Inquiry Into Being a Writer

Now that I’ve finished my PYP essential elements provocations, I plan to begin the next series of inquiry-based provocations on the SDG’s (UN’s Sustainable Development Goals by 2030).

But first, I’d like to pause and do a couple of inquiries into more general learning identities. We all hope our students will move from “doing” math, writing, reading, or science” to seeing themselves as mathematicians, writers, readers, or scientists. Amidst the many curriculum-mandated tasks associated with those subjects, however, it can be difficult to hold on to this sense of identity.

This week’s provocation is meant to help students inquire into what it means to be a writer.

Resource #1: My recent post, “18 Best Videos to Get to Know Children’s Authors/Illustrators.” I had so much fun putting this compilation together with my kids. Almost a month later, my kids are still referring to specific videos in our house, recalling some funny thing Oliver Jeffers did or requesting a re-watch. Each of the videos offer a unique lens for what it means to be a picture book-maker, but below are a couple I would especially recommend in this context:

Resource #2: J.K. Rowling’s handwritten notes!

How J.K. Rowling Plotted Harry Potter with a Hand-Drawn Spreadsheet

Resource #3: How to Build a Fictional World Ted Talk by Kate Messner

Resource #4: Picture Books

Provocation Questions:

  • What does it mean to be a writer?
  • Why do people write?
  • How does our identity as writers change over time?
  • What is our responsibility to write? (for ourselves? For the world?)
  • What are the different perspectives on what makes a writer?
  • How does being a writer connect to being an author?
  • What is the connection between voice and writing?

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

On Valuing Teacher Humanity

It was the end of lunchtime. I finished up in the teacher’s lounge and was just about to head up to my classroom when I suddenly had to run to the bathroom.

After a long journey of trying to conceive, multiple rounds of fertility treatments, and finally a positive pregnancy test — I felt sure I was losing that baby.

The details of all that followed are a bit of a blur. I managed to get someone to cover my class as my kids returned from lunch, managed to get down to the office to explain why I had to leave.

But what will forever remain clear in my memory was the compassion of my principal, Kathy Watson. She listened as I sobbed. She held my hands, hugged me, reassured me that I could take all the time I needed.

Equally precious was what she did not do. She didn’t bring up sub plans, she didn’t hint at a meeting she was probably late for, she didn’t remind me of leave policies, and she didn’t try to minimize my pain in any way. I knew that in that moment of crisis, nothing was more important than her being there for me.

In short, she valued my humanity as a teacher and as a human being.

I wish valuing teachers’ humanity is something we could all take for granted. But somehow, as we wave our banners for what’s best for students, sometimes what’s best for teachers gets forgotten. A sad recent example (with many more in the thread):

When I was a class-teacher my son was rushed into hospital. It was touch and go.

As in many instances when I’m writing about something vulnerable, I’m reminded of something author Brene Brown wrote:

What I’ve also learned from Brene’s work is that it’s impossible to be selective about our empathy. We cannot profess to have empathy for our students and then deny it for our teachers. We need to find ways to let all those around us with whom we would like to make meaningful connections that they are not alone, that we are with them in the arena, too.

I am grateful to report that after a couple of dark weeks, we found that the baby’s heart was still beating. My son is a thriving 4 year-old today. I am also grateful to have had the chance to experience such empathy from my principal. Both are precious moments I will carry with me for a lifetime.

What are ways we can show teachers we value their humanity even when especially if it throws a wrench into plans? How does modeling this kind of empathy impact our students and their learning?

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

Inventorying a Culture of Agency at Home #TeacherMom

When I read Edna Sackson’s “Building a Culture of Agency,” my first thought was to bookmark it for when I return to the classroom.

But as another typical day progressed with my 3 small students, I kept thinking of Edna’s post. I realized I could definitely benefit from inventorying my culture of agency at home, not least because of how I’ve learned that more agency leads to less classroom management — and we could really use less “classroom management” in our home right now!

The questions in bold below are her overarching questions, to which she also attached sub-questions for more in-depth reflection (be sure to check out her post to read those)!

“What sort of language will you use?”

Overall, we have good metacognitive dialogue happening, including naming learning skills (“Wow, you are making an interesting connection right there!”) and referring to my students as authors, scientists, etc.

Two questions that stood out to me most as opportunities for growth were, “Do you talk about learning, rather than tasks and work” and “Do you ask the learners’ opinions and really listen to what they say?”

It’s so easy to get swept away by all the tasks that must be accomplished each day, and it becomes a temptation for me to focus on the work, as well as to multi-task everything. But I have noticed that when I do make time for undivided attention, it goes a long way in the culture of agency at home.

“How is the environment organised to foster agency?”

This one is always a work in progress, but overall, I feel like we’re moving in the right direction for agency.

“What sorts of opportunities are offered?”

Right now, I’d say that many of our learning opportunities come from the books my kids select at the library. For my oldest, she also has the choice to share her thoughts for a broader audience on her personal blog (see “In Which the 7 Year-Old’s Blog Post Gets More Comments than Mine“), Youtube (her stop-motion video-making is still going strong) and even occasionally here on this site when we co-write posts.

As I reflect on opportunities for my two- & four-year olds, my thoughts turn to games, blocks, Lego’s, play dough, and other creative experiences we could engage in together with more regularity. I think that especially as my daughter starts school again, I could renew the self-selected magnet schedule below for my 4 year-old to consider the possibilities for his time.

from “What Child Autonomy is Not”

“How is time managed? 

Self management of time has often been encouraged, and our approach is constantly shifting (especially to make sure my kids aren’t wasting their time “waiting for the teacher”). In addition to the magnet schedule above, we have tried…

…the week wheel:

from “Rethinking Calendar Time”

…general week/month planning:

…planning hours to scale (½ inch = 1 hour)

from “Agency is not just for school”

…digitally shared to-do lists:

from “No Secret Parent Business Either”

“What dispositions do you model?”

All three sub-questions Edna asks here regarding openness and vulnerability fluctuate with my emotional state. I notice that when I’m feeling stressed and behind-schedule, I am less likely to discuss my process with my kids.

However, my kids are merciful; when I share how I’m feeling, they tend to be patient. All the same, I would like to do more to explain my strategies for getting back on track so they better comprehend self-regulation.

“What routines are in place to encourage agency?”

I actually just recently added a visual prompt for our morning and bedtime routines. Secured to the bathroom mirror with packaging tape, these little pictures help my kids get on with their daily routines independently. 

“What kind of expectations are clearly set?”

We’re always having conversations about the importance of intrinsic motivation. But there’s definitely still a major learning curve for initiative over compliance. Part of this may be that initiative still looks pretty destructive for my 2- and 4 year old boys. But I am working to adjust my expectations and our environment to meet their needs.

Here’s a recent example: from time to time, we check out what’s called a “Discovery Kit” at the library, a themed box including new toys, books, puzzles, etc. We love playing with them, but it’s difficult for me to keep track of everything, and the fines for missing pieces/late dues add up fast.

One day I was telling my 4 year-old that I didn’t know if we could get another discovery kit because he had misplaced one of the pieces. Later, I expressed my concerns to my husband, and he thoughtfully said, “Well, he is 4. Maybe it’s just that the discovery kits require us to supervise them.”

Another option would be to stop borrowing the kits for now, but I see now that I would want to make sure my 4 year-old knew that it wouldn’t be his fault.

We have high expectations for responsibility, but developmental readiness must factor into those expectations.

“How do interactions foster agency?

I really like the question, “Can they tell that you trust them to learn?” It’s clear through his expression that even my 2 year-old can tell a lot about what I’m feeling about him and his choices. When I work to reassure him, especially when he’s trying new things, he grows in his confidence to act independently.

“What small action will you take to shift the culture in your class?”

Processing my thoughts through this inventory has been a great step for me today. As parents and teachers, we need to be honest but kind with ourselves in this process. Working with kids is messy, but as we work toward a stronger culture of agency, they will astonish us with what they are capable of!

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

Eat Pete! Book Tour & 5 Other Unlikely Friendship Reads

Given the choice between an overt moral story vs silly humor for teaching friendship, I’ll pick the latter every time. Michael Rex’s Eat Pete! certainly fit the bill there!

The monster faces a major dilemma. While he does think playing with cars and blocks looks fun, he would also really like to just go ahead and eat Pete. Which he actually does, only to find that those games just aren’t the same.

Young readers will appreciate how much story is told in the pictures, especially the hilarious illustrations of the monster daydreaming about just going ahead and eating Pete already. I felt like Rex nailed the pacing of this story, maximizing the anticipation that readers will experience.

Eat Pete’s book birthday is tomorrow, and I’m pleased to have been invited on its book tour! To celebrate, I’d like to share a few more funny reads featuring friendships that get off to a bit of a rocky start.

#1: Sophie’s Squash Go to School by Pat Zietlow Miller & Anne Wilsdorf

#2: We Don’t Eat Our Classmates by Ryan T. Higgins

#3: My Teacher is a Monster by Peter Brown

#4: A Visitor for Bear by Bonnie Becker & Kady MacDonald Denton

#5School’s First Day of School by Adam Rex

As you’ve probably noticed, these books also make for great read-alouds at the start of the school year! What are others you enjoy with your students?

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

Inquiry into Attitudes: Integrity

This is part of a series of inquiry-based provocations for essential elements of the PYP and the Learner Profile. For more, click here.

This is the last post in this series! However, I hope it will continue to grow via comments as readers add their own ideas.

Most students go straight to honesty and moral uprightness when it comes to defining integrity. But I also really like the secondary definition,

“the state of being whole and undivided.”

So much to unpack and explore with this concept, especially for those teachers working to set the stage for a new school year.

Resource #1: Alike by Pepe School 

Resource #2: Bill Watterson: A Cartoonist’s Advice (comic by Zen Pencils featuring a speech by Bill Watterson)

by Zen Pencils, speech from Bill Watterson

Resource #3: Buster Keaton: Art of the Gag via The Kid Should See This (if you’re short on time, just watch 6:30-end)

Resource #4: Dove Real Beauty Sketches (at first I debated including this one, but the more I ponder, the more I think this kind of integrity to self is an essential part of the discussion).

Resource #5: Picture Books! (at first I thought about only including strong “moral of the story” books–and Strega Nona is one example of that–but then I thought about the many options that explore the concept of integrity with a bit more exploration, including with that idea of “being whole & undivided” (Extra Yarn) or even when honesty is a question up for debate (True Story of the 3 Little Pigs & This is Not My Hat).

Provocation Questions:

  • How does having integrity impact the lives of people around you?
  • How does having integrity impact your own life?
  • What are the different perspectives on what integrity means?
  • What responsibility to have integrity do we have for our communities? For ourselves?

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

“The Bridge Between High School And College”

Bryan Banuelos’ second iteration of his Warrior Dream Project is underway.

From his mission statement to details of leadership within the club, we are confident that his project will be a great support to students at Taylorsville High (and possibly elsewhere) for years to come!

We are impressed with his sensitivity to the unique needs to undocumented students and their families as they participate in the program. Especially encouraging is the way his project meets an unmet need: mainly, the gap between high school and college, particularly for students who feel that funding college is out-of-reach. Check out his project presentation he shared with our office below!

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

Questions When You Join a PTA Board #TeacherMom

I decided to sign up to help with our local school’s PTA this year as secretary. Especially because I only have a few years left before I return to the classroom, I am excited to dig deeper into the parent side of school.

I’m hoping that because it’s an entirely new board, my continual question-asking will be seen as constructive rather than just annoying. But even as I have started to consider my role, I felt that writing a post might help me synthesize my thinking, as well as to share ideas for others.

  • What makes your school unique? What challenges does the community face, and what are some advantages it possesses? How can you find out more first-hand?
  • What are ways the school already fosters relationships between teachers, parents, and students? What are ways the PTA can facilitate even stronger connections?
  • How might inventorying past and potential events/programs benefit your school?
  • What are the ways parents prefer communication? How might you find out?
  • In what ways can you convey to parents that all their voices matter, even if they can’t attend meetings?
  • In what ways might you be responsive to the needs of parents, teachers, admin, and students as a PTA?
  • How might the PTA collaborate with the administration?

I am hopeful that we can find opportunities to strengthen connections among parents, teachers, and students!

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto