Winter Landscape – An Art Project

I’ve had a few great helpers show up to help with so many of our Christmas art projects this year, that I wanted to do a little thank you project with them while my kindergarteners finished their last thing. We decided on a beautiful winter landscape using sharpies, oil pastels, tissue paper, water colors, and tempera paints. I think they enjoyed doing something a little more “grown up”

I really wanted to remember how we did this, so I thought I would keep the directions here, even if just for myself.

1. We drew a landscape line across the paper to define the snowy hill from the sky.

2. We used a light blue oil pastel to trace just below the line and a few other spots and rubbed them with our fingers for a snowy effect.

3. We decided what color(s) our sky would be and painted them with water colors.

4. While we were waiting on the sky to dry, we cut triangles out of cardstock to turn into trees and covered them with tissue paper, cutting off the excess.

5. After choosing an arrangement, we glued the trees on the painted landscape.

6. Finally, we wanted to snow on our paper. We used a watered down acrylic paint and dipped a paintbrush in it. We held the paintbrush over our landscape and tapped it gently snowing over our work. Warning, this can be messy.


The Sights and Sounds of Early Reading in Kindergarten

What does early reading look like and sound like for kindergarteners?

Here is a beautiful picture of two emerging readers in the midst of the process. They find words they know and connect those with the pictures to make meaning.

Meaning, or comprehension, is why they read and why we read.

Notice how the words they say don’t always match the words on the page. It’s very normal at this emerging phase. Their words do match the pictures though. This is some of the evidence that we need to be looking for. They are reading. They are making sense of what they looking at. It’s authentic.

I guess the thing I’m making myself remember is this, it’s not just about the words on the page. It’s about meaning.

I caught these two doing this earlier this week. They had no idea I was watching and admiring at how far they’ve grown as readers.

If We Want to “Motivate” Students, Start With The Environment You Create For Them

I was perusing twitter and noticed a conversation with a number of teachers talking about student motivation. They were giving suggestions about different tricks and gimmicks to motivate students,all with the hopes of getting them to try harder, do better, or make better choices. As I looked at a few of the things said I was reminded of this truth that I’ve learned. Gimmicks and such don’t work for long term change. Our students are not animals who need to hear a bell so they can roll over and get a treat. They are more. They don’t need a bell, they need permission and freedom to try harder, do better, or make better choices.

If we really want to “motivate” students, we need to start by cultivating an environment where they feel safe, cared for, and believed in.

By creating this kind of judgement free environment, they will be more willing to take risks and develop empathy. It’s at this place that students will do those things they wanted; try harder, do better, or make better choices. I believe that these are the kinds of students, actually, these are the kind of people we want to send out into the world. I think we all can agree that an environment where people feel safe, cared for, and believed in would be a pretty nice place to live. It doesn’t mean there aren’t natural consequences. Thomas Edison tried and failed many times to create many things. What he had was permission to fail. He felt safe in it because he knew it would lead him closer to his goal. This freedom he felt is the kind of environment I think we need to cultivate for our students.

Give Them Permission to be Good

Kids were coming in the door as I was up front this morning. I was talking to another teacher and greeting all the kids as they walked in and past us. Some stopped. Some kept walking. Some spoke back and some didn’t. She made a comment about all the relationships I had made and the way I was talking to the kids.

I made the comment to her that some of our students just need permission to show how good and great they can be.

I believe that all the kids have the potential, some just don’t show it every day. Why? They don’t know they have the right, the permission to do so. I may not know all the reasons why, but I’d guess that a lot of them don’t have the inner-voice telling them that they can or should be.

A hope I have is that I not only give them them that permission daily, but that I also urge and beg them to share it with others. A simple invitation can go a long way…

Strong is the New Pretty – a Birthday Review

Happy Birthday M! This book was a special find and one that I knew she needed as she gets older and continues to grow into an amazing young lady.

For any parents and teachers alike, this book is a must for your home and classroom. It completely redefines "pretty" and shows just how wonderfully unique we all are. The authors chose such a rich diversity of young ladies from a wide range of ages and cultures. Your girls will be able to find girls "who look like them" which is drastically missing from so much literature.

As I write this, I see one of my sons reading this book with my M. He is engrossed in it, just like her. On second thought, this gives another reason this belongs in your classroom. Our young men can see what makes our young lady special and worthy of their respect and admiration. It's message they both need to see.

What’s Your Superpower?

"Barry's real superpower isn't speed, it's hope. The kid's got an endless reservoir. Thinks it's all gonna work out!" ~ HR

I have a confession, I am a superhero junkie. I love watching superhero tv shows, movies, and even the cartoons with my kids. I love the idea of good vs. evil. I love the idea of a hero.

With all this in mind, this quote totally grabbed my attention the other night as we were watching The Flash on Netflix. HR, one of the characters, said that the Flash's superpower wasn't speed, but rather was hope. He said that Flash always thinks that things are going to work out. It struck me because his "superpower" wasn't something make believe. It was something we all can have.

This got me thinking about teachers. We all have this enormous amount of hope. We hope for our schools. We hope for our communities. We hope for our students and their families. (and some of us hope for tenure, let's be real!)

The idea of hope has weighed heavy on me these past couple of years. There are so many things I've hoped and wished for that haven't happened and there are some things that did. I wont pretend like the things that didn't weren't disappointing, they were. BUT, I try to maintain a hope that things will work out, that there is a bigger and better plan for me.

This year, as its start gets closer and closer, I want to remind us all to maintain our hope. Dream and hope for bigger and better things for yourselves, your families, your students, your school and your community. Instead of saying that being a teacher is your superpower, let's make it hope. I honestly think that this superpower is one we can pass on to those around us.

Flash image from

You Are Enough, Eat The Waffle Fries

“You are enough, Eat The Waffle Fries”

I’m coining this quote as my own, but the inspiration came from somewhere else. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about podcasting and possibly starting my own podcast. My brother and his wife told me about The Popcast With Knox and Jamie, because they had met Jamie over the summer. (and they had lots of nice things to say about her!)

After their endorsement, I immediately subscribed to their podcast and downloaded one of their first podcasts from 2013. They talked pop culture, actors and actresses, movies, and tv, but what inspired me was their conversation about social media. They referenced an article that talked about how depressing these sites and apps can be. Somehow during that conversation, Jamie referenced both waffle fries and the phrase “You are worthy.”

This got me thinking about a conversation I’ve seen multiple times. Teachers, and non-teachers, stop comparing yourself to others in negative ways. Notice I said “in negative ways.” This was on purpose because I don’t think comparison is always bad. For example, you make brownies from scratch, twice, and you notice that your second batch is better. Comparison as a form of reflection isn’t always bad. We can use it to set goals for ourselves and our students. 

Comparison in negative ways is never good. You see a picture on Pinterest, Facebook, Instagram, wherever and you think you’ll never measure up or that you’ll never be that pretty/strong/organized/together. This thought process is never ok. 

So, with all this in mind. Aim high. Try to be better. Reflect and move forward. Aim even higher. Do your best and then do better. You are good enough. You are accepted. You are loved. You are great today and you will be even greater tomorrow. It doesn’t mean you won’t mess up. Don’t let you mess-ups and mistakes define you. 

“You are enough, Eat The Waffle Fries”

Among the Rocks, They Still Can Bloom

Flowers fascinate me sometimes. Yes, they are beautiful to look at, but I’m actually talking about their resilience. 

One of my kids and I took a short hike the other day at Ruffner Mountain and we ran across this flower. What struck me wasn’t its color or beauty, but rather its location. In the picture you can see that it’s growing among a lot of rocks. 

We all know from our childhood Sunday School lesson that a seed doesn’t grow among the rocks, but this one did, and it wasn’t the only one. There were several that made its way out. 

All of this got me thinking about education. Our kids, we don’t always know what rocks may be holding them down. According to “data” some of them have quite a few rocks to work through. Here in Alabama a recent (public) conversation has begun regarding the discrepancy is test scores based on race and poverty. We also know, because we are teachers, that home life, hunger, depression, and language can also be rocks in the way. 

One of the things we get to do as teachers is help remove these rocks. This can be done in several ways. 
One, we can help empower and strengthen our students so that they can move them themselves. We can also try and move them for them. For a child that is hungry, some packs of crackers for the evening or weekend can be quite helpful. Another way is to move them with them. Together. We can form a TEAM. Together Everyone Achieves More, you’ve heard it before, and you know it’s true. We can form a team with our students, their families, the school, and/or the community. 

While I would advocate for all those things, we know that any of them are beneficial. We know the results of our students moving the rocks. They grow. They show their strength to the world as they don’t let “the rocks” stand in the way. They bloom. They face the world and show themselves to be a thing of beauty, and they all have that beauty inside of them. 

Thoughts on the Fourth of July 

The Fourth of July, Independence Day. We celebrate the founding of a country. Perhaps the best known quote from it is…

“We hold these truths to be self-evident: That all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” — Declaration of Independence

When I think of this statement, I think of the rich diversity of this country. People from all over the world come and join this country as citizens to start a new life here. It’s their “pursuit of happiness.” As they do this, they bring the richness of their culture, all the best of it, and combine it with the greatness here. I have to believe that this process is what makes us great today. We aren’t just one, we are many, all different, yet all together. This works best when we recognize that “all men are created equal.” 

“For the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.” — Declaration of Independence

I can’t help but think, today, of my family at home and my family at school. We are culturally different but we are together. They bring their best and their differences, and I hope we do the same and we all grow together. 

“We must be unanimous; there must be no pulling different ways; we must hang together.” — John Hancock

I think it’s important, as a teacher and parent, to recognize and celebrate our differences. I think it’s important to learn from each other. I think we are a better people, a better community, and a better country when we do this. We can also contribute and be part of a better world too. 

The Unifying Force of Literature

We are having a great summer camp at school this year. The mornings have an academic focus working on reading, writing, and math. The afternoons have a wide range of activities from coding to farming and a lot in between. 
This week I had the opportunity to spend a little time in my daughters class and was able to see how powerful children’s literature can be. My kids do not go to the school where I teach, but I am able to bring them to our summer program. Bringing them to a new place can bring some nervousness though. How will my kids do? Will they be accepted? Will they have fun? Will they make new friends?

I was able to answer all those questions with this one short visit. 

One of the things I love about my school is their acceptance of new friends. Taking my kids to summer camp is a privilege because I love where I work and the kids that go there. I trust that my kids will be taken care of by the adults there and will be befriended by its students. 

Seeing my M with her new friends there today was a complete blessing and it reminded me of how books can bring people together. These two laughed together, took turns reading aloud, talked about the pictures, and talked about the book together. 

Isn’t is great that we have such wonderful books and stories to bring us together!