Wednesday, August 20, 2014

How Responsive is Your Classroom?

Day 2 is over, and I am not as tired as yesterday! I actually worked out when I got home, what is wrong with this picture?! I'm feeling energetic and excited about the start of this year. It helps that I have an amazing group of kids. AMAZING. I only have 19 so far (woo!) and they are so sweet. And because I've been lucky enough to teach kindergarten yet again, I have built up some confidence in my "beginning of year" procedures and routines. One of the reasons I have this confidence is because of a program called Responsive Classroom. If you're unfamiliar, here's a short description on their website:

"Responsive Classroom is a research-based and evidence-based approach to education that leads to greater teacher effectiveness, higher student achievement, and improved school climate."

I first learned about Responsive Classroom in college. I didn't even have a classroom or a degree yet, and I was sold. If you've never heard of it, PLEASE do some reading and research. I've been using the strategies taught by R.C. for the past few years, and every year I have visitors/parents/other teachers comment on how "calm" my classroom is and how "independent" my kinders are. I owe SO MUCH of that to Responsive Classroom! Check out this link to see the best books by Responsive Classroom ( I personally love The First Six Weeks of School and The Morning Meeting Book):

In our classroom, rules are not something I've written/printed and posted on cute paper for the kids to see on the first day of school. Why not? Well for one, my kids can't read. They have no clue what those rules say until I tell them, and then it just becomes more random information to process. Another reason I don't do that is because children and adults have more buy-in and ownership of their classroom/school/workplace/home if they are a part of setting up the parameters and boundaries. Have you ever been a part of something from the very beginning? It's so exciting to actually be asked what you think or how you feel about creating something. We use our Morning Meeting time to begin our discussions of classroom rules and expectations. What are rules?? Why do we need them??

This is where sweet little David comes in. The books No, David! and David Goes to School are essential texts for the beginning of the year. What better way to model inappropriate behaviors than to read about a cartoon boy doing them (rather than acting them out ourselves)? We read both books to discuss rules at home and school. You can use this mini-unit if you want to see exactly how I use David in our room. We do lots of acting out scenarios, comparing and contrasting, and modeling modeling modeling!

Speaking of modeling, I do so much of this at the beginning of the year using Responsive Classroom's Guided Discovery approach. I love giving children the freedom to explore their space, but I also know that kindergarteners need some structure in this exploration. What better way to explain expectations than by actually doing them? Check out some of R.C.'s blog posts about Guided Discovery here and here. We used Guided Discovery today with books:

A class favorite already :)

I am no expert on Responsive Classroom techniques, but I can speak from experience that the way they present classroom routines and expectations is beyond useful for kindergarten. We create rules together by choosing what makes the most sense for our group and our room. I write down their rules verbatim, and we all sign our names on the bottom. We take ownership of our space, and we are all the ones holding each other accountable. 

I highly recommend giving your students more say in your space. They not only build confidence during the process, but they also eventually develop self-efficacy. If you try Responsive Classroom and love it, please let me know!!

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Wednesday, August 13, 2014

A New Year is Almost Here!

We're getting closer to the end! (Or the beginning, depending on how optimistic you are!) Today is my last weekday of summer break. The last weekday that I can hit snooze 11 times (I seriously did that this morning.....), casually drink my coffee from a real mug instead of a travel one, wait to shower until I feel like it, take the dogs on our morning walk around the neighborhood, watch the Today show....I could go on.


All of that means that I am blessed because I'm not stressing right now, that I was given the opportunity to share my love of teaching with another school and group of children. Moving is scary, picking up and starting over is not easy. But we did it, and I left a school that I loved because I was hopeful that I would be given another chance to teach here in California. And by the grace of God, I was! Tomorrow is the first day of professional development for all staff in our district. I finally get to meet all of the other teachers at my school plus all kinds of other employees in my district. I can't wait to get involved and get to know what this amazing district has to offer!

 This was yesterday at our new teacher orientation. I'm taking it as a good sign...

I can't wait to show my completed classroom to everyone! I've worked in there for 5 days and gotten so much done! Our garage is now happily empty as all of my classroom things have found a home :) My focus is on creating an environment that is calming and comfortable as these children share their days with me, someone they don't know or trust yet, someone who doesn't know them yet, at a place they are unfamiliar with! Yikes! I bet it's so nerve-wracking to be a kindergartnener. So hopefully when they enter our classroom, they'll feel more at ease and excited! Here are some areas that are (pretty much) done!

Our art center is open and free-flowing. I love all the bulletin board space I have in this room. I can't wait to showcase student art, especially when we get brave enough to break out the paint! Even though my students will be going to art class, I still think it's important to give them an area in our room where they can be creative and free. Art was one of my favorite things about school when I was little, and I want to share this joy with my students!

Our dramatic play center is one of my favorite things about teaching kindergarten! I could sit next to this center all morning and watch/listen to them play. I love the scenarios they come up with. I love hearing how they begin to practice social skills and rules of conversation. I love seeing them take on roles and apply rules. This center is something I will fight for in every school I ever teach in should I continue on in kindergarten. If you teach K and don't have this center, ASK/BEG for one! My most timid students are my favorite ones to spy on watch in this center.

This is our brag board/work wall. You can't see them all because they don't all have their bug clips on them yet :) and BOOO to that handle right there at the bottom totally screwing up my OCD organization of these cork boards!! Grr, gotta let it go! This is a folding wall between my room and the other K classroom, but this portion stays closed all the time (hopefully, or else I'm up the creek without a paddle!). This wall is next to the writing center (you can see the writing table in the bottom corner). I can't wait to set up this center for our first week together! This table has little bitty legs, so the kids will sit on pillow poufs to write here!

That's all I have right now! I love this part of the year because as I set up areas, I imagine kids in the area with me. What can they reach? Can they move freely? Will this be in their way? And then once they finally come to school, I love seeing my ideas in action! Being a teacher is so fun :)

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Monday, August 11, 2014

Meet the Teacher Linky!

Thanks to Stephanie at Falling Into First, I'm able to share more about myself and let people get to know a little about who I am! I love reading about fellow teachers and getting to know them, too! So, here it is:

Hey y'all! I'm Holly, a 26 (but my birthday is in 13 days!) year old teacher in my 5th year of doing what I absolutely love. This will be my fourth year in a row teaching kindergarten and I'm so excited! This is my first year of blogging, and it has been so fun getting to know other teachers and pick their brains. I can't wait to expand this community of teachers and friends!  Here's a little more about who I am:

I am sharing my life with my boyfriend, Stephen. He's truly my best friend and the person who gets me the most. We've been together for 10 and a half years, since we were 16, y'all!!! I think we've earned a trophy or something at this point...Anyway, he's the reason we live in California (and lived in Colorado, as seen above, sigh...). He's a rocket scientist. Seriously!

These are our pups! Spencer is a Westie who is 7 years old, and Cooper is a mix who is 5. Cooper outweighs Spencer by about 70 pounds, but around here it's Spencer's world and we're just livin' in it. Fun fact: Both Spencer and I were born in Kentucky!

Here's my new neighborhood, and I'm in love. I took this picture about a week after we moved here while I was at the Farmers' Market. What an incredible view! Love that this is exactly 2.4 miles from our apartment.

These are a few of my favorite things…
Coffee, lazy Sunday mornings, UT football, scarves!!, the beach, Colorado skiing, Pearl St. in Boulder, getting my hair done, cooking, Mexican food, my accent (I'll never let go!)

Q: If you weren't a teacher, what would you want to be?
An OB/GYN...I would love to be part of the pregnancy experience, so beautiful! I was actually a nursing major for a year of college and planned on working in the NICU at Vanderbilt Children's Hospital. 

Q: Three little words that describe you. 
Loving, Sensitive, Charming

Q: Finish this sentence, “___________________, said no teacher EVER!!”

Sure, I'd love you to bring in 24 full-size cupcakes an hour before school ends!
Of course I can leave school when the students do, said no teacher EVER!

Q: It’s your birthday and you can invite anyone {dead or alive} to the party. Who are you inviting?
Audrey Hepburn. Then ignore everyone else and just pick her brain all night.

Q: If someone wrote a book about your life, what would be the title?
Just a Small Town Girl...

Q: You get to pick one superpower. What is it?
Teleportation! I've been blessed to live in a few different places, so it would be fantastic to be able to easily see everyone!

Q: What’s your favorite quote or saying?
"Be completely humble and gentle; be patient; bearing with one another in love." -Ephesians 4:2

Q: If you HAD to sing one song on American Idol, what would it be? 
Probably a song by The Civil Wars...I think their sound matches my singing voice well. Heck, I'm from Nashville, we all think we can sing!

Q: Are you a morning person or a night owl?
Both? I feel great about an hour after I wake up and that lasts for a while. I'm DEAD around 3-5, then I perk up again when I'm cooking dinner and relaxing. Then I stay up til midnight because I still think like a kid, like I'm gonna miss out on something if I go to bed....ha!

Q: What’s your favorite resource that you've created in your TPT shop?
Hmm, this is tough. My best seller is my set of Book Bin Labels. I love that so many people have bought these, and now they're off in classrooms all over! That makes me so happy :)

Q: Share something we might not know about you!

I am very good at doing accents. My favorite is British. LOL.

Yay that was fun! Now it's your turn! Visit Stephanie's blog, grab the buttons and the questions and link on up!

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Monday, August 4, 2014

A Very Busy Day!

Today was Move-In Day! Except this day has to be extended to two days as I drive a very little car and do not live just down the street from my new school. I was so excited last night that I was up until 2 A.M. anticipating the space, what I'll find, what I will/won't have...

And here it is:

 From the entrance to the room

 Front of the room

Middle of the room

As you can see, there was a lot of "stuff" to go through! I think that I'm taking over a room that wasn't used as a classroom last year, but the last teacher to occupy it retired! So needless to say there are lots and lots of things that I...inherited? To be honest, I wasn't sure what to do with everything that wasn't furniture, so I got a big cart and did this:

What once was the hallway, now my dumping zone

No one was around to ask if this was ok, so I took the liberty of making this nice "little" stack myself. I didn't throw anything away. Well I did throw away the purplish-pink film that was on the windows, presumably to keep it shady and not so sunny. I don't know why someone ever did that because they covered up this beautiful scene:

*And the birds chirp and the angels sing...*

I want to grab a blanket and curl up in that huge window seat. I think that just may be what I make this space to be, a big, comfy, lovely reading area for the kiddos. This picture doesn't do it justice: this window is huge! I could stand on the counter and reach my hands up high and still not be able to touch the top of the window. And it's very wide, maybe 6-7 feet? One word: massive. Also beautiful. That's two words.

I have a ways to go for sure. Projects: paint/cover the bright bulletin boards to tone them down, store all the things I brought with me, hang curtains/fabric/lamps/word wall/number line......

Too blessed to be stressed, right? Gotta keep myself focused and optimistic that this space will transform into everything I envision for my students who I do not know yet. There's something about that window, though, with the trees and the shrubs and the breeze that creates this lovely calmness in that room. And looking out of it I know that we will have a beautiful year together...

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