Episode 50: Elevate Your Classroom!: 5 Powerful Moves for a Strong Start

podcast Aug 09, 2023

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Welcome to Teaching la vida loca, a podcast for World Language Teachers seeking inspiration, unapologetic authenticity, and guidance in centering joy, and facilitating language acquisition for the people who matter most. our students, I'm your host, Annabelle. Most people call me la maestra loca. And I'm an educator just like you and inspiring teachers is what I do. Hey, it is podcast number 50. Number five, zero. For teaching la vida loca, I am so excited. And I really was like, I wonder what I'm going to do. I'm going to, like show planned something big, like, let's be real. I haven't planned any of them. None of these episodes have been scripted, I will be honest, this is one of maybe like five where I've written five bullet points with two to three words per bullet point to guide me. But I really don't ever script these, I need you to know that. So, it's always off the cusp. And I think that that's really important. That's how I function during workshops. It's how I function during class. And it's what makes most sense for my brain. And hopefully, you have enjoyed listening thus far. If you have, send this episode to somebody who might need to hear it. JK, you haven't even heard it. So, how could you know if somebody else needs to hear it? I promise you, somebody else is gonna need to hear this episode. So, let's dive in. I am going to be talking to you right now about some reflections on my first week back with students. I just finished day four with students. I'm recording this, I just put Memphis down to bed. I have been a single parent for a while Paul is out of town. And very grateful for our partnership normally because things have been way more challenging without him. But I reflected on this week and reflected to some things that students shared in my learning lab this summer at CI Summit. There were maybe 40 People that last day in the lab at the Learning Lab who got to hear the students debrief their reflections on the learning lab time, on their time with me that week. In a learning lab situation, typically you have never met these students, I had never met these kids before in my life. There was supposed to be 18 of them total, I think there ended up being 14 maybe. And the last day, the last 10 minutes I had them turn around face the audience. And the audience got to ask them questions, and I specifically prefaced it with close your eyes, raise your hand if you feel comfortable answering questions. Those are the people that you should steer your questions to adults. So, just to create a safe space. But the kids were encouraged to answer questions based on their experience over the week in my class. And it really helped me reflect on things that I don't even realize I'm doing. But that kids specifically named were important, impactful, and imperative for them to feel seen, heard, loved, cared for, and empowered in the space, but also supported to start like exploring, and risk taking in Spanish or opening their minds to learning about other cultures and other peoples in the classroom. And so it made me really realize like, Oh, these are things I'm already doing. And I need to even be more intentional about as I started this new school year with my real students. Not that those weren't real students, but my students that I'm going to be teaching all year. So, that's what this episode is about. And I'm going to give you five different tips to try and keep this episode short. But I'll be honest, we currently have zero AC in our house, and I am recording from my little office space because we have a new, we have a new house. I have an office, but it's freaking hot right now. So full disclosure recording from this 95-degree office, so it's hot.


Okay, my first one, have high expectations. I think so many teachers go in and say well, I want kids to like me right away. So, I'm just going to be kind and kind, sure, be kind. Yeah, that's in fact, directly related to my second tip for you. But more than be kind, have consistent high expectations for yourself and for them. If you have consistent high expectations, they know exactly what you want, and that you're going to expect it every single time and you will wait patiently until you get that, I also think a whole bunch of teachers go in and they're like, I am going to be so strict right away, there is no need for them to like me, because I just need to them to know that I have high expectations. And that's that, I think that they can be balanced, I think you can have both. I think that you can have consistent high expectations and still have kids like you. But also know that you're unwavering in those consistent high expectations. In fact, today, day four, I had a hard conversation with some kids, and literally put my whiteboard down that I was writing on, and said, I'll wait. And that was after however many reminders I had given them of those expectations. And it was three people still not meeting those. Then I said, y'all are about to be in middle school. You're in fifth grade. Now. I need you to step it up, you know, the expectations. I am confident you can meet them. I talked to you last year, I haven't taught you let you seem like an awesome kid. I've had good conversations with you already. I know you can meet this expectation, and I'll wait until you're there. And it was awkward. It was awkward silence, but way more awkward for them than for me. So, I waited, and then they met it. And then the second somebody did something awesome. Which was only a few seconds later, a minute later, they answered a question, I praise the heck out of them, gave them a high five, give us some community class points and moved on. Because they know that I'm going to acknowledge them and celebrate them for every awesome thing they do in my class. But I also have expectations that need to be met for us to succeed as a community. So, I have consistent high expectations.


Now, tip number two is to smile. I can't say enough about smiling, smiling is showing kindness. One of my favorite quotes is by Max Eastman. And he said, "A smile is the universal welcome". And I think that's really powerful. In fact, during the debrief where kids from CI summit were talking about, I think the question was What did Maestro do to make you feel less nervous, to make you feel more confident at the start of class? And one little girl said she was kind. And then somebody else said, well, how did you know Maestro was kind? And she said, because she smiled, smiles are like warmth, smiles or sunshine smiles are assuring to people. And now there's obviously some creepy smiles too. And if you're, your tummy gets a little creeped out by somebody smiling at you listen to those. Obviously, kids have those instincts, too. But smile, let them know that this space that they're walking into is a welcoming one where you're just happy to see them. Right? I mentioned that in my last episode, which happened to be my favorite episode I've ever recorded. If you didn't listen to episode 49, go ahead and hit that back button. But after this episode, listen to this one first. And then go back and listen to that one.


The next one is to get students involved in norming your class. If you have been following me for the last four years, and you haven't seen this yet, I think you're hiding under a rock. And in fact, the last eight years because the first time I started talking about how I did this, no, it wasn't eight years ago, I lie. It was six years ago though, six years ago, I started talking about how I norm my classes with my students. It was never something I used to do. I always had three rules that I wanted for Spanish class. And those were the end all be all and they were overarching and all-encompassing and fire and I loved them. But I didn't understand how powerful it could be to step down from this role of honestly, power and leadership like authority, ew and let the students create the norms with me, to feel that they are truly invested in the classroom community that I want to create, and that I want them to be a part of, but it takes involving them in the creation of those norms, so that they feel invested in them and committed to them. They must come up with them themselves. If you're like oh my god, yeah, that makes so much sense. Yes, absolutely. And you want a resource for how to do this. I have it. It's already made. It's free. In fact, some of you probably download it last year or the year before or the year before or the year before. I'm using that same one. If you did this last year with your students, you do the same exact process again. I did this exact same process four years in a row in my old school. Kids didn't hate it. They in fact knew it better and norms got better every year. If you teach seven classes, I teach seven glasses, if you teach 18 classes still do this process, you can do it in a way to honor every single voice and still come up with one set of norms. It just takes a little time. I started the process yesterday, we continued the process today, we're finally finalizing the process tomorrow. I teach classes 45 minutes a day. So just to give you an idea, you can really stretch it out. In that whole process, and if you want that resource, it's linked in the in the show notes. But like, I, I cannot stress to you the importance of that, because then you have written because I also do a class contract part, which I'll also link in the show notes. So you can read a blog about it. But I have them displayed in my classroom. So that anytime we are struggling to meet expectations, and maybe it's just a couple of people, all I have to do is walk over and touch a norm. That's all I have to do. And pause and look around. Until I know that I have everybody's attention, and they're paying attention to the one thing that we need to step up on. Because they created those. They establish those community norms. I'll link those resources for you.

#4 Brain Break!

But directly related to that is getting kids up and moving for. Brain Break! My favorite back to school brain break is the name game. And I think it's one of the five best back to school brain breaks. I mentioned in my podcast episode from last year, which I will also link in the show notes. That episode, I can't remember what number it was. And I didn't write it down in my little sticky note. But it was five brain breaks for back to school. So, the name game is awesome. And you get kids in a circle. If you have bigger class sizes, you want to do two or three circles, you want your circles to be like between eight and 12 people, maybe 13. And you have a plushie or a stuffy or something to throw. And you start with it and you toss it to one student and you say their name. And then you put your hands on your shoulders like this. And then they pass it to another student saying their name. And then they put their hands on their shoulders because they already had it until everybody in the circle has had it. So, the last person who receives it, every single person in the circle should have their hands crossed, like their hands on their shoulders, arms crossed, and they toss it back to you because you were the person who started it, and they say your name. And then you repeat that pattern, that exact same pattern. To help students not only do I do the arms crossing, touch your shoulders, but I also before we start the second round of repetition, I say point to the person you're going to throw to say their name. That way, if there's any confusion, we figure it out right then and there. People know who they caught it from or who they throw it to. And we catch that confusion right there. And then you repeat the pattern. Once they've done that pattern another time and it's a little bit faster started again. But this time throw in a second stuffy after you pass it and you, they pass it to two more people throw in a second animal, and then a third, and then a fourth. And so, you have like 3456 animals in a rotation. The most we've ever had is eight animals in a circle of nine. And that was with my eighth graders a few years ago that were just like, incredible. And on it. The most we've gotten the last few days was five in a class of my class sizes are average of 22 this year, and we had five plushies in a circle of 10 which was impressive. But yes, try the name game and then go check out that podcast for some other great brain breaks to start the year or do my 10 Day brain break challenge. I'm gonna link so many things in the show notes y'all. Yeah!


If you do that brain break? Let me know how it goes. And that's number four. Now the fifth and final thing is to remember that communication is the goal. The goal is communication. So, if your students are speaking a lot of English, let them if they're on topic, and if you are speaking in Spanish and they're showing they understand you by responding in English, accept that for now, because the Spanish is going to come. And if what we're doing is like shutting down their responses. All that's doing is saying no, you know, I don't, I don't want that. I don't want that I don't want that part of you in my classroom. That's how they communicate. So, communication is the goal, comprehension is goal if they are responding to in English, because they're excited, and they understand what you're saying, take that, and then foster the communication of Spanish, or French, or German, or whatever you teach later, because that'll come. But they must first know that you'll accept them as they are communicating as they are to get there. Now, disclaimer, I don't even start full into Spanish until next week, probably midweek. So, I'm having a full like 10 days of partial Spanish, I would say my class today with the norming was like 20%, Spanish 80% English. But I know once I'm in, I'm all in, I'm all in. I'm like 95-98% Spanish, does that mean everybody else's? No, it takes them some time to get there. But I work hard to foster a classroom community that loves risk taking. I have a three-part podcast episode; I love having so many podcast episodes to reference. But I have a three-part podcast episode series on fostering that like environment that you can listen to, but I know that they're gonna get there. What I care more about is that they're eager to participate. And I'm going to leave you with the words of a very wise and incredibly special kiddo, who I taught at the CI summit this is gonna make me emotional. This Buddy was, struggled with sitting still, but he was so with me the whole time. And he was so passionate, and so excited about learning. But my goodness, he couldn't stay in that seat for more than 20 seconds. And during the debriefs, every day, people would ask how I could possibly have the patience to do that. They were so admiring me for having the patience to deal with this child. And all I could think is I felt certain that if they were the teachers teaching, that they would have the patience and the empathy. Because we kind of must, because we don't know, I don't know who this kid is, I don't even know, I don't know if they have an IEP, whether accommodations would be because that's not things I get to know as a learning lab teacher. But I do know that this kid is sitting in front of me, passionate and all in for what I'm doing. And if I'm going to shut him down for being joyful, and enthusiastic in my space, what am I doing? So, his reflection was the most powerful of all of them at the CI Summit. Sorry. When they asked him, what maestra did to make him feel more comfortable and not nervous, he said, she used a calm and gentle voice when we did something wrong. And I corrected him. I said, you didn't do anything wrong. None of you did. I said, You're an amazing kiddo. He said I am. And this was a kid who all week made it very evident, that he is constantly shut down, for moving, for wiggling, for showing the immense joy that he has. And if we're not showing patience, and positivity and patience, and calm, repetitive, I know you can meet these expectations. We've got this, I love your energy. I love your excitement. I love your passion with every kid. Then we're communicating a message that they cannot be their full selves in our classroom. So, we must be super careful. And I know it's hard God, it's so hard in that language lab so many times to not like, pull my hair out. But ultimately, I knew that he was excited to be in that space. And he and I had a moment after everybody was gone, and a few people saw it and it was captured on camera too, and I'll treasure it forever. But he was able to tell me that it was the best teacher he ever had. Because I didn't get mad at him for moving because I let him be his full self So, keep in mind, you never know who's in your class and you never know what they might be dealing with on the outside. And it's important to honor, accept, and celebrate them for their full selves and everything they bring to our classroom space. Even when it's hard to have that patience and use your calm and gentle voice. Okay, I love you, teacher. I'm so grateful for you. Send this to somebody who you think might need it. And don't forget. I am here to support you, to sell celebrate your wins, to support you in your frustrations and I'm so so grateful that you are listening to teaching la vida loca. Until next time, keep summering or good luck with back to school and I'll be teaching la vida loca. Soon you will be too. Take care.

Thank You! 

Hello, hi. Hi. Hi. Remember how I said could you send this to somebody who you think might need it? Well, now you know, it was a phenomenal episode. So go ahead and send this along. Send the little dinky thing to a friend who might need to hear this right now. They're headed back to school, and then even better. Go and snap a pic or take a screenshot posted on your social media. Even better. If you want to be like the superstar student. Go and leave me a review on Apple podcasts. And I'll be able to shout you out in one of my next episodes. I would love that so much. Okay, love you. Bye bye.

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