My Educational Philosophy

I am a teacher who believes in the whole-child approach. I believe that every aspect of my students matters because they themselves matter. Students cannot learn until they feel safe and secure, and my classroom provides that security for them by being a consistent, loving, and fair place for them to grow. Elementary school students in particular benefit greatly from rich, expansive academic, social-emotional, creative, and cognitive approaches to learning. This is reflected in my classroom through my responsive classroom philosophy, starting each day with a morning meeting, and building positive, respectful community throughout the year.

I am a teacher who knows that positive relationships are key. Building positive rapport and relationships with each child allows me to truly know each and every student: their passions, struggles, behaviors, and feelings. This allows me to differentiate instruction accordingly and to ensure classroom management is positive and effective. One key way that differentiation can occur is through the workshop model, which enables me to provide students with the extensions and interventions they personally need to succeed. Collecting data and records also helps to ensure that all students’ needs are met.

 

Positive relationships between teacher and home support as well as within the school community also set students up for success. I know that communicating with parents and allowing them to see the amazing people their children are allows them to provide additional support at home and allows parents and guardians to become true partners in their child’s education. Parents are their children’s first teacher, and I can harness that wealth of knowledge by building positive relationships.

 

I am a teacher who knows teaching is one of the most important professions. I do not take that knowledge lightly. Being a teacher means modeling that learning never ends. I strive to constantly be improving and to seek out opportunities for new growth on a regular basis.

 

Most importantly, I am a teacher who knows that every child can learn. As the saying goes, not every child learns in the same way – but every single child can learn and grow to their full potential. By providing appropriate challenges for each student and instilling in them a desire to grow no matter their level, I will instill a lifelong love of learning in each student who passes through my classroom doors.

Foundations of a Discipline Plan

I wrote this discipline plan as a component of my Understanding Classroom Management graduate class. This plan is a foundational document: it reflects my core beliefs about discipline and classroom management, but it is not designed to be put in place immediately on entering a classroom. This is because one’s concepts must shift based on the development age of the students – there’s no sense in writing a discipline plan with kindergartners in mind when one is actually teaching fourth grade!

That being said, I do think this plan accurately sums up my core attitude that positive behavioral interventions tend to be more successful. I recognize that it is incomplete and that there are MANY routines missing from it. I think of this plan as being a jumping-off point for me when I do end up in a classroom: my core values will stay the same no matter what age I teach, but I will certainly add to this document and revise it based on my circumstance.


Effective classroom management is the key to success in education. The American Psychological Association wrote that successful classroom management “increases meaningful academic learning and facilitates social and emotional growth” (Kratochwill et al., n.d.). Conversely, poor classroom management leads to conditions that stymie the growth of children – the complete opposite of a teacher’s goal. Continue reading

How To Make Kids Love To Read

This blog post was originally written for my Instructional Methods in Language Arts and Social Studies graduate level class. It drew on my experience as a library aide in Denton ISD as well as my independent readings of books like Donalyn Miller’s “The Book Whisperer” and Gail Boushey and Joan Moser’s “The CAFE Book.”

As a library aide at a K-5 school in Denton, I get to observe every class in the school march in their single-file line to visit our collection. Some of these students are eager, ready to read, and excited to pick out their own book…and some of the students come armed with a file folder and a mopey face, totally unsure how to find a book they’ll love.

The language arts block system encourages a time for students to read independently, and the number one place they’ll find books to read is in your campus library. Finding a perfect book in the campus library, then, completely supports your goal of having a strong language arts block.

How can you as a classroom teacher develop a class that’s excited about the library? It’s all in your expectations.

Drop the arbitrary numbers

The number-one frustration of kids in the library is being unable to find a book on their reading level. “Ms. McPherson, where are the level K books? The 400 lexile books? The 3.1-3.3 books?” are questions I hear all day long. These kids have been told a level and are now completely fixated on finding a book that is on-level. A worthy goal, sure, especially considering all we’ve learned about guided reading in this class.

But if you want kids to love the library and to find books that spark joy, you have to drop the numbers.

Restrain a kid to a particular level, and they miss out on books that they’re genuinely interested in. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve helped a child find a series and watched their faces light up in genuine glee — they’ve found it! That elusive book that they WANT to read — only to see them open up the cover to check the written level and determine that it’s a tenth above their level. If you restrict a kid to only read 4.3-4.7 books, and they find a 4.8 book that they LOVE, they will put it back with the most pathetic look on their faces. They will put back that book that sparked joy, that could have been the book that taught them to love reading, because they are being restrained by a range.

As a librarian, this is frustrating for so many reasons. First, children will work hard to read a book they are excited about; they will languish forever in a book that they just don’t care about. Additionally, the leveling of books is often completely arbitrary. For example, the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series has the same lexile as Fahrenheit 451. Obviously, these two books are totally different in complexity and appropriateness for children!

 

A better way

How can you help students find books they’ll love that won’t leave them drowning? Certainly, I’m not advocating for letting emerging readers check out Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. It’s absolutely important to encourage students to check out books that they are capable of reading, but, like I said above, you can’t take the easy way out and restrict students to a certain reading level.

One strategy for allowing student choice while maintaining readability is by asking students to complete the five-finger test. If a student finds a book that they are excited about, have them turn to a random page in the book and start reading. Each time they encounter a word they don’t know and cannot decipher, have them put up one finger. If a student breezes through the read and knows every word, the book might be too easy. If they are unfamiliar with one to four words, it’s a great book to check out. If five words or more on a page are too challenging, the student might consider a book they can read more fluently.

Again, it’s important to not be rigid with this test. Shutting a student down as soon as they hit five fingers is just as damaging as making them put a .1-level too-high book back on the shelf. Be flexible with the rule: can the student figure out the word with prompting? Is the student really, really excited about the book? Could they be scaffolded to be able to understand the book?

Teachers and students also can use I PICK to determine if a book is still a good fit. I PICK stands for purpose, interest, comprehension, and know, and can help students weigh whether the book they want is a good choice. These strategies give autonomy to the students and allow them to feel like they have a say in whether a book is right for them.

One teacher I know uses the five-finger test to help students figure out one of their two books. Students can check out two books a week: one free choice, and one “I promise book.” The free choice is completely up to them: any genre, any level of readability, any length. The other book, however, is a book that students promise to complete in the time period and to pass a Reading Counts test on. To determine if they’re going to be able to live up to that promise, students know to use the five-finger rule to figure out if they’ll be able to comprehend and read the book in the correct amount of time. If not, they can check that book out as their freebie and select a different book to be their promise book.

Giving the students this independence makes them excited to come to the library! They are far more self-sufficient when they pick out books because they know how to check for comprehension. No longer do they have to wait for me to be available to help them scan inside covers for that elusive number. Instead, they can work by themselves and in their interest areas to find books that they’ll love and understand for years to come.

Instructional Plan for ELLs

End of semester blues? Ha! I’m loving the opportunity to assemble my professional portfolio as I prepare to student teach next semester. It’s been so much fun to look back at all I’ve learned over the course of my graduate degree.

This post includes a copy of a paper I wrote for an ESL Pedagogy class. In it, I was asked to come up with the best way to serve a group of 50 Spanish-speaking students and 50 students from the Middle East who had suddenly arrived at the elementary school I “work” at. I think this plan really shows my understanding of the different services available to English-language learners and my depth of knowledge about best practices in this field. I loved researching this paper, and I hope you enjoy reading it, too!

Click below to read on!

Continue reading

Learning to Support ELLs

You know you’re a nerd when you voluntarily complete three hours of CPE credit…before you even have your teaching certificate!

I’m finishing up my master’s degree in ESL Elementary Education, and one of the things I have LOVED the most about this degree is the depth of knowledge I’ve gained about instructing English Language Learners. This semester has focused less on ELLs, and I’ve really found myself missing that element of my program. So, when I stumbled on TEA’s Gateway Courses website and saw they had several courses having to do with ESL instruction, I immediately registered to have an account.

I worked today on a course called “Implementing the ELPS in Mathematics.” I think a lot of people have a hard time thinking about how best to support ESL or bilingual students in areas outside language arts – but, of course, it’s so crucial that these students are appropriately scaffolded in every area so they can learn grade-level standards right alongside native speakers. We have come such a long way from the days when people thought ESL students were mentally lacking, and I am so grateful for that shift in perspective, yet I recognize that we also have to insist on a high standard of education for these vulnerable students. One way that we can make some connections start to happen is by having a language objective in every subject and by thinking really critically about the ELPS and how we want to help students master them.

I really enjoyed working through this course and thinking about some specific ways to support ELLs in math. One way that especially stood out to me was to use Total Physical Response (TPR) in math to help master vocabulary. I would definitely have thought to involve kinesthetic learners in math, but I’m not sure I would have thought to take it that step farther and allow students to kinesthetically learn that all-important background vocabulary that we know is crucial. I’m definitely looking forward to implementing that in my classroom!

Responsive Classroom and Morning Meeting

I am a huge believer in Responsive Classroom, an educational philosophy that links academic performance to social-emotional learning. I see it every single day: students cannot learn to their highest potential until they truly feel welcomed, loved, seen, and heard in their school community. It is my job as a teacher to facilitate this community and to model to my students ways to treat each other.

One of the cornerstones of Responsive Classroom is the morning meeting. Morning meeting is a whole-class activity, and no one is excluded (so, for example, if Billy doesn’t finish his morning work, he takes a pause to come join us; if Sally is pitching a fit, she joins us on the carpet until her behavior there is a danger to herself or others). Morning meeting consists of four parts: a greeting, a share, an activity, and a message.

The greeting can be an elaborate song, or it can be as simple as children shaking each other’s hands, looking them in the eye, and greeting them by name. My assistant head of school at St. Andrew’s School taught me that many students (particularly those who live in poverty) don’t hear their name unless someone at school explicitly says it – or they only hear their name as they’re being fussed at. We need to make sure people hear their names in a positive way; the greeting helps us do that and helps build community by promoting friendship.

The next stage of the morning meeting is the share. Students each respond to a teacher-given prompt, which could be anything from “what’s your favorite season?” to “What goal do you want to set for yourself this week?” to “What is one thing you learned about fractions yesterday?” This can be either in a whole-group setting where the students speak one-by-one or in partners where students turn and share. This allows students to feel like their ideas are valid (because they are!) and to know that the classroom community is a safe place in which to share.

We then move on to the activity portion, everyone’s favorite. This is usually a short game that involves the whole class. I used to faithfully attend Monday morning first grade meetings, and the class loved what they called “the balloon game” where they worked together to keep it up in the air without standing or moving too far out of their meeting spot. Fourth grade liked to sing rhythmic playground chants (think Little Sally Walker), and third grade LIVED for Zumba Wednesdays. Many teachers write game choices on popsicle sticks and allow students to draw one out each day. This keeps the meeting fresh and is another way students build community through teamwork.

The meeting ends with everyone sitting down and reading the morning message aloud. Some people are all about cutesy questions in this part, but I see this as a direct link to the curriculum and a way to transition into the rest of the day. A sample morning message from me might look like this:

September 29, 2016

Good morning, imaginative fourth graders!

I am so glad you are here today. This week, we have been working on fractions. If 1/4 of our class wore pajamas to school today, how many students would that be? Write your answers on the bottom of the paper. Don’t forget that next week is conference week and we will go home early.

Love,

Ms. McPherson

This ties in letter writing formats, punctuation, math, the habitude the school is currently working on, and a few classroom reminders. How great is that? Other grade levels could use the message to review things like tally marks or sight words or could ask deeper-thought questions. You could also review goals that the classroom has set or material from other subject areas, like character lessons from the counselor.

The kindergarten teacher at St. Andrew’s used to conclude every message with “I love you so much. You are so smart! Have a great day. Love, Miss Davis.” By the end of the first week of school, kids caught on to the pattern, so they were able to practice one-to-one word correspondence as she read the message with the pointer, and they grew pride in their reading.

Morning meeting is a great way to instill a sense of community, which I think is so valuable in education. It also allows a teacher to tie in some social-emotional learning while still meeting or reviewing some of the day’s TEKS, which supports students as they make goals.

#SASeries: Recess Queen?

This post is the first in a series about my experiences as the Grace-on-the-Hill instructional assistant and intern at St. Andrew’s School in Richmond, Virginia.

“Miss! It’s not fair! This is SO DUMB that you are making us do this!”

Strong words for a ten-year-old, particularly when yelled in my face at 7:25 a.m.

I didn’t have to ask what Stephon was upset about, though. I’d recently instituted a change in the way the students were allowed to play basketball during pre-school recess, and it had not gone over well. At all.

I was the only adult supervising upward of 50 kids every morning, and the raucous pushing and fighting during scrimmages made me want to pull my hair out. The kids weren’t safe – I was constantly breaking up verbal disagreements on the basketball court, which kept me from watching the kindergartners closely on the equipment. After consulting with my supervisor, I’d issued a decree that students were to separate into two lay-up lines and take precisely one shot each. This, we were sure, would keep disagreements away from the court and would allow me to watch our little ones more closely.

We were right, I guess. Disagreements were kept off the court – because my precious students moved them onto the playground. They refused to do lay-ups, and I could certainly understand why: these kids live basketball. Growing up in inner-city Richmond, they found basketball to be the great equalizer and found intense inspiration in Kevin Durant and Steph Curry. They scrimmaged all the time at home, so to be demoted to lay-ups offended them deeply.

So when Stephon expressed his frustration over his morning oatmeal, I had to listen. He absolutely had a point – it was dumb. It was a rule my boss and I had come up with together in her office out of desperation, and it did nothing to address my actual problem. Scrimmages weren’t the issue; sportsmanship was. I was at a loss for what to do.

That’s what I said.

“Stephon, I feel you. But I have no idea what to do. I am in charge of keeping everyone safe, and I can’t figure out how to keep the basketball court calm enough that I can watch the little kids too. If you can come up with a solution, I’m game to try it.”

Stephon sat down beside me on the cafeteria bench and thought for a moment. He called over his best bud, Joel, and they conferred.

“Miss McPherson. What if we’re in charge? We can still do lines, but we’ll mix them up so the little kids can play too. And we’ll make sure everyone gets to take a turn and doesn’t get rude.”

I was sold, and we instituted the change immediately. By giving the authority to come up with a solution to these two fifth graders, I made them leaders, and they stepped up to the plate. For the rest of the year, we had minimal problems. It wasn’t a fairy tale, and I still had to deal with the occasional spat over someone’s sideways look at someone else’s KDs. But in the end, Stephon and Joel were able to model good behavior on the basketball court because they felt like they were trusted leaders and they wanted to live up to my expectations.

It was a powerful moment for me to realize that my tendency to micromanage doesn’t serve me well. I felt like I was the adult, the teacher, and so I should have all the answers. I didn’t ask anyone except the assistant head-of-school, a 60-year-old white woman who knew very little about sports. When our solution didn’t work, I kept trying to force it to until Stephon confronted me.

My spur-of-the-moment decision to ask him to come up with the solution introduced me to the idea of giving students autonomy over their actions, and I have used this in so many other situations since then. I’ve found that when elementary students know you think highly of them, they rise to meet your expectations. Pulling a child aside or doing a whole-group discussion and genuinely asking them how to solve a problem has yielded some of my best moments in a classroom.

I’m not perfect, and to base my classroom management on the idea that I am is inherently flawed. There’s no reason to pretend to students that I don’t make mistakes or that I know all the answers. A situation will certainly arise during the year that shows them otherwise! By treating students with respect, being honest with them, and establishing a culture of collaboration, we can all grow.