A Choice Literacy member wrote to us this week:
I am noticing that we have hit a point in the year where teachers are stressed, snow days are maxed, and state assessments are around the corner. I find myself having less patience, getting overwhelmed with small details, and have lost my focus on the big picture. Any ideas for how to recharge when you are having the "Januaries" and you are supposed to be helping others?
We realize the calendar no longer marks the month as "January," but between slogging through a long cold winter and massive budget cuts, many teachers and communities find themselves with a bad case of the Januaries that just won't quit. Here are some suggestions from Choice Literacy contributors for staying rooted and renewed.
Shari Frost, a literacy coordinator in Illinois, writes about our power as mentors:
I spent the last three days with first-year coach Amanda. She had a serious case of the Januaries.
I watched her work with her intervention group of three third-grade boys. Her stories of the boys' progress were not consistent with what I was seeing as I watched them read, write and discuss their book. I encouraged her to administer an objective summative assessment to the boys. She did. The assessment revealed that all three of the boys had made amazing progress. Of course they had. They were receiving excellent instruction from a very good teacher. Amanda went from glum to euphoric!
I encourage every teacher to stop and take a close look at one student. You don't have to give a summative assessment. Look at the writing samples, reading logs, and reading response journal entries from the beginning of the school year. Then look at what that student can do now. It is the reason we became teachers and continue to be teachers. Just imagine how far along that student will be at the end of the school year.
Jennifer Allen, a literacy coach in Maine, builds on a favorite pastime:
You know me – I am a baker, so I always bake for curriculum days, meetings, and study groups at this time of year. Homemade treats and coffee are always present on the table as a small token of thanks and appreciation. I also make time at the end of a day of curriculum work to send handwritten notes to participating teachers. I don't think one can ever show too much appreciation.
Jennifer Jones, a literacy and math coordinator in Wisconsin, finds participating in a national celebration in small ways perks everyone up:
The first thing that pops to mind is that we are looking forward to Read Across America Week February 28th-March 4th. As a learning community we plan a week of events that add a little spring to our steps and get our kids fired up about reading; they also love celebrating Dr. Seuss' birthday too. Here is a rundown of the week's events, and the best part is that classroom teachers really don't have to do anything to coordinate for this. Here are some notes from our school calendar:
It's Sure to be a Seuss of a Good Time – Read Across America Week
February 28th – March 4th will be our school wide celebration in honor of the birthday of Dr. Seuss
Monday – Red and White Day (wear everything you can that is red and white)
Tuesday – SeussTastic Elections
Students and staff will vote electronically for their favorite Dr. Seuss book. Votes will be tallied to determine a school-wide favorite. A group of our 5th grade math students will handle the tallying and display of our data.
Wednesday – Cat in the 'Hat Day' (Wear your favorite funky hat)
Thursday – Dress as your favorite book character
Friday – Rock-n-Read
We will once again keep two rocking chairs in the lower-level lobby, rocking all day long with readers.
This year we will also be collecting new or gently used books for children and adults and new activity and coloring books to donate to community organizations that service children in our community. Donations enter students in a raffle to win one of twenty Dr. Seuss red and white striped STOVEPIPE HATS.
Professional Development Specialists Clare Landrigan and Tammy Mulligan from Massachusetts find easing the loads of others lightens their own moods:
We know that when we are stressed, we can be sure that the teachers are also stressed. Sometimes just remembering this helps us refocus, with an eye to take a bit of pressure off of others. Helping teachers in their classrooms can make an enormous difference. We sometimes help students choose new books for reader's workshop while the teacher works with a small group or completes an assessment. We might schedule a few intervention sessions with a couple of students a teacher is very concerned about. We even complete an assessment or two for a teacher. These few acts of kindness can take the pressure off teachers, and let the teachers know that we value the work they are doing.
Karen Szymusiak, a principal in Ohio, has a simple suggestion:
You can always start a Smile Revolution. This is a blog post I sent to staff in the fall when we were buried in parent conferences — http://www.bitrebels.com/geek/10-reasons-to-smile/ I followed up a couple of days later with a wonderful picture of my smiling new granddaughter, Lucy, to remind them that there are reasons every day to smile.
For Katie Doherty, a middle-school teacher in Oregon, it's all about focus:
It's been a rough few months in my school. Like many other districts across the nation, we are facing millions of dollars in cutbacks. We learned a few weeks ago we will be losing our librarians as well as over fifty teaching positions next year. The outlook is bleak. Everywhere I turn teachers are miserable. Even our counselors are in need of counseling it seems. Not only are we living in fear for our jobs and programs, we are currently saddled with our second round of state testing. This alone is enough to wake up with a stomachache each day. We know when this round is finished, round three awaits in March. The pressure is overwhelming.
But when I walk through my classroom door, I realize depression isn't seeping through the walls into my classroom. When challenged to think about why, I can thank my students. We have been celebrating all year long our reading and writing progress. Several times a week we start class with a simple chitchat time. We discuss in table groups the books we are reading and why we are enjoying them. We share bits of our writing and we hand out compliments like candy. In short, my students are spending lots of time in class talking about the good stuff we are doing! They are excited about the work they are doing and the improvements they have made. Recently we took some time to do some reflecting that got us all jazzed about the good work we are doing this year. In our notebooks and in class over the course of a few days we did the following:
- How We Choose Books — We do this at the beginning of the year, but I wanted them to reflect again to see if their book choice strategies had matured or changed. It was a positive experience for the kids to see how they have grown.
- Comparing Two Published Pieces — We read one of our early published pieces from the beginning of the year and our most recent pieces; every child found they had made progress and felt they were better writers. Each reflected on his/her improvements through writing in their notebooks.
- Writing Celebration — We invited parents and other teachers to come in during our class period to hear our writing. We brought treats and held a sort of open mike celebration. Every child shared his/her latest published book. Of course we took time to applaud each piece and offer lots of compliments.
My students are so enveloped in our community of readers and writers that it is easy for me to forget the dark feelings throughout my building. We keep celebrations of progress at the forefront of our learning. I try to share these moments in our weekly professional learning team meetings as well, and I am always eager to hear of the good times happening in the classrooms of my colleagues. This helps me to focus on what really matters in my job: my students.