Episode 15 – Phil S. Quinlan

 

PhilPhoto“We have to be activists,” reflects Phil S. Quinlan, 7th grade social studies teacher in Scottville, MI, as he discusses what he believes is the role of educators when discussing the current state of politics with students. “How did all of a sudden our profession become demonized?” he continued. “I have an opinion on it, but I have to be careful as far as, if I want to encourage my students to have voice and choice, I have to model that. I don’t want the students to know my perspective. Because what am I doing? I am not really enabling them to have a thought of their own. So, when it comes to students, I want them to ask driving questions, essential questions of the ‘how’s’ and ‘why’s and try to make connections… of how politics, and today’s world, plays into their future.”

Fast Facts about Phil S. Quinlan

  1. Full Name: Philip S. Quinlan
  2. Years teaching: 29
  3. Current City: Scottville, MI
  4. Current position: 7th Grade Teacher of World Cultures & The Story of Movies at Mason County Central Public Schools
  5. Grade taught: 5th, 6th, 7th and 8th
  6. Favorite books:
  7. Why teach? The French call it raison d’être, ‘a reason for being’; teaching is my purpose, my passion; my raison d’être.

Noteworthy Outtakes from Phil’s Chat

You would be hard pressed not to feel motivated and like you are in a profession among “giants,” while listening to Phil share his journey as an educator. Listen in as Phil discusses a movement he has started called #FTTTP, and how it emphasizes social emotional learning at the core of teaching. He will also be presenting this movement at The 2017 Michigan Association for Computer Users in Learning (MACUL) in March!

Phil’s passion for connecting to his students and keeping grounded in his family will remind you what teaching is all about and how important it is to keep family first.

Check out the links below to learn more about Phil and #FTTTP — a mantra Phil uses to remind himself, his students and fellow colleagues of what should be at the center of building relationships with students, and stands for:

  • F: Faith in self and Leadership
  • T: To develop compassion and empathy
  • T: Trust and resilience
  • T: Talents: The world awaits
  • P: Passionate pursuit of knowledge and life

FTTTPImage

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Here are some of Phil’s favorite resources

And, if that’s not enough, Phil has also generously shared courses he has created too!

 

 

Episode 14 -Daisy Dyer Duerr

 

daisy-pink-dress-relaxed-headshot“Educators saw things in me [and] I was able to achieve great things as a child. That was how I was able to get myself out of that cycle of poverty and they really did so much for me that I decided at a young age, probably in 6th grade, I remember actually deciding I that was going to give back and do the same thing for other children. That’s really what made the decision for me that I was going to be an educator.” – Daisy Dyer Duerr

Fast Facts about Daisy

  1. Full name: Daisy Dyer Duerr
  2. Years teaching: 17 years in public education that include:
    • 8 years as a social studies teacher & basketball coach
    • 9 years as a principal/assistant principal
  3. Current city: Ozark, Arkansas
  4. Current position: CEO of Redesigning Rural Education, LLC
  5. Favorite books:
  6. Why teach: All students, regardless of zip code or socioeconomic status deserve learning experiences allowing them to exceed any expectations others have for them; as an educator, mother, and HUMAN…I am passionate about making this a reality in my lifetime.

Noteworthy Outtakes from Daisy’s Chat

Often times when discussing undeserved and underprivileged communities and schools, one thinks of inner city urban schools, however, Daisy Dyer Duerr wakes many of us up to the realities of the poverty and dire needs that exists in rural communities as well.

Daisy is a born and raised Arkansas girl and a self-described “New Age” Southern Belle who talks passionately about the need for rural communities to engage local businesses into the landscape of education. Employment trends in these areas show that the number of people employed in agriculture is decreasing – leading towards insecure, low paid, often part time work with limited potential for progression. Daisy describes how this often leads to students not having access to resources, or even the awareness of the potential they could reach with a quality education.

Along with being a dedicated educator, Daisy is also an entrepreneur who understands and appreciates the community she lives in and is looking to find ways to engage local businesses in local schools. She feels that this partnership could lead to more jobs in the community and the kinds of deeper understanding students need to make meaning of their learning and how it can lead to success for them outside of school.

To learn more about Daisy’s commitment to rural education, check out Totally Rural, a podcast where she talks about Rural Business and Education with guests from allover the country. Totally Rural is about increasing awareness and expanding the dialogue on the most important rural issues we all deal with everyday.

You can subscribe to Totally Rural:
iTunes / iPhone: https://lnkd.in/erg2R5A
Google Play:
https://lnkd.in/ebHAK5G
Android:
https://lnkd.in/e6D5mcc
Stitcher:
https://lnkd.in/eDmWA8r

Q&A With My Teacher Mentor: Understanding Executive Functioning

At the beginning of my teaching journey I taught in a standard self-contained classroom. Over the past two years, I have had the fortune to join an amazing group of educators in a charter school that is taking Montessori public and offering access to this unique type of learning to a diverse community of students in a typically undeserved and underprivileged community, for FREE!

Along with Montessori’s concept that the classroom environment can be designed to facilitate maximum independent learning and exploration by the child, our school also ef_pullquoteintegrates Design Thinking, the Arts and is an Ashoka Changemaker school. What a mouthful, huh? Well, it is!

With so much to integrate into a day’s curriculum, differentiated small group learning is at the core of running a classroom that also teaches children how to independently go about their day picking and choosing the follow up work that they are most drawn to. That’s right folks, in a classroom of approximately 33 students, while a small group of them are receiving a lesson, all the rest are freely exploring the materials in the classroom and completing work independently.

How is this possible? Well, I will admit it is very useful that each classroom has the benefit of two teachers — but also, one of the central components of running a classroom structured around small group instruction and freedom (within limits) is building a community of trust and being hyper-aware of the need for your students to build self-regulation skills. Or something I have come to learn called, “executive functioning.”

In one of my recent sit downs with my own teacher mentor, Jennifer Heeter, Director of Instruction for the Upper Elementary and Middle School Programs at Urban Montessori Charter School, she answered some of my questions about executive functioning and how understanding it can help me become a better teacher. Here’s a peek at our Q&A, and some insight into how being aware of this developmental function can help any teacher, even if you are in a standard classroom, build trust and teach self-regulation:

Jennifer K.: What is executive functioning?

Jennifer H.: From my perspective, executive functioning is the body’s ability to regulate and control itself. Many Montessorians also call it self-regulation. Essentially it’s about noticing and then bouncing back from a trigger, focusing on a task, understanding and regulating emotions, being kinesthetically aware, recognizing social signs and cues, and setting and following through with goals. From what I’ve learned, the brain at birth is about 70% programmed for emotional reactions, but not regulation. We learn how to regulate (or not) as we develop, based on modeling after the adults and other children in our environment and explicitly taught tools and strategies.

Jennifer K: Why is it important to understand executive functioning, and how can it help me be a better teacher?

Jennifer H: It’s important to understand what it is so that as a teacher, you can focus on the whole child and not isolated traits. Watching a child work, interact, and communicate within the classroom can tell you a lot about where they are in the process of developing these skills. It requires a whole new perspective in how we look at children and what they need to progress. It is easy (for me at least) to look at a child who has been struggling with math and recognize that they have underdeveloped skills in that area, and then find the patience and creativity to come up with new ways to show them the same ideas. It’s trickier to notice their interpersonal challenges and recognize them as “underdeveloped skills” because they show up as negative attention-seeking behaviors. The process a child takes to normalize is very individualized, depending on their background, upbringing, genetic makeup, and exposure to tools and strategies for emotional regulation. Modern neuroscience tells us that children need to attach in order to maximize their learning potential. We need to look at each child to see whether their basic needs are being met and do our best to fill in those gaps and support them where we can.

Jennifer K.:How are some ways I can help teach this skills to my students who have trouble with it?

prezicoverimageJennifer H: If it’s helpful, check out my Teaching to Every Child’s Potential slideshow. Begin with connection. Children can’t take in information unless they feel safe and trust their environment. Then we need to look at their actions and determine the root cause. Children only act out when a need is not being met. What are they looking for? The mistaken belief chart is uber helpful here. Then we explicitly teach skills for problem solving when the child is calm. And practice them. And practice them. And practice them to strengthen those neural pathways so they can easily access those responses when stressed. Mindfulness, brain gym exercises, and community problem solving are whole group tools that help strengthen the whole classroom’s skills. Connecting with the family to share the strategies and build rapport and trust is the last piece so that the child recognizes the importance and experiences the tools in both home and school. Here’s a great article on  thinking outside the box for engagement.

 

Episode 13 – Bootsie Battle-Holt

 

Version 2“I hear of people all the time who made choices based on how they felt about themselves as math students,” shares Bootsie Battle-Holt as she explores the very real history of math anxiety. “It’s really poignant that how students feel about themselves as math students makes a tremendous impact on life decisions. One thing I am actually very thankful for with the common core standards is that we give equal credence to the math practices as well as the math content standards, and math practices are something that I think students can find a lot of success in as math students. Things like making sense of problems and preserving and solving them, that’s math practice number one […] math practices are like life practices and there is a place for everyone to find success.”

Fast Facts about Bootsie

  1. Full name: Bootsie Battle-Holt
  2. Years teaching: 11
  3. Grade/Subject taught(s): Middle school math
  4. Current position: 7th and 8th grade math teacher and math department chair, Los Angeles Unified School District Teacher of the year, 2016-2017 and Los Angeles County Teacher of the Year 2016-2017
  5. Current City: Los Angeles, CA
  6. Favorite books:
  7. Favorite resources:
  8. Mentioned during our chat:
  9. Why teach? “I teach because every kid deserves to spend the school day with people who believe they can aim higher and achieve more than they thought possible; and I love working in a school community that shares those high expectations for all kids.”

Noteworthy Outtakes from Bootsie’s Chat

From her honest dissection of mathematical anxiety and the long term affect it can leave on people whose math avoidance goes beyond the classroom, to her passion for educational policy and vision for teacher training reform – Bootsie shares her journey to the classroom and to the oval office where she met with former President Barack Obama to discuss “the ballooning of standardized testing.

Along with that, Bootsie shares her experience teaching in the same school where her children attend and how’s she’s been able to manage seamlessly incorporating her teacher life with her parent life. As a parent to children in the public school system and a passionate educator, Bootsie is  a fierce advocate for teacher development and education policies that can empower our teachers to engage and teach to the whole child and not only to the test.

“Seize opportunities to talk to other teachers, seize opportunities for professional development,” says Bootsie. “As a teacher a lot of people will  come to you with a lot of requests and you can’t say yes to all of them but, seize opportunities to be part of the bigger picture and step out of your own classroom see what’s happening in education at large.”

Getting to the “Why” of Teaching!

blog-9I recently had a heartfelt conversation with a colleague about how hard teaching can be. We talked about the current state of political affairs regarding education and how, as public school teachers, we wonder what lies ahead in the future. Part way through our conversation, I paused and had a moment of gratitude — gratitude for the work we do as educators and gratitude for the constant collaboration and growth mindset this profession forces us to have.

As teachers, we are often told that to engage our students and increase their “buy-in,” it helps to explain why they are learning something. In math we might tackle the question, “why does math matter?” We help our students understand the personal satisfaction of being able to solve a problem, or the practical importance of knowing how to figure out real life mathematical problems like, “You have a beginning balance of $150.00 in your checking account. You purchase groceries for $115 on Wednesday. How much money do you have left until your next check gets deposited on Friday?”

It is with this sense of common purpose, especially during this very politically charged time for educators and policy makers across the country, that we take a moment to reflect on why teaching matters. Here are some reasons some amazing educators I have had the pleasure of chatting with have given for the question, “why teach?”:

  1. “To bring equity and quality to education in our Los Angeles schools!” – Andrea Burke, teacher of 14 years in Los Angeles, CA.
  2. “I am an educator because I am passionate about educating all children, regardless of ability, socioeconomic status, or any other mitigating factors, because all children deserve a high quality school experience.” – Dana Graham, educator of 10 years in Oakland, CA.
  3. “I teach because I know it makes a difference.” – Melissa Ascencio, teacher of 16 years in Portsmouth, VA.
  4. “I teach because I want to help fight educational injustice and policies.” – Vanessa Donino, educator of 3 years in several cities including: Bronx, NY, Clark County, NV and currently in Oriskany, NY.
  5. “Every day is different, a triumph, a challenge, an accomplishment, and a chance to change the lives of children and their families.” – Elizabeth Isralowitz, special education teacher of 10+ years in Los Angeles and Riverside, CA.
  6. “Because I want to help enable our future to make better decisions than those from our past.” – Danielle David, teacher for 11 years currently in Fairfield, CA.
  7. “For the children!” – Connie Lam, teacher of 3 years in Oakland, CA.
  8. “I see them survive through the inherit grit that they bring every day with them to the classroom – a skill I don’t need to teach them. I see them dream and hope and love and create. I also see them fear and wonder what the future brings. These young people inspire me to be an active citizen – as the saying goes, we will never be truly free until we all share the same rights as you and me.” – Edwina Lucero, Music teacher for 13 years in the Denver Metro area.
  9. “It feeds your soul and grows others around you.” – Meredith Jacobs, teacher of the arts for 12 years in Plattsburgh, NY.
  10. “If we don’t, who will?” – Iain Lampert, High School speech and debate teacher for 7 years in Van Nuys, CA.
  11. “I always hope to inspire other children to teach – mainly other African American children.” – Barry Turner, teacher for 17 years in North Carolina and currently in Oakland, CA.

Why do you teach?

By Jennifer Khadir

Episode 11 – Barry Turner

 

barryturner“One thing I do know as far as black males [in] this country, that is only 2% of the teaching population. And I question that, why? So to me, I feel like it goes back to mentoring again,” shares Mr. Barry on the topic of the low representation of black male teachers in the classroom. “… I think black students do need a black male teacher […] I talk to black male students and I ask them, ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’ ‘An athlete or a rapper..” and that’s it. I ask students, ‘What do you think about being a teacher?’ And just the look on their face, it doesn’t even come across as an idea, and I feel like it’s because they don’t see it enough.”

Fast Facts about Barry

  1. Full Name: Barry Turner
  2. Current city: Oakland, CA
  3. Years teaching: 17
  4. Grades: Early Elementary, and currently a mixed 1st-3rd grade Montessori Classroom
  5. Favorite books:
  6. Why teach: “I always hope to inspire other children to teach – mainly other African American children.”
  7. Resources Barry mentioned:

Noteworthy Outtakes from Mr. Barry’s Chat with Teachers

From his time as a communications professional turned educator in private schools and now working as a teacher in an Oakland school taking Montessori public and transforming the way children learn — Mr. Barry talks honestly about his journey and his passion for connecting with his students, especially his student’s of color.

Barry also shares his take on the importance of professional development and why it’s imperative that teachers continuously seek out opportunities for growth. Whether to spark motivation, or inspire ideas, professional development and collaborating with peers in the field can be a great way for teachers to stay passionate about what they do.

Episode 10 -Iain Lampert

 

Initially I thought that the best teachers were able to create success stories out of any student, but it really does take two to tango,” says Iain Lampert when recounting one of his own personal a-ha moments as a teacher. “I initially was hurt when a student would transfer out of my class, because I took it personally. And the challenge was realizing how sensitive I was … and to stop taking it so personally.”

14316712_10153870036428202_3288112764384533690_nFast Facts about Iain

  1. Full name: Iain Gabriel Lampert
  2. Current city: Van Nuys, CA
  3. Years teaching: 7, including coaching Speech and Debate since 2010 and teaching speech classes since 2014
  4. Grades taught: 6th-12th
  5. Favorite books:
  6. Why teach? If we don’t, who will?
  7. Some of Iain’s favorite resources:

Noteworthy Outtakes from Iain’s Chat with Teachers

Listen in as Iain takes us on a journey through his time as a child who had no desire to become a teacher, to a High School student who found his voice and passion for speech through various theater and debate classes. And, finally to a dedicated teacher to a future generation of confident communicators.

Iain shares his love for speech and debate and how he  uses his passion to teach children to use the skills they learn in his class in all parts of their lives that include communications – whether interviewing for a job or communicating with a partner.

Some valuable tips he also shares for any new teachers in the field, regardless of grade or content area, is the value of self-reflection. As a lover of all things speech and theater related, Iain talks about teaching being a stage for educating children. He has a deep recognition of all the roles a teacher plays: teacher, friend, counselor and more – many roles that a  teaching program simply cannot prepare you for. But be that as it may, Iain encourages new teachers to never walk into a classroom for the first time without first recording yourself and playing the recording back twice.

First to listen to the audio only. By isolating your voice, says Iain, you are able to hear whether or not there are any problematic things in your voice, such as verbal flubs. Second, Iain suggests watching yourself with the video portion of the recording only to see if you have any awkward hand gestures or if you move in any unstructured or unfocused way that may be distracting your students.

Why Arts Education Should Not Be Ignored!

“California College of the Arts educates students to shape culture and society through the practice and critical study of art, architecture, design, and writing … the college prepares students for lifelong creative work by cultivating innovation, community engagement, and social and environmental responsibility.” – California College of the Arts Mission Statement

Recent plans to defund two federal agencies, the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and the National Endowment for Humanities (NEH), has left me inspired to feature both Edwina Lucero, vocal arts teacher in the greater Denver area, and Meredith Jacobs, arts teacher to children with special needs in upstate New York, on recent Chat with Teachers podcasts. With many left unsure about the future of the arts (including literature, film, dance, music and more) I wanted to chat with these arts teachers about their experiences, passions and tips for keeping the arts alive in schools. Here are some highlights they shed on the importance for keeping the arts alive in public schools:

The Arts Lead to Everything!

pullquote_art“Don’t you realize art is the most important in the building?” shared Meredith when recounting an exchange she had with colleagues. “Arts back up all of the other academic areas… the arts does back up your ELA [English Language Arts], the arts does back up your math, the arts does back up your gym.” Meredith went on to say that she and her students recently studied the Northern Lights through art, and how it sparked scientific conversations in her classroom. She and her students are currently working on an art show focusing on Egypt, opening her students eyes to the social studies component of Egypt’s history and culture. It is no new concept that art is more than just googly eyes and glitter (although those materials absolutely have a place in the classroom as well!)…but that the arts play a pivotal role in kids lives to help develop many fundamental skills and interests that support an array of other content areas in a child’s academic life as well.

The Arts Offer Hands On Learning

image.jpgWith so many studies that show the benefits of concrete learning, most notably the teachings of Maria Montessori who says that to learn how to count, a child must count actual objects, to feel and see the difference between 1 and 10. Arbitrarily pointing to pictures on a card doesn’t help a child truly internalize the concept.

Meredith shares this sentiment and believes that “students must have that hands on experience. That tactile sensory – feel it, touch it, do it [experience].” She says, “we need to let them sit down and figure out things.” With today’s focus on the common core state standards, which highlights the need to be fostering problem solvers in the classroom, Meredith went on to share how a group of her middle schoolers with extreme behavior issues, were tasked to recreate King Tut’s Death Mask together.

“Here’s the materials,” she said, “I want to watch you problem solve. I want to see you figure this out. How can we solve the problem of building this. And those kids always tell me, even my high schoolers, ‘thank you letting me figure this out, I figured it out a way that was different than what you showed us.’ And that to me is the win. Because we need to have kids that can figure things out and with all the testing that is being done, they are learning to the test, they are not putting their hands on things, it’s not that concrete development that’s happening,” and that’s why teachers of the arts, like Meredith, will always be huge advocates of the arts.

The Arts Give Students a Stage, a Voice, Confidence and a Sense of Community

“Right away I started taking my kids into the public to perform,” says Edwina, a vocal arts teacher in a predominantly Latino/Hispanic community, a large percentage of which are children of undocumented parents, or are undocumented themselves. Edwina says that there’s a cool thing that happens with choir kids, especially students new to choir and who when they are exposed to performing in public for the first time are able to see right away the purpose of all that went into the practice they’ve put into leading up to the event. Edwina shared anecdotes of how she was witness to several students who grew into confident leaders in their school due to being given a stage and voice to build confidence on.

Most notably was an account of a student who joined Edwina’s class with an already established history of being a troublemaker that past teachers had problems with. Edwina shared that through his time in choir, he was able to channel the “class clown” within himself and find a place to perform and build self-confidence. He grew in maturity and became a leader in his class.

Being able to perform is also an easy way to extend student’s learning beyond the walls of the school building. Edwina says that “music and arts programs are really easy to build community around.” She says arts programs are the backbone and heart beat of the school and the place where “pockets of community can happen.”

Higher Learning Institutes Care, So Should We!

img_20170129_152453With arts programs essentially at the cusp of extinction – most notably in under-served schools in underprivileged communities – I can’t help but ask, “Are we doing our kids a disservice by not providing more arts funding?”

Along with the mission statement from the California College of the ArtsMassachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), is grounded in the objective to “advance knowledge and educate students in science, technology, and other areas of scholarship that will best serve the nation and the world in the 21st century.” All those areas include the arts in some capacity. While their official admissions requirements do not require material beyond the application, portfolios and additional materials helps to highlight a student’s application and showcase some of the characteristics that are so important to universities like MIT, such as “creative insight, technical skill, and a ‘hands-on’ approach to learning by doing.” Check out the MIT Admissions Portfolios & Additional Material page and see for yourself how having things like music & theater arts, visual arts and a “maker” portfolio can benefit student’s chances of truly being “college ready.”

Meditation, Enjoyment & Relaxation

According to Stress.org, “Numerous studies show that job stress is far and away the major source of stress for American adults and that it has escalated progressively over the past few decades.” According to the American Psychological Association, mindfulness promotes meta cognitive awareness and enhances attention and engagement. According to Mindfulness in Schools, “Many visual art activities require unique focus, and cause the “artist” to set aside all other thoughts and worries.”

Talk about a long winded “If __________. Then ___________,” sentence!

Meredith talks about the special needs of her students and the awareness that most of them will probably not pursue many far-reaching higher learning institutes beyond High School. But despite that, for many of her students who display some of the most aggressive behaviors, art is an avenue they use to practice meditation.

“You can use art to escape,” Meredith tells her students. “Other people use drugs or different stimulations like video games or music, and you can still use those things, but with art you don’t have to quote and quote meditate…” the joy element that naturally comes with engaging in art is naturally meditative, which also explains the recent popularity of adult coloring books.

Never were my students  more spellbound than when they got to experience, some for the first time (some for probably the ONLY time) in their lives, Caroline Lee, a violist with the San Francisco Ballet orchestra, play her instrument in our classroom:

How Can You Commit to Integrating the Arts Into Your Classroom?

With the future of arts education uncertain, all while the importance of creative problem solving Americans becomes all the more necessary in the 21st century, it becomes a lot more clear that as teachers we need to be more creative in finding ways to integrate arts into our classrooms.

If I had to make one actionable commitment to integrating the arts to my classroom, it would be to engage my 1st-3rd grade students in one of my favorite books, One by Kathryn Otoshi, a wonderful picture book about standing up to bullies. I can’t wait to see how my students would bring this book alive through creating costumes and performing this story in front of an audience.

What is one way you think you can commit to bringing art to your classroom? Because after all, as Meredith aptly reminds us, “what a grey, sad place it would be if we didn’t have these open thinking creative minds.”

Episode 9 – Meredith Jacobs

 

meredithjacobsAs an art teacher you’re a huge advocate for the arts in general – the arts lead to pretty much everything. We back up all of the other academic areas. The arts does back up your ELA, the arts does back up your math…

Fast Facts about Meredith

  1. Full name: Meredith Jacobs
  2. Current city: Plattsburgh NY
  3. Years teaching: 12
  4. Grade(s) taught:
    • (1yr) K-6 Elementary Art Teacher AuSable Forks Elementary,
    • (10yrs) K-12 Art to Children with Special Needs @ CVES BOCES Plattsburgh/ Mineville NY Campuses
    • (1yr) Toddler Teacher
    • (2 months) Orchard Elementary, Rio Linda School District AmeriCorps NCCC* Mentor
  5. Favorite books
  6. Why teach? It feeds your soul and grows others around you.
  7. Check out more about the arts program at Meredith’s school, Champlain Valley Educational Services

artNoteworthy Outtakes from Meredith’s Chat

During our chat, Meredith shares her thoughts on the current state of politics and how it affects arts education. From cutting arts funding to the notion that arts programming is disposable, she expresses how her students with special needs use art as an avenue for not only learning, but meditation, joy and relaxation – skills her students, and many others are often not encouraged to incorporate into their academic lives. As an art teacher, Meredith also recognizes that not all children learn the same way and that the arts is one of the few times in school that learning is concrete and tactile, leading to skill building in other academic areas as well.

Meredith also shares valuable tips and strategies for engaging with your community to help give your students a platform for showcasing their art and to help with putting resources into your classroom – Meredith says one year she walked into her local pizzeria and asked for pizza boxes to help her students bring home mirrors they made at school as part of an art project!

Listen in on how Meredith describes her passions for incorporating arts into education, despite the fact that art teachers are often shied away from this path because of the notion that they “won’t have a job in a few years.”

The Three H’s That Start My Student’s Morning Right!

Before figuring out any math equations, sharing whether or not the character in their book is a protagonist or antagonist the first question my students answer each morning is:

blog6“Handshake, High five, or Hug?”

Something magical happens every morning during our morning greeting – we start a new day on a clean slate. Whatever may have happened the day before, good or bad, today is a new day. A new day to learn, a new day to make better choices, or a new day for a student to meet a goal they set for themselves the day prior.

As I write this, I realize this is a piece of advice I received long before receiving the keys to my first classroom. This wasn’t a new concept to me as a new teacher, and probably isn’t to many other new teachers either. One of my favorite books, THE Classroom Management Book, by Harry and Rosemary Wong, talks in depth about why this crucial part of the day is so important.

My intent with the blogs I write, and the podcasts I host, is not so much to share innovative new ideas or strategies, but to share stories and personal aha moments teachers have had in hopes that it strikes a chord with others trying to find themselves in this profession. More than just learning about why the morning greeting is so important – one of my aha moments as a teacher came when I learned HOW to actually do it successfully!

Here is a breakdown of my love/hate experience with getting my student’s mornings off right:

If At First You Don’t Succeed; Try, Try Again … Errr, Maybe…

“Take the time to greet each child as they enter the door,” one of my teaching professors once said. Well, easier said than done. Remember, I was new at this gig. I worked with only adults in my life before teaching. That first morning as I met my students for the first time on the yard, with a beautifully decorated sign that read, “Room 10!,” in my hand, I eagerly walked them to the classroom and stood at the door ready to shake each child’s hand and say, “Good Morning, welcome to second grade!” What I wasn’t prepared for, or naively thought to consider ahead of time, was what would happen once the students who had received their greeting entered the room with their teacher still at the door greeting everyone else.

While at most schools, and in many classrooms, discipline is not a factor – this wasn’t the case for me, and it wasn’t the case at my school. It was the first day of school after all, and I hadn’t even begun to understand what would need to go into building a safe and productive classroom culture.

The first thing I noticed was how baffled each child seemed to be when they saw me standing at the door, hand outstretched and a big smile on my face. It occurred to me much later on that this was probably one of the first times many of my students of color in a predominantly low socioeconomic community had an adult waiting to greet them.

Second thing I noticed was that about a third of the way through greeting my students, disciplinary problems began to arise both inside the classroom with children who had already been greeted, and in the hall with students still waiting their turn. Looking back, it was all a blur, but I do remember that after that it took me a long time to try to greet my students at the door again. All of what I had read in the Wong & Wong book on classroom management became replaced with the fight or flight instinct to just move forward with my day and try to get through my lessons without allowing the space for lack of supervision to occur again.

I Did Try Again!

Over time, I began to learn new techniques and strategies for how to structure my day with my classroom. I wish I could say it was in that first year, but it wasn’t. That first year was hard – I am sure that I will pepper future posts with anecdotes along the way, but much like Connie Lam, my teaching experience also started with struggle and absolutely being thrown into just chaos.

But I digress…

Into my second year of teaching, I found myself in a new school, with an innovative concept of taking Montessori public and free of charge to a largely urban and diverse community.

I felt renewed and excited to start fresh. I felt defeated from my previous experience, but I also realize how much I learned from that first year as a teacher. With my new school’s concept of putting the child’s emotional needs first, I was ready to figure out a way to implement giving each of my student’s a personal greeting each morning.

Here are some of the strategies used in my class to set up the morning greeting for success:

  • Walk the students to the line, before having them place their items on the hook, face them and give them very specific instructions such as, “Good morning class, please place your items on your hooks and when you enter the room please begin independent reading/check the board for your morning do-now.” The key here is planning ahead what the students will do when they enter so that you are free to give your individual greeting. On the first day of school, before you’ve been able to establish these routines, you may want to leave items on their desks, such as their name tags that they can begin coloring and decorating.
  • Stand strategically at the door where your line of view includes the hall where students are placing their items away, and inside the classroom.
  • Take a knee, meet your students at their level.
  • Offer options students can choose from. Some of them will be cuddly, and will want a hug – others won’t and will feel more comfortable with a handshake or a high five.
  • Don’t just say, “Good morning,” add things like:
    • “I am so happy you’re at school today!”
    • “What did you have for breakfast today?”
    • “You’re eye contact tells me that you are ready to learn today!”
  • Use this opportunity to check in! Ask, “How are you feeling this morning?” “Remember the reading goals we talked about yesterday? I look forward to seeing you work toward them today!”

What I Learned from the “Hand shake, high five or hug?”

The way that students enter the classroom determines almost everything else that happens after. And, it may be the only time of the day that I get to have any one on one interaction with every child in my classroom. With upwards of 30 or more students in your class, these personal one on one greetings really may be the only time all day that you get to look each child in the eyes and tell them how special they are. As I write these words I immediately think of one student in particular who because of his special needs is pulled out often throughout the day for services. If it weren’t for the connection we make every morning, he wouldn’t feel as comfortable when he is in class as I hope he does.

If I were to rewind even more, I can even look back and realize that the reason the very first students I had gave me that look of bewilderment because in their case – it probably was the first time an adult looked at them with a smile on their face happy and eager to enter them into the classroom. If there is any reason at all to implement a morning greeting (not to be confused with or replaced by the whole class morning meeting that takes place inside the classroom), it would be to realize that for many children, especially the most under-served students in the most underprivileged communities, your morning greeting might be the only time in their day they are welcomed into any space they walk into.