Monday, January 21, 2013

Smorgasbord--There's a lot going on!

Wow! I have so much I want to share with you all.

It's a smorgasbord of what's been going on in the classroom, new teacherspayteachers products, classroom community and character ideas and updates, SNOW! SNOW! SNOW! on Friday (well, a dusting, but a day off!), stress about paying taxes on TPT earnings, excitement about the 2013 Clutter-Free Classroom Challenge, and a special announcement tomorrow's Top 2 For Tuesday that you WON'T want to miss! Yes, I have slacked off on Monday's Minilesson Magic and Top 2 for Tuesday, but I will get them rolling again, now that we are two weeks into our 3rd quarter.

For this post, I will focus on an update of Building a Classroom Community and Building Character. Read here if you missed my post about having my teaching heart split wide open. I spent the first week back focusing each morning of our reading time on building our classroom community and discussing kindness. I used three read alouds to create opportunities for discussions about having an open heart and sharing kindness.

We used:

First, I used Somebody Loves you Mr. Hatch by Eileen Spinelli (how exciting to read a book from Jerry's wife :). We mainly talked about how Mr. Hatch could choose to have an open heart or a closed heart. In receiving the box of chocolates, he had opened his heart to the world and was more aware and conscious of other people's needs. I talked about how we can choose to be conscious of other people's needs and that if we just pay attention, we will see places where we can choose to extend kindness. 

Next, I read Each Kindness by Jacquleine Woodson (author of The Other Side). This book was destiny! It was sitting on a shelf in the library when I went to pick up Mr. Hatch, and I thought, hmmm...kindness. Let me read this! If you have ever read The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes, this is along the same lines, but in picture book form. From

"Each kindness makes the world a little better.

Chloe and her friends won't play with the new girl, Maya. Maya is different--she wears hand-me-downs and plays with old-fashioned toys. Every time Maya tries to join Chloe and her gang, they reject her. Eventually, Maya plays alone, and then stops coming to school altogether. When Chloe's teacher gives a lesson about how even small acts of kindness can change the world, Chloe is stung by the lost opportunity for friendship, and thinks about how much better it could have been if she'd shown a little kindness toward Maya."

After our read aloud, I talked about how Chloe wishes she would have done things differently and said a lot to Maya. We talked about apologies and forgiveness. Chloe doesn't have the opportunity to apologize to Maya, but we do. Then I did something AMAZING! I had students create a list of apologies for their classmates. They had to write them down on a sheet of paper. I gave everyone a list of classmates and they worked through it to think about anything they needed to apologize for. I also made a list of specific apologies for students (hey, I AM NOT PERFECT!) 

As students worked and thought, I voiced over. "You might need to apologize for something the person doesn't even know you did!" "Think about this year and last year." "The things we need to apologize for sometimes keep us up at night. As soon as we apologize, we can stop thinking about it." "You might need to apologize for something even if that person is your best friend." "If anyone feels like they need to apologize for something to the whole group, feel free to say it now." After about 25 minutes, I told students they would now have the chance to apologize to one another privately. I explained that they were not allowed to stand near someone who was apologizing and wait. This would be rude. I explained that it was important to give everyone who is apologizing space to feel comfortable to say what they needed to say and get it out. While I was going around saying my apologies, I also was being the teacher (and trying to overhear some of them). It warmed my heart to hear kids say things like "I'm sorry for when I talked about you behind your back." "I'm sorry for not always being a good friend to you."

It was AHHH-Mazing! 

AHHH-MAZING! A lesson I will NEVER forget. And, I don't think many of my students will either. I think I taught them something that a lot of grown-ups don't even know how to do right. I even explained to them that as soon as you say "but I did it because..." you have stopped apologizing and started excusing. Keep the excuses out of your apology and remember that you can't change another person, you can only change how you act and respond to them.
The next day, I gave each student a plastic heart from the dollar store. I told them, this represents love and kindness. Each of you gets to choose whether or not you hold it tight or whether you pass it on to another person. I told them that if they choose to pass it on to another person, they must tell them why and then explain 

"This heart represents love and kindness. You can choose to hold it tight and keep it for yourself, or you can choose to pass it on to someone else. If you pass it on, you have to tell them the same."

I explained to students that by holding on to the heart and not letting it go, we actually had less love. The heart is symbolic of what we have to pass on and by passing it on (with the plastic heart or in other ways), we are actually increasing the love and kindness in the world. By the time we got together the next day, one of our hearts had already made it through the after school teachers, to another two students, and back to a student in our classroom. How awesome!

Towards the end of the week, I read Oh, the Places You Will Go. This was my book to remind them of how tough life can be, and that sometimes we might find ourselves on a dark road where we can't even remember who we are (who we used to be). I told them, "you might not even know how you got on the dark road or how to get off of it. You might find yourself on the dark road and not even realize you were on your way down it." I told them it was hard for me to give them any advice about the dark road, because everyone's dark road will be different, but I had a few strategies for them. 

1) When you realize you are on the dark road, find those people who remember the YOU that you are right now. The people who see the good in you will be able to remind you of who you are. These people might be best friends, teachers, parents, preachers, grandparents. Decide who those people are right now. 

2) Read Oh, the Places You will Go for some advice. It might help you when you are in your dark place. 
On Friday, I introduced Spy Reports. (I'll post more about how this went and show some examples in a future post). But, let's just say they were SUPER DUPER EXCITED! We have had two Spy Report sessions since, and I can already tell they will be looking forward to it each week! 

At some point in the week, I told my students "Who you are is "good people." (I know this is not grammatically correct). The phrase "good people" is common around our town. You hear "They're 'good people'" or "They come from 'good people." "They's some good people." I told them, in my mind and memory they will always fall into the category of "good people." I know who they will grow up to be will be "good people," but we need to work on bringing out who we are on a regular basis. We need to let the "who we are" on the inside SHINE OUT on the outside every second, moment, hour of every day. Now, this is a TALL order (for me too, not just my kiddos), but our continued conversations and reminders or our goal to be who we are in the most positive sense will continue to help us all grow in how we treat the people we encounter inside the classroom and out.

I hope some of these ideas will help you to build a classroom community. This is just a taste of what we did for a week. Lots more is going on, but these lessons (in January of teaching kids for a year and a half already) have set a foundation for the rest of the year that we have together and hopefully for my students' transition to middle school.

Don't forget to tune in tomorrow for a special Top 2 for Tuesday announcement! 


  1. WOW, you have so many things here that I have no idea where to begin!
    1. Thanks for your lovely comment, it was really apreciated!
    2. I love the heart activity. I really want to try it out with one my groups.
    3. I really do think that this lesson is something other adults might need.
    4.I can't wait for tommoro Tuesday special announcment!
    5. I really think you should host a linky party, I would love to link up with you :)

    ok this is way to much of a long comment,lol!
    Happy Teaching,

  2. Hi Vanessa,

    Thanks for the comment :) I have had my comments turned off (or something funky) until, it feels great to get such a good comment on this post. I totally agree that many adults need these lessons. Truth be told, I needed them myself, and I think it's so important to open ourselves up to our kiddos and let them know we are people who struggle too. I LOVE working with 5th graders because they are at the age that you can talk to them about these things and it just might stick. Thanks for stopping by!



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