Testing Week

This post is a combination of my two regular series Pointers and Tidbits in celebration of testing week. Pointers for Parents and Tidbits for Teachers are regular SHORT inspirations to bring hope and encouragement as we set about educating our children.

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It is testing time.  The week we have all been dreading all year!  Seriously, the pressure of standardized testing is one of the most agreed upon topics in education.  It’s all too much.  While teachers and parents both understand the need to measure growth of students, none of us agree with HOW we are currently required to measure them.  Our cries for relief, or at least some common sense, fall on the deaf ears of those in leadership who make the decisions. Rather than rehash same old arguments and repeat the concerns to be blown away in the wind, I have made a list. There are some not-so-serious tips, and a few poignant pointers for all of us, parents AND teachers, who need to survive the weeks ahead.  Happy Testing!

  • Relax. Haha…just kidding.  It is not possible to relax, so do your best to hide your stress.  Stuff it if you have to.
  • Photograph. Show your students/children that a picture only shows one moment in time…just like a test.
  • Eat. On testing weeks, we feed the kids healthy meals in the morning and at lunch, while parents and teachers get candy, cookies, doughnuts as comfort foods.  Since you are stuffing your stress, you might as well stuff your mouth, too.
  • Explain. Discuss what it means to be a good citizen.  How to be kind.  How to be caring.  How to take responsibility and show respect. How to be a community that honors one another.  Tell them those things are more important than any test they will ever take.
  • Resist. The urge to fuss at kids who finish in 2 minutes is strong. Let’s face it, you really want to do much more than just fuss.  Those who don’t read, who don’t use scratch paper, or work out any problems, those who use their paper to doodle, who write in incomplete sentences, who cannot type, those who fall asleep.  RESIST.  Go back to number one…stuff it.
  • Remember. They are kids.  No matter what the powers that be believe, they are just kids who don’t fully understand that all of our futures rest on their performance.
  • Cry. In private of course.  You know how they are doing.  You know it is not all good. You know you will be in the office explaining the low scores in defense of yourself, your parenting/teaching, and the quality of the job you are doing. Get all the tears out BEFORE that meeting.
  • Chin up. If your child/student doesn’t do well, remember their results are not yours. Don’t let it define you. Or them. It is not an accurate measure of success.
  • Dance. Every. Single. Day. Of. Testing.  It shows everyone the test isn’t so important AND it lets the stress explode out of you in a positive way!!  Not to mention it makes the kids think you have gone crazy.  They LOVE this idea.
  • Pray. If you don’t believe in God, this is the week to start.  Pray for calm and peace.  Knowledge to flow and that no one would throw up during the test.
  • Drink. If nothing else works get a glass of wine, beer, hard liquor, water, or sweet tea…whatever your taste, drink to testing.  Cheers!

Spring Break

Pointers for Parents are regular SHORT inspirations to bring hope and encouragement to parents. I hope to build a bridge between parents and teachers as it pertains to the education of children and how we can work together for the betterment of our kids.

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Spring Break.  Those two words just have a lilt to them, don’t they?  They roll off the tongue in kind of a bubbly, sing song voice.  They are the two words every parent, teacher, and child can agree on.  The giddiness that floods the heart when they are heard, or even thought about, is uncontainable.  Of all the breaks in the school year, Spring Break is probably the most anticipated of all of them.  No feast to cook for the relatives.  No gifts to buy.  Nothing but rest.  Whether you are going on a vacation to a tropical place or staying home, it is a week of time just to be together with family.  The pep in your step just from the anticipation of sleeping in is visible to all with whom you come into contact.  The smile on your face is contagious because of the freedom that is coming your way.  Freedom from homework assignments.  Freedom from lessons.  Freedom from schedules.  Freedom from extra-curricular activities. Freedom from practices, games, and rehearsals.  Freedom to picnic or camp.  To hike or shop.  To swim, or ski.  It is a holiday for fun.

I am aware that not every parent gets to join in the fun.  Some still have to work, and there are kids who go to daycare for the week, or grandma’s house.  There are some parents who have to juggle more because of the break. For others sleeping in is still only a dream. However, the freedom is still real.  No coming home to fight over homework.  No calendar of events to keep.  Mostly, you get to see your kids in a relaxed state, and in these days of cram packed schedules it is a joy to see them simply play.

The only shadow that falls over this blissful week is the coming of the most hated week of the school year.  Testing week. At the end of this fabulous holiday is a week or two of reviewing every standard taught throughout the year, and a few that haven’t been taught yet.  It is the time when parents, teachers, and kids ratchet up the anxiety that Spring Break all but removed. The regression and forgetfulness that happen in one week are shocking.  This creates panic as students return with blank stares in classrooms across the country. Here are a couple of simple suggestions to prevent a total loss over the break.

  • Read with your kids. I don’t mean crack the whip and force it, just take books to the beach for FUN.  Reading is supposed to be enjoyable, what better way to make it so than finding a good book and reading together.  No pressure of writing a response.  No test to prepare for.  No analysis to do.  Just read.
  • Practice real world math. Include kids in on the economics of your vacation.  Let them calculate the cost of food.  Have them decide what activities are the most economical. Let them see why you are not able to go on an exotic trip, or show them the reasons you are. Money management is a real thing.  It has to be done so why not take this as an opportunity to show them how.
  • Go to a museum. There are museums of every kind in nearly every city.  Find one where you are and go to it.  Read the displays for reading practice. (Shhhh, don’t tell them that is what they are doing.)  Look at exhibits for science, social studies, or art information. Even if you don’t go on a trip, there are local exhibits to see and usually the admission price is pretty reasonable at museums.  Interact with others and each other.  It is fun.
  • Go to an aquarium. They are a bit more expensive than museums, but the connections kids make with the sea creatures are worth it. There’s more reading and the shows they offer share what is involved in keeping, caring for, and training the animals.  It is entertaining for the whole family.
  • Go for a hike. Parks are cheaper than most other kinds of activities.  They have interpretive trails which come with paper guides that explain each station. (More reading.)  Learning about the habitats of animals and environments gets in some interesting science, and hiking is good for the body.  Win-win.
  • Go shopping. Shopping is another chance to practice economics.  Give your child a set amount and help them manage it.  Whether you are buying souvenirs or school clothes, shopping is an opportunity for them to see where your hard earned money goes and to learn that you don’t get everything you want.  Decisions must be made and priorities set.  Life skills come in the form of a trip through a store.

You get the idea.  Spring Break is supposed to be fun, and acquiring knowledge can be embedded into your holiday if you are intentional.  If you do it right, they will never even know they are learning.   🙂

Close Your Door and Teach

old desk.jpgTidbits for Teachers are regular SHORT inspirations to bring hope and encouragement to teachers in all settings.  I hope to give you a shot in the arm and remind you why you chose this career in the first place.

Teachers have many jobs beyond teaching, and supposedly those other jobs help you become a better educator.  Data collection has its place, but I am not sure I agree it makes my lessons better.  Mandates from the government are important to follow, because they help you keep your job, but they don’t help you help Johnny learn to read.  Testing is a thing, but it shouldn’t be the only thing.  Committees, grade levels, professional learning, staff development are all required, but none of them can replace having a hunch that a student is acting out because they would rather be the trouble maker than the kid who doesn’t know how to read. Ultimately, your intuition is your most important feature.  It cannot be taught or forced or bullied or measured out of you.  You get it from experience.  It is that simple.  All of these other “jobs” take away the time it takes to gain the experience you need.

So how are teachers to improve their practice? Close your door and teach.  I am not saying don’t do the things required of you. You will lose your job if you don’t show up for all the meetings.  I am saying put less importance on anything that is not actual teaching. Close your door and teach.  Do what you know to do.  Collaborate with your students. They are the ones who matter.  Plan with them what they want to do to learn the material.  Close your door and teach.  Avoid teacher drama.  Close your door and teach.  Walk away from administrative bullying.  Close your door and teach.  Adjust to the latest in a long line of standard changes.  Close your door and teach.  Rid yourself of anxiety and angst about possible changes politically. Close your door and teach.  It takes discipline to walk away from pressure packed meetings that tell you how to do your job, which is contrary to what you know.  It requires laser focus to put ‘things that are not helpful’ into the correct perspective and recognize how much they take you away from actual teaching. Close your door and teach.  It takes guts to teach your students developmentally appropriate lessons. Close your door and teach. You know what works.  You know what doesn’t.  You know who to go to when you need help.  Close your door and teach.

Teaching Respect

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Pointers for Parents are regular SHORT inspirations to bring hope and encouragement to parents. I hope to build a bridge between parents and teachers as it pertains to the education of children and how we can work together for the betterment of our kids.

Respect seems to have gone the way of the dinosaur in recent years. In all areas of our society, there is less and less of it as people clamor to have their own voices heard. These voices are getting louder and louder at the expense of common courtesy. Ears seem to be stopped up and consideration for what others think and feel is at an all-time low. This concerns me as both a parent and a teacher because our children are watching.  My question is what are they learning?

The word respect is defined in this way: courteous or considerate treatment of others due to personal worth.  If you break the word down into its parts, the re- means to do again, and –spect means to look at.  In Latin, it means to look at again. In regards to other people, it means to contemplate, or consider other views in a way that is courteous and considerate. It is not what we are witnessing at this time in history.

So how can parents teach their children to be respectful in a day when it is not the “in” thing to do? Here are a few ideas.

  • Show respect. This may seem pretty basic, but children learn by watching you.  Of all the people in their lives YOU as the parent have the most influence on their behavior.  If you are respectful, they will be too.
  • Do not yell at the TV. I know, I know…this may seem like an impossible thing, but you can do it.  Really you can.  Instead of venting your frustrations loudly, try having a conversation with your child that is respectful of those you oppose.
  • Have discussions. It is hard to be respectful if you have no idea what the word means.  So have discussions and talk about respect, what it is, and what it is not.  Do not depend on other people in your child’s life to teach them this important life skill. Show them how to identify it.  Show them how to practice it.
  • Ask questions. Each day, check in with your child.  How were you respectful today?  Did you witness or participate in any disrespectful behavior?  How could you have done it differently to still express yourself but in a way that does not put down others who are different than you? What do you do when you see disrespect at school or in the community?  How can you turn things around?
  • Pay attention.  When you are on the phone, pay attention to the conversation your children are hearing.  They are always listening.  This does not mean you have to pretend to agree with everything all the time, but it does mean you need to demonstrate what healthy debate and disagreement looks like. Your interactions with the people throughout your day are their examples.  Your talk around the dinner table sets the standard.  You are their role model, make yourself a good one. Otherwise, they will find one you may not like.

Respect should not be a difficult subject to teach our children, yet it seems to be in short supply. We need to be intentional in our efforts.  It does not start at the White House, or at school, or on the television.  It starts at home.  It is time to look again… at respect.

Don’t Forget Who You Are

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Tidbits for Teachers are regular SHORT inspirations to bring hope and encouragement to teachers in all settings.  I hope to give you a shot in the arm and remind you why you chose this career in the first place.

Are you bogged down yet?  Are the looming test scores causing you to lose sleep?  I thought so.  As teachers, it is difficult not to allow those scores to haunt you in the back of your mind. Even when you are unaware of it, they are in the shadows of the corners.  This is because you are conscientious. You have the desire for every one of your students to succeed, not just on a test, but in life.  It also doesn’t help much that your job depends on their scores, and that their scores depend on so much more than just what you teach during the school day.  But rather than focus on all the pressure of upcoming testing, and all that you have yet to teach, I want to focus on what is true about most teachers I know.

  • You are both passionate and compassionate.
  • You work extremely hard.
  • You love teaching.
  • You are good at what you do.
  • You teach and reteach not because you have to, but because your students succeed when you do.
  • You truly want them to get it.
  • You know more about your subject area than most people.
  • You know that content is only a small part of educating children.
  • You recognize that teaching life skills, and social skills will take them further than content ever will.
  • You find a way to love even the difficult-to-love students.
  • You spend more of your own money on your classroom than you should.
  • You endure the difficult parts of your job for the privilege of working with kids.
  • You sit through meetings that question your worth, and you take it all personally.
  • You get up and try to jump through whatever the new hoop is, in order to keep doing what you love.
  • You tune out all the voices everywhere that point fingers at you as the problem with education.
  • You rise every morning before the sun to prove that you are NOT the problem.
  • You pray for someone somewhere to listen to you.
  • You keep going even when they don’t.
  • You are resilient.
  • You are tough.
  • You are strong.
  • You are the most determined group of people on the planet.
  • You are amazing.

You are a teacher.  It is who you are to the core. Go and teach your heart out, and know that you have given it your all.  Hold your head high.  Stand firm in your knowledge that you are doing all that you can.  Rest in the fact that there is nothing more you could give.  You have left every ounce of effort on the battle field. On testing days be confident of that.  Then pray that your students will also give every ounce of their own effort.  In the weeks between now and testing, pray that your example of giving it all would inspire them to do the same. Be assured that confidence is caught more than it is taught.  Know that you are good enough, and they will know it too.

What I Know

michelle-in-front-of-yonahI sit here, not knowing what to write.  My newsfeeds are full of political statements.  My friends are on both sides of the aisle.  Many are yelling at one another and I am taken by the polar opposite opinions, each saying the exact same thing about the opposing side.  The names I hear, are liar, bigot, hater, idiot…and some not as nice as those.  Each is convinced that the names they are using are correct, that they are the ones who see things clearly, and that the fog of deception is resting over the eyes of those simple minded fools on the other side.

The thing is, I don’t feel that anyone is simple minded, on either side.  I think every person has valid reasons for their opinions. The miles and miles they have walked in their own shoes have colored their world a certain way. They have not walked in the shoes of another, so they cannot possibly understand things from a different viewpoint.  Disrespecting others viewpoints is not very becoming.  I also do not believe that solving our country’s problems is a simple matter, otherwise they would have been solved by now. It is not as simple as voting in one party or another.  It is not as simple as slashing laws, banning things, or creating new policies.  Both sides have tried this technique, and neither has succeeded in unifying our severely divided country.  We are more polarized than ever, and most folks I know on both sides are deeply concerned about that fact.  Yet, most of us are also passionate about our varying positions, and refuse to consider another point of view other than our own.  It is a conundrum.

I am afraid of where all this self-righteousness will lead us. Our righteousness is as filthy rags…so the Bible says.  Superiority is never a flattering character trait.  In my experience, it requires a bringing low…a humbling.  Humiliation is never fun, in my own life, God has found it necessary at times to show me that his ways are not my ways. Usually, this requires circumstances beyond my control, which bring me to a place of desperate prayer on my knees.  Shocker of shockers, he doesn’t actually need me or my opinions to run the universe!  Nor does he need the United States of America to fulfill his purposes on the Earth. I know that statement is heresy to many, but it is the truth.  We are tiny dots on a small planet hanging in space, and our ideas which say we are more important than that are incorrect. We just need to settle down and think on that for a minute.  Deep breaths. Our lifetimes are but a second…a mist that is gone before the blink of the eye of eternity.  Governments rise and fall…only love lasts beyond human structures…because it is NOT human. It is beyond our capacity to stop it.  Thank God for that!

You may have noticed I do usually not do political statements, or blogs.  There is a reason for that.  I know the passion with which beliefs are held. I respect that passion because it shows care.  If you are a passionate person you are a caring person and you feel your convictions deeply. I am aware that I cannot change a person’s mind on any issue. I do not find the need to vent my own opinions to the world and receive hate mail in return.  I do however, feel pretty passionately on certain issues myself.  In my own household, we run from one extreme to the other. We have to set a limit on how much political talk can happen at family gatherings.  We are all learning to hold our tongues to some degree, but also how to listen to one another.  We have not yet mastered the art of listening with an open heart, to actually consider where we might be mistaken in our own views. We are working on that and will be, as far as I can tell, well into the future.

Education has always been one of my passions and therefore, I cannot always keep silent.  I am trying to wrap my head around the appointment of Betsy Devos.  I cannot understand how this will be a good thing, and I feel pretty strongly about this for a number of reasons, which I will not elaborate on here. Instead, I will try to think positive, and hope that such a huge change might be the impetus to bring the changes our schools so desperately need. Yet, even in typing those words I feel a knot in my gut that says otherwise. Time will tell. However, rather than argue and rant and rave over an issue I cannot change, I want to emphasize what I know.

I know that:

  • Teachers love their students.
  • Teachers will always teach, no matter who is in charge or what is changed.
  • Teachers are passionate people, who use their passion as fuel to do the best job they can.
  • Teachers care for ALL students, and that will be true no matter what happens.
  • Teachers desire the best for schools.
  • Teachers have strong opinions about what that looks like, and will vote accordingly.
  • Teachers are bold.
  • Teachers are some of the hardest working people you will meet.
  • Teachers feel called to their profession.
  • Public schools reach every child, because in the U.S. we believe education is vital to alleviating poverty and creating caring citizens.
  • Public schools bring hope to those children who don’t have much hope at home.
  • Public schools help families to help their children.
  • Public schools are compassionate places.
  • Public schools bring learning to life.
  • Public schools are inclusive.
  • Public schools teach life skills.
  • Students in poverty need public schools and caring teachers.
  • Students mature and grow in classrooms.
  • Students learn how to be a part of a community in school.
  • Students master content.
  • Students make friendships and learn to relate to others.
  • Students see what compassion looks like.
  • Students grasp hard concepts.
  • Students believe in themselves, when they accomplish learning.

Are our schools perfect?  Absolutely not.  Any teacher, parent, or student can tell you that. However, learning takes place in classrooms and it always will.  So while things in Washington change and the wind blows in new directions, know that teachers will not stop teaching.  Schools will go on, and students will continue to learn. No matter what happens.

Winter Blahs

piles of books.jpgPointers for Parents are regular SHORT inspirations to bring hope and encouragement to parents. I hope to build a bridge between parents and teachers as it pertains to the education of children and how we can work together for the betterment of our kids.

A new year is a new start.  It is true for us as adults, and it is true for students as well.  Actually the time between Christmas and Spring Break is some of the most intense instruction, interrupted only by a snow day or two here and there. Ask any teacher and they will tell you that the main thing they hope for during these winter months is uninterrupted instructional time.  It is fast and furious, and to get every standard in before testing, is a challenge even if every minute is used properly.  For parents it is a season to double down and help your child to set some new goals regarding schoolwork.  Otherwise, spring fever starts early.  Yikes!  Here are some pointers for getting the most out of the winter months and avoid the winter blahs.

  • Have your child in school all day, every day. That may sound like common sense, but you would be surprised and how tempting it is to sleep in on a cold morning, or to check out early for an appointment that could have been scheduled after hours.  In winter there are sniffles in the air, or they plain just don’t feel like doing schoolwork. Even homeschool kids who have more flexibility as to when they do schooling seem to lose motivation in the dreary winter days.  Sit down and make a commitment with your child to attend (mentally as well as physically) EVERY SINGLE DAY.
  • Reiterate time management. When the projects, tests, and assignments ramp up in intensity it is time to have a plan of action.  Whether you use an agenda or some other system of scheduling, remember you can schedule academics as well as extracurricular activities.  When there is a paper due, you can back it up and put rough draft on the calendar a few days before the paper is due.  Then put complete research on the calendar a week before that. This is essential for projects as well. By backing things up and getting them written down your child will learn time management which is a critical life skill.
  • Create organization. By this time of year, the folders, binders, and notebooks are a mess.  What started as a fresh system of order has likely degenerated to a backpack full of loose papers with no rhyme or reason. Take all that stuff out and start over.  Throw out papers that are no longer needed.  Get your subjects back in the correct notebooks.  Organize your work space at home as well.  Replenish office supplies like paper, pencils, glue, and make sure you know where the scissors are.  Disorganization disrupts time management by creating a crisis of not knowing where things are and having to stop everything to find the necessary supplies before the work can even start.
  • Be supportive. That means encouraging your student by helping them stay on top of assignments.  It means helping the teacher to help your child by making sure homework is completed and makes its way back to the book bag.  That means paying attention to work that comes home and going over it with your child.  Celebrate the good scores and review the reasons for the bad ones.  It may look different between private, public and homeschool environments, but all kids are the same and need the care and support of their families.

Being engaged in your child’s education doesn’t mean you take the responsibility from them, it means you find ways to gradually transfer the ownership of their learning to them.  After all, you don’t want to be going to college with them to make sure they get their work accomplished.  Teaching these skills at the beginning of a new season will reinforce them.  Then one day, they will be mature enough to do them on their own and you will sit back and smile at a job well done.

A Gift

Tidbits for Teachers are regular SHORT inspirations to bring hope and encouragement to teachers in all settings.  I hope to give you a shot in the arm and remind you why you chose this career in the first place.

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The parties are over.  As you wade through the crumpled up paper, the crunched up candy canes, and the crumbs of celebration food of all kinds, take a moment in the quiet of the post-Christmas-party haze to consider the impact you are having on the future.  Pray over each student, as you move desks to the side so the cleaning crew can do the floors. Take into consideration their families, their personalities, their quirks, their strengths, and all that makes them who they are.  Include yourself in that list because you have a greater impact than you know.  You help to shape them.  You teach them not only content, but how to care for one another, how to communicate, and to persevere.  You model the way to treat others just as much as you model math arrays, or graphic organizers.  You inspire, motivate, and encourage.  You are a gift to them, not just at Christmas, but for the whole year.  So as you prepare your silent room for the much needed break, be thankful for your students, but know that they are also thankful for you.  Now for the rest of the day, get to work on those report cards and lesson plans for when you get back. Then go home, kick back and really ENJOY your holidays…you deserve it!

Common Core

Pointers for Parents are regular inspirations to bring hope and encouragement to parents. I hope to build a bridge between parents and teachers as it pertains to the education of children and how we can work together for the betterment of our kids.

michelle-in-front-of-yonah

They’ve been around for a while now…the Common Core Standards…and they’ve received quite a bit of negative publicity. That is understandable, because they are so completely different than the way most of us learned when we were in school.  The math has particularly gotten a bad rap.  I mean who does multiplication like that, and why can’t we just teach kids the facts by drilling them?  Let’s not even get started on the way they teach division!  At every level, and in every subject, it seems this new way of doing things is foreign to most of us as parents.  It makes it difficult to help with homework.  It makes it difficult to know what the teacher wants on projects and papers. Many parents have washed their hands of even trying to help their kids, since they don’t know what is expected.  Others have taken up arms to battle the standards, hoping to go back to the “good ole days” when you just learned the facts.  Still others have bought into the conspiracy theory that the schools are trying to brainwash our kids.  I want to take a minute to explain how we got these standards in the first place.

In our current technological world, businesses were having difficulty hiring employees who could think.  What I mean by that is that many of the jobs today require a different kind of thinking than used to be needed. The job market has changed and become more about problem solving, analyzing, and using information to complete different types of tasks.  Because of this change, schools needed to change the level of questions our students are being asked.  In order to do this, the standards changed. I would agree that many standards are not developmentally appropriate for the ages at which they are taught.  However, I understand the idea behind the changes even if I don’t always agree with them.  For years, teachers have used Bloom’s Taxonomy for defining the levels of questions they use.  The new standards are requiring higher levels of questions…that is their goal.  Therefore, you will see more instruction where they have to first, learn the basics, and then take what they know and use it in other kinds of tasks in multiple ways.  Before common core, only the “gifted” kids were taught the higher levels, now every student is expected to be taught this way.

Whether you agree or not, it is helpful to at least understand what these levels are. Here’s a list, and I added a question from each level so you can see how they get harder and require different types of thinking as they go up. The questions are based on an article about social media use in schools, but the levels can be applied to any subject area, these are just examples.

Knowledge– asks you for basic facts or information that is found in the article.

 How many students use social media in our schools?

Comprehension– asks you questions to determine if you understand the material.

 Explain the problem of social media use among students in schools?

Application– asks you to put something into operation based on what you understand of the knowledge of some circumstance.

  Can you make a schedule for social media use in groups of your peers?

Analysis-asks you to examine methodically and in detail information for the purposes of explanation and interpretation.

 In what specific way is social media different from passing notes in former generations?

Synthesis– asks you to compare or contrast a combination of ideas and make a conclusion.

Is there a better solution to the complexities of social media use among students than what we are doing now?

Evaluation– asks you to assess or judge the information.

What are the outcomes of social media use in the future if it continues as it is now?

All controversy aside, I believe all parents want their kids to be able to think at higher levels.  In the current job market, it is a necessity. My goal is to help parents to help their kids. The ultimate goal of Common Core is to grow kids into this new way of thinking things through so they can use factual knowledge in a variety of other ways.  Even if we disagree with the methods, I think we can get on board with the premise that we want our kids to be successful in the future.

(This material was taken from a Study Skills course M&M Educational Solutions offers students.)

Surviving Christmas

Tidbits for Teachers are regular SHORT inspirations to bring hope and encouragement to teachers in all settings.  I hope to give you a shot in the arm and remind you why you chose this career in the first place.

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During holidays students are wound tighter than usual.  The anticipation of Christmas takes precedence over all other pursuits.  Christmas lists dance in their heads, future travels to see family cause excitement to bubble up and out, and purchasing presents reminds them of their own pile under the tree.  Is it any wonder they have trouble focusing on their studies?  Then there are the increased discipline referrals.  With the heightened emotions and anticipation there can’t help but be more outbursts as kids lose the ability to reign it in.  Self-control is fleeting, especially for those students who come from poverty.  They know there will not be presents under the tree…if they even have a tree. It is easier to have outbursts than it is to recognize the pain underneath the fury.  The gap between those children who have so much and those who have nothing seems wider during these days.  Put them all together in a classroom and it makes for an interesting couple of weeks for teachers.  Survival is the main order of business.  Attempting to teach in such an environment is not for the faint of heart. It would be easier just to write off these days as the Christmas gap.  But that would be the easy way.

Instead, creativity is the order of the day.  Tying content to Christmas is the only chance teachers have to make an impact.  The days are not wasted that way, they are transformed into learning opportunities incognito.  How? It requires stretching outside your comfort zone. And more importantly it requires flexibility.  My favorite saying to the children is “Flexibility is the key to learning!” You can use it anytime in the year, but these weeks it is truly a motto to live by. When you have concerts to go to, or Santa’s workshop, or any number of other seasonal interruptions to the instructional day, the key is not getting bent out of shape…just go with it.  Create lessons that are easily interruptible and quick to pick back up, when you get back from wherever it is you have to go.  It is also important to remember what you are doing is making a difference in the lives of the kids you teach.  Truly.  Do not forget that little fact in the hustle and bustle of the holidays.  You may be the only Christmas some kids have.  A smile and a hug can go a long way to soothe and calm the spirit of a child in turmoil.  Including them in activities makes them feel welcome in ways they may not have known before.  You are the key to building a classroom family that includes all the treasures who have arrived in your classroom for this year.  After all, family is what Christmas is all about.