teachers who incorporate morning meetings take dedicated time to focus on building a safe and comfortable community in the classroom where every student is heard and held responsible for his/her actions. It is a time to encourage kids to care for one another. According to Responsive Classroom, a morning meeting done well should:
Take a moment to watch and listen to what Huntsville Elementary staff and students have to say about morning meeting.
There are several models of morning meetings from which teachers can get ideas. The Responsive Classroom model is based on the idea that students' social-emotional growth is just as important as their academic growth. The Responsive Classroom approach is informed by the work of educational theorists and the experiences of exemplary classroom teachers. Six principles guide this approach:
Responsive Classroom offers a template for morning meetings that has four key components:
Research supports that establishing a morning meeting in your classroom can positively impact the social emotional learning of your students. (Kriete & Bechtel, 2002) & Gardner (2012). There are several sites in our district who are currently using morning meetings and are seeing positive results. If you would like to visit a site and talk to staff who are already implementing morning meetings, please contact me and I can help to make arrangements.
This post brought to you by Julie Ace, Elementary Implementation Associate
Oliker, Ditta M (2012). On Being the Outsider-the lasting effects of being excluded, Psychology Today Nov. 9 2012
Gardner, C. (2012). Morning meeting and science -- a winning combination. Science & Children, 50(1), 60-64.
Kriete, R., & Bechtel, L. (2002). The morning meeting book. Greenfield, MA: Northeast Foundation for Children.
Allowing for student choice is about creating learners that are inspired, embrace creativity, and take ownership of their learning. Allowing for student choice is acknowledging and embracing the idea that in order to grow passionate and invested learners, we as teachers need to give our students the opportunity to have choice and voice throughout their day. Here are some meaningful and easy ways to incorporate student choice in your classroom that ensures you are meeting student needs, while allowing them the flexibility to do it in their own way.
Think about how you can incorporate time into your day when students are able to have unstructured innovation time. How often in your classroom do students get to work on projects that they are passionate about? Not only is this a great way to learn about your students but it allows them to create something that they are passionate about and grow their love of learning on a topic that interests them. After all, don’t we want to grow students that are curious and have a passion for lifelong learning? Don’t forget to let students study, research and build on topics of their choosing!
This is one of the more popular and perhaps easiest ways teachers can incorporate more choice. Choice boards allows the teacher to ensure that the tasks students are choosing meet the standard for the day but allows a student the flexibility to show their learning in different ways. Choice boards can be used in many different ways. If you typically provide students with how you expect them to complete a specific learning target, consider providing them with a choice board. You will immediately see their interest and engagement level rise because they now have the opportunity to complete a task in a way that is interesting to them. You both win!
There are many great tools online that allow for students flexibility and can fit in with everyday lessons.
When asking students in the classroom to collaborate on a project or reflection sheet, consider allowing them to collaborate over Google or on a Prezi. You will be surprised by how quickly your students will pick up on these technology tools even if you don’t feel like an “expert” using the tool yet. Don’t let your lack of comfort with technology hold your students back. If they can demonstrate the knowledge on how to use the tool, given them the flexibility to do so!
Do you have students in your classroom who could teach a topic to another student? Instead of always using a traditional peer tutor, ask your students if they would be willing to create a short video tutorial and pair your older and younger students together. If you aren’t partnered with another classroom, find a topic that your students are an “expert” at and allow them to create a video to help other students in the classroom when they have questions. This allows students to review a certain topic on an iPad or computer at their own pace.
Create Opportunities for Student to Give You Feedback:
Student choice leads to more student voice! Don’t be scared to ask your students for feedback after a lesson or unit. Taking the time to allow them to reflect on how the lesson went not only allows them time to reflect on their own learning, but allows you to find out how you could change in the future to be more effective. Creating a “Teacher Report Card” like the one below lets student know that you are open to feedback as well and wanting to ensure that you are meeting their needs.
Remember that when you provide your students with choices, they feel heard and their learning in turn feels more valuable. Students who have choice and voice in their classroom are engaged and take more ownership in their learning. If as you reflect on your own teaching style you find that you don’t allow for student autonomy in your classroom, try incorporating some of these ideas into your room and you will see a difference in the level of engagement and excitement in your students.
This post brought to you by Kate Palmquist, APOSA overseeing Elementary Curriculum and Instructional Coaching
How many times has a student pushed your buttons or tried to get into a power struggle with you? Low breathing and smiling keeps a teacher’s body and heart rate calm, which in turn keeps the students calm and prevents verbal challenges. So, do you want to build even better relationships with your students with an even greater focus on content?
It is essential, that as teachers, we give students fair and consistent boundaries, while at the same time, maintaining and preserving relationships. A majority of our students are motivated to learn and behave when we operate from a base of INFLUENCE instead of POWER.
In our work as ENVoY coaches, we have seen teachers consistently use Educational Non-Verbal Yardsticks (ENVoY) GEMS to build more meaningful relationships with all students, focus even more on content, and increase student independence.
Some may think using ENVoY means misbehavior is ignored but that is not the case. ENVoY is not void of discipline. It is more importantly, a set of solid culturally responsive routines used to influence students to increase their on-task independence. When discipline is needed, staff should utilize their building-wide processes and procedures.
According to ENVoY’s author, Michael Grinder, adults who systematically utilize the full range of nonverbal management skills reinforce consistent and fair parameters with all students, regardless of unique learning styles or cultural backgrounds.
Think of it like this: If you purposely tried to use words mostly for content and relationships, and used non-verbal signs, gestures, or signals to manage behavior/transitions, how would that impact your classroom? Coaches can help you identify the balance and art of managing behaviors by influence rather than power.
These practices are not only for classrooms, but media centers, hallways, gyms, computer labs, special education rooms, and main offices can also feel the positive impact of ENVoY.
ENVoy strategies- are identified by 4 phases of teaching and include the following GEMS:
Getting Attention: Freeze Body, Above Pause Whisper
Teaching: Raise Your Hand/Speak Out
Transition to Seat Work: Exit Directions, M.I.T.S. (Most Important Twenty Seconds)
Seatwork: Off/Neutral /On, Influence Approach
Below are some ideas and examples of how teachers tailor ENVoY fit their personal teaching style:
Above (said 2 levels above that of the group) Pause (for silence and attention) Whisper (to begin the content)
The value of the routine affords any guest teacher the opportunity to gather students efficiently with their own Above Pause Whisper as well.
Exit Directions (visual list of what students Need, Do, When, How, and Then)
ENVoY recommends routines for students to manage their own learning. After group instruction, teachers go through Exit Directions then allow students a moment to process, ask questions for clarification, then move into work time. The teacher can use the visuals to NONVERBALLY direct students who may need additional help getting started. Exit Directions also ease transitions for students and adults entering the room at various times. They quickly read what the class is working on and are able to begin with minimal direction/distraction.
Silent Select (written names for student selection)
ENVoY recommends silent select for least disturbance when requesting students from classrooms. Support teachers could write students names on whiteboards or have printed lists and smile and stand silently at the door.
Developing ENVoY routines and management strategies help students feel safe and experience structure and expectations that support their learning. Contact an ENVoY Resident Coach to increase your ENVoY capacity!
This post brought to you by Paula Kuisle, Instructional/ENVoY Coach, Elton Hills Elementary
and Angie Ellsworth, Behavior/ENVoY Coach, Pinewood Elementary
Feel free to connect with Paula via her email or Angie via her email
The sheer number of educational apps available to teachers is overwhelming. It can take a lot of time to research quality online tools that can assist in your teaching. To save you some time, here are a few examples of free apps available to you and your students.
Seesaw: The Learning Journal
All subject areas
If you haven’t checked out Seesaw, it might be time! Seesaw is a great tool for not only teachers but for students and parents. Seesaw is an online tool that allows students to document their learning throughout the year, provide feedback to other classmates and receive feedback from their parents and teachers. Teachers around the district love this tool because it has become a portfolio of their students learning and allows students the opportunity to collaborate online in a safe environment. Seesaw is also a platform that allows students the freedom to show their learning in multiple ways and it works within any subject area.
If you currently use Seesaw in your classroom but are looking for new ways to use this platform, check out and read about the “100 Ways Students Use Seesaw”.
Number Rack from the Math Learning Center
If you keep up with our elementary curriculum blogs you know that our last blog included information on “Number Talks” and the importance of providing our students with a daily opportunity to improve their number sense. For those of you looking for a math teaching tool that helps students think in terms of 5’s and 10’s you might want to check out this app. This app allows you to facilitate the exploration of addition and subtraction strategies. You also have the opportunity to annotate the work on the iPad. The Math Learning Center provides an online video on how to manipulate the app for those of you looking to get started.
Exercise & Movement
We don’t want to forget about our PE teachers in our elementary blogging and since movement and exercise is a conversation we have often in classrooms here is a suggestion for those looking for new ways to get students moving. What is unique about this tool is that it not only get students moving but it models the appropriate ways to stretch and safely exercise. If you aren’t sure how to model that for your students, you can use this tool in any classroom or gym (just be sure you have enough room once they start moving!).
We know that giving spelling lists is not best practice which is why as a district we have moved to word study. Teachers are always looking for more creative ways to get students engaged in their independent word study work. Spelling City is a tool that teachers can use to download students individual work lists. When you meet with your students for a mini-lesson on a new sort or after introducing students to their new sort students can work on their individual spelling pattern in multiple ways within Spelling City. Students can also take a pre-test within Spelling City and teachers can check their understanding. It does take time on your end to enter the sorts but once they are in you can use them over and over again.
If you are looking for a list of other district approved apps, you can find that here.
Enjoy trying out these apps but as always before introducing students to online resources don’t forget to teach them the importance of online digital citizenship!
This post brought to you by Kate Palmquist, Elementary Principal on Special Assignment
October is the month of Halloween, often the first time in months that our students will see snow, National Sarcasm Awareness Month, National Toilet Tank Repair Month (that is actually true) and the list goes on and on yet we wonder why we may be seeing some interesting behaviors in our classrooms this time of year. Check out some of the suggestions below on how you can reduce/prevent behaviors from occurring in your classroom.
Start with yourself
Be careful that your frustration is not landing on one or two students in the classroom resulting in blaming. Don’t assume when something happens that is it a certain student and then call them out for it! Do a proper investigation and be slow to place blame.
Sometimes when behaviors increase we can easily overreact. Teaching can be stressful at times and can test our patience. If you are getting frustrated, it is easy to make a small infraction seem like a big behavior issue. Check in with yourself and make sure that you aren’t overreacting.
A lot of research has been done to show how important your room arrangement is and how it can impact the climate in your classroom. Check out these room arrangement tips:
Flexible seating: When students have choice in seating options that best fit their learning style they are able to better focus on the task at hand. Give your students the choice (within reason) of moving to an area of the room that they feel they can learn best in. Consider providing standing and sitting options within your room. If students are easily distracted, consider placing them in a spot in your classroom where they won’t be easily distracted. For example take note of who is sitting by the door and whether this is the best place for the student. The door is a high traffic area and not a good place for a student who is easily distracted.
Student misbehavior is often a sign that students are overwhelmed and are in need of a break! Learn to recognize when students need time to take a break and move. Here are some easy brain break ideas:
Physical Challenges Challenge students to do something physically difficult, such as standing on one foot with arms extended, or this one: Grab your nose with left hand, and grab your left earlobe with your right hand, and then quickly switch so that your right hand is on your nose and your left hand is grabbing your right earlobe.
Animal Pretend Younger grades will enjoy pretending to be various animals (or even objects such as lawn mowers or airplanes). Call out different examples.
Trading Places Have students stand behind their pushed-in chairs. Call out a trait, and everyone who has that trait must change places with someone else (students who do not have the trait stay where they are). Examples: “Everyone with curly hair.” “Everyone who ate cereal for breakfast.”
Never underestimate the power of a strong student-teacher relationship. Oftentimes we start the year with a focus on building relationships with our students and by October we often lose sight that it is an ongoing process. It takes time to build relationships! Don’t give up! Here are some relationship building tips:
Morning Meeting: If it has been a while since you have done a morning meeting it's time to try it again! Morning meetings have been proven to increase relationships between teachers and students but also amongst peers. Don’t be afraid to take time every morning for a morning meeting. The relationships you build will help you throughout the day. If you build the routine in every day, students will learn that it is time to connect with their school family and become more invested in supporting each other.
Greeting Students: When was the last time you greeted your students when they come in the door? Students want to know you are excited to have them in your classroom even if the day before was a tough day. Every day is a chance to start fresh! Don’t forget to greet your students as they walk in and tell them how happy you are that you get to be their teacher.
Weekly Reflections: Once a week have students share one thing that was positive about their week and one thing that was negative. In groups have students brainstorm solutions for their peers on how they can problem solve the not-so-positive event that has occurred. Students will learn to build capacity amongst themselves and will learn to rely on each other to problem solve when issues arise.
After all, don’t we want our students to be able to effectively solve issues without our support?
I leave you with two very important thoughts: “There are no bad kids. Just impressionable, conflicted young people wrestling with emotions and impulses, trying to communicate their feelings and needs they only way they know how” (Lansbury), and “Remember: everyone in the classroom has a story that leads to misbehavior or defiance. 9 times out of 10, the story behind the misbehavior won’t make you angry. It will break your heart” (Breaux).
Lansbury, Janet. “Respectful Patenting w/ “No Bad Kids” Author Janet Lansbury” The Adopting Teens & Tweens Radio Forum, March 2016.
Breaux, Annette, Education Speakers Group
This post brought to you by Kate Palmquist, Elementary Principal on Special Assignment
Enjoy our Blog!
Members of the Elementary C&I team post useful tools, tips, and tricks on a weekly basis to help you help students.