As I am writing this, there is a new blanket of fresh snow on the ground. This can only mean one thing: winter is coming and with it, all the warm and fuzzy feelings I hold about the upcoming holidays are coming. I take time to reflect on what I am thankful for, make space to gather my enormous family, and look forward to the new year ahead.
As an educator I also feel the weight of the holidays and the responsibility I have to consider that others around me may not celebrate the same ways I do.
It's probably not a surprise to those who know me that I have always been interested in world cultures. I wanted to learn all the languages and travel all the places and meet all the people. That’s probably one of the reasons why I became a teacher. When I began my journey as an educator, I was ravenous for information about the different cultures of my students. I believed that if I knew all I could know about their home cultures, I could be the best teacher I could be for them.
However, the more I learned, the more I realized how little I knew! I don’t have to tell you how quickly I became overwhelmed and hopeless. I was convinced that I would offend someone if I said or did the wrong thing because I couldn’t possibly know it all. This fear led me to nervously gloss over questions students would ask or cobble together some half-truth from the bits of knowledge I had. The fear I had that I would be thought incompetent kept me from truly honoring the curiosity of my students. It certainly wasn’t that I didn’t care--I was simply not equipped. That is, until I encountered the notion of cultural humility.
Cultural Humility is a philosophical approach that pushes us to continually challenge our own biases or previously held beliefs, knowing we can not possibly ever know all there is to know about cultures other than our own. It is different from the notion of Cultural Competency, which suggests that by studying a culture we can know all we need to know in order to provide support to our marginalized students. Cultural Humility rather calls on us to examine power imbalances and work to fix them while developing partnerships with those who can advocate for greater systemic change. In other words, it is about lifelong learning and being comfortable with saying, “I don’t know, but I will find out!” It’s considering new understandings, not wallowing in the embarrassment of, “I never knew that,” and striving to rethink the old ways of doing things.
Cultural humility is a motivating force behind the work we are doing in Curriculum and Instruction here in RPS. We know that the myths we’ve been told are not accurate and we know our students--all of our students--deserve better. It is our desire to do better that guides us as we work closely with our American Indian Liaison, Dawn Bjoraker, and our American Indian Parent Committee to improve the way we teach about those who are Indigenous to this land. We have much work to do, but it is with a sense of cultural humility, that we move forward, striving to honor the experiences of our American Indian students and families.
As the snow continues to fall and Thanksgiving approaches, many may be wondering how to best approach the holiday with our students. Luckily, we have some wonderful resources available through our media specialists. I’ve included some links to check out. Also, below is a short video that highlights some ways we can begin to take a new look at the way we teach the upcoming holiday.
Most importantly, don’t be afraid to say I don’t know, but then don’t stop there--work with your students to find the answers. Ask questions, reach out to families, call on the expertise of others, and never stop learning!
This post brought to you by Kim Eversman, E-12 Equity Implementation Associate
Resources for Further Study:
I cannot tell you how many times I have heard people say “I am not good at math”. This is from students, parents, friends, and colleagues, many if not all, I believe to have normal to well above average intelligence. On the flip side, no one really freely admits, “ I can’t read, or comprehend text well.” Why is that? Why is it so easy to admit we don’t understand or like math? Don’t get me wrong, there are many people out there that love math and are making great strides in mathematical thinking. But for many of us, something went wrong and math is not our “thing”.
We have a name for this propensity for not liking math, it is called, "Math Phobia” and it is at epidemic proportions. Math phobia is actually defined in a medical dictionary as a feeling of tension, apprehension or fear about one’s ability to do math, which subsequently interferes with the performance thereof.
This phobia is present everywhere in our society and has prompted an entire industry of memes and graphic T-shirts that promote the idea that math is hard and scary. (Underlying message, so it’s ok not to be good at it or to even try.) When we believe something to be too difficult to master, this attitude stops us from focusing on the problem we are trying to solve.
So what went wrong, why do so many lack confidence in our math skills?
Research suggests that for many of us it was the way we were taught. Math was taught to most strictly through the study of arithmetic and computation. We were led to believe math was a list of rules and specific algorithms that could only be memorized and procedures done specific ways to get to the one correct answer. You were considered smart if you could compute quickly. Thinking about math this way is boring, stressful and/or unproductive. In his article, Why Do Students Fear Math, Pradeep Kumar states;
Another reason that many people feel they are not good at math is that they were lead to believe you are either born to be good at math or you were not. The truth is that we are not predestined to be good or bad at math, although the attitude that you are a math person or you are not continues to prevail. Stanford University Professor Jo Boaler says,
How does our own attitude about math affect how we teach math and more importantly, how does it impact our student's success rates?
Research suggests that parents and teachers with anxiety about algebra and equations transmit those feelings to their children and students, who then perform worse on math. Math anxiety has been recognized as an impediment to math achievement. As teachers, our attitude and confidence with math skills have a direct impact on our student's achievement rates in math.
In a recent study, Boaler and her fellow researchers recruited 40 5th-grade teachers from the Central Valley to take a 12-hour online math course she and her team created. The course, “How to Learn Math for Teachers,” covers perceptions about math, how anyone — with enough practice — can develop the brain skills to understand complex math problems, and how math is used in everyday life. The course also covers basic math concepts, such as number patterns and reasoning, and offers tips for teaching those concepts.
When commenting about the impact of the Stanford study, published in the journal Education Sciences, Jo Boaler said,
For our students to do well in math, many of us need to change our own attitudes and understanding of mathematical concepts and ideas.
Changing perceptions and skill sets is difficult. Where do we begin? The first step is to adopt a growth mindset. A growth mindset is based on the belief that your basic qualities are things you can cultivate through your efforts. If you have not read it already, I highly recommend you read Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol S. Dweck, Ph.d. This philosophy has been a game changer for many. (This one, in my opinion, is also worth a second look even if you have already read it).
About a decade later, Dweck’s Stanford University colleague Jo Boaler piggy-backed off these ideas and applied it to mathematics. Mathematical Mindsets was published in 2016 applying advanced neurological research to how students best learn mathematical concepts. This book sparked an international resurgence in mathematical best practices. This is a must read for any teacher of mathematics. In it, Jo Boaler explores the power of mistakes and struggle, the concept that there are creativity and beauty in mathematics, (A concept I did not get at any time during my math education), the importance of developing flexibility with numbers and how mathematics is a path to equity.
When I first read Mathematical Mindsets, the greatest take away for me was there are creativity and beauty in math. What?!?! As a recovering mathophob myself, I was led to believe math was all about speed and (this one is from my dad who would sit with me as I cried through my math homework) you only get the right answer if you have a sharp pencil. In the book, you are introduced to Maryam Mirzakhani, the first woman to win the Fields Medal (equivalent to the Nobel Prize for Mathematics). If you have not heard of her before, her amazing and tragic story is worth looking up. Born in Iran, Maryam was a mathematician at Stanford who studied hyperbolic surfaces and who had in 2016 produced what has been called the “theory of the decade”. Surprisingly, Mirzakhani described herself as a "slow" mathematician, saying that "you have to spend some energy and effort to see the beauty of math." To solve problems, Mirzakhani would draw doodles on sheets of paper and write mathematical formulas around the drawings. Her daughter described her mother's work as "painting". In Mathematical Mindsets Maryam is quoted as saying:
For many of us, math was taught strictly through the study of arithmetic and computation. The reality is that mathematics is so much more than that. We need to make the study of mathematics more meaningful and engaging for the next generation. We need to take that leap of faith and believe that even as adults we have the ability to learn more about math concepts and with a growth mindset promote positive attitudes towards the discovery of math for ourselves and the future generations we serve. Be the teacher that promotes this T-shirt.
This post brought to you by Julie Ace, Elementary Implementation Associate
Best Way to Change Scores is to Change Teachers Attitudes
Challenging Myths About Learning
Jo Boaler Ted Talk: How you can be good at math and other surprising facts about learning.
(2008) Foundations for Success: The Final Report of the National Mathematics Advisory Panel, National Mathematics Advisory Panel (U.S. Department of Education, Washington, DC).
St.Myers, Andrew; Carey, Bjorn (15 July 2017). "Maryam Mirzakhani, Stanford mathematician and Fields Medal winner, dies". Stanford News. Retrieved 17 July 2017
Jacobson, Howard (29 July 2017). "The world has lost a great artist in mathematician Maryam Mirzakhani". The Guardian. Retrieved 21 October 2017.
The Llama Llama books are favorites in our house. I’m fairly certain we own every one ever written and have read each of them no less than a dozen times each. The other night my daughter and I were reading Llama Llama Mad At Mama. In case you aren’t familiar with the story, let me bring you up to speed. Llama and mama have to spend the day running a bunch of errands and Llama is not pleased with the plan. One of their errands is a trip to the grocery store. As mama is shopping, Llama is getting increasingly agitated until he escalates to the point where he totally loses control; Llama throws things, knocks things over, kicks his feet, yells and eventually begins to cry. When we reached this point in the book, I turned to my daughter and asked her how she thought Llama was feeling. She answered me then turned to me and said, “Mom, how do you think MAMA LLAMA was feeling here? I know Llama is very upset but mama must be too! I bet she is embarrassed by his choices. I think she also might be worried that something is really wrong with Llama. But I also know she is mad because look at her face! Poor Mama Llama!” WOW! This mama was incredibly proud! Like I said before, we have read this book at least a dozen times and this was the first time she keyed into how Mama Llama was feeling. Her reflection that night got me thinking about the power of using characters in literature to teach social-emotional learning.
Social-emotional learning is such a big topic in education right now that this month's entire edition of Educational Leadership is dedicated to this topic. Everyone is talking about the importance of teaching these kinds of lessons in school. Yet I know that as a classroom teacher, I would have been hard-pressed to add one more thing into the learning day! With so many expectations already on our proverbial plates, how can we do even one more thing? However, teaching social-emotional learning through literature doesn’t add a new expectation to teachers’ already jam-packed curriculum - it can easily be incorporated into reading routines already in place. Here are some ways to begin building in this type of learning with the system you already have set up.
Read It & Reap
When reading a book with students, take the time to make connections between what students read, their personal values, and the world around them. In the last decade or so there has been a shift away from doing this with kids. This happened greatly in part because of the increase in the weight being placed on standardized tests. Our goals for student learning became much more academic focused. “If a question wasn’t text dependent, then it wasn’t a good/necessary question. We stopped asking anything (or nearly anything) where the inference couldn’t be drawn directly from the text.” (N. Boyles) Certainly we need to dig deeply into the texts we read for academic reasons, however, go back to those same books you have previously read and revisit them. “This time, ask questions related to social-emotional problem solving to begin discussions that raise students awareness and encourage them to rethink their own responses to challenging situations.” (N. Boyles) Having these types of discussions may actually take you into the Common Core’s comprehension standards that are sometimes overlooked (author’s craft, purpose & point of view, use of illustrations) and deeper levels of Webb’s depth of knowledge system.
There are numerous aspects to social-emotional learning. Instead of trying to hit them all, be selective and target 4-5 over the course of the year. Here are 5 that have been identified by the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning because each competency can be addressed through several related focus areas:
Notice the first two are centered on the individual and the final three address interaction among individuals. This progression makes complete sense; how can a student manage their relationships with others until they are able to identify and manage their own feelings and self-perceptions?
Use A New Lens
Many of the books we choose to read with students could target a multitude of the skills listed above all in one text. However, discussing all of them will likely overwhelm students (and likely you as well) and you may miss your intended target. Instead of using a text to discuss various SEL categories, select one skill so students are able to think deeply about specific issues. This can be done with many books - even books that weren’t specifically written with teaching SEL in mind. However, there are many authors out there who have written books around the different areas of SEL learning. Here are some lists that may help guide additional book selections:
25 Best Kids Books to Teach Social-Emotional Skills
50 Must Have Picture Books to Teach Social-Emotional Skills
Hearts and Minds: Picture Books That Strengthen Social-Emotional Learning
Social-Emotional Learning Diverse Book List for Grade PreK-8
As I reflect back on reading with my daughter the other night and her reaction to the text, it reaffirms for me how much children learn through books and the characters they meet there. Though Llama Llama is a favorite in our house (and my daughter has obviously connected with the characters and is learning a great deal about emotions) I recognize that it may not be the best fit for you and your students. Hopefully, though, you will be able to find other texts that you are already using, or perhaps a new one from a list, to try your hand at incorporating some intentional social-emotional learning within your classroom.
This post brought to you by Rebecca Mecikalski, Elementary Implementation Associate
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
Have you ever been asked by a supervisor to complete a project or task and although at the time it seems simple you find yourself stuck and lacking ideas? I often find myself sitting at my desk with a problem that needs to be solved but struggling with a solution because I am limited to my own ideas. I might get up, walk my office floor, knock on some doors, gather ideas and go back to my office to further strategize alone on how I might fix the problem. More times than not, I will come up with a decent solution but nothing necessarily new or earth-shattering. On the flip side, I also know that if I could steal 30 minutes of time from a colleague or two and truly collaborate around a table on an issue, the outcome will be so much richer and better than anything I could do on my own. The solution would be a thoughtful collection of perspectives and the entire team would benefit from the ideas just shared. True collaboration is a beautiful thing. Of course in order to effectively collaborate I need to possess certain skills so that my colleagues want to continue to work with me. I need to be willing to listen, be open to new ideas and I need to understand that I can be stronger by what I gain from others.
I want to encourage you as you think about your day and your instruction to question how you have created an environment that gives students a chance to learn how to collaborate. Do your students know that they are stronger when they work together? Do they know that their classmates have ideas and thoughts that are worth listening to? Do they have the skills to work together to the greater benefit of the group and school community? If not, here are some ways that you can encourage and explicitly teach your students how to be skilled collaborators.
- Everyone has an important role -
A challenge of designing good collaborative activities is ensuring that all students play a role. True collaboration should not just strengthen a students’ existing skills but should ensure that the peer interactions stretch their own knowledge and expand one another’s ideas. If, for example, a student is much stronger in one skill than her peers in her group, there is nothing wrong with asking them to teach others. When designing collaborative activities, ensure that students don’t just occupy the same physical space but that they share an intellectual space. Think about your role as a teacher as a coach, not an instructor. Makes rounds in the room promoting student voice, check in on your quieter students and step into coach students on working together as they get frustrated. Remind them that they all have a common goal and they each have skills that help them to reach the goal!
- Group Work -
Often times we think we are creating collaborators when we put students into group projects. However, typically what happens with most group projects is that students will divide the labor and then just complete tasks independently. When thinking about group work think of it rather as a discussion that connects students through conversation. Require students to share their personal experiences and challenge them to come to a consensus around a problem. Through group discussion, students will learn to defend their ideas with evidence. Keep in mind though that an important part of group discussion is respecting ideas! You will want to start group discussions by laying out clear norms. Let the students create the norms though so that they have ownership and agreement on what they need from their peers. Here are some ideas:
- Assigning Duties -
A common frustration among students when they are “forced” to work together is that one or two students can frequently “freeload” off the work of others. This occurs when some teammates let the others in a group do all of the work. Here are some ways you can deter or eliminate this from happening:
1. Ensure that your groups are small. When groups are smaller it is hard for a student to hide or get away with not participating.
2. Clearly define for students how you will hold them accountable for the work. Decide before the work begins how you plan on individually assessing the student's work (i.e. one on one conference, short exit slip, a reflection sheet, journal entry)
3. Ask students to assign team roles as it relates to the activity. Just like we assign roles within a PLC consider having students assign roles to keep everyone on task: timekeeper, facilitator, monitor, recorder.
4. At the end of a group activity, consider having your students self-evaluation their own participation and effort level. This can be filling out a slip of paper or sharing their scale of participation with a classroom on a scale of 1-5.
Effective collaboration is a skill that our students will need when they form friendships, enter the workforce, college and beyond. I want to encourage you to think about the type of communicators that you are inspiring in your classroom. Are your students being encouraged to collaborate? Are your students getting the opportunity to debate? Are they being taught the importance of learning from each other and do they know that they are stronger when they work together? Are you explicitly teaching the skills necessary to work in a team? Our students will need these skills as they grow older. Let’s remind them of the importance of being skilled collaborators!
This post brought to you by Kate Palmquist, POSA overseeing Elementary Curriculum and Instructional Coaching
When we share stories with one another we become bound together in powerful ways. Stories provide hope: they have the potential to shine a light into the darkness and challenge us to change our thinking. Stories matter. Stories are powerful. Each month, the Department of Curriculum and Instruction partners with the RPS equity specialists and American Indian Liaison to share the stories of those in our own backyard who are often silenced.
Cante' waste' nape ciyuzapi ksto! (I greet you with a warm heart and handshake).
Recently, I had a conversation with a student who was feeling lonely. He wanted to go back to the school he attended last year, which is out of state. He missed his friends, he missed being part of a community, and he missed a sense of belonging. He said, "I don't really talk to anybody but my dog."
I knew this student was seeking an authentic connection. I told him, "I talk to my dog too, in fact, I dress her up. Would you like to see her in a Wonder Woman costume?" I then showed him a picture of my dog in her costume.
His eyes sparkled and the corners of his mouth turned upward into a smile. He looked directly at me. We connected.
October 8th marks Indigenous Peoples’ Day, recognized by Rochester Public Schools, the City of Rochester, and several other school districts and cities across the United States. So, Why is this day important?
This simple act of acknowledgment of the Indigenous Peoples of this land and the contributions they have made can and will be the catalyst for Indigenous Peoples’ sense of belonging, existence, and self-worth. This is imperative; otherwise, it can be easy for American Indian students to feel like they don't belong. Others often question our identity and existence (I say ‘our’ because I am an Indigenous person) because many history books refer to us as being figures of the past: a people who did not exist before 1492. Acknowledging Indigenous Peoples’ Day will begin to dispel the myths of American Indians being nothing but relics of the past.
The Indigenous Peoples’ history, culture, and way of life were targeted for assimilation through the boarding schools and foster care system before the passing of the Indian Child Welfare Act in 1978 and the American Indian Religious Freedom Act in 1978. Very few American Indian families have not been directly impacted by the forced boarding school and adoption era.
My Mother was sent to St. Francis Boarding School and eventually ended up aging out of the foster care system. She was separated from her three older brothers, one older sister, and one younger sister. While in foster care, she repeatedly asked about her younger sister. A few days after her 18th birthday, she was contacted by the state of South Dakota and notified that her sister was living in a town 45 minutes away and she had been there for 13 years.
Most of us have an inherent human desire to belong and to be part of a community. Our ancestors existed so we can exist. Our existence is current. Our existence is our future.
If one does not understand the past and is told things about history that are inaccurate, one begins to internalize all of that information: one may begin to believe inaccuracies about one’s self. We must recognize how the past affects us today, how it will affect us tomorrow, and how it will affect our future generations.
Our American Indian students are the epitome of strength and resilience.
Let us put our minds together and see what life we can make for our children. (Sitting Bull)
If you have a question about resources available for students or staff, or if you wish to discuss any of these ideas further, please consider reaching out to me.
Pilamaya. (Thank you.)
This post brought to you by Dawn Bjoraker, American Indian Liaison for the Rochester Public Schools
Feel free to contact Bjoraker at 507.328.4236 or to connect with her via email
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!
My very first job was in Mrs. Morris’ first grade classroom at Lindbergh Elementary School. Mrs. Morris gave me the best job of all -cleaning the chalkboard erasers! I was thrilled to have the opportunity to go outside for two minutes, bang the erasers together, watch the cloud of dust go up in the air, and wait until it lessened to know when they were officially “clean”. Looking back, that probably was not the cleanest job, but it gave me a small sense of purpose and leadership that I longed for in the classroom.
As a teacher, I want my students to have that same feeling of purpose and leadership in my classroom. When I was at an elementary school, I had the privilege to provide a group of students the opportunity to demonstrate leadership skills through running a school store. Students had to complete an application and go through an interview. Seeing these students feel empowered at their interview as they answered questions such as “what has been your proudest moment this year” or “how would working at the school store help you achieve your goals” made me smile. These interviews provided them a time to talk about themselves and let them dream of their future. Students received training in their job duties and then mentored the “new employees”. I witnessed these students transfer their leadership skills back into the classroom and with their peers.
Creating student leadership opportunities in the classroom can also assist teachers in the daily struggle of juggling all the daily tasks. These opportunities provide students a sense of purpose, belonging, and leadership all while helping you maintain your sanity throughout the course of the day.
Here are leadership opportunities you may want to consider implementing into your classroom:
Are you ready to launch leadership opportunities in your classroom? Try these tips and tricks to help you get started:
Take a minute to check out the video below to see student workers in action!
If you would like more ideas or to help you implement some classroom leadership opportunities, please feel free to reach out to me anytime!
This post brought to you by Katie Miller, K-12 EL Implementation Associate
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
For most of our students, summer brings several weeks of unstructured free time. While spending time with friends and family doing all the great activities that can only be done during this wonderful (but short in Minnesota) season is just what some students need. What we as teachers know is that this time away from academic learning also causes what has been termed, “summer slide”. It is when unpracticed skills become lost. This loss can take several weeks in the fall to regain.
According to Education World, “ more than 70 percent of recently-surveyed middle school math teachers recognize that students regress more in math than in any other subject during the break—and take longer to get back up to speed in the fall.”
So what can we do to keep math and science learning alive this summer for all students? Here are some suggestions and websites that offer some great resources.
There are so many valuable math skills as well as interpersonal skills that can be gained from playing board games. Take some time at the end of the school year to play some games with your students and encourage them to start a game night at home with their families.
Remember Everyday Math has many math skill games that could be played at home with a regular deck of playing cards and or dice. Review those games before the end of the school year and show how a regular deck of cards could be used.
Summer Math Garden
Education World encourages us to grow a Summer Math Garden. What they mean by this is getting families to think about how mathematics is embedded in all their favorite summer activities and incorporating that mathematical thinking. They include the follow directions:
Another great local resource for students and families is Quarry Hill Nature Center. This summer the Quarry Hill Nature Center is offering many exciting summer camps and events for all ages. Some of these camps include Whiz Kids, Mission Explore, and Scales and Slime, just to name a few. Registration opened in March but there is still available space in many of the classes.
Community Ed Programs
Remember that Rochester Community Education also offers many opportunities for kids to continue to grow their skills in their Youth Brochure.
Fun at Home
In researching for this blog the best website for suggestions that I found was Math Geek Mama. In her blog Fun Ways to Engage in Math this Summer, the author lists 50+ fun and simple math actives that can be played by any age elementary student.
If you’re wondering about an easy way to share this information with parents, remember that the C and I website is open to the community. Just share the link and they can have access to this blog and resources for themselves. Let's empower our parents with ways to have fun with their children while practicing valuable skills at the same time.
This post brought to you by Julie Ace, Elementary Implementation Associate
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