I have to admit, winter is not my favorite time of year. I love summer! I love being out on the water fishing, sitting on a deck, or basking in the glow of the warm sun. Those enjoyable moments are not as easy to do in the winter (by the way, even though I am from northern Minnesota, I am not a fan of ice fishing!).
On a brisk walk one abnormally cold, Sunday, November afternoon, I realized I don’t just like summer because of those lovely activities, but because I find myself able to stop, breathe, and take a few moments for myself away from school and teaching. Then I began to wonder, why don’t I stop, breathe, and take a few moments for myself during the school year? A recent conversation with a fellow teacher reminded me that as education speeds up, we keep trying to keep up. Why don’t we try to slow it down? How can we slow down during the school year? Here are some ideas that I am going to try in the next few months. I know that life is just going to get busier, so hopefully these will help me to stop, breathe, and slow things down.
Take a calming breath
According to the website The Best Brain Possible by Debbie Hampton, “your breath is your remote control to calm your brain and body”. Here is an effective breathing technique that slows oneself down.
Here is a 30-second video that is a great guide to a breathing technique.
Visualizing, sometimes known as guided imagery, is a great tool to add to the calming breath. Visualizing a place that brings you peace, even for a few moments, can help to re-center a person. According to MentalHealth.net, visualizing creates “an element of distraction which serves to redirect people’s attention away from what is stressing them and towards an alternative focus”. This can be especially helpful for assisting one’s sleep, so it is a well-spent five to 15 minutes prior to bedtime. My favorite imagery is sitting on my Dad’s boat, hearing a loon call, seeing the calm blue-green water and smelling the fresh scent of pine trees in the air. This image, along with the calming breaths, is a great way to slow down after a busy day.
If you need a place to start, you can try this video which is a guided imagery tour in a mountain forest.
Ask for Help
Anyone who knows me knows that asking for help is not one of my strong suits. I have found that it stems from expecting perfection of myself. However, this desire for perfection and lack of asking for help actually increases my stress. Asking for help and dividing large tasks between colleagues can make those stressful, large tasks seem much more manageable. Then it doesn’t just fall on one person to complete. Seek out colleagues with whom you feel comfortable asking for help and let them know you appreciate their assistance.
Know your limits
The old phrase of “just say no” applies here. As educators, we are dedicated to doing everything for our students and families. However, there comes a time when you need to know your limits and just say no to a new task or project. This simple word can be a huge stress-saver. Obviously, there are some tasks we must do, but there are other times I find myself adding things to my plate without realizing it. I have to remind myself that I can do a few things well, or many things poorly. Let something go, for now, and come back to it when you have more time to dedicate to it. Sometimes it isn’t “no”, but rather “just not now”.
Reflect on what makes you laugh or smile
According to the website The Science Alert, researchers at the University of Maryland “have linked laughter to the healthy function of blood vessels – something that can lower your chance of heart attack”. Furthermore, the same researchers found that laughter could boost ones’ heart rate and the production of certain antibodies, which can strengthen ones’ immune system. Considering how it is quite easy to get run-down and sick in education (especially since those of us in the education field are exposed daily to many illnesses), couldn’t we all use a few more antibodies? Each day, I try to find one thing that a student does that will make me laugh and remind me why I love teaching. I sometimes even jot down the funny statements students say on a post-it note and stick it on my computer. That way, when I am stressed and feeling overwhelmed, I read that little statement, smile and remember why I love what I do!
In the next few months, as the winds blow colder, the snow falls heavier, the workload gets crazier, and my stress is high, I hope that these five simple stress-relieving techniques will help me to slow down and enjoy life more.
This post brought to you by Katie Miller, K-12 EL Implementation Associate
My son just proposed to his girlfriend this summer. He dreamed up a memorable event that included a treasure chest with some silver and a few diamonds in the shape of a lovely ring. I “hid” behind the bushes at Whitewater State Park and took pictures. It was a sweet, tender moment and I was very happy to be a part of it.
From Whitewater to the Classroom
Every now and again, I take a class because I like to be reminded of how it feels to be a student. And as soon as I sit down in a desk, the questions start:
It’s a Metaphor (which is a strategy you can use . . .)
As you consider these two seemingly unrelated stories, there is a theme with one common burning question between them: WILL I BE ENGAGED?
Dropping Out: The Unengaged
In chapter one of Total Participation Techniques-Making Every Student an Active Learner, authors Persida and William Himmele cite the number one reason for dropping out of high school: BOREDOM (5). These dropouts are disengaged. Further, seventy-five percent of prison inmates are dropouts (5). The deleterious effect of disengagement in the classroom could mean a lifetime behind bars. Of course, this is one of many factors that may lead to incarceration, but it is worth investigating.
We Just Can’t Chalk and Talk Anymore
“If we want our students to actually learn the facts and concepts and ideas we’re trying to teach them, they have to experience those things.... They have to process them. Manipulate them. To really learn in a way that will stick, they have to DO something” ("To Learn, Students Need to Do Something", Jennifer Gonzalez, 2018).
To combat BOREDOM and to truly TEACH our students, we must engage them.
Quick and Dirty: Thumbs Up/Thumbs Down
This spur-of-the-moment toolbox strategy is great for total participation and something I use to introduce freedom of speech in my government class:
“Thumbs Up if this speech is protected by the First Amendment. Thumbs Down if it isn’t.
While engagement is high, this strategy falls under what the Himmeles call “Low Cognition/High Participation” (15). Everybody is engaged, but what higher-level thinking is going on? If we want “High Cognition/High Participation” (15), we’ve got to level up, but how?
Try Lighting a Fire
As noted in the blog post "More Strategies for Instructional Dialogue: You Can Never Have Too Many!", Ellen Harford details “The Campfire” from Dr. Sharroky Hollie’s book Strategies for Culturally and Linguistically Responsive Teaching and Learning.
I have used this strategy in my sociology class as we discussed the very sensitive topic of Rape Culture. Because my students were allowed time to read an article, digest a quote, and respond to a question on their own, our conversation was deeper and richer than a whole-group discussion would have been. Every student participated and every student benefited from hearing the thoughts of those 3-4 around them.
There are hundreds of ways to engage students; I highly recommend what I referenced above: Total Participation Techniques: Making Every Student an Active Learner. It's full of quick and dirty methods to engage your students.
Now, it’s not WILL I BE ENGAGED? But, HOW WILL I ENGAGE?
This post brought to you by Ann Eldredge, social studies teacher at John Marshall High School
Feel free to connect with Eldredge via email
When we share stories with one another we become bound together in powerful ways. Stories provide hope: they have the potential to shine a light into the darkness and challenge us to change our thinking. Stories matter. Stories are powerful. Each month, the Department of Curriculum and Instruction partners with the RPS equity specialists and American Indian Liaison to share the stories of those in our own backyard who are often silenced.
This month, our focus is on restorative circles. Each member of our equity team shares their experiences and insight.
From Dawn Bjoraker…
Everything we do is in a circle. We are born, we turn into youth, we turn into elders, and then we pass. Spring, summer, winter, and fall. Usually, around mid to late February we begin to wonder if the snow will ever stop and if spring will ever arrive. Without fail, it always does.
We have four parts of our being: spiritual, emotional, intellectual and physical. Mind, heart, body, and spirit, it is all connected. We are all connected. Mitakuye Oyasin (we are all related / all my relatives). One cannot function properly without the other. Much like a circle where there is no beginning and no end, it is a process. Instead of top-down, it goes around and around. We are responsible for and to each other.
In south Minneapolis, I coordinated an after-school group. All of the exercises and activities were conducted in the shape of a circle. There was no teacher and no student. We mutually taught and supported each other. We were able to see faces instead of the back of someone's head. Our sessions always began with an icebreaker. One of our most engaging activities involved The Medicine Wheel, also referred to as the Four Directions.
The Medicine Wheel (or Four Directions):
For more details about The Medicine Wheel, click here.
Dr. Martin Brokenleg is an enrolled member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, who holds a graduate degree in psychology and is also a graduate of Anglican Divinity School. He is known for the Circle of Courage model which is a model of positive youth development. The Circle of Courage utilizes Indigenous ways of life and child rearing based on four universal growth needs of all children: belonging, mastery, independence, and generosity. All of these areas are dependent upon each other.
"In this materialistic, fast-paced culture, many children have broken circles, and the fault line usually starts with damaged relationships. Having no bonds to significant adults, they chase counterfeit belongings through gangs, cults, and promiscuous relationships. Some are so alienated that they have abandoned the pursuit of human attachment. Guarded, lonely, and distrustful, they live in despair or strike out in rage. Families, schools, and youth organizations are being challenged to form new "tribes" for all of our children so there will be no "psychological orphans." -- Dr. Martin Brokenleg
From Willie Tipton…
Group Norms or Guidelines are based on the values identified by circle participants. Guidelines are not rigid constraints, but supportive reminders of the behavioral expectations the participants in the circle share. Typical norms or guidelines are as follows:
An environment of trust and safety allows group members to share more deeply with others. In our circles, the teacher cannot guarantee students will protect each other’s privacy, but can explain and discuss the issue with students and work toward establishing norms that specify the importance of privacy, while defining the expectations we have about confidentiality (keeping in mind that educators are mandatory reporters).
From Martine Haglund…
I have brought restorative practices using circles at my feeder schools following two themes. The first one is relationship-building where students and teachers practice forming positive connections with each other. This theme creates the space where participants come as they are so to receive from one another kindness and support around authentic dialogue regarding conflicts or classroom issues. The second theme uses specific questions to engage participants in discussing and processing a challenging situation so they arrive at making things right. In either theme, as a facilitator, I remain consistent in the sequence of events and outline the steps. I open and close with the bell. I do a check-in rounds to establish connections. Then, I dive into the restorative content. Each circle step is intentional, yet is presented as effortless to participants.
There are various types of circles that teachers can use in their classrooms to connect relationships with high-quality learning consistently. Brief description are listed below:
From Toby Taylor…
I have used Restorative Circles for the last eight years. They have become part of any group work I’ve done since my training here in Rochester. I have found that through Restorative Circles students and staff have found a sense of community through commonalities and vulnerability. I have heard stories of depression and others of hope, which has often propelled me to action or simply allowed me to appreciate my own life a lot more. Students have talked about topics of handling school, mental illness, mass shootings and the state of our country. I have learned a lot by listening as others have given their viewpoints about these touchy subjects.
Last year, I had the opportunity to do some Restorative Circles at ALC that had a great turnout and response. These Restorative Circles were centered on three simple questions, those I call the “Big Three”:
No matter the type, teachers should maintain classroom circles as an activity to acknowledge the unique voices of students, focusing in on the quality of the process and not immediate results.
If you have a question about the resources available for students or staff or if you wish to discuss any of these ideas further, please consider reaching out to our team.
For more information in the ideas touched above, consider the following:
This post brought to you by Dawn Bjoraker, American Indian Liaison for the Rochester Public Schools;
and Martine Haglund, Willie Tipton & Toby Taylor, Equity Specialists for the Rochester Public Schools.
Feel free to connect with them here.
As I am writing this, there is a new blanket of fresh snow on the ground. This can only mean one thing: winter is coming and with it, all the warm and fuzzy feelings I hold about the upcoming holidays are coming. I take time to reflect on what I am thankful for, make space to gather my enormous family, and look forward to the new year ahead.
As an educator I also feel the weight of the holidays and the responsibility I have to consider that others around me may not celebrate the same ways I do.
It's probably not a surprise to those who know me that I have always been interested in world cultures. I wanted to learn all the languages and travel all the places and meet all the people. That’s probably one of the reasons why I became a teacher. When I began my journey as an educator, I was ravenous for information about the different cultures of my students. I believed that if I knew all I could know about their home cultures, I could be the best teacher I could be for them.
However, the more I learned, the more I realized how little I knew! I don’t have to tell you how quickly I became overwhelmed and hopeless. I was convinced that I would offend someone if I said or did the wrong thing because I couldn’t possibly know it all. This fear led me to nervously gloss over questions students would ask or cobble together some half-truth from the bits of knowledge I had. The fear I had that I would be thought incompetent kept me from truly honoring the curiosity of my students. It certainly wasn’t that I didn’t care--I was simply not equipped. That is, until I encountered the notion of cultural humility.
Cultural Humility is a philosophical approach that pushes us to continually challenge our own biases or previously held beliefs, knowing we can not possibly ever know all there is to know about cultures other than our own. It is different from the notion of Cultural Competency, which suggests that by studying a culture we can know all we need to know in order to provide support to our marginalized students. Cultural Humility rather calls on us to examine power imbalances and work to fix them while developing partnerships with those who can advocate for greater systemic change. In other words, it is about lifelong learning and being comfortable with saying, “I don’t know, but I will find out!” It’s considering new understandings, not wallowing in the embarrassment of, “I never knew that,” and striving to rethink the old ways of doing things.
Cultural humility is a motivating force behind the work we are doing in Curriculum and Instruction here in RPS. We know that the myths we’ve been told are not accurate and we know our students--all of our students--deserve better. It is our desire to do better that guides us as we work closely with our American Indian Liaison, Dawn Bjoraker, and our American Indian Parent Committee to improve the way we teach about those who are Indigenous to this land. We have much work to do, but it is with a sense of cultural humility, that we move forward, striving to honor the experiences of our American Indian students and families.
As the snow continues to fall and Thanksgiving approaches, many may be wondering how to best approach the holiday with our students. Luckily, we have some wonderful resources available through our media specialists. I’ve included some links to check out. Also, below is a short video that highlights some ways we can begin to take a new look at the way we teach the upcoming holiday.
Most importantly, don’t be afraid to say I don’t know, but then don’t stop there--work with your students to find the answers. Ask questions, reach out to families, call on the expertise of others, and never stop learning!
This post brought to you by Kim Eversman, E-12 Equity Implementation Associate
Resources for Further Study:
As the snow begins to fall, many of us could use something to help warm us up: especially something that warms us up from the inside. For me, that often comes in the form of learning something new. Tucking myself under a blanket and reading a book, gathering with friends to have a deep discussion, or taking a few hours to get lost in the learning of new skill -- all of these help me forget about the cold outside (for a little while, at least).
If you'd like to warm up a bit with some learning, consider signing up for some of these recently added PD Express courses.
As you try to warm up this winter, consider warming up with some learning.
Sign up via PD Express today!
This post brought to you by Heather Lyke, Secondary Implementation Associate
As an educator I have always enjoyed the reset of the new quarter. I’d spend time highlighting things that worked in my blue plan book ( yep, I’m old school) and I’d make notes on what I’d like to change for the next quarter. One great resource to support you in this is your building instructional coach(es).
Below are five ways teachers in the Rochester Public Schools are using instructional coaches to support their own professional development and growth.
| 1 |
You Pick 2
We all have those students that we haven’t connected with yet. These may be students who need an additional challenge that you want to provide or students who are not yet engaged in your class. They could also be students whose behavior may be getting in the way of their learning. Ask your coach to observe them in your class and in another setting and share the data they observed with you. They can also support you in creating a plan for how to get to know these two students better or do some research on the supports other teachers may already have in place.
| 2 |
Choose a lesson you want to revamp or remodel because it hasn’t gone the way you’ve wanted it to in the past. This may be a reading that students always struggle with or a project where you’d like students to take more ownership. Meet with your coach to share what you’ve done in the past and what you are hoping to change. They can assist you in planning, resource gathering, and carrying the lesson out. For example, one middle school teacher wanted to give students more ownership in her implementation of literature circles. She worked with her coach to create a plan that included more student voice and dialogue. Her coach helped in her planning and also supported her implementation of this model in the classroom.
| 3 |
Culturally & Linguistically Responsive Teaching (CLRT) Strategies
As we are studying CLRT strategies your coach is a great resource for support with trying some new teaching techniques. Teachers at one of our middle schools are trying to implement discussion protocols in their classrooms to improve student voice, engagement and achievement. They are working with their coach to choose a discussion protocol, plan for implementing it, and then reflect on what worked and what they might change the next time they use the protocol in the classroom. An additional conversation is reflection on which students are being validated and affirmed with the various protocols.
| 4 |
If you are being formally observed by an administrator this year your coaches can support you with a practice observation. Although coaches are not trained to score you on the CLASS tool like your administrators are, they can help you see where your strength and growth areas are. Conversation with your coach around the CLASS tool can also help strengthen your reflective conversation with your principal.
| 5 |
The beginning of the quarter is a great time to lay out a rough outline of what you’d like to accomplish in the new quarter. Your coach could help you do some long-range planning and could assist you with the development of formative assessments or resource gathering within the quarter. More lesson planning templates can be found on the Curriculum and Instruction website under teacher planning.
If you are interested in any of these options, reach out to your building's instructional coach(es) or special education coach. If you are not sure who this is, feel free to email me and I can connect you with the appropriate coach.
This post brought to you by Heather Willman, POSA overseeing Secondary Curriculum, Instructional Coaching, & Staff Development
Enjoy our Blog!
Members of the Secondary C&I team weekly post useful tools, tips, and tricks to help you help students.