August is the January – Beginning Anew

No, that’s not true. August is not the “new” January.  Rather,  August has been “January” for decades to me and countless others as the start of school gets underway.

There’s a difference this year, I’m not starting school nor starting something new in September. Yet the patterns of heart, mind, and body drive me to think and act as if I am starting something new.  For some, the calendar year-end signals a new beginning. For others, it’s the new dawn of spring. But for me, it’s as if the browning grass and abundant gardens simultaneously signal the ripening of the past year’s activity and time to prune away what no longer serves us.  So we can begin anew.

For over forty years, September meant the start of school for me as a student or teacher or both.  I remember the summer before Kindergarten when my mother left me at my grandmother’s and during the one phone call we had that week (remember, it was something like $0.89/minute for a long distance call and those were rare) she told me she made me new dresses and bought me a red mushroom umbrella.  After we hung up, I strode down the hall, imagining those new dresses, twirling that umbrella. It felt even better the following week when I pranced off to school wearing my “numbers dress” in the sunshine, umbrella serving as a walking stick to punctuate my enthusiasm for Kindergarten.


Continue reading “August is the January – Beginning Anew”

5 Ways to Wind Down in the Last 6 Weeks


Teachers familiar with the Responsive Classroom  book The First Six Weeks of School know if offers ways to build fabulous and solid foundation for the start of the school year.  But do you also know it’s just as important to wind down the last six weeks with similar intentions, focus and care?  Planning ahead for the social-emotional learning that happens at the end of the school year helps to successfully and positively wrap things up during the last six weeks of school.  It’s a time to celebrate, while continuing to foster and honor all that you’ve accomplished as a community of learners.   There are many great articles on the Responsive Classroom site  highlight  meaningful and authentic ways to give meaning and closure to the end of the year. (BONUS: A list of some of those  links has been curated and appears at the end of this post.)

Short on time or need inspiration? A cHere are 5 ways to reflect on the year as you wind down the last six weeks of school.


1.Share it! Weave reflection into Morning Meeting with a focused share topic such as:

  • “What was something challenging you did this year?”
  • “What was one way we demonstrated respect for each other?”
  • “What was something you thought would be challenging in fifth grade, but it turns out, you were really good at it?”
  • “What is one piece of advice you’d give next year’s fifth grade?”
  • Or, make it your activity with group charades of highlights from the year (see photo above)

2. Read and Write It! Provide writing and illustrating opportunities – make a class book, individual books or use ReadWriteThink’s Comic Creator to let kids tell their own story of the year, either for themselves or as a legacy to leave for the next class.

3. Get tech-y!  Draft a list of interview questions, with or without input from your students.  Interview each of them and record their response – either to share as a quick video or to transform with IMovie or other software.

4. Chart it!  If you haven’t been keeping a log of songs, energizers, and/or activities you’ve done as a class, do a shared writing to start that list, and then leave it up during Academic Choice, Quiet Time or Settling In for students to continue to add to this list.  You’ve probably got quite a repertoire!

5. Organize it!  Don’t forget to recruit kids to help take care of the class “stuff.”  Children can help organized books and supplies, leave instructions, make the next round of “opening soon” signs to begin to take down their own work to bring home. They can also write a note to a teacher who impacted them this year. Patricia Polacco’s Thank You Mr. Falker as a heart-warming and inspiring jumping off point for this activity.

Need more inspiration, check out Pinterest, a Twitter Chat from Responsive Classroom and a handful of blog posts:

Pinterest – Last Weeks of School

 Twitter Chat transcript – May, 19, 2014

 Ending the Year

Looking Ahead – 8 Tips for Successful Closure to the School Year

Reflecting on Your Teaching Year

The Hummingbird Comes with Poised Attention

Helping Students Maintain a Positive Mindset

A Focused Finish

Check back in a week to read how a fifth grade class revisited hopes and set some new goals for the summer and beyond.


Lisa Dewey Wells


Many Snowy Weeks, One Word Hopes and Dreams

A long, long time ago, we began the process of revisiting our hopes and dreams for the school year, but we were determined to forge ahead from Here We Go, 2014.

The practice of having students articulate their hopes and dreams for the school year one of the many  Responsive Classroom practices that helps children be known, feel safe and take academic risks.  It leads to a positive communities, effective classroom management and learners who love to come together to learn.  Ideally, these hopes and dreams become a living, breathing, evolving part of the classroom, which can continue shed benefits when revisited throughout the year.

Each  year, no matter what grade I teach, we revisit these hopes and dreams  in a similar ways.  The challenge for me is to carefully consider the grade I teach (notice how I bounce around from preschool to middle school and most grades in between?) and the particular culture and dynamics in any given class mid-year.  I was feeling the urge to try something different, as these fifth graders have come up through a program that uses Responsive Classroom school-wide.  For some, this would be the seventh consecutive year of having the rock-solid foundation of hopes and dreams and class guidelines as the building blocks for social and academic risk taking in an authentic and engaging community. As a humanities teacher, there is also that tenacious voice inside nudging me to integrate technology in meaningful ways, even if it flirts with the edge of my comfort zone. Continue reading “Many Snowy Weeks, One Word Hopes and Dreams”

Here We Go, 2014


January is typically the time of year for resolutions and starting over. We’ve all read the articles and blogs expounding on how lose weight, exercise more, read more, be more fully present, etc.   I hadn’t expected to write a follow up to Here We Go, 2011, but I did. As I began to gather my thoughts and energy for the return to school next week, I re-read that post and copies of the third graders who did the real work reflecting on hopes and dreams.   Go ahead, read the original post, Here We Go.

It served as a good reminder to me that this is  the time of year that lends itself to looking back on our fall hopes and dreams, as well as our class guidelines, in order to set our sights on what lies ahead.  LIke the Japanese tradition of Oshogatsu, or purifying one’s home (or classroom) for the upcoming year, it is a time to re-group and recommit.  While resolutions and promises may seem trendy, a bit of self-reflection and goals setting is a life skill. One of those “soft-skills” we need to make the time to model, teach, practice and celebrate.

As we transition back to our routines fresh from a two-week break, it will be important to remind ourselves of our guidelines and routines.   Of course, we’ll use the Responsive Classroom practices of positive teacher language, interactive modeling and lots of practice. It will be happening, not just in my humanities classroom, but throughout our school, preschool through eighth grade. I’ll peek down the hall at our sixth graders and spy on how much they’ve grown since January 2011 when they wrote the goals outlines in my last post on this topic.  I’m pretty certain it will make me smile.

But my real focus will be on my current fifth graders – helping them reflect on their hopes from September and then set some new goals for the remainder of the trimester and then the final trimester of the year. Need some guidance or encouragement to do dig in and invest the energy to do this with your students? Margaret Berry Wilson shares some beautiful read alouds in her post Revisiting Hopes and Dreams in the New Year.  Margaret also explains how  to Use Y Charts for Revisiting the Rules.  (Be sure to watch the video of Susie Gosh to see how she skillfully facilitates a third grade class discussion on this topic.) Both are inspiring and actionable, no matter what your experience with revisiting hopes and dreams mid-year.

I’m lucky to be in a school where this is a community-wide approach so this is a familiar January-jumping off point in for many of us. But sometimes I feel the urge to mix it up a bit, just to keep things fresh. I’ve got some tried-and-true read alouds and lessons I may use, or maybe I’ll branch out and try something new like One Word to describe our hopes and dreams. Thankfully, I’ve got a couple more snowy and chilly days to mull it over.

If you’re a teacher, how do you revisit hopes and dreams in January?  Consider posting a few ideas – or even your One Word – here. And enjoy the last few days of the holiday break!


Lisa Dewey Wells

Go Team! Thoughts on Parent-Teacher Conferences



Teaching and learning can be all-consuming.  It’s a team sport for sure!

This year is no different from previous years at my school nor from any other school.  The demands of teaching and learning are multi-layered for all involved. The upheaval in schedules takes time to adjust to and inevitably, by about week three, we settle into our groove only to be interrupted by illness, assemblies, fire drills, school pictures or something unexpected. But that’s part of the game – managing the exceptions.  By the end of September, family life may start to hit its stride as routines stabilize, or the reality of  intense schedules maybe be wearing people down.

As we approach the six-week mark, our getting-to-know-you activities and assessments are done (for this round), work habits have been practiced, and perhaps quizzes and tests have been completed.  Teachers are seeing work and relationships develop patterns and ways to nurture each child to acquire knowledge, ask questions and build social skills. Parents are figuring out what their roles are as homework coaches and bedtime managers.

Mid-October means a chance to connect with families to share observations, identify  strengths and growing edges and develop specific ways schools and families work as a team to support students. The timing of these fall parent teacher conferences  mindfully serves as a time to pause and reflect on what’s transpired, what lies ahead and to work on build the team that supports each student.  More importantly, it’s a time to celebrate the individual strengths and gifts of each learner and for the adults to share perspectives, observations and knowledge which will support students all year-long.

While it might seem obvious, both parents and teachers each bring knowledge and observations about children to the conference table, it may not feel so democratic or equitable. It’s essential that we listen to each other, without rushing in our minds (or even out of our mouths) the important  points we need to say.  Carol Davis does a fine job expressing “What Parents Wish Teachers Knew” as she speaks both a parent and a teacher.  Talking about difficult topics and behaviors can be even more daunting than just a touch-base kind of conference.  Margaret Wilson Berry shares strategies for tackling those prickly conversations in “Ever Feel Misunderstood?”   I shared my own thoughts a while back in the post  “6 Things Parents and Teachers Need to Remember About Parent Teacher Conferences.”

The bottom line is that all children are strong, capable and able to learn.  The challenge is for each of the adults to observe and listen to the child to determine how best to move them along the path of learning and growth.  That’s a mighty complex job that requires exquisitely coordinated team work from teachers, administrators, and parents.  This year, why not commit to your team do it’s best to support each student?


What’s your experience with parent conferences?  How do you communicate with your child’s teacher or with your students’ families?  I hope you’ll take a minute to share in the comments section.