#celebratelu & #DigiLit Sunday:Classrooms are for relationships, too

#DigiLitSunday is hosted by Margaret Simon @ Reflections on the Teche.  

Celebrate with Ruth Ayres @ ruth ayres writes  …. because we need to celebrate moments in our lives every chance we get.

We had an interesting week last week; I was sick and many of my kids were also sick – a visitor to our classroom would have heard coughing and sneezing aplenty, and we went through boxes and boxes of tissues.  On Monday, halfway through the day, I scanned through my lesson plan book and wondered how much we would be able accomplish given the way we were carrying on in Room 202.

But, we carried on.  Each day, my kiddos and I showed up, we acknowledged how rotten most of us were feeling, and then we got on with the business of learning: preparing for a Social Studies unit test, completing the first drafts of our essays, participating in book clubs, and beginning a unit of short story writing.  It was a busy week, yet day after day, we were there for each other.  And, each day, we gave each other our best shot at whatever task was at hand.  At the end of each day, I was too exhausted to think beyond just being grateful that we had not wasted any learning time.  On Friday, however, as my kiddos took their test and I fielded questions and offered little hints about how to manage time, I finally had the time to reflect (and marvel at) what we’d accomplished during this difficult week…and why we were able to do so.

Relationships.  Merriam Webster defines the word with other words such as kinship, relatedness, and connection.  Relationships are fundamental to all we seek to do in our classroom – without that, without being able to trust that we will all show up and give the best of ourselves (well, most of the time) no matter what, the content of what we teach becomes dry, removed, passion-less.  Relationships allow us to learn in spite of feeling under the weather, and even (at times) uninspired.  And relationships grant us permission to be kind to each other so that we can all make it through each learning day in the most positive, constructive way.

On Friday, I celebrated relationships in our classroom:

We made gifts of winter poems for our pen pals at an assisted living facility in upstate New York, in response to their Valentine’s Day cards:

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We allowed ourselves to get carried away and silly, too:

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We welcomed alumni from years past:

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We shared book talks and book love:

We left for our February Break needing rest, but feeling good.

 

 

 

 

 

 

#celebratelu: Activism

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Celebrate with Ruth Ayres @ ruth ayres writes  …. because we need to celebrate moments in our lives every chance we get.

I have always been political, and I have always been vocal about my politics.  Ever since high school, I’ve marched for causes, signed thousands of petitions, written an equal number of letters, and done my fair share of contributing my efforts to get the candidates I’ve supported elected.  In my view, this what active citizenry looks like: you stay engaged, you participate, and you educate yourself so that you have a leg to stand on when the opposition comes at you…which they will, for that is also part of participatory democracy.

As a teacher, I wrestle with how vocal to be in my classroom, and also in my social media space: what can I write about? what should I share on Twitter?  This election has presented unique challenges because Trump was so often beyond the pale in terms of what he said and did.  There was no way to present this election in the normal way for my students, as I have for so many elections before, because he was simply not a normal candidate – no normal candidate has ever spoken or behaved the way he did, and I certainly did not want Trump to become the “new normal” for my young students.  Even watching the debates became impossible, for many parents let me know that they would not allow their children view the debates “just in case”, which was their way of saying they did want to expose their children to the language used by Mr. Trump.

After the election, there have been even more issues to contend with – the Immigration Ban, the farcical confirmation process, Trump’s Tweeting habits, and the rash of hate crimes which my students are really paying attention to, because they are in the news all the time now:

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There is a fine line between informing and advocating in a classroom setting, but I find myself having to cross it often these days because my kids are full of questions and opinions of their own: why are people racist? why does anti-Semitism still exist? why do people say hateful things? why don’t grown ups seem to ever listen to each other? why does everyone always shout at each other on the news? why are we still talking about all this bad stuff these days-haven’t we learned anything from the past?

These discussions always bring me back to something Mamie Till wrote in her book about her son Emmett’s murder: Death of Innocence: The Story of the Hate Crime That Changed America:

That is, after all, how it works. We don’t come here with hatred in our hearts. We have to be taught to feel that way. We have to want to be that way, to please the people who teach us to want to be like them. Strange, to think that people might learn to hate as a way of getting some approval, some acceptance, some love.

Our classrooms and schools have to be places where hatred can be given no quarter, not even by silence:

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So, even though I feel as though I am skating on thin ice sometimes, I will continue to open our classroom to difficult questions and discussions.  Truth telling is a form of activism, and I celebrate that.

#celebratelu:Conversations about kindness

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Celebrate with Ruth Ayres @ ruth ayres writes  …. because we need to celebrate moments in our lives every chance we get.

We had a great week in Room 202:our Mock Caldecott unit  was a wonderful experience, and we are inching our way towards learning the purpose and process of revision as we work to improve our feature articles.

But, when I ruminate over what I want to celebrate this teaching week, my thoughts come to rest on Friday, and our once a week exploration of “Stories From Our World”, and these two podcasts in particular:

Both were stories about kindness, unexpected and spontaneous kindness, the type of kindness that springs from doing the right thing because it is the right thing to do…not because you are being watched and expect praise, and not because your kindness will have any reward other than knowing it was the right thing to do.

We have been talking all year about this sort of kindness.  We’ve looked for it in the books we read.  We practice it in the way we treat each other as we make our way through the learning day.  We watch for it in those around us, so that we may emulate what we admire.  We pay attention to its absence and ask questions why.

But, there was something about these two stories on Friday that seemed bring all of the work above together in one beautiful conversation.  My students heard these stories, and reflected about  the meaning of this version of kindness; they talked about how transformative  such acts of compassion can be, and how little they require of us, really, other than the imagination to be open to someone else’s needs.

It was a lovely conversation, one worthy of celebration.  Today, I celebrate my students and the way they have opened their hearts to kindness.

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#celebratelu:Finding my own reasons to say, “It’s all good”

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Celebrate with Ruth Ayres @ ruth ayres writes  …. because we need to celebrate moments in our lives every chance we get.

This was the week to get back into the rhythms of school life, post-winter break.  Some of us in Room 202 were able to ease back into business by day 2, and others were still making the transition at 3:05 on Friday afternoon (or, in the words of one student, delivered with a shrug: “still working on it”).   “Yes,” I said in return, “I guess we’re all working on it, truth to tell.”

This snowy morning, I read Ruth’s  poignant tribute to her friend Kim.  Her last lines have been rumbling around in my head and my heart:

My ordinary is evolving.
I celebrate that through the hard, we can find good on the other end. I celebrate, like Kim, that

It’s all good.
Outside, a snowy curtain falls over our brown lawns and muddy flower beds: winter’s bleakness is becoming something rather magical.  Inside, I am at my desk surrounded by work to grade and books to read, and the week to sort through: what went well, where to go next.  I think back to these moments, and I feel the power of Kim’s words –It’s all good:
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On Tuesday morning, I snipped off the remains of the drooping Christmas poinsettias all around our house and brought them to school.  Their presence allowed holiday memories with our three children to linger just a bit longer…and I celebrate that.

We’ve been peer editing our feature articles all week, and beginning the revision process which my kiddos love to complain about (that, and homework, of course!).  I loved walking around our classroom and eavesdropping as they sought to listen carefully to, clarify, and question their partner’s work.  Best of all, they came around (as they usually do)  to seeing the value of reading their work aloud and having a peer share feedback…I celebrate that!

 

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Inspired by Jess Lifshitz,  we’ve immersed ourselves in our sixth grade version of her Mock Caldecott unit.  It’s been the perfect way to get back into our reading community.  All weeklong, we’ve gloried in discussions about picture books, art work, story telling, and the joy of finding meaning in words, pictures, and their intersections.  It was just what we needed to get back into book love…and I celebrate that.

We left our New Jersey classroom a few times this week for a virtual field trip to Monticello. I’ve done this every year as part of our “Age of Jefferson” unit, and I never tire of wandering through the rooms and grounds, learning about the boundless curiosity of this deeply flawed but brilliant man.   It felt so rewarding to pass along  my love and awe for this special place to another class of sixth graders who will now want to visit it, too…and I celebrate that.

On a personal note, my youngest daughter sought out and secured an internship with The Innocence Project on Friday:

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We’ve raised our kids with the values we hold truest, among which is the the call to make a difference in the lives of others.  But, Livy’s altruism runs deeper than existing just because she grew up hearing her parents say that this is an important value to strive for. It’s the center of who she is, and it is so moving to see her now, as an adult, stay true to the causes she she believes in and figure out how she can make an independent life doing altruistic work.   When I picked her up from the train station last night, fresh from her interview and job in hand, I felt a great rush of pride and joy because of her, and for her.  Livy believes that she is on a path to make a life of making a difference in the lives of others…and I celebrate that.

It’s been a week of ups and downs, as it always is.  But, in the greater scheme of things, I agree with Kim: It’s all good.

 

 

 

 

For #celebratelu and #DigiLitSunday: My OLW for 2017

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#DigiLitSunday is hosted by Margaret Simon @ Reflections on the Teche.  

Celebrate with Ruth Ayres @ ruth ayres writes  …. because we need to celebrate moments in our lives every chance we get.

It’s that time of year again for many of us teacher-bloggers: the time to choose our very own “one little word” – the word we will reach for and seek comfort in, the word we hope distills the best of our wishes and aims in the year ahead.  Just. A. Little. Pressure.  And why?  Because, as Ruth said in the video she sharedour OLW is the word we choose to live with (whether we know it when we choose it or not).  Sometimes the journey to one’s OLW is easy – it just appears and is immediately perfect, and sometimes it’s an agonizing journey – so many shiny and “just right” words to choose from!

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This year, I rummaged around in my imaginary word file (the one in which I save likely OLWs) all winter break long, and came up short each time.  At the Concert for Peace last night, standing in front of the Peace Tree and thinking ahead to what is likely to be a year of unrest and fear, it occurred to me that this year’s word was one I was feeling the least, deep down in my heart:

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In the larger world, I need to believe that my role as a citizen counts, that my participation matters.  The next four years will bring many challenges to the very fabric of our society, for much of the progress we’ve made as a country stands to be swept aside by  a reactionary and malevolent new administration.  I need to consider that my participation and activism can make a difference…I need to believe.

In my classroom, I need to believe that I can make a difference in the lives of the children I am responsible for.  Sometimes, this is hard to do…and sometimes, this just feels impossible to do.  Teaching never flows in one straight, easy to navigate line: there are stops and starts, false starts, unexpected detours, roadblocks and speed bumps.  And sometimes, even though there is a reliable GPS on hand (for me, that would be my 16 years of teaching experience), one gets lost.  I need to hold fast to the notion that the work we do in our classroom, the investment of time and effort in building a rich learning environment, is our Northstar – we may seem swerve and stop and slow down, but the journey itself is grounded and true.

And, as a writer, I simply need to believe that I have have something of value to say.  All too often, especially in the past few months, I’ve turned away from writing anything because I have felt that nothing I wrote felt fresh and new; I’ve felt as though I’ve been circling around the same ideas in the same way, and what’s the point in that?  I realize, of course, that this is just a convenient excuse not to go through the worthwhile struggle that is the writing life.  I need to believe that I can still find a way to write about what I’ve learned, thought about, and imagined.

So…my one little word for 2017 has arrived at last: believe.

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#celebratelu:Is a writer ever “done”?

Celebrate with Ruth Ayres @ ruth ayres writes  …. because we need to celebrate moments in our lives every chance we get.

At the end of writing workshop last week, J. made his way to the inbox on the conference table in our classroom and stood there for what seemed like a long time.  He wanted to drop his writing folder in…then he did not…then he did…then he hesitated…and then he took a moment to leave me a post it note before he did:

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His note, when I collected all the folders from our writing day for inspection, made me pause.  I was annoyed and disheartened at first (we are in the second marking period of the school year, for Pete’s sake, shouldn’t J. know by now when he was finished drafting? what have I not been teaching to thus far?!), and then amused and touched (clearly, J. is invested in his work – he wants to get even a first draft right, that’s a good thing…hooray, some things are going very well!).

Later that evening, reading J.’s draft, I noted the following:

*he had reworked his introduction three times, all on his own and without a conference.

*he had left question marks next to some sections of his writing – places where he seemed to know that his writing needed work.

*he had tried out craft moves from the mentor text we’d studied and annotated his draft to correlate to the marked up mentor text  – as though he was keeping track of what he’d tried out.

In my minds eye, I flashed back to the scene where J. stood by the in box, trying to figure out whether he was “done” or not.   I thought of all the work he’d done to make sure this was his “best first draft” – the goal we aim for in writing workshop.  And I re-read that endearing post it:

I think I’m done drafting but I don’t know

Doing the work of writing never feels “done”.  As a writer myself, I know this.  J. does too, it seems, for in spite of all the work he has already put into his “best first draft, he feels that writer’s uncertainty: am I done? I don’t think I’m done…I think I could do better…right?

As a writer, I feel J.’s pain…but, as his writing teacher, I am (secretly) celebrating.

 

Celebrate this week: The power of readalouds and partnerships

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Celebrate with Ruth Ayres @ ruth ayres writes  …. because we need to celebrate moments in our lives every chance we get.

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Dan Gemeinhart’s Some Kind of Courage was our first read aloud of the year, the book that I had counted on to bring our roomful of sixth graders together as a community of readers and thinkers and sharers of the spirit of book love – a tall order for any one book.  But, this book delivered…and how!

Week after week, we gathered in sweet expectation of hearing more of Joseph’s incredible quest to find the last vestige of his family: his beloved horse, Sarah.  Week after week, we admired his courage, worried about the success of his adventures, and celebrated moments of triumph.  And week after week, we marveled at the way in which a great story, well told, can be just the best thing ever…especially in a classroom of restless sixth graders beginning to know each other.

 

Last Thursday, we got to “meet” Dan Gemeinhart via a lunchtime Google Hangout.  Such fun!  All week long my kiddos spent their lunch recess time working on a thank you poster and brainstorming burning questions to pose. Each day, our excitement grew. A real, live author was going to visit us, right here in room 202!

And then, the day arrived.  Before we knew it, there he was on our screen and my kids were beside themselves.  This, I thought, as I watched them ask questions and listen carefully to Gemeinhart’s thoughtful answers, is what reading is all about: the investment in story, honoring the story teller.

I celebrate that.

But, there is a back story to this, which I want to celebrate as well.  Because this reading journey really began last summer, when my writer’s group (Kimberley Moran, Margaret Simon, and Julieanne Harmatz) read this book together, and planted the seeds for this read aloud.  How to make this amazing story come alive for our students in a way that would build a reading community as well as serve as a basis for doing the reading workshop work that forms the foundation of our literacy instruction?

Back and forth we went, through the Summer and into the Fall – sharing our ideas, and figuring out how to move from character traits and development to theme and analysis.  It was meaningful work…and such fun, too.

So, I celebrate the power of teacher driven learning communities.  We stand shoulder to shoulder in the work we do, and we make each other better in the practice of the work we love to do.