Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Choosing Kind #SOL15

"Imagine what our real neighborhoods would be like if each of us offered, as a matter of course, just one kind word to another person.  There have been so many stories about the lack of courtesy, the impatience of today's world, road rage and even restaurant rage.  Sometimes, all it takes is one kind word to nourish another person.  Think of the ripple effect that can be created when we nourish someone.  One kind empathetic word has a wonderful way of turning into many."
-Mr. Rogers

I've been overwhelmed with sadness at many of the stories I've been reading on Facebook.  Humans of New York has been featuring stories of the refugees in Syria and they are absolutely horrifying and heartbreaking.  I can't even fathom what other human beings are experiencing.  I read updates from Ana Marquez-Greene's family and am just astounded by their grace and courage, but their loss is so stunning in its' sadness that I am filled with despair that they were robbed of their precious girl.  I sobbed as I read how they bought 4 pumpkins and Ana's older brother couldn't stop the tears at how much he  misses his sister, not there to decorate her pumpkin with her family. So much sadness and horror, happening to people just like me, just like all of us.

I'm a girl who needs there to be a happy ending at the end of the book.  Sadness can't be the end of the story.  So I keep looking for stories of kindness as an antidote to the evil that scares me and breaks my heart.  I found one in the above story of an elderly man who needed help eating his breakfast and the kind-hearted cashier who took time to quietly help a man he didn't know.  I am recommitted to sharing stories of kindness to my class, to not just giving lip service to district initiatives to #choosekind and TEACH character education- to REALLY do it, to really live it, because our world REALLY needs more Kenny's.  

Monday, September 21, 2015

The Imposter #SOL15

This week, I read Sandy Otto's blog post on sharing our failures. It was an excellent piece- check it out: http://ottogoingagainstthegrain.blogspot.com/2015/09/owning-my-teacher-failures.html  Sandy wrote that we often share all of the good on social media sites like Twitter and Facebook, but we don't share the flops, the failures, the lessons that went awry.  She courageously discussed what went wrong in her classroom that week and then what went right, too.  Thank you, Sandy, for starting this conversation!

I happen to be a mentor to a new colleague at work.  She just joined Twitter and after seeing my "followers" commented that I'm "famous." Now the pressure is on! We have to observe each other as part of our mentor program and I am already petrified that she will think I am the biggest fraud.  ("People follow HER? IF only they could see her in action!) 

I'm worried that since I started blogging about teaching and sharing my ideas, people might think that I consider myself some type of expert.  I really don't.  I am a teacher with a lot of questions about ways to improve my craft.  There are times where it all goes wrong.  I like to share my ideas but it doesn't always mean they are easy to implement or go the way I think they will in my imagination.  Teaching is a very human job with actual, real live unpredictable children in front of you.  Lesson to lesson may vary in its' effectiveness on any given day.  

So, here's a confession: I think I have Imposter Syndrome. I feel like people will eventually discover that I really am not as good as I sound in the posts I write.  The truth- The Parent's Guide to Writing Workshop that I created for a #TWTblog post? I ran out of time to share it at my own Open School Night. The territory maps I couldn't wait to try with my third graders? I shelved it for now because I wanted to give them more writing time.  I'm thinking of trying it when their ideas for topics starts to wane, but I feel guilty that I didn't do what I said, publicly, I would do.  

I found this article on Imposter Syndrome: http://www.forbes.com/sites/margiewarrell/2014/04/03/impostor-syndrome/.  There is a line that says, "But giving your best is not the same as being the best." I like that.  I really do give my best but I know I am not the best. I know there is still a lot for me to learn and figure out.  It's to my credit that I care to find the solutions- I read tweets and blogs, I participate in book clubs and online discussion communities, I share ideas with friends via Voxer, and I write about my own experiences here and at Two Writing Teachers.  I want to be an excellent teacher.  But if I make it seem like I already am one by my posts, please forgive me.  I am thoroughly a work in progress. 

Monday, September 14, 2015

A Letter to Alex's Teacher #SOL15

To Alex's Teacher,

As a teacher myself, I know what it's like to get a class list, scan the names, and have a moment of recognition, and okay-dread, when you see a name that you've heard before.  Some students have a reputation that precedes them and like it or not, you already have some negative ideas about this student.  You might ask yourself: Will I be able to handle this student's behavior? How much extra stress will this student cause? Can I be the one to turn it around for him/her?

By now, you know my son Alex has been added to your class roster.  He will join your class tomorrow.  He has been in your school since he was 11 months old and next month he will turn 5.  Most of the time, he does a great job.  Sometimes he has trouble listening.  Those times have been more frequent lately, part of the reason he is making a change and joining your group.  

I'm worried you might be dreading this.  You surely have a lovely class and you've started setting up your routines and procedures.  New students need to be oriented to all of this and it is extra work and effort.  Another name tag in a cubby, another birthday cake on the wall, more items to be labeled with another name, another student to keep track of and assess.  I get it. But...

He is my world.  

Along with his dad and his sister, he is my family, the "dream that I'd been chasing" (love that line from Martina McBride's "I Just Call You Mine- always makes me think of Alex).  He is the baby I wished for and had trouble conceiving, his arrival making me what I always hoped I'd be and feared I wouldn't become- a mom.  He is imaginative and loves to create stories and scenarios for the little figures he has- Batman, cars, dinosaurs- always end up in some battle to defeat the "bad guys." He is energetic, curious, chatty, and sweet.  He has moody moments and gets frustrated when something is challenging.  He can be uncooperative at times.  He's a little boy who is learning his way in the world and there are hiccups.  

He is very verbal but needs help to learn his letters.  He has stories to tell but needs help learning to hold his pencil.  He needs you to believe in him, to make him believe he can learn, that it's okay to work at something and get better at it.  That not everything comes easy and sometimes, most of the time, it takes real effort to improve and grow.  He needs you to make school fun, exciting, engaging and to help him connect learning with happy feelings.  He needs you to help him get past those frustrated moments, those defiant times, to help him get back to the group and be accepted and welcomed.  

As for me, I need you to like him.  I want to believe you really get him and appreciate him.  I hope you will love the way he tells a story with such earnestness and innocence.  I hope you will harness his energy and see his excitement as a positive attribute.  I hope you will recognize his kind heart and the way he cares about other people.  I hope you will plan the day with effort and care and knowledge about young children; I hope you will keep him busy in meaningful, appropriate tasks that engage his senses; I hope you will know that his days with you will have a big impact on his days at home.  

Tomorrow, my little boy joins your class.  Today, at his Tae Kwon Do class, he was focused and hard-working. He gave me smiles and kept putting his little thumb up to show me he was trying.  It kind of broke my heart.  He is trying. We are trying. There is room for improvement all around.  It is all a work in progress and now you become part of our story, part of the picture being created known as Alex.  

Knowing the hopes I am pinning on you humbles me as a teacher myself and makes me realize that I need to work harder and be kinder to the students who are known commodities, who live up to their reputations for not following rules and causing disruption.  They too, are somebody's world.  They too, have families that are trying hard and I am part of their child's life story now as well.  What a responsibility and what a gift.  

I thank you in advance for all you will do to help my son have happy days full of learning and growing.  I thank you for your patience, for your kindness, for using a gentle tone when you want to use a sharp one, for understanding that little boys aren't perfect.  I thank you for reading stories, singing songs, designing experiments, and making learning come to life.  I know your job is really very hard but I also want you to know that it is really important. 

Hoping for a great year,
Kathleen Sokolowski

(Waterlogue of Alex at the beach this summer)

Monday, September 7, 2015

To Every Season, Turn, Turn #SOL15

        Click on the link for my summer family photo montage! Summer Memories

"To everything (turn, turn, turn)
There is a season (turn, turn, turn)
And a time to every purpose
under heaven."

And so another summer ends, unofficially with Labor Day and the start of school.  It feels like just the other day I was posting about hellos and goodbyes as the school year was ending and I was joining the team at Two Writing Teachers. Now, summer is gone and a new school year beckons.  

I will miss the easy pace of summer, the smell of coconut suntan lotion and the salty spray of the ocean on my lips. The barbecues and ketchup and hamburger smell filling the neighborhoods. The alarm clock-less days, flip flops, and leisurely time with my family.  

I will not miss the mosquitoes.  

Autumn is my favorite season.  Tonight I dream of pumpkins, a chill in the air, red, gold, and brown leaves drifting to the ground. Hayrides. Candy apples. Hoodies and soft sweaters.  Pumpkin flavored everything, especially lattes! Scarecrows and corn mazes. Decorations in windows again. The cozy, happy special family days: birthdays, Halloween, Thanksgiving.  I dream of classrooms humming with routines well-practiced, the get-to-know you first days of September a memory.  

Every season has its' story, its' purpose. I celebrate the end of a delicious summer and eagerly anticipate the promise of a glorious autumn.