Thursday, October 5, 2017

The Power of Lights

It was late November as I started to hang up my Random Acts of Kindness (RAOK)  bags on clothespins in front of my classroom window. Each year we use these bags to not only count down until Winter break, but to bring attention to ways to be kind, through prompts and activities.  I explain to my students that during the holiday season we are all a little kinder, a little more considerate, and little more loving to one another.

 Afterward, I draped my string of Christmas lights along the wall surrounding our morning meeting area. The lights added to the festive nature, reminding me of good things in the world, like fairs, summer nights, and neon lights. I told my students that our lights reminded us to be kind to others; a symbol of goodness we should remember.

But soon the time was up. As the break approached and I prepared to take down my decorations I had a thought: why is kindness only once a year? Why take down my lights as if "kind time" is over and it's time to head back to the hustle and bustle, the pushing and shoving?

And so they stayed; through winter, spring, summer and fall. And the story of kindness no longer began in December with the hanging of lights, but in September with the reason why the lights are still hanging.

You see, lights are not just lights, they are symbols to which we attach constructs of our behavior. They are the meat, that prompts us to ring the bell, which in this case is the bell of kindness to all.

The next time you see lights in a classroom stop to reflect on their significance and ask the teacher why. Because it's not what it's not a light string with an expiration date, but a reminder of a year long practice cemented to our schema through visually cues and memories.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Neural Ed Summit: Building a Greenhouse for Orchids

I've always been that "odd" kid. Growing up I was so anxiety ridden I worried when other kids' names were written on the board (true story). So I get it when my kindergartners, or any students, suffer from extreme shyness, anxiety, worry, or difficulty with attention span. To me these kids are not odd, but just like me. We are all unique. Which is why students do not need a factory model of education: where everyone gets the same thing at the same time, in lockstep, until graduation. They need a personalized model: as individuals they deserve to learn at their level, at their pace, with curiosity and creativity in play.

This, of course, means change for many. Change is hard. It makes us uncomfortable, but with it comes growth and all that is good. And to put it in the words of  Adam Welcome & Todd Nesloney, "Kids Deserve it." We didn't become teachers to listen to ourselves talk, rather, we became teachers to inspire learning.

During the Neural Ed Summit (last week) at PLU we learned about Dandelions and Orchids: Kids that are unfazed by stress and those that are highly sensitive. Not knowing research had been done in this area I had been milling along, attempting to find ways to connect with my sensitive students. I even garnered a small trampoline at the end of this last school year, not positive where I would be using it, but knowing it felt right.

But it all fell together during a presentation by Mary Snyder where she discussed ways her school was approaching the Orchids, who are many times seen as the "trouble" kids, by building a greenhouse for them (in school supports). My heart kept yelling "YES!" every time she spoke of a way to help, rather than punish, the child.

What's Happening at Mary's School:
 The school provides a place for kids to go to diffuse and regain calmness; A place that has tools for students to use to reenter their Pre-Frontal Cortex (PFC) and leave the fight/ flight/ freeze response set in motion by the amygdala when they hit stress in the classroom.

Tools like a lava lamp, fish tank, plants to water, jigsaw puzzles, and drawing/coloring can allow overstimulated kids to relax. While kids in fight/flight can play ping pong (with a student or teacher, to build empathy/ relationships, *3Ft size), balls to bounce/catch (to get back in the PFC by focusing on a skill), use a stationary bike, bounce on a yoga ball, shoot hoops, or use a personal size trampoline.  And get this: the students have the right to walk several laps around the school to regain a ready to learn mindset, without being interrupted by teachers asking where they are going and why. Because movement, in itself, is the most effective way to change mindset.

As our leader, trainer, "Yoda," Kieran O'Mahoney pointed out, there is a need for the students, not the teachers, to be in control of their situation. For students to go from a point of resistance to a point of resilience when allowed to make choices based on what they know about their brain. Therefore, students should not be questioned in the hallway by other teachers as that only escalates the current emotional state, rather than negate it. It makes me think about how allowing some of my Orchids to walk to the office and retrieve my mail (I'm in a portable) is fabulous for me AND them. It allows movement, time to refocus on a task, help others, and be in control. However, if teachers think students shouldn't be in the hallway without a teacher, and interrupts the student to ask why, it ruins the purpose of the exercise.

As a parent of an Orchid I was hoping this type of mindset space would come into fruition at my school, however, time and space are both issues. Yet when placed in comparison to the number of hours admin deal with student problems, wouldn't it be worth it? Students would spend more time learning, and teachers would spend more time teaching, instead of managing behaviors.

2 Strong Takeaways:
Train students on how to understand their brain.
Train teachers on what students need.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Manic Monday: 5 Takeaways from the #NeuralEd Summit

On Monday I hiked on over, 2.5 hours, to head to a Neural Education Summit at Pacific Lutheran College. I gotta admit, I was excited, but hesitant...did I really want to drive that long, be away from my daughter, and, let's admit it, leave my comfort zone for the unknown *Introvert Alert*.

But I have always been overly FASCINATED with the brain. It all began when my grandmother gave me a model of the brain in 3rd grade. It was a model that was in her husbands office (he was a doctor, she a nurse). I toted that brain model to school for sharing, so proud of it. So intrigued.

What I have learned has been phenomenal, amazing, life altering and I want to share some of it with you.

5 Amazing Takeaways

1. The brain learns best through use of SENSES. Want to cement something to memory? Associate a scent to it. This would explain why the smell of grape stickers transports me back to second grade (my award for excellence contained a grape scratch and sniff sticker).

2. If you want kids to retain info, you need to make sure the pre-frontal cortex is ENGAGED. Engagement occurs when you care about your learning, are actively involved, and experiencing dopamine through the happiness or elevated mood present.

3. Brain breaks need to involve activity AND fun AND occur frequently: this will result in higher dopamine/higher levels of engagement. Think you are an adult and subsequently don't need a brain break? Think again. Everyone needs brain breaks in order to stay engaged. Think of those long college classes where you would zone out after an hour...

4. Dandelions and Orchids are two types of students we see in the classroom. Think about dandelions: they are hardy, nothing bothers them, they float with the breeze. Now imagine an orchid: it is amazingly beautiful yet fragile, needy, and can barely be kept alive. Consequently, Dandelions in our class will be able to roll with the ups and down, while our Orchids need greenhouses to ensure success. Greenhouses are the stable adults that help them to continue to grow. Johnny doesn't care what happens in class, he adapts to what is presented. Joseph shuts down when faced with a challenge, or change, he is reactive & ends up in his amygdala thinking about flight, fight, or freeze. He needs a place/activity to refocus and get back to his pre-frontal cortex.

5. Everyone's brain continues to form neurons: new neuroscience shows that as adults we still take in information and grow neurons. That said, the best way to learn is through novelty (something new is added), movement (your pre-frontal cortex/working memory is engaged), scent (orange and peppermint are 2 great choices), and music (we all know why--just play Journey and listen to everyone sing along).

I am so excited I will be continuing to share great epiphanies in the upcoming days. Be sure and check out the website in the meantime:

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Someone Was Going to, but No One Did: The Life of a Parent Group

I wasn't planning on going. Honestly, I didn't remember there was a meeting until I saw a familiar parental face setting up in the cafeteria as I finally left school at 5. I checked my email and sure enough there was a Lincoln Parent Council (LPC) meeting.

There is a parent group meeting tonight, I told Sierra. I tend to think aloud and really didn't expect a response. We should go, she said. We have to go home and let the dogs out, I said.

And so home we went. Sierra brought it up a couple more times in the car, but I was sure she would forget about it after we got home.

I have many good intentions that do not come to fruition. So many times  "I'd love to do that" becomes "I don't want to get back up off the couch." Teaching is tiring in a way non-teachers cannot even comprehend. I giggle each day as I see my student teacher say things like, "I can't even talk anymore" or "Why was I over here again?" I giggle and tell her she is indeed a real teacher now, not just a student teacher, and that her funny notations let me know I am normal, which is not always apparent to me.

Yet, as I sat, lethargically on the couch, at 5:25, Sierra showed up saying, Please Mommy, can we go? I promise to do my job while you are learning. You know learning is important. Who is this kid? And where did mine go? Okay, but you'll be with the child care group, I lamented.

As we approached the school I "ugh"d, as in UGH I forgot my phone! Not missing a step Sierra replied, That's okay, you won't get distracted while learning. Again, my chin fell to the floor in shock. Pod people? Alien invasion? Sierra maturing? Pod people seemed most likely.

Upon entering I was perplexed: there were 4 board members present and others. The others included me and our vice principal. So really, there were people present. 3 (even with free childcare).  Did you hear me say 3 parents to represent the 500+ students in our school????

Now, I'm not shaming anyone, as previously noted I have a hard time getting off the couch, however, there should be some folks, out of 500-1000 parents (depending on the 1-2 parent household ratio) that ARE available to attend at least once in a while. Ones that are younger, in better shape, and can get off the couch easier than I.

I'm seriously still in shock...and that takes a lot.

It reminds me of

“The Responsibility Poem”

There was a most important job that needed to be done,
And no reason not to do it, there was absolutely none.
But in vital matters such as this, the thing you have to ask
Is who exactly will it be who’ll carry out the task?
Anybody could have told you that Everybody knew
That this was something Somebody would surely have to do.
Nobody was unwilling; Anybody had the ability.
But Nobody believed that it was their responsibility.
It seemed to be a job that Anybody could have done,
If Anybody thought he was supposed to be the one.
But since Everybody recognized that Anybody could,
Everybody took for granted that Somebody would.
But Nobody told Anybody that we are aware of,
That he would be in charge of seeing it was taken care of.
And Nobody took it on himself to follow through,
And do what Everybody thought that Somebody would do.
When what Everybody needed so did not get done at all,
Everybody was complaining that Somebody dropped the ball.
Anybody then could see it was an awful crying shame,
And Everybody looked around for Somebody to blame.
Somebody should have done the job
And Everybody should have,
But in the end Nobody did
What Anybody could have.
Charles Osgood

Who is responsible for our children, our school, and therefore, our parent council? The village: we all have a part. Whether you are able to show up, or just volunteer for an at home job (like coordinating an event) step up. Our village desperately needs you...

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Seesaw:Online Digital Portfolios ROCK!

I do not work for Seesaw, nor am I paid for singing their praises. In actuality, I do it because I    love it.

I learned about Seesaw from a training at #NCCE2016 provided by Heather Marrs. I actually attended her session
Needed to volunteer & got the hardest job for an introvert...
by chance.

I didn't pick it. I didn't even know what seesaw was, other than a toy from my school days.
NCCE had a preliminary meet and greet and I attended. I immediately regretted it (sorry NCCE). 
I felt like I had just went through a time portal back to junior high, to a dance in the gym, and I was the wallflower...still. None of the major players were there (were they at the cooler party?) was dull. As I admired the bamboo snack trays I started chatting with Heather, which, quite honestly, was out of this introverts comfort range so I am not sure why I did it. However, that said, I believe in things that happen by chance, yet were destined to be:   


I found what I didn't know I was looking for: Seesaw.

Heather invited us to attend her session and we learned via hands-on engagement. We were hooked. 

Fast forward 2 years and I just finished my 5th peer presentation on #Seesaw...hoping to instill the love I found, in others. 

There is definitely a digital divide in education. It's clearly diagrammed here by
 Joanna Tovar Barnes on her #WATeachLead blog

Seesaw can easily make your experience a 4. 

Monday, April 10, 2017

Makerspace in K: What Does it Look Like? What Does it Do for kids?

Back in the day I added, "Creation Station" to my kindergarten "free choice" options. It was a center stuffed with scrap paper of various shapes, sizes, and colors. It also held confetti, die cuts, stamps, envelopes, you get the idea. My goal was to allow creativity through a writing/craft type of center. Let the kids put writing to real life by making a card for a parent or friend, making a "bracelet" or crafting a picture. The results were OK. Most kids, not surprisingly, would not incorporate writing as they struggled with writing. Most were glad to make things, but they didn't usually go the extra mile. The items were simplistic in design.

     The items were simplistic in design.

This year I decided to switch things up and add a cart...a rolling IKEA cart to the classroom and call it a Makerspace Cart. To be honest, I didn't have much knowledge on Makerspace. I really wasn't sure what it meant, but it sounded cool. And to the cart I added a plethora of items to choose from: Popsicle sticks, googly eyes, glue, ribbon, tape, boxes of various sizes (down to the box the tape came in!), tissue paper, construction paper, string, and anything odd that I would have just thrown away. Consider it my new recycle center. 

Kids shop the cart daily...even looking at it during other work time for possible "good finds" such as a plastic bottle, a gold buckle, a discarded hanger. 

There are no rules at the MakerSpace cart other than to clean up your own mess and put things back where you find them.

What have I noticed? Incredibly diverse creations. Creations to help their parents solve problems (dumbwaiter made from paper and string). Items to fill their heart (stuffed animal). Items for others (toilet paper roll basket). The list goes on and on and rather than repeating, new things are constantly appearing. Each kid now comes up with complex, amazing items akin to designers and engineers. We have gone from mediocre to marvelous. 

We have gone from mediocre to marvelous. 

Listen as this kiddo details what she made.

Are you ready to see amazing things? Here's what you need.

1. A table, center, or cart to house materials.
2. An abundance of various supplies like sticks, buttons, tissue, construction paper, straws, etc.
3. TAPE and CARDBOARD (must haves!!)
4. Anything set to be thrown away (lids, bottles, small cups, paper towel and toilet paper rolls, etc.).

Next time you go to throw something in the trash, 
think to yourself...could this be usable in the MakerSpace?

Inventors and Inventions of the Day!

Great inventions are only limited by the time and supplies to create them. The ideas are there. The students just need our castoffs to solve problems. Make your own Makerspace today!

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Untangling the Leash...867-5309

One lazy Sunday I decided to get a head start on washing the bedding. I rolled up my jumbo comforter and shoved it in my, really not jumbo, washer. I hit start proud of my accomplishment to get laundry started so soon in the morning.

I headed outside and focused on morning chores: horses, chickens, cleaning and then walked back to the house. I wondered where I put my phone (which was not unusual at all) and then realized it was IN the comforter, IN the washer (very unusual).

The result was what Apple calls, "catastrophic damage." There wasn't enough rice in the world to fix this problem.

My phone, my best friend, my constant companion was MIA. I immediately was at a loss as to what I was doing. My personal assistant tracked that. I had no idea my sister's phone number either. My PA was in charge of that too. Life seemed to be at a standstill.

Thankfully, the repair tech reminded me of iCloud, who, seriously is now my #1 BFF because she saved me, more importantly my 2,000 photos, and my calendar. Although I have what seems like triple backups, this one fails (external hard drive), and that one somehow doesn't work (Google photo), and I'm left feeling like the main character in, "Just My Luck."

Photos safe, and a calendar in front of me, I went through a withdrawal of 8 days. I was surprised how much easier it was than I thought. Previously, accidentally leaving my phone at home was a disaster of epic proportions. Now: a mere blip on the screen. I liken the ease to my 80s childhood when, gasp, I had to stop somewhere if I wanted to use the phone. If I took pictures I had to wait 2 weeks for the prints. And if I wanted to know something I had to go to the library.

I had become ensnared by the very thing I thought was providing me more freedom, more time, and easier living. My leash had become tighter and tighter with each new model, twisting around me until I could no longer move without moving the leash too.

My catastrophic event brought me movement I didn't realize was missing: time to read, time to focus, time to play.

A blessing wrapped in camouflage.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

The Domino Affect: Negativity- The Thief that Steals Happiness

It's taken awhile to get happy again.

As a child I was overly jubilant, just ask my mom. She said I was so giggly I nearly drowned every time I swam: there was no way to keep the water out of mouth. Looking at childhood photos shows a happy child with a permagrin...typically wearing a bell on a string (I've always been a trendsetter, although my sister would disagree), ENJOYING life. I was good at it.

The permagrin left for a long time (that's a story in need of a book) but resurfaced when my daughter was a toddler. Her joy and interest in the minutiae helped me to relocate that lost inner child. The one that says, let's stop to smell the flowers now...before we die and can't.

Let's be real...time is fleeting. You can waste it enjoyably or unenjoyably, the choice is yours. Where would you prefer to spend your time? Around people who are laughing and joking through this thing called life or amongst a group of serious, joy killers?

This is not to say bad days don't happen. I am the poster child for it. My motto: if I didn't have bad luck I'd have no luck. But we need to realize the effect we have on others when we choose to have bad days (yes, choose). Everything is a choice. And in life the domino affect is ever present.

I went to a meeting yesterday with someone having a bad day. It wasn't meant to be shared, but unknowingly it was. I immediately felt the negativity creep over me. It continued to creep on during the day, rearing it's ugly head during class time. Exposure to negativity can lead to a case of the grumpies. And boy did I have it.

This person didn't realize what was happening, but by the end of the day I was in a foul mood and they had regained all their love for the world.

Remember to live in the now and come in with a happy heart. Problems can be left at the door. They'll still be waiting for you when you're done.

I'm in LOVE.....with Seesaw

It's only appropriate that I am in love with something as Single Awareness Day approaches. The day when people profess their love so much that single people fall ill in the fog of it.

I have been in LOVE with the Seesaw App ever since we met at the NCCE 2015 conference in Portland.

This was my first ever tech conference. I scoured the program for interesting titles. I had no background knowledge of Seesaw. My only construct was the name similarity to a Scholastic book club magazine, which I was sure had nothing to do with it.

Heather Marrs was our teacher and led us through activities a class could easily do: interview a partner, take a selfie, add text to a selfie, add a comment to a photo, solve simple math problems by using your finger as a stylus to show how you found your answer. Our "work" seemed more like "fun."

At the end of our workshop I was smitten. Heather mentioned how she was a Seesaw ambassador and I immediately scoured the web to find out how to become one.

What I saw was a digital online portfolio created by students and teachers. One that allowed students to be engaged in authentic audience interaction. Depending on the age of the student, they can provide positive comments on classmates work and see positive comments written by family members. No longer do you need to ask the dreaded, "What did you do at school today?" question. The one that is answered by a shoulder shrug, an, "I don't remember" or "nothing."

Parents, aunts, uncles, long distance grandparents can all check in on their smart phone or computer and see at a glance what and how their loved one is doing. They can see the joy in their heart during science centers, they can see them goofing off in the back, sometimes, but they see it! Like a porthole on a steamer Seesaw brings that authentic learning to life.

This time of the year I teach a few friends to start doing the seesaw documenting for me. It's a little bit of a learning curve...blurry photos with heads cut off don't quite equal quality examples (it is Kindergarten! but everyone is a beginning and soon everyone is an expert.)

Thank you Seesaw for such a great portfolio system!!

Top 10 Reasons to Try Seesaw
1. Its FREE  and parents can access it on their smart phone or computer.
2. The kids are excited to share what they learned.
3. The kids can no longer claim you teach nothing during the day.
4. You've got documentation for parents, TPEP, or any other hoop thrown at you. ❤
5. Students can document learning while you are teaching. They can capture what you miss.
6. Students not only document but they interact with assignments posted via teachers.
7. Students can work towards mastery: they can reevaluate work and edit it as their knowledge base expands.
8. Using it for reading fluency peaks student interest on attaining personal goals. They hear themselves read!
9. It translates posts into 55 languages!! There is no language barrier!
10. It can be used to connect with other classes (the blog feature) or to share information (like class newsletters) via notes!

If you try Seesaw I bet you will love it too. Feel free to text me with any questions.

Happy Seesawing!!

Sunday, January 15, 2017

I'm OK with Second Place

Image Source: USNewsHealth

If you are around primary kids at all, you know it's all about being first, primarily to the dot outside the classroom. No amount of discussion can dismiss this idea. So with unyielding energy they bound toward the door, irregardless of the amount of ice on the pavement outside said door.

We all know winning (in all types of forms) feels fantastic. Case in point: the #1 reason for teaching kindergarten is the rock star status you achieve (hence the winning feeling). I feel like Taylor Swift, maybe an older Taylor, but Taylor none the less, as I walk the hallways, cafeteria and playground. Shouts of, "Ms. Foley!! Ms. Foley!!" pepper the air in high pitched shrieks. Running kids with arms outstretched and smiles etched ear to ear hug me with true, altruistic, love.

And I'm not talking just current students, but many of my students from all grades (K-5). Granted they get to 3rd and hugging is no longer cool, but I have a few die hard fans that still visit my room with great enthusiasm...marveling at the midget furniture that was once too big for them, smiles envelope their face as they talk of fun times in the kitchen area, sparkling eyes look at me with true happiness and say, "I miss you, Ms. Foley!"

It's the reason I have an open door policy. "Come back any time," I say then realizing it's typically recess time. But I sincerely mean it. Those kiddos get me through my toughest days as a teacher. They pick up the slack since there is only 1 me. They empty the recycle bin, they clean the tables, they hand out snack, they sharpen the pencils, for the pure joy of it.

So it was no surprise when one of my kiddos, now a fifth grader stopped by, clutching a Christmas card. "You are just the sweetest!" I said as a smile made it's way across my face. A quick hug and she was on her way.

I tucked my prize aside, saving it for later.  As evening approached I opened the handwritten card which started softly..."Dear Mrs. Foley, I hope you have a splendid Christmas" I beamed ear to ear. "Honestly," it continued, "you are the reason kindergarten is my second favorite grade (fifth/this year is my fav)! Merry Christmas."

I chuckled, out loud, several times (If you know me, it's what I do, sometimes at totally inappropriate moments. Luckily, I was alone.). I thought to myself my letter had a certain Dear John-esque feel to it. All those years in first place, only now to be ousted by fifth.

And then it hit me...why had I not been ousted years ago? Of course your kinder teacher holds a special place in your heart, but your heart is big, there is room for more. And my happiness turned a little gloomy as I thought about it. No, not every kid is going to click with every teacher, but my own education was littered with such great memories of connections teachers made with me.

I had Mrs. Chormicle, who I adored, for K and 2nd. I enjoyed Mrs. Skinner in 1st (although I was afraid of her daughter, the class para). I loved Mrs. Locke in 3rd who gave me her copy of, "Island of the Blue Dolphins." In 4th, Ms. Smith was divorced, with red hair, glasses, and an outgoing personality and I loved her. She was followed by Mrs. Dassler in 5th. She was a brand new teacher and I adored her. I even went as far as to solicit funds from classmates to buy cake mix and frosting for an end of the year cake I made for her.

I am guessing that's why it surprises me when students do not have a long list of favorite teachers. Since I had a good experience in elementary I think other students will as well.

I don't blame the teachers, but I do blame a system that says, "do more with less time, and hurry it up." A system that, due to class sizes and other constraints, depletes any time to learn, really learn about the students we teach and to connect to them.

I sometimes do it myself. I have so much to focus on, academic wise, I simply must move kids along, I don't have the time to hear what happened this weekend, or at home, or with their dog. But when I do allow enough time to listen I realize how much the students yearn to connect with their teachers. How needy they are to let me know that mom bought them a toy, that grandma is in town, or that their little brother is really mean. And so this last week I took extra time to let students blather on, uninterrupted, about life's moments and it made me smile, ear to ear.

Academics are important, but not without an emotional connection first.

So to the fifth grade teacher who took over first place I say, "Bravo! Way to make an impact!" I hope to be ousted more often. Second place is a great place to be.