Responsive Classroom: Empathy Is The Key

Kuleana responsibility

I learned a new word: kuleana. It’s a Hawaiian word that means one’s personal sense of responsibility. I accept my responsibilities and I will be held accountable.

As an educator, having a vision is important. We have a great responsibility to our students and to society. I’m privileged to be an educator, and part of my vision is to teach children not only academic skills, but social-emotional skills that will prepare them to master this concept of kuleana and use it throughout their lives.

This same personal sense of responsibility is naturally embedded in the work I do every day. I’m part of a community of educators who believe in the principles of the Responsive Classroom, a K-8 approach to teaching and learning which includes specific tools, strategies, and practices to help teachers provide a high-quality education to every student, every day. It’s not an add on nor a stand-alone program. These principles, woven into everything we do, how we speak, and how we model behavior, are based on research that shows a strong link between academic success and social-emotional learning.

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Reality Over Rhetoric! ELL & the Year Ahead

English Language Learners

A few days after the November election, I had a meeting with Angie Estonina and Lisa Kwong, two talented educators who lead professional learning efforts on ELLs for San Francisco Unified School District.

With our webcams on, the mood was a bit somber — the election talk of deportations, walls, and targeted registries hung in the air as the rhetoric suddenly became more real. In fact, it felt a bit suffocating. In education, we all have days when we feel weighed down by how much needs to be done and by our professional and personal puzzles, but the unknowns of impending political shift pushed on us from the sides, making us feel the squeeze of change.

I even started wondering if an upcoming presentation I was about to do in Canada on ELLs with school districts from Ontario/Montclair, California, and Yakima, Washington, was even relevant. In retrospect, it was incredibly sad to even think this. But this was my state of mind. It was easy to go there when the personal and professional intersects — my nine-year-old son who is of half Mexican descent asked if he was going to be deported. This was not a question I had at nine years old.

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How GoFundMe Helped Me Enrich My Students’ Summer

Editor’s Note: This post is sponsored by GoFundMe.

As a 1st grade teacher in an urban Boston public school, I know that summer can be a challenging time for many of my students Aubrey with studentwho have parents working long hours.

I wanted to do something to help my kids and their families have resources for fun, healthy activities to keep them busy and engaged while out of school, so I came up with the idea for “summer baskets.” I just needed a way to raise the funds for the baskets, and that’s where GoFundMe came in.

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Tips to Enrich School-Family Partnerships

Super reader teachers her mom how she uses pointer power when she reads

Super reader teaches her mom how she uses pointer power when she reads

The classroom is filled with parents, siblings, and grandparents eager to learn from kindergarten super readers. All around the room, students dressed as their favorite reading superpower are sitting alongside their their families, immersed in stacks of books, teaching their families how to use superpowers as they read.

When they get to challenging “kryptonite” words, students demonstrate how they use picture power to study the picture and think about what word might make sense. This is how we celebrate reading. It’s an opportunity for students to demonstrate their growth and for families to learn about how they can continue to support their child’s reading at home. It’s a bridge from school to home. This is one of the many ways that we engage families at our school.

Engaging in meaningful school-family partnerships is foundational to improving student outcomes. Families are an essential resource as we strive to work together to best support our students. Over the past few years, our school has grappled with this question: How do we build meaningful school-family partnerships? While our practices are always evolving, I’ll share some of the ones that have successfully enriched our school-family partnerships that you might try in your own school:

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Start Teaching Through an Inquiry Stance

Making in SchoolsThis is the third in a six-part series titled Making in Schools.

“Better learning will not come from finding better ways for the teacher to instruct, but from giving the learner better opportunities to construct.” — Seymour Papert

student centered learning board

If student agency and empowerment is at the core of maker-centered learning, then the role of the teacher is to create an environment that supports students to construct their own meaning. To do this, teachers need to cultivate our own inquiry stance to support student-centered learning.

An inquiry stance is our underlying approach to teaching; it favors questions over directions, student voice over teacher voice, and process over outcome. It’s about thoughtful structure, intentionally choosing where students explore openly, and where there are limits and scaffolds. This doesn’t mean, however, that students have complete autonomy as the teacher sits back and watches.

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Three Strategies to Support Gifted Students

Teaching gifted students has been an amazing adventure. When I first began my quest as a teacher of gifted learners, I had no idea the learning that I was about to embark upon. It didn’t take long for my students to debunk the myths that sometimes go along with the idea of teaching the gifted population, and it took an even shorter amount of time for me to change my ideas about teaching gifted learners.

I teach gifted learners in an urban population. Our program is called CLUE, which stands for Creative Learning in a Unique Environment. We are a pull-out program that focuses on the processes of thinking, and not just the products of knowledge. Getting my students to a point where they understood that the process was just as important as the product was not an easy one. At first, students were reluctant to discover, because some were not used to making mistakes and many were fearful of the possible repercussions. It took a brainwashing of sorts, and an attitude change on my part, for me to help my students take a different approach to learning. This feat did not occur overnight and definitely continues to be a work in progress.

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