Wednesday, June 11, 2014

A Tribute to My Last Loop

For the last 12 of my 19 years of teaching at Merton Intermediate School I have looped 5th to 6th grade with my students and loved it.  It gave us a chance to continue our curriculum, relationships, and the 4C's (communication, collaboration, creativity and critical thinking) for two years.  I was heartbroken by the decision to end looping at Merton knowing how beneficial it was both academically and socially for students. Luckily, I found comfort in the fact that I would be ending looping with an amazing group of students who I will never forget.

I still remember the first weeks with my class in the Fall of 2012. I quickly discovered that this group was a handful. They were chatty, easily distracted, innovative, and wanted to be challenged. Our Principal, Mr. Posick, always joked that I had a room full of me.  He was right. I knew that once we had our classroom routines and procedures established, we could soar, and we did.

We started by learning about the 4C's (communication, collaboration, critical thinking and creativity) since they would be the foundation for all activities throughout our two year journey together. As we experienced a 4C in a lesson, we would celebrate the experience by posting them on the wall of our classroom.  We not only learned the 4C's, but built relationships within our classroom community.  We created PLN's (Personal Learning Networks) so we could benefit from the expertise and advice of our classmates during pair shares and conferences in Reader's and Writer's Workshop. At this point, we were ready to expand our audience to a global community.

When I introduced blogging to this group of talented writers in 5th grade, I couldn't imagine we would be where we are today.  Our 6th Grade blog on Kidblog has had 23,285 visitors this year.  We have blogging buddies as far away as New Zealand, and we have had comments from famous authors Tom Angleberger, Ralph Fletcher and Peter and Paul Reynolds.  The reason for our success?  Student buy-in to this wonderful educational opportunity.  We learned about digital citizenship and expectations, and my students followed them carefully.  They entered the global community anxious to reach a larger audience, and treated this gift with respect and kindness.  The writing talents in their blogs shined through with the help of Writer's Workshop.  They turned their small moments into reflective, relevant blog posts. Enjoy our last blog post, "Here I Come 7th Grade!"

My students were always willing to mentor other Merton students, especially in the areas of literacy and
technology.  We had buddies in Kindergarten, 1st grade, 3rd grade and 8th grade.  We proudly expanded our PLN and shared our Chromebooks with our Merton Primary students so they could learn from us and share our 1:1 devices.  It also allowed us to share our published pieces from Writer's Workshop and they could share what they had written.  The more we celebrated and expanded our audience, the more purposeful our classroom experiences became.  I was overflowing with pride as I watched my students teach their kindergarten buddies about text structure and features with their nonfiction books.

Like every other class, we had our tough times, too.  We didn't always want to work hard and treat each other with kindness. I decided it was time for our class to "Be Uncomfortable".  This idea came from Classroom Habitudes by Angela Maiers. She reminds us that if we do the same things every day, we are not really growing.  We only learn and grow when we are challenged to expand our comfort zones. I challenged my class to be comfortable with being uncomfortable, and to remind themselves that their brains get stronger every time they challenge it.  We rose to many challenges this year and built some strong brains in the process.

Our class went through some personal successes and losses which we shared with our class.  We had undefeated Chiefs football players, Lake Country Lacrosse players as well as baseball, softball, volleyball, soccer and basketball players.  We have many talented singers and musicians.  Our tech gurus amazed us throughout the year with app creation and Passion Projects. One student was even part of a  World Record Waterski Pyramid. We also had our share of sadness with loss of pets and family members.  I lost my Grandmother this year, and found comfort sharing memories through small moment stories with my students.

We were extremely fortunate to have wonderful parent support the last two years.  Parents were always there to help us with homework, class parties, treats, fieldtrips, and photos.  The photos from Celebration Day were taken by our "class photographer" Mrs. Bossell-Mehling. Thank you parents for all you do!

I am always proud of the teamwork and sportsmanship demonstrated by my class on Celebration Day. Both years my class worked together on the events and congratulated the winning team afterwards.  They made the most of the day and had fun, even when we lost an event.  This year our teamwork paid off and we won! We had the opportunity to play dodge ball against the teachers at the end of the day.  I hope this is a memory they will always cherish.  I know I will.

I started this year by asking my students to "Be Brave in 6th Grade!"  I kicked this off by playing the song Brave by Sara Bareilles at the start of each Writer's Workshop class to inspire us to take risks in our writing. We took risks in our writing, and so much more.  Many students took unbelievable risks on the rock wall and high ropes at Camp Minikani.  They dissected animals in science, which for some students required a lot of bravery!  We also had student-led conferences, independent blogs, friendship issues, and many more changes and challenges throughout our year that required us to be brave.  We did it, with the help of our classmates.

Now its time to be brave as we venture towards a new chapter in our lives.  When we wrote memoirs earlier this year we learned about how Australian Aborigines go on "walkabouts".  It's time for us to go on our "walkabouts" and head out and follow our own paths.  For the past 19 years I have sent my students off to 7th grade knowing that I am still here at Merton as a safety net in case they need me.  This will be the first time that I won't be. Are they ready?  Am I ready?  I know the answer is yes on both counts, but the tears still come. The connections we have made over the last two years make it difficult to part, but also give me the confidence knowing my students are going to 7th grade with a toolbox filled with skills, passion, and joy.
To my magnificent learners, you are truly going places!  In the words of Peter and Paul Reynolds, don't forget to always go above and beyond in everything you do.  Take care of each other and remember the relationships we have built over the last two years.  Keep reading!  Notice small moments and share them in your writing. There will always be an audience interested in your work.  Most of all, celebrate who you are today and everyday.  You are a gift to be treasured.

Merton Awards Assembly Selfie