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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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.