One Sunflower

channeling Fagen…

I’m reviewing…the situation….

Some weeks are loaded with reflection worthy experiences – or maybe it’s just that there are times when my deep thinking radar is on high and I just can’t help but be engaged in a process of reflection.  If I’d been sitting on a beach this week I probably would have been contemplating my navel, but since I’ve been dipping my toes in a whole lot more than a warm blue ocean… goes….

Head Start is coming up for an annual review this year and I feel like all that is supposed to be “work as usual” has ground to a halt just so systems can be checked and rechecked.  Here are the mixed messages I am getting in the whole process: 1)   don’t get worried about the review, we’re doing good work, just keep doing the good work you are doing,  and: 2)  are you sure you know what you are doing?  just in case you don’t here is a check list — or two or three just to make sure, let us know what you don’t know so we can be sure and tell you…   So which is it – I’m doing good work or whoa – big gaps, better get a shovel.

Okay, that was a negative reflection.  The next little bunch of “ahas” was more positive.  I realized that I’m beginning to hit my stride in this position of teaching as part of a school district and under the auspices of Head Start.  I’ve gotten my own set of systems together that are helping me stay on top of planning meaningful curriculum, being in touch with the families of my children, documenting student progress and planning for future events in the classroom and for parent engagement.  I realized that part of the reason this is happening now is that there is finally some stability in the preschool program.  I’ve been out in this district for 11 years but every year was different until I moved into this building 5 years ago.  My level of experience in the field was strong enough that I could focus on adjusting to changes in site and staff and learning new assessments and documentation processes.  Now that I’ve been in this building, I’ve received professional development support that has enhanced all of it – the classroom experience and the systems work – and I’m feeling more relaxed and competent.  That feels good.

Another reflection came out of our work as a building to institute a school-wide behavior plan.  I know that most staff want to see this program succeed and they understand the value of having documentation for those students that struggle. I think the counselor has made it clear that any alerts we start to gather on students will be helpful to implementing interventions before behavior has escalated to suspension level infractions.  But when it comes down to the involvement that might be demanded of a teacher that has a student with challenging behaviors – I’m not sure all the teachers want to be that engaged in the process.  I think they want to be able to throw out the flag and then call in a referee and walk off the field.

I also started thinking about how the difficulties of instituting anything “school-wide” challenges current school culture where we tend to operate as single teachers behind closed doors – “my kids” means the 20-30 faces in front of my black board, not the 250 entering the front door each morning.  I’ve been reading Teach Like a Champion with my primary teacher book study group and many of the techniques described in the book would be most effective if they were institutionalized – made a part of every classroom from preschool to grade 12 in some form or another.  What would it take to make those  kinds of shifts in a public school setting?

some of you would be happy if I’d go back to navel gazing – how about the beach to go with it?

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slice of a slice

A few months ago I kind of tricked my mom into writing for the Slice of Life writing challenge sponsored by Two Writing Teachers.  I did it because she was kind of feeling blue about some health problems she and my dad were facing – and because she’s always loved to write.   She’s always been one for challenges – she raised 4 kids born in 5 years, has camped with my dad and and all of us kids up and down the eastern seaboard and put up being crammed into a 25 foot sailboat sailing around the San Juan Islands.  She’s led many a Girl Scout troop, taught herself to knit and quilt, became a teacher and taught for some years, and has since traveled on all the continents including a trip up the Amazon and one to Antarctica. I knew she could handle writing something once a week.

She sends me her entries via email on the weekend and I save them in a folder titled “mom’s musings.”  She’s also begun to put pictures on her Picasa web site that I can download to accompany her writing.  At first I did a lot of editing.  She is a two fingered typist and there used to be a lot of extra capital letters and spaces and periods.  But I’m not having to edit them as much any more.  I copy them to her blog on Sunday, check all the punctuation on Monday and get them posted for the Tuesday slice.

What I like the most about this little enterprise is that my mom finds herself thinking about the stories she wants to tell and she’s got friends and family who are checking in regularly to read.  She loves the comments that come along occasionally.  We have lunch together almost every Saturday and she tells me her stories. Then I see them turn up in her “slices.”  While I have stories written by my mother of her childhood tucked away in a manila envelope, I’m loving that I get to hear her talk about this writing as its happening.


“being” in space

My students are settling in, their little idiosyncracies are becoming more evident and I find my patience waning when my littlest prince is once more crawling under the lunch room table.  The whispering voice of my CLASS training has become a mantra in my head about maintaining a positive environment and strengthening relationships.  Hugs all around – even if I’m about to get smeared with ketchup!

One way I’m trying to support relationships is by encouraging my students to manipulate the classroom environment as they play with their peers.  My pie-shaped classroom has 6 defined spaces this year – easel painting, house-keeping, blocks, sensory table, library, circle time/puzzle space.  There are also 3 nebulous spaces in the room where there are tables and materials close by that could be used at the tables – or on the floor. These materials include play dough, manipulatives, art supplies.  Now that I have linoleum across the entire classroom, I don’t feel so protective of carpet so I let the children take the play dough and paint to which ever table they want to.  I’ve had a few children “baking” the play dough in our house-keeping hutch.  I also chose to put a table in the block area this year having witnessed the difference it made in play last year when I did it for a little while.

The manipulations happen around me on a daily – more often minute-ly basis.

One group of children will set up a picnic in the circle time area and then when the groups switch out for PE, a completely different scenario will move in.  The groups include some existing friendships and a mixture of wills and temperaments but I am seeing some new relationships and play strategies.

I’ve encouraged my students to freely choose what they want to play with and then I park myself in their arena and support conversation, play themes, decision-making and problem solving.

(getting babies ready for a trip to Wal-Mart)

I do have some students choosing to play with the same items every day: two boys choose the school buses and another student goes to the sensory table exclusively.  I’ve closed the table occasionally just to see what else he’ll do and who he plays with.  I think I’m about ready to put the buses away for a while too – only because I know those boys are ready to move on – and I want to encourage them to play differently for awhile.

I’ll probably change my groups out soon too – because I’m thinking of adding some focus group activities to our choice time and I want to have some skill oriented sessions.

So far, so good – I survived this week despite having a cold and feeling very responsible to be at school because Maestra, my aide, was in Mexico for the week.  It’s Friday and my head is less stuffy.  Maestra will be back on Tuesday with a tan, and I’ll be breathing more easily – thanks to my Zicam and her return!

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