Happy Teacher List

Saturday, 12 November 2016

    


     I had a perfect teaching day last week. Say what? Yup - you heard me - a perfect teaching day. I’m pretty sure I’ve NEVER said this before. More often than not, I feel defeated by the high demands and long to-do list that pull and tug at me throughout the day.  But on Wednesday of last week, I went home and actually said OUT LOUD that I’d had a perfect day. 
     Let me define what I mean by perfect, knowing full well there is no such thing.  It was a day where my vision of how I'd like things to go was in alignment with  the reality of what was.  You know that picture you see in your mind over the summer as you are getting ready for the school year and you imagine the possibility of what could be.  The one where you and the children dance through the day in seamless harmony.  The one that often fades by lunch on the first day of school.   
     So because this comes along, like never, I began thinking about what made it so “perfect.” I hadn’t tried anything new or groundbreaking, half my class was not out with the flu, nor was there any cosmic alignment of any sort (not that I knew of anyway). In fact, I could quickly rule out all extrinsic factors as the day ran pretty much like the others in terms of routines and lessons. And as for the children, they were the same adorable little beings I had left on Tuesday.  So that left only me.  What was different about me as I walked through that door on Wednesday morning?  
     My guess is that I can sum it up in three words - Happy Teacher List! You see, many years ago I read a parenting book (see below) that suggested mothers create a “Happy Mommy List” to help them get clear about what they needed so they could then in turn care for others. 

Buddha Never Raised Kids and Jesus Didn't Carpool
You can find this book here:

     While I have never actually made a “Happy Teacher List,” the whole “put on your life mask first” concept has always stayed with me and I’d venture to guess that on that “perfect day” my Happy Teacher List was in check.  It was November. Halloween and parent conferences had just ended. Life had settled down a bit. The day felt lighter, I felt centered, and I was able to be completely present with the children.  There was an energy between us that just felt right and if I was looking for data to support this, I could measure it by the increase in knee hugs that I received on that day. 
     Oftentimes, teachers want to blame student behavior on a full moon or all the Halloween candy they ate the day before.  But I really think it has a lot more to do with us than we want to admit (like maybe all the Halloween candy that I ate the day before!).  It’s about stepping back and asking ourselves, “What’s really going on here?” It’s about taking our own temperatures to see if our needs are being met. 
    So in my attempt to capture, bottle, and reenact this “perfect day,” I got curious about what would actually be on that Happy Teacher list if it were written down. Here's what I came up with.


Happy Teacher List


When I look at it, it seems so simple. Yet, there's that OTHER list, you know the one, with the big "TO DO" at the top that competes with it for the 10:00 bedtime.  But now that it's written down I'm going to find a prominent place for it and give it a voice.  
     What's on your list? What are your teacher life must-do's? 

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Getting Started in Kindergarten: Getting to Know You

Thursday, 25 August 2016

     It's so easy for me to get caught up in the back-to-school to do list of room set up and name tags that I sometimes lose sight of the most important goal for September - getting to know the children.  In the first month, I don't have to teach them all how to read, use number bonds, or stretch words, but I do need to explore where they come from, what their interests and abilities are, and what their hopes and dreams are for kindergarten. They also need to get to know me and the rest will come a lot easier if we take this time. 


     Here are some of the first experiences we had last year during those “Get to Know You Weeks.” 

     We drew birthday cakes and shared how old we were (well maybe not me!) and found out which of us have birthdays in the same month.  The cakes were a nice first sample of their drawing and coloring.  

Back to School Getting to Know You Ideas


     We read stories and sang songs of characters with unusual names such as Tikki Tikki Tembo, Chrysanthemum, Bingo and Catalina Magdalena.  Then we looked closely at our own names, counted the number of letters and made name cards.  We did this in small groups which gave me the opportunity to see if the children could identify and sequence the letters independently or if they needed support.

Back to School Getting to Know You Ideas

Back to School Getting to Know You Ideas


Back to School Getting to Know You Ideas


     We looked closely at our faces in mirrors and explored the ways we were the same and different.  We created faces with loose parts and drew self-portraits as inspired by the books Let's Make Faces and Faces.  The self-portraits were repeated at the end of the year to show our growth over time.


Back to School Getting to Know You Ideas


Back to School Getting to Know You Ideas


Back to School Getting to Know You Ideas


     We shared our writing folders, which were decorated with pictures to tell about ourselves, and would later be used as a source for writing ideas.  We learned about each other's likes/dislikes and I was able to observe their listening and speaking. 

Back to School Getting to Know You Ideas


     We explored our school's motto (Treat others the way you want to be treated) and talked about what that meant to each of us. We made a concrete representation of it in the form of a golden circle.

Back to School Getting to Know You Ideas


Back to School Getting to Know You Ideas


Back to School Getting to Know You Ideas


     We took a fall walk and wondered about the things we saw and touched.  We created a chart of our observations and began to ask questions about the season.  I noticed that some children were able to offer a question while others struggled to do this.

Back to School Getting to Know You Ideas


Back to School Getting to Know You Ideas


Back to School Getting to Know You Ideas


Back to School Getting to Know You Ideas


Back to School Getting to Know You Ideas


     We explored the centers and materials in our room.  Some children played alone while others worked together. Some were able to sustain play while others flitted from one choice to the next. I watched to see which centers they were most interested in and which they visited the least.


Back to School Getting to Know You Ideas


Back to School Getting to Know You Ideas


Back to School Getting to Know You Ideas


Back to School Getting to Know You Ideas


Back to School Getting to Know You Ideas


Back to School Getting to Know You Ideas


     We sang lots of songs and paired them with movements.  Most children enjoyed participating but a few were more self-conscious.  Some children had good body control while others needed a little support.

Back to School Getting to Know You Ideas


     We read, talked, and responded to many books, including The Invisible Boy, and the children were invited to make connections between themselves and the characters and/or stories.  Their connections told me about their experiences and gave me insight into their language use. 


Back to School Getting to Know You Ideas


Back to School Getting to Know You Ideas

This year I'll be offering some of these same experiences, while adding a few new ones.  Most are included in the last deck in the Kindergarten Kick Off series, Getting to Know You.  You can find it here:

Back to School Getting to Know You Ideas


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Getting Started in Kindergarten: Launching Learning Blocks

Saturday, 20 August 2016

     "What’s math?" I’ve just told the children we are going to “do math” and this is what I hear.  I’m surrounded with socks and sorting circles and wondering how I am going to answer this. I realize that in my efforts to get this train rolling, I may have forgotten something.  It never occured to me that maybe their first lesson should have been about the "big idea" of math (leave it to Kinders to always let you know what you need to do).  So now I do a two-day launch for each learning block.  Here are my launch suggestions to avoid your own “derailment!” 


sock sorting lesson

What’s the Goal? Let chidren know where the train is headed before they get on board. Talk about the goal/purpose for each part of your day in terms of “What good readers do, writers do, mathematicians, etc.”  I use children’s books such as Max’s Math by Kate Banks or Rocket Learns to Read by Tad Hills to illustrate children taking on these roles.  Create charts of these goals to keep you on track all year long.  

     


What Does it Look Like?  Just as a train is made up of many cars, your learning block is probably broken down into smaller segments (i.e. mini lesson, worktime, sharing).  Since these are not visible in the daily plan/schedule that you post, help children "picture it" using a graphic, such as a pie chart, to show how it is broken down.   

 

What Does it Sound Like?  You wouldn’t use the same voice in the sleeping car as you would in the snack bar! Each segment of your learning block requires different voice levels. I use the The Three Bears  to help my Kinders hear the difference between soft, loud, and "just right" voices.



Using soft voices like Mama Bear while reading

You’e Got This! Once your Kinders have some idea of the goals behind each learning block and a picture of what it looks and sounds like, it’s time for you to embark on a trial run.  keep the content light in order to keep the focus on the structure.  Introductions and explorations of materials are great for this! Continue to use this same structure from here on out to keep things consistent.


exploring pattern blocks

You can find the full plan for launching learning blocks here


     
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Getting Started in Kindergarten: Opening Centers

Sunday, 14 August 2016

     It's usually about thirteen minutes into the first day of kindergarten when I here, "When can we paint? When can we use the trains? When can we play?"  I'm showing them where their lunch box goes, but this is what they REALLY want to know! Here's what I tell them:  

Each center is like a big, beautiful present waiting to be opened. Is opening presents the first thing you do when you get to a birthday party? NO! You usually have to wait a little bit, right?  Do you open all of your presents at once or one at a time?" ONE AT  A TIME!  Well, it's the same with centers.  We have to wait a bit before we begin opening them and we will open them one at a time.

Getting Started in Kindergarten: Opening Centers
Last year's science center - waiting for children to arrive!

Here are some more tips for opening centers:

  • String crepe paper across the centers and cut the ribbon as you open each one.
  • Open 1-2 centers each day.  Use a similar routine for your "grand opening" to provide consistency and a predictable language around center use.   
  • Begin with centers in which you have the most materials since the whole class will be working at these 2 centers in the beginning. I start with construction and math because I have a lot of blocks and math manipulatives.  Since they all won't fit in the center space, temporarily extend it to floor or table areas in other parts of your room.      
  • Dismiss children to centers by asking, “Who would like to work in the _______ center today? Invite children to raise hands or stand up to show their interest.  If the whole class raises their hand for one center (oh no!), ask for volunteers to choose a different center.

Once the centers are all opened, it's your "gift" to stand back and observe the children happily engaged in exploring, experimenting, discovering, and creating. 

Getting Started in Kindergarten: Opening Centers

Getting Started in Kindergarten: Opening Centers

Getting Started in Kindergarten: Opening Centers

Getting Started in Kindergarten: Opening Centers

You can find my full plan for opening and introducing each center here!

Getting Started in Kindergarten: Opening Centers

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Getting Started in Kindergarten: Building Community Through a Shared Language

Sunday, 7 August 2016

     When I think of community building, my first thoughts are of ice breakers or team building games that I use to help children get to know one another.  Yet, it's also about a shared language that can either be intentionally set in motion by the teacher or left to develop on its own.  If you've ever been to an Apple Store, you may have experienced the Genius Bar "vibe" that comes from explicit training in empathy and a manual that clearly defines the specific language used when helping customers.  It's pretty impressive and not as evident in the Geek Squad at Best Buy.


Getting Started in Kindergarten Building Community Through a Shared Language

     So for my little "geniuses,"  I'm going for the intentional approach with guiding words in the form of a class motto, a set of promises, and affirmations.  The plan is to introduce and model this language with the hope that children will internalize it, transfer it to self-talk, and begin to use it "out loud" in their interactions with one another.    

Think about this when developing your own shared language:


Choose Your Words Carefully: Whether you decide to call them rules, agreements or promises, choose language that is kindergarten friendly. Break down terms such as "respect" into smaller, "bite-sized" chunks for kinders.  Here's how I whittled down respect into four promises: 
We take good care of ourselves. 
We take good care of each other. 
We take good care of our learning space. 
We take good care of our Earth.  
Then, I further broke down the promises into affirmations to get even more specific. You can get the posters here:

Getting Started in Kindergarten Building Community Through a Shared Language


Make It Transferable: 
Your "big ideas" need to be transferable into your every day interactions with children.  Identify prompts or catch-phrases that you can use consistently and make sure they are ones you would want to hear the children saying to each other!  

Make it Tangible:  Create a concrete version of your guiding words to help children visualize it.  Use this to introduce each rule/agreement/promise, slowly adding to it in the first weeks of school.  When finished, use it with pairs or individuals as a support tool and set it out for children to explore during their play.  Here's the one I'll be using!



Getting Started in Kindergarten: Building Community Through a Shared Language
The wood pieces represent our community circle and will be personalized with children's pictures.

Language Do's and Don'ts:  Use the phrase, "We don't talk that way in here," when addressing language that is not positive or appropriate.  Children will also use it to respond to others who are speaking unkindly. 

Getting Started in Kindergarten: Building Community Through a Shared Language


If you'd like a kick-off plan for developing a shared language with your children, check out the third Kindergarten Kick-off Deck: Our Motto and Promises where you can find my plan for the year.  


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