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”

Jumping Back to School

james on elstners tramp 10 4 

Jump Back to School


The end of August signals the start of school and the transition to the next phase of life.  The flow of summer can come to a grinding halt or steady shift as we begin to find the new rhythm of the school year.  It can be stressful or challenging  or it can be exciting and invigorating. For most of us, it’s a mixed-bag as we mourn the loss of long summer days and anticipate the new growth that will soon emerge. It’s time to capitalize on the life lessons of embracing change, life-long learning, and the promise of a fresh start!

As with any ups and downs in life, learners of all ages benefit from the deliberate conversations and reflection. Careful planning (which hopefully you’ve begun) can ease that transition phase.  Consider the following shifts, which will help establish or maintain a new routine at home:

  • Shop for clothes and books now.  Label supplies unless they will be community supplies. Ditto for lunch box, backpack, and uniforms. Model how to use a permanent marker and enlist the help of your child. Make a few purchases now and then plan an outing once a few weeks have passed, especially for those who want to scope out their peers’ style!
  • Familiarize your child with school and the teacher. This might be a drive by or visit to school or a letter from or to a teacher. Check out the website together. Get together with new classmates or welcome a new family. Write notes to the teacher, especially if there’s something your child likes, has a fantastic idea for, or has a twinge of worry they can express with a sketch or short note.
  • Peruse cookbooks for new lunchbox options and/or dinner.  Take turns marking recipes with your child and spend some time the last few days baking and freezing goodies or trying new recipes.  While you’re at it, double up on some dinner you prepare this week to freeze, so you’ve got one less thing to do yourself during the busy first few weeks of school.
  • Decide with any parenting partners, the parameters for the school year routine. Keep it flexible, but consider transportation, homework locations/routines, TV/screen allowance (or the absence of), household responsibilities, and schedule down time as well as activities.  Be sure to leave your child and yourself some “unscheduled” time to wander, daydream or be spontaneous.
  • Chat about these changes and your hopes. Once you decide on the above, engage in a conversation with your child to glean his/her input.  Make a schedule together and post it where your child can see it.  Make short lists of the steps your child needs to follow to independently get ready for school, unpack at the end of the day, or get ready for bed.
  • Enjoy the lingering hours of day light after-school. Take a twilight walk or evening chats on the porch are still possible in many parts of the country this time of year, and remind us of long summer evenings.

For teachers, I can recommend no better way to help your students ease back into their new routines than with the deliberate pace and guidelines from the Responsive Classroom’s First Six Weeks.  Activities such as modeling routines and providing practice in the first few weeks, allow children to learn and internalize guidelines. Articulating hopes and dreams for the year  are essential to generate classroom rules. The gradual opening of classroom materials and engaging children to help organize parts of the room and yields a sense of ownership in the space they help create and maintain.  If you’re not already a follower, look at the Responsive Classroom website or find them on Facebook.

Whether at home or school, children need (and crave) boundaries and guidance from caring and observant adults. Observe yourself  – are you calm, anticipatory, and viewing the start of school as a new opportunity to face life’s challenges, share your own talents, and learn from others?  Muster your own excitement, examine any worries and put your best foot forward. Cultivate some gratitude for this moment and be fully present to send your child off ready to face the world. Your child will sense your growth mindset and benefit from your enthusiasm – and s/he be better prepared to take on the challenges and joys of the new school year!


Take care,


Lisa Dewey Wells

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

Finding the School Groove


In the itty-bitty world on virtual life, three internet readers wrote to me this week about the same post.   As Leroy Jethro Gibbs says, “I don’t believe in coincidences.” Neither do I in this case.  They wrote to me about an oldie but a goodie.

We’re all in the back to school frenzy, riding the wave of a long weekend and feeling like the next weekend is a long time a-coming.  But at my school, we’re  on day six. That’s less than fifty hours of school. No wonder the new routines and schedule feel new.

It takes time to settle in to a routine.

And practice.

And patience.

And stamina.

And a sense of humor.

And good fuel in the form of food and water.

And ice cream.

And rest.

And exercise.

And rest.

I don’t see it as coincidence that three readers stumbled upon my post Stretching into the First Six Weeks of School   (originally published on a sixth day of school – coincidence again?) We’re all feeling it right about now and we’ll continue feeling it for a few more weeks. Routines will settle, connections will be forged and a community of learners will take shape.  Rome wasn’t built in a day, nor six.  Believe me, it takes about 30 school days to really find that groove in your own little Rome.

That groovy path to a classroom community takes a lot of energy and compassion, even from those who are not directly marching on that road. It’s not smooth nor can any of us clear all the rough patches for each other, especially our little folks.  Hopefully, school is fun and engaging, but it should also be challenging.  It’s in the difficult  places that we grow.  Our kids will grow if and when we allow them the space to feel a bit uncomfortable.  Then they’ll develop the skills to work themselves out of the bumps so they sail through the smooth patches and have skills for the next bump.  Besides, who wants to be a snowplow parent anyway?

Help your child face the minor bumps of the first days with a sense of purpose and determination.  Remind them it takes time and that it gets easier. Be the coach and cheerleader.  Help them find home routines for school work and relaxation.  Point out what is working and where you see growth. And make time to just have some fun. Oh, and be sure to follow an age-appropriate bedtime routine so their brains can consolidate learning and be prepared for more learning and growth.

Next thing you know, it’ll be Halloween and the start of school will seem like ages ago. We’ll get our groove, you’ll see.  Enjoy the ride – bumps and joys all the same!

School Year Launched – Rocks and Hopes Build Community


Woo-hoo! Day One begins tomorrow at my school! It’s a time filled with anticipation and enjoy, as well as a bit of untethered energy.  Capture and channel that energy by building community but also with a careful eye on your long and short-term goals – your rock and hopes.
Short term, the primary goals are to build a sense of belonging and significance, while learning routines and having some fun.  Long term, that’s a more complicated story, but you have the whole year to dive into content. Start off slow, getting to know each other and what aspirations each person, as well as the community, hold.  And don’t forget to play outside. Invest in some time playing games, learning names,  having fun.  Remember, it’s often a physically exhausting transition back to school and some exercise and fresh air might be what your group needs to make it through the long school day.

With an understanding of child development and the mission of your school, you should be able to articulate your own philosophy, ideas and hopes for the school year. If you haven’t  already sat down to ponder these long-range plans, they step away from your device, go for a walk or sit in silence for a bit and do so. (I’ll wait while you ponder.)

  • What kind of environment to you see?
  • What time of relationships do you hope these students develop? what skills will they need to do the work?
  • How will this work evolve?
  • How will your tribe communicate?
  • How will they be supported and nourished?
  • How will YOU be supported and nourished?
  • How will you and your students know you are making progress along this path?

Once you have this vision, write yourself some specific, actionable goals.  Remember the old rocks/sand story (don’t know it? Click here if you don’t.) Consider writing down a  few “rocks” or big picture goals you want to achieve each week. Be sure these are realistic and manageable.   All the other “stuff” in life can then fit in around these priorities.  As teachers, that jar often gets shaken up a bit, but keep those big rock in place. I was skeptical of this process at first, being one of those type-A, over-planning, overly zealous kind of folks. But I learned it’s far more satisfying to prioritize and celebrate what gets done – and somehow along the way, the other “stuff” that really matters slips in and is an added bonus.

In the first week or so of school, perhaps some of your “big rocks” might be:

  • I will know each students’ name and two significant facts or interest about them by day 10.
  • I will contact each family to introduce myself by day 7.
  • I will plan an activity I enjoy for the sake of enjoyment during the first weekend to celebrate my efforts.

Then consider your hopes for the class.  Be realistic, but raise the bar.  If you use the Responsive Classroom approach, you know that building a positive community, providing engaging academics and effective management  mean deep and authentic learning are  possible.  Articulate your hopes and then engage your class in doing the same individually.  I’ve written before on in Easing Back into the Next Chapter and Babs Freeman-Loftis writes eloquently about similar themes in Teachers’ Hopes and Goals.This process can really cement your class community and will provide a frame-work for your guidelines and community. To read more, check out “Our Hopes and Dreams School.”

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All the best for a fantastic start to the school year!


Lisa Dewey Wells