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Posts from the ‘Teacher to Teacher’ Category

Reflect & Renew: Preventing the Teacher Summer Slide

Each year as the calendar turns to May, my mind starts to turn to summer and September. What will I be doing this summer? What am I planning for the next school year? I begin to map out my summer schedule with teaching and tutoring, hobbies and holidays. But not this year.

I don’t know about you, but I feel like for the past two months COVID-19 and lesson planning for online learning has consumed my life 24/7. Neither of which I was prepared for physically or mentally. This pandemic has taken its toll on so many people in so many ways, and it is causing me to rethink everything I thought I knew about ending a school year, planning for summer, and looking forward to a new group of students. My summer work is now non-existent, and I am not sure if I will have any virtual tutoring students, but I do know that I am not going to let the pandemic rob me of my summer even if it will look very different.

Reflection: As teachers we are always reflecting on our work. What lessons went well? What lessons should be scrapped. Which ones need revision? With the uncertainty of how school will look in Septemeber, this summer will give me time to reflect on my distance learning strategies and assignments. Here is my “plan.”

  • Explore new online platforms and applications to help me grow as facilitator of learning.
  • Reflect on my daily routine (or lack of one since working from home) and tweak it to achieve better results.
  • Attend virtual professional development webinars

Renewal: Teachers are givers by nature; we give to our students and their families, colleagues, and our own families and friends, but when do we give to ourselves? This summer especially should be a time for us to renew – mind, body, and soul. What is on your renewal list? Here is mine.

  • Read – professional books, middle school books, fun fiction.
  • Create a writing ritual
  • Explore a new hobby – painting with water colors

In the past I have set summer goals only to feel like a failure by August when I realize that many of them remain unreachable. This year I am trying something new. Right now I am reading Atomic Habits by James Clear. Clear describes how “tiny changes” can yield “remarkable results.” His advice to focus on the system – the process rather than the product struck a chord with me. Afterall, as a teacher of writing I am always trying to get my students to focus on the writing process not just on the finished product. Who knew I should have been applying that system to the rest of my life?!?

What are you planning for this summer? How will you reflect and renew? Whatever goals you set for yourself, I hope you take time to enjoy the process. Please feel free to leave me reading suggestions (professional, middle school, or fun reads) in the comments below. I will add them to my list!

Rita DiCarne is a 2000 Writing Fellow and is a member of the advisory board of the PA Writing and Literature Project at West Chester University. Rita teachest 7th grade ELA at Our Lady of Mercy Regional Catholic School in Maple Glen (Montgomery County). You can read more of Rita’s work on her personal blog – ritadicarne.com as well as on Twitter – @RitaDiCarne.

Bulletin Board Battles and Black History Month

by Renee Jacobs

Happy Black History Month! Although we know that good practice is to teach accurate history every day of the academic year, Black History Month is a wonderful time of year to highlight the contributions that Black people have given to the United States and the world. This year, during your school’s preparation, I would advise you to gauge the degree of crazy behavior or avoidance that could ensue.

Every year as February approaches, I see very caring teachers become crazy with trying to get Black history month bulletin boards up in the school. In some cases, the precision and focus involved with making sure things are colored, cut, and mini-lessoned is unmatched. Sadly, we feel accomplished, but the level of understanding that the students have about the importance of such contributions as the pacemaker (invented by Otis Boykin) is dependent upon if the students paid attention during the thirty second speech on the morning announcements or if they noticed the facts on those strategically placed bulletin boards. We don’t teach any other aspects of history with such disregard. I would like to recommend that you take some time to think through your presentation of our shared history because there is actually no Black history, only history. However, our curriculums don’t reflect this fact so we need to continue celebrating the month for now so our students can see and celebrate heroes of every race.

There are also schools that are so uncomfortable with discussions about race that they choose to avoid any story related to Black History that isn’t sweet or does not have an ending that ties a pretty bow on the way we “should” remember the past. It’s predictable that the same story of Dr. King’s dream, Harriet Tubman’s railroad trip, and Rosa Park’s seat will be on repeat in classrooms all over the country throughout the month of February. Many versions of these stories lack depth and in many cases are not shared accurately at all so that the teacher and our organizations can remain comfortable. Another form of avoidance is the “family heritage” approach. In these schools, teachers assign all students a project that requires them to research their family heritage in celebration of “Heritage Month” or “International Food Day”. This way, we can say that we looked at Black history as we looked at the family history of all our students. 

In case no one else told you, I will be your Black teacher friend that is going to tell you a bit of truth that will improve relationships and the authenticity of your practice. Crazy last-minute bulletin board frenzies and avoidance are not respectful. Your Black families are often inferring their significance to your school community based on many interactions, and this is one of them. This opportunity is important to connect with families. We need to approach Black History using professional reflection and excellence. For example, do educators ever discuss with students the fact that Harriet Tubman and Susan B. Anthony lived during the same time period? Black history is American history; it must be intentionally integrated. If teachers understood the importance of taking the time to find meaningful resources to engage students in rich conversations about the contributions of Black people throughout the year and also highlight this learning during the month of February with students and families in mind rather than remaining in the personal comfort of the repeating last year’s lesson, it would be so impactful. Our relationships can be strengthened by the amount of effort that we put into community building work such as respectfully and authentically celebrating people. This will be a process, but in the meantime try to remember… it’s not about the bulletin board.

Flexing Your Writing Muscles

I love to write, but I don’t always take/make the time to write on a consistent basis.  I am a master at finding excuses for not writing: papers to grades, lesson plans to write, or laundry to wash. While I do need to do those things, I can find excuses to avoid them too! When January rolled around, I decided that it was time for me to make the time to write.  I knew that if my plans were too ambitious, I would just be setting myself up for failure, so I decided to work on three easy practices.

I began by signing up for #100daysofnotebooking which is being spearheaded by MIchelle Haseltine (michellehaseltine.com).  There are no prompts; the only “requirement” is to write in your notebook each day for 100 days. Some writers are posting in a private Facebook group while others are sharing on Twitter.  Some are doing both. You may think that writing for 100 days straight is daunting or impossible, but it is actually inspirational and invigorating. I have been writing in my notebook, sometimes taking a picture and sharing, sometimes just posting what the topic or my entry or how things are going. The best thing about this practice is reading what everyone else is posting. I have found so many good ideas for my own notebook, and have tried imitating other writers.  Viewing their creations have given me the courage to start adding sketches and color to my notebook. Will some days be harder than others? Absolutely! My goal is not to write print worthy entries each day, but to capture ideas and inspiration each day that can be the seeds for future pieces.

Snow

Next, I registered for The 30 Day Writer’s Happiness Challenge which is part of the Writers Happiness Movement (writershappiness.com). Each day I receive an email with a five minute prompt.  It is quick and easy and gives me food for thought. So far I have written a “permission” note from my future self, looked for beauty in the space I was in, sent someone a positive email with a sincere compliment, and made a list of things I find enchanting.  While I only spent five minutes each day writing on these prompts, I keep thinking about different ways to use them in the future.

Looking for beauty

Lastly, I am journaling every night before I go to bed.  I have tried this many many times over the years only to see that weeks or months had gone by without an entry, and the journal becomes a book of summaries.  Honestly, I don’t remember where I read about this idea, but the premise is to write a one-sentence journal entry each day. This journal lives in a basket next to my bed.  I have faithfully written each night since New Year’s Day. It is so unthreatening and come on – who can’t write just one sentence each night? It makes me stop and think about what the most memorable or meaningful thing about each day was. No matter how tired, or how late I go to bed, I can manage one sentence.

I have shared my writing goals with my 7th graders, and they are asking me what I am writing in my notebook;  most things I can share with them. Although I do write with my students, I want them to know that I write outside of school as well and how much that writing means to me.. I believe that the more my students realize the importance of writing beyond the classroom walls, the more they will want to write themselves for themselves. You what they say – “Use it or lose it.”   How are you flexing your writing muscles? Please comment and share below. You never know who you will be inspiring. 

cropped-rita-2017 Rita DiCarne is a 2000 PAWLP Writing Fellow.  She teaches 7th grade ELA at Our Lady of Mercy Regional Catholic School in Maple Glen, PA.  Rita married her high school sweetheart 39 years ago and with him she shares two wonderful children, their fabulous spouses, and four fantastic grandchildren!

Giving Thanks

Showing gratitude is one of the simplest yet most powerful things humans can do for each other. 

~Randy Pausch

When was the last time you received a handwritten thank you note or wrote one? As Thanksgiving approaches, I am reminded of one of my favorite writing activities – writing thank you notes. My classes spend some time discussing the importance of saying thank you. We talk about reasons why you would send someone a thank you note, and of course, the students usually say, “When you get a birthday present.”  When I ask how many of them write handwritten thank you notes, very few of them raise their hands. Since the world moved to electronic devices and social media, a handwritten note has become a lost art, but one that is very satisfying when resurrected. 

To get started, I have the students brainstorm a list of people in their lives who deserve their thanks but are often taken for granted.  The list includes obvious people like parents and grandparents, but as we continue to talk the list grows to include bus drivers, crossing guards, maintenance staff, school secretaries, coaches, neighbors, and even siblings.

Once we have our list compiled, I introduce the activity.  Each student will write a handwritten note to someone they need to thank. Some of them still aren’t sure, so  I read a few picture books for inspiration. I have included a shortlist below. If you have a favorite, please add it in the comments.  I am always looking for more.

Ten Thank You Letters by Daniel Kirk 

I Am Thankful by Suzy Capozzi

Thankful by Eileen Spinelli

Being Thankful by Mercer Mayer

Grateful: A Song of Giving Thanks by John Bucchino

Thanks a Million by Nikki Grimes

Thank You, Mr. Falker by Patricia Polacco

The Thank You Letter by Jane Cabrera

Next, we talk about what should go into a thank you note, such as: tell your recipient what you are thanking them for; be sure to expand on why you are thankful for the gift or act and add a closing statement that is directed toward the recipient. Students then write their rough drafts.

I provide the note cards.  I try to get a variety so that everyone has a chance to choose one that suits their personalities.  You can get note cards on sale during the year, purchase them at the dollar store, or use those spare ones hanging around your house.  The kids provide the addresses and the stamp.  

Lastly, the students write their letters (I take a quick peek to make sure there are no glaring errors), address the envelopes, (which is a lesson in itself), and affix the stamp (another lesson). I am tasked with dropping them off at the post office.  

The kids always look and feel satisfied with themselves as they hand me their letters, but that is nothing compared to how they look and feel when they receive feedback from the recipients.  They learn that small gestures can make a great impact on someone else.

I can’t tell you what a difference thank you notes made in my life a few weeks ago.  After a few rough days at school, I was surprised by a large yellow envelope in my mailbox.  Inside were these lovely thank you notes from some teachers in Springfield Delco School District.  In early October, I presented in their PAWLP class, and they sent me handwritten thank you notes. The evening I presented they were all so gracious and said thank you which I appreciated, but the fact that they took time to write me a personal note really made me feel special and lifted my spirits at the perfect time.

Thank you notes

Who is on your thank you list?  Whose life will you or your students brighten with handwritten notes?  I look forward to your ideas in the comments, and thank you for reading this post!

 

Creating Balance: Nurturing Your Teacher Self

pawlp

As a new school year begins, teachers come armed with new or revised lesson plans and renewed excitement ready to give our students the best of ourselves so that they can be their best selves. Sometimes giving the best of ourselves comes with a price. In our quest to be a great teacher as well as parent, partner, caregiver, or one of the many other titles each of us wear, we often put our own needs last, which is the worst thing we could do to ourselves.  In my quest to redefine my work/life balance and reduce school year stress, I read many self-help articles and had several conversations with my daughter and sister, both of whom work in the mental health field, and found many commonalities. Here are a few strategies that stood out to me.  I hope at least one will work for you.

 

  • Prioritize – Be sure that you differentiate between what “must” and what you would “like” to get accomplished.
    • Be realistic; you cannot do everything.
    • Make a schedule to help you use your time more efficiently.
  • Schedule “Me Time” – If you don’t put yourself on your calendar chances are you will not make or take time for yourself.
    • Get a massage.
    • Take in a movie.
    • Meet up with a friend.
    • Read for pleasure
  • Manage Your Mind – The most important voice in your life is your own.  Listen to your body and practice positive self-talk.  Don’t beat yourself up. When feeling stressed take a mini break.
    • Close your eyes and take a few deep breaths.
    • Take a walk.
    • Listen to music.
    • Look at cherished pictures – your kids, grandkids, a favorite vacation spot.
  • Keep a Gratitude Journal – At the end of the school day or before you go to bed, take a few minutes to reflect on your day and write down a few things for which you are thankful. Not only will this help you to focus on the positive parts of your day, but on a difficult day you can revisit your entries and assure yourself that “this too shall pass.”

 

Gratitude journal

A page from my own gratitude journal

  • Establish Boundaries – While you may not have a “job” that allows you to leave work at work, you do not have to be available 24/7.
    • Decide on a reasonable time to “unplug” each evening to stop checking your work email.
    • Establish a time limit for grading or engaging in social media.
    • Stop saying “Yes,” to every request.  Be selective with how you use your precious free time.

 

These are just a few suggestions and strategies.  Obviously, you may not be able to do this right away but choose one and start small.  If you have others to add to the list, please share them in the comment section below. Teachers do important work.  We can’t make a difference in the lives of our students if we don’t treat ourselves with respect and kindness.  We are all in this together!

cropped-rita-2017 Rita DiCarne is a 2000 PAWLP Writing Fellow.  She teaches 7th grade ELA at Our Lady of Mercy Regional Catholic School in Maple Glen, PA.  Rita married her high school sweetheart 39 years ago and with him she shares two wonderful children, their fabulous spouses, and four fantastic grandchildren!

Snorkeling and Scuba Diving in an Undergraduate General Education Literature Course: Diving into the Educational Theory Behind “Next” Practices*

 by Mary Buckelew

Student Voices
“Before choosing
The Glorious Heresies by Lisa McInerney for my self-selected book, I figured that I’d be reading aesthetically as I wanted to read for entertainment.  After reading, I can say I read mostly with an aesthetic lens, but I did read efferently at times to soak in new information regarding my major.” (Ethan, undergraduate criminal justice major)

“I wish I’d known about the different stances of reading long before this, and I wish my high school teachers hadn’t focused solely on the efferent aspects of reading and books. I only read books in high school to pass tests, write required papers, and other test oriented stuff . . . I don’t think my teachers knew that the aesthetic stance existed. Even summer reading was always selected for us and then we were tested – efferent all the way.” (Sarah, undergraduate biology pre-med major)

“I now like to think about how I am reading, why I am reading, and I even apply efferent and aesthetic to other classes and life in general.” (“Honest Anonymous Feedback” from the end of the semester evaluations, Lit. 165 2:00)

Sarah, Ethan, and the anonymous student were enrolled in my Literature 165 classes this past spring semester. They shared these ideas in their final reflections and in final evaluations. 

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