Brilliant ideas seem to breed brilliant questions, so I wasn’t surprised to hear that a teacher from Washington D.C. was left with some pretty smart questions after reading kinderconfidential, my colleague, Kristi Mraz’s blog. Becky wrote to Kristi and asked, “How do you do it all? We feel pulled in twenty directions and like we can’t do any one thing well.”
As I’m sure all of you know, this isn’t a question that has an easy answer, or an answer at all. I often don’t fit it all in, but I do have a few guiding beliefs that help me try. Kristi wrote about this topic on her blog: kinderconfidential.wordpress.com and asked me to give my thoughts on the topic as well. Two brains are better than one, right? So here it is…
Remember: Everything is Connected
When I look at my schedule, I often feel overwhelmed. There are so many components that make up each day:
Inquiry (Science or Social Studies)
I used to look at each of these components and think, “Whoa, how can I do all of this?” until one day is occurred to me that each part of the day isn’t separate. Each part is connected. Every component should support one another.
My colleagues and I are currently in a story-writing unit. On Friday I knew that in writing workshop we would be working on having characters on every page of our story. Having this in mind, I made sure that read aloud and shared writing would come before our workshop time. During shared writing as my students were co-authoring a story with me, I was able to guide them to have characters on every page of the story we were writing together. Furthermore, as I read Leonardo, the Terrible Monster for read aloud, I had my students put a thumb up every time Mo Willems had a character on a page (What do you know, Mo has characters on every page!).
This is helpful for a few reasons:
- It helps making my teaching stick.
My kids hear the same idea over and over during three parts of the day as opposed to hearing three different ideas in those three parts of the day. The repetition supports all of my learners as they are able to hear my teaching point many times, see it in action in a published book, and have a scaffolded try before having to do it on their own.
- It provides students with a frame of reference.
When I got to teaching my writing workshop lesson on Friday, I was able to start by saying, “Remember how Mo Willems made sure to have a character on every page of his story? And remember how we put characters on every page of the story we wrote together? When writers write stories, they have characters on every pages.” Knowing that my kids have already heard, seen, and lived this idea is a huge time-saver when I finally get to teaching the lesson! Knowing that I, at best, have 7 minutes to get my students attention and teach them something, being able to refer back to a point earlier in the day makes my teaching much more succinct.
Here is a secret: On some days, when I am crunched for time, my shared writing might be my writing mini-lesson. “Did you see how we just added characters to every page? You can do that to! Go try…”
- It gives my brain a break!
There is so much to teach each day, each week, each year. When I get to school in the morning, my brain is often buzzing with everything I need to teach that day. Knowing that many parts of my day are connected makes it easier to pick a few things to focus on with my students.
This is true for reading, inquiry, choice time, and math as well. My reading components are often all exposing students to the same idea depending on my students’ needs. Choice time may be supporting our inquiry. Read aloud can support everything- content and skills in any area. I really make sure to take advantage of that fact!
The last thing to consider when thinking about your schedule as parts of the day that are all connected is that as teachers, we are trying to create the kind of citizens we would want to be in the world with. In my classroom, I value kindness, effort, persistence, resilience, optimism, and these qualities are connected to every component, every day,
Student Interests Should Guide Your Planning
In Becky’s note to Kristi, she wrote, “We want to know how you build a well-prioritized classroom.” My students’ interests are my priority. Yes, there are things we have to keep in mind as teachers: curriculum, the common core, benchmarks, etc, etc, etc… Nothing is as important as what my class is interested in. If my kids aren’t engaged, they aren’t learning. When I am planning, I am often not thinking about the content of the unit, but how I can draw my students in considering what my class loves, what they’re talking about, what they are playing in choice time. Fitting it all in doesn’t matter if kids aren’t holding onto your teaching. Disguising my teaching as play around what my students love helps them do the hard work I am asking them to do with a fun twist. I believe school and work should be fun so making sure it feels that way for students is a priority. Sometimes this might mean having Spider-Man drop a package down to us covered in webs and acting shocked as we receive a new reading power, but other days, this might just look like picking a read-aloud around a topic I know my kids are interested in. It doesn’t always have to be bells and whistles, it only always has to grab your students’ interest.
What’s the rush?
What are your kids interested in? Spend time on those things. When we are in an inquiry or unit that my students can’t stop talking about, we spend time on it. I don’t cut their excitement short to get to the next thing on my schedule.
I also let my students guide the timing of my day. Instead of being rigid and sticking to 20 minutes for this part of the day, 20 minutes for that part of my day, I notice what my students are engaged in and linger in those parts of the day. If my kids are sucked into their independent reading, I don’t stop them. If they are working hard with math partners I let them work. You can always tell when kids start to get wiggly and are ready for something new. Get to know those signs so your kids can guide your timing.
One out of Twenty: Set Goals for Yourself
During my first year teaching, I felt like I was drowning. I remember saying to my co-teacher, the incredible Kirsten Myers-Blake, “I’m not doing anything well!” In her all-encompassing brilliance she said, “It is not possible to do everything well. Make a goal for yourself, pick one thing to get better at.” That’s what I did and that is what I still do now. I pick one thing, guided reading, conferring, etc, to work on. I seek out colleagues to learn from, find professional texts, videotape myself in action, and give myself constant feedback. Like working out, I make sure to set small goals that I can reach and celebrate often along the way.
Teaching is hard. Becky and her colleagues are feeling pulled in twenty different directions because, lets face it, we all are. Focus in on one out of twenty. We can’t be great at everything, so why set yourself up for disappointment? Get good at one thing, be kind to yourself, and celebrate.
There are so many moving pieces when it comes to fitting it all in. Leave a comment below and let me know your version of fitting it all in! And remember to check out Kristi’s beautiful post on the same topic at kinderconfidential.wordpress.com.
Thank you, Becky and colleagues for challenging my thinking and pushing me to consider new ways to juggle.