I, Joy Kirr, am a middle school teacher, author, and speaker. My 7th grade ELA (English Language Arts) classes are working to improve their lives through student-directed learning - without marks throughout the year. This is a log of my learning experiences... Want to have me speak with your staff or facilitate a workshop? Here is my PORTFOLIO.

Saturday, August 26, 2023

A Glimpse...

...into my first full week at the start of my 29th year...
  • A girl in the hallway helped another student in the hallway get to her class.
  • A new student said "gracias" to me when I was able to use some Spanish to help her with her locker combination. (We've since talked a teeny bit more - C'mon, Duolingo - get me to conversational level!) She did chuckle when I muttered, "Algun dia..."
  • Student to another student: "There's no proof that anyone walked on the moon." My thoughts: Oh no. Not again.
  • One student walked across the room. Another took her Hokki stool. She complained. I said it was hers - she was sitting on it a minute ago. She said to the student who took it, "What am I supposed to do, glue it to my butt?" 
  • When I called on one student, he replied, "Arf." This happened three times in one class. It hasn't happened again after that (yet).
  • We have very few Black students. One of mine was sharing favorite breakfast foods, and then added, "...and of course, watermelon." As the other students said, "That's a stereotype," I took a deep breath. Then they all looked to see how I'd respond. I said, "I have to stop class right here. I do not think ___ meant any harm towards anyone here, but that type of stereotyping is not allowed in this class. I don't want anyone to say anything that could make another student feel uncomfortable or unsafe in any way." He quickly apologized, and we moved on.
  • This same student needed a book because they forgot theirs at home. They went to my nonfiction books and found Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's autobiography. They asked me who the author was. I said, "Kareem Abdul-Jabbar." I loved the look of surprise - and pride - on their face.
  • I stand by my door during passing periods. A student who (I'll just say it) hated me last year walked past me in the hallway, shouting, "ELA is the worst class ever!" I had been smiling at the time, so I forced myself to laugh (trying to put it off as if I hadn't heard him and was laughing at something someone else in the hallway said). As I was forcing a laugh, a real laugh came, because the first one was contagious and I just thought it was a crazy situation that I was pretending to laugh - all around, middle school is a crazy situation anyway.
  • One teacher put cold Diet Cokes on other teachers' desks in the morning with a note about having a "good day."
  • On "Book-Trailer Tuesday," I heard from one student, "Wait... books have trailers?" In another class, a different student said, "We've had book trailers since second grade."
  • One student was choosing which notebook to keep out for this quarter. He quietly used the "Eeenie meenie miney moe" rhyme. I encouraged him to find a new way to choose next time, as that rhyme has racist origins.
  • Two students (with lots of energy) channeled their energy into sharing their silly and creative quick writes (choice writing in 5 min) with the class.
  • We started talking about the behavior system for the school year, and as students started asking questions (EX: What if someone ...), I let them know I don't play the "What If" game.
  • I'm still giving out a balloon for birthdays. The birthday girl blew hers up while I was reading two chapters from Ghost Boys for our First-Chapter Friday, and as she was very quietly and appropriately playing with it, it popped. After the shock, students looked to me. "Balloons pop sometimes," is all I said, and I kept reading (and they let me).
  • A quiet student shared with me, "I liked that first chapter."
  • A student is reading aloud one of our writing prompts: "You have just finished your first full week of 7th grade..." The rest of the class claps!
  • During plan time, my co-planner friend was adding speech bubbles to photos of kids reading that she's putting into our slideshow for the next day... she's got this wicked laugh because she knows the students will laugh and will like seeing them.
  • EIGHT students shared their writing today in front of the entire class.
  • One student took out headphones and said, "I still have them from last year." I replied, "That's great you took care of them." A (normally) quiet student added, "Until they break, they're still useful."
  • Student: "My brother says you're really nice."  Me: "How would he know? I never had him as a student." Student: "Well he's not wrong." 
Lots of "wins."
Lots of laughter.
Lots of stories.
I love the little snippets in my day. This is my way of saving them.

And... this pretty thing was on our butterfly bush a few times this week:


Thursday, August 24, 2023

Expectations

The first week of school - prep, meetings, set up, and kids coming in - is a TON of work. I tried not to work at home this past week, so I stayed a teeny bit later at work. Of course, I get there an hour or more early, but I love being at work in the mornings -- there's so much promise, and I feel invigorated and ready to work.

This past week was not a lot different from previous years... there were some scheduling glitches that we've never seen before, but even if they don't get worked out, the kids will survive. There were new students who don't speak English, there were new-to-our-school students that weren't on the "new student" list, and I have a student who was missing for the first two days who was suddenly off my homeroom list. Communication hasn't been the best since COVID, but we make do with what happens.

What's different at the start of this year is the expectations I put on myself and how I respond to them. 

The less I talk, the more I learn - about myself and about others. I learned a bit about myself this week. In my teacher role, I expect a LOT from myself. These expectations are ones I put on myself - they're not anyone else's doing. I've only got myself to blame for how busy I may be. When I did what my administration expected of me, it truly wasn't a lot. I had to find some documents that were in various places (pre-COVID everything was provided in a folder for us - but again, so many changes happened, and we were always updating them anyway), I had to ask about a couple of things, but what the administration expected of me was pretty minimal. It was all the things that I expected of myself that were myriad. Truly, they are countless. 

Here are a handful of instances that made me pause this past week...
  • I expect myself to shake everyone's hand as they enter, and ask them their name. It always caused congestion and confusion. This year, I simply said "good morning" or "hello" or "welcome," and started learning their names once class had begun. 
  • I expect to have all my students' names memorized the third day (or so). This week, I gave myself until this first full week is finished. (Today - Thursday, Day 6 - I got them all right!)
  • I expect to have all my decorations up and all my supplies out. This year, I just did one bulletin board (that we'll add to as the year goes on) and I only took out the supplies we'd need the first day.
  • I expect to share all procedures the first few days. This year, I'm sharing them as they're needed. Students don't need to know them all yet.
  • I expect to send an email home to parents every month, and even though that's still my expectation (it used to be every week pre-COVID đŸ˜³), I'm not going to tell them it's going to be monthly, just in case I don't make time for it.
I did ADD an expectation. In my Google calendar, I have after-school meetings in red ("tomato" as Google calls it). Red to me means "Oooh. This is important." This year, I also put our days OFF in red. Those are just as important. Now the color red won't just mean MORE work.

I know I'll run into more work that I have actually given myself, and I look forward to reflecting and noticing whether this work needs to be completed right now, or if I don't get around to it, if it needs to be done at all.

Here's the bulletin board I'm excited about this year...

I'm going to have the kids vote on the lessons that work best for them and then highlight the ones that "wins" with a different shape behind it (courtesy of a friend at work).

Tuesday, June 13, 2023

What Went Well

I could complain about my year (more / again), yet that won't help anyone. 

So... here's what went well this past school year for me (and hopefully for my students):

Student Relationships:

Going to students' games/meets when coaches shared the schedules, and volunteering for the students vs. staff dodgeball event.

Having my plant in class - sad that some students (in MAY!) thought it was fake, but I think it was good for them to see life, growth, and caring for it. (Her name was Amy, and she's a beautiful Wandering Jew.)

Some classroom roles / jobs worked really well. Tech support, secretary (next year calling this one an assistant), randomizer...

Book club groups - I'm getting better at these! The book choices were still good, too!

Not taking things personally. A quick story: a student who is abrasive to his teachers and his peers was in the hall with a friend who asked me, "Who do I give the field trip money to?" When I answered, "The office," this abrasive student added, "She's not worth it." So I sneered / snickered (feeling all kinds of things) and added, "I'm not worth your $12," and I laughed and walked away as they laughed and did the same. I laughed, covering up the diss, but I felt it. Then I thought... Wait. This kid puts down all his friends - even his "good" friends (that never checked on him when he was gone for three days... does he have good friends?)... He's treating me like he would a friend. It's really not personal. It's just all gut, and no brain when they respond the way they do to you and their friends.

Not responding - only repeating myself - so as not to get into a power struggle.

During the difficult moments... knowing there will be better moments, and knowing the difficult moments will come again... Normalizing them was a calming force for me. Also knowing there is an end in sight, and each day we all get a fresh start.

Seeking out time to spend with respectful students during my toughest class.

Small notes to students throughout the year. Recognizing accomplishments and small bits of gratitude.

Small "good news" notes to parents throughout the year. Most were received warmly.

Time Management:

Kept most work at work. Sometimes I would give feedback on their writing during independent reading time - I was reading, so I didn't feel guilty about it - and sometimes I would do quick things at home on a Saturday morning, but that was really it. 

Monthly updates / small newsletters home (instead of every two weeks - prior to the pandemic it was every week). Our team does a weekly blurb, so this worked out really well! Parents still appreciate seeing their child in the videos I sent home, too. Oooh! One more for this one - I only used videos, not photos, so I didn't have to add and trim any music, either. I only recorded the kids when everyone was in class, too, so I didn't have to worry about leaving anyone out.

Choosing outfits for the week... This is a habit leftover from teaching in the pandemic. Back then I had scrubs I'd rotate out; this year I just chose five outfits for the week ahead on Sunday night. I chose them based on the shoes I'd wear - better for my feet and not making that decision in the morning was better for my mind.

When asked to prepare a presentation for the staff, I asked for time during the school day, because it wasn't going to get done before or after school or during my lunch or plan time. Fortunately, it was granted to four of us during IAR testing time. My co-homeroom teacher this year is in my homeroom daily, so she took care of the testing once I got it started. That was a win.

Changing My Thinking:

I didn't get any migraines this year that were strong enough to keep me home. I credit this to...

Quiet time. Just 3-5 minutes. Alone. Mostly outside. Almost every day, especially the last two months.

Being aware that I can't fix other people's problems... ask questions instead. Listen.

Noticing negative thoughts - mostly about what I can't control - and then being able to switch them to only thinking about the present. Why complain at lunch about the rude children in my last class? It does nobody any good, and it brings my blood to a boil, until eventually they're all I'm thinking of. I tried harder to not allow them to take up my thinking space. I should be able to control this. I didn't do this all the time, but I did it way more than I have in past years. It's a process, and I'll be practicing it for a long time.

Same goes for when I got home - let Hubby know some instances, and then don't talk about it (or think about it) more. Cliff notes version, for sure.

No work email outside work hours.

Limits on games on my phone / grouped games into a label on my phone called "Nothing else to do?"

Technology off by 8pm. Time to read... if I can stay up until 9pm....

Thursday, June 8, 2023

2022 - 2023 Digital Scrapbook

Year 28 is finished. I'm still learning.

So... my PD has really gone down... I only presented at my own school, and I only went to one conference... and that's okay. I was focused on enjoying each moment - or getting through the tough moments without getting migraines. This is a list of specific times outside the normal school day I either learned something or tried to help teach something.

AUGUST

- Fell off my bike. (Still have evidence of this event as I write this.) Then my planning partner / friend had to go on leave until December for a much much larger issue. I learned even more about how everyone has something they're struggling with that many people know nothing about.

DECEMBER

Played in the staff vs. students games of dodgeball for charity. Now I can say I have an old sports injury - the middle finger on my left hand. With 30 seconds left in the last game. Yes, I'm getting old.

JANUARY

Facilitated a book study for my district on Angela Watson's Fewer Things Better. I got positive feedback from it! I may do this again.

FEBRUARY

- Got to attend the Chicago Auto Show for free thanks to a student who has a dad who "works there." It tuns out he's the Marketing Director for the entire show!! We were even able to jump the line to ride the Bronco around a track. I decided to take off Valentine's Day for this. :)

- Attended a conference - "Practical Strategies for Improving Behavior of Attention-Seeking, Manipulative, and Challenging Students," and loved it!

APRIL

Presented (with three organized and energizing peers) "Behavior Conference Take-Aways" to our school staff in the courtyard of our school - it was one of our first gorgeous days outside. The administration asked us to present - and then they provided us TIME to prepare the presentation (without having to write sub plans). 

MAY

- I read more books this year about how to improve my mental health, and I realized I only had ONE semi-migraine this school year, and it didn't keep me from going to school. So somewhere along the line this year I learned how to take better care of myself. Breathe deeply when pausing to react to circumstances, be present in the current moment to notice (and respond to - if you can) the good, and don't carry the weight of five students' behaviors with you after those 80 minutes you are harassed or belittled by them.

OTHER TIDBITS I LEARNED - FROM THE STUDENTS

  • "Bet" means "yup."
  • Those tiny babies are still around the school - along with the magnetic balls.
  • When kids destroy - or steal - my decorations or other things (that I have for them to use or enjoy), I now take down the rest and lock everything else away.
  • Seventh graders know WAY more about stuff I might not still know than I ever did when I was twelve or thirteen. And it's not from books...
  • Sometimes when some children talk certain ways to me I get upset... but then I realize they talk like that to their friends, too, so it's nothing personal - just rude behavior.
  • They like chess again. I bought four games with my own money to help after our state testing. Now some students play when they're done with their regular work.
  • Next year, I'm not going to have all privileges (being able to use the cushions or Hokki stools or my supplies, etc...) accessible at the start of the year. Each class will earn them.
  • Some students still will only work with who they knew through COVID. I'm going to have many mixed groupings next year to facilitate more cooperation, kindness, and empathy.
Some items I've found on the floor the last couple of weeks.


Sunday, May 7, 2023

Mindfulness Work

Two More Books to Share...

If you know me at all, you know I'm reading for my mental health (self-help books and adult fiction and memoirs) as well as for my seventh graders (YA/MG books and nonfiction how-to books). Two books I just finished...

They helped me get through the last two weeks of April and this first week of May. My #OneWord for 2022 is "present," and Fully Present was an audiobook I received free for educators through Libro.fm. I learned through these two books to not judge myself when it comes to slipping up during mindfulness, so I forgave myself for listening to it while doing the dishes... ;) I did stop to take notes when I found a gem I wanted to keep. From this one, I was reminded of the myriad benefits of doing NOTHING for a few minutes each day. This means stopping to focus on my breathing, so I can be more in the moment, and less in the past or worrying about the future.

As for Awakened,* I re-read sections of this. I read the first 50 pages in on sitting, then thought of it during school/work the next day. When I got home, I read them again. This is not something I usually do. The next night, I read them again and then summarized them in my own words. I decided my notes for this one would be summaries first, and then I'd fill it in with specific quotes I wanted to look back on later. Because I'm so invested in making my mind healthier, I have all of my self-help / optimism / mindfulness / joy book notes printed out and put into a binder. Those I actually read again every so often when I need a boost / reminder. I love seeing repeated ideas throughout the binder. One other book that won't be in the binder that I've been reading daily is The Daily Stoic by Ryan Holiday and Stephen Hanselman. It's got a lot of the same ideas about how to be mindful, controlling your own thoughts, and not letting influences (from all over) change who you want to be. 

These two books have solidified a few things for me.
  1. It is up to ME how I feel. My thoughts control my feelings. I can take control of my thoughts.
  2. Worries, anxieties, fears ... they're all FUTURE based. When I focus on the present, they go away.
  3. When I ruminate about the past, I make those thoughts worse and more concrete, making them harder to go away. I need to remind myself that the other person involved is most likely NOT thinking of those moments now and it's only hurting me. It could even be hurting my physical health.
  4. Stop and think of each current thought. Does it do you any good? If not, let it go or replace it. Just because it's a thought, doesn't mean it's true, and it doesn't mean it's important right now. Plant the seeds of positive thoughts - you'll reap later what you sow now.
  5. It's going to take a lot of time and practice to change your thinking. All our life we're inundated by images and words that influence us. It's time for me to start taking control of what I want influencing me.
I loved being immersed in the language around mindfulness and controlling my own thoughts. Hearing it from one book, reading it in the other, then following up with a quick meditation that helped me to breathe evenly and put me to sleep each night (the Calm app) really helped some of these ideas stick.

Calm App...

    This tool may still be free to educators, I hope. I'm on a streak right now of about two weeks. I've been hearing the same ideas from the two books in the app (words such as "catastrophize" and ideas such as reframing my thoughts). Just last night, after I'd taken some notes about how our thoughts are seeds, I get this one to listen to before bed:

Online Resources...

        It includes a link to their app: UCLA Mindful
        The questions / process:
  1. What negative thought are you struggling with right now? (You can choose or type an answer.)
  2. What's a recent situation that led to this negative thought?
  3. Select the thinking trap. (I really like this one - it shows possible thinking traps, such as "fortune telling," "overgeneralizing," "negative feeling or emotion," and "all-or-nothing thinking," and these change based on what you've put in for your answer. It suggests what it thinks you're doing. The AI here seems to be spot on - at least the two times I tried it.)
  4. Reframe your thinking. (First it tells you - based on what you chose as the thinking trap - a tip for how to overcome that thinking trap. Then it gives you space to type in your own reframing thoughts, and it also gives you three options it came up with. You can even click "Show more reframes" !!) Once you choose or write one, it asks you to see if you can make it more positive, realistic, or helpful. I changed one word of mine - "can" to "will" - you can see my final reframe in the photo below.)
  5. Evaluate the activity. (You do not need to do this. It's part reflection, part info for the AI, I'll bet. There is another section after that which is an optional survey.)
    1. I filled out the survey and was rewarded with a summary (which I didn't know I was going to get - this is much better than the screenshots I took)! Too bad you have to fill out the survey to get it, but maybe you can just click "next" without filling it out...

        The questions they use on this site are simple - so much so that you don't need the site:
  1. What negative thought are you struggling with?
  2. Where does this negative thought come from?
  3. If your friend was dealing with the same negative thought, what would you say to help them feel more hopeful? (I love this question!)
  4. What do you need to say or do so you can truly believe the more hopeful thought?

Conclusion

Of course, I've read many more books on optimism and joy and how to be happy during the fall and winter of the 2020-2021 school year. My post from June of 2021 about those books is here. What makes these different? The lessons are finally STICKING. I was in class the other day saying in my head, "Dismiss. Distract..." and then I focused on something else instead of that worrying/annoying/not helpful thought. Maybe they're sticking because I've read so many with the same ideas. I'll take it. And I'll probably keep reading more. What I want to do first, however, is to practice meditating for 5-10 min a day without falling asleep to it... Taking 5-10 min out of my day to let negative thoughts appear and then dismiss them can only be beneficial.

I will keep learning and practicing. With time and effort, I can learn to recognize and manage negative thoughts.

*One thing I have to add about Awakened... Page 1 starts on the left side of the book. This was at first a source of aggravation for me. By the time I finished the book, my mindset had shifted. I now wonder what other books start that way?

Saturday, April 15, 2023

Disconnected

I had this book in my Libro.fm account, and it was short, so I decided to listen to it while I did the dishes while Hubby is recovering from knee replacement surgery. We usually do the dishes together, and I wanted the distraction.

I've been having a love-hate relationship with social media and games on my phone. I spend a LOT of time on my phone. I thought this book might help me not be attached to it as much.

Here are some things I'd like to remember from this book...

She posed this question: "What part of your online life do you enjoy or do by choice (ex: curating boards for inspiration on Pinterest)?"

          I enjoy connecting with teachers on Twitter. I haven't been doing this as much as I used to, and this may be because I've set a limit for myself on Twitter, and I've done a good job of sticking to it. I'm only on Twitter in the morning for a half hour before work, and on weekend mornings. On Instagram, I enjoy seeing posts from former students and encouraging them in their college and job endeavors. TikTok makes me laugh, and when I create on it, I feel the students who follow me will benefit from the humor and book talks. I only use Snapchat when I want to play with filters and get Hubby and I laughing until our guts hurt. This happens about once a year. I don't post or follow anyone on Snapchat. I play games (daily challenge - Killer Sudoku, Blockudoku, Fishdom, Nonogram, Nonogram Color, and Elevate) to stimulate my brain. I practice Duolingo to hopefully some day be able to have an actual conversation with a student in Spanish (and later in Polish).

And she followed up with this one: "And what things do you do only because you feel you should (ex: being on Twitter for professional purposes)?"

          I do feel like I need to post a bit every day on Twitter. That's where I (used to) market my book(s), share the good about GeniusHour, share that and my Antiracist LiveBinder, amplify other people's great ideas, and I feel like my followers expect me to be real and to share what I believe is important. I've been quieter on it lately because, like Mom said, "If you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all," and since teaching in a pandemic, it's been harder for me to find positive and valuable things in education to share.

"We get to say no. We get to change our habits."

          This quote/idea has helped me stop playing so many games on my phone. My favorites for zoning out: Nonogram, and Nonogram Color. I have time limits on these, and at 8:00, all tech is off my phone (except books and Duolingo). Knowing that when I zone out on them I often think of problems at school, I now recognize these thoughts earlier, and I click the "ignore" button a bit quicker.

...insert app name here.

Every time I put my earbud in my ear to listen to this book, I hear, "Connected," which means my phone is connected to the earbud. To me, it meant "Joy can't just do one thing - she's got to listen to a book while she does the dishes, even." That fact bothered me, but I didn't do anything about it, because I thought it was a good use of my time... Another thing that happened was that while I was "reading" (and doing the dishes), texts from a friend came through. I tried to not look at them until I was done doing the dishes at least... 

The author likes Seth Godin, and she quoted him many times throughout.

It's good to amplify others' great ideas - while giving credit, of course. 

It's good to connect with others in smaller communities. It's even better if we try doing this OFFline.

Everyone - and everything - is an influence(r).

"I want my online life to influence my offline life for the better."

---------------------

Yes. Yes. Yes. I want my online life to influence my offline life for the better. So much of what I see on Twitter affects me in a negative way lately. The news, what's "trending" (I STILL haven't quite learned to NOT click on those items!), the replies to tweets (anonymity brings out the worst in people, I've decided), and those teachers who aren't teaching anymore telling me what I "should" and "should not" do (consider suggesting things, eh?). I find myself feeling upset and thinking judging thoughts, and I don't like that part of me. I need to find a way to use Twitter to my advantage again. This has me unfollowing those that don't affect me in a positive way, and taking some people off of my Twitter lists that I use on Tweetdeck. I'm making what I see more positive and a more hopeful start to my mornings. I have that control, and that feels like a positive step.

Since being reminded that everyone and everything is an influence on people, I've tried to look at things differently. In the grocery store, when I want to buy something I see (if it's not on the list), I consider what it's actually called - an "impulse buy." I've found myself shaking my head and passing by. When I'm in line and see more things I want to buy, I consider why they put those items there. I don't want to be controlled in this manner, so that little bit has helped me make smart decisions - at least in a store. It's also helped me to keep smiling and listening at work/school. Doing so may influence others to smile and to listen - or at least to feel better around me smiling at and/or listening to them. It's even helped me drive better - especially when someone around me isn't driving their best. I don't let them influence me to drive like a maniac or get in their space.

Knowing that I was choosing this book to hopefully influence me in a positive way, I did one of the things the author suggested. I tried doing nothing - for five to ten to fifteen minutes. Although I got better at it when school was shut down, this is still difficult for me and takes a lot of practice. She asked, "What did you realize about yourself?" I sat in my backyard on a bench, and after just about five minutes, I realized... I like to help things grow. I can totally use this information in my job, in my online space, and at home. I decided to try again -what's five minutes, right? This time around, I realized that I learn WAY more from my mistakes at 50 years old than I did when I was a teen or pre-teen. It got me thinking... can some of our students not be able to learn from their mistakes yet? Even writing about this, I feel the urge to do nothing again - tonight.

A little irony... I broke my own Twitter time boundary and tweeted these two realizations (under the tweet that I was reading this book). I shared them online because I thought they might influence another person to try this on their own. I'm also writing this post for me (I keep my book reviews like this on my blog) and sharing it via Twitter. If it can help one person try one thing that positively influences their life, I think it's worth it, and it aligns with why I got on Twitter in the first place.

After I read any self-help book of any sort, I try to put one thing into practice. I used to try to put them ALL into practice, but I've realized it doesn't work for me. My one thing from this book will be to try to do nothing for at least five minutes each day - when I feel the pull of my phone. This aligns well with the lessons I (thought I) learned during pandemic teaching. It also aligns with my #OneWord I've chosen a couple of years in a row now - PRESENT.

Although this wasn't my favorite book (3/5 stars), it was free, it helped me get the dishes done, and I took away some good reminders.

Sunday, March 5, 2023

Behavior in the Classroom

I got to go to a PD session that I enjoyed - and I also got some ideas to take back!

Practical Strategies for Improving the Behavior of Attention-Seeking, Manipulative and Challenging Students (Grades 1-12)

It was put out by BER (Bureau of Education and Research), and provided by Cindy Jones, who will be retiring very soon. I pre-judged her, as she shared her age as 75, and I thought that there was no way she had been with students since pandemic teaching. I was wrong to pre-judge, of course. She had a wealth of experience, and she's worked with children in terrible situations - for them and for her. After listening to many of her stories, I realized that I had it good in comparison. Throughout the day, she shared reasons WHY children may be acting up. I won't put all those reasons here - they're good to know, for sure. For this blog post, I want to document the actions we can use to help with these behaviors. Cindy put on a "workshop" - she told us to shop for ideas we'd like to take back for us or for our peers - there was no need to use it all. Some things she talked about that I won't include are building relationships, rewards, and contracts.

Two types of students who attract our attention for myriad reasons:

Golden Retrievers
     No matter how much attention they get, it's not enough. Praise publicly, correct privately. Give them attention up front, asking about the puppy or the football game. Move close to them as you're teaching. Drop their name during the lesson. Distract them ("___, what are the instructions?"). Ask them for a favor. Clarify desired behavior ("When you finish your work, you may..."). Give affirmations.
     Consider using Compliment Cards. Have these pre-made, so they're easy to find and hand out. Students can make their own as well, should you have a box of them for them to use.

Wolverines
     These children want control at all times. They are often oppositional and disrespectful. Praise and correct privately (or use non-verbal gestures). They're testing you. Give two choices ("Would you like for me to help you get started, or would you like to get started on your own?" "Would you like to do this now or after school?"). Use Teflon Responses. Use distraction. Change the subject. Dodge irrelevant issues ("We're not talking about that.  We're talking about...." in a calm tone). Use empathetic statements. Don't take it personally and get furious - instead get curious. Discuss misbehavior later. Acknowledge that you can't make them do things and you hope they make good choices. If they do damage, have them make restitution. When they argue or refuse, say, "You do or you don't. I hope you make a good choice."

Some ideas we can use:

Beginning of the Year Relationship Agreement
     Create one chart for each class, or combine the charts into one with student consensus/buy-in. Have four quadrants: student to student (no drama, positive vibes, one up to it, kind words and actions, help each other, share), student to teacher (pay attention, kind words and actions, be responsible, smile, follow directions, put forth effort), teacher to student (listen, be patient, give warnings, provide affirmations), and student to classroom (pick up after yourself, care for supplies, hands off others and their items, follow seating expectations). On Fridays or Mondays, go over how everyone did and how we could all improve. Choose one thing to improve upon. (I used to do this as a plus/delta chart - I've gone away from it for various reasons.)

Affirmations
     Some of these I thought were a bit below my grade level (7th grade), and some of them made me laugh, no less. Cindy shared different kinds of body movements + catch phrases we can provide for students who are doing well. "You are worthy" + stretching arms up and then moving them down as if bowing to the student. "Do, do, do, do, you did a good job" + disco fever dancing like John Travolta. "Go (name)" + washing machine action. Then there are small ones - the "microwave" is a teeny wave with your pinky finger. The "flea clap" is your thumb and pointer finger clapping (like the number 20 in sign language). I also liked the silent cheer - like clapping for a Deaf audience - hands up, open, and shaking. A peer of ours shared the Confetti Cannon extension on Chrome, too. She said we'll probably get pushback at first, but then students will start asking for affirmations.

Brain Breaks
     Cindy gave us many ideas for brain breaks, and I was reminded that kids need breaks to feel more connected (to each other and to their teacher) and to shift their mindset (and their feelings about the class, or the teacher, or stressors). Ideas to use: look for hidden objects in a picture, visual puzzles, thumbs up/down/sideways for trivia questions, word or math puzzles, pen flips, draw in the air to answer a question, stand up if a statement is true, take six steps with your partner to share an idea, "would you rather" questions with a partner, question of the day, "have you ever" questions ("I have!"), "My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean", etc. I've got a book of them that I haven't used yet this year. It's okay to take two minutes for this. She knows that kids can be derailed by this, but says it takes about a week and a half for them to get in the groove and keep it to two minutes. My 12 year olds need state changes after 12 minutes, maximum. "Give me a thumbs up if you can..." repeat the last sentence I said... tell me one thing you just learned...

Cue/Signal Cards
     Create small (business-card sized) cards with cues you feel you need to give often. They may say things like, "Please get started on your work," "Please consider if what you want to share is good for our class," "Eyes on your work," and include good things too, such as, "You're doing great today," and "I'm proud of you," and you can use them to relocate students "Please take your book and move to ..." Cindy had a poster of Alaska in one end of the room - for kids to "chill out" and work independently. She had another poster of Hawaii - for kids to go on a little vacation. They can't live there, as it's very expensive. They could go there to draw or fidget or breathe. 

Empathetic Statements
     Note: If these are overused, you're probably not really listening. They'll catch on and know you're not really empathetic. Stay out of judgement, and recognize the emotion. 
          I am so sorry to hear that.
          That must be really difficult.
          I was worried about you.
          It sounds like you're angry / sad / upset.
          I am here for you and ready to listen.
          I know what it's like. You're not alone.
          I don't know what to day. I'm just glad you told me.
          How can I help you?

Music
     Use low-volume spa or classical music or nature sounds during quiet work (or Yanni, Jim Brickman, Kenny G...). Use something like "Conga" when students are up and moving around for an activity. One quote she kept saying, "The more you yak, the worse they act."

Pivot Praise
     The person near the person misbehaving... "Sarah, thanks for getting your work out. John, thank you for sitting so quietly and waiting patiently."

Regulate Ourselves
     Before we learn, we need to be regulated. Breathing ideas: Headspace app, smell the rose, blow out a handful of candles, figure eight, hand breathing, 

Teflon Responses
    Don't get into a power struggle - you'll lose. Cindy said that being in a power struggle is like wrestling with a pig. You both get dirty, and the pig enjoys it. Instead, use Teflon Responses... These should be said with a neutral voice and a neutral face. If you can, after you say it, walk away / move along. Some responses I liked: 
          Hmm...
          I see.
          I argue at 3:15. Come back then.
          I will ponder that point later.
          I'll be interested to see how that works out for you.
          I see things differently.
          I'm moving on now.
          And now it's time to...
          You've mistaken me for someone who wants to argue.
          You and I can talk about that later.
          I hope you make a good choice.

Transitional Warnings
     Let students know what's coming next. "In five minutes, we'll be returning to our seats."

Where am I wrong?
     In the hallway or without an audience is best. Let the student know... "The story I'm telling myself about why you are behaving this way or note doing your work is... Where am I getting it wrong?"

Wrong - Right - Praise
    Tell the student what they're doing wrong, what you want them to do, and praise for any compliance. Ex: You're talking to a peer. Please read your book independently now. Thank you.

This past week:
I tried the Teflon Responses the most. I also used the "Wrong-Right-Praise" twice. I was able to move on to the next thing I had to do without more resistance. However, it made me feel like a robot. I know my face looks much better when I smile, and I felt as if I was being a cold non-feeling robot when I put on my Teflon/neutral face. It doesn't feel like me. It's no fun. I'll keep using bits and pieces from what I've learned, and it's going to be a work in progress.

Saturday, January 28, 2023

A Few Memories from the Past Week

A glance into my school week...

Not-so-fun stuff:

Students started taking notes on Tuesday - reading articles (already curated for them), and copying and pasting evidence into a document (already made for them). We spent about 80 minutes total over the four days finding, copying, and pasting evidence. I walked around helping students the entire time. Some finished by Friday. Three (out of 62) have NOTHING copied and pasted. It'll be impossible for them to choose the best evidence to write about on Monday. This will also affect their writing partners.

I heard these words this week (when I wasn't supposed to, I'm sure) spoken by 7th graders: bullshit, pervert, pedophile, damn

Three students of mine in one class like to yell, "Bunti!" and I still don't know what it means, but it doesn't sound like a good thing the way they say it in class.

As soon as one of my classes has any unstructured time (ex: the four-minute passing period), I have to keep an eye on at least five students. I only have unidirectional sight.

More horseplay = "think-about-it" reflection and notes home.

The students think I should us GoGuardian - instead of the responsibility being on them to not go on their games on the Chromebook.

One student was talking about another, and said, "This morning he said the moon landing was fake and they gave the astronauts hallucinogens."

I used a pliers (I keep in my drawer) to get a fishing lure out of the carpeting. At least the student could get the other end off his hoodie tie, and I'm glad I had a pliers.

Was in a very awkward meeting this week. Glad I'm learning to listen better, and I'm glad I wasn't asked to share.

Got another letter from a parent wanting to know the books for our next book club and who chooses them and where they're from and what they're about... This parent can opt out, but doesn't want me to talk to the child about it.

Had a student (I have a good relationship with) ask when we're going to do another read aloud, and I shared that we might not. The book I've used before (short, fast chapters, done in eight days) has been well-received by students but may not be well-received by a parent. I don't know any that are that engaging that I can read in that amount of time.

Lots of talk about the current society's impact on our classrooms.

Spent some moments wondering if I could teach sign language instead of ELA for my last 5.5 years.

Good stuff:

I shared a student-created podcast and they hosted a Q & A session afterwards.

Wrote to parents about what we're doing in ELA this month and got a couple of nice responses. I also wrote good notes home to parents and got a couple of nice responses.

Overheard a student say, "The worst pet would be an elephant."

We were able to try a new platform (to us) for our article of the week.

We were playing "Heardle" in homeroom, and the student at the computer typed in "Chineato Connor" when me and my co-worker recognized the song "Nothing Compares 2 U." (Last week, the student typed in "you too" for the group U2.)

At the end of a rough class Friday, many of my sweet students said, "Thank you" and "Have a good weekend, Mrs. Kirr" on their way out. We made eye contact and smiled at each other.

Laughed a lot with coworkers a couple of times.

I was gifted these drawings of me (smiling, I think):

Good stuff at home:

Bob made homemade chocolate chip cookies.

I went to bed at 7:47pm Friday.

My home is a refuge.

My house is quiet.

I am loved.

Friday, December 30, 2022

Best Books of 2022

My list is not extensive by any means, but I need to share out my favorites from 2021 like I have the past seven years. Maybe these aren't my favorites, actually... maybe they're books I believe other people could benefit from if they read them. I read a bit for myself, along with many books I thought my 7th graders would enjoy or books they recommended for me.

     2021 Favorites
     2020 Favorites
     2019 Favorites
     2018 Favorites
     2017 Favorites
     2016 Favorites
     2015 Favorites
     2014 Favorites


Here are the books I would most recommend from my list of 109 books I've read this year... I tried to whittle it down to one or two per genre, but I read some genres more than others! I'm not going to describe them for you - you can check out the complete list with my thoughts for this year here. Another note: One of my goals this year was to read more adult books. Young adult and books geared toward seventh graders just aren't holding my attention like they used to.

Biography / Autobiography / Memoir
     Adult - Yeonmi Park's In Order To Live
and Tara Westover's Educated
Both of these were eye-opening and educational for me.
Fantasy
Adult - Matt Haig's The Midnight Library helped me let go of regret.
Middle School - Corey Ann Haydu's Eventown I'd bet would help a child get past a traumatic event.
Graphic Novel
Middle School - Misty Wilson's Play Like a Girl is perfect for 7th graders!
Historical Fiction
Adult - Dolan Perkins-Valdez's Take My Hand was needed for me when Roe vs. Wade was overturned.
HS/Adult - Betty Smith's A Tree Grows in Brooklyn surprised me with the way it was written - I wanted to re-read so many sections. Good message for young people, too.
Middle School - Silas House and Neela Vaswani's Same Sun Here is one of those alternating narrator books that capture your heart.
How To / Self Help
B.J. Fogg's Tiny Habits was like Atomic Habits, except you connect a habit to other habits you've already formed... Easy to implement!
Tania Israel's - Beyond Your Bubble: How to connect across the political divide helped me have a very important discussion with my parents. It led us to find some common ground!
Mystery
I'm not a huge mystery reader, but Jennifer Lynn Barnes's Inheritance Games was on our summer reading list for our middle school, and it did not disappoint! Many students went on to read the entire series.
Nonfiction
Adult - Chris Lockhart's Walking the Bowl: A True Story of Murder and Survival Among the Street Children of Lusaka was so rich and filled my soul. I listened to this one, and although very long, it was one of my favorites of the year.
Young Adult - The 57 Bus. After abandoning it a couple of years ago, I'm glad I tried this one again.
Poetry / Prose / Novel in Verse
Middle School - Megan Freeman's Alone held a large lesson for me.
Rebekah Lowell's The Road to After helped me heal further from my divorce 11 years ago, even though it was geared towards a young audience.
Professional
I only read two this year, and I needed one on helping me manage the classroom, so although I didn't care for the metaphors and the supposedly "funny" quips throughout, Tom Bennett's Running the Room: A Teacher's Guide to Behavior had some good messages I'm still clinging to this school year.
Realistic
This was my largest genre by far this year, so I'm picking a bunch...
Adult - Laurie Frankel's This Is How It Always Is taught me so much and helped me question more about what I thought I "knew" about gender.
Steven Rowley's The Guncle made me laugh so healthily!
Middle School - Michelle Kadarusman's Berani was so very tender.
Kevin Wignall's When We Were Lost was a great adventure.
Elizabeth Atkinson's I, Emma Freke was one I put off for so long and was much better than I thought it would be!
Romance
Adult - Emily Henry's Book Lovers is my favorite because of the witty banter.

Science Fiction
Adult - Max Brooks's Devolution was a surprise, and kept me reading!

Thriller
Middle School - Joseph Bruchach's Skeleton Man was scary!


I'm still on the lookout for books that stretch my thinking, are written by those with different experiences than me, and are written well. Please comment your favorites (from this year or all time) down below, so I can add more to my list! Cheers to more reading in 2023!

Sunday, December 18, 2022

Change Can = Growth

Change that is put upon me... stinks.

At this point in my life, I'm learning to embrace the challenge of change.

Since March 13, 2020, I feel as if I've lived with constant change. It's probably been much longer than that - isn't it true that "the only thing constant is change"??  (Heraclitus?) I just haven't been as aware of it.

Somewhere between February of 2021 and now I've learned that I need to breathe through changes put upon me. I need to slow down. I need to listen better. My life goes smoother when I actually apply this learning and DO the breathing, the slowing down, and the listening.

I fell off my bike on August 27 of this year.  My tooth was chipped (I got it fixed). My face was hurt (the sinus bone was fractured in four places, and the nerve attached is still affected). My hands were hurt (one is fine, the other is as good as it's going to get). My pride was hurt. My pride being hurt has changed to humility. I've learned a lot from that simple little fall.

When I look in the mirror and realize that my face looks normal, I'm surprised, and I'm reminded - again - that so many people hide (consciously or not) so much of what's happening or what's happened in their lives. We can't see all that people are going through. I wonder this about my students. What's behind their smiles? What are they going through that only they or their families know?

I've learned that I don't need to tell everyone about everything happening in my life. I've learned that it doesn't help me to complain about what hurts or what bothers me. I've learned that the latest fall (I've had a few that I've totally recovered from when I was younger) is part of the tapestry of my life. It's a jagged stitch that I can't fix. It's part of my story, should someone want to know it. It's helped me in ways, and I'm glad. 

It's helped me to slow down. Physically, I've been nervous about falling - anywhere - at any time. I fell on such an easy stretch on my bike - with no distractions - so I am now aware I can fall anywhere at any time. I'm much more conscious of where and how I walk. I don't jog anywhere anymore. I watch where - and how - I walk. I'm never on my phone while I'm walking. I hold rails when I'm on the stairs. I move over when there are too many people or it doesn't feel totally safe.

At first, I felt old doing these things. Being so cautious. I questioned whether I was "too cautious."

Now I know that it's okay. I'm 49 for one more month. I am getting older. I am realizing that it's okay to not go fast all the time. It's okay to take my time. It's actually beneficial for me to take my time. I'm not in any hurry to get older, nor am I in any hurry to hurt myself again, or hurt myself further.

This change in me has helped me realize I truly only need to do ONE thing at a time. 

I'm so thankful I can learn from my challenges. 
I wish this for my students. I wish this for my family and friends. I wish this for YOU.
And I hope I can continue to learn from challenges that come my way.

By the way... wear your helmet (I was and I do), and put on those biking gloves (next time).