After seeing our students perform in front of the entire school all week, I heard many adults confess to them, "You were so brave! I couldn't do that." We had a similar discussion in our classroom as we unpacked the school's mission statement and defined some of the big concepts, like exceptional learners, independent thinkers, vision, courage, and integrity. After telling students that courage is like another word they might know, brave, I told them how many of them were brave when they got on stage in front of the whole school. Right on cue, one of our students said, "Well, I wasn't brave! I was really scared." "But you did it anyways," I reminded him. "Having courage does not mean you are not scared; it means you do something anyways."
In fact, courage is defined as the ability to do something that frightens one. Matthew Kelly says courage is not the absence of fear but the acquired ability to move beyond fear. I love that he distinguishes it as an acquired ability.
Courage is not only an acquired ability, but an important business (and life) skill. In an article on Harvard Business Review, Kathleen R. Reardon says, "Certainly, courage is sometimes a matter of life and death. [...] Yet, in my 25 years of studying human behavior in organizations, I've discovered that courage in business seldom operates like this. Through interviews with more than 200 senior and midlevel managers who have acted courageously--whether on behalf of society, their companies, their colleagues, or their own careers--I've learned that this kind of courage is rarely impulsive. Nor does it emerge from nowhere. In business, courageous action is really a special kind of calculated risk taking."
We work hard to make our school, and each classroom in it, a safe environment for our students, one in which they feel comfortable taking risks and becoming themselves. Through social-emotional education and a carefully curated environment, we teach them to appreciate each other's quirks and unique viewpoints and contributions. When they feel comfortable and appreciated, they are willing to take small risks. As they take small risks, our students build the confidence and courage to take more risks.
Although, it seems like just a twist on a traditional talent show, Brown Bag provided yet another opportunity for our students to take risks and acquire courage. All students, those who participated and those who did not, helped to create an environment in which the students who did participate felt comfortable enough to take the risk. Children are our future, and we are equipping each of our students to have the courage to positively impact the world in their own unique way.
In this classroom, we will try to learn and have fun and help others learn and have fun.
First grade's school guidelines project has provided an authentic context in which to frame the necessary conversations we have had as a combined class about why we are in school and the choices we need to make because of that. This week, each student had an opportunity to share a reason they come to school, and we analyzed the list to come up with a class mission: In this classroom, we will try to learn and have fun and help others learn and have fun. The mission will serve as a reminder of why we are in school and will help students make sure their actions and choices throughout the day align with that. One way we practice making choices that align with our mission is through examples and non-examples. Students model choices that will NOT help them or others learn and have fun, immediately followed by modeling choices that will help them and others learn and have fun. This is a fun and effective way to reinforce expectations, and the entire class is always giggling by the end!
I think it is important that a class mission statement inspire a growth mindset, and our mission does just that. Trying to learn and help others learn involves embracing challenges, taking risks, and collaborating with others and having fun helps students remember to enjoy the process, both when learning is fun and when it is challenging.
Using the reasons we come to school to create a class mission laid the foundation for using the school's mission statement to create the school's guidelines. Just like our actions in the classroom should reflect our class mission, the guidelines we choose for the school should collectively help students and teachers make choices that align with the school's mission. Next week, students will unpack PNA's mission statement and use it to evaluate and refine their proposed school guidelines.
We educate students to be exceptional learners and independent thinkers of vision, courage, and integrity.
They will be responsible for presenting and explaining the guidelines to Student Council and, once approved, to the entire school. The class mission will provide the framework to help students create a community of learners and make choices that contribute positively to our shared purpose. I look forward to students applying this concept to the entire school next week and delving into what makes PNA such a special environment in which to learn and grow.
Entrepreneur and philanthropist Richard Branson says, "Every success story is a tale of constant adaptation, revision, and change." I am sure that a combined kindergarten first grade classroom midyear is not what you had envisioned for your child's school year. However, I am positive that we will all grow as a result of this change and that we will be stronger and more successful as a result of it.
"Every success story is a tale of constant adaptation, revision, and change."
Building structure and routine is something that we spend a lot of time on in the beginning of the school year and typically only review midyear. I know it can be overwhelming, and even frustrating, to focus on structure and routine midyear. (And I know that change itself can also be overwhelming, frustrating, and uncomfortable.) That being said, it is the structure and routine that will allow me to simultaneously teach kindergarten and first grade and meet the needs of all of my students, to challenge the students who need to be challenged and give support to the students who need support. The routines and structure are integral to making any classroom run smoothly, but will be especially important for our newly combined classroom. I want to make sure that your child will be engaged and learning all day, whether they are working as a whole group, independently, or individually or in small groups with me or Mr. Redhead.
For this reason, I am taking the time to ensure that students know what is expected of them and how to meet those expectations. Although it might be frustrating right now, this will pay off for the rest of the year in our combined classroom. Our kindergarten and first grade students have a tremendous responsibility to focus on their job or task (while other students are doing other jobs and tasks), listen to and follow directions the first time, work independently while I am working with other students, and transition from one activity or task to another calmly, quickly, and quietly. I know our first graders are up for the task, but it will take time to build the scaffolds, structure, and routines that will allow them to do the things I just mentioned.
Mr. Redhead and I have been assessing the students, and I will level them so that they are all working at a level that is just right for them. Currently in math, all the first grade students are playing math work stations from the first grade curriculum, taking assessments, and learning the expectations and routines for math in the combined classroom. We are especially working hard to work quietly (We learned quickly just how much louder 18 voices can get than 11!) and transition from task to task calmly, quickly, and quietly.
In reading, we are building our stamina for independent, or private, reading. When we can privately read for 10 minutes, we will work on partner reading for 10 minutes. The class increased their private reading stamina from 2 1/2 minutes to 7 minutes this week. Students, scattered around the room with book bins full of "good fit" books, are expected to get started right away, stay in one spot, read the whole time, and read quietly. As soon as one student is unable to sustain one of these expectations, the stamina is broken, and we meet back at the carpet to check in and debrief.
During the debrief, students give a thumbs up or a thumbs down for each of the four behaviors mentioned above and set a goal for the next session. This not only helps students build reading stamina, but it helps them grow by setting personal goals as well. It also gives us an opportunity to work on our growth mindset. During our debrief sessions, we discuss how it is okay if our stamina is not 10 minutes yet because we will keep growing our stamina bit by bit as we try hard to meet our goals. We grow and learn through mistakes, effort, and perseverance.
It also solidifies the concept that we are a community of learners, and we need to support each other and work together to learn and grow, especially since some students can sustain independent reading for longer than 7 minutes. As a reading specialist, I know how important individualized attention is to increasing students' reading abilities. I also know that it is impossible for me or Mr. Redhead to effectively give your child that individualized attention if other students in the class are not able to work independently for the amount of time we are working with a small group. For this reason, the entire class needs to reach our stamina goal of 10 minutes before Mr. Redhead and I can work with small groups.
Next week, we will continue with assessments for both reading and math so that I will know exactly how to meet your child's needs and so that I can share and celebrate their growth with you. Thank you for your patience and understanding as we build this new community of learners. I look forward to when we can all look back and see this as a success story.
I love the outdoors, reading, art, gardening, and sharing my love of learning!