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!

Sunday, August 7, 2016


A few years ago, I began using “#Sparkle” on many of my social media posts. At the time, it was solely just to add some flair to my updates and to remind myself to keep my posts upbeat, positive, and worthy of my students eyes should they ever happen across my pages. I never really thought about it becoming a tagline or something that people really associated with me. It was an easy way to keep my attitude in check. Every time I wanted to respond negatively to someone’s mean spirited or antagonistic post, I would just think of a comment that would warrant the #sparkle and share that instead. 

As I started to write this particular blog post, I was curious about when exactly I started using the hashtag. Thanks to an advanced search on Facebook, I was able to locate the first post where #sparkle was born.

January 1, 2014
My 2014 goal is to create as much happiness and laughter as possible. 
#sparkle #smile #giggle

January 1…Happy birthday to #sparkle… well happy birthday to it on my social media anyway. I did a quick search of it in the wide world, and it’s been around for quite some time. Regardless of who started it, what a great goal I had to start 2014. I sure hope the people around me thought that I met that goal. Happiness and laughter are two things I don’t think we can create enough of, especially as educators. Every nook and cranny of our districts should be oozing with it. How can we ever expect kids to buy into what we are selling if we don’t fill every single school day full of sparkly awesomeness. I digress. That’s another post, for another time, but it all the more screams the need for #sparkle. 

Thanks again to the Facebook search function, I found this great post from December 31, 2015 as the new year was quickly approaching. It read, 

“In 2016, I resolve to keep being me. It's too hard to be anything else. #sparkle”. 

In fact, my Facebook search led to over 200 posts that mentioned sparkle in some form or fashion. While I didn’t start out for it be a “thing” in 2014, it became one. It became a thing to the point that people all over the country were tagging me in glitter pics, rainbow sparkly pics, glitter bomb mailings, this fantastic sparkly car showed up on my feed more than a dozen times.

Anything that shined, shimmered, or sparkled had my name on it according to my friends. They would even take pics of items that mentioned sparkle while they were out shopping and tell me where I could buy them. More than once I was tagged in a picture of a roll of Sparkle paper towels. Sometimes, people even bought the items and mailed them to me. I have a journal, a pen, a box, a book and more! The more glitter the better. My bathroom has 4 different “sparkle” type signs hanging on the wall right now!!! 

Confession time… I LOVE(D) it. It made me feel so incredibly special, and honestly…made me want to sparkle more and more! If y'all wanna send my sparkly items, go for it. I do love a sursy! (You non southern readers, go ahead and Google that word.) 

Sparkle became such a part of my life over 2014/2015, I came up with the acronym below for the word sparkle as a mantra of sorts for 2016. As we embark on a new school year, I thought it would be great to revisit my 2016 resolution, assess myself, and apply the resolution to the new school year. I won’t tell you what I put in the blanks, not just yet anyway. But, I will encourage you to copy and past this somewhere and fill in your own blanks. Commit with me to spread as much #sparkle as you can this school year. Share your sparkle with me and with those around you. The world needs as much shine as it can get!

Service (to others and myself)

This school year, as a service to students, my parents, my coworkers, and myself, I will ______________________________________.

Pursue (new things)

As the school year starts, I commit to pursuing _____________________ for the sake of my students and my profession.

Affirm (the good I'm already doing)

I affirm the way I do _____________________________________ for my students, parents, and/or coworkers

Run (physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually)

Caring for my body makes me a better educator. I will “run” by doing ________________________________ to keep myself physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually strong for my students.

Kindred Spirits (find them. Stay with them.)

The following people are my kindred spirits in education. I will stay close to ___________________________________________.

Lead (Advocate for the profession)

I will lead by __________________________________ because it will make me a better teacher for students. 

Encourage (everyone around me)

At the end of the day, everyone around me, students, teachers, faculty, staff, needs a little encouragement. I can do this by ____________________________________.