What I Learned About Teaching When in New York City

I just had the most glorious 2 weeks off of school to relax, unwind and think of nothing but...
school.  How could I not?  Learning is everywhere!  You know in teacher school when they tell you that teachers are lifelong learners?  Well, that is not a bad thing.  It is a good thing.  It just means that the best teachers know how to learn from their own experiences and share them with their students.

  Now that I have been teaching for 20+ years, I know that you need to shut off from time to time in order to decompress from teaching because it is such a demanding job.  But does that mean you don't think about school at all when you are on vacation?  Well, yes.  And no. I prefer to call it, "appreciating" life.  As you appreciate, you learn.

I teach my students to be mindful all of the time.  Notice things.  Just be.  It's hard to do when you are 7 years old but if you are taught self awareness, it becomes easier.  When you are mindful, you are much more able to take in pleasant things and process their beauty and meaning and send out things you don't need or cause you stress.  So do I learn on my vacation - yes!  Do I often think about how I can incorporate it into my classroom - yes!

Here's what I learned when I went to NY this week:

Seeing the city from the sky makes you realize that you will soon be just 1 person in a big city.  How will you leave an impact?

When we got into our hotel we looked out of the window.  Hmph...we laughed and said "That's quite a view".

Later that evening I looked outside again but this time to the left...low and behold - The Empire State Building at night.  Lesson:  Don't just look straight ahead in life, look all around and you will see wonders you never thought you would.

We went to visit the MOMA - The Museum of Modern Art. I missed this the last time I was in NY so I wanted to see it so badly.  When I reached the Van Gogh room I saw The Starry Night. (I had seen it in Paris in 2012 at Museum D'Orsay so I was surprised to see it.) I then realized that it had been on loan to Paris when I was there.  When I saw it in Paris I had an incredible reaction to it - I was mesmorized and couldn't believe I was standing in front of a masterpiece! This time, strangely, it was different.  I was just happy to see it.  The room was not as dark as it was in Paris. I took a picture with it to show my students the painting that came out the book that I use to teach the artists.

Here is a shot of the gorgeous Dance by Henri Matisse. I use this book to teach about Matisse:

The kids always giggle after seeing this picture and I think it's a good way to teach students the different variety of images that people paint and to teach them tolerance for lots of different styles.  What did I learn?

That this painting was bigger than I thought - WOW!  Perspective.  I learned and will teach students to be aware that everyone has perspective.  Some children think their problems are HUGE and some see them as no big deal.  The important thing here is that that is THEIR perspective and it needs to be valued and respected.

Of course, who doesn't appreciate a little Picasso?  I love to use Picasso because the kids love it first off and secondly, Picasso's works teach you to keep an open mind. It gets you to question, "What is normal?"  Kids love it because they can create without worrying that it is "wrong".

Here is the book from the same set that I use to teach about Picasso which I have blogged about before.

If you are really loving Picasso and Matisse, check out Nina Laden's book:  When Pigasso Met Mootisse :

If you want to do more with this, here is a mini unit of activities that I created to go along with some of Nina Laden's books:

One of my favorite artists is Claude Monet.  This is HUGE too!

Right now when I return from Spring Break, we will be continuing on with our multiculturalism and country research projects.  I found this at the MOMA and I thought was gorgeous!  It is by:  Alighiero Boetti.  It is an embroidery on fabric and is such a great representation of our world.  Can you see your country of origin here?  #worldmap #multiculturalism

Of course New York is all about shopping and I'm not going to lie, we did a lot of that too!  We were lucky enough to be in NY when Macy's did their Spring flower show.  Talk about stopping to smell the roses.  There were flowers everywhere!

We went to the top (102nd floor) of the Empire State Building and we took a water taxi tour of the island to see the Statue of Liberty.  It was about BIG, BIG, BIG! and it was awesome.

But to achieve balance I also learned that coming down and looking at the little things is also important.

We visited the 9-11 memorial site. What a beautiful tribute to the lives lost. My fiance is a fireman so it was particularly moving for him.

It was a great coincidence (to me!) that the NY Public Library had a wonderful exhibit on Why Children's Books Matter.

I particularly love the representation of the first line of a wonderful fairytale...Once Upon A Time...
We teach children these days the importance of using "better" beginnings or using "hooks" (I'm all for that) but here, I was able to take a moment and reflect on the wonderful power of Once Upon a Time.  It is through these words that we learned about courage, struggle, inequity, beauty, love and so much more.  I learned that putting these back into our writing may not be such a bad idea. Who knows?  Maybe our children will grow up believing that a fairy tale can be real.  Real kindness, real love for all people and animals and that happily ever after can mean many different things but can be real.

One of my daughter's favorite stories when she was little was Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown. Why?  It's simple. It's not complicated.  It's pure and it's calming. It's what all children love and need. Even in Elementary or higher, kids need things that help them to be calm, self aware and happy.

Probably the funniest thing but the most thought provoking was this. It is called BOOK 4 and it is by Lucas Samaras.  I saved it for last because it continues to give me food for thought.  As we were in the MOMA we saw this "sculpture" or piece of art.  My fiance says to me, "When you look at this what do you see or what would you call it?"

I looked and looked, pondered and pondered.  I kept focussing on the scissors, the nails, the knives ... ouch!  so I answered, "Sharp"?  His answer:  "Reading is painful".  We had a good laugh but of course I got to thinking... why?  Is this how some of our children (mostly boys) feel?  It reminds me of a speaker I once saw named Jeffrey Willhelm. Here is his book:

It changed the way that I approached teaching reading and writing with students.  (I wrote my Master's paper on gender differences with boys and girls in writing development.) I asked my fiance if he liked reading things like manuals to put things together. He said "No" and that he only used them to see if he had the correct parts.  He likes to put things together and figure things out on his own.  He did a lot of woodwork and building and fixing cars and now he is living his dream of being a fireman. ( I guess that's why he loves to cook too. )

I learned that beginning my journey into Passion Projects was the right thing to do.  Let's have students do things that they are good at and that they love - learning WILL happen!

I loved my Spring Break and for those of you on Spring Break and ready to go back like me or those who are heading into Spring Break - relax and have fun but don't forget to learn because that is what life is all about!

Thank you to Glitter Meets Glue for the lovely frames!


  1. I love this post, Shelley! Looking forward to hearing more details too!
    Whimsy Workshop Teaching

  2. Love this Shelley, I especially love the pic of you in the Goodnight Moon room, so sweet that story! It was very nice to read about your trip. Have a great week back.

    1. Thank you Leslie. I really love the Goodnight Moon story too. Thanks for visiting :)

  3. What a great way to present the ideas you took away from your fabulous trip! I loved reading it!


    1. Awww Addie, thanks so much for your kind words. I bet you had a great trip to Europe too. I look forward to hearing about it.

  4. I LOVED this post! I was checking my Linked In updates and there is was just waiting for me to click on it. As a writer, you hooked me :) Teachers are life-long learners, and we have the gift of being able to see things from different perspectives because of our students. Everything in life is a teachable moment if we take the time to look closely - look again - and think outside the box. I loved the "Once Upon a Time" wall too. Thanks for sharing.

  5. Thanks so much for posting your thoughts Kathy. Everything in life IS a teachable moment. That's what makes teaching so special. Your comments made my day!


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