Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Minimize Your Own Space

I don't know much about real estate, but I do know that it's a commodity people will spend an insane amount of money to call their own. And though we inhabit a big, big world, I wonder how long it will take before we run out of said commodity. Society seems to gobble it up with abandon. The classroom is not much different. 

If I could give new teachers (and veteran teachers alike) advice about moving into their rooms, I'd tell them exactly what Kristine Mraz and Christine Hertz recommend in Kids 1st From Day 1. 

Minimize your own space.

After 25 years of teaching, I admit to still owning a teacher desk. Though I never sit there unless the children are absent, I feel like I need an organizational space of my own. But, my desk is small. It's out of the way. It's at the back of the room. It's not taking up prime student real estate, which is something I don't want to run out of.

As teachers think about their rooms this coming year, I challenge them to resist the urge to move in and monopolize prime student real estate. Might I suggest that corners and areas at the front of the room are exactly what we need to protect. Obviously, I'm not here to tell anyone to rid themselves of a desk or space of their own. Let's simply minimize it.

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Friday, May 31, 2019

Straight and True

"Can I have a break?" she said. I was in the middle of putting out myriad fires and patting backs all within seconds of each other. I motioned her to follow me, wondering how much longer I could keep all the plates spinning, hers being one of them. As I jotted "break" on a post-it for her to take to the office, she rather insightfully stated, "I understand teaching is hard work." I'd often described her as an emotional being. She feels things to the extreme. Could she feel the desperation behind my smiling exterior? Could she sense how hard I was working to hold my world together?

Teaching is indeed hard work. If I were to list all the reasons, they would be varied. Yet for me, the one that rises to the top  is the one I faced on a daily basis during this 25th year of my career.

My vision did not equal my reality.

Vision is a powerful tool in a teacher's hand. It inspires. It motivates. It provides direction and purpose. And it results in disappointment when it's obvious from even the first few days that the vision and reality cannot coexist.  

Reflection demanded change, and though I might have wished it so, it wasn't coming from the children. It was me. It was my expectation. It was the grand picture in my head of what I needed to accomplish by May 30th. 

My cousin Kevin offered wise and life-saving perspective. 

The arrow will be launched straight and true. The target has moved and you many not achieve all that you set out to achieve, but there is a river of life pouring forth from you and it touches everyone with whom you come into contact.

Looking back on year 25, I admittedly mourn the relocation of my target. It was hard to accept, not just once, but repeatedly throughout the year as new obstacles arose and the target moved yet again. I miss the sense of satisfaction that comes from reaching the intended goal. 

Kevin was right though. 

I launched my arrow. It was straight. It was true. I'm striving to believe that it made contact, made a lasting impression. In faith, I walk away from year 25 knowing that I hit my target.

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Monday, March 4, 2019

1-2 Nim (Videos included)

I don't fully understand the name of this game called 1-2 Nim, but I understand how much my mathematicians enjoy it. I also understand how much it helps develop not only their mathematical minds, but their love for math. 

(I learned it from Dan Finkle who provided a math games webinar on Christina Tondevold's Build Math Minds site. Please consider following her work if you're an elementary math teacher.) 

  • Grab a partner and a collection of counters. (I use cubes, but it really doesn't matter.)
  • A player has to take 1 counter on his turn but can take 2 if he chooses.
  • The player who takes the last counter wins.

Ways to change it up:

  • Use more counters.
  • Play 1-2-3 Nim. (The player can take 1, 2, or 3 counters on his turn.)
  • Poison: The player who takes the last counter loses.
  • Use a ten frame. The player who puts the final counter in the ten frame wins.

My kids have the stamina to play this game and its variations for a good while. Though simple to play, it's so engaging. It's easy and fun enough for kids to teach family members at home too. 

Here are two videos of 1-2-3 Nim in action. Enjoy. :)

Give Nim a shot, and don't be surprised if a little person beats you a time or two! (Not that I would know anything about that.)

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Saturday, March 2, 2019

Stand Up, Sit Down

When the children cheer at the mention of a game, you know it's a good one. I learned Stand Up, Sit Down from Dan Finkle when he offered a math games webinar on Christina Tondevold's site, Build Math Minds. (If you're an elementary math teacher, you should be following Christina's work.) 

Stand Up, Sit Down is basically a quick mathematical brain break. It sounds so simple that it almost seems impossible that my students love it so much. Tis true though.

  • The teacher picks a number. 
  • The teacher then states other numbers one at a time.
  • If the numbers are above the original number, the students stand. 
  • If the numbers are below that number, the students sit.

For example:

T: 9 is my number.
T: 4
S: sit
T: 14
S: stand

It's that simple.

But wait, there are variations.

  • Choose a smaller or larger first number.
  • State the numbers in the form of an equation. (ie. 4+4, 8-1) 
  • Play the game with multiplication, division, fractions...

Give this one a try. Maybe your students will end up cheering too.

Thanks Dan and Christina!

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Thursday, February 28, 2019

March Madness #4

Sometimes I say smart things. For example...

Preventing the summer slide starts on day one. 

Yeah, I made that up. I believe it too. I believe in giving my students daily reasons to fall in love with books, and that has everything to do with reading irresistible books everyday starting on day one.

Well, my class is heading into day 115, and I'm still playing matchmaker. March is a perfect month to fall in love with reading all over again.

So welcome to my fourth year of March Madness.  

I'm excited to say, "Meet your new favorite book," 16 different times during the next few weeks. I'm even more excited to watch these books repeatedly loved on and adored.

(If you'd like to know more about how March Madness works, please check out my other March Madness posts here on my blog.)

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Sunday, February 10, 2019

I Build Floats

You don't have to build the whole float.

This is what Maria Goff told me this morning as I read her book, Love Lives Here.

She doesn't know I teach first grade - that I basically build floats for a living.

She does know that float building is hard work.

When she describes the painstaking, time-consuming, but rewarding process of gluing one rose petal at a time to the floats of the Rose Parade, she is describing what I do on a daily basis.

Yes, I build floats.

I glue beautiful and delicate petals onto floats. I watch them transform and grow up right before my eyes.

Some floats are more time consuming than others, though. There are days when it seems like all my attention is demanded by a particular float or two or three.

I'm at times disappointed about the lack of progress I'm making. For every petal I manage to convince to stick, three others fall at my feet. 

And in my frustration, I can't quite seem to envision who some of these floats might become.

In fact, do they even want to be in our parade?

After devoting much of my attention to the few, it's easy to doubt whether the others will even be ready in time.

I feel the weight of this float-building job. I feel the responsibility, the burden, to prepare each one for this parade we're part of. I want to see each one on glorious display, ready to show their greatness to the world.

The truth is I might not ever see the parade. In fact, I probably won't.

I simply, in faith, in love, glue petal after petal after petal and trust they'll stick.

I build floats for a living.


I don't have to build the whole float.

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Friday, January 4, 2019

The Gift of Affirmation

Christmas break has been a much needed gift for this teacher who doesn't believe in counting down the days yet really struggled not to count down the days. (That's another story for another day.) So against my lower back's better judgment, I've literally lived on the couch for two weeks and read sixteen books. Call me crazy or amazing. Either one. 

But long after I've forgotten the characters and plots from the many books I've inhaled (which doesn't take long), I will remember with fondness the email I received on the morning of January 2nd from the grandmother of one of my students. As a past elementary teacher and principal, she's been following our classroom journey and watching her grandson's growth, both emotionally and academically. And among other things, she wanted me to know, "You are the teacher I would love to have hired for my school." 

Affirmation. It's a priceless gift. 

Though I, like all teachers, basically put my life on hold for nine months in order to teach the little people in my care and do it without an expectation that the world will acknowledge my sacrifice or expertise, it is so gratifying to be noticed. Affirmation encourages, sustains, and even heals. In fact, it leaves behind a much longer list of beneficial adjectives than I have space to mention. Maybe that's why Mark Twain once said, "I can live for two months on a good compliment." 

I'm hoping I can stretch mine into five. 

As much as I yearn for affirmation, I understand the need to give it. My superintendent is accustomed to hearing from me when I want to brag about the amazing people at my building. She's not the only one who's received emails regarding my principal, instructional coach, or even custodian. I've made it a practice to speak up about the excellence I see. (It's when I'm quiet that, well, there might be a problem.)

I say all this as a challenge to whomever might be taking the time to listen. Notice. Speak up. Call out the greatness, and why not share with the boss while you're at it? That person doing her thing with excellence most likely isn't looking for a pat on the back, but if she were to get one, she might just have found the strength to continue on for another two months or possibly five.

P.S. As I was writing this post, I was reminded of one of the mothers of a previous student. She's an expert at affirmation. She regularly sends me stories - stories of how my words and love from over two years ago still impact her daughter. Wow, am I blessed. I hope to be more like her someday.

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