Friday, May 25, 2012

The Power of a Smile

I am sure you have all heard the old saying “It takes 33 muscles to frown and 13 to smile - so why overwork?”  Have you ever noticed when you are feeling down that the best way to cheer yourself up is to make someone else smile?  It’s true - try it!

While I was attending college, there was a guy who I would see almost everyday as I walked to class.  He was somewhat of a hippie.  He had a long, scraggly beard, wore the same shirt, never wore any shoes (no matter the weather - sun, rain, snow… never wore shoes)and ALWAYS wore a sign around his neck that read “SMILE!” I could not walk by this guy without smiling.  No matter the kind of day I was having, no matter what exam or paper I had due, no matter how I felt, this guy always brought a smile to my face.  Just seeing that simple word “SMILE!” made me forget about my worries for a moment and enjoy a smile.

With summer approaching, the days will be longer and we can have lots to do outside.  Sometimes the long days can make it a challenge to always be on our game.  Those are the times that our children need us the most.  They are so perceptive and know when we are up or when we are down.  Those are the times that we need a smile. 

Now I can’t guarantee you that I will walk around barefooted holding a SMILE sign.  However, I know that all it takes is one person to make another person smile and it catches on faster than "summer fever". 

I challenge you to make each child smile at least 3 times a day and make each adult you come in contact with smile at least once a day...  If you do that, you will be smiling as well ALL DAY LONG!

Friday, May 18, 2012

Effective teachers and Potty Training. Really?

Recently, my wife and I worked on getting our two year-old son potty trained.  Throughout that process, I found some similarities between what effective teachers do in their classrooms and potty training...
Process:  potty training is a process and I needed to honor this process.   My son becoming potty trained over night was not going to happen.  I needed to understand that it could take days, weeks or even months.  We could have our good days and then we could have our accidents.  The process looked different for both of our first two children and that is okay. In our classrooms, each child learns at a different pace.  We need to understand and value the process that each child takes when learning.  We cannot rush a child and that is why it is important to know our children.
Motivation: potty training needed to start with Abe and his desire to go in the potty.  No matter how much my wife or I pushed him to go, if he was not motivated, it was not going to happen.  This is evident when my wife tried this process a few months ago and it did not work because he was not motivated.  In our classrooms, we must find what motivates our children. Maybe it is a certain book or a toy that makes noise or in and out work or water work… before children can be expected to learn, we must know what motivates them to help them achieve.  We must present them multiple opportunities and experiences to provide them chances to develop an interest and motivation in their work.  No learning can occur unless a child has that intrinsic motivation. 
Patience: potty training involves a great deal of patience.  For those of you who have potty trained a child before, you understand what I am talking about.  For those that have not been through this experience yet, just wait :-)  Patience is a key for this process to fully come to fruition.  I heard over and over, “I need to go  to the bathroom.”  In my mind I am thinking to myself “how is that possible?  You JUST went five minutes ago.”  However, I had to remain patient and go through the motions to honor the process.  There were times he went and just sat there.  There were other times he actually went to the restroom.  If I would not have taken him to the restroom each time he said he had to go, he might have had an accident and not wanted to keep trying.  So, as difficult and time consuming it was for me, it is what he needed at the time.  I had to remain patient as he learned how to go the restroom.  In our classrooms, it goes without saying that patience is essential.  When we have children crying, upset, acting out, not listening… we need to be patient.  We need to be patient so we can meet THEIR needs… not our own.
Focus: potty training requires a great deal of focus.  Obviously, there is the focus for our son to use the restroom and keep it all in the toilet.  But there was even more of a focus for me … early on I needed to remind him to use the restroom every so often otherwise there would be an accident.  I had to focus on my son and remind him and constantly ask “do you need to go to the restroom?”  At times, I felt like a broken record!  In our classrooms, having that focus is essential for the children to learn and grow.  We need to know what we are doing with each child on a daily basis.  We  need to be focused on our outcomes and the learning experiences we are providing them each and every day.
Praise and Encouragement:  potty training involves lots and lots of praise and encouragement for his efforts.  There are times when he would tell us he needed to go and we praised him for letting us know he needed to use the restroom.  There are times that he woke up from a nap with a dry diaper and we praised him for keeping his diaper dry.  There are times that he had an accident because he was playing too hard and we still praised him for trying and encouraged him to let us know the next time he felt like he had to go the restroom.  Each time we praised him or encouraged him, we made sure we were specific on what we were giving praise or encouragement to.  It was not enough to simply say “good job”.  Good job for what?  In our classrooms praise and encouragement need to be specific and timely.  In order for a child to understand what he/she is doing well or what he/she needs to work on, our timely and specific feedback is essential.
Celebration: potty training involves celebrations.  Not only do we not need to spend any more money on diapers (a huge celebration for us!), our son has the satisfaction of being a “big boy” and wearing his “big boy Lightning McQueen and Mater underwear”.  There is a tremendous victory in the fact that he now is potty trained!  We celebrated his accomplishments by giving him specific praise.  We told him how proud of him we were for his efforts and his accomplishments.  In our classrooms, we need to celebrate.  We need to celebrate each child and his/her efforts and accomplishments on a daily basis.  These celebrations need to be genuine and meaningful to the child to continue the passion and love for learning.
So, there really are some similarities between the classroom and potty training!  There can be happiness in our classrooms and in the mind and heart of our son!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Classroom Lessons from a 5K

I recently ran a 5K in honor of a dear friend who lost his life.  After I ran the 5K, I thought about what I learned from this experience and how it can be applied to our daily interactions in our classrooms.  Let me add the disclaimer that I am NOT a runner and have not run a 5K in over 9 years.

The first lesson from this weekend was the importance of having small, attainable goals.  As I was running, I set small goals - make it up the hill, get to the 1 mile mark, get to the 2 mile mark… These small goals allowed me to make a larger, more insurmountable goal more doable.  School connection—when you are working with your children, take the time to work toward small goals! Those small goals can make all the difference in a child learning!

The second lesson from this weekend was the importance of training and development.  Granted, I probably should have trained a little more than I did.  However, I did spend time training and building my endurance and my running craft.  I wanted to be able to run the entire race and would never have been able to do so if I had not taken the time to train.  School connection—take the time to learn from one another and grow and develop your craft.  Professional Development is essential for us to model being life-long learners.

The third lesson from the weekend is the importance of a partnership.  I ran with a friend and I am so glad I did.  Right around mile 2, my legs were a little sore and I thought about walking.  However, we pushed me to continue running.  Without him, it would have been very easy for me to give up and stop running.  School connection—no one teacher can do it all.  Take the time to learn from one another, to collaborate with one another, and to lean on one another in times of need.

The fourth lesson from this weekend is the importance of celebrating success.  I am proud to say I ran the entire 5K and I finished 31st in my age group (and no there were not 31 people either).  Those are small successes compared to the amount of people that turned out to honor the live of a tremendous person and family.  The true success is honoring the memory of John!  School connection—take the time to celebrate - celebrate a child reaching a new goal, celebrate a colleague trying a new lesson or idea, celebrate something grand happening in your life! 

I don’t know if I have the desire to do many more 5K events, but I know I will continue to run this one each and every year!  Maybe I will even improve my time a little next year! 

Sunday, May 6, 2012

One Little Moment = One Big Opportunity

I think my children might have the most diverse taste in music (in large part to their parents’ taste).  I don’t know of too many other children who can sing word for word songs by Lionel Richie, The Samples, Jimmy Buffet, The Beatles, Blackhawk…  the list goes on and on. 

One day as my daughter was singing “A pirate looks at 40”, she came to the part in the song that sang “The cannons don’t thunder, there’s nothing to plunder…”  She then asked, “What does it mean the cannons don’t thunder?  Is that like the thunder in the sky?”  My first thought was, “Man I need to make sure we are listening to appropriate songs :-)”  We then talked about thunder is the sound that you can hear when storms come. But when a cannon shoots a cannonball, it makes a loud sound that can be called thunder.

Life is full of these little moments that make a big difference in the lives of children.  Ellin Keene talks about the importance of schema (background knowledge) in reading when she says that the best way for students to comprehend a text is to have schema related to that topic.  If I had not taken the time to explain to Maggie what thunder meant in that song, she would have been confused and it would have been hard for her to understand the meaning of that verse.

Think of all the times of the day where we can help make sense to the children.  When we are sharing at circle time and a student talks about something the other kids don’t know.  When we are learning Spanish and our maestra introduces new words.  When we are outside interacting with the kids.  This is a wonderful opportunity to talk with the children, introduce them to new words and concepts. 

It would have been easy for me to brush off my daughter's question.  It would be easy to skip over a comment made by a child because it does not pertain to your lesson.  It would be easy to sit and watch the children play outside.  But, easy is not always best.  We would miss all of the wonderful opportunities to engage and interact with the children and help them comprehend and learn!

Developmentally Appropriate Practices

My wife recently received an ipad through her work.  Of course, after Kelly was finished setting it up and playing with it herself, my two children, Maggie and Abe wanted their turn to play on the ipad.  Maggie is a typical four year old little girl and Abe is an all boy two year old. 

I am sure that the creators of the ipad did not intend for little children to be able to work an ipad.  But they were wrong!  It did not take more than a minute for Maggie to slide the bar and turn on the ipad.  Maggie was opening apps, playing games and managing the ipad like she has had it for years.  Of course, Abe wanted his turn on the ipad.  To my amazement, after he saw what Maggie was doing, he was able to play on the ipad as well.  Granted, his touches were not as gentle as Maggie’s but he was still able to open an app and play the game matching shapes. 

That got me thinking about developmentally appropriate practices. One of my biggest pet peeves as a teacher and an early childhood director is when people say “I can’t do that because it is not developmentally appropriate for my class.”  It bothers me when people categorize an entire class or group together as to what children can and cannot do.  Perhaps there is a child or two that is ready for a new concept.  Perhaps there is a child or two that needs some additional time to learn a concept.  As teachers, we have such a great responsibility to make sure that each and every child is learning.  As you know, no two children learn at the same pace.  That is difficult when you have a classroom full of children, all needing different skills and all learning new concepts at different times. 

Thank you for continuing to work with ALL children to ensure that each and every child is receiving the knowledge and experiences when he/she is ready for it.  Who knows, maybe our children are ready for their own ipads -  and they might just be able to teach us a few things on the way!