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What Every student should know about their teacher

It’s the weekend before my students return, and I couldn't be more pumped! There's something ethereal about the start of a new school year. I drafted scribbled a letter to myself detailing what I want to be true this year (I'm a picture kinda teacher) about my craft. What clearly stands out (aside from content related items) is what I want my students say, think, and believe about me. I took those ideas and turned them into a quick blog post with commitments I am making. 
1) Your teacher cares about and sees you. 
From my perspective I think I do a solid job of letting my students know this, however, I forced myself to delve into what this looks, feels, and sounds like in my classroom. In particular, I want I ensure that I reach all of my students, especially those who don't gravitate towards my over the top personality. 
- A daily greeting
- Plan out who I will eat lunch with and use that time to listen to students 
- Have a warm and demanding disposition 
- Engage in ongoing conversations about student interests (AKA use my student interest forms)
- Ask questions
- Always assume the best, even during challenging situations. 
- Provide high support with accelerated expectations #restorativepractices
- Get to know student influencers & balance the ratio of positive/negative communication
- Discuss and check-in on student goals
- Advocate when necessary for materials that leverage student personal experiences
- Celebrate student growth
- Double check practices for gender/cultural/racial stereotypes 
- Analyze trends in consequences and rewards. Be honest with myself around mindsets that might be at play. 

2) Your teacher cares about the entire class. 
Our class community is important. Middle school was the bane of my existence. I was teased to no end, and to cope I became a really mean and unhappy young lady during this time. My students MUST know that I deeply care about them as individuals, AND about our classroom collective. Our class will be welcoming and encouraging to everyone because everyone matters.  
- Prioritizing teambuilders that support a welcoming environment (once a week)
- Participate in community time and offering to lead different parts for our grade team
- Quickly address issues involving student conflict using restorative practices (<--- school requirement)
- Authentically reference our school anchors and habits
- Shout out examples of strong team habits
- Be present at all times! #earsalwayson 
- Believe that my students can engage in direct conversations and learn from one another. 

3) Your teacher values your opinion.
I grew up in the "because I said so" era, which (IMO) stifles motivation. I am completely invested in giving my students rationale for why we do things, and open to their feedback. I've learned this builds investment and nurtures intrinsic motivation. While we have a set curriculum and guidelines, my students have to own their role as drivers in their educational career. It's not my class, it's OUR class!  
- Provide rationale for decisions in our classroom
- Implement and utilize the structure for collecting student opinions
- Listen to my students and ask clarifying questions before responding 
- Narrate the changes based on feedback
- Reiterate that it's our class 

4) Your teacher loves teaching.
I look forward to seeing my students every week, and keeping our flow going because when we get in a groove, WE GROOVE!!! I want my zest for my career to shine through daily. 
- Be POSITIVE and avoid negativity around the teaching profession. 
- Share my love openly...even when it feels like I'm swimming against the tide. 
- Be solutions oriented
- Operate with the 24/48 rule so that feelings don't build up
- Check in with other teachers (especially the new ones) to see how they are doing and how I can help.  
- Create engaging and rigorous lessons
- Submit student work and class videos for school bulletin boards. 
- Dance during our school dance parties #easydotcom
- Dress the part daily
- Balance my professional and personal live! 
- Smile, laugh, learn (in no particular order)

5) Your teacher is not perfect. 
Teaching is really challenging, and no one teacher has all the answers! I embrace the fact that some of my students look up to me, but I am human, and will make mistakes. I want to build a classroom community where I share how I am learning and getting better so that my students see there is #nomagic  
- Share what I am learning from my students. 
- Be vulnerable and honest when I make a mistake. More importantly, sharing what I learn from my mistake. 
- Be humble
- Be a team player (share,beg, borrow, and steal from other phenomenal teachers)
- Remember the students are ALWAYS watching!
- Revisit these commitments to celebrate the brightspots and (re)shape the path forward

Please share what you want your students to think/feel about you and your class? 

{Week 4} BTS in A Flash! Student Engagement

This is the last week of a fabulous link up for Back to School hosted by Fancy Free in Fourth, Ramona Recommends, and Not So Wimpy Teacher. It's all about STUDENT ENGAGEMENT! My {quick} strategies are about keeping students engaged during the lesson! Enjoy!
As a middle school teacher, there is always drama! It's part of the gig. #truestory Therefore, my job is to keep students engaged during the lesson so that they are not off in "the fifth dimension" thinking about the drama. The best way to do this, is to use your teacher moves! My bottom line is to make sure that Every is ALWAYS ON! We vow to "make every minute count" in my classroom. That means we keep the flow of the class moving and students thinking. It DOES NOT mean going too fast so that students can't keep up with the work, but rather thinking about what EVERY student is doing at each moment during the class, assigning a "thinking job", and effectively calling on students to share/check their thinking. Below are moments when some students might be OFF, and the teacher move(s) I use to keep them ON!

OFF Example #1: Calling on ONE student to think about AND answer a question
We've likely all been here before. The moment you call on a scholar to answer a question and then wait, sometimes awkwardly as they get to their response. In the meantime, half of the class appears to be patiently waiting and listening, but are actually thinking about ... lunch,  a text to send,  drama that happened during class transition, what's happening on Instagram, their next FB status update, ect. There's another subset of students who are becoming frustrated with the student you called on.
Consider this:
Before calling on a student, ask the question, have students think about their answer, and use the cold call strategy to identify the student who is going to answer. This sounds like, "How does the author use imagery to contrast the feeling between x and y?...WAIT TIME!!!!! Call on a student." This ensures that everyone has thought about the question, and has an answer. To keep the other scholars involved say, "Listen to <insert student name>'s answer, I am going to call on someone to evaluate their response"  Now, everyone in the class has a thinking job. Depending on how quickly the student is able to answer, continue to cold call other students to help them out, or do a quick turn and talk so that students get to share their ideas and then cold call on a student to share and evaluate their partner's idea!

OFF Example #2: I DON'T KNOW (also known as IDK)
We have a no-opt out culture. Meaning you might not know now, but you will. In my first years of teaching students would say "I don't know" and I would just move on to another student. YIKES! Nothing kills an academic culture quicker than the belief that there's an opportunity to opt out of the lesson. 
Consider this:
If a student says, "I don't know" and you've done a lot of set up already (refer the example above), call on a student who likely knows the answer and give the entire class the thinking job of "evaluating" their response (one of my favorite tools). After the student gives the answer, quickly call on another student to summarize what they said, and then come back to the student who initially said, "I don't know." Ask this scholar to answer the initial question based on what they've heard.  Important Consideration: We have to use our teacher judgment in determining whether or not the student opting out is doing so for attention, or not. I err on the side of assuming the best, and try to ensure that my tone, body language, and eye contact is positive. I don't want this to become a teacher vs student showdown! If the student is still confused, I'll quickly clarify for the student, and create a note to follow up with the student as they practice. 

OFF Example #3: Teacher Talk 
This is often called ratio. As teachers, we have to think about the amount of time we are doing the "heavy lifting." A key indicator for me is the way I feel after class. If I am exhausted physically and mentally, it was likely because I was doing too much of the thinking and practice. In my experience, nothing turns students off quicker than sitting for extended periods of time while the teacher pontificates about the lesson, or does all the work for the students. 
Consider this:
When planning lessons, think about when and where students are doing the thinking. Be proactive in including back pocket questions, or questions that you can ask if students are not able to answer the question you ask. More importantly, plan for misconceptions. Thinking about misconceptions enables me to write better back pocket questions and prevents me from talking too much because I am prepared for the misconception. 

I've included a few quick {non-exhaustive} examples and considerations of how to keep students engaged during my lessons using teacher moves. I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comment section, and be sure to hop around for more wonderful strategies!  

Managing Bias in the Classroom

I talk about race, class, privilege, and inclusiveness A LOT as a blogger. It's my passion, and I am unapologetic about it. If we are to embrace all of our students, we have to converse and reflect on our practices to ensure that our classrooms are affirming and nourishing all of our scholars. I am always reviewing my classroom rules and procedures to double check for blindspots, or assumptions I might be making about my students as a result of a unchecked biases.  As usual, I'd love to know your thoughts too! 

In her book Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria: And Other Conversations About Race, Dr. Beverly Tatum notes that we all breathe in smog. In this way she compares smog to racism by noting, “sometimes it is so thick it is visible, other times it is less apparent, but always, day in and day out, we are breathing it in.” WE.ALL.BREATHE.IT. It doesn't mean we are all racist, but rather that none of us are free from bias, and that we are constantly bombarded with negative messages of groups of people, which become internalized. As educators, we have to step back and ensure that our unconscious biases are not causing us to take action that prevents our students from feeling safe and included in our classrooms. Let's think about this through the lens of classroom management. When evaluating your classroom management system, think about how it may unfairly favor one group over another. Below are a few pitfalls that this mindset might lead teachers to as a result of unchecked biases. 

BEHAVIOR CHARTS – These are pretty popular in the lower grades. If you are going to use images of children, think about how the placement of children in the continuum factor into the psyche of your kids. A chart that displays a white child at the top representing the best behavior plays into some of the ongoing negative messages that we all absorb. How would your students of color feel not being “reflected” until the bottom of the chart? When creating a chart like this, consider having multiple children represented throughout the levels, or no children at all. 
TEACHERS VS. STUDENTS – One of my favorite bloggers, Blair Turner recently posted about this "game." In short, be mindful of games that pit students versus the teacher. There are variations in how this game is played, but I encourage teachers to reflect on the message sent regarding power and privilege if the teacher earns a point when the class doesn’t do something. 
HARD WORK GUARANTEES SUCCESS A very nuanced concept, but it’s important to remember that hard work can lead to success, but doesn’t necessarily guarantee success in life. This is a really hard reflection to have, and one that a colleague at my current school brought up because of a line in our core outcomes that read something to the tune of "I know that if I work hard I will achieve my life goals." While we certainly want our students to cultivate a strong drive towards their goals, we don't want to ignore the fact that there are many systems that continue to oppress members of society that share the identity of our students. As a result, hard work will not always be the only determining factor in realizing their goals. #realtalk 

It has been proven time and time again that even our "Kinder-babies" see color and difference (e.g. the "doll test" here, here, here, and here).  Last year, my niece who is five saw a Santa Claus doll in my mother's house and said, "Santa isn't black." Imagine that! She's five and while most of our family members have black Santa Claus figures, somehow she internalized that the real Santa was white based on trips to the mall, TV, and other places. I would argue that we have to think about our youngest scholars just as much, if not more when creating an inclusive classroom. Our students soak up so much from our classrooms that help them make meaning of the world. Our procedures should help students make strong choices and underscore the habits of good community members. Teachers should reflect on whether or not procedures reinforce common stereotypes, or undermine common cultural norms within a group. Below are a few pitfalls that connect to classroom procedures
THE CONTROL EVERYTHING MINDSET  I honestly believe that the overwhelming majority of teachers want what's best for their students. This compelling belief and desire for our kids might cause us to take action that stifles their development. Four years ago I taught at a middle school that demanded straight lines. The problem was that we weren’t truly teaching our students about social intelligence and self awareness, and some students were getting in BIG trouble for… wait for it, not walking in a straight line and/or whispering in the halls. I often wondered about the transferable skills students were learning by walking in straight quiet lines, and to this day have NO EXAMPLES. My school was approximately 98% African American with about 85% qualifying for free or reduced lunch. Our staff was about 70% white. I've since left the school, and they are changing up methods, but I've thought about the impact of our actions on our students. Such strict control and required submissiveness from students takes away their decision making ability, and in my opinion doesn't reflect our highest aspirations for students. I often think about how students conceive power when the majority of their teachers do not share their identity and are enforcing excessive control over them.  
NOT REFLECTING ON CULTURAL NORMS Silent lunch is a practice which may counter the cultural norms of students if not presented in a manner that respects their home environment. For example, if the lunchroom is loud and a teacher yells "stop talking loud like you have no home training." Many cultures have talkative family dinners, which might be loud... and that's awesome. It’s not okay to state that this is wrong, or imply that students are not acting appropriately. The goal here isn't to say that teachers should never have silent lunch, or that it's a practice we should eliminate. I'm just encouraging us to think about how we redirect students towards expectations for school in manner that respectfully recognizes that school and home norms may be different.
THE VERNACULAR - I've heard many arguments for/against students speaking "proper English" in school. The book This is Not a Test  by Jose Luis Vilson includes a powerful line that gets at the gist of HOW we should think about the language(s) students bring to our classrooms. He writes, "... I also see is a symptomatic of the schooling process, which often fails to account for other children's literacy, as if the code that children speak has no value compared to the King's English." Boom!
This is commonly known as colorblindness, and usually comes from a very well intentioned place, but it is wrong. I repeat WRONG. There is no way around it. Being "colorblind" usually allows those from the dominant race to ignore the experiences of others who aren't. The experiences and differences that our students bring to our classrooms are valuable and make them who they are, and if we don't recognize them, we are doing a serious injustice to our classroom culture and students. Check materials for diversity of thought and perspectives, or for curriculum materials that may inadvertently demean certain groups. Below are a few strategies that connect to celebrating all students

NAMES IN MATERIALS – When creating materials, be sure to include diverse names, and double check how people with traditionally diverse names might be engaging in stereotypical actions.  Similarly, you want to have a diverse selection of books, toys and materials regardless of the population you teach. 
PICTURES – This is a personal pet peeve, but when choosing pictures for students, it’s important to remember that different shades of the same clipart picture does not equate diversity. A fellow blogger Jameson over at Lessons With Coffee suggested Illumismart, and I LOVE HER WORK! It captures and celebrates difference!   
This is difficult, and requires us to be hyper vigilant about the decisions we make and to engage in honest reflections about our practices. The stakes are too high not to. 

"The secret in education lies in respecting the student."  - Ralph Waldo Emerson

{Week 2} BTS in a Flash! Curriculum Must Haves

Hello! I am continuing with the our Back to School in a Flash Link up with some of my curriculum favorites!! Up first, is The Important Book by Margaret Wise Brown. I use the book to help frame the purpose of the activities we will engage in throughout the first two weeks.
I use this book to frame one of my beginning of the year activities that introduces students to me, each other, the rules, and procedures for the year. There are activities in the book that all end with the frame, "The important thing about _________________is...But the most important thing about __________________ is."  As a ELA teacher I love this because it also gives students a chance to their summarizing juices flowing!  The very first page is a reading on malleable intelligence. There are many different emotions, feelings, and changes that happen during the middle years that I like to ground my students in a dynamic mindframe AKA malleable intelligence AKA growth mindset. As a class we believe that if we put for a strong effort that we will continuously get better.  The other activities include a student puzzle, get to know your teacher, all about the year, and student interviews.

Click {here}

Something that I have used, but think I will use this year and throughout my teaching career is the book Each Kindness by Jaqueline Woodson. It's a quick read about the importance and impact of kindness on others. The middle school "awkward" years really test our ability to be kind and this book presents what happens and how we might feel if we miss out on those opportunities. I am still stewing on exactly what I will do, but know that it will definitely be used this year. Have you read it? Do you have ideas? I'd love to hear them. 

Last, but not least, this quote bundle is currently on wish list. If you don't know the fabulous Blair Turner I suggest you go visit her blog and TPT store (after you link up of course). I don't have a "theme" for my classroom this year, but I know I want it to be a place that is overflowing with hope and that it embodies that habits we reinforce at my school (drive, personal growth, empathy, curiosity, gratitude, teamwork). I live close to an IKEA (as in 5 mins away) so I envision creating a quote "collage" wall with these.

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