Monday, September 23, 2019

Connecting With the Past...Meeting With Former Students (#3): A Familiar Voice

I have to say I have really been enjoying my time catching up with my former students, who now range in age from 22-34 years old. My "Connecting with the Past" blog series started due to my curiosity about these students, and wondering how they "turned out" after leaving my classroom.

In 1996, I was fortunate to be part of my district's multiyear classroom initiative (AKA Looping), which means I taught the same students for two years; from first to second grade. I loved being a looping teacher! Having the same group of students together for two years was an incredible experience! Essentially, we were given the gift of an extra month of school together, as September of 2nd grade became a continuation of 1st grade. There was no "first six weeks" of the new year for getting to know each other and establishing a classroom culture for learning. That had been done in first grade, so we began September right where we left off in June. I knew my students well, and the connections we made through two years together was strong. We were a family.

The students in my first looping class have always held a special place in my heart. They were a special group of kids and I feel we are forever linked by the incredible experience.

My Looping Class (1995-1997)-Keith is in the back center rockin' the 90s overalls

Keith is the first student from this class that I have been able to reconnect with, and we recently spent an hour talking and reminiscing about our class. Keith doesn't live locally, and I appreciated the chance to catch up over the phone.

Keith had spent some time preparing for our call, thinking back to his time in first and second grade.

One of the first things Keith shared was a thank you. He had been placed in our district's gifted and talented program starting in third grade, and he shared that this gave him confidence as a student and was the beginning of his journey towards academic success. As an adult he realized that I must have been the teacher to recommend him for this program, and he is grateful for the impact this experience had on his life.

We had fun talking about each student from our class and where they are now. Keith kept in touch with many of his classmates over the years and I enjoyed hearing about his later experiences with them. He is still in touch with a few of them today, and I look forward to catching up with some that I have been able to reconnect with recently.

I remember Keith as a friendly, outgoing, and chatty kid. He got along with everyone and was a great student to have in class. As Keith shared, he probably loved school because it was a social time for him. He remembers that I provided him with a lot of opportunities to talk to the class which not only helped feed his talkative nature, but has made him a confident public speaker to this day.

We laughed about the lice...which wasn't funny at the time. In second grade, we had a lice outbreak in class that lasted for several months. We just couldn't get rid of it! Keith never got it, but does remember having to put his belongings in a trash bag each day and sitting on the tile floor because our class rug had been removed until we were cleared of the critters.

And of course, Keith remembers the Pog craze of the 90s, our class hamster Speedy ๐Ÿงก and how exciting it was when the Scholastic Book Fair came to our school, even if he wasn't allowed to buy I Spy books. He also remembers that Officer Buckle and Gloria had just won the Caldecott Award that year (1996) and we read it as part of our study of Caldecott-winning books. 

One time Keith called me "mom", as many students did over the years, and was teased for it. What a memory!
The Boys of Room 23- Keith is second from the left

We also talked about many of the families of the students in our class, and I mentioned that I felt fortunate to have had so many supportive and involved parents. Many of the moms were able to volunteer in the classroom on a regular basis, which only enhanced our sense of community.

After our phone call Keith sent me a text to say how much he enjoyed talking to me, and also to share how he remembered my voice after all these years. It's always interesting to hear the things that are remembered, and how our senses trigger specific memories. For Keith, it was the sound of my voice.  I can only hope it was a good sound for him full of positive memories. 

Friday, August 30, 2019

Connecting With the Past...Meeting With Former Students (#2): It's All About a Feeling

It's All About a Feeling 

This is the second in a series of blogs about meet-ups with my former students. As I shared in my first blog, my students now range in age from 22-34 years old. I recently connected with many of them through Facebook, and plans have been made to get together and catch up.

In 1996, I was fortunate to be part of my district's multiyear classroom initiative (AKA Looping), which means I taught the same students for two years; from first to second grade. I loved being a looping teacher! Having the same group of students together for two years was an incredible experience! Essentially, we were given the gift of an extra month of school together, as September of 2nd grade became a continuation of 1st grade. There was no "first six weeks" of the new year for getting to know each other and establishing a classroom culture for learning. That had been done in first grade, so we began September right where we left off in June. I knew my students well, and the connections we made through two years together was strong. We were a family.

I taught my second looping class from 1997-1999, and the end of our second year together culminated (for me) with the birth of my daughter. As I was waiting to become a first-time mom, my students pampered me and even threw me a surprise shower. Of course, watching my stomach move around while I was teaching math (right after lunch) became entertainment for my students (and me!) by spring of that year.

Our Looping Class during Year 1- 1996
Rachel is right next to me. 

Rachel was one of my students in this looping group. I remember that she always had a smile on her face, and was a genuinly happy kid. Rachel's twin sister was in the other looping class right next door. I honestly couldn't tell them apart, but I always knew Rachel because her face would light up with a smile when she saw me.

Rachel and I recently met up for dinner, and the first thing we realized is that we hadn't seen each other in twenty years! After my daughter was born that June, I transfered schools within my district to shorten my commute. I hadn't seen her since.

Rachel's first question to me "how do you remember me?".  Honestly, I remember every student from my looping classes. They have a special place in my heart. 360 days together over the two years where students demonstrate more academic and social-emotional growth than any other years in school was pretty significant to me.

Rachel shared that she doesn't remember a lot of details from our classroom. She explained that it was more about the atmosphere, or feeling she remembers and less about the specifics. She does know that she liked school and that she felt smart in first and second grade.
Rachel and I on Halloween

She did remember our class hermit crab (Bud) and hamster (Speedy), and a class trip to Duke Gardens in second grade. Reading groups (guided reading) was a special time and she has always loved reading. Rachel specifically remembers changing groups during the year, and that she was intimidated at first in her new group because she knew they were the "good readers".

A memory Rachel shared that I don't recall, is that someone once put glue on the toilet seat in our classroom bathroom. Apparently, I was not happy.

On the whole, we both agreed that this class was a pretty amazing group of kids. There were very few behavioral issues...we really couldn't remember much of anything,  but these were six and seven-year-olds so there had to be some amount of behavorial issues/lessons, right? I guess I just forget things like that ๐Ÿ˜Š

We looked through pictures together and remembered the students in our class. Rachel is still in touch with several of them, and her classmate Megan is still one of her closest friends. We both noted the lack of diversity in the class and the school as a whole. We had a great conversation about education, equity, and multiple intelligences. It was a fun time together reminiscing and telling stories.

The thing that most resinated with me after my dinner with Rachel was her comment about her memories being rooted in a "feeling". Though specific memories fad, the feeling of connections, relationships, and belonging remain. Children need to feel a sense of safety and belonging and that someone cares. Only then are they ready to learn.

Rachel and I at dinner together 2019

Monday, August 12, 2019

Starting Your Year Trauma-Sensitive

Educators are getting ready to welcome students back to school for a new year. It's a new year full of promise and excitement for both staff and students.

As a curriculum supervisor, I oversee both language arts and social studies at the elementary level in my district. We have worked to institute some changes to our district curriculum over the past few years to better support all of our students (as we know better, we do better), while being aware of and sensitive to the differing life experiences our students bring with them to school each day.

Some of those changes have been met with push-back from staff as we work together to balance traditions established in the classroom through specific activities with an awareness that some of these traditions can actually be traumatic for our students.

The other day I saw the following visuals on the Instagram site of trauma_informed-montessori , and they definitely demonstrate the sensitivity that needs to be taken with our students as we prepare activities to begin another school year.

As you begin a new school year, I implore you to think about the family-centered/historical activities you will have your students complete, and then take another look from the perspective of your students. How these might these be perceived by or effect your students? Think about the "why" behind these assignments, and use the suggestions below to help you meet your objectives in a more trauma-informed way.

All graphics from trauma_informed-montessori

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Connecting With the Past...Meeting With Former Students (#1)


I recently got to thinking about my former students...

Just a reminder that it's been 14 years since I made the move from being a classroom teacher to a building reading specialist and then eventually my current role as a curriculum supervisor. This means that my former first and second grade students now range from 22-34 years old. They have all grown up!

Curiosity began to sink in as I wondered how each of my students has "turned out" and what, if any, impact I had on them. What do they remember from our classroom?

So I turned to the boxes I have in my basement. These boxes contain hundreds of pictures, student-made cards and notes, letters from parents, etc. I got lost for a few hours down that rabbit hole, smiling as I remembered particular students and events, reading through the heart-felt student notes to me.

Next I searched on Facebook, locating and friending many former students. My curiosity began to grow and I knew that I wanted to talk to these students who had once spent 180 days (double that for my looping classes) in my care.

I contacted several former students through Facebook messenger, and to my surprise, many of them responded!

Today I had my first meet-up with Caitlyn.

Caitlyn was in my second class. I was 25 years old and teaching first grade. When I think about this year, I usually remember two things:

  • I had 25 students in this class (12 boys, 13 girls), which was a bit overwhelming in a classroom where I was differentiating reading instruction to meet the needs of each emerging a second year teacher. 
  • It was the "year of the Js". I had three boys names Joseph, along with a Jeffrey, Justin and Jerry. 
My 1994-95 Class (Caitlyn is in the middle row, just next to me)

I met Caitlyn and her beautiful, five-month old daughter for breakfast, and I loved our conversation. We reminisced for over an hour, and she also told me about her life and current connections with many of the students from our class. 

The one big question I had was "what are your memories from our first grade classroom?". 
Caitlyn shared the following:

  • Pizza on Fridays at lunch was a big deal!
  • The students had a job chart and were able to move their own names to new jobs each week. She liked the freedom of this.
  • I met with reading groups on the carpet, and being on the carpet always made it feel like a special time with me in small groups.
  • Reading was challenging for Caitlyn, but she was able to memorize Green Eggs and Ham. I allowed her to read the book to the class which gave her confidence as a reader. She still has a "Good Job" reading certificate from me. 
  • We hatched duck eggs and even had pet ducklings in the classroom...until they moved to their new homes. 
  • The students did animal research and Caitlyn chose to research ducklings. She still has the book she checked out from the county library for her research...shhhh!!!
  • We once did math outside and that was fun. Hopefully I made math fun more than once. 
  • Behavior chart....ugh! This one hurt. Caitlyn remembers the one time she had to move her card. She also remembers the students who were frequent card-movers in my public shaming discipline method. Not my proudest moment. See my former blog on this topic:
  • This one cracks me up...I wore a lot of festive tops, sweaters, and pins around the holidays and she always thought of me as a "fancy dresser". 
  • I went to see Caitlyn play baseball one weekend. Several of the kids from our class were on the team.
  • When Caitlyn was in 7th grade, she came back to visit my classroom to read a book and help out with reading groups for a morning. 
Caitlyn's memories reinforced for me the importance of relationships to learning. Students don't learn in classrooms where they don't feel safe and loved with a connection to the teacher. I've always hoped that I was this for my students. I know more about social-emotional learning and my pedagogy has developed significantly over the years; there are many things I know I would do differently today. 

Caitlyn remembers the learning that was fun and when she had voice and choice. My heart and passion for teaching and my students is the one thing that has never changed, and that is what I hope they each continue to hold in their hearts as they remember their time in my classroom. 

When I was a classroom teacher, I made a class yearbook for my students at the end of each year. I would include pictures from the year along with a list of student-generated memories, and I wrote a note to each student in the back of their book. Since these were photo-copied, the quality wasn't great and the pictures were was the 90s. Caitlyn shared that she still has her book and keeps it in her classroom for her own students to read.

Did I mention...Caitlyn is now a first grade teacher ๐Ÿ’– 

* I have several more meet-ups scheduled with former students over the next few months. I look forward to sharing my take-aways. 

Monday, May 20, 2019

An Apology to My Former Students

Image result for teacher speaking to child
Teach, don't punish

Image result for turn a card system
My Turn-a-Card System


The saying goes, "as we know better, we do better".  I have certainly learned a lot through my journey as an educator, and some of my earlier practices would not be found in my classroom today (if I had a classroom).

While I don't necessarily agree with all of the decisions and instructional practices that "past Maureen" supported, only one actually haunts me. OK, haunt is being dramatic, but I do feel strongly that if I could only go back and change one thing, this would be it.

Confession time...I had a public behavior chart in my classroom. 

Yes, it pains me to say it, but I had one. It was the "turn a card" system, where each student had a pocket in a chart with a green, yellow, and red card. Each child started the day on green, and if a behavior infraction occurred, the child would be directed to change their card to yellow. Further infractions would result in a red card and a call home. A card with the student's name on it sat in the front of the pocket. If no infractions occurred during the day, a small sticker would be placed on the card. At the end of each week, the card would go home for parent signature.

Ugh! How did I ever think that this public display of humiliation was good for my students and my classroom?  Whenever I instructed a child to turn a card, I was stopping instruction to publicly draw attention to the behavior while embarrassing the child. Tears were usually part of this process.

Not only did I bring attention to a child's behavior in front of their peers, but I also knew that daily behavior reports (AKA who turned a card that day) were often the subject of family dinners in the homes of my students.


Don't get me wrong. I understood developmental appropriateness and the importance of student engagement, collaboration, and interaction. My classroom was never a quiet classroom, and I didn't expect that of my 6, 7 , and 8 year olds. I was not a "yeller" (usually) and I could handle (and adored) active and excited children who were still learning self-regulation. I was not "crazy-card-turning-teacher" and my students most often went home each Friday with five stickers on their name card.

But I did do it...

now I know better.

I now have a better understanding of the importance of supporting children on the path to self-regulation and impulse control. A misstep in behavior should be an opportunity to teach, not punish.
If a child is being punished for a behavior, they are not learning alternatives that help them grow and make appropriate decisions in the future.

I have learned many lessons about social-emotional learning and positive discipline from my friend Elizabeth Merce (  @emercedlearning  #DitchTheClips). Elizabeth always stresses the importance of teaching social-emotional learning skills as you would any other subject.

For example, if a student is struggling with a concept in math, we don't call this out to the rest of the class or embarrass the student for their struggles. We use data to determine where the child is struggling, and then we provide scaffolding to support their learning. We must treat SEL this same way.  

So I would like to offer this apology to any child I ever publicly shamed or embarrassed through my behavior management system.

                                                    Image result for i'm sorry

The research and the case against public behavior charts is growing. Here are just a few to check out. If you are still using a chart in your classroom, please read the research and do what is best for kids.


Podcast: Leader of Learning Podcast: Social Emotional Learning: Rethinking Student Discipline with Elizabeth Merce

Blog: Ditch the Clips: Create a Behavior Management System That Works (Elizabeth Merce) 

ASCD Article: Tear Down Your Behavior Chart (Lee Ann Jung & Dominique Smith) 

Article: 6 Reasons to Question Using Behavior Charts (Tony Kline, Ph.D) 

Article: Why I Will NEVER Use a Behavior Chart Again

Saturday, April 6, 2019

My Day As a 7th Grader...

This year our superintendent challenged all district administrators to shadow a student for a day. After thinking about the grade level I'd like to experience for a day, I requested to shadow a 7th grader. As a K-6 curriculum supervisor, I wanted to see where our students go after leaving the elementary world. 

I was assigned a 7th grade girl to shadow for the day. Now, I need to share that my own middle school experience was not full of warm memories. Peer pressure and the social hierarchy, and don't get me started with puberty. Not a fun time in my life!

Excited and a little nervous about returning to middle school, I prepared for my day as a 7th grader. Due to a previous appointment, I missed first period (Spanish) and was introduced to my student for the day in period 2...gym class. Yikes!  Volleyball! I broke my hand playing volleyball in middle school and I'm also a terrible athlete....well, really just overall uncoordinated, but I joined in and had fun. Our team went 2-1 on the day, and all of my serves made it over the net. Whew!

Next, I joined my student in band class and then it was off to math class. My student was busy working with a partner on a volume/surface area project. They explained the project to me and I was able to give input as they worked and also join them as they circulated the classroom to offer compliments and feedback to other student projects.
Math Project Time!


After math class we headed to the cafeteria for lunch. I had planned to purchase lunch there, and my student informed me that today our table would be called last to get in the lunch line. Yikes! What if I didn't have enough time to eat my lunch? 


The students at my lunch table were very friendly and welcoming, and made sure I got into line quickly once our section was called. I am a slow eater, so while my student and some others from my table went off to play volleyball for the later part of lunch, I stayed to finish eating. I barely made it to language arts class! 

Now it was time for language arts, my favorite class! The class was studying science fiction, which happens to be my least favorite genre, but I was still quickly engaged in reading and discussions around Fahrenheit 451. 
In science the students were busy completing a video project that was due at the end of the period. My student was working on the voice-overs for her project on cloning, and I even got to contribute my voice to the project!

Science Research

We finished out the day in social studies, where there was a substitute teacher. We read about the "shot heard around the world" and answered questions.

I had several takeaways from my day, and I had the opportunity to share them with my student as the final dismissal bell was sounding. 

In some ways, middle school has changed a lot since my days as a twelve year old, and in other ways things remain relatively unchanged. 

The good changes come in the instruction and student engagement. Except for my last class, where the teacher was absent, every class was interactive and engaging for students. My student was continually collaborating, using inquiry to ask questions and guide research, self-assessing, providing feedback to others, engaging in higher-order thinking and questioning, and continually moving around the classroom. There was no "sit and get" or body parts falling asleep from sitting too long. Technology was purposefully integrated, and student voice and choice was also a common theme. My middle school experience, oh so long ago, was closer to the worksheet I completed with the substitute than my experience today. 

What things remain the same? The social structure and behaviors haven't changed. It was interesting to look around the cafeteria to see the social groups that were sitting together and how students interacted. It was actually nice to see the socializing that occurred, free from cell phone distractions in the school setting. Students actually talked to each other! 

As a student, I was encouraged to see all of the student-centered learning taking place for these middle-schoolers. I just finished reading What School Could Be (Ted Dintersmith) and am now about halfway through The One-World Schoolhouse (Salman Kahn), and much of my thinking about education is being both challenged and affirmed. 

Shadowing a student was a positive experience for me, and I'd like to think it was for my student as well. I had fun interacting with students throughout the day, and everyone was very kind and welcoming. It's definitely a day well spent for any educator. I am grateful for the experience and my take-aways, and I'm happy to say I once again  survived my time in middle school!

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Your Classroom Library and 20%

I was at Sunday morning #CoffeeEduNJ this weekend when my friend Denise (@smilingteach) shared the following quote:

"If you're not losing 20% of your classroom library each year, you don't  have the right books."

Do you ever just hear something that resonates with you? Something of an "aha moment" that makes you think you've been doing it wrong all these years? Well, that quote did just that for me.

It sounds trivial, but really struck a cord with me. I have not been able to find the original person who said this, so for now I will credit Denise Weintraut.

Each year, I talk with classroom teachers who worry about students taking books home to read, worry about books leaving their classroom, all over the fear of a book not finding its way back to it's home in the classroom library.

So this quote got me thinking.

Aside from the books that get lost in student desks and lockers, where else do these books go when they leave the classroom?

If we truly want to get books into the hands of all students and develop a passion for reading, does it matter if some them stay forever in the hands of a student who went on a journey with it, learned from it, or connected to it in some way we will never know?

OK, I understand that ever-shrinking district budgets and lack of funding for classroom libraries plays into this worry and somewhat possessiveness over the books in our libraries. Teachers work...and build up their libraries and don't want to risk a never-ending battle to continually replace lost books while still adding the latest authors and series.

It comes to down to looking at it another way.
If books are missing from classroom libraries, it is because a student has it. A student. And isn't that the goal in the first place?