The Unexpected Outcome of Morning Messages

My introduction came early in my teaching career. A visiting professional development speaker invited us to maintain “small daily doses” when it comes to modeling quality writing, emphasizing consistency over complexity. One of his recommendations was the Morning Message. Working on improving visual imagery? Add an example to your morning message. Having some confusion with certain homonyms? Toss ‘em in. Intrigued by the concept, I portioned off a space on my whiteboard to give it a try.

The results were as he described. I often modeled very specific writing skills in my morning message that we sometimes dissected as a whole class. Other times, I just let students notice them on their own. Soon, they were grasping the idea that writers employ specific tools with great purpose, and that they could identify and use those tools, too. They added techniques to their toolboxes. They openly discussed their strategies. And slowly, they came to see themselves as capable authors, too.

But there were certain other results that were quite unexpected. Wanting to be authentic with my students, I wrote those daily 3-4 sentences about my real-life experiences and feelings–and what much of my life revolved around at that time was my new baby girl, Lizzie. Her first year of life was my first year of teaching, and morning messages became a window for my students into my world with her.

Mostly, I shared moments that made us laugh. Like the time Lizzie tripped and then insisted that the floor pushed her. Or the time she instructed herself to smell a dandelion (and not to eat it) and then did so for 10 minutes. Or the time she combed her hair with a syrupy fork to be like Ariel in The Little Mermaid.

Occasionally, I shared moments of sadness. Like when she woke up from a nap helplessly covered in vomit. Or the morning she told me, “Mommy no bye-bye.”  

Whatever I shared, it was real. And my students came to see me as a real person, experiencing the ups and downs of real life.

Morning Message
Morning Message from November 26, 2012

But that wasn’t the end of the surprises that morning messages brought to our class. Eventually, I realized that it would be fun to capture those little memories for my daughter to enjoy someday. Quietly, at the end of the day as the students cleaned up and did classroom jobs, I’d snap a photo of the morning message and email it to an account I’d created for her.

My students started to notice.

And then they started asking to take the photo for me.

And then they started fiercely safeguarding the message from getting prematurely erased before it could be photographed.

I started to hear them swapping “Lizzie stories.” Former students came in and reminisced about them. Even parents expressed how much their students looked forward to those stories.

In hindsight, I’d say that the morning messages became an instrumental way we built rapport, authenticity, and empathy in our classroom–because being real with our students is one of the most precious gifts we can give them. For you, that may be better achieved in other ways, but if you’d like to give morning messages a try, below are some tips to keep in mind.

Tips for Morning Messages

Keep them brief. For younger grades, maybe even just a sentence. For older ones, just a few. Don’t bog yourself or your students down.

Keep them optional… At first, we tried reading the messages aloud together, but it just felt so awkward for all of us that we decided to skip it. Maybe it would be suitable to read it together with younger students, but for my fifth graders, I didn’t want to burden them with another “to-do.” The only time we read it together was when we were evaluating specific writing techniques as part of our unit.

…but make them engaging. Make it something your students will want to read, even if you don’t require it.

Tie in current writing concepts... Though it was always a small dose of modeled writing, sharing my thought-process with my students on how exactly I decided to craft my sentences was always a powerful teaching opportunity.

…but keep them authentic. Don’t sacrifice authenticity for an overly-contrived teaching moment. Share your true experiences and thoughts. If it doesn’t feel natural and helpful to weave the morning message into your writing instruction, don’t force it for that particular message.

Cursive? I always wrote my morning messages in cursive simply for consistent, but small exposure. As I told them, I didn’t want anything to limit their able to read any text, because cursive does still show up now and then.

What about you? Do you do morning messages? Please share your experiences below!

Featured image: Jack Amick via flickr

10 Signs Your Child Might Be at a 20th Century School…and What to Do About It

Your child might be attending a 20th century school if:

  1. Silent seat work is more common than collaboration with peers
  2. The teacher asks all the questions (and most speaking in general…)
  3. Students wait on the teacher for most everything
  4. Basal reading programs and other delivery/content-based programs are heavily depended upon
  5. Technology is only used to consume–never to create, connect, and explore
  6. Seats are in rows facing the teacher
  7. Worksheets are the go-to in almost every lesson.
  8. Signs of extrinsic motivation through charts, cards, tokens, etc. for behavior control are more prominent than cultivation of intrinsic motivation through student voice, choice, and ownership
  9. The day is portioned into individual activities without interconnection between subjects or overarching concepts
  10. Questions like “Can I go to the bathroom” are frequently asked

***Bonus flipped sign: Play is a rarity. (***We call this flipped because just a couple of decades ago, practices tended to favor more play, especially for younger grades; today, even kindergartners are often laden with paperwork).

So what happens if you are devoted to exploring the edges of 21st century best practices, but your child’s school seems to match the above description?

  1. Send positive and supportive communication to the teacher. Odds are, she is drowning in all the meetings and paperwork that are often mandated at such schools, and can use all the support she can get.
  2. Frequently discuss with your child his/her motivations and passions. When she comes home with a sticker for cooperation, discuss whether stickers are the bottom-line for her choices. Would she cooperate without stickers? Why or why not?  
  3. Share those kinds of above conversations with your child’s teacher. During conferences and other opportunities, share your child’s thoughts on personal motivation (or better yet, encourage the child to do so). Get the conversations going that may help broaden perspectives and initiate reflection.
  4. Implement 21st century practices at home. MakerSpaces, coding, SOLE’s, blogging–the list goes on. Whatever you do, the point is to allow your child to drive the learning.
  5. Make play a high priority at home. As tempting as it may be to push your 6 year-old to prepare for next year…and the year after that…and the year after that, we must remember that “in play, children develop a lasting disposition to learn.”

Mr Rogers Play Quote

As parents and teachers, we can take action to cultivate our children’s pursuit of genuine learning, despite conflicting policies or practices. Please share some strategies that you have found effective below in the comments!

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

 

An Open Letter: To Pinterest, from a Teacher

http://honorsgradu.com/an-open-letter-to-pinterest-from-a-teacher/

First, I want to thank you. I’ve loved your many ideas for organizing my pantry, throwing my five year-old’s princess party, and introducing the blue-Dawn-and-vinegar trick to my shower.  Not to mention the hilarious memes and marshmallow treats.

Your resourcefulness has carried over into my classroom through the years, too:

Like the sponge of glue,

glue

the hand sanitizer bathroom passes,

pass

the visually-appealing display of learning objectives,

objectives

oh, and that fantastic example of comma use that had my whole class giggling.

commas

And of course, you know you’re my go-to for holiday art crafts and kid-made decorations.

 

ornaments

But I have to tell you, I’m worried. I’m worried about those ultra popular pins that circulate because they have all the glitz and appearance of learning, but that really promote something…else.

Like micromanagement,

ticket

compliance,

bbbfd9ad4c4b14cba518ffc0c92d3710

or perfectionism–

9984dc650cd83745344fb0ae41333706

–all with an adorable flair.

ce000719df218ed149bb7ce737f4f372

Of course, you and I both know that truly inspiring, learning-based pins are out there. Why, I recently came across a whole slew of fabulous self-assessments to help students become more metacognitively aware. But as I searched out those pins, I waded through what felt like an endless supply of teacher-centered fluff.

I must say, I’m not blaming you. After all, I’m the one who sometimes gets mesmerized by all things color-coded and lovely. But “it’s not you, it’s me” aside, now that I’ve identified the problem, I can move forward. I can reflect. I can ask why. I can rethink even some of the most commonly accepted practices. And I can guide my future curative efforts with questions based on what matters most, including:

  • Will this help me better understand and reach my students?
  • Will this enhance student ownership over learning?
  • Will this encourage the 4 C’s (critical thinking, communication, collaboration, or creativity)?
  • Will this help me personalize student learning?
  • Will this help me pursue greater challenges as a professional?
  • Will this help my students better understand their own thinking and learning processes? (metacognition)
  • Will this help all my students to better access resources in and out of the classroom?
  • Will this help my students investigate concepts?
  • Is this centered more on empowering student-directed learning, or on getting students to sit still and listen?
  • Is this trying to solve a problem that I could actually just open up to my students for discussion instead?
  • Will this help my students grow as leaders?
  • Will this help my students build an authentic audience and/or community?
  • Will this help me reinforce my core values as a professional?

So thanks for everything, and I look forward to richer pins to come on my education board!

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

How Kindergarten Prep Frenzy Changed My Teaching Perspective

I didn’t think the teacher/parent table would turn on me that fast. After all, not only I had just paused my teaching career in June–I was only back for a few weeks in September to mentor a student teacher–my own kids weren’t even in school yet.

As I sat in the teacher’s lounge listening to all the usual back-to-school lunchtime chatter, I overheard some kindergarten teachers anticipating their new batch of 5 year-olds. One exclaimed how many students failed to identify lower-cased letters of the alphabet in the initial assessments.

I froze. Normally, I’d commiserate a bit, perhaps reciprocating with how many students I had on behavior contracts. But it hit me: MY 4-year old didn’t know her lower-cased letters.  And she showed no signs of wanting to, either, despite the fact that she’d be starting kindergarten the following fall.

It was my first realization that in the school system, I was officially on the parent side of the table.

Preschool Pressure

I finished mentoring and went back to my extended parental leave at home. Over the course of a month or so, the stress in preschool-ing my stubborn four-year old grew.  Frustrations mounted each time she refused to sing her ABC’s or explore some carefully-crafted science station. Those fears finally came to light one evening when I realized that I had been subconsciously–yet intensely–internalizing the conversation from the teacher’s lounge all that time.  I remember actually saying out loud,

“What if she becomes the subject of her kindergarten teacher’s complaining in the faculty lounge next year?”

Once spoken aloud, I realized how silly the words sounded. However, as I began to conduct research to make preschool a more positive process, I also realized that I was far from alone when it comes to fearful parents.

“Preparation” on Steroids?

Wanting to give their children the best advantages, some parents have taken to “redshirting” their kindergarteners.  That is, they delay school a year in the hopes that their children will gain a “competitive learning edge.”

Other parents obsess over the school their child attends.  One article describes how parents went so far as to move to new neighborhoods, create spreadsheets, and attend Kindergarten 101–a prep class for parents.  But these preparations aren’t discussed as excessive, but as possibly helpful, citing a Harvard study that found that academic performance in kindergarten correlates to future earnings.

Top all that with an abundance of academics-heavy kindergarten readiness checklists, it’s no wonder that parents are inclined to worry.

Kindergarten Readiness Tips & Checklists

Kindergarten prep is indeed all the rage these days, especially for those who believe the Common Core standards mandate five year olds to read. But parents and teachers alike would do well to step away from the frenzy and examine what is truly developmentally appropriate for their children.  Below are tips for both to help them regain calm and clarity in learning with their preschoolers and kindergartners.

Parent Tips
  • Correlation does not equal causation. Remember that there are always a lot of possible causes for any given outcome.  Studies that find correlations for later successes are likely just picking up on the simple benefits of involved, loving parents.
  • Consider the effects of rushing your child.  The author of The Hurried Child, Dr. David Elkind, shares research that “students are more likely to have academic success if they are not hurried through their early childhood by parents who overestimate their competence and overexpose them to academic pressures.”
  • Travis Swan
    Travis Swan

    Step away from the workbooks. That’s not to say that if your child demonstrates genuine interest in more academic concepts, you should deny them.  But it’s essential to understand that play is absolutely critical for developing the most basic skills for kindergarten readiness and beyond–including problem solving, passion, experimentation, and more.  As Richard Lewis, founder and director of The Touchstone Center in New York City, explains:

“Play is the great discoverer, and its discoveries are the frontiers and landscapes of our imagining mind.” [“I Made It By Myself,” by Richard Lewis]

Teacher Tips
  • See each new student. Don’t allow your initial benchmarks or any other number to define your opinions of any child. Instead, make it your priority to discover their interests, strengths, quirks, etc.
  • Step away from the workbooks. (see parent tip above).
  • Evaluate what the Common Core State Standards are really outlining. If you are among those stressing about the perceived advanced standards for early elementary, remember that the political agendas and loud voices of a few have skewed interpretations of the standards for some. In our most recent post on the Common Core, we shared J. Richard Gentry’s example of what easily misinterpreted standards really look like:

For example, one contested language arts standard reads, “Read emergent-reader texts with purpose and understanding.”  Gentry explains that this refers to memory reading in which, “The emergent-reader text is first modeled by the teacher for the students, then joyfully read over and over with the students until eventually the easy book is independently read by the students with great joy and confidence.” (We highly recommend his article, “An Ode to Common Core Kindergarten Standards.”)

Kindergarten Readiness

One of the best kindergarten readiness lists I’ve ever encountered was on a university’s laboratory preschool blog, prefaced by the following:

“Don’t be overly concerned with academics right now…You read to your children, you go on family outings, you model a love for learning, but most of all you are very involved in the lives of your children. This will make kindergarten a wonderful time for your child, and start him/her on the road to a good education.”

Here is their list, which I heartily second as a teacher and parent:

  1. Feel capable and confident, and tackle new demands with an “I can do it” attitude.
  2. Have an open, curious attitude toward new experiences.
  3. Enjoy being with other children.
  4. Can establish a trusting relationship with adults other than parents.
  5. Can engage in physical activity such as walk, run, climb (children with handicaps can have a fine time in kindergarten if school and parents work cooperatively on necessary special arrangements).
  6. Take care of their own basic needs, such as dressing, eating, and toileting.
  7. Have had experience with small toys, such as puzzles and crayons.
  8. Express themselves clearly in conversation.
  9. Understand that symbols (such as a stop sign) are used to provide useful information.
  10. Love books, stories and songs and can sit still to listen.

Whether a parent or a teacher, remember to ask yourself the following question:

With what kind of tone do I want to introduce formal education to my kindergartner? 

Photo Credit:

 

23 Guiding Questions to Make Student-Led Conferences More Informative

So you’ve decided to implement student-led conferences.  Congratulations!  You are well on your way to empowering students to own their 21st century learning.  If you’re still new to the process (or want fresh ideas), be sure to begin with our student-led conference practical starter guide and resources.


Continue reading “23 Guiding Questions to Make Student-Led Conferences More Informative”

Keeping a Window Open: 10 Tips to Keep Up with Education during (Extended) Parental Leave

If you’re pausing your teaching career during parental leave for a few years, we have some ideas to help you keep up with the education world!


#1: Watch for license renewal credits opportunities

When the time comes for you to resume your teaching career, you don’t want to be stuck with retroactively tracking down hours and paperwork!  Develop a professional learning plan now, combing your state or country requirements.  Contact your prior administration for documentation of any accumulated credits during your employment.

#2: Volunteer at your last school

Strap on that Baby Bjorn or occasionally drop off kids with a babysitter to maintain educational ties in your community.  Gauge what’s realistic for your circumstances, though, whether it’s simply to read with students now and then, or to facilitate an extracurricular activity, such as a TED-Ed Club

#3: Volunteer online

Sign up to tutor online! Become a Granny in Sugata Mitra’s “School in the Cloud.”  You can even combine #2 & #3 via interactive platforms like Skype.  For instance, when I was housebound during our school’s annual PYP Exhibition process, I volunteered to mentor a few student groups through weekly Skype “meetings” instead.  The students loved sharing their progress on the webcam, and I loved being involved despite my situation.

#4: Set up a Twitter account!! (and otherwise build/maintain your PLN)

This is probably the best way to keep current: the latest practices, digital tools, and issues are thoroughly shared and discussed on Twitter.  Building your PLN of other passionate teachers around the globe further enhances the professional development potential.  For further convincing, check out Krissy Venosdale’s article, “I’m Not Going to Convince You That You Need a PLN.”

#5: Join webinars & e-courses

Classroom 2.0 LIVE hosts free online shows.  PLP Network offers purchased E-courses (with options for graduate credit, too). And once you’ve established #4, Twitter Chats can be especially helpful–for me, one solid chat usually ends with with about 37 new open tabs of resources.

#6: Organize your old resources

Was packing your classroom materials a whirlwind of items flying into unlabeled boxes?  Then you need to fire up your scanner and read our post on getting organized.  ASAP.  Your sanity will thank you later when you resume teaching.

#7: Organize your new resources

After getting inspired by the 37+ tabs of resources discovered during a Tweet Chat, make sure you can find them again!  Establish a bookmarking system that works for you, be it a Delicious account, or several categorized folders to sort your bookmarks on your browser (Chrome is a great option since it saves your bookmarks across your devices if you’re logged into your Google account).

#8: Develop a Skill

Brush up your old high school Spanish using the free Duolingo app.  Fine-tune your piano playing.  Explore PhotoShop or Prezi.  Anything that you enjoy will enhance your classroom, even if it’s not directly related to your content–after all, your future students need models of adults pursuing passions!

#9: Revamp Your Class Blog!

Browse your favorite class blogs, and then find ways to incorporate your favorite user-friendly features on your own blog!

#10: Re-evaluate your WHY as a Teacher!

Reflect on your previous practices and honestly assess what can be improved or tossed altogether.  Consider how you can return to the educational work-force with an even deeper commitment to authentic learning (on that subject, be sure to check out our tips on becoming a 21st Century teacher)!

And of course, remember to make the most of this precious and swiftly passing time with your little one(s)!

Author
Credit: Mary Wade

Featured Image: Death to the Stock