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I received an email recently (I love receiving emails from teachers who read my blog!) asking me a really interesting question…
Do you do workshop all year?
I immediately yelled (in my mind) NO! In this moment, it occurred to me that my website definitely gives the impression that all I do is teach workshop. I am more than an English teacher who uses workshop.
Visitors to my website might assume all I teach is reading and writing workshop ALL YEAR long, but this isn’t the case. I’m a real teacher, I teach real students and because of this my passions and my students’ passions become infused into how we spend our time together.
In this article I want to focus on three subjects that I’m just as passionate about as teaching workshop. I hope that maybe you gain some insight into how you can integrate these subjects or others into your classroom too.
The three subjects are: community building, meditation and digital literacy.
I want my classroom to be a haven for kids. I want it to be a place they can be themselves, a place they feel heard, a place they feel respected and cared about. In order to do this I have to put academics aside for community building, not just at the beginning of the year, but all year long.
Creating a Class Contract
In the beginning of the year all my classes create a class contract. This is a multi-day process that involves students from all my classes writing on a poster things they need to be successful in English class this year.
Then, I take all that they wrote and condense it by putting repeated topics together into one long list. The next day we look at the list, clarify things and talk about what can be added. I ask questions like, what can I do to support you in being happy and successful this year? What can your classmates do? What can you do?
Warm and Fuzzy Wednesdays
While in this process one of my students brought up something called “Warm and Fuzzy Wednesdays” that they had done in a class the year before. I wanted to know more. Multiple students from multiple classes were ecstatic to tell me more. They talked fast and their eyes got huge!
I knew I had to make this happen this year for them, since it was one of their favorite things they’d ever been a part of in their school careers.
So, what is “Warm and Fuzzy Wednesdays”? It is a day dedicated to community building. Here are some of the activities my class participates in on “Warm and Fuzzy Wednesdays”:
I usually Google “community building games” on Tuesday and we play a few games I found. My favorite place to get games is this website: Drama Games for Kids. Sometimes I ask my students about games they enjoy playing. They usually have some really great ideas! They’ve told me they love playing cards, board games and a game called Mafia. Other times they ask me if they can just play Fortnight, and I say no.
I really don’t like letting students play games on their phone because, in my opinion, that doesn’t really build community.
Sometimes I let students bring blankets and they build forts and read under them! They love it! There are rules of course…no phones or laptops under the forts and no silly business.
Students have fun building the forts and then afterward are expected to actually read under them. While students read, I make rounds checking in on everyone to make sure they are actually reading and not getting into mischief.
I move desks out of the way and students sit in a circle. Sometimes we pass around an object to speak, other times we raise our hands. I ask questions like, how are you doing, what is stressing you out right now or what is your favorite T.V. show. Sometimes we get deep, sometimes we get silly, it all depends on how students are feeling.
On some Wednesdays we just color. I let students know ahead of time that they can bring their markers/calligraphy pens/coloring books and we just color. Students love printed coloring pages from the internet too. Just Google, “coloring pages”, you’ll get lots of results.
I recently ran into the teacher who started “Warm and Fuzzy Wednesdays” at the grocery store. She had moved on to another school, so I was so excited to see her and tell her how much her students loved “Warm and Fuzzy Wednesdays”. She was really happy to hear it.
I’m an anxious, neurotic person. I’ve been this way all my life. I’ve always felt I needed to be doing something ALL. THE. TIME. I have a very hard time just relaxing.
A lot of good has come from this personality trait. I always had all As in school because I poured myself into everything I did. This website and my business are doing well because I make time to work on it every day (along with having a full time job and a kid). My house and classroom are always clean and tidy. After reading The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up they are more so!
But, being this way also has downsides. I frequently have back and neck pain and sometimes at the end of the day I eat a whole lot of junk food to cope. I also get angry and resentful towards the people I care most about.
About a two years ago at a staff meeting I was introduced to meditation. At the time I was resentful. I thought, why are we wasting time meditating during a staff meeting? I could be getting so much done right now. We listened to an app called HeadSpace to guide us.
At the end of ten minutes, I experienced a calm I’d never really experienced before and I realized there could be a lot of value in spending time doing this.
I didn’t get into it right away. I tried it on and off over the course of a few months but eventually began a daily meditation routine.
Soon, I began to realize my stressed out students could benefit from this too. I started dedicating Fridays to HeadSpace and at the end of the year I had a handful of students thank me for introducing them to meditation. I’ve even had students come back after moving onto high school and tell me they still meditate because of those Fridays!
The reason meditation has been so impactful in my life is not because of the act of meditation. I am a different, more calm person all day long. I’m more easily able to step outside of myself and think before acting. I can cope with stress or not being able to sleep by reverting to my breath.
I think giving students this special ability is so incredibly important. What other teacher is going to give students this gift? I’m not sure, so I go for it.
Also, it’s a great activity for students who finish something early!
We are living in an insane time. When I was 13 I have this vivid memory of dial up internet, chatrooms and later as a senior in high school this new and expensive thing called an iPhone. I’m 36 by the way.
When I first started teaching 12 years ago, I was lucky to have one computer in my classroom.
Today, about 80% of middle schoolers have cell phones, I have a Chromebook cart in my classroom and rely heavily on Google Classroom. Students have their own YouTube channels, spend a whole lot of time on social media and texting their friends.
It is so critical that we talk to our students about their behavior online. We are important role models. I tell my students about my website and YouTube channel and I’m honest about my own struggle to put my media down, get outside and spend quality time with my family.
I think this topic is so important that I wrote a unit to support positive social media use. Click the image to learn more about this unit:
I want my students to fully understand that their actions online have tremendous impact on their lives and the lives of other people. This unit is my answer.
Here are some other free resources to teach digital literacy.
I love my job. I love teaching reading and writing and the fact that there is this amazing system called workshop that I can always rely on.
But, I also know that my students are people. They have interests and lives outside of school. Writing and reading are not always their top priority and they are not always mine.
I am a teacher with many goals for the school year. Helping my students develop into thoughtful, caring and aware human beings is definitely top on my list of priorities as an educator each year. I hope that this post has inspired you to begin sharing your passions with your students too. So tell me, what else do you teach besides reading and writing?