#choosekind

School is finally in session here in the Capital City and our students are busy settling in to new routines, earlier mornings, and getting to know their friends and teachers. When I was still in the classroom, one of my favorite things was to spend the first week getting to know my students, learning about their interests, getting their feedback on what they wanted their classrooms to look and feel like, and having them create digital collages and word clouds representing themselves.

Just as we can work hard to make our classrooms warm and welcoming, it’s incredibly powerful when an entire school gets involved and sets a theme for the year. One of the schools in our district – Sheridan Road STEM – embraced the theme of kindness this year, inspired by the book Wonder by R. J. Palacio. In fact, the entire school is reading the book and doing a book study around it, the themes it represents, and embracing the idea of being open to others, being kind to all people, regardless of their appearance, circumstance, or background. What a powerful message for our young people to hear, especially in our current political environment.

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This is a powerful message that schools across the country are embracing and using to connect with others. Some of the things being shared on Twitter with #choosekind are incredibly inspiring. I personally haven’t read this book yet, but I am very excited to participate in the book study along with the teachers and students at Sheridan Road STEM. 

How will you #choosekind this year?

 

First Days of School

Back when I was still a classroom teacher, our principal always used to email us before school the wise words of Harry Wong – “You only get one first day of school!”

Such a simple message but really powerful and a wonderful reminder to all of us to strive to set the tone for the first day of school. How do we want students to feel when they walk into our classroom? How do we want to feel at the end of the day?

Building relationships is such a crucial part of establishing a culture of trust in our classrooms. Our students need to know the adults in their lives care about them and respect them as people and as individuals.

When I taught 8th grade, my partner teacher and I shared students; he had them for English and I had them for Social Studies. We did a block schedule Mon-Thursday and then on Friday we saw all classes. So, every quarter, on a Friday, we’d combine our classes and do some team-building activities that centered around validating students and their talents, and generating a stronger sense of community. Middle school students are so great; just on the cusp of figuring themselves out but still wanting to be a little kid every now and then. They want their independence, but they also want to fit in and often conform in order to do so. I loved seeing them grow and change throughout the year.

I know a lot of the teachers in our district are focusing on climate and culture the first week of school, and rightly so. Before you can expect people to work for you, they have to feel valued and respected. It’s important to model that all voices are important, all perspectives are welcomed, and acceptance rules the day. But it’s not only crucial in the first week of school, it’s important to revisit and remind throughout the year.

What are some of your favorite ways to build community in your classroom? How do you cultivate trust all year long?

It’s Election Day!

Unless you’ve been living under a rock the last year, you’re probably pretty sick and tired of hearing about the U.S. Presidential Election. The good news is that it will all be over tomorrow! img_6350

Here at Sheridan Road, we have been harnessing the glut of information around the election to run a school-wide PBL unit. The driving question for the project has been “How can we use knowledge of the U.S. Presidential election to create a successful campaign for Sheridan Road STEM’s student council race?”

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Over the past two months, students have been engaged in researching and participating in how the election process works – fundraising to pay for commercials and campaign posters, interviewing “constituents” to see what issues are important, and working hard to make sure they lock up their votes. Additionally, students have learned about how the electoral college works, the popular vote, the issues that voters are working on, how and why we elect people to represent us, and what the civic responsibilities are in choosing a candidate.

There will be a president and vice president selected from each grade level – each 4th, 5th, and 6th grade have nominated a candidate. Those candidates have created posters, campaign videos, and have given speeches. Students have heard from local politicians about their own path to election and have had the opportunity to ask questions about the process.

One of the key components of a good PBL is that it is relevant and timely. Clearly capitalizing on the election has helped make this unit timely, but it is also relevant for the students because they are actually choosing candidates who will represent their grade level on the school’s student council. Sheridan Road has tried to model as much as possible the real election process. Once the nominees were chosen from each class, students divided into committees to help their candidate win the election. In order to air their commercials or hang their campaign posters, students had to fundraise and earn money to pay for their commercial slot. Candidates have had to give interviews about what their platform is. We have even had debates between the different candidates at each grade level. (Fourth Grade, Fifth Grade, and Sixth Grade)

Sixth grade students used the website I Side With to evaluate the issues that are important to them and what their positions are. Once they received their results and saw which of the 4 main candidates they sided with, they created a series of fake text messages between themselves and friend, telling their friend which candidate they sided the most with and why.

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Today is our election day since our schools are closed tomorrow for the election. On Wednesday, we will have the results and the losing candidates will give their concession speeches.

First Day of School

Today, thousands of young scholars attended school for the first time in a couple of months. Teachers have spent lots of time decorating hallways and classrooms, perusing their class list and trying to learn student names, scouring Pinterest for engaging ice-breaker activities that students haven’t done countless times before, and students arrived in their new clothing, freshly sharpened pencils, a variety of colored pens and markers stuffed in brand new backpacks. Some students were anxious to begin their first day of formal schooling. For others, this is old hat, and they are marking time until they walk across that stage and collect their diplomas. Many parents anxiously waved goodbye to their children through misty eyes and tried to look brave.

As I traveled through some of the schools today, I was struck by how, despite the incredibly hot and humid weather, teachers, secretaries, principals, cafeteria workers, janitors, and other support staff greeted their students with smiles and hellos. Our schools are not air conditioned, friends. Here in the Mitten state we often don’t need air conditioning but for a handful of days in the fall and spring. But these buildings many of the teachers teach in are old with few windows that open, that cling to the heat, so that even early mornings don’t offer much respite. I know I have a hard time concentrating and being a pleasant member of society when I’m sweaty and feel like I can’t cool down. Not to mention working with 25 K-3 students, or saying the same “Welcome” speech 6 or 7 times to a group of eight graders and still maintaining my charming personality!

Bravo, Lansing teachers! Day one is over and I am inspired by you. We have a wonderful community of supportive, passionate, inspiring teachers here in Lansing. #LansingComeUp!