Thursday, July 19, 2018

TLF: Chapter 1 Breathe Fresh Air

I tend to be hot in my classroom when I’m teaching.  I rarely sit at my desk and am instead up and down and all about.  I cannot, for example, even think of wearing a sweater to school (and I live in Alaska) because I know I’ll be a pool of sweat by lunch. But my daughter’s fourth grade teacher on the other hand, (at my school) is always cold and wearing cute sweaters. . .go figure.  If given the choice I’d much rather always be cold because you can always put on more layers but there’s only so much to take off.

Because I often get warm, I open a window to let in some cool air.  What I’m doing to regulate my own body temperature is an idea Thomas Walker suggests that I didn’t really think about.  Open a window and let in fresh air in order to keep a balance between the oxygen we need to breathe in and the carbon dioxide we breathe out.  In other words, it’s good for your brain.  

My dream classroom window!

Finnish people in general feel that cool or cold air is good for you.  Walker observed, for example, parents leaving their babies sleeping in their strollers outside on their balconies (even in freezing temperatures) and he and his wife ended up doing the same.  It’s an acceptable part of Finnish culture.

The temperature of a classroom is one of a few factors that can lead to academic achievement.  A study was done in 2014 that found “that student learning and achievement are deeply affected by the environment in which (this) learning occurs” as proven by “a plethora of scientific evidence.”  

When I open a window to regulate temperature, I always feel some degree of calmness wash over me.  It’s like a natural stress reducer.  
So opening a window to let in fresh air can not only help academic achievement because it’s good for your brain, but stress (yours and your student’s) can also be reduced.

Next up: Get Into the Wild


Wednesday, July 18, 2018

TLF: Chapter 1 Simplify the Space

Think about the four walls of your classroom.  Think of three adjectives that best describe those walls. I would say: cute, functional, tidy. With each of these adjectives, think about who that benefits more: you or your students?

The saying “what’s best for kids” has its place in an elementary classroom. Are my cute decorations best for kids? Is the functional word wall and the super tall AR (Accelerated Reader) tree best for kids?  Is the tidy appearance best for kids?

How about “what’s best for the teacher”?  We spend the most time in our classroom and it is our priority to instruct kids in our classroom.  So my cute decorations are best for me (Pinterest has been a GAME changer in elementary classrooms), the functional aspects are helpful for me and the tidy appearance is best for me.  

So what’s best for the classroom, in my opinion, is a combination of both what the teacher and students need and want.  Think quality -v.s- quantity.

Think about, for example, your Kindergarten classroom from when YOU were a kid.  Think of three adjectives to describe the four walls that surrounded you for an academic year when YOU were five.   

What we put up on the four walls of our classroom and how much we put up are very different in the U.S. and Finland.  Thomas Walker noticed very quickly the “less is more” Finnish motto in his colleagues’ classrooms in Helsinki.  He feels that the calmness of students and teachers can be, to some degree, attributed to the simplified learning spaces of their classrooms.

A study by Fisher, Godwin & Seltman in 2014 revealed that, in the U.S., children “were more distracted by the visual environment, spent more time off task, and demonstrated smaller learning gains when the walls were highly decorated”.  I can understand that revelation and know that when I’m somewhere that has a lot of stuff up on walls, I feel overstimulated and am more distracted.  

Finnish teachers limit, to an extent, what and how they decorate their classrooms.  They want their classrooms to be uncluttered and cozy and achieve this by keeping their classroom design and decoration simple in order to achieve a positive tunnelma(atmosphere).  

Walker’s suggestion is to really think about the purpose of what you put up and display in your classroom throughout the year.  If it is something that helps students (a word wall, for example) or something that highlights students (published writing project, for example) then that is worth your time.  But if it’s just for show, or you feel the pressure to display student work or you’re trying to win the Pinterest-inspired classroom contest then it’s not worth your time and energy.  Quality -v.s- quantity

Think about your teacher desk area in your classroom (if you have one). What three adjectives best describe it? I would say: cozy, small, organized. There are teachers who do not have a teacher desk or teacher area in their classroom.  I am not one of those people and never will be.  My desk area is the first thing I set up in August and the last thing I put away in May.  My philosophy is that if I’m going to spend a lot of time in my classroom, it needs to be cozy and helpful to me.  You’ll find slippers under my desk, a little fountain on my desk, lamps around the room (with lights off) and chocolate in my bottom left-hand desk drawer.  The icing on the cake is when I put on the Pandora 'spa' station and my iPhone is connected to a bluetooth speaker across the room.  Zen baby!

Next up: Breathe Fresh Air

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

TLF: Chapter 1 Recharge After School

How much time do you spend, at the school where you teach, planning and preparing for your students
. . .outside of your workday?
How much time do you spend, at home planning and preparing for your students. . .outside of your workday?

If you're like most American teachers, TOO MUCH time.  I find it hard to decrease the amount of time I spend planning and prepping because of the pressure I feel to do my job well and I want to be Super Woman and do it all (family, work, blogging & TPT, running, etc.).  But I totally agree with Timothy Walker when he says that teaching "is more like a marathon than a sprint" and that we have a tough time pacing ourselves, even when our bodies tell us to slow down.  I'm a runner and have always viewed my teaching year as a marathon.  I can pace myself pretty well and as soon as I cross the finish line I CELEBRATE and play hard during the summer.  

So within the realm of recharging after school, here are three things Walker suggests:

1. Work smarter, not harder.
     Walker doesn't give specific examples.  Maybe finding and using a TPT resource instead of creating it yourself (I'm SO guilty of that) is an example.  I finally started doing this last year and was like, "Duh, that saved me a lot of time!"  I really like to create stuff and am super picky so that's why I just always make stuff.  I would love to get your ideas for how to accomplish smarter instead of harder.
2. Prioritize your work.
     Making sure the most important things get done after school before you leave and not sweating the small stuff that remains is the message I get here.  I've personally started doing this last year and it works. . .but I'm still left with anxiety over when to get those things done and being okay with them staying my "to do" list for a while.
3. Set clear boundaries between work and rest.
       This one is the hardest for me because I'm a work-before-play person.  I'm just that kind of person and it was a good strategy for me at the start of my career before I had a husband and family.  I know it takes something like 21 days to form a habit so if I get in the habit of taking me-time (a.k.a. rest time) before doing school work at home, it'll happen, right?

Next up: Simplify the Space