Spread Kindness

Friday, February 26, 2016

     A week ago, third grade started their Influential People unit with this activity, where we put objects in boxes to represent the impact Dr. King, Abraham Lincoln, Cesar Chavez, Dian Fossey, and Kid President have had on the world.  Watch the video for a recap, or check out my previous blog post here.

     Then, this week, a box "arrived" for me in our school office.

I knew immediately it was from Kathy Ross.

     17 or so years ago, when I started in my district, Kathy was assigned to be my mentor.  She has been a consistent source of help, friendship, self-reflection, positivity, and light ever since.  She sees the good in everything, and always reminds me to remember what is important in life.  Family first.  :)

     When I opened the box, as our other boxes for influential people had, it was filled with glimpses of my own life.  My family, my dog, my heritage, my interests.   LEGOs and chocolate, a picture of my dear Snoopy, Star Wars mac and cheese, my Hiawatha family, and a compliment to my creativity.  A card filled with kind words put me over the edge, and tears fell.  I brushed them away, and went back to doing my job after a quick call to her classroom, but I was suddenly filled with a gratitude that I'm sure made a positive impact on my coaching conversations for the rest of the day.  Honestly, it changed my perspective on a few things I had been struggling with and helped me move on.

     A few days later, I opened the box again to take these pictures.  You see, Kathy's birthday is today, so I figured I would honor her with a blog post that celebrates her thoughtfulness.   So, I took a closer look at the objects in the box, and noticed the quotes on the outside of the box.

Those quotes were just beautiful.  She knows me so well.  
She knew I would appreciate them.

Then I turned the box again.

That's when it occurred to me that the quote was my own.

How does someone else know me so well that she remembers my words, and I don't?   I actually had to go to my phone and look for a Word Swag to see if the words really were mine.

     Sometimes, life gets so busy that we forget to pay attention to the things that are important to us.  We are so busy keeping up with the world, that we forget that keeping up is not living.  And sometimes, when just keeping up, we start to lose sight of our own purpose.  But, magically, a box arrives with the things that matter to you, and you have clarity again.  You remember what matters in life.  And, you remember it because someone who cares about you chose kindness, and chooses to spread it.

     Kindness is something that we do not always make time for in this busy world.  Somehow, Kathy always finds that time.  People like her are a wonderful reminder of the impact that we have on each other, and the difference we can make in the way others see the world.


     A few weeks ago was Random Act of Kindness Day, so in honor of Kathy's birthday and all the nice things she does for others, I challenge you to do something kind for someone randomly this week.  It can be a small gesture, or a thoughtful card, or something sentimental for a special person in your life.  But, I challenge you to stop and do something kind for someone else, just because.  

    Happy Birthday, Kathy!!!

Mindset for Learning: Next Steps

Sunday, February 21, 2016

    For the last 6 weeks, we have been using the ideas from A Mindset for Learning to promote the mindsets of optimism, persistence, flexibility, resilience, and empathy at Hiawatha School.  Check out these posts to read more about the mindsets, or look through #hiawathapride on Twitter.

Mraz and Hertz
     We are done!  We have now introduced all 5 mindsets!  Our kids are now so optimistic, persistent, flexible, resilient and empathetic!  Time to move on.

      Oh, wait.  They aren't all those things yet?  Weird.

      We know as educators that simply introducing concepts to children does not make them learn them.  With the mindsets, it could be easy to mistake that a child "gets" the mindsets because they have the vocabulary and can name it when they see a book character or fellow classmate showing it.  Actually demonstrating all 5 mindsets on their own when working, however, is much less likely.  In fact, at a current webinar with Kristine Mraz and Christine Hertz (2/2016), they said that research shows that is takes TIME and SPACED PRACTICE for students to develop habits and learning behaviors.  Their slides are below:


     Hiawatha, I think we have to carry on the work.

     Now that our students have the vocabulary in their minds for the 5 mindsets, we need to carry on and develop lessons and situations that continue to reinforce practicing the habits of optimism, persistence, flexibility, resilience, and empathy.  How can we do that? Here are some ideas:

1.  Continue teaching and modeling the mindsets.

Read books, or watch videos, that demonstrate the value of using the 5 mindsets in actions.  This could be in morning meeting, or during read aloud, or in guided reading, or during unit time.  The truth is, mindsets are everywhere.  We just have to keep our eyes open to noticing them.  

2.  Know that Mindsets are just as important as academics.

We have time to teach children how to be a successful part of the community.  We have time to teach children that they have it within themselves to learn new things and control their own learning behaviors.  

We have the time.
Yes, the Common Core can wait. 

3.  We can teach the mindsets within the schedule we already have in place.

A well placed turn and turn, that has students talk about the persistence of a character, is not doing something "new."  It's taking a structure we already have in place, and just tweaking it so that it models something that we value.

The things that we value in our classrooms are loud and clear, even when we don't exactly say it.  Know what matters to you, and what makes a difference to our kids, and just change the book title or the format of the questions, and suddenly our mindsets take shape in our classroom.  

4.  One person can make a difference.

You can be the person who teaches a child how to believe in themself.  You can be the person who notices that a child struggles with persistence, and helps them find ways to persist and keep going.  You can be the person who shows a child that it matters how we treat others.

The truth is, we can't control someone's home life, or their years at school outside of our classroom.  But, we can control the time we have with them.  Use that time to be the person who helps a child realize that they can say, "I can do this.  I can try." and mean it!  It starts with the teacher.  You have to believe in yourself, too.  We can't tell kids to try new things, if we ourselves won't do the same in front of them.

5.  Look for where their mindsets fall apart when behavior falls apart.

Sometimes, when a child misbehaves, the punishment we give actually reinforces the problem.  If we were to look to the Mindsets and see if the child is struggling with one, and we choose to model and teach that instead of just punish the behavior, it's more likely that the child will be successful in the future.  

As we continue the year, keep looking at your students with the lenses of the Mindsets.  When you notice a struggle with one, do something about it!  Whole group, small group, or with individual students.  The book, A Mindset for Learning, have many lessons that you could use to reinforce or model them.  

     Thanks, Kristine Mraz and Christine Hertz, for your fabulous book.  It is sure to make the children of today more successful tomorrow (and beyond).  Thanks for sharing your ideas with us.

     Hiawatha, keep using #hiawathapride if you find you are focussing on the Mindsets throughout the rest of the year.  :)

The Hook

Saturday, February 20, 2016

     We are in a Learn Like a Pirate book club at Hiawatha, and Dave Burgess always says you should have a hook to learning.  He calls it "pre-heating the grill," but we at Hiawatha have always called it the hook.  We have been working on our thematic unit planning for many years, whether it has been IBL, PBL, CBL, or what we are now calling balanced literacy thematic units.  In any case, since I began as a literacy coach, I have seen "hooks" spread from small pockets of teachers who use them, to entire grade levels.   Dave Burgess gives us even more ideas on possible hooks to use.  I can't wait to see how those ideas are applied in the future.

     One of my favorite things, of course, is to be around for the planning, and then video tape them.  I'm kind of a nerd that way.  I love capturing engagement.  :)

    So, here are 2 intros to 2 units in the last 2 weeks!

    Our third grade is starting an Influential People unit as part of their speeches and persuasive writing unit.  +Christine Flowers, +Theresa Carrillo, +Anna Waszak, and +Kathy Ross wanted to start off the unit is a big way, so we found 5 different boxes and filled them with artifacts that symbolized the impact of 5 different famous people.  The children had to try and guess who the person was, after opening up the box, and then taking a gallery walk around the room to see the rest of the boxes.  When they returned, they were able to open a letter "written by" that person, explaining their influence.  We then had them decide what artifact represented their biggest impact to the world.

Can you guess who their influential people were?

Watch the trailer and see if you were correct!

     Our first grade is in the middle of their Space Unit.  They finished Sun, Moon and Stars, and had used that portion of the unit to teach their first graders how to research and write nonfiction chapter books in a shared research and writing format.  They are now wanting students to create a more independent chapter book on the seasons.  So, they are kicking off the next part of their unit with a Seasonal Fashion Show!  4 of our teachers dressed up as Winter, Spring, Summer, and Fall.  When they walked in, a seasonally correct song started to play on the Smart Board.  Every first grader had a picture of a seasonal artifact (like a beach ball, umbrella, boots, etc.).  When a new teacher walked in, if they had an artifact to match, they stood up.  Watch their trailer below, as +Amelia Sheers+Vianney Sanchez+Kayla Kaczmarek+Melissa Alper and +Shianne Gillespie walk the red carpet!

     After they introduced the seasons with the fashion show, the students were given opportunities to sort objects from the seasons in both closed and open sorts.   Sorting and categorizing is such an important, yet often skipped, skill for young learners.  The pictures below are some closed sorts, where the teachers gave the categories for them to sort.  Our ELL teacher, +Lucy Carrera, also did an open sort, where she didn't give students the categories, and they had to use oral language to give reasons to create the categories.  She modeled first, using three objects, to helped the students think outside of the seasons.  She helped them notice their own patterns and see characteristics and attributes of objects.  Even if students didn't agree, they had to use oral language to defend their reasoning.  

     What I love about both of these intros, which are from 2 different grades and in two different content areas, is that they both give students physical artifacts to touch and explore and manipulate to get the learning started.  With our high ELL population, it is even more important to not just tell them information.  We need to show them, and allow them to experience as much as possible.  

     Great job, 1st and 3rd!

Math Focus Walks

     For January, and half of February, we used our building meeting time to focus on one subject area.  We decided to give some time to doing something well, and the first focus +Karen Marino and +Jodi Meyer  (our principal and AP) chose was math.  With the help of our k-2 Math Core Leader, +Vianney Sanchez, and our 3-5 Math Core Leader, +Virginia Burdett, we had building PD that focussed on integrating the 8 Mathematical Practices into our instruction.  

     The Mathematical Practices are so important, because without them, students would just have math skills and strategies covered by the standards.  By teaching the math standards, but using the Practices to help design our instruction, our students will really start to think deeply about math and see patterns and think flexibly in how they solve more complex problems.  During our math focus, we were actually also introducing the Mindsets for Learning (Mraz and Hertz) in a slow chat across our school.  They apply so well with the Math Practices, so +Karen Marino actually linked them together for instructional purposes.  Here is her thinking:

     Another focus of our building meetings, in addition to the Practices in general, was using manipulatives to problem solve.  Karen had us, as teachers, do the work of students and solve problems using maniplulatives in multi step problems.  Ginny and Vianey then had us talk about how we organize our math materials for ease of use by the students.  In Vianey's session, she asked (slight paraphrase): How do you organize your math manipulatives and materials so that students can get them and use them when they need to?  I love the idea of allowing our classroom organization to allow for the students to use materials when THEY need them.  That is getting us closer to student centered classrooms.  :) 

A screen capture of one of my notes in Notability
     PD is one thing, but actually observing math in action is where we can really learn from others and reflect on our own instructional practice.  So, +Jodi Meyer and I introduced the idea of a Focus Walk to the staff, were we would go in and look for specific things for a 15-20 minutes period of time.  We wanted to look for the learning targets, what the students were doing, and questions/reflections we might have.  Those lenses will continue for our writing and reading walks later this year, too.  This time, we were specifically looking for evidence of the math standards and the math practices, or deep and surface learning.  We also said we could look for optimism, flexibility and persistence, since those were the building mindsets we had introduced at the time.

     I sent out a google form asking what time they taught math on Wednesdays.  If they were open to having visitors, they filled in their time slot.  I then looked at the form, and grouped classrooms into 30 minutes blocks (20 minutes for observations, and 10 for a debrief after). I sent the blocks of time to our ESL/Reading/DRC staff and asked them to mark times where they would be available to cover a class that day.  I then sent the form to the teachers, asking all teachers to fill in a time where they chose to observe.  We asked, if possible, for co-teachers to choose two different slots so that less intervention times would be affected.  Once we had the schedule, we were ready to observe!

     On average, the staff was able to walk between 2-3 classrooms and observe math in action.  Afterwards, we debriefed as a group.  I basically got the conversation started, and the teachers made honest observations and reflections, and some got new ideas that I saw applied even later that day.  Before we left each debrief, we agreed to spend 5 minutes looking at our own classroom through the lenses of the Focus Walks before our building meeting the next Tuesday.

     We started our final math building meeting watching a short 1 minute trailer that I had compiled of our walks (View it here!)  Then, we compiled a list of the instructional variables that we saw across the building.  We determined that those variables alone do not make our teaching good or great (thanks to the work of Dr. Mary Howard).  We broke into groups, and wrote things that we consider "good" or "great" in our own math teaching reflections, or from the walks, and put them onto charts.

     After the meeting was over, Ginny created a (K-2) and (3-5) Math Practices resource document for us, based off of the conversations had about what the practices looked like in OUR classrooms. Her hope in creating these documents were that you could utilize the resource while planning in order to deliberately incorporate the practices into your teaching.  Here is the K-2 Practices, and the 3-5 Practices.

     I am incredibly proud of our staff.  They not only focussed on improving their math instruction, they also opened their doors to other teachers and reflected on their own teaching.  They made changes, big and small, to benefit their students.  Our support staff gave up part of their services on one day to benefit the universal instruction, and for that I am very grateful.  Thank you all for the work you did. 

     Now, let's talk WRITING!  :)

Move Your Bus!

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

     It is time to keep the bus moving in the Move Your Bus book study in the #D100bloggerPD series.  Thanks for getting the bus moving in the previous posts.  If you have not read any of them, please click on the ThingLink above to catch up.  The first one on Literacy Loving Gals will help you get caught up on Ron Clarks ideas about runners, joggers, walkers, riders and drivers.  

     We all, as humans, have ideas.  That's what makes us so great.  The wonderful thing about having ideas is that we also have different ideas than others.  I have been riding the bus with my coworkers by reading their posts, and I have to say that I am not in full agreement with some of Ron Clark's ideas.  I agree with many of them fundamentally, but not always the inferences he makes when people demonstrate behaviors that contradict his beliefs.  If you want to hear more about that, invite me to Starbucks an order me a latte.  I have a latte that I could say.

     Moving forward to my part of the study!

Chapter 18: Exude a Sense of Urgency

     If anyone has ever heard me talk about the need for urgency during F&P testing windows, they know that I agree with this statement 100%.  Wasting instructional time is NOT an option.  We need to be urgent in our instruction when the kids are sitting in front of us.  Time is precious.  Use it well.

     But...  Saying that runners who are more urgent in their approach, even if only a few seconds quicker than joggers or walkers, show more respect, a stronger work ethic, and a desire to contribute more, just implies that runners are better.  But, we all ride this metaphoric bus together, and no one wants to be surrounded by Runners who only care about urgency and not about their fellow riders.  Also, urgency is not always more important than quality.  It depends on the task at hand.  But, I do believe that urgency is important.  I also believe in being humble, if at all possible.  

    He talks about how at restaurant, he gets frustrated when he is super hungry and the waiter takes his order and stops at another table before submitting the order to ask if someone needs something, or to clear dishes.  He says, "Honestly, you are going to get your food at about the same time regardless, but that slight shift in the waiter's priorities can be annoying to no end."  My response to that?  Perhaps you should make your own dinner.  The waiter may be showing efficiency when another server is sick, or empathy for the needs of other customers.  If you can't enjoy the dining experience, dine at home.  Just my opinion.

     I am a "Runner" in Ron Clark's terms.  But, I don't call myself one, and I certainly don't only coach "Runners".  We all add value. Like my daughter's school bus puzzle, we are all a part of that bus puzzle, for better or worse.  :)  The riders need to stop just riding, the walkers could start jogging with some coaching, the joggers could start to run, but all runners jog at least a little sometimes.  Well, maybe not my marathon running husband, but that is another story all together.  


    Ron Clark goes on to say that people who show urgency show it in how they walk, and he judges people on that.  Guess what, I am a shuffling Runner. Literally, I shuffle my feet.  I have been teased for it.  Oops.

     Clark gives the example that his assistant is urgent because he asked him to rent a U-Haul and he had it done before the meeting was even over, because he reserved it on his phone during the meeting. That is a task that ALLOWS for quick and urgent action.  I have seen some teachers apply the same type of decision making to instructional planning, and it hasn't gone so well.  Urgency at the cost of not unpacking standards, or not seeing the bigger plan, can go badly.   Sometimes, the quick decision needs to be deciding the next step we take next, not getting it all DONE fast. 

     I do have to say I like the idea of generating a list of tasks that need to be accomplished, and then starting the next meeting with checking items off the list that are complete.  He says:
A Rider thinks the list is not reasonable and will make excuses why the tasks couldn't be done.
A Walker will finish a part of the list so that they don't get in trouble.
A Jogger feels very content when the list is complete.
A Runner wants to get the list finished quickly so that more can be done.
This Runner wants to get things done well, not quickly, but prefers for it to be done in a timely manner. 

Chapter 19: Find Solutions

     This chapter I can buy into.

     "No excuses, only solutions."  I really do try to think this way.  Sometimes it is hard to do, because obstacles are so easy to see.  But, if we are optimistic in our approach, then we see solutions so much easier. Plus, why collaborate with people if you think the task can never be done anyway? Believe in the power of you.  Find solutions to your problems.  

     We also just introduced the 5 Mindsets for Learning (Mraz and Hertz) at Hiawatha.  They are optimism, persistence, flexibility, resilience, and empathy.  When Ron Clark talks about how frustrating it is when someone on a team says they will do something, but sends an email and doesn't get a response so they stop, I agree with him.  It's frustrating, and then it is impossible to be urgent like his last chapter suggests.  We, as teachers, also needs to use those mindsets in order to be successful as a team.

     He ends the chapter saying the if you are known for offering up solutions and finding ways to get something done, then you add more value to your team.  You may, in fact become an MVP in your supervisor's eyes.  He continues to say that initiative will be recognized and rewarded.  In most cases, I do agree with this.  However, the boss is not always looking in your direction, and so we can't make their response our only motivation for thinking that way.  In my opinion, the most successful teachers are the ones who offer solutions and find ways to get this done, because it is the right thing to do for the STUDENTS in front of us.  It's great when our boss sees it, but it's even better when are students benefit from our ability to find solutions.

     The bus is going to keep moving on Friday, with Kayla Kaczmarek at Miss Kaczmarek's Classroom.  See you on bus!

Empathy (Mindset #5)

Monday, February 15, 2016

     For the last 5 weeks, we have been using the ideas from A Mindset for Learning to promote the mindsets of optimism, persistence, flexibility, resilience, and empathy at Hiawatha School.  Check out these posts to read more about the mindsets, or look through #hiawathapride on Twitter.


     Just another Saturday morning at my house...  My daughter had wanted a zoo Playmobil set, and we finally bought it yesterday.  Today, she made a bigger zoo.  She opened the LEGO bin and built some new enclosures.  She found Playmobil sets we already owned and repurposed them as parts of a zoo.  She used her knowledge of Brookfield Zoo and added a lost and found, a blue ICEE stand, a stage, and some giraffes. 

     She even added an African Wild Dog enclosure.  Using a Playmobil puppy, and duplo LEGOS, she used flexibility and persistence to build an enclosure that is important to her.  She was even resilient when she had to keep digging through toys all over the house to find that dog, and it was optimism that she would find it that got her though.

     Wow, look at that.  All the Mindsets for Learning showed up in play on my kitchen floor.  Unguided.  Unstructured.  Just on their own, she used the 4 mindsets we have introduced.  

     Just wait for it, though... Here comes our 5th Mindset: Empathy!

     I started taking pictures of her play, as I often do, and I noticed the blanket on the sleeping lion.  Then, I noticed the water dish by the African Wild Dog, and the two Playmobil people almost holding hands.  That's when I saw the empathy in the way she sees the world.  

     The truth is, if children don't exhibit the mindsets for learning in their play, or in activities that they initiate, then how are they going to remember to be resilient during reading workshop?  Or persist during a math test?  Or be flexible when working on a science project? Low stress, choice given activities can be a valuable window into the mindsets that they exhibit, or need to develop.
      At school, our PBIS committee (thanks to the guidance of +Shianne Gillespie) is helping our students "Catch Kindness" in February.  All classrooms read a version of the bucket filler book, and now they have a bucket on their door to catch hearts when a student is caught being kind to someone else.  If we introduce empathy with this activity, we just need to think about our language when giving out a heart, or perhaps when deciding when to give a heart.  Sometimes, I have seen classes get hearts for whole class behavior.  If we really look at this as an opportunity to name and recognize kids being empathetic and kind to each other, then our students will see that we value each other and that kindness matters.  


     Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another person.  It's kids knowing that other people exist in their world, too, and they need to be aware of other people's feelings.  This is how our kindergarten teacher, Rita Tameling, chose to introduce this idea to her students.


     She had them name the behaviors that would fill a bucket, like being kind to others, and helping people, complimenting others, sharing, playing with everyone, etc.  They also identified bucket dippers, like teasing, not sharing, being mean, tattling, pushing, hitting, etc.  In reality, the moment a child decides to fill a bucket or dip into a bucket is probably dependent on whether they have empathy (and self-control) or not.  If they have an awareness of the feelings of others, they will be bucket fillers more often. 

      How can you get your students to be more aware?  Ms. Tameling had them start with a personal pledge to be a bucket filler!  Reciting that pledge at morning meeting, or whenever a heart is put into the class bucket, or anytime someone starts to dip into a bucket, would be a great way to use the pledge on the path to empathy.  :)


     Here is our one sheet for empathy this week.  

Ok, Hiawatha!  Let's explore EMPATHY!  #hiawathapride

How does your classroom embrace empathy?  
How do students show empathy?

How are we using the rest of the mindsets with empathy?

Next week, we will explore how we continue to develop mindsets after they have all been introduced.  This is a looooooong game.  The development of mindsets takes time.   More on that next week!