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Compliments

Another Friendship Friday in the books.  Today’s theme: compliments.

Have you ever struggled to accept a compliment from someone else?  It’s kind of a weird concept, but sometimes I find myself deflecting attention when someone pays me a compliment.  I want to explain why I don’t deserve it instead of just smiling and saying, “thank you.”

This afternoon, while my students were taking a math test, I called them over to me one at a time.  I quietly complimented each child and found it was quite easy to think of something different to say to each one of them.  Some kids leaned in and said, “thank you.”  Some kids looked at me like I had five heads.  Some kids smiled and said nothing.  Some kids acted like they couldn’t wait to get back to their math tests.

Earlier this week we started reading You Are Special by Max Lucado and we finished it up today.  At the end, we talked about the theme of the story – each person is unique and we don’t have to do anything extra to become more special or more important.  We just are.

At the end of the day, each student folded a paper into 8 pieces.  In the first box, each student wrote their name and decorated the box to represent themselves.  Next, I played fun music and the kids quietly went around to each other’s desks and wrote compliments to one another in the empty boxes.  After a few songs, the kids went back to their desks, soaked up their compliments, and then we all said a giant, “THANK YOU” to one another.

The kids left happy.  I left happy (I did put out a paper for myself – it’s cool for kids to compliment their teachers too!). 

Pay someone a sincere compliment today.  They might need it more than you know.

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Feel Good Friday

Feel Good Friday

Today was Friday, but it wasn’t Friendship Friday – it was FEEL GOOD FRIDAY!

If I did Friendship Friday in my classroom every Friday, I would run out of surprising student pairings very quickly.  I like the idea of Fridays feeling special (and not just because we all get to run away from school for two days at the 3:15 bell), so I started Feel Good Friday.  Now, when my students come in on Fridays, they ask, “Is this Friendship Friday or Feel Good Friday”?  Either way, they’re happy!

Over the years I’ve learned that time invested in structured activities that allow my students to build relationships with one another and to learn how to communicate with one another is time well spent.  So, on Friday afternoons, we take a break from the curriculum and we do something that’s intentionally fun, yet still has a purpose.  “Free time” is not in my teaching vocabulary (sorry to all my free-spirited colleagues!).  It may be that I am a control-freak or it may be that I think my students can feel like they’re having a blast while I’m slipping in something meaningful.  Sometimes they don’t even notice.  ; )

Have you ever played Table Topics?  It’s a little set of conversation-starter cards that come in a pack.  Someone chooses a card, reads it out loud, and everyone goes around and answers the question.  The questions are fun, thought-provoking, and original.  Sometimes I pull the cards out when we have an extra minute in the classroom and my kids get excited to share their answers with their classmates.

So, today for Feel Good Friday, everyone made their own Table Topics game to take home for the weekend.  This week the topic of screen time and choosing to interact with other humans came up several times, so it seemed appropriate.  The kids had a great time brainstorming fun questions, writing them on notecards, and planning when and how they would take a few minutes to play with their families this weekend.  It was a simple, fun activity that will hopefully create some fun experiences for my students over the weekend.

Let’s keep creating opportunities for our kids to interact appropriately with one another, even if it takes some extra time and energy (hey, sometimes I sit and stare at my phone too!).  Hang in there! 

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Friendship Friday

I’m all too aware that if you’re going to start a blog, you’re supposed to write regularly for the blog to gain traction.  I have an excuse, though.  I AM A TEACHER.

That should pretty much say it all, right?!  : )

I must admit – the beginning of this school, the adventure of teaching concurrently, the extra expectations that have been added onto teachers’ plates – I have found it to be overwhelming and it’s honestly left me stunned.  Having just finished the fourth week of school (after two full weeks of planning and training), I am just now feeling like I’m emerging (sort of) out of a fog. 

Yesterday something special happened in my 2nd grade classroom.  We celebrated Friendship Friday.

Friendship Friday started a long time ago at the suggestion of a Speech and Language Pathologist who was working with one of my students on social skills.  She suggested that I create opportunities in class to specifically teach my students about friendship and how to make new friends.  Friendship Friday was born!

I purposefully put students into unlikely pairs and they’re “friends” for the day.  Before I pair them up, I frontload on what to do if you get paired up with someone you’re really not expecting and what kind of facial and body expressions are appropriate if you’re actually a little disappointed.  For that day, the kids work on assignments together, play at recess together, eat lunch together, and usually get to complete a special activity together at the end of the day.

For most kids, this is a raging success.  There’s always a pair or two that struggles to compromise at recess and find an activity that they can both enjoy, but the rest of the class has made a real connection and feels wanted and included for that special day.  Friendship Fridays are GREAT days.

This year, I’ve avoided introducing my kids to Friendship Fridays because I wasn’t sure how to bridge the literal divides between physical and remote students.  And then there was one!  When kids started coming back to school and I was down to one remote student, I knew Friendship Friday was ON.

This past Friday was Friendship Friday and I couldn’t have been prouder of my students.  I watched a little boy in my classroom act like it was totally normal for him to have an “online” buddy.  They worked together all day using the handy wireless Bluetooth speaker.  They played computers games together in the afternoon with my online student screen sharing through Zoom so my physical student could see which game was being played.  I heard them offering to let each other go first when they were taking turns talking about things.  It was a little strange, but it was even more heartwarming.

There is so much that feels weird at school right now – desk shields, masks, remote students, dry hands from all of the washing and sanitizing (anyone else out there having to moisturize like crazy!?) – but it’s really encouraging to see kids adapting and learning and feeling good.  Who knew that desk shields and clothespins could be so handy for creating more desk space?  My students are geniuses!

Keep looking for what’s going right, people.  Your efforts are making a difference.

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Dream Big

A big, hairy, audacious dream?  Ewwww?!  Sounds a little gross.  Let me explain.

Last week my church hosted a couple, Kat and Elmo, who are missionaries to Peru.  Elmo preached in our morning service about the idea of allowing God to give you a big, hairy, audacious dream – something that sounds unachievable – something that you couldn’t accomplish on your own.  And then, start taking steps towards it and see what God does.

I thought the phrase, “big, hairy, audacious dream” was kind of funny, but it stuck with me and all afternoon I wondered, “What is my big, hairy, audacious dream that God has given me?”  And then it dawned on me.  I’m right in the middle of it.

Writing and publishing a children’s book, collaborating so closely with a co-worker to create something so large, extending ideas about social/emotional instruction beyond the walls of my classroom – these are not things that come naturally to me.  This IS my big, hairy, audacious dream, and I am literally in the middle of seeing it fulfilled.

Spiritually related or not, this is a valuable message that kids need right now.  I’ve always thought it was a little cheesy to tell kids things like, “You’re awesome!” or “You can do anything you put your mind to!”  These are nice sentiments, but I’m also a realist.  We’re not “awesome” all of the time and there are probably some things in life that I CAN’T do (like play in the WNBA.  Bummer.) and that’s ok! 

I think, instead, the message that I’m going to share with my students this year will be “Hard work pays off.”  Because it does.  When kids put in the work, keep taking little steps towards their goal (academic, sports, whatever), good things are going to happen.

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Friendship Qualities

Today, a sweet mom from my school asked if I’m spending time right now planning for the fall.  Ha!  I told her that I’m currently visiting family in another state and trying NOT to think about fall yet!  There are so many unknowns that I’m enjoying this calm before we walk into the storm called “Public-Education-During-A-Pandemic” in a few weeks. 

I don’t know much about this coming school year, but I do know that children will enter my classroom (physically and virtually) with some unique kinds of social and emotional baggage.  Many of them have lacked appropriate face-to-face interaction with their peers for months and I imagine that, no matter how hard us adults have tried to act cool and calm, kids are definitely picking up on the trepidatious vibes that are likely radiating from most of us. 

Part of my normal morning routine with my 2nd graders at school is to spend a few minutes talking about social skills and building strong character.  During my first year of teaching, I attended a workshop and the presenter (if I had any idea who she was, I would credit her) shared a resource called The Friendship Qualities.  It was a list of 100 words that described a good friend.  I’ve used them ever since. 

On the first day of school, all hundred Friendship Qualities are in a box and each day we pull one out and talk about it.  Sometimes we act the word out, sometimes we talk about the opposite of that word, the kids record the friendship quality in their agendas, and we always try to talk about what that word looks like in real life.   

I’ve found that when I FRONTLOAD the topic of character and behavior, my students have a better shot to develop rich, healthy relationships with one another throughout the year.  Social spats and issues still pop up (hello, we’re all human), but The Friendship Qualities are the behavioral anchor in my classroom. 

These are words that my students learn, love, and remember.  More than once, I’ve had kids come back when they’re older and say, “The Friendship Qualities!  I loved those!”.  If you’re heading back to school this fall and you’re looking for ways to guide your students’ character and their emotional development, see how you can fit these words into your daily routine.  You won’t regret it. 

Below you’ll find links to a Level 1 and Level 2 version of The Friendship Qualities (one year I looped from 2nd to 3rd with the same kids and needed a whole new set of words!).  There’s also a link to mats to display the words in your classroom. 

Friendship Qualities Level 1

Friendship Qualities Level 2

Friendship Quality Mat

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Making it Work

This morning my husband was reading a daily devotional out loud for us and within the first two minutes of him reading I realized that I had already planned out two of my bulletin boards for this fall, written half of this blog post, and made a list of things I need to do today.  While he was reading.  For two minutes.  Sheesh. 

I think teachers are born to multi-task.  We’re good at tending to 18 kids at the same time.  We’re good at putting out friendship fires in the middle of math lessons (while we’re still teaching!).  We’re even good at preparing to leave, leaving, and arriving at places at weird times, like 11:18 and 3:12. 

If you are a teacher, or a parent, or a student for that matter, I’m sure your head is swirling with back-to-school thoughts.  Mine is.  I think most of us vacillate between being excited to get back in the trenches and routines and being afraid that students, family members, or teachers will become sick and the ramifications that could have on our communities.   

I know that there are legitimate concerns about going back, but I also know that we will make it work. 

The possibility of masks for little kids?  Ya’ll.  If we end up having to do that, we will make it work.  One of the super powers that teachers possess is getting kids to do things that they may not want to do – every day!  And sometimes we even make it a little fun. 

The possibility of virtual learning thrown in for kids that have to miss school from illness or exposure?  We will make it work.  If we didn’t know how to present and post material online before, we sure do now! 

The possibility of plastic partitions in classrooms to keep kids separated?  We will make it work. 

Six feet apart?  We’ll make it work. 

Lunch in the room?  We’ll make it work.

Teachers missing school?  We’ll make it work.

If any profession can keep kids safe, get them to do things in a new way, and keep them learning when circumstances are less than favorable, it’s teachers.  We always find a way to teach our kids, invest in their emotional health, and create an environment for them that is conducive to learning and growing.  For those of us who are choosing to stay in this profession, we will make it work.   

We always do. 

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Scooter and the Muttering Monster

If you know me at all, you know that I’m passionate about my job as a teacher.  And, if you know me well, you know that I’m even more passionate about my students’ character and behavior.  This is my sixteenth year in the classroom and somewhere, early on in my teaching journey, I realized that character education is clutch (I’m 37 – can I even use that word?).  It’s the most important piece of the teaching puzzle.   

Every year the social and emotional needs of the students in my classroom are different.  It’s almost as if each year, each group, has a bit of a theme.  Last year our “theme” was paying attention to our thoughts.  We spent a lot of time talking about combating negative thoughts with positive ones.  We talked about believing the truth, instead of believing lies that prance happily through our brains every day.  

This is SO real life!  As an adult, this has been, and still is, a part of my own personal journey.  Good grief!  When I actually take the time to notice what’s running through my head, it can be kind of sketchy.  Since when did I start thinking, “You’re a horrible teacher,” or, “You’re never going to get it right,”?!     

Last spring a little idea began to form between myself and my teaching buddy, Amy.  Wouldn’t it be fun if I wrote a book that catered exactly to the social and emotional issues our students wrestled with every day?  Amy is my teaching neighbor and my sounding board and she just happens to be a talented artist.  Wouldn’t it be fun if she illustrated the book? 

Over the summer, we met weekly at Starbucks, giggled at my story drafts and her drawings, and gave each other feedback.  By mid-summer, we were looking at each other saying, “Are we being serious?  This is actually happening.” 

And, thus, Scooter and the Muttering Monster was born!