Well, we are officially rolling with the school year! The new supplies are in their places, new routines are being solidified, and classrooms are buzzing with new learning. We’ve introduced ourselves to our students and had them introduce themselves to us. There have been all sorts of ice breakers and “get to know you” activities. We know that this student loves dogs, this other one loves to dance, another one loves music, and this one over here loves to read science fiction. Our traditional “get to know you” activities are really great tools to gather information about our students. We talk about them a lot at the beginning of the year, but I’m proposing we DON’T stop doing them once the shine wears off of those new school supplies.
This time of year, when I reflect on the different ways we get to know our students after the first few days of school, I often think of my 10th grade English teacher, Mr. Anderson. Our first assignment of the year was to write our own obituary (yeah…super morbid, right?). I wrote the required one page of “She was loved by her family…” “She was preceded in death by…” “She did this and that…”. I turned it in and a few days later, it came back to me, dripping in red ink. I was convinced I had completely failed. As I started to read the comments on my paper though, my anxiety lifted. All along the margins, I read comments like, “No way! Your grandpa was my bus driver when I was a kid!” and “Your cousin is my best friend!”. Awkward and anxious me suddenly knew I had someone in my corner. Mr. Anderson was making connections with me that went beyond my favorite color or which sports I play, and I suddenly cared much more about my English class than I ever imagined I would. Throughout the year in that English class, every writing assignment came back with Mr. Anderson’s commentary along the margins, forcing me to rethink my thesis or supporting arguments, or cracking a joke about a silly spelling error. Every once in a while, I would find a post it on my desk, introducing me to authors like Jane Smiley or Toni Morrison (who is, to this day, my favorite). Mr. Anderson had taken the time throughout the year to get to know me both as a learner and as a person who had a life outside of his classroom.
This year, you are going to hear a lot about the district’s continued work around culturally and linguistically responsive teaching practices, or CLR. We know we need to think about culture and bias. We know how important it is to understand who our students are culturally and the cultural nuances they bring to our classrooms every day. That is why I’d like to provide a few “get to know you” strategies that can be used throughout the year, multiple times, to continue to build relationships and connections with your students and get to know them as cultural beings.
- Six Word Memoir -
Invite students to reflect on how they see themselves; as learners, as third graders, as members of the community or members of their families, etc. The options are endless. Then, have them summarize themselves in 6 words. For example, here is one of my own: Farm girl, city girl, indecisive girl.
The beauty of this strategy is that is can be used multiple times throughout the year. As students feel more and more comfortable, watch their memoirs change. For more examples, look here.
- Group It -
This one is quick, fun, AND it gets students moving around the room. (CLR strategy, yo!)
Round one: Choose a category (such as favorite colors) and tell students to divide themselves into only 4 groups. The students have to work together to determine which 4 colors will be represented. Those whose favorite may not be listed will have to get creative about which group they will belong to.
Round two: Tell students they will now have to divide themselves into 3 groups. Give them another category. Again, students will have to work together and get creative to determine how they will group themselves.
Round three: Now tell students they will have to divide into only 2 groups. Give them a category and let them decide how to split themselves.
This activity helps students find commonalities and make connections with their classmates. They also have to practice problem solving and language skills while they communicate with you and their classmates. You can make the categories more or less complex, depending on your students.
- Walk and Talk -
Pose a question to your students and have them pair up with a classmate (or the teacher) and go on a short walk around the school to discuss the question. You could do this as often as you’d like, having students pair up with someone new each time.
This activity is so versatile. You can use it as a “get to know you” activity or you can have students reflect on class content. Once again, the options are endless. If you need help thinking of questions, check out this website.
Getting to know our students never really ends and when they know we care about them beyond our classroom, they are more likely to be present and stay engaged, well beyond their days with us. We are all on this journey together and even small steps, like making connections with our students, can help pave our way to more meaningful connections and deeper learning. If you would like more ideas, or if you have any you would like to share, please email me any time!
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
As the school year becomes more and more visible in our rear-view mirrors, it is not only our students whom we may have difficulty keeping engaged, but also ourselves. Often we do not even realize that we have begun to “tune-out” as the year begins to drift away. Let’s face it – we’ve had a few things our plates and have been working our tails off for the last 9 months. So with less than three weeks remaining, how do we remain engaged and energized to help get our students to the finish line?
Here are 4 ideas for keeping it fresh and fun right up to the last minute you have with this years kiddos.
Field Test Something
Remember that great idea you had back in October when things were crazy busy and you just didn’t have time to explore it? Remember that conversation you had with a colleague about an idea from an article you read and would love to try in your own classroom? Now is the time! The end of the year can be a great time to pilot something new and see how it goes because it will come to a definite conclusion in a manner of weeks. Not sure what to give a try? Check Best Idea Ever for more than 35 ideas!
Take time to Reflect
Since we are already looking in the rear-view mirror, you might as well focus on reflecting. You have almost an entire year of instruction under your belt. It’s time to look back on what worked well, what could have been even better, and what should not be repeated next year. Perhaps even ask you students to reflect on the year and even on your teaching and give you feedback for going forward. Getting Student Feedback and Tools for Gathering Feedback offer ideas for soliciting advice from your students.
Create Something New
After you and your students have done all that reflecting, you will likely have things you would like to improve upon or change for the next school year. Start making those changes now. The end of the year is a great time to start preparing for next year. Even better, get your students involved in making those changes. How to Experiment is a great article about how to go about trying something new in the classroom.
What do you want your students to remember about their year with you? Take some time to gather those memories and put them in a place that students can take with them. These last few weeks of school are a great time to collect and share the highlights of the year. Education World and Edublogs have some fantastic ideas to wind up learning and find the bright spots of your time together.
Recently, I came across the quote from the image above and it really spoke to me when I read it. I hope it speaks to you, too. I encourage you to take some time in these last few weeks to take your ending and turn it into a new beginning.
This post brought to you by Rebecca Mecikalski, Elementary Implementation Associate
Oprah Winfrey often asks people, “What do you know for sure?” As my retirement date fast approaches, I find myself reflecting about my career, the people I have met, and the impact I hope to leave behind. After 40+ years of working in various settings with children, here are my thoughts about
1) Children will always need significant adults to care deeply about them. We need to protect them, guide them, celebrate them, and open up their world through our teaching. Nothing will ever take the place of a student coming to school and knowing that someone cares.
2) Every interaction we have matters. We only get so many days each year to influence those around us. We never know which lesson, which interaction, which comment will make the difference for that one person we encounter. Nothing brings me more gratification than when a student, a teacher, a para, or a colleague tells me that something I did or said mattered to them.
3) With rare exceptions, people become educators because they want to make a difference in students’ lives. I have worked with countless teachers, paraprofessionals, principals, and administrators. Whether you are in a school building or work “down town,” you find honorable, dedicated people who truly care about students.
4) Integrity matters. No matter what another person chooses to do or say in a given situation, you can choose to respond with grace and integrity.
5) Amuse yourself and at least one person in the room is having fun. I often tell people this is my “educational philosophy.” After I became a teacher, I ran into my fifth grade teacher who I credit with changing my life forever. I asked about her teaching philosophy. Her response? “A day without a good laugh is a wasted day of school.” Humor builds relationships, lightens our hearts, and promotes learning.
6) I know for sure that I have LOVED being an educator in Rochester Public School. I will always be grateful for the opportunities I have had and the amazing people I have known. This is a special place and I was most fortunate to be part of it.
So, my friends, I wish the very best for you in the future. May your journey be as happy as mine.
This post brought to you by Carol Lucido, the K-8 District Math Coordinator
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
Supporting our students who are not looking forward to winter break.
For many of us the holiday season is truly like the Andy Williams tune the “Most Wonderful Time of the Year!” Many of our Rochester Public School students are anxiously anticipating the ten-day winter break from classes. They have holiday plans, will participate in family traditions, festive meals and parties, visit relatives, attend seasonal events, travel and have time to just play with friends and possibly new toys they have received. Looking forward to these things can be exciting. However, as teachers with classrooms of diverse students, we need to be mindful that for some students this is not the case.
Most teachers are very aware of the cultural diversity within their classroom and try to address the holiday season with cultural sensitivity by not promoting one holiday over another. Nevertheless, how can we support the students that are just not looking forward to being away from school for such an extended period? As Trevor Muir wrote in his blog: Not All Students Look Forward to the Holidays:
“While most kids (and teachers!) flee from the school gleefully on the last day, [there are some] that dread the break from school. They miss the structure of the school day; the stability of the classroom: the presence of friends; the free food in the cafeteria; and the love their teachers give them.”
If we take a moment to pause and think about it, it is my guess that each teacher could think of students they work with that will have these feelings of dread for the approaching break. These students do not have family events to look forward to, they will not be receiving gifts, some will wonder who will care for them and others will wonder from where they will get their next meal.
So how can we best support these students? The following is a list (compiled from suggestions from the resources cited below) of ways we can support our most vulnerable students during this time.
Be the listener your students need
Talk privately with your students about what they might be doing over the break so you know which students may need emotional support or help with resources to get them through this time.
Be aware of how you talk about winter break
In his blog, Trevor Muir has excellent advice about how to be sensitive to all students when you talk about winter break. Change the conversation from “What are you excited about?” and “What are you going to get?” to challenge them about what they might accomplish or who they might be able to help out.
Give students the opportunity to serve
As a class brainstorm a list of ways students could help or serve others during the time off. There is always that good feeling you get when you know you have helped or made a difference for someone else.
Provide resources for our students with the greatest needs
If you have a student(s) with resource needs, connect with your school social workers as they may be aware of a more comprehensive list of community resources. Below are some of our local organizations that provide resources for students and families in need.
As much as we would like to, we cannot make this the most wonderful time of the year for all our students, but with a little thoughtfulness we may be able to make it a little less difficult for those that are struggling.
This post brought to you by Julie Ace, Elementary Implementation Associate
Not All Students Look forward to the Holidays, Trevor Muir, https://www.weareteachers.com/supporting-students-winter-break/ Dec. 14, 2017
Parenting Kids As much as we would like to, we cannot make this the most wonderful time of the year for all our students, but with a little thoughtfulness we may be able to make it a little less difficult for those that are struggling.
Who Sabotage the Holidays, https://www.thechaosandtheclutter.com/archives/parenting-kids-who-sabotage-holidays
5 Reasons You might NOT Look Forward to the Holidays, http://wisestressmastery.com/5-reasons-holidays/ December 3, 2015
I am no expert on mindfulness, let me be clear; however, I do find joy in reading blogs and articles around the power of the mind and the impact of one’s attitude. At a leadership meeting, Superintendent Muñoz asked us each to name three positive things that happened the day before. I will be honest, it took me a bit to identify three things! I decided right then and there I need to get into the habit of reflecting at the end of my day. I intentionally identify three positive things from the day before I go to bed each night. This has made a difference both in how I sleep at night and how I feel in the morning when I wake up.
Blogger Leo Babauta of Zen Habits writes the way to change our mental habits is “with awareness, with honesty, with an open heart, and with appreciation of the immense joy of life in the midst of chaos.” I find this exceptionally helpful, empowering even, to know that during the busy holiday season, during hectic times at work, when I feel pulled in too many directions to count, I can find joy in my life.
Images taken by Heather Lyke
As you prepare for your winter break, let me encourage a few simple mindful activities that you may try (shared from ‘6 Mindfullness Exercises You Can Try Today’ published by Pocket Mindfulness). I like this list as the activities are simple, can be done quickly and anywhere, while yet having the potential to make a big difference!
Be well. Be good to yourself and others. And remember, you make a difference.
This post brought to you by Jayne Gibson, Executive Director of Curriculum and Instruction for Rochester Public Schools
Connect with Jayne Gibson via email or by calling 507.328.4301
f you’d like to explore mindfullness more fully, consider starting the new year off strong by joining one of these two upcoming PD Express courses:
Both begin in January. Connect with facilitator Laura Lenz if you have further questions.
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
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