Just before the last bell on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, our principal bid us adieu by saying, “Here we go, it will all be a blur until January 3rd.”
Our school is in a small community and holiday concerts are still the norm; it is also a common desire of teachers to help their students create cards and presents for parents. Classrooms in December are a-buzz with songs, special instruments, tissue, paint and glue sticks. Add to that any extremes in weather and the students are in for a roller coaster ride until winter break.
I kind of like that our students get to participate in the December school experience that existed for me in the 50’s- although I’m not so sure about the holiday songs; I do wish the concert didn’t have as many Christian Christmas carols as it does. But I salute our lone music teacher. She is ambitious, there are 3 elementary schools and each one has their own performance.
My preschoolers don’t participate. We aren’t allowed to celebrate holidays in the Head Start curriculum so our December isn’t as consumed by unusual activities and projects. Crazy weather will affect my students but mostly their abilities are sharpening and I’m feeling myself gearing up for the best ride of the school year. My favorite months are from January to March. Those will be the roller-coaster-blurry-ride-days for us in the 3-5 set.
Tuesday is white board day.
I love white boards – or as the children more accurately call them, “wipe boards.” I started using them fairly consistently last year because I found they allowed my students to “get their scribblies out” and then get down to business. I introduced them right at the beginning of this year and now, 10 weeks into the year, I only have a few students still making big scribbles when I pass them out, most are getting down to drawing something specific.
My routine last year was to put the boards out as a check-in activity on Tuesday mornings, the first day of our preschool week, and then again after I did a story model on Wednesday or Thursday. What I witnessed was the students using the white boards as draft pictures. They would hone their drawing skills on the white boards because they could start over so easily. I also noticed that my students with inefficient grasps or who are tentative in their work, would tighten up because the boards are slippery, and because if they weren’t careful, their movements would erase their pictures.
So this year I wanted to plug them back into my routine and closely monitor how my students used boards as tools to learn new skills and express themselves.
I decided to do story writing on Tuesdays and Thursdays and after having a few students up to retell my story, I pass out white boards on Tuesdays and paper on Thursdays. It is the one time of the week when I let my students copy my story drawing or that of their peers because I find they try new things out and bring those ideas back to their journal writing when I meet with them one-on-one.
We always post the boards around the room for the week and I take pictures off and on to record changes and developments I see happening in student skills.
Today I drew a story about celebrating my birthday – because it’s coming up later this week. I got quite a few white board sketches that were similar to my picture. Now we’ll see what pops up in student journals tomorrow!
(check out more “Slice of Life” stories at Two Writing Teacher’s link)
My principal popped into my room on November 10th – something he’s been doing – and has been committed to doing – for the past month. It began with a meeting in October to determine what I wanted to pay attention to, then working side by side with him to name what I wanted him to look for and what the evidence of that work would look like and sound like in me and in my students. And so Mr. D has been coming into my room or the lunch room to be with me and my students in the work off and on for the last 4 weeks. When we set up this plan, I wasn’t very confident about seeing him in my room that often – because I know he is also trying to visit every other classroom on a regular basis as well! But it’s been happening and I’m so grateful.
He stopped by on the Monday after the long weekend and asked if I had a moment to debrief his latest observation. Even though it had been 5 days since his visit, his notes helped refresh my memory of exactly what had been happening in the classroom, what the kids and I were doing together, what kinds of dialogue was happening, what sorts of management was going on. Reviewing it all was like video playback in my mind! He had questions about my decision-making and planning around the types of supports I was giving or not giving and I had questions about whether the tool we’d come up with for doing observations was useful.
As usual, our conversation explored tangential areas – classroom management, student independence, language development, the condition of materials in my classroom – it was all good stuff to think and talk about and it really only took a few moments.
I know that for some folks, a classroom visit by their principal is anticipated about as much as a bout of the flu. For me, having someone sitting in a corner of my classroom listening and watching heightens my awareness of what is happening around me and sharpens my instincts. And grabbing a moment to talk about it afterward is like a “shot of Joe,” a warm mug of the good stuff!
I realized that I feel honored to have a professional colleague spending time in my classroom helping me pay attention to what is important!