“Mommy, What’s Rape?” (addressing those unexpected extracurriculars) #TeacherMom

As parents, we tend to expect that our kids will pick things up from classmates at school.

Like comparing who has seen what movie, who can afford some new gadget, who is allowed to have a phone, or even who knows what swear words.

But I never fathomed that rape might join the list of discussion points among first graders.

I stopped in my tracks and turned to face her, asking her where she had heard that term.

She told me that before school had gotten out a couple weeks ago, she heard another student dare a kid to rape a classmate.

She had also heard the word used by the Witch in a song in Into The Woods, so we added alliteration and non-literal word usage to our list of sophisticated topics of the day (thanks a lot, Stephen Sondheim).

Once I recovered from the initial shock that I was having this conversation with my 7 year-old, it wasn’t as difficult as I would have imagined (had I actually been able to anticipate that conversation to begin with, of course).

And I realized that there were some important lessons to be shared as both a teacher and a parent when it comes to these “unexpected extracurriculars:”

#1: Keep the communication channels wide open at all times. This advice shows up in the parenting books so often that there are probably readers out there rolling their eyes right now. But let’s get a little more specific with this.

Had my response to questions about sensitive subjects in the past been met with embarrassment or shame, I seriously doubt my daughter would have been willing to ask more.

We also needed time together when she felt comfortable striking up the conversation — for some parents, that’s in the form of a bedtime routine that includes specific questions like, “What made you feel happy today?” or “Was there anything that made you feel confused?”

#2: Build off your child’s existing schema. Part of me wondered, is now the time for the talk? But I knew I did not want her introduction to the topic to revolve around sex at its very worst.

So, instead, we built our discussion around concepts with which she was already familiar. In this case, I focused on the notion that we have always taught her that she is “the boss of her body” (meaning that no one has the right to touch her body without her permission). Thus, the information came across as a more natural next step in an ongoing discussion, rather than an onslaught of bombshell-style information she may not have been ready for when she asked her innocent question.

#3: Revisit the idea of safe adults.  This entire facet of our conversation reminded me just how complicated it can be to ask our children to talk to adults when someone says or does something that makes them feel uncomfortable. What if it’s a friend who says it? How do we know when we should just walk away, or when we should get help? How do we tell if what they are saying is actually threatening people’s safety? Who are the safe adults at school we should talk with?

These and other questions are essential and not nearly as straight-forward as we would hope. But as long as we keep it an ongoing discussion, we can hopefully increase the odds of our child learning to correctly discerning the answers.

As we become more aware of the unexpected lessons our kids and students face, we will be better equipped to help them navigate them. Please share ways you have approached these kinds of lessons with your kids at home and/or in the classroom.

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How Ownership Can Get Rid of “I Suck at…”

Think having students self-grade and reflect is fluff?

Think again.

Over the course of a 15 year study, John Hattie analyzed over 800 meta-studies to identify effects that have the strongest impact on learning (and he is constantly updating this list through continued studies). Self reported grades is almost at the top of the list of over 150 effects.

It beat out motivation. It beat out home environment. It even beat out “decreasing disruptive behavior.”

The truth is, students know a lot more about their own learning process than we so often give them credit for.

Which brings me to the issue at hand: When a student claims he/she “sucks at ___.”

When I hear that claim, I hear a student that has become convinced that their personal rate of learning is inferior to classmates. That because their progress has not looked identical to their peers, it must mean they are defective. That their learning is fixed, hopeless, and beyond theirs or anyone else’s reach.

Now, discouragement is normal for all learners from time to time. But when said discouragement is also rooted in learning that feels irrelevant or imposed, we’ve got problems.

Enter student ownership.

Any time we empower students with tools to take their learning in their own hands, we are giving them ownership.

Self-assessments are one such powerful tool.

Michael BondClegg recently wrote about giving students the opportunity to write their own report card comments, encouraging teachers to help students identify “ways in which learners can identify their strengths and areas for growth” and “plans for improving.”

This may seem trivial, but really, it turns the whole “I suck at” model on its head.

When a teacher fills out the comments, it perpetuates the whole “this is out of my hands” notion.

When a student is encouraged to fill out those comments in this way, it places the learning back in the students’ hands.

A student in diagnostics mode is student on her way toward a stronger growth mindset.

 

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Provocation Into “Outside the Box” Thinking

This week’s provocation that, at face value, may seem a little more abstract, but that has a wide range of applications. You might be beginning a unit about inventors, or perhaps one on algebra, or maybe even some creative writing. Whatever the case, there is power in beginning a unit in a way that is a little less obvious, and a little more mysterious. The intrigue not only helps to hook our students’ interest, but it provokes deeper questions. This in turn leads them to broader concepts that tend to carry more relevance, meaning, and universality (at least, more than the compartmentalized memorize-and-forget content they might otherwise prioritize).

So with this introduction, I share two resources on thinking outside the box!

#1: “It’s Different From What you Expected” Video series by  Daihei Shibata

For a compilation of additional videos and photos, visit The Kid Should See This.

#2: “1+1=5” Picture Book by David LaRochelle

My 7 year old was absolutely delighted with all the possibilities, and loved predicting them based on the pictures before turning the page.

Provocation Questions:

  • What does it mean to “think outside the box?”
  • What does “thinking outside the box” have to do with perspective?
  • How does thinking about the world in unexpected ways help us as learners?
  • What is the value of perspective to our communities?
  • What is our responsibility to think outside the box?
  • What are ways “outside the box” thinking has helped the world change and grow?

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Sharing Benchmark Scores With Students? #TeacherMom

I recently came across this article from Fountas & Pinnell entitled, “A Level is a Teacher’s Tool, Not A Child’s Label.”

Fountas and Pinnell believe very strongly that students’ reading levels have no place in teacher evaluation or on report cards to be sent home to parents. Too much emphasis on levels can lead to misconceptions on the part of families. Informing parents of the level at which their child is reading can make them uneasy.  They may see the level as a very exact measurement, but students don’t always read at a precise level. Parents also talk with other parents, and if they find that their child is reading at a lower level than other children, they might panic. But they don’t understand the intricacies of how those levels work the way you do.

I completely understand where Fountas & Pinnell is coming from here. As a teacher myself, I was glad during my daughter’s last parent teacher conference to possess the background knowledge of these assessments’ imperfections — we chatted about their subjectivity and the uneven spacing between levels (for instance, in the program my school used, it was an extra wide gap between levels T and U for some reason).

I also worry about our students and their parents taking too much stock in these assessments and therefore experiencing pressure, lack of confidence, and yes, even labels. And I recently wrote about my quandary over whether to share scores at all yet with my first grader (Will it Help Or Hurt to Review Scores with My First Grader?).

All that said, I believe that in order for students to take the wheel in driving their own learning, they should be able to reflect using available resources and data to inform their decisions and progress. Not to mention the whole idea of “No secret teacher business!

So is there an in-between place here?

The more I reflect on this, the more I believe there can be — but with some important considerations, including, but probably not limited to the following:

  • Data should only be one piece of the feedback puzzle. Reading benchmarks are a much less frequent and much more formal form of assessment. Students should rely much more on regular formative assessments as they make course corrections in their learning/growth.
  • Seek transparency not just about the data itself, but on its limitations. That it’s not an exact measurement. That there is a definite degree of subjectivity. That it’s meant to compare individual students’ levels against their own progress — not against anyone else in the class.
  • Are students developmentally ready for the type of data you can share? If, as in the story I shared in “Will It Help or Hurt to Review Scores with My First Grader,” the student has yet to even comprehend the nature of data, then it would be counterproductive to share.
  • Ensure there’s a clear connection between the data, metacognition, and “what’s next.” Help students tune into their own thinking about their progress, and maintain a dialogue on the strategies that will best help them move forward.
  • Ensure that students understand that the data is never the goal, but a guide. The goal is always learning, and data serves as lampposts along the way.
  • Protect intrinsic motivation. Students should want to progress for the sake of progression, not for the sake of their levels moving up.

There’s not necessarily a clear-cut answer to the question of whether we should share benchmark data with students. But as long as we are actively engaging with our students to help them take ownership over their progress, we are on the right track.

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Mistakes & Trust, Expectations & Understanding #TeacherMom

Close the door behind you. Use both hands to carry things that might spill. Keep your voice down when baby is sleeping. Eat breakfast in a timely manner. Shoes off in the house. Toilet lid closed. Coat hung up. Mess cleaned up. 

The list goes on and on and on. And then these small humans go to school with a similar, but separate list.

With lists that long, mistakes are inevitable. The question is, what becomes of trust?

As usual, Brene Brown nails it here. As parents and teachers, we have a precious opportunity to teach children what it looks like to “make amends, stay aligned with our values, and confront shame and blame head-on.”

We can model to them what we do when we make mistakes to try to forge trust in our relationships, as well.

But of course, when backpacks get left on the floor again, or when the milk glass gets spilled again, it’s easy to let frustration take the driver’s seat and throw all trust and understanding out the window. It’s also easy to feel like they should know that expectation by now, and to show understanding would be to void responsibility.

But if we do that, we leave no room for trust, for opportunity to “make amends” and try again.

So instead, choose trust.

Give them a chance to clean it up.

Work together to build greater mutual understanding.

Exemplify vulnerability and the messy, hard work of relationship-building.

And while we’re at it, print off this Engaged Checklist, also from Brene Brown, and keep it posted in a handy spot…

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An Open Teacher Appreciation Letter #TeacherMom

I dreaded kindergarten from the day my oldest was born.

I knew, even before the years of careful nurturing had even begun, that the day would come to let go. That I would go from knowing what she did every moment of every day to being totally in the dark for large swaths of time.

That darkness terrified me. Because no matter how much we chatted about her day, I knew much would remain undisclosed — even significant moments that she might not recognize yet as significant.

Now that she has almost finished first grade — her first year of being at school for a full school day — my fears have been greatly assuaged, first and foremost thanks to her phenomenal teachers that have taken the time to communicate and show they care.

So, especially with National Teacher Appreciation Week coming up next week, I’d like to say, thank you. 

Thank you for leveraging the most useful forms of communication to help us keep in touch, from notes home to Facebook Messenger (I especially loved the occasional photos of all things random, quirky, and awesome).

Thank you for that time you expressed a hope she was feeling better when she’d had a tough day.

Thank you for being understanding of the sometimes-graphic descriptions of all her experiences with vomit that she thoroughly enjoyed sharing. With the whole class.

Thank you for being there for her in all those endless details and difficulties of being 6 years old, from figuring out buying milk to learning to sit at the carpet to dealing with hurt feelings — all while teaching her to become more responsible for herself.

Thank you for seeing and nurturing her passions — even when it meant creating an extra folder just for her to organize her 20 page personal narrative.

Thank you. As teachers, we often refer to our students as “our kids.” Thank you for meaning it, and treating her as your own. And thank you to teachers everywhere who do the same.

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An Investment in Book Love: Reframing My Perspective #TeacherMom

Ahhh, book love. There’s nothing quite like watching my kids wade through stacks and stacks of books.

With 3 tiny humans in the house, I’ve long-since determined that all the frayed corners, torn pages, and disheveled shelves are simply signs of love and affection. Plus, I figured that, given that any attempts at order look a LOT like the meme below, what was the point?

I also firmly believe that to teach responsibility, we can’t be constantly cleaning up after/solving problems for our kids — if they want to be able to find all their books and keep them in good shape, they need to learn to take care of them, right?

But recently, all of this was set aside with a bout of spring cleaning which extended to sprucing up the books.

We sorted them by size…

…authors…

…and collections.

 

I knew it likely wouldn’t last, but it still felt nice to have them organized.

To my delight, I discovered an unexpected outcome after nap time/school. Though I didn’t add a single new book during this clean-up process, it was as if my kids were seeing them all anew. They spent the rest of the day exclaiming over books they thought were lost and enjoying entire collections or author groups.

Though I know details like right-side-up and spine out will still fall mostly to me, this experience has shown me that I can view my time spent here with a fresh perspective.

Until the day comes that my kids can fully exercise fine motor and organizational skills, shaping their reading environment is an investment on my part.

Meanwhile, I can still teach them responsible book care within their abilities — it does not need to be an all-or-nothing kind of approach. But if I get a new idea to present their books in a way that will spark renewed interest and book love, nothing should get in the way of that.

After all, if “doing for them what they cannot do for themselves” doesn’t extend to fostering deeper love of reading, what does?

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto