More Similarities Than Differences

This summer I accepted  a new third grade teaching position at Casady School in Oklahoma City. For those not familiar with Casady, it is an independent school in northwest Oklahoma City, serving approximately 900 PreK through 12th grade students on a beautiful 80 acre campus. Casady is part of the ISAS (Independent Schools Association of the Southwest) , and teaching there gives me an opportunity to join my husband (who is the Director of Technology at Casady) as well as youngest daughter, who is a Casady 8th grader this year.

Teaching at Casady is providing me with a unique opportunity to work with students in a very different socio-economic situation compared to those I taught for the past four years at Positive Tomorrows. I am frequently asked the question, “How is teaching students at Casady different than it was at PT?” I have found more similarities than differences so far between these two student groups, and in this post I’ll highlight some of the things I’ve observed.

All students need to feel safe, both emotionally and physically. Students often express concerns and occasionally fears about being bullied by classmates. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs tells us that we must help provide for the psychological and safety needs of people first, and then attend to their need for love and belonging before we can effectively teach or learn about the curriculum.  My years of teaching at Positive Tomorrows helped me become much more aware of the socio-emotional needs of students, and the importance of being sensitive to their unique situations each day. My abilities to “read kids” and get a sense for how they are feeling emotionally have helped me at Casady just as they did at PT.

Students experience anxiety both inside and outside the classroom. The reality of these anxieties are evident in both groups of students, so “anxiety is not a money-thing.”  Anxieties are different, but they are present and important to recognize for all students.

One of the things I enjoyed most about teaching at Positive Tomorrows was the opportunity to set up my classroom with flexible seating and to provide students with choices about where and how they learn best. Casady has a more traditional classroom model than PT, but I have been able to create places in our classroom using carpet, pillows, lamps and other furniture items which provide some alternatives to student desks at different times of the day. I enjoy creating a classroom environment that feels like home to me and my students. I find that providing students with choices about where they sit and how they learn helps them become more independently minded and responsible for their own learning. Just today, I observed two of my boys who preferred to stand, but were working at their desks using poor posture. I gave them an opportunity to move to the back of our classroom and work on our storage spaces which are higher and allowed them to more comfortably stand and work. This may seem like a small thing, but I have found some students not only prefer to stand at times when they are working, but also learn better when they are given this choice.

Building classroom community continues to be a top priority for me. Finding time to have “class meetings,” to work on basic social skills, to build a classroom culture of respect, talking about character and the ways we embrace kindness by accepting each others’ differences are daily practices in our classroom. These themes are also strongly emphasized in our first novel study of the year, “The One Hundred Dresses” by Eleanor Estes.

I have used Seesaw with my students the past three years at Positive Tomorrows, and am excited to be a part of a larger school community using Seesaw through the “Seesaw for Schools” program. All of the teachers in both our primary and lower schools (PK-K and grades 1-4) are using Seesaw as a learning journal and digital portfolio this year at Casady. Even though the year is just a week old, we have already seen the power of connecting with parents and other family members with Seesaw.

Having taught in low socio-economic schools for most of my career, I am used to most of my students coming from single parent families. At Casady, however, most of my students have two parents at home and several have three or four parents because of blended families. Grandparents and other caregivers are also significant influences and supportive adults in the lives of my current students, so it is wonderful the “Seesaw for Families” app allows up to 10 connected family members to interact with each student’s journal.

To learn more about how I use Seesaw to build classroom community and connect with families, check out my 30 minute webinar from April 2017, “PD in Your PJs – Community Building to Support Learners.”

I am thankful to be starting a new teaching and learning adventure at Casady School, and look forward to continuing to share my journey with you and other connected educators!

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