Bonus Points! presents inspiring educators with a list of 10 questions on varying educational topics and lets them choose which they want to respond to. Through this process, we uncover and demystify some of the hidden realities that happen in all classrooms and gain some wisdom from some really amazing and inspiring educators.
Amber Webb is a preschool teacher in Michigan who loves to inspire kindness and joy in everyone she works with and meets. She has a deep love for literacy and works hard to create a student-centered learning environment. Amber's students are young, but the powerful outcomes she strives for in her classroom are applicable for all classrooms and grade levels.
You can follow Amber Webb and her journey as an educator on Twitter at @Teacher_AWebb.
What is a book that every teacher should have in their read aloud library?
It is really important to me that every child feels like they have a place and that they belong when they walk into the room each morning. I want them to feel valued for who they are no matter who that is. I make sure that we read Happy Dreamer by Peter Reynolds every year near the beginning of school so that each child knows I understand them, wherever they may be. In a world where children are told to sit still, be quiet and follow all the rules, Happy Dreamer celebrates the moments when we get to feel most like ourselves. The kids love picking out what kind of dreamer they are and take time to tell me why. It invites conversation, laughter and understanding of individuality. I love it!
I also have a passion for reading middle grade novels (even though I’m a preschool teacher) and there have been some exceptional reads in the last year. Last summer I was fortunate enough to join a group called #bookexcursion with ten other educators who read and review books coming out in the near future. We have been blessed with hundreds of books to read and review and it really fills my reading life! But the one that really stands out to me is Wishtree by Katherine Applegate. Wishtree is the story on an old oak tree named Red. He is always watching. He might not be able to talk, but he can help solve neighborhood problems. The relationship between the community members, the children, the tree, the animals, it is all incredibly profound. This is a book that is simple enough to “just read” but important enough to have discussions around and really THINK about.
Where is your go-to place on the internet as an educator? Where do you go for inspiration or for resources or to gain perspective on your work?
I’ll be honest, I am one of those people that really, truly believes that Twitter has made me a better, more engaged, thoughtful and reflective teacher. There are so many amazing Twitter chats that I have grown from including #satchat, #g2great, #joyfulleaders and #wonderchat.
There are so many amazing people to follow on Twitter, but I genuinely love my Nerdy Book Club friends. My favorite to follow and watch are Colby Sharp (@colbysharp) and Mr. Schu (@MrSchuReads). They are men in education that know what they are doing. They are always learning, always growing! Mr. Schu is the ambassador for school libraries for Scholastic. He promotes books and literacy at every moment of his day. His passion is palpable and you can’t help but be excited with him. Colby Sharp is an elementary school teacher in Parma, Michigan who champions literacy for students, teachers, administrators and anyone who will listen. His excitement and passion is inspiring. If you aren’t sure you love to read, watch these two for a week and I promise you, you will want to start reading again!
What is something physical that you have either brought into your classroom or done to your classroom that makes it a more joyful space?
I work in a school that is project-based and child-driven. We incorporate curricular goals into what the kids think and are curious about. It is totally and completely awesome. This year, they are really into animals from all over the world (I even learned about a few new ones). So we decided to learn about habitats and let the kids decide how and what should be included. We started the year learning about beavers and one boy asked if we could learn about pangolins next. What? I don’t even know what a pangolin is! So, we did our homework and determined that they live in the Savannah and the kids decided what the habitat should look like: sand, large ant hills, pangolins, bright sun and signs that say, “Save the Pangolins!”
In our rainforest habitat the children drew maps of each of the continents where a rainforest could be found, because that’s what they wanted to add. Our room is AMAZING and it’s all because of the kids. So really, what makes me excited to go to work each day is the passion and ideas the kids bring.
Is there a particular album or a kind of music that you listen to while your students are at work in your classroom?
Music... it’s on all the time. I have the absolute joy of working with preschoolers and that often means that we can stop whenever and just break it down! We have class jobs and one of the daily jobs is DJ. That child gets to pick ANY song they want and we turn it on and dance and sing. We have had everything from clean Ozzy Osbourne to Michael Jackson and even, dare I say it, a few too many repeats of “Let It Go” from Frozen. The most powerful thing about this job is that they are in control and they know it. The kids in my class look forward to to this job and often have their song picked out days ahead! I love this time to be silly and let loose with my kiddos. We choose one of two times a day for this to happen (okay, sometimes both). As we end our morning meeting and move to snack or at the end of the morning before some of the kids go home. It makes the transition more fun and engaging and sometimes we even get parents in on the fun!
Tell us about a time that you failed in the classroom. What did you learn from the experience?
I am a HUGE believer in failure and failing often. If we aren’t failing then we aren’t learning. Why would we ever want to be in that place? As a preschool teacher working with a gifted population, not a day goes by that I am not challenged by my students thinking. They ask me questions I don’t know the answer to and the idea of staying one step ahead of them...well, that’s just out the window. I found that learning alongside of them is much easier and more joyful!
BUT, the biggest failure I have ever experienced was hearing a story from one perspective, never checking the other side of the story and being quick to react. Wow, what a mistake. I didn’t take the time to find out more. I didn’t make the time to seek greater understanding because I was close to this first person and felt the need to defend her. BUT, I learned a lot. I know now to listen and then listen more. Seek first to understand, always ask questions and hear all perspectives before making a decision. It was a hard failure, but I needed to learn from it!
When you begin to feel disillusioned about your work as an educator, like you are beginning to count the days until the next break, what do you do?
It’s simple really, I remind myself that I am not the only one feeling that way. Some people are probably feeling much worse than that in fact. All it takes is one smile, one genuine thank you, one hug. When you take the focus off you and how you are feeling and instead think about how you can make others feel better, well, you end up feeling better too. I try to find at least five people a week to say thank you to and really mean it.
We have an assistant lower school director who gives 120% every single day. She is always picking up extra tasks and doing her best to help people work through challenges. She often takes a lot of flack from people and is very rarely given the credit she deserves. I stopped her in the hallway and told her how much I appreciated that she put her heart and soul into this school and that I recognized how hard she worked. She was grateful and emboldened to carry on. I started encouraging my own children to do the same and you know what? It’s catchy.
As I walked my daughter to class one morning I encouraged her to find five people that she was thankful for and let them know. She started right away and gave her two homeroom teachers hugs and told them she was glad they were her teachers and she was thankful for them. They were so thrilled and responded by telling her they were thankful for her, but also putting it out to the rest of the class to do. Once it gets going it spreads like wildfire and then you can’t help but feel good.
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