Why Outdoor Education?

After two outdoor education trips this fall, I was thinking about why these trips are so important. The answers can be simple: a change of pace, time unplugged, bonding for a class, and learning about the natural world. These certainly are true – for students and for the adults that accompany them. But I think it is learning about each student that tops the list.

I encountimg_5165er students who are confident in the classroom, but away from home need support and encouragement. I learn who these children are and have the opportunity to help theimg_5013m. I learn which students know every last detail about fiddler crabs and those that have a keen eye on the beach for unseen treasures. I gain knowledge about those with fantastic leadership skills who can help a group problem solve at a low ropes element. I have the privilege of seeing students take physical risks, like swimming deeper in the ocean than they want to swim or try out paddling in a canoe. I see students taking emotional risks, like touching a snake or a crab for the first time or allowing others to lift them through a hole in a web. I see students taking social risks, like developing a friendship that was only an acquaintance a few days before.

img_5170Traveling away from the comfortable and the known creates opportunities for growth and learning for adults and students alike. The change of pace is great. The sunshine on my face is fantastic. The exercise without planning is refreshing. But the chance to learn more about our students is a gift.

 

Learner, Thinker, Writer: Maryellen Berry serves Trinity School as the UED Division Head

Slow and Steady

I am new to teaching art in the EED. (That’s Early Elementary Division for all you non-Trinity folks.) Being new, I have spent most of my first few months figuring out the inner workings of our youngest learners.

Lesson planning for the little guys has been a tightrope balance: what works for one Pre-K class may not work for the other. Some groups of kids experiment for much longer than others. Some groups do NOT care about what you’re going to be for Halloween while others would rather spend the entire class talking about what they ate for breakfast last Tuesday.

As such, most of my lessons this year have been intimidating experiments with outcomes yet undetermined. This is especially the case for the “turtles” I tried to teach the Early Learners how to make.

Did you notice how the word “turtles” is in quotation marks?

Keep that in mind.

We started the lesson by introducing ourselves to the real live turtle that lives in the EED art room. (His name is Tom.) We talked about his important body parts: one head, one tail, one shell, and four legs. Together, we read a book about where turtles live. We talked about the colors found in a turtle’s shell. We counted his legs. We counted his legs again. And then we counted his legs one more time. (Early Learners LOVE to count.)

So when I gave my students a small piece of Model Magic and showed them how to carefully pinch out four turtle legs I was expecting them to follow my lead.

As Robert Burns once wrote, “The best laid plans of mice and men oft go awry.”

Some kids pinched, some kids pulled, some kids coiled and smashed. Our little turtles were definitely NOT turtle-shaped.

Repeating the art teacher mantra “process over product” I continued on with the lesson as if my students had made the most beautiful turtles ever created. We covered the turtles with green and brown paint and then added some final decorative dots using their color of choice. Once the class was finished and the students departed I stood alone in my room amongst forty colorful lumps.

You know what I did?

I glued googly-eyes on them.

I glued googly-eyes on the lumpy blobs of Model Magic so that my adult eyes could see what my Early Leaners already knew: those little creatures really were the most beautiful turtles ever created.

Sometimes, when we are wading through a puddle of self-doubt, we simply need a few googly-eyes to brighten up our lesson plans.

Turtles

Learner, Thinker, Writer: Nina Chamberlain serves Trinity School as the EED Art Teacher

 

What I Learned From My Mother

Submitted by Emily Wood

What I Learned From My Mother
by Julia Kasdorf

I learned from my mother how to love

the living, to have plenty of vases on hand

in case you have to rush to the hospital

with peonies cut from the lawn, black ants

still stuck to the buds. I learned to save jars

large enough to hold fruit salad for a whole

grieving household, to cube home-canned pears

and peaches, to slice through maroon grape skins

and flick out the seeds with a knife point.

I learned to attend viewing even if I didn’t know

the deceased, to press the moist hands

of the living, to look in their eyes and offer

sympathy, as though I understood loss even then.

I learned that whatever we say means nothing,

what anyone will remember is that we came.

I learned to believe I had the power to ease

awful pains materially like an angel.

Like a doctor, I learned to create

from another’s suffering my own usefulness, and once

you know how to do this, you can never refuse.

To every house you enter, you must offer

healing: a chocolate cake you baked yourself,

the blessing of your voice, your chaste touch.

Thank you, Julia Kasdorf, for writing these words that tell about my Mother too, and what I have learned from her. She recently celebrated her 99th birthday and continues to supply me with comfort and joy.  We visit now by telephone. Her listening ear and reassuring tones still give me courage and strength. She continues to teach me the power of presence.  She is a giver.

To honor her,  I follow the pattern I learned, to offer hospitality, to welcome the stranger, to speak with kindness, to listen with empathy, and to show up with cut flowers or banana bread in hand. She teaches me still, that “love” is an action verb and I strive to  do as she has done. From what I have learned from my Mom I have gleaned my purpose,  to make love visible in my community.

Learner, Thinker, Writer: Emily Wood serves the Trinity School community as a receptionist.

Día De Los…What?

Two years ago, I was preparing to celebrate a holiday in my class for the very first time. This was a celebration that I knew nothing about. I was clueless. But more importantly, I was hesitant. Little did I know, I was on the verge of an exciting new adventure. This is the story of how I fell in love with Día De Los Muertos.

img_20161011_091910It was early October and the autumn breeze was finally starting to blow after a very hot summer. During a World Languages team meeting, we were discussing the Despicable Me Minion costumes that we would wear for the school Halloween parade and I asked if there were any classroom celebrations that happened during this time. My colleague, Carrie Peralta, began to enthusiastically share the activities and class décor she enjoyed for Día De Los Muertos.

Wait, pause…. “Is that that holiday where people paint their faces like skulls?”

Yes! That was exactly the holiday that Carrie was talking about. This holiday, while celebrated throughout Latin America and the United States, is particularly associated with Mexico and honors the dead through celebration. One of the central characteristics of the holiday is the beautiful altar that families create in their homes to honor family members that have passed away. These altars include food and other items that their loved ones would have enjoyed while alive. During this most celebratory night, loved ones return, partake of some of the food from the altar, and party with their family.

 Whew….deep breath!

This all seemed very strange to me. The skulls. The altar. The dead. All of it! But I was curious so instead of walking away from the whole idea, I researched, decorated my room, and designed activities geared toward young students. I learned that this was not a scary or strange thing to fear. This was a celebration of life, values, and culture. Before long, I found myself decorating quite the elaborate ofrenda (altar) and singing about esqueletos (skeletons) and tumbas (tombs) with the children. The students were joyous, engaged, and eager to share stories of loved ones they would celebrate on this day.

Aha! There is so much more to Latino culture than I thought!

Although I am of Latin American heritage, I had never been exposed to this holiday. My first Día De Los Muertos was a time of discovery that connected me with the beliefs, values, art, food, language, stories, and history of a people that were not my own. That expanded my worldview and made me see beauty where I had not seen it before. Two years after that first celebration, you might find me meditating with a Día De Los Muertos coloring book, cutting out cardboard sugar skulls for class crafts, or browsing holiday décor at the local craft store. I appreciate something new and that has added to my life.

“Appreciation is a wonderful thing. It makes what is excellent in others belong to us as well.” ~Voltaire

 

Learner, Thinker, Writer: Lilliangina Quiñones serves the Trinity School community as a World Languages Teacher & Co-Chair of the Faculty Diversity Committee.

A Tangent Towards Growth

How often in team meetings do we find ourselves on a brief tangent, an unexpected turn in a conversation that is sometimes distracting, while other times leads to a helpful insight. A year ago, it seemed my career was taking a tangent, diverging from World Languages to the base classroom. I felt like a kid on their first day in Spanish class. The classroom was familiar, yet everything I heard was in an obscure language. Number talks? Lucy Calkins? Running records? I was in the classroom but not the classroom I was comfortable in.

During the year, I found myself leaning into something very different and very stimulating. With guidance from the Sixth Grade leads, I tried my hand at teaching in the four academic classes. Lesson planning became an artistic process of learning, creating, and risk-taking. In my excitement for new subject areas, my mind continued to drift to World Languages. How did this all translate?

zoom-out-icon-png-32This reflection harkens back to a pre-planning presentation from Maryellen a few years back about perspectives. I remember her talking about zooming in and zooming out. (Perhaps the TTT segment “WHAT IS THAT?” comes to mind.) I spent a year zooming out, and looking at children with a new lens. I sat in on parent sharing conversations and graduation practice. I dabbled in new curriculum, Opera rehearsals, and field trips. A year later, I’m zooming back in, making a b-line to language instruction, while seeing the big picture of Sixth Grade life.

So, how did this translate? Like a number talk, I look for flexibility and creativity in language production. The Lucy Calkins mini-lesson architecture informs writing and grammar lessons. The World Languages team uses benchmark assessments, similar to a running record, to track growth in language production over time.

At the time, I could not see how spending a year in the base classroom might better prepare me for language education. Now I cannot help but wonder what other tangents I might take to new areas of growth.

 

Learner, Thinker, Writer: Julia Kuipers serves the Trinity School community as a World Languages Teacher & Sixth Grade Associate.

 

Photo: “www.freeiconspng.com.” Web. 03 Oct. 2016.

A Shout-Out to My Team

In the spirit of “Be Together, Not the Same”, and with football season now in full swing, I began to think about my First Grade teammates. In my opinion, the similarities between some of the roles on a football team and the roles my teammates play each day are comparable. To my team, I would like to give this shout-out.

Kim is our quarterback and team captain. Not only is she responsible for receiving the “plays” and communicating them to us, but also she is always lifting us up with encouraging words and bright spots she observes. Kim, your leadership is admirable and appreciated.

Julianne and Paul support us as wide receivers, willing to run pass routes and get open for a pass each and every time. They consistently catch these “passes” for the team, volunteering to take on a task thrown from the QB or the “coaches”. Julianne and Mr. P, what you do and give to this team is invaluable.

Mary Catherine and Katie are our five-star recruits. Mary Catherine is coming at us locked and loaded with several years of Orton-Gillingham experience, as well as, a sweet disposition that will put anyone in a good mood. Katie has jumped right into the lineup with both feet and hasn’t skipped a beat. To me, their transitions have been seamless and it is an added bonus that both are seasoned teammates. MC and Katie, we are lucky to have you!

The offensive line’s main job is to block. Sarah is right there on the o-line blocking negativity with her positive aura and sense of humor. Not only does she offer her expertise as a yogi to students and teammates alike, but also she habitually keeps the positive vibes flowing and brings a sense of calm wherever she goes. Sarah, Namaste.

Although we all support one another, Michelle, Rebecca, and Helen are our cheerleaders. Michelle is constantly sharing resources, offering up any available time she has to assist with activities in the classrooms, and cheering us on as we dive head first into Lucy’s Units of Study for Reading and Writing. Rebecca continuously shares her fresh ideas, technology expertise, and amazing costume selection with the team (You didn’t think Paul bought that Richard Simmons wig last year, did you?). Among other things, Helen builds close, personal relations with her teammates. She is always asking about our families and lends an ear when we just need someone to listen. Ladies, a cheer in your honor…Awesome! Oh wow! Like totally freak me out! I mean, right on! Your gusto sure is number one!

In case you’re wondering…no, I am not wearing eye black and a helmet as I hover over my laptop, but I am proud (and thankful) to be a part of a team that works hard for our students and for the betterment of Trinity School each and every day. The notion of “Be Together, Not the Same” really resonated with me during pre-planning, and while this is simply one way of looking at this idea, it is a way that I wanted to share with you.

Learner, Thinker, Writer: Hilary Daigre serves the Trinity School community as a First Grade Teacher

 

Just Like Starting Over

(Full Disclosure – this post has nothing to do with John Lennon’s song of the same title. I was hoping it would, but not happening. On with the post…)

Here at Trinity School, we are always striving to increase our ability to help our students. One of the main ways this happens is through the professional development (PD) that Trinity offers. Our PD is meaningful and impacting.

This is my third year at Trinity, and I do not think it is an exaggeration to say that I have grown more professionally in those three years than in the 18 I was in public school. That statement is hard to believe, I imagine. I am sure that you may even think that I am employing hyperbole, but I honestly think it is a true statement.

I have mentioned in a previous post that we are not only expected to continue to grow as a teacher, but it is encouraged. Opportunities abound for teachers and staff members to explore areas and techniques that will benefit us in the classroom, but also in areas of our own personal growth. The administration knows that when we are taking care of ourselves, stretching our minds, learning new things, we will be more effective in the classroom, and ultimately that is our main goal. To become the best  that we can be in the classroom so that our students will get the absolute best education they can while they are at Trinity.

So, how does that tie into the title of this post? That would be the recent addition of the concept of mini-lessons to the classroom. What is a mini-lesson? From the Web Site, Teacher Vision, “A mini lesson is a short lesson with a narrow focus that provides instruction in a skill or concept that students will then relate to a larger lesson that will follow. A mini lesson typically precedes reading workshop or writing workshop, but it can serve as an introduction to a social studies, science, or math lesson.”

I have always been a whole-group teaching kind of teacher. I have relied on my ability to hold my students’ attention through my kinetic personality and delivery as well as finding ways to help the students connect to the lesson. I think I have been successful at this, but after learning about mini-lessons and seeing this approach from some of my co-workers I have made a decision that it will benefit my students more if I adopt this method as well. It is a big change in teaching styles and one that I am attempting to make this year.

Two critical factors in successfully implementing the mini-lesson strategy are keeping the lessons short and concise and the conferencing that occurs with individual students while the remainder of the class is independently working. I’m not necessarily known for being one to get directly to the point. My students learn that pretty quickly. I am learning to cut down my delivery to the very essence of the lesson I am introducing or teaching to the class. Doing so will help to ensure that the engagement of the students will be held. One on one conferencing takes time, practice and a very different approach than a whole-group style of teaching. As anyone who knows me will tell you, I’m not a quiet person, but in order to not distract the other students, I am going to need to find use my inside voice.  I have one, I just don’t use it very often. Learning to be unobtrusive as I make my way around the classroom to confer with students is something that I can see may be another challenge for me.

Luckily, I have the knowledge that challenges make me rise to the occasion. I have 20 years of experience in education. I have so many tools in my toolbox (teacher lingo, y’all). Most importantly, I have the support of an awesome administrative team and co-workers who will help me with this challenge. Their encouragement, advice, and observations will guide me along this path to taking my teaching to a new level.

To top it off, I am inviting my administrators and colleagues in my class to watch me this year as I am starting over. Robert Kaplinsky has issued the #ObserveMe Challenge, a chance for teachers to invite others in to observe them in the moment and look for specific feedback on different goals the teacher lists on a sign outside the classroom door:

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I am excited about this and a little nervous. As I said, it is a big change for me, but one that I know will be beneficial for my students, and above all else, as a teacher, I want to be the very best I can for my students. (Maybe I should’ve had the David Bowie song in mind instead.)

What challenges are you facing and what goals have you set for yourself this school year? I’d love to hear from you on these topics.

Learner, Thinker, Writer: Thomas Benefield serves the Trinity School community as 5th Grade lead teacher.

One Chance at a First Impression

You only get one first chance to meet your students. One chance to make 21 new faces feel welcome and excited for a new school year. One chance to show them how much you care about who they are and what they will do. One chance to show them it is just as much their classroom as it is ours.

No pressure.

As this new school year approached, I considered how I would make this one and only first impression count. I knew I wanted students to see their names and faces in the classroom to show them how much we value their individuality and give them a sense of ownership over this new learning space, but I wanted to push the boundaries even further. What if they could feel valued and loved even before they walked through the door to meet me?

For the first time, I saw the three blank boards in the hallway as more than a decoration or display of student work. In my mind, these three boards became a way to connect with my students.

At first glance, these boards are a colorful decoration that reflects our superhero classroom theme. However, if you look more closely at the finished, superhero-themed bulletin boards in our hallway (now re-created outside of our classroom’s entrance) you will see that each hero’s paper face resembles one of the unique 21 faces that make up our classroom community. Over the summer, I took some extra time to admire their faces in last year’s yearbook and carefully designed each superhero. I based them on the students’ skin tone, hair color, and their own individual quirks to show my students that I love them for who they are now, and who they will grow to be.

We only get one first chance to connect with a new group of students. We have to make it count.

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Learner, Thinker, Writer: Casey Leonard serves the Trinity School community as Assistant Second Grade Teacher.

A Letter to My Students

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Dear Students,

I want you to know that I have been in your shoes. I remember what it is like to have butterflies in your tummy as you walk down the long hallway into the classroom every morning. Asking yourself, “Will I know the answer if she calls on me? Is she going to make me read in front of EVERYONE? Or wondering, “Am I doing it right?” when your teacher is walking back and forth and then stops, hovering over your shoulder. I know that what you want more than anything is to know the right answer, to be finished with your work as fast as the other kids, and to not want to be afraid to raise your hand and share in class. I know that the book you are carrying around in your backpack is not a “good fit” right now, but all the other kids are reading it. I know how you feel because I was in your shoes.

So I am here to tell you, that today and every day, I will support you when you need it, challenge you when you need it, and comfort you when you need it. Sometimes you will need me to sit with you and give you a little extra “think time,” sometimes you will need a quiet space where I can show you again, and sometimes you are going to make mistakes. But guess what, that’s okay because I make them too, and we can learn from them. Sometimes you might just need a little wink, a hug, or a hand on the shoulder to let you know, YOU GOT THIS. But most important, I want you to know that I will be there for you, and I understand that your job being a kid right now can be tough. Trying to juggle learning about life, friends, family, reading, writing, and math. It’s a big job, but there are lots of people who love you and know you can do it. Together we will grow and learn, and I will be there to help you understand yourself as a learner. I will be your coach and your cheerleader because I have been in your shoes.

Ms. Perry

Learner, Thinker, Writer: Michelle Perry serves the Trinity community as a Learning Specialist.

Mindfulness

 Paradise is not a place; it is a state of consciousness.”

-Sri Chinmoy

jedd

In recent years, in large part in response to the dramatic increase in time that we all spend with our heads down staring at our phones, tablets, and laptops, with our minds anywhere but on the present moment, the term “mindfulness” has become a major buzzword. In our constant attempt to keep up with the latest emerging technologies and apps, and with the expectation that we keep pushing our levels of productivity higher and higher, always thinking about what’s coming up next, we need something to counterbalance this state of sustained output. Mindfulness seems to be the solution to all our problems.
But what exactly is mindfulness, and how does one get to this elusive state? If you Google “mindfulness,” this is the first result that pops up:

“Mindfulness is a state of active, open attention on the present. When you’re mindful, you observe your thoughts and feelings from a distance, without judging them good or bad. Instead of letting your life pass you by, mindfulness means living in the moment and awakening to experience.

Based on that definition, it is clear to me that without a doubt, I currently spend less than the ideal amount of time in a true state of mindfulness. I am constantly checking my phone to see what I’ve missed in the last 3.5 seconds, always thinking about what’s coming up next, and obsessing about how I can squeeze a little bit more work into today so I can “get ahead” for tomorrow. My mind is very decidedly not always “awake to experience.”

When I think back to a time in my life when I was more able to live in the moment, I immediately envision being a kid. My friends and I would spend hours riding bikes, exploring around town, hiking and making forts in the woods, or playing pick-up baseball or basketball at the park. My brother and I could throw a football back and forth in the backyard for 2-3 hours without getting bored, pretending we were professional quarterbacks and wide receivers scoring touchdown after touchdown. In the summer, my friends and I basically lived at the pool, playing all sorts of games like “shark” and freeze tag, and having splash competitions off the diving boards. We’d all play flashlight tag at night, completely losing track of time, only heading inside when we were completely exhausted or someone got hurt running into some backyard clothesline or tripping over a fire pit in the dark. Our minds weren’t somewhere else. They were fully focused on the present moment and on each other.

Now, as an adult with a career and the added responsibilities that come with being “grown up,” it is often difficult to recreate the state of mindfulness that I could so easily slip into as a kid. There’s always something to be planning for, to be worrying about, my mind constantly multitasking to keep track of it all. Add into the mix my iPhone, iPad, MacBook, and the countless social media networks through which a steady stream of DMs, texts, and emails are constantly rolling in, and it becomes all but impossible to avoid being in a constant state of distraction, mentally pulled away from anything or anyone who is right in front of me.

To get myself out of this cycle, to find that elusive state of true mindfulness, I visualize back to when I was a kid and think about what always made me the happiest; what made me feel the most present. Being outside with friends, playing, taking risks, going on adventures, doing things just because they were fun – not because they served a specific purpose.

As I write this, I’m sitting here barefoot by the pool, listening to the sounds of the fountains nearby, the hum of traffic in the distance, and I’m realizing that I feel more mindful at the current moment than I have in a while. Writing has always calmed my mind. At some point I just stopped taking the time to do it. There are a lot of things as you grow up that you just stop taking the time for. New things begin to take priority.

In adulthood, it is my goal to hang on to those priorities that I had as a kid, always trying to look at the world with a newfound sense of wonder, squeezing every last drop of enjoyment out of life. And to me, that means being present, putting myself in new situations that open my mind up to the world around me, and being “awake to experience.”

There are very few days that go by in which I don’t take at least a small amount of time to pull myself out of the constant go-go-go mode I’m in. On the days when devices, email, and adult responsibilities win the battle, I don’t feel like myself. I feel restless and anxious. I can’t focus. My brain feels stifled. I can’t sleep.

So I build time into my days to be mindful. And the quickest way for me to get my mind there has always been through exercise. In the morning, I may head out for a quick run before breakfast. After work, I’ll meet up with a friend or go alone to the nearest trailhead on the Chattahoochee River, and head off down the path. With every step away from the parking lot, I can feel the stress of the day leaving my body; my mind opening up and tuning in to my surroundings; the 754 things I’m supposed to get done this week suddenly don’t seem so difficult to manage. Those things can wait for now.

Learner, Thinker, Writer:  Jedd Austin serves the Trinity School community as PE Teacher.