Tuesday, June 02, 2015

My mom hat and my teacher hat

From Saturday's Briefing:

My mom hat and my teacher hat look and feel similar.
When wearing either one, my goal is to guide and nurture children toward independent adulthood, to help them learn and grow, to make sure they feel loved. And to make sure no one gets hurt in the process.
When I make decisions at school, I often draw from my mom hat. And now, after two years in the classroom, I find I’m wearing my teacher hat to help make decisions at home.
A few lessons I’ve learned this year in fourth grade:
Building relationships makes difficult work easier. Everyone makes mistakes. Helping children to identify their mistakes and to learn from them is easier when you’ve already spent plenty of time praising their work and effort.
When I conference with my fourth-grade writers, I try to open every discussion with positive feedback — strong word choice or excellent organization or exceptional idea development.
When we continue to dissect the work, I don’t overwhelm students with a long list of errors. I focus on one skill to address — use of commas or sensory detail or topic sentences. As the student progresses, we celebrate when writing goals are met.
Then we set new ones.
Do I do the same at home? Not consistently. I need to praise first, then help identify an area for improvement, then celebrate success. Over and over, with greater emphasis on praise and celebration.
Empower children to solve problems. I don’t mean math problems, though they need confidence to tackle those, too. I mean everyday problems.
If your pencil breaks, you don’t need to report it. You need either to find another pencil or sharpen the broken one.
If you can’t find your social studies packet from the day before, you don’t need to tell me. You need to look in your desk, in your backpack, in your binder, in your folders.
At school I’m reluctant to give answers or solve problems if my students can figure it out on their own. How will they learn if someone else continually takes care of it for them?
When I hear “Where are my sandals?” or “Is my practice jersey clean?” at home, now I’m more likely to ask more questions than provide answers.
Encourage children to stretch. This year we challenged all fourth-graders to read 40 books from various genres. (We borrowed the idea from reading guru and Dallas-area educator Donalyn Miller.)
Completing the challenge wasn’t a requirement. In fact, only about 10 percent of our students conquered it. But almost every student read more books this year than the year before, and they explored genres they might not otherwise pick up.
It’s a no-risk, high-reward exercise that can translate to home.
Try a new food. Walk a different route in the neighborhood. Befriend someone you’ve known for years but never really talked with.
Be a deliberate role model. When teaching reading, I’m coached to use specific phrases and to encourage my students to do the same.
For example, when teaching synthesis — one of the highest levels of thinking — I use phrases such as “At first I was thinking [fill in the blank], but now I realize [fill in the blank].”
After using these words over and over in a short lesson, I set my students free and asked them to read on their own and to write responses using the same phrases.
They did, which is not too remarkable given the structure of the lesson.
What’s more impressive is that two weeks later they continued to apply the synthesis skill, using the term itself and speaking to one another about their novels in terms of their growing thinking.
Children are constantly learning from their peers and from the adults placed in their lives. What kind of modeling do I offer at home? Are my phrases optimistic and joyful? Is my seemingly benign dose of sarcasm a little too much?
In a week, I’m officially removing my teacher hat for summer break. I plan to keep it nearby, though, poised to pull out strategies that help me be a better mom.
Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email her at tyradamm@gmail.com.

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