Play Partners

A few of you asked me to explain more about my practice of “Play Partners” in the classroom, so here goes:

Play Partners:

This started one November when I taught PreSchool and suddenly realized Jonny still didn’t know Josie’s name. He was just four years old and really only cared about wheels and cheetahs and “that gurl” didn’t have any of those qualities. Despite us all spending the last three months in the same room together and even with plenty of variations of “let’s go around in a circle and say your name” activities, I realized interactions between children, even in a small room, were largely happenstance and random.

This is actually very fun to think about…how many times have you been in even a small gathering and somehow not interacted with every person? Sometimes an existing friendship is what prevents you from reaching out, you are shy, or you are just tired that day and don’t want to make the effort, even so, I find the phenomenon fascinating.

Ok, back to the point! Which is I realized part of my job as teacher, leader, facilitator of the classroom environment, was to insure that each and every child had an experience with each and every other child. The experience could be having difficulty agreeing on something to do together or fighting over a block, but they were at the very least having that opportunity with one another that wasn’t happenstance or random, but a guaranteed interaction that each child would get to be “Play Partners” with each student in the class.

The benefits of this simple classroom culture recipe are tremendous. First off it creates a sense of security. They have something/one to “hang their hat on”. Secondly, and most importantly it insures that new friendships are sown, old “cliques” or engrained friendships have a chance to spread their wings a bit and insures the classroom culture is one of fairness, friendship, security, acceptance and teamwork. This classroom structure dramatically affects the dynamic and tone by the third day.


Ok, so how do you do it? Well here’s the trick! There are tons of different ways and it really depends on your class numbers. For a large sized group, lets say 30 kids, you could divide them into two groups of 15 and assign them numbers 1-15 and the other group letters A-O and then pair up 1A, 2B, 3C and then rotate. I’ve created a visual turning wheel to help me. The Good Lord knows there’s an algorithm somewhere that can automatically tell me the pairings, but I haven’t quite wrestled that one to the ground yet, especially since class numbers change every year!

For smaller groups, you can use the same letter-number parings or just use numbers. Odd numbers of children in the class? Argh! I just have one “triplet” to keep the ratio 1:1 as much as possible. It’s important that each child really does get to be with everyone in the class, so keeping a table or record somewhere is handy. In off years, I’ve just used names and written them down in the back of my plan book.

From here, you can go into “Play Teams” as the year progresses. Putting 1,6,11,14 together can be fun as the numbers help group children in more interesting and varied combinations. Other times I don’t use the numbers and just place all the shy kids together or all of the bossy students in one group. This makes for a really good time 😀 and lots of learning as all the bossy leaders watch in frustration as other groups are busier rehearsing their play than fighting over who gets to be the mother.

I use Play Partners during both unstructured and structured class times, it often depends on how much the class “needs” them. Some children ask for them first thing in the morning. When they go out to recess, they “stick w their Play Partner”. It’s not cast in stone and they can wander into their own zones, but they know they have a buddy they can depend on that day. Even if they just hold hands and know each other’s name, it’s a valuable step towards a harmonious and happy classroom.


Pumped about the Popplet

Well, sometimes it doesn’t take much. Been exploring new options for a Job Chart. Tried making a popplet. Am still uploading the videos and images but I think it’s a go! I assigned each student a number and that is their job for the week. I chose a number to start bc of privacy issues. Am still experimenting! I can eventually teach the kids to update the popplet as the numbers rotate throughout the various jobs.


Job Chart

Kinderblog Q5

Choose 5 objects from around your home (NOT your classroom!) that tell us something about you: as a teacher or as a person. Take pictures of the objects and post them with captions. The real challenge here: the captions should be no longer than a regular tweet– that is, 140 characters. 

Well, somehow this ended up being a whole tour of my house. I have to say I am really proud of my house bc everything is either found on the street, handed down to me through roommates or purchased at an extremely reasonable price.

I just got this today when I was shopping for antennas to make my TV work to watch the Olympics. (none worked btw but this did!) That’s right! A Record Player! Boo-YAH
my house
I love this photo. It’s my dining room table. I rainbowed my books 😀 There are also small unicorn hummel things on there that one of my friends keeps giving me.
Radio! Rotary phone! Once all state of the art technology! I think this speaks to my long view, skepticism and awareness that todays “must have gadgets” are inevitably tomorrows flea market finds.
Living Room! Took me forever to get it set! I love the simplicity, the lines, the curves, the shapes, the colors, the playfulness. Also- nothing is expensive. I got the cabinets and orange chair at second hand shops and the white table was garbage picked on the way to work.
Well, might as well show you my whole apartment! Is this like having everyone over to my house? In the back there are shells on the wall- I love nature and natural things. Brings me such peace! Well, that’s the whole apartment except for the laundry hallway and bathroom and the kitchen sink!

Kinderblog Challenge #4

Version 1: If you had not become a teacher, what other field or line of work would you have pursued?
Version 2: If you had to quit teaching tomorrow, what would you do instead?

When frustrated and exhausted with teaching I’ve always joked “I’d sure like to work at Macy’s at Christmastime”. I’ve always worked with kids, ever since I was 15 years old. In high school the fitness club I worked summer camp for tried to get me to cover the front desk. The slightly older than me teen “trained me” w a quick 20 minute tour of what I had to do, including a really fast tutorial of the cash register. A “Got it? Good” kind of thing. Let’s just say it didn’t go well. Next thing I knew, I was giving customers change from my own pocket, desperate to avoid that thing. That was my first and last experience working a cash register.

Another time, my BFF was working for the summer in her Dad’s office. He was a lawyer. She said “Come and work w me!” I said, ‘But I don’t know how to type on lines or answer phones w buttons!” She said it was fine, not to worry. Ok, so I went. Her Dad looked me over (he had known me since I was eleven) and asked me to go type up this form. (it had lots of lines) Sweating, I went over to the typewriter and tried to pigeon-peck my way through the form. I was doing it! Instantly sensing my inexperience about 45 seconds into my triumph, he came over and grumbled “ah, move, I’ll do it, go!” Yep. I lasted a whole 2 minutes in that job. My BFF and I still laugh about those few minutes as it was so characteristically both her father and me intersecting in a rare exchange of personality quirkiness.

As far as dream jobs, I’ve always wanted to be a waitress in a slightly bad restaurant. Maybe not bad but not fancy. Someplace I could call people “honey” and chit chat w old ladies and pour coffee and even maybe chew gum. Maybe “Alice” and Polly Holliday and the girls in Mel’s Diner made a bigger impression on me when I was young than I realized!

I’d also like to go on the open road. Like a trucker. Not on congested highways but cross country. I could take photographs and honk my horn at kids who know the signal. Do my part in the unspoken horn honking dance that occurs between truckers and kids. I could drive all day w the window open and work the CB. Maybe get a dog.

Either trucker or I’d bake poetry pies. I would bake and sell pies and you would get some poetry with your blueberry crumble.

If I had to quit teaching right now? I’d want to work full-time for #Kinderchat. I’m still obsessing over the idea of the #Kinderchat van and going cross-country to visit all the teachers and classrooms. Like a Scooby-doo Mystery Machine van. Whatever dream jobs I’d do, it’d need to involve connecting with people, creativity and lots of freedom to experiment, laugh, create and play. That’s what I have loved most about teaching ever since I was a kid myself.

Reflections of #EdcampKinder

So, if you know me, I will often try to wrap my head around something by laying out the entire history of education, the systematic change we are undergoing as a society in tandem with my three week journey of an Edu-Tri-athalon all in one mega blog post that just seems to go on and on! (Yes! Yikes! I’ve got one going right now waiting to be published! :D)

But the #Kinderchat, this I just can’t intellectualize. #EdcampKinder: when I even type the words, the tears start flowing. That’s telling me all I need to know. (No! I’m NOT A SAP!) 😀 It tells me my heart is right here. It tells me I have no choice. “You had me at hello.”

Two years of work. Two years of pouring my time, energy, giving it my all in every way I possibly could to foster this little community. To spark connections, create systems, not to mention be there EVERY WEEK! Of course I didn’t do any of this alone, my trusty compadre @happycampergirl there right alongside of me as well as the amazing group of educators we call #Kinderchat shaping me and my professional direction. For me, its always a questioning and then re-questioning of myself, my motives, my perspective, my direction. An endless cycle of reflection and action. 

So here we were. In Las Vegas, no less. Ten of us. Ten people who paid their own money- THEIR OWN MONEY. To come and meet each other. We had t-shirts, we had “Dessert in the Desert”. We met, we laughed, I cried.

I cried because here we were. An online community in real life. It felt remotely strange at first and yet all at the same time, completely normal. Was this real? What were we doing at the conference table in the middle of Las Vegas? How bossy should I be or not be? Had we already said everything in over two years of online conversation? 

We had agreed on meetings from 4-6 each day no matter what. So we were all finally there, sitting at a big circle table. Long pause. Looking at each other. Slightly uncomfortable. For about exactly what was probably one minute but seemed like five. Oh God, I’m sweating, will this work out? This trip was for me, to see, in short, were we as a group, something real? in it for the long haul? how authentic were the connections? was the passion and purpose there?

Then, just like that- the skype in session started. “Hey, let’s call so and so!” someone said. “Ok!” Suddenly a massively chaotic skype-in session started. People talking to rectangular picture frames in the corner. People holding up the picture frames so the picture frames could talk to one another. People passing the talking picture frames around in a circle. It was a wonderful, distracting successful disaster. Oh God, are we never going to get to talk I wondered? Yes, if I was not a pray-er before #Kinderchat I certainly am now 😀 Do I clap my hands and insist on meeting? We can’t lose this chance to talk! But I just let go. Wait. Listen. Listen.

Soon the skyping ended and Melisssa Sheldon from the I Teach K conference made her way over to the table. A very special Thanks to her and I Teach K btw for allowing us to use that space that day and to be a part of their conference. Suddenly we were filled with stories and the sharing of the projects that we have all been working on throughout the last year came pouring out onto the table. It flowed. The conversation that came out of that hour was more passionate, focused, diverse, innovative and respectful than I may have ever heard.

That tone stayed with us over almost four full days. I can’t quite explain what was there but there was a softness, an affinity, a level of authentic respect, necessary tension, suspense and genuine interest in one another that prevailed. In short, a friendship.

Stacey kept me laughing with her telling her husband, “Ok, honey, I’m going to Las Vegas for four days to meet up with some people I met over the internet, okay?” 😀 It still makes me laugh! Tasha had decided to come and make a holiday out of it, coming all the way from Japan to spend five days in conversation with people she had never met before. Mardelle and Marya brought their husbands and they were immediately welcomed and accepted as part of the group. Everyone took some degree of risk to come and see what this was all about. That’s engagement. That’s investment. That’s passion. 

I heard a for-profit person say “free isn’t sustainable” once. Maybe. Maybe we will die out one day. I know, I know, for-profits uniquely live on for an eternity. 😀 But for now, at least for now and for the last two years, #Kinderchat is lighting a fire. A big fire. One that burns brightly. One that has lots of wood cut and stacked for the winter. One with passion, purpose, and remarkable PEOPLE at the helm. One that has a community around it, cooking, talking, learning, laughing, sharing, throwing glitter at each other. No, the #Kinderchat not going anywhere for quite awhile. The #Kinderchat is here to stay.

Reflections on a School Year

Whoosh! Another year is over! I can’t seem to believe it! I keep pinching myself and saying “I don’t have to eat at 11:20? I don’t have to teach math at 8:30 or remember to make a card by 2:10 on Thursday? I don’t have to remember who is going home with whom on Monday, but not Tuesday, but every other Wednesday?

Yes, I’ll admit it, after this year, I feel cynical, optimistic, angry, sad, happy, exhausted, totally energized, lost, found and, most importantly, the sweet taste of freedom has never felt this good! Two days in and I’m overwhelmed with this new sense of time and belonging to myself.

This is real- this is what teaching IS. It’s not apples and aprons and neat packages. It’s blood, plenty of sweat and lots of tears. Some of my parents left without even saying “Thank You”, others were so kind and grateful, I wanted to cry. This is why I have to write this, because I still don’t think people actually  get what we are doing and the amount of energy, learning, professionalism and experience it takes to do it.

Teaching is really hard. Not hard like roofing, but hard like roofing with 28 five year olds with you. Not hard like customer service or the restaurant industry, but hard like if-you-think-they-didn’t-like-their-dinner-see-how-they-are-when-it-comes-to-their-children.

I was thinking about all of the pressures we face. Teachers, on the whole, Bless Us, we don’t and probably can’t actually communicate to you EXACTLY HOW LOUD AND TRYING EACH DAY IS BY NATURE. They cry, they engage in confrontational behaviors from 8am-3pm and times 20 children, they push, they test, they lie, they fight, they cooperate, they help, they are sweet, they are sour. THEY ARE HUMAN. And so are WE!

So, not only do you have the pressure from the parents, administration, PD, you HAVE THESE CHILDREN FOLLOWING YOU EVERYWHERE YOU GO! ALL DAY LONG! 5 DAYS A WEEK! ALL YEAR!

Have a continuous birthday party for the same amount of time with 28 kids (God Bless Erin Rocklewitz and Cara Johnson and all the others out there with huge numbers- I’m not sure I could do it with the same professionalism and poise you each did) and let me know how you are doing afterwards. Its a beating.

I feel worn down. I share this not to be the old debbie downer, but to be honest enough for the people who are doing this work everyday to know I am talking to you.

For me, this year it has always come back to #Kinderchat. You have lifted me up when I felt like the crappiest teacher in the world. You let me shine when I felt like the best teacher in the world. You let me fall and helped me up and kept me smiling. You were and are my community of colleagues. I hope each one of you had similar experiences, albeit I wish for you the successes!

Just look at this that came through just as I was writing this- from the wonderful educator and friend, Michelle

here’s the previous tweet she’s referring to:

#Kinderchat is not an organization about “the me”, it’s is an organization about the YOU. It requires one to listen, to create, to learn, to fail, fall, succeed, share and most importantly, to celebrate each other. This is what we are doing. It s not about endless chatter of Section C, Article 39 of whatever document is next in line, it is about ANGELA’S TOOTH. And from Angela’s tooth (and why it was such a big deal it fell out on the Thursday before her going off to first grade.) THAT IS COMMUNITY. THAT is empathy, THAT is learning, love and all the things we are trying to do in Early Childhood.

#Kinderchat, don’t let the turkey’s get you down. We only get stronger through your sharing, loving, laughter and wonderful sense of community.  And to those still in school, YOU CAN DO IT!

Nothing is better than watching the waves of the #Kinderchat school years begin and end. And nothing better than the support and friendship I’ve found among this wonderful community. Thanks all, now let’s BRING IT ON HOME!

#EdcampKinder “Dessert in the Desert” is in 27 (?!) days. Get ready to party.

Fostering fluency in 2012

Well, this one has been brewing for a bit. I start, I stop, I lose my train of thought. Oh if I could only insert a zip drive thingie into my head sometimes! Maybe then I wouldn’t lose the thought before it gets from my brain to the keyboard!

I just posted a video I made with my class. It documented the process of one of our projects. After I attended #cmk11 w @garystager it became all about process for me. I knew beforehand that learning, real learning, is in those visible yet invisible moments. Visible to the teacher who can see the lightbulb, visible to the parent who can reflect and see the progress their child is making, but often invisible to the person themselves. And what is rewarded in our lives and society is often the product, thereby obscuring this mysterious stage even more.

I’ve come to think of it as the sleep mode, or the chunky mode a kid goes through when growing. They go from a little chunky to suddenly shooting up and going through three shoe sizes in two months! It’s this time of seeming stagnation, our nightly sleep, the winter, that helps us spring forward and burst forth the bloom of our efforts and work.

And everyone grows and changes at their own rates! Which is why what I teach a child now may not embed itself until much later, or why values parents instill in their child at a young age will suddenly surface as their Mom’s voice calls out from somewhere inside their head “don’t do it”. Just because something is dormant doesn’t mean it isn’t as alive and vibrant as a forsythia in full bloom. Dormancy is the yin to forsythia’s yang. It works this way in learning, too. 

It’s why we need vacations and summer and weekends. And it’s why I shun terms like “continuous improvement”. True improvement (a word I find derogatory btw) really doesn’t look all that continuous, at least within a span of one, two or three years. And certainly the more you improve, the lesser are the measurable increments of that improvement.

I think about my own learning when it comes to technology. I look back a year ago and reflect and think, “I didn’t even have a blog yet!”

True! At least the #kinderchat blog didn’t get up and running until January of last year. Wow! I look back and see all I have done, learned, made in just a year! Amazing I must say so myself! Now I have 3 wikis, 3 blogs, 4 websites and 5 twitter accounts. There’s more but it starts getting embarrassing. 😀

I by no means- NO MEANS even consider myself “proficient” in technology, but I would say I feel “fluent” or at least approaching some degree of fluency! And fluency is the whole reason this blog post came to be.

Did it all happen in one year? Well, sort of, but if you look at the extended timeline, it started years ago. But once I broke through that initial barrier, things got way easier and my confidence and curiosity, way stronger.

So often we try to teach (teachers, children, students, anyone anything) by instruction. I am beginning to recoil at the word! “Here, let me instruct you on how to do it. Oh, and btw, here is my 16 page outline of my guidelines and policy on how to be successful within the given instruction time.” In the past, we called this learning. In the present, we are often forced to call this teaching as well.

There is a huge difference between the word “instruction” and the word “foster“. I was thinking about this in the car today on the way home from school. One is hard, the other soft. One is teacher centered, the other requires the teacher to be learner centered enough to know what to even foster. The past is sharp edged categoried boxes vs the now of circles and swerves.

And who has fostered me? Helped me? Been my guiding light over the last year? The fabulous teachers, educators and friends of #kinderchat and the mentors I have found here on the internets!

I am very grateful to all who have shaped my learning and helped me “feel fluent” in technology and in life. Here’s hoping 2012 brings the world and each one of you more joy and fluency in whatever field you choose and more love in life and learning!

on merit pay