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Posted by on in Early Childhood

blocks and basket (Brick by Brick)

I take a lot of photos. Often I will look back through the photos...and I'm reminded of things. I see things that I forgot happened. Recently, I came across the photo above. As I look at it, several things come to mind.

  1. Many things happen in a classroom each week. I forget most of them. A remark or a shared activity will often come to my mind. But often I forget about moments - big and small - without reminders. I need to take photos and/or write down things to remember the great things that happen.
  2. Lots of learning happens in the classroom each week that isn't planned, at least planned by me. These will also probably not be remembered individually but become part of the foundational knowledge in the child's learning.
  3. Children are creative. They see everything as a possible resource for what they are doing.

This last one is something that I've thought about before. Kids are open to all kinds of possibilities; anything is possible.

And this photo reminds me again that I put limits on my thinking so often. A basket is for holding things. I don't consider it as a possible building item. If I were working in a blocks center and needed something for the top of my building, I would have overlooked this basket. It doesn't fit my definition of building item. But my friend saw it, decided to try it, and figured out how to use it in his structure.

We do the same for children. We see them in a particular light or through a particular lens. We try to figure out how they tick and interpret everything by our conclusions. "She's quiet. She won't be interested in doing this." "He is active. He will not sit down to do that." And so forth.

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Posted by on in Early Childhood

So, infancy is sliding out of the way and now there’s this new little person who is suddenly both mobile and opinionated. We know there are two ways to get through life…the easy way and the hard way. There may not truly be an easy way to navigate through toddlerhood, but being mindful of the unnegotiable rules can help move the needle in that direction.

1. Make sure there’s a routine set up and stick to that throughout the day. Predictability is important to toddlers. It brings a sense of security and stability that make for more happy and more calm.

read

2. Anticipate…no, EXPECT them to be irrational. You can’t really expect to reason with a child who has his own rules of reason and will change them at will. He may ask you to cut up his fruit and then scream when you do, wanting it put back together again. See? Don’t even try.

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Posted by on in Early Childhood

Ronan and Kerrigan 1024x682

How do you spell love? Literacy on little angel wings. Such joy, the most amazing learning experience of my life.

Here’s my update, year two preschool, teaching kiddos emergent skills of reading and writing, well, a lot more than that. Never sure who’s teaching whom. A day in the passionate life, so to speak. Since I wrote about the infamous PreKinder assessments, I'm into the sheer joy of teaching and learning from the kids, my best teachers. Life lessons, sometimes minute to minute. 

I walk into school, immediately surrounded by sticky fingers, hugs and checking out whether I have on my Minnie Mouse rainbow light-up watch. Loaded down with bags of mini-lessons, supplies, my lunch bag and layers, I barely make it to our little middle room to organize in about three minutes. Feel like the Pied Piper. "Good morning, Teacher Rita!"

I already told you I am really bad with crafts, so back out of the art room, big room so distracting, at home in the middle room, with all my favorite things, calendar, maps and globe, alphabet, flannel boards, our little table and chairs and loads of teaching sets, readers and books. In the corner is a huge beanbag with big stuffies and pillow. We read there a lot. And talk. And I listen.

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Posted by on in School Culture

clock

Talk to teachers-- or former teachers-- across the country, and you hear similar complaints. An increase of job responsibilities, without the necessary time or resources to complete them. When we talk about unfunded mandates, we usually mean some program for which the government has told the district, "You must do this, but we will not give you any money to pay for it." But it is another kind of unfunded mandate when a school says to a teacher, "You are being given new tasks to complete, but we expect you to donate the time to do them on your own."

In addition to your regular teaching duties, and preparing to teach, and grading papers, and recording the grades, we would like you to also administer some pre-testing tests and then crunch the data. We'd like you to create your lesson plans in a new piece of software, and use that software to build scope and sequence for your courses. Create some emotional and social development programs for the students. Call every parent. Keep everything up to date and entered on your school website (using the new software that we expect you to teach yourself).

Before you squawk back, here are two things I know about this.

One is that teachers are not alone. I have nurses in my family, and I have watched how the health care providers solve budget issues by the not-very-clever method of simply reducing the number of staff, which can be done by declaring, "You still-employed people will now do your old job and also somebody else's old job." Many companies also use the technique of cutting employee hours, but not employee responsibilities. "Do what you've always done-- just do it in half the time." So, yeah-- I now that teaching is not the only place suffering from these unfunded mandates.

Another thing I know is that teachers are professionals and not hourly wage workers. When I signed up for an English teacher job, I knew that those essays wouldn't grade themselves, and I wouldn't have six unassigned hours during the school day in which to grade them. Any teacher who thinks she can do the job within the hours of the school day and no more is kidding herself. The out-of-school hours are part of the gig.

But teachers are good team players, and therefor terrific institutional enablers. Administrators add hours to the teaching day like drunks add gin to their glass, and some teachers just keep saying, "Well, that's okay. I'll make sure the kids have a normal Christmas and take the phone calls from your mother."

Teachers suck it up and squeeze in the new duties instead of telling their administrator, "I can do this, but I'll need direction from you on which duties you wold like me to stop performing." They donate the extra hours to the district, and then complain that administrators aren't fixing the problem, but here's the thing-- from the administrator's perspective, there is no problem. The fact that Mrs. Bagshot is sad about all the hours she spent at work is not an administrative problem. It's not an administrative problem until the job doesn't get done and Mrs. Bagshot is telling her boss, "No, I didn't get it done. I ran out of time."

Of course, if Mrs. Bagshot works in a charter school or a state that has "freed" its teachers from the "inflexible" union rules, Mrs. Bagshot will donate the extra hours or else suffer unemployment.

But for the rest of us can draw lines.

That raises the question of where, exactly, to draw those lines. Because in some cases, failure to donate free time to the district creates more problems for us or the students than we really want to see. It's decision that everyone has to make on their own; you're the one who has to live with your choice. For me, it boils down to this-- my job, the job I signed up for, is to use my expertise and knowledge to help students learn how to be better at reading, writing, speaking and listening. On the bigger scale, my work is to help them discover and grow toward the best version of themselves, to help them better envision what it means to be fully human, how to be in the world. So anything that helps me do my job is worth my time. And anything that doesn't, isn't.

I can't tell anyone else where to draw their lines. But if we want to be respected as professionals, we need to be careful about giving away our time for free. After all, how can we expect someone else  to value our time if we don't seem to?

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Posted by on in Social Emotional Learning

I had a conversation with my oldest son last night. He and his family live in Denver, so we chat or FaceTime every Sunday. The conversation turned to sharing our thoughts about recent, sad events going on in our country and elsewhere in the world. He lamented that besides being advocates and trying to make our feelings known, it seemed sometimes we have very little impact. But, he continued, he felt the very best he could do was to raise his sons to be loving, to care about other people, to do the right thing, and to respect women. “Mom,” he said, “You taught me those things.” (sigh)

Before I had children, I thought having a girl might be easier, given the fact that I had been an only child. I was a girl and I had a basic understanding of the game plan and the obstacles. But, listening to my friends who had daughters made me wonder if, in today’s society, I was ready to take on all that comes along with raising a girl… the rape culture, the princess culture, struggles with body image- Oh my!

princess2

Well, I ended up having three boys and, as it turns out, raising children of either gender is challenging. Boys deal with different kinds of pressures and have to live up to different expectations.

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