Sunday, October 30, 2016

If I Lived in a Van Gogh Painting.....

I think it's very important for students to have a well-rounded experience in school. Art is such a big component of that. We learn how to be creative by studying the works of artists and it's also a way to look at trends in history and study the past. Van Gogh is one of my favorite artists (cliche I know!). I really feel for artists that never knew success in their lifetime. Did you know his mother never even embraced his talents and actually burned the paintings he had given her after he died? And it amazes me that they are still uncovering details about his death-that he may not have even killed himself but had covered up for some boys that always gave him a hard time. The historians now think they may have killed him. The reason we even know so much about him is from his letters to his brother Theo-another reason I think letter writing should still be considered an art form.

Anyway, I introduced the kiddos to his paintings-his self-portraits, the flowers, the empty room. Then I showed them Starry Night and asked them to talk with a partner about what it made them feel, what they saw in it. Then we painted our own version of the painting-I gave them yellow, blue and brown paint on their palettes. Now I know we ended up with a lot of green in our version, but the kids are enamored right now with mixing colors and you know me, I tell them they are the artist. After we painted I asked them to imagine life in a Van Gogh painting-what would it feel like, what would you see, hear? What would be good or bad about that life?

Here is what they came up with: 

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Being the Square Peg....

I cannot believe next week is November already! It has been an interesting year so far. I've been kicking this post around in my mind the past few weeks and am going to try and fill you guys in with what I have been struggling with and still be professional. :)

I think I've been very lucky to have found my niche in education. I hear horror stories all the time about inept leadership, issues that accompany poverty levels (85% of our students qualify for free/reduced lunch), students with no support. My school has never been like that for me. I have had the privilege to work for some amazing administrators and some amazing families who I learned so much from. I look back on my career and see a teacher who has really grown in many, many ways. Even reading my old posts I can see improvement from my early years. I definitely found my voice and my passions within education. Every year I am learning new techniques and strategies to implement with my kiddos. We were not just encouraged to seek out PD's-it was expected. We were always given the opportunity to do what we needed to do for our students-no canned curriculum, no grade level non-negotiables-for the most part, we were left alone to do what we do best. 

I work at a magnet school so every grade level has one classroom that is supposed to be homogeneously GT students. Now, in Kinder we could rarely make that fully happen-the competition for magnet schools is really fierce and there are others with better reputations, located in better areas who often become a family's first choice school. But usually when families end up here, they are happy with our program. However, we are under completely new leadership this year. PD is not in the budget. No one in the administration has experience with gifted students. Now I should also tell you that my new principal is not my biggest fan. I hung up the divergent art activity that I did the first day with my students (which is one way I assess creativity throughout the year) and her feedback in front of my colleagues in a meeting was-- "I'm not really a fan of the coloring". Even though I included an explanation of the activity, I don't think she understood the rigor involved or the importance of drawing out their creativity. I have heard that she is tapping another teacher to take the GT kiddos next year. (Not that I have to teach GT kids, but it would be hard for me to watch someone without the passion or experience doing what I feel like I was meant to do).

 We now are all required to post exactly the same work on our bulletin boards. So if my colleagues decide to do a unit on Pete the Cat and make Pete the Cat faces, I have to do it too, even though I don't think the activities they use are really tapping into higher level thinking or are very student-centered. One of my pet peeves is fluff. I know Pinterest is full of "cute" activities and bulletin boards-but if the teacher is doing most of the work, then to me that activity is not challenging enough for my students. We had a meeting and were discussing what we were going to plan for the following week. This is close to what the teacher I was supposed to copy did. She cut out all the pieces for the trees and called the kids up one by one to just glue them together. What they are learning from that activity-I'm not sure. What is being assessed with that activity? I don't know.

Well, this is how our trees came out.

They created their own version of Chicka Trees and wrote about the ethical situation of whether it was right or wrong for the letters to climb the tree. This is what I proudly hung on my bulletin board. I have to let them be creative and express themselves in their work. I'm not a cookie-cutter craft kind of teacher. The more I thought about it, the more I came to grips with the fact that my principal was probably right-I don't think I am a good fit for my school any longer. It will be very sad for me after being there for 13 years, but come spring I will be out there pounding the pavement trying to find a place who will take a Square Peg. :)

I know that I'm not alone. I know there are others out there who feel misunderstood. Who know the value they bring to their students, even if others can't see that. I can't stop being the Square Peg-I really have tried. But I need to advocate for what my students need and what is best for them. I think we should keep the Square Peg Revolution going strong and one day maybe the schools will adapt with some square holes for us to fit into. For now, we have to find our tribes elsewhere-thank goodness for blogs and Twitter! I saw this posted by Todd Nesloney just the other day:

Amen to that! :)

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Raising Morale on Monday

My Student Council meetings have been the highlight of my week this year. The students all have such great ideas of how to improve our school and our community. Usually I get a few-well, if we had all-day recess or less homework. But this year all their suggestions have been for others. They wanted to throw a party for our custodians. They wanted to give every homeless person a pet so they wouldn't be lonely anymore (need some tissues yet?). 

One thing we decided we could do for the teachers without a lot of expense was to wish them a Happy Monday. So the students came in early, we posted ourselves at the main entrance and every time a teacher came in the students assailed them with cheers and well-wishes. Some of the staff members were surprised, some were confused-but all of them walked away with a smile on their faces to start their Monday morning off right.

Here are some of the signs they made (we hung them in the lounge when we were done).

And here's the cheer they did:

Sunday, October 23, 2016

When the Wonderful Happens

As part of our writing workshop this past week, we read the story The Wonderful Happens by Cynthia Rylant.

What I like about this book is it makes us think about the importance of everyday things. For example, she writes about the purpose of a spoon, Thinking about those small details is, I believe, challenging for the little ones. Why do we use a spoon? How can we describe the details of the spoon. So I asked them to write about something they thought was "wonderful" that happened every day but that we might not notice or appreciate. I made it our class book for October because I thought they did a really good job coming up with creative responses.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Pink Warriors

So as many of you know I went through treatment for breast cancer last year. It was the hardest thing I've ever had to do, but I survived! Today was our wear pink for breast cancer awareness. Our upper grade teachers had the kids write notes for me again this year. They were posted outside my classroom this morning.

My favorite one!

Saturday, October 15, 2016

The Important Book

I read my students the Important Book:

It talks about the important thing about objects. The important part of a spoon is that you eat with it. The important part of a daisy is that it's white. I think it's sometimes hard to define what makes something important.

I asked students to then consider what an important part of themselves was, what made them different from other kids. I took the pics this time, if we were further along in the year I would have let them take pictures of one another, but I wanted to make sure they were getting pictures of what they wanted to write about. Here's what they came up with.