Friday, January 17, 2014

The Environment I Create

Someone asked me recently, "What makes the students in your classroom love school as much as they do?" 

Thinking that was an easy question I gave a quick response, "The environment I create."

"Yes, but what kind of environment specifically is that?" she asked.

My reply was mostly out of sorts, but it consisted of sharing how I treat them. I shared that I listened to their heart and ultimately paid attention to what they had to say.  

"Ah, so you treat them like people."

That conversation got my thinking and has been on my mind a lot while teaching. I've been observing my own teaching habits to determine what it is exactly that I do that makes my classroom environment a happy one.

The first, I've noticed, is I implement their ideas. Now that it is a new year, my students realized that we no longer have the "2013" date above the calendar. Truth be told, they noticed we don't have any year up there yet.

"Why don't we have a 2014 card yet?" they asked.

"Because I haven't had time to make a new one on my computer and print it."

"Why don't you write it on one of those sentence strips you use?" one clever sprout mentioned.

"That's a great idea," I said as I got up right then, walked over to my sentence strip box, wrote 2014 on a new one and stapled it up on the wall.

I realized I do this quite often. When my sprouts share with me an idea that comes to them regarding our class, I do my best to implement it right away. Even if it's off the lesson plan and changing what I had expected, I value the input they have to give. I believe that it is important to share that reciprocal respect. If I expect of them to listen to my ideas and implement them, I feel that it is only fair to listen to their ideas, no matter how small or insignificant they are.

It could be as simple as changing the color of the paper used for an art project or singing a song someone had an idea for. Whatever it is, they feel important when they are contributing members of the classroom.

I'll never forget the smile on his face when he saw I used his idea. With the biggest grin you'll ever see and the comment of "Teacher you liked my idea? That's because I have good ideas, huh!" I feel certain that contributes to his effort to feel good about school.

Thursday, January 12, 2012


I feel incredibly blessed to be continually encouraged by my five year old Kindergarten students. I never knew I needed it, but the confidence they have in me puts a huge smile on my face.

Yesterday, while singing a song that I didn't know the hand motions to, I stopped in the middle of the song and pronounced, "I have an idea!" One dear friend seemingly shocked that I could come up with ideas on my own carefully questioned, "You have an idea!?"

Assuring them I did, but that they would have to sit in their seats to find out, they cheered in awe, "Yay! Ms. Lawson has an idea! This is going to be so good! Hide your eyes everybody!"

And just as I turned around to put in the hand motions spelling DVD, all ten friends were hiding their eyes with giggles and excitement. It turned out that my idea was so good they actually wanted to keep singing every spelling song on the DVD. I couldn't help but them them sing a few extra.

Then again today, while preparing their science lesson in front of them, Jennifer smiled, looked up at me and said, "You're a genius Ms. Lawson." Caught off guard, all I could do was beam with joy and say thank you. With compliments like this all day, it's sure hard to stay humbled.

While finally participating in the same activity which helped teach primary and secondary colors through hands-on discovery, Natalie said with so much love in her heart, "Ms. Lawson, this is a great center idea." Flattered again, I smiled and said, "I'm so glad you're having fun."

They pour into me as much as I do to them. Full of giving compliments to me all day long, I can only hope that this was led by my example. The positive environment we share together certainly makes learning fun and hearts happy. I am thankful everyday to be a part of it.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012


This morning during journal writing Emma asked me, "Ms. Lawson, how do you spell marry?" Now normally I am eager to help out right away with sounding out the blends so they can make an attempt on their own, however, instead of being drawn to the spelling of the word as usual, I was immediately drawn to the reason for the writing the word.

I walked over to her journal page, and this it what I saw. "Samuel and me. Samuel, i<3 u. I want ..."

Deciding that I will help her with this word and then show her parents after class, I reminded her we are just friends in this class. She said, "I know. It's just pretend," and proceeded to sound out and write the word marry.

I feel it only fitting to mention this is the same girl who asked me last week, "You should get married and have babies. Then you can bring the baby to school and we can play with it for choice time!"

In the end, I am guilty of her writing such a story. While working for quite some time the day before she had only illustrated her story and written, "Samuel and me." Knowing that she was capable of quite a bit more I asked her to add details to her story so that the reader knows more about it. Consequently, the details turned into dreams about marriage.

Apparently she's not the only five year old planning their future:

Sunday, January 8, 2012


Friday, something happened during class that I do not believe many teachers can say they've experienced.

Being a teacher that embraces technology in the classroom, I always have my smartphone and laptop out within easy reach. This especially comes in handy when inquisitive minds have a question that needs to be answered through exploration, or in other words "Google." While the students were out at recess, I noticed an urgent email come through addressed to all staff. In the e-mail I was made aware that a well known non-profit organization located within 1 mile of our school grounds was the target of an armed suspect on their campus. I was informed that the suspect was not yet apprehended and should use particular precaution for any unknown visitors.

Only ten minutes later, when my class had settled in and started our show and tell, the principal came in and asked discreetly to have a private word with me. She said that because of the nearness of the event and the unknown location of the suspect, we were being put on precautionary lockdown. Until further notice by updates through text, we were to go about our normal routine, only remaining in the classroom with the doors locked and windows covered. Further, with three full size windows in my room leading to the outside, someone would be coming in shortly to cover them for me with dark butcher paper.

As the paper came in, the children's excitement and wonder was immediately drawn to the windows being covered. "What's that for?" they asked with curiosity.

To my relief the staff member, who happens to be on the team of preschool teachers, was quick to respond with a clever answer. "Since it's winter you get to pretend we're inside an igloo," she told them with enthusiasm. "And later, when your teacher says, you get to decorate the inside of the igloo by drawing on the paper!"

"I can't wait!" they all cheered.

What could have otherwise been a frightening situation was turned into an exciting and ultimately peaceful experience. Only lasting 30 minutes before the suspect was arrested, we remained safe in our classroom and secure in our routine. To me, this story remains a perfect example of how a fun and creative staff can turn a seemingly negative situation into a positive one.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Snow Bear.

Today we read the book Snow Bear. It's a fun touch and feel fuzzy book about a little bear who went out exploring after winter hibernation. Not listening to his mom by going too far he ended up losing his way. Naturally, the end of book discussion led to stories about getting lost.

Making the connection that getting lost is not really a big kid thing to do, one girl said, "When I was younger, and didn't know better, I got lost in Target. But my mom found me and I was only three then." It's interesting to think that for a five year old, two years ago counts as "younger." You and I? Not so much.

One inquisitive boy who always proclaims how well he uses his brain told us,"One time at the toy store my brothers left me even though I said stay right here."

Looking for more details I prodded, "Were you scared?"

"No, I was brave," he said proudly. "I followed their water footprints and found them!"

Quite impressed with this clever way of searching for his mom I exclaimed, "Wow, you certainly were being a detective!"

The last story was told by a girl who always seems to stretch to find a story applicable to share. "One time I was looking for my little brother and then I found him in my mom's room!" Relevant or not, she shared how she found meaning of the story by drawing from her own experiences; I was glad to hear whatever she had to offer.

For this very reason, end of book discussions quite easily turns into my favorite part of each day. It becomes very apparent that simply reading the book loses much more of what we have to discover. Not only do we get to discover more about the book itself, but we also get the opportunity to learn more about each other.
We see the book come alive with an even deeper meaning based on the context and application to each child. Their stories make reading time special and so much more meaningful.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

First Day Back.

Today was like the first day of school all over again. I could barely sleep last night due to the anticipation I was feeling for today. It was evident that everyone was looking forward to seeing their friends and sharing all the special stories that happened to them over break. Being back in the routine of things brought security and peace all around. The excitement they each had, as I expected, filled the room with enough natural energy that I didn't feel the need to "create it" out of thin air. Although I was possibly expecting rowdiness, the energy instead brought such a sweet sense of friendship and happiness. I even witnessed friendship being strengthened with compliments and smiles. "You know what?" I overheard at work time, "When I first met you I thought you were cute." It was as if they too were remembering the first day of school all over again.

Waiting for the school whistle to blow, their bright eyes and darling smiles stared into the classroom. Knowing it wasn't time to let them in quite yet, I couldn't help but wave. And just as I was opening the door to finally let them in, I could feel my eyes tearing up. Not a usual expression of emotion for me, I shocked myself with what I was feeling -- overwhelmed with love for them and pure happiness to see them. After being welcomed warmly by all, with tons of hugs and even a surprise kiss on the cheek, I can honestly say I'm sure glad to be back.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Happy New Year.

Today I was reminded that 2011 would be no more.

"Happy New Year," my boyfriend said. "It's 2012."

"I'm excited," I told him in honest thrill. "My kids will have more practice writing the number two!"

"Wow, you're a teacher through and through," he said with a chuckle. "When the first thing you think of is your students, you know you couldn’t quit being a teacher even if you wanted to."

I suppose he's right. If you're not convinced that I'm a teacher based on my excitement over the new year because of a number change, I have a few other ways that might persuade you:

  • I can't walk through a store without finding some product that would be perfect for an art or science project.

  • I have to take the longest route possible through stores with an art isle just so I won't spend all my money on art supplies.

  • I can't walk through a bookstore without ending up in the children's section.

  • I don’t throw away anything before considering how I might be able to use it for something as simple as counting or sorting.

  • I always have to stop and look at (and nearly always buy) a new sheet or two of stickers every time I get the chance.

  • I raid other people's houses for box-tops, recycled cans, or pop can tabs.

  • I have to literally force myself to deviate from stores like the Dollar Tree. I can spend way too much money there.

  • Walking past the dollar spot at Target I almost always purchase at least six things.

It's apparent that putting my students first both during and after school will always be a part of me. I'm not sure how I would function any other way.

Happy New Year!

Friday, November 11, 2011


Veterans Day, like all other holidays means no school. While most of the time I enjoy these holidays for a chance to recharge both physically and mentally, today I felt differently.

As part of our routine each morning, my Ki
ndergartners write a new journal entry upon arrival. During this time, I remind them to write the date at the top of their page while they watch me write the date. On November 1st, the whole class was in complete awe as I wrote "11/1/11" on the board. "It's a pattern!" a few shouted. "It's all one's," shouted another. Seeing their observations, relation to something we've been learning in class, combined with the overall excitement in writing something as simple as a date, brought a joyous smile to my face.

Today's date 11/11/11 brought back memories of that day, and just thinking about what their reactions would have been--probably just as thrilling as it was on the first--truly made me wish I was with them today. I will be eager to share with them this once in a lifetime date on Monday.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011


The year has finally come to a close. Last Friday, my Kindergartners and I joyfully looked back on all that we’ve accomplished. As they finalized their last journal entry, we put together a notebook which contained every entry since the beginning of school. This was an exciting moment for them. Observing the beginning of their journals, which typically consisted of random letters and included no structure, many of them were confused by what they had written. “What’s this say, Miss Molly?” they questioned.

At this point, I was eager to point out their progress. It turned out to be an automatic confidence booster as they turned each page and saw the improvement they had made over the course of the year. Here I realized that portfolios are my biggest tool to supporting their self-esteem. At this age, they will not always recognize achievements on their own, and as they progress academically and even socially throughout a school year, it becomes my role as the educator to recognize individual accomplishments.

My feedback, evaluations, encouragement, communication, and overall environment that I establish will attribute to how students feel about their abilities. Before self-esteem can be built, students must be able to recognize their individual accomplishments and believe that personal success was because of their own actions. I recognize that having a positive self-concept is critical during the early years, knowing that how we view ourselves affects future ideas, feelings, decisions, actions, expectations, and general performance in life.

Keeping a portfolio of their previous work proved to be a great way for me to show students exactly how far they’ve come and how much they’ve accomplished. Besides overwhelming positive reinforcement and constant encouragement, the portfolios I keep will help students gain confidence in their work. If keeping a portfolio is but one more thing I can do to boost their self-esteem, then I will accept the importance of my role in attributing to self-concept and do all I can to support it.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Commotion In The Ocean.

Today we read the story Commotion in the Ocean. The book was filled with wonderful creatures near or in the ocean. The children were filled with excitement to learn about all the animals in rhyming thrill. The conversation that occurred next, however, was filled with more commotion than any of the oceans combined. The conversation came towards the end when we reached a page about penguins and polar bears.

With attentive eyes, they carefully examined the bright and colorful illustrations. What stood out to them was not falling penguins or cuddling bears, but rather a tiny black and lonely starfish. I could barely tell what it was and asked, "Are you sure it's a starfish?" They assured me it was because of his pointy stature. In case you don't see it, as I did not, here is a closer look.

Now you see it? Off in the distance of the first picture? I was just as surprised as they were and asked, "Well, what's he doing way out there?!"

The answers were all very logical and Kindergartner-like.

"Maybe he needs alone time."
"Sometimes I need alone time."

"Well I hope he's not too lonely," I replied.

A moment of silence occurred before this enthusiastic soul shouted, "He's gonna jump!"

"Oh no! Why would he jump?!" I asked in shock that a Kindergartner would say something so terrifying.

"To see his family in the ocean," he assured me.
"Yeah, alone time is over," another chimed in.

Clearly, it was my mistake for assuming worse. The innocence and logic of a five year old will never cease to fascinate me.