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Character Education

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Digital Learning

Reducing Holiday Stress

Here I am - last one to this party! I missed our podcast session about celebrating the holidays with food, drink, friends, and books. I knew this wasn't going to be easy.  I'm the one who always asks at the beginning, "You know what's really hard?" and I missed one. What's really hard is missing that special time with three treasured friends when we talk about stuff and invite all of you in!

Pick one book, they said, to share with our podcast listeners. Connect it to a cocktail and a main course to enjoy during the holiday season. One book? I am constantly reading. Moving on to the next book, and the next, and the one after that like a fickle false friend. Most of them don't even stay with me for very long because I've moved on to six or twelve books after that one. Cocktail? I don't drink. A little wine maybe once every month or two, but haven't had a cocktail since college when I used to order frozen daiquiris without the rum (or whatever the liquor was in that one). I've always thought that the addition of liquor spoils my drink. I'm a Shirley Temple kind of girl. Sugar is my opiate, not alcohol. And cooking? As our family has grown, making everyone happy with a home-cooked meal seems more and more unlikely. Sigh. This feels like an assignment.

Getting ready to write this post despite all of the above, I took a look at some books in my iBooks and Kindle libraries. It was like a reunion with long lost friends! Gabrielle Zevin - how could I ever forget her? One of my favorite authors ever! (She should not start celebrating right away, though. Remember that I am fickle. I will read almost anything!) I did love her long-ago young adult book Elsewhere, an imagining of Heaven as a wonderful place where we meet up with family, friends, and even famous people who have passed on previously, and we all age backwards. Lovely, thought-provoking, dream inducing quick read. The older I get, the more appealing I find that aging backwards thing. Ha! Reminds me of  when I saw the movie "Benjamin Button" with a large group of friends at this time of year. I LOVED IT!!! The entire group, except for me, hated it. They still won't ever let me pick the movie just because of my undying love for Benjamin Button.

A Book For You
Anyway, as usual, I digress. A few years ago, I picked up a lovely little book by Gabriele Zevin once more. The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry. This is my recommendation for you this winter season. Make a cup of hot chocolate (sugar, not alcohol - see?), cuddle up under a comforter, and dig in. If you're reading this, you might be a teacher, and what teacher doesn't love books, and maybe even long to wander through a small and quirky bookstore while on vacation?

A.J. Vikry, the main character of this story, is a curmudgeonly small bookshop owner on a small island called Alice Island. He is 36 years old, recently widowed, and his most prized possession, a collection by Poe, has been stolen. Amelia, a sales rep from a publishing company, and an abandoned child named Maya help him to turn his life and his bad attitude around. As you read this, you will see books and family in a whole new light, even if you have always loved both.

Another divergent note, while browsing through a favorite tiny still standing bookstore in Stratford, Ontario last year, I found another of Gabrielle Zevin's novels. This one is Young Jane Young, also highly recommended.

Connecting Book and Menu
As I think back on The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, I can't help but think about all the configurations and twists and turns that can make up a family or a circle of friends. Families and friendship groups morph and change, sometimes are taken apart, and then put back together in a new way. The menu I will be sharing here does just that with food. It takes apart a recipe, displays it in a deconstructed form, and then allows each person to reconstruct it in a way that is pleasing to that one person.

Entertaining these two groups, family and friends, so important in our lives, can be a horror story or a fairy tale. I choose to make it easy and enjoy a happy ending. While visiting four of our beautiful grandchildren overseas a few years ago, Papa and Grandma were responsible for dinner every night. Every suggestion we offered turned up someone who didn't like/couldn't eat/was allergic to something. And so, the "deconstructed dinner" was born! (It might have already been invented by someone else, but I have always thought of it as my own creation. If you are the actual creator, I apologize. My grandchildren sure think it's me!)

On to the Deconstructed Dinner!
Deconstructed Cocktails
Deconstructed appetizer skewers
Deconstructed Mongolian Barbecue
Deconstructed Truffles

Cocktail Time!
As your guests arrive, have pitchers ready of sweet tea, herbal tea, lemonade, pink lemonade, wine, and beer. Have sliced limes, lemons, oranges, and maraschino cherries available in small dishes. Children will of course need help with assembly. Their "mocktails" will be herbal tea and lemonade. My daughter likes to cut that further with a little water to make it not quite as sugary and strong. Adults can mix any combo they like to their heart's content, allowing teetotalers and cocktail lovers alike to enjoy their perfect brew.

Rev Up Their Appetites!
Small wooden or metal skewers or even toothpicks next to a tray or two of these lovelies: sliced meats, cubed cheeses, melons, herbs like fresh basil leaves. Mix it up! Guests skewer and munch any combination of the above while waiting for their turn at the main event.

Main course: Deconstructed Mongolian Barbecue
Neither Mongolian nor a Barbecue, this cooking method was developed in Taiwan in 1951. It is a combination of Chinese Stir Fry and Japanese Tepanyaki Grill cooking. I dreamed this one up at my grandson's favorite restaurant, bd's Mongolian Grill. (Later found out, of course, that I was not the first to take this one and run, but don't tell my grandkids. Please. They call it "Grandma's bd's". My moment of fame.)
I change  this up in one way to make it even more easy. I spread slices of chicken breast, flank steak, and small shrimp on a sheet pan and precook it all. I use foil sprayed with cooking spray for easy cleanup. I also use two or three additional sheet pans to precook tons of veggies. Your choice, of course, but we (some of us anyway) love: bell pepper in all the colors, onion,  broccoli, cauliflower, mushrooms, asparagus, and carrots. Oh, and those cute little baby corn cobs. I sometimes have to get them in cans. No one knows.
The grilling station consists of an electric wok, bowls of precooked noodles (we use linguine!) and precooked rice. If you are brave and watch carefully, a child can cook his/her own meal. We do it this way: Our three year old granddaughter takes orders and her seven year old brother is the chef at the wok under Papa's watchful eye. We make giant tin foil hats to wear (like they do at bd's) and pour our everything into this. Feel free to dabble or dive!
Each order gets a splash of light olive oil, then whatever mix of protein and veggies is requested. Noodles or rice are added next, and a stir fry sauce goes in at the end. It's really a warming process, not a cooking one with everything being precooked, so all can be served pretty quickly. Stir fry sauces are the final touch for making this easy: PF Chang makes four or five kinds, available in supermarkets everywhere around here. The kids and sweet-loving Grandma here prefer the Sesame one.

Don't Skip Dessert:
This one started as a science lesson for my fourth graders a long time ago to explain cratering. It is yummy with or without the lesson!

And there it is! Break it up, and put it all back together again! I love books that do that for me. Break up old ideas about almost anything, and piece it all back together again in a new and thought-provoking way! I can see you now, raising a glass of holiday cheer to your family and friends, feasting on a healthy reconstructed meal, and hopefully discussing some books you've all read lately.

For a fun bookmark, from my Unicorn collection, along with the Truffles Recipe, just click here!

Wishing you a relaxing holiday break, filled with friends, family, food, and some alone time to curl up with a new book!

For the recipes, bookmarks, and posts from my podcasting friends, click below!
To hear our podcasts, click here!

For this month's awesome posts from Teacher Talk,  click here!

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"Honesty is such a lonely word...Honesty is hardly ever heard."(Billy Joel circa 1978) It's hard to be honest. You know the situation. Two kids are having a disagreement. One hurts the other, either emotionally or physically. You ask one or both to say that they're sorry. What do you get? A totally devoid of emotion, eyes cast down, "Sorry." uttered in the smallest, most insincere voice possible. You will also get two versions of the same story, so different that it would take King Solomon to solve the mystery.

I enjoyed a down to earth discussion recently of  how this elusive character trait affects our teaching, along with some great literature suggestions where the theme of honesty is addressed. You can hear the podcast here: We Teach So Hard, Episode 62

My contribution to our discussion was a favorite of my fourth graders, both as a read-aloud and as a book club discussion choice, The Tiger Rising by Kate DiCamillo. The book tackles the most difficult component of honesty, the ability to be honest with yourself.

In The Tiger Rising, Rob and his father have moved to Lister, Florida from their home in Jacksonville. In the wake of his wife's death, Rob's dad lost his job and had to move with Rob to the Kentucky Star Motel in Lister in hopes of finding new employment and a chance to get back on their feet. This fresh start was a fresh open wound for Rob. He had to start at a new school (of course replete with bullies) for the sixth grade. The angry red rash on his legs was a symptom of his massive stress, but he used the possibility of being contagious to get out of school. Willie May, the housekeeper at the motel, Rob's new home, told him that the rash was his sadness that he was holding way down low, and that he should let it rise to his heart. Along with the sadness rash, Rob pushed every other feeling he had into an imaginary suitcase in the pit of his stomach.

Rob's situation begins to change when he finds a caged tiger living mysteriously in a cage in the woods behind the motel. The tiger becomes another secret for him to hold close. Rob also meets Sistine, another new sixth grader from Philadelphia. Sistine is brutally honest. Introducing herself to her new southern classmates, she says, "I hate the South because the people in it are ignorant." Not quite the way to make new friends!

Rob and Sistine bond while riding the school bus and battling bullies, and Rob shares the secret of the tiger. You truly need to experience this wonderful book! Of course you will want to find out if the tiger is freed, and whether Rob is ever able to unpack his emotional suitcase and to cure his sadness rash.

A great followup activity for The Tiger Rising is my splatter paint flowers. Find the activity here for poetry (just click on the photos below) and add words about honesty or character traits of Rob and Sistine in the center of the flowers.

For another way to create the flowers indoors, visit this blog post: Make a Splash in April 

One more idea inspired by this amazing book: Try creating an honesty rock garden. Paint rocks with messages about honesty and decorate your school walkways or classroom window box with them. To create rock gardens with paper, try these!

For many more ideas about using books to teach kids about honesty, be sure to read the blogs below, and to visit our podcast. Wishing you truth and happiness in the days ahead with your class because YOU teach so hard!



Our family has a reunion every year at Thanksgiving time. We are scattered all over the country (actually all over the world) now, but each year as many as possible try to meet up for a banquet cooked by professional chefs (yay!) rather than by any of us. We meet in a hotel back where I grew up and spend several days just enjoying each other and loving on our newest generation. It takes me back to my childhood, when most of the meals were home cooked, certainly at Thanksgiving, and when most of my extended family hung out together all the time. We were there for so many of the milestones in each other's lives, sometimes because they were official and came with an invitation, and sometimes because we just happened to all be there. We were all always there, either at my parents' house, or my grandparents' house, known simply as "down the house" (In Pittsburghese, "You goin' dahn the hause?" Or, "See ya later dahn the hause." We never said yinz in our family, but we sure pronounced words like dahn and hause just that way. It brings a tear. Sigh.

Our Thanksgiving celebrations through the years always included the long table for adults and the kids' table. I believe I sat at the kids' table until I graduated from college and was married with a tiny apartment table of my own. It was a good place to be, and a great place to grow up.

We hosted a brunch at our house today, and my favorite grandson (aka only grandson) asked if we could move the kids' table to the end of the adult table so that it would be just one long table and we all could sit together. What a brilliant idea! I wish I had thought to ask my grandmother the same question. Her kids' table was seriously all the way in the living room. We always felt that we were missing something over there! Brunch was so much fun today, and the furniture arrangement just might have had something to do with it!

Thoughts of Thanksgivings past and future also brought me to the thoughts of the season of excess, which seems to start earlier and earlier each year. I thought I had finished all of my holiday shopping yesterday, but thought of several items that I wanted to add today. A tiny voice in my head said, "Enough!" The voice was right. I took some time tonight to think of all the things that I have enough of. I certainly have enough clothes to last forever. Six bags are ready for donation right now. I have a precious family to love, and I know they love me, so enough love. I have probably far more friends than any one person deserves, so enough friendship. Although I've had a couple of health related scares this year, I am mostly blessed with good health. I do request that you stay away from me though if you have not had your flu shot. Learned that the hard way. Enough food? Probably too much, given my never-ending struggles with the scale.

Yes, enough. I am so sure that I have enough that I have no holiday wish list of my own. The fifty or so days ahead might just be a good time to consider with your students and children or grandchildren, nieces, and nephews - whoever is important in your life - what exactly each of you has enough of. And then, you might want to extend the conversation to ways you can reach out and share with others who might not have enough. Some examples (some that I've talked about in previous blog posts) might be:

  • Adopt a family to gather and wrap holiday gifts for.
  • Pack winter comfort bags for the homeless.
  • Visit an elderly residence and play board games or sing. 
  • Plan an act of kindness to do every day (or even once a week) for someone else.
  • Share your holiday spirit by learning more about winter holidays celebrated by others in your community and around the world.
An amazing book that I've just discovered is I am Enough by Grace Byers. It is a lovely way to remind our children that each of them is a precious gift to the world.

For resources to make your teaching life a little easier in the days ahead, and to learn about winter holidays celebrated by others, click here! Winter Holidays with Rainbow City Learning
For resources to emphasize Gratitude, click here! Celebrating Gratitude with Rainbow City Learning

In the days ahead, I wish you a seat at the table surrounded by those you love, and the most precious of gifts to open: friendship, caring, and awareness of the needs of others.

For more November thoughts and tips, be sure to check out the posts of my blogging friends.

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Bullyproof Your Kids For Life

My eyes aren't what they used to be. As we entered the high school parking lot for our favorite eight year old's flag football practice, I noticed the large red and white banners that covered the fence to the playing field as well as an entire outside wall of the school. "Handmaid's Tale?" I thought. The colors were right, but I couldn't make out any more details until we got a little closer. As we reached the fence to begin our search for a parking space, the details came into focus. Larger than life weatherproof banners of every cheerleader and football or soccer athlete. Ok. So the playing field belongs to the athletes. "How about the hallways inside?" I wondered. Maybe they're lined with banners of kids who score high on SATs? Further inspection revealed no banners for the intellectual stars. And how about the kids who rock kindness and empathy with every fiber of their being every day? Nope. No banners for you.
I can't get this picture out of my head a full two weeks later. What a great celebration for the athletes and their families. And what a subtle form of bullying for kids who are not part of that elite group. I have no doubt that the photographer who sells these banners and that the school officials who believe that they have found a great reward for the efforts of their super stars had the best of intentions. As an unbiased observer encountering this display for the first time, it left me breathless and gave me shivers. Shivers.
It's October. Anti bullying month. As teachers, we focus on developing anti bullying behaviors and building resilience in our kids. Some of us attend to it just for this month because really the curriculum is just so packed....I get it. And some of us try to infuse that "no bullies here" mindset throughout the year. I've always found that the best way to build stronger and somewhat bullyproof kids is by working from the inside out. It is always best to start in the first week as you build your learning community, and to keep building throughout the year. Concepts attended to only in October will most likely blow away like the leaves of November.
I have an idea or two that you might want to try now in this October and keep going through the rest of your year. Every child should be a banner star in their own mind and in the minds of their classmates.

In my experience, music makes the learning super attractive, and makes it stick. If the tune catches your kids' imaginations, the lyrics will linger for a long time. I used the songs of "I Am Bullyproof" for several years with great success both in my fourth grade classroom and in an after school anti-bullying club with fifth and sixth graders. The kids loved the songs and made their own videos and led assemblies to promote the anti-bullying concepts that they heard in the songs. Whether for their own performance or not, your kids will love watching the "Scary Guy" video and discussing how the scariest "guys" don't really wear costumes. The scariest guys are the bullies who live on our street or who sit in classrooms with us every day. October is the perfect month to talk about that.

"Old Town Road" is pretty popular right now. Your kids are probably singing and performing it constantly! Why not channel that and suggest that they write their own new version of that song with an anti-bully theme?

Baby Kaely Bully Rap is a great example of a kid-written rap to confront bullying.

Using music and taking it as far as you are comfortable with will begin the process of building stronger, more resilient kids who can stand up to bullying far into the future.

Stand in My Shoes by Bob Sornson addresses the concept of empathy. It helps kids to begin noticing the feelings of others. Kids who care about others are less likely to bully others or to be affected by bullies themselves.

Enemy Pie by Derek Munson is a great accompaniment to the Scary Guy song. The narrator is looking forward to a perfect summer, when a bully named Jeremy Ross moves into the neighborhood.   Jeremy Ross can give you shivers! He laughs when narrator makes a mistake, doesn't invite him to his trampoline birthday party, and takes over all of his best friend's time. The narrator (his name isn't mentioned) asks his dad for advice. Dad's solution is to bake an "enemy pie" (ingredients unknown and misinterpreted) and to invite the enemy for dinner to eat it. One important requirement for "enemy pie": You must spend the WHOLE DAY with the bully! I promise that your kids will love this book!

The Thing About Georgie by Lisa Grafs is a great choice in a chapter book. The thing about Georgie is that he is a “little person” or dwarf. He is a pretty well-adjusted kid until a new kid shows up who seems to be “stealing” Georgie’s best friend. Georgie makes some poor choices on his way to achieving positivity. This book is a perfect followup read for Enemy Pie because of the best friend stealing angle. 

Shivers Bucket activity
This is excerpted from our Bullyproof Rainbow unit "Positivity Rocks". This unit also includes the studio-recorded version of the "Scary Guy" song.

A Bucketful of Shivers
  • Prepare and label two buckets “SHIVERS” and “POSITIVE THOUGHTS”
  Although plentiful around Halloween time (I love using the purple and green ones instead of the  
  more traditional orange and black), you can usually find small buckets any time of year at craft and    dollar stores. This can also be a bulletin board display. Print the green and purple buckets in this 
  resource on cardstock. (If you don't have the resource, you can draw two bucket fronts yourself.)  
  Cut out and staple to a bulletin board, slightly bringing in the right and left sides, and stapling         across the bottom for a 3-D effect. 
  • Discuss the ways in which others can sometimes give each of us the shivers (those uncomfortable thoughts and feelings we get when someone says or does something creepy, mean, or depressing).
  • Ask each student to write something he/she has heard or observed that gives him/her the shivers on a sticky note or small scrap of paper and deposit it in the bucket. 
  • Once all have responded, take the paper slips out of the Shiver bucket, and give each student a blank two column page labelled “Shivers-Positive Thoughts”  to attach the “shiver slip” to and to rewrite in a positive way. 
  • Ask for volunteers to share their reframed positive thoughts. 
Complete your community reflection with these important prompts:
  • Words matter
  • Actions matter
  • Thoughts matter

Make it Personal and Reward what Matters!

Give your students an opportunity to celebrate their own unique qualities with these two resources:
Personal Flags
SuperStar Banners (Coming soon for free to subscribers of the Rainbow City Learning Newsletter! Make sure that you are signed up! Look for the pop up box on this blog!)

Try adding one of these reward card systems to your own PBIS:
HERO Toolkit
MENSCH Toolkit
Rock Star Students

Click on the graphic above to find these great resources for Bullyproofing your kids at Rainbow City Learning on TpT!

To hear our discussion of Enemy Pie and other great books to include in your plans this month, listen to our podcast on We Teach So Hard! Just click below!

Hope your October is only the beginning of a bully free year year in your classroom!

For more October thoughts and teaching inspiration, don't miss the great posts by our Teacher Talk bloggers! Linkuups only by Teacher Talk bloggers please! If you'd like to join our group, email me at

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Fearless Learning Free Lesson

"Catch me!" my three year old granddaughter screamed as she jumped into the swimming pool, knowing all along that someone would surely be there to catch her. She was never wrong! My eight year old grandson, along for the bike ride to encourage me as I relearn a long forgotten skill, takes his hands off the handlebars and gleefully coasts on the downhill as I pump the hand brakes and pray that I stay upright. We are all born with that fearless learning gene. I'm currently reaching back and searching to reclaim mine.

Taylor Swift has a song. Fearless. "Dance in a storm with my best dress.." kind of fearless. Hands off the handlebars fearless. Jump in the deep end fearless. We are born with it, and many of your students still have that fearless gene. Why not celebrate it, maximize it, and make it work for learning in your classroom this year? Call it Growth Mindset if you wish, but fearless learning has been present in the universe since the beginning of time. It's who we are at our core.

Lessia Bonn (I Am Bullyproof Music) has a song called Fearless also. Written long before Taylor Swift's song, Lessia's "Fearless" was an integral part of my classroom practice from the day I discovered it. I worked on some (IMO) pretty amazing learning units with Lessia for a couple of years, based on her music. Using the Bullyproof songs brought so much magic to my learning community during my last few years in the classroom. Here's a video made by my Rainbow City kids during that time. All about what being Fearless means to them - in life, in relationships, in learning.

Denise Brennan-Nelson wrote a sweet little book called Willow. Willow is a fearless artist, drawing and painting whatever her heart tells her to create. Her teacher, Miss Hawthorn, seems to have lost her own inner artist. She likes her apples round and red, and her trees tall and green with brown trunks. Miss Hawthorn likes a clean and tidy art room, with very specific uses for her materials and very specific responses to her lessons. Enter Willow, a student and artist who teaches Miss Hawthorn a thing or two about art and life and fearless learning. Miss Hawthorn is able to reach back and recapture her own true inner artist. I have a lesson on this book in this Bullyproof Rainbow unit.
Sharing part of it here with you for FREE! I hope you'll enjoy using it and remember to return to the download page and leave some awesome feedback! As always, I would love to see pictures (and even videos) of your students' responses to this lesson!

Hope you'll check out this blog post on Using the Arts to Teach Perseverance!

Click on the image for your freebie!


Using the Arts to Teach Perseverance

"It's a country club over there," my parents could often be heard to say during my fifth and sixth grade years. We had just moved back to the neighborhood and new, progressive school that we had to leave after my Kindergarten year.
We had moved next door to my grandparents and my mom's large and loving family, so as a kid I wasn't aware of the financial difficulties that had caused the move "back home", just thrilled to be up in the business of my young aunts and uncle all.the.time. I was known as the world's youngest teenager, showing up at my Aunt Harriet's after school living room dance parties, and a careful observer of my Aunt Rhoda's makeup application and hair styling as she left for work or dates. They took me to the library every week for stacks of books, taught me to twirl a baton, and drove me to school. We had long and serious discussions about Elvis, Richie Valens, Buddy Holly, and the Big Bopper. A member of a for real actual singing group, The Tempos, actually lived across the street! Two of the songs that they briefly made famous were "Since I Don't Have You" and "See You in September". My grandma always said that Gene was a very nice boy who served his country.  I think he was a friend of my uncle, but who knows? My uncle always seemed to be in his room studying. That room was the only space in my grandparents' house that was off limits to me, but that was ok. He knew nothing about hair and clothes and makeup, and I just went in to look around when he wasn't there. We danced the Strand. We drew and colored, knitted, cooked and ate together, laughed together, and took full part in each other's lives. I missed nothing in the area of life enrichments, and I liked my school and friends.

BUT... the summer before fifth grade, life was heading in a positive direction for my very young parents. My dad finished college, had a CPA practice, and was beginning to invest in deli restaurants among other businesses. They bought their first home, and I returned to my original school in fifth grade while my little sister started kindergarten. Our little brother was nine months old when we moved in, so no school for him yet!

Apparently, while I was gone, our public school system had decided to try out some new programs and practices at the newest building in their district. When I arrived in Miss Brooke's fifth grade, things were happening! Kids who were academically successful appeared to have been placed together in class, so there was never a chance to read any of the books that I had become used to shlepping to school with me every day for four years. (Well, actually three years. Too busy throwing up every day in first grade when reading groups started. Membership in the blue birds was not all it was cracked up to be.) Aside from watching super smart kids learning and responding and interacting on all sides, we had ENRICHMENTS! Yes, our district was on the cutting edge in the 60s with the very beginnings of gifted education. They didn't call it GT or anything like that, but in my opinion, they should have named it something because the confused young parents just called it a "country club over there".
At the "country club over there", we could leave our classrooms without having to make up anything that we missed while gone, and take Creative Dance, Art Enrichment, Science Explorations, and Chorus. We could also learn square dancing and polka. Yes, polka. It was Pennsylvania after all! As a dancing school dropout, I loved Creative Dance the most. Could not believe my good fortune at being part of a group with actual current dancing school students.  (Being a dancing school dropout is absolutely true - I left Saturday morning dancing school for Saturday morning cartoons at the ripe old age of seven because I just couldn't keep up with the other dancers.) In Creative Dance, we were presented with music and could create our own choreography. It was amazing! My love for dancing, nurtured as the world's youngest teenager dancing with Bandstand every day, was restored!

I took that "country club at school" spirit with me throughout the rest of my education and my career as a teacher. As I got to higher grades, I learned perseverance. Perseverance made everything I tried to do better. Study and practice became enjoyable pursuits because there was always a goal ahead, a reason for persevering. I studied harder in French class so that I could spend more time in Ceramics class in high school. I studied for and passed out of basic language arts, foreign language, and math courses in college so that I could load up on Art History and Anthropology. And when I became a teacher, I tried to make sure that my own students had opportunities to explore the arts and sciences as much they possibly could. I did this through project based learning and through centers, including Inventor's Center, an early incarnation of STEAM. My students' journals always had a drawing/sketching/diagramming component. A kid more in tune with art could use more art than words and still succeed in journal writing. I can point to several professional artists today who have told me that they appreciated being able to journal through art in those elementary years.

After that loooonnnngggg intro, this post on Perseverance is turning to the importance of including the arts in an elementary education. We learn to be awesome dancers by dancing. We learn to be artists by crumpling papers, erasing, and starting again. We learn to be writers by writing. I always had two signs in my classroom: Good Writers Write and Good Readers Read. Perseverance is what makes us successful, and I believe that it is best learned in the pursuit of the arts.

When I was thinking of picture books to use with this important topic, I couldn't narrow it down any further than four. I simply took all four out of the library. You don't have to own every book that you touch. I donated three of these when I retired, and just discovered the fourth one. The public library is a great place to find books, especially books that you will use for a brief lesson. School libraries are another great source, if you are lucky enough to still have one. I won't speak badly here of the district that I retired from, but no librarians? Seriously?

The very first book that came to mind was Dancing in the Wings by Debbie Allen. In this book, Sassy is a dancing school student who, unlike yours truly, persevered. She was "too tall" and her feet were "too big" for all the roles and participation that she longed for. Rather than drop out, she practiced, observed, and danced every dance from the wings, learning it as well as if she was on stage herself. Her hard work and perseverance pay off when a director of an important Washington dance festival notices her, chooses her from her entire dancing school and invites her to be part of a performance troupe. This is based on Debbie Allen's life and the experience of her daughter Vivian in dancing school.

Of course, a read of Dancing in the Wings naturally leads to a read of Brothers of the Knight also by Debbie Allen. It's an amazing retelling of the fairy tale "The Twelve Dancing Princesses", and in light of the recent public controversy over whether men should be dancers, it got my attention. In Brothers of the Knight, Reverend Knight is a single father raising twelve sons. The story is narrated by their dog, Happy. Reverend Knight is befuddled by the fact that his sons' shoes are tattered, torn, and generally wrecked every morning, although they appear to have been sound asleep every night. A new housekeeper solves the mystery, and the brothers come clean about their passion for dancing. They had thought it necessary to sneak out to the ballroom at night because they thought that their father would disapprove. Reverend Knight marries the housekeeper, adds dance to his sermons, and all live happily ever after. Dancing with perseverance can sure wear out your shoes!
And speaking of shoes, a story from the childhood of Michael Jordan, Salt in His Shoes, is another great example of how perseverance can lead to success. Michel Jordan was once a short child who wanted to play basketball with the neighborhood kids. He was shorter than they were and had a difficult time keeping up. He measured himself over and over, but never seemed to grow. His dad advised him to keep practicing and his mom advised him to put salt in his shoes and to pray every night to be just a little taller each day. Michael took the advice seriously, praying, salting, and PRACTICING at home. He eventually scored the winning point in a neighborhood game when another player was injured and unable to play. And... as we know.... he grew to be a famous six foot six pro basketball player! Was it the salt? Or the perseverance?
Amazing Grace by Mary Hoffman is also nothing short of amazing as a model for perseverance. Grace loves to read and to act. She loves stories - telling them, hearing them, acting them out. When she learns that her class is about to cast and perform "Peter Pan", Grace wants to be Peter. She is focused on her goal, and sticks with it through practice and auditions even though one classmate tells her that a girl can't play Peter, and another tells her that Peter is white. (Grace is African American.) Enter Grace's Ma and her Nana (gotta love the Nanas!), who inform Grace that those two kids who discouraged her don't know anything. Nana then takes Grace to a ballet performance where a famous brown-skinned dancer named Rosalie Wilkins ballet dances the part of Juliet in "Romeo and Juliet". After the performance, Grace adds the dance of Juliet to her practice, auditions for and gets the part of Peter Pan. Grace is an amazing Peter Pan, and according to her Nana, "If Grace put her mind to it, she can do anything she want." True for Grace. And true for all of our kids.  Putting your mind to it is perseverance!

Sometimes I wonder what might have happened if I had chosen to stick with Chorus when I was told by the teacher to sit in the back where no one had to listen to me. I could have been a famous singer! Nah, I just pursued the arts that mattered to me. Teachers, the important thing is to present the arts as possibilities to our students. Let them tinker and explore. Let them respond to assignments and projects infusing a piece of the arts that is important to them. Find time for performances in class. There are ways! Make your room just a little bit of "a country club over there". You never know what future artist, dancer, singer, writer, or scientist is sitting right before your eyes!

Check out some of the STEAM resources at Rainbow City Learning to add a little art to the learning in your classroom!

Click below for a FREE introductory lesson on using the arts to teach perseverance.

To hear the thoughts of our "We Teach So Hard" blogging group on this topic with lots of book suggestions, just click!

For the blog posts of our We Teach So Hard podcasters, click below!

Using the Arts to Teach Perseverance

And... before you go... Check out some amazing posts for the month ahead from my awesome blogging buddies at Teacher Talk!

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Five Tips for a Smoother September

Did you blink? Summer is over! Everyone I know is finally back to school. The last round went back to school in Michigan this week! So many changes, new expectations, and new habits for a new school year! If you can stand one more piece of advice about smoothing out your September, mine would be to add just one new procedure at a time. Here are a few that I believe will make a difference in your year!

Start with the one that tells your students: Welcome! You are in a safe and accepting place, and everyone here is glad that you are here with us. Here's how I would get that started. (It's not too late to add this in for the current year, even if you've already started. Revised script follows here!) Close the door after all are seated and busy with whatever your morning work is. You: "Ok, I have something to share with you. The office has just discovered that they made a mistake. They placed all the BEST students in our grade right here, in this room, with me!"  Them: "Gasp!" (Gazing at you with wide-eyed wonder, as if to say, "How'd that happen?") You: "I know! Right? So how are we going to keep them from figuring it out?" Them: (Offer some ideas.) You: "Well, the key thing is to remember not to tell anyone in any of the other classes that this has happened. We have to kind of keep it low key and just act like we usually do, which is pretty close to perfect!" Them: (Looking around room, and knowingly smiling.)  This is not a fantasy. I have done this and it works.  You are telling your students that they are the best, and in most cases, they will try to live up to your faith in them. Want the best class ever this year? Just believe in that idea together. Send that idea out into your school, community, and the universe!

Use music for transitions, entering, exiting, and some of your writing time. Have certain songs that you play for lining up, for coming to morning meeting, for coming to the carpet for mini lessons, for starting center activities, and for cleaning up. Try keeping a playlist on your computer desktop for easy access when needed. Kids will respond by falling in step with the desired activity as they learn the music that is directing them to begin. I used a few of the Bullyproof Music tunes for most activities, but Seger's "That Old Time Rock n Roll" was a favorite cleanup song. "Got Your Back"(Bullyproof) is a great one for entering and lining up to go to specials, lunch, recess, etc. We loved "Gift" (Bullyproof) for coming to carpet for lessons because it made us think about how special the time we had together really was.

Try some tinker time. I have ALWAYS been a fan of project based learning, invention, and just plain old tinkering with stuff, long before STEM, STEAM, and saving Fred. Long before Genius Hour too! I would love to see you carve out a block of time wherever you can manage it each day where kids can interact with ideas and stuff and just set their imaginations free. Every classroom, science or not, can and should have a Maker Space, in my opinion. Here's a free Guide to Getting Started, if you're ready! The experiences that kids have with tinkering in a leisurely way will spill over into writing, discussions, and even test taking. It's great exercise for their brains. Try it and see!

Write every day. Journals, Interactive Notebooks note taking and responses, math word problems requiring longer answers, quick writes, or just free writing in a writer's notebook to be used at a later time. Students should write in the company of others, and they should see you writing too. Try writing your own journal using whatever projection method you use (I used Elmo, and in the olden days, an overhead projector). The writing that you model should be pen to paper though, not keyboarding into a document. Show that you are happily putting the same effort into your writing that kids are putting into theirs. They will learn much more from watching what you do than from just listening  to what you say about writing. As you develop a new Interactive Notebook lesson, be sure to project what you are writing so all can see it. Writers who write in the company of other writers have far fewer cases of writer's block.

Read together every day. Have a read-aloud going, no matter your grade level. Humans love to be read to. Don't just assign reading to be done at home. Let your kids read in the company of other readers. It will raise those reading levels much quicker! They will notice new books they'd like to try, see examples of others enjoying reading, and enjoy it themselves more and more each day.

Five habits for September. If these five things are in place by the time you and your students arrive at October, I'm guessing that you will say it's been a good month! Happy sailing through the days ahead! Take care of yourself, and enjoy these fresh new moments with your new friends!

For some fresh September ideas from Rainbow City Learning, just click below!


How Morning Meeting Can Become a Sacred Space

You've been thinking about it, planning for it, and executing it for weeks now. Some of you have literally been working on it all summer. Your classroom. It's one of your sacred spaces. A space that is of high importance to you. It's not home. It's not the mall. Not the forest. Or the beach. It's a space in which the things that happen and the thoughts that you and your students have are very important to all of you. In your mind, the way you set up your classroom right now will set the tone for your entire school year. 

Certainly prayer rituals in all religions can be considered as sacred space. To many of us, commuting time with our coffee in our cars is sacred space. Time spent with a pet, loved one, or special friend, can also be sacred space. Those few quiet minutes at the end of a teaching day after the busses have pulled away and the car pickup line has vanished can also be sacred space. You are sitting at your desk or table or even on the floor and no one has come through the door to talk with you. Yet. You know the time. Bet you can even recall how it feels right now!

Your classroom as sacred space. Sacred space is time and space we set aside to create a transition from our fast moving life. Morning Meeting can be an important part of that space. IMO it is a sacred space all on its own. It is a time to pause, to think, and to get in touch with our emotions. It's a time to grow and develop compassion and empathy as we listen to others. It's a time to develop confidence as we share ourselves and our own thoughts. 

Morning meeting sends a clear message to all: 

  • We are not at home right now.
  • We are not outside right now.
  • We are in a space that is important to us as a community.
  • We will learn and grow in this space.
  • This is how we do things here.

This is how we do things here. Probably the most important message you will try to send to your students all year. It's the culture of your learning community. Having a Morning Meeting (or any variation of it that you are comfortable with) is an important part of building your classroom culture. 

According to Responsive Classroom, Morning Meeting consists of four basic activities: greeting, sharing, group activity, and a message. It can take anywhere from fifteen minutes to a half hour. I really recommend using the full half hour in the early days until the "this is how we do things here" part of your class has been established. You can whittle it down as needed throughout the year. The time it takes can be adjusted through the sharing component. Create a system together with your students for deciding how many will share at a particular meeting and how the sharers will be selected. (Draw sticks, pass a ball or talking stick, drop name cards into a bucket, etc.) Some days you will have time for more sharing and even questions or comments about each story, and some days you won't. When it becomes "how we do things here", all variations will be accepted.

As you are setting up your classroom and deciding how to fit in all the academic components, it's important to consider how you will get the attention of your students for the the lessons and standards. If you've got a group that loves to talk, why not direct that in a positive direction, and give them something positive to talk about? Instead of fighting the talking, why not try a Morning Chat? I've written about something I tried in my own classroom called Morning Tweets. Kids came in and wrote what was on their minds. Those tweets could be used as the basis for sharing. While students are chatting or "tweeting", you can get all the housekeeping duties out of the way: lunch count, attendance, notes, etc. Find a specific piece of music that all will recognize as a transition to Morning Meeting time, and you shouldn't need to say a word. If introduced and practiced, kids should be able to come to your sacred space (Morning Meeting space) when they hear the music. 

I like to keep this part short and simple. My students would usually turn to the person on each side and hand shake, fist bump, or nod. They would say "Good morning!" to each other and say their name. You can get as fancy and/or silly with this part as you and your students agree on. We sometimes greeted each other in a language other than English, and sometimes as a Shakespearean character might have said it.

My favorite way to choose who would share was by assigning a number to each student. I used calendar cards that already had numbers 1-30 printed on them. Students were assigned numbers (like their address, I told them!) at the beginning of the year, and added that number to all papers. It was also a good way to make sure that everyone had an equal chance of being called on. Choosing a few numbers to share each day will allow all who want to share a thought or a short story a chance to do so sometime during the week/two week cycle. As each shares, their number is then placed at the bottom of the stack of numbers.

This can be any whole group energizer that you think is fun and beneficial to your students. A dance move, a song, a poem to recite together are some ideas that we have tried. My newest idea is to use Morning Meeting Yoga as a way to include a short yoga practice (one pose and one breath) for the activity. It's short, sweet, and builds a practice that students can use throughout life as an emotional support tool. Adding a themed thought for the day can be in addition to or instead of the message. The thoughts in each set (Ten sets available in all!) will build character traits such as empathy, friendship, gratitude, kindness, caring, goal setting, collaboration, growth mindset, good character, and lifelong learning. The sets are interchangeable. Some contain a few partner poses to try as well!

The message can be a simple thought for the day, or a longer message about what students will be learning that day. I recommend doing both. The yoga thought can be a silent meditation for kids to use through the day, and the academic message can be a great transition to the first lesson of the day. 

Wishing you the best teaching year ever, and hoping that your classroom becomes a true sacred space this year for all who enter! 

Click here for more Zen Classroom resources from Rainbow City Learning! 

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