Problem: A toy continues to be a distraction for a child in a first grade classroom after 1. A reminder that the toy should not be out 2. a warning to put it away or I will need to take it away.
Action taken: Toy taken away to be returned the following day.
Next: The student is beginning to have a meltdown due to having the toy taken away. This is disrupting the class.
Student Needs: Reassurance, understanding, and encouragement to navigate his feelings about the situation.
My difficulties: Finding the time to talk with him when 19 other children are needing direction and guidance. Keeping my own patience level so that I can talk in a kind but firm manner.
Words shared: I understand you might be worried but your toy is not gone forever. You will get it back. It was not taken away because I don’t want you to have the toy but because it was a distraction from what we were doing. You had a choice to put it away and next time I know you can make a better choice.
It is okay to feel angry or sad. I will give you time to sit quietly, and then we will move on so we can continue with building a good day. We have things to look forward to on our schedule. I know you can keep working hard today,
Desired outcome: For the student to have ownership, and a feeling of control in the situation. For the student to hear that all feelings are okay. And finally some movement/motion to the next thing and noticing that he is capable of moving through tough feelings.
Actual outcome: It took longer than I would have liked for him to return to participating. He struggled with focusing for the next half hour until school was over, but he was not causing a disruption in the class and he was managing his emotions.
As we were cleaning up to go home he came over and shyly told me several times that he loved me. We made a positive connection, and I was so very glad I was able to find the time to talk to him, with understanding and kindness as the guide.
The other outcome: I am physically and emotionally tired at the end of the day. This was the process with one student at one point in the day. There are a lot of needs to be met, deep breaths taken, and reminders to myself that the goal is to have a good day together.
This was a moment that sticks in my mind due to his warm heart at the end of the day.
There are so many moments with students that don’t end with I love you and that I don’t find the time or patience to handle at my best. For those moments I look back and see how I could have done better. Everyday I substitute teach I am reminded of how hard teachers, and students, are working moment by moment, day by day to learn and grow together.
As I am transitioning into the working world as a substitute educator I feel a renewed sense of coming back to what I love again. That being said, I still have this worrisome feeling of finding out that I don’t fit where I used to. There is only one way to find out if that is true or not, and that is to go and see what happens and how it feels. I have worked one day and have three more days upcoming on the schedule.
A substitute teacher needs a thing…is it puppets, a rock collection, a love for insects?!? A thing they love to share and sparks their interest, and therefore motivates and interests the children too. What is it? I am not sure. Books and stories definitely but that’s not quite it. I have been thinking about it a lot. What can I bring with me that I will love sharing with the children. As a guest, as a newcomer in their classroom. What motivates me to step into the classroom? What can I share with them that will contribute something positive to their day? What feels right? So many questions.
As I go through this transition of returning to the classroom… discovering…adapting…changing…rediscovering…building…rebuilding…Creating….recreating…noticing…it’s right there! Building, creating. As I step into the classroom I have a wonderful opportunity to build/create a good day with the students, together. To work hard, be productive, cooperate and feel joyful about what we all can do. I think my thing is building together, and learning to notice that we always have the opportunity to keep building and creating. Imagine if we are always willing to try and build and create!! The hope, the possibility of what we can do opens up!! There are so many different and amazing ways to do that.
Next week as I step into a first grade classroom I will be bringing a deconstructed snowman with me. The snowballs and all his fun pieces all fit in a little case. We will be reusing some cardboard and transforming it into something fun. We will use materials in different ways. Coffee filters become snowballs!
At the end of the day we can notice: Together we built a snowman. Each one of us added something. We endeavored to build a good day together and this snowman represents our day. What a fun creation!! What a joyful, productive day!! We did it!!
I did a similar activity with a class of 3rd graders right before the holiday break. We built a candy cane. I learned a lot that day about how to implement this idea better. For one, make sure that the items are going to stick well and that they are very easy to attach!! Adding to what we are building should be able to happen fairly quickly and easily. We have classroom work to do that requires our attention, this is work on the side!
The great news is that I did feel a positive impact from it. The students were very motivated to add to the building of the candy cane. At the end of the day when we stopped to take a final look at it and see what we had created together and they were very interested.
When I said, “Look at what we designed and built together today!” there was a feeling of joy and excitement! When I pointed out that each one of them contributed to making the candy cane the way it is there was a sense of community, which was a wonderful way to end the day.
As mentioned, one of our challenges was getting the pieces to stick. When one student said, “Turn it upside down and see if anything falls off!” We did. It was silent, we turned it over slowly, all eyes carefully watching and we held our breath. When not a single piece fell off I looked at them with raised eyebrows and we all cheered! We were all rooting for the candy cane we built to hold together! Hooray! My heart was happy.
I am intentionally looking for little moments that jump out at me in some way. A small flash of attention that can easily go unnoticed and therefore unappreciated. A tiny bit of time that when nurtured becomes filling. This practice began unaware as I watched a crow and a squirrel on a wire while sitting in my car at a stop light. In that 10 seconds I imagined they were watching the city wake up while talking about their planned adventures for the day. I continued to think about that scene all morning until I decided to sketch it later that day. I felt a stillness as I recalled that sliver of time.
If time allows and I can take a picture I do. If not, I take a mental snapshot. When it strikes me I make a quick sketch in my journal that I have started carrying around with me. The drawing has no requirements it can be colored, or painted, left black and white, but while I am focusing on it I bring back the moment and appreciate what it offered me. I don’t do this daily, I haven’t scheduled it. No rules. I am purposely keeping it free. I am reminding myself of it, but not because I am requiring myself to but because it feels fundamental.
I am finding that I do say to myself, “I wonder what I will see today that stirs up lightness in me?” I feel that I am adding weight to flashes of time that I am choosing and it is bringing me peace.
I want to see and hear about more positive things happening. I want to hear stories of progress, adaptation, cooperation, and kindness. When I watch the news it seems to be filled with bad things that are happening and I start to feel helpless, and depleted. My answer to combat this feeling is to turn it off, not read it and not discuss it. I believe being aware of how much news I am consuming, and how I am feeling as a result of that is beneficial for me, but completely unplugging doesn’t sit right with me. Turning it off stops the influx of bad news, but it also hides the good news from me. It’s putting up a barrier and I feel separate from so much. There is a loss of connection, which I am sure lends itself to the feeling of powerlessness.
My friend, and mentor, Carl Paoli said that if I want to hear and see more positive news than I need to look for it, share it and be deliberate about it. To become the source of what I want to see more of. When I thought about that it seemed simple, powerful and fully in my control. I can become the source as the root is to a plant. I can be the start of what I want to see more of, of what I think we need to see more of. From that start there is possibiity for growth. Carl has reminded me of the difference a single act, a single person can make.
The problems, and the sadness that I see in the news can settle a cloud over the good things that are happening around me. A simple way I can return to noticing joy, and goodness is to purposely look for it and become that which I want to see. This requires my awareness and the responsibility is on me to do so. I have to put it into practice continuously.
Almost one year ago (Sept. 2020) I started the Noticing Joy Together tree in my neighborhood, which lasted until the winter weather arrived. We looked for things that brought us joy and shared it with each other by posting it on a tree. The purpose of the tree was to help ourselves practice noticing the good things (no matter how small) that were bringing us joy, and to share them with others to add light to their day as well. This was during quarantine when the news was scary to watch, but that act of noticing joy together brought about connection and community. I have forgotten how this activity helped me through that difficult time. I have gotten out of practice.
It has taken a reminder, and it will take deliberate practice but this way of being (becoming the source of what I want to see more of) feels fuller, and with direction. I appreciate the chance to begin again.
“Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy.”
I chose to study elementary education as my major in college. When I was 21 years old it was time to take the knowledge I had gained and put it into practice. It was time to begin my student teaching! I was excited, hopeful, nervous, and scared. This was what I had been preparing for. I was to be a student teacher at an elementary school in a 3rd grade classroom. At a school! In a classroom! Third grade! It all sounded exhilarating and wonderful to me.
On the day I was to begin I woke up very early. I was prepared. My bag was packed. I was dressed in a skirt, and a top that I had picked out just for this day. I was ready to go.
The time had arrived and I parked in the parking lot. I then slung my bag over my shoulder and proceeded to the front of the school, up the stairway to the impressive double doors, which were LOCKED? My heart was beating quickly already due to nerves and this unexpected event sent it into double time. I headed around to the far side(the wrong side) in search of doors I could enter through. Every set of stairs that I walked up to had a pair of locked doors. I ended up hustling around the whole building, feeling like I was going to be late with each failed attempt. Wouldn’t you know it, the doors right by the parking lot, by my car were unlocked… sensible doors to enter through, which I somehow missed.
At this point I was feeling flustered with a sheen of sweat! I decided to take a breath and a pause before entering the building, because of course I still had time. Time was the only thing that appeared to be on my side despite my worries of being late.
It was at that moment that I looked down and realized my skirt’s zipper from the back was now in the front. While hunting for an unlocked door some sort of friction had been taking place between my skirt, my nylons and my bag and had completely turned my skirt around backwards! This craziness had also twisted my tucked in shirt to the side. As soon as I noticed this I suddenly felt like my outfit was a boa constrictor wrapping around me squeezing the air out of me. My carefully chosen clothing had turned on me! There was a moment of panic.
This was not how my well prepared morning and entrance into the school as a teacher was supposed to go! Wrong door, long walk, sweatiness, and an outfit on backwards! Doors were saying don’t enter and my clothing was actually turning around and trying to head the other way. I tugged, and twisted to get everything back in order and I prayed that no one would walk in or out the door while this strange dance was going on. This tug of war with my clothing was working and everything on the outside of my body was getting put back in place. My insides, and my feelings were definitely still out of place. I was feeling embarrassed and worried about what could happen next.
After getting situated I paused and I took some deep breaths, just as I was doing before the skirt fiasco. Then I opened the door, proceeded to the office and stepped into third grade. The classroom where we learned together that mistakes, accidents, and silly things happen to us all and we might feel nervous, defeated, or embarrassed, but that moment doesn’t define the next one. If we have the courage to step forward and keep going the next moment could possibly be amazing. My step through the door to do my student teaching was certainly amazing, skirt frontwards or backwards.
I want children to believe, “I belong here, I can do this, I am brave.” When they step into the classroom they should be flexing those thoughts, experiencing challenges and building skills in perseverance and resilience. I know that not all children believe they are smart and/or can learn when they are in the classroom.
The following excerpt comes from the book Multiple Intelligences in the Classroom by Thomas Armstong. It is from a section in the book where the author is describing how he introduces students to the theory of multiple intelligences.
“I usually begin by asking, ‘How many of you think you are intelligent?” I’ve discovered there seems to be an inverse relationship between the number of hands that go up and the grade level that I am teaching-That is, the lower the grade level the more hands go up; the higher the grade level, the fewer the hands.”
Pair that discovery with this survey shared in the book Mindsets in the Classroom By Mary Cay Ricci and the urgency to address this decline in confidence and sense of ability as our children progress through school must be improved. She surveyed students about their beliefs about intelligence. She used the following statements in the survey:
Everyone can learn new things. (a growth mindset)
Some kids are born smarter than others. (a fixed mindset)
We can change how smart we are. (a growth mindset)
Here are the percentages of children who believe they can learn new things and they can change how smart they are, by grade level:
100% of kindergartners
90% of first graders
82% of second graders
58% of third graders
The percentage of students who believe in a growth mindset has a downward trend, just like the number of students who think they are intelligent.
A child (adult too), who doesn’t think they are intelligent, and who doesn’t believe they can learn new things doesn’t feel in control of their path, because there isn’t anything better to move towards. That helplessness leads to feeling stuck ,and unmotivated. From there, participation can drop and interest and effort can fall. All of these outcomes are difficult obstacles for teachers and students to overcome.
In part, I believe this is happening because we are teaching for test results. We are trying to upload as many facts and as much information as we can into our children before the test taking time comes. Due to pressure and limited time, we are overlooking the skills and understanding they need to process, and find meaning and motivation in all the work/information given to them. Time is taken away to experience, explore and find connection with all they are being shown. For the students, and for the teacher, school is a race to cover all the needed information before testing, taking the tests and then possibly feeling defeated by a seemingly fixed label (test results they have seen, heard, or felt).
We can make progress to lessen these downward slopes. A shift in our goals, a thoughtful change in our focus in our schools, in our classrooms and at home. We can help children to expand the word intelligent to be more encompassing, have a broader meaning. We can teach them about the brain and it’s amazing abilities to learn, relearn, problem solve, adapt, and connect. We can also help them to strengthen their mindset by providing appropriate challenges and time to explore and grow, in safe spaces where they feel it is okay to wonder, try, fail, connect with others through struggle and progress. We can share tools with them to help them to practice their perseverance, and resilience.
This quote from the book Going Right by Logan Gelbrich points us to a shift we can make, a direction we can head,
“…in a world where we think results are everything. I’m asking you to have a mindset that says the process is everything.”
We need a shift from too much focus and time spent on testing and results. Instead we can focus, with more care and energy, on building up their understanding of the process of growth that we all share, and helping them to notice their amazing ability (intelligence in action) to adapt, problem solve, persevere and learn new things as they navigate towards better.
We can focus more on the right side of this diagram and allow for movement to happen for all children so they continue to believe in their intelligence and their ability to make progress.
This morning I went for a 25 minute run around my neighborhood. During the run I was noticing the houses, and thinking about the living happening within the walls. I was noticing nature, gardens, yard decorations. Everything I seemed to be seeing was tugging at my heart with an appreciation for what has been, what is and what is to become. I was breathing fine, my eyes were welling up.
What changed this from a quick run to get in some movement, to an emotion, thought filled run was a yard sign that was sharing the exciting news that a child in that house was graduating from Kindergarten this year. I thought, “Oh my what fun is happening in that house right now and for the years to come!” The wonder, the excitement, the play, the running in the halls.
And then I thought, “I am over those years. I have a child graduating from high school and the next one is close behind.” I began to worry if I had stepped back enough through the years to notice all the milestones along the way? The laughter, the love, the time spent playing on the floor, the walks to school holding hands. Nostalgia while running, I wasn’t sure if it was a good mix or not. Then I saw a fifth grade graduation sign, and an eighth grade graduation sign and some high school signs! All these amazing moments taking place street after street. I was celebrating each one for each child, and family as I moved by. Taking me through all the ages, all the times we had gone through together as a family. Waves of emotions while running! So much affection for all those time periods of the past. So much sadness that we are entering a new changed chapter in life. A longing that was causing tears to build in my eyes, but filling my heart up at the same time.
What came next as I continued to move along? A spinning row of pinwheels reflecting the sunshine and moving with the wind gusts. One wheel would spin and then the next. Some would be spinning others would be still, reminding me that we are all experiencing life in this moment, sometimes the wind is pushing us forward with change, and at other times we are still. Here I was reminiscing about all the big changes that had taken place over the years, and feeling so much appreciation for the moments gone by. I thought, “Pinwheels are joy.” I stopped to take a video. Right now is joy.
I then resumed my run feeling quite energized. I stopped noticing the yard signs and began to take in nature next to the sidewalks. I came upon a huge tree that had fallen and had been cut up and taken away. All that was left was the tipped over stump and the roots sticking up out of the ground. There were so many rings of growth! I thought, “Trees are amazing.” That tree had been there for so long, had seen so many families and children go by, had weathered many winds.
I kept on pumping my arms and legs. One twenty-five minute run was all that it looked like to anyone else.
“Your imagination is everything. It is the preview of life’s coming attractions.”
I am the parent of a fifteen and an eighteen year old. My oldest is about to graduate from high school and will be heading away from home to attend college soon, which has me questioning how well we have prepared him.
I hope that the previews both my children envision in their minds of the life ahead of them are beautiful, exciting, and full of possibility. I also hope they know that to move in the direction of dreams takes exploration, courage, perseverance and hard work. When they encounter struggles, mistakes, tough times that is not a sign that they are going the wrong way, or that they are alone. I want them to remember that they will have worries, but they can look, adapt and find ways to keep going. I want them to continue to be curious, resilient and full of dreams! And to know they can ask for help, collaborate, learn from others as they continually become who they want to be in this world.
I wrote this poem in January of 2020 with my own two children in the forefront of my mind, but all children, all of us in my heart. I have been adding, and changing it over time and have now finalized it…for a moment.
“Nurture your mind with great thoughts, for you will never go any higher than you think.” -Benjamin Disraeli
As a parent, and a teacher, I want to help children develop an awareness about their character, the power of their mind, about the path that lies ahead of them as they grow. Ideas about life, our role in it, how we go about creating the life we dream of…those are all huge understandings that never end, life lessons that change and grow as we change and grow.
We have such an important job as parents, care givers, educators and that can make for a lot of pressure. Our role is important, it assists in building a strong foundation, but we are a part of children’s journey not the entirety. This quote comes to mind: “Humans are not born once and for all on the day their mother’s give birth to them…life obliges over and over again to give birth to themselves.” -Gabriel Garcia Marquez.
We assist in lighting the spark, planting the seed, keeping the window of possibility open in our children’s lives by providing opportunities for moments of self awareness that they can build upon. If we view our role as allowing for stepping stones, jumping off points for self awareness and understanding of others it allows us to feel a bit less pressure. Powerful lessons for sure, but not so pressure filled, because we are just a part of their process, not the whole! They begin to navigate with courage, self belief and a sense of belonging as we assist and guide.
One stepping stone to self awareness that we can help our children begin to connect with and understand is labels. Labels are abundant in our society. The definition of label, as it relates to people, is a classifying phrase or name applied to a person, especially one that is inaccurate or restrictive. The words restrictive and inaccurate are in the definition of label, and yet we (humans) take them on and let them shape our lives in so many ways.
We can help our children be aware of labels and the role they might play in their lives. Labels are everywhere, especially in the online world. Labels can lead to a restricted, fixed mindset. “In a fixed mindset, people believe their basic qualities, like their intelligence or talent, are simply fixed traits. They spend their time documenting their intelligence or talent instead of developing them. They also believe that talent alone creates success-without effort.” (Dweck, 2015)
We can provide children with an opportunity to think about labels, how labels can make them feel stuck, and build an awareness about how they respond to labels.
We can use a visual model. A visual analogy using two cans of food.
Show them a can of food with a label on it, suh as a can of green beans. Ask:
What’s in this can?
Can you name five things that could be in this can?
What could we make with this can of green beans?
Help them notice:
We are having a hard time coming up with more than one answer of what could be in this can, because the label is telling us what it is.
We can think of some different dishes we could make (soup, casserole, salad), but it’s limited.
Show your child a can of food with the label removed.
Could you name 5 things that could be in this can?
Could it be something that goes in a dessert?
Could it be an ingredient used to make tacos?
Could it be something sour?
Help them notice:
The answers of what it could be seem limitless.
So many possibilites.
The potential for what it could be made into are many.
Try and use these words as you are discussing what it could be: limitless, possibilities, and potential. Those are strong capable words, just like we are strong, capable, adaptable human beings.
Talk about the difference between the labeled can and the unlabeled can.
Build the connection between this canned food analogy to us as humans. There is one label these two have in common, which is canned food. Let’s compare this to humans.
What is our one label? Human.
Are there other labels humans have or give to themselves or take on? Age..race…grade…job…personality…strengths…talents…weaknesses.
Can you think of some labels that might be associated with you? Share some of your own labels you have or had.
Do they hold you back in some way?
Do we have to let them hold us back?
Can I change this label? How?
Do I label others? (connection, understanding, empathy, compassion)
In society, in families we will always have labels, because they help us organize, but we are capable and with awareness we can go beyond labels and not let them define us or others. Think about the labeled green beans…can they become a dessert? It is not likely that green beans will become a dessert, but if someone is thinking outside of the box, with a different perspective…it is possible. Cauliflower has become a pizza crust. That’s beyond what I ever imagined. We can go beyond labels.
This discussion can be a simple to the point awareness of labels, just an aha moment, or it can expand into stereotypes, subjectivity, perspective, image, excuses…from canned food to whoa some deep connections. It all depends on the age, interest and understanding of the child. It can definitely be a lesson that can be returned to, referenced as needed and built upon.
Are you being held back by a label right now?
How is it limiting you?
What would you choose to do if that wasn’t there?
Labels have a lot of power to control us, but as humans we have the capability and control in how we respond to labels. If we are aware of labels, and that they can limit us, that is a powerful self awareness to have, and gives us control of our path. Next if we understand that we are always changing as humans and we can go beyond labels we will build empathy for ourselves and others. This opens up possibilities and gives us the willingness and motivation to move forward. Instead of labels moving us towards a fixed mindset, and feeling stuck we are helping our children build a powerful self awareness and understanding that with opportunity, support and effort we can change, grow and move forward. We are helping them foster a growth mindset. “In a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work-brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment.” (Dweck, 2015)
We can all assist our children with opening doors to capability, growth and possibility so they can navigate their own courageous path with hope. This analogy is one way to start a discussion, that might begin a thought process, build an understanding, open up new paths. That is a fantastic stepping stone we can provide.