More on the the building blocks….

It’s the 3rd day of school and I’ve seen every grade level except the K’s.    At this stage I am molding a music room culture for the year so content from 1st to 5th grade for the first few classes is virtually identical.  Here’s my message board:photoOur art and PE teacher are in the same process, perhaps with a slightly different approach, but what makes our job wonderful is that the result is the same.  We are all upholding the same “pillars”;  Kindness, Community, Effort, and Knowledge.  Further, though our terms might be slightly different, we have similar versions of the Responsive Classroom questions that we use to “create rules”.  We ask: What does SAFE, KIND, and RESPONSIBLE look like?   Every step is (theoretically) based on this question.

Looking at the sloppy handwriting on my white board you can note how I reinforce the culture with our first day activities:
1.  Our first activity, “Dinah’s Dead”  is an easy movement piece/ chant  that gets kids ready do participate in a pressure free silly way.
2. We briefly discuss what Safe, Kind, and Respectful look and sound like.  We discuss the “no “I can’t”” policy.  I do an activity in which students ask an opposite gender to dance by using eye contact and whole-body listening.  Our school psychologist and occupational therapist have created a chart that specifies what “me thinking” vs “us thinking”  is as well.  This is particularly pertinent on the 2nd and 3rd grade levels and is a big part of our classroom culture discussion.
3.  We practice responsible/ safe movement and taking care of materials by moving through an “instrument museum”
4.  If we have time, we dance (In this case a dance called “Alabama Gal” and discuss how to move safely in the classroom.
5.  Assess our own behavior and talk about the “scale” our teachers have created:  4= no reminders   3= a few reminders   2= a bunch of reminders    1= TOO MANY REMINDERS!   Classroom teachers are informed of what the class earned and often put into place group rewards (NO FOOD!) such as extra recess time or a fun game or video.

More to come!  I will be checking in in a few days….stay tuned.



The building blocks of a great year.

Old bellIn many ways, the first few days of school, a time typically wrought with excitement, stress, and extra work for classrooms teachers is different for me.   Having spent the last few weeks and much of the summer  at home with my 10 year old girl and 7 year old boy, I can honestly say that school allows me to breathe a sigh of relief.  A structure, an organized classroom, kids that listen (!)…..what a contrast to an ever evolving family life.  Plus, I have the added bonus of not having to get a whole class in the swing of things from the start.  I have 35 minutes twice a week with 18 classes…..a slow cultural evolution instead of the firing of the starting gun.

Now it’s time to see the kids!  The first day of our six day cycle at Symonds School (I can explain more about this later) begins with all-school assembly.  As the music teacher, I am the first voice our 350 kids hear in the ’14-15 school year.  As a musician, I rely heavily on my ability to improvise so while I plan classes, pre-choose songs for assembly, and generally function knowing what I am going to do next, it would probably surprise folks to know how often I simply change my mind  in the moment.  I do this because I CAN.   I have a song repertoire and the ability to wax poetic in front of large crowds, sometimes to a fault.  Stage (and in front of classroom) presence is like jazz to me; stick with a familiar structure but be ready for anything.  So when I feel that the school needs a body movement energizer when I planned a wordy song, I switch in the moment.  In this case I planned on the old familiar “Awake, Alert, Alive” as the kids’ (and staff’s) first activity of the school year.  Using hand motions to the melody of “If you’re happy and you know it”:

I’m Awake, Alert, Alive, Enthusiastic
I’m Awake, Alert, Alive, Enthusiastic
I’m Awake, Alert, Alive
Alive, Alert, Awake
I’m Awake, Alert, Alive, Enthusiastic

Directions:  Awake– point to your eyes/  Alert– point to the top of your head/  Alive– Hug yourself/  EnTHUS –pat thighs iAS– clap / TIC — snap twice


After a quick talk and ritual ring of the bell (the original bell from a former building, pictured above)  on the “Four Pillars” of Symonds (Kindness, Effort, Community, and Knowledge) by our fearless principal, Mr. Cate we ended with a rocking nursery rhyme song called Hump tee dum.

So then I ready myself for 1st and 2nd graders.  Stay tuned for the skinny on that.

Students arrive in one hour.

As I prepare myself for being ready for the ins and outs of the day to day, there’s a simultaneous excitement about the many projects I hope to get off the ground this year.  Fiddle tunes, fostering a connection with 38 children in northern India, an audio cd, book crafting, crankie shows, new games, songs….it’s hard to keep the focus on just getting started in the classroom.  The first two weeks will be setting the culture of my beautiful classroom.  It’s all about Kindness, Safety, Respect, and Expression.  Now to work I go.