What’s the difference between CARING for our health & WORRYING about our health, & why does it matter? #TeacherMom

My daughter and I got chatting about health yesterday. I told her that it’s important to care for our health, but that it can be a problem when we are constantly worrying about our health. I asked her:

“Can you think of an example of what it might look like when a person focuses on caring for their health verses worrying about their health?”

I was surprised by her response.

Thoughtfully, she replied, “I think exercise could be an example. Like, if you take care of yourself, you love yourself and want to help your body by exercising. But if you are just worried all the time, you might keep exercising way too much and get sick.”

Profound words for a 9 year-old. We agreed that if our primary motivation for anything is love — love for ourselves, love for others — we’ll probably be just fine.

This kind of thinking is fundamental to quality of life. Exercise is a positive concept, but when approached with fear/worry vs. love/care, the results (and the impact on our overall health) can be dramatically different. The same goes for relationships, food choices, and yes, even learning.

Helping our students get to the root of what’s powering their motivation each day is important. It is a self-regulatory shift with boundless possibilities for them to see their own worth — that they deserve to have a good education and that they can take intentional steps to move themselves forward.

This approach, of course, especially thrives in classrooms where teachers, too, are permitted the kind of ownership that fosters love/care over fear/worry.

Back to the exercise, I think it’s interesting to note that it’s easier to approach it in a positive way when we make it less of a burden. Specifically for me, this happens by embedding it into our transportation by walking or biking to our destinations (most of which are within 2 miles). Riding a bicycle is exercise that does not feel like exercise (it feels like fun), so it’s a wonderful way to foster joy.

How might we help our students see learning as a more joyful experience rather than a burdensome duty? What are ways we might initiate this discussion with our students? How might we cultivate a healthy approach to personal learning? Why does ownership make a difference?

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The Fragility of Our Children’s Self-Determination #TeacherMom

Self-determination. We have such good intentions. We all want it for our kids, and I’m sure most of us (including myself until a recent check) think we’ve got it pretty well covered. But then life gets in the way.

We get in a hurry, we run out of supplies, we feel pressure that we then pass on to our kids.

I had two experiences recently to remind me just how fragile the development of our children’s self-determination can be. I’m sharing not because I know better now, but because I know that writing about it helps cement the lessons for me.

Lesson #1: The first happened when my 8 year-old was getting ready for school. Combining her school’s earlier start time with the fact that she’s one of those kids that needs a lot of sleep to function, I had felt justified in lending a hand as she gets ready. Specifically, as she would sleepily make her way down her bunk bed, I would grab her an outfit so she could quickly change and then move on to the next task.

But when she woke up unusually early one morning, I turned everything over to her — only to find that she no longer felt confident about her own outfit-choosing skills. She wanted me to tell her if I thought the clothing went together, and I wanted her to be able to choose without needing anyone else to validate her decision.

I was astonished to realize how my good intentions had gone awry. How I had sent an unintended message that I was not confident in her abilities. How quickly she came to depend on me for a simple decision. How my desire to help solve one problem had created another.

Lesson #2: The second happened with my 4 year-old. The details are less important, but he had started to regularly say something very sweet, and we were quick to tell him how nice that was (you know, positive reinforcement and all that). One day, when he said it again, and I did not offer praise, he looked at me, surprised and unhappy. Again, I was astonished to realize that my own good intentions were actually getting in the way of something good. What was once something for which my son had intrinsic interest was now diminished by the extrinsic strings I’d attached.

Our kids possess natural self-determination. They have interests, talents, and capacities originally driven entirely from within. But it turns out this self-determination is terribly fragile. As enthusiastic and helpful parents and teachers, we jump in with our encouragement and praise and assistance, which props up something that perhaps didn’t need propping up in the first place. Instead, it causes that self-determination muscle to quickly atrophy as we train them to look to the grown-ups, the “experts,” for guidance, instead of looking within to the original source of those capacities.

I feel like I learn more each day about how I need to “get out of the way” of my children’s learning and growth. Hopefully those lessons will stick a little better for next time!

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How My Kids Use the Google Home Mini #TeacherMom

Someone gave us a Google Home mini last fall. I don’t really use it, but we thought the kids might be interested, so we set it up. I recently found out I can view all of its history, which I found fascinating. Here’s how my kids have put it to use, most of the time without my presence. “Hey Google…”

  • “…can we listen to music?”
  • “…what are fake flowers made of?”
  • “…what do you eat for breakfast?”
  • “…start a timer for 20 minutes.”
  • “…how do you spell…?”
  • “…what should I be for Halloween?”
  • “…where do wolves live?”
  • “…are tarantulas harmless?”
  • “…tell me a story.”
  • “…are you a robot?”
  • “…what are orangutans?”
  • “…do you eat donuts?”
  • “…can you play a game with me?”
  • “…do you have a sister?”
  • “…tell me a joke.”
  • “…what author wrote Amelia Bedelia?”
  • “…tell me a fairy tale.”
  • “…when do you unplug cords?”
  • “…when do you go fishing?”
  • “…where should me and my dad go for our date?”
  • “…it is 9:45. How many more hours until lunch?”
  • “…what kind of claws do jaguars have?”
  • “…what’s 12 times 12?”
  • “…are fairies real?”
  • “…what colors can dogs see?”
  • “…how do you say bear in Spanish?”
  • “…what do dragons eat?”
  • “...how long does it take to walk between home and school?”
  • “…is there a Santa?”
  • “…what was the first thing people made with electricity?”
  • “…how many hours are in the morning?”
  • “…is the blue whale bigger than any building?”
  • “…what are very good kid jobs?”

I love the questions almost as much as the fact that they can so readily find answers. What a marvelous gift it is to have a record of the questions my children have been asking over time.

How is technology impacting your children’s sense of inquiry (like their ability to find answers to questions even before they can read), access (like their ability to turn on music and timers), and connection with the world around them (like their ability to feel like the information of this age belongs to them, too)?

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Tolerance of Messy in Favor of Learning #TeacherMom

I like tidiness. I find myself struggling to think straight when my environment gets too chaotic.

And yet for the last several months, our family room inevitably returns to some version of this:

Not too bad, but when it happens every day, several times a day, and across every room and even his bed — it starts to wear down this parent’s sanity.

Lately, however, I have started to try and shift my perspective. I realize that the repetitive scattering of books can look like a mess…or it can look like rich early literacy development.

After all, my 2 year-old is not just yanking them out just to make a mess. He is just devouring them, sometimes flipping through the pictures, other times approximating the story out loud for himself.

When we’re in the classroom, the reality is that we can’t always handle the volume of messy learning — especially when there are 30+ students! That’s why it’s important to spend time talking about our shared responsibilities for our shared learning space, and making room for students to express how they feel about their environment.

We are currently working on learning to put the books back on the shelves, as well. But through this process, both with my very small student at home, and with our classroom students, it’s important to always hold aloft what matters most: the learning. It reminds me of a quote I’ve often heard:

One might similarly state, never let a problem to be solved become more important than learning to be gained.

What are ways a shift in your perspective has helped you navigate the complexities of teaching?

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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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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!

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto