All of Our Kids Belong

IMG_0800The biggest regret I have as a teacher might not seem that striking at first glance. It is something I’d venture to say that happens fairly regularly at most schools. My hope in writing about my own experience and shift in my perspective, is to help diminish and eventual put a stop to the practice to sending students out of the classroom as a disciplinary measure. This is not to say students have never left my classroom if they are unable to regulate their bodies and/or actions to be safe within the classroom. However,  unless a student is unsafe, like really unsafe and not just being disruptive, they are staying in my classroom. Having a calm body space within the classroom really helps with this. We have all had a student become deregulated and struggle to calm down without disrupting the learning environment and having a calm body space within the classroom can help keep students in the class.

Why keep students in the classroom? When I look back at the various reasons I have had students leave the classroom for disciplinary reasons, the common theme from all of my classes is that the student that was asked to leave, needed to connect and be part of the classroom the community the most. Securely attached and connected to the community students are not the students who struggle with their behavior in the classroom. When we send the most fragile student out of the classroom, we send the loud message to the student and the rest of the class: You are not wanted and you do not belong with us.” Now as a teacher, I never specifically thought this when I was in the position to send a student from our classroom. I would never say those words to a student. They are cruel and hurtful. But my actions? That’s exactly what they were saying.

Once I realized this was my actions were communicating, I set out to restructure my classroom discipline procedures. Sound Discipline has played a significant role in how I structure my classroom. If you have not yet taking a Positive Discipline in the Classroom class, I strongly recommend it. It is one of the main reasons I am still teaching.

Other things I have done:

  • Realize that there is always a reason and  belief behind behavior (a major component of Positive Discipline).
  • Build a safe, welcoming calm body space in the classroom
  • Teach multiple lessons on how to use a calm body space and revisit as needed
  • Hold class meeting about why it is important that all students stay in the classroom and teach into sometimes as a class, we need to ignore unexpected behavior
  • Believe that all students deserve to belong and stay in our classroom even if their behavior isn’t conforming to our standard.
  • Believe that on any given day, most students are doing the best that they can and sometimes their best is messy and hard.

 

My encouragement to all educators everywhere: Try to keep every student in your classroom no matter what. The kids that we send out are the ones that need to be there the most.

-Alicia

Calm Body Spaces in the Classroom

Every classroom K-5 should have a calm body space.

What exactly is a calm body space? Simply put, it is a place that any student can opt into, taking a break when THEY feel fit. It is NOT a time out space for students a place to be sent to. The space should be selected by students and constructed hand in hand with the teacher.  All students have access to it, at anytime during the day. Students are never sent there because they are misbehaving. It is not a punishment place but a place where students can regulate their own emotions and to return to the class when they are ready.

When I first started working at Queen Anne, I learned about calm body spaces and I was a bit confused. At first glance, I could tell it was different than a time out space but I didn’t quite understand how much ownership students should have in creating and defining the calm body space.  What follows is a quick guide to what it is, what it isn’t and how to create a calm body space in your own class because your students really need it.

What it is: A calm body space is a space that students have identified as place to go whenever they feel the need. Students should select and name the space together through a whole class meeting.  In a follow up meeting we will set and define  clear parameters about how we use this space.  These agreements hang in the Calm Body Space as a reminder.

In the past the calm body space in my classroom was under the classroom loft and had names such as : The Shark Den, California ( don’t ask) and just Calm Body Space. The name doesn’t particularly matter as long as students get a choice in naming it. The space should be out of the way of the rest of the class and should feel calm. At Queen Anne we had a fish tank, some pillows, a lap weight, headphones,  some paper and pencils but not much else. You may find that your students can handle more or less tools in the space. Last year, my class decided that those tools were helpful for getting calm  but weren’t so tempting that they wanted to stay and play.

One thing I wish I would have added was a five minute sand timer so that students could time how long they had been in the Calm Body Space. I teach students that it’s okay to spend five minutes there and then I will check in, if they need a couple of more minutes, okay,  but after that they either need to rejoin the class or go problem solve with another adult in the school such as the counselor or principal.

What a Calm Body Space is not:

A space to send misbehaving students. It is NOT a punishment space.

A space outside the classroom. Calm Body Spaces are in the classroom so the child is still in the classroom. Students should never be sent into the hall because they are deregulated.

A space that students can just hang out in all day and opt out of learning. The goal of a Calm Body Space is to help teach students to identify and regulate their own emotions. If they are spending large amounts of time there, there is a bigger issue. It’s our job as teachers to figure out what that student needs to be successful in that lesson. Is the content too challenging? Are they going through trauma and can’t access the curriculum? Are they sick and need to go home? When a student spend a lot of time in the Calm Body Space, we need to work with them to figure out why and get them back learning with the class.

How to begin:

First, I would get the book, Jared’s Cool Out Space . This is a great story about Jared and how he builds his own Calm Body Space in his bedroom. Many of students go home after this read aloud and build their spaces at home.

Next, lead a class meeting about where you could have a Calm Body Space in your classroom. Allow students to select and name the space, it should be place in the classroom you all agree would work well for calming down. It should be inviting to students. Lead follow up meetings as necessary to set clear boundaries about the space.

Have all students take a quick tour of the space and add any tools that help with regulation.

Allow students to use the space when they need it. Remember it is a space that they should be allowed to access.  If it’s a very popular space, you may need a back up space  (there have been years when I have had two Calm Body Spaces) Below are photos from both of our classrooms. You can see the space under the loft in my classroom and in Molly’s classroom there are beach chairs ( her class Calm Body Space has a beach theme!)

To repeat with what I began with: All classrooms should have a Calm Body Space.   Every student deserves a spot where they can feel safe and regulate their emotions. Research tells us that students cannot learn when they don’t feel safe.  A Calm Body Space will make a huge difference in your classroom.

-Alicia

Changes

 

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Tulip, my dog amazed at the amount of books we are moving.

 

This post has been a long time coming. I just spent the weekend with Molly and I was both inspired and energized to start blogging again, and to tell the next part of our story.

Last spring, my husband and I made the decision to leave Seattle and move north about 90 miles. This decisions was hard and sad, but we realized this was the next step for our family. I was fortunate enough to find a job in a district that belief system closely aligns with my own. I was hired to be a third grade teacher. I was unsure about third grade–I’ve always seen myself as a primary teacher not to mention I would no longer be teaching the same grade level as Molly. Change can be hard. I’m two weeks into third grade and to put it bluntly,  it’s rad. I’m loving it and excited for how it is stretching me as a teacher.

As Molly and I talked and talked this weekend ( so much catching up to do!), we realized we could keep blogging together-our beliefs are still the same as when we began this journey.  We both still have things to say about digital citizenship and supporting and empowering all students. We both believe that our classrooms should be safe, nurturing places for all students. Our post may have a slightly different perspective now since I’ve moved to intermediate but Molly is still my person, my teaching soul mate and still the person I run just about every crazy idea I have by. Our lives and teaching situations have changed but not who we are. I hope you continue to join us on this journey.

~Alicia

Stop and Breathe

IMG_4042As I drove today, composing this blog post in my head, I was so tempted to title it something like “The One Thing You Can Do For a Calm and Focused Classroom” or “The Secret to Classroom Management” and while those titles are flashy and accurate in a sense, they imply there is some great big secret out there that can solve all your classroom behavior problems  with some magic potion. And in reality what I have discovered is painfully simple. Ready for it?

Breathing exercises for transitions or any old time your class needs to return to a calm and happy state. Plain and simple.

My class this past year was very energetic. More so than the average first grade class. Transitions were to be a huge challenge and problem in our classroom. We tried everything, problem solving as a class, very structured clean up routines, timing ourselves to see how quickly we could clean up while staying safe, you name it we, tried it. After a few weeks of trying different solutions, all of which had limited success, we began using a Hoberman Sphere to breath right before our class meeting. And it helped. And then a student suggested we use the Hoberman Sphere to help us calm down after recess. And that also helped. There is a great deal of science behind breathing but what really interested me was how dramatic of a difference I could see in my students and myself from 10 -15 deep breaths. It was remarkable. Then I went to a training and learned a new breathing exercise, which I promptly brought back to my classroom. And another. And soon we had about five breathing exercises that we used for every transition or anytime the energy in the room was beginning to rise.  And while it didn’t transform our classroom into a utopia, it did help the classroom to be a calmer place where we were able to minimize transition time and increase learning time.

Our Classrooms Top 3 Breathing Exercises:

  1. Hoberman Sphere -fun and a great visual
  2. Square breathing: inhale for 4, hold for 4, exhale for 4
  3. 4, 7, 8- great TED talk about this here

Adding Purpose to a Student Centered Classroom – A Reflection on PBL

Every year at this time I am celebrating my successes and reflecting on what I can do better.  For many years my colleagues and I  have integrated project based learning in our classrooms. These projects are guided by a driving question and  incorporate all of the PBL  essentials: student voice, collaboration, problem solving,  critical thinking, reflection and a time for student presentations.

 

For the last 6 years my 1st graders have done a Spring project that focuses on birds.  This project was designed to meet state science standards as well as allow students plenty of time to research practicing what it means to synthesize information and to put that learning in their own word.  This learning culminates in a bird symposium where students present what they’ve learned  in a way that expresses all that they know to an audience.  Every year Alicia and I have tweeked this project, adding art and music components, numerous field trips, tuning in to bird cams so that students could observe  fledglings in their nests. We brought in experts and used twitter to connect with ornithologists.  We immersed them in the study of birds and their habitats.  We knew that our students were engaged and that their understanding was multi layered and deep.  Students were asking questions and helping each other find the answers.  Yes,they were learning a lot about birds.  But could they do more?

In our 1st project of the year, our students had done a project in which they built a city of the future.  To do that they brainstormed a list of what they saw as “problems” in our city.  Homelessness, traffic, pollution and loss of green space. All of these were mitigated in the city that they imagined for their future. fullsizeoutput_3a1c

It was learning that stuck and when we started talking about birds they were immediately drawn to the problems they had already identified. Pollution in our city had to to be hurting birds too. This time they wanted to make a difference and they asked if  they could reach out to the Seattle Audobon Society.

 

 

The letters were delivered and we had permission to do a fundraiser.  Our neighborhood holds a farmers market in the Spring and luckily they were happy to host our 1st graders who signed up for shifts after school and into the night.

 

In the end these children raised  575 dollars and 25 cents, money that will be used to help protect bird habitat in our city. But more than that they demonstrated that their voices mattered and  together they could make an impact on our world.  This urgency and sense of purpose made a difference in their lives.  And mine.  And as I reflect back it’s what should drive all of our teaching.  We must lift expectations and let students lead the learning in real and authentic ways.

~Molly

 

Digital Schools or Digital Learning?

I sat down at my computer today to write a blog post about the impact project based learning has had on my students.   I had just gone through my camera roll and tagged the pictures and videos that showed my 1st graders researching, collaborating, struggling, using feedback to try again and I was so proud to share their success as self directed learners.  1st graders who use technology and are empowered to share their thinking and learning with the world.  But writers block set in so I decided on this gloomy June day in Seattle that I could do a technology training that’s been on my to do list since September.  ( my district will pay me 8 hours of pay to get it done) or I could check my twitter feed.  Perfect.  That’s when I saw that George Couros had retweeted Mike Crowley’s blog post:

Google, ISTE, and the Death of EdTech

I read the post then retweeted the post and then decided to get a cup of coffee and maybe go for a walk.  But Crowley’s post stayed with me. Mainly because Alicia and I had the opportunity to pilot the  first 1 to 1 iPad program in an elementary school in our district.  We also  started this blog because we watched how these devices transformed teaching and learning in our classrooms.  Now, 6 years later, even though there is lots of technology in our public schools, the inclination is still to control and even to block students from using these devices.  And professional development?  Teaching teachers how to use technology in meaningful ways that impact students?  It’s happening but it’s teacher driven.   Which brings me back to the technology training that is still on my to do list.

 

 

As you can see the PD that I can get paid to do is several modules that will help me learn how to use our district’s evaluation system, how to use office 365, how to use power teacher and homeroom which are systems that allow me to take attendance and look up data for my students.  It also includes schoology which is how I am able to access this training. (Schoology is also used by students in our middle and high schools I could get an hours pay to learn how to use gradebook but that doesn’t apply to me either.  The digital classroom and the personalized learning path gave me hope but again there is nothing here that will impact my teaching and/or my students.

 

So that’s how I ended up on twitter this morning.  A place where I am able to connect with educators like Mike Crowley and George Couros  who are transforming education.   Of course teachers need digital tools in the classroom and I will get better at using Onedrive and Power Teacher and Homeroom-programs that are used by our district.  But in the classroom the focus needs to be on our students. And if we are going to give our kids technology we need to support teachers in their professional development. We need to show them what’s possible and support them as they integrate technology in authentic ways. This will lead to powerful learning in all of our classrooms.   Quoting Mike Crowley, “Let’s imagine what learning can be.”

~Molly

 

Social Media in 1st grade

This week in my classroom  students are listening to one of my favorite read alouds, My Father’s Dragon by Ruth Stiles Gannett.  We’re reading a chapter a day, working as a class to infer word meanings (weep, cargo, inhabited ) pausing so that students can turn and talk about the storyline and  share their understanding of the text. We started by making predictions about what would happen in the book.  Why is there a lion on the cover?  Why did Elmer pack what he did in his knapsack?  But instead of just writing these predictions on paper, and turning them in for feedback, my students are using Twitter to share their learning with classrooms around the United States and Canada.img_0131 For the third year in a row my 1st graders are connecting with other 6 , 7 and 8 year olds in more than 20 different classrooms using the #1bc18.

My students are used to sharing on Twitter.  In fact, our class Twitterers, (there are two) is our most popular class job.  Most days these students will send out a tweet at the end of our day.  It’s their chance to share what they think is most important about our school day.  These tweets  are student directed.  My 1st graders  use their best guess spelling and they use our school hashtag (#QAE)  because they know hashtags bring specific audiences together. I don’t step in until their finished,  and then I read it, offer feedback and let  them tweet it out to the world. What’s most significant about this is that they are sharing their voices with an authentic audience.  img_0134

During the book club, my students are literally lining up in front of our classroom computer so they can share their predictions, thoughts, etc. about the chapter we are reading.  And because we are on the west coast, and 2 to 3 hours behind most of the other classrooms that are online, we are able to see what what other students are doing which  creates a lot of excitement that help push my students in ways that I alone cannot.  It is a connection that is authentic and motivating.  We are also noticing similarities about our thinking  and about the schools and classrooms that we learn in.  We have gotten out maps and put dots on the cities and towns that we now have a connection to,  we feel like we have made new friends and we’ve added geography to the 1st grade curriculum.

Learning is  also amplified when students can share their ideas and get immediate feedback from people who don’t even have to be in the room.  We have tweeted several authors and heard back from most of them.  My students also share their thinking on kidblog.   And you can find that link on our class Twitter account.  And if you are now thinking how am I going to find  time for this, it really doesn’t take more than a few minutes a day.  We check our twitter account (@MsMecksClass) during snack time. And surprisingly, or maybe not, I’ve never had to edit or admonish anyone  for anything inappropriate.  Already, my students understand what it means to be a safe online.  Digital Citizenship is taught explicitly.  Common Sense Media definies digital citizenship as the ability to “think critically, behave safely, and participate responsibly in the digital world.”

I am very passionate that every student should be learning how to use technology and social media in school.   My own kids (now 18 and 21)  were the 1st generation of kids to grow up in this new digital world and they were navigating social media with very little support from adults (I thought I knew what they were doing ) and absolutely none from their teachers. In fact, students were banned from bringing technology to school and were only told what they couldn’t do on school devices.  I believe that  the students that are in our classrooms  now will be more thoughtful and positive on social media.  And that they will not only be digital citizens but digital leaders who will use technology and social media to create positive social change. This today from one of my 1st graders who wanted to share her feelings about the thousands of students who walked out of schools everywhere to honor the victims of gun violence.

Thanks Edie!

~Molly