Honoring the Emotions of the Holiday Season

Balls Emotions Smiley Cute Smilies FunnyThe other day I sat in the stands at the local pool watching my kids move through the water during swim practice. There is something calming about watching swimmers glide through the water amidst the repetitive rumble of feet making waves as each swimmer moves back and forth. This serenity is enhanced as I witness the persistence of my kids wanting to improve their skills and working through the practice despite being tired or disappointed by actions or activities earlier in the day. I know they find peace as well, and a bad day can turn into a better day.

In moments like this, I tend to reflect on life in general. I think it is because the senses are being stimulated:  the faint teal paint of the walls paired with the light blue water, the dense heat of the pool house embraced by the humidity of the water, the chlorinated smell, the rumbling thunder of the swimmers, and the self-awareness as the bind centers on one thought before moving to another.

As we move through the holiday season, it is critical that students are given multiple opportunities to process and reflect. The constant stimulation from the bombardment of advertisements, music, excitement, sugary treats, and interactions can send emotions in many different directions. Building in time for students to think and find a sense of calm is essential to reinforcing and growing the relationships with peers and between students and teachers. It is during this time of year, that I recommend adding additional, or longer, processing and reflecting moments. This may be challenging as schedules are in flux and the curriculum tends to drive teaching in a rush before the holiday break. I am including a few simple ways to add processing time during a lesson.

  1.  EMOJI Shuffle:  For this activity, post a variety of emojis around the classroom. Direct students to move to an emoji that represents their understanding of the lesson at hand. Ask students to pair up and discuss why they chose the emoji they did. This activity can be repeated for different components of the lesson. A slight alternative could be to have students move to the emoji based on how they are feeling at the moment (not necessarily lesson based). Students can write thoughts on a post-it while they are standing next to the emoji. Once they have done so, they then crumble up the post-it and deposit it in the recycle bin before focusing on lesson specific topics/questions.  This honors their emotions without the vulnerability associated with sharing about their feelings.
  2. Sensory Breathing:  I attended a conference in the fall for teachers of gifted students. This activity is meant to help lower stress levels and anxiety of any student. The activity is simple. Direct students to look at something in the room. Once they have picked an object, instruct them to take a deep breath and then breathe out as you count slowly to ten.  Direct students to pick a different object to look at and repeat the breathing process. This continues with five objects. After five objects, students are directed to focus on five different sounds. After sounds, students focus on five different touches.
  3. Color Walk: Distribute paint strips to table groups with warm and cold colors. Direct students to choose a paint strip that represents a color they either like or based on their reactions to a guiding question or topic. Give students time to think about why they have chosen the color strip they have and consider actions they can take based on the number of color choices on the paint strip (some may have four, some may have five) Have students pair up and discuss their choice of paint strip. Depending on space, students can walk around the room, through the hall, or outside discussion reactions and possible actions (answers to the question, next steps to determine learning, additional questions they have, etc.)

These are only three activities, but each of these activities acknowledges current feelings and emotions. The recognition of these emotions, even if just for self-awareness, can help foster a sense of safety allowing relationships to strengthen while reducing stress and anxiety associated with this time of year.



Purposeful Introductions: Using “As You Enter” to Share One’s Story

exchange-of-ideas-222788_1280Screen Shot 2018-11-26 at 9.05.15 AM

Last week I presented at the Conference on English Leadership Convention in Houston, Texas. It was a great convention providing me with several opportunities to talk with other leaders about ELA instruction, practices, and teaching philosophy.

The session I presented was titled, “7 Steps to Establishing a Discourse-Rich Lead Team.” The infographic below shows the progression the 7 steps. Details of each step were elaborated on during the presentation clarifying the list of descriptors.

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Applying any of these steps will help the overall performance of a lead teacher team, but applying multiple steps, or better yet, all of the steps will promote better efficiency, trust, discussion, and opportunities to try new ideas.

There may be multiple interpretations of what a lead teacher team is and the overall purpose. If I were to boil the definition down, a lead teacher team is any group of teachers coming together to make decisions about student learning. In my previous post, I explained the Working Definition Walkabout activity.  I used this activity to define what it means to have discourse-rich lead teams.  The two working definitions the group explored were:

Lead Team Discourse refers to the communication of ideas via verbal and written interactions that occur amongst lead team members in small group and large group settings. These interactions include processing, critical thinking, interpreting, expressing, reflecting, debating, agreeing, and disagreeing (adapted from Cathy Seely).

Lead Teams can be defined as any group of educational leaders coming together to collaborate on the needs of student learners.

Neither definition is in its final form allowing participants to freely edit and share their understandings and expertise.

While I used a variety of movement activities during the presentation, the one I started with helped set the tone of the presentation.

As You Enter

For this activity, participants are given two options.  The two options offered at this convention were:

Option #1:  Using your device, select an image that represents your experience so far in Houston. On sticky notes, write three words (one per sticky note) describing your rationale for choosing this image.

Option #2: On a sheet of paper or sticky note, sketch a picture that represents a course of action you want to take when you return to your place of employment. On sticky notes, write three words (one per sticky note) describing your rationale for sketching this picture.

After a couple of minutes, participants shared their words with a partner (or in a group of three). Partner A introduced him or herself (name, position, location), showed the image/sketch, and then shared the three words. Partner B followed the same format. With the time remaining, the pair expanded understanding with questions, comments, and/or clarifications. The protocol ensures that both individuals get to share. Adding time for questions, comments, and clarification adds to one’s story.

Each person chose one, two, or all three words to post on the Thinking Wall at the front of the room.

The activity prompts were chosen to add reflection and to honor the experience of the participants. I read a few of the words out loud and asked participants to keep these words in mind as we continued to learn together. I returned to these words throughout the presentation making connections to the activities we participated in. At the end of the presentation, reflection was built in to consider these words and the experience of the participants,

While any activity asking participants to interact with one another and share their stories would help build relationships, this activity connected to the actual experience of participants and the learning taking place. Doing so adds purpose to the introduction and ultimately builds more buy-in to stories shared during future introduction activities.  Offering choice recognizes individual thinking and provides more opportunities for one to communicate his or her own story. These stories are crucial to establishing the groundwork for a discourse-rich experience.

Working Definitions for Processing and Guiding

Screen Shot 2018-11-20 at 5.01.38 PM.pngI recently attended the Kappa Delta Pi International Convocation in Indianapolis, Indiana.  This is my sixth time attending convocation, and each time I have attended assuming various roles such as a state delegate, regional representative, presenter, and Executive Council member. This year my role shifted to co-chair of the International Committee. With each role comes a new perspective, or lense to view the sessions, meetings, and interactions. As co-chair of the International Committee, I had the pleasure of networking with a variety of educators passionate about student learning across the globe. This year, I attended several sessions focused on sustainability supporting my own teaching philosophy as well as elements of my district’s strategic plan.  I’m particularly attuned to equity and social justice strands. Kappa Delta Pi is currently offering a free online class to members and nonmembers on the topic of sustainability. Details on the class can be found at Introduction to Sustainability.  This class is facilitated by Susan Santone, author of the book, Reframing the Curriculum: Design for Social Justice and Sustainability.

When I think about my own work related to this blog, the importance of the powerful questions and thinking needed to adequately discuss these topics as well as brainstorm a course of action becomes the impetus of incorporating movement in critical discussions. The concept of using movement with students in the classroom when stimulating discussion is applicable to adults as well.  A simple strategy to begin the conversation builds on other ideas I have posted previously.

Activity Title:  Working Definition Walkabout

To prepare for this activity, the facilitator prints out a sheet of definitions referencing the big topics to be discussed.  At the top of the sheet, the facilitator included the “Working Definition” title.  Depending on the size of the group, the number of copies posted around the room may range from 5 or more.

Step 1: Hang Working Definitions around the room.  For example, the definitions of social justice and equity might be displayed as working definitions.

Step 2:  Participants divide themselves into groups of 3-4 and position themselves in front of one of the working definition sheets.  When groups have been formed, they agree on three powerful words to highlight. After they highlight these words, they then decide on what should be crossed out, added to, or rephrased.

Step 3:  Participants move as a group counterclockwise to the next working definition sheet. Participants view highlights and review revisions to the working definition.  They then continue editing or adding comments.

Step 4:  Participants move to the next working definition sheet and repeat the process.  This process can continue as long as the facilitator decides.

Step 5:  Participants share about the process and its application to their work.

This activity is good for the following reasons:

  • It honors the voice of every person.
  • It honors the collective voice of individuals in the room:
    • what they agree with
    • what they disagree with
    • their expertise on the topic
  • It adds to the processing time
    • participants consider own knowledge
    • participants focus on the topic at hand
    • reduces stress and anxiety

The next steps of the process may include developing the group’s working definition, deep diving into the topic, and/or beginning the process of deciding the direction for the classroom, grade level, district, and so on through the generation of questions.

Mixed-Ability and Mixed-Grade Literature Circles

Tying shoes. A simple activity that’s typically performed one or more times daily. Once people learn how to tie shoes, they can do so almost without thinking. One of my favorite activities to do with teachers and students is to teach them how to tie their shoes in a different way, one that is supposedly quicker and more efficient. The task challenges thinking. It builds community with groups of educators who know each other and those who are meeting for the first time. Once groups move…

Source: Mixed-Ability and Mixed-Grade Literature Circles

Tableau #3 : Collaboration, Repetition, & Movement

Conflict tableau_1

Summer!  I have had the opportunity to spend time at EduFest in Boise, Idaho.  Boise is a beautiful city, and despite temperatures over 100, I have been pleasantly surprised by the beauty, food, outdoors, and friendliness of the people.  EduFest has also been a great learning experience. The audience for this conference is intended for educators and administrators working with gifted and talented students.  Most of the strategies and activities presented in the various sessions would be beneficial for any student.

In one of the sessions that I have attended, I was introduced to a variation of the Tableau Activity that I have written about in previous posts.  In a tableau, individuals use their bodies to create a frozen picture representing an object, idea, scene, etc. The frozen picture should include expression, large gestures, and different levels. The session I attended at EduFest was led by Cloyce Weaver from Ontario, Canada. The idea behind the variation described here is to reinforce understanding through collaboration, repetition, and movement. I have modified the activity, but the premise is similar to the original idea introduced in the session.

The example we used in the session was photosynthesis, which I will use here to explain the basic concept in the steps below:

  1. Students find a space in the room.  The teacher provides the initial instruction, “Be the sun.”  Students create an frozen picture of the sun.
  2. The teacher directs students to find a partner. Students pair up and are given another direction, “The two of you represent clouds and rain.” The pair creates a frozen picture, which can become animated when directed, representing this part of the cycle.
  3. The teacher directs students to create a group of three with classmates they have not yet been with. Once the groups have been formed, the teacher gives the following direction, “As a group of three, become the seed of a plant that begins to grow.”  The group performs the action.
  4. Students are then directed to form a group of four.  “As a group of four, create four tableaus depicting the entire cycle.”
  5. After the group of four presents, the teacher has students return to their original solo spots to become the sun. Next, the students find the spots in the room where as partners they became the rain clouds. They find the spot and become the clouds.  The process continues until they perform the final group tableau.

The activity can be extended to include larger groups and eventually the whole class. It can be easily adapted for any nonfiction readings regarding a type of process.  It has also can be used to summarize fiction. Students could become the setting and characters as the various tableaus move the class through the plot or storyline. The tableaus could also include the big ideas in the reading, themes, figurative language, and basic analysis. These ideas would take a more processing time, but the repetition and movement may help students recall the information later and apply it to future writing and comprehension assignments.

Full Circle Connections


Class is over!  Three simple words that can portray a very different meaning depending on the tone of the delivery. On some days, the utterance of these words indicates great joy as students scutter out of the classroom.  On other days, these words are aired with despair due to the excitement of the day’s activities. In both situations, the effectiveness of the ending is important to capture student learning and direct future decisions. Making the ending meaningful and effective for student learning takes planning, time, structure, and commitment.

There are several ways teachers choose to end the class period. Popular ways to end include the utilization of exit slips and written reflection.  Unfortunately, when pacing is off and time is escaping, class endings tend to be cut short, rushed, or eliminated altogether. While this is going to happen from time to time, habitual exercise of these endings ultimately impacts the overall effect and impact of student learning.

One of the class ending protocols that I find both enjoyable and impactful is what I call the Full Circle Connection protocol.  In this protocol, students are taught the routines of how to circle up in both small group formations and large group formations. Teaching students how to circle up in both formation increases variety in how this protocol can be used. Teachers may wish to use small groups for time-restricted moments or in-depth moments. The large group formation may be used when more time is available or to get a feel for the whole class experience.  Teaching student circle up routines should include moving furniture (desks, chairs, etc.) if needed and what it means to arrange the group or groups into a circle. Depending on the purpose of the circle, arranging chairs for a seated conversation should be practiced or standing in place should be modeled. Practicing body movement such as eye contact, body positions, and other good listening gestures can be highlighted to improve social skills and interactions.

At the ending of a class, devoting 10 minutes as a closing activity could be powerful. An example of what that might look like could be:

Summary Example:

  1. Project a prompt for students to summary the main points of the activity or lesson.
  2. Provide one-minute of think time.
  3. Provide 30 seconds of move time (to small group circles–yes, this can be done if the routine is practiced).
  4. Assign a leader to begin (could be a class job or in a creative way with objects, cards, descriptor…person wearing the most orange, etc.)
  5. Each student provides a brief summary (limited to a minute).
  6. After 5-7 minutes, groups return to seats or to whole-class formation.
  7. Leaders from each group provide a summary statement.

Formulating Questions Example:

  1. Project a prompt for students to write a higher-order thinking question based on the activity or lesson.
  2. Provide two-minutes of think time (this will take longer until students have practice with the routine).
  3. Provide 30 seconds of move time.
  4. Assign a leader.
  5. Each student takes turn reading his or her question without commentary from other students (10 seconds per student).
  6. The group decides on a question to explore.
  7. Each student takes one-minute to respond to the question.
  8. After 7 minutes, group returns to whole-class formation.
  9. Leaders share question with whole group.  A list is generated for future exploration.

For me, I would have students stand in a circle during these moments.  Each example could be expanded into a much larger lesson. Practicing these routines will eventually increase the flow and pacing. Honoring the learning can help with recall and it can lead to deeper discoveries.  Circles create an more intimate experience empowering students both socially and emotionally. Building this level of support in a classroom opens students up to seek clarification and explore topics at a higher level. If teachers respond to these connections, formative feedback can positively impact student learning.

Generating Questions to Spark Action


Spring is one of my favorite times of the year.  I love when trees and flowers start to show their colors brightening the days and moods of people abound. Spring is a time of rejuvenation.  It is also the perfect time to bring some element of novelty to the classroom and to teacher training sessions.

In searching for a way to bring novelty into a recent teacher team meeting, I modified the Color Question Brainstorming described in Groups at Work: Strategies and Structures for Professional Learning by Laura Lipton and Bruce Wellman. In my version of the activity, I started off by asking the team a thought-provoking question or them to reflect on by completing a think-write-pair-share activity.  The purpose is for the participants thinking about a topic in a way that reduces judgment and opens thinking. Rather than ending the conversation at this point, the team is divided into teams of 2-4 with each team given a color: Green, Red, or Blue.

In three locations in the meeting space, a poster is hung where participants will generate questions.

  • Green Questions: Imagination, Ingenuity, Possibility
  • Red Questions: Facts, Figures, Data
  • Blue Questions: Judgments, Opinions, Values, Needs

Using the initial question in addition to any other parameters needed to focus thinking, teams generate a list of questions based on the word headings of their assigned color. For example, if team members were assigned to discuss adopting a new novel to use at a specific grade level, the following questions might be developed:

  • Green:  What might happen if the team adopted several titles for literature circles instead of large volumes of a single novel title?
  • Red: What is the data that supports instruction for whole-class novels vs. literature circles?
  • Blue:  What is the best way to meet the needs of students to experience an additional novel title at _____ grade?

After a specified amount of time, team members move clockwise to a different color. They spend time reviewing questions created by other team members and mark what they feel are the most important, vital, or interesting questions. They then add to existing questions for clarification, or they add additional questions.

After a specified amount of time, they rotate to the third set of questions and complete the same actions as they did with the second set.

The final rotation involves participants returning to their original posters to review marked questions, comments, and added questions. Teams discuss and then return to their seats.

Once teams have had the opportunity to rotate and discuss, a large group discussion occurs highlighting topics/questions that stood out. The team uses this information as a way to help direct action items for future meetings and discussions.

This activity stretches thinking and opens up the possibilities that may have been hindered with a simple brainstorming procedure.