Relationships Matter

Starting to teach at 23 years of age, I can tell you that I did not have an abundance of wisdom.  BUT, I did know that relationships matter in my profession of teaching.  Like many college kids after earning their degrees, I was super scared about where the next road in life would take me.  I had been in school my whole life and now I was supposed to find a professional position????  The future was scary and I was eight hours, 500 miles, from my parents.  But as God would have it, after a semester of substitute teaching, the school where I did my student teaching, hired me for a fourth/fifth grade math and science teacher position.

Honestly, I had no idea what I was doing.  I had a total meltdown the night before school started because people were going to leave me with their kids and I was supposed to help them, grow them, get them to the next level…. Scary and exhilarating at the same time, that sums up my first year of teaching! Hmmm, I wonder if it still kinda sums it up?

Every morning I woke up and couldn’t wait to get to work! And I made peanuts, I’m pretty sure I earned more as a receptionist for the dealership I had worked for.  But those kids, they were awesome.  My colleagues, well, they became my best friends. My boss believed in me, and looking back now, I was in a supportive environment that I wish all new educators could have.  My Mentor, Jenna Frye, was incredible and her son, Tanner, was in my fourth grade class.  As I type this out, I’m smiling because her family made such a positive impact on my life.

But there were a lot of families who made an impact on my life.  I never went without food or entertainment!  I was always being invited to places.  Heck, I took some of my kids to the movies because I loved being with them.  I have some super silly memories of getting lost taking my young charges home!  The point is, the relationships growing in my life mattered to me more than anything.  They fed me and pushed me to be my best.  I genuinely loved the students I was teaching, and I still do.  I’ve watched them graduate high school, college, and even been invited to weddings! Some of them have babies the same age as mine.  I am just so thrilled to see them grow into good people.

Relationships matter. I invited Tanner to read to my first graders today.  One of my first year students reading to my first, first grade class…it choked me up quite a bit!  I feel so blessed to see a young man, whose life I was part of as a youngster, grow up and pursue his dreams and share his story with six and seven year olds, that he doesn’t know, in another state because he knows some things are just important like that. He sang/talked to them a song I had taught him so many years ago and they sang to him “Lean On Me” before he had to go, and the whole experience was just precious for my teacher’s heart.

They are all the reasons I do this job everyday.  My first graders today, and all of my students throughout the years.  I have taught all the different subject matters in elementary school, but they were, and are, the reasons it matters most.  Becoming friends with former students is the icing on the cake.  Watching them make life choices any parent would be proud to see their child make, well I can’t describe the pride and love I feel to the justice that I feel it.  But I know that not all people get to see this kind of heartwork in their professions, so I feel especially blessed to see it with mine.

If you are reading this, and you were in my class at one point, or we just said “hi” in the hallways, YOU are the reason I do my best everyday.  You matter to me.  I am so proud of you.  I don’t just look forward to teaching my class, I get excited about being part of every child’s life that comes into contact with mine.  Today was a gift.  You are a present in mine.

 

Connecting Through Tech: What’s Holding You Back?

Technology is great. I’m only a fan of it, though, when I actually know how to use it to make life better or cooler.  A few years ago, I had been out of the classroom for three whole years and when I came back, technology was not my friend. I felt like it had advanced at least ten years ahead in my short absence.  I also felt pretty old for a young person.

BUT, the district I teach in offers a lot of professional developement.  My principal loves technology and since we get something new every month, I decided I should go to some classes after school. Through these training sessions,  I joined Twitter, found Nearpod, and ClassDojo.  I heard something about Skype for Educators, but that felt too out of my league.  So I dove into Twitter, started using Nearpod, and immediately fell in love with ClassDojo.  I loved these programs because they were so user friendly and you couldn’t break it.  The more I used technology, the more comfortable I became, and I learned that  you can’t break much.

Flocabulary was also very user-friendly and soooo fun.  Who doesn’t like to sing, rap, dance, and learn, right? I would tweet about all of these programs and the companies would tweet back.  I felt like a rockstar!  So cool!  But even more cool, I started following all these other educators who were learning or leading, just like me.  My confidence in technology grew, and my Professional Learning Network (PLN) blew up!  All the sudden, I had hundreds of people to bounce ideas off of and I could even help others…technology is cool when it connects and helps others, and it’s worth the moments of discomfort before finding my way.

I think it’s funny when my colleagues tell me I’m tech-savvy.  I still feel behind in a lot of ways.  However, if I know there is a program that is going to help my students love learning, I will fight my fear and dive in.

So this past week, I gave Skype Classroom a try.  It really wasn’t hard. It was awkward and there were some funky moments of tech freezing, but mostly my students loved it.  Thursday, three educators from Miami, Florida read my kids stories focusing on social emotional learning, and Friday, a children’s author read us one of her books.  Jo Mach of Finding My Way Books writes non-fiction books about children with different disabilties and how they are winning in life.  She is an adovcate for inclusivity and after years of being an occupational therapist, she is using these real-life stories and characters to show children that we really can be and do what we want in life.  These learning moments gave my students an opportunity to be connected gloabablly, practice listening, practice talking with others, and learn even more how to relate with different kinds of people.

Something important about learning anything new is reflecting on what we just did.  Giving students time to let it cement in their brains.  So we drew and wrote about what we learned.  I thought Skype Classroom was too hard to implement a few years ago and I thought it would be too hard for my first graders to write and reflect on the stories they listened to.  BUT I TRIED IT ANYWAY!  The teachable moments were plenty and my students blew me away with the depth of their thinking, even as six and seven year olds.

So my own reflection is this:  keep going.  Keep giving these kids opportunities to connect with others, learn from others, find ways to ariticulate big ideas and important take aways, and please, Melody, teacher, stop with the fear and limitations.  I shared what we are doing with some other teachers, too.  I hope they’ll see how cool it is to connect with other educators in our country (or world) and try something new, too.  Even more importantly, I hope this fuels my students to love to read and talk about what they are reading.  Our kids need us to bring fun into learning, even with the count down to state testing.  ESPECIALLY with the count down to state testing!

So what have you been curious about trying? I dare you to dive in! Remember it’s okay if it’s a bit chaotic at first!  Your students will love you for being brave!

Here’s to 2019: My Song!

Here’s to 2019! I’ve been hoping you’d come and dreading it at the same time.  The passage of time can feel like the enemy is after me when there’s so much to be done and so many challenges along the way.

Here’s to 2019!  New beginnings feel like spring, even during the winter.  Here’s to a fresh start that’s been offered and may I use what I’ve learned from this past year and use it to make this new one better for all I love!

Here’s to 2019!  If I don’t lose all my baby fat, may I grow fonder of myself, anyway.  May I cherish the grays, for I’m still alive to tell about them. May I smile at my laugh lines because the best jokes are the ones shared among friends.

Here’s to 2019! Life might get harder this new year, and Lord, I need your help so I don’t dread what’s coming.  Help me to live in this moment where I have all I need and want, surrounded especially, with the people closest to my heart.

Here’s to 2019!  Patience is hard to come by with little ones running all over the place and a messy house that refuses to stay clean! May You shift my focus so it’s on what truly matters, Heavenly Father, and forgive others like I have been forgiven by You.

Here’s to 2019!  Dreams make life worth living.  Here’s to pursuing them and celebrating them when they come to fruition after the ups and downs that certainly will be along the path.

Here’s to 2019!  I am here. So far from perfect.  Like everyone else, I’ve made mistakes and I’ll make new ones, of this there is 100% certainty.  May I embrace these new lessons without quitting!

Here’s to 2019!  Here’s to 365 new chances of looking a situation and asking myself how I can make it better for someone else?

Here’s to 2019!  The hope and joy felt in the hearts of many, on this new day, comes from a Creator who has given each of us our own unique purpose in life, and part of that responsibility is sharing it with others!  

So here is to the newest year, and I pray, Lord, that I meet with You regularly.  I ask You to open the doors of adventure and to grow my faith so this life, no matter the year, is always lived to its highest calling and deepest purpose:  to love my neighbor as myself and love You with my whole heart, soul, and mind. Amen.

School Leadership: We Need More!

We need more school leaders in our schools.  I’m not saying we need more principals or Central Office personnel.  I’m not saying we need to have more degrees and titles. I’m saying we need more leaders. We need more people who are sharing the load in the ideas and events that draw us into being a school community.  We need more leaders who are willing to step out of their classrooms and into the Big Picture of where our schools are headed.

These last couple of years, I have grown into an educator I am proud of being.  It’s not because my students have reached 100% passing rates on any one exam, least of all state exams.  It’s not because I’m better at teaching than you, or even because I have more than a thousand Twitter followers.  Although, I do feel pretty good about that last one. Ha!

I’m proud of myself because I went back into the classroom three years ago out of financial desperation, but I never looked at teaching as just a paycheck.  Everything I do in my classroom and school is to grow something larger than myself. I want kids to like school. I want MY KIDS to want to go to school. I want kids to be inspired and know that even as young people, they have so much to offer their community and the world at large.

I’m sure there are people who think I’m a sad sucker who will do anything admin throws at me, but I don’t do what I do because of admin.  I do what I do because I understand the importance of my impact in my students’ lives, in their parents’ lives, and how it plays out in our community.  I am purposeful about connections. I grow them and they flourish. But before flourishing, I have heavy conversations, meetings, and conferences. I spend time getting to know and encouraging others.  I build up the people around me because I see how it builds me up, too.

I’m a school leader, but I’m not a perfect teacher.  I mess up…a lot. I make mistakes…a lot. I piss people off…a lot!  But my faith keeps me humble, the Spirit convicts me and opens my eyes to my errors, and together these two things help me apologize and forgive others.  I’m a school leader because I know people come first. They come before any paperwork, are the reason for paperwork, and loving people makes me stop what I’m doing  and notice others. I do not walk down the halls with my head down. I acknowledge and engage my peers and every student who crosses my path. Watching them light up because I engage with them is worth the effort of getting out of my own thoughts.  I have often been told that I am the first friend that new employees make when they come to our school. I actively seek out people who seem disengaged or lonely. I make friends with every grade level teacher, custodian, and cafeteria person. I’m a school leader because I know that each person, regardless of level of education or job title, has a high impact on our school community and the children in front of us.  

But I get bitter. My mom used to tell me growing up, “It’s lonely at the top.” It’s lonely being a school leader.  So many have given up and don’t understand why I continue to stress about things. So many of my peers never even reach a level of caring that I believe is necessary to do our job, and these things drain me.  These people drain me, and I get bitter. And then I’m reminded that I don’t do the things I do because I’m trying to please people who will never be pleased. I do the things I do so my kids will love school. I do what I do so my students will love school.  I do the things I do so my students’ parents will see the impact we have together as partners. I do the things I do because the work I do impacts this world in a positive or negative way and it goes far beyond my classroom.

We need more school leaders.  We need more people to pitch in and form community in our schools, to get uncomfortable, to get out of their classrooms, and join us in sharing the load.  If we could only teach and our students learned, then we wouldn’t be living in the world that I know. We need more people to form and share the vision of our school systems.  We define the community of our school in how we respond to one another, how we lift each other up…or don’t. When there is a lack of peer support, I have also noticed there is a lack of support for our students.  Positive relationships are not forming on any front, and this causes bitterness in many of us, and people find it much easier to leave than stay around in a toxic atmosphere. Who could blame them? Students are more inspired to find ways to get out of school than do complete assignments or try to learn in toxic school environments.  

Tonight, at an event in our local city, many students came up to me and got a hug, but none of these students were in my classroom.  They know me as the teacher who engages with them in the hallway or school event. They know me as the mom of Madi, Ben, and Lela. They know me as the loud teacher who sings a lot.  And because they know me and there is trust, I’m not just a school leader, I’m a leader in my community outside of the building walls. I feel the weight of this, and I cherish it. Always, I am humbled.  

We need more school leaders, not just newer technology and better lesson plans.  Our purpose drives our impact, and if we don’t have impact, our students don’t have purpose.  But oh, when we do have purpose, and we work together to achieve it, everyone in our community will feel the impact.

TCCA Evolve: A Conference FOR Educators

This past weekend, I was able to attend a FREE conference for educators in Houston, TX called TCCA Evolve brought to us by the Aldine Independent School District.  I went with a colleague from my district, Statia Paschel, and it was an all around, amazing experience.  We were able to meet other educators in our Professional Learning Networks (PLN) and grow it at the same time.  There are things we are going to implement in our classrooms immediately, so we do not forget the jewels we learned.  It would be phenomenal if more large school districts offered something so amazing for educators.  We don’t make enough money to be able to afford larger conferences in other parts of the country, so attending a conference with an incredible keynote like Ken Shelton, without need of asking for a P.O., is liberating for those of us hoping to be change makers in a system that desperately needs us!

So let’s start with the incredible keynote.  Ken Shelton, an African American, shared about his adolescent years in school in California.  Thirty years ago, much to the dismay of his high school counselor, he was the only black student in his AP and Honors courses. He shared about the positive and negative impacts educators had on his life, especially the educators in his own family.  He led us to think deeply about the labels we use to code children and how they may hold our students back from the earliest of grades.  One thing, as a new first grade teacher, that stood out to me was putting kids into “intervention” classes when really they may need more support.  When people go through intervention it is because they are doing something self-destructive, so the negative connotation at an early age is sending the wrong message to our students and their parents.  They need more support. We can offer that.  Another strong message from Shelton was about equity in education, having courageous conversations (yes he said that and it validated my heart’s cry), and how are we using our technology to ensure that students of color are getting the mentoring and relationships they need to succeed.

His messages were so timely and necessary.  I felt so privileged to be part of this and grateful to Aldine ISD for making this available to us without charging a price that would mean more financial sacrifice.

The sessions I was able to attend fired me up to put the things Ken Shelton challenged us to think about, in practice.  I can’t wait to Mystery Skype and use Buncee to help students become the leaders in their own, creative learning. I can’t wait to find out what all the other teachers I met are doing in their classrooms, too.  I was able to partner up with a fellow friend and Flocabulary MCE, Amy Storer, and co-lead a session on Flocabulary and how the impact of this edtech tool has changed the course on so many of our students’ lives.  We were all challenged to implement these new ideas into our lesson plans in the next two weeks (or they are more than likely to be forgotten).  This is so true! I truly see the value of this kind of professional development to drive real change in our current systems.

Attending the learning sessions was great, but meeting and conversing with fellow educators was my favorite part.  Getting time to share with my friend Statia, to the teacher I sat next to during the keynote, and the educators who were excited to be part of our Flocab session, and finally being able to collaborate more with a friend who lives hours away: these are the most memorable parts.  I am not into technology because I love technology.  I am into edtech because it allows for relationships to grow.  Edtech used well can make academic content relevant for our students and shape their thinking into more empathetic people as we meet their social emotional needs.  It can also help foster relationships with our students and the other educators we meet that challenge us to grow, along the way.  Talk about a win-win! Every PD should be filled with these relationship takeaways for it to truly stick in our brains as we put the things we learn into practice.

There was one more amazing experience I must share!  I have never been to a conference with so many African American educators and leaders!  This has to be more normal for real change to take place in our education system.  It’s not just our students of color who need to see representation to succeed, it’s also our fellow educators of color. Ultimately, for all of us to succeed and continue to change our system, we all need to be learning and listening to one another.  I’ve been to some good conferences, but this element has been missing from them all. So well done, TCCA and Aldine ISD.  Well Done!  See you next year at TCCA Fearless 2019!

Courageous Conversations: Race Matters

Of the blog posts I’ve written, the only one that keeps being read and shared more than any of the others, is Why Race Matters for This White Teacher and I hope you’ll check it out, too.  To summarize it, I had to come to terms with my own prejudice and be proactive about changing that narrative so I could better care, reach, and teach my students of color and help heal the divide that continues to play out in our country.

This past week, I was able to participate in a courageous conversation about race in a room full of female educators, all school leaders and influencers, and mixed races, though most of us were white.  I call it a courageous conversation because that’s what Jon Washington, a local community leader who serves and supports our Garland Area Alliance of Black School Educators (GAABSE) called it in the the aforementioned blog post. To me, a courageous conversation is where people of different races can talk and share without being scared that someone else is going to attack them or shut down their experiences.  It’s a conversation that allows for free speech, a safe place for vulnerability and questions, and one that everyone leaves with an insight of new perspectives that can serve as a catalyst of change. (There’s also a book called Courageous Conversations that I’m definitely going to read soon.) My reflection is we need to have more of these in our professional developments as well in our private lives.

The purpose of this  PD session was to address the need that students of every color and religion need to see themselves in print, in the books in their classroom and school libraries.  And these books need to be read by the majority and minority races. These books don’t need to be about slavery and oppression, though that is important, but we need more about heroes of color who helped shape our society and world with the important contributions only they could bring. We need more books in our libraries with kids of different shades of melanin who are just everyday kids like the ones turning the pages.  This act alone fosters social emotional learning in literacy and unity  among all students.  This is not something to be downplayed, this is what is going to help shape our world where all of us truly feel like we belong and matter and have something unique to contribute, especially for our students of color. 

But before we could get to those jewels, we needed to understand that prejudice, in the form of microagression, does exist, and that there is a difference in the way white people and people of color are brought up in our country.  If we can’t talk about this, if we can’t listen to others with different perspectives and accept it, then we can’t challenge it, and break down the stereotypes, and the overall importance of this class wouldn’t be worth anything to the attendee.  The conversation that took place was powerful and sense-awakening.  There were tears of sadness, frustration, and hope.  I could be wrong, but I think it was the first courageous conversation that some of these women had ever been part of, and that alone is promising of more to come!

One Step In the Right Direction

Something we white educators can stop saying right now is Color doesn’t matter to me, or I’m colorblind while professing to care for all of our students. It is these kinds of microaggressions that tear down the spirit and esteem of our students of color.  Not long ago, my friend Tacha (who is half Haitian and half white) shared with me how she was constantly confronted with questions like What are you? as an introduction question! White and black people would make statements like You think you’re white or You think you’re black… so in her youth, she would try very hard to disguise her heritage, even to the point of being embarrassed to be seen with her Haitian father.  Her little sister, who was darker skinned than she, would say You are white and I am black because that is how society was shaping her own sense of skin color. That would infuriate Tacha and she would tell her sister, We are the same, but the damage was done as society would not let them be exactly who they were, both ethnicities. Subconsciously, Tacha understood it would be to her advantage if she passed as white. I write this to say, that whether it’s microaggressions or direct, racist remarks, the truth is our students of color are facing a world in our public school system that says we see your color and we don’t like it, and you will be judged as less than for it…. 

Refusing to see and listen to this is ignoring the experiences of so many brought up in our society today.  It’s only by trying to see this perspective that we can be change-agents.  We ourselves can stop perpetuating this subtle form of racism that is actually destroying our youth of color and the hope for all of us to find unity.  So friend, instead of saying, It doesn’t matter what color my students are, try saying and believing, It matters what color you are and you matter to me.

A Call For Partnerships in Education

I can’t speak for everyone involved, but I do believe that for some of us who were part of this courageous conversation, we left changed and better equipped to see life through someone else’s unique perspective.  We left with a greater respect for our sisters of color and an appreciation for their strength of character and leadership.  Our eyes were opened to the need for all of our students to read and choose books that showed a character like or unlike themselves.  As a white female educator, I feel more certain that in this day and age, I need to be bold in tearing down the walls our ancestors erected hundreds of years ago, yet not that long ago, and whose foundations are still in place.

For my friends, colleagues, and students of color, my role to partner and fight for equity and equality, in all parts of education, has never felt more clear or important.

It’s Not Magic

Not trying to brag or sound conceited in any way, but I’ve been told by administrators & colleagues that I have a “magic touch” when dealing with parents who can be a little hard to love. They’re the parents used to getting negative, weekly phone calls. They’re the ones who started screening calls & stopped answering 98% of the time. They’re the ones who get mad at their kids for being difficult while silently praying for help & wondering why teachers can’t seem to see the beautiful, little boy that lights up their lives….If you’ve taught for six weeks, you’ve met them. You might already know how the teacher from last year feels about that mom.

Well, that mom or that dad needs you. If you’re like me, you know that every child placed in your care is there for a Divine reason. Maybe they’ve had five years of office referrals and detentions, but as of the first day of your class, you have amnesia about their history & you prefer to keep it that way.

That doesn’t mean they magically turn into a new kid with impressive behavior (although that actually has happened), or that there aren’t moments you consider a new profession while dealing with them. It’s not easy dealing with challenging students & their battle-weary parents. But it’s not impossible, either.

Years of being a receptionist and trying to make a dollar in direct sales, before and during my teaching years, helped me develop a comfort in uncomfortable phone calls and meetings. When your commissions depend on trying to make a sale, you’re trained not to take the first “No” to heart! Just picking up the phone to make a sale, or talk to that dad, is enough to keep the weak from taking the first step. But when you’re hungry and need that check, or need that kid to open her mind & heart, you pick up that phone, use your best manners, and don’t you dare hang up without progress being made! Crazily enough, you even develop a professional tone along the way. I mean, if you don’t quit.

You also need to be aware that if you are going to judge a child from last year, you’re going to receive last year’s anger plus more. Be proactive. If you know a child has a negative history, find one good thing to praise, early (like first day of school early), call their parent and let them know you see something good in a child they love. Just that one action can disarm that mom and get her on your team.

It’s not magic. It’s refusing to engage in nasty emails. It’s responding to hateful messages when you’ve calmed down. It’s remembering you’re dealing with hurting, festering, wounded souls and if you can’t find anything positive to say, all you’ll see is the armor put in place to protect broken hearts. Armor put in place to protect that kid you can’t see as a young person because they’ve wrecked your classroom or cussed in your face. Armor put in place because they’re at the end of their ropes too, they’ve tried spanking, grounding, nothing but books to read, and that kid still won’t behave for them or you!

It’s not easy, it’s not magic, but progress can be made. Hope can be restored and it’s going to take a prayerful heart, sound wisdom, and perseverance. Oh yeah, and lots of help.

Here is what I do and maybe you’ll see something that works for you, too:

1. Pray for your heart to be strong, for your student, and pray for their parents.

2. Make sure the first few meetings or calls are positive even when not received well. Those parents have their guards up, and will continue to have them up, until they see you as genuine.

3. Call or conference when issues arise. Email and texting should only be used as a last resort in these situations. Talking in real time prevents misconceptions.

4. Share your plan of action, ask for their input, and keep consistent in your efforts to keep them informed.

5. Love that kid. When her parents see your sincerity and progress made, you’ve just won them over.

I could not do any of this without my Faith in Christ leading me. There have been times I’ve wanted to give up, but persevering has shown me that kindness and compassion will go a long ways when dealing with the parents who had lost hope until they met you.

On Trusting God When It Hurts

There was not one moment this summer when Mac & I found a good time to eat outside on our patio under the umbrella enjoying coffee & conversation. As soon as summer break released me from work, I began packing for our first family vacation. It was a beautiful & peaceful time spent with dear friends, but every mom knows that vacations are hard work! This was no exception. However, seeing our friends and visiting with our family in Alabama was worth every moment and penny!

Unfortunately the week we came back, my husband, knowing something was very wrong, headed to the ER and from there, our entire lives were altered. Having him home for the summer was always a dream, but not like this. After a life-saving procedure, complicated setbacks, and being separated from our kids for two weeks, it was time to come home and recover. You can imagine the challenges we faced with four rambunctious children at home along with a teething six month old.

We honestly wouldn’t have made it through without the support and prayers of our family and friends. My sister, Faith, and her family kept the kids.  My close friend, Ivana, flew in from Florida on a day’s notice to help my Aunt Carol with our baby.  Countless friends came to visit and pray with us at the hospital; Michelle, Margaret, Niloufer & Paul, Atesh & Mike, Ivette & Charlie, Laurie, Tacha & Annette, my sister-in-laws, Lisa and Kim, and two of my co-workers, Debbie and Ximena, came and sat with me during the eight hour surgery.  My friend, Mel, ran errands, and my friends Allison and Michael picked up pumped milk for our baby, and my sweet friends brought me food and gift cards to show me I wasn’t alone.  The care and support continued as we came home with dinners, a reclining chair from our friends Ami and Sean.  And then my friend Cheri made a gofundme for us and a few friends may not even realize how much they’ve helped us financially! I know I’m not listing everyone who has loved on us, but please know that you made this time of healing easier to bear, and we will never forget it.  I don’t know how other families would make it through without a support group like we have had.  I hope I will be better at helping others in the future with the love lessons of servant-hood we have learned from so many!

But even with so many people loving and praying for us, depression was a real thing, cabin fever, insomnia, short tempers, and other complications threatened to steal our peace.  Many days they did.  Ugly tears…uncertainty…confusion, and so much more.  And now another round of unemployment… while just a few months ago we had more than enough.  Now, I’m trying to trust in God’s plan, but it is so hard!  Are we being punished? Did we do wrong?  Did we fail? Why are things so damn hard?!

Because. Life. No one is immune to this.  No one escapes hard times.  No one escapes desperate times.  We will all face them, and it doesn’t matter our race, gender, financial status, education, religion… and maybe you, too, are facing these hard times as you read this post.

This past week, I downloaded the Bible App again and searched out this plan called “Trusting God’s Process” by Brittany Rust.  And I’m so glad I did.  It reminded me that trusting in God is hard.  There are days when everything feels like it’s caving in, but God.  I started to get panicky again last night, and the only thing I could think of is I can’t let my mind go down this trail.  But God. One day at a time. He is not punishing us.  He loves us. He has shown us through so many ways and so many people.

This Bible Study reminded me to pray with Scripture, and take one day at a time.  When thinking about all that is ahead, I can’t escape the worry, fear, and anxiety, until the Holy Spirit reminds me, during hard prayers, that I won’t have the answers, and if I try to make it work, as I have in the past, I’m not truly trusting in God.  All the ideas I have to make it through will not work, they will only lead me down another heart wrenching road, and I can’t go there!  My family needs my husband and I to truly place our trust in God and let Him have the reigns.

So much easier said than done.  But we are choosing to be faithful.

And I want you to know, Friend, when you see good things come our way, when you see our lives being transformed through the fire, it was because of Him.  It was because we finally trusted Him with our lives and future.

I hope if you find yourself in a desperate situation, you will find Him, too.

Yes, there are consequences to making life happen in our way, consequences that hurt and lead us through situations God never intended for our lives…but God.  He forgives, he makes a new way, and He will do it for me, and He will do it for You.

I am going to pray in faith, using Scripture to help me when my trust starts to slip away and my fear tries to take over.  I hope you will, too.

See you on the other side.

Welcome Back To School: Salty Edition

Today is a new day.  This school year is brand new.  In many ways, it can feel overwhelming because the work we do seems impossibly hard and uphill most days.  That’s the life of a teacher.  Someone who can’t sleep because tomorrow is a big testing day or a school-wide performance… someone who gets their best ideas to reach children during their morning routine, and quite frankly, someone who can’t turn their brains off.  Someone who is always thinking about other people’s children, even when they may have five of their own, yeah, that’s the life of a teacher.

The family I work with day in and day out, we don’t get accolades for the work we do.  Many of us are leaders, innovative, and truly masters at our craft, but how would you know? We are not a school with a list of distinctions, unless you know that our principal made an individualized technology education program, that one of our first grade teachers makes raps to popular songs and has an uncanny way of teaching kids to read, our librarian empowers every student to become a reader, and the list goes on….  We have had numerous colleagues leave to become other school leaders, so many of us have more than one degree, and we even have an architect who would rather make a difference than a huge salary so she became a teacher! We are a campus of writers, mathematicians, and even magicians.  There’s one crazy kindergarten teacher we have who specializes in making magical moments for her students, even before the year begins.  We are diverse in our cultures, country of origin, and languages.  We are a unique family of many perspectives, and I’ve barely tipped the iceberg when it comes to the people I call my work family.

We’ve lost teachers, we’ve lost students, we’ve lost spouses and marriages, and we’ve experienced intense pain and trauma, disease and sickness, but we all have one thing in common: We Won’t Quit.  Sure, some staff have come and gone, but most of us stick together because in work we do, we have realized we can’t do it without one another.  We’ve fought, we’ve cried, we’ve had to navigate through rough waters.  We’ve left, we’ve come back. We have forgiven one another.  And here we are, still doing what we can for the beautiful children that walk through our doors everyday.   We have made goals, we have reached them, we have striven to make new and more lofty ones.  We may not get to stand up for an ovation of awards, but we each know the sweat and tears we’ve invested into our community.  When former students come back in search for us, we know our investment paid off.

But as a large community, we get in ruts, and we have to find our way out.  We have to remember that our school belongs to all of us, our students, staff, leaders, parents, and community.  The reality is that what we do, day in and day out, really matters for the Big Picture of life for so many.  The things we teach and the people we touch will keep going far after our lives are gone because that’s the nature of our business.  The pain we inflict can also alter the lives of each other, our students, and community.  We can’t afford to grow resentful.  We can’t afford to harbor bitterness or hold grudges.  The work we do matters too much, even when we feel our lowest.

The truth is, we can’t afford to lose our saltiness, or passion to keep growing and going.  We can’t afford to be apathetic when we see kids shrink back from learning.  The truth is, we are in this together, and we must do everything we can in our power to make it right.  We have to forgive, daily, offer clean slates, second chances, and strive to keep our thirst for a better life, a better education, one student at a time, one colleague at a time, one family member at a time.

From Kim Bearden’s book, Talk To Me

Keeping it salty is tough. We need each other.  We can’t be the light when we’re stuck in a dark hole.

I pray this year will be our finest, yet.  Together.  We are family, and I’m proud to call you mine.

On Giving Backpacks

This time of year, it’s not uncommon to find many parents of school-aged children bemoaning the school supply shuffle.  And who can blame them? Having three of my own to buy supplies for, it can really add up! So we are always appreciative of those who post where the best sales are available, and for those who choose to make this a time of fun and celebration!  And for all those teachers out there, who use their last summer paycheck to purchase extra supplies for students you’re about to serve, we see you, too!  May God bless you back in infinite ways for your sacrificial giving!  As an educator and parent, I see all sides, and understand the varied emotions that the back to school season elicits!

As an eternal optimist, I am constantly looking for positive people and ideas.  So when I saw my youngest sister’s post today on her social media account, it inspired me to use my voice, that He gave me, to remind us we can be a blessing for people we may not know, children and their parents, who for whatever reason, aren’t able to purchase school supplies for their child/ren.

My niece, Jasmine, poses with the bag full of school supplies that she gathered for a mystery, fifth grader.

I’ve seen my sister’s posts in the past, but today when I saw my beautiful niece posing with the backpack that she willingly filled for another child, it blessed me.  Every year, their local church adopts up to four elementary schools and one middle school to help.  My sister, Megan, a successful single parent, and her daughter, Jazzy, have made it a tradition to choose to find school supplies for a female student in the same grade as Jazz.  However, this year, as Jazzy begins her freshman year in high school, she decided she wanted to shop for a fifth grader.  As a fifth grade teacher for many years now, it’s no wonder this caught my eye and heart.  This has been a seven year tradition for Jazzy and Megan.  As a young adult, Jazzy still gets excited about it, and even picked out matching notebooks so she and the unknown fifth grade girl would be “connected in a way.”

What a tradition to pass down!  Megan, and all other parents who do this, you are doing it right!  As a single parent, I’m sure the financial burden feels greater, so giving in this way is even more sacrificial.  My sister is teaching her daughter to give to others, even when it hurts your own pocketbook, and to give without expecting to get back. She’s also growing her daughter to be empathetic to the needs of others, and the desire to be connected, as Jazzy put it, will actually contribute to her willingness to be part of her community in a way our nation needs more now than ever!

As a teacher who sees how students feel when they don’t have all the necessary items, I am so excited for this child to know that she doesn’t have to feel isolated or any shame for not having enough.  Her parents can send their daughter to school knowing she has all the necessary supplies for a great start and also a knowledge that there is a community of people who do care for them, even if they have never met.

I hope this story will inspire us all, as we find ourselves doing the school supply shuffle, once again. Some of us, who are financially able, instead of dreading it, let’s be inspired to partner with our churches or community outreach programs to bless a child outside of our own family.  And for those of us who may not have young children in our lives, maybe this is just the thing for us to do to feel connected with our community.  Wherever you find yourself in all of this, it’s always good to give backpack. 😉