Feel Good Friday: Humans of New York

Hey everyone,

Just a quick post today about a Humans of New York (HONY) story that’s been making waves this week.  HONY, created by photographer, Brandon Stanton, aims to capture the portraits and stories of the unique individuals who live and work and gallivant in New York.  This simple, yet astoundingly beautiful, act of art has generated a huge following on social media since its inception in 2010.  Earlier this week Brandon photographed a young boy who shared a story about his personal champion, his principal, Ms. Lopez.  This is what the boy said:


“Who’s influenced you the most in your life?”
“My principal, Ms. Lopez.”
“How has she influenced you?”
“When we get in trouble, she doesn’t suspend us. She calls us to her office and explains to us how society was built down around us. And she tells us that each time somebody fails out of school, a new jail cell gets built. And one time she made every student stand up, one at a time, and she told each one of us that we matter.” source

Naturally, as an educator who aims to be just like Ms. Lopez, I cried when I saw this HONY post.  This post had the most incredible reaction from Facebook followers and many people asked how they could help the boy’s school.  Fast forward to today…

Brandon (HONY photographer) managed to track down the real Ms. Lopez and he ended up in a series of meetings with her.  In only five days Brandon, Ms. Lopez and a team of other individuals have managed to raise over $350,000 for the school, Mott Hall Bridges Academy.

Can we all just stop for a minute here and send some gratitude to the young man who was brave enough to share his story with Brandon.  Because of that boy’s shared story, his school now has the ability to achieve some serious goals and create some phenomenal projects in the months to come!  I absolutely adore this story.  Three cheers for Ms. Lopez, Brandon and the students at Mott Hall Bridges Academy – way to be the change!

I bought our own versions of Humans of New York for Christmas this year.

I bought our own versions of Humans of New York for Christmas 2014.


Communication in the Classroom

This post is about classroom communication and how we as teachers help facilitate communication with and amongst our students.  As you probably know, we both have experience in learning a second language.  Our experiences as second language learners has enabled us as teachers to better connect with our ELL students.   In this post we are going to share some strategies and tools that have been useful in our teaching practice(s) when it comes to creating a comfortable language learning environment for all students.  We have found these particular communication tools to be beneficial, not only for ELL students, but for every student in the classroom.
AB partner talk (Meaghan)
This strategy is a commonly used one that I have found to be a great tool across the curriculum. I keep a list of the partners on the board, this year using magnets, in the past I have just written them up. For AB partner talks, each student is either person A or person B and they will get a turn both talking and listening. When we do partner talks I always start with a talking stem on the board so they have something to turn to if they are feeling unsure. We also often use the Coaching Cards from Smart Learning to help guide the conversations.
Some examples of talking stems I have used:
“Over the break, I…”
“My prediction for this story is…”
“The strategy I used for question 2 was…”
Communication Calendars (Karley)
CommunicationCalendar-page-001Communication calendars were introduced to me last year by a friend of mine who also happens to be an admirable administrator in our school district.  I was feeling like I wasn’t having enough time to connect with each student in my class on a daily basis; I mentioned this to my friend and she suggested to try communication calendars.  Essentially the communication calendar is a piece of paper with a teacher writing space and student writing space.  Every morning I placed the calendars on my grade 8 students’ desks and as they filtered into the classroom they used the first few minutes of the day to write a little note to me.  Sometimes the students wrote about their extra curricular activities, sometimes they asked homework questions and occasionally they confided personal struggles.  I collected the communication calendars before our first block began and I responded to every student with a short reply each evening so that the next morning the written conversation could continue.  While some of my students groaned about having to write communication calendars, most of them really actually enjoyed the process because of the few moments of connection we had each day.  You can find a free template of a basic communication calendar on our Teachers Pay Teachers site HERENote: Sometimes we took breaks from the calendars when our days got really busy.  I found taking a few weeks off from communication calendars every now and then helped keep the process exciting and the communication genuine. 
Shared reading (Meaghan)
While we were doing a novel study this year, my class read the chapters in one of four ways: teacher read aloud, popcorn style, small group reading, or individual reading. One day I wanted to switch it up and I had students do shared reading with their partner instead. Each student read a page aloud to their partner and then they would switch. For my class, this method was absolutely the best. My ELL students were more comfortable and confident reading to one student instead of a group, especially with the buzz of everyone reading aloud. I was also able to walk around and listen to the students read aloud and hear how they coached each other through different phrases and words.
2×10 (Karley)
I learned of this communication strategy at the 2014 Heart-Mind Conference, hosted by the Dalai Lama Centre at UBC in Vancouver, BC.  This strategy is a teacher-student “check in” type of communication tool where the teacher initiates communication with one particular student for two minutes every day for ten consecutive days.  I started using the 2×10 concept in my classroom last year after learning about it at the Heart-Mind Conference.  I was losing connection with one of my more vulnerable students so I used 2×10 to try and re-establish a conversation with him.  This strategy worked wonders for me as a teacher of this particular student; after only a few days I no longer had to be the conversation starter because my student began to feel that I was genuinely interested in our daily “check ins” (and I was!)  I ended up learning more about football through the 2×10 strategy than I could have ever learned on my own!  I feel this strategy would be extremely useful with ELL students because of the secure, yet informal, nature of the conversation, which is only between teacher and student.  I think it’s pretty incredible what a teacher can learn from a student in a two minute daily check in!
Thank you to Smartling for having us think about our communication practices in the classroom. Fellow educators, let us know of your favourite “communication in the classroom” tools by sharing in our comments section.

And We’re Back!

Happy New Year! I hope that you all had a wonderful holiday season with family and friends. This is the first time I’ve headed into a full time job after the winter break and I am so excited! I feel so lucky that I get to stay with the same kids I’ve been with since September and now I have a fun space to play with and make my own. So while most teacher bloggers do a classroom tour post in September, I’m going to do one for you right now! I am really fortunate that the teacher I’m in for already has a beautiful, well kept classroom space with TONS of books and resources. But here are a few pictures of some of the things I have added to the room over the break.

Chalkboards with Style

IMG_3384First off, yes good old fashioned chalkboards… I know. I spent a good amount of time planning and prepping my chalkboard at the side of the room – I really wanted to make good use of the display space! I have an attendance board with name magnets, homework board, class jobs, weekly goals, a large calendar by my desk, a spot for my anchor charts to hang, and open chalkboard space to put up the groups for French and Math centres. I used chalk markers for the coloured lines so they come off with water but can’t rub off – a lifesaver when you have students who love to touch everything you write up on the board!

I saw the large calendar in a co-workers classroom last year and have used it ever since! I love how organized it keeps me and the students really like it too. It’s great for field trips, early dismissal days, etc.

Best comment of the day came after school, “I really like what you’ve done with the boards. I actually read everything on them now.”


IMG_3382In our middle schools we have Advisory time at the beginning of the day. The length of this time depends on the school that you are at but ours is about 15 minutes. I always want to use this time wisely but often get caught up in attendance, announcements, etc. and forget to get anything started. This term, I’m bringing in some of the activities I’ve done in the past and I really hope they become more like routines the kids can do on their own. Today we started with our SMART goals – I went over the system and we set a long term goal and then our first of the weekly short term goals. Each student writes a goal on a sticky note and places it on the board. We will do a reflection piece for each goal later too. I will share my Advisory activities sometime soon!

The “Best” Desk Arrangement for Middle School

I can’t remember where I found this (probably somewhere on Pinterest…) but someone called this desk arrangement the best for middle school…


I am giving it a try and so far so good! I really like how students are sitting in groups but no one has their back to the board. The idea of it is that I can pull up a chair in the middle of the “L” and have a small group meeting or the desks can easily be flipped into a standard pod for group work. It feels like a bit of a maze in the room with 30 desks (though I think it would be better with desks that have separate chairs), but when the students are sitting in the desks I am really happy with the arrangement.

What is the best desk arrangement in your room?

Any other good ways to use those chalkboards?