Behind the Blog

Behind the Blog
My name is Cindy Kruse and I've been learning from elementary students for the past 16 years. I enjoy discovering new technology and implementing it in the classroom, absolutely love literacy, and am passionate about Responsive Classroom. I am constantly striving to learn new and innovative ways to teach students in order to provide authentic, interesting, and joyful classrooms.


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Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Imagine that!

My mother was the most creative person I know.  She once confessed to me that she felt her need to create something was just like the need to breathe...she just had to do it in order to feel alive.  Often she would get up at 4:30 in the morning because she was so excited to work on a project she had just begun (making a purse out of a suit jacket, figuring out a pattern for a hat crocheted from plastic grocery bags, or creating a watch band from antique buttons).  When she was creating, she was "in the zone" - oblivious to time, the need to eat, and of course the mess surrounding her space - which she always explained, was absolutely necessary in order for her to create.

You may be wondering where I've been for the past months as I have taken a brief hiatus from this blog.  My mom was diagnosed with Pancreatic Cancer last June.  I was fortunate enough to have nine months after her diagnosis to spend precious time with her.  We sewed, knitted, quilted, and crafted our way through chemo and radiation.  We were entrapped in a creative frenzy of our own making.  Last November, my mom was featured at the Cancer Center in her own "Artist Exhibit".  Although she had completed her last radiation treatment that very day, she was exuberant, excited about sharing her creations with others.

                                                        Mom and I at her "Art Exhibit"

             Notice the "Mitten Tree" in the background...they were created from old sweaters!

During the past year, I've learned how important creativity is to our "human selves".  The ability to create something new - whether it is an original idea, new invention, work of art, ....or even a watch band made out of buttons, is what makes the human race so special.  This ability is what sets us apart from the rest of creation.

Creativity, or more specifically the lack of it, is a hot topic in education as well as in the business world.  With the speed at which our world is evolving, we need creative individuals....those that can imagine a new way....adapt, to create a better version....envision something we never thought possible.  This is why the business world has teamed up with educators to promote the 21st Century Skills.  It comes as no surprise that creativity is an essential part of this framework. 

However, in the classrooms our rush to cover the topics deemed as "essential" prohibits us from allowing children the time to explore and really create something new.  The funny thing about just can't rush it.  Creativity takes time.  Time to imagine, reflect, rework, and even "play around".  If you study the Revised Bloom's Taxonomy or Webb's Depth of Knowledge you'll see "create" at the top of the hierarchy....this is what educators should strive for in the classroom.  Yet ask any classroom teacher and they'll tell it like it is - who has the time for that?

My mom taught me an important lesson for my personal life as well as in the classroom...creativity must be nurtured in order to bloom.   While all of us possess this innate ability to create, not many choose to take the time to pursue it or build an environment to encourage it .....we simply don't allow ourselves that precious "time".  How often have you heard an adult state sadly, "I'm just not that creative"? 

Young children (who admittedly seem to have all the time in the world) begin their lives full of creative potential.  I recently heard a story that illustrates my point.... A little girl was drawing a picture in school.  The teacher asked, "What are you drawing?"  The little girl replied, "I'm drawing a picture of God!"  The teacher quickly responded, "But nobody knows what God looks like."  The little girl confidently retorted, "Well, they will in a minute."  

According to Ken Robinson in his book Out of our Minds:  Learning to be Creative, "Everyone has huge creative capacities.  The challenge is to develop them.  A culture of creativity has to involve everybody, not just a select few."   What steps will you take to allow your creativity to flourish?  Better yet, what will you do as an educator in the coming year to nurture creativity in your classroom?  Stay tuned as I continue to discuss creativity in the coming weeks with ideas you can implement in the new school year.  In the meantime.... just imagine what it might look like!  

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Designed to play!

During the "Sharing" portion of our daily "Morning Meeting" today I challenged my students to reflect on their weekend and then fill in the blank with a verb.  "This weekend I ______ed."  While it was a bit challenging for my 4th and 5th graders to stick to one verb (they all wanted to add more details), we managed to gather some fascinating data which fueled an interesting discussion.  More than 90% of my students responded with, "This weekend I played!"  We had fun asking specific questions to reveal more interesting details of our weekend adventures, however the discussions that followed were the most interesting...Is it important to play?  Can we learn from playing?  If so, what can we learn?  Most importantly, how can we incorporate play in our instructional settings? 

If indeed we can learn from playing, then...why isn't there time to play in school?  I had a hard time suppressing a smile because that very question was the topic in the teacher's lounge among the kindergarten teachers during lunch earlier.  However, I need to be honest...I was contemplating "the importance of play" this weekend myself, so I confess to "setting up" the conversations.  I was eager to hear what the kids and teachers had to say on this topic.  I wasn't surprised by any of their discussions.  

I began to investigate my thoughts on this topic after I watched this video of a little boy named Caine that turned "play" into quite an exciting learning experience.  After watching the video, I'm sure that you too will recognize the importance of play.  

This subject has been the discussion of many psychologists and education gurus.  Research points to these facts:  humans are designed to play (those that don't play have serious mental issues), however the amount of time we spend playing has decreased since 1970.  A revealing study of gifted children (the Terman Study) concluded that those who play actually live longer.   It is believed that "play" is credited with building those all important executive function skills.  Executive function includes the ability to organize, plan, pay attention and remember details, and the ability to self-regulate (use self-control). 

So what are we waiting for?  Parents, teachers, and all those that wish for joyful learning experiences in the classroom and home...let the play begin!

Monday, November 21, 2011

The power of encouragement

Last week I traveled to Philly on the train with my family to cheer on my daughter and son-in-law as they ran the Philadelphia marathon. I had been there two years ago as Cait ran the half-marathon, but this time she was running with her husband Jeff - and they we're running the full marathon, all 26.2 miles. I felt a weird combination of pride, mixed with anticipation and fear. Cait and Jeff had been training for the past year, often running when they didn't even feel like it in order to prepare for this day. In the process, Cait had developed some physical problems - Raynaud's (a very painful and debilitating condition with her toes) and a strained knee. Yet, they were committed to finishing this race. I'm not sure why I was fearful - maybe I was afraid that she would get hurt or sick, but I think I was really afraid she would be so disappointed if she wasn't able to finish.

The day of the marathon was incredible. With close to 30,000 runners and almost twice as many spectators, Philly was alive and jumping. Bands were playing music, cow bells ringing, and supportive fans carrying creative signs designed to encourage their favorite runners, such as - "Who needs toenails anyway?" If you've never been to watch a marathon I can tell you that my description so far is just not doing the experience justice. You really have to experience it to understand it. Fans line up along the street cheering on the runners. You can hear them call out the names of the runners as they pass by - "Good job Joe! Keep it up Laura!" (I have to admit to anyone who is reading this post that initially I did not know that they were actually reading the names of the runners that are posted on the front of their chest along with their race numbers - I was actually thinking, "Wow, these people certainly know a lot of these runners" for about 5 minutes the first time I watched the marathon.

We positioned ourselves strategically along the route to supply much needed encouragement and "Gu" - high energy gummi chews. About 15 minutes before we thought they would be coming we began jockeying for a good position, straining to catch a glimpse of Cait & Jeff. Their faces lit up as they spied us - their personal fans and they continued to run by, clearly focusing on the goal of finishing the race! The most exciting and nerve wracking part was waiting for them as they neared the finish line. My other daughter, Lauren had driven down with her husband and 7 week old baby to surprise her sister at the finish line. When we finally spotted Cait and Jeff coming down the home stretch, Lauren jumped over the fence and ran the last 1/8th mile along with her sister. The smiles on their faces tell it all....

I had tears in my eyes as I saw Cait & Jeff come into the home stretch, knowing that they had achieved a great accomplishment - one they had sacrificed much for over the past year. After the race I asked Cait which section of the race was the most difficult to run. She replied without hesitation, "Kelly Drive - the section along Boat House Row". Those familiar with Philadelphia know that this is an incredibly beautiful part of the course - mostly flat and picture card perfect. I was incredulous...why was this part so hard I asked? Cait answered, "There were absolutely no fans to cheer us on during this stretch, they wouldn't have been able to make it back in time to see anyone finish at the finish line."

Later that day, it dawned on me...the power of encouragement. What a lesson for all of us. Of course being an educator, I can't help but apply this to the classroom (however it can applied to all parts of our lives as well). Imagine what we can accomplish if we (teachers) would adopt this attitude in the classroom - commit to being our student's biggest fans, notice how hard they are working - even when they aren't our own students, cheer them when the going gets tough, even running alongside with them to bring them into the finish line. Just imagine what could be accomplished!

Monday, August 22, 2011

A Call for "Out of the Box" Thinking ...

When technology is used effectively in education it can engage, inspire, connect, and empower students. However, the real power of technology lies in how you use it. Technology's role in the educational setting should be to support and organize student learning. There is a tendency when creating a technology plan to focus on the "boxes and wires", rather than the people that the plan is intended to impact. A successful technology plan focuses on people rather than technology.

There is no doubt that school districts across the nation recognize the importance of integrating technology into instruction - much time and energy has been committed to writing and implementing technology plans in every district. Recently, the federal government rolled out the National Technology Plan for Education. This plan focuses on five key areas: learning, assessment, teaching, infrastructure, and productivity. Dr.
Fishman, part of the team that authored the plan, made this important point at the University of Massachusetts Virtual Conference, "Knowing how to use technology and knowing how to use it for teaching are two extremely different skills." This statement serves to reiterate the cry among educators today that technology alone will not fix the predicament we currently find ourselves in as a nation.

While it is imperative that we establish a technology plan in each of our schools, that plan must include considerations as a result of discussions about what we teach, how we teach, where and how students learn, as well as how we assess student learning. We must have a plan in place if our schools are going to leverage the power of technology in order to move us towards providing instruction that meets the needs of each individual learner in lieu of the one-size-fits-all approach that is currently in place in too many schools.

A technology plan that is effective focuses on people - the students, parents, educators, and community to ensure that the instruction and learning environments that we create for our students include the following competencies: critical thinking, problem solving, collaboration, global communication, and authenticity through real world applications resulting in assessments that provide credible evidence of learning and transforming thinking in the education process.
Sunday, June 26, 2011

An "Aha!" moment

I'm sitting here relaxing and unwinding, reflecting after presenting at an exhilarating week long workshop for Responsive Classroom in Oakland, CA. It is truly amazing to watch a group of 27 educators hailing from from Zimbabwe to California, coming together to form a community of learners. It is akin to watching the students at the end of the school year reminiscing about their first few weeks of the school year.

Every afternoon during the workshop, we gathered in a closing circle to reflect on the learning that occurred that day. On Thursday, this group of educators synthesized their newly acquired RC knowledge by reading and responding to scenarios that paralleled their experiences in their own classrooms. These were not easy. In fact, as I checked in at each table group I heard them state repeatedly, "This is hard." However, their hard work paid off as they began to grasp the strategies and put them into action.

During the closing circle, I asked them to reflect on their day. They looked tired, spent - very evidently exhausted. One of the participants shared, "One of the things I recognized today was that even though this was hard work, I stuck with it because I am so invested in really learning and applying Responsive Classroom strategies in my classroom. This was an "Aha moment" as I think about how that applies to our students. We must make learning meaningful for them so that will continue to stick with a task, even when it is difficult."
Sunday, May 29, 2011

What will they remember?

On Friday, I shadowed an administrator at a middle school as part of my internship for my principal's certification. It was an eye opening experience at all levels, however I learned something that I had not expected to learn...

Having taught elementary students for the past eight years in the same district, I was hoping that I would see some familiar faces throughout the day. I really wasn't prepared to see how much my former students had changed. Students can change a lot in just one year.

I honestly did not even recognize many of them as they excitedly asked, "Mrs. Kruse - remember me?" I was amazed at how much students can change in 4 or 5 years. During the afternoon, we moved into the lunchroom to supervise students. One by one, my former students gathered around me voicing the same question each time, "Mrs. Kruse - remember me?" Students asked me, "Hey, do you remember when ....?" or "I remember...." Suddenly I had a rather large group of eighth graders circling up and reminiscing about their third grade class five years ago. We smiled and laughed as we recalled events from that year.

As I reflected on this experience, and thought about this year coming to the end in just a few days , I began to wonder:

1. What will my students remember most from the 1,080 hours that we spend together in a given year?

2. What will I remember the most about them?

I found that what these students remembered the most were the every day experiences we had together - the field trips we took, favorite games and activities we played during Morning Meetings each day, our class pet - 'Willis' the hamster, etc. - the things that made our class a true community. A sense of community is something that I work hard to create with each and every class every year and that is what students truly remember.
Sunday, May 1, 2011

Differentiated Professional Development

How can the supervision process be used to help successful and experienced teachers get better at what they do? Way too often I hear teachers at conferences and in-services complain, “I already do that. That won’t work, you don’t know my students. I could’ve written the book on this.” Many honestly believe that after teaching for a certain number of years that they have little new left to learn. I believe that this is a dangerous way of thinking. As Collins asserts, the minute you think you have arrived is the moment you begin to slide backwards.

Unfortunately, professional development for teachers has been a “one-size- fits- all” mentality for a number of years. Just as we realize the importance of differentiating for students in order for successful learning to occur, we need to transfer this understanding to professional development and learning for teachers. We must meet the needs of all teachers so that all teachers can continually improve their instruction. When you are improving instruction, you are impacting student achievement and learning.