…The Next Five Years
#ReflectiveTeacher post 12
I have never taught the same yearly plan twice. So much changes from one school year to the next, I have never been able to repeat a plan no matter how good I thought it was. With that said, I do have essentials of practice that I always go back to. The pedagogical practices that anchor my work give me a road map through all the changes and unforeseen circumstances. For ten years each year has been different. So as I think forward to the next five years, I am sure much change will have happened. But I am also certain that much will remain the same.
Five years from now my students will probably all have computers in their desks. I will probably be struggling to keep up with the technological advances of a 21st century classroom. I can see myself attempting to facilitate deep conversation, engage students in reflection, and encourage them to believe in the power of paper and pen in this fast paced, short sentenced, too much information at the tip of your fingertips world. There will be many lessons on cyber bullying and internet safety. Curriculum on what you can believe and not believe about what’s available on the internet. I imagine students being at the forefront of their own learning. Differentiation for each student happens with the push of a button on a computer program. By necessity I will be listening to students, because they will probably know more about the technology than me. Right now this is the biggest change I can foresee.
In five years I am not sure what the stance will be on common core, or what assessments may look like, or what curriculum I will be teaching. I am not even certain what my grade level will be. But I am certain that my belief that all students can learn will be unchanged. I am certain that I will engage students in rich conversations that incorporate identity building. I am certain that I will be deeply engaged in some kind of teacher inquiry. I am certain that social justice will be at the center of my practice. I am certain that my students will be teaching me as much as I am teaching them.
My Favorite Part of the School Day
This post is really easy for me to write. Finding my favorite part of the school day is really easy for me to do, because it is by far my favorite part. After lunch recess my students come in grab a journal and meet me on the carpet in the back of our classroom for writer’s workshop. We always begin with a review of the previous lesson. Then I start with my storytelling example. Thinking about what I want students to be able to do I tell my stories. Students interrupt with the questions and connections my stories bring up for them. A spirit of storytelling falls magically all over the room. Students share their stories, heads nod in agreement and laughter sometimes erupts. Once the room is bubbling with interest, ideas, and challenges for making our writing better, I send students off to find a place in the room to write. With a countdown from 20 to 1 the room goes from bubbling and noisy to quiet. Students huddle over notebooks pouring their hearts out with pencil onto paper. I walk around checking in with students, reviewing writing goals, but most of all just listening to the stories they want to tell. Stories give me clues about who they are and what their families are like. Storytelling is such an integral part of the human experience.
As a teacher, I really enjoy spaces where I can set up rigorous goals for my students while building relationships with them. Writer’s workshop is a space where genuine questions about students’ lives lead into meaningful learning goals for their writing. Students don’t feel like I am pushing them to next levels of learning, they are just brimming with desire to share their story.
It never fails. I will be ending a conference or starting one and a student will say, “Ms. Simmons will we get to share out today.” It is as soon as I hear this that I know little writers are emerging, feeling proud and ready to publish their stories, to make their voices heard. I teach so students can learn their voices matter. I teach so students can learn their stories are important. In my mind these little writers of today are the voices of tomorrow that will demand liberty and justice for all.
#ReflectiveTeacher Post 9
The Unspoken Accomplishments
What is it that a teacher really accomplishes? Is it accolades from administrators, district higher ups, certificates, awards, units, or new degrees? Is it when a parent says, “You know what Ms. Simmons you are the best teacher my child ever had.” Is it an accomplishment when the principal calls and asks you to move into a position of leadership? Is it when students get excited because they have learned something new?
The really interesting thing, I feel my greatest accomplishments are not my accomplishments at all. They are the accomplishments of my students and they are shared with me. I believe I had something to do with them, but I know they are not mine alone.
So here is one of my greatest accomplishments in teaching. This is the story of a student. A student who struggled with authority, was very confrontational, and quite used to being the center of attention in a negative way. Every day was a battle for him. He had many triggers and many different behaviors that accompanied those triggers. But, boy some days he could be a real angel. Those were the days I longed for and the days that gave me the audacity to hope that I could make a difference in his life.
He came to me in fourth grade. He worked hard. His mother and father worked hard. I worked hard. His team at my school worked hard to craft consistent expectations, rewards, incentives, and help to increase his self efficacy. His classmates worked hard. They were forgiving of certain behaviors. They learned to hold high expectations for themselves, so his behavior didn’t lead to whole class disruptions. We learned to work together for the good of the group. So much so that at the end of the year I wanted to loop with them to 5th grade. I didn’t want to lose the momentum of progress this group of students had gained. I wanted to see these students through. With my principal on board our work continued into the 5th grade. We worked hard and we had a great time. It wasn’t easy, but we got it done.
Recently this young man came to visit me. He said, “You know what Ms. Simmons I have matured. I have learned to control my anger and I am doing well.” Our conversation was short. But I was more than proud. Is this accomplishment mine? Probably not. It is his for sure. But these are the accomplishments I hold dear. More dear than any of the possibilities mentioned above. My greatest unspoken accomplishments are the days where patience, support, and high expectations give a child enough time and hope to mature into the kind of person they really want to be.
5 4 3 2 1 Little Details About Me
5 Random facts about myself
- I love the color orange
- As a girl I wanted to be a lawyer
- I love crossword puzzles
- My dog means the world to me
- Journaling helps me cope
4 things on my bucket list
- Walk on a black sand beach
- Get a book published
- Have a grown student come back and tell me what my classroom meant to them
3 things I’m hoping for this year
- A better balance between home and work
- A more digital learning environment
- Fewer lockdowns than last year
2 things that have made me laugh or cry as an educator
- When students express ideas of hopelessness for their own future I cry
- Those moments when kids say the darndest things
1 thing I wish people knew about me
- I am actually quite sensitive and things often hurt my feelings
My second year in the classroom, I was extremely lucky to get the opportunity to participate in a research project around mentoring teachers of color. This research project gave me several hours to spend with a mentor reflecting on my classroom practice and participating in a focus group to discuss issues facing teachers of color. We also discussed the particulars of what is needed for the mentor-teacher relationship.
During these sessions my mentor always began by checking in with me about where I was in my work. She listened to what was on my mind, heard my goals, and asked me genuine and interesting follow up questions. I want to share about one session that stands out to illustrate what I believe a good mentor does.
One day she came to my classroom for an observation. While she was observing our school went on lockdown. If I remember correctly the lockdown was long and intense. Students didn’t know what was going on. I didn’t know what was going on. In the tension of the moment I decided to have a community circle with my students to process what was happening. My mentor thought to turn on the recorder. I cant remember as I write this post exactly how I opened the conversation, but I do remember all the students sharing stories of their nights at home listening to gun shots both far and near, sharing about not being able to play outside late, stories of violence hit way too close to home. Listening to these students triggered a memory I had of gun shots in the neighborhood I lived in, the same neighborhood in which I currently teach. I shared with students my story of being laid down in a huddle in the back of the car with my sister. My mother comforted us from the front seat where she lay. An altercation had taken place at the restaurant where we were getting dinner and escalated all too quickly. I shared my feelings and fears, but then my hopes. I explained to students my hope for changing things. I spoke to them about possibility, about education being the door opener to change. Even though I share it now as if it was a lecture, it was very much a conversation filled with agreement and interjection.
Once the lockdown was lifted, and students escorted safely to their families, I met with my mentor for our session. She asked me several reflective questions about the decisions I’d made. I distinctly remember her genuine understand of the difficultly of the situated, however she named that she as a white woman with a certain kind of privilege hadn’t had the same kind of experience in the situation as me. She did not make it a pity party, she didn’t turn it into a conversation about her. She acknowledged her difference and opened up a space for me to process my thinking. She listened. I talked. In this conversation she helped me name my beliefs about teaching. During our conversation, I surfaced philosophies, my philosophies, and how they connected to my pedagogy. She helped me understand how often the decisions we make as teachers are in the moment, but they are grounded by what we believe. She helped me see the agency my students and I had in such a vulnerable situation.
To this day I call on her when I need someone to help me think through something. I talk. She listens. She nudges. I clarify. She suggests. I decide. She coaches from the passenger side. I drive.
Thank You Carrie!
In my mind the classroom itself is just as much a living part of the community as all the other members. I found myself today talking to students about systems within systems and how humans and the environment they inhabit interact. I try to set up a classroom that will facilitate interaction. I want a space that is inviting, comfortable, and generative.
The tables in the room are arranged into 4 groups that seat 6 students for the ease of conversation and cooperation on group related tasks, partner discussions, and table conversations. I worked really hard this year to set up a large carpeted area in the back for ease of choosing reading books, laying in a comfortable place to read, having classroom conversations, or playing cooperative games during free choice time.
The one thing in there that I don’t see that I would like to is a sofa. I have always wanted a nice comfy place where students could take a time out, discuss stories, read together, or have conversations with me. I understand that my room is really set up to encourage a lot of talking and that doesn’t always work to my advantage. However, I know students have to feel comfortable talking to each other in regular conversation before they will open up in risky academic discussions
In the spirit of honesty I am always jealous of those teachers who manage to make their rooms look like the rain forest, a jungle, or outer space. Maybe one day I will be able to live out my dream of having students come to school and find one of these awesome designs.
Reflective Teaching Blog Post #4
THE THING I LOVE
Recently I was challenged on Facebook to share three things I’m grateful for everyday for seven days. My immediate thought was the overwhelming gratitude I feel going to work everyday to do I job I not only believe in, but love. The challenge of this blog post is in deciding what it is I love most about teaching. In the spirit of openness I have been narrowing this down for quite a few days. Below are a few of the items that made my list of things I love about teaching.
- Collaboration with colleagues
- Laughter from students during author’s chair
- Spontaneous outbursts of discovery
- Talking to students at the end of the day while they wait on parents
- The morning whip around
- Mid afternoon dance breaks
- VTS discussions
- Book group conversations
- Jump rope and foursquare
- The 5th grade Heritage Project Museum Sharing
The list took a life of its own. Forced to pause in reflection at the end of page I realized what I probably knew all along. The thing I absolutely love MOST about teaching is all the layers of relationship required to do this job well. Relationships with students, parents, colleagues, university partners, community partners, artists, musicians, scientists, you get the point. Essentially what I love to do is design tasks that will create new relationships, deepen old relationships, change some relationships, and to help students build enough confidence to seek out the relationships of their choosing,
From the start, I knew teaching in isolation was not for me. Building the relationships essential to a successful practice began in my credential program. I sought out strong coaches. I looked for teachers whose practice I admired and asked questions about the things they did. Professional development led me to partnerships with university organizations and content specialists. Bay Area Writing Project and Mills Teacher Scholars provided spaces for critical conversations to deepen my thinking. My practice is supported foundationally by the brick and mortar of these relationships.
Then there are the relationships I foster with students. Daily I encourage students to be good citizens, conflict managers, and decent friends. I introduce them to ideas and create tasks that will deepen those relationships. I help them build relationships with writers and characters in books. I encourage students to not let stereotypes and fear stifle their ability to have multicultural and inclusive relationships.
When these relationships develop and thrive I feel the most alive, the strongest sense of passion and purpose. Every knew relationship makes me fall deeper in LOVE!
It has taken me quite a while to pick an area of improvement for a teacher evaluation. Trying to approach this post from that stance made me realize I really don’t improve my teaching at all because of evaluation. When I think about choosing an area of improvement because I want to give students more effective instruction it feels much more genuine.
The first Monday of the second week of school I engaged my 5th graders in a review conversation about what social studies/history content they received in 4th grade. After the 15 minute discussion I presented them with a team challenge to put a puzzle together that would introduce them to the 5th grade social studies topic. Teams of students put together a 60 piece puzzle of the United States. While they were working they talked about places they’d been, wanted to go, and what they knew certain areas of the country. I walked around encouraging and participating in some of the group discussions. Upon the conclusion of the puzzle I asked the class what they thought we might learn and what they were interested in finding out. Afterward one student said to me, “Ms. Simmons this activity really opened up my thinking.”
If I had to choose an area of practice I really wanted to get better at, it would be designing tasks that really open up student thinking. The longer I teach the less I see myself as a giver of information. I see myself as a facilitator of discovery, a sparker of curiosity so to speak, and in some ways a devil’s advocate pushing students toward critical thinking. The initial purpose for this task for me is a fun way to get students working together and thinking about the geography of the United States since we begin our study with geography. But as this student saw it her mind opened as the discussions progressed. We shared stories about places we’d been, we discussed possible historical content, students hypothesized about content from what they knew happened in certain places, and when I heard comments that implied content I would chime in I can’t wait until we start learning about that. Sometimes I realized by observing students which activities open their minds, but in terms of craft this is the area I am most invested in improving.
I am so guilty of assigning random tasks that don’t really fit with anything that came before and not much that comes after, just for the sake of giving students a chance to use technology. In past years the extent in tech integration has been, “Oh you finished early, why don’t you type your poem as a next step.” I’ve witnessed classrooms with long lists of interactive games websites for students to play so they can have computer time, but im not guilty of this one. With that said I know many students enter the classroom with tons of tech skills. Technological advances are happening so quickly, I don’t always have time to think clearly about the integration of technology. I usually end up just imposing technology on a lesson in a way that doesn’t really make clear sense.
Last year I took the largest step of my career toward using technology in a way that facilitates learning. This change came when I was introduced the Edmodo app. This app helped me to give students more personalized guidance navigating the internet, a storage place for important links and files, a place to grade assignments and quizzes, and also to interact informally with students. The interface is much like Facebook. Students were able to interact and personalize their pages while under my watchful eye. This year we have a Chromebook cart available for classroom use. I am really looking forward to discovering how this technology enhances our classroom experience.
My technology goal for this year is to create American history units of study using the Chromebooks and the Edmodo app as the students go to website for guiding their internet experience. My goal is for students to discover how to manipulate the technology because they need it to engage in the learning. Now I need to set a timeline for myself to plan out units for geography, early Americans, explorers, colonies, and the American revolution. Wish me luck!
Since 2010 I have been dreaming of the day when I blogged regularly about teaching. So when I saw the Te@ch thought tweet for the teacher blogging challenge I figured I would give it a go. After all two things a teacher is never short of is interesting stories and deep reflection.
Blog Post 1
On my goals for the school year.
Its funny how after over ten years in the classroom, the first thing I think about when it comes to goal setting is SURVIVE.
One week into the school year, 22 reading assessments, balancing the components of the weekly schedule, determining seating arrangements, planning get-to-know you games, preparing for the upcoming inquiry PD sessions I will be co-facilitating, the numerous other things required in the preparation for a school year, I finally feel like I can even come close to having a goal beyond plain ole survival.
A FEW GOALS FOR THE YEAR
1. Engage students in critical conversation everyday.
2. Listen closely and allow student voices to help guide instruction.
3. Incorporate technology seamlessly into the curriculum
4. Laugh out Loud as often as possible