FISH! is a Way of Life
Amy Amsden – Kindergarten Teacher, Gage Elementary, Rochester, MN
As I reflect on my very first time of hearing about FISH! I am so amazed of what I thought was the impossible. I heard about this program that could certainly make our school and classrooms more fun and energetic. I thought to myself this is so not practical to bring to my classroom with all the challenges that I face each day. I don’t need one more thing on my plate, plus it is already the middle of the year and it is too difficult to implement this sort of a program. I didn’t feel that my kindergarten students would “get it.” . . .
Today, I am so proud to say that The FISH! Philosophy is so alive and thriving in my kindergarten classroom. . . . FISH! has changed my classroom and my young learners more than I ever thought was possible. It is really true to say that five- and six-year-old children understand the four concepts of FISH! They are living it each day we are together, and they are living also in their homes. . . .
Each day we review The FISH! Philosophy and what we will do to make it happen in our classroom. We all complete the FISH! Journal daily, myself included, as well as sing the songs from our hearts and lungs!
I find great joy when visitors and guests come into the classroom and ask the students what all the fish are about! The students shout it from the bottom of their hearts what each concept means. One of my favorite examples is when Ann Clark came to read to the students and she asked, “What does it mean to be there?” One student replied, “To make sure that no one is ever alone.”
I have had parents comment on what a positive change in attitude their child has had at home. Families are very excited about FISH! and are celebrating the successes their child is having at school and at home as well.
A few weeks ago I presented what FISH! was doing in my classroom and in my life to my colleagues at a staff meeting. It was a very emotional presentation as FISH! truly is a reflective journey for many educators. . . . We are in a profession that is demanding, stressful, and sometimes heartbreaking. In the midst of all the pressures in the classroom, educators need a way to find joy back in their lives. I am a firm believer that The FISH! Philosophy is the way! FISH! in the classroom allows friends to “be there” for each other and the whole class takes responsibility for one another, not just the teacher!! In the concepts of FISH! there is joy, passion, and a love for learning!
Teacher of the Year
Bob Kohut, 3rd Grade, Antheil Elementary School
I was first introduced to The FISH! Philosophy three years ago by our building principal. We watched the FISH! video at our initial faculty meeting of the school year. Many of us immediately recognized FISH! as the opportunity to fully open up our personalities, and, in turn, create and utilize more energy in our relationships with others. . . .
I started trying to think of ways that I could introduce and utilize FISH! with my students. Why not introduce them to FISH! the same way I was introduced, then let the students help me figure out how we would bring FISH! into our classroom? So I watched the FISH! video with my class. We did a brief social studies lesson about Seattle so that the students would be familiar with where FISH! first took shape. (It didn’t hurt that we immediately made some real-life connections then either.) After we watched the video, we discussed each of the four parts of the philosophy. The students seemed to understand FISH! immediately and innately. We had a lively discussion about what each part of the philosophy meant, why it was important and how it could affect the class and the students’ lives.
One of my favorite things that we came up with during the class discussion was to use the board to show the attitudes we’ve chosen each day. Each morning when the students enter the class they put one of four different magnetic fish symbols next to their name on the board. The symbols represent the attitudes: happy, sad, angry or confident. Students are able to change their fish on the board if they change their attitude throughout the day. This has proven to be a valuable and powerful aid in the classroom. The students (and their parents) have told me that if they notice that another student has chosen angry they try to give that student a little more understanding and space. If a student happens to choose angry or sad several days in a row, then we’ll talk about it. And, it’s great on a test date to look at the board and see it filled with “confident” and “happy” fish!—it’s almost always an accurate indication that the students will do well on that test.
Each day the students make two journal entries: writing about something they’ve done to make someone else’s day and also about what someone has done to make their day. I think the most memorable and powerful moment involving our FISH! journals occurred early this school year when one of the quietest girls in my class said that she didn’t have anything to write about because she hadn’t done anything to make anyone’s day. I asked everyone to stop writing, told them about our dilemma, and asked if anyone could share how this girl had made their day. Around the room, six or seven hands shot up—”She held the door for me when my arms were full of books.” “She laughed at my joke.” “She got in the lunch line twice so I didn’t have to stand in line on my crutches.” It was magic as a huge smile spread across her face. Not only had she made each of those students’ days, they had all just made her day.
Often, as we discuss a story we’re reading, I will ask comprehension questions asking the students to identify and describe how a character has chosen their attitude or how they’ve made another character’s day. Not only do the students have to use higher-level thinking but, they also are able to make connections between the text and real-life. . . .
Recently I was awarded the honor of Teacher of the Year for our building and, FISH! was a contributing factor to my receiving that honor. Several students and parents mentioned in their nominating forms that my classroom is fun; the students (and teacher) care about, and are there for each other; and that the students feel confident that they will be successful.
A Note From “The Sappy One”
By Patricia Dillmore, Bancroft Middle School
Patricia Dillmore, Director of Student Capabilities in Middle School Math and other wonderful things! at Bancroft Middle School, attended a FISH! For Schools workshop in LA. Several weeks later she wrote to tell us what was happening in her classroom:
I wanted to bring you up to date about my classes. I introduced The FISH! philosophy to the guppies before the Winter Break. I didn’t know if it would hold water through the holidays and if they would come back floundering or not. Well, I am happy to tell you they are HOOKED! (Did I get enough FISH! Terminology in there?)
I suggested they go home and practice it during the holidays. I asked one of my classes if they had, and the responses were hilarious. Many of the kids parents asked, “OK, what do you want?” when the kids did things like make their beds, clean up after themselves, voluntarily do the dishes and do other things without asking. One girl helped her elderly neighbors in an effort to “Make Their Day” and they gave her $25 for asking them if she could carry their groceries into their home for them. (She is one of my poor performing students, and this year she has done all her homework—one week at a time!)
Another child, one of my favorite entertainers, said his mother asked him, “OK, who are you and what did you do with my son?” A few days later she told him she liked this new person and it could stay!
When we returned to classes on the 9th, I was concerned if the residual effects would remain and if the classes would go on like they were before or if the learning environment would be better. It’s not perfect, but my rowdy 7th graders seem like people I have never met. They are ALL actually doing their homework (even my tough guys) and they are ALL paying attention in class.
One of the other teachers, who is also doing an auxiliary 7th grade math class was walking with me to my car on Friday and he asked me, “How are your 7th graders doing?” I told him they were doing great AND I expected them all to be able to pass the math quiz on Tuesday. He grumbled, “What the heck did I ask you for? Now I feel bad.”
We talked about this new philosophy I taught the children and he said, “Naa, you just have the ‘new teacher’ syndrome with all your enthusiasm.” I told him it wasn’t just that. I told him these kids WANT to learn because they see the value in what they are learning. I also told him I see the value and I am inspired. Then I said he should see my secret. He asked what it was.
I told him, “FISH! For Schools.”
I believe each and every one of these children has the capability to do well in school. I also believe they have the “ganas” (desire). We as teachers have to help to keep their attitudes in the right place, and this FISH! program is (at the moment) helping me to inspire my children to keep a great attitude. If I can make this work week by week, and I only have 6 months to go, I will have lived an experience I never expected. (I am getting sappy as I type this…) The good part is when I ask the students if they are “being there” suddenly they pay more attention. We talk about being there for each other and making each other’s day by being attentive to the students who are asking the questions. The lights keep going on in their faces when we do the math and I feel like I am 20 again! If nothing else, I have had some really cool teaching moments this year and I directly attribute this to FISH! For Schools.
“The Sappy One”
“Putting on your attitude”
David St. Germain, Chaska High School, Chaska, MN
Here’s an excerpt from the book “Schools of FISH!”, featuring teacher David St. Germain. David, now retired from teaching, played a major role in developing FISH! For Schools. In this excerpt, he discusses how The FISH! Philoosphy builds new awareness:
One day, as David and his class were discussing choosing one’s attitude, a student admitted he was unhappy every day at school. “I hate this place,” he said. “My attitude doesn’t turn around until I go to work at 4.”
“Wow,” a girl said, “That must make for a long day!”
The boy didn’t believe he had any control over his choice, David says, and neither do many teenagers. “They think someone or something chooses their attitude for them. They say, ‘If they weren’t doin’ what they were doin’ I wouldn’t have the attitude I have.’
“We talk about the fact that when you get up in the morning you put on your attitude like you put on your clothes. You’re always choosing an attitude. It might be nasty, bad, or cranky. But is that the attitude you want? If not, how can you choose one that works for you?
“That’s a struggle for a lot of kids,” David admits, “because they don’t always have another attitude to choose from. The adults in their lives haven’t modeled it for them. If you have just one pair of clothes, it’s hard to choose another pair.”
To work through this, David’s class analyzes what actually happens when an undesirable situation occurs: How do they typically respond? What does the response look like? What are some other ways they might look at the situation?
“Teenagers, like the rest of us, fall into predictable patterns. In many cases, it‘s victim mode. Once they recognize their patterns, they start to see how often they operate on autopilot. When they realize they can actually make a more satisfying choice, it’s life changing. The situation may be the same as before; the only difference is how they choose to view it. Suddenly they feel a sense of control over their lives they never knew they had.”