Overcoming Negative Self-Talk
One of the most difficult things for parents to hear is their child putting him/herself down or saying things like, “I am so stupid.”, “I am such an idiot., “No one likes me.”
Even if we aren’t hearing these thoughts out loud, some children berate themselves silently.
When we share our daily intentions, or have group lessons in mindfulness, we encourage one another to be kind to ourselves. What we tell ourselves impacts how we behave. How we behave impacts how we are treated. How we are treated impacts what we tell ourselves. This can become a vicious cycle of negativity.
Compliments are helpful in building self esteem. The compliments need to be specific and genuine. Kids know when compliments are sincere.
I recently read the book, Giraffes Can’t Dance to my students. The book features Gerald the giraffe, who can’t dance- YET. As new readers, we discussed how we can’t read- YET! But with hard work, determination, and a positive thought process, we can do anything.
Kids don’t realize the way they talk to themselves has power. What we tell ourselves, creates our world.
If we could treat ourselves kindly and highlight the awesome things we do, we build self-confidence. We also need to be aware of our weaknesses; finding ways to grow and improve without putting ourselves down.
Negative self-talk is a part of the human experience. Most people have an ongoing dialogue with themselves- whether internal or vocalized. We need to challenge negative thinking and beliefs about ourselves and replace them with more positive ones. That means we can learn to consciously choose to replace our negative thoughts with positive ones that will make students feel good about themselves.
Learning Adventures - Hiking
This year marks our 6th year as a school. It’s also my 6th year teaching here. Every year, we reflect on our teaching practice and make changes,… constantly striving to grow and better fit the needs of our students. This year, we had the idea to offer elective type classes which we call Learning Adventures. The purpose of these Adventures are to allow students to dive even deeper into their interests, or to try something new. The Learning Adventures last one month. The students are given a menu with their different choices. For our first sessions, the students signed up for hiking, virtual travel, golf, and making pine needle baskets. We just finished our first Learning Adventures, and it was so much fun!
I led the hiking Learning Adventure. Our group discussed hiking etiquette, gear, and we researched different hikes. Then we hit the trails. We hiked Sleepy Hollow, the Arboretum, Ft. Lincoln, Chief Looking's Village, and the Missouri River Natural Area.
We spent a day in the classroom learning about compasses. We documented all our adventures in our hiking journals. Some of the students that signed up love being outside and hiking. Others weren’t too sure, but wanted to push themselves to try something new. It’s been such a great experience watching these young people gain a love and appreciation for the outdoors & adventure, work hard & persevere, and have fun!
What's the Rush?
As a parent of young children, there is so much excitement in your child's firsts: first words, first steps, first bike ride. As your child enters preschool age the push for learning early academic skills seems to add pressure to those firsts. Hitting developmental milestones becomes competitive somehow and your child's development can feel overshadowed when compared to other children, what the norm is, or what a preschooler should know. The expectation to be "ready" for Kindergarten or even for preschool is felt in knowing skills earlier on, such as the alphabet or counting to 100. As I navigated this with my first child entering Kindergarten, I realized I wanted a place that would foster something different. I wanted Kindergarten how it used to be, where playtime and social development came before academic skill. I wanted a place that would foster the life skills, exploration, and social emotional skills in a safe, loving way- similar to what I had tried to instill in her days of "at home preschool". Having known a little about The Innovation School, I made a plan to meet Maggie, learn more, and see the school. Now entering our 3rd year at The Innovation School, I am so glad we have this option in our community. Here is my why.
As my daughter began her Kindergarten year, Sophie spent her days in play and exploration with focus on open center time and inquiry based group learning among other 4, 5, and 6 year olds. She was allowed free play and free choice throughout much of her school day. She often came home sharing the new ideas and concepts she had learned and of the friendships she grew each day. She loved to act as a "third teacher" alongside Ms. Andrea and Ms. Amber by teaching peers during math and reading tasks. The wonderful staff recognized her social strengths in Kindergarten and around Christmas we began having conversations about moving up with the next band(1st and 2nd grade) of students on a more regular basis. This transition was so natural and easy because the staff met her where she was at and continued to challenge her learning to help her grow at a pace that made sense for Sophie.
Last year and now, at each roundtable(parent-teacher conference with the student also included) I get to hear about Sophie's own reflections of her learning, where she feels she has grown alongside her teachers input. I never once heard "this is where a Kindergartener or first grader should be by this date" or any comparison to peers, but rather I hear about Sophie's strengths, areas of growth, and areas of challenge. At the end of her first year, Sophie led her roundtable by sharing about her learning styles, her interests, projects she has worked on, and her reflections. I left feeling proud of how well my daughter knew herself as a learner and how confident she had become in being herself. At each roundtable since, I continue to beam with pride and excitement as Sophie reflects on her learning and her teachers share about where she has been and where she is headed in her learning path.
As I reflect on the last few years at TIS, a few words that could describe Sophie's typical school week or even each day are recess, reflection, and real-life experience.
Recess: Within each school day, peer time and playtime is the focus during morning meeting upon arrival from 8:15 to 8:45 to play games and settle into their classroom, then morning walk from 8:45 to 9, morning recess from 10:00-10:30, lunch recess from 12-12:20, lunchtime with all students Pre-K - 8th from 12:20-1, and afternoon recess from 2:00-2:15. Play is valued each and every day as the staff recognizes how students blossom from peer interaction and the opportunity to explore their passions. The soft skills of flexibility, teamwork, problem solving, and communication are at the core of TIS learning, all of which are valued within the school walls as well as on the playground. Recess is valued as a time to learn, not just a "free" time.
Reflection: At the end of each school day students and staff come together in a group to answer a reflection question from the day such as "How did you create a caring environment today?". Students and staff then go around and share to the whole group their reflection. On Fridays, students and staff are given a name of a peer or teacher to share compliments. The students practice reflecting on the relationships they have built and also learn gratitude and grace in the ability to receive a compliment. I couldn't ask for a better way for my child to end their school week than giving and receiving a compliment. Self and peer reflection are also carried out during feedback sessions. This can be seen during projects as students share peer feedback by asking questions like, "What was hard?", "What was easy?", " What would you do differently next time?", and "How can I help?". Real reflection leads to true learning as students learn to take ownership in their growth.
Real-life learning: At TIS, there is no rush for Sophie to know so many math facts or sight words by the end of year, but rather grow from where she started, develop relationships, and find out about herself and her learning style as she goes. Don't get me wrong, she is still learning all the academic skills and meeting standards, but the teachers target standards within a variety of projects, settings, tasks that are applicable to her life and interests. With this style of teaching her input is valued. She is learning from and teaching to her peers and staff. This can be seen beautifully during student led workshops where students get to lead the group in learning a new skill or game. Learning within mixed age groups has fostered mentorship, friendship, and leadership. Her creativity is celebrated every step of the way in her learning and this carries over into her everyday life at home. Any given evening or weekend I may find Sophie generating ideas for a business plan to sell a newly created product to friends and family, creating a new science experiment, trying a made-up recipe, rehearsing a play with her brother or stuffed animals, writing new songs with her friends and performing to family, or dictating and collaborating with me on a story about the neighborhood squirrels that make the backyard lively during Saturday morning pancakes. Day-to-day learning is embedded within play, collaboration, experimentation, and exploration which then spills over to how she explores her world outside of school. I believe this has set a foundation for how she will approach learning throughout her life.
At TIS there is a sense of celebration of students being, rather than becoming. They are celebrated for being a tinkerer and a master at fixing anything that is broken, rather than becoming the highest class rank. They are celebrated for being an artist and creating marketing material for school projects and plays, rather than becoming the top of their class in GPA for being able to regurgitate facts. They are celebrated for who they are as they explore their gifts, passions, and challenges while not being told how or what they should become. The possibilities are endless for students when they graduate from TIS because they will leave here understanding how they can apply their unique skills, gifts, and passions along their path, wherever it may lead.
Watching Sophie grow and interact within her world with the skills and perspective she has developed as a student of TIS has filled me with pride and gratitude. I am excited to see how my son, James will learn and grow as he starts in the yellow band this year. Thank you to The Innovation School for taking the rush out of childhood by embracing the play in learning. I'll end with one of my favorite quotes that sums it up quite well. "There is no prize for finishing childhood first" and I couldn't agree more!
Green Band (1st & 2nd Grade) Educator, Speech & Language Pathologist and Parent of two TIS Students, Sophie and James
It's All Okay at TIS
I have started helping in the 6-8 year old classroom during reading time. So far, I have listened to them read, (the ones that are ready to read), and helped them find books to continue practicing their reading. We have played games of matching letters and letter sounds. We have listened to read-alouds and talked about books. We have talked about what words mean and discovered new definitions. We have went on sound scavenger hunts and read their favorite books together. I have observed them and encouraged them. Every time they stumble, I tell them they are doing great. When they attempt to sound out a word, I tell them that is a great strategy. When they find letters and words they know, I tell them how awesome they are doing. We have laughed and learned together.
Reading and teaching reading is a controversial subject. There are a lot of opinions and I am about to add mine to the mix. I will say right now, I am not an expert. A few professors tried to teach me how to teach reading back in college. BUT I have never been an elementary teacher of 20+ kids with the weight of others telling me I must get all kids to read at a proficient level. If that’s the kind of advice you are looking for, you won’t find it from me.
I am teaching 11 kids, mixed ages from 6-8. I would guess the average teacher sees the same variety of reading levels I see in my own group. I have pre-readers, beginning readers, and readers. I have readers that are incredibly fluent but have no idea what they just read. I have not-so-fluent readers that can have a whole conversation after just reading two pages!
My son is six and included in my group of pre-readers. I think he is exactly where he should be because it’s where he is at. He is excited to practice letters and sounds. He is competitive so likes to get it right. He wants to read; he is anxious to do it. I keep reminding him he is doing great and it will come. He accepts this. I am not worried like I was when my oldest was learning to read and “behind” his peers. I am wiser now.
I am not telling anyone what to do in regards to reading. I am only going to share my personal experiences at this school as a teacher and parent of three boys at TIS.
Our plan in the reading classroom is to read. We start our time with a classroom read-aloud. The kids can color during the time. They are eager to answer and ask questions, interrupting at times with their excitement. We transition to small groups. Sometimes it is games with letters and sounds, sometimes it is read to self, sometimes it is word and sight recognition. We try to figure it out each day. We always try to make it fun and exciting. Each day though, they always get to read what they want at some point.
I can’t say if what we are doing will work. I’m not sure why it wouldn’t though. How do you get better at something? You do it. I do know my end goal is to create people who love to read.
My current middle schoolers love to read. So whatever experiences they had, it worked. Four of them were home-schooled at some point, two of them have been at TIS for five years, and two have transferred to TIS from traditional education (but both have been here for two years.) Every single one of them look forward to their hour of reading and covet this time. They race to their favorite spots in our quiet area to begin reading. If a younger child reads in the read-to-self area and begins talking, I never have to say anything as a middle schooler will be quick to remind them it is a quiet space and they cannot talk in there. I hope my own children and all the kids at TIS will have this same feeling when it comes to reading.
As I work with the younger kids, I can see each one's unique abilities and how they are all learning to read. Not one thinks they are bad at it or can’t do it. None of them have developed self-doubt. They are not judging themselves; they are just doing.
Their self-love is evident. As I watch them learn to read, I think that is the real gift TIS is giving them: a way to maintain their love and innocence. They can learn at their own pace, in their own time without the judgement and opinions of others. It is so inherent that everyone has different strengths. We talk about it all the time.
So whether a child is reading or learning to read, it is accepted. If we have a nine year old still learning to read, it is seen as normal. Because we value everyone’s differences and honor where they are, everyone is considered “normal”. At TIS, it is normal to be different than your peers and it is even valued to be unique.
So while I am not an expert at teaching reading, I am an expert at seeing the value in each person. I am talented at knowing when to push a child and when to hold back. I am a great communicator and encourager. I have discovered my own self worth and am determined to help others see the same in themselves, especially children. TIS is creating this environment for children. Reading is just a part of the whole. TIS is a school that values each child and staff member. Learning is valued and not judged. It is the optimal environment to learn reading and anything else children want to discover.
Should cursive still be taught? The debate is back. I have strong feelings about this topic. It may be my age, my experiences, my love of art, or my years in the traditional school setting.
I feel cursive writing helps to identify you. Each of us has our own style and I love to see the different ways in which people express themselves in their unique writing. It is a lost art form. I look at the historical documents signed with artistic strokes and beautiful signatures done with style and grace.
When The Innovation School decided to teach cursive writing, I was thrilled. I decided to do some research concerning the benefits of writing this way.
I learned that cursive writing provides a flow of thought as well as a flow of words. Humans think structurally, not phonetically, so writing in cursive reinforces that. I was pleasantly surprised.
Cursive writing helps you focus on content. When one becomes proficient in cursive, the barrier between thought and action helps the focus remain on the content.
Cursive gets the entire brain working. Reading cursive also activates different parts of the brain than printed text. Studies also show that writing notes in cursive instead of typing them is preferable. When we type we tend to write verbatim. When we write, we have to be more selective of what we write, so we think of the importance of the words. The writing process appears to help the information “stick” rather than pass through typing fingers.
Writing in cursive helps fine motor control as well as helping the person become a better speller. An individual is more likely to retain the proper spelling of a word when they write out the word as a single unit.
It improves brain development in the areas of thinking, language and working memory. It also stimulates the brain between the left and right hemispheres.
The research tells me that learning how to write in cursive has many educational benefits.
My students were apprehensive at first, but soon gained a new perspective that intrigued them.
The students that reversed letters in printing quickly learned that they didn’t reverse them when writing cursive. This was exciting. Others were excited about the way their writing looked. They have even started using their own style. We have begun to work on writing our signatures.
I am hopeful that by reading and writing in cursive, my students will not only gain a new skill, but an appreciation of the art of writing. Who knows, calligraphy may be the next skill I teach.
When you enter any Reggio classroom, especially one with younger students, you will be surrounded by very natural and spontaneous peer learning. Most learning occurs peer-to-peer in a reciprocal manner, and research across the board has shown that young children retain more of their learning when that learning comes from their peer interactions.
Over the past several weeks, we have introduced a more structured form of peer learning and we have transitioned into true peer teaching through Workshop Wednesdays in our Pre-K/Kindergarten classroom. Student led workshops are not new to The Innovation School - our 1st-8th grade students have been engaging in these workshops regularly. When we saw how much our Kindergarten students enjoyed participating in Workshop Wednesdays with “the big kids”, we saw it as a leadership opportunity for them!
Initially, we decided to form workshops led by our Kindergarten students. Our preschoolers loved our first “test run” of workshops and our Kindergarten students thrived from the stretch in their leadership skills. Each student leading a workshop was able to choose an activity to create based off their strengths and interests. This process produced true buy-in and provided a palpable excitement and clear engagement in our classroom! It also gave a different perspective as a teacher, to be an observer witnessing meaningful growth within each workshop.
Each week, our preschoolers began showing more and more interest in leading workshops - “when will it be my turn?” they often asked. After some discussion with our Kindergarten students, we all agreed that the preschoolers in our classroom would begin teaching workshops as well. During our first preschool led workshop, it was wonderful to see how our Kindergarten students were so eager to learn from their younger peers - rarely overstepping boundaries or trying to take the lead. Our students have gained such a sense of respect for their peers through peer teaching workshops - they know how good it feels to be listened to when they are leading, so they check (and double check!) to make sure they listen to their peers and carefully follow instructions when they are in a workshop led by a peer.
We are excited to work through giving every child in our class an opportunity to lead a workshop. David Boud, at Stanford University stated: “Students learn a great deal by explaining their ideas to others and by participating in activities in which they can learn from their peers. They develop skills in organizing and planning learning activities, working collaboratively with others, giving and receiving feedback and evaluating their own learning.” These are all of the benefits we have witnessed (and more!) as we have explored more structured peer teaching in our classroom. Feedback may be one of the most important benefits, as we have seen workshops become more refined and more meaningful, as the depth of each activity has increased. It truly seems that each week, the class enjoys each new set of workshops more than the last as we build upon our past workshop experiences!
We are excited to continue our Wednesday Workshops and provide additional peer teaching opportunities within our classroom - it has been a very positive, inspiring and transformative experience so far!
“If you have knowledge, let others light their candles in it.” – Margaret Fuller
I have two children of my own: Reagan is 3 and Nash is 7 months. Nash is getting mobile and is very active... exploring the world around him through touch, taste and movement. For the past three years, I’ve watched Reagan go through her own similar journey of exploring and understanding her world. One of my favorite things I’ve witnessed is her imaginative play.
I witness this same innocent imagination daily amongst the students at our school. However, the other day was one of those days that reaffirmed everything I believe and love about childhood. It was one of the first nice days in a while. The kids were so excited to be outside without a coat.
The warm weather meant everything was melting: a kid’s dream and an adult’s nightmare... mud everywhere! Each pocket of students had something different but equally imaginative going on. Two girls walked to the middle of a pond of ice. They were pretending they were in the Arctic and had to survive. There were sharks all around, but luckily they could speak polar bear, which helped immensely with their survival skills. Two other girls found a stream of melting ice going through the parking lot, and decided to build a miniature bridge for some miniature animals to cross. A group of boys found the muddiest mud they could, and they went to work building a dam. Everywhere I looked I saw imagination, innovation, cooperation, and joy.
So often we expect and accept imagination in our little ones, like my daughter. Then we think they grow out of it, and oftentimes we encourage them to grow out of it (whether intentionally or not). To see our students (ranging in age from 6-14) playing the same way I see my 3 year old play made me remember how important play is... mud and all!
A Parent's Perspective - Part 2
In 2016, I woke up to our education system. It was happening slowly but all of a sudden, I saw the problems blaring me in the face. My own child started school and there was no more illusion that the school system was fine. My children are the reason I have questioned traditional school systems and have found The Innovation School (TIS). Now, I get to be their mom but also one of their teachers. (A blessing most days!)
Both my husband and I attended public schools and turned out just fine. We are productive members of society and both hold master degrees. We had amazing teachers and awful ones. We did what we needed to and graduated with honors (or at least one of us did. 😉) When we began discussing private school, it was absurd to me to pay for something that is free. But when I realized I wasn’t fine and they weren’t either, the discussion continued to come up. By 2019, we found ourselves at TIS.
The reality of school is that it looks the same as it has since we were there 20-30 years ago. The more I worked in this system, the more I could see I was not going to be able to change it for my kids or yours. If you think school is ‘just fine’ you are one of many. I understand I am the minority at this time but I would ask you to ponder these questions.…(These are assumptions based on what I know about the public and traditional system.)
If you are still thinking school is "just fine", let me show you what it’s like at TIS. The Innovation School offers these benefits to my boys:
I will leave you with these final thoughts. I did not write this to make you feel comfortable. I wrote it to make you think. Maybe you have never thought about school. That was me once upon a time. When I was working in the public school system, my wise boss used to say these statements to get teachers to change their thinking. Maybe it's time you heard them to help with yours.
I became super uncomfortable with the way education was going in 2016. It’s seven years later and I can finally say I did something to change. I removed myself and my family from the system.
So if you have been considering something different, now’s the time. TIS does shadow days for anyone who just wants to see it in action. I have had many students come and check out the school to see if it is a fit for their family. Make the decision for yourself. TIS offers something different to our community. It might be time you take advantage of it.
Throughout my many years of teaching, I’ve taught a range of grade levels, subjects, and students. But I have discovered that the most crucial part of teaching is building relationships with my students. Making connections with students; getting to know them as people and guiding and supporting them as they succeed and fail academically, socially, and emotionally is in my opinion, the best and most important part of being a teacher. It fills me with joy and gratitude. It’s also the key deciding factor to the extent of which they succeed.
The following is a list that I use to build positive relationships with my students.
1. Give a warm greeting and goodbyes
2. Laugh together
4. Validate feelings
5. Encourage effort
6. Let the child take the lead
7. Share personal stories
8. Give eye contact
9. Appreciate their uniqueness
10. Foster their multiple Intelligence strengths
11. Feed them
12. Model kindness and forgiveness
13. Model and accept respect
14. Play games together
15. Read to them
16. Be honest and authentic
17. Provide structure and boundaries
Being a teacher allows me to be an influencer of learning, a trusting confidant, a caring adult, and a person who believes in each child’s uniqueness. I am the lucky one.
Tinkering is a word we hear a lot these days. Companies have tinkering shops, kids tinker with objects. What does it mean? The definition is an act of attempting to repair something. A few years ago when having discussions about how to make our math classes more real world applicable, we decided to implement Math Fridays. In the afternoon during math time, we would rotate weekly between coding, math games, and tinkering. To start with tinkering, we collected broken electronics and items and allowed students to take them apart. We knew we wanted this to be a hands-on experience, but we didn’t know exactly how to make it work, so we just jumped in head first. It was awesome to see the students problem solve and collaborate when taking apart these items. I knew this experience was important and exciting for the students, but I wanted to make it something more meaningful.
I was inspired by my husband who is definitely a kinesthetic learner. I watch him around the house spending hours tinkering with lightbulbs, lamps, baby toys, the cable box... the list goes on and on. I watch him look up YouTube videos when he gets stuck or doesn’t know how to fix something. And I see the end result, which is almost always that he fixed what he set out to fix. I knew these skills were the real world skills I’ve been wanting our students to gain. And through watching him, I knew that tinkering was the way to go about it.
This year, I took a more structured approach towards our tinkering time at school. We started our first day by doing a warm up activity. I found this activity while searching online (https://makered.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/Lighthouse-Project-Guide-Take-Apart.pdf). The students were tasked with taking apart a pen. They had to identify the parts and the purposes of the parts. They could also list any complexities (we reframed them as questions) that they had. After they documented their work, they had to put the pen back together.
Then I introduced the two lab options they’d have. The first lab is the Tinkering Lab. In this lab they work to take apart items that are broken and beyond repair. The second lab option is the Workshop Lab. In this lab, they work to repair items back to working order.
The students chose their lab and were assigned their objects. Some examples include speakers, stools, lamps, and a hair dryer. The students use collaboration, problem solving, research skills, patience, perseverance and so many more skills when working. I tasked one of the students in the Workshop Lab with fixing my lamp from our classroom. Upon taking it apart, he realized it needed a new bulb, but the bulb was hard to find. Then he remembered that we have a similar lamp that is broken beyond repair and in the Tinkering Lab. He decided to take the bulb out of that lamp and rewire it into the other lamp. And it worked! We have light!
There are so many success stories, aha moments, and more importantly, moments of failure and defeat. These are the moments I look for, because it’s incredible to see students work through their problems and come out the other side. My dream for our tinkering time would be to create an actual workshop in our school where the students have all the tools necessary to tinker, build, and fix. Not only would they be building with their hands, but they are also building confidence, connections, and lifelong skills.
A collection of thoughts, ideas and reflections from our educators, students, and families.