How A Well-Run Classroom is Like a Well-Run Safe Routes to School Program

Last week, I came across this tweet from Amy Fast:

We cannot change human behavior by solely providing consequences & discipline. You also cannot change human behavior by solely empathizing & supporting. It’s often the combination of hope AND discomfort that ultimately compels us to change. This is true in education & in society.— Amy Fast, Ed.D. (@fastcrayon) April 5, 2019

Immediately, my mind went to my efforts over this school year with Safe Routes to School. One of the very first things we learned is that a successful SRTS program requires comprehensive efforts from all of the 6 E’s: Engineering, Enforcement, Encouragement, Education, Evaluation, & Equity.

When school leaders are frustrated that parents are disregarding their Safe Routes programs or policies, it’s likely the answer lies not in “entitlement” or “laziness,” but in a need for further support & guidance.

The National Partnership for Safe Routes to School has provided an excellent online guide that shares strategies and case studies for each of the 6 E’s. If you have any connection to Safe Routes at your school, I highly recommend digging in!

Back to the classroom. As Amy Fast described in the tweet above, we need a mix of strategies in order to affect human behavior. Here are my connections for each of the SRTS strategies to the classroom. Especially as some students struggle with the adjustment in coming back from Spring Break, I hope this is a timely post for anyone looking for ways to bolster their classroom culture!

Engineering: In Safe Routes, this is design. It might be crosswalks, bulb-outs, flashing lights. In our classrooms, it is how we construct that “third teacher” for learning & appropriate behavior.

Enforcement: In Safe Routes, this is police or safety patrol monitoring. In our classrooms, this comes back to our classroom expectations.

  • Do you hold regular class meetings to help reinforce expectations? Key here is regular; if they only happen to lecture students for poor behavior, they will not be as effective as meetings that students know they can always depend on for housekeeping outlets & community-building.
  • Do you emphasize and purposefully work on developing self-regulation skills?

Encouragement: In Safe Routes, this is fun, excitement, & interest. In our classrooms, this is the way we celebrate together & make our classrooms places to look forward to being in.

Education: In Safe Routes, this is providing safety training & spreading awareness of SRTS goals. In our classrooms, this is ongoing efforts to work toward the why & how of learning & behavior (and not just the what).

Evaluation: In Safe Routes, this is assessing our effectiveness & program course-correction. In our classrooms, this is assessments for our content, yes, but it’s also assessing the culture in our classroom.

Equity: In Safe Routes, this is accessibility, normalization, & stakeholder voices. In our classrooms, it’s the same thing!

This is not intended as a comprehensive or a condemnatory list. Just as a Safe Routes program is always tinkering and working toward stronger strategies, so, too, will we tinker & experiment with our teaching and learning. What are other strategies you would bring to the table?

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7 More Videos That Provo Science Rocks

I seem to have an unquenchable thirst for curation. I’m always squirreling away bookmarked videos; reorganizing my photos in a way that family can really enjoy; searching out connections among picture books that I can compile into lists for future students.

Perhaps that’s the next challenge of living in an era of almost limitless information and content? To learn to sift, connect, and extract what matters most to us. And while this particular post is perhaps broader in concept than my inquiry provocation posts, I found myself drawn to sharing anyway.

So, nearly 3 years after my first “7 Videos that Will Prove Science Rocks” post, I’m sharing a few more that I find inspiring. What are ones that you love? Which ones might fill your students with awe and wonder?

#1: Gravity by Clemens Wirth

#2: Seasons – in a Small World by Beauty of Science

#3: Look Up! The Billion Bug Highway You Can’t See by NPR

#4: Magnetic Fields in Slow Motion by Magnetic Games via The Kid Should See This

#5: To Understand is to Perceive Patterns by Jason Silva

#6: States of Matter by Peter Tomaszewicz

#7: Upside Down & Inside Out by OK Go (Other contenders are The One Moment & This Too Shall Pass)

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Best Inquiry Picture Books: Sustainable Development Goals Round-Up

This is the last installment in a 3-part series. View the other two:

Here is the last installment in a series of picture book round-ups from my inquiry posts! It’s a great feeling to know that so many of my favorite picture books are organized in one place. As with the other two posts, the links to the original inquiries (which include other resource like videos and photo series) are hyperlinked throughout; keep in mind that while I have included picture books for all 17 of the Sustainable Development Goals, a few of those inquiries are not yet finished. I hope you can find some new reads to help spark thinking and wonder with your students.

Inquiry into SDG’s (introduction): If the World Were a Village by David J. Smith & Shelagh Armstrong

#1: No Poverty: Fly Away Home by Eve Bunting & Ronald Himler

#2: Zero Hunger: The Good Garden: How One Family Went From Hunger to Having Enough by Katie Smith Milway & Sylvie Daigneault

#3: Good Health & Well-Being: The Curious Garden by Peter Brown

#4: Quality Education: Dreamers by Yuyi Morales

#5: Gender Equality: Malala’s Magic Pencil by Malala Yousafzai & Kerascoet

#6: Clean Water & Sanitation: The Water Princess by Susan Verde & Peter H. Reynolds

#7: Affordable & Clean Energy: The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba, Bryan Mealer, & Elizabeth Zunon

#8: Decent Work & Economic Growth: One Hen: How One Small Loan Made a Big Difference by Katie Smith Milway & Eugenie Fernandes

#9: Industry, Innovation, & Infrastructure: If You Plant a Seed by Kadir Nelson; The Red Bicycle: An Extraordinary Story of One Ordinary Bicycle by Jude Isabella and Simone Shin

#10: Reduced inequalities: It’s Mine! by Leo Lionni

#11: Sustainable Cities & Communities: The Little House by Virginia Lee Burton; The Promise by Nicola Davies & Laura Carlin

#12: Responsible Production & Consumption: The Lorax, by Dr. Seuss

#13: Climate Action: What Can A Citizen Do? by Dave Eggers & Shawn Harris

#14: Life Below Water: Manfish: A Story of Jacques Cousteau by Jennifer Berne & Éric Puybaret; The Brilliant Deep by Kate Messner & Matthew Forsythe

#15: Life on Land: The Tree Lady by Joseph Hopkins & Jill McElmurry; A Boy & A Jaguar by Alan Rabinowitz & CaTia Chien

#16: Peace, Justice, & Strong Institutions: The Rooster Who Would Not Be Quiet! By Carmen Agra Deedy & Eugene Yelchin

#17: Inquiry into Partnerships for the Goals: Be Kind By Pat Zietlow Miller & Jen Hill

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5 Ways To Make Room for Ownership with “Learning Targets”

I want to see students journey. I want to see them wonder. I want to see them trusting in themselves as they make decisions about their learning — because I don’t hold all the answers for what works best for them.

But I also want to see them given the tools to navigate that journey. I want them to see them feeling confident about strengthening skills. I want them to see them trusting my feedback as their learning consultant — because I can offer them guidance on their journey!

So where does the compromise lie, especially when we’re talking about posting learning targets, success criteria, etc.? After asking this question and searching out my PLN’s strategies over the last several weeks, I have found a few ideas. I would love to hear more of yours!

#1: Don’t necessarily make the success criteria the content itself, but rather the skills and mindsets students might need to be successful.

For example, instead of:

“Identify the difference between weathering and erosion.”

You might write:

“Clearly communicate your science observations through speaking and writing.”

#2: Co-construct success criteria with students.

#3: Rephrase learning targets as questions.

#4: Use James Durran’s “Boxed” Success Criteria device (I really like the big wall version). Read full post here.

#5: Allow students to plan their own learning time based on learning goals they develop (from the curricula & from personal goals)


Ultimately, shifting our conversations from what we expect students to learn to what tools might help students learn can be powerful. Because in the end, their learning is up to them!

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“Diverse System, Maximum Resilience”

I recently watched the video below via The Kid Should See This. Though it’s entitled, “A Forest Garden With 500 Edible Plants Could Lead to a Sustainable Future,” gardening was the last thing on my mind. Instead, I couldn’t stop thinking of, you guessed it, students and learning.


First thoughts: How does conventional gardening relate to conventional education?

  • Neat rows for maximum efficiency
  • Keeping species (or age groups) separated from one another
  • Focusing more on maximizing performance from each plant rather than considering how different plants might work together for growth

Next: How are principles of gardening sustainability applicable to learning?

  • Teaching/permitting students to take the lead in their learning.
  • Setting up the environment so that students can flourish in their strengths and in ownership (from access to supplies to apps to loose parts objects). See example in our stop-motion movie making efforts.
  • Ensuring that instruction in skills is balanced with nurturing of meaning and connection. Read this story of two poetry units for ideas.

And finally, how do we mitigate the fear of messier gardening learning and less control?

  • The first answer comes from a quote from the gardener in the video, Martin Crawford: “It can seem a bit overwhelming to have so many different species, but you shouldn’t stop that from beginning a project because you don’t have to know everything to begin with. Just start, plant some trees, and go from there.”
  • Engage students’ voices through class meetings, suggestion boxes, and having plan their own time, and self-assessment. See “10 Ways for Every Student to be on their own Learning Path.”
  • Work with parents proactively so that they understand that messy does not equate to out of control or lack of learning.

I love the image of teachers as gardeners, and all the more so when it’s less about control/production and more about trust in inherent potential. Nourishing along the way, we can all find richer meaning, resilience, and sustainability.

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10 Fabulous Informational Texts

With how dearly I love my fiction, I feel like I can sometimes devalue informational texts. But the truth is, we have come across so many wonderful reads lately that I know I should share! After all, having a variety of book access is key in helping our students come to identify as readers. I hope you can find some that your readers will love in this list!

#1: Fur, Feather, Fin, All of Us are Kin by Diane Lang and Stephanie Laberis

#2: Everything & Everywhere: A Fact-Filled Adventure for Curious Globe-Trottersby Marc Martin

#3: Gravity by Jason Chin

#4: The Brilliant Deep: Rebuilding the World’s Coral Reefs by Kate Messner & Matthew Forsythe

#5: Tiny Creatures: The World of Microbes by Nicola Davies & Emily Sutton

#6: How to Build a Hug: Temple Grandin & Her Amazing Squeeze Machine by Amy Guglielmo, Giselle Potter, & Jacqueline Tourville 

#7: Astro-Naut Aquanaut by Jennifer Swanson

#8: The Elephant by Jenni Desmond

#9: Fearless Mary by Tami Charles & Claire Almon

#10: What if You Had T. Rex Teeth? & Other Dinosaur Parts by Sandra Markle & Howard McWilliam

Bonus: A few nonfiction authors I’d recommend would include:

  • Dianna Hutts Aston
  • Seymour Simon
  • Kate Messner
  • Steve Jenkins
  • Bethany Barton
  • Brad Meltzer
  • Brian Floca
  • Jeannette Winter
  • Sara Levine

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5 Things I Want My Students to Know About Me as a Teacher

Olwen recently posed one of her fabulous thought-provoking questions.

What motivates you as an educator? What is it that you really want your students to know about you as a teacher? #KidsDeserveIt #inclusiveEd #pypchat #LeadLAP @ShiftParadigm @ChrisQuinn64 @mraspinall @mary_teaching @cvarsalona @burgessdave— Olwen (@notjustup2u) February 6, 2019

I was going to write a quick, agency-related reply, but then I got thinking some more and decided a blog post was in order.

#1: I believe in helping students take the wheel for their own lives.

I see myself as a guide, ready to help students make necessary adjustments and to help them discover possibilities they had not yet considered. I recognize that this requires sharing ownership over the learning space, honoring student voice & choice, and letting go of my need to feel “in control” in favor of messy-but-essential student-led planning.

#2: I want learning to be as authentic as possible.

Obviously, we can’t always go visit the Louvre to study the art in person, but thanks to the digital world, there’s so much more at our fingertips than our dusty textbooks and basal readers. This includes, but is not limited to:

  • Studying mentor texts to learn their craft and technique rather than having drills about those techniques.
  • Exploring landforms using Google Earth or by going outside rather than having a powerpoint presentation about them.
  • Using real-world math problems rather than sticking with endless practice sheets.
  • Making connections by using provocations and focusing on big concepts rather than learning every skill and subject in isolation.

#3: I try to practice what I preach.

If I tell my students to be risk-takers, I want them to know how I’m working on it, too. If I expect them to write poetry, I will work to truly engage in the process right alongside them. If I want them to take action in their community, I will do the same. I never want to be that coach sitting on the ATV riding alongside runners!

#4: I love being a teacher, but I have a lot of other interests, too.

My family is the most important part of my life, and I have a lot of other passions that help me to feel happy and fulfilled, from biking to carpentry to urban planning. I want them to know this not only because it helps them understand who I am as a human being, but so that they also understand that I truly do love to keep learning new things.

#5: My foundation for “classroom management” is a blend of self-regulation, relationships, and humanity.

I am terribly imperfect at this, but it is something I strive for. I would rather put my energy in teaching students the tools to regulate their own feelings and impulses than to try and regulate them myself. I would rather sit on the same side of the table to have conversations with individual students rather than place all the blame on the student. I would rather work on finding a solution together rather than keeping them in from recess.

I hadn’t realized how important it is for students to really understand all these things about me as their teacher until I wrote them down, so thank you so much, Olwen, for the reflection opportunity!

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