Abraham Lincoln

Dear Pamela,

I found this cool, small company called Litographs based in Boston. I was impressed that besides printing very unique shirts, etc. with words, they also encourage reading and donate books to communities. In addition, when I ordered the shirts, they were donating all of their proceeds for two days to Black Lives Matter.

So, at the very beginning of June, I ordered a Lincoln t-shirt for myself—for my birthday—and one for you—who I will name as my “Lincoln buddy.” The words printed on the shirt are President Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.

We have talked about our respect for this simple man, a leader who displayed so many honorable attributes. There is so much going on now with Black Lives Matter and part of the process is figuring out who in history was working hard enough for equal rights for people of color. After a lot of thought, I think Abraham Lincoln is a figure who moved us in the direction toward the equality we are still working so hard to attain. In my mind, Lincoln would have been the first to say that he was an imperfect human being. I’d like to think that if his life had not been cut short, he would have continued to learn from others to remedy those imperfections.

Anyway, I ordered the shirts in size Large because they said they run small. After two weeks, they arrived. Too small!! So I sent them back and reordered XL. I received them on Friday: one was beautiful and one had a printing fault. I contacted Litographs right away and received a beautiful apology from the CEO with the promise that a new shirt would be on its way in a week. Wow, that’s customer service!

I decided not to wait to give you your shirt. Originally, you shirt was going to be purple and mine was going to be blue—but now we’re swapped. They are both beautiful so it doesn’t matter. I hope you enjoy yours.

Love,

Judy

Play-Doh

Dear Pamela

When you told me the other day that you had stashed small give-away containers of Play-Doh in your Little Neighborhood Free Library, I knew that all would eventually be right with the world. I know this because Play-Doh, that malleable blob of vibrant color from my childhood, always gave me permission to empty my mind and make something surprisingly uncomplicated, personal and creative.

I wonder…

Do the recipients of your gift emit a cry of victory when finally prying off the snug-fitting lid? Does the Doh still bounce slightly when it falls from container to the table top? Does that first whiff assault your senses and sear a memory in your mind forever? Does absent-minded pushing and pressing without a plan suddenly reveal an unforetold creation?

As a child, I loved Play-Doh because I didn’t need to have a plan. Something would always emerge if I let it. In a young life full of rules and expectations, that made a difference. Unconsciously, I would empty my mind when I emptied the Play Doh container. My mind on Play-Doh went blank like I was gazing out of a car window on an endless family drive. With a one-handed squish, I knew, with total certainty that my ideas would emerge.

It’s no surprise that Play-Doh (or an occasional homemade imposter) became a fixture in my home when my own kids were young. Squeals of delight filled the room when, as a teacher, I doled out canisters of Play-Doh; an invitation to wipe the slate clean and stop planning and thinking if only for a moment during a demanding school day.

And now, dear Pamela, knowing that you fill your community library with little canisters of Play-Doh, I experience pure joy. What could be better during a pandemic and a time of national reckoning? Right now, kids and adults alike need permission to clear their minds, wipe the slate clean and create something beautiful and new. Play-Doh could help.

Love, Judy

A Teacher’s Perspective on Effective Classrooms, Part 4

The best learning environments honor the important connection between head, hand, and heart. I have made a list of what that means and what it might look like in a dynamic classroom where those three needs are honored and met. Here, then, is how a nurturing classroom recognizes that we are all unique learners:

Heart (Social/Emotional)

  • Teachers take the time to teach children how to care for others. Everyone helps each other succeed.
  • Teachers try to understand the challenges that children may be facing in their home life.
  • Teachers recognize that parent input is critical to their child’s success.
  • Everybody gets the chance to be a leader.
  • Student work is highlighted all over the classroom.
  • Children feel that they are part of their classroom and part of the school community.
  • Students are encouraged to be active participants in making their community and the world a better place.
  • The students and the teacher are joyful.

And, finally, EVERYBODY LOOKS LIKE THEY WANT TO BE IN SCHOOL.

A Teacher’s Perspective on Effective Classrooms, Part 3

The best learning environments honor the important connection between head, hand, and heart. I have made a list of what that means and what it might look like in a dynamic classroom where those three needs are honored and met. Here, then, is how a nurturing classroom recognizes that we are all unique learners:

Hand (Physical/Creative)

  • Learning is active and hands-on. Students should be moving around the classroom independently and actively engaged in the tasks at hand.
  • Teachers recognize that every child is gifted and talented in some way, and find ways for the students to share their talent.
  • Art and music are present in the classroom or the school. Is there a classroom library? A school library?
  • There is time each day for teachers to read aloud to their students.
  • Time is made for classroom movement breaks in addition to regular recess.
  • Teachers show children how to use classroom tools and time wisely, and then they trust them to do just that.

A Teacher’s Perspective on Effective Classrooms, Part 2

The best learning environments honor the important connection between head, hand, and heart. I have made a list of what that means and what it might look like in a dynamic classroom where those three needs are honored and met. Here, then, is how a nurturing classroom recognizes that we are all unique learners:

Head (Cognitive)

  • A thriving classroom “meets students where they are,” which means not all students should be working on the same task or at the same pace. Some students will be working independently, while others will work with partners or in small groups supported by the teacher or a student leader.
  • Learning is collaborative, not competitive. Teachers make sure that students have time to think and voice their ideas without being interrupted. Classmates learn how to listen when other children are talking.
  • Teachers take packaged curriculum and revise lessons to make learning meaningful and accessible to every student. If a child is not developmentally ready to tackle an assignment, the teacher will pre-teach the lesson or send the lesson home for pre-teaching. Expectations will be modified.
  • Teachers diverge from prepared lessons to address student questions and follow paths of inquiry that are interesting to students. Teachers make room for students to pursue their passions.
  • If students don’t understand a lesson, teachers re-teach the lesson in a different way.
  • If there is homework, it should be necessary, reasonable (no more than 10 minutes added on for each grade level) and modified to make every student feel successful.
  • Required textbooks are supplemented with interesting, age appropriate, up-to-date resources from a variety of media.
  • Teachers are always looking for ways to integrate learning across the curriculum.
  • Teachers employ a variety of methods to assess whether a student understands new material.

A Teacher’s Perspective on Effective Classrooms, Part 1

If we peek into the most effective classrooms, we will probably see not just students thriving, but also teachers thriving. We all know that with so many kids with different needs and so many demands to juggle, every day won’t be perfect for each and every child. In the October 2017 issue of The Atlantic, writer and educator Erika Christakis states, “Our public education system is about much more than personal achievement; it is about preparing people to work together to advance not just themselves but society.” I agree with her.

So, here is the question I have asked myself:

What makes a classroom dynamic effective for each individual learner and the classroom as a whole?

Borrowing an ideology from our son’s elementary school that the best learning environments honor the important connection between head, hand and heart, I have made a list of what that means and what it might look like in a dynamic classroom where those three needs are honored and met. Over the next few days, I’ll write a little something about what each one means to me.