Robin Williams has been teaching for the last 12 years and has taught everything except Kindergarten. She currently teaches first grade and online at Brandman University.
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What do you know now that you wish you had known before you started teaching?
I wish I had known how to meet the needs of students who have gone through trauma. A lot of my students have been in group homes and are foster students.
Many have been in lots of different schools, are abused, or drug babies. When they have been through such horrific things, I wish I had been taught how to deal with this situation.
I attended a trauma training and it was fantastic. I learned the importance of developing that relationship and meeting them where they are; not judging them, and going back to the basics. We talked a lot about restorative practices.
We take turns sharing feelings and teaching them how to communicate feelings.
We do a lot of modeling and break down the story of different social situations. We do a lot of role playing with first graders and really break it down to discuss feelings. We have to realize that students don’t always have that positive role model in their homes.
We need to get in there and teach those skills explicitly.
We also do social circles, where we talk about things like bullying and how that makes us feel, and how the bully might feel. Trying to understand the feelings of others is hard for six year olds.
We provide art as an outlet. After recess, we turn the lights down and let them draw, and digest and calm down before we jump back into the academics.
We have mindful moments, like meditation and yoga. We teach them how to manage emotions.
How do you balance this with your regular academic load?
That was a common complaint among the teachers. But if you invest this time, you will have students that are emotionally ready to learn.
Sometimes when they come to you, they are not ready to learn. You can fight them, or you can have that mindful moment and that morning meeting and get so much more out of the remaining time in that morning.
I’ve noticed a great improvement as we do this as part of our routine. The kids know what to expect and when I do teach, they are learning more because they are able to calm down and connect with me as a teacher.
What are you doing well in your classroom that you wish everyone else was doing?
You should see my classroom. I have flexible seating with yoga balls and wobble chairs, cushy crate chairs and a colorful rug that kids can lay on.
The physical environment is safe and provides lots of choices. I feel that that empowers them so they feel like they have some control in their life.
Before I was a stay at home mom, my classroom was much more rigid, but as a mom, I came into the classroom, and I saw a lot of kids with ADHD. A lot of kids were getting their work done, but not conforming to the normal. So when I came back, I decided to be a lot more flexible. I spent my own money.
At first I tried to switch seats with each new activity, but that was an epic fail.
I asked my students what we could do that would work better. We tried a new seat for each day. That was better, but by the end of the year, we decided to switch a seat for the week.
The kids got to choose where they want to be for the week. I have different seats at each table.
It is much smoother and the kids are able to do it without fighting over chairs.
They understand that I can move them if they didn’t choose their just right seat. I also teach them what is expected in each chair, to keep them safe. It has worked fantastically. The kids feel like they have ownership in the classroom setting.
How are you making a difference in the classroom?
Once I returned to the classroom after being a stay at home mom, I wanted to push the boundaries .
I’ve embraced the idea of failure= first attempt in learning. I teach that to my kids every single day.
Right now technology, and STEAM is so important. I haven’t received much training, but I have taught myself. I got a 3D printer and some robots. We learn it together. I started a robotics and coding club after school for 1-3rd graders.
I realized that there is a high demand for these kind of jobs, and by starting at a young age, when they are so interested in school, we’re really working with that curiosity.
They love seeing something they created come out of the 3D printer. I want school to be fun. There’s a lot that we have to do, but I try to integrate the fun things.
I want students to look forward to coming to school.
I want them to have a reason to come to school and see the real life application and have fun.
I want to give them that fire so they can take off in the future. As a first grade teacher, I am laying a foundation for the future. I need to teach them commination, collaborating with others and creativity, so that they can contribute to society. I know that all my students have potential so I need to be that champion in each child’s life.
What are your favorite books?
I am a Harry Potter fan. When I first taught 2ndgrade, I saw one of my 2ndgraders reading it, and I decided to give it a try. I read a book a day, and I am not a fast reader. We use the first book as a read aloud in my first grade class.
I love Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll. We do a novel study in my first grade class with that book, and we connect it to art.
I also do a novel study with Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. That’s fun for kids because they can relate to Charlie and how his life changes with just one chocolate bar.
There are so many books. If you have a love of reading and you model that to kids, they have a greater desire to make that a part of their lives.