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My Session. All the Circles. TMC #2

My session started out as one thing in January and became a totally different thing when I presented.  I would say my session was in two parts: 1. Building trust in the classroom using circles and 2. restorative justice as we use it at my school.

(I’m nearing 1000 words so I’m gonna just write about #1 now and come back for #2 laterz)

We started with a circle activity that I run in my class all the time, like probably every other week or more.  You have the students stand in two concentric circles facing a partner.   They always start by introducing themselves to their partners and shaking hands, I even make them do this in May.  (This next thing is the rotating part that you can do however you want but I’ll explain my method) Then I have the outside circle turn one way and the inside turn the other and hold their hand up to high five their parter.  This looks a little like square dancing.  I call a number and they high five as they rotate and count out loud. So high five your partner “ONE” next person “TWO” and so forth til they have a new partner.  Then they introduce themselves again.

I use this formation for questions and various other things.  Here are some examples of things you might have the kids do with their partners. (I make them rotate between each question)

  1.  Inside circle you have 10 seconds to tell your partner what you ate in the last 24 hours
  2. You will each have 20 seconds to tell your partner what the best part of last period was. Outside circle will start.
  3. Tell your partner your favorite color.
  4. What are you watching on tv/netflix right now?
  5. What do you want to be when you grow up?
  6. What is your favorite class?
  7. Tell your partner everything you did this weekend starting sunday night and ending friday afterschool
  8. You must talk for 60 tell your partner your life story in as much detail as possible.
  9. Tell your partner the last thing that made you laugh (appropriate)
  10. Tell your partner the last thing that made you sad
  11. Tell your partner something you wish you were better at
  12. Tell your partner something you like about them

This is a picture of ideas we came up with in session.

FullSizeRender-1In my list I would says 1-6 are very low trust questions. Things you would be willing to tell anyone.  I use those at the beginning of the year or the start of the activity.  7-12 are higher trust you need to read the relationships in the room.  I like to intersperse the questions with little games like best two of three in rock-paper-scissors or multiplying fingers whatever you make up is fine just use those to lighten the mood. You can have them make up a 3-move hand shake in 60 seconds or whatever.

Pieces of advice for this

  • If you don’t do things like this hold the list of questions in your hand so you are ready every time
  • the more you do this the faster the kids are at doing it (that includes moving desks and chairs)
  • on that note unless your desks are nailed to the floor they are NOT nailed to floor MOVE THEM
  • the clearer the directions the better this will go
  • time limits on questions are the most important
  • the more you do things like this the better they are at talking to each other so the payoff in collaborative work is HUGE
  • if there is something you want to know about a particular child stand near them and eavesdrop. I leveraged the fact one of my girls wants to be a chef all year.
  • if you don’t have my memory for things sit down after class and jot down somethings you learned about the kids
  • If you want to know what one kid said have their partner share out, “Jason what does Dan want to be when he grows up?” also, ask like 4 other kids to not be too obvious


I also use circles as a means for all class discussions. So I make everyone sit in a circle and we either go around or raise hands. I try to do as many positive circles as possible. The circle has a talking piece (we call it the squishy) and only the person holding it can talk. Also, I start by saying the norms of the circle every time. “This is our circle, it is a safe place to speak, you should be looking at the person talking and not be having side conversations.  You should have nothing in your hand and no head phones.”

Some circle questions:

  • one word to describe your weekend (go around)
  • one good thing about the presentations you just gave in english (popcorn)
  • if you had 30 minutes of school time and could make the whole student body participate what would you do? (go around)
  • What’s something someone in this class has done recently that impressed you (popcorn)
  • How is 10th grade different than 9th
  • What are you excited about for 11th grade

At my school we also use circles to address all school issues.  Like if there is a graffiti problem or something our counselor will come up with questions and we will all do them either at the end of the day or during advisory.  The rule of thumb is that your circles should be at least 80% good circles.  If they aren’t then students will literally groan if they walk in and chairs are in a circle.

Okay, that’s it for the first 1/2 of my session.  Let me know if you have questions! :)



The things that matter.

For me TMC is two very distinct things: a great place to engage in new ideas with dedicated people and a chance to be myself with my friends and people who really get me.  This post isn’t going to do a good job recapping my talk.  It is not going to tell you the one thousand things I learned (posts soon on both those fronts, I hope) instead it’s going to talk about me because let’s be clear, I am the most important.

I am having a bad summer.  I know that people hate it when teachers complain at all during the summer but, sorry not sorry, this summer has been rough.  A combination of lack of routines and structure, living in an old new place, and brain chemistry has led to a fair amount of the sad.

I almost didn’t come to TMC. I told myself several times, “This is not mandatory, you do not have to go.” I told Michelle I didn’t think I could give a talk.  The idea of four days of being social made me feel slightly (very very) ill. I’m not going to tell you it was magically okay when I showed up, that I felt amazing and happy the whole time.  That there weren’t I few times I left places I was supposed to be to hide or that I introduced myself to all the new people the way I know I should of.  I didn’t do a great job showing my mom around and I wore my name tag low and sat in corners. I found TMC hard.

The flipside to that is that it was, of course, exactly what I needed.  From the first moment of seeing Lisa and Hedge to saying goodbye to Michelle I do not regret I went.  I needed to see Fawn speak and to remember that she is not that far away.  I needed to talk to Lani about Nashville and Vanderbilt and remember how fascinating I find graduate work.  I needed to sit at dinner with Christopher Danielson (who is a two-name person I just realized) and hear him say “well you solved a different problem” to someone doing origami.  I needed to see Max’s wedding pictures, Dave’s baby slide show, and find out that Maaatttttt named his tiny person Linus.   I needed some of Eli’s, Matt’s, and Micheal’s unending energy and positivity. I needed to hear stories of life from Tina, Michelle, Rachel, Brian, Jasmine, James, Lisa, and Hedge.  I absolutely needed Heather’s amazing story about her inability to switch lunchroom seats ever.  I needed to be reminded that everyone loves my mom.  I needed Dan to mock me for being offended at the piano bar but to still leave with me.  I needed to meet new people like Eric and Andrew and Daryl and Laurie. Or people I talked to all the time but never met like Megan and Elisa.  I needed to remember that I could give a presentation because actually I know stuff and am good at it.  I could probably fill a thousand words with this stuff.

Mostly, I needed to be reminded that I do not teach in a bubble.  Mostly, I needed to be reminded that I do not live in a bubble.  I am part of something.  I am so lucky to have found this community and to be a member of it.  Even when everything else is less than stellar the MTBoS and it’s terrible sounding acronym is still there and they don’t care if you hide in a corner or stand in the front.  They just want you to show up.

Because as Lisa would say, “It’s about community, stupid.”

Guest Post 2: High School Graduates.

About two years back Sasha and Court wrote this.  Now they are super old and super wise and they bring you advice from the other side.  I love them so much it hurts. :)

Sasha and I had talked a little bit about writing a second guest post, but it spent a lot of time just being an idea. A few weekends ago, I ran my second, and last, high school Ragnar, while Sasha qualified for her final high school crew nationals, and by Sunday night, we asked if we could, in fact, write the second guest post. It feels sentimental as I’m typing this, but it’s more like a check in for us. There are all of these ways to compartmentalize time in our lives- high school, summer, college, first jobs, races we’ve attended- but how we’ve grown up has little to do with the time, and so much more to do with the pieces of ourselves that cannot be contained in categories. Here is what we learned in high school that is less to do with high school and more to do with the rest of our lives.
1) The mitochondria is the powerhouse of the cell.

If you didn’t learn this in high school, did you learn anything? This could be construed as important, you know, if you’re into biology, or unimportant if you think about the fact that it’s this weird, massive inside joke on Tumblr. Aside from this, whenever you’re asked a question, this is the perfect answer. Yes, even the perfect answer to life. Every one of your cells has one of these. Every piece of you has a powerhouse. Your body is fighting for you, every second of every day. And you know, also, biology is cool and super intelligent.

2) There is always another gear.
Even if you think you’re studying hard, there is always someone studying harder or rowing harder. So I think you just have to choose what you care about and go for it. Someone who is most likely famous said, “Whatever you do, always give it 100%, unless you’re donating blood.” I totally agree with all of that, except maybe pick one or two things and save some time for Netflix?
3) Take risks.

I just went out for Chinese food with my family for mother’s day, and my fortune was “avoid unnecessary risks.” I am not sure whether the fortune cookie company meant social risks, financial risks, or jumping-off-a-cliff risks, but I feel like risks are good. If you want to text a person and don’t think you should because you are embarrassed, TEXT THE PERSON. You can always apologize later, and most of the time you typed that shit for a reason.

4) College Admissions teams don’t really give the “mistakes are okay” aura, but they don’t know what transcripts don’t tell them.

You submit yourself in fragments to a college admissions board. Your application has a transcript, a perfectly molded essay, a list of extracurriculars, recommendations from teachers that you appreciate dearly. But these are slices of your life. This is not a “there’s so much more to you than that” but more a “seriously, your high school self is not who you’re going to end up being, and thank god.” Other people don’t have to know about the time you skipped three days of class straight to lie upside down on your bed or scale a mountain. But you do, and that’s more important anyway.
5) There is plenty of time. Don’t rush.

You’re only allowed to wear footy pajamas in public for so long before it gets weird. If I were to do it over again I would:

a) Own footy pajamas

b) Wear them all day every day with frequent washing

c) Don’t do something because everyone else is doing it. Go at your own pace. *

6) It will end.

Sasha wrote this, and I loved it. It holds true in our friendship- when junior year fell apart and we did too- and in life- my legs are not always so sore that they feel like pancake batter. The bad things will dissipate over time, in scheduled cry time and therapy and baking batches and batches of cupcakes. The good things will too, in watching the seconds move at the end of a class and driving home or away from places that you’ve loved. It is, maybe, the only truth I can understand. The things we are doing with the time, the ways we are filing them away, the stories we are pulling out years later for new people in our lives to hear, cease to exist in the future. It will end. This is okay. Something else will start again.

Sasha will be going to college in Pennsylvania, rowing and studying we’re not sure what. Courtney will finally be on the coast in Boston, running and changing the world, and hopefully herself. These are just plans, categories, pieces of our lives. Emma was that, too. We love you all for reading, listening, teaching Courtney how to use Desmos, and being a place for Anne, and thus, a place for us. See you on the flip side.

*editor’s note: I don’t know where the footie pajamas come in but please do your best not to wear jammies to class in college.  Actually, what the fuck do I care, you do you. 

Because four years was one too many for me.

Because I had to leave Emma last year, I won’t be there tomorrow to see you graduate.

Instead I will be curled up in my bed at 6:45am waiting for the live stream to start.

Because I chose a new place, I won’t line up for wailing wall or wear my hood (which this time I earned).

Instead I will tear up at home thinking about the girls who started at Emma with me.

I am so ridiculously proud of the people you are and excited to see what comes next.

Trudy will talk about you briefly (and hopefully say your name right) tomorrow but I wanted my piece.

Ying, I never did talk you in to taking an art class but maybe you didn’t need it? I missed you all the time this year. Every email and snapchat was amazing.

Sonya, you are brave and powerful and give amazing speeches.  Thank you for being a genius with me.

Sash, every email you send me makes my life better.  I hope that college brings more late night adventures and a lot of time on the water.  Maybe riding a moose?

Lily,  I am sometimes jealous of your amazing sense of self but, don’t be afraid to not know what’s next or to lose yourself a little. Also, always tell me stories from lute camp, please and thank you.

Caelin, you did it and kid, it was touch and go for a minute there.  From 1,000 broken laptops to late nights showing up at my house I feel real lucky that I get to have you in my life.

And Court, my office only ever felt a small part mine as you definitely owned real estate there.  You have given me some of my favorite gifts ever and truly have a knack for making other people feel important. I expect 1,000,000 emails.

To Sam, Kiki, Claire, Gabby, Muna, Kirstin. To Ruby, Luna, Susan, Emily, Elsie, Jhanara. To Lorraine, Joie, Emma, Lauren, Justine, Dana.

I wish I was there to tell you in person and most of you will never read this but you made a huge impact on my life and I know you will continue to make impacts where ever you are headed.


Ms. Schwartz.  (I guess you can call me Anne now.)


I spend about 80% of my time wondering if I’m asking the important questions. If I’m having the important conversations. If I’m saying the important things in the moments that they need to be said.

I spend the other 20% of my time thinking about chocolate.


Next time someone says girls should dress modestly or be modest I might punch them.

Modest.  Def:

1. Avoiding extremes of behaviour; well-conducted, temperate; not harsh or domineering. Obs.

 2. a. Of a woman: decorous in manner and conduct; not forward, impudent, or lewd; demure; (of a personal attribute, action, etc.) proper to or distinctive of such a woman. Hence: scrupulously avoiding impropriety or vulgarity in speech or behaviour. (Sometimes applied to men in later use.)

b. Of a woman’s dress: seemly, not ostentatious; sober in colour and style, esp. so as to avoid revealing the figure of the wearer. (Occas. also applied to men.)

c. Of a part of the body, spec. the genitals: that modesty requires to be covered. Obs.

d. Conforming to the requirements of decency. Obs.rare.


a. Having a moderate or humble estimate of one’s own abilities or achievements; disinclined to bring oneself into notice; becomingly diffident and unassuming; not bold or forward. Of an action, trait, etc.: proceeding from, indicative of, or accordant with such qualities.
b. In extended use, applied to things: not obtrusively conspicuous; not inviting attention by elaborate show.
4. Of a thing: unpretentious or moderate in size, appearance, style, etc.; (of a sum of money or financial means) limited, not lavish or extensive. Hence, of a person’s origins or social circumstances: undistinguished on the social or economic scale.
For the love of god.  Be immodest be loud, be proud, and take up space.
(but maybe keep your genitals covered, although, totally up to you.)

Teacher Appreciation Week.

Notes of Appreciation.

To my actual teachers

Bryan Anderson, my high school math teacher and my cooperating teacher in my second student teaching assignment.  Thank you for showing me that math wasn’t just lectures and students being talked at. Thank you.

To Stimson, who showed me that only a small portion of teaching is your content. (I never did build a bridge.  Sorry not sorry.) Thank you.

To Lawler, who taught me a bunch of stuff I thought I’d never use and allowed me to figure out how to use it myself. (I use all of it) Thank you.

My Colleagues

To Kat, who showed me how amazing elementary school teachers are and supported me when I couldn’t figure out how to teach 6th graders. (I was never good at it) Thank you.

To Christina, for traveling through our first years together and teaching me the value of teacher-friends. Thank you.

To #MTBoS, those of you who have been here for all my 6 years, who have supported me through pink slips, moves, anger, tears, successes, and summers.  Those who I met at TMC and those who I haven’t.  Thank you for being in this space with me, it continually makes me better.

To Bob, Wendy, Alan, Judy, Raimie, Angie, and Carol, my first ever real department.  You are the kindest group of people I know.  You taught me how to connect with kids and how to see student’s understanding. Thank you.

To Renee, Allie, and Brent, who have for this whole year been showing me that teaching is changing (even when you don’t want to). Who allow me in to their classrooms and brains whenever I need.  Thank you.

To Tiffany and Kris, who make me think deeper and better about everything we’re teaching and don’t let me off the hook even when I’m grouchy. Thank you.

To Katie and Lindsey, my favorite english teachers, who talk to me about the important things, who let me be crazy, and who allow me to be involved in their passions and subjects even though they are not mine.  You make me smarter.  Thank you.

And to my mom and my brother, the two most different and yet best teachers I know.  My mom for her infinite structure and time management skills and my brother for his unlimited patience and care for kids. Thank you for reminding often me that being a fantastic teacher doesn’t mean one thing. Thank you.

I’m gonna skip the update right now and just say, Happy Teacher Appreciation week.  If you’re a teacher, I appreciate you.

Tell me something you’re good at.

Last week I told the monsters I was doing a professional development to be a better teacher.  Many of them kindly responded with, “But you’re already good, Ms. Schwartz” and other similar sentiments. When I quickly replied, “I know.” A bunch of them groaned or made noises to imply that I was bragging.  I tried to explain that I am allowed to know what I am good at but they had little fits about being full of one’s self.

Well, I say screw that.  We don’t do enough recognizing of our strengths.  So if you read this here or on twitter or on facebook my request this week is that you reply with something (or multiple things) you are good at. Here I go:

I am really good at making connections with kids.

Personal Stuffs: I am really starting to make a life here and I love it.

Classroom Stuffs: Matrices with freshman and Polynomials with sophomores.

Personal Change: I didn’t walk last week and I would like to do something this week.

Classroom Change: I’d like to incorporate “things I am good at” into each of my classes somehow this week.

Reading: I’m listening to old Susan Grafton novels.  I’ve so far heard, “A” is for Alibi and “B” is for Burglar. Also, I’m reading Much Ado about Nothing for the students’ book group.

Watching: More Amy Schumer and a couple more episodes of Daredevil.

Your assigned reading: Just for fun.  Six word love stories.

Things that scare me.

At some point this month Grace Bonney of Design Sponge wrote an article about things that scare her.  It started a few years back and a bunch of design and lifestyle bloggers jumped on board and did it then.  I can’t remember if MTBoS jumped in or not but we were a smaller community then and maybe it wasn’t such a thing.  Anyway, I thought this week I’d follow Grace’s lead and write the five things I am afraid of.

1. I am afraid I am not doing enough.

This one is pretty straight forward.  I spend a ton of time worrying about that one kid and what they are having for dinner or that other kid and how they are suddenly failing all their classes.  How do I help?  Can I help? Should I help?

2. I am afraid I am gonna piss off my colleagues or my boss.

I am not an easy person to like.  I have strong options and almost no ability to shut up sometimes.  I would like to do more things and different things and I need the support of my colleagues and my boss to do this.  So, how do I balance the line between saying what is important and not being unbelievably difficult?

3. I’m scared I will get depressed again and it will ruin my life (again).

I don’t know how to explain this one.  It is just always there.  Hanging out.

4. I’m scared I am too introverted. People who meet me and don’t know me think this is ridiculous.  I am good in a crowd.  I can make friends at work and, as I said earlier, I have no fear sharing my thoughts or feelings.  But here’s the thing, I require MAJOR recharge time.  If I go out two or more evenings in a week I pretty much want to spend the weekend alone.  If I can think of an excuse not to leave my house I will probably take it.  I don’t really want to do things on the weekend.  This leads in my last and probably biggest fear.

5. I am afraid I will never find a partner.

I don’t think I am terribly easy to like and I don’t like people terribly easily.  How the hell does that lead to a relationship?

Anyways, thanks for listening to my over share.  If you’re interested in joining I’m hash tagging this #5fears

Personal Stuffs: This next week has a lot of things happening in the evenings.  I am preparing myself for this.

Classroom Stuffs: I did some really hope to continue that this week.

Personal Change: I walked 3 days this week.  I hope to do the same this week.  Also I used the Konmari method to clean my closet, next week I tackle my books.

Classroom Change: I’m just going to try to live through the crazy this week.

Reading: I’m working my way through The Life Changing Making of Tidying Up.  This is how I cleaned my closet.

Watching: Not much at all.  There was a lot happening this week.

Your assigned reading: Or really watching this week: Amy Schumer is AMAZING. 

Dear Children,

Dear Children (or as I like to call you monsters),

You took a survey back in January.  It had about 100 questions on it.  It was REALLY long.  Some of them were about drug use.  We spent a long time googling skittles to find out what those were (still unclear).  In that survey it asked you to rate the following statement,

I believe that an adult on campus cares about my well being

agree, mostly agree, somewhat agree, disagree

Only 40% of the 9th graders put agree. I don’t know what to do with that.  I am so very very sad. I am also super pissed.  In fact when we talked about it in class today I told you we were in a fight.  You didn’t really believe me.  I should of said this:

I really truly care about you.  Sometimes I stay up at night worrying about you.  I love this job.  I work incredibly hard to get you to do math not because I think math is the most important thing but because I think that if you can be successful in my class you can take that and transfer it to other classes. I say that so you understand I push you not because I care about your no marks but because I care about you. I care that you feel smart and important and respected.

I’m sorry if I haven’t been doing a good job of making you feel that way lately.


Ms. Schwartz

In other news:

Personal Stuffs: Joanna was here! Two best friends visiting in a month.  I have also been working on handwriting letters.  I’ve sent probably 16 in the last 2 months.  Want one?  Email me your real life address.

Classroom Stuffs: I’ve been a bit out of sorts since spring break I want to focus back in and get good again.

Personal Change: Started walking this week.  I’ve done about 4/6 days about 2.5 miles.

Classroom Change: I need to focus back in on student voice and how they talk to each other. 

Reading: I JUST READ THE MARTIAN!!!!!!! It was the best book I’ve read in year.  Buy it and read it so good.

Watching: Marvel’s Daredevil on Netflix.  Netflix is really doing it right.

Your assigned reading: I’ve just bought this book and it’s on it’s way.  Also, this article hit home hard.

Two last things.

1.  I am really excited about Hilz.  I need her to put out some t-shirts now.

2. I am thinking about a post called supporting friends with loved ones with cancer.  I have a lot right now.  Any advice?