Monday, December 9, 2013

Come one, come all: 2nd Annual #Kinderchat Chrismahannukwanzukah Festivities!

Hello friends!

You know what's coming up next on #kinderchat, don't you? That's right, its...


And you are all invited! (Seriously. You are ALL invited. Even if you don't teach kindergarten, or you have never come to #kinderchat, or you have always wanted to come but were shy, or you have only lurked, or you have no clue what #kinderchat is but you just want to come to a party. YOU ARE ALL INVITED.)

The party will take place at our usual #Kinderchat day and times (next Monday, December 16th, 9pm EST for North America/8:30pm London time for Europe), on the Twitterz as always. 

And, boy, do we have some fun activities planned for you!
(Note that all activities are completely optional, and at no point will you be required to participate in any merry-making that exceeds your comfort zone. THIS IS A SAFE SPACE. Introverts, you're welcome.)

Pick and choose any or all of the following:

Holiday Sweater Parade: For the time of the chat (or the whole festive season, if you are into that sort of thing), change your twitter avatar to an image of the worst-best holiday sweater you can find.

White Elephant Gift Exchange: THIS IS THE ONE WE ARE MOST EXCITED ABOUT. Here are the rules:
  1. Go out on the interwebz and find the best, most cheezy, tacky, over-the-top-ridiculous teacher-themed gift you can. Think apples and chalk and crayons and gingham and aprons and candles and coffee mugs, all rolled into one. The more useless, the better. Alternatively, take a picture of an ACTUAL teacher gift you have seen or received. The best part of a virtual gift exchange: THERE IS NO PRICE LIMIT.
  2. That said, BE NICE about what you pick. Try to find links that go to the actual store or manufacturer, or somewhere fairly anonymous, and not to the personal blog or pinterest board of someone who legitimately thinks teachers love crayon wreaths. Example: Macy's will not have hurt feelings if you tweet a link to sparkly apple earrings, but the mommyblogger who lives down your block might get her feelings hurt if we mock her chalkboard coaster set. KINDERCHAT IS THE NICEST CHAT ON THE INTERWEBZ, and we don't want to hurt anyone's feelings.
  3. Once you have found something, come back here to this very page and fill out the form below, giving your twitter handle and a link to your gift.
  4. On the night of the chat, we will reveal your gift, and the lucky recipient. You will also receive a gift from another kinderchatter. That's right, no one will know who is GETTING the gift they choose until the gift is "given" during the chat on Monday. FUN, RIGHT?!?

Ok, ready? GO!

Monday, October 14, 2013

Connected Educators Month: Pub Crawl and Scavenger Hunt

Oh man has it been a blur! Last thing I remember I was watching the sunset in Maine on vacation, next thing I know I'm choosing my outfit for Halloween! What happened?! :D

One thing that has been going strong this October is Connected Educators Month. I'm really excited about this project this year, not only because I've had the opportunity to work on parts of this massive undertaking (hello, scale!) but also because it's forced me to begin the process of sharing with my own colleagues at school. (nope, hadn't seemed to ever gotten to that yet-since 2010).

This month we've just been buzzing with activity- already two FABULOUS webinars under the belt and three more knock-your-socks-off guests to come! Mardelle @learningmurd is a Blackboard genius and I have to say our webinars are the best I've seen on the interwebz, if I don't say so myself! You can see the FAB line-up right here! Ellen Galinsky! Ooey Gooey Lady! RAFFI! and Matt Gomez! Did you know Matt's famous now?! He is! :D

Our Monday chats are on the Connected Educators calendar and you can receive ACTUAL PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT BADGES given to YOU by the ACTUAL United States Department of Education. Please let us know if you need a badge for an event you already attended!

That said, next up is an awesome PUB CRAWL at the 8:30PM London time chat and a sure-to-be-crazy SCAVENGER HUNT at the 9PM New York time #Kinderchat! How on earth are we going to do all that?? Take a sneak peak right here:

Saturday, August 3, 2013

It's the most wonderful time of the year...

... yup, that is right. The time has come for us to hang out the "help wanted" sign, because:


For the 2013-14 school year, we are recruiting chat moderators. The compensation is beyond price (this is a fancy way of saying that we have no money with which to pay you), and includes:

  •  Involvement with something fresh and exciting
  •  Input into our ideas and projects, 
  • Practice with tech tools that may be new to you
  • Stronger connections to the entire #kinderchat network. 
  • Opportunities to grow your own PLN
  • The FUN of being "behind the scenes" at #kinderchat 
  • Depending on how progressive your administrators and/or school district are, your involvement could possibly count as PD hours. 
Ready to learn more?

(We have tweaked the topics and categories a little for next year, so even if you have moderated in the past, it is worth a look at the job description!)

The #kinderchat chat moderator job description is right here.
Ready to dive right in and apply?

The #kinderchat moderator job application is right here.

Looking forward to adding some friends to the backstage party!

Amy & Heidi

#Kinderblog13, Assignment 5: Fear

I bet you all thought I would forget about this week's prompt, right? Since I am up here in the woods, far away from civilization, where I have opened my laptop exactly twice in one week?

No such luck.

The last 2 weeks topics, while perhaps not EASY, have been, maybe, pretty comfortable for most of you, I think. This week, it's time to shake it up a little.

Your one-word prompt:


Okay, there you go. Chew on that one for a while. I can't wait to read what you have to say!

Lots of love from the back of beyond;

Saturday, July 27, 2013

#Kinderblog13, Assignment 4: Dream

Whoa, we are already up to week 4? Where did the time go?

I bet you all thought that I would not get this post up on time because I am roadtripping, but NO SUCH LUCK!

Your one word prompt for this week:


As always, please share your link in the comments, and tweet it out using #kinderblog13.

(Also: wow, you guys are so awesome. I am so impressed with the caliber of the posts you all are writing, ON YOUR SUMMER VACATION.#Awesomesauce.)

Hope your travels are as happy as mine have been so far!


Saturday, July 20, 2013

#Kinderblog13, Assignment 3: Change

Ok, folks, it's week 3 of the #kinderblog13 challenge. Your one-word prompt for this week:


As always, once you write your post, please link to it in the comments here, and tweet it out using the #kinderblog13 hashtag.

Just joining us now? The full instructions on how to do the challenge can be found here. Welcome aboard!

Saturday, July 13, 2013

#Kinderblog13, Assignment 2: Brag

Wow, the response to the first #kinderblog2013 topic -- Confess -- was nothing short of amazing. If you haven't had a chance to read everyone's posts, please check out the comments for all the links. How great is to know that we are not alone with our quirks and flaws?

This weeks challenge is something teachers are notoriously BAD at doing:


Go ahead, do it.

As always, when your post is done, please tweet it out using the #kinderblo2013 tag, and post a link in the comments right here.

(If you are new to the challenge, and missed the instructions from early this week, you can check them out here. Join us! You are welcome to jump in any time!)

Smiles & Sunshine;

Saturday, July 6, 2013

#Kinderblog13, Assignment #1: Confessions

Ok, friends: #Kinderblog2013 officially begins TODAY. (If you missed the instructions from early this week, you can check them out here.) Huge thanks and kudos to those of you who jumpstarted things by writing the warm-up assignment. If you are just joining us now, you can go back and do the warm up first, or just dive right in with this first assignment.

As a challenge to myself this year, I'm going to try and give each assignment as a single word, which you can then interpret in a way that works for you. That said, the first assignment is:


Come on, tell us all your secrets (but not anything that might get you fired, okay?)

Don't forget, when your post is done, please come back and link to it in the comments, and tweet it out using #kinderblog13.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

#Kinderblog13: Pre-race packet and warm up exercise!

(Ok, this not really anything like a race, but it worked well with the warm-up metaphor, so stay with me, ok?)

Amy here, friends, blogging from my little corner of The Canada. I am a little late getting the summer blog challenge going this year, and I blame this on having the World's Weirdest End-Of-Year. Seriously. Because of catastrophic flooding in my beautiful city, we did not have a last day of school. That's right. We just sent the kids home, business-as-usual, at the end of one day, and then... schools were closed and there were no more days. I'm still getting over it.

BUT! It is starting to feel like summer (847 degree temperatures help with that) and so THE TIME HAS COME...

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, children of all ages, take your seats, because:


This is an annual tradition around these here parts, but if you are new to our happy little #kinderchat family, here is how it works:

  • Who can join? The challenge is open to anyone. Most participants are teachers, but all are welcome. The questions/assignments usually relate to teaching and/or kids, but if you are a quantum physicist and can write a relevant post, you are welcome here.
  • What happens? Every Saturday for 6 weeks, beginning this Saturday (July 6th), I will post a new blogging assignment right here. I'll probably tweet it, too, so make sure you are following me (@happycampergirl) as well as the kinderchat account (@kinderchat123).
  • What do I need to do? Once the topic is posted:
    1. Write your response and post it on your own blog
    2. Leave the link to your response in the comments of the assignment.
    3. Tweet out the link, using the #kinderblog13 hashtag.
    4. Visit at least one other blogger's response, AND LEAVE THEM A COMMENT. (This is important, bloggers love comments. It's like having your glitter-covered clip moved to purple so you get to pick a coupon to exchange a sticker redeemable for treasure from the prize box. #snark.)

What I love very best about this challenge is how simple it is. You can do all 6 questions, or just the ones that float your boat. You can join in mid-way, or start from the beginning. You can miss a week and no one will reprimand you. It is SUMMER VACATION, so nothing should be stressful.

If you have never blogged before, this is a great reason to start. If your blog has been neglected due to the insanity of school, this is an opportunity to refresh it. If you are an avid blogger who is not sure what to write about when you do not have munchkins in your classroom, this will provide you with some inspiration. If you are not a blogger, but an avid blog reader, keep a twitter search running for #kinderblog12, because you are bound to make some awesome discoveries.

AND NOW, because I know some of you can't wait to get started, here is a (completely optional, but short and fun) warm up assignment (this is the ONLY assignment with a word count limit, I promise!):

In 250 words or less, tell us YOUR story. What do you do, why do you do it, how do you do it, for how long have you been doing it, where do you do it? What do you BELIEVE about what you do? How do you FEEL about what you do? You only have 250 words, so use them well.

Remember: it doesn't have to be prose. It can be a poem, a song, a series of pictures, even a video clip of you talking, but: ONLY TWO HUNDRED AND FIFTY WORDS.

Ok, that's it. If you write a warm up post, don't forget to link to it in the comments. If you have questions about how this whole thing works, you can post them as comments, too.
Aaannnnndddd..... we're off and running! The first official question gets posted on Saturday; don't forget to come back and check it out.

Smiles and sunshine;

Monday, June 17, 2013

Our Year in Review

Hello Friends!
Wow! Well years fly by and this one has been no different! Though online years somehow seem much longer than IRL years somehow- how is that exactly? Anyway, lets take some time to think back and reflect on all that we have done this year.....

Our two biggest points of new business on Kinderchat this year were launching the rotating Rainbow Moderators and starting a second chat time for our European/African time zone friends. Both were huge structural endeavors we undertook to help us grow both in reach and in developing leadership.

The rotating Rainbow Moderators worked beautifully. Everyone stepped up to the plate and brought more to the table than Amy and I ever could each week. Your topics were fresh, relevant, exciting and always showcased the profession and expertise of teaching and learning. If you could, please take a minute to add a word of personal Thanks to the many who offered their time this year to lead us through topics, greet everyone at the chat and prepare questions, links and references throughout the chat.

Next year, we will be freshening up the topics, so be on the lookout this summer for the updates along with the application form to be a Moderator! Shy? Don't be! It's a great way to build skills and make friends!

The next point of business was launching the Kinderchat 2: Electric Avenue! :D We still don't have a catchy name to distinguish the additional chat, but we are working on it! I have to say starting a whole second chat time was more than I bargained for, but well worth the hard work. We decided to start this chat time as we had one dedicated Kinderchat-ter who would wake up at 2AM in England to talk with us at our regular chat time. As we have always had a global perspective and outreach on Kinderchat, we decided to start a second chat time so that friends wouldn't have to set alarm clocks in the middle of the night to know us! Kinderchat 2 launched in September of 2012.

The time difference proved tricky right from the start as it had me racing back from car duty to get to the 8:30PM London time start time- which is 3:30 in the afternoon for me! I've since found my mojo in thinking it's actually the perfect time- tea time!

I never expected such a large learning curve with the second chat offering. First off, it was a little lonely. All the "regular" Kinderchat-ters were in school. In the very beginning, I think there were one or two times I was filling plenty of "dead-air" and ever so grateful when @TeacherMeg and @Fr_Immersion98 popped in. Finding "Early Years and Reception Teachers" was hard. And then I had to learn to speak not only French, but Portugese, Swedish and Bulgarian. Realizing I had to learn 400 languages made me feel better about my Americanism of only knowing one, and we soon were learning to weave google translate into the chat.

I say "we" because at some point @blamehound found us, or we found her, I'm not sure! :D She was lovely, FAB and fun and quickly became my partner in crime. She has rallied Reception and Early Years teachers from all over England to come to the #Kinderchat. I am ever so grateful for her hard work, her laughter and her spirit of "knowing" what the Kinderchat is all about. Our classes quickly became buddies online as well, as Nicola quickly got us trading "Bertie Bear" among England, US and Canadian classrooms.

Other big news was the launching of "The Campfire" Webinar Series with Mardelle aka @learningmurd as a way to showcase our guests. We featured a wonderful array of speakers and experts in the field of teaching and early learning, namely: Katie Keier on Writing, Jonathan Mugan on Early Learning, Karen Wohlwend on Play Based Learning, Kathy Cassidy on Global Learning and Integrating Technology, and everyone's favorite, Lisa Murphy aka OoeyGooeyLady, fielded questions on Early Childhood and had everyone just busting out laughing around the Campfire. Congratulations to Mardelle Sauerborn on this fantastic project! We can't wait to see you at the Campfire again in September!

Back in January, Amy had us blogging like crazy as we faced the NaBlaPoMo Blog Challenge. I'm still tired from that- I'm not sure how she did it! (I promise I will finish pinning everyone who blogged on our Blog Challenge Pinterest board yet this summer!) It was a fantastic experience as we heard from so many incredible folks who work with Young Children. The experience of writing about our work is such a critical piece of reflection and practice, it must stay central to the job of teaching and learning with Young Children. Amy's leadership and focus on writing is simply put, inspiring. Congratulations to her as she moves out of the classroom full-time and into a full-time leadership position at her school.

We can't leave out talking about MATT! Wow! He sure skyrocketed this year! He hosted PBS Kids on the hashtag and led a massive team of fabulous moderators for our Tech topics. Congratulations to him on his speaking gigs and the launch of his blog and be sure to CHECK OUT THE AMAZING SYMBALOO MIXES! Over 45+K! that's THOUSAND! 45+ THOUSAND downloads. He and Michelle Hiebert aka @MauiMickey and @Fr_Immersion98 had classrooms all over the world dancing, reading, doing math, playing and speaking French with the wonderful array of Symbaloo mixes they made for #Kinderchat. The children LOVED them and it is an INVALUABLE tool for any and EVERY classroom.

On a sad and scary note, our community faced challenges as we cried together after the Newton shootings. I know each one of us looked at our classrooms and kids differently after that. We found support and strength from each other. We continue to offer that support and strength to our own @MegUnger as she needs us as she leads her child through cancer and @HulseAnnMarie as she leads her daughter through diabetes. Meg found out this news shortly after she and @MauiMickey ran a wonderfully successful #EdCampKinder in Abbotsford for teachers in their local district. #TeamLiam and #TeamTeagan are in our hearts and minds Meg and Ann-Marie, as you make this journey.

Wow- It's strange at how you think you aren't doing enough and then you look and say "WOW!" that's actually a ton for one year! So Kinderchat, hold onto your hats, or toques or whatever ya got- we are flying high! :D

Have a fantastic summer and see you all in September! Be on the lookout for blogging challenges throughout the summer! Our second chat time will continue though mid-July as their school year is longer, so join us if you like! As always, the hashtag will be hoppin'!

Friday, May 3, 2013

Everything you ever wanted to know about Kindergarten...

Admit it. You do it, too.

You wonder:

  • Do other teachers have to teach this?
  • How much prep do other districts get?
  • Have other kindergarten children had their recess time stolen away?
  • Is anyone else teaching their own PE every week?
  • Does ANYONE get art from an art specialist anymore?
  • What is kindergarten like in other countries?
My friends, WE WONDER, TOO!

So, we did something about it. Our mission: to collect data points, about everything from class size to prep time to reading instruction, from as many teachers-of-five-year-olds as we can find, all over the world. 

The survey is intended only for classroom teachers (not administrators, instructional aides, specialists, parents, or consultants) of children who are 5 (or very close to 5) years old at the beginning of the school year. If you are NOT a classroom teacher of children this age, you can still help by skipping directly to step 2, below.

Your job:

1: Click the link below, and answer the survey. We estimate it will take about 10-20 minutes, and there are NO essay questions! You may want a calculator, because we do ask things like: "How many minutes a week do you teach?"

2: Spread the word. Please tweet, facebook, pin, blog, e-mail, fax, snail-mail, skywrite, crayon, the link to EVERY SINGLE TEACHER YOU KNOW who teaches 5 year olds. They do not need to be on Twitter to participate. They do not need to share any information more specific than their country. They just need to spend 10 minutes answering the questions, and then continue to spread the word.

When you complete the form, you will get a link to see the results. Bookmark that page, because we have a feeling the results are going to get pretty darn interesting as we get more and more responses. 

You need the link again? OK, HERE IT IS.

From the bottom of our geeky, curious, nosy little hearts: Thank you.

Oh, wait, if we want this to be Pinterest-friendly, we need an image, don't we?

Okay, here you go, It's like data, done with crayons. Perfect.
What's that, you need the link again? Ok, CLICK HERE.

With so much love;
Amy & Heidi

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Kinderchat Welcomes PBS Kids!!!

We are SO EXCITED to welcome 

to next week's
Monday April 8th 9PM New York time!

Please join Matt Gomez and the "Team Tech" crew to talk technology and math with 

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Policy Perspective: The Poles

(Heidi's perspective, suburban, private school teacher)

First off, I just have to say how much I admire Meg’s passion, interest, knowledge and experience on the topic of Policy. She has inspired and fueled me to begin this journey into policy-land, although thank goodness I’m not a blogger as it has taken me this long to write a response to her wonderful piece! (Though I’m afraid our March blog bookends are in no way in like lions and out like lambs!) :D

One of the things I love the most about Kinderchat is how it brings together many different voices and experiences. Each one of us brings a unique perspective and set of tools to the table. It’s as if each week we return to the table to unload and share the newest gems stored up in our pockets. Meg’s first hand experience in a Head Start classroom is extremely valuable to the community and to this conversation in particular. And even more so, because my own experience pretty much cannot be more different!

I have taught in an upper class community in a private school my entire teaching career. So not only is it a low/no poverty community, coincidentally with excellent public schools, I teach in maybe the top 10% economic bracket of that already top tier. Private school tuition makes your eyes water if you are a person of average means. The cost per pupil is staggering in comparison to public school cost per pupil, in some cases private school tuition literally doubles or triples what even high spending districts are spending per pupil. And private schools are fundraising pretty much all of the time. It seems it’s never enough.

In contrast to mine and more in line with Meg’s experience, my Mom teaches Special Education in the neighboring high poverty town and is well versed in how policy makes its way into the classroom. She’s had to switch curriculums pretty much every other year for the last 10 years while I’ve had time to craft and perfect my own. Her students might get beat for losing a mitten, my student’s Mom owns a mitten-making boutique. Her students have parents in jail, my students have nannies and housekeepers. Her students get beat up everyday walking home from school until they relent and join the gang, my students are picked up in Range Rovers and driven to horseback riding lessons. She juggles students with severe emotional and learning issues, my students are asked to leave if there’s too severe an issue for the school to handle. She writes multi-page detailed lesson plans all weekend while I just keep a monthly desk calendar. Mom and Meg, I’m not sure I could do it!

There seems to me to be some very dangerous and sad trends in policy making of recent, with labels being thrown out of “failing schools” and “bad teachers”. Everyone is failing it seems, except the folks out there creating the “bad policy”. I always go back to this quote from W Edwards Deming "The problem is not the worker, the problem is at the top." Everyone seems to be racing there, but those actually at the top certainly aren't talking about the Common Core.

These facts of disparity are not secrets and if they are, well, they shouldn’t be. The facts may not be as sexy as big data, but data are just a bunch of numbers when not contextualized by the facts of life for millions of Young Children. I hope through these discussions with Meg we begin open up a more honest and in depth dialogue of the reality and impact of policy and the reality of school experiences for our youngest learners.

Heidi is from New Jersey and can be found on twitter at @hechternacht She blogs for kids here.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Policy Perspective: A Beginning

Before Amy and I began Kinderchat, we outlined five clear goals. Goal one reads: To facilitate discussions among Educators, Parents, Policy Makers and the Public about Best Practices in Early Childhood Education. I know I speak for Amy when I say how proud we are to have helped facilitate almost three years of dialogue among so many dynamic, professional and talented educators. 

I have always subscribed to the belief that form follows function when developing this world of, by and for educators. When we were overflowing with links to incredible Early Childhood Blogs, we made the Kinderchat Early Childhood Blog Directory. It is from this place of timing and authentic need that we spring to action. 

So, somehow, somewhere, we are being called to action to begin more authentic and engaged dialogue in the world of Early Childhood Educational Policy. I know, I never thought I'd be saying it either, but here we are. We have decided to undertake this endeavor in stages, the first being an ongoing dialogue led by US teachers Meg Sexton and Heidi Echternacht with comments encouraged by all in the International Kinderchat community.

To help you (and me! watch out! I'm learning!) we have created a Directory of US Early Childhood Organizations. We encourage your comments and participation to help us begin an authentic dialogue in this area. Please let us know if you'd like to contribute to the conversation in a guest post! 

@TeacherMeg opens the dialogue here:

Meg’s Perspective (the urban United States Head Start teacher and child development grad student perspective)

When I graduated undergrad with my teaching certificate and big plans of moving to Chicago to teach, I was quite unaware of the policy world.  I thought that policy was something that applied strictly to the government world, was dull, and had nothing to directly do with me. As I spent my first two years teaching (and struggling!) in an underserved neighborhood school, I began to think that there was more to the story of teaching than my students and my classroom, but couldn’t piece it together.  

I later transitioned into teaching within a community center in a Head Start classroom. This is when policy pushed (shoved!) itself right into my practice. Head Start is a federally funded preschool program directed towards children and families who have the biggest economic need. It’s a 2 1/2 hour program that incorporates meals, parent education and involvement, health services and more into the requirements. This is where it begins to get tricky. Since it is a 1 1/2 hour program and most of the children we serve need full day care, Head Start is very often combined with state and/or private funding within one classroom, not to mention child care licensing standards.  All of these various stakeholders who fund the program have different requirements of the teachers and administration in terms of documentation. Also? Not every child in a classroom falls under the same funding source. So I had to know and follow procedures for several different funders and provide documentation (read lots of paperwork) for each one of the stakeholders. That’s policy pushing its way into the classroom.  And the thing is this happens not just in the childcare centers and Head Start programs. Policy pushes its way into the public and private schools as well.  Policy is what dictates what we must teach, how much we must teach, how much prep time we get and on and on. Because the requirements from funders dictate so much of our day, it is necessary for teachers to understand policy, it has everything to do with us, contrary to what I once believed.

Part of what drives me to try and make sense of policy is that logistical piece of it; if I want the programs I work in to keep getting funding, I had better comply with the paperwork they request. I’ve also recently come to the realization that policy also directly connects to the social justice of early care and education. We need to know where the money is coming from so that we can advocate for our families when budgets are cut and our programs are threatened.  As a part of that, we need to make ourselves familiar with the organizations that provide policy guidance and advocacy. Beyond that, we need to forge relationships with these organizations so that we can engage in dialogue with them.  These organizations have a lot of influence over how policy is structured and enacted and many of them provide guidance on what is developmentally appropriate practice. It is our responsibility to be aware. We must learn who the major players are behind funding sources. Not only so that we are able to see who is driving education and social service policies, but so that we can dig deeper and look at the different agendas that may be behind the many policy shifts.  

I strongly believe that we need to practice being reflective and critical consumers of policy.  Whether it be a new program initiative, a curriculum mandate, or a new assessment, we need to look at the issue in a more intimate manner and tease the different strands apart. We also need to be open to the grey area; we need to look at an issue and know that not everything is polarized to either side, but that every issue is extremely complex and multidimensional.  It is not comfortable in the grey area, it’s a bit squirmish, but we need to be okay with that. Policy is complex and just like life, there is no black or white-only grey. Worry not! It is within this grey area of discomfort that conversations emerge, and from those conversations ideas, and from those ideas, action.  

Meg Sexton comes to us from Chicago and can be found on Twitter @teachermeg and blogs at She is a certified PreK-3rd grade teacher with experience teaching preschool, kindergarten, and first grade. She is currently a graduate student studying child development within the context of both changing the nature of teacher professional development and focusing on the whole development of the child in helping teachers reflect on the choices they make within their classrooms.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Say "cheerio," not "goodbye."

Aaaaannnnndddd..... it's over.

Here we are, the last day of NaBloPoMo. This month has been AMAZING, and I have loved every minute of reading and writing and editing and posting, and watching the tweets and comments fly. Whether you wrote for us this month, or read every post, or commented, or tweeted, or jumped into conversations, you are all amazing. Every last one of you. Yes, even you. And YOU.

That said, I have definitely learned that, in some ways, managing nearly 30 different authors can be as labour-intensive as writing 30 of my own posts. This month has given me lots of ideas about how to manage guest posts on an ongoing basis, and even how I would manage another NaBloPoMo (but, let's be clear, not for another few months. I need some time to soak it all in, and my own blog is in need of some attention, too!)

So, although I cannot promise daily new content for some time, please do stick around. I promise we  have great stuff coming up soon.

But for now: I am mostly excited to wake up in the morning and NOT check/edit/read/tweet/facebook a new post.

And now, for my fellow musical theatre geeks:

So long, fare thee well
Pip! Pip! Cheerio!
We'll be back soon.

Lots of love;

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

I Bet You Didn't Know! Kind Words Make A Rainbow

This post comes from Heidi Echternacht, a Kindergarten Teacher in New Jersey.

Fresh on the heels of Monday night’s Kinderchat discussion on schools, teachers, students and guns- (Sorry! It still sounds to me like a “One of These Things is Not Like the Other” song from Sesame Street!) led by the brave and fabulous “Team Indigo”, here is a post on fostering the process of Peace in the Classroom Community.

The Problem Solving Center:
One of my favorite moments in the Early Childhood Classroom- or any classroom for that matter- is the inevitable argument. “That’s mine!”, “I had it first!”, “It isn’t fair!”, “She always gets it!” Yes, young children and governments alike are well versed in these discrepancies.

As soon as Free Play starts, it’s Prime Time for these issues to appear. Wonderful! Yes, wonderful! Each and every argument is opportunity. A gold mine of opportunity to practice solving problems, dialoguing, self-control, friendship and creativity. In my classroom community, dealing with arguments are not catch-as-catch-can but highly focused and driven by predictable procedures.

Official Procedure for Dialogue:

1. Both parties of the argument (or all) are immediately asked to remove themselves   from the Play area and retreat to the “Problem Solving Center”

2. If there is crying, there is absolutely no talking until all parties have calmed down

3. I ask “Do you need my help?” to both parties. If they agree “no” I remove myself with the understanding that they conclude the conversation (see number 5)

4. If my assistance is needed, I listen to each side of the story, feeding dialogue as needed.

  • Student A: “I was angry when you said I was a kitkando* and I hit and I made a bad mistake.”
  • Student B: “I was angry when you took my toy and so I called you a kitkando”
  • Student A: “I got that toy first, though”
  • Teacher: “We only have one (truck) what can you do?” Or in extra heated discussions, I will claim the truck. “That truck is my truck and I am sharing it with the class. I don’t like it when kids fight over my toys. I don’t want my truck hurt. I’m putting it up here until you two can figure this out”
  • This usually freaks out both parties just enough for them to quickly dig up a solution to share or take turns or whatever they need to do in order to have the privilege of using my toys.
  • Student A: “Here, you can go first. Can I use it after you?”
  • Teacher: makes a big deal- “WOW! Thank you for those kind words! You are a problem solver!”
  • Student B: “How about we share it?”
  • Teacher: “Wow! I see rainbows everywhere! This is amazing!” (I bet you didn’t know kind words make rainbows, did you?!)

original photo by Heidi Echternacht

5. All conversations are concluded by shaking hands, “Friends again”, smiles or hugs. If the party is still angry, they are asked to stay in problem solving and the other party is asked to go back to playing ie:

  • Student A: “I’m still angry and I don’t’ feel like talking now” (facilitated dialogue)
  • Student B: “I’ll come back later to talk when you are ready” (facilitated dialogue)

The Center:
The design of the problem solving area is important. It must be a quiet and somewhat removed area of the classroom. There are “Feelings Books” and photos of children expressing various feelings posted around the area. The puppets live here and there are two chairs that sit facing each other to indicate that this is an area for dialogue. For fun, there is an “Easy” button from Staples they can push at the end of the discussion. I have also added a good stick from outside the Peacemaker is allowed to sand with sandpaper.

Peacemaker? Yes! A new job this year, one child is designated “Peacemaker” and is called on to solve (minor) issues. I am there for the major ones of course, but it has worked really well to give added responsibility to the peer group. I probably need to ring a bell when the peacemaker ends up in an argument too! Who said Early Childhood isn’t a microcosm of the world’s problems?!

Once this structure is firmly in place, it helps the day go incredibly smoothly. There are no interruptions to the play and the children’s problems and arguments are taken seriously and addressed by both the teacher and community. Students emerge stronger leaders with the tools of dialogue and ability to creatively look for solutions. Make one in your room and see what happens! 

*no one actually knows what a kitkando is, other than it’s bad. Nonsense name calling upsets are my favorite!

Heidi Echternacht CoFounded Kinderchat with Amy Murray in the summer of 2010. You can check out her website here.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

What does your classroom say about you?

Today's post is from @carriemarshall1, a teacher on the East Coast of Canada.

If someone were to walk into your classroom while you were out, what would they think about you? What kind of a teacher do your walls say that you are? What are your values and beliefs? All of these work together to become our "hidden curriculum." I was originally introduced to this concept when I was working on my first degree back in the mid-late 80's. Of all of the ideas I was introduced to then, that (and the role of play) resonated the most with me. It resonated because I believe it is true. What I value, what I believe, those things come out not only in what I choose to put on the walls, how I arrange my room, but also how I choose to teach.

I claim to teach with an integrated curriculum, making sure what we are learning is not taught in an isolated way, but showing my children how math, science, literacy, etc. are all interconnected.
As this year has rolled on, I have been reflecting on my walls and my room. What does my room say about me? My response has caused me to make some minor changes to my room. I have opened it up, tearing down the artificial dividers that I had put up between my "centres". So, instead of having a science centre, an art centre, and a math centre, I have a space for all of these but it is much less defined. Because I see the interconnectedness in all three of these areas, and I want my students to see that connection as well. Because I see the interconnectedness of the world, I want my students to see that too. I "tore down the walls" figuratively, and I opened up my classroom. 

This is an older photo of my room. It is still pretty open, but what I ended up doing was taking all of those shelves that separated the areas and moved them up against the walls or shifted them in such a way as to give the room a bit more flow without making it one large open space.  By opening up the classroom, the students are forced to integrate our subjects because they are all in the same area. The sand and blocks also blend quite nicely in as well.

But, opening my room up was only part of my "integrated revival". I began to critically look at my curriculum and how I was approaching teaching. I am a lover of science. I enjoy all of the fun experiments we can do, I love to bring nature indoors and the class outdoors. I love investigating ideas about how and why things work. But as I reflected on my day, I noticed I was not highlighting this love. The more I began to read, the more I was convinced I could reignite this love of science without sacrificing the literacy and mathematics goals set forth by the department of education. I have always had a science journal, but I realized I was not utilizing the journal as best as I could. It had become more of a filler activity. Now, much more of our daily writing is centred around what we are investigating in science. When we talk about patterns, we shift over to the science area and see the patterns in nature through leaves, shells, starfish. 

Teaching is always a work in progress. I believe that when we stop reflecting on our teaching, we stop being relevant to our students. So I continue to reflect on ways to integrate my classroom. I reflect on what my walls are saying. Right now, I hope my walls are saying, "This is the classroom that values all of its members. It shows in what she has on the wall, how the room is arranged, and what is written in the science journals." I hope my walls show value and respect, because that is what I have for my kids.

Carrie Marshall is a wife, a mother, and a teacher. Born in the midwest, she now resides on the East Coast of Canada. She has been teaching in the area of early childhood for 23 years, 9 of those years in kindergarten.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Aristotle and Me: A philosopher for the 21st Century Educator?

Today's post is by @debmeredith13, a kindergarten teacher in Chicago.

So what does Aristotle have to do with my job as a kindergarten teacher?  
Learning targets, formative assessments, PLCs, 21st Century Skills, 1-1 iPad initiatives, The Common Core State Standards, Project-based learning, checking in on my Personal Learning Network and the ever-pressing challenge of increasing student achievement are at the top of my list.  So why would I choose to add Greek Philosophy?  Why?  Ah, the best critical thinking question of them all…why.  Would it be convolutedly clear for me to suggest that the why is why Aristotle is on my list?  Let me explain

If Aristotle were here in our 21st century, looking at my aforementioned list, I believe he would say: “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.”  Now, since I am in the business of educating minds, I need to do some serious thinking about that one….
You may be speculating that I am about to face a big dilemma: How do I entertain the expectations for teaching and learning and student achievement on my list with an educated mind of my own?  How do I entertain every new district initiative, possible new assessment method, view all of those super-cute looking projects that my teacher friends are pinning on Pinterest, read a great blog post and not try it?   You’ve all been there – we are in such a rapidly evolving communicatin society that the volumes of ideas available to us are breathtaking…and overwhelming.  At this point in time, it is more important than ever to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.  To do this I believe you must have a philosophy: a clear vision of what you do and why you are doing it, of what you believe and why.  And thanks to John Hattie (more about him later) you can no longer say, “Because it works for me.”  Here are some of the modern day thinkers (my Arisotoles, if you will) that I turn to when I need to entertain a thought.  Oh, and I’m sure you will ask…why?

Who:  Dan Pink author of Drive
Why:  I want my students to have ownership of their learning and their behavior, but what if a school-wide incentive program to increase desired student behavior becomes the policy in my district? 
Dan Pink writes, “A lot of the research shows …these policies [external rewards]can actually impair creativity. But at most, they’re a big zero. They don’t do anything. It’s very clear they don’t work very well for higher-order thinking, so we’re basically putting in place these policies based on the folklore about what motivates human beings rather than the science. There’s this push toward data-driven, evidence-based practices, but in this one realm of motivation, we’re kind of ignoring it. We have 50 years of research that says, ‘This is unlikely to work.’”

Who: Debbie Miller, author of Reading With Meaning (second edition)
Why:  Sometimes I just want to close my door and teach.  What difference can I make? 
Debbie Miller writes: “When we know the theory behind our work, when our practices match our beliefs, and when we clearly articulate what we do and why we do it, people listen… Read. Reflect. Read some more.”   Ms. Miller implores us to do more than think that something isn’t right.  Speak out about your thinking, say it out loud.  Be an activist and an advocate, not for fidelity to a program, but for fidelity to doing what is right for children.

Who: John Medina, author of Brain Rules
Why: Brain-based classroom?  Really?
John Medina writes: “If you want to create an education environment that was directly opposed to what the brain was good at doing you probably would design something like a classroom.  If you wanted to create a business environment that was directly opposed to what the brain was good at doing, you probably would design something like a cubicle.  And if you want to change things, you might have to tear down both and start over.”

Who:  Carol Dweck, Author of Mindset
Why: The new Common Core State Standards are asking us to adopt a more rigorous curriculum, even in kindergarten.  Is it developmentally appropriate?
Carol Dweck writes: “ Many educators think that lowering their standards will give students success experiences, boost their self-esteem and raise their achievement, it comes from the same philosophy as the overpraising of student intelligence.  Well, it doesn’t work.  Lowering standards just leads to poorly educated students who feel entitled to easy work and lavish praise.”  (Ooops, I think this may apply to teacher evaluations as well.)

Who: Lucy Calkins, author of Pathways to the Common Core
Why: The Common Core tells me what children need to learn, but it doesn’t tell me the best instructional delivery model to use.
Lucy Calkins writes about using a workshop model for delivery of reading and writing instruction,: “workshops are kept deliberately simple and predictable, like an art studio or a researcher’s laboratory, because it is the work itself that is ever changing and complex…Each day’s teaching in a workshop does not set up a new hoop for the students to all jump through in sync.  Instead, the bulk of time during each day, students carry on with their work.  As they do so, they draw upon a growing repertoire of skills, tools, strategies, and habit.”

And finally, my Aristotle, John Hattie:
Who: John Hattie, visionary, researcher extraordinaire, and author of Visible Learning.
Why: When you need to make an important philosophical decision about new initiatives, projects, methods or just about anything else…  Read. John. Hattie.  He has done the research on all of the research.  And he found out that almost everything we do in education works…but since you can’t do everything, you’d better find out what really has an effect on student achievement (it might surprise you).

So, now I will close with a full-circle back to those Greek philosophers.  This time it’s good old Socrates: “ I cannot teach anybody anything, I can only make them think.”

It is my hope that I gave you something to think about.

Deb Meredith is 30+ year educator.  In her life as an educator she has taught everything from a 2 year-old playgroup to High School Math.   She now finds herself happily teaching Kindergarten in suburban Chicago.  Thanks for the opportunity to join the Kinderchat blog.  It’s a pleasure and privilege to contribute.
I would love to entertain any thoughts you may have