Who Is In Your Library?

The wonderful thing about social media is that even though I don’t work with Molly anymore, I am aware of what is going on at her school via various teacher’s instagrams and twitter accounts. My social media PLN is constantly a source of learning and growth for me. One person I have not met in person yet that I have learned a great deal from is Teach Finn https://www.instagram.com/teach_finn/. Finn teaches Kindergarten at Molly’s school and one day I saw a post about how his class had done an inquiry into who was represented in their classroom library. I knew I needed to replicate this in my own classroom. So a couple of days later, I divided my students into partnerships and gave each of them a bin of books from our classroom library. I have a fairly large classroom library both with picture books and intermediate chapter books so there were a lot of bins to go through. Students were engaged in this for about thirty minutes. After students made their own lists, we came back together and shared who was in our library and who was missing. The resulting conversations were eye-opening. As expected, most characters are white. This didn’t shock me but did make me realize I need to continue to actively seek out more diverse books with diverse characters. Another observation my students made was that they didn’t see people with disabilities. They were right and I hadn’t even thought of seeking out books with this perspective.

 You can see the chart we came up with below. 

This is a great activity to do with students of all ages.

My challenge to you: Look and see who is in your library and who is missing. I am now seeking books that show people with disabilities and books that represent everyone in my class. My plans going forward? To do this every year to ensure I am constantly evaluating and adding to my library.

What Now?

It was 12:15 on Wednesday, March 12th. My students were in Art when I got word that Seattle Public Schools would close its doors due to the spread of the Coronavirus. We knew that this was a possibility but there was no way that I was prepared to say goodbye to my students for 2 weeks. I had time to run off some worksheets and gather their math workbooks before it was time to pick them up from Art. It was an early release day so I would only have about 45 minutes left with them. What would be the best use of this time? I know I wanted every one to leave with their favorite books and I also needed time to say goodbye. And that meant a classroom meeting. Usually that would start with complements but today it was just a chance for everyone of us to say something – a thought, a worry, a goodbye, a I will miss you because, school because…..

If I’m honest I don’t really know what was said. There were many of us who had tears in our eyes and there were many of us who said we would miss being here, in our school, in our classroom, the place which is home away from home for all of us. I assured them that we would be back and we would keep in touch on our class blog, and our class twitter account. And then they loaded up their book bags and it was time to go. Today I found a picture that I managed to snap as I wanted to document how classroom meetings build community in a way that I can’t really define.

My week ended similarly to Molly’s. We still had school until Friday but then the Governor declared all schools closed on Friday afternoon. There had been murmurings in the community that this may happen and there was an undercurrent of stress within my classroom. On Thursday, we had had to cancel our family writing celebration since it would have been over the recommended gathering size. My class decided they still wanted to have an in class celebration on Friday morning. Friday arrived and I could sense the nervous energy in the classroom so instead of pushing academics, I put a cozy fire youtube video on the projector and students created decorations for the class. Some made origami decorations, some made signs and many worked together to create a long paper chain that span all the way to the 4th grade classrooms. The energy in the classroom was calm and happy. My students weren’t stressed or worried about a strange, new virus but instead they got to act like normal third graders for an hour. 

By the time we said goodbye and I got home, I saw homeschooling plans all over social media. These plans would that start Monday and were heavy with academics. And if those sorts of plans work for a family, great. But we should not be expecting or providing new learning at this moment.

At a Zoom meeting the other day, my administrator said something that really stuck out to me. If we had just experienced a natural disaster, we would not expect students to jump right back into learning so why are we doing that right now?

Personally, we’ve had many friends whose lives had shifted dramatically in the last week. Many have lost jobs. My husband is a firefighter and I’m faced with the reality that he is out there working on the front lines of this crisis and that’s stressful.

Our students are in similar stressful situations, the individual situation may look different but most families are experiencing some level of stress that is out of the norm right now. We believe our number one job as teachers is to make sure students feel loved, safe and seen. That belief does not change regardless of the situation. Right now, students need to feel loved, safe and seen before they can engage in any learning. And as a country, we need to understand that for many students and families, learning is not the top priority now nor should it be. As teachers, let’s make sure our students know we love them and continue to connect with them in any way we can.

Take Care,

Alicia and Molly

Rigor In the Classroom – What Does That Really Mean?

I feel like rigor is a buzzword in education that means something different to every educator. I was talking with a group of teachers this week and they were advocating for more rigor in our classrooms. As I listened, what I heard (and maybe I’m a little defensive) was that our 3rd graders still don’t accurately form their letters. “How can that be?” said one 3rd grade teacher. I also heard that WE (all of us?) needed to make sure that everyone was on the same page. Now when I hear that I see myself handing out daily handwriting packets and planning all of my lessons so that I can be on the same page of the same book from the same curriculum with every other 1st grade teacher in my building. (maybe even in my whole school district) My heart sank. Is that rigor? Is that what’s best for kids?

No. So what is the definition of rigor in an educational setting? According to the Glossary of Education Reform http://edglossary.orgy Rigor is defined and used by educators to describe instruction, schoolwork, learning experiences and educational expectations that are academically, intellectually, and personally challenging. Rigorous learning experiences help students acquire skills that can be applied throughout their lives.

For me, that means I’m on the right track. I believe to develop rigor in our students we must build relationships. And as we get to know each child socially, emotionally and academically we can differentiate learning so that each student is working at their own pace. In my school, 1st grade is when students learn what it means to be a self directed learner. We talk daily about mindset, what it means to be flexible, optimistic and persistent. I have no assigned seating so that students can learn how to pick a space that works for them. They learn how to work independently for short than longer periods of time. They participate in projects where they work together to ask and answer questions. They use their imagination to create original work.

Rigor also includes voice and choice. My students are almost never doing the same thing at the same time. Independent reading, word work, math, science, it looks different for everyone. My mini lessons are often strategy lessons and students apply and build on these strategies to do their best work. Last week we were working on measuring during our math block. Students picked non standard units of measure and were working together to find different ways to measure items in our classroom. This led to a discussion of perimeter and soon more than half of my students were measuring the distance around objects, taking pictures of this work and using technology to show what they had learned. Perimeter had not been in my lesson plan but it was in theirs. Students can and should drive their learning!

I am not a perfect teacher. But lifting expectations is key. Even our youngest learners can set their own learning goals and use these goals to challenge themselves. And one more thing, mistakes are welcome in my classroom. And yes, their handwriting is far from perfect. But my 1st graders are learning how to learn, to work with their peers, to think critically about their world and their place in it. Rigor.


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.


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.




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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.


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