School begins tomorrow, and we have decided to participate in Reflective Teaching: A 30 Day Blogging Challenge for Teachers. This challenge was created by Te@chThought, and the daily prompts can be found here: Reflective Teaching questions. We encourage any teachers to join us in this challenge. Your responses do not have to be lengthy; a paragraph or two would suffice.
So, here is our Day 1 prompt: Write your goals for the new year. Be as specific or abstract as you’d like to be!
Amy’s Response: Start Blogging Again on Blended Voices
In January of 2014 I started a food blog that focuses on plant-based meals called Produce with Amy. Cooking is one of my passions and I am thrilled that my blog has a wide readership and I love the creativity of coming up with new recipes. Yet, I have missed writing with my best friend.
Heather and I have had the best of intentions for the past year to start posting on Blended Voices again. It is impossible to count how many times our voices would echo in passing, “We have to start blogging.” Yet, it never happened. Why? Maybe we needed some time to energize and focus. Maybe when Heather got transferred to the middle school we lost our Hamy balance. Regardless, this blogging challenge could not have arrived at a more perfect time.
As an educator, I am constantly asking my students to be reflective. I ask them to reflect on themselves as a student, a teenager, an American, and a human being. I ask them to reflect on themselves as a reader and writer – in writing. That is why I feel that my #1 goal as a teacher is to model myself as a writer to my students. What better way to do this than through blogging?
Last spring when I was honored with the Gwinn Area Community Schools Teacher of the Year award, I received a letter from a student, who wrote a letter in support of my nomination. Since then I have read the letter over and over and one of the passages that stands out in my mind is this:
“Not only does Mrs. Laitinen take time to feed our dreams, she lives the dream for herself. By her example, a blog becoming more and more popular on the internet, she has demonstrated how our dreams can be reached and our writing heard. The blog is part of her passion, living a healthy lifestyle, that she also demonstrates as a leader at Weight Watchers. Everything Mrs. Laitinen does in her often hectic schedule is to help other find confidence in themselves and educate the community for a brighter tomorrow.”
Thank you to Payton for this burst of confirmation and for helping to fuel and energize my writing. I want my students to know that I believe in the lessons that I teach and writing helps me connect with them in a profound way.
I am constantly telling my students that our writing is our fingerprint, a time capsule, and a way to chart our personal and professional growth. Writing makes our thoughts tangible. As I begin my thirteenth year in the classroom I know that I can grow leaps and bounds by reflecting on my classroom practice and hopefully Blended Voices will not only help our students to see Heather and I and themselves as writers – but maybe we will encourage other educators to join the blogging community.
It feels good to be posting again and I know that collaborating with Heather will breathe life into our classrooms and nourish our creativity. Thank you to teach@thought for encouraging us to reflect, share, and connect with other teachers. Thank you to Paula Diedrich, our Northern Shores Writing Project co-director for sharing the challenge link and asking us to join in. It would have been easy to forget our pledge to start blogging together in the hustle of the new school year.
Because of our recommitment to our blog we will view our world with a different perspective. Every lesson and moment becomes a potential blog topic. We will be more aware of incorporating digital writing in our classrooms and our students will benefit from being readily engaged in digital literacy. We will record our voices together. Ready. Set. Go.
Heather’s Response: Create a Caring Classroom
If I boil down all of my thoughts, dreams, and plans for this school year into just one goal, it is to be a caring teacher. This means to create a classroom environment where students know they are valued individually, supported academically, and encouraged to learn and to create. Not only do I want to help my juniors and seniors improve their skills in reading, writing, listening, and speaking (the academic side), I also want my students to know that they matter (the human side).
To me, building those relationships is even more difficult than teaching the subject matter. This ability is what separates a good teacher from a great teacher. I have found these connections to be easier to make in certain classes that I have taught such as A.P. English and Yearbook, where I have had the opportunity to get to know students on deeper levels. Also, those were classes that students chose to take rather than had to take to meet the graduation requirement. In a general English class, I usually have large class sizes, a wide variety of learning styles, abilities, and maturity levels, and a range of emotions from students about reading and writing. I find it easy to get caught up in the every day rush of delivering lessons and grading papers, and too often I let those moments slip where I could make individual connections. My goal this year is to take advantage of every opportunity to let students know that I care.
To start the school year, I am going to invite students to help set up the classroom. I spent the summer entering contests and submitting DonorsChoose.org projects to make our classroom a more friendly teen environment. For example, I will be getting curtains, a rug, plants, and much more to make the classroom feel like a homey space. I also have new books for the classroom library that appeal to teen readers. Students will be invited to join me on a weekend in early September to create a welcoming space where hopefully they will feel excited to learn each day.
Another plan I have is to keep my classroom door open to students. In years past, I usually spent my lunch hour making copies, grading papers, planning lessons, responding to emails, etc. Last year I had the privilege of mentoring a student teacher, Ms. Brooke Backhaus, who encouraged our middle school students to eat lunch with us. Yes, it was noisy, and, yes, we had to listen to Miley Cyrus every day, but I loved watching the bonds form between her and the students, as well as watching thee students build deeper friendships with each other. This year, my daughters are invited to eat in my classroom with me, and so are any other students who want to join us in a safe and comfortable space. Amy and I have decided we would like to ‘nurture and nourish’ students together (as she put it) now that we have the same lunch hour again.
Amy and I also have signed up to be class advisers for the sophomore class. This means we will be planning prom for next year, and we will have lots of fundraising to do. This is another opportunity to make connections with students, and I look forward to getting to know the sophomores better through float building, hall decorating, and all those other fun activities that come with being a class advisor.
In order to accomplish my goal, I believe I will need to slow the pace, look for the small moments, be a good listener, and share my passions. I would love to hear from other teachers what tips you have for creating a caring classroom, and I would love to hear from other readers what certain teachers have done to show you that they care and that you matter.
If you would like to continue with our 30 day blogging challenge, please follow this blog (on the right side of the page) and/or follow our new Facebook page: Blended Voices – Two Teachers Blog. We look forward to sharing this journey with you.