Saturday, 11 February 2017

You Take the Good. You Take the Bad.

You take the good. You take the bad.

Remind you of a little tune from long ago?

It really is a fact that life is a ball of good, bad and all kinds of other stuff in between. And as teachers, we can see good, bad and everything in between in the course of one single day (and on some particularly crazy days, we might see it all within an HOUR!)

I follow a page for teachers and lately I have noticed a trend. Not a certainty from all, just a trend.

We are really good at taking the good...

"You should see the art lesson we just did! The kids behaved so well! And the finished product? It's up on a bulletin board for all to see!"

"I am so proud of the kids that passed my math test today! That was a tough unit and they really did well! All those manipulatives and extra practice and those amazing lessons I planned must have worked!"

"Everyone was so quiet during our writing block today. They have come so far since the beginning of the year."

It is easy for us to take a little credit when things are going well in the classroom. To take pride and feel as though we are doing a good job. That's normal! Of course we are going to feel that way and it is important to celebrate what goes well in our classrooms.

BUT, when things go wrong? This is what I see...

"Is it a full moon or something? My kids are AWFUL today!"

"Ugh. Stupid indoor recess. My kids have been monkeys. We are getting nothing done".

"If his/her parents would just ________ I would be able to do my job and teach him/her".

"My kids were ridiculous today. If I just had more admin support/an EA/prep time..."

"How the heck am I supposed to control a class that has never been able to listen/behave. I knew there was a reason to dread having them like I have been doing since last January".

Yuck. I struggle with how this has become a "thing". How is it that as professionals, we are willing to take all the credit when things go well but as soon as they go wrong we will come up with any outside source possible to blame it on?

And don't get me wrong. I'VE BEEN THERE! Been in that place where it couldn't possibly be something that I was doing wrong or missing that caused those "bad" days. It has to be from all the other sources of stress that we teachers can all relate to.

Last week, on a particularly... let's say... *trying* day in Kindergarten, I had myself a good 'ol after school teacher meltdown. It wasn't a full moon or indoor recess or my admin team or other teachers or parents or the overwhelming needs of the classroom or my lack of a gym block or that 2 kids had forgotten their lunches or (you get the idea) that brought me to tears.

It was me.

My frustration came because I felt like I had let my KIDS down. The day had been a little bit of a wreck. I could admit that. I was upset with myself for not regrouping. For not connecting like they needed me to. For not meeting their attachment needs. For allowing some of my own personal drama follow me into the classroom. For not recognizing that some of the lessons I had planned were not working and that I needed to revamp.

It is important to reframe our thinking and our vocabulary on these difficult days. These days have more to do with teachers than any other source. Not BAD teachers but really, really GOOD teachers who have just temporarily lost their way for a moment in time. Who have forgotten what is truly important in these days. And that SUCKS to have to admit.

So, what did I do after that big ol' cry? I came home. I loved on my own little family extra hard. I called my Mom and cried a little more. But then? I reflected. I got on Twitter and turned to my PLN who had incredible advice and support for me. I searched hashtags that inspire me. I took part in a Twitter chat and celebrated all that has gone right this year.

I also opened one of my favourite books "Kids Deserve It" by Adam Welcome and Todd Nesloney and read my very favourite chapters. And just revisiting the chapters "Don't Live on an Island", "Leave it in Your Car" and "Relationships Matter Most" reminded me of what I needed to do the next day. I did not have a full moon or indoor recess to blame the day on. But I did know in my heart that I had not

1. Asked for help
2. Left my own adult dilemmas and troubles in the car
3. Remembered that RELATIONSHIPS "have always been, and will always be, of utmost importance in our schools" (Kids Deserve It, p. 117)

We are blessed to be part of a profession that is constantly evolving and where we can start each day anew. What an incredible opportunity to be in a place where each day is a new start!

So I will do exactly that. I will go into the week full of excitement, passion and happiness, remembering all of these things I love about being a teacher. And guess what? There is a good chance I will have another one of these "frustrating" days again soon. They are bound to happen. But I can tell you what I won't do. I won't be blaming the day on the weather or nature or someone else in my building or even worse, the kids. In fact, I will not place any blame.

Instead I will recognize that teaching is tough but that the rewards are priceless. That "kids deserve it". That every day is different and surprising and has the potential to change lives. That what I model in my classroom is what I will get in return (thanks @casas_jimmy !) and that when I know better I will do better.

No more excuses for this girl! I am ready to reflect on these days, these moments, as opportunities instead of problems. As a second (or third, or fourth or millionth...) chance at getting it right for my learners.





My 5 Favourites from #NCTCA2017

As a proud Alberta educator I had the pleasure of attending the North Central Teachers Convention in Edmonton, Alberta this week. 

Convention is always an emotional time for me. Reminds me of the year I snuck in as an EA... just walking around dreaming of having own classroom and the role of "teacher" someday. It is a time to learn, to reflect and to celebrate my role as an educator. I feel so immensely grateful during this time.

The common thread between every session I attended was CONNECTION. Not one speaker did not mention the need for connection with students especially in these times. Without connection and relationship, no learning will take place. What a powerful message and reminder to hear at every session! 

Here are the top 5 points I will be bringing into my classroom, into my mindset and my life this week.

The Innovator's Mindset
George Couros



We need to be constantly questioning what is BEST for each individual learner. Everyone has a point A & a point B. The path to learning is different for everyone.


George believes that "isolation is not a choice educators make". Choosing to connect has benefits to teachers and their learners. 

(Looking for a fun example? Check out my Kindergarten Class community collaboration with local restaurant Cilantro and Chive. After Family Literacy Day, students made a book of "Dream Burgers" for the owner who had read to them. The result? Mrs. Mac's Kinder Class DREAM BURGER of the month!
Check out the story on Twitter HERE)



Rick Smith
Conscious Classroom Management



 Assuming the best in our learners (that they WANT to learn) shifts our perspective and helps us to better focus on what our learners need. Misbehaviour is an invisible request for help.


Students who claim they don't care? Here is a response we can all use. Connecting to the heart AND the brain with this simple statement.


Joel Hilchey


"Entitlement is not a generational issue. It is a societal one."
Battling the issue of entitlement with gratitude is essential. To recognize the incredible world we live in as one full of wonder and opportunity helps us and our learners feel less entitled.


Thank you NCTCA for a wonderful convention. I feel refreshed, invigorated and excited to take on the rest of this school year.

-Laurie

Friday, 13 January 2017

I made a list today...

I remember being in junior high and making a list. A list of all the people I thought didn't like me. The ones that cringed and mocked me outwardly when I walked into a room and the quiet ones who I thought were shooting daggers at me when I wasn't looking. And although I wrote that list what seems like a million years ago, I still remember who was on it and WHY they were placed there. And throughout my adult years, I feel like I have added to it and subtracted from it at different times but "the list" has always been a part of my life. A part of me.



The list has served many purposes. It has reared its ugly head at my lowest points. It has provided me with proof, validation and some sort of strange comfort when I feel that I am a total screw up. It has been with me through thick and thin and thick again. And unfortunately, it has often been the goggles I use to view the world and my relationships and my place in each of them. It has meant that for so many days, TOO many days, I have focused on the people that are toxic to my self esteem and self worth trying to convince them that I'm not so bad. Even worse, it has made me ignore the ones that have my back no matter what. The ones that make me smile, that make my heart pitter patter and the ones who do not judge me, which to me is the epitome of love. The list has me putting effort into people that I shouldn't be. Quite honestly, it's time for the list to go. This week I got the most beautiful reminder of that.



My BFF knows me all too well. And although she knows nothing about "THE list" mentioned above, she knows I am a list maker. This week, she sent me the most thoughtful gift... "The 52 Lists Project:A Year of Weekly Journaling Inspiration". The timing could not have been better.

Now, not only am I an unapologetic list maker by nature, I am also a rule follower. So, when Week #1 says to make a list about your goals and dreams for the year, I do it. And I did. And it was wonderful and therapeutic and lovely. But as I flipped through the pages to see what was coming next, List #7 caught my eye...


"List all the people who brighten your day".

Say what? What's that Book of Lists? You want a list of people who BRIGHTEN my day? But this completely goes against my self destructing "people who DON'T like me list" that I have held on to since I was a teenager? What am I supposed to do with that list huh?

But this sweet gift from my sweet friend is right. It's time. Time to let go of the negativity and tears and the doubt that the PEOPLE on the list cause.

But more importantly, it is time to refocus. To go to the people I love the most and who truly brighten my day.

So, I did it. I made that Week #7 list. And damn, it felt good. Some of those on the list are obvious choices; my husband, my children, my BFF, my Mom, my neighbour... you get the idea. Some are people are ones who support me as friends and colleagues and mentors. There is a whole full section of students and their parents who brighten my days in ways that they can't even comprehend. Some on the list, I barely know but inspire me in some way through work or in my community. Some are people I have never met (can you say Twitter PLN?) authors of books I have read or musicians whose music makes me happy.

But all in all, this list, the new and IMPROVED most important list in my life, helped me to realize, on paper, that I am going to be OK. More than OK, because my list is full and plentiful and vibrant and lovely.

So, I am mentally shredding and burning and ripping and tearing and re burning the OLD list. With a renewed focus on those who DO matter I am sure that my heart will be more grateful, my outlook more positive and my life more rewarding.

Thank you to my day brighteners. I'm here and I promise to focus on you. You deserve it and you matter.




Sunday, 8 January 2017

Kindness is Key: Creating a Culture of Kindness in Your Classroom Every. Single. Day.


In February of 2015, my life was changed by "The Ellen Show" (http://www.ellentv.com/videos/0-2v9zbgdg/) Completely and utterly changed in so many wonderful ways! I feel like kindness and compassion were always priorities in my life but I needed to be extremely careful about how I shared them. I was always very aware and very conscious of the fact that I didn't want my kindness journey to be perceived as "bragging" or as "self promoting" or as "fake". When I reflect on LBE (life BEFORE Ellen), I feel sad thinking about the positive things we do in our lives that we feel the need to "hide" or downplay in order to make others more comfortable. What a sad way to live.

Luckily for me, the biggest change that I was blessed with in my life after "The Ellen Show" (LAE!) had nothing to do with material items. Shocking right? The BIGGEST change was that my focus on kindness had been exposed to the world! There was no hiding it anymore and that was the most freeing feeling I had felt in a very long time. Now, I not only felt ashamed or scared to share my kindness journey with others in the fear that I would be judged, I felt it was my duty and my responsibility to promote kindness and love like I never had before (because that is what I had PROMISED my idol!). And that is exactly what I have done within my own personal circle of family and friends, within my community and within my classroom.

Kindness is meant to be shared. And celebrated. And admired. And the best way to do that is to share our acts of kindness, our stories of kindness and our ideas about spreading kindness with each other. Sharing and celebrating kindness not only motivates us to be kind to others, it encourages others to take part in acts of kindness to make our world a better place.

Helper's High

Now, I know how important research is before teachers implement a strategy into their classroom. And there has been a surprising amount of research into the area of how kindness affects student learning, student self esteem and bullying in our schools. My very favourite article "Why Teaching Kindness in Schools is Essential to Reduce Bullying" by Lisa Currie (https://www.edutopia.org/blog/teaching-kindness-essential-reduce-bullying-lisa-currie) explains 8 ways that kindness impacts learners. One of the biggest areas that interests me is the studies that show that our brain has a neurological reaction when we share kindness, a term that has been called "helper's high".

The incredible Stuart Shanker (https://self-reg.ca/) writes the following in his book "Self-Reg: How to Help Your Child (and You) Break the Stress Cycle and Successfully Engage with Life"


Helper's high? Reducing bullying? Better concentration? Increased results? That is all the research I need.


So, here goes. Without any apologies and without any fear, here are the ways I have chosen to inject kindness into my classroom every single day.



Kindness on a individual level

I have a girl crush. Her name is Dr. Jody Carrington (@JodyCarrington on Twitter) and she makes me so incredibly happy. The way she greets each and every person as they attend her speaking engagements alone is enough for me to admire her and want to be more like her.

And this is where kindness starts each and every day in my classroom. I channel my inner Dr. Jody and with as much enthusiasm and love and excitement as I can, I greet each and every student. "PIPER! You're here! I am so happy to see you this morning! How was that bus ride? See anything interesting? Hey, I wanted to thank you for sharing your toys with Charlotte yesterday during W.I.N. Time. You are amazing. I can't wait to see what a great day we have together today".

Seems logical. Seems like common sense. Seems like we should all be doing this. Who wouldn't want to start their day in this way? Extending a sincere, kind greeting is my number 1 way to inject kindness into my learner's days.

The feelings behind this greeting continue for the rest of the day. I know that the root of all learning that takes place in my classroom is based on my attachment to these students. By extending kindness to them, our connection grows each and every day.

A warm greeting is a great place to start but what else can be done to spread kindness to each and every student?
  • "How was that hockey game/gymnastics class/ piano recital... last night? I would love to come and watch someday!"
  • Words of gratitude throughout the day like "Thank you for...", "I am so grateful that you are here/that I get to be your teacher"
  • Sharing stories of kindness from my own life has been incredible effective. I tell them about how I spread kindness (like buying groceries for a woman who had forgotten her wallet) and how I have received kindness (like the friend who bought me Wonder Woman socks as a gift). Have no stories to tell of your own? There are dozens of stories a day being posted in social media (my fave? Ashton Kutcher's Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/Ashton/ ) and a quick check in your local newspaper are usually a great places to find one.
  • We have 3 classroom rules. Be Kind. Be Safe, Be Your Best. Our focus on "BE KIND" is extended throughout the entire day especially through questions. "Tell me one way you can be kind at morning assembly today.", "Tell me one way you were kind at recess today", "Who can tell me about kind act they have seen in our school today?"
There are SO many ways to incorporate kindness into your classroom on a individual level. And my guess? You are already AMAZING at this. Really, you are. So keep up the good work and let's look at another area we can inject kindness into.

Kindness on a classroom and community level




My favourite high school Social Studies and I are friends on Facebook. Every week or so Mr. Yaro posts a kindness story on my Facebook page with a message about how he thought of my learners when he read it. How has this happened? How is it that someone that has never been in my class and has never met my students KNOWS that we focus on kindness? By following our Instagram account (@mrsmacskinders) and seeing some stories on my own personal Facebook page, Mr. Yaro has been able to follow along on our kindness journey and KNOWS that our classroom is built on a culture of kindness.

What does a culture of kindness look like in Kindergarten class?

 1. By showing gratitude we build this culture. We make a LOT of thank you cards. A lot. We make them for all kinds of people in our school and community. Swimming lessons at the pool? The lifeguards get a thank you card. The construction workers working on the lot outside our school? They get a thank you card. Our school secretaries, administration, teachers, custodial staff? Thank you cards all the time. We don't wait until a special appreciation day. We spend our time thanking them all. the. time. What a great way to extend kindness to our school and community!



2. Dramatic play, fine motor activities and recess

I make a huge effort to inject kindness into activities in our classroom. One of our favourite fine motor activities is to bead. So we turned the "beading station" into making friendship bracelets! Why keep them all to ourselves? They deliver these bracelets to their siblings around the school and staff members who have helped them out. We build this delivery time into our W.I.N. Time in the afternoons, which also becomes a wonderful time to practice conversational skills and independence (bonus!).

Our dramatic play station changes monthly. Why not use it as an opportunity to create that culture of kindness we talked about? Our flower shop station becomes the perfect opportunity to spread kindness in our school. By delivering the flower arrangements they make to our school community my learners get to practice all kinds of important social skills AND create special bonds through kindness. Our hot chocolate shop becomes an opportunity to invite a school community member into our class so that we can treat them to a hot cup of pretend hot chocolate. Dramatic play helps my learners to practice their kindness skills with people who are familiar and known in the hopes that they build kindness as a SKILL to be used in their day to day lives in our world.

Recess is another great time to focus on kindness! We have added a third recess on our afternoons and one of our favourite recess activities is sidewalk chalk in the fall and spring. We practice our writing on the sidewalk and instead of writing our names over and over the kids have the option to choose a message from my "kindness jar" to copy onto the sidewalk. Beautiful messages of kindness cover the sidewalks leading to our school on these days.

Kindness doesn't have to be something "extra" we add to our schedule. It is something we naturally extend into our daily activities.





 3. #kindnesscapes

Once a month, students find Kindness Capes hanging on their lockers when they come in to the school. It is their indication that we are heading out on a Kindness Capes walk in our community that day. The squeals and the smiles as they see their capes reminds me how exciting this project has become to them and how incredibly important it has become in their connection to our city.

Students put on their capes and wear them for the day. My little Brooklyn once put it best. When asked by an older student about why the Kindergarten class was wearing capes she stated "Don't you know? These are our kindness capes! They turn us into the kindest superheroes in the whole wide world!" (and followed the statement up with the biggest hug I have ever seen!)

We spend the morning working on art and notes of kindness. In the afternoon, we take our goodies and deliver them as gifts to people in our community. Sometimes we head out to a specific place (a restaurant, the pool, City Hall, local businesses, neighbouring schools) and sometimes we just see who we meet on the streets. Every student is given the opportunity, with or without assistance, in a safe adult monitored situation, to give their gifts away and offer a smile and a happy compliment as we walk.

Kindness Capes remind me of the true reason I became a teacher. These are the days I LIVE for. Taking one day month to spend this time together, to connect to each other and to our community is worth it. A parent told me recently that #kindnesscapes were the reason she chose our school. With a hug and tears in her eyes she said "You are giving my son a real life experience of love and kindness every single month that allows him to connect to the world around him that will stay with him for the rest of his life".

Wow.

Search our #kindnesscapes hashtag on both Twitter and Instagram for more inspirational pictures of this project that I am incredibly proud of.





Kindness on a global level

After doing Kindness Capes for several years, I was looking to expand the idea in a global way. The idea came along to connect with an incredible teacher in the U.S. that I had met on social media in order to start some kind of club or project that would encourage and promote kindness. After months of planning together THE KIND CLUB was born! (https://twitter.com/the_kind_club)

The Kind Club allows schools or community groups to join in on monthly kindness challenges to promote and spread kindness in their own communities. The challenges are free, easy to do AND student led! Each month, a challenge is set by one of our chapters and we work collectively as a club to complete the challenge. And even though this club is new, we already have 12 other schools on board joining in on our challenges. WOO HOO!

My favourite part of the club is that every challenge includes a "proof" component. Students must PROVE that they are completing the challenge. Through drawings, pictures, videos and writing, students are encouraged to reflect on their actions, how it makes them feel and most importantly, how it makes others feel. Just scrolling through the pictures on our Twitter and Instagram feeds (@the_kind_club) fills my heart. This little group has so much potential and our kiddos have passionately committed themselves to this club in a way that I didn't know was possible.

The Kind Club's youngest members are in my Kindergarten class. To hear them excited about working with other classes in the world on a joint goal of kindness has been exciting and very emotional. This simple and powerful little idea is changing to world. No doubt about it.

We have had stories written about us in newspapers like the Los Altos Town Crier  and have even been featured on CTV news here. I have a feeling that 2017 is going to be an amazing year for The Kind Club. Consider following along on social media and maybe even starting your own chapter this year.







Kindness is Key

I'm not going to lie...sometimes I wonder if all this focus on kindness is worth it. Is it making a difference? Are people sick of hearing about it? Is is time to "tone down" the focus on kindness?

And then, this happens. A conversation at the supper table with our oldest daughter, a member of The Kind Club and my former kindergarten student...

As we talk about an employee that Mommy saw at Wal Mart who was pushing carts into the store and being mistreated by customers a discussion begins.

"I felt so sad when I saw people being mean to that man. I didn't know what to do so I talked with him and gave him some money to go buy himself some supper. It made my heart feel better when I did that".

My husband says "Great idea Mommy! It is important to be kind to people who are having a bad day".

This is when my Molly pipes up... "OR Daddy... what if it didn't matter if we knew if it was a bad day or not? What if we just treated everybody super kind no matter what kind of day they were having? That would be amazing wouldn't it Daddy?"

You nailed it my sweet girl. AND you reminded me that this IS important. That this mission, this journey and this connection to the world through kindness can and will make a difference.

Instilling a culture of kindness into our classrooms must be a priority. Not something that is an afterthought that we build whole lessons around. It needs to be ingrained into our lessons and activities so that it is always present for students to see and to practice.

Kindness is key. We should be kind whenever possible. And it is ALWAYS possible.


Sunday, 1 January 2017

The 10 BEST Changes I Have Ever Made In My Classroom

What a title right? I could have named this "The 10 Things I Love Most About My Kindergarten Class" but then I would have had to name "MY KIDS" ten times. Would have made for a pretty boring blog...
BUT this list is specifically about my classroom set up. The procedures or spaces or philosophies I have put into place to help the class run smoothly and to encourage the 4, 5 and 6 year olds in my room to make choices about their learning in their kindergarten journey. It is about the 10 BEST decisions I have made as an educator to better engage students, their parents and to build relationships and to encourage problem solving skills in my classroom. AND with this being a new year and the PERFECT time for change, this list may even help you with your own resolutions this year.  Let's get started...
10. Problem solving stations
My kids can vouch for the fact that they will hear me say "is there a way you can solve that problem?" a million times in a year. I get such a rush when a student can solve a problem on their own without needing my assistance. Now, I'm not talking the BIG things that require adult attention. I'm talking the little things. Don't have a sharp pencil? Head to the "Happy Pencil Place" to get a new one. No need to sharpen the old one either. Let's just put that in the "Sad Pencil Place" and an adult will take care of the sharpening so you can get right back to work. Runny nose? Food on your face? Dirty hands? Head to the "Cleaning Station" complete with mirror, wet wipes, Kleenex and sanitizer to clean yourself up. Even something as simple as not having a spoon at lunch and needing one is solved by putting out extra spoons on a shelf so that students can get to eating without a teacher's help. I love that my kids are able to solve these simple problems on their own. Talk about giving them problem solving skills and independence!
9. Parent Communication Centre
At the end of our kindergarten day, I keep ALL students in my class until their pick up person arrives. This means that many parents are hanging out in the halls waiting at the end of the day. Why not provide them with important information about upcoming events, things we are learning, articles I find interesting and a few funny memes about Kinders to enhance this waiting time. Parents constantly tell me how entertaining and informative they find this board. What a simple way to build relationships, provide them with important information about our class and show a little bit of your sense of humour all in one place!
8. 3 Happy Things...
I was tired of all the "tattling" after recess so I came up with a plan to focus on the positives that we see and feel at recess. After recess, we meet at the carpet to share "3 happy things". As students are waiting for others to put their shoes on, use the bathroom and get into class, I will find kids reflecting on their recess and waiting with their hands up to share their answers. When everyone is ready, I come in and announce "3 HAPPY THINGS!" and the hands fly up! And BONUS! The students get to focus on what made them happy, learn each others names and share in complete sentences (awesome!) BUT the teacher in me gets valuable information about who is playing with who, what the students love AND who does NOT put their hand up to share which can indicate some recess problems. I love this part of our day and so do my students.
7. Good morning...
My attendance check in the morning is an important tool for me. I use it as an opportunity to do a zone of regulation check in and to assess how students may be feeling that day. It goes something like this...
"Good morning Casey!"
"Good morning Mrs. McIntosh..." (said in a sad little voice)
"Hey Casey, you sound a little down this morning. Is there a way we can help you start your day in a better way?"
"Well, my mommy woke up late this morning and we didn't have time for breakfast but she said I could just have a snack at snack time but I am really really hungry and snack time isn't until after morning meeting and I am in the blue zone!"
"Sounds to me like you could use snack buddy. Can you grab something from your lunch kit? Take it to the snack table and join us back at the carpet for morning meeting when you are done. Sound good?"
"Yes. Thank you Mrs. Mac".
Done. And even though I meet the kids in the hallway every morning to greet them with a hug/smile/high five sometimes they are just TOO excited to get to their friends and our morning warm ups and too busy to even THINK about how they are feeling yet. My "good morning!" routine works for all of us and helps solve problems together as we start our day.
6. W.I.N Time
Centre time runs ALL afternoon in our class. Yep. Every single day from 1:30 ish to 3:00 ish we are in full on centre mode. This means that we are running 6-12 different activities based on curriculum, self regulation needs, fine motor skills, gross motor skills and sensory needs. They are very busy and very full but very fulfilling afternoons with my kiddos.
But after seeing the incredible Tom Hierck in September (http://tomhierck.com/blog/) I adjusted my "centre time" and rephrased it. It is now called "W.I.N Time" aka "WHAT I NEED time". This small change has made a HUGE impact in my class for both me and the two educational assistants that I am blessed to work with. W.I.N Time now means that we work with EVERY student on something THEY need. It may mean a small group work on social stories or scissor skills. It may mean that we are working one on one with Lego learning to follow directions. It may mean that someone is napping. It may mean that we are working on a math enrichment project with a student. W.I.N Time allows us to ask us the question "is this truly what THIS student needs in THIS moment". Love it.
And even better? To hear a student say "Mrs. Mac? I KNOW what I NEED today. I need..." Love, love, LOVE it.
5. Go Noodle (https://app.gonoodle.com/)
Any Go Noodle fans out there? I know there are tons of you! Go Noodle has allowed me to take my brain breaks to a whole new level. In Alberta we have a lot of indoor recesses in the winter. Go Noodle helps with that. My class feels "off" after a particularly trying recess. Go Noodle to the rescue. Needing to connect with my kiddos again after a busy morning? Let's have some fun on Go Noodle together!
By increasing student engagement at home with the app and by adding our favourite songs to our You Tube channel, we are getting the most out of Go Noodle every single day.
4. Fresh Grade (https://www.freshgrade.com/)

"ENABLE TEACHERS.
EMPOWER STUDENTS.
ENGAGE PARENTS."

Yes. Yes. And yes. Fresh Grade has revolutionized many aspects of my teaching career in so many ways that I could write an entire blog about it. But if I had to focus on one area, none have been more profoundly impacted than my interaction with parents. This self proclaimed "crappy parent communicator" (yep... guilty for many years!) has done a full 180. Fresh Grade allows me to take pictures and videos of my kiddos (which I LOVE to do!) and send them to parents on a daily basis. Nothing has changed my relationships with parents and getting them on board with what we are doing in our classroom more than this app. Easy to use for both parents and teachers, I cannot say enough about this app.
3. Sensory Tool Boxes
What? Tool boxes that 4 and 5 year olds can access at any point in the day (yes, even while the teacher is talking... gasp!) to meet their sensory needs? Absolutely. And they work. No doubt about it.
Students who NEED a tool box get one. Some students have 12 tools, some have 1. It is based on needs and needs alone. Gum, fidgets, ribbon, stress balls, chewellery... whatever they need. Boxes are personalized for students and tools are not to be taken to gym and recess (for safety reasons) and cannot be taken home. And incredibly enough... losing them/taking them home/using someone else's tools have never become huge issues.
And how do my young kiddos react when they DON'T get a tool box? With no reaction at all. We talk non stop about "tools" all year and just like a pair of glasses, not everyone needs these types of tools to get them through the day. But some do. And that is ok.
These sensory tool boxes have been life changers for the kids that need them. They have also been life changers for me as a teacher. It is incredible to walk into a room with them after morning assembly only to see 3 or 4 kids head to their tool boxes to get a tool that they know they will NEED in order to help them focus during morning meeting.
They know that using a tool inappropriately of unsafely gets it taken away. Very rarely do any get taken away. I would love to see every class have a set of sensory tool boxes for students who has sensory needs.
2. Flexible Seating
After reading an Edutopia article by the amazing Kayla Delzer (https://www.edutopia.org/blog/flexible-seating-student-centered-classroom-kayla-delzer) about flexible seating, I knew I needed to make some major changes to my kindergarten classroom. I was already incorporating standing and laying down to complete activities but I needed more options than that for my students.
Standing counter, lawn chairs, laundry hampers, bath mats, wobble stools, milk crates, pillows, stools... flexible seating is one of the best decisions I have made in my teaching career.
I've seen it done many ways but I think that it is about adapting to your needs and making it work for you. My kids come in each morning and put their name tag at the table spot they would like to use. There are 4 tables; chairs, bath mats at a lowered table, wobble stools and milk crates. There are times where I direct where they sit (morning meeting is done at the carpet together for instance) and there are times where they can sit in any "smart spot" they would like. They always have the option to do their writing at any smart spot in the room. This is just one way of doing it but I am thrilled with the results I have had in my kinder class. I would highly suggest some form of flexible seating in all classrooms.
1. Attachment = Relationships FIRST, everything else next..
For years I struggled with this concept. The concept that students perform best for teachers that they like, that they feel safe with and that they know care about them. It wasn't that I didn't believe it. It was that I felt that there were so many other factors that played into it. Rules, procedures, consistency, maybe a behaviour chart or two here or there or some kind of "reward" system... It seemed like all of these things combined made for the REALLY good classrooms.
But I was wrong. Oh so wrong! Are they important? Some of them are for sure. Do they have a purpose in the classroom?  Some of them do. But classroom "management" isn't about these things for me anymore. "Classroom management" is impossible without relationships. And relationships are built through connection. And connection is built through attachment. Period.
Now, I am not talking relationships like "all the kids love me because I'm the cool teacher" kind of relationships. I am talking the relationships that are built on safety and love and security and consistency. I am talking the kind of relationship where your student KNOWS without a doubt that you have their back and they would be shocked to hear you ever say anything bad about them. Those are the kinds of relationships I want with my students. The kind where they know that they are worth it to me.
I know these days we are bombarded by quotes on social media and that rarely change our lives. But, I came across this one and it truly did change EVERYTHING I felt about teaching...
"When a child is attached to their teacher they are inclined to follow them, listen, want to be the same as, talk like, be good for, inclined to agree with, take direction from, be open to influence from, and seek to measure up. The characteristics that make kids easy to teach are the result of healthy attachment – not teaching style, technology, curriculum, or classroom space."
-Deborah MacNamara (http://macnamara.ca/portfolio/the-teacher-has-my-childs-heart/)
Wow. Just... wow.
So, if you are looking to make a BIG change this year in your classroom, any of the ones on the list come highly recommended by a teacher who has seen tremendous positive change and growth in her classroom due to these techniques.
But... if you are looking to make ONE big change and aren't sure where to start, choose number 1 on the list. Attaching to our students is the most beneficial thing we can do as teachers for them AND for ourselves. They are worth it. So are you.
Good luck this year everyone! I am cheering you on and sending you all kind of positive vibes to make this year a fantastic one.
Laurie