Monday, October 27, 2014

Kindergarten Mindset- We are here to learn

His big five year old eyes looked up at me with nervousness as we sat down to work.
"I can't write my name," he said. "I don't know it."

"That's OK," I tried to sound reassuring. "That's why we are here. To learn."

He nodded like he didn't really believe but wasn't going to argue with an adult. He knew all his friends could write their names. He knew they knew the names of the letters. Throughout his day his frustration with not being able to do what his friends showed in those big eyes. He knew.

We worked hard, those mornings, working on forming the letters and learning their names. With our dry erase markers we formed and re-formed each letter. Write, erase, try again.

Then one day he sat down confidently. "I'm learning," he explained to me. "It's OK. I'm learning." 
Without another comment he wrote his name, stopped himself when he made a mistake, erased it and re-did his letters. Over and over again, he confidently caught his own mistakes, not letting himself get frustrated by the imperfection. "I'm learning," he repeated. 

My school focuses on using Carol Dweck's research in her book Mindset in all of our practice.
It drives how we plan lessons, how we talk to parents, and how we interact and talk with kids. We make a conscious effort not to label what kids do as smart, but to label their hard work, effort and problem solving skills. By reinforcing what students are actually doing we are changing how our students approach their school work.

My little friend went from seeing himself as behind to seeing himself as a learner. He gave himself permission to learn- to make mistakes, to be behind, to keep working. He took ownership of his work. It didn't come from us telling him to work harder or giving him pep talks about how he should get his head in the game. It all came from simply repeatedly noticing his hard work as he did it and labeling it. In his classroom no one is using the words, "that's smart". Instead the students around him are also being praised for using strategies, not giving up on difficult tasks, and for using problem solving skills to find an answer. He noticed. He picked up on the idea that we are in school to learn. It is OK to not be the smartest or learn something the fastest. What matters is that you learn.

My friend may have a hard road ahead of him. It may take him longer to learn concepts that will come quicker to his friends. I hope he can hang on to this idea that learning is a process throughout his school career. If so, his determination and dedication are going to take him far.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Three Kid Myths We Use to Judge Each Other

OK, I'll admit it- before I was a parent myself I was a really good parent.

Now? With two kids? Whoa- I'm lucky if I'm in the mediocre range, especially when I compare myself to the magical mother I was going to be before I had kids. From raising my daughter and reflecting on my own judgements I've realized that as a teacher I was operating under some misconceptions about childhood, despite all of my training, education, and constant reading on child development.

Myth One: It's easy to tell a spoiled child. Kids who cry when you tell them no are spoiled. They are obviously accustomed to getting their way.

Ha! Little did I know, kids are not necessarily spoiled just because they cry or argue when they are told no. My husband and I frequently exclaim in frustration, "Little Lipstick, have we EVER let you have what you want after you talk to us like that?" And every time she yells, "NO! BUT I WANT ITTTTTTT"
It's become a ritual in our house. You want cupcakes for breakfast? OK, let's start our daily 'you cry, we ignore you' routine. (Even as I type this I'm preparing for judgement- those of you reading are thinking, clearly there is something wrong. They must give in once. They are giving her negative attention which keeps the argument going, etc, etc. I am working really hard on trusting you to not be doing that. Otherwise I would write pages defending our parenting. Stay with me here and don't judge.) 

As adults when we stub our toe and it hurts like hell we often call out, swear, or hold our breath. We react. Even though swearing didn't change the pain the first time we ever stubbed our toe we still react that way now. It still hurts, and we swear even though we know that will not make it feel any better. We know swearing doesn't change anything. We aren't trying to manipulate the situation by yelling. We are expressing ourselves.

That's true for kids. My daughter is sad she cannot have a cupcake for breakfast. She knows she cannot have a cupcake and she knows we are not going to change our minds, but she is sad so she is expressing it. (She has just now started using the words sad, scared, and nervous and we are getting wonderful I statements like, "I am nervous about going to daycare" and "I am sad about my cupcake", which has put a significant decrease in tantrums.)

I watch a lot of the kindergarten students get upset when told "no". We often think, "Oh, only child syndrome" or "must get their way all the time at home." But I'd like to take back that judgement now. As a parent of a child who has BIG emotions, I know now that it isn't because she always gets her way, it is just because she is stubbing her toe. She is expressing her feelings and getting it out. I'd rather she didn't, but I can't control everything.

Which leads us to...
Myth 2: Parents can control their kids as though they are puppets. 

2) Unless there is a special, secret formula out there that if we follow will give us the perfect child, we are not in 100% control of our children. They each have their own temperaments and personalities. We control how we react to situations and we can set consequences and structure, but we are not the architects of our children's worlds. We can't be. The neighbor's dog, the mean friend on the playground, the bank teller who gives our kid a lollipop even though we ask them not to- these are all elements of our children's worlds. This world we can't control shapes our children. They develop their own opinions- quite separately of ours- about what they like and don't like, what they are scared of, what makes them happy and what makes them sad. We can help them through all of those emotions, we can control how we react to their emotions, but we cannot give our children emotions.

Myth 3: Kids need structure at home like they have in school 

Structure at home? Ha! Structure at school is easy. We have bell schedules, lunch schedules, art and PE schedules. We have routines. Even when there are breaks in the routines we prepare for it ahead of time (field trips get planned months in advance, we talk about it for weeks ahead of time. And fire drills get practiced so many times that they become routine even when they are a surprise.)
Structure at home is totally different. You can have set bedtime and wake up times, and bedtime routines and morning routines and meal routines, but it's not school. There aren't bells and chimes throughout the day. It has to be more flexible. In fact, it should be more flexible. Children need to know how to roll with change. They need down time to explore. They need to figure out what to do when they are bored.

There are many great ways to put routines and structures into a family's day, but it will never be as structured as school. And that is OK. Kids need to breath.

Do you have other misconceptions you've found about how we make quick judgments about kids?

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Judge, Judge, and Judge Some More. Is there anything about parenting that doesn't get judged?

This weekend I was waiting for my Starbucks order, chatting happily with my three year old (who, let's admit it, was happy because she was chomping on a large Starbucks pumpkin cookie), when I out of the corner of my eye I caught sight of a little girl about to eat popcorn off the floor of Target. Without even thinking (because this is what teachers and moms of toddlers do) I stopped her. "Oh honey, don't eat that!" I exclaimed, and she cried, because that is what kids do when a stranger stops them from doing something they really want to do.

Her mother turned around and gave me a dirty look. Then without saying anything she pushed the cart away from me in a huff.

OK. So we shouldn't talk to kids we don't know. But if it was my daughter (and next time it probably will be my daughter) and I didn't see it (because even the best parent can't watch their child 100% of the time) I would want a stranger to stop her from eating off the floor at Target. Her being momentarily upset that a stranger had talked to her is better than her eating off the floor. And even better, it will (hopefully) stop her from eating off the floor from Target in the future.

At first I was put off by the other mom's dirty look. I was only trying to help. Then I realized she probably felt like I was judging her as a parent. I wasn't. It was the opposite. She had three kids with her- good grief, I know how hard it is to shop with two kids- I can't imagine with three. My thought was not, "OMG, this women is a terrible mother. Her daughter is about to eat off the floor." I thought, "Oops, that little girl is about to eat off the floor. Better stop her because her mom looks busy."

But there is no way that mom would know that. We live in a culture of judgement, especially when it comes to parenting. I'm a member of a couple on-line parenting groups, and I am frequently horrified by the amount of judging that goes on. Off statements like, "I would never..." "If my child ever did something like that..." "It may be hard, but it's my kid so I'm going to do...." are constantly coming out. They are easy statements to think and even easier to type. The internet has given a platform to our judginess. We read so much judgement out there that it's easy to think that we are fighting each other every day. A trip to Target should not be a chance to showcase our parenting for the entire world, as we desperately hold our breath hoping that today our child will not have a meltdown because then everyone would know what terrible parents we really are.

The older my daughter gets the more acutely aware of how much I unfairly judged parents of students I taught. It was especially bad when she was an infant because just being a new parent gave me the license to say, "As a parent I would..."

Ha! I had a baby who could not talk back, throw a tantrum, hit, kick, or blow snot all over me on purpose.

As my very independent, strong-willed and sensitive daughter gets older I am realizing just how hard parenting can be and just how wrong my misconceptions of parenting have been. My next few posts are going to be a series of the myths of childhood that we use to judge one another. Stay tuned...

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

The Beginning of the Beginning

I'm not sure how it's happened that the first week and a half of school has happened and I haven't had a chance to blog. Keeping up with my three year old and my six month old paired with the beginning of the year exhaustion has left me with lots of blog posts running through my head and very little time to sit down and put them on paper. This year I'm running our local screening and working with a variety of students and classes throughout the building but I do not have my own caseload. I love working with different students in different grades, but my heart, especially this time of year, belongs to kindergarten.

If you are not a kindergarten teacher it is impossible to fully grasp the monster that is the first month of kindergarten. These teachers are taking babies- children who until a few weeks ago spent a blissful five years with their families, in day cares or preschools, napping in the afternoon, eating delicious snacks, playing games, and giggling with friends. Suddenly they are in a class with twenty plus other kids also competing for the adult's attention. They are expected to do whatever this adult says even if it makes no sense to them whatsoever, and they can't just wander around and play with whatever they see. If they want to speak they have to raise their hand, if they go anywhere it has to be in a line where they have to stand behind some kid who walks too slow and somehow not step on his feet. They have to walk in this line over and over again to practice for this thing called a fire drill- which is crazy because there is no fire but all the adults act like there is one and get really grouchy if they talk- even if they are simply pointing out that there is no fire. While practicing the fire drill they can actually see the playground and breath the fresh air but they cannot go running freely towards the slide. Even though it is RIGHT there. If they do the adults get crazy mad. They have to eat on a schedule. They can't nap. They have to stay in one room unless an adult says otherwise. They can't tell the teacher about their brand new shoes or their baby brother's birthday next week or that they don't like the color orange whenever the thought pops into their head. There are bells and signals and songs and books and directions and directions and directions. Their little worlds are completely turned upside down. Let's not forget that some of them barely speak English and are doing all of these crazy new rituals in a foreign language.

In a month the kindergarten classrooms will be smooth running machines. They will look like what we think school should look like. But the first few weeks? Those babies are having their worlds rocked. For those of us who get to pop in and out of the classrooms to help it's cute and entertaining. For their teachers- well, I hope they are all enjoying large glasses of wine and being pampered at home every evening. They are introducing students to their school careers, patiently and kindly setting the tone for their school journey. It's messy, exhausting and extremely important. Every one of those teachers should be given a full body massage at the end of September.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

How We Talk About Kids

I'm trying to recreate a document I saw in the very beginning of my teaching career. It listed negative comments teachers frequently say about kids and rephrased it in a more positive manner. Reading over it one felt like it was a list of very obvious phrases that we should not have to be reminded to use or not use, but it was helpful to have in writing. I want to find it or recreate it to give to new teachers who are struggling with how to positively phrase a child's actions and characteristics in meetings. I've been Googling around trying to find something, somewhere that will have it- there have to be examples out there in the great wide internet that can give better phrases than I can come up with. I've typed in "positive talk about kids", "discussing children positively" "positive language for discussing students" and a great many other searches that use some variation of that language.
I've found-


Many articles have popped up on how we talk to children, but I haven't found anything on how we talk about our students. Don't get me wrong, I'm a huge advocate of using positive language with students, but we should not stop there. We shouldn't be using very positive language with our class and then going into the teachers' lounge and saying, "OMG that kid is driving me nuts! What is wrong with her?" or coming to meetings to discuss whether or not a student has special needs and saying, "He's so lazy. I just can't get him to do anything."

Even the phrase "He's super low" places an unnecessary judgement on the child. Anyone in the room who hasn't met the student yet immediately applies his or her preconceived notions on what 'low' means to this child and starts to mentally categorize the student. This can change how other people view the child when they meet him, and how they assess him.

Instead of wide reaching statements we can be specific with what we notice by looking at the students behaviors.
"He benefits from directions being repeated."
 "She often requires lessons to be retaught in order to fully grasp the concept."
"She needs reminders to keep her hands to herself during whole group lessons."
"He has difficulty remembering to raise his hand during lessons."

I need your help. What phrases do you often hear used negatively about kids (He's lazy, she's a hot mess, he drives me crazy...) and what are ways we can phrase it more positively?

Saturday, August 9, 2014

August Dreams

The other night I woke up in a cold sweat. I had to take a moment to get myself together and realize it was just a dream. In real life I was not responsible for developing a year long word study curriculum based entirely off of the songs from Frozen. 

In the dream I was working hard on blend sorts- between the Fr blend to Sn (Do you want to build a snowman?) 

The back to school August dreams have begun.

(Although if I did this I could probably make a ton of money on Teachers pay Teachers.)

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Mommy Moments

As a teacher I get to experience both worlds- being a working and stay at home mom. I'm constantly torn between which is better. The guilt I feel for leaving my kids vs loving my job vs the stimulation they get in daycare vs quality time at home. 
The first three days this week felt idiolistic. Peaceful. Moments of almost three year old tantrums, but we lived. I really felt like I hit my stride. We can do this! Maybe I should stay home. Going back is going to be sooooo hard. 

And then...

7am- baby wakes up. Husband is already up with toddler. I love him. Baby is covered in pee because her diaper leaked. Quick bath for baby. 
8:00- husband has to leave. I hate him. How dare he go to work and leave me out numbered? It's ok- I can do this. Toddler sweetly eating breakfast.
9:00- toddler still eating breakfast. Omg she is the slowest eater ever. Baby fussy and needs a nap. Toddler doesn't want to be left alone. Must wash applesauce out of her hair before we can all go up. How does she possibly get so dirty from one meal?! Baby crying. Past her nap time.
Shamelessly hand toddler iPad so I can put her sister down for a nap. Ask toddler if she needs to potty first. Toddler, of course, says no. Demand that toddler sit on potty to at least try before I give her the iPad. Toddler cries on potty, baby crying louder. Toddler refuses to pee. I remind her that if she has an accident she loses her iPad privledges (she has a track record of hanging accidents during iPad play). Start putting baby down for nap. Baby closes her eyes, relaxes body- toddler screams, "I tinkled on the rug!!" Lots of crying. From mommy, toddler, and baby. 
Ignoring screaming baby haul toddler to toilet. Clean toddler, clean rug. Remove iPad. 
Return to putting baby down for a nap. Her body relaxes, I'm walking out the door-
Toddler comes to door, "Is she asleep yet?" 
Baby wakes up. Crying. 
Send toddler downstairs to build castle out of couch cushions. 

Let baby fuss (maybe she'll go back down? Nope, wide awake). Return to trying to nap baby. Her body relaxes, eyes close-
Phone rings. Toddler comes running upstairs- "mommy!! The phone is ringing!"
Toddler's voice wakes up baby.  
10:30 Give up on napping baby. Make more coffee. 
Sidewalk chalk turns into request for painting. Why not? I must have spiked my coffee. 

Feeling like great mom- we paint- everyone is happy- such peace! I just have to make it to nap time. Of course, before that is lunch- oh poop, we have nothing to eat for lunch. Like, just a heal of bread and peanut butter. But we ate the other heal yesterday. A good mommy would go to the store. 
We clean up, negotiate the leaving the house wardrobe. I even remember the reusable bags. I've so got this. 
I forgot wearable baby carrier. 
I'll just put the baby in one of the reusable bags.
Trader Joe's carts are not big enough to put a Graco SnugRide into the back basket. Well, now one is. If you push hard you can really wedge it in there. Of course now there are no room for actual groceries.
Luckily they have those cute "customer in training" carts. Perfect. Toddler ends up pushing all the groceries into my ankles the entire trip. But we have groceries. People keep smiling at us with the sweet, "bless your heart" look. Oh dear Lord, my daughter has yellow paint stripes in her hair. How did I miss that? Is that what she meant when she said, "Now I am prettiful?" It's ok. My shorts are covered in spit up. We make a nice pair. 

Trader Joes nicely gives my daughter about ten stickers and offers to help us to the car. Which I accept. Not ashamed. Plus I need help getting the car seat in wedged from the now bent shopping cart. Are you supposed to tip? I can't get to my wallet while holding the baby and toddler. Hopefully he'll take the baby's spit up on his shoes as thanks enough. Why do people get so freaked out by regurgitated breast milk? 
Back in car baby is screaming, toddler is carefully placing all ten stickers all over herself. 
Upon parking the car I find:
1) I am taking two spaces and I'm not going to put the screaming baby back in the car to fix it.
2) toddler is hysterical because if she moves all her stickers may fall off. 
They do. So the entire walk back to our house they are reapplied. I hate those stickers. 

It's only noon. Lunch and then nap. Please Lord, help me cherish the moment when my toddler looked at me and said, "thank you for cleaning up my tinkle" to help me through the rest of the summer. And help me remember the cleaning of the tinkle when I'm in long IEP meetings in October.  
Post nap baseball. I do love this age.

Organized Chaos

A think tank focused on creative solutions for future problem solvers -tree