Wednesday, July 19, 2017

An Idea to Combat Test Anxiety

State Testing.  Just hearing those words probably brings up some type of emotion from every educator I know.  I've taught PreK through 3rd grade, and I can say I truly love every grade level.  In Texas, the state assessments begin in 3rd grade (formally).  It's called the 🌟STAAR🌟 test:  State of Texas Assessment of Academic Readiness.  Our 3rd graders take the reading and math STAAR test for the first time, and will continue taking the STAAR test throughout elementary school (and middle school and high school).

Here is my strategy for adding confidence to any child that is worrying.  Now, if you know me, prepare yourself....I'm about to get "mushy".....😉

I ask all of my students to bring in a 5x7 or smaller photo of their family that is framed the Monday before the test.  For students that don't bring one in, I use my staff photos (we always get some free) and frame them.  We each take turns sharing who is in our picture and telling a bit about our families (yes, we've already done this, but we do it again).  We talk about how worrying about something doesn't help the situation, but being brave enough to face our worries helps prepare us for our future.  We will all encounter something that creates anxiety or worries 😟.  I typically tell a story from my life about a time I was worried and it turned out okay.  (Make something up if you have to.)

Then, (and here comes the mushy), we put our pictures to our hearts 💜.  We think 🤔 of all the things we might worry about with regards to the test.  We think about how hard we've worked all year long.  We think about how much our family loves us 💑 and believes in us.  I tell them how much I am proud of them, and how much I know they have truly learned all year.  Then, I tell them that this picture will be placed on or near their desk during the test, and every time they come upon a question that they think is hard, (or want to give up on) I want them to look at their family picture.  I want them to remember how much their family believes 👍in them and knows they can do their best.  Then, we place the photos by the front door so we can see them every time we enter or leave the room for that week.  The day before the test, I set those photos near where the child will be sitting so the child can see the photo during the test.

I typically leave the photos up the rest of the year because I love having them in the classroom.  I hope your students enjoy this idea as much as mine have over the past years.  Enjoy!

Click here for a download-able letter home about the photos!

Have other ideas to calm students during testing time?  Hit me up with a reply!

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

School Community

Recently, a question was posed to myself and other teachers.
How do you want your school to be known?  
Many wonderful words were tossed around:  innovative, caring, safe, positive, student-centered, learner-centered, collaborative, and the list went on.  As I read these words, I began to think of an instance in which I showed these traits.  I asked myself if I could put more weight on one trait than another.  The answer was no.  Each word that the group had listed was equally important to the school, staff, and classroom.  So, what was my word?  Inclusive.  Yes, inclusive.  A school should be inclusive of the list that my coworkers had come up with and more.  Schools should be inclusive of all types of people, of all community members, and of all thoughts/ideas of one another.  Once our schools are truly inclusive, we can begin building a community of learners who value common & differing thoughts or view points.

Relationships are super powerful.  Relationships are the foundation for change, trust, and understanding.  Building relationships with others from your community is a powerful way to achieve the goals of your school and district.  Excluding people's views and feelings is toxic to any school environment.

One way I create a classroom community is to present "Me Bags" the first week of school.  This is a small, brown bag that holds items that are important to or represents the individual presenting.  On the first day of school, I present my "Me Bag".  On the outside of this bag I draw decorations all over it.  I use my favorite colors to draw things that are important to me.  On the inside there are pictures of trips and family members, my favorite drink, my favorite movie, a small plush animal, and other items special to me.  I share each one by telling the students all about why it's special to me.  I pass the items around so they can see everything up close.  Students sometimes call out, "Oh, I love that too"!  It's a special time to find commonalities.

Next, each student receives a small, brown paper bag.  I give them time to decorate it, and then attach a note to the parents about the "Me Bag".  Students are allowed to bring in their "Me Bag" any time during the first week and share.  As the students share, I listen and write down what they bring.  I take notes on my students so that I can draw on those important items later when talking with my students.  It gives me an insight into what is important to each child.  I might be able to make a connection with them, create motivation when needed, and make a child feel included in our classroom.  Sharing what we love is a quick way to feel connected to the classroom community, and more importantly, included in the classroom.

Here is a link to my "Me Bag" letter home.  

Do you have ideas for the first week of school to build classroom community?
Do you have ideas for the first week back for administrators to build school community?
Share below in the comment section!  I'd love to hear your ideas!

Here are my favorites that I share in my Me Bag:
Favorite animal: Flamingo (I bring in a small stuffed animal)
Favorite food: Mexican food (I bring in a picture of cheese enchiladas)
Favorite color: Green (I just have a green crayon in the bag)Favorite team: Well, the Tigers, of course :Clemson and Dripping Springs (I bring in a paw print)Favorite fast food: Chick-fil-A (I print out the logo)Favorite store: OMG...anywhere!  I LOVE to shop! (I have a small shopping bag to show)Favorite Candy Bar: KitKat (I have a real one in my bag)Favorite Flower: Carnations (I have a photo of one)Favorite place: The Beach (I bring in a seashell)

Favorite Drink:  Coke-a-Cola (I have a small can of it in my bag)
Other:  I also share a photo of my family, my pets, and myself playing basketball and volleyball from high school.  

Friday, July 7, 2017

It's More Than Free Time

I, like many other teachers, begin the first week of school with sharing my favorites:  favorite color, book, activity, movie, etc.  I invite my students to do the same over the week.  I keep notes for each student as they share.  I want to take note of what motivates each child and how to connect with everyone. Each year there is at least one child that says recess is his or her favorite subject in school.  Recess?  Is that a subject?  When I ask why, I am usually met with the same answer:  “…because you get to do whatever you want”.  Think about that…they like to have a choice in their activities.  This isn’t a new notion (people typically like to choose their own activities).  So what do we do? 

In my past & current district, we had (have) a block of time for intervention.  All interventional support should be done during this time.  This includes any pullout programs (Tier 3) and any Tier 2 groups (done in the classroom).  I’ll be honest, this 45-minute block was a pretty bland time in my room.  Some kids went out, some kids worked on reteach or retest items at my small groups, and the other kiddos read or worked on math stations.  Once I began rethinking how my teaching could be more beneficial to my students, I began to rethink this time in my classroom.  For me, this meant teaching to my student’s passions. 

I began by renaming this intervention time to “PAL” time:  Passionate About Learning.  By simply changing the name, I began to change my mindset along with my student’s mindset.  The first week of school I took this time to introduce what PAL time would be for the students.  This would be a time to explore their passions, what they wanted to learn more about, and how they wanted to learn.  We began by creating a list of passions.  Each child was given a journal.  The first page was entitled, “My Passions”.  We made a list of things we wanted to learn more about, research, or know how it works.  We shared out lists the next day.  While “Logan” (any student) was sharing his list, the class was listening for commonalities.  If they heard something in common, they would write “Logan’s” name next to the passion listed in their journal.  This was for future reference in case the students wanted to partner in their learning later on in the year.  In the first week we had a list of further learning (and excitement for learning by the students) and possible partnerships for learning in the future!  How exciting!

The second week of PAL time we discussed how to write down open-ended questions.  We discussed how to use online resources for research.  We discussed how to write complete sentences when answering the questions (and how to paraphrase instead of copying work).  And guess what?!!??!  The students were excited to do this…excited to learn…excited to share what they were working on!

Once we got in a routine, the students were completely self-motivated and self-driven.  I still pulled my small groups, but instead of me driving the groups, the student’s passions drove the groups.  We still read, still worked on basic math, and still worked on our writing….but it was all passion driven.  Students and I would read books together on their topic, work on refining complete sentences, and work on math problems associated with the research/learning.   They saw it as me helping them, not teaching them.  They saw me as a partner in the learning, not just a teacher teaching. 

At the end of each nine weeks (that’s how our grading period worked), each student shared what he/she worked on during PAL time.  Some students had multiple projects, but they chose one that they were most proud of to share…some students only had one to share.  But everyone shared something.  They loved it!  Some had actual small dioramas, some had Google Presentations, and some had written books on their topic…but all were proud.  By the end of the year, I had multiple students write in their memory books that PAL time was their favorite time of the year! 

Think about it...what will your intervention time look like this coming school year?  How might you rethink this time in your classroom?  How can a simple mind shift help you better plan for intervention time?  Share your ideas with comments below!

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Why "WHY" is So Important

Oh, the power of "why"....

If you simply type into a search line, "the power of why", you'll find a list of videos and books all written on this one topic:  Why the word "why" is so important to any organization or leadership.  It's a simple word, isn't it?  It can lead to some great conversations if you've used this word in your classroom.  You can get some great insights into how your students are thinking when you ask "why" after a child gives an answer.  I believe it will lead to your students understanding that the "right" answer they give isn't going to be enough...the students need to be able to explain their thinking.  (*Caution: asking why a child was taking so long in the bathroom is never a good idea...know when to use this word!)  :)

This same thought process correlates to school leadership, as well.  Now, I know there might be some principals out there who don't like being asked this question.  There are some people who don't like the idea of being questioned about their leadership.  As I've grown in my profession, I've learned to be leery of people like this.  Why wouldn't you want to share your thought process?  Why wouldn't you want to expand other people's understanding?  Now, I also have to say, there is a way to ask this question that doesn't lead to someone being defensive.  If you work with someone that you worry about this happening, maybe phrase it as, "Can you tell me more about your thought process behind...".  In my experience, I have always found it nice when someone asks me "why".  It means that the person was actually actively listening and cares about my reasoning.  Isn't that what we want in a listener?

I would go further to say that it's always important to know the "why" behind your school, school district, and your personal motivation.  Why are you an educator?  Why is education so important to you?  Why does your school exist?  Is it merely to have students regurgitate information or is it to inspire students to take on their own learning journey?  What is the mission and vision of your school and/or school district?  Look into the programs your school district has for students.  Can you see why these programs exist?  Do you see a link between the program and the mission/vision statement?  Every institution should be giving you the "why" when you walk into the building, look on the website, and speak with a student.  The "why" should be evident in the hallways, student work, communication, and personal interactions you see.  The staff should walk the "why" each day...

Why are you in education?  Why are you working with students?
Think about those questions.  Use them to form a mission statement for yourself for this coming school year.  Post this statement somewhere you can read it each morning.  There will be those days that you are overwhelmed, can't find the positives, worry constantly about a child, or might have trouble at home.  BUT, when you walk into your classroom or office, look to your mission statement.  There you will see why you get up every day, why you are important to the children, why you scarf down a meal in 10 minutes, why you have sleepless nights worrying about a student, why you are you...because you matter to these students, these staff members, and these parents.  You have a purpose in education.  You are important.  You are someone's hero, someone's light, and someone's best hug.  Never forget that!

Click here for more information on creating your educator's personal mission statement.

If you want to share your mission statement, leave a comment!