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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Monday, December 27, 2010

Perspective is everything

As I take time to reflect on this year, and get ready to head back into the classroom to begin a 'New Year', I am resolving to change my perspective about a few things that just can't be changed. I have come to realize - There are just some things I can't change. I can't physically change some situations, but there is something I can perspective. Perspective is everything we view our circumstances in life - is your glass half empty or half full? Some people would say 'change your attitude', but that really occurs after you change your perspective. Looking at something from a totally different angle...with totally different eyes.

I remember reading somewhere that changing your perspective is particularly useful when problem solving and aids in creativity. For example, try to imagine three very distinctly different personalities (the more details you use in describing each personality, the better - a young adventurer with no time constraints, a wise but gossipy old woman, and a savvy business man) and try to brainstorm possible solutions to the problem from each imaginary person's unique perspective. This type of brainstorming technique allows each of us to view things differently and may offer more than one viable solution to a problem.

I once met a teacher that was very gifted in classroom management, as a result she was typically given the children with the most challenging behavior problems (teachers, does this sound familiar?). However, she never referred to the students in a negative light, instead she would explain matter-of-factly,"I am lucky enough to have the students with the most potential for growth". She refused to see her glass as half empty.

I'll let you know how this goes as I endeavor to take my own advice.

What are you hoping to change as the 'New Year' begins?
Sunday, December 12, 2010

Intentional Traditions

As I sit here writing this, the stockings are hung over the fireplace with care, the Christmas tree is twinkling across the room, Christmas cards are addressed and waiting to be mailed tomorrow morning, and "Butt Ugly" - the snow woman is seated in her place of honor on the kitchen windowsill. This addition to our family's Christmas traditions was totally unintentional and really quite a funny story...

One Christmas, my loving and thoughtful husband wanted to buy me a snowman to add to my extensive snowman collection. Proud of his purchase, he beckoned my daughters upstairs to secretly share his find with them on Christmas Eve. When they saw the snow woman they both roared with laughter exclaiming, "That is Butt Ugly!" I was given the present Christmas morning as my husband sought to gauge my enthusiasm with the newest addition to the collection. He wasn't convinced of my sincere appreciation - mostly due to the snickers from my daughters. Although I assured him of my affection for the carved snow woman, proudly cradling her basket of fruit, he stated that we'd see what I really thought of the gift next year (certain that the snow woman would simply "melt away"). Next year, I made sure that "Butt Ugly" (nicknamed by my daughters) assumed her rightful place of honor over the kitchen sink. This became a tradition in our home as my husband bought a uniquely carved snow woman for each daughter for their own homes as their first married Christmas gift. (These are all referred to as "Butt Uglies") In true Kruse tradition, one has not decorated the house for Christmas until their own "Butt Ugly" is proudly displayed.

Our traditions this time of year are many...these traditions are what defines the season. They make us smile and laugh as we form a special bond strengthened by shared memories. Many of these traditions are formed unintentionally. Now that we are at the half way point in the year, it is the perfect time to think about the traditions we have formed with our classroom families....

Kids are such creatures of habit. I am certain that we have all formed traditions or routines unintentionally in the classroom. Many of these traditions are not realized until they don't happen - such as the day a "guest teacher" is called in to teach the classroom and the students complain, "But Mrs. ___ doesn't do it that way."

However, research shows that rituals or traditions serve to create a sense of community within our classrooms, making them a safe and joyful environment for children to learn. Here are some ideas for traditions that you can intentionally begin to establish with your classroom:

1. Begin or end your day with choral responses or songs that the class enjoys.

(check out the Responsive Classroom tab in this blog for ideas)

2. Read stories that students enjoy hearing over & over again.
3. Story Bits (treasures) or Reading Souvenirs - collectibles that help students remember a story
3. Use celebrations to acknowledge large or small accomplishments.
4. Cheers or songs to acknowledge birthdays.
5. Songs or chants to help ease transitions - to Morning Meeting, Lining Up, etc.

What traditions have you created in your classrooms?
Tuesday, December 7, 2010

How Cool is This!

Today while teaching my fifth grade class, we explored the possibility of using SCRATCH to help us in our study of mysteries (we are currently writing original mysteries and then putting them into power point - we thought SCRATCH might allow us to create animation, making the mysteries come alive). I will never forget the words of one ecstatic student as he threw his fists in the air, "I have waited my whole life to be able to do this in school! How cool is this!" As I strive to integrate technology in meaningful ways in my classroom, I realize there is much to consider when using web based technology. Here's what I'm thinking...

"For every hour we spend on our computers, traditional face to face interaction time with other people drops by nearly thirty minutes." When I read this statement recently (iBrain) I had to stop to allow this information to really sink in. I began to ponder these questions: What implications does this have for our children? Will they be less effective at reading the social cues we take for granted? If so, how might that affect their ability to communicate with others?

No one will argue the fact that technology is changing our society at a rate that is unfathomable. So much of this change is exciting - even exhilarating! The ability to make learning relevant and global in nature is (or should be) changing the way we "do" education. However, this change needs to be examined more closely.

We need to proactively teach the social skills students will need in order to be successful. We also need to be careful to integrate technology that will actually help our students to learn and share their learning in authentic ways. When we take these steps, I know we'll all echo the sentiment of my ecstatic student, "How cool is this!"
Monday, November 15, 2010

Sometimes you might have to bribe them...

RtII...what is it? Why is everyone talking about it? Last week we invited parents to come back to school on a Friday night to hear about RtII and Responsive Classroom. I was amazed by the turn out! Over 175 children and parents came to hear more about current educational programs and school wide implementations.

Oh, I forgot to mention that we also held a "Family Movie Night". So, did we bribe them? Uh, sorta...but was it ever fun! It was also informative - lots of great questions were raised about both RtII and Responsive Classroom. Parents and their students attended two half hour highly interactive sessions, then we gathered in the large group room/cafeteria for the movie.

I can still picture the kids in their PJ's with pillows and sleeping bags sprawled all over the large group room floor watching a movie together on the BIG screen. What a cozy scene, but even more...we strengthened the parent-school connection, built our sense of school community, and made some great memories. Oh, and yes we did serve free popcorn and lemonade. I mean, you really can't watch a movie without those two staples (not in my house anyway).

I admit it, we bribed them...but it was so worth it!
Friday, October 1, 2010

No time to "wait for Superman"

The recent release of the documentary film, "Waiting for Superman" has fanned the flames of the controversial debate about educational reform. (I haven't had the opportunity to see the movie yet, but plan on doing so as soon as it comes to a theatre near me.) The reviews range from "moving" and "on target" to "biased" and "oversimplified". Regardless of which camp you're pitching your tent in, everyone must agree that this conversation needs to happen. We can't hide from the data that indicates the American educational system is in need of a great overhaul.

The first question I have is: Do we have the time to
wait? I don't think so. Something needs to be done now. We can't wait - the future lives of our children are at stake, and every minute matters. I'm not advocating that we jump in too quickly and begin to dismantle everything, but we can begin to make small changes.

The second question is really a rhetorical one: Is there a Superman? Of course we know there is not, however, if you look closely enough you may begin to identify a superman or superwoman (or quite possibly more than one) at every school. These teachers and administrators consistently put the interests of kids first. They are implementing best practices (based on research) that are best for kids. They have an unwavering belief that every child can learn. They go way beyond the minimum.

I think we already have a good idea of what really works in educating children. The challenge is honestly answering this question: "Are we willing to do what it takes to put children first?" (NY Times columnist Ton Friedman asks this same question) I'm excited that the movement has begun, I'm just hoping it can be sustained without becoming mired in political agendas.

Borrowing the words of Mahatma Gandhi, we can "Be the change we want to see". We need great teachers, willing to not only speak the truth, but live it as well by instituting the small changes that we know we can accomplish. We need great teachers in order to build great schools.
Saturday, September 4, 2010

Through the eyes of a child...

The first week of school is almost over. During the first week I must have overheard at least twenty teachers commenting how thankful they were that it was a four day week. It's hard to get back into the routine of it all, even for adults.

Yesterday, a colleague of mine shared with me that her granddaughter had just started kindergarten this year. She picked her up from her first day of school and asked, "How was your day?" Like most small children, very little details of the day were divulged. They had to return to her granddaughter's house to let out her new puppy. As her granddaughter walked the puppy outside, she could hear her through the open kitchen window conversing with 'Buddy', the puppy. 'Buddy', her ever faithful confidant was getting an earful. "Buddy, school is hard... It's awful scary there....There are a lot of people there and so much I got to remember".

It's easy to forget how overwhelming the new school year can be for our little people. Taking a minute to view the whole school experience through their eyes is powerful. There are so many new friends, new teachers, new learning environments. What can we do as educators to help ease this transition? The most important thing is to create a "safe" learning community. Taking the time to hear the hopes and dreams of our students for the coming year, inviting their participation in creating guidelines (also known as rules) for our learning together, and just taking the time to get to know each other is so important.

Unfortunately the tyranny of the urgent competes for our time in the first few weeks of school. There is so much information to cover, routines to establish, forms to fill out....and the list just doesn't end. No wonder we're all exhausted!

I wish that every child had a 'Buddy' to confide in when they are overwhelmed and scared. I hope that all of us...educators and parents can take some time to breathe, relax, and take a peek at the world through their eyes.
Saturday, August 28, 2010

Reflecting on reflection

Yesterday I had the privilege of teaching a workshop for teachers in preparation for the upcoming school year. We shared ideas, learned new strategies, and played games together. During one of our interactive games, I asked them to each share a goal that they have for this year as it pertains to their classroom. While preparing for this workshop, I took the time to consider this question in light of my own teaching. I thought, "What is my goal for this year? What specific skill do I wish to "hone in on" as a teacher this year? What goal do I have for my students? As I pondered this question a long list of possibilities coursed through my brain. Then it came to me....Reflection!

I have to confess, I've had this as a goal before. Teachers recognize that reflection is good thing to do. Research even backs this up. To demonstrate my earlier commitment to this skill there is even a space on my lesson plans designated to this endeavor. Knowing how much we cram onto those two pages, carving out space for reflection illustrates how important this is to me as a teacher, right? However, as I look back on my lesson plans for the past three years I can see that I was well intentioned. I started out well (OK - in reality maybe 6 entries over the course of the first month). Then no reflections, not even a scribble for several months, then finally, a few sporadic, hurried comments wedged into the last month of school.

I took the time to reflect on my reflections. I know that this is key to implementing change and a powerful piece in the learning cycle for students. Why is this so difficult for me? I came to the conclusion that I need a plan ...what would help me to accomplish this (other than adding an extra hour onto my day)? Check out this blog for some wonderful ideas to help put this into practice.

I am excited about what I will learn about the art/science of teaching and how my student's learning will be impacted as we commit to this discipline during the coming year!
Saturday, July 31, 2010

The Art of Observation

Like many teachers in the month of August, I'm already thinking about the first few days of school. These first few days are so important. Our primary job is to create a safe environment for our students: physically, emotionally, and socially. We are also working to build a sense of community within our classrooms. In order to make this happen, we must take the time to simply observe.

We watch...we listen...we learn...

The information we gather will guide our instruction. Not just academic instruction, but our social curriculum as well. As we watch and notice, we'll discover which students are struggling with reading and which students enjoy math. We'll learn social skills they are adept at and which need further refining.

There is a constant pull for our attention. So many forms to fill out, plans to write, assessments to give. It is difficult to remember our foremost task at hand and practice the art of observation.
Saturday, July 24, 2010

Would you rather?

Recently, while embarking on a rather long car ride, several colleagues and I played a game to pass the time away, "Would you rather?" This hilarious game placed us in imaginary situations forcing us to choose between the lesser of two evils. Ex:"Would you rather have eyebrows that make a complete circle around your face -OR- flat eyelashes that stick out 10 inches and cannot be trimmed?

Soon the game morphed into our own personally designed scenarios, one of which was directed towards me for my consideration: "Would you rather be forced to be 'that teacher' (known for doing the exact opposite of Responsive Classroom principles- ie: using sarcasm with children, belittling them, not taking in consideration the individual student or creating connections with them) -
OR- Have your daughter teach in a grade level that she hates for 12 years?

Obviously these colleagues knew me well - my belief system (aligned with Responsive Classroom principles)
vs. the extreme love for my child. I had a difficult time choosing and it really began to stress me out. For some reason that conundrum just wouldn't leave my brain long after the game was over and I was back at home. I kept mulling it over, realizing that what they were really asking me was "Would you give up being true to yourself to ensure the happiness of your child?" I would just rather not choose between the two. However, after thinking about this for about a week I suddenly realized, I don't have to choose. Then I had an epiphany...nobody has to choose, we all have the opportunity to teach in a way that recognizes the difference in our young learners and seek to bring out the best in them. It is our choice to strive to create joyful learning environments where children thrive.
Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Who holds their story?

What does it take to really know a child? Some say that children are "an open book". The problem is that few adults are willing to take the time to sit down, turn the pages, and read that book. I recently heard a speaker declare that we are in an "epidemic of praise". He asserts that the reason we praise our children is because we're too busy to take the time to really know them. Praise is used as a substitute. Most often this type of praise is generic in nature. We've all heard it (and probably even had these very words escape our lips as parents or teachers): "Good job", "That was awesome!", "Way to go!" These are all said with the best intentions. Our underlying belief is that the more we praise, the more we fill a child's tank. Recent research actually points to the opposite. Nurture Shock a book by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman points to the inverse power of praise.

The questions we must consider as educators and parents: Who holds the story of a child? What will it take for us to know their story?
Sunday, July 18, 2010

Happiness vs. Kindness?

I recently had the opportunity to attend the Responsive Classroom School-Wide Conference in Amherst, MA. While the entire 3 day conference was thought provoking, one of the speakers in particular left his ideas bouncing around in my head.

Richard Weissbourd, writer of "The Parents We Mean to Be", challenged my thinking about morality by asking, "How do we make values central to a child's moral development?" He explained that the emphasis parents have placed on a child's happiness has had a negative effect on a child's inclination towards goodness. Furthermore, he contends that kindness (or goodness) should be
more important than happiness. When this occurs, we will find ourselves "being good" towards others.

Being others focused simply doesn't come naturally (especially in today's society). We are egocentric in nature. Therefore, this shift will entail a concerted effort on the part of both parents and adults with vested interest in the lives of the children we love. We need to be models of "goodness" for our children, our students, our families. The modeling that I am referring to is not to be translated as "perfect". We must engage in real conversations with children about morality, such as acknowledging how hard it can be to be honest sometimes. Often adults will encourage children to be kind towards others because, "Goodness (or kindness) leads to happiness." Weissbourd believes we should promote kindness because "it is vital to our own collective good". What does this look like in the real world? Having children give credit to others for their achievements, requiring them to return phone calls, and helping children to tune into the emotional feelings of others.

As I sat in the audience listening and reflecting, I have to confess that all of this talk about morality seemed overwhelming to me at first. If I'm honest with myself (and since I'm writing about morality I feel the need to make a sincere attempt to be so), I realize my shortcomings in the morality department. I have to admit that I was relieved when Richard concluded his talk by saying that it is possible for as adults to work on our own moral development, that our capacity is not fixed. We shouldn't measure ourselves against others, but rather strive to be "superior to our former selves."
Saturday, July 10, 2010

It's all about relationships

This week Bob and I took a mini-vacation to Ocean City, NJ. We stayed two nights in a great little bed & breakfast just a few blocks from the beach. Those who've vacationed in OC, NJ are already familiar with the quirks that define this quaint beach town. First of all, this is a "dry" town (no alcohol is sold or served on the island). This fact has two effects - this vacation spot is marketed towards families and there are not many great restaurants in Ocean City proper.

One of the most interesting (or irritating) little quirks is the lack of hotels. If you want to stay in Ocean City, NJ for the week, there are a plethora of weekly beach house rentals. However, there are only a few hotels and a handful of motels. This is one of the reasons we ended up in a B&B for a few nights.

The first morning, as we feasted on our scrumptious four course breakfast (containing enough calories for the entire day), we found ourselves conversing with the four other couples that were also calling this establishment "home" for a few days. We exchanged the usual background information and continued to chat like old friends. The conversation bantered easily back and forth between all the couples. This pattern resumed each morning (note that breakfast was always a four course meal and therefore conducive to long conversations). My husband remarked, "This is the difference between a hotel and a B&B. This just wouldn't happen in a hotel. Coming to a B&B is all about relationships."

Of course, my mind being geared the way it is, I related that thought back to education, specifically the building of relationships between students in the classroom as well as students and teachers. The environment we create is so important. Just like the B & B, we need to make it conducive to fostering relationships that will be the foundation of our classroom community. Being a consulting teacher for Responsive Classroom, I can appreciate this approach that has taught so many educators not only how to do this, but why we do this. It's all about relationships.
Sunday, July 4, 2010

Gotta love educators!

It's Sunday and while the rest of the nation is watching fireworks, I'm relaxing and trying to recuperate from a week long of presenting for RC in Alexandria, VA. Even though I was exhausted by Friday, I LOVED IT!! The reflective nature of the educators in my group is worth noting. The community of 24 people that was evident by the end of our week together was truly touching. I can only hope that it was a glimpse of learning communities yet to be established in the coming school year. I often wistfully wonder how the world would look if we all endeavored to "Take care of each other", as often stated in our classroom rules. Kudos to these educators who dedicated a week of their vacation time to learning how to be more effective in their classrooms! I would highly recommend the experience to any educator who hasn't checked out Responsive Classroom yet.