Advice from the Peanut Gallery

Here’s some advice from my experienced third graders to my incoming students:

  • Rase (sic) your hand because you are being rude if you are talking and it’s someone else’s turn.
  • Raise your hand because there is no blurting 207.
  • Pay attention because you might know what to do.
  • Follow directions so you get smarter.
  • Be persistent (which means keep trying), stay focused in third grade and take your time to do things because these are important things to be a third grader and to be ready for the MCAS.
  • Listen to Mrs. Bisson because then you would know what to do when you go back to your seat.

There you have it; how to get through third grade without a hitch.

Responding to bullies

I don’t like being blindsided any more than anyone else. So this week when our school social worker relayed to me that one of my student’s parents said her child was being bullied, I was taken aback. As a Responsive Classroom, we continually work on appropriate social interactions. As part of the Making Meaning program, a large piece of instructional time goes in to socially acceptable ways to agree or disagree, to dialogue with peers.

Nevertheless, the parent’s concern was laid out and, as is required by law in Massachusetts, we address such concerns seriously. We are revisiting bullying this week.

I usually begin discussions of bullying by trying to figure out if students can define what bullying is and what it is not. It was amazing to me that sometimes kids think when a peer tells them to “shut up” that they feel they have been bullied. In the past, I’ve handled such events in the classroom with discussion between the involved students which ends with a plan the students themselves concoct for more polite interaction. But now, once the student or parent of the victim has raised the topic of bullying, there are formal procedures and documentation that need completion. What was at one time simple, has become complex. Which is what happens when we try to legislate every aspect of human behavior, isn’t it?

So this coming week, I will once again assist my students in defining what bullying is (for my third graders: repeated times that someone (or a group) makes you feel unsafe or uncomfortable). We will read age-appropriate literature like The Recess Queen as a jumping off point. We will role model. We will talk. And we will write, because sometimes my kids feel safer when they don’t have to say the words out loud.

I was thinking of all of this as I watched the shootings in Tuscon, Arizona unfold yesterday afternoon. Are we, the adults in our society modeling socially acceptable ways to agree or disagree when we get so incensed about another point of view that we can no longer listen to what is being said? What kind of a model for civilized discourse is in our own adult interaction – political or otherwise – when we can’t even  agree to disagree without threatening? Frankly, the Sheriff in Pima County, Clarence Dupnik, has it right.

It is something to ponder.

Some thing to smile about

Our elementary school, like many others, has a moment at the beginning of the day for school-wide announcements. In our school, the Morning Announcement also includes the Pledge of Allegiance and our school’s Learning Pledge.  Each morning, coming together as a school community, we recite both pledges together.

As you can imagine, sometimes a student will be in the hallway just as the announcement is starting.  Given the location of my classroom (at the intersection of two hallways), I often get a bird’s eye view of how students handle being “caught” in the hallway during the Pledge of Allegiance.

To my knowledge, without any adult prompting, students – singularly or in groups – stop at my doorway, face the flag visible from the doorway, put hand over heart and recite the Pledge of Allegiance. No big deal as far as the students are concerned; they are doing what is expected to get our day started. Upon finishing the Pledge, the students continue on their mission without missing a beat.

Coming together as a community of 500 or so learners is an important way we get started on our day.  In a time when we are hearing about all the ways schools and students allegedly do not measure up, here is something for which we can be proud. And to think that the kids thought this up themselves. As teachers and parents, we must be doing something right.

Hopes and Dreams, Part 2

One of the nicest advantages of teaching is the possibility of multiple “fresh starts” throughout the year. There’s the obvious one — in the Fall, another after one report card period closes and another opens, and tomorrow’s: the first day of a new calendar year.

Each start brings excitement and butterflies.  Obviously the unknown of meeting students for the first time in the Fall is stressful, but so is a restarted school year after vacation.  Will I be up to the task? What do I need to know about these children to make this a positive experience? How can I adapt and adjust my lessons to stay true to my own pedagogical philosophy yet provide students with what they’ll need for the high stakes tests that envelop us in uncertainty and doubt.

Tomorrow begins the first school day for 2010. It is a time for restarting learning with even greater intensity, with renewed commitment to our learning mantra:

  • This is important,
  • You can do,
  • I am not giving up on you.

CHOICES Character Education

In my school, we have been grappling with student behaviors, choices and what to do about them.  Our Green Team – the staff guiding us to a cohesive K-4 plan – is incorporating and blending ideas from Ruth Payne’s outstanding book, A Framework for Understanding Poverty, Linda Albert’s book Cooperative Discipline, and Responsive Classroom. As a staff, we are exploring this further in a graduate level course offered after school hours.

The deeper I delve into the topic, the more complicated things seem. A majority of our student come from trauma: financial, emotional, social, even academic. I am beginning to understand the role this plays in driving less-than-acceptable behaviors that appear in the classroom. Explicit and direct teaching and talking to children seems to be a key to helping students be and achieve their best. What does effort look like? What does it mean to work hard? What is a good choice?

This morning, I came across this resource. The CHOICES program itself may not necessarily fit with our school’s plan, but the literature lists for introducing and teaching character — making choices, honesty, integrity, caring, etc. seem to offer  some great ideas for creating a literacy link to classroom discussion.

For more information, click on CHOICES Character Education.