Sunday, August 23, 2015

Poems for the First Day

Photo by Jen Houlette

The students are all on their way

They're eager to learn and to play

The classrooms are ready

for learning to grow

We're energized for the first day! 

Students and Teachers.... 
this is my hope for you:

That you will.....
know that you have amazing gifts
be able to share your voice
shine in your passions
create amazing things
realize learning is a journey
and know that you matter.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

I Don't Know

Photo by Jen Houlette

"Take the attitude of a student, never be too big to ask questions,
never know too much to learn something new" ~Og Mandino

This week I had a lot of questions.

I also spoke the phrase, "I don't know" quite a few times.

As a question mark represents the unknown, I've been in the thick of an unclear fog and it's a little unnerving.

After many, many years of being quite certain what I needed to do to be ready for the first weeks of school, I'm going down a path I haven't been on before.

Starting something new isn't always easy. With new expectations, new relationships, and new responsibilities also comes new possibilities.

And even though this week wasn't easy, I was reminded this week of why I'm on this journey.

My one word focus for this year:

Art by Jen Houlette

As I wrote about on January 1st, I want to be open to allow these things to be created in my life:
and solutions.

Little did I know nearly 8 months ago that this is where I'd be today.

And while I still find myself thinking, "I don't know" ..... it's comforting to know that someday I will. :)

Monday, August 3, 2015

It's Almost Time

Photo by Jen Houlette

A few short weeks, and it will be time.

Time for schedules, lessons, organizing, preparing, decorating, planning.....and so on!

But most importantly, it will be time for building relationships, both old and new.

Over the last 20 years in the classroom, I have used a variety of activities to get to know my students: surveys, all-about-me activities, ice-breakers, sharing bags, partner interviews, and even the occasional "sign the box if you have this characteristic" game. :)

But last year was a year I did a lot of things differently. Yes, I still did a few of the things listed above, and they were great. But beyond knowing what makes each child unique, part of building relationships is giving time for students to talk about themselves....their ideas, opinions, and what makes our classroom a family that works together.

So, we spent a lot of time with literature.

I brought some of my favorite picture books into our read-aloud time to start out each day with a piece of literature and a discussion.

It was just part of my effort in establishing the type of  atmosphere in our classroom: one with kindness, trust, creativity, and positive attitudes toward ourselves and others.

Here are some of the books we used:

Spoon by Amy Krouse Rosenthal
Spoon thinks all his other utensil friends
have it so much better than him. But he discovers
he has unique qualities too!
Chopsticks by Amy Krouse Rosenthal
By the same author as Spoon! Chopsticks are
together all the time, but after an unfortunate incident,
they have to learn how to do life on their own.

Bluebird by Bob Staake
This beautiful, wordless book is great for a discussion
 on friendship, bullies, and loss.

Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson
What happens when you have the opportunity
to be kind, and choose not to? Very
intriguing thoughts arise from this story.

Sky Color by Peter H. Reynolds
We enjoyed this story (by the same author as
The Dot, Ish, and many other great books).
Super story about creativity and what happens when
Marisol can't find the right color to paint the sky.

Pete & Pickles by Berkeley Breathed
This book about unexpected friendship
has everything - moments that will make
you laugh, cry, and be intrigued.

The Invisible Boy by Trudy Ludwig
No one seems to notice or care about
a student named Brian.  A great story for
discussing kindness, friendship, and making
sure all students are considered important.

The Most Magnificent Thing
by Ashley Spires
This story was a favorite of our class
and a great way to showcase that creative
ideas come with frustration and
multiple attempts.

The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt
This is a fun, creative story about when Duncan's
crayons wrote letters to him expressing why
they were quitting. We used it as a way to talk
about how we are all unique and shouldn't
prejudge others based on their outsides but can
work together like a wonderful rainbow.

Zero by Kathryn Otoshi
Zero felt exactly how she looked ~ a big,
empty nothing. Great story about finding
how everyone has value.

Weird! by Erin Frankel
What do you do when a bully makes fun of you
for who you are? This book tells the story and also
includes great bully prevention notes in the back.

Not a Box by Antoinette Portis
Who hasn't ever played with a plain, old
cardboard box? Great book about using
creativity and imagination.

Louise Loves Art by Kelly Light
Louise loves to draw and create
imaginative masterpieces. What will
happen when her brother, Art, gets a hold
of one of them?
The Sandwich Shop by Queen Rania Al Abdullah,
with Kelly DiPucchio
This story about best friends takes a turn when two
inseparable girls discover they can't get over
the differences in what they eat for lunch.
Great lesson about acceptance.

I Wish I Were A Butterfly by James Howe
Most of us have felt at one time or another that we
weren't good enough, or wished at one point to be someone
else. This book is about recognizing the 
unique qualities in ourselves.

Wonder by R.J. Palacio
This is a chapter book, unlike the others.
However, it was an amazing read-aloud to start out
our year. The message about choosing to be kind
is one we referred to all year.

Special thanks to all the educators who write and share about their favorite books -- I've been inspired to pick up so many new titles in the last year!

Wishing everyone a great start to the school year. Use picture books with any age level -- and see where the conversations lead you! :)


Saturday, August 1, 2015

Carve a Tunnel

“Carve a tunnel of hope through the dark mountain of disappointment.” 

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Photo by Jen Houlette
Disappointment and anger were evident in his eyes.

Tight lips and crossed arms added to his posture and I knew something was wrong.

A few rude comments from another boy had started off this day with him feeling trapped in a tunnel.

Although he initially brushed it off when I asked him, the smiles were not easy to come by on this particular morning.

We went about our lessons, reading, writing, activities to boost their skills and confidence over the summer. And before we knew it, it was time for a bit of fresh air.

I watched as he took off like a rocket, running quickly around the playground from one piece of equipment to another.

Surrounded by many other kids, but yet alone.

He took off again and coming back my way I could see the anger still in his eyes.

Running mad.

Running on the outskirts of the playground.

Running away..........from something.

As he stopped and took a break by a picnic table, I saw him rest his head in his hands.

That's when I made my move.

He didn't know me really, and I didn't know him much either. I was just the substitute summer school teacher for a handful of days, after all.

But in that moment, I was his teacher and I cared about his feelings.

It was mostly small talk at first. But it didn't take long for him to open up.

What started as a few questions......."How are you doing today?" "It's great to get outside after all the rain we've had for two days, isn't it?" "I noticed  you run fast, do you play any sports?"..........ended in a much different way.

A talk about loss. A talk about separation. A talk about dealing with anger because little disappointing things remind you of bigger disappointing things.

In a handful of minutes we talked a lot.

I made some connections with my own losses and hurt.

I instilled a little hope because I've felt the same way sometimes.

And maybe, just maybe, I carved a little light into his tunnel.