School Year Successes

Reflections often bring mixed emotions. Whether it’s looking in the mirror or taking stock of an entire year of teaching, there are always things I wish I could change. For this end-of-the-year review, however, I’ve decided to focus on the positive.

One of my main goals this year was making sure all students who entered the music room were able to participate on some level. In particular, I wanted to connect more with our friends receiving special education services. Professional development early in the year was both challenging and encouraging, and it reminded me of the importance of these connections.

So here are my top three successes:

  • A smile
  • A high-five
  • A music stamp on a hand

All three involved the same child. A child who would not come into my classroom last year and this year spent most of his time sitting at the back. I intentionally approached him slowly and quietly, and he eventually smiled. When I got my first high-five, there were definitely tears. And allowing me to put a music stamp on his hand? That was a big step!

Did he sing or play an instrument? No. However, he listened, sometimes colored, and participated in his own way. He let me enter his world for tiny little snippets of time. And for that, I am grateful.

One Day Difference

This time of year is crazy! If you don’t believe me, ask a teacher. The number of school days remaining has hit single digits. Spring fever is in the air. Closing out the current year while planning for the next brings added stress. Many days leave me emotionally drained and physically exhausted.

The May calendar is filled with activities. Field day, talent show, picnics, yearbook signing to name a few. Although fun, they require planning and interrupt routines.

This week has been particularly hard. After school Wednesday, all I wanted to do was take a nap. But I was unable to relax or quiet my thoughts. Instead of resting, I cried. A restless night lead to a grumpy Mrs. Morris Thursday morning.

Thursday’s plan included talent show practice. Students came to the gym during specials to rehearse on the stage. But rehearsals did not take up the entire class. What to do with the remaining time? Song requests!

I like to plan a day where students request their favorite songs. Despite good intentions, this is one end-of-the-year activity that often gets passed over. Not this year.

This was the perfect day! Imagine Dragons and Panic at the Disco topped the list. Songs from Annie and The Greatest Showman also made the cut. Pop, country, rock-a little bit of everything.

Two particular selections turned my day around. The first came during fourth grade. I already had a list of songs from this group and the requests were anonymous. Half-way down the list was Baby Shark. I have done my best to avoid this song. Not today.

It was so much fun! Fourth graders simply being kids. Singing, laughing, doing silly motions. And when I asked who requested the song, an ornery boy raised his hand. I laughed and thanked him for his choice.

The second selection came in kindergarten. After singing Baa Baa Black Sheep and Baby Bumblebee, one sweet little boy raised his hand. What was his request? Jingle Bells! There is something special about a gym full of kindergarteners singing Jingle Bells in May, with only nine days of school left.

I need to remember to slow down, forget about the to-do list, and have fun with my students. These final days of school will be over in a snap.

After school Thursday, I drove home, had a snack, and slept soundly on the couch for about an hour. Yes, I’m still tired. Yes, there is still work to be done. But a little fun with kids singing Baby Shark and Jingle Bells just might get me through. One day really can make a difference!

Of course, today is Friday. It was field day…and that’s another story. 😉 Eight days to go…

Forgiveness~Empathy~Friendship

Experiencing forgiveness, whether on the granting or receiving end, is powerful. Crucial life lessons are learned on both sides of a transgression. The one being forgiven feels a great relief and hopefully learns from their mistakes. The one offering forgiveness appreciates, even more, the instances when they have been on the receiving end. Sounds simple, yet not always the case.

Children often unintentionally demonstrate these truths clearly, if we take the time to watch and listen. Picture one of my kindergarten classes sitting around our music circle, coloring pictures of pumpkins and leaves.  Their fall themed artwork was also to include rhythmic patterns based on phrases about their subject.  For example, “leaves are falling” or “pumpkins everywhere” or “jump in a leaf pile.” Vivaldi’s “Autumn” playing quietly in the background.

Yes, I know it sounds very picturesque, but don’t be fooled.  This is one of those class times that is a struggle for me-giving up a certain level of control and giving students the chance to be social and creative.  It lends itself to a higher noise level and a tiny bit of controlled chaos.  Results are usually pretty cool!  That is until there is a transgression… one student marking on the beautiful, in progress, artwork of his friend.

Typically, it is the student who has been wronged that seeks my attention.  “She stuck her tongue out at me!” “He pulled my hair!” “She told me to shut up!” You get the idea.  On this particular day, the opposite was true. The artist didn’t make a big fuss although disappointed.  I told him he could start a new work if he’d like and asked the other student to apologize. Everyone back to work, all is well. Right?

A few moments later the student who committed the “coloring on my friend’s paper” infraction was standing in front of me with tears in his eyes. “Oh dear, what’s wrong?” I asked. “I apologized, but he wouldn’t accept my apology.” Hmmm…what to do? So many ways I could respond to this conflict. I’m not sure if my choice was the best, but it did have an interesting result.

Empathy-the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.

I began to talk to the teary-eyed transgressor about why his friend was upset. As with my own children, I attempted to help my student put himself in his friend’s place. “How would you feel if you were working hard on your artwork and someone marked on your paper?” On the surface a simple question, but not always an easy place to find yourself. His tears indicated his comprehension, and in a “kindergarten kind of way,” he began to understand.

For the remainder of the class, this particular friend stuck with me like glue. Tears turned to smiles, offers to help with clean up, wanting to have more conversations. Why? Just as being forgiven evokes feelings of relief and freedom, an apology not being accepted brings the opposite-guilt and sadness. However, when we learn to place ourselves in the shoes of the ones we have hurt, then we begin to develop empathy. Our focus moves from being self-centered to others-centered.

Which is more powerful? The ability to forgive or the ability to empathize? I suppose it depends on the situation, transgression, and the people involved. Obviously, consequences come into play, long and short term. But what if we see them as tied together, working hand in hand? I believe if we can help children learn to empathize, having a spirit of forgiveness will naturally follow. And just maybe they will begin to stop and think before making a choice which negatively affects their friend.

But wait, maybe the foundation for this whole discussion should instead be the word “friend.” Becoming a friend is a process. An acquaintance becomes a companion, the companion becomes a supporter, and so on. And if I truly support someone, I’m much more likely to think about the impact of my actions.

Once we learn what it means to be a friend, the potential for both empathy and forgiveness grows exponentially. It still requires effort and work. It does not just magically happen without being intentional. Like everything else worth doing in life, it takes practice. But the results are oh so worth the work!

Here’s to forgiveness, empathy, and friendship.  Especially when witnessed through the eyes of kindergarteners.  May I pay careful attention to opportunities this next week for expressing and teaching these vital life lessons during music class, especially the importance of being a good friend.

You’ve Got a Friend

Time Machine

During recent Red Ribbon Week activities, our school had a “dress in your favorite decade” day.  I chose the 80’s-big hair, hot pink tank layered over black dress, leggings & leg warmers.  “Girls just wanna have fun” was uttered by colleagues several times throughout the day.  Staying in line with my decade choice, I decided we would spend some time in the 80’s during music class.

One class entered my room particularly quiet, much more so than usual.  Thinking they might be a tough audience, I decided to shake things up a bit.  “You guys don’t know this, but the music room is actually a time machine.  And today, we are taking a trip back to the 1980’s!” Of course, there were a few eye rolls but mostly giggles.  We had so much fun!

Our playlist for the day:

  • Richard Simmons exercise video-I Just Wanna Dance with Somebody
  • Jump by Van Halen
  • Take on Me by A-Ha
  • Always Something There to Remind Me by Naked Eyes
  • We Will Rock You by Queen (actually 1977 but it worked with the boomwhackers)

This activity started me thinking.  Music really is like a time machine.  In one instance we listen to a composition from hundreds of years ago, imagining what life was like when it was written.  The next minute we hear a song on the radio and are immediately transported back to a special event, a certain person, or a memorable place from our own past. Both examples are powerful.

It certainly was the case for me all throughout this 80’s music day.  I smiled as I thought about the fun times spent with my best friend Kim watching music videos on MTV.  Remembered my short-lived dream of becoming a rock star when performing in my high school talent show.  Laughed about the many times my husband has played the keyboard opening to “Jump.” (He is a tuba player, not a pianist-so this was his piano claim to fame!)

As my once quiet class was winding down and my trip down memory lane ending one young friend piped up, “Mrs. Morris, can we please transport back to the 2000’s now?” I laughed, “Why yes, yes we can.”  Our time machine travel was over.  At least until the radio began to play in my car, after school, on my way home…

 

 

 

 

 

I am a Teacher

Today was professional development.  So much information.  Don’t misunderstand, the issues presented, though challenging, were extremely important and relevant.  There were also moments of encouragement, celebrating what we are already doing successfully.  All in all, it was a productive work day and I enjoyed being with teacher friends.

So why did I have an emotional meltdown on my drive home?

Because even though it is necessary to focus on the hard things, that doesn’t mean it is easy. Topics such as kids facing trauma cast a shadow over the things we want our students to accomplish, the areas we would rather give our energy.  Yes, it is our responsibility as teachers to think about these things.  But unless we honestly share our thoughts, we run the risk of feeling defeated and overwhelmed.

Teacher friends-prop up your feet, take some time to relax.  Tomorrow is a new day and we will be ok.

 

ABC’s and 123’s

Stories, songs, rhymes

Learning to read and write

Learning to add and subtract

What I enjoy

 

Engage and interact

Activities, games, projects

Encouraging imagination

Encouraging creativity

What I hope to convey

 

Teach and learn

Information, plans, revisions

Desiring to do my best

Desiring to be successful

What I want to achieve

 

Trauma and abuse

Conflicts, behaviors, struggles

Learning how to recognize

Learning how to help

What I cannot avoid

 

React and respond

Panic, tears, laughter

Realizing I am not alone

Realizing I am enough

What I must accept

Pictures in the Clouds

This week I rediscovered the children’s book “It Looked Like Spilt Milk” by Charles G. Shaw.  I love this book!  If you’ve never read it, go look it up.  The author creatively takes his readers through a series of images in white on a dark blue background.  Childlike pictures are paired with simple, repetitive words, creating a beautiful backdrop for the imagination.

After reading this story to my students, I asked if they’d ever noticed pictures in the clouds.  Most excitedly raised their hands, eager to share.  We discussed the importance of using our imaginations, and I shared about finding pictures in the clouds when I was a kid.  Funny how that has become more difficult to do as an adult.

Creatively using our imaginations as a grownup often requires more intention than when we were kids.  Our adult minds are on information overload, concerned with family and job responsibilities.  Being imaginative gets put on the back burner, seen as a luxury instead of a necessity.  I wonder what would happen if that changed?  At the least, our stress levels would go down.

At the end of class I challenged my students to notice the clouds next time they go outside and report back to me what they see. Hopefully some of them remember.  Truthfully, I’m the one who needs to be challenged. Maybe my students responses will inspire me to take the time to go outside and look up.

The pictures in the clouds are always there, just waiting for us to imagine them. What do you see?

List the Positives

Yesterday I vowed to keep a list of positives throughout the day today in hopes of helping my mood and focus.  Well…I have a list.  It took me until lunch time to actually start writing anything down, but by the end of the day my list covered both sides of a post-it note.

  •  Cooler weather
  •  Students positive responses to having a choice between whiteboards and popsicle  sticks for writing or constructing their rhythmic patterns.
  •  Hearing, “I got it right!”
  •  Receiving three books from students off of my book fair list.
  •  Unplanned, improvised “singing” of one of those books.
  •  A student who has severe anxiety, always sits alone and doesn’t speak to me,  accepted a music stamp on his hand when leaving class today.

Was it a perfect day?  No-there’s no such thing.  But was it a good day?  Yes.  And even though I may not be able to use my mood as an indicator for the success of the day, I can look back on my list and be reminded of the things that were good.  Funny thing is, almost all the items are things over which I have little or no control.

So what do I have control over?  Continuing to look for the positive.  My responses to the people and situations I encounter.  Loving my family, friends, and students.

Any guesses which book I sang today?  It was super fun!

books