Fitting It All In

Fitting It All In

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At the risk of sounding like Dear Abby, the only authentic way to start this post is by saying I received a really moving and motivating comment from a teacher named Becky, who wrote on behalf of herself and some of her colleagues in Washington DC.

 

Becky echoed roughly a million teachers (myself included) when she asked: how do you do it all? We feel pulled in twenty different directions and feel like we can’t do one thing well.

 

This is a problem.

 

This is a problem for me, this is likely a problem for many of you.

 

I don’t have an answer, but I do have some lines in the metaphorical sand that I try to keep myself crossing, despite the temptations all around me.

 

And because more brains only make things smarter, my colleague and planner-in-crime, Valerie Geschwind is answering the same question in her own way on her very amazing new blog: kiddriven.wordpress.com.

 

But first, a secret… I am going to whisper it so lean in close here:

 

no one fits it all in.

 

(Glances up and looks furtively from side to side)

 

There is always one something I feel I could do better on, something I have to cut out, something that bombs, and something that is nagging me and I don’t have an answer for, so of all the lines I have drawn for myself, perhaps the most important one of all is: be kind to yourself.

 

I have other guiding principles, and below are a few.

 

First Things First: Have a Schedule, But More Importantly, Have an Agenda

 

I post a daily schedule in my room. It looks like many daily schedules in the world. Our day usually progresses along thusly:

 

8:45 Morning Meeting

8:55 Word Study: phonemic awareness, phonics, handwriting in Stations (kids rotate)

9:25 Writing Workshop

10:00 Shared Reading

10:15 Reading Workshop

10:45 Read Aloud (Sometimes in a content area, sometimes not)

11:00 Afternoon Meeting (usually around social growth)

11:20 Lunch/Recess

12:15 Inquiry: Social Studies/Science

12:45: Math

1:15: Choice Time

2:00: Special Class: Gym, Music, Etc

2:55: Pack and Snack

3:05: Dismissal

 

NOTEWORTHY COMMENT 1: If we as a class are “on” about something, then we steal minutes from something else. Sometimes afternoon meeting gets cut, sometimes word study is done whole group in 10 minutes, sometimes, choice time and inquiry blend together. I don’t get caught up in specific minutes, because I know we will get the time back another day. You don’t have one day to teach kids, you have a year.

 

NOTEWORTHY COMMENT 2: We have, in fact, lost entire afternoons when the class gets caught up in something. More on that later- remember you have an entire year to teach, not one day.

 

So what does this schedule have to do with my agenda? Well, I am glad you asked. This year has been a watershed year for my thinking as a teacher. This year I am seeing content as a byproduct (an important one) of learning how to learn. For me, its like I have finally started to see the matrix. When you look at your curriculum and think OH MY I HAVE 183 DAYS OF LESSONS WHAT IF THERE IS A SNOW DAY MY LIFE IS OVER, every day and every minute becomes fearfully guarded for your agenda.

 

But if your agenda is: I have 183 days to help these munchkins become persistent and active problem solvers, flexible thinkers, and resilient and kind people, you change from watching your curriculum to watching your class, I did at least.

 

You don’t really have 183 of anything to teach. You have, at best, ten. Now they are not easy, but all the little things you teach are often part of a bigger thing. And sometimes it is just the little thing taught in lots of different ways. It becomes easier to be flexible to keep the big things in mind.

 

So you saw my schedule, this is my actual agenda:

 

8:45: Develop persistence and flexibility around the work we do in the classroom, practice kindness and resilience. Be active in each job you take on. Be brave

3:05 Pack and Snack

 

To do this, there are a few other things I have to believe

 

Trust that Play is Work

When my colleagues and I plan, we think about our children, the standards, the big goals of the unit. We think about assessments, we think about all the things we need to think about to build a thoughtful well-planned unit.

 

Then we think about the delivery.

 

In my last post about being playful, I emphasized that you need to know your customer to effectively teach. Before every unit, I try to think about the role or situation I can create that will build an energy of play around the work we will do. Last year it was Star Wars and becoming Yodas of reading, this year it is Spider-Man and building a repertoire of Spidey-Powers to save the world from tricky books. But on a smaller level, in writing we are sitting around a fake campfire telling stories, and using our writing time to craft campfire stories to share with other.

 

I don’t make time for play, the whole day is play. I still have the same goals and objectives that others might have- I just change the packaging. A surprising amount of my brain power is spent re-packaging my teaching so it fits in the world of my class.

 

Play is my top priority and when lessons bomb (and they do) I think- was there another way to engage the class in this work?

 

Workshop Teaching is The Way to Go

I don’t think I could do any of this without teaching everything within a balanced literacy framework and workshop structures. (For this I owe a debt of gratitude to TCRWP for setting me on this path). Essentially every subject starts with a focus lesson that is 5-7 minutes in length. Kids go off to pursue independent projects or independently chosen books, and I hustle around pulling small groups and teaching 1-1.

 

I try to choose 3 to 4 big ideas to tackle across a unit. In writing stories (the unit we are in now) it may be: structuring a story so it is a sequence of events, elaborating pictures (And words for those that are ready), and writing lots and lots of books so each one gets better than the next. A month is a reasonable amount of time to accomplish these things as along as I remember, it is not always what’s next, but how can this child do this “thing” better or more independently?  Workshop teaching allows me to work with children in a way that values their personal goals and projects, and also support them as they move to do this “thing” better and more independently (whatever the “thing” might be: sequencing, adding more thoughtful detail into pictures, writing words with the aid of tools, etc).

 

So Let’s Get Real for A Minute

I would be a horrible liar if I did not say that I have doubts all the time. Or that there are days when a structured math lesson never happens. Or that sometimes I just don’t feel like playing. Everybody does.

 

I have to believe, and I do believe, that if I teach children to learn and engage them in playful learning, teach them to pursue passions and ditch the schedule every once in a while because everyone wants to build an excavator, that they will meet the standards of the grade, but also become the type of citizens that I want in the world.

 

You will never fit it all in, unless you consider the all to be: joy, engagement, persistence, agency, and kindness.

 

Thank you Becky and colleagues for your passion and joy, and to everyone out there in the teaching world for letting me rant on a Sunday morning.

 

Let me know what you think in the comments below.

 

26 Comments
  • Amy Rudd
    Posted at 18:34h, 08 December Reply

    This topic is so what everyone is wondering but no one seems to have an answer for lately-especially this year for some reason! Thanks for keeping it real and offering great ideas about how you’re making it work. I plan to share your post with teachers I’m working with!

  • Ryan
    Posted at 18:41h, 08 December Reply

    Chris Lehman once wisely said, “We teach children, not curriculum” I have to say that my teacher heart right away said, “Go Chris! You are so right, how easy it is to forget this.” At the same time, my teacher head said, “What! Of course I teach curriculum – my kids have goals to meet, CCSS expectations to work toward, essential questions to answer, and I only have 182 days to make sure that they do!” Your post, Kristi, helps bring me back to what’s important. Teach students habits that will persist long after they take the final walk through the doors of your classroom. Here is the thing – the curriculum is ALWAYS going to be changing. As society shifts and the world changes, so does the way that we live, learn and work in it. If we teach children the habits of mind that will help them to adapt, persevere, persist, take risks, fail, learn, develop empathy, practice kindness and compassion – that is our curriculum. When these over-arching goals drive our thinking, planning, and teaching then we are fitting it all in – these are the large stones, and so all of the pebbles will fall into place (for those familiar with this analogy) if we make sure that we make time for what is most important.

    • Dolly
      Posted at 11:22h, 12 August Reply

      Loved this..!

  • readingqueen14
    Posted at 19:59h, 08 December Reply

    I love this! I would love to share this with my colleagues. Thank you!

  • Michelle Haseltine (@Mhaseltine)
    Posted at 20:20h, 08 December Reply

    I love the honesty in your post. We don’t fit it all in, ever. The honesty helps! We strive to improve. We reflect. We grow. Also, I love the line, “Trust that play is work”, YES! I agree!! Love the post!

  • Fitting It All In | KidDriven
    Posted at 00:40h, 09 December Reply

    […] There are so many moving pieces when it comes to fitting it all in.   Leave a comment below and let me know your version of fitting it all in!  And remember to check out Kristi’s beautiful post on the same topic at kinderconfidential.wordpress.com. […]

  • Sheila Ash
    Posted at 00:41h, 09 December Reply

    I needed to hear this! Last week was so stressful due to fitting it all in. Now I change muly definition of what all means!! Thanks and keep sharing !

  • Michelle
    Posted at 01:17h, 09 December Reply

    An entire year to teach… Not one day 🙂 thank you 🙂

  • Mandy
    Posted at 03:57h, 09 December Reply

    Thanks for a great post and reminding us the reality of teaching. I am interested in your word study rotation with handwriting as an option. Do you split the students into three groups and tell them when to switch. Is there one activity at each – phonics, phonemic awareness, and handwriting to do. Are you able to sit and help students?

  • Elizabeth Moore
    Posted at 13:54h, 10 December Reply

    I love this post and it comes at just the right time of year. Everybody is so stressed and crazed for time. I especially love this:

    8:45: Develop persistence and flexibility around the work we do in the classroom, practice kindness and resilience. Be active in each job you take on. Be brave

    3:05 Pack and Snack

    Beautiful. Once again, I beg you to move to Vermont so that you can be my daughter’s kindergarten teacher in 2015-2016!

    • kristimraz
      Posted at 21:18h, 16 December Reply

      Well, I love you- so it all works out in the end!
      Miss you, friend.
      K

  • Katherine
    Posted at 21:13h, 13 December Reply

    This could be my favorite post. Ever.
    THANK YOU. A thousand times over. And over. Again.

    • kristimraz
      Posted at 21:17h, 16 December Reply

      This made my day. Thanks so much for your kind words. Sometimes I feel so uncertain, and your support makes me want to keep writing!
      K

  • punchbuggie58
    Posted at 22:59h, 14 December Reply

    Kristi- I have shared your post with my teachers and it has touched their teacher hearts. Thank you❤️

    Sent from my iPad

    >

    • kristimraz
      Posted at 21:16h, 16 December Reply

      I am so glad, as a teacher myself, sometimes you need to hear it is OKAY!
      K

  • holtsman
    Posted at 23:01h, 15 December Reply

    I tried to think of something really reflective so say, but I’m going to say what was going through my head the entire time I was reading this: AMEN!

    • kristimraz
      Posted at 21:16h, 16 December Reply

      Glad we are like minded 🙂 Thanks for your comment!
      K

  • Vicki Vinton
    Posted at 19:26h, 16 December Reply

    I have a video chat set up today with teachers in Texas who’ve read What Readers Really Do and have become aware that their “check-off” lists and mandated agendas are interfering with their children’s learning. I want to share the beautiful way you reframe the agenda on what really matters—active problem solving, flexibility, resilience and kindness. So simple & so profound. Thanks!

    • kristimraz
      Posted at 21:15h, 16 December Reply

      Wow! I am a fan, so now I am speechless. Thanks for your kind words- it means a lot.
      Kristi

  • Jen Jones @hellojenjones
    Posted at 00:18h, 06 March Reply

    Awesome post. Soooo many teachers need to read this and hear your honesty and sincerity about what really matters in one year. Thank you for this post. I have linked it on my blog and twitted it out the world. Amazing. Real. True. Simple. Brilliant. So glad you finally decided to join the blogosphere! Thank you again.

    • kristimraz
      Posted at 23:30h, 29 April Reply

      Thanks so much for your thoughts and encouragement. Its hard to be honest sometimes because it feels like you are admitting a shortcoming, but it helps everyone to say- its not easy.
      Best!

  • loraleebain
    Posted at 19:02h, 25 June Reply

    Oh my goodness! This is so comforting and encouraging!

  • The Schedule: How Do You Fit it All In? | TWO WRITING TEACHERS
    Posted at 05:00h, 30 January Reply

    […] about my friend Kristi Mraz’s schedule here on her blog, […]

  • Lori
    Posted at 14:35h, 30 January Reply

    Now to share this with admin.

  • Please Stop the Morning Work – small steps
    Posted at 23:32h, 01 August Reply

    […] If you are thinking, How can I fit this into my day? do yourself a favor and read one of my favorite posts by Kristine Mraz: https://kinderconfidential.wordpress.com/2013/12/08/fitting-it-all-in/ […]

  • Heidi
    Posted at 12:54h, 10 August Reply

    Teaching for 30 years, only 6 of them full-time with children of my own, and I KNOW this but so needed to read it all expressed so authentically exactly today. Thanks.

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