Creativity Thursdays

A few weeks ago, I asked my students:

“Do schools kill creativity?” 

It was interesting to hear their different perspectives on the topic. Then together we watched Sir Ken Robinson’s famous Ted Talk on the matter and specifically analyzed this quote:

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So we decided to calculate how much class time is dedicated to the development of literacy skills, and match that amount of time for the development of creativity skills. We discovered that 1/5 of our time should be dedicated to creative pursuits – in the form of Creativity Thursdays.

Before jumping in with both feet, we took some time to unpack the concept of creativity. What it is? What are the different forms? What is it connected to?  Then we put together a menu of creative endeavours that students could choose from each week:

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The day before our first “Creativity Thursday” the students were abuzz with excitement! Trying to decide what to do… who to do it with… how long it would take… the materials they would need…. it was amazing to watch! There was so much thinking, planning and – well – creativity, even before the actual day started!

For the first few weeks I decided my role would be to “look for learning”. I wanted to walk around and document evidence of learning that was happening through their creative endeavours. What I noticed was amazing! Not only were students developing their Learner Profile attributes, PYP attitudes and ATL skills, but there was also rich, authentic engagement with literacy, math, humanities and science!

Here is what I saw:

Learner Profile

Students were being caring, thinkers, reflective and risk-takers.

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Attitudes

Students were showing appreciation, enthusiasm, creativity, confidence, commitment, curiosity and independence.

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ATL Skills

Students were making group decisions, accepting different roles, cooperating and resolving conflicts. (social skills)

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Students were develop gross and fine motor skills and practicing safe and informed choices. (self-management skills)

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Students were listening, speaking, presenting, viewing, reading and writing. (communication skills)

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Students were asking questions, planning, observing, recording data and interpreting findings. (research skills)

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Math

Students were exploring the exchange of money.

img_0990Students were experimenting with lines and angles.

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Students were engaging with measurement.

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Students were playing with patterns.

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Students were manipulating shapes and spaces.

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Literacy
Students were writing for authentic purposes.

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Students were writing for creative purposes.

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Students were consuming texts.

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Science

Students were exploring states of liquids and solids.

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Students were observing the processes of boiling and evaporation.

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Students were inquiring into chemical reactions.

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Students were playing with properties of movement and motion.

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Humanities

Students were reflecting on and changing their choices of materials and processes to minimize their impact on the environment.

From using new paper to protect a space, to using already-used paper…

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From using tissue to tidy up a mess, to using a reusable cloth…

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From buying new things to use, to repurposing things we already have…

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From using disposable wipes to wash hands, to using soap and water…

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From pouring out water when the bottle is needed, to moving it to another container…

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Reflections…

To make sure that the connections weren’t only explicit to me, at the end of the day students reflected on the learning that was happening.

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I’m glad Creativity Thursdays have turned out to be such a success! And although I try to allow for and encourage creativity in all of the regular learning that we do, I think it is important to carve out some protected time purely for the development of student’s creativity as well.

… especially when doing so seems to lead to so much thinking, wondering, imagining, exploring and discovering! 

A Recipe for Successful Three-Way Conferences

This year, three-way conferences went really well! Upon reflection, I believe there were a few specific reasons as to why.

1. Conferences came before reports

For the first time, my school decided to have three-way conferences before sending home written reports. This was an amazing adjustment to the typical school calendar! It allowed for the conversations during three-way conferences to be exclusively focused on learning, as opposed to grades.

2. Parents knew the purpose and expectations

The week leading up to conferences I made sure to include information about both the purpose and structure of three-way conferences on our class blog. In the post I explained how conferences were going to work and I also included a screenshot about three-way conferences from Making the PYP Happen.

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3. Students knew the purpose and expectations

I also shared the information about conferences from Making the PYP Happen with students. We read it together and picked out the parts we thought were important. I also explained to them the structure we were going to use and provided time for them to practice it with a partner.

4. An open-ended, learning focused structure

This year I tried a different approach to the structure of the actual conferences. I wanted a structure that guided the conversations, but was open enough to allow for reflection and discussion from all three perspectives (student, parent and teacher). Yet at the same time I wanted to ensure the short time we had together was not bogged down with writing. So I decided to use the “Stars and Wishes” structure which would guide reflective conversations about what the student had done well and also areas for growth and improvement.

I printed out and laminated a placemat


and I printed out and laminated little cards that contained both how we had been learning and what we had been learning.


I organized the cards into smaller categories:

  1. IB Learner Profile, PYP Attitudes and ATL skills that we had been working on
  2. Flexile seating, planning their own, choosing where they learn, choosing who they learn with
  3. UOI concepts
  4. Literacy Skills
  5. Math Skills


During the actual conference we followed the same three-step process for every group of cards. First, the student took the cards and sorted them into stars and wishes based on whether they felt it was something they had done well, or something they wanted to get better at. After they had laid out the cards for that group, they explained the reasoning behind their placements.


Second, parents were invited to either agree with their child’s placement or make changes based on what they had seen or heard at home. If the parents made any changes, they were invited to share their perspective about their child’s learning.


Finally, I as the teacher, was able to make any changes and share my perspective about the student’s learning based on what I had seen and heard at school.


This structure provided a robust and holistic overview of the student’s learning. There were times when the student, their parents and I all agreed on the placements of the cards. And there were times when we all had different perspectives. There were times when the student felt something was a strength of theirs and the parents and I felt there was more room to grow, and there were times when the student felt unsuccessful at something but the parents and I perceived it as a huge strength of theirs! The cool thing was that no matter whether we were in agreement or disagreement, everyone’s perspective was welcome, honoured and respected as part of the discussion.

My reflections…

  • it was amazing!
  • the majority of the talking was done by the students
  • all three perspectives were equally valued in the conversations
  • the focus was entirely on learning – not one mention of grades!
  • the students did an incredible job reflecting on and verbalizing their reflections about their learning and themselves as learners
  • parents were proud to hear their child share their successes
  • parents had many valuable insights about their child’s learning
  • conversations were focused on growth, goal setting and action plans
  • it felt like all three parties were on the same team, working towards the same goal

I know there are probably many amazing recipes for successful three-way conferences! I would love to hear your feedback on my approach, as well as other, different approaches to structuring conversations about learning that honour and involve the three perspectives of student, parent and teacher. Please share! 

Parent Report Cards

For years I’ve asked my students to write progress reports about how I’m doing as their teacher, but I’ve never thought to ask my students’ parents for their feedback as well.

…until this year!

One of my goals, heading back into the classroom, was to create more of a learning community that involved, valued and respected the parents’ voice. So as part of that goal, I asked the parents to write a short report card for me about how I’m doing so far as their son or daughter’s teacher.

In order to collect their feedback I used the Visible Thinking RoutineCompass Points” and created a Google form where they could share their honest feedback.

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I’m so glad I asked! I learned tons of valuable information and had much to reflect on in order to improve:

Needs

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Excitement

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Worries

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Suggestions

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It was such an enriching experience that I’m looking forward to going through this process again later in the year, hopefully improving in the areas identified in this round of feedback and then finding new ways to improve even more!

Assessment done with students, not to students

I strongly believe that assessment is something that should be done with students, not something that is done to  students. So this year, being back in the classroom, I wanted to put that belief into practice. We have just finished our first Unit of Inquiry and here is how our summative assessment went.

  1. An open discussion about assessment

As a class we discussed the difficulty of trying to measure a human’s learning and I shared that there are many different approaches to trying to figure out what a student has learned in school.

2. Trying out multiple approaches

We discussed a handful of approaches for measuring learning and then we tried each of them out within the context of our unit.

Students showed how their thinking changed throughout the unit by completing “I used to think… Now I think…”

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Students synthesized their own big idea from the unit by completing the VTR “Headlines”

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Students added new knowledge to their transdisciplinary concept  time capsule

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Students applied the concepts learning in our unit to their own life

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3. Self-Assessment

I’m also a strong believer that the learner themself best understands what they know and don’t know, so it was important to me that they had the first opportunity to assess their own understanding. Students took the four different assessments they had completed and using those learning artifacts, marked on the rubric where they felt they were on our learning spectrum.


4. Teacher Assessment

The students then gave me their 4 summative activities and their self-assessed rubric and I looked through the same learning artifacts and I added my perspective to the rubric.


5. Summative conference

Then, I conferenced with each student individually…


and one of three things happened. Either we had the same perspective and that became their final mark for the unit. 


Or if we had different perspective, we chatted to figure out if they new more than they were able to show on the activities, or if they thought they new more but after our chat discovered they actually had more to learn. And in some cases I needed more information because I felt I was unable to assess their understanding based on the activities they completed, so we we chatted about the concepts in the unit and the central idea to find out if they knew more than they showed.


For students who had a competent understanding, we talked about how to extend themselves next unit. For students who were still developing their understanding, we reflected on what blocked their learning this unit and set goals for next unit. For some students that meant changing some learning behaviours (where they sit, who they learn with), for other students it meant applying more effort, and for other students it meant organizing time in addition to class time, for extra learning support from me.


6. Share with parents

After the conferences were complete, I sent home to rubrics so the students could share them with their parents. I also included information about our summative process on our class blog. Parents were also invited to set-up a three-way meeting with me and their child if they wanted to discuss anything about this particular summative.

 

All in all, it was a great process! I think my students felt empowered to have a voice in their learning and in the measurement of their learning. I think students felt their perspectives were respected and valued. I think that going through this process after the first unit of inquiry will have positive impacts on the learning that happens in our second unit of inquiry.

And on a personal level, it felt much more humane and much more like a partnership in supporting their learning journey!

A Different Approach to Reading Buddies

In the past I have always partnered up my students with another class and once a week we did “reading buddies”. Students would read with their buddy and it was wonderful.

However, this year I wanted to put all the decision making in the hands of my students and I realized that if I organized reading buddies with another class I was making that decision for them.

So I took a different approach this year…

First, I emailed all of our Pre-K, KG1, KG2 and Grade 1 teachers to who would be interested in having a Grade 4 reading buddy come read with their students. I had about 2-3 teachers from each grade level sign up.

Then, I shared my vision with my students and offered an optional meeting for those students who were interested in being reading buddies this year. About 3/4 of my students attended.

At that point I asked my students which grade they would be most interested working with and matched them up with a teacher. Then I provided each student with their reading buddy teacher’s email address. The students did an amazing job consulting our schedule in order to send an email with possible dates and times.

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Students were clear about how many times they would be willing to come each week. Some students chose once a week, others chose every day. Then they sent of their emails and excitedly waited for a response!

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Once students heard back from the teachers they solidified dates and times. Students have independantly kept track of their scheduled dates and times and done a wonderful job emailing the teacher if a conflict comes up and they are unable to make it.

Now reading buddies is up and running and it has been awesome so far! Sometimes they read to one or two students, sometimes they listen to a younger student reading to them and sometimes they read to the whole class!

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Here are my reflections on this process so far:

  • emailing the teachers provided an amazing authentic opportunity for functional writing
  • students are practicing their fluency and expression when reading to their buddies
  • students are developing their confidence as readers
  •  students are developing empathy and compassion by working with younger children
  • students are developing the organization and time management skills by making and keeping scheduled appointments
  • students are loving every minute of it!

I look forward to watching this progress grow and change as the year unfolds. I’m hoping word will spread and more Grade 4 students will want to become reading buddies and more early year’s teachers will want to host Grade 4 reading buddies!

Best. First Month of School. Ever.

So the first month of school has come and gone… and what a month it was! Yet I have to admit, I had an internal struggle. The teachery teacher side of me kept saying “Hurry up! Move along! There is content to get to! You are behind your team! Report cards are coming!” While the inquiry-teacher side of me kept saying “Slow down. What’s the rush? Follow your students. Notice the learning that is happening everyday.” Thankfully the second voice won out, in large part because I kept constantly referring back to Finland’s model of easing into  the school year as a source of inspiration and reassurance.

So here is sneak peak of how my students and I spent our first month together:

Who We Are

We inquired into relationships…

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We inquired into each other…

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Sharing the Planet

We inquired to rights and responsibilities of students and children…

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We inquired into types of conflict, sources of conflict and solutions for solving conflict peacefully…

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We inquired into problem finding and problem solving…

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How We Organize Ourselves

We inquired into how to set up our learning space…

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We inquired into how homework will work this year…

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We inquired into our classroom schedule, systems, and jobs…

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We inquired into back to school night…

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How We Express Ourselves

We inquired into expressing ourselves on Twitter…

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We inquired into expressing ourselves on our class blog…

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We inquired into communicating through a backchannel…

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We inquired into communicating with each other via email…

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How the World Works

We inquired into why and how humans learn…

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Where We Are in Place and Time

We inquired into why, how and what we learn at our school… image

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We inquired into our perspectives at the moment about schools, teachers, reading, writing, math and UOI….

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We inquired into ourselves as learners…

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…. and sometimes we threw out the plans to follow student-generated inquiries! (Like water bottle flipping, why the Maldives are sinking, palindromes and the life of Ruby Bridges)

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All throughout our first month together I intentionally looked for learning throughout the day and documented it each night. I have learned so much about my students not only as readers, writers, mathematicians and inquirers… but also as humans.

Just for fun, I thought about everything that has happened this past month and wondered how many curricular expectations were authentically explored throughout our various inquiries… to satisfy the slowly disappearing teachery-teacher side of me… and anyone else who might ask!

Here is what I discovered:

Social Studies

Concepts – systems, community, relationships, perspective, choice, transformation, rights, democracy

C1.4.4 explain how groups of people make rules to create responsibilities to protect a safe environment.

C1.4.6 describe ways in which people benefit from and are challenged by working together, including through government, workplaces, voluntary organizations, and families.

C2.4.3 identify appropriate deliberative processes when making decisions or reaching judgments as a group.

C3.4.3 explain how procedures are developed to address community problems.

E1.4.1 identify the benefits and costs of individual choices.

G1.4.1 construct maps and other graphic representations of both familiar and unfamiliar places.

G1.4.2 use maps, satellite images, photographs, and other representations to explain relationships between the locations of places and regions.

Science 

Concepts – systems, balance, interdependence, behaviour

PS3.4.1 use evidence to construct an explanation relating the speed of an object to the energy of that object.

ED1.3-5.1 define a simple design problem reflecting a need or a want that includes specified criteria for success and constraints on materials, time, or cost.

ED1.3-5.3 plan and carry out fair tests in which variables are controlled and failure points are considered to identify aspects of a model or prototype that can be improved.

Reading

Concepts – meaning, perspective,  opinion

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.4.7
Make connections between the text of a story or drama and a visual or oral presentation of the text, identifying where each version reflects specific descriptions and directions in the text.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.4.7
Interpret information presented visually, orally, or quantitatively (e.g., in charts, graphs, diagrams, time lines, animations, or interactive elements on Web pages) and explain how the information contributes to an understanding of the text in which it appears.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RF.4.3
Know and apply grade-level phonics and word analysis skills in decoding words.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.4.10
By the end of the year, read and comprehend literature, including stories, dramas, and poetry, in the grades 4-5 text complexity band proficiently, with scaffolding as needed at the high end of the range.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.4.10
By the end of year, read and comprehend informational texts, including history/social studies, science, and technical texts, in the grades 4-5 text complexity band proficiently, with scaffolding as needed at the high end of the range.

Writing

Concepts – audience, presentation, responding, text

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.4.2
Write informative/explanatory texts to examine a topic and convey ideas and information clearly.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.4.5
With guidance and support from peers and adults, develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, and editing. (Editing for conventions should demonstrate command of Language standards 1-3 up to and including grade 4 here.)
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.4.6
With some guidance and support from adults, use technology, including the Internet, to produce and publish writing as well as to interact and collaborate with others; demonstrate sufficient command of keyboarding skills to type a minimum of one page in a single sitting.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.4.7
Conduct short research projects that build knowledge through investigation of different aspects of a topic.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.4.10
Write routinely over extended time frames (time for research, reflection, and revision) and shorter time frames (a single sitting or a day or two) for a range of discipline-specific tasks, purposes, and audiences.

Communication

Concepts – message, meaning, audience, purpose

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.4.1
Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grade 4 topics and texts, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.4.5
Add audio recordings and visual displays to presentations when appropriate to enhance the development of main ideas or themes.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.4.6
Differentiate between contexts that call for formal English (e.g., presenting ideas) and situations where informal discourse is appropriate (e.g., small-group discussion); use formal English when appropriate to task and situation. (See grade 4 Language standards 1 here for specific expectations.)

Math

Concepts – data, number, statistics, interpretation, measurement, estimation

CCSS.MATH.CONTENT.4.OA.A.3
Solve multistep word problems posed with whole numbers and having whole-number answers using the four operations, including problems in which remainders must be interpreted.

CCSS.MATH.CONTENT.4.NBT.A.2
Read and write multi-digit whole numbers using base-ten numerals, number names, and expanded form. Compare two multi-digit numbers based on meanings of the digits in each place, using >, =, and < symbols to record the results of comparisons.
CCSS.MATH.CONTENT.4.NBT.A.3
Use place value understanding to round multi-digit whole numbers to any place.
CCSS.MATH.CONTENT.4.MD.A.1
Know relative sizes of measurement units within one system of units including km, m, cm; kg, g; lb, oz.; l, ml; hr, min, sec.
CCSS.MATH.CONTENT.4.MD.A.2
Use the four operations to solve word problems involving distances, intervals of time, liquid volumes, masses of objects, and money, including problems involving simple fractions or decimals, and problems that require expressing measurements given in a larger unit in terms of a smaller unit.
CCSS.MATH.CONTENT.4.MD.A.3
Apply the area and perimeter formulas for rectangles in real world and mathematical problems.

ICT

Creating –  learners are provided with an opportunity to innovate and test boundaries. Learners construct meaning, apply critical thinking and original ideas to real-world situations, and share knowledge through self-expression

Communicating –  exchange of information with various audiences using a range of media and formats.

Collaborating –  Learners are empowered through digital media and environments and through active participation in creating and sharing knowledge.

Organizing –  Learners make connections, transfer existing knowledge and independently explore new technologies.

Becoming responsible digital citizens –  using ICT to make informed and ethical choices while acting with integrity and honesty. In a globally connected digital world, learners are empowered to be responsible for their actions, to value others’ rights and to practise safe and legal behaviours.

PSPE

  • recognize that others have emotions, feelings and perspectives that may be different • from their own
  • solve problems and overcome difficulty with a sense of optimism
  • analyze how they are connected to a wider community
  • reflect on their own cultural influences, experiences, traditions, and perspectives and are open to those of others
  • identify casual relationships and understand how they impact the experience of individuals and groups
  • independently use strategies to resolve conflict
  • work towards a consensus, understanding the need to negotiate and compromise
  • reflect on their experiences in order to build a deeper understanding of self

One month… no “school work”… but lots of learning! 

‘Twas the Night Before School Starts

‘Twas the night before school starts
And the classroom was bare
Nothing was set up yet, not even a chair

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The schedule empty, no activities planned
And typical first-day-of-school worksheets are banned

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This year will be different, a first time for me
Where the classroom is set up, not by I, but by we
Instead of hours spent planning without voices of students,
This year, I think, including them is most prudent
They are the ones who will be using the spaces
Letting go, in return for happy minds, hearts and faces
Yet although I know this is what I believe in my heart,
I am nervous and scared for this school day to start
So although I won’t sleep, I tuck myself into bed
While visions of floor plans swirl in my head

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I’m not sure how it will go, yet my hope remains
For a first day of school where the kids take the reigns
So, on Risk-taking! On Failure! On Doubts and on Fear!
Happy first day to all, and to all a good year!