Where to begin…..

The first weeks of school, as every teacher will tell you, are spent setting up and refining routines.  I find our school’s decision to use the principles of the Responsive Classroom provides lots of guidance and reminders on building a classroom community.

This morning, I watched a refresher on one of the most basic of routines: moving through the hallway. This video of Caltha Crowe talking, modeling, and practicing transitioning in a hallway reminds me of the essential teaching that takes place those first days: watch here.

Teaching students acceptable routines for behavior in school (and out!) is an immense undertaking. Explaining the reason for the rule, engaging students in the rule’s creation, modeling and practice-practice-practice — all is exhausting during those first weeks when we, too, are getting used to a more structured routine.

Is it worth the time and effort? I believe it is. Whenever a class routine disconnect happens, I can usually trace the problem back to the source – me! I wasn’t explicit, I didn’t provide adequate modeling or practice.

And the process will begin next Tuesday at 8:30.

Mindblowing Task of Setting Up a Classroom

I’ve been at this for 23 Fall startups now and I’ve yet to find the “perfect” room configuration.  Over time, I’ve managed to get the task of setting up – at least for Day 1 – down to a two-day affair, but it is not without angst.

My students do not sit in rows – they never have. I’ve been an early adapter for collaborative or cooperative learning and have just never let go of those concepts.  This year I have 24 students on my (current) roster. That number will probably not be the final count of students. I currently have 5 groups of 5. While that’s not an ideal configuration of students in a group, I dislike have so many clusters of desks around the room that the walking flow is impeded. Here is a wide shot of how the desks are arranged at present:

The desks for the students are arranged in the front 2/3 of the classroom space. This year I have an ELMO and projection equipment to include for whole-group lessons or for sharing examples of student work.  The classroom already has a pull down screen at the front of the room over the white board.  Off to the side there are some shelves and cabinets for storage and a sink (big smile).

At the rear of the room, opposite the white board, I have placed 5 2-shelf units that comprise the Leveled Library for the classroom.  There is a tack board above these shelves.  In this area, I have a large gathering rug, a sizable rolling easel,  and a rectangular table (doubling as extra small group instructional space and a listening center area).

The alphabet chart is above this board. I generally have the students help decide where the wall displays are going, but in the case of the alphabet chart – a royal pain to hang on a good day – the decision is fait accompli. This year I am implementing the Literacy Cafe along with the Daily Five as a management tool. The Cafe strategy board is to the left of the image.  I’m still struggling with where to put a Choice chart for students.

Another important area in the classroom is our Behavior Tracking area near the exit door.  This is a spot for students to monitor their behavior color and it is also where the daily schedule will be posted.  To the left of the behavior chart is a lunch choice board. Students are expected to make one of 4 lunch choices as they enter the classroom by placing a personal magnet under the choice for the day.  This choice board doubles as an attendance check-in for me.  If the meal magnet hasn’t moved from the ‘parking lot’, then the student is absent – otherwise I get to choose lunch for them. Since I teach Third Grade, this routine is pretty reliably run by the students.

I use magazine boxes to store students’ reading materials. Those boxes are stored on the counter top between the classroom’s windows. When it is time to begin reading activities, student retrieve the magazine box and keep it on the floor next to their desk or wherever else they may be working during Reading Workshop.

So will this work? I sure hope so. I keep my requirements pretty simple:

  1. students need to have the ability to work in groups
  2. clutter, especially mine, is keep at a minimum – the space needs to be clean
  3. traffic flow is easy and everyone can be visually monitored

Now for the test: students arrive Tuesday and we will see how successful this room configuration is.

Finding my compass – again

I’ve put it off for nearly as long as I dare. It is time to start getting ready for a new school year. Completing my list for summer has suddenly kicked in to overdrive: there’s still much (re)painting to complete, sorting and throwing to do, cleaning and gardening/landscaping. But suddenly, there is a pressing need to squeeze it all in quickly — the students return in about a week.

I used to get pretty worked up about starting room preparations as soon as we turned the calendar to August. This year for the first time in my career, I’ve managed to make it all the way to the last 10 days before school begins. I suppose that’s growth. Hopefully it’s not burnout.

I love what I have chosen for my life’s work. But sometimes, more often now than in the beginning of my career, there are far too many experts telling me how to do my job. And demanding proof that I am doing it. This week,  I am in the processing of completing my self-assigned professional reading: The Cafe Book by Gail Boushey and Joan Moser – better known as “The Sisters”. Reading this book is helping me to find the balance between all the frenetic demands made on teachers today and a calm and purposeful learning experience for my students. Here is a quote from Debbie Miller that the Sisters included in their book (page 60) which caused me to sit up and take notice:

…when getting done takes precedence over the doing, when finishing becomes more important than the figuring out, we’ve lost sight of why we became teachers in the first place. (Miller, D. Teaching with intention: Defining beliefs, aligning practice, taking action, Grades K-5. (2008). Portland, ME: Stenhouse. p 106

As I read and reread Debbie Miller’s words, I realized that this is what has been causing me unease with what I do. In the rush to turn in this, that, or the other evidence, I have lost my bearing: why I am a teacher. I chose to teach because I believe that it is important to give every child the opportunity to soar to heights neither of us imagined possible. I do this on a selfish level because, when that moment of connection happens, when child and teacher both realize that something wonderful has happened, it is the most exquisite of emotions that makes all the hard, hard work worth everything.

This year, my personal goal as teacher, will be to refocus on why I teach, to not let outside forces undermine why my students and I are here, working together. And if I let some of those demands for evidence slip, if I’m late with something someone somewhere wants in order to show that I have been working, that is what will be.

You can find me here in Room 207 helping my students figure out how to take the next step in their learning path.

Photographing Local Farming

One of the ongoing creative projects Adrien has been working on is photographing some of the farmers working and learning through the New Entry Sustainable Farming Project. We receive a weekly share of the farmers’ bounty through World Peas CSA and, so far, it has been a wondrous adventure in fresh local veggies – and fruits.

This morning, Adrien set out to try to catch up with some of the farmers working their plots in Dracut. And, in my new role of photography assistant, I went along with him. Near Richardson’s Dairy, where many of the new farmers work, we met up with Justine, a farmer who immigrated from Cameroon.  Justine was a bit unsure of us at first – who wouldn’t be at 7 in the morning! – but remembered Adrien from an earlier introduction by McKenzie Boekholder, a coordinator for New Entry Sustainable Farming.  Justine also remembered that Adrien owed her a photograph ;-).

Adrien convinced Justine to pose for him near her plot. She was very tolerant of both of us interrupting her morning chores. Here is one of the shots from this morning:

Photography by Adrien Bisson Photography

One of the most fun things about this morning was the friendliness we were shown. Justine clasped my hand and walked us to a covered framed building. She not only insisted on giving me a beautiful bunch of collard greens, freshly picked before our eyes, she gave me directions on how to best prepare them for tonight’s supper. I’m hopeful I won’t screw it up!

Meeting new people and learning about where my food comes from is turning out to be a wonderful adventure. One that is full of reminders of the generous goodness of humanity.

The Office – Mini style

Maybe it’s been around for a while and I’m just catching up on my reading, but I just learned about a new “tool” for students. Lucky for my budget it won’t cost anything more than some manila file folders, tape, and time.

The new tool is called the Mini-office. I was intrigued by the term when I went Googling for literacy stations after reading Debbie Miller’s Practice with Purpose. I like the thinking behind a mini office: the most often used or referenced tips – in my case for Writing – are posted strategically on the manila file folders. The folders are arranged to form a three-sided display keeping those tips right within eyesight of a student. What I like about this tool is that, depending upon the writing project, the references posted on the mini-office can be customized to fit the writing or generalized for any writing.

Mini offices are on my shortlist of ideas to try out this Fall. Now to think about what essential information will help my students.

Links for Mini Offices:

Busy Teacher Cafe

ABC Teach

Teaching Heart