This week I took over a 1st grade classroom for a teacher out on medical leave. In addition to the challenges of taking over a classroom in March, there was the added stress of communicating with students about their teacher being sick. There have been lots of substitutes and inconsistency because of the situation and after five full days of me, I feel like are were starting to come together as a community. The tools in my arsenal helping bring this to life are the following:
- Responsive Classroom – I simply wouldn’t teach without it. The structure and predictability of our Morning Meeting is the perfect calm way to begin our day. Students know what to expect and have a chance to feel important, welcomed, and loved. Logical consequences and academic choice are also built into our days and I know they’re pulling the community together.
- Kristi Mraz and Christine Hertz – Both Mindset for Learning and Kids 1st from Day 1 have informed my teaching philosophy – probably more than any other professional texts I’ve read – and I’ve read many so that’s saying something. Here’s how they’ve changed our class in only the first week:
- Mindset for Learning – After two days, I assessed we’d dive in with Empathy work, and after three days of hitting it HARD, I’ve noticed a shift. We created a display (it will grow as we learn about the other stances) and part of it has been displaying book covers of titles I’ve shared specifically to target Empathy (Wolf in the Snow, Leonardo the Terrible Monster, Janine, and Trouper so far) but while looking at it, two boys said, “Mr. Halpern, what about Fergus and Zeke?” We’d just finished this as our read aloud and I asked, “How was empathy shown in that book?” Without hesitation, one boy replied, “Fergus was lonely, he didn’t have a buddy and Zeke showed empathy by feeling how that must have been sad and lonely and then he was a friend and showed him around the museum.” And with that, Fergus and Zeke went up on the wall.
- Kids 1st from Day 1 – This book is has given me so much to think about and I know it will continue to inform my practice as I reread it. Empathy, in addition to teaching it, really feeling it for your students. I think about this almost all day long with every breath I take in the classroom and it has changed everything for me. How is that boy feeling when we read and he’s so much lower than his friends? When that little girl asks me if I’m coming back Monday, what is she feeling? It’s behind every reaction I make – or that’s my goal. I’ve also really been thinking about the idea of Structured Vs. Unstructured activities and trying to balance the two. The class has just had P.E. or recess – they’re ready to sit and listen and work. They’ve just sat and watched the 4th and 5th grade play rehearsal for forty-five minutes, we need to move and then play word games where they get to pick between five or six games. It’s so simple, yet effective.
- Yoga – this is for me, not the kids, although I have shown the class a few simple poses and they love it too – but what I’m talking about here is the effect yoga has had on me. Since I left the classroom almost three years ago, I’ve taken up daily yoga at home. Now going back to teaching, I notice I am more calm, more grounded, more patient, and less tired. I noticed it the first day and thought it was a fluke, but after day three, I did some reflecting on my drive home and concluded it must be the yoga. It only takes about thirty minutes a day and is worth every second.
So, week one is down. There have been lots of hugs. Lots of hand-holding. Lots of leaning on Mr. Halpern during work and stories. It’s pretty awesome.