A REAL Teacher Appreciation Day


Last night I went to a post wedding party of one of my former students. Her wedding was held in December and I couldn’t attend because it was also the weekend of my family Christmas celebration.

I was disappointed not to attend, but this post wedding party was for all of us who were too involved in the holiday rush to do so, and I was thrilled with the opportunity to spend some time with her.

IMG_1913 This family is really special to me, because we HAVE stayed in touch, and  they laughingly call me their “family teacher.” I taught Liz in Kindergarten and second grade and her brother, Mason, in first and third grades. I have stayed connected to these folks since they moved from my school (after Mason was in third), and have even had the kids stay overnight with me camping and on a beach vacation for a couple of days.We’ve shared birthday parties, graduations, ball games and other various events where we’ve had a lot of fun over the years.

Cool kids, cool family, and last night I knew hardly ANY of the people who were attending this spaghetti supper celebration. Each and EVERY single time Liz introduced me as her Kindergarten teacher, though, the response was, “OH, so you’re the one responsible for this wonderful girl.” Or, “YOU’RE the reason why she turned out to be such a wonderful person,” or “You’re who we have to thank for her turning out to be such a fabulous human being.”

Liz and I would make eye contact and laugh as she would agree with whomever was giving me kudos, and my response became, “Well, maybe I can take a tiny bit of the credit.”


She–and her family–really are amazing people and I am blessed to have been involved with all of them. Last night was really special, not only because of the bond I have with them, and how much fun it was, but also because of the kindness shown to me as a teacher by complete strangers.

As I drove away, however, I couldn’t help but think of the difference between that experience and what teachers usually face daily–questions, concerns, challenges, etc. My friend, though, hit the nail on the head when she summed the night up like this: “Well, that was a room FULL of people who appreciate what teachers do!”

WOW!  I left, feeling like a celebrity.

Today, I feel humbled and honored by those remarks.  We DO make a difference–good or bad–and we all need that kind of feedback.

So, when your child asks what to get the teacher for a gift-giving holiday or the end of the year, when she or he comes home with a cool story of the great day s/he had at school, make it special to the teacher too, by picking up the phone and telling them that, or having your child write them a thank you note–and add a small one of your own at the bottom.  THOSE are the REAL Teacher Appreciation Days–when it happens unexpectedly!

Expect More. . .

I have been thinking about a statement Adora Svitak made in her TED talk...”Adults often underestimate kids’ abilities. We love challenges, but when expectations are low, trust me, we will sink to them.”

I’ve been thinking a lot about expectations as we have implemented our schoolwide mastery extension this year.  See my post here to get an idea of what my dreams were for that time: Time to Explore Passions in School? It hasn’t come to full fruition for my groups yet, I don’t feel, and even so, the kids are clamoring for more. (See the comment here: Scream When Someone Takes Your Spoon.)

“Adults often underestimate kids’ abilities.” Adora says. . . and I think about my working with a fourth grade literacy group, where I asked them to choose one of three books to read and some followed through to read their book and some did not. I kind of let that go because I am an “extra” class to many of my teachers–and while they send their kids to me, they also expect them to do every single thing they miss in the classroom as well–so the kids DO get double duty. Then, there’s the fact that these are typically kids who LOVE to read, so they have their own books to read (Harry Potter, The Wizard of Oz, the Chronicles of Narnia, the Mysterious Benedict Society, H.G.Wells’ The Time Machine, etc. . . not easy reading necessarily.) Today, though, I talked with them about why they didn’t read their book, and basically the one that wasn’t read was because the kids didn’t like it–they didn’t relate to the historical period it was set in, they found the action way too slow and they were confused by the set up in the book of the chapters being time driven and jumping around in the time described within each.

I asked one kid to give himself a grade on the book, deliberately not describing the standards for the grade, anxious to see what he came up with. He gave himself a C, and when asked why, he said it was because he didn’t finish it. He could describe what he liked about the part he’d read, and what he didn’t like. He specifically spoke to the confusion he felt with the chapter names being dates and jumping around. He cited details about the characters and their actions, making comparisons to other books and other characters.  WHY would he give himself a C because he chose to stop wasting his time, and do something more worthwhile?

How incredibly sad that was to me that he saw that as something that wouldn’t be appreciated in school. It blew me away that he saw his perfectly good common sense behavior as not valued. We DO underestimate kids, and beyond that, we often negatively reward the very behaviors that will stand them in good stead in their own life experiences.

No matter your position or place in life, it is imperative to create opportunities for children so that we can grow up to blow you away.” Adora again, near the end of her TED talk…I would add, and be open to those opportunities.

Today, some kids were playing Blokus Trigon. (I had gotten it for Christmas and brought it in for the kids.) One of my girls was unfamiliar with Blokus, so we got the duo version and I said I’d teach her. This is an absolutely brilliant child–she can read and write like nobody’s business, has an amazing general knowledge of the world, catches onto mathematical concepts fast–and makes connections with other similar ideas–and is just a delight to work with in any and all areas.  So, I figured that after I showed her the general idea, she’d easily give me a run for my money in this game.

Surprise, Surprise… She began putting pieces down randomly, and seemed to be paying me no attention whatsoever. I was offering suggestions, sharing my strategy, and she really wasn’t giving me the time of day.  The pieces she placed seemed almost  without thought, and as I monitored the 30+ kids in my room doing different activities and tried to be strategic in my placement of game pieces, and as I answered other kids’ questions or responded to their comments, I was also thinking that I really needed to do some spatial thinking/reasoning work with this kid.  I was thinking that I needed to help her visualize better how shapes could fit together better.

Turning back to our game after helping another child with a laptop issue, she gently touched my arm, smiled her sweet smile and said, “Look, I spelled nature.”


Adora says, “it is imperative to create opportunities for children so that we can grow up to blow you away.”

My student doesn’t need to grow up to blow me away. She managed it just fine.

Oh, and by the way, I wasn’t smart enough to get the camera to take a picture of her rendition of the word nature. . . this picture is of a word that three of us (2 adults and a 10 year old) created after struggling for about 10 minutes together to build the word with these odd shaped blocks.  My little thinker did it in about 2 minutes by herself.

So, does she need help in spatial thinking and visualization?  Don’t think so. . .I simply need to be open to opportunities to see what I didn’t think I was seeing. I need to be open to learning from my kids, and I need to know them well enough to think about what their strengths are as well. Oh, yeah, and when I was listing her strengths, did I say she’s also crafty and artistic?

“You need to listen and learn from kids, and trust us, and expect more from us.” says Adora at the end of her talk.

For me, it’s not just about expecting more, but it’s also about providing the right kinds of support, the right kinds of materials and changing the environment so that kids can be themselves and use those brains in ways that both make sense and stretch themselves. Don’t underestimate, let them blow us away, and trust them.  What would schools be like if that was every school’s mission?

Transparent Learning

This is an email I sent my staff on the first Saturday of our Winter break. We have 16 days officially off this year, so tell me–how would you feel if someone sent you this on your first day of break?  Do you read an invitation in here, or an expectation? How would someone be  accepted if they sent this to your staff?

Happy Holidays!
I hope you all have a blessed season and enjoy your time off—and use it as I plan to , to rest, rejuvenate myself, and take time to breathe and get to some of that list of “things to do” I never seem to get to when school is racing at breakneck speed.

In this time of such open information available everywhere we go online (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Yammer, ASCD, NCTM, etc.), and the many blogs that are out there, this one came across Twitter this morning, speaking to the ability for DIY (do it yourself) PD.


It’s chock full of links to follow and explanations of the thinking she is doing, so feel free to explore it as much or as little as you want.

The idea of transparent learning is intriguing to me. Sheryl (the author of this particular blog post) says, “We teach others by transparently sharing what we are learning ourselves.”

I do that with my kids—when I am at  a conference, I always look for something to bring back to share that they will enjoy—might be a movie about schools today, or a new tool, or a youtube video, but I let them know what I am learning. I am constantly telling them things I learn from the many educators I learn from daily on the web.

What I don’t do well is make my learning transparent to you, and I believe we all need to do that more.  I learn something almost every time I get in a conversation with any of you, and I like that sharing and learning together.

I know many of you have no interest in using Twitter or Facebook professionally, or mixing the use you already make of one or the other between personal and professional. I use both professionally and am just beginning to use Facebook for personal connections.  Some of you are way ahead of me in that arena!

But I thought I’d share one way you can learn from the same folks I do without joining Twitter and that is to look at my Twittertimes. . . .that’s an app that synopsizes the tweets from the almost 1500 global educators I follow on Twitter and it highlights the most retweeted ones, and the ones that generate the most interest on Twitter.

Simply go to http://twittertim.es/paulawhite and read away.  I believe it changes daily based on my Twitterstream. I don’t check it that often, so am not sure.  🙂

So, to answer the question asked in Seth Godin’s email quoted in Sheryl’s blog, “What am I working on?” I’m telling you one of my New Year’s goals is to make my learning more transparent to people I work with.

One thing I am working on is blogging with 4th grade. We have two blogs set up—http://kidblog.org/crozet4thgrade and http://kidblog.org/MaterialWorld .  Please feel free to go check it out and respond to them if you want.  Some of the kids have been blogging since we’ve been out of school on the 4th grade one—the top six blogs have been done SINCE our snow days began.

Each 4th grade teacher has at least one prolific blogger—Abby J., Jordan L and Jessica W. Enjoy reading their blog posts!!  I had to laugh when Jordan responded to Abby J and said, “that’s cool you blog on your own time it’s friday we have no school today because of snow that’s awesome.” when she had written two posts herself on the snow days!

Again, I hope everyone has fun on your time off! Enjoy!

Holy Cow!

This post was begun in early November, 2010 and finished in late December.

I’m a smart person. I come from a smart family. I have always gotten clear messages from my family that intelligence and learning is valued. I was told by my mother that I could be anything or do anything I wanted to in life if I simply put my mind to it, and I believe that mostly. I enjoy challenges, brainteasers, puzzles and conundrums.  I like asking hard questions and fiddling around with possibilities.  I look for patterns and relationships in my world and love the big picture conversations that come my way.

BUT. . . . when I became a gifted teacher–or more accurately, a teacher of gifted students–I began to question just how smart I was.  My kids are so much smarter than me, and the parents of some of my students blow me away.  Just two examples:

I have a parent who is incredibly smart and he and I enjoy talking and sharing ideas and thoughts about his two very talented kids–and we always move on to big picture kinds of things, the world in general, education in particular, and lots of just general stuff that intrigues one or the other of us. The other day I was showing him a game we have done in math so he could play it with his son, and the minute I finished sharing the instructions, he said something that showed he had a deep understanding of the math behind this game intuitively and immediately. The quickness of his grasp of the big ideas and the depth of understanding in the minute details of the math was simply mind-blowing.  I sincerely was bowled over by the fact he got so quickly what I had taught and only come to through playing the game I had taught my kids.

Then, today, I was teaching divisibility rules to my 4th and 5th graders. I taught the rules for figuring out if a number was divisible by 2 and then by 3, and then showed them how easy it was to figure out whether a number was divisible by 6 from knowing the rules for 2 and 3. We then talked about how to tell if  number was divisible by 5 (it ends in  a 0 or 5) and  someone asked, what about 4?  I honestly drew a blank, so I told them I couldn’t remember and asked them to try to figure it out while I googled it. By the time I had done that and printed out a copy (so I could review the rest before tomorrow’s lesson), I had many kids with very reasonable hypotheses.  However, one kid had it down. . .she said (in words, with no lists, no drawings, no numbers written down) that in any 2 digit number if the first number was odd, then the ones place had to be a 2 or a 6, for the number to be divisible by 4.  Furthermore, if the 10’s digit was even, then the ones digit had to be 0, 4 or 8 for the number to be divisible by 4. (She’s 11.)

I had to write it down to see her pattern.  I chose to use a stem and leaf plot so the kids could begin to see real uses for it (It WILL be on the state test after all.) As I wrote it on the board for all to see, I realized the brilliance of her response. I realized she had seen a pattern in about as quick a moment as had the adult earlier in the day. Class was almost over, so we didn’t have time to talk about it much–but I left it up so we can tomorrow. The thing that really got me, though, was the fact that after school I called two of the three fifth grade teachers in to see her thinking and one didn’t get it, and the other was blown away–“Holy Cow!” were her exact words…

And “Holy Cow” is right…I have MANY students who think like that girl and that Dad…yet for the majority of their day they sit in  regular classroom and do exactly what everyone else does, being given the same directions. Yet the one that worries me is the teacher who didn’t even understand what the kid was doing and thinking. . .how can she recognize when the kid needs extension and some other work than the regular classroom work? This speaks to the need for gifted kids being in classrooms with teachers who have either had some support knowing how to work with gifted kids, or who are simply smart as heck themselves–because smart people can recognize the different kinds of thinking gifted kids do.

How do we restructure our classes, our schools, indeed, our very world so that the talents of our children do not get wasted?  How do we set up life experiences for all children so that they are constantly growing and thinking and being challenged instead of marking seat time until they can do what they want to do? How do I help my classroom teachers see the need for something else for children who learn faster than the speed of light, who think differently and who need more than marking seat time?

Holy Cow, we have a lot of work to do–the system as it exists doesn’t work for so many–so what will you do to change it where you are?

No Fiction? Grant Wiggins, What Were You Thinking?

Because of reading fiction with 5th graders, I had a student write this after reading Grandpa’s Mountain:grandpadrop

The Park did something wrong to do something right. It wasn’t black or white, right or wrong. It was shades of gray. ThinkQuest has made me think for myself. Now I don’t think what other people want me to think, I sort it out myself.

(from “Our Stories” on What Price This Mountain?)

About a dozen years ago I was teaching 4th grade and had to teach about the Civil War. The kids had to know some specific battles and the basic issues for the state test, but that wasn’t what worried me about teaching it–it was how to teach it to 9 and 10 year olds without the blood, guts and gore of teaching about war. I think about that a lot because I’m a softie who cries at anything, and I also have nightmares easily when I hear about cruelty–and I didn’t want to cause my students either nightmares or tears!

When studying the Civil War, I decided to teach the idea of conflict through the book, Across the Lines , which is a point/counterpoint between two young boys.  One is a slave who chooses to escape in the craziness of the master’s plantation being overrun by the “Yanks” and the other is the master’s son, who has always considered the slave his friend, without realizing the condescending attitude he held toward his “friend.”


Because of reading the  fictional Across the Lines with students, I had a young Jewish student state in class that he, too, was nervous about learning about the Civil War and all the blood and horror it might include, but he really liked the way we had studied it, through books.  He went on to say something like, “When we began, I thought I knew what the Civil War was about–it was about slavery and I knew that was wrong.  But now that we’ve studied it, I know it was about more than that–it was about state’s rights and the federal government’s right to tell states what to do, and it was about more than slavery. I understand now that slavery was complicated, and it wasn’t just black or white. It really is shades of grey.”  (He is currently in college studying politics, fully intending to go to Washington and make a difference.)

(Both classes had been reading historical fiction novels by Carolyn Reeder, and one of her books is called Shades of Grey.) These are NOT isolated responses–read the other students’ thoughts on “Our Stories.”

The other day my Superintendent, Pam Moran, tweeted : “U of Mich study shows today’s college students: 40% less empathy than 20-30 yrs ago.”

Would you say my students had no empathy?  These groups are currently in college or freshly out.

Come on, Grant Wiggins–admit there’s a place for both fiction and non-fiction, and realize great teachers can do great things with a great piece of fiction.  We teach WAY beyond the fiction in the book.

Please Keep In Touch

This post is dedicated to one of my students, who will know who he is, as I know he checks out my blog regularly.  He’s an incredible person, and I can’t wait to see the wonderful things he continues to do as he moves through life. The thanks should truly be mine, as we have learned much from one another.  So here goes:

Wow, I’ve had some great holiday gifts over the years, but I got one this year that meant more than almost any other one I’ve ever gotten in 37 years of teaching.

Earlier this week, I went to my school mailbox and saw a card.  Opening it, I expected a holiday blessing with perhaps a small gift card enclosed.  I wasn’t wrong… in it was a card signed by the parents and a note written by the student, along with a gift card. Just like many I’ve received over the years, right?


This one was from a FORMER student and his parents–a kid not even in my school any longer–he’s moved on to middle school. The parents began, “We can’t even begin to describe what a huge positive impact you’ve had on our son. . .”

Then, on the student’s note was a statement, “Because of you, I am interested more in technology, I am a better thinker, and I have become a great student.”


Just WOW!

Doesn’t every teacher dream of helping students become a better thinker and becoming a great student?

What a great way to start a break.

Thanks, my friend, as I have learned from you, too! I’ll say again–I can’t wait to see the wonderful things you continue to do as you move through your life.  Please keep in touch.

Planting… or Uncovering… Brilliance

“Planting Brilliance” is a phrase I first heard in a post by Ben Grey. After thinking about some conversations with some of the teachers in my school, I’m thinking it’s more about uncovering brilliance. Or maybe it’s about building faith in one’s own brilliance.

I grew up in a household where I was told (in an era of stay-at-home Moms) that I could do or be anything I wanted to, if I just put my mind to it. That was from my Mom.  My Dad always said he didn’t care what I did, as long as I did my best and did something I loved. There was never a question as to whether I was going to college, although Dad hadn’t graduated—he met my mother in college, they fell in love, eloped, and he went to work and just never finished—but we kids always knew he was smart, just as we knew our mother was, too. I grew up in a home where parents believed in the power of an education, and were supportive of schooling—and also learning. My mother and I spent many Sunday afternoons (after church and cleaning up from Sunday dinner) playing Scrabble with a dictionary between us. We paid no attention to the time rules—the goal was to find new words, interesting words, and to make the most points we possibly could. I don’t remember a winner or loser—or caring about that—it was the pursuit of words that was the goal.

When I became a teacher, I was much like Ben describes in his post—“We step through the door on that birth of our career with thoughts that we will change the world. Or many tiny worlds.” but then reality set in and I found out not all kids had been taught to believe in themselves. It didn’t take me long, though, to figure out that many kids just needed someone to believe in them for them to believe in themselves. I also had been punished enough as a kid for being a rule-bender, a limits-pusher and a question-asker that I wasn’t interested in being a yeller or a punisher, so kids quickly figured that out about me. I ignored a lot and didn’t give them the attention they were seeking—yet I did give them good kinds of attention. I think my joy of learning, my love of books and my generally happy attitude was somewhat contagious to kids and caused most to want to try in my classes.

However, I also realized a long time ago that I would have kids in my class that I didn’t immediately connect with—or worse yet, that immediately made me bristle for some reason. The fact is that if I catch myself feeling like that with a kid, I consciously make an effort to be one on one with that child as much as I can. I invite them to have lunch with me.  I ask them to run errands to the office. I ask them to hand out or collect papers, or be line leader.  What I discovered (again, long ago) is that when I am with a kid one to one, I find ways to connect with them. I discover their interests or humor, or sadness, or something that builds a connection between us. . . so that we are no longer at odds or strangers to one another.

As an adult, I’m realizing now that that was kind of what happened with my 6th grade teacher—I just didn’t connect—ever—and I don’t think she ever tried to connect with me. What a shame—I’ve never forgotten her—first name of Pocahontas, and the Indian native, Pocahontas is one of my distant relatives. Could have been quite an opportunity to connect, but instead I remember her because we didn’t. I only remember one other first name of a teacher and that’s because he connected with me academically and as a human being…he used to pass the bus stop each day and on rainy/cold/snowy days he’d give my brother and me a ride to school.

John Dewey says we are there to help find “out the conditions of the environment and the kinds of activities in which the positive capabilities of each young person could operate most effectually.” (John Dewey.p 139) Pocahontas didn’t do that.  Mr. Arrington did. I am trying to, and I look every day to try to uncover brilliance or build a child’s faith in his or her own smarts. Challenge them, give them success and then raise the expectation… and then challenge them again. Teaching is not just about sharing knowledge, it’s about being human and helping kids feel smart and finding their own strengths. The more they know about themselves–about how they learn, how they think, what they enjoy and don’t enjoy, the more prepared they’ll be to learn throughout life and find their niche–or niches. So many times we simply don’t allow students to show us their brilliance.. .so the next time you feel your hackles rising at something a child did, stop yourself from responding immediately  and then ask him or her to have lunch with you today. Watch the situation deflate and enjoy the company at lunch! See if you can help uncover some brilliance!

What’s Working? Conversations!

This post was originally entitled “We Need To Ability Group” but after listening to the NBC Town hall on September 25, 2010 @johnccarver had the idea of asking “What’s Working?” on Twitter. I suggested we all go write a blog about what’s working and share them with the hashtag #educationnation. Here’s mine.

My 4th and 5th grade teachers are thinking reflectively through grouping, response to intervention and providing enrichment an quality learning experiences for all kids right now. They’re thinking though pre-assessments, flexible grouping and ways to differentiate that meet many different kinds of learning needs.

On Thursday, several of us were having a conversation about some of the issues we face when adding a SPED teacher and Gifted teacher into the mix. Both grades have math at the same time, and scheduling and flexible grouping brings many challenges. One of the teachers said, “We just need to ability group!”  and I responded, “Ability group, or achievement group?”  The teacher nods and says, “Yeah, I meant achievement group.”

The third teacher is looking at us quizzically, and I said, “There’s no way we can truly know the real ability of these students–we can only speak to their current level of achievement. We don’t know what these kids are capable of, giving the right situation and opportunities, so how could we possibly group that way?  If we say “these kids are the bottom kids,” then what do we doom them to believing about themselves? And what are we saying to parents about the potential of their children?”

She then nodded and said, “Oh, I see what you’re getting at–achievement grouping and NOT ability grouping–we all need to use that language as we talk about just how we’re going to meet the needs of all of our children!”

It’s not JUST about the language, but also the beliefs…and helping folks be aware of the beliefs they may accidentally portray by words is important. We haven’t decided just exactly how we’re going to split up the kids… but as we do, I know at least three of us will be thinking about the differences between achievement and ability as we talk.

Words do matter. When teachers confuse the language, how do we help parents understand education? Achievement and ability are two different things–let’s make sure we don’t confuse them, or use them interchangeably!

Related Posts by DJakes:

Words Matter

Words Matter: Game Changer

Incidental Learning #2

This post is a continued reflection of me going  into a Kindergarten class to do a series of lessons on graphs and wondering about the incidental learning K kids are doing while I’m in there.  The set up for this series of posts can be found here or here, I cross posted it.

So on Thursday, I went and introduced myself to them with a book called “Once Upon a Time”  where “A boy and his parents move to a new house where it seems there’s “Not much to do. / Not much to see.” As the book continues, the boy remains by the cottage, but familiar faces begin to dot the landscape: a golden-haired girl chased by three bears, a trio of pigs each toting a bundle of different building materials. Young listeners acquainted with classic nursery rhymes will quickly recognize the game and begin searching for their favorite characters.” (The quote is from Amazon’s review, and the picture below is from Amazon as well.) I was using it to see how well-versed the kids were about what are supposed to be familiar stories for young kids, so I wanted kids to call out and I wanted to see how many could name the characters as they entered the pictures.

onceuponatimeIt was hilarious–kids were giggling, fidgeting, talking to one another and the teacher and I were just howling with some of their comments. It was also a hit–the kids couldn’t wait until I returned the next day to help them tell a story with “just dots and lines.”

So the next day I came back, read a fairly traditional rendition of The Three Little Pigs (Paul Galdone’s verison) and then I pulled out the paper where we were going to make a line graph and tell our story with “just lines and dots.” I modeled doing the worksheet shown here, and we then sent all of the kids to their seats to make their own story to take home.  What an eye-opener–just ask any teacher what they can see when you ask K kids to do a worksheet on the 17th day of school when you’ve just done it in front of them. You can see the kids who have preschool experience who have learned to “play school” well–they want to copy yours exactly.  You can see the kids who have little experience with writing… you can tell the kids who know how to line items up well and those who don’t get that detail…you can see names written (or not) and as they work together, you can clearly see kids who need support.

So I’m standing by a table with several kids who are struggling to do the dots and lines and I’m helping them along.  This activity isn’t set up to see who can do the worksheet perfectly, but to help us see who gets the concept of lines going up and down to symbolically represent high and low feelings of fear in the story.

As I was helping one child, two boys at the other end of my table began the “he wrote on my paper” call outs. I moved to lean down beside the closest one to me and a third child also said it, pointing to the boy beside her. (I’m beside a black kid, looking across the table at two white kids.) I immediately turn to the boy beside me (to stop his continued tattling) and  as I do so, I think to myself, “Dang, what are they thinking with me talking to the black kid first?”  I KNOW how kids watch everything the teacher does and read into it… so I’m now thinking,”This is a predominantly white school, and many of these kids haven’t much experience with other races. Are they reading into my looking to the black kid first that I think he’s guilty when the two white kids aren’t? I know I did it because he was closest and I can have a semi private conversation with him if I need to, but they don’t know that. What can I do to take any possible stigma away here?”

So I say, “How did you feel when he wrote on your paper?”  The kid is STILL saying “He wrote on mine first” and, looking at the other boy,”You did it to me first.” He was clearly trying NOT to be the first one in trouble, and staking his claim as simply doing back what had been done to him. I literally leaned forward more so he could no longer see the other boy and repeated, “How did you feel when he wrote on your paper?” He stopped cold in the middle of another disclaimer and looked at me.  I asked it again, and he and I both were conscious of the whole table watching and listening. I repeated my question again, adding, “Did it feel good?  Did you like it when he wrote on your paper?” He simply shook his head no. I then backed up so the two boys could see each other again and asked the white boy how he felt–did it make him feel good when his paper was written on. He also said no. I then asked him if he meant to make the other (black) kid feel bad.  He said no.  I then asked the kid beside me if he meant to make the other (white) kid feel bad, and he said no.  I completely ignored the girl who had tattled, as my goal was NOT to get into who did what when.

I then looked at both of them and said, “If you didn’t mean to make the other boy feel bad, please think of that next time you start to write on someone else’s paper–think how you’ll make them feel.”  And I backed off and went back to the kid I had been helping. They looked at each other and then went back to their own papers.

I hope they learned it’s not about placing blame.

I hope they learned I really don’t care who started it.

I hope they learned it’s about how you make someone feel.

Shaping behavior in a classroom is ALL about how you make them feel.

And when teachers shape behavior, we have to be cognizant of ALL the nuances–what kids might be learning incidentally if we always look to certain children first, or if we always choose certain children to be our helpers, or if our messages are not consistently about taking care of each other and not making others feel bad.

Shaping behavior in a classroom is all about how you make them feel.

Incidental Learning

(cross posted on http://coopcatalyst.wordpress.com/2010/09/18/incidentallearning/)

I shared a lesson in Kindergarten on Sept. 17th which happened to be the 17th day of school for us. As I was walking down to the class, I realized that and that I taught Kindergarten for 17 years before moving on to other grade levels. Who cares about those 17s?

Well, I do, because looking for patterns and relationships between and among events and what I already know is part of who I am–I do that all the time. Now those three facts don’t really mean anything– it’s simply an interesting coincidence. But it started me reflecting a bit…

My K lesson is actually one in a series of lessons on “graphs” as math stories. I teach the little ones how to read graphs as a story picture–I show them graphs and ask what story this tells us. I use books and comparisons of stories in them to help kids understand they can tell stories in school and understand them to deep levels. This week we were actually making a line graph–one I found on a New Zealand website several yeas ago.

17 years in K builds a lot of expertise. I watched–and worked with– these kids who have been in school for 17 days and was sort of monitoring my own behavior as I was doing it, thinking about what the classroom teacher was seeing. I was actually remembering my days in K and feeling quite nostalgic–that’s my favorite grade to teach and I have always said I want to go back in the classroom before I retire. So I was really being metacognitive about my behaviors and seeing if I really enjoyed it as much as I remember I did.

One of the things I love about Kindergarten is building a sense of community and watching the kids be kind to one another.  It is absolutely so cool to be amazed at how they treat each other–kids alway astound me by the depth of their caring and empathy when set up to show and share that safely. Another thing I loved is how quickly you can teach something–almost like osmosis–because the kids watch everything that goes on–they are very aware of how adults interact with other kids.

As I was watching these kids, I realized that 17 days means these kids have already been in school for over ONE HUNDRED hours…  and I was wondering what they are learning and what incidental lessons I was going to teach them.

I hate that schools (as we know them, and as most of us experienced them) assume incompetence. Teachers supposedly assume students need to have their heads opened and the information poured in. Kids are taught that the teachers (adults) know it all and will share that knowledge with them as they deem fit. What a sick system.

I’m hoping these K kids aren’t being indoctrinated into those beliefs.  I’m hoping I can help them see their brilliance and learn to follow their passions.  I’m hoping they can see clearly that I honor their competence and what they bring to the group.

So I go into this K class and am going to read a book–or two–in readiness for the math lesson.  I start the book, not having everyone’s attention–but I don’t sweat that–I know I’ll have it in a couple of seconds, because I know how to get kids’ attention.  Sure enough, my changing voice, my silly questions, my  goofing off all draw the kids in and by the second page I have them in the palm of my hand.

Are they talking to each other some?  Yep. Are they laughing and giggling together?  Yep.  Are they calling out as I ask my questions?  Yep.  And that’s all okay with me, because it shows they are engaged.

When I ask a question I want to discuss, do I single out a response?  Yep–and the class quiets and listens because kids come to school wanting to learn–I’ve found that Kindergarten kids (heck most kids) want to hear what I am talking to one child about because they don’t want to miss anything!

Okay, now you’re probably saying, “She can’t get every kid to come to every story–or every whole group lesson–that easily.”  And you’re right, I miss pulling in some kids sometimes. Like yesterday, when two kids kept talking as I began the intro to the second book by looking at the front and back of the book with the class. I initially ignored them, hoping they’d join in–but what they were doing was more engaging to them than what I was doing with the rest of the class. So I asked the class to help me with their names, then called on them and said, “Hey, you two–if you don’t want to hear the story, that’s okay with me–you can go to another part of the room and continue playing together quietly.” The whole class is watching now–waiting to see what this visiting teacher is going to do to the two kids who were misbehaving. Those two are silent- looking at me, now, with solemn faces and great wide eyes, waiting for me to fuss at them. I deliberately smile and say, “You won’t hurt my feelings if you don’t want to hear me read this book.  You can just go somewhere else and continue your conversation. I don’t mind. But you can’t stay on the rug and keep talking and giggling about something else, because there are people behind you who DO want to hear-and you’re bothering them. So you can go to your seats and keep talking if you want, or stay–you decide.” I then return to the book and keep going.  They stay and begin to contribute to the group experience.

So what did they learn?

I hope they got a clear message it’s NOT okay to disturb other people who are trying to learn.

I hope they got a clear message that I understand not everybody is interested in the same things at the same time–and that’s okay.

I hope they heard that I was NOT angry or punitive and they had choices to make about their own learning.

And, I hope ALL the kids learned those three things about me by seeing how I dealt with the two who were not paying attention.