After the election.

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I don’t have words for what I’m feeling after yesterday’s election results. Or rather, I have too many words for what I’m feeling – confusion, disbelief, frustration, dismay, anger, shame, uncertainty. But mostly, sadness. I’ve never been hugely into presidential politics. Maybe it’s because it’s always felt so far away, so removed from my life and the people I love. Maybe it’s because presidential hopefuls don’t tend to spend much time on topics I’m most passionate about (education, the environment, social justice). Whatever the reason, I don’t tend to have emotional connections to candidates. Barack Obama’s election was exciting and full of hope, but typically, I don’t get emotionally wrapped up in any of the presidential races.

And until yesterday, this presidential race was no different for me. The whole thing was too ridiculous to invest emotional energy in. So many horrifying things were said by Trump and his supporters that I didn’t want to waste my time by paying attention to any of it. I knew who I was voting for. Hillary Clinton, while not my favorite candidate, had so many traits that would make her a qualified and effective president. And there was that added awesomeness of being the first female president.

I knew who I was voting for, and, perhaps naively, I didn’t think Trump had a legitimate chance of getting elected. Looking back, if I thought my country could elect a man who sexually assaults women, vows to ban all Muslims, and is openly supported by the KKK, I might have paid more attention, and done more to stop it.

But I didn’t. And I feel an immense, deep sadness. The sadness seems to be lingering, and it only grows when I hear stories of Muslim students feeling afraid to come to school. When I hear of families fearing that they’ll lose their health insurance.

And when I hear from one of my students’ moms that her daughter, upon hearing that Trump won the election, asked, “Mom, is he going to make it so that people with black skin can’t come to my school anymore?”

What shame. That a kindergartener would be asking that question about her country’s soon-to-be-president. And that her mom had to hesitate before answering, “No,” because she didn’t know with what certainty she could say there is no way something like that could happen.

My sadness lingers, and I will let it for a few more days. But after that, I know, it’s time for action. My personality, which is Type A All the Way, is searching for a plan, an actionable plan for how to move forward. I need to figure out how to talk to my students about these issues, so that they know they’re safe and loved, no matter who they are. I need to become more active in local politics, because the local arena is where we as individuals have the most power.

And I need to become more emotionally involved in the fight to support people of color, immigrants, queer and trans people, low-income families, and other marginalized groups. Part of the reason I’ve been unattached to presidential candidates in the past is because I am sick of the politics, and feel powerless to do anything about it. But I realize that my ability to be unattached also reflects my privileged status as a White woman. Going forward, I want to be more conscious of that fact, and do what I can to support the work that has already been going on in the fight for justice. Here’s a list of some possibilities.

Current obsessions: October 2016

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Don’t you just love fall? I know it’s the cliche favorite season for everyone ever, but I can’t help loving it. Some things I’m currently obsessed with during this beautiful autumn:

I finally started a (somewhat) regular meditation practice! I’ve been doing lots of reading on how to use mindfulness in the classroom, and everything I read suggests that the teacher needs to practice mindfulness before she can teach it to her students… So I decided I would try to get in the habit of meditating for ten minutes when I get home from school. So far so good! It’s a reasonable amount of time, I only make myself do it on the weekdays, and I’ve started to really look forward to it. After a crazy-busy day at school, it’s pretty nice to just sit around for ten minutes doing nothing but breathing. I use the app called Heartfulness, and I did splurge a few months ago and buy a meditation cushion. (It’s really just a pretty floor cushion from Pier One.)

On a similar note, I discovered some new podcasts that teach about mindfulness, meditation and the like: Tara Brach‘s podcast, Zencast, and The Mindful Podcast. My favorite is Tara Brach – her voice practically puts me to sleep it’s so peaceful, and I love her talks about life and happiness and Buddhist philosophy.

In my teaching life, I’ve been trying to figure out how to have a more meaningful choice/play time for my kindergarteners. Technically I’m not even supposed to have play time in the schedule. There’s no room for it in our master schedule, which we’re expected to comply with except on special occasions like field trip days. How awful is that? Kids should be allowed to play just for play’s sake. But I figure if I can make play time a demonstrably productive learning time, it’ll be easier to convince administration of its importance. After all, kids really do learn a lot while they play – but I want to make it seem obvious that free play time is a meaningful part of the day. I heard about this book and got super excited because it seems like it was written just for my predicament — Choice Time: How to Deepen Learning through Inquiry and Play by Renee Dinnerstein. I follow her blog, which is all about the importance of play and choice in the early grades, and can’t wait to start reading the book.

A couple song obsessions this season: I’m on Fire by Town Mountain, Midnight on the Interstate by Trampled by Turtles, and Buckets of Rain by Bob Dylan (happy Nobel prize!)

I’m also slightly obsessed with the artist/author Dallas Clayton lately. I first heard him interviewed on the Real Talk Radio podcast (Play, Art and Power of Encouraging Others), and loved everything he said. Now I’m following him on Instagram for a daily dose of inspirational art.

What I could have said: Addressing racial stereotypes in kindergarten

Happy October! Last week I had the privilege of guest-posting on one of my favorite blogs, Raising Race Conscious Children. You can check out the original article here, and then spend some time browsing their other articles. It was an immense pleasure to contribute to the knowledge they have there, for parents, educators and others who are interested in talking about race with children!

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It was just another moment in kindergarten, when the teacher (me) is ushering, begging, pleading that all the energetic and excited little bodies stop what they’re doing and come to the carpet for a story. There was a lot going on, including a little girl asking for a bandaid for a non-existent wound, a little boy getting his snack out when I had clearly just asked everyone to come to the rug for storytime, and a dozen other conversations among five-year-olds. When I looked over at one group of boys, they were pulling the corners of their eyes up into little slits, and saying “Hahaha!” and “You look Chinese!”

Two other boys, including one fifth-grade mentor who helps in my classroom, started to do it too. When you’re little, it’s fun to make your body contort in different shapes and show other people what it looks like. And if it makes someone laugh, chances are other children will join in too.

But an innocent moment between friends was tainted with racist undertones – and I didn’t know what to do.

I like to think of myself as well-read and well-intentioned when it comes to talking about race with children. Race, skin color, and culture is something we talk about often in my kindergarten classroom, and I even recently started working with a racial justice group who leads conversations about race with local parent groups. But in the moment, when I was worried about a million other things, including getting my class to the carpet in a somewhat efficient manner so we could move on to the next lesson, I wasn’t sure what to say to my little group of boys who were unknowingly making stereotypical comments about a group of people.

Here’s what I said: “I see what you’re doing with your eyes to make them that shape. There are many things that make a person Chinese, and the shape of their eyes is just one aspect of being Chinese-American.”

Not a terrible answer. I’m glad I didn’t say “Don’t do that!” or “[gasp] What a mean thing to do!” without giving any explanation about why such a gesture is harmful towards others.

I’m also glad I didn’t ignore it, telling myself that “kids will be kids.”

But I wondered, what would I have done differently if I had more time, or had made more time, to address the encounter? If I would have stopped, taken a breath, and decided to make it a teachable moment?

Because these teachable moments, the chances that we as teachers have to notice racism, call out stereotypes, and teach our children how to be more accepting and honoring of all others, are more important than any math lesson we need to teach, or tests we need to give.

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As quoted in this New York Times article, “It’s the children whose parents [or teachers] do directly address race — and directly means far more than vaguely declaring everyone to be equal — who are less likely to make assumptions about people based on the color of our skin.”

If I would have prioritized it, maybe I would have said “Let’s stop and talk about this.” And then held a conversation with my small group of boys, or perhaps with my whole class, about the meaning of the word “stereotype,” and the cultural and historical context of how Asian Americans have been treated in our country – including using the shape of (some) people’s eyes to belittle or dehumanize them.

Or we could have read several books with protagonists from Asian countries, and discussed the fact that people whose ancestors come from many Eastern countries can have many different physical features.

Or maybe I could talk about how pretending to “be” someone of another race or ethnicity by changing one small thing about your body, temporarily, is dishonoring of who that person is as a whole human being.

No matter how I moved forward with the conversation, it would have been better to spend more time on it, to help my young students really understand the power of their actions, and to help them learn to navigate our world of race and racism with grace and acceptance. But I forgive myself, and all other parents and teachers who don’t know what to say, because these moments are teachable moments for me too – and I’ll use this one to better inform what I can do next time.

50 Ways to Wonder: Have Outdoor Hour.

50 Ways to Bring Wonder into the Classroom

In an effort to bring curiosity and joy back into the elementary school classroom, I decided to start a series called 50 Ways to Bring Wonder into the Classroom. I hope to keep these ideas simple and easy to implement for the time-crunched teacher. Most of these ideas come from other teachers, blogs, and books – so I don’t claim credit for them! Click here to see previous posts in the series. And without further ado, here is the next idea!

10. Have Outdoor Hour in your schedule.

There has been lots of media coverage on the benefits of children spending time in nature. A recent article in the Atlantic that fills me with joy, called Kindergarten, Naturally, describes a “forest kindergarten” in Finland where students spend 80% of their day outdoors. Now, being a public school teacher in the U.S., this isn’t a plausible goal for my classroom. Most schools don’t have access to rolling acres of forest and hills that are walkable from their building. I am lucky enough to teach at a place that has a school forest (albeit a “mini” one in the courtyard), but I still can’t get through everything I need to teach if I spent 80% of my time out there.

Forest Friday in the classroom

I can, however, afford to dedicate one hour a week to learning outdoors. I’m calling it “Forest Friday,” and it’ll be at the end of the day on Friday (when my students’ already-short ability to concentrate on indoor tasks has plummeted). Every Friday, for one hour, we’ll go outside to do whatever it is we need to do that day – a science lesson, a math lesson, a Readers Workshop. It’s not going to be play time (although there’s nothing wrong with that); it’ll be Explore time or Reading time or Writing time. Of course, we’ll talk about the rules for learning outside, so it doesn’t become a distraction-fest. And I know it’ll be a learning curve for me (How do I bring all these bookboxes outside? What if the kids need to go to the bathroom?). But I really believe it’ll be beneficial for my students.

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I’ve been telling parents about my plan for Forest Friday, and also telling my students. They’re really excited about it, and we had our first one yesterday (even though it started to rain so we didn’t make it to a whole hour). I told the families and students so I could hold myself accountable, since I know it’s so easy to lose motivation when you have so many other things on your mind. But this is one I want to remain committed to, because kids deserve the chance to learn outdoors.

It’s a small step, but I’m all about small steps towards bringing joy and wonder back to the classroom.

Image credits

Current obsessions: September 2016

I’ve been making lists called “Current Obsessions” since I was in middle school. These were primarily in the form of mix tapes and CDs, which, if you know me, is not at all surprising. (I am really into lists and also really into mix CDs.) So I decided to carry over my tradition of putting together a list of the songs I’m currently obsessed with, and tweak it a bit for the blog – putting together a list of all the things that I’m currently obsessed with. It’ll be kind of like my Inspiration for the Weekend posts, but not limited to internet links. I’m hoping to find more time to write about the things I’m passionate about, instead of just providing links to other people’s writing. So here goes!

Current obsessions Sept 2016

I should note that this idea came in part from one of my current obsessions – Nicole Antoinette’s podcast Real Talk Radio. She does long-form interviews of some really amazing people involved in health, wellness and activism. And the first question she usually asks her guests is “What are you currently obsessed with?” It’s an awesome get-to-know-you question. I want to ask all my new coworkers that question.

And yes! I have new coworkers! I made an epic life decision this summer to switch school districts, so now I’ll be teaching at a school in my neighborhood (as opposed to a suburb that was about 30 minutes away). I’m going to miss my coworkers and families so much, but it seems like the right decision and I’m really excited to be starting at the new school. And it’ll save me an hour of driving every day! I can ride my bike to work! #lifechanging

Other obsessions include, obviously, how best to set up my classroom for the beginning of the school year. I have way fewer students (only 16! Last year I started with 24!) but also a smaller classroom, so I’ve had to be creative in how I set it up. I’m also trying to resist the idea of making my room perfect. I always dwell on the smallest of details, and end up spending two hours on, say, making my word wall letters perfectly spaced apart, when I could be using that time to, I don’t know…look at the curriculum? Or go home and relax? Thus, I’m trying to let go of the need for perfection. Which is hard, seeing as I am a classic Type A perfectionist… Anyways, in that spirit, I found this link to be super helpful: How Finland Starts the School Year. Seriously, if you are a teacher, read this post. It turns out you don’t NEED to spend 60 hours setting up your classroom, and in fact, maybe you shouldn’t?! (gasp)

I’m also really really trying to be more mindful about how I spend my money. Seriously, where does it all go? I don’t buy a lot of stuff, or so I tell myself. But somehow, at the end of each month, I end up spending way more than my paycheck probably allows for. Which is why I have been obsessively reading minimalist and don’t-be-stupid-about-money blogs, like this one and this one and this one. I also especially loved this from Becoming Minimalist: One Simple Question to Ask Before Any Purchase. Now I need to just start following his advice…

And last but not least, I am currently obsessed with what most others on the internet have been obsessed with for many years now… Instagram. I finally, finally let go of my resistance to having another social media platform to keep up with, and jumped on the Instagram bandwagon. So far, so good. I have a reasonable amount of willpower about not checking it too often, which makes me feel less guilt about enjoying all the inspirational pictures and posts from yoga/outdoorsy/runner people that I follow. Anyway, if you want to follow the blog’s new Instagram, I’m planning to post pictures of my morning runs and a few other things from time to time!

Mindfulness in the classroom: a six-week unit

mindfulness in the classroom: a six week unitI’ve talked before about teaching mindfulness in the classroom – I started it this year with my students, and LOVED it. My kindergarteners are young and energetic and emotional and impulsive, there’s no denying it – but learning the components of mindfulness, including mindful breathing and finding a quiet space to calm down, really made a difference in how they interacted with each other and with themselves. I found students reminding others to be mindful, utilizing our Peace Table to calm themselves down, even referencing mindfulness during math lessons!

Since this year was my first year teaching it, I was kind of pulling together resources in a haphazard way, throwing in a mindful moment here and there. While my favorite time to teach it was Morning Meeting, I didn’t always have time (or remember) to practice it with my students every day. But that’s the life of a teacher! If it’s not in the curriculum, it’s hard to prioritize it. Sooooo….

I decided to make a mindfulness unit! I wrote up a formal unit that lays out the lessons I did with my students more explicitly, and I plan to use it during the first month of school this year. You can find it here on my TPT store!

Mindfulness Moments in the ClassroomThe unit is designed to last for six weeks, with each lesson introducing a new mindfulness technique that you can teach all week long. Like I said, I tend to do my mindful moments during Morning Meeting, but there are lots of other times that would work as well. See my post on mindful moments during transitions! The unit includes a lesson on introducing the Peace Table, which I HIGHLY recommend using in classrooms for any elementary age. The Peace Table is a concept adopted from Montessori education, and is an amazing resource for teaching emotional intelligence, cooperation and problem-solving for young students.

The unit also includes lots of resources on where to learn more about mindfulness education. See also my post on learning to practice mindfulness in your own life!

And if you have ANY questions about teaching mindfulness or meditation in the classroom, just send me a message! Namaste 🙂

Inspiration for the week

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I apologize I haven’t been posting lately. School will be over in one week (actually four days!) and I promise to be more active on here. One of my goals for the summer is to connect with writing and blogging more, as it’s a creative outlet that brings me a lot of happiness. But only when I make time for it! Meanwhile, here are a few links to inspire over the next week:

Catching a piece of the sky: on childhood and wonder

Jose Vilson (who wrote This is Not a Test: A New Narrative on Race, Class and Education) had a series of guest posts on his blog that I loved. This one especially.

Another Jose Vilson piece: We must not be defeated. On optimism in May.

I’m fascinated by simple, effective ways to do inquiry-based teaching. I liked this article, on why it’s not always important to name everything we find in the natural world.

Super cool! The first school district to embrace climate literacy. Maybe I should go teach in Portland.

I don’t know much about John Muir, but I’d like to know more, and I always see his quote “The mountains are calling” all over my Pinterest boards. Adventure Journal delves into what the quote actually means.

Hooray for the new food labels! They now have to show explicitly how much added sugar is in packaged foods. Serving sizes will also be changed to more accurately reflect the amount people eat.

This is your brain on nature.

I’m a slow runner, and always have been. This piece gave me hope that it might not have to be that way forever 🙂

Inspiration for the weekend

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Ah spring. My favorite season. Yes, I know that fall has changing leaves and that crisp autumn smell. But spring is filled with blooming flowers, and sprouting gardens, and hope. Here are some hopeful links to share with you this morning…

Making peace with my body: How I did away with guilt and focused on joy.

On mindful running.

A beautiful story on why we should be able to walk through our country, and how absurd it is that we can’t.

Rewild your life: a 30-day challenge. I signed up to do this challenge to spend 30 minutes in nature each day, but realized that it’s near impossible during the school year. Fortunately, next month is the end of the school year! So I’ll start it up then.

One of my all-time favorite bands is Cloud Cult. Their songs, shows, and albums are filled with so much beauty and emotion. Their lead singer, Craig Minowa, did an interview on the show On Being. I love everything he talks about, and also his midwestern accent.

A good lesson on being mindful when something is frustrating.

I wear these headbands all the time and love them! They’re adjustable, don’t slip, and come in really pretty patterns. Highly recommended.

Inspiration for the week

wildnessI love leisurely Saturday mornings. They usually result in me drinking too much coffee (so warm and tasty!) and attempting to read the whole internet. So here is some weekend inspiration to share:

Have I mentioned my obsession with the Running on Om podcast? I can’t get enough of it. Try this episode on feminine fierce, or this one on falling in love with your running, or this one on the intersection of running, nutrition and intuition.

I’m trying to get better at journaling every day. I’ve figured out a good way to meditate in the morning (just two minutes, right before breakfast), but haven’t been able to fit journaling in my daily routine. This gives some good inspiration to find the time:

  • When you become a better listener to yourself, you become a better listener to others.
  • This soft quiet practice initiates the nurturing of your inner teacher, who happens to be pretty benevolent, empathetic and compassionate. You’ll start to be more lenient on yourself and that will trickle down to others because you’ll realize that we’re all doing the best we can with the tools we have.

When things are changing. Paying attention to subtle changes in your life/mind/body/soul, and why that’s important.

I always grapple with the paradox of personal growth: How do you find a balance between accepting and loving yourself for who you are, and working to change yourself for the better?

And in the teaching world:

Extraordinary things happen when we simplify childhood. I’m not a parent, but I have kids I love, and oh my gosh do I love this article.

Teaching kindergarten in a new age of anxiety. YES.

Just found another teaching book I can’t live without. I wish I had an unlimited budget for books… The Teacher You Want to Be: Essays about Children, Learning and Teaching.

50 Ways to Wonder: Educate families on how to connect with nature

50 Ways to Bring Wonder into the ClassroomIn an effort to bring curiosity and joy back into the elementary school classroom, I decided to start a series called 50 Ways to Bring Wonder into the Classroom. I hope to keep these ideas simple and easy to implement for the time-crunched teacher. Most of these ideas come from other teachers, blogs, and books – so I don’t claim credit for them! Click here to see previous posts in the series. And without further ado, here is the next idea!

9. Educate your students’ families on how to connect with nature.

One of my all-time favorite quotes comes from Rachel Carson, when she says “If a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder… he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy, excitement, and mystery of the world we live in.”

The quote inspires me to be that adult, the one with whom my students can explore the world and marvel at its mysteries. I do everything I can to make room for joy and wonder in the classroom. But let’s be real – there isn’t enough time in the school day to do it right. The pressures of academic expectations in kindergarten (or any grade) are way too high to really let my students spend the optimal amount of time exploring the outdoors. I am lucky if I get in 30 minutes a day of unstructured time for my students, plus a few science lessons outside each week.

But this is where I turn to my students’ families – after all, they are the ones who spend the most significant amount of time with their children, long after the kindergarten year is over. Why not help them learn to bring joy and wonder into their children’s lives? Yes, families are busy, and many may not be receptive to pushes from their child’s teacher to find time for playing outside. But I believe strongly in the importance of connecting children with nature, so it’s worth every attempt at involving my students’ families to do just that.

There are lots of ways to involve families. I run the garden committee at my school, which has parents and community members on board for planting and growing the garden. We also encourage parents to adopt the garden for a week in the summer, bringing their children with them to weed and harvest during the non-school season.

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If you don’t have a garden, consider purchasing books that parents can borrow. I recently read How to Raise a Wild Child: The Art and Science of Falling in Love with Nature by Scott D. Sampson, and LOVED it. It’s filled with ideas for how parents can help their children at each stage of growth (early childhood, middle childhood and adolescence) become enamored by the natural world. He gives ideas for how parents can become “nature mentors” (like Rachel Carson advises), addresses the paradox of technology and the outdoors, and lists tons of other resources for parents and caregivers.

Another good resource is the book Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder by Richard Louv. He outlines the research behind the dramatic drop in time spent outdoors, and why it’s bad for children’s health and futures. This one is a little gloomier than How to Raise a Wild Child, but it’s become a classic for parents and teachers who are worried about their children’s connection to nature.

There are also TONS of resources available online, and I sometimes print this and attach them to my weekly family newsletter. Here are just a few you could include:

These conversations might be hard to have at first, since parents are often worried about a myriad of things besides getting their kids outdoors more. But I believe it will help enormously to encourage parents in your mission to bring more joy and wonder into the lives of your students. Make sure to tell parents that they don’t need to be nature experts to take their kids outdoors – it’s less important to name all the plants on your hike, and more important that you are going on a hike together.