The Most Important Learning: Growing in Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

A couple of months ago, I wrote a guest post for Alice Keeler’s blog about The First Steps in Becoming Anti-Racist. It started with listening to the inner voice and reflecting on a personal level of how you’ve contributed to racism. Then there was listening to others, using Google to find out more, and understanding Spiritual Bypassing. 

Keep Reflecting With Every Step

First and foremost, embracing anti-racism is also embracing that you will never stop reflecting on how you view the world, how you welcome others, and when you find yourself acting on fear and prejudice, how do you change your mindset by working through it? That is a step in this process that will never go away, and if it does, you will stop growing. 

Link for a guest podcast
A podcast I was a guest on about reflecting in my journey to become more anti-racist. Click on the picture to hear it.

For the summer break, many of us continue learning and preparing for the next school year. When we think about all that we’ve learned in the last few years, adopting an inclusive attitude, mindset, and growing in anti-racism is the best way to prepare. What you learn will show in the lessons you design, the relationships you form, the tech you use, and the community roles you embrace. Your growth will show others you have gone beyond performative actions. Personally, when I began this journey, my friendships started becoming more diverse and I found myself being the only white person in a room full of People of Color multiple times. These are some moments I am most grateful for and would never change. It taught me to lean in when I’m learning through discomfort.

In this Courageous Conversation in EdTech with Dr. Ilene Winokur & Victoria Thompson, we talk to EdTech Ambassadors and how their companies make anti-racism priority.

Follow These Leaders

Can I introduce you to my friends? They are amazing leaders. We will be speaking at #ISTElive21 together.  If you are going to conferences and you see classes on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, sign up for them! I have gotten to work a few times with my friends and many people join us because we create a safe space to ask questions and learn. These are the most important and life-changing classes you can take for yourself and for how you will welcome your students and their families as you grow. 

Going to ISTE? Register for our session Making DEI a Priority in Schools by clicking on the picture!

Joquetta Johnson is a Specialist in the Department of Equity & Cultural Proficiency for Baltimore County Public Schools with more than 20 years of experience in librarianship, instructional technology, K-12, and post-secondary education. She’s also a doctoral candidate and an adjunct lecturer at Morgan State University. As an educator for social justice, Joquetta’s favorite part of the job is leveraging technology, hip-hop and culturally relevant pedagogies to excite, engage, empower, and enable ALL students to enjoy learning while achieving academic success, amplifying their voices, and pursuing personal interests. Joquetta is the 2019 recipient of the American Association of School Librarians’ Roald Dahl’s Miss Honey Social Justice Award. She has presented at numerous local and national conferences about racial equity, confronting biases, and hip-hop pedagogy. 

Here is a webinar Joquetta and I presented together:

Click on the picture to watch the recording!

Tiffanye McCoy-Thomas, PhD is a veteran educator  and equity influencer with more than twenty years of experience. She has served in the classroom, as a building and district leader, and state department of education program manager with extensive experience in teacher and leader professional development. She’s currently an District Instructional Supervisor and District Liaison for the 21st Century Grant in Louisiana. 

Dr. Desiree Alexander is an award-winning, multi-degreed educator who has been in the educational field since 2002. She is currently the Regional Director of North Louisiana for the Associated Professional Educators of Louisiana. She is the Founding CEO of Educator Alexander Consulting, LLC, and consults with members of several schools and businesses and presents at conferences nationwide. She has presented on the digital equity cycle, anti-racism and diversity in edtech at numerous conferences such as ISTE, FETC, and TCEA. She will be presenting about this topic at ISTE20 (Breaking into the space: Diverse Edtech Presenters and DEI Lightning Talk). 

Follow these women! They are all leaders in their fields and they are always sharing as they learn.

Becoming Color Brave

Two years ago, at ISTE19, I led a class based on Mellody Hobson’s TED Talk about becoming Color Brave.  People started opening up in ways they had never opened up with their own colleagues and students.  We are so afraid to talk about racism in a way that is real. Some people think it’s impolite. There is also a widely believed myth that talking about these issues is actually what causes division. Friend, this is not true. I’ve seen people finally understand this and begin their own healing journeys. I hope you will listen in as well. 

The TED Talk that has helped get the conversation going!

Keep Going & Keep Sharing

The journey of growing as an anti-racist educator is not a one-size-fits-all path in life. While we will share things in common, we will zig while others zag. We will take two steps back before moving five steps forward. We will make mistakes and all of this is expected! Continue moving forward. Continue learning from mistakes. Continue being humble. Leaders are found everywhere and their examples are what make them true.

I have so much hope in you! You can do this! You are not alone! Don’t Stop!

WRAD is RAD! Join Us!

Talking with World Read Aloud Day Co-Founder, Dorothy Lee!

WRAD Beginnings

The way Dorothy Lee explained how World Read Aloud Day (WRAD) came about is the coolest story, ever! It was a child’s idea and brainstorming that set the wheels in motion. Now, WRAD is a global movement! This is the twelveth year for it and we are partnering with Dorothy and all of the rest of the incredible readers in the world who are celebrating!

WRAD is RAD Stream-A-Thon

If you don’t have any plans, join us! It’s FREE! Amanda Fox, owner and Founder of MetaInk Publishing, is sponsoring this amazing event that will be streaming LIVE from my YouTube from 10am-6pm EST. With her help and the help of another RAD Author, Dennis Mathew, we have an All Star Lineup that highlights representation for children, everywhere!

The Raddest Lineup of Authors:

10 am Adam Rubin with Dragons Love Tacos!

10:30 am Savindar  Naberhaus with Blue Sky White Stars!

11 am Amanda Fox with Markertown FIRST TIME DEBUT!

NOON Melody McAllister (ME) with I’m Sorry Story

12:30 pm Leslea Newman with Welcoming Elijah

1 pm Debbie Ridpath Ohi with Sam & Eva

1:30 pm Dr. Deshunna Monay Ricks with I AM Valuable!

2pm Jay Miletsky with Patrick Picklebottom and the Penny Book

2:30 Sheetal Sheth with Always Anjali

3pm Jeff Kubiak with It’s Me FIRST TIME DEBUT

3:30 Alice Aspinall with a Surprise!

4pm Leticia Ordaz with That Girl On TV Could Be Me

4:30 Betsy O’Neill-Sheehan and Manuel Herrera with Agi and the Thought Compass

5pm Zaa-Vonah Cooper with Bullying Has No Color

AND FOR THE GRAND FINALE!!!!!!

5:30 DENNIS MATHEW with Bello the Cello AND SONGS!!!

Share the RAD WRAD LOVE!

We are inviting you and all your friends to participate! Share this with your friends, teachers, and neighbors because we want everyone to enjoy a good read aloud! There will be signed copy book giveaways every hour, too! Just comment when we are going LIVE or Tweet out a screenshot with #WRADisRAD and we’ll find you and enter you in for a chance to win!

If you just want to be part of the global movement, look for these hashtags: #WorldReadAloudDay #WRAD #WRAD2021 #WRADchallenge

We hope you will join in and have some fun with us! This is all for the love of reading!

See you soon!

Black History is For Everybody

For our first #CourageousConversations in EdTech Broadcast for 2021, we kicked it off by inviting educators from Nearpod+Flocabulary and Buncee. Dr. Ilene Winokur and Victoria Thompson have worked closely with Buncee and I have been working with Nearpod+Flocabulary for years. In previous broadcasts, Victoria shared about how we can get caught up in getting “free” resources from different sites that are not vetted, or checked, to see if they are safe for all students, especially our Students of Color or those who have historically been marginalized.  We invited our friends from these amazing companies because we know a huge part of their mission is to be inclusive and celebrate all people 365 days of the year. However, they also have resources specifically for this month, Black History Month.  

Eda Gimenez shares about the resourcs from Buncee designed for Black History Month.

Af the beginning of the broadcast, our three guests, Eda Gimenez, Mervin Jenkins, and Quinae Jackson talked about why anti-racist education was a personal mission.  As People of Color, they shared the challenges they faced growing up without representation in curriculum and in daily life. They have each strived to do better for students and teachers coming after them.  Their passion for purposeful change shows in the way they lead and represent their respective companies as a genuine way of transforming education.  Both companies use graphics and lessons that represent people from many different backgrounds and ways of life. They lean on and trust educator feedback and community to continuously grow in their learning and teaching platforms.

Mervin Jenkins shows us how Flocabulary offers different types of lessons included with each video, this one from the Racial Justice Unit.

Dr. Ilene mentioned how it’s refreshing to see people from the Middle East being represented positively as she uses Buncee, as she has lived and worked in Kuwait for 36 years! I can testify that it was using Flocabulary that helped transform me into an educator who denied being racist to someone who regularly reflects on anti-racist practices. The best thing about Nearpod is that if you don’t know where to start, they have high-quality lessons ready to be implemented immediately. Both companies have made it so easy for educators to learn even more as they go, and Victoria noted how they are both student-centered companies, which is always part of best practices!  Both Buncee and Nearpod+Flocabulary help educators celebrate and teach about People of Color, social emotional learning, and provide for future ready skills. 

Quinae Jackson shows us all of the high-quality, interactive lessons Nearpod offers.

If you are new to Buncee or Nearpod+Flocabulary, they have made it very easy for educators to embrace anti-racist education and even start Black History Month off with real momentum. You can sign up for a free trials with Buncee and Flocabulary, and if you use my Nearpod PioNear code, you can get three months free of the gold edition, which includes these lessons. Just go to www.nearpod.com/redeem and use my code NP-MelodyMcAllister! 

Events to Look For:

Flocabulary: Black History Month Rap Contest

Join Quinae and myself for this session next weekend!

Nearpod Camp Engage & Weekly #NearpodChat 

Buncee continuously has live trainings every week and demo lessons! 

Both companies (Nearpod acquired Flocabulary about two years ago) also have amazing Ambassador communities on Facebook and Twitter! Not to mention you can DM any one of us and we will get you headed into the right direction for any of these resources! 

Black History Month is Just a Beginning 

Like Quinae Jackson mentioned in our broadcast, “Black History is American History.” She even reminded us that Black History is for all kids of all colors and backgrounds. Mervin Jenkins reminded us that learning how to be anti-racist is not easy. Victoria Thompson reminded us that we are not looking for perfection, just a place to start and grow, while infused with grace along the way. As we start this new decade with a new president and hope that we will get the Coronavirus under control, we need each other so much more. Eda Gimenez shared how when we miss voices we are missing opportunties to learn. Finding a way to celebrate the innovations and creativity of People of Color, while also battling constant adversity, will teach us all how to move forward, together. That is the hope for our all of us and why we will continue to have courageous conversations about race in edtech!

Black History is American History.

Quinae Jackson

LIVE w/ Rachelle & Mel: Guest Amanda Fox

Rachelle & Mel in THRIVEinEDU

Join Us Every Mon & Fri!

Every Monday and Friday, I go LIVE with my friend and colleague, Rachelle Dene Poth. We started going LIVE in the Facebook Community she created inspired by her beautiful book with the same name: Unconventional: Ways to Thrive in EDU.  We began going live during late summer and have since featured many educators. Those who are in this community with us are amazing as it’s a place where you can share what you are doing and creating in education: blogs, YouTubes, Flipgrids, conference opportunities, books, etc. But going LIVE twice a week has been so much fun and kept me inspired by all the amazing things educators are doing all over the country and world. 

Amanda Fox: Markertown

Today we talked to the wonderful educator, author, illustrator, and entrepreneur Amanda Fox. She just released a Kickstarter campaign to help publish her newest book, Markertown. I can’t wait for this book to be released and read it to my own children. It’s a story that is beautifully illustrated with a message that can help lead to conversations about self-worth, kindness, and how our own abilities create beauty in our surroundings. It is an inclusive children’s book that parents and educators can add to their libraries and know it will spark positive change for the readers who step into this colorful world! 

An Illustration from Amanda Fox’s new book, Markertown!

Are you an educator who needs a supportive community to THRIVE? Join us! We’d love to have you and we have many new guests coming that you will be sure to inspire!

Recent Guest Blogs

This year has been a doozy as in the pandemic, but as a social media support and blogger, I have really grown and it feels incredible. I haven’t blogged on my site much lately, but I have been regularly blogging for AliceKeeler.com. I appreciate Alice’s support for educators and letting guest bloggers share their creations on her platform!

If you are interested in reading my blogs from her site, take a look:

All I Want For Christmas is a Signed Copy of the #ImSorryStory

Find Out Students’ Needs in Private Comments

Schedule Your Tweet in Advance on Twitter

Read Aloud: I AM Valuable By Dr. Deshunna Monay Ricks

Coding To Kindness with Author Valerie Sousa

Using @StreamYardapp & @Canva to Create a LIVE Class or Personal Broadcast

Top 3 Google Classroom Beginner YouTube Picks

The Intentional KCPS Digital Learning Team @kcpsdlt

Change Up Your Lessons with @Flocabulary

Google Classroom Start for Beginners: a playlist that needs to be shared!

You Are Invited to our Teacher Tech FB Community!

SEL Story Connection & Virtual Author Read Aloud with @MjmcalliWrites

I know I have written a few more, but you can see I’ve been blogging more than ever! If you can guest blog for someone with a large platform, jump at the opportunity.

Here are a few blogging tips I’ve learned along the way:

  1. WRITE, WRITE, WRITE: Consistency helps builds your audience.
  2. SEEK Feedback from others who will critically look at your writing. Don’t shy away from feedback, it is the KEY to help you grow in your writing.
  3. SHARE what you are doing without fear. There are others out there who will learn from your work!
  4. REVISE REVISE REVISE and then publish.
  5. Edit others’ writing and you are supporting them and growing in your own writing skills.
  6. Blog posts don’t have to be long. No one has a ton of time, even during a pandemic. 300-400 words and a couple of headings for organization is the sweet spot for many busy readers. Watch the size of your graphics because really large pictures take a while to load when readers go to your post.

Thank you for reading and supporting my work. I’m so excited that I will feature my first guest blog on here soon!!

Sincerest Apologies

Right before the pandemic, the I’m Sorry Story was published. The greatest part of its release has been sharing it with young people all over the country, and even in Germany! Kids have a lot to say after we read this story together. They may be young in years, but they have already felt the pain of insincere apologies. Their youth and honesty are refreshing to hear. Their voices SHOULD be heard more often and hopefully, we’ll have many more #ImSorryStory read-alouds!

One important takeaway of this story is addressing the “It’s ok” response after an apology. When asked if that response is a good one to use, there is quite a bit of thought and discussion. For many, they’ve never thought about how often they’ve said, “it’s okay” but one young man spoke up today and said, “If we always say ‘it’s okay’ then people will still do wrong stuff all the time because they know we will say ‘it’s okay.’” He wasn’t wrong. This happens all the time in real life. Do the words “it’s okay” mean automatic forgiveness? Is automatic forgiveness sincere forgiveness? Young people sense the truth when they are involved.

Another question that brings up more thoughtful discussion is “Do you have to forgive?” For some, it’s a matter of faith to always choose forgiveness. While that is understandable, just because the words “I forgive you” are spoken, it doesn’t mean the heart work has truly been processed to genuine forgiveness. Young people talk about things that can’t be forgiven. They talk about how moms shouldn’t forgive some things. There is even discussion that we can forgive others, but we don’t have to keep people in our lives who perpetually hurt us and expect us to get over it. This is deep and something we all have to think about.

Today a very important question was brought to our attention when reading with Mr. Dene Gainey’s class. This question was offered by one of his fifth graders. His student asked “Does it help to use the word IF in your apology?” The discussion went on to acknowledge how that tiny word separates responsibility from the person who caused hurt to the person who was hurt. That tiny word is actually a huge reason why I wrote this story. This tiny word is a reason to teach social emotional lessons because we’ve seen how this tiny, insincere word ruins an opportunity to show hurt people that a person is truly sorry. Mr. Gainey offered this question, “What if you asked the person, ‘Did I hurt you?’” That question right there takes the IF off the table and guides us to the sincerest of apologies.

The I’m Sorry Story has activities and follow up questions that a person of any age can reflect and learn from. If you would like me to do a virtual read-aloud with your class, please contact me and we will set it up. For all of the teachers and students who have let me tell my story and share in discussion, I want to say thank you from the depths of my heart! It has been the greatest joy of having the #ImSorryStory published!

Math Mentoring: The Struggle is Real AND it’s an Asset!

Struggling in math has been my greatest asset as a math teacher.  Remembering the pain of negative self-talk while feeling like giving up was my only option…well, math trauma is not easily forgotten. It’s why so many adults, decades after high school graduation, will still tell you they are bad at math. For me, the silver lining to that trauma has always been the ability to relate to my students, and even my own children, when they have math struggles.  One of the greatest compliments students and former students have shared with me is that math finally made sense to them when they were in my class. 

One thing I’ve never said, and will never say, to my children is that I was bad at math.  Even as a new teacher, I asked parents not to say that to their children. Telling your children or students you are bad at math is like encouraging them to quit before they even begin. 

Now, I have always told my students and children that I struggled in math.  We all understand what struggle means, and the good news is that there is always the possibility of winning in a struggle!  Every year, I tell them how I had to stay in at recess in first grade because I could not understand the concept of subtraction.  Crazily enough, my teacher had no idea how to teach it in a new way that made sense to me. She tried to explain it repeatedly in the same way…and it didn’t make sense to me for the longest time.  I also tell them about how in first grade I received a C in math and it made me feel terrible. I never wanted another C on my report card and made sure I never did again. That desire to make the Honor Roll (I was a middle child and wanted to stand out in some way, and academically was my route) kept me from quitting.  Math was a struggle, but I found a way to understand. As early as seven years old, I realized that quitting was not an option. Finding math success was never easy for me, but through my school years, I found what worked for me. This is what I share with my students hoping it will help them, too. 

Addressing the Struggle at the Beginning of the Year

First week of school when I say the word “math”I look around to see who dreads the very word itself. It’s not just about reading expressions, but I look for patterns of misbehavior and any kind of drama that might commence when that dreaded word is spoken.  I always begin the year assuring my students that if they stick with me and trust me, as their math teacher, I will not leave them behind. I have promised that to my students for years, and I mean it with every fiber of my being. I explain that when they don’t quit, math can be fun like a puzzle.  

What does it take to help children dig into math when they want to check out? It takes patience and time to do it to do it to do it to do it right, child, I got my mind set on math, I got my mind, set on math… 

All singing aside (remember He gave me a melody *wink wink*), in a whole group lesson, the ones who get the concept easily, I normally allow them to begin the assignment and do it at their pace.  The students who have questions stick with me and the ones who are lost become a small group.  

Helping my own child, a fifth grader review geometry!

What does helping kids through math struggle look like?

Sitting next to a child who struggles is important.  That nearness factor makes a difference. They know I won’t ignore them or allow them to pretend to work when really they are just doodling or trying to look busy.  See, by the time they reach fifth grade, they’ve pretty much given up. They don’t want the attention! One of my students, who was desperately struggling, knew how to look busy, so sitting next to me kept him from trying to con me that he was actually trying to solve problems.  He definitely tried to trick me, but I called him out. A few more times like this, and he knew I meant business. He stopped trying to look busy and started attempting the problems before him. Just attempting…finding a starting place to solve is huge when you struggle in math.  I remember this from my own childhood. 

When students have progressed to where they begin solving problems more easily, I still encourage them to ask for help, but I do not let them come to me unless they have attempted the problem.  I can ask them, “What do you think you are going to do here?” or “Where do you think you should start?” They are so used to struggling and the teacher just giving them an answer that they often ask before even thinking about how/where they should begin.  Getting them to dig in and try to understand the problem is foundational in developing grit and sticking with the problem. When solving math equations or word problems, it’s truly important to have a place to stick information to, so beginning the problem and attempting to solve it gives them something to add or learn from. If they don’t think through this first part, a teacher’s lesson is like throwing darts into the dark without any specific target that will reach their students. 

I also coach my students while giving notes. At some point, they may stop understanding. I coach them to keep taking the notes I give them, but make a note to themselves that this is where they have stopped understanding.  Again, I learned this from my own struggles. In fact, in my Algebra one course when the teacher was finished with the lesson and asked for questions, I was able to ask my questions clearly. To do this well, I had to turn off my negative self-talk.  If I allowed my negatiave self-talk to take over, the only thing I heard from that point on was me telling me how stupid I was and how I was the only person not understanding. In place of negative self-talk, I encouraged myself to take a deep breath and remind myself that even though I didn’t understand the concept just then, I knew I would eventually if I didn’t shut down.  That allowed me to keep paying attention and sometimes even cleared my confusion. When I shut down, this wasn’t possible.  

Something else that helps students is allowing them to talk about patterns they notice.  Whether they struggle or not, when they notice a math pattern, letting them talk it out with the rest of the class will help everyone!! Worst case, it’s also a way a  teacher can help clear up misconceptions early on. The best math teachers for me were my peers. Sometimes students identify specific items that make a world of difference for their peers. My son is in third grade and has a more natural way of understanding math than his older sister.  Whenever he notices a pattern, he stops and we have an entire conversation about it. He truly amazes me. We can, and should, help our students learn the patterns because often times when they figure it out for themselves, they feel more confident and the knowledge isn’t dumped after an assessment. My son talking about the patterns he sees also helps his older sister and younger sister think through that math pattern, too.  That’s a win!!

It’s a Journey

For students who struggle in math, it is an emotional journey.  When teachers stop and say, “I know you are struggling, and I’m here to help, and I won’t go on until you understand,” it’s a balm for our students’ insecure nerves. When they are fifth graders coming to me, they usually have three to four years of feeling left behind.  Hoping to help my struggling students, my mindset is firm that their struggles stop with me and I do all in my power to get them to grow and decrease any learning gaps.  

Over time, I have developed the wisdom necessary to see when students quit before even trying or when they are totally overwhelmed.  It’s important to know the difference because both situations require different responses. The quit-before-trying-learner needs a firm reminder of not giving up and figuring out a place to start, while the overwhelmed learner needs to know they can take a break or use another method to help them.  

Helping students dig into math struggles is such a beautiful way to help them learn perseverance and purpose.  When they decide to lean into the struggle, they form a mental confidence that can’t be stolen from them. Can you see how facing their insecurity in math can help them in other areas of life, too? Having a teacher who will go the whole distance means everything for these students, and many times, changes a negative academic course into a new path of learning and goal setting!  I have seen the glory! I have seen the joy of confidence from the same student who broke down and cried with me at one point. So yeah…when my students have told me that my fifth grade class was the first time math made sense to them, I feel like I’ve earned an Oscar! 

Resources 

Have you heard of the book written by Alice Aspinall called Everyone Can Learn Math? Recently, I read it with my five children and it sparked great discussion.  My oldest, who is currently in fifth grade, found the main character, Amy, very “relatable.” Amy feels the math struggle deeply and so does her mom! I would recommend this book for every parent and educator to keep in their home or classroom library.  I know we will be pulling it out to reread a lot. It’s also a good way to combine your academics. Author, Alice Aspinall also recommends Adding Parents to the Equation by Hilary Kreisburg and Matthew Bayranevand. 

Also, have you heard of Nearpod and Flocabulary? When I went back into teaching public school a few years ago, they were the first technologies that I implemented in my lessons.  My students and children love it. They can be personalized or differentiated for the different level of learning going on in your classroom. These resources are engaging and will definitely make a difference in small group learning.  The coolest part is now they are together!!! 

Before Christmas, I went to the Anchorage Barnes & Noble and bought some new books by Jo Boaler in hopes of helping me grow in teaching and understanding the math struggle: What’s Math Got To Do With It, Mathematical Mindsets, and Limitless Mind.  There is another book called Math Recess: Playful Learning in an Age of Disruption by Sunil Singh that I hope to purchase and read. All of these books, and both of these authors, are mentioned frequently when the topic of math struggles come up–and they do frequently! We can also Google their videos!  

What are resources that have helped you? Let’s work together to help our students learn through the math struggle! 

Making Time for Family in the Digital Age

Last week I had the honor and pleasure of hosting a webinar for a parent communication platform, ParentSquare Learning Network, regarding making time for family in the digital age. We talked and collaborated as educators and parents on what that looks and feels like. In preparation for this webinar, I definitely had to self-reflect on my own practices as an educator and mother of five. My reflections and discussions led me to this conviction: we need to know how to use tech in our homes and classrooms in a way that bridges us with the people in front of us and that wisdom is often learned after making mistakes.

Follow the #PSquareLN on Twitter!

As parents and educators, we can talk until we are blue in the face about what our students and kids should be doing. We can give them all the right answers and they may believe that we are the most knowledgeable people on this planet. But my own experience has shown that what we say matters less than what we do. At home, when I read, my kids want to read. When I watch TV, my kids play near me even though we have a dedicated space for a playroom. When I’m on my phone, they fight about who can be on the iPad or laptop. My kids want to be near me and do what I do! So teaching our kids by our own examples is the really the most effective way to show our values and priorities. The question is, do our words and actions align? I can honestly say that in our home, as of late, we have depended on too much technology to fill in time, so going into the winter break, we are going to actively do better about being present with one another.

There are ways to combat the use of too much technology. I put my phone in another room, up the stairs, when I need or want to be fully present with my family. Other things we discussed in the webinar are setting a timer, making sure our kids are under supervision, and setting a rule of no devices at the table. While our kids are spending more time with family during the winter break, it’s easy to let them have their iPads and play for longer periods of time. However, like my friend and mentor Mandy Froehlich shared with me, every minute we spend online is a minute we are trading for other things, such as spending time with our kids. A timer would be a great way to illustrate the quantity of time we spend on our devices. I’ll be the first to admit that I need to cut back!

Things we can do without needing our devices:

Baking,

Writing/illustrating stories,

Exploring nature,

Reading alone or together,

Praying, meditating, reading about our faith,

Creating meaningful experiences in our community,

and HAVING CONVERSATIONS!

I mentioned in the webinar that having conversations with our kids is free but is so costly if we don’t have them. We learn what our kids need from us when we regularly converse with them. We can get out of practice when we spend too much time on our devices, but the good news is we can make sure to get back to what is important. There is a message that has stayed with me for years: if we don’t stop and listen to the little things our kids are trying to tell us now, then don’t expect them to trust us with the important things later. When we spend time in conversation, even when it’s silly, we are actively learning about our children (or students) as they are revealing their personalities and values to us. Have you ever looked at your child and thought, “I don’t really know you very well anymore.” Honestly, many of us have had this thought, and when we want to know our children more deeply, we need to remember to make sure they know and feel like we are present and listening to them.

Using an app to capture some fun moments with my family!

As an educator, building community was my overreaching goal for the entire year. Welcoming parents and families was part of the success I had in forming deep connections with my students. Communication is key. Sharing our classroom experiences through our digital parent communication platform was a way I bridged what we were doing in class to home. It was also how parents helped me bridge home to school. I hoped using a communication platform and sharing with parents would stimulate conversation and encourage participation in school and class wide activities. However, digital tools can only go so far. I also had to make time for face-to-face and phone conferences. Digital resources can easily lose context so some messages should never be shared in any form except face-to-face or by phone.

The best way to ensure quality time in this digital age is to find a good balance. We can draw from our own past experiences as we remember that our parents did not record every single moment of every single event. At family gatherings, we’d take time to get everyone in pictures, but we spent more time talking and playing. Our culture feels the need to record and share everything, but when we are honest, we know that we lose out on being present when we are always looking for the perfect shot or recording instead of participating.

Using technology is not evil. Using our devices to write emails, find new recipes, and share important life events is also part of our culture and there isn’t anything wrong with these things. It’s always the extremes that kill our ability to be present. My own personal reflection on spending too much time on my device is often when I’m feeling overwhelmed in daily responsibilities or feeling disconnected from community. Have you ever thought about what may lead you or your children to spend mindless hours online? Having this information and reflection is a great way to start combating the timesuck of being online.

Each ornament is symbolic for a family member. The red door for 2019 was my husband’s for opening a new door of dreams & possibilities!

Finally, this holiday season, my family is starting from scratch in establishing new traditions. If you have followed my #onemonthgoals journey, this month I chose to share the Christmas Spirit all month long instead of doing one huge thing on Christmas morning. I knew if we really focused on spending quality time together this month, Christmas morning wouldn’t feel like a one and done thing. We are getting to know our new home better, learning the traditions of our new community, and really learning each other which was the most important reason for choosing to move to Alaska. Things we’ve already done together are having a book-unwrapping day and spending time just reading. Hot cocoa and cookie nights, holiday movies, gingerbread house making, and we’ll be participating in the winter solstice celebration this weekend. Last weekend, my husband and I picked out an ornament for each child and each other. We gave it to them with their new stockings. One by one we had each child open their new items and explained why each ornament was symbolic of them. We don’t have but a few ornaments on our tree, but the ones we have are meaningful.

Thank you so much for reading this! I hope you will share some traditions and ways you have quality time with your family. These are great conversations to have this season and may help us be more present as we welcome in 2020.

Outta My League: Where I Choose To Be

Do you ever feel completely out of your depth? Out on a limb? In over your head? I do all the time. In fact, when I returned to full time teaching in 2015, after a three year absence of staying home with my children, TobyMac’s song Beyond Me was my anthem.

Returning to work was necessary and the right thing to do, though very challenging at the time. We had to find in-home childcare for three of our four children (ages almost one year, two years, and four years old) and that was not an easy task. One of our vehicles bit the dust the day before my first day back and we did not have the finances to fix it. But still, I knew returning to teaching was the right thing. It wasn’t easy emotionally or physically to leave my babies. The fear of returning to a job I never dreamed I’d return to was REAL. On top of those issues, my dreams of staying at home and home schooling my kiddos had to bite the dust. Also, upon returning, I realized I was way behind in technology! It felt like too much, just too hard to deal with. Do you know what I mean?

The problems we faced did not go away because I returned to work, but it definitely helped, and we got to keep our beautiful home, so there’s that. In fact, the year of 2015-2016 truly sucked in so many ways. I admit that because maybe you are reading this and your current year is sucking, too. I feel that.

Through the suck, we did find for all of our problems, there were solutions. We found care, we bought a used car with my first paycheck, we kept our home, and I learned all I could about education technology. Not finding solutions wasn’t even conceivable, right? When lives are in your care, their importance fuels you to go on even when you feel like the circumstances are too hard to conquer. My children and students were important enough to me to strike out and find a way.

This is where you insert your faith, a good playlist, ask for help, and do whatever you have to do to find a way. It doesn’t mean problems disappear, but it does mean you’ll find new opportunities and new dreams await you when you forgive that the life you thought you would lead is no longer going to run in that direction. There is a lot of grace and forgiveness in that waiting area.

Currently, I still feel like I live outta my league. But now I see it as a good thing. I’m so extremely blessed to live this life and the sucky days brought forth many rainbows personally and professionally. Embracing challenges and opportunities is something I wish for all of my friends, colleagues, and family. When you decide to face your battles, the growth that sets in your mind and body will take you places, man! Embracing adversity is one way to get to the next level. We were never going to live easy lives. The curve balls will never stop being thrown in our direction, but we don’t have to fear them, either. I know that even if I strike out, there’s still a chance I won’t. Like my brother told me years ago, “Melody, if it’s there, swing!” Striking out doesn’t feel as scary as not swinging at all. Now that I’m living beyond me, the new challenges we face feel like more promises of something greater than previously experienced. Sure there are crappy days, but also new joy waiting around the corner! Do you feel it?

Today, I celebrate the new! New dreams! New directions! New friends! New places! And even new problems! This is what life is about. I’m so glad you are in this race with me.

Safe Spaces Aren’t for Snowflakes

In a couple of weeks, I’ll be presenting at one of the largest educator conferences in our country, #ISTE19.  I’ll be presenting a 45-minute, interactive lecture about Using Edtech to Promote Inclusion and Diversity in the Classroom.  And as I continue editing my slideshow and talking points, those poignant moments when kids were brave enough to bare their souls and share about the labels and context this world had already put on them, flood my mind.  When I get nervous and doubt that I’m the right person to be sharing this message, I have to remind myself that I’m doing this for them and others like them.  Doubts that a white, privileged middle class American woman could offer anything that would help anyone else understand, well that’s a hurdle in my mind. I’m glad for it though, it will keep me humble and away from a know-it-all attitude.

There were times in my career when I wish I was recording conversations about race and culture so I could share with those, like me, who had no clue that young students were developing poor esteems based on their melanin levels.  Once during a guided reading lesson, an eleven year old told me he was Mexican but he didn’t like how his neighbors called him Mexican.  He said it made him feel bad.  This led a conversation around the table about the labels these kids were carrying.  One boy shared he didn’t mind being called black or African American.  Those were nice labels. One boy said he just wanted to be called Abraham, his name.   We chuckled when he said that because it lightened the mood.  I listened.  Honestly, what did I have to offer? I was super green as a teacher in a diverse classroom, and it was my turn to learn from my students.  If others could just hear them, too, maybe they’d see how lethal words could be, how devastating the n-word is for children developing into young people.

Safe spaces aren’t for sissies or snowflakes.  Young people need to share and we need to listen.  It is the greatest professional development…greatest people development that our profession can offer.  We can call it a classroom community, but kids who feel secure and loved will open up and allow you into their lives in transforming ways…for all involved.  My students were excellent teachers.

Diversity in education isn’t just about skin color or ethnic background.  There is diversity in learning styles, teaching styles, preferred communication, and levels of voice to name a few.  That’s why I love edtech.  It reaches beyond the habitual hand-raisers.  It gives everyone an opportunity to shine and share. (My favorite teaching tools are Nearpod and Flocabulary!)  But to reach students, and for them to desire to give us their best, that safe space needs to be in place.  It’s not for sissies and snowflakes, it’s for young people using their voices, learning how to speak up, and feeling comfortable to dust off after failure and keep trying.

This may be old news for you, but if not, and you are wondering how to grow that safe space, I want to put forth some considerations for you:

  1.  What are the assumptions you have about people of color, people who have a different religion, or people with preferences you don’t understand?  Even when we don’t say a word, our assumptions speak volumes.
  2.  How comfortable do you feel being around people who are unlike you?  Do you avoid it at all costs or do you embrace moments where you are in the minority?
  3. Mellody Hobson, in her TED Talk, suggests us to not hide from what makes us uncomfortable but to tackle it head on so we can get “comfortable with being uncomfortable” as that is where growth and success take place.
  4. Lastly, are you open to talking about current events that are weighing heavily on your students, even when you don’t understand the reasons?  When we listen, I mean really listen, we will learn so much about our students.

From personal experience, growing up in white America, we are taught to be color blind, keep away from talking about race relations, and thank God that we live in a better time where everyone is treated equally with the same opportunities as anyone else.  But talking and learning from others who grew up with a different perspective of America, we have a lot to learn.

For minorities and marginalized people, the opportunities aren’t always as plentiful and more walls have to be climbed for victory.  For many, using their voice to fight inequality gets them labeled with all sorts of stereotypes, and it’s easy to grow weary in the process.  If we allow ourselves to own this reality of different perspectives, yes in this great land even, then it’s easier to see what our students need from us.  We can help them achieve what they need to for the success they are looking for.  When we care enough to see past our assumptions, and our minds grow too large to house the dangerous misconceptions about others, we will naturally want to form that safe space for our kids.  It’s not built from physical materials, it starts with the connections we allow ourselves to form when we can see a child for the beautiful being in front of us with God-given talents and abilities.  We will do anything for that child. We will give that child a clean slate on a daily basis.  We will teach our hearts out.  We will water his/her dreams by creating moments and opportunities that ignite curiosity!

We will build that safe space for them.