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.

Sunday, March 7, 2021

My Reasons...

(I found this post in my drafts from October 3, 2021... I wanted to publish it as is. It's a glimpse into what I was going through while still full-time remote teaching. If you don't understand it, that's okay. I write first for ME.) 

The children are my reasons.

Through all the strife educators are feeling right now - the ones who teach almost every hour of the day, especially, there are stars in the sky. There are beams of light streaming down. These moments are what keep me heading back into the school building and teaching from one corner of the room on three monitors.

Here are some things I've heard or read in the Zoom chat recently that make me so grateful for the moment I'm in:

"Aren't we going to do the Jamboard attendance?"

"Can I show you?"

"Can I say something?"

"But what if..."

"I don't think so."


"My mom says you're a good singer, Mrs. Kirr."

"I can't get in." And shortly afterwards... "Same." "Same." "Samesies."

"Can you play Gaston from Disney?"

And more of what I've heard voiced aloud... 

"Can I go get it now?"

"But what if..."

"I left my charger at my mom's. I'm at 8%, and I'm using a phone charger, and it says it will not charge if the Chromebook is on. Oh, there it goes. It's charging."

When discussing the "would you rather" Jamboard question:

     Student 1 - "If you're a wizard, you don't have the responsibility of being a superhero."

     Student 2 - "But if you're a superhero, you get to help a lot of people."

They're starting to use their voices. 

Monday, February 22, 2021

Turning the Corner... Again

The negatives of this school year seem to flood me sometimes. I almost drown. Something always seems to pull me back up - a week - or maybe two - later. I've turned yet another corner on this school year journey, and I wanted to share some ideas that have helped me. Each time I need to get out of the quagmire, I find something different that helps me resurface.

Gratitude - I am one of the most privileged people I know. I have a job, insurance, a roof over my head, heat, working faucets, money to pay my bills, food in the fridge and pantry, clothes, a bed, a working vehicle, health, multiple masks, and lots of love. Sometimes when I feel I've hit "bottom," I realize it's not anywhere near "bottom." There are so very many people who are not in my situation. So many people have had their lives upended by this pandemic. Just last week, I heard one of our custodians chatting with someone, and she called this pandemic (for those at our school, at least) an "inconvenience." Yes. Teaching in a pandemic is a real sucker of an inconvenience. When I refocus like this, I am able to see all I have, and it gives me strength to head back into that school building one more time the next day. As long as I can keep myself masked and six feet from students and staff, I can continue on this path.

Less Social Media - I've cut down on Facebook (checking maybe once a week), Instagram & TikTok (once every three days or so), Twitter (mostly in the AM only), and solo games on my phone (the daily challenge only). This has helped me decrease worry, aggravation, envy, and thinking I have nothing "good" to post - because I don't feel the need to post. With less time for everything, cutting down this time on media has helped me remember why I got on these platforms to begin with. If I want to check in on a family member, sure, I can check Facebook, or I can actually call them. If I want to check in with students, I'll go through the updates on Instagram and TikTok. If I want to learn and share that learning, I'll check Twitter. What's also helped me is not checking what's "trending." When I catch my news in the morning, I'll get information on what's important, not what's "trending." Not playing so many games on my phone has helped me have more time for my family, for reading, and for sitting and relaxing. It's also helped me not be bombarded by advertisements. 

Reading - I'm reading so much more. Nonfiction, biographies, books my nephew suggests, books my students suggest, books I've wanted to read... I turn off my tech by 8pm, and I open a book. I get in a solid hour of reading (if I don't fall asleep on the couch), and it helps my mind relax before heading to bed.

Breathing - I'm learning to close my eyes and take deep breaths. Even in front of my students. Taking that time helps me realize that so much of this life is "small stuff," and we're not meant to sweat the small stuff. In that moment, I know I am healthy, safe, and so blessed to be able to take breaths. Sometimes I step outside alone (even in the cold) and breathe in... then out. When I'm out exercising, sometimes I simply stop... to breathe. When the sun is out, I face the sun and remember I'm just a speck in this vast world, and I can only do my best. 

Time - Once I realize what day of the week it is, I also check the date. The days just keep moving. They won't stop for me or for you. There is only so much time in a day - just like every other year. I do what I can, and I make sure I spend more time with my family than I do with work when I am home. I am in the moment at home, because the moments are fleeting. I am practicing being more in the moment at work, listening more than speaking. Soaking in all the funny things the kids share, the vulnerability, and the lessons we're all learning.

Some mantras I've used this year...

  • Connect with the kids.
  • Right here, right now - it's what matters.
  • Shake it off.
  • I am grateful to have a job - with benefits!
  • I am healthy. Those I love are healthy.
  • Breathe.
  • I am enough.
  • I am doing the best I can.
  • I am fair, and I am kind.
  • Try to not complain - listen, instead.
  • Let it go.
  • I am learning so much.
What is helping you turn the corner when you get bogged down this year?

Saturday, January 9, 2021

A Nudge to Have Difficult Conversations

 ...with your students.

To my white friends, peers, PLN, administrators and parents reading this, I believe we should have provided a space for our students to ask questions and share concerns the day after our nation's Capitol building - and all those inside - was attacked. 

It was an insurrection. What happened did not just happen out of thin air. Many of my seventh graders know that the Capitol building was protected with armed guards during a BLM protest, and they did not see any during this "March for Trump." They saw photos and videos. They shared many on social media. True. We are not their parents. Some parents had discussions with their children and some did not. If their parents did not have the discussions with them, are they supposed to make sense of this by themselves? What if more questions arose overnight, and yet they were not able to process them with someone?

If you did not feel you needed to provide space for our students to discuss what happened, we disagree. I am very well aware you have a lot of things going on - I'm going through them WITH you. Wednesday night, I was thinking about all my students, especially my black students - present, past, and future. Yes, this year (as we should every year, I suppose) we need to put our own mental health first. I hear that. I understand that. It actually HELPED my mental health to provide room for discussions the day after. And it's not too late.

If you feel you were not comfortable enough to do so, I'd like to nudge you - strongly. I am not an expert - by any means! - yet I feel as if I was able to facilitate a useful discussion with students who wanted the chance to participate and learn from one another. Here I will simply list resources that have helped me hold these conversations (which are all on this LiveBinder). Just try these four for starters:

As for my own discussions led, since my seventh graders are all remote this week, I started with two Jamboard questions (a platform my students are familiar with): What do you KNOW about what happened yesterday? What do you WANT to know? We were going to begin class with independent reading, so I told students they could either stay in the main room for the discussion, or if they'd already discussed it with an adult and didn't want to participate, they could read independently for this time in another breakout room. After students moved, we started by looking at their answers on Jamboard. When I saw a thought or opinion, I moved that sticky note off to the side. I let students know we'd only focus on the facts, clarify misconceptions by looking at various sources if we needed, and then I'd try to answer their questions. I warned against using words to represent one group (such as Republicans or Democrats), and told them I'd try to facilitate and guide their discussion. I had a time limit (20 min), and their statements and questions led the way. The reason this helped my mental health? I was able to teach a bit (they didn't know what was supposed to be happening in the Capitol building that day, we looked up terms they'd heard, we discussed finding our news from many reliable sources instead of one sole source, and we discussed how easy it is to create fake accounts and hide behind anonymity), some of my quieter students shared openly and privately, myriad questions were asked and answered by peers, they took turns, and I found out they have faith in the election process. We ended each discussion with hope - that this event leads to positive changes.

If I were to try to have a discussion in the next week, I'd find a way relate my content to what happened. I'd allow for student questions - verbal, in the chat, via small slips of paper students put in a hat. I'd let the conversation roll out from there. When students bring up what they've heard or seen, ask, "Why do you think this is? What evidence have you collected? What sources did you use? What do you think about that? Why do you think this?" The list goes on. When students ask questions, ask their peers the same question. We don't have to have all the answers. Our students need to know that, too. If we don't provide space for our students to inquire, what are we teaching them?

If you provided space for your students to have discussions, I'd love your help for me and other educators for the future. Please tag me on Twitter or add your own ideas in the comments below.

During this year especially, when safety and connections come before instruction, I believe we should be helping students learn. What message will our students receive from us? What will they remember of our content from this school year? Events of 2020 and 2021 are learning opportunities that our students won't forget - with or without our guidance. After my first class had their discussion, I received this direct message:

As an aside... this is Day 302 of my IL village staying safe due to a pandemic.