I have a new, lovely, and easier to navigate website at kristimraz.com. Head on over there for new posts, resources, and all things awesome!
I have a new, lovely, and easier to navigate website at kristimraz.com. Head on over there for new posts, resources, and all things awesome!
Just a quick note that this content is now living a new and improved life at kristimraz.com.
You will find all the posts there, as well as a resources page, information about upcoming PD and links to books. Hope you find the new page easier to navigate and more helpful all around!
New posts coming soon!
Now is the time of the year when the daydreams of August turn into the real work of teaching. What were your hopes and dreams before school started? Have they gotten buried under a heap of paperwork, assessments, and things not going the way you hoped? Let’s dust them off and bring them back! My co-author and all around favorite human, Christine Hertz, and I are working on a blog series about integrating your beliefs into your curriculum, with (hopefully) some handy tips along the way.
Belief: Kids need to play
Reality strikes: The time to play keeps getting cut out our day because we have to get to all the writing (math, reading) lessons to make sure we keep pace/the work looks like the other classrooms.
This is a common bump in the road. We cut choice time or multiple recesses out because it seems to subtract from the work we think we need kids to be doing. We think more time doing the “thing” always helps the thing be better. But learning is not so neat and clean always. Putting kids first means that we have to shift our focus from what we are teaching to what our students are learning. And yes, there is a difference between thinking about what to teach, and thinking about what kids have learned.
Think for a moment about the skills that make up any one of the content areas (I will stick with writing) The list is huge:
Sometimes when we get really caught up in the teaching side of things, we try to plan the perfect minilesson or small groups to address these ideas- but for a moment let’s look at it from the learning side. It can be difficult to build up the muscles in these categories from a perfect minilesson, mostly what learners need are experiences and time to practice.
Basically when we ask kids to build these skills by writing more, it is like asking a basketball player to get better at basketball by only playing basketball games. As a former basketball player (an illustrious career that lasted exactly one year) I know that the game is a chance for you to show the skills you have built, but not always the place to build them.
To become better, more well rounded players we did more than just show up at the game. We had shooting drills, we ran laps, we went to the weight room to build our legs so we could jump higher, we had scrimmages with coaching as we played, we dribbled around cones, we spent time off the court talking about plays. Basically we gave time to developing each skill without the stress of the game looming over us. Then when the game came, we were stronger all around.
Now, before this gets too far I want to say loud and clear: KIDS SHOULD BE WRITING IN WRITING WORKSHOP EVERY DAY. The orchestration work they do there is monumental and amazing. But then I would also like to say loud and clear BUT THEY ALSO NEED TO HAVE A BALANCED DIET OF LEARNING TO BUILD ALL THE MUSCLES.
What makes you a great writer (reader, mathematician, thinker) is not the perfect lesson, its having the space and time to grow the muscles you need, so you can use them as a writer, and that is going to happen all across the day.
Let’s go back to that list, and start first with what we see kids struggling with and then let’s add in the things that help kids build these skills so they have stronger muscles the next time they go to write:
|My kids struggle with…||My kids might need to build…||So we want to make sure they have ample time to…|
|Elaboration,structure, plot or generating ideas||
|Representational drawing, writing letters correctly, recalling visual details to add into their writing||
|Getting tired, their writing is hard to read or all over the place. They say they are tired or their hands hurt.||
Noticing a pattern? The things that help these muscles grow are traditionally thought of as “play” not “work”.
Yet, when I play spiderman with my friends I am using story language and adhering to plot structures I have internalized. As I run around, my gross motor is developing and helping me build the stamina to hold my core upright as I write. When I pause to pick up some small and interesting stones on the playground and start to stack them, I am developing those small muscles that help me with my grip. When I put puzzles together or trace, my eyes and the visual processing portions of my brain are working on picture completion.
So what does that mean? Don’t cut out choice time and recess to do more writing (or reading or math). Work hard to keep your day well rounded and full of opportunities to engage in play. Switch out your lens from what you need to teach off your lesson plans, to what your kids need to learn to be successful. Keep a diagnostic eye on your learners and know that the best learning opportunities may not look traditionally academic. It may even help to name specifically the skills your readers, writers, thinkers, mathematicians are work on and generate the myriad of ways they can practice across the day.
A belief in play and the reality that kids need to meet benchmarks are not mutually exclusive. Play is how we learn and where critical skills develop. The more well rounded our classrooms, the more we try to put kids first, the more successful they’ll be- in all they do.
This blog is rapidly transitioning from one of purely teaching thoughts to free therapy for my life as a new parent. Having said that, for me, having a child has rapidly crystallized and underscored ideas about teaching in a new and dynamic way. That’s not to say (at ALL) you need to have a child to teach, but for me the budding mother side is having constant conversations with the seasoned teacher side and both are coming away with food for thought.
Take crying for example. (and then we will talk about school, I promise)
How one perceives crying has great deal to do with (perhaps) hidden ideas that we have about our child. In one of my many sleepless nights I read that caregivers who believe their child capable of independent sleep tend to have better sleepers. (I have searched in vain for where I read this- as soon as I find it I will post it) I think this has something to do with how those caregivers are reacting to crying at night.
The scenario is inherently neutral: baby cries at night.
Caregiver A (thinking): “Baby must be hungry, diaper must be dirty, baby must be upset.”
Caregiver A (action): Go in and feed/change diaper/rock
Caregiver B (thinking): “Hmm baby is making some noise. Let’s see where this goes.”
Caregiver B (action): Wait and see
Here is what would happen to me: Harry cries. I wake up like Caregiver A- nurturing guns a-blazin’ I run in there to fix, fix, fix. But sometimes all my fixing would leave him more upset then he was when I got in there. My partner and I had a talk and we decided to try and give him 5 minutes before we reacted. (Note: 5 minutes crying baby time is roughly equivalent to 90,000 hours normal time) I was SHOCKED to find that a fair percentage of the time he would fall back to sleep within that time. SHOCKED. It turns out that he is kind of a grumbler when he is shifting sleep positions and when I would go in there to “fix” problems I was actually just giving him problems- he didn’t want to be jostled and have a diaper changed.
Yet, every time I hear the opening note of a cry, my first thought is FIX FIX FIX FIX. I think more than anything else this presents a clear picture of my parenting mindset: he cannot. Cannot what? In my mind… anything. I have to be there to do everything: get the toy, soothe him to sleep, make the (perceived) hurt go away. And not because I don’t love him/want the best for him. I am jumping to fix things FOR that reason, but also hidden in there was that negative mindset. Now of course, he needs me for things, duh. But even at this age, he deserves to be thought of as capable and my mindset as “he can”. And that my job is to support, to wait, to watch and not always to fix.
In believing he is capable, my actions support his development of capability. But if I never think he can, he won’t, because I won’t give him the space and time necessary.
Okay, now the teaching stuff.
Every small decision sends a message of capability or incapability to children. To ape the thing I read, I believe teachers who believe children are capable tend to have more capable students because they give them the time and the space and the tools.
Neutral Scenario: A child needs to add a page to his or her writing book
Teacher A: Let me staple this for you
Teacher B: The tape and stapler are over there, let me know if you get stuck.
Neutral Scenario: Its time to sit on the rug
Teacher A: Let me tell you your rug spot
Teacher B: Find a spot that feels like it will help you focus
Neutral Scenario: A child wants to read a book that is outside his or her reading level
Teacher A: Please shop only from your just right bin
Teacher B: That book has some tricky parts, what strategies might you use if it gets hard?
Over time, Teacher A, who might (like parenting me) love her students to pieces, could slowly erode the feelings of capability in her students, or at the very least not build them.
Our teaching (And parenting) lives are never just once decision. They are a series of small ones that communicate (whether we know it or not) a shape and a space for children to inhabit. When we focus on control, order, and prevention we run the risk of teaching children they are incapable. Giving time and space is terrifying, but within that time and space is where children find their capability.
From getting materials to finding rug spots, to looking at books out of the (gasp) just right level, when we do less telling and fixing, we give kids the chance to find their true capabilities as decision makers, problem solvers, and thinkers.
One last note– it is always harder for us, the adults, then for kids. Kids can figure out how to find a seat on the rug on their own (and just about everything else), I promise you, but it will feel hard for some teachers to let that messiness make its way to clarity. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do it. Don’t blame the kids for our own control/fear issues- name it and move on. I am afraid every time Harry cries at night it is because he feels abandoned, but I’ve learned to say, “My fear is that he feels abandoned but I know he is really just working through something noisily”. You may think, “Unassigned spots at tables will make chaos” but in reality it is, “My fear is unassigned table spots will be chaos, but I know it will just feel chaotic until kids get more practice at it.”
Here’s to cultivating capability (and a full nights sleep)!
Not too long ago I tweeted out an article about how when kids appear aggressive, it might actual be a motor planning issue. One of the conclusions drawn was that in the absence of big body chores (like hauling logs and digging holes) and big body play (like wrestling and play fighting) kids haven’t really developed the receptors to realize they might be hitting too hard. (Worth a read, check it out here )
As the new mom of Very Active Child, one who is bound to want to play fight and jump off high things, I went on the hunt for articles about how to support his motor development so he can do all these things with confidence and kindness. And in doing so I wandered into this blog post about sitting. (Stay with me here, this isn’t going to be about sitting for long). The author argues against going straight for supported sitting (like the Bumbo Chair) and instead letting your child wobble. She calls it “wobbling practice”. Here is what she has to say (I swear I am about to wrap up the sitting part):
What most parents hope for when their baby begins to work on sitting is a steady sitter, but as a pediatric Occupational Therapist what I hope to see is a baby who spends some time wobbling, wobbling, wobbling! The constant loop of sensory information coming in and postural adjustments going out of the brain is developmentally rich; it isn’t a step in the progression toward sitting to be skipped over or rushed through.
Here is the gist: you don’t learn to sit by being propped up in a chair, you learn to sit by wobbling and falling over (and having a soft place to land), and if that isn’t the perfect analogy for our goals as teachers than I don’t know what is.
Let’s reframe mistakes and missteps for kids (and ourselves) as wobbling practice. Let’s see it as a constant loop of information that can’t be skipped or rushed through. From inventive spelling to a child’s attempts to solve problems without hitting, its the wobbling that make us steadier and better, provided we have a soft place to land, and an adult that sees the value of wobbling practice.
It’s not that a child is struggling, it is that he or she is wobbling, and just like a baby learning to sit, propping him or her up robs them of the chance to find their own steady place in the world.
Here’s to a year of wobbling, soft landings, and the space and clarity to see the real work in struggle.
My colleague at the EdCollab, Dana, wrote a blog post about being genderqueer and a teacher and in it she called out educators with privilege to take a more proactive and active stance in supporting marginalized people and marginalized bodies. As I read it, I was provoked to really think about myself in the world. (Go read it before you read the rest of this, if you haven’t already)
First, I had to understand I have power and privilege if I am one or more of the following: white, male, middle class, heterosexual, typically identify as male or female (cisgender), and have a body that fits the norms of our society. This is hard to do. Why? Because at first glance it can feel like it devalues the work I have done, or negates the fact that I don’t feel that way most of the time. But in listening to someone who is not those things I realized that what I call status quo, is what my white skin and middle class upbringng have granted me.
Here are some examples of my power and privilege in the last few weeks:
I assume the police will help me, I do not worry about getting pulled out of line by TSA,
I don’t think twice before I go to the bathroom,
I reach into my glove compartment for my registration if I get pulled over and I don’t announce what I am doing,
I approach a stranger for directions and they give them to me,
I walk unnoticed and without fear through my day to day,
I shop easily at stores and find my size clothing,
The one example I can pull up that might even be close to a lack of power is a certain discomfort walking through a shortcut in the park after dark, which I attribute to being female and therefore vulnerable to attack.
Here was my revelation: there is not one thing in my life that has not been aided by the fact I am a white woman, married to a man, who identifies as female. Power and privilege as others in my shoes experience is not so much the presence of something you can name, but the absence of something more explicit: fear, uncertainty, shame, harassment.
Here is the second step I had to own: in being ignorant of my own power and privilege, I am the problem. It’s like I thought I was in a race where we were all at the same starting line. But no, the fact I can walk around in a hooded sweatshirt, go into the women’s bathroom without fear, and kiss my husband in public puts me in a different position then a lot of our country. The privilege and power to do all of these things means I started the race a good ¾ of the way to finish line. I think running that ¼ mile means I worked hard, and I did- sort of, but not nearly as hard as every other runner that our society doesn’t see, name or value.
So what should we, the privileged and the powerful, do?
Go at it in the comments, I know I have more work to do.
“Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”
― Lewis Carroll,
For those of you that follow me on twitter, you already know that this blog has been quiet for two big reasons. Christine Hertz and I are working on a Really Awesome new project together (we are on the home stretch!), and I’m also now a new mother, Working on the book with Christine has taken most of my writing time, but occasionally an idea comes up that needs its own home. This is one of them.
At the risk of sounding like a cliche, literally NOTHING could have prepared me for the joys and challenges of pregnancy, birth, and the first two weeks with a newborn. Never in my life have I felt like things were more impossible, and then did them anyway.
There was a definite point in labor when I thought, “Nope. Impossible.”
But there was no choice, so I had to do it anyway.
There was a point the first night home, screaming baby, crashing hormones, dead of night, when I thought, “Nope. Impossible.”
But there was no choice, and we made it through anyway.
The sleep deprivation: nope, impossible. But there was no choice, and it happened anyway.
If nothing else, this experience (so far) has made me realize that “impossible” is a relative thing. As a matter of fact, I think I often confuse the words “hard” and “impossible”. The limits of what is actually possible is far greater and bigger and wider than I ever dreamed.
So as I sit and stare at this little guy, who is finally asleep (I know, I should be too, but its not in the cards right now) and I think about the kids I have taught and all the impossible things they have already accomplished before they come to school, I question the way I have perceived and reacted to things like challenging behaviors, benchmarks, changing bias and school culture, and I wonder, “was it really impossible or just outside the spectrum of hard that I am comfortable with? What id I stopped thinking of impossible as a choice?”
I think we have to really start with the premise that nothing is impossible in the classroom and for kids. Things can be hard, really hard, so hard they feel impossible, but that doesn’t mean it is. It can feel impossible and still get done anyway.
Now I am wary of “kumbaya” teaching, by which I mean, bite size, t-shirt ready slogans about the power of positive thinking. We can all sit around and say, “Nothing is impossible!” and then act as though certain things are beyond our ability to change- the lack of diverse books, the elimination of play in schools, the overly heavy emphasis on academic over social emotional skills. Saying you can overcome difficulty, is not the same is overcoming difficulty.. We all need strategies and practical supports. So what is the strategy for overcoming the “its impossible” feeling? Maybe it goes something like this:
Making change in the world can feel like a “nope. Impossible” moment, but we can still go ahead and do it anyway. Every day we overcome an impossible and realize it was just merely harder than we thought it could be,
As for our book, it will have loads more on making powerful change in classrooms and school cultures. As for me, I look forward to doing as many as 6 impossible things before breakfast (showering being one of them).
And to the makers of the perineal ice pack, good job.