Monday, November 28, 2016

#SOL16 That Overwhelmed Feeling

That overwhelmed feeling.

That overloaded, overstuffed workbag, overwhelmed feeling.

That falling behind, can't keep up, never enough time
overwhelmed feeling.  

That report cards-are-coming, there's still so much to assess
overwhelmed feeling.

That formal lesson observation is days away and the classroom needs an extreme makeover, overwhelmed feeling. 

That holiday time is here, must stuff 100 Christmas cards into envelopes which need address labels and return address stickers, overwhelmed feeling. 

That to-do list is growing like the pile of laundry, currently multiplying like the fishes and the loaves in my basement, overwhelmed feeling.

That grumpy, grouchy, grumbly, need-to-sleep, hopefully-have-more-energy-tomorrow, resigned, overwhelmed feeling.

That 2am eyes pop open, there's so much to do, mind-racing, mind-reeling, overwhelmed feeling. 

Deep breath, focus, try to shake
That overwhelmed feeling. 

Monday, November 21, 2016

#SOL16 Megan and Our Books

(A stoat)

My daughter, Megan, is 3 ("and a half," she always reminds me) but already a big lover of books. We have our nightly routine of reading together, but I've been noticing how many of the books are becoming old friends, characters we refer to as if we know them. I guess we do.

There's Harriet Harris, from Mem Fox's Harriet, You'll Drive Me Wild! (Megan can repeat the line, "Harriet Harris, what are we to do? Harriet Harris, I'm talking to you!") Another Mem Fox favorite is Koala Lou. We say together, "Koala Lou, I do love you" just like her mother repeats in the book, and I try not to choke up at the part where Koala Lou's mother hugs her for a very long time. We also enjoy Catalina Madelina (Hoopensteiner Wallendiner Hogan Logan Bogan), illustrated by Tedd Arnold. No David is a favorite, as well as Gerald the giraffe in Giraffe's Can't Dance. Beatrice Bottomwell, The Girl Who Never Makes Mistakes, is a character Megan knows by name.

Recently, we read Who Is Sick Today? by Lynne Cherry. This is a fun rhyming book, full of animals and their illnesses. On one page, the book says "Young stoats with sore throats." Megan thought the stoats were adorable and wanted one for her birthday. Not that I was seriously considering a stoat (which I never heard of before), but just to find out more information, we googled stoats. Megan loved looking at all the images of stoats and wouldn't stop talking about stoats!

Her love affair with the stoat ended, though. Megan wanted to know what stoats eat, and was rather horrified to discover they eat bunnies!  She then wanted to know what animals eat stoats (dogs,foxes, and large cats). 

It's amazing how simply reading a book together at bedtime leads to such interesting conversations, questions, and even research. All of the language and thinking that was involved in discussing a stoat was rich and meaningful, bringing new words and ideas to Megan's growing schema. 

There are not many things I can pass onto my children- I don't know how to cook or bake, I'm not great with a checkbook, I can't sew, I'm terrible at sports. But, what I can do, the best thing I can do- is pass on my love of reading. I can introduce them to books and characters and make sure reading is always a part of their lives.   

Monday, November 14, 2016

#SOL16 Each Kindness

“There isn’t anyone you couldn’t love once you’ve heard their story. ”

I am a teacher. 

Long before the 2016 Presidential election, I believed in kindness and character. I believed in books to build empathy and perspective, to break down walls that divide "us" and "them." I believed building relationships is the key to a classroom community and the risk-taking that comes when everyone feels accepted and safe. 

There is so much noise everywhere now. 

So much hate and name-calling and painting huge groups of people with labels. Labels create distance and dehumanize the very people you are describing.  If we were to sit with each other, over a cup of tea, could we not find some common ground? If we were to listen to each others stories, might we not empathize, at least a bit? 

Maybe it is Pollyanna to think that way. Maybe many of the adults of this generation are too far gone, too steeped in opinions and hate, too certain of being right to entertain the idea that someone else's truth might be worth considering. Maybe there will be no bridge-building now, no olive branches, no compromises.

 I grew up listening to my staunch Republican grandfather debate my mostly liberal dad over a bowl of pasta at Sunday dinner. Sometimes there were raised voices, but there was always respect. There were handshakes and laughter after- they were people who cared about each other, acknowledging that they had different philosophies and, at the end of the day, that was okay. It used to feel safe to see things differently than someone- you could still like each other and even respect each other, knowing that you disagreed. It doesn't feel like this is the case anymore. 

But back to being a teacher. 

Today, my third graders sat down in a circle at our Morning Meeting. Normally, we do a simple greeting where each child says hello to the child next to him/her, by name. This morning, I challenged my students to think about a little known fact about themselves to share with the class. We all shared something we thought others might not know about us...part of our story. 

Our poem of the week was Shel Silverstein's Hug O' War. I noted that Silverstein repeated "everyone" many times during the poem- why did they think he did that? Students answered, "because everyone should be together." 

After our poem, we talked about our word of the week- "empathetic". What does it mean to feel someone's feelings in your own heart? How does that influence how you treat others? We discussed why being empathetic would be a positive trait to possess. 

Finally, at the end of our Morning Meeting, I read aloud the beautiful (and sad) book Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson. Each kind act, done or undone, has ripples in the world. 

Tomorrow, Trudy Ludwig will visit our school. Trudy's books are powerful examples of kindness and ways to positively express yourself and your feelings. 

I hope all these experiences are like seeds that will take root in my students' hearts. I hope they will choose kindness whenever they can and take the time to hear another's story without slapping a label on the person, dehumanizing them. 

I am a teacher, and this is what I can do. I can teach my students to listen to each other, to be empathetic, to choose kindness.  I can do my best to model these actions, to listen before I snap to judgement, to show respect to everyone, to create a classroom where everyone's voice matters. 

As Ram Dass said, "We are all just walking each other home." 

Monday, November 7, 2016

#SOL16 Lesson From Piper

Have you seen the Disney Pixar Short film Piper

If not, go watch...I'll wait. :)

I watched this movie today with a few of my students who stay after school for "Club Success" (formerly called "tutoring" but this feels way more positive for the kids who are asked to stay). After we watched Piper, we wrote about the movie and then shared our writing. Each of the three students who wrote touched upon the idea that Piper had to learn how to get the food for herself. Some students mentioned the pride she felt after she learned how to survive the big waves and find food.  We talked about the mistakes she made and how they helped her to learn. 

I think this video is a MUST WATCH for a few reasons. 

1- It really makes you think about the process of learning and how uncomfortable it can feel when you move to trying something new for the first time. 
2-Piper learned by her failed attempts and eventually by finding a mentor and trying his strategy.
3-When Piper finally does get the hang of finding her food, she generously shares with the others.
4- It's a super cute video and just the right length to show students. 

So...parallels to teaching....sometimes it does feel unsettling to have to figure things out for yourself. It might be tempting to say, "Just give me the program that says what to teach when" because, in many ways, that's like the Mama Bird feeding the baby. The little bird just sits and takes it in, with no effort at all. It was when Piper had to figure things out for herself that she eventually learned, felt the pride, and then shared with the others. 

When we struggle with real issues in our classroom, like when the majority of your class fails a test, or does poorly on an assessment, we feel like Piper when the wave crashes over her. Lost. Frustrated. Like Failures. But it's in the picking yourself up, the finding of mentors, the trying out new strategies, that the real learning can happen, the lasting learning. And when we learn, we share. 

Grateful to share in this community of generous educators and writers. 

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

#SOL16 The 4000th follower...

It seems the old adage (sort of) is true: A watched Twitter feed will not hit 4,000 followers.

I have 3,997 followers on wait, down to 3,995. Now back to 3,996. 

Normally, I pay very little attention to the number of "followers" I have on Twitter. For a long time, Twitter used to freeze my requests to follow people because I was following way more people than were following me. But, when the numbers get close to hitting a new milestone, I get a surge of satisfaction to see a nice, round number. 500. 1000. And so on. 

The other day, I couldn't believe that I was approaching 4,000 people following me on Twitter. And so I've kept my eye on it, waiting for the magic moment that 4,000 would appear. 

But, to my dismay, the number keeps going down...then up one...then down again. I'm floating in the 3,990-3,998 zone and I can't help but wonder why some people followed me only to unfollow me? While I know it's ridiculous, I feel slightly stung at the rejection. I'm sure these number fluctuate all the time- I'm just not paying attention. But as I check on the number now and then, when 3,997 goes down to 3,995 I wonder why two people out there suddenly split.

As always, a book to the rescue. Megan, my precocious 3 ("And a half!" she would add) year old, requested Giraffes Can't Dance, proclaiming it her "favorite." In this book, Gerald the Giraffe is worried about his dancing ability. His fears are confirmed when all the animals mercilessly make fun of him. He runs off, ashamed and sad, until he meets a cricket who plays a beautiful tune that inspires Gerald. Alone, Gerald feels the music and dances like no one is watching, no longer worried about impressing anyone, just enjoying the feeling of lifting his hooves to the tune. Of course, the animals do see him dance and are taken with how confident and happy he is dancing.

The moral: Dance like no one's watching. Tweet like no one's following. Do what is in your heart and feels right- don't worry about making an impression (or gaining a few followers to hit 4,000). If all the "followers" were gone tomorrow, would I still tweet? Absolutely. 

But, hey, if you know a few people who might be interested in following someone new on Twitter, send them to @MrsSokolowski.