Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Garbage Pail Kids, Silly Bandz, Fidget Spinners... Oh My!

When I was little, I loved Garbage Pail Kids.

I bought them every time I went to the gas station when we stopped to get my snack for school. I couldn't wait to tear open the pack and show them to my friends. Yes, they were a slight bit crude and tasteless, but I loved them! Everyone my age did. It was the “toy” to collect for quite a while. The highlight of every pack was that little stick of gum. I'm sure my teachers hated me and every other kid bringing those things to school. They were after all "sooooooo offensive" and most assuredly, a complete distraction to the rigorous learning I was supposed to be participating in. Imagine if the teachers had capitalized on those cards, allowing students to create our versions of them. What if Garbage Pail Kids were used to teach different ELA strategies? Personally, I think they would have made for a great lesson in supply and demand, marketing, advertising, etc. I digress. They missed out on a great learning opportunity. Instead, the cards were banned, marked as evil, and had no place in- well organized classrooms of desks in rows and worksheets in ready piles.

Fast forward to my classroom some 30 years later, and it wasn't Garbage Pail Kids that stormed my classroom, but Silly Bandz, Bey Blades, Tech Decks, and the almighty Hot Cheetos. We certainly can’t forget the great bottle flipping war that hit us all with such force that it shook us to our core.

With each of these fads, some districts, administrators, & teachers seemed to go into full on emergency preparedness mode as they drafted well thought out plans of attack to keep these education- killers out of the classroom. These "toys" have no place in the classroom. Only books and worksheets can teach you anything. Right? Along with a beautifully written lesson plan! I specifically remember hearing a school-wide announcement about the Silly Bandz ban and having to send  a note home to parents informing them of their banishment from the school.
Now that I think about it... how embarrassing that my 21st Century education delivery methods were threatened by a little piece of rubber shaped like an animal or super hero.

The same thing happened with Bey Blades. We labeled them dangerous and kids were told to never ever take them out of their bookbags. I will admit that I saw a kid get popped in the face with one, and there may have been some blood, but I've also seen kids stab themselves with pencils and eat the glue while making an art project, but we didn't put out a PSA about the dangers of pencils and glue in the classroom, nor did we ban them from the building. We simply developed strategies over time to teach children the correct use of tools. Kids do not come to school knowing proper math and science skills, but you don’t see us kicking those subjects out of the building do you?

This brings me to the latest weapon to launch its war against classroom learning... those dreaded fidget spinners. If you've lived under a rock and haven’t seen one in action, check them out here. According to Wikipedia, the spinners were invented in 1997 by an American woman named Catherine A. Hettinger, but only recently have they become popular amongst students.

Oh the stories and complaints I've heard from some educators. "These things are nightmare," exclaimed one teacher on Facebook. Another complained from her blog, "I'm just trying to do my job!" Another wrote that the fidget spinners were a “threat to America.” I'm sure she didn't mean a literal threat to our democracy, but that's quite a big statement to make nonetheless.
It seems appropriate here that I remind everyone that I'm not currently in the classroom for this latest battle between teachers and an evil toy, but as mentioned above, I did face the battle of Silly Bandz, the attack of the Bey Blades, and there was even a surprise resurgence of Pok√©mon cards while I was at the helm of the class. I do have a bit of expertise in fighting off all that would threaten our sacred educational norms. What norms? You know… kids should be sitting. In silence. Working. All day everyday. No exceptions. That's the only way they will learn. Ever. Anything that challenges those ideals must be stopped immediately. Thus, all the bans of fidget spinners and anything else that may take away from our talking all day.

As a professional development leader for teachers across the country, I’d like to help develop us all a bit in regard to our knee jerk reactions to situations in education. So often we overreact rather than capitalizing on teachable moments.  Think of the impact our perspectives have on learning and pedagogical best practice. Let's talk about the real reasons we want to ban these spinners (and other items like them).

  1. It's May. To every non-educator reading this, let me help you understand… May to teachers is akin to driving a long road with the fuel light lit. Teachers are tired. Our jobs are emotionally draining in a way the non-education world will never ever understand. 180 days with students can cause just about anything to drive you batty… Thus, Fidget Spinners equal death to teacher nerves.
  2. It's distracting teachers more than other students. End of course tests, state tests, district tests, permanent records, grades, report cards, IEP meetings, etc. etc. We are so busy this time of year, the last thing we need is one of those things spinning.
  3. Teachers are intimidated by them. For 180 days we try to hold the attention of your kids and here these little plastic spinny things have captivated them and taken them away from us. We are insulted, offended, and absolutely fed up. They must be banished!
  4. It challenges pedagogy. What? It is a fancy word that just means the way teachers approach their teaching. When non traditional educational items such as fidget spinners, Silly Bandz, iPads, robots, etc. make their way into classrooms, it scares some teachers because it forces them to examine their work closely. When technology began changing from overheads and film projectors to iPads and laptops, the same thing happened. Educators had all kinds of questions to ask themselves. Are lessons effectively meeting the needs of students using the art and science of teaching? Are lessons meaningful and relevant to the kids? Is the teaching delivered based on their interests rather than our personal likes? These spinners are challenging the traditional mindset. Chances are great that those who are the least effective in the art and science of teaching are the ones who are scared the most of things like spinners, funny shaped rubber bands, Cheetos, and ________ (whatever else may come next.)

I know that last point may ruffle some feathers, but pause for a moment and let’s reflect. My job is to help develop educators professionally. Development, often times, requires a good hard look in the mirror, and sometimes what we see isn’t what we want.

Rather than complaining on social media and banning everything fun from the buildings, here is what I think we should let the world see and hear from us as educators when one of these pop culture fads, like the spinners, invades our space.

A fantastic, super-duper, awesome educator would figure out how to connect these spinners to classroom learning experiences and make the most of the last few weeks of school.
  • They would Skype with the creators of spinners.
  • They would find websites, Youtube videos, and books to show their kids all about spinners.
  • They would find expert student spinners and use them to mentor those who couldn’t spin so well.
  • They would develop an inquiry-based learning unit on the who/what/where/when/why/how of spinners.
  • They would collaborate with other super-duper educators to create group projects based around spinners.
  • They would most certainly host a school wide “Fidget Spinner Day” in which all students would bring their spinners and spin all day.
    • Of course, this kind of day would require lots of extra work. They would first write a grant to guarantee funding to purchase spinners for all students.
    • They would create lesson plans to fill the day with math, science, social studies, and reading connections to the spinners.
    • They would work with the art teacher so that students could make drawings, sculptures, and paper mache´ spinners.
    • They would meet with the music teacher the week before to write a song about spinners.
    • They would go to the gym on their planning period to create a game all about spinners with the P.E. teacher.
    • They would make sure the library had lots of books available about things that spin, gravity, force and motion, Newton’s laws, etc.
    • They would ask parents to attend the day and spin with their kids.
    • They would contact local businesses and professionals to attend the day and share about how spinning objects may be part of a possible career path.
    • They would contact the local media asking them to highlight the event as an innovative day of learning on the evening news.
    • They would even email and phone local legislators to invite them to see the true power of an effective educator who does whatever it takes to teach students.
    • Before they left school they would upload pics from the day to the class blog, class website, and social media to show the world how awesome “Fidget Spinner Day” was.
    • When they finally made it home, they would think about every aspect of the day and immediately start making plans to make next year’s even bigger and better… of course maybe they’d do that after a tall glass of something red.

The next time May rolls around, and you’re distracted by all of the end of the year work, and some new fad tries to attack your classroom, think about the fantastic, super-duper, awesome educators, and choose your response wisely. Don’t overreact.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Why Appreciate Teachers?

May 1-5 or May 8-12, depending on what calendar you look at or what internet search you do for “Teacher Appreciation Week,” is the special time of year that we honor the work of our nation’s educators. Americans started celebrating National Teacher Day in 1953 after Eleanor Roosevelt persuaded Congress to set aside a day to recognize the hard work of the nation’s teaching force. It didn’t become an officially recognized day until 1980 when national teacher organizations began lobbying elected officials to add the day to the calendar. The purpose: a day of honoring teachers and recognizing the lasting contributions they make to our lives.

It seems funny to me that it would take 27 years to get Congress to recognize educators with an official day of honor, but they do like to drag their feet a bit. It’s funny because without teachers, there’d be no legislators. In fact, there’d be not much of anyone. Teachers are the cornerstone of an educated, thriving democracy. We educate the engineers that build our homes, the doctors that save our lives, the armed forces that defend us, the farmers who feed us, the _______ who ________ us. Regardless if they are public or private educators, teachers shape every facet of our society. It is a career worth honoring.

Five years after the proclamation of National Teacher Day, the National Parent Teacher Association (NPTA) declared that the entire first full week of May would be known as Teacher Appreciation Week. What a phenomenal thing the NPTA did! In one action they changed the way a nation would honor and celebrate teachers.

Compared to other nations we were a bit behind in setting aside a day to honor our teachers. China began honoring teachers with a national day in 1931, and Russia had an official day in 1965.  Thailand declared January 16th each year as a school holiday to honor their educators. Iran began acknowledging the work of teachers the same year as the USA, only after the assassination of one its most revered teachers. Thankfully, we were ahead of the game when it comes to world wide celebrations. UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) declared October 5th as World Teachers’ Day. A few years ago here in South Carolina, Governor Nikki Haley made May “Teacher Appreciation Month.” Businesses around the state followed suit in the statewide celebration (Bojangles is one of these- they offer free sweet tea to teachers all month long!)

Even with the entire world recognizing the need to celebrate this noble profession, I still hear grumblings from non-educators about celebrating us. “We don’t get a week for doing our jobs,” they say. “You can celebrate yourself all summer,” they say. “You can celebrate at 3pm while the rest of us work til 5,” they say. These kinds of comments, while not often heard out loud in public, are still commonplace in the American psyche. Those without students in school, those who had bad school experiences, or those who have forgotten the work of their educators, often scoff at the idea of honoring teachers. Yes, I believe the tide is turning in many aspects regarding the nation’s reverence and respect for the teaching profession, but we certainly have a long way to go.

As the annual USA Teacher Appreciation Week approaches this year, let me remind you of what good teachers do to make sure that the future of America is bright, and why you should appreciate teachers.

  1. We never stop learning. Every student requires new knowledge, a new strategy, a new plan for learning. We collaborate with one another, we constantly seek new ideas, and we spend countless hours researching the latest, coolest, most effective ways to deliver instruction. We pay for classes, take courses, attend conferences, read books, read books, and read more books so that students receive the best instruction possible.
  2. We never ever stop working. Teaching is an around the clock career.  We go to sleep thinking about it. We wake up thinking about it. It haunts us in the shower, on vacation, and even as we pray. It never leaves us. Even if we try to leave it, it finds us and wrestles us into submission… It isn’t what we do. It’s who we are. Summers off? Are you kidding? That’s just when we work for free!
  3. We never stop advocating. We know in our hearts what is best for children and we never stop trying to get it. We ask our administrators to make school and district decisions that are in favor of students. We write letters and make calls to our legislators before they pass laws so that they know exactly the effect their work has on kids. We blog, Facebook, tweet, and we celebrate our work in the public square so that we can let the world know about the amazing work we do.
  4. We never stop loving. Your child becomes our child. We take them all, even the “bad” ones as if we were their own parents. We celebrate every student achievement, and we cry at every defeat. We grieve when our students hurt, and we smile when they are happy. We laugh with them. We dance with them. We sing with them. We care for them. We LOVE them no matter what even when the love isn’t returned.

Regardless of how you do it- a gift card, a small surprise, a free lunch, or even a mug of candy, make sure to take a moment this May to honor those who give it their all for your students, your children, and the future generations of our country.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Authentic Professional Development

Confession… I am on a career path right now that I didn’t expect 15 years ago when my journey as a classroom teacher began. I must have sworn a hundred times that I would never leave the comfort of my four walls. I was 10,000% committed to my students, their parents, and improving the community through the work I did within the safe space of Room 100. I loved every second of crafting a lesson based on the students’ interest. I couldn’t wait to attend things like Back to School Night, Family Fun Night, and the Picnic on the Green. My excitement would reach its peak when it was time to perform our second grade program. I would cry tears of joy when I got to sit at the piano and sing with my kids at the end of the day. I will never forget the moments we had singing our “class song” and “Tomorrow” from Annie. My students were awesome, and everyone of them led me to where I am today, just as I led them.

As a classroom teacher, I invested every ounce of my being into connecting with my students. I wanted to know what they liked and didn’t like. I wanted to know what made them excited and what made them cry. I wanted to see where they lived and where they played at home. I wanted to cheer for them at sporting events, dance recitals, band concerts, and karate tournaments. I wanted to celebrate at their birthday parties and worship at their baptisms. I wanted to befriend their parents and learn the family history so I could better understand the WHOLE child. I didn’t much care about what their previous teachers said, nor their report cards from the grades prior to me. Grades in general didn’t hold much weight with me anyway. (That's another post.) That was last year… They were a whole year older, wiser, and more mature when I got them. They deserved a fresh start each year regardless of how they ended. Imagine if you had to start each day without new mercy.

On this new career path, my goal is to equip, encourage, and empower teachers in order to strengthen our profession. While I don't have my kids anymore, I do think of the educators that I reach as my students. I consider it a great honor to play a role in if cultivating our work. Professional Development (PD), as some call my work, is the daily assignment I am charged with accomplishing. It is required for educators to renew state licensure and to stay current in best practice for effective teaching. I have learned a lot in the last 14 months of this new journey. One such lesson…. educators need me to approach their learning just like my former first and second graders.

Wait… Pause… I am not dare calling grown adults children. However, I am saying that their needs as learners are almost identical. There is something woven through the DNA of all of us that responds to positive, powerful, personal relationships. Just like my students, teachers need someone who will connect with them, who will cheer for them, who will stand beside them as they try new things. They need someone who will pick up the pieces if everything falls apart and someone who will tell them it is ok if they mess up. They need to hear, “No, you are not terrible if you are afraid, and no, you are not awful if you need help with your class.” They most certainly need my patience, my grace, and my support. If I the desired outcome is for the profession to be developed through my work, the need me to love the profession first, and teach it second.

Sadly, in the PD world, there are those who come to deliver the message of “change and hope” that aren’t really there to build relationships and invest in educators. Many are there because it’s their job. They are there to remind you of test data, district initiatives, state directives, and make sure you do “D, all of the above.” They were over the classroom and all the work it entailed, so they became PD leader so they could tell other teachers what they should be doing, instead of actually doing it themselves. Others are there because they are pushing their own agenda or work. They have a book or publication that they want to tell you about that espouses educational awesomeness (or so they think).  Some are there because they like the attention of being an EDU Celebrity and want you to know how special they are. There are a few that have crept in through the back door, and they don’t really know much about education, but one dog and pony show lesson got them right to the top as a presenter on _______ topic.. They are not very authentic, and you know it the moment they speak.

So what am I? Am I authentic or just a charlatan with my pooch and baby horse? Am I genuine or a fraud with snake oil trying to “up my sales”? Am I delivering a blank newspaper to your door while you expect daily news? That answer is up to the teachers in the hundreds of schools I have visited over the last year and a half, but here's what I have to say about my work...

Honest truth, when I am preparing to be your PD leader, I think about how tired you are because you work way more than 8-2 each day. I think about all the things that are going on in your life beyond the school building. I consider that we aren't the same kind of teacher and maybe my style isn't your style. I consider that your skill set is most likely different than mine. I remember what it was like to sit through those horrendous, boring, irrelevant faculty meetings, and I try to infuse excitement, hands-on, relevant content into my presentation. I remember what it was like to pay good money out of my own pocket for a ho-hum conference, and I make sure to provide ideas and strategies that can be used in the classroom the very next day. I remember what it feels like for PD attendance to be required after an 8 hour work day that included a 15 minute lunch break, a zero minute bathroom break, and a bonus PD on data during your common planning period that was supposed to be for creating new, exciting, engaging lessons with your grade level, and I make sure I am respectful of your time.

Oops… Did I go too far? Did I say too much? If so, I sit here applauding and cheering. Someone has to say it. Actually, someone needs to shout it. No more click through presentations. No more  sit and get. No more talk for and hour while I fight sleep. No more mass PD for the one teacher who needs help getting his reading scores up. Teacher PD needs the same care, crafting, and delivery as student lessons. Authentic PD should happen, as lessons do for students, after careful consideration of the “class”, after a needs assessment is given, after a connection has been made, after teacher voice has identified areas for growth, after _________________ (insert whatever you as the professional opportunities for learning should go here.)

Our profession is the greatest on the globe. No one has a more noble and honorable career than we do. Regardless of  some negative views of public education, we are incredible and our professional development should be the same. If I come to your school, I promise you incredibleness. I promise you it will be relevant, fun, engaging, and above all, it will equip, encourage, and empower you to be developed professionally. You deserve it, just like your kids.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

I Wish Other Teachers Knew

The other day this article popped up in my newsfeed on Facebook. It was heartbreaking to read some of the responses that students wrote for their teachers to know. I think this should be a required back to school experience in every classroom. We must know our students this well if we want to reach them. Students carry around a lot more than most of us realize. These kids had a lot of courage to share their thoughts and be so vulnerable. Sharing your inner feelings about your fears, worries, and emotions isn't easy. It exposes the real you and sets the stage for criticism, yet it also empowers you and helps others to see the normalcy of so many of the things we all deal with. 

Taking my cues from the students in the article, I decided to write this blog post to share with ya’ll my teacher fears, worries, and emotions, all on the outside of my mind, knowing full well that I am opening myself up to all kinds of criticism, yet hoping above all that it starts a dialogue between teachers so that we can overcome our fears and insecurities to strengthen our profession. A few years ago when I won some awards for being a great teacher, lots of people put me on a pedestal, assumed I had it all together in my classroom, and had no concerns about my ability as a teacher. Nothing could be further from the truth as you will read below. The awards helped, but the insecurities remained strong and intact. I am nervous even as I type this because I know the words that you are about to read are going to expose me to the teacher world in a way that I have never been before. Being open and honest isn’t easy, but If me being a vulnerable educator leads you to being a stronger teacher for your students, then it’s all worth it. 

Here is what I wish other teachers knew…

I am clueless about teacher jargon. Yes, I have a MAT degree. Yes, I have sat through countless meetings talking about every acronym under the educational sun. Yes, I am a director of PD. But, it’s true, all those “teachery” words just aren’t my thing. I know what to do to teach every child, and to be good at it, but those words… forget about it. Google is my friend. I look up a lot of stuff. It took me almost 13 years to understand summative vs. formative, and I cannot even say pedagogical. My teacher friend Dawn Mitchell knows all these words. I keep her on speed dial. 

I am not very well read. Yes, I read. Yes, I can comprehend. Yes, I was the Reading Teacher of the Year once. But, reading is so difficult for me. A book that takes normal readers a week to finish would take me two months. Seriously. 2. Months. That is why I always hated faculty book studies. You would have to have 3-4 chapters read each week. I could barely get through one in a week. I learned how to participate though. I just wouldn’t speak first. I would let the “more educated” speak then build off of what they brought to the group. Maybe my reading struggle is what made me a more patient reading teacher. Regardless, the struggle is real, and it’s not my favorite thing to do.

I questioned my teaching every single day. Sometimes, I even cried about it. Often, the tears would come as soon as I closed my classroom door at the end of the day. Did I teach regrouping correctly? Did I love them enough? Did I speak too harshly to kid misbehaving? Did I communicate respectfully to the parents, coworkers, students? These questions frequently brought tears to my eyes. I am such an emotional person. Tears come very easy for me. Many times I would be reading a story to my students and get choked up. Once while reading Lisa Wheeler’s, Turk and Runt, I cried so much that students started crying with me. It isn’t even an emotional book, but the love that Runt has for his family even though they treated him poorly just gets to me every time I read it. I really should get a grip.

I am not a techy teacher. Well, some of you think I am, but I really lack in this are so much compared to my friends like Dyane, Mike, Tony, & Gina. These folks inspire me to be better at it, but secretly I am afraid so many times. But, my fear to not prepare students for their future was greater, so I would always try techy lessons. I loved them after the fact, but leading up to them, I was all nerves.

I am not a good weekly lesson planner. My lesson plans were always (still are sometimes) last minute. I did my best thinking in the moment, thus my most creative ideas came when I was under pressure to finish them. Last minute thinking doesn’t work well when the whole week’s plans have to be on your desk first thing Monday morning. How could I make a plan for Friday when I had no idea how the kids would take the information Monday-Thursday. My best friend, Matt Johnson, he is the best lesson planner I know! Wow! I wanna be like him! You should see him think through the details of his week. One day at a time just worked better for me though. One of my favorite lessons that I do with Peter Reynold’s, The Dot, was literally thought of in the shower before school. I got to school, gathered my materials, and made magic happen. Yes, I had something in the little square in my little plan book for that day, but those little squares were just there because someone told me they had to be, not because they made me a better teacher. (Disclaimer: ALL beginning teachers should plan, plan, plan. This confession is more for the veterans.) (Insert smiley emoji) Yes… I was always prepared and ready to teach students, but those little boxes don’t make you a good teacher. A color coded plan book full of great ideas doesn’t mean you know how to implement them.

I was nervous every single day I was in the classroom. Would today be the day I blinked at recess and missed something important? Would today be the day I didn’t know how to teach a certain skill? Would today be the day that a student rode the bus home but should have been in the car line? Would today be the day I be asked about my teaching methods in a faculty meeting and have no clue how to answer? Would today be the day I accidentally stapled my finger and shouted a bad word in front of students as I winced from the pain? Would today be the day that parents charged the office and demand their kid be removed from my room because they didn't like me, my lifestyle, or my teaching style? I know you are nervous about things too. Hang in there. As I reflect on all of that worry, it definitely didn’t help anything. It took away precious moments that I could have been making a mark.

I am intimidated by you. Yes, you read that right. I am intimidated every time I walk into a classroom of another teacher. It never fails. I walk into your rooms and immediately see amazing anchor charts, organization to the Nth degree, centers designed for every learner, journals filled with the most amazing work, technology being utilized in a way that would make Steve Jobs proud, and I hear your patient voice just as sweet as pie! Without hesitation, I start comparing everything you do, with everything I do/did, and instantly, I feel like I stink at teaching. You are amazing, and I feel like I have a lot to learn because of your awesomeness.

Now that you know all this, I don’t have to “wish you knew” anymore. What I do wish, is that you would be just as honest with yourself. Face your teacher fears, weaknesses, emotions. Grow stronger as you conquer each one. And, most importantly, remember you’re not alone. We are in this together for the sake of our students.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Kindred Spirits

My first year in education was in 2001 at private school in Greenville, SC. I was an assistant to five first grade classes before lunch, then I taught enrichment lessons to K5 in the afternoon. As I reflect back on that year, difficult is the best word I can think of to describe it accurately. Learning is hard, and that year I learned a lot.

Even though the year was extremely tough me, it was there that I met my first kindred spirit in education, Karen Ketterman. I LOVED going into her room everyday. It was such a happy place and always felt full of love. Her spirit made it that way. She was different than any other educator I had met in that school. She loved her students more than anything. Every time she talked about them she beamed with pride. Sometimes she would tear up as she talked about them. Many of her students that year were considered below average, but you would not have known that walking into her room. Every single kid she taught was a shining star, and they knew it because she told them they were. Most importantly, she had fun being a teacher. There wasn't a day that went by that I didn't hear her say, "Orange you glad you're here!"

 It didn't take me long to know that she was the educator I wanted to be like. Yes, there were other great teachers there, but she was different. She was my kindred spirit. I don't know what I would have done without her that year, but it was then I learned Kindred Spirits carry you through rough years.

Since that first rough year, I have found lots of kindred spirits in this fantastic career. I wouldn't dare start listing them all for fear of leaving out someone awesome, but yesterday at Edcamp Sparkle, I found 250+ new kindred spirits to add to the list that Karen started 15 years ago. My heart is so full as I think about these "sparklers" who joined me at the first of what I hope is many Edcamps I will be a part of. Checkout some pics of the day here. The day was filled with learning, leadership, and love as we equipped, encouraged, and empowered one another. 

This group you see below was just incredible. What other profession voluntarily gives up a Saturday without pay to be better at what they do? Not many I can assure you. Not only did they come, but they came with pep in their step, smiles on their faces, and sparkle all over... and they got there at 7:30am no less! It was incredible to spend the day with so many inspiring educators. As I have transitioned out of the classroom, I often wonder what kind of impact I am making. Then, these amazing people came into my life and made it clear because Kindred spirits build you up just when you need it most.

Leading up to yesterday's Edcamp, it was these beautiful kindred spirits that made the big event happen. The people you see here have a passion for students, teachers, and the profession that is contagious and infectious. I was so honored to work alongside these sparkly humans yesterday as they poured themselves into the work of building up others in our profession. They embody all that is #Sparkle! They served and led, they encouraged and affirmed all that is good in public education. These people are much needed in my life. Sometimes the labor is hard, the days are long, and the work is never ending, but Kindred spirits keep you full so you can keep running the race. 

I wish for you lots of sparkly kindred spirits like these to make this the best school year ever!

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Learn From Your Students

Every year that I was in the classroom, I had students who came from various walks of life. I taught Muslims, Jehovah Witnesses, Mormons, Atheists, Catholics, Buddhists, Hindus, and more Southern Baptists than you can shake a stick at. My kids came from divorced homes, single parent homes, happily married homes, rich homes, poor homes, well read homes, and uneducated homes. Some students had 2 dads. Some had 2 moms. Some had 2 moms and 1 dad all in the same house. Some were undocumented. Some were illegal. Some came from families that were die hard Republicans, while others came from dyed in the wool Democrats. Some came from families that didn’t like the beats of rap music and others came from homes where swear words were as normal as hello and good bye. I taught kids of every hue and some who said they thought they should be a different gender. As I type this now, I can literally see every face or every kid that I mentioned above. Man, do I love them.  I sure wish you knew them like I did because I have no doubt you would love them too. They are so beautiful not in spite of their differences but because of them. 

We talked a lot about those differences in my classroom as they seemed to come up often, but mostly we talked more about how we were all alike. We all loved pizza and fries. Recess was the best. Chris Botti, playing his jazz trumpet made us all feel cozy and want to have a nap. We loved singing around our class piano. The bean bags were everybody’s favorite reading spot. 2 digit subtraction with regrouping was HARD! Every human in the room wanted to be first in line at all times, and we all loved tater tot day in the cafeteria! It’s funny…for my students to be so diverse, they sure were more alike than different. 

As I reflect on those years with students during this back to school season, I can truly say that it was an incredible honor to be a part of their life’s story for a short 180 days that make up a school year! But, there is nothing short about the lifelong impact the diversity of my students has had on me. I was in the classroom to teach them, but they (and their parents) taught me so much more instead. Being surrounded every day with those who weren’t like me, especially kids, helped me to see the world with eyes that so many of us need. Soft eyes, not hard. Eyes of respect and admiration. Eyes of dignity and understanding. Eyes of love and compassion. I am so grateful for all that I learned from them. What they taught me made me a better teacher. Their lessons, I hope to never forget. I hope your kiddos are teaching you these same things so you'll be better too.

Because of my students I learned to…

listen to those whose faith isn’t my own.

laugh with those who lives aren’t like mine.

leap over barriers, not build them.

lead others to compassion.

leave my misperceptions to embrace truth.

level the playing field for all around me.

look at hearts not hues.

lock arms with fellow humans and sparkle all the brighter.

love no matter what.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

My Heart is Bigger: Teacher Edition

A few weeks ago, just after the political conventions were over, I posted the above status to Facebook.  It was one of the most liked posts I have ever shared. Sharing the impact that diversity had on the size of my heart seemed to resonate with my friends as over 400 of them reacted to it in some way on my page. My heart definitely got bigger that day because of my friends.

The past few days I have reflected on the status and couldn’t help but think about how my 13 years in the classroom made my heart bigger as well. As I sit here today, on the eve of the first day of school for yet another year, I’d like to rewrite the status as an educator. Although I am not in a specific school this year, my heart still grows everyday because of the experiences I had as a classroom teacher. I hope this will encourage all of my teacher friends as they start their journey through the next 180 days with a new bunch of kids that will definitely make their hearts bigger!

My heart is bigger because I spend hours longer than my contract says working for students.

My heart is bigger because I have carried a bleeding student from the playground to the nurse.

My heart is bigger because I gave high fives at the door every morning.

My heart is bigger because I stood up for parents in an IEP meeting.

My heart is bigger because I took time to learn about students who believed differently than me.

My heart is bigger because I learned to count carbs for my diabetic kids.

My heart is bigger because I went to watch students play sports, dance in recitals, or perform in karate exhibitions.

My heart is bigger because I cried with students who lost a parent.

My heart is bigger because I gave up a Saturday to go to a student’s birthday party.

My heart is bigger because I spent my own money for students supplies.

My heart is bigger because I sneaked snacks in backpacks before the weekend because I know they need it.

My heart is bigger because I sat in the floor to read with students.

My heart is bigger because I wiped snot and tears off of precious faces.

My heart is bigger because I liked to slide and swing at recess instead of sitting on the teacher bench.

My heart is bigger because of the never ending supply of student drawings and colorings that covered my walls and fridge.

My heart is bigger because the only thing these letters ever meant to me were… 
A= Awesome B=Beautiful C=Champion D=Dynamic F=Fantastic

My heart is bigger because I saw students as humans and not a test score.

My heart is bigger because my classroom was full of grace and not judgement.

My heart is bigger because of Jamie, Cade, Hannah, Zylan, Daniel, Blake, Alli, Renazia, Tatiana, Makel, Christian, Brayden, Noah, Sarai, Jordan, Grace, Destiny, Makenzie, Nicholas, Keyona, Mia, Makyah, Corbin, Cody, Octavia, Miles, Ethan, Elijah, Kyle, and SO. MANY. MORE!

My heart is bigger because I loved students first, and taught them second.

As the year begins, the paper work piles up, and the lesson plans don’t work out quite like they should, just remember… 
Your heart is getting bigger!