Saturday, July 1, 2017

A Gift

My 4-year-old daughter Claire always announces to everyone she meets that when she grows up she will be an artist and a scientist. Since Claire was a baby she loved anything to do with colors and nature. She has loved learning about the tints and shades of colors since she could pick up her first crayon. As a little scientist she loves learning about the world around her, doing experiments, and discovering how the world works. My little girl just finds our world fascinating!

Last week on Twitter I happened to see an author tweet about his newest book release. This author writes books for children who want to learn about scientists. I loved how he made science come to life for young readers by portraying the scientist characters as children whose adventures help them make scientific discoveries.

I knew Claire who be thrilled to have one of these books, so I decided to contact the author with a simple message telling him my daughter always says, “When I grow up I’m going to be a scientist who paints art.” I asked him how I could get a hold of one of his books, planning on purchasing one for her this summer.

The author (out of respect, I will have him remain anonymous) sent a message back telling me he would love to just send Claire a book. So we exchanged information, I thanked him for his time, and told Claire there was an amazing author who wrote about science that would be sending her something in the mail soon.

Claire was ecstatic. This is a child who not long ago begged me to tell her everything I learned in a science professional development, so she could add it to her science book. Claire was so excited to hear an author would be reaching out to her who also loved science.

The next week a big white package came in the mail for Claire!

It is not often she gets mail, so the package itself was a great surprise. Her reaction was one I wish I could record. She jumped up and down, giggled, and held the precious package to her chest.
We all quickly went inside the house into our living room, we couldn't to see what was inside, especially her 3-year-old sister Audrey.

Claire opened the package and pulled out its contents one by one. Inside was the author’s book he promised to send with an inscription to her! It read, “To Claire: Be A Thinker! One Great Adventure Can Change the World!” Along with the author’s signature. She looked through the book and discovered it was about a scientist who went on adventures outside learning about the many adaptions in nature.

Along with the book, the author sent her a full page, hand written letter! One of my favorite parts of the letter reads:
“I hope that you love this book as much as I have loved writing it. I also hope that you make some wondrous adventures of your own. Maybe you will be the next scientist to discover something great and share it with the world! Be Curious! Ask Questions! Look for answers!”

When Claire finished reading the letter, she discovered one more thing inside the package, inside was a beautiful artist satchel. Inside the satchel was an art set containing water colors, acrylics, paint brushes, sketch pencil, sketch book, and painting canvases.

I had to hide my teary eyes watching my daughter’s face look through this delivery. It was such a gift to her, but also to us as parents. How someone who did not know our family could reach out to a child just because he wanted to inspire a heart. Inspiring a child to know that their love of science is a big deal, not to be taken lightly!

Claire immediately put all the art contents back into the brief case. She strapped it around herself and said, “Mommy I think it's time for me to paint.” We decided to go outside like the scientist in the book. We took chairs outside, put bug spray on, and Claire looked around the yard to get inspired. She found so much joy painting outside with her new watercolors and sketch book.

Claire walked around the house the rest of that day with a confidence that was just beautiful. She knew someone other than her Mommy and Daddy believed in her and an author believed in her dream of discovering the world through a love of science and art.

Since last week Claire’s world has slightly changed. She has wanted to draw daily, paint, sketch, go on more nature walks, do experiments, and she has asked more questions about the world. She seems more confident in herself and just empowered. It amazed me that today she was observing/sketching a daddy long leg into her sketch book, which days ago terrified her. Now she tells me scientists might be scared, but they work on their art anyway.

Here is that sketch below:

 I can tell my daughter all the time she IS a scientist, but at times I can tell she is skeptical. But when an author reached out to her and told her she was, she knew it was true. She has stopped saying I will be a scientist, now saying I AM a scientist.

My heart wanted to say thank you to this author, so I reached out to him. Instead of offering the links for more books he just said please remind him in the winter, so he can send Claire his latest book. He explained his goal was to inspire the love of science in children, so they can make their own impact on the world.

As a parent I sometimes worry about what life will bring our children. We want them to be strong, curious, and loved as much as we love them. We want them to be seen and heard. We want no one to take away the confidence they have or their unique spirit.

This moment made me see that Claire will do great things with the gifts she has been given and it encouraged my spirit in this world. Seeing this author reach out showed me that there are some amazing people out there, who just want to inspire. She IS and WILL be one of these people.

 I believe it.

She will have those who throw brokenness her way, but she will also have moments like this that affirm the gifts she was born with. People who believe in her and push her to be her best.
We are so blessed to have had this magical moment. We are blessed to have had someone open their heart to our daughter all because he just wanted to do some good in the world, with no strings attached.

It has been a gift to see my daughter proud of who she is and know that she will gift the world back with her joy of art and science.

To the author of the books, YOU know who you are. You are making scientists for our world, one reader at a time. Our family will forever be grateful for the affirmation and passion you have inspired in our little girl who will one day rise to do great things in this world.

“Play outside and make adventures of your own, catching bugs, making mud pies, picking flowers, and jumping in puddles is doing science so long as you learn something while doing it.”
-Anonymous Children’s Author

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

The Unexpected Yes

Friday night my husband Mike walked into the room and said he had something to talk to me about. Our family had been thinking about doing a beach trip in a few weeks, but he had discovered that the weather would be rainy the week planned. He had just found a great deal for the beach, but it would mean we needed to leave early in the morning.

Now in the past hearing this news I would have thought of every single possible issue with leaving right away such as the doctor appointments, the activities planned, and things I was in charge of for that week at church, but my immediate response was, YES.

I knew this was an opportunity that came knocking and the door needed to be opened right away. So we quickly packed and got the car ready. At 5AM we put the girls in their car seats. We then took off to St. Simons beach and by 10:30 am we had our feet in the sand.

During this trip I witnessed our girls overcome their fear of water, jumping in and splashing with joy. I saw my husband’s playful spirit, making sandcastles with our little ones. I was overjoyed to be a part of many giggles which will remain in my heart for years to come.

What would have happened if I did not say, Yes.

I know. The experience would have been lost.

In the classroom we are taught to be planned for everything. We do lesson plans each week, we plan for ways to improve our students learning, and we plan and attend meetings. At times this becomes who we are, planned.

This year I discovered that saying Yes helped me not only become a better teacher, but a better person.

My students this year had many passions that they brought into the classroom. I had one student, Willow who loves kites. Each day we have a time called Team Build where students can build and play. Willow made a kite during Team Build and brought it outside with her to fly. As we were on the sidewalk together, one of the students, said “I wish we could make kites.”
I thought about it…why not? We were doing measurement. I thought couldn’t they make kites and add runners to learn the difference between short and long, couldn’t we make kites and measure our longest strand with difference objects and rulers? Couldn’t we go fly the kites and see whose kite goes the highest?

So we did!

I scratched the measurement lesson I had previously planned. I had Willow share her kite and how she made it. I played a video clip from YouTube (Thank You YouTube for existing!), and the students made kites. This ended up being a two-day lesson because the kids were so motivated to make their kite their personal best. The kids loved learning about kites, making them, measuring them, and of course flying them! One fourth grade classroom even used the kite lesson to study about angles. It was my husband’s class, but hey it was a class.

Watching my students fly those kites made a Yes, stamp on my heart. I started thinking about other ways I could say Yes to my students. Then I came across a book, Instant Relevance by Denis Sheeran @MathDenisNJ. This book tells about how educators can make learning more relevant to their students and how we can bring student interest into our lessons. This book gave me the affirmation I needed to continue to look for ways to make learning come alive in my classroom.
In order to be the best version of ourselves we have to take those opportunities that come up in our classrooms and say, “Yes!” Even when they don’t fit the plan we made for that day. Those spur of the moment lessons can make the biggest impact on our students and sometimes the biggest impact on our own hearts.

In my life and in my classroom I am going to continue to look for ways to say Yes. I am going to continue to plan, but I am also going to be ready to scratch that plan at any time to go with something unexpected. I have found it is often in the unexpected that learning truly unfolds. It is where we receive so many gifts we would not have received if we spent too much time asking How.

Let’s look inside ourselves and see where we can say Yes, so we can create experiences for our students that will stay with them for many years to come. 

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Our Greatest Purpose

One of the most important things I have found as an educator is purpose. This year I wrote a mission statement and a vision for my classroom. I posted it clearly in the room, so each day I could review my true purpose.

Each morning when I wake up I think about my purpose for the day.
 I have this intentional feeling I cannot fully explain. It is the feeling that today I will make an impact in the world whether it be small or large.I know I'm here for a reason and that my purpose is greater than any challenges I may face.

My purpose is to be the most impactful teacher I can be, to show all students they matter, and to help my students shine. My goal is to be a school teacher, not just a class teacher (George Couros).
Knowing this purpose has helped me break through all the distractions that come in a school day, a week, or even a school year.

My purpose has also given me the courage to be different. In the past it bothered me greatly to break the status quo. I wanted to be comfortable in every setting, but especially with the staff around me. It was important to me what others thought of me and it was very important to not stand out. I didn’t want others to think I was too far out of the box or trying to outshine them.

I had witnessed firsthand teachers who went against the grain. Teachers who were fully in for students. These teachers had an air of confidence that I had deep respect for, but they also seemed to walk down a narrow road that most would not dare take.

The road that leads to great change over time.

I now realize through the push of my purpose that no matter what anyone thinks of me, my main focus HAS to be on what is best for my students. This year I have truly learned that in order to be the best version of myself and help my students reach their highest potential I have to let go of the feelings of self-doubt, fear, and self-consciousness.

My purpose will always be to be an impactful educator who makes a difference every day in the lives of students.

I am ready to face this new year letting go of what others think, letting go of any distractions that may come my way, and facing each day with a hope that I will show a child that they matter. That they matter to our classroom, that they matter to this world, and that they matter to me.

I know there will be days that I am challenged and many days I have to reset my focus, but I will continue to review my purpose each morning, letting go of what does not matter, but holding on to what matters most, My students. 

Always…my students.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

A Thank You To My Students

    On the last day of school I held my student's hands as we walked out together to the buses. One little girl kissed my hand as I walked her to her bus. Before I could first tell her, she beat me to it and said, "I love you Mrs. Stanton." I told her I loved her and gave her a kiss on the top of her head. I gave all my students one last hug and told them I would see them very soon. Along with the other teachers including my husband we walked out to the road to wave goodbye to all the students as they left for the year. As the last bus drove past I could feel my heart sink. My husband and I walked back into the school together both holding the same feeling. We knew that the summer would bring much fun and love with our own family, but we both struggled to let go of THIS family. A family that was created at school with a beautiful team behind them.

    This year was an unbelievable year of growth, love, and learning. The last week of school was bitter sweet as my class and I enjoyed each other through many games, songs, and quality time. There are so many people I am thankful for this year for helping me make it such a memorable one, but one group I must not forget to thank is my students. 

    Our students work so hard each year to strive to be the best version of themselves. I have been given a gift of watching them grow in just 180 schools days. All my students have come out of this year being more empathetic, curious, joyful, confident, and more uniquely themselves. They know in our class we embrace the treasure of each person's true personality.

    Each year I write a personal letter to my class to thank them for being who they are....the best students I could ever ask for. Here is my letter to my class this year. This class will always hold a special place in my heart. 

To My Kindergarten Class,                                                       May 24, 2017

I first want to thank all of you for giving me such a wonderful year in kindergarten. I loved every minute of teaching you and learning from you. You are the kindest and most empathetic class I have EVER had in my 12 years of teaching.

I just wanted to thank you all for being such an outstanding group of students! You filled this year with so much joy and every day felt like the best day of the year. You’ve made each day fun and it was always exciting to come to work to see you. In fact, you made this year feel like it wasn’t even a job.

I appreciate how caring and kind you always were especially to the other kindergarten students, the cafeteria staff, Dorina our custodian, Mr. Day and his family, and Charlie. You truly have hearts of gold. 

Each day you have made me want to be a better person. You have made me reflect daily on how I can have big hearts just like you. You make everyone feel that they matter. You make everyone around you smile. And you make Mulberry a better place just by being you.

Please stay in touch with me over the years and let me know if there is ever anything you need. I will ALWAYS be there to listen, I will ALWAYS be there for a hug, and I will ALWAYS be one of your champions.

I will miss each and every one of you over the summer, but I know that I will get to see your smiling faces at Pizza in the Park, registration day, and the first day of school. Oh, how proud I will be to see you as a first grader. You are all ready for first grade and you will do wonderful! Remember to be YOU and shine out that light for all to see! It is that light inside you that brings so much joy to others. 

You will ALWAYS be the class that has a special place in my heart. I love you dearly and it has been an honor to be called your teacher.

Love You Forever,
Mrs. Stanton

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Sweeter Than the Beginning

“Make the end sweeter than the beginning.” These are the words a colleague said to me many years ago. These words have always resounded with me and I have never gotten them out of my mind.

To make the end sweeter than the beginning of the year.

What a thought!

This year has been quite a year. It is the first year I implemented full flexible seating, a circle meeting place, morning meeting, and a class Twitter account. It has also been a year of hands on learning, experiments, PBL, and making true connections with my students and educators around the world.
This HAS truly been my favorite year of all my 12 years. Watching my students grow throughout this year has brought me so much joy. My students have become problem solvers, explorers, they question the world, and are empathetic students who care deeply about others. 

They look for the good in everyone and they make me want to be a better person every day.

Do we have problems that arise in our class? Yes, but they don’t define us. We work through them together. Many of times it is my students now who tell me, “It’s okay Mrs. Stanton, we will figure it out.” Or “Mrs. Stanton we all make mistakes, it just gives us feedback.”

To make the year sweeter than the beginning I use May as a way to end the year on the sweetest note. I tend to get teary throughout each day, but the students never know nor do my colleagues. I get teary because I finally get to see all the soul pouring work we do each day pouring out of the students and into others. They just seem ready to fly right now and it will be my honor to let them go on that last day (May 24th).

In order to make this the sweetest ending I do a few special things to let them know they are loved.
I always do Minute to Win It with my class and we end with a paired competition at the end of the day.

I make lessons that involve their interests such as making slime, making and competing with fidget spinners, and using their favorite characters to spot light our lessons. I don’t fight these things at the end of the year instead I ask myself how I can embrace them to help my students embrace their learning.

We have a red carpet awards show to celebrate each student’s two biggest achievements both academically and socially. Watching them walk down that red carpet and make their speeches is the most special moment at the end of each year.

I create a memory book where I interview the students about their favorite memories and connections. They get to read their own answers along with their classmate’s heartfelt responses.  I add class pictures and things they loved, so they can remember their year.
As a class we sing our class song one last time at our school picnic on the lawn. Right before the parents whisk them away I pull them in a class huddle and we sing together. This year it will be, Count On Me by Bruno Mars. It reminds us that we will always be together in our hearts. As we sing the students have the biggest smiles on their faces.

At the end of the huddle I always give them an individual hug with words of encouragement. Many quickly run off to go on a date with their parents for the remainder of the day. But the longer I have been teaching, the more students choose to stay the rest of the school day.

They choose to stay with me and their class family just a little longer.
Lastly at the end of the year I remind the students AND their families that they are always welcome to our room at any time and that I am only a text/call/email away. Many of times it is an honor to see them walk back into the classroom door with their other children ready for a new kindergarten year. But the huge honor lies in the families and prior students that come through those doors to just say hello or give a hug.

I have learned that my heart is a place that is NEVER full, but always has room for one more student to love. Oh how blessed I will be next year when I get one more class to place in my heart. One more class to pray for each day, to joyfully grow with.

It is in these last days that we must truly enjoy our students. Put down the boxes to pack up and enjoy our kids. 

Yes, I repeat put down the boxes.

Go swing with your kids on the swings like they have asked of us all year, spend time eating with them at lunch to hear their summer plans, race with them down the sidewalks to hear their cheers, and just laugh with them.

This is a time when you can just enjoy being with them. It makes the ending to the year so memorable for the students, but also for us.We have worked hard all year to help them grow. This is the time we can enjoy them and see who they have become over these 10 months.

So many times at the end of the year we rush and work on the check list that is oh so long, but make sure you add on the list some time to spend with your students. Actually put it at the top of your list and throughout the list because that is why you are here in the first place, to make relationships with your students that will last a lifetime.

At the end of the year don’t be surprised when some of your students who have made the biggest gains socially or academically tend to act up. Don’t be surprised when they act different that last few weeks or even the last day. That is the child who needed you the most this year and needs you the most right now.

Spend some time giving them the extra hug, the air high five, or better yet make a hand shake with that child that no one else has! Throughout the years they can come back and do that hand shake with you. And only you and them will know it. It is this child who might be having their world rocked right now because YOU will be out of it for a few months.

Remember that.

I have to tell myself this each day during May. I have to remind myself that we have built such strong connections and that they know (even though I don’t tell them until the last week) that though those connections will always be there, they are about to change since we won’t be in the same setting each day.

Don’t be afraid to make summer plans with your students. I will be having Pizza in the Park with my students this summer. We will meet at the park to play soccer, use hula hoops, bubbles, and just play. This will be a time we will be able to talk about the great things they are doing over the summer enjoying a slice of pizza with their families. I plan this event and accept invitations for other activities with individual students in the summer because my students truly become my class family. A second family that I love.

I hope you have a beautiful end to your school year this year! In the end it is always our choice how the end of the school year goes, may your end be sweeter than the beginning. And may your summer be a refreshment that brings you to a beautiful new beginning! 

A beginning with a new class that will grow because of an impactful educator like you.
How amazing it is we get to be called educators.

Our stories are always, More Than A Lesson.  #MoreEdu

Saturday, April 22, 2017

It Takes A Team

As an educator this year has been one of my biggest years of growth. I have fallen in love with this year and the class that has given it their all. I'd love to take credit for what this year has brought, but then I would not be telling the truth. You see I am a puzzle.

A puzzle with many pieces. Each piece is from an educator that has inspired me, lifted me up, believed in me, and given me a piece of their time. These pieces have allowed my students to shine.

This year I have seen many posts on Twitter naming educators to follow. Whenever I pull these lists up, I always look for the same names. I look for 12 people who have helped make my classroom a place where I call a second home.

I wanted to list these educators who are inspiring every day.

Here are the 12 educators who are a must follow and why:

Mike Stanton @micronmike 
Mike is the real deal. He puts students first and has a growth mindset. Mike is an innovative teacher who breathes Project Based Learning. He has a student centered classroom that changes based on his student's needs. He' s a master with Google Apps for Education (GAFE), which helps his students showcase their work. I have found that I am always two steps behind Mike, but he always gives everyone a hand to get them ahead of the game.
*Mike is co moderator for the chat, More Than A Lesson  #MoreEdu

Teresa Gross @teresagross625 
Teresa is what I call the angel of Twitter. She is one of the kindest people I know. I have seen others have hardships in their lives and she is right there to pull them back up! She is extremely encouraging. She always reminds me to have courage and try. That there is no real failure because it is in the fail that we learn. Teresa has a love for reading that is contagious! She will inspire you with her passion for literacy. Her beautifully written blog is called, Loving Literacy and every post makes me smile. Each one is written from the heart.
*Teresa moderates different book study chats throughout the year.

Oskar Cymerman @focus2achieve
Oskar is an amazing writer who has a heart of gold. He blogs for Bam!Radio
His blog, Focus 2 Achieve tells how educators can best teach their students. His posts are always an amazing read! He is real, transparent, and knows his stuff. He is the author of the book, Crush School! It is a great guide in learning how to master the classroom! What I love about Oskar is his support. Reading his blog over time made me feel I had to give back. He encouraged me to write. Many of times we feel that we have nothing new to say. He reminded me that if it is from our point of view, then it has not been heard before. Oskar is a trail blazer.

Jon Harper @Jonharper70bd
Jon Harper writes for BAM!Radio. He truly writes from the heart. Every time I read his blog, Bailey & Derek's Daddy I strive to be a better person because his post are so impactful. Jon is one who fights for other educators. He wants us all to see we're in it together. He is the host of My Bad on Bam! Radio Network This program highlights great educators and one mistake that helped them grow. Listening to Jon’s program has made me become a risk taker. I have learned that it is in the journey and not the destination that makes teaching great.

Chris Quinn @ChrisQuinn64 
Chris is an amazing educator with a huge heart. He encourages those around him and gives much wisdom. He is always growing and changing in the educational field. His blog, Taking Flight by Being Grounded always calls for deep refection. He has taught for 27 years. He's been an educator, administrator, and is now back in the classroom. His journey is one you will not want to miss. 

*Chris is the moderator for the new chat, #EduMoves

Sean Farnum @MagicPantsJones
Sean is a progressive educator who lets his students shine through student podcast. Sean’s class is known as the #BestClassPodcast. Their podcast is so inspiring. Sean has helped many educators and myself set up their own student podcast. He inspired my school to reopen our sound room and green screen room. What I appreciate with Sean is the love he has for his PLN. He tells his PLN all the time that he loves them...and he means it. You can feel the love in his chat, #2pencilchat. He truly cares about others and their students. 
*Sean is the moderator for the chat #2pencilchat 

Melissa Chouinard Jahant  @ChouinardJahant 
Melissa is a creative and innovative teacher. She sees her position as vocational. Melissa has gone almost paperless in her middle school classroom. Her students are constantly challenged with her real world lessons. Melissa is a master with the maker space and creating student centered lessons. She has one minute check ins with her students to build relationships. Her blog, I Teacher I Mother has a post for every day of the year. 365 posts! It is truly inspiring. 
*Melissa is the moderator for #teachmindful

Blair Smith @mrsmiths56class
Blair is an outstanding educator with the most sharing heart. Blair has an amazing classroom that he allows his students to create. His classroom has flexible seating, white board tables (he created), and amazing IPad recording booths. Blair is willing to share everything with his students and educators around the world. He is a Skype Master Teacher and a MIE Expert. If you need someone to Skype with Blair is your educator. His class is even willing to spend the night at school to have Skype Nights! His blog, Blair Smith Teaching gives you an amazing window to his classroom and his windows are one of the coolest!

Amy Storer @techamys
Amy is the teacher who believes in every child. She builds relationships with students by listening to them, spending time with them, and showing them they matter. Amy is in the know about all the new educational tools out there and HOW to use them to help students learn to their fullest potential. She not only uses these apps for students, but has transformed the way educators use them for professional development. She is an expert with FlipGrid, Flocabulary, and Buncee.

Amy’s blog Converse in the Classroom is a must read!

Marilyn McAlister @RunnerGirl13_1 
Marilyn is the queen of Hyperdocs. I had a presentation for Teachers As Leaders this year and was having a mental block. I needed help. Who came to my rescue? Marilyn! I would call her the superwoman of Twitter. I have seen it many times in chats when someone needs help, she comes right in to give them information, lessons, or even google slides right then and there. Marilyn is also extremely encouraging. It is almost as if she sees you through the screen. She knows the heart of education is the educator and she treats each educator like gold.
Marilyn’s blog, Sunsational Sixth Graders gives all educators an idea of how to be the teacher all students need.

Holly King @hollysking
Holly King is an educator with courage! This educator is humble, innovative, kind, and sharing. She pushes for everyone around her to shine, yet she shines in every way. Holly started a book chat on Voxer. But with a HUGE twist, Holly was able to get the authors to come into the book chat to listen and share. She has hosted Ditch that Textbook, Learn Like a Pirate, and now Innovator’s Mindset. Holly lit a fire under 12 educators to read, learn, reflect, and move! She is changing the way her school looks at education and the lives of many students/educators in our country. I am forever grateful to Holly who has helped me become a stronger leader. She is what you call a school teacher instead of a class teacher.

Robert Ward @RewardingEdu
Robert is a fantastic educator. He is someone who uplifts and encourages others.Whenever I read Robert's post or his latest book I am always reflecting on my best practices in the classroom. He believes in the whole child and the growth mindset. He write articles for many different groups including Edutopia and Education Week. I am always thrilled to read his newest post or article because I know I will learn a practical strategy I can use in the classroom to inspire my students.
One of Robert's latest books, A Teacher's Inside Advice to Parents empowers both teachers and parents to help children reach their fullest potential.
His blog, Rewarding Education is well written and meaningful in the classroom. 

In education you cannot do it alone. You truly need a team behind you. In the beginning of my educational career I thought going alone meant I was innovative and daring. I now know that I set myself up for a fixed mindset. Over the years I have realized it takes a team to become your best. It takes many different people who will push you, care for you, and give it to you straight, so you can continue to grow. A team is what gives you a true growth mindset. 

I am so thankful for my team! Thank you for who you are each and every day. Thank you for making us all a little better than we were the day before. Thank you for the impact you've made in this world. We are all better because of you!

Saturday, April 15, 2017

OUR Classroom

When I first started teaching I used the words MY in the classroom. 
I was concerned where MY desk would go, about the use of MY time, and about MY classroom set up.

At the time I never thought that the classroom was a collaborative effort that the students could take part in.

As I’ve listened to Jon Harper’s, My Bad Program on Bam! Radio Network I realized that I had a major mistake my first years of teaching: The belief that it was all about me.  

In the past I would be embarrassed to state this, but I have learned it is through great mistakes that we can become the people we’ve always wanted to be. It is in sharing this mistake that I am kept accountable. I have always and will always be on a journey of growth.  It is in the journey and not the destination that I have found joy.

The past two years I have become overwhelmed by the feeling that it is not about me, but about the needs of my students. My new mantra has become OUR Classroom. I use the word OUR instead of THEIR because I am a part of our class family too, but I am only one piece.

Two years ago my school became a Project Based Learning model for our county. Teachers around the county visit Mulberry Elementary, to see what PBL looks and sounds like. I attended The Buck Institute when we started PBL to learn how to implement this into the classroom. Learning about PBL naturally helped me find interest in flexible seating.

This is where my mind and heart really began to change.

The past two years I have noticed that I have become uncomfortable to make sure my students are comfortable. One question I continue to ask myself is, “How can I make OUR classroom a place where students have ownership?” Ownership in their learning, in their behavior, and in class responsibilities.

Through the mantra OUR Classroom, I reflected on how I could take the backseat and allow my students to have ownership of the entire room.

The set up in my classroom this year is flexible seating, but with a twist. The entire classroom is theirs to use. This includes the cabinets, the shelving, the filing cabinets, and the learning spaces. I have no desk in the classroom, but at the end of the day when the students have left I do choose a learning space to finish any work.

My students help set up the classroom. Each 9 weeks or whenever needed the students rethink the room. We decide what needs to be moved, what needs to be added, what needs to be taken out, and where everything is placed. My friend Blair Smith @mrsmiths56class taught me that students can be a part of these decisions. I have realized it is the students who need to make the learning environment. This helps them feel empowered, which helps them take ownership in all that they do.

After reading the book, The Gift of Failure by Jessica Lahey @jesslahey I also discovered my students need to own the responsibilities of the classroom. I used to spend 20 minutes after school preparing the classroom for the next day, now the students have that responsibility. The students clean up the room, write the board information, make any updates, set up the sections, and make the room a second home. Every student picks and owns a section of the room for 2 weeks. At the end of the day we play fun music and clean our sections together. I say together because I also have a section. This helps my students see I am also taking responsibility for our room.

The students have loved this new change. They are truly owning the classroom. Throughout the day I now find students checking their sections. I even had one child this week let two students know that this was his section. He asked them to please make sure they cleaned up after themselves before they left. My students love their classmates and always go out of their way to take care of each other. After hearing this child say this, those students made sure they cleaned up!

As I end my 12th year teaching I use the words OUR in the classroom.  I think about OUR responsibilities, OUR activities, and OUR classroom set up. Again I use the word OUR instead of THEIR because the educator is not out of the picture in the classroom instead it is a collaborative effort we participate in together.

It is an honor to be a part of OUR classroom each day. As I have gradually released the many responsibilities I had, I have found that my students are more confident and responsible.

I hear many educators discuss the idea of student ownership. In order for ownership to happen in the classroom, we as educators have to change our mindset from MY to OUR. In this thinking our classrooms can become a place where students truly become leaders who own their actions and their learning.

As I continue to teach I will continue to question how I can make OUR classroom a better fit for my students. I cannot wait for this journey to continue.

And if you are reading this right now, I personally want to thank you. You have pushed me to be better and helped me grow my students. And for that…I am grateful. Thank you!