Monday, August 3, 2015


I've been thinking a lot lately about empathy and how to consciously teach this in the classroom. I am reading a book right now called:

I don't know if I'm ready to recommend it yet-I honestly didn't even know it was going to be non-fiction when I started reading it. It's been a little slow so far but I'm not even halfway finished yet. The first story she tells is about how resident doctors are rated on empathy with fake patients. They have actors acting out symptoms (yes, just like on Seinfeld! :). Then the actors rate them and one of the sections is empathy-they actually have to voice something empathetic to get a good rating. I can totally relate to this. As I've shared, I've been going through some health issues this summer (I actually start chemo tomorrow-a little nervous actually!). I have dealt with many, many different medical professionals in this process-nurses, doctors, surgeons, radiologists, technicians-- and very few have actually shown any empathy. I don't really expect it anymore, so I don't think it bothers me was much as it should. This is just day-to-day for them-you are no different than the other probably 100 patients they will see this week. Mostly it's just patronizing-"don't worry, there are all kinds of lumps", "you're young, your chance of recovery is very good", "we have made great advancements in treatments". No one says "I can't even imagine what you must be feeling right now" or "how are you doing, this must be upsetting news"-which is what I think is what an empathetic professional would express.

My classes really vary in levels of empathy. I had a class that I looped with the year before last that was full of empathy for others. I would play a video about a homeless person and student would shout out "I just want to cry for them". We would write letters to Santa and they would ask for their mother's back to get better or for homeless pets to find homes. They really had feelings for what others were going through. They came by it naturally, I felt like my job was just to build on that.

Other classes, not so much. :) Being 5 years old you see, the world completely revolves around you. You don't think about how your actions affect others or how others may feel about things.I like to use videos and photographs to show caring for others.

Terri Eichholz over at Engage Their Minds as a list of Inspirational Videos for students and teachers where I have found some good ones for this topic :

I get pictures from around the world on This Week in Pictures:   So I would show them a picture like this one and say "what does that make you feel for them?" I think being able to identify and verbalize those feelings can help develop the process where eventually they look at it and feel something themselves. (not a site I would let kids navigate themselves just FYI-there are violent pics from war or demonstrations sometimes).

And of course there are books you can turn to. I know there are thousands-many children's books are written to make kiddos feel, but I wanted to share a few titles that you may not already know about.

A boy catches a legendary fish and has to decide whether to take it and become famous or let it go and live it's life. Spoiler alert-he chooses the latter. He begins to feel for this fish.

Love this book about the ripples we make with kindness. I absolutely believe this is true.

This book is about a grandfather who is either dealing with senility or maybe Alzheimer's. It's a rare theme I think for kids books.

And speaking of understanding for older people-this is one of my favorites.

Some chapter books for the older kiddos or for read-alouds:

The protagonist is wary of her Japanese cousin and his family coming to stay with them, but eventually sees how it feels to be a stranger in a strange land. Particularly thought-provoking with all the current event stories of immigrants.

I love this book. Tua feels for an elephant who is being mistreated and ends up rescuing it. It surprises me sometimes the lack of empathy young kids even have for animals.

And then of course, there's Ivan! Not only do we feel empathy for him, but I think there's a path of how Ivan develops empathy for some of the other animals he resides with.

It's a big concept! I hear we have a very interesting group of kiddos coming up this year (most of our suspensions last year were Pre-K students! I know!). I think this is something I will really focus on with them this year.

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Saturday, August 1, 2015


Every year we, as teachers, get a new crop of personalities in our classroom every year. My class is partly already identified Gifted and Talented kiddos. Sometimes some of them need an extra level of tolerance. You have to ignore little things to prevent them from becoming big things. I had a student once who was reading on a 5th grade level by the end of their Kinder year. When I would read aloud he would lay down, sometimes rolling back and forth. Administraters coming in to observe would dock me for not redirecting him. However, I knew from experience-he was listening. I could ask him anything about the story we were reading and he could answer. Ancillary teachers, cafeteria aides, the teachers with his dismissal group would bring me the issues they had with him every day. I had to explain that those little things were part of his process, that's how he learned. But the mentality I contended with was everyone should do as I say. My way or the highway so to speak.

I worked with a teacher several years ago who did not have tolerance for a particular student I will call Steve. Steve acted out constantly in that class. And this teacher let the other students call him names and tell him to "shut up" because she wished she could do the same. I actually suspect he had at least mild Asperger's. His mother asked in a conference who of Steve's friends she should invite to his birthday party and the teacher laughed and said "he doesn't have any friends". Can you imagine? So they had a sub one day and the sub couldn't handle him. He was placed in my class for the day. I told my students he is part of our class and we will treat him accordingly. They were doing a group project and one of my students said "Steve, you are so smart"-Steve beamed. I didn't have any issues with him that day and he was placed in my classroom permanently. And I rarely had issues with him.

Two books I wish every teacher would read: 

Loser is about a student who is different. He enters Day One ready to learn, but unfortunately, not all his teachers understand him. I picture myself as this child's teacher while I read and I can see myself laughing with him instead of at him.

Melody has cerebral palsy and is also misunderstood by her teachers. They don't understand how smart she is or take the time to even read the notes from the previous teachers. Her mom sets one of them straight and that's actually one of my favorite parts of the book. I think we need to remember that even if a student can't vocalize what they need-that we have to take the time to figure that out anyway, not just write them off.

Working with GT kiddos I have seen a lot of quirkiness over the years. I have found that the less you fight it and the more you tap into it as a strength, the easier the year will be for both of you! It kills me to see students I have taught move on to classes where they are painfully misunderstood. Sometimes teachers need that lesson in tolerance as well.

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Wednesday, July 29, 2015

How To Be a Risk-Taker

This is one of the first lessons I teach my kiddos when they start with me in the Fall. I clarify the difference between taking a risk by jumping off a roof on your skateboard (not what we are encouraging) and raising your hand to say something you are not sure is "right" (what we ARE encouraging). We read several stories the first couple of weeks where the characters definitely take risks:

Stephanie wants to be different which mean coming up with a new hairstyle every time her friends copy hers.

Molly is short, has buckteeth and a singing voice like a bullfrog-but it doesn't stop her from taking risks to be herself.

This is my new go-to gift for baby showers. It's all about taking the road less traveled and that being ok.

Monique finds cool clothes in her mom's attic and wears them to school. Much to the teacher's chagrin she really tries to find her own style.

Seems like an odd choice right? She explored the world, lived by the ocean and left her own legacy. Miss Rumphius took risks that definitely paid off for her.

And for the older kiddos:

Imogene is taking a stand to preserve history.

I actually have another post in mind about this book. Zinkoff is a risk-taker and doesn't even know it. He is oblivious of the fact that he doesn't fit in and it really doesn't matter to him for much of the story.

I think I model this for my students myself. We try new things all the time-whether it be a new kind of technology or a new science experiment. I wish more teachers would have the inclination to take risks themselves. I was literally in a meeting the other day where a teacher said "why reinvent the wheel", um because the wheel was invented over 100 years ago!

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Monday, July 27, 2015

Be a Marigold

Last Spring I got an e-mail from our district asking for applicants to be a kind of liaison for our new teachers on campus. The job entails tracking mentors and doing an orientation for them before school starts. There's some craziness right now in my administration, our Principal just got promoted so 2 weeks before teachers return back we are interviewing for a new one. I know! But it turns out I am going to have this position this year.

I'm actually pretty excited because the last 2 years we have had a lot of turnover on our campus. I'm not sure why. Last year we hired 15 new teachers, this year I think we are up to 8. Many of the teachers who left were only there a year. Our admin does have pretty rigorous expectations for us and we have issues that I think many campuses have like a lack of communication or feeling unappreciated--but it surprises me that so many people feel the need to leave. So I've been looking at resources to share with these incoming teachers to create a more positive feel.

That's when I came across this article:

What an amazing analogy! I very much try to be a marigold. It really makes people mad sometimes that I won't join them in those negativity sessions, but I won't do it. I'd rather leave the conversation. I'm not saying I never complain-certainly there are things the students or even parents do that may be topic of conversation one day. However, it's usually asking for solutions to the problem-what would you say to this? I have never once said "I hate my job" or "I hate this school" or "I hate these students" as I have heard my pecan tree colleagues utter. I think if everyone was a marigold, maybe we wouldn't lose so many teachers every year-not just at our school but in our profession in general. That is a renewed goal for me this year, I will be a marigold, especially to these brand-new teachers!

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Thursday, July 23, 2015

Summer Reading

Oh I have just been pathetic this summer when it comes to reading! I haven't felt much like doing it at all. Unfortunately, it has not stopped me from buying books so my nightstand overfloweth. :)

I have managed to finish a few that I will share with you guys.

I know what you are thinking, Stephen King cue the eye roll. One thing I really think is misunderstood about him is he doesn't always write about supernatural monsters-sometimes his monsters are human, and sometimes they aren't even technically monsters. This book brought up some very interesting questions. If you could go back in time and change events, would you? Would you be able to kill someone you knew was evil to say prevent the assassination of JFK? As the main character of this story finds out sometimes when you try to do better and change history, it changes other things as well. I listened to this story on audiobook and thought it was narrated very well, with Maine accents and everything. An interesting, thought-provoking subject.

Now I'm not usually one for apocalyptic stories, however I found this one very interesting. The title was included on a list of books you couldn't put down and I found that to be very true. I don't usually like to start a series because I know I'll have to read the other books to find out what happens, but I will be continuing this one. I don't think with everything going on in the world today that something like this is out of the realm of possibility. I was right along with them as they prepared, especially their last minute shopping trips when the end of the world was coming-I took notes! :)

Unfortunately, I think I accidentally read somewhere who the killer was in this book so it kind of spoiled it for me a little bit. There were really 2 mysteries ongoing in this story and only one really got solved. I do think it was very well-written for a mystery novel, dense but well-written.

Any good titles that you have found this summer?

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Saturday, July 18, 2015

Higher Level Questions for Back-To-School Read Alouds

I know, I know, in the beginning you aren't really thinking about rigor in your lessons. But I think it's important not only to set the tone for your year, but also to do a quick assessment and see what they can do.  So these are some books I think people commonly use for their beginning lessons and questions that you can use to accompany them.

1. Why do you think all the letters wanted to go up the coconut tree?
2. Why did they want to go back up again after they fell down?
3. How do you think the coconut tree feels?
4. What are some other places you think the letters would like to play?
5. What is the relationship between the letters?
6. How do you think the author came up with the idea for this story?
7. Why did their parents come running?

1. What do you think Chester is afraid of when it comes to going to school?
2. If you were a parent, what would you do to reassure your child the first day?
3. If this story was written using different animals as the characters-giraffes for example, what details of the story would change?
4. Did Chester's mom do the right thing or should moms do something different when it comes to the first day of school?
5. What can teachers and schools do to help children feel safe on the first day.

1. Why do you think the kids listened to Viola Swamp and not to Miss Nelson?
2. Why do you think the police officer did not take their call seriously?
3. Was it right for Miss Nelson to trick her students?
4. Which teacher do you think the ideal teacher should act like?
5. What do you think the principal would think if he saw how Viola Swamp acted with the children?

1. Why do you think teachers do so much to get ready for their students?
2. Compare our classroom to the one in the story-what is the same, what is different?
3. Would you like to have a teacher like Miss Bindergarten-why?
4. Would you like to be a teacher when you grow up-why or why not?

1. Why do you think Emily was writing letters to her teacher?
2. Was Arthur real? How do you know?
3. Emily asked a lot of questions, what do you think made her do that?
4. Would you want to be friends with someone like Emily-why or why not?
5. What do you think will happen next year?

1. Why do you think the author chose to write this book in a loop the way she did?
2. What about the book is real and what is make-believe?
3. What do you think a real mouse would ask for?
4. If you changed to mouse to a Kindergartener, what would they ask for at school?

1. Most kids want to fit in with their friends, why do you think Stephanie wanted to be different?
2. Why do you think the kids and even the teachers began copying her?
3. If you were a parent and your child was like Stephanie, how would you feel about that? Would you want to have a daughter like her?
4. Is it right to try and be different from everyone else?
5. What was the pattern in the story?
6. Why do you think Stephanie tricked everyone at the end?

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Thursday, July 16, 2015

Teaching Young Kids Coding

I know very little about coding. When I was a teenager, computers were just really becoming something people used-mostly for word processing. We had a little TRS-80 where my sister and I would spend hours, a book on our lap, copying directions for the computer to create a game. Hangman took us several hours and one mistake in the typing and the program wouldn't work. Guess what--we were coding! We could have been trendsetters. :)

Last year our district advertised the Hour of Code. I participated because I love trying new things, particularly in the technology realm. I really didn't know what I was doing. So this summer I signed up for a training where I could get a little bit more direction on how to implement activities to encourage coding in the students. 

I was impressed not only by the activities online that the kids can do, but also the "unplugged" activities. You can practice the concept of learning with dancings. There are activties where they can use arrow cards to lead their friends on a scavenger hunt. I'm adding this to my list of resolutions this year! Who knows maybe one of my kiddos will name an app after me one day!

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