February in the Classroom


February.  An all-encompassing term that brings visions of darkness when you leave for work and when you get home.  Cold weather.  Incessant reminders that you need to do your taxes.  And for teachers, feelings that your hard work will never, ever pay off.  Disbelief that your students still need to practice routines and procedures after all this time.  Thoughts that you’d make a great barista, or maybe should really have a go in the essential oil business.  Wondering if you can pay the mortgage as a dog walker.

It’s not just me, right?

This is the fight.  This is where it gets harder than I thought it would.  This is when I have less passion than I need.

This is when I’m tempted to use the words of Sheldon’s mother on Big Bang Theory and respond to defiance with a biting, sarcastic:  “I’m sorry, did I start that sentence with ‘if it please your highness?'”

I’ve written about this before.  Today, I need to write about it again.  February has come early this year.  There’s no avoiding it, but there are ways to deal.

1. Put something good IN.  Read a little bit each day of something that inspires you…NOT related to teaching.  Something that inspires to you to live your life well and fully alive.  Listen to a podcast.  Watch old movies.  (At this moment, I’m watching the original 1968 Yours, Mine & Ours.  Although, even a good episode of Grey’s Anatomy can do the trick.)

2. Find your theme song.  I like NeedToBreathe’s “Hard Love” and Andra Day’s “Rise Up.”  I have few relationships in my life that are harder than my relationship with teaching.

3. Hold on to the moments that feel good.  For me, last week my principal caught a really good moment during reading fluency practice and posted a picture on our school’s social media page.  My principal thinking I’m doing a good job is obviously not a primary reason for me to do a good job, but it’s a “this is fun” moment for me.

4. Hold on to a reason.  A few months ago, a non-teacher friend told me: “You’re not teaching math.  You’re teaching character via math.”  For me, that’s the reason.  I don’t care nearly as much about my students’ math and reading as I do about their kindness, their growth mindset, their work ethic.

5. Eat, move, sleep.  You know all this.  You know it will make you feel better.  I know you don’t want to do it.  Do what you can.

6. Meditate.  Or knit.  Or journal.  Or go to yoga.  (You can kill two birds with one stone on the yoga mat.)  Do something else meditatively:  Fold laundry.  Vacuum.  One year I found sharpening pencils during my plan time to be the most mind-clearing thing.  Find some silence and headspace.

This is the hard love.  This is the fight.  This is the doing without the feeling.  This is the saying without the believing.  Teachers, our own character is being developed in the Februaries.  I’m not a bad teacher because I have doubts and struggles and sometimes have to pretend to care.  Sometimes the feeling leads to action…and sometimes the action leads to the return of the feeling.  We are learning commitment and real love in the Februaries.  This is humanity.  This is what makes us good teachers.


Not Easy

I am sharing my classroom with a wonderful student teacher this fall, and I’ve become accustomed to sharing the kids and the teaching with her.  It’s amazing.  But, I had the kids to myself today. All day, I’ve been thinking about being a safe place for them, being an adult who has a positive impact on their lives. Things like this anti-bullying ad from the UK always stick with me, remind me of the power the school experience has on a child.  We (teachers, classmates, everyone) have the power to wound deep enough that it makes you tear up when you’re 45 years old, thinking back on it.  We have the power to fuel moments of humor so joyful that a giggle arises, decades later.  We have the power to teach lessons of strength and empathy and growth that make you look at your life as an adult and wonder who you would be without those experiences.

The people in the video are Lance and Tom.  They are married to each other, to help you put some of their conversation in context.  Lance is Dustin Lance Black, the American screenwriter and filmmaker responsible for the movie Milk (for which he won an Oscar) and the miniseries When We Rise (amazing!!!).  Tom is Tom Daley, the British Olympic diver.

Around 1:40, Lance asks Tom if school was always easy.  Tom says, “It’s never — I don’t think school is one of the easy things.  It teaches you life experiences.  It’s something that gives you a lot of preparation for what the real world could be like.”  But after listening to Tom’s experiences, how he was bullied for being an Olympic athlete, my heart cries out:  But, how???  How does he have this perspective now?  How does he see those experiences as preparation, as strength-training rather than injury?  And how can I be a teacher who contributes to kids’ ability to get stronger rather than be wounded?

In some ways, it’s my job to make sure school isn’t any easy thing.  I make it harder, on purpose.  I bring them to the edge of their ability every day, and then push them a little farther.  I ask them to explain their thinking and defend their answers.  I teach them to solve their own problems, which might mean they can’t ever count on me to solve things for them.  I want them to leave my room empowered to be brave and strong and take charge of their own lives, whatever that means at this age for them.

I teach second grade, kids who start the year as 7-year-olds.  Most of my poignant school memories happened after that.  Second grade is mostly a little-kid blur in my memory.  And yet…

There were 10 of us in the class, in a tiny Catholic school in a tiny rural town.  Our teacher was Sister Josephine.  I remember all my classmates’ first and last names, and I’m still Facebook and/or real-life friends with most of them.  I remember joining in with my classmate Jeremy, being silly at the chalkboard while practicing our cursive E’s.  We got in trouble and I was mad at Jeremy for being silly, but mainly I was mortified that I had joined in.  I remember a classmate tattled on me for erasing.  Erasing!!!  I didn’t get in trouble, of course, but I was mortified that someone tattled on me.

I remember at my first confession, telling the priest that I stole some earmuffs because everyone else had earmuffs and I wanted some.  He asked me if I stole them from a store or from a friend.  I had actually stolen them from the lost-and-found, but my 7-year-old logic said I needed to answer with one of the choices he asked, so I said I stole them from a friend.  My penance was to give them back and apologize to the friend.  (Surely also some Hail Marys.)  Again with the 7-year-old logic, I waited to put the earmuffs back into the lost-and-found until my friends Lisa and Stacy were with me, and I apologized to them that I had lied about the earmuffs being mine.  So I gave them back, and I apologized to some friends, just like the priest told me to.

It was the first time I knew I did something wrong and attempted to undo it and make amends.

I remember that all the other girls got their ears pierced in second grade — all six of them, but still, ALL of them.  Our family rule was that I had to wait until I was 12.  I remember being very glad that some girls had blue sweaters and some had red sweaters (the only two colors of sweater allowed in the school uniform) and I could at least know I wouldn’t be the only girl with my color of sweater.  Between the earmuffs, the ear piercing, and the sweater colors, second grade was really my initiation into wanting to fit in.  There was nothing malicious about any of it.  No one bullied me in second grade.  No one made fun of my lack of earrings or my hat that wasn’t earmuffs, or anyone’s school uniform.  The desire to fit in was just arising to take its decade-plus place of prominence in my development.

Long-lasting hurts from wanting to fit in came later.  Like Lance in the video, I have stories from later school days that I think back on with a physical reaction, a clenching of the stomach, a mortified blush in my face.  What did the adults do, that I remember second grade stories with humor and compassion for my little 7-year-old self and her Questioner logic?

I would give anything to protect my students from those stomach-clenching kinds of memories.  Are my students just innately safe from long-lasting hurt because of their age?  Did Sister Josephine and the priest do anything to make the story of the earmuffs preparation for real life, a childish practice for serious apologizing and amend-making?  Or was that just always the way it was going to be, because I was 7 years old?

I absolutely love the message that Lance wraps up with at the end of the video:  “The thing that you’re being judged for, or bullied for, might be the thing that’s going to get you an Olympic medal or a world championship, or an Academy Award one day.  Those differences are really valuable eventually.”

Weariness, Scramble, Immersion

Sometimes it feels like being a public school teacher is ALL about time management and prioritizing.  You don’t have time to get everything done.  You just don’t.  If you want to do this, and enjoy this, you have to learn to live with that reality.

It might not be specific to teachers.  It might just be a universal truth of adulthood.

In the life of a teacher, at least, you never get everything done.  At some point, you just have to stop anyway and go home.  I seem to be naturally predisposed to fight against this truth.  I don’t want to accept that things won’t get done.  When things “fall off my to do list,” as I say when I write something week after week, I take it as a personal failure.

I’m working on it.


This area is my “office.” These two tables can pile high in a short amount of time!


One thing I’m recognizing recently is that there are three general paths in the day-to-day grind.  You can experience the weariness of staying a couple of hours after the students are gone.  Or you can experience the scramble of coming in early and working for a couple of house before the bell rings.  Or you can experience the immersion of taking work home.  Choose your adventure wisely.

Good Weary

This path is my healthiest path.  The weariness of going home at 6:00 instead of 4:00 and knowing that everything is in its place for tomorrow is a good weary.  Like getting in a hot shower after a hard workout.  Like packing up your instrument after a long day of music performances.


A dark line = something DONE.

Like napping in the Colorado sunshine, with your niece asleep on your chest, with a mountain in view, after a week of hiking in the heat of the Utah desert.


(Best nap ever!) (Unrelated photo because it’s almost summer and my spirit is ready for travel and sunshine and sitting places where I can see mountains. Or oceans. Or just anyplace that is someplace else.)


At 4:00, I always want to just go home.  Always.  The trick is to have a snack, and get moving forward.  Knock out a few things on the list for tomorrow.  Start crossing things off.  Keep going until everything for tomorrow is crossed off.


Pack a snack. Eat the snack you packed. Ignore the vending machine downstairs.

Then I go home, without a work bag, tired and hungry and weary, and whatever I do with my evening, I’m free.  It’s a good rest, the freedom of knowing there’s nothing I should be doing for work right now.  “I did everything I need to do” is my freedom mantra.

In the morning, I’m saved from the immediate feeling of anxiety that hits me if things aren’t ready for the day.  I feel free to have breakfast.  I feel free to get into God’s word, to sit still in His presence for a bit.  I feel free to go into work at 7:30 and plan for next week, or wander in at 8:15 and chat with people who are standing in line for the copier until the bell rings.  Either way, in that moment, it’s a pure choice, not tainted by stress and overwhelm.


On the other hand, I know colleagues who can come in at 6:30 every day, and do their prep in the early morning hours.  I’ve had seasons like that.  For them, getting out of school as soon as possible is key to their rhythm, and they don’t seem to be bothered by that ticking clock in the morning.  The scramble in the morning is energizing.  At 4:00, “It can wait until tomorrow” is a freedom mantra for them.


Quiet…bright…buzzing with possibility…


The third path is immersing yourself in the teaching life, 24 hours a day.  These colleagues appear to arrive at 8:00 and leave at 4:00, day after day.  They carry big bags of work almost daily.  Some need or enjoy the flexibility of time, doing their work after their kids go to bed or after their partners leave for a late shift job, or they simply catch a second wind late in the evening.  Some prefer to do their work in their pajamas, on their couch, watching TV.  I call this immersion because there appears to be no line between working and not working in a giving day.  They are a teacher today, or they are not.  Teaching is an identity.


The truth is, there is a little bit of each story in all of us.  Being prepared is a good feeling, and early morning hours can be magically productive, and teaching is absolutely a part of one’s identity.  All of those things are true, together, no matter what I choose to do today.  I know my best choice is usually to stay at work through the late afternoon, leaving my classroom ready for tomorrow, and bringing home nothing but my empty coffee mug.  But sometimes, circumstances – or my attitude – convince me to take a different approach.


Remember Who You Are


The Family Stone is a movie that has become a regular in my Christmas rotation…and sometimes at other times of the year as well.  Amy Stone, played by Rachel McAdams, is the youngest of a family of adult siblings gathering for Christmas.  We find out from one line in the movie that she is a teacher, and her profession has no bearing on the plot of the movie at all.  And yet, because I know she’s a teacher, I’m attached to the moment in the movie when she arrives at her parents’ home.  She drives what would be generously described as a budget-friendly car.  She hauls two large tote bags of work.  She’s so crabby about it that when one of the bags falls in the snow, she angrily throws the other one down, too.  She has her clothes in a laundry basket – no stylish luggage for her!  And best of all, she seems to have thrown on the first eight pieces of clothing she saw.  She is so overtaken with the rest of her life that their is no energy left for putting together a presentable outfit.

In this one small moment of the story, I think Amy Stone is the most realistic depiction of a teacher that I’ve seen in movies or television.  I mean, maybe it’s exaggerated a bit for cinematic effect.  Maybe I don’t look quite as frazzled, maybe my car is more of a small, shiny red budget-friendly choice than a hand-me-down heap, maybe I travel with my clothes tossed into a giant ThirtyOne tote instead of an old basket…but that scene definitely captures how that overlap between the work week and family time can feel.

The last three weeks have been brutal.  The kind of brutal that makes me wonder if Starbucks is hiring.  The kind of brutal that makes me want to watch this little 10-second scene over and over again to feel that I’m not alone.

DEVOLSON, or whatever.  Except that I’m not sure Thanksgiving break will make it go away.

A little voice inside my head has been saying, “Remember who you are.”


I feel overwhelmed.  I feel the stress tangibly in my body, with stomachaches and a tightness in my chest.  I feel like I can’t get the bare essentials under control, and there is no hope for going above and beyond or actually excelling at anything.  I’m not ready for conferences, or the sub for my half-day meeting, or for the meeting I have with the literacy coach in two days, or even for my own teaching time tomorrow.

Remember who you are.  I am a living being, always in a state of change, flowing from one emotional state to the next.  This stress feels so strong that it feels permanent, but it isn’t.  Time will pass.  I will sleep.  In 24 hours, I will feel a little bit different.  In 48 hours, even more so.


I am focused on the data.  I have graded and analyzed the math tests from every possible angle.  I have a large collection of action steps I can take to respond to how the students did.  I want to pack them in, to fill our math workshop time with as many productive moments as I can.  I want to prove my superhuman capabilities.  I want to show my worth by raising my students’ scores impressively.

Remember who you are.  My value does not rest with the data.  My value does not rest with how well I do my job.  My value would not be proven by math scores, and my value would not be increased with superhuman time management and productivity in the classroom.  My value is proven by the fact that I am here.  Every breath in and out is evidence that I am worthy of a place on this planet.


I am too busy for community building.  I am too busy for classroom management.  I am too busy for relationships with the students.  If I have a 2-minute conversation with each of them, that’s an hour of our day, gone.  We don’t need to address behavior.  We can just hold it together, one hour at a time, day after day.  We don’t need to talk about it.  We need to do reading and math and writing and number talks and intervention time…

Remember who you are.  My calling is to build relationships, to create a community of learners.  To do all things with great love.  We do need to talk about it.  We need daily practices of sharing those “star stories” (things that happen that match our classroom agreements) and solving the problems that arise.  We need daily doses of playfulness and humor and connection.  We are not robots, and I don’t want to hold it together one hour at a time for the rest of my career.  I want to let the mess of relationships and character building into our day.


I am too busy for the needs of my soul.  I am too busy for stillness and solitude.  I don’t have time to light a candle, write in my journal, read something uplifting.  I am too busy for the needs of my body.  I don’t have time to exercise, to cook real food, to sleep.  When everything is non-negotiable, everything gets negotiated.  The math doesn’t work.

Remember who you are.  I am an eternal being.  Eternal.  The math is irrelevant.  “The same power that rose Jesus from the grave / the same power that commands the  dead to wake / lives in us.”  A good Jeremy Camp song can do wonders.  “We will not be overtaken / We will not be overcome.”  I have more power than I can feel when I am busy thinking about the math.


This season will be over soon, friends.  Or not.  Either way, remember who you are.

First Principles

It is raining…and raining…and raining some more today.  In fact, it rained so hard this morning that my school district canceled for the day, due to dangerous levels of street flooding.  So I’m just at home, catching up (finally!) on The Last Ship, watching the rain, and thinking about what happens when the “establishing” has gradually and subtly changed in to the “building” of a classroom community.

It’s easy to take a simple system and adapt it to fit your classroom community.  Make the chart, using colors that you like.  Put the right names on the clips.  Find a good place to hang it in your classroom.  Explain to the kids what it all means, and start moving clips around, in response to whatever happens: up for good things, down for bad things.

It’s easy.  Except…it doesn’t work.  At least, not the way I want it to work.  In March, you will still be moving the clips and giving the consequences.  I want students who are different in March than they were in September.

I want students who have more or better strategies for solving problems and expressing big feelings in March than they did in September.  Because, I want my students to be kinder, more compassionate, more responsible people after spending 180 days in my classroom.

I want classroom management to be less work for me in March than it was in September.  Because, less minutes I spend managing behaviors means more minutes I can spend teaching readers and writers and mathematicians.

If those two things are my goals, if those are the things that are important, then my “system” needs to be more complex.  It needs to be based on a way of treating people, principles about how we interact with one another.

Principle #1:  Children are not born innately hurtful.  They are simply born innately self-centered.

Children don’t innately want to hurt each other, or their parents or teachers.  They don’t carry an inner goal of seeing how far they can push you, or doing as much damage as they can, or making someone mad.  They do learn these things, and most kids have an understanding of how to hurt someone out of revenge or anger well before we see them in elementary school.  But this hurtfulness isn’t naturally inside them from the beginning.

Tiny children innately want their own needs met.  And as long as they are only aware of themselves, anything and everything feels like a need to them.

As soon as we start gently and kindly helping kids be aware of the feelings of the people around them, the majority of kids will express empathy and kindness in whatever ways they know how.  They need to be gently awakened to others-centered thinking.  They need us to model others-centered kindness and empathy, and sometimes to teach it explicitly.

Principle #2:  Problems will arise.  We don’t avoid problems.  We solve problems.

If there are no problems, it is possible that I am not allowing myself or my students to act like the human beings we are.  It is possible that I am expecting machines that always respond to a command with a certain response.  School (or dare we say, life) is for learning, and learning is for humanity, not machinery.

Embrace the problems.  Take time for the problems when they happen.  Having problems is how we can become problem solvers.

Principle #3:  The teacher is not the only problem solver in the community.  The teacher is a mentor for the other problem solvers.

Scenario:  Miles tells me, “Taylor keeps calling me ‘Moles’!  He just keeps on doing it, even though I asked him to stop!”  It is so, so, so tempting to walk over to Taylor and try to squash the behavior.

Don’t do it!

You are not the only problem solver in the room, unless you keep solving all the problems!  Be a problem-solving mentor to Miles, and leave Taylor alone.  Empathize with Miles’ feelings.  Discuss Miles’ options.  Ask the class for ideas for Miles.  Suggest a couple of ideas that Miles could try.

Over time, being a problem-solving mentor empowers Miles to solve his own problems.  Being the only problem-solver in the room sends a message to Miles that he has no power in these kinds of situations.

Earlier, we left Taylor alone, but let’s talk about him, too.  Being a problem-solving mentor to Miles sends Taylor a message that you will help him solve his problems, too.  If Miles has more things to try to get Taylor to stop, it gives Taylor more chances to see how his choice affects Miles, and more chances to learn to empathize with Miles.  And it sends Taylor a message that his choices matter, not just when the teacher is around, but when it affects any other human being.

Principle #4: Everyone is doing the best they can right now.  

Toddlers throw tantrums because it’s their only strategy.  Preschoolers grab toys away because it’s the best way they can think of to get what they want.  Second graders call each other mean names because they don’t have anything else to do with these big feelings of hurt or exclusion.

Many problem solving sessions in my classroom start off with me saying, “It looks like you wanted ____, but you didn’t know what to do, so you tried ____.”  Lots of times I have to guess or infer what they might have wanted, and sometimes I make it up altogether.  But choosing to speak in a way that assumes they were doing the best they could at the time leads the way for learning other strategies.

Choosing to speak in a way that assumes they were doing something bad and they need to be punished leads the way for the child to shut down, assume I am mad at them, be mad at me, and not learn a single thing that can actually help him the next time.

Before you move on to respond to a behavior, acknowledge out loud that the child is doing the best thing he can think of.  Even if you’re mad.  Even if you don’t think he is.  Even if your very big feelings say this child should move all the way down the clip chart and never have recess again.  Or worse.  Nothing positive will be accomplished if the student feels attacked.

The Real Miles and Taylor

I am looping with most of my students from last year, since I switched from 1st grade to 2nd grade.  So after a year of community building and problem solving, it didn’t take long for the class to fall back into the routine of solving problems as a class, with my guidance.  (I haven’t witnessed much independent problem solving yet, but I am on the lookout!  It usually appears in January or February, so I’m interested to see if it comes back sooner.)

The real Miles and the real Taylor, names changed of course, have experienced these principles, imperfectly implemented, for a year.  I’ve seen growth in them and the other kids, but it becomes visible in small moments.  I notice growth hours or days later as I’m remembering the conversation or the conflict.

A couple of days ago, Miles said, “I have a problem.  At recess, I was playing basketball with Taylor, and he kept missing.  Every time he did, I said, ‘Fail!’  I don’t think he liked it.”

That was it.  That was Miles’ problem.  He was doing something, someone didn’t like it, and he didn’t want to do it anymore.  He wanted help to treat someone better.  It was unprompted.  Taylor had not tattled on him.  It was after recess, not in the moment.  It was bugging Miles, and he trusted his community with his problem.

His classmates had two suggestions:  He could clamp his hand over his mouth when he felt himself wanting to say that.  He could say, “Try again!” instead.

And let me remind you, we solve problems like this all the time, but usually, it starts with Taylor tattling, and maybe I present Miles’ problem as a secondary problem, after we’ve solved Taylor’s problem.  This took A YEAR!!!  One year before Miles had an others-centered enough community mindset that he could present a problem where he was the one doing something hurtful.  One year before Miles could trust his classmates enough to ask them for help, unprompted.

Have patience and perseverance, my friends!


Agreements 1In my classroom, we make “agreements.”  I start by asking the students, on the first day of school, what kind of teacher they want.  Then on day two or three, I ask them what kind of classmates they want.  I follow that by a few days of “noticing things.”  I notice, out loud, when things happen that match what kind of classmates we all want.  The culmination of all of this is a long, long conversation about what we will do to be classmates like that.  We write these agreements on sentence strips and display them in a permanent place for the year.

Agreements 2

Then…the real work begins.  We need to become community members like this.  For the first week or two, I’ve held things together with my bare hands, or that’s how it feels.  I’ve kept my patience in check, and directed, and redirected, and reminded, and had them “do that one more time, a better way”…without any sort of list of rules or official, spoken structure to my classroom management.  Now, after agreements have been made and displayed, it is time to pass the responsibility of making decisions to the community members who agreed to all of this.  It’s time to put my eyes farther ahead, on character and values, instead of peace and compliance.

Agreements 4 Agreements 3

So, we solve problems.

Brady:  Kyle said that I’m weird.

Me: Oh, I’d be upset about that, too.  Why did he do that?

Brady:  Cuz he’s mean.

Me:  Hmm, I wonder why he decided to do something that would make you so upset.  I’m going to ask him, okay?  Kyle, what happened?

Kyle:  Brady said he didn’t want to sit by me.

Me: Oh.  I bet that made you feel sad.  (Kyle nods.)  Do you want some help from your classmates?  (Kyle nods again.)  Class, someone told Kyle they didn’t want to sit by him, and it made him feel really bad.  His feelings wanted to be mean to that person, but he wants some better ideas.  He needs our help.  Does anyone have any ideas for him?

(There were many ideas like:  Tell Brady you don’t like it when he says that.  Go sit by someone else.  Ignore him and just keep listening to the teacher.)

Me:  Class, I think we gave Kyle lots of ideas to try.  Kyle, let us know how it goes, okay?  But right now, I have a question for everyone.  What do we think about wanting to sit by someone, or not wanting to sit by someone?  What are we going to do in our class this year when we come to sit on the rug?  Do you think we should make an agreement about telling people we don’t want them to sit by us?  What do you guys think about this whole thing?

(Pivotal moment.  We’ve already come to an agreement that we will be kind.  Now I’m prepared to defend individual rights.  I’m expecting to discuss our way to the agreement that it’s okay to choose who you sit by, but it’s not okay to say something unkind.  I’m wondering how we can talk to someone whom we don’t want to sit by, and still be kind.  I’m hoping for some kid wisdom.  Big surprise for the teacher…individual rights is not the value that is growing fastest in our classroom community!)

Yasmine:  We can’t do that!

Me:  We can’t do what?

Yasmine:  You can’t tell someone they can’t sit by you.  It says on the door, ‘We are a school family!’  That means we are all best friends!  You should take care of all of your best friends!

(A chorus of, “Yeah!”  “Exactly!”  “I like that!”  And responsibility to our fellow community members wins the day!)

And suddenly, our agreement to be kind has a new application and deeper understanding.

But sometimes, the problems aren’t what we think they are when we start talking to the people involved.

Kyle:  I didn’t mean Brady couldn’t sit by me.  I’m just stuck next to this wall, and he was sitting too close.  I wanted him to move a little bit, but not sit somewhere else.

Me:  Oh!  So when you told Brady to move, you just needed a little more space?  (Kyle nods.)  Kyle, I have felt like that before, like someone is just too close.  It makes me feel wiggly, and kind of the same as being too hot.  Is that how you felt?  Class, have you felt that way before?

(The chorus of understanding is immediate.)

Me: Class, do you have any ideas for Kyle?  What can he do if someone is sitting too close and he needs a little space?

Miles:  He can say it different, like, ‘Can you move over a little bit?  I need a little more space.’  That way Kyle knows Brady isn’t being mean.

Lola:  He can come over here and sit where there is a bigger space.

Heather:  He could scoot a little bit the other way.  Well, I guess if he wasn’t right next to the wall he could try that.

Me:  Wow, we have three good solutions for this problem.  Kyle, what do you think you’ll try this time?

Brady:  Wait!  I’ll move over a little bit.  Then Kyle has enough room.

Me:  Thanks, Brady.  That was kind; making sure Kyle has enough room to feel comfortable.

And just like that, we’re back to a very simple problem solving.  But it’s worth the whole conversation, because we’ve strengthened the value of kindness in our classroom community.  And maybe, just maybe, we’ve changed ourselves and each other, just a little bit, for the better.

A Word for 2015-2016


I love education.  I am truly and deeply committed to learning as a value, as a lifelong virtue, just like kindness or honesty.

I took advanced placement calculus as a senior in high school.  It was my best AP score, and my college transcripts show that I earned college credit for calculus, as well as a couple more AP tests I took.  I don’t think I use calculus in my daily life; I don’t know what the practical applications are.  And yet, I firmly believe I am a better teacher (and would also be a better real estate agent or nurse or business owner) for having taken calculus.  And French, and chemistry, and my beloved English literature and composition classes.

The specifics of the content don’t matter as much as learning how to learn, learning how to master new things, learning how to tackle challenges.  Learning to value curiosity, creativity, diligence, and tenacity.  These outcomes of a good education are much more valuable than the actual content.

This deeply held belief is one part of the foundation of who I am.

And this is the time of year to intentionally remember who I am.

I am not the one who always wanted to be a teacher.  I have not felt, in these last 10 years of teaching, that I am “living the dream.”  Many teachers say this is their calling, but I don’t.  This is perfectly okay.

My calling is to build community, to establish and nurture relationships.  My dream is to be a force for love and kindness, to leave the world a little better than I found it.

There are many jobs that would be excellent places to express this calling.  And one of them is in the arena of public education.

It’s so very easy to get caught up in the “elementary education” of it all.  Data, reading levels, computation strategies, bubble sheets, pre-assessments, lesson plans, running records, number talks, shared reading, conferring with students, workshop model, project-based inquiry learning…  The district I work for does all of this pretty well.  (Except bubble sheets.  I don’t have anything good to say about bubble sheets.)  But it’s so, so easy to slip into the belief that one of those things, whichever one I’m talking about at the time, is the purpose of my presence in a classroom.

Lots of things are important.  Lots of things can be effective.

But the purpose of my presence in my classroom is the same as my purpose in any other room on earth:  love, kindness, building community, establishing and nurturing relationships.

In a word:  connection.  Nothing means anything without it.

May this be my word for this school year.  May I build a classroom community with deep connections.  May my little classroom family be a force for love and kindness in our school family.  May they take what they learn in my classroom and be little forces of love and kindness in their families and friendships.  May I bring kindness and connection to my relationships with my team and my colleagues.  May I continue to nurture the connections with friends and family through these busy 10 months.

May I return to remembering this word (and all the meaning it holds) whenever I need to.

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