Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Beliefs or knowledge?

This is a Tuesday Slice of Life for Two Writing Teachers
Check out their website for many more reflections on teaching.


I saw a clever bumper sticker the other day:

Beliefs are not a substitute for knowledge.

It made me think about how frequently I hear adults react to children's behavior in an automatic, "this is what I believe" way -

He never listens to me.
She hits everyone.
All day long, he is disrespectful.
I've said that a million times to him.
She is such a little whiner!
He is shoving kids all the time.
She never pays attention.

Yes, children's behavior is subjected to adult beliefs all the time.
We accept that our summation is true,
we are confident in our assessments.

these beliefs are fixed perspectives,
labels, really,
that get stuck on children...
and, ultimately,
these are words that do very little to encourage new behavior in the child.

Here are the verbal red flags - "always," "all day long," "all the time," "over and over again." Whenever I find myself speaking in such "global" terms, it is a clue to me that I need to slow down and look more closely at individual incidents, observe the child in play, and consider what is he/she working on right now.

Where are they developmentally? 
What do they know already? 
What are the next steps in their learning?

A preschooler's day is filled with moments - there are moments when all is well and when things are not. What is a good moment for this child? When is the child successful? Why might that be?

If you have a preschooler in your life, I hope you will throw yourself into learning more about early childhood development. I also hope you will take the time to observe them more closely, rather than rushing to a "belief."

“Believing is not the same as knowing. Believing is second-hand knowledge, whereas knowing is first-hand experience. When your action comes from a level of belief, there is fear, doubt and restlessness behind such action. When your action comes from a level of knowing, there is conviction, certainty and calm behind such action.” 
― Yogi KannaNirvana: Absolute Freedom

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Tuesday SOL Faces I have found

This is a Tuesday Slice of Life for Two Writing Teachers
Check out their website for many more reflections on teaching.


In the writing center,
the art corner,
in crayon,

No one tells them to draw or paint people. 

they appear
and disappear

Round faces,
triangle parts,
square possibilities.  

Spidery lines.
Arms and legs? 
Or is that hair? 

Big wide eyes, and
every now and again,
eyebrows and pupils, too.
Crooked lips, 
tilted smile,
frazzled look.


Not consistently.


No one tells them to draw or paint people. 

they appear and 

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Tuesday SOL: What a Wonderful World

This is a Tuesday Slice of Life for Two Writing Teachers
Check out their website for many more reflections on teaching.


Something I love about our school, which ranges from preschoolers (Pre K-3) to middle school, is our pairing of each of the younger classrooms with an older classroom. This school year, the Big Cats preschoolers will get together with first graders (the "Double-Headed Rattlesnakes") for partner reading each Friday. These structured pairings allow for the most beautiful and unexpected interactions, providing opportunity for role modeling by older students, with younger students basking in the singular attention of an older student. For our older students, I think there is even a "letting down of the guard" - a chance to be a little more relaxed and confident about their reading skills, as they casually and comfortably read to their younger partner. Sometimes, the pairings result in new friendships, with children happily reconnecting if we see one another in the hallway or elsewhere in the school.

Last year, after our partnering was well underway, one of my preschoolers ('Mary') began to refuse to sit with her partner, and even said to me,
"I don't want to go to the first grade class."

"Why, Mary? Tell me what is wrong. Why are you sad about reading with your partner?"

"Because she always reads to me!"

"She always reads to you?" I echoed, somewhat confused. This is my classic technique, when I fail to grasp something, I simply restate the words that were said...buying myself a little time, hoping they'll say something more that will clarify. I really did not understand.

"Yes. She never lets me read to her."

It's true, every now and again, I do have preschoolers who can read…but this little friend was not one of these. However, she loved our picture books, devoured them daily, imagined stories to go with the pictures, and saw herself as a reader. Imagine how easy it would have been to retort to this three year old - "But, Mary, you do not know how to read." I did not. I was thrilled by her confidence! My preschoolers see themselves as readers! I simply said,

"Oh! You want to read to her, too!?"

I turned to her first grader partner - "Would it be okay if Mary read to you, today?"
and she said, "Oh, sure! That would be fun!"
and off they went happily, to read together.

This past Friday, the Double-Headed Rattlesnakes came down to meet us for the first time this new school year. We introduced the pairings of students. Several first graders have younger siblings in my class, and we purposefully pair these siblings to read together - an extra special connection, in the middle of the school week, to have a little sibling time.

We will read together for thirty minutes each week, but this first Friday was simply to meet one another, to share your name, to talk with one another about your favorite stories. Several three year olds got up to grab books from our bookshelves, sharing some of their favorite books with their new first grade friends. After a little conversation time, getting to know one another, both classes settled in together on our meeting carpet to hear a read-aloud together.

Another special part about this past Friday was its date - September 11th. How to recognize the significance of this day with preschoolers? For me, since 2001, it has been the tradition of reading a special book - What a Wonderful World (illustrated by Ashley Bryan, written by George David Weiss and Bob Thiele) followed by playing the song by Louis Armstrong. This book is a beautiful story song, celebrating children, diversity, love. This year, since my September 11th book reading dovetailed with meeting our first grade reading partners, I read the book to the entire combined group.

This was an incredibly special read-aloud for me. Just three short years ago, many of these first graders were my preschoolers. There I was, reading the words aloud and looking over my audience, seeing these now much bigger first graders with the same faces they had in preschool, sitting snugly and amiably with their new three year old reading partner, happily engaged in the familiar book. Many of the first graders read along with me, recognizing and remembering the words. Everyone was so quiet and focused when we played Louis Armstrong, and I enjoyed their enraptured faces listening to his throaty words. One student noted, "My daddy sings this song to me."

Then, it was time to go. "First graders, it is time to line up. Say goodbye to your Big Cat friend, ask them if they'd like a high five or a hug from you before you leave."

For the siblings, this was hard. Some tears were shed, saying goodbye to the older loved one. One first grader plied his sister with many kisses on her cheeks. But for most of the pairings, they were saying goodbye to someone entirely unfamiliar, not known. I noticed a couple of my preschoolers shook their heads at this offer of a high five or a hug - not yet willing to be friendly with this new big student. This was worthy of a follow up discussion...

When the first graders left, we talked about how hard it can be to meet new people. "Did anyone have a funny feeling in their tummy?" I shared how some say it feels as if you have 'butterflies' in your tummy. A couple of children nodded. I coached, "There is a fluttering, a pulling. It helps me to take deep cleansing breaths. We'll get to know these first graders over time. We will see them each Friday. We will become friends, in time."

It is early in the year. We have just met.

I see friends shaking hands
saying "how do you do?"
they're really saying 
"I love you."

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Tuesday SOL: Glimpses of the year ahead

This is a Tuesday Slice of Life for Two Writing Teachers
Check out their website for many more reflections on teaching.


Nine days in, this I know -

He will shout "Oh my goodness!" when the story gets exciting,
She will not sing songs with us but will repeat them verbatim to her family when she gets home,
He will head for the bathroom when I invite everyone to gather on the carpet,
She will begin singing the clean up song when we announce that centers are ending soon,
He is printing each letter of his name beautifully,
She is reading our daily routine, predicting what comes next with amazing accuracy,
He likes to watch the sand funnel onto the floor,
She will fill, empty, re-fill her water bottle, and repeat this over and over, again and again,
He will hide acorns from the science center throughout our play kitchen,
She will create a drawing for her Daddy and hold it tenderly for the next hour,
He loves to take physical risks, jumping from high on the playscape, creating precarious block towers, hopping down stairs oh so fast,
She will find a book's torn page and beg to repair it,
He can't resist peeling the tape off my classroom signs,
She will dump out toys from every bin and basket in the classroom,
He doesn't look at me but is listening to and following my every word;
She will visit the family photos over and over throughout the day, squealing delightedly at her Mommy's face, as if seeing it for the first time,
She will need her own quiet corner to settle into nap,
He will fall asleep as soon as his body meets the cot,
She will carry her lovey all day long,
He will tap the glass of the beta fish's home and immediately explain that we should never do that,
She would rather not wash her hands, because she is holding tight to her mother's kiss,
They love books, blocks, paints, clay, puzzles, baby dolls, and drawing,
They love bears, monsters, rainbowstrucks, flowers, birthdays, and superheroes,
We are going to have a great year!

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Tuesday SOL Up above the clouds

This is a Tuesday Slice of Life for Two Writing Teachers
Check out their website for many more reflections on teaching.


The misting rain was accompanied by a thick fog. I sat on the right-hand side of the airplane, in a futile attempt to get a glimpse of the beach town where my cousins and I had played so many times when I was younger. As we ascended into the air from the runway, I was able to just barely discern the outline of a large tanker on the water, but then I couldn't see a thing other than pure grey fuzz. It continued this way for about ten minutes, grey all around. Nothing to see. Then, surprisingly, we burst into bright sunshine - we were at cruising altitude, up high above the clouds and fog. I looked down at a floor of mashed potato clouds, thinking they looked thick enough for someone to walk on. I saw no footprints, but became lost in thought thinking about Peter traipsing through the snow in The Snowy Day, finding a stick, and making a new path with it. Looking down on these thick, whipped clouds, I noticed that they thinned in the distance, like a foamy seashore, disintegrating, with all sorts of unexpected and haphazard curves, seeming to spill onto a gorgeous blue counter...deep blue sky meeting the edges of bright white clouds. Truly, gorgeous. I could not make out the land far below, though I believe it was still rainy and foggy down there.

I love cruising altitude. It reminds you that things aren't always as they seem in the immediate. It reminds you to try to fit the sour or imperfect into the big picture - to challenge yourself to see it from a new perspective. 

The preschoolers have their first day of school tomorrow. Here's my hope for the year:

May I pause at the misty, foggy moments and remember that cruising altitude awaits.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Tuesday SOL: New school year begins

This is a Tuesday Slice of Life for Two Writing Teachers
Check out their website for many more reflections on teaching.


The start of the school year.
Summer gone. School begins.
I always, always, always forget that it is going to be like this.
What is the appropriate metaphor?
A predicted storm, shifting the calm weather into wild wind and rain?
The contrast of an idling race car at the starting gate and the fast and furious laps that follow?
The quiet of a house followed by the big surprise party, filled with raucous, loud guests?

We are only two days into a week of professional development.
5:30 am alarm.
Out the door to the metro.
New staff, new faces, new names to learn.
A whole new cohort of teaching residents.
Get to know, 
still more.
Working lunches.
Get your keys, your ID photo, your handbook, your binder.
Reflect on lessons and teaching, role play teacher-student interactions - what might you do?
So many "conversations," 
lower school, middle school, special ed, lead teachers, teaching residents.
Get to know, 
still more.
Update vertical plans for literacy and math.
Add details to unit and lesson plans.
Review mission, core beliefs -
what does it mean to learn through inquiry? 
allow student voice? 
be a teacher leader?
Get to know, 
still more.

Was it just a moment ago that I 
was sleeping in,
basking in solitude,
writing with abandon,
making my own plans
for how I would spend my day?
Or was that long, long, long ago?

Only two days in.
Three more to go.

When do I get to prepare my classroom for preschoolers?

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Tuesday SOL Ready or Not, Here She Comes!

This is a Tuesday Slice of Life for Two Writing Teachers
Check out their website for many more reflections on teaching.


It is back to school time! I return to school next Monday for a week of professional development; the children arrive the following Monday for "Meet and Greet," and our first day of school is August 26th.

I've had three back-to-school dreams in the past week! Funny, funny, funny:

1. A field trip is planned and it is for all ages, preschool through elementary...it's early in the school year, and I don't know all the students yet...some 83 students are signed up for this field trip, and all I have is the list of their names and grades. The bus has pulled up in front of the school, and the driver is impatient to go; the cafeteria is packed with students of all ages, excited to leave. The ten chaperoning teachers are clumped together in the back corner of the cafeteria, lost in chatter with one another, oblivious to the students. The students begin streaming out of the cafeteria and onto the bus...only one teacher makes it onto the bus, when the doors close, and the bus pulls away from the curb. It turns out, I'm in charge! Panicked, I run towards the bus, holding my clipboard, crying, "WAIT!! I don't know who is on the bus!! I haven't checked off their names!! I don't know where you are going!! There are not enough teachers on the bus!! There are no chaperones!" The bus drives away.

2. "Meet and Greet" is in full motion, but I'm still setting up my classroom...it looks like a department store on a sale day, some semblance of order but items strewn here and there. Books are stacked high on all surfaces. We've had so many meetings this past week! I never got to set up my classroom! Here are the children, here are their families. It is borderline chaos. I can't introduce my new Teaching Resident, because she hasn't yet been offered the position...my principal hopes to hire her by October or November. How can I do this all by myself? I can't keep track of the new faces, parents aren't supervising their children (they seem to think I'm in charge!) and children are running from the classroom...I can't see who is coming or going because the stacks of books are so high, they block my line of vision.

3. It's the first week of school and I am so excited to meet my new preschoolers and their families, but I wonder if anyone will notice that I'm pregnant? Will I have the chance to meet with my principal and head of school to share this totally unexpected news before the families begin chattering about it? This is a nightmare, being pregnant with my fourth child at age 55! I am in good health, but, will I be up to this challenge - being on my feet with these lively preschoolers as I grow in size? I still haven't shared the news with my adult sons or my daughter-in-law...I'm sure they are going to be freaked out...as I am. How is this even going to work?

There are some serious recurrent themes here! My goodness! I woke up from each of these in a cold sweat.

After all these years of teaching, I'm still wondering -

How will I manage up the enormous and immediate responsibility of caring for these new little preschoolers? 
How quickly will I learn the names of everyone in my class? 
How quickly will we form a bond?
What will my relationship with the families be like?
What about my relationship with my new Teaching Resident?
How well will we work together?
Will I have enough time and clarity of thought to set up my room the way I want?
What "outside" burden(s) will be thrown my way, that I will have to juggle as I teach? (Definitely not pregnancy!)

Funny how the mind works when you are sound asleep.