Magical Progress

It seems that it can be hard for me to notice my own progress while I am in the trenches putting in the work. When it goes unnoticed for too long, or I discount it, the motivation needed to keep going gets tougher. Instead of feeling motivated I feel stuck or defeated. 
Young children are so excited to share their improvement, their progress and celebrate it so joyfully! “Look at me! I did it!” At some point that joyful celebration begins to come less easily, with less enthusiasm.
When I was teaching Summer School most of my students were hesitant to write. “I can’t do it.” or “I am not good at it.” were common statements. As almost third graders they were feeling stuck and unmotivated. I know how that feels. They were unable to see, or acknowledge, their writing capabilities and unwilling and fearful to try and improve. 
I wanted them to notice their capabilities and see every bit of improvement they made. With support, effort, focus and fun we worked on our writing for the 20, half days we were together. Celebrating as much as we could, every little bit.
On our last day of school I decided to share some bits and pieces of our pre and post writing assessment with them. I didn’t share the scores, or the names on the papers, and we discussed not saying, “That’s mine.” or “I know who’s that is.” 
We looked at the pre and post side by side and noticed the improvement. What do you see that is better than the first test? We noticed spaces between words, easier to read, better spelling, capital letters at the start of a sentence, period at the end, clearer printing…Any little improvement we noticed it and we smiled about it.
 We did not discuss scores and didn’t use the word perfect. We used the words changed, improved, transformed and magic. Is it magic? It can feel like it, but we know it’s not because we know the effort, hard work and focus that it took to get better at writing. The feeling of owning the improvement is magical, joyful, and motivating!!
I hope that as they enter into third grade next week they carry that feeling with them and let that feeling give them the courage to keep working hard and to try their best. I hope they amaze themselves with all they can do.

A Place We Want to Be

Being a teacher right now can be overwhelming. There is a lot going on, a lot to hear, and so much to think about. With that being said, I keep finding myself going back to the classroom, even after days when I say, “That’s it.” 

I have not returned to full time teaching but I have been substitute teaching for almost two years now. I keep committing to a bit longer jobs, a little bit more responsibility. I feel very fortunate that I am able to wade back into the waters at my own pace.

Last year I canceled going on a trip to a tropical resort with my husband to take a long term substitute teaching position. After that position ended I told my husband to remind me of the difficulties and how tired I was if I was considering another position.

This summer I am going to miss our annual vacation with our friends so that I can teach summer school. Oops, I did it again!  

“ Why?” I ask myself this and I get asked this by others.

I think what keeps me coming back is my love for teaching and the opportunity to build a good day with the students and the feeling that comes from that.

What can I bring that will help us do that? 

What are they expecting when I walk in? 

What do I want to feel while I am there?

After a tough day I start asking myself  those questions and all the possibilities are still there. 

I need to bring enthusiasm. I need to want to be there. I need to get them invested! To invest in building a good day. To care about creating the strongest classroom. To understand how we all contribute to that. I must provide the framework, and the direction for that. Figuring out how to create, adjust and build that fires me up!! It drives me to return and keep trying.

Secretly the Cheers theme song runs through my head to remind me of what is needed. All the noise around education slips away and I return to what is important.

“Sometimes you wanna go

Where everybody knows your name

And they’re always glad you came

You wanna be where you can see (ah-ah)

Our troubles are all the same (ah-ah)

You wanna be where everybody knows your name”

I am very excited to do what I love, and what I am good at, this summer and I can’t wait to say hello to each student that joins me,see what we create together and feel the joy of being there.

Creating Strength

I have been thinking a lot about what contributes to a strong classroom and what defines a strong classroom. What builds an environment of growth? How do we nuture that? How do we make it safe and joy filled? What does it feel like and look like to walk into The Strongest Classroom? At this moment I find myself thinking in poetry, specifically haikus, which help me think in few words that can convey strong feeling. I hope one of these poems might connect with you. Maybe you will be inspired to write your own haiku about the environment we need to nurture for children that leads to growth, learning and joy! I would love that!! If you feel comfortable sharing one with me that would be amazing!

The strongest classroom!
Happens anywhere at all,
when we nurture care.
A builder of hope...
the difficulty is seen,
the effort is given.
All in together.
Contributing to our best.
Community here.
Unscalable height...
one attempt has failed,
looks scalable now!
There is the feel of
wonder, possibility!
What could happen next?
Joy is with many.
Encouragement is alive.
Attempt, celebrate!
A safe space for us
where challenges are taken.
Resilience moves.
Ongoing process
with cycling dips and peaks
moving us upward.
I doubt that I can.
I will courageously try.
I am capable!

The Strongest Classroom

Connection, courage and possibility help me to navigate a strongman contest (insert any challenge in the blank).

Noticing the connection of the process that I share with all of the competitors to improve and grow builds a feeling of community for me. We share struggles, worries and adversities. We share gains, wins and celebrations. Noticing the frustrations and the joy, and experiencing this contrast of emotions together builds “a bonfire of belonging”(a beautifully strong phrase I heard from author Brad Montague).

It takes courage for me to get out there, to push to my edges and possibly beyond in a public setting. At the competition when I look around I see courage in action from the other competitors, the coaches, the judges, the spotters, the host who was brave enough to undertake and organize the event. All the different ways of being brave that I see, and the courage that I know I can’t see, motivate and inspire me to keep going.

Being in that atmosphere of connection and courage I can bravely try. I can go for it!!. I can risk being seen trying and failing, because I know, they know, what success is. I may leave bruised up from the all out effort, and with failed attempts, but I gained insight into how to try it again. I leave feeling fired up for the possibility that’s ahead of me, next time!!

Knowing that I am not alone in this difficult endeavor and bravely, repeatedly choosing to keep going, leads to success no matter the outcome.

From this environment of bravery to try and a community connected by growth, there seems to be a high level of encouragement and care. Care for myself, care for performing to my best and  care for others. That is an AMAZING byproduct of being in a strongman contest (insert your challenge in the blank). 

That is exactly what I want to foster as the teacher  in a classroom (challenge), a caring and encouraging community. Students need time to build a “strongman community” in their classroom before they can take risks to make learning gains. If we don’t allow for that time to build that strong community, and nurture a safe space to grow, which leads to caring, we are limiting great potential and children’s joy of dreaming big and going for it!!

My Thoughts on Intelligence

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
illustration of results

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.

By Kay Lybeck,