I will be taking some time to guest blog on other amazing people’s blogs for the next couple of weeks. Here is the latest about my friend, and author, Alexes Terry and her new book, Real Love:Strategies for Reaching Students Who See No Way Out.
And I’m not referring to the Hollywood half-apologies that strongly rely on the word “if.” A genuine apology takes ownership of the burden we placed on another that they should’ve never had to bear. A genuine apology can soften the ground for real healing in a hurting heart. The truth and ownership of wrong doing can help a mind stop struggling or cycling on the “What did I do wrong?” thoughts that haunt us.
And because we are all human, we will all make mistakes. Because we have strong emotions, we will say things out of spite and arrogance. Our words will become gasoline on a burning building.
When we recognize the pain we’ve caused, we can choose to ignore our part, or we can choose to be humble. We can choose to blame others for how they made us feel or we can choose to take full responsibility for our actions. We often try to teach our children and students this lesson, but all of us have seen that many adults still struggle in this very process. It’s not an issue tied to age. It’s an issue tied to the conditions of our hearts and spirits.
Could you imagine the wave of healing that would begin in our communities if we liked, shared, or retweeted the humble words of a leader who took responsibility for unchecked power? No one is above a sincere apology. No one is above taking the blame for their part. No one is too good to start the peace process, and we can only imagine what it be like if our leaders all admitted that they have been wrong and then explained a path that would move us all forward out of the ashes of our burning cities.
You see, with true humility, action will follow. Words run hollow when behavior doesn’t change. Spirits are damaged deeply when apologies become more lies.
Honesty and deep reflection for our own actions is an important place to start. Courage to change will follow.
For many the school year is officially ending. Students and their families are breathing sighs of relief from the pressure felt during this teaching and learning crisis caused by the pandemic. But many teachers’ kids all over the country are not screaming with joy because they know they are still going to learn this summer! In fact, many parents who aren’t professional educators have decided that this summer is going to be spent exploring different areas of learning because of the way this pandemic shut down regular schooling.
Do parents need to invest in expensive and boring curriculum to maintain healthy learning this summer? PLEASE, for the love of learning, DO NOT! For the love of children, do not! Then what is a parent to do? My answer, turn everyday life into learning sessions. Don’t worry about hitting every academic area daily, but inviting meaningful conversations and thinking through ideas you come across are absolutely going to help your child’s brain stay engaged and learning. Reading and playing can be your focus together this summer break. Umm…and eating, too. Kids love to eat (and many parents also LOVE to eat), so reading, playing, and eating, those are the areas to focus on this summer!
Today we made S’Mores in my house. We counted by twos, divided wholes, and problem solved in a natural way. We talked about states of matter. We even used our observations to explore the physical and chemical changes taking place. Most importantly, we had some fun, and then ate a yummy snack together. No one was fighting. There was some peace in our house, and as a mother of five, this is super hard to come by these days. This “lesson” took about 20 minutes altogether, so none of us are stressed.
So pack the learning and fun together in the ordinary things. It might not be fancy, your kids might be like mine and be wearing the same clothes for days, but the likelihood they will remember these learning moments is very high. The stories of students and families checking out of crisis learning, or not even having the opportunity are real and dismal. While we can’t change this overnight, we can make the moments we have with our family count. The connections we make now will have an impact on everything they learn from here.
The present and future are unpredictable in these unprecedented times. But one thing we can bet on is that our children and families are going to need more social emotional support from this day forward! So, yummy math and science lessons are definitely needed wherever they can be found. I would love to hear how you and your family are finding moments of social emotional support, and if you need more resources, please reach out to me and I will help you find a starting place.
In the meantime, stay well and stay safe. And have a delicious snack!
Also, you can follow @EveryoneCanMath on Twitter for fun math learning moments!
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!
As Mother’s Day 2020 approaches, comes, and leaves there are so many emotions to process. Through this pandemic, I’ve analyzed my failings in motherhood, but one thing brings me back from the pits and that is knowing my kids are safe and sound. God doesn’t give us the future, just day by day, and since there is no way to know the future, it’s the deepest blessing to have all of my children here with me. Well, all but one. My Angel Baby is in Heaven with other loved ones, and while I think more of my loss today, I also reflect that without this precious and short life, I would not be enjoying the blessing of my youngest son’s life. God doesn’t give us the future, there was no way to know what would come from the pain of loss, but day by day, the deepest blessings find their way to us.
There are Mothers mourning the loss of their children for the first time during this holiday. There are Mothers mourning the loss of their children for years, and the loss is just as fresh as it ever was. Maybe “Happy Mother’s Day” isn’t the greeting that fits, but the honor of your role as mother is still worthy of deep celebration.
There are Mothers who’ve lost their only babies before they ever took their first breaths outside of their wombs. Mother’s Day may not feel like the event you are invited to join, but the honor of your role as Mother is still worthy of deep celebration.
There are Mothers caring for children whom they did not biologically give life to, Mothers who could not care for their children and made a way for them to be raised by others… and Mothers who have a combo of biological, step, halves- adopted- and choose to love like their own without labels. The honor of your role as mother is worthy of deep celebration.
For the future Mothers, the ones who’ve been trying for so long it hurts, and for the ones who wanted to be Mother but that dream (for whatever reason) was never realized…for the Aunties whose love has shaped the lives of so many children, your role as Mother is so worthy of deep celebration!
For the Mothers who are doing this job without a life partner, feeling lonely and needing a break, needing some encouragement, hoping someone sees them, we see you! We love you! We are awed by you and virtually draw you into a safe embrace.
This holiday can be full of joy and full of loss at the same time. Some of us have waited so long to be invited to this one that not having an invitation, or feeling like our invitation has been revoked, is devastating. While I don’t have the answers or the ability to mend broken hearts, I do have words. When you can’t hold your baby, hold to your memories. You are deeply loved by a Creator who understands your pain. And while it doesn’t change your reality, my prayer today is that you experience the deepest level of love from God that you’ve been waiting for and didn’t know was possible.
And if you feel like me, and struggle with all sorts of emotions like feeling unworthy of the precious lives placed in your care because of all your mistakes, I pray for us, that we allow God to help us forgive ourselves. Each day is a new day to start fresh. The honor of being Mother is not to be taken lightly nor hinges on the amount of time you’ve spent in the role. For the first-time Mommies, still in the midst of days of no sleep, it’s okay if all you do is sleep on your day! Giving life, pouring into life, sharing life, and more often than not, putting life ahead of your own happiness are all aspects of what we do daily, though our roles can look so different, as diverse as we are as humans. Wherever you find yourself today, your role of mother is deeply honored.
A couple of days ago, I had a really bad day. That’s not entirely true. Since we’ve been practicing social distancing, I’ve had several bad days. But two days ago it felt worse. The day began okay but when my husband came home from the grocery store, worry set in. All my worries and the reality that my kids might have to face came crashing down on me. Then the physical symptoms began: fever, chills, and fatigue. I ended up going to bed with a headache.
Before I went to bed, one of my friends tweeted me asking me how I was doing. It’s a typical thing we do in our #PLN but I decided to be honest and admitted that I was having a bad day and there wasn’t anything I could do to get out of it. In response, came messages of support. It was definitely needed and appreciated.
Fortunately, when I woke up the next day, I felt better. Wanting to share my experience, I posted an honest summary of my bad day because posting those truly honest emotions of feeling anxious and sick are not things I usually post about. But maybe someone else needed to know it’s okay to have a bad day? The response from my community was of overwhelming support and love. Friends messaged me on my post, texted, and sent direct messages asking me how I was doing. It truly made me feel loved, encouraged, and strengthened. If you are reading this and you are part of my community, thank you.
However, I don’t normally post about those kinds of feelings. Why? Because I am afraid that I’ll appear weak, that my faith in God is lacking, and fear that others would assume wrong things about me. And while I did receive some well-intentioned messages along those lines, I chose not to feed that kind of spirit.
This past week we celebrated Easter. When you read about Jesus and the hours leading up to His arrest and eventual Crucifixion (Mark 14 or Luke 22), He prayed with His friends in a garden. His friends, unfortunately, did not stay awake and pray with Him as He hoped they would. His prayers were of desperation that God would take this cup from Him if there was any other way. He was emotional, to the point of sweating blood, about what He knew He was going to face, and understandably so. I mention this because being scared and feeling anxious is part of being human, as we see in our Savior. It doesn’t mean our faith is lacking. It doesn’t mean we are ungrateful for all we have. It means we need support, and like my friend Mandy Froehlich says, it’s our responsibility to get the support we need. Sometimes just sharing what we are feeling helps us, but other times, we need to see a mental health expert. Because we are human.
Two days ago, I had a bad day, and I know I’m not alone. This pandemic is proving to be a roller coaster of emotions for many of us. It’s wonderful to find the good things that come with social distancing, but it’s also okay if you need extra support. It is not a sign of weakness to reach out. It’s a sign of strength.
When I began teaching in the early 2000s, to earn high marks on my teacher evaluation, I needed to show that I was the boss and first in command in my classroom. One of my principals in those early years compared me to a teammate, who taught in a way completely different than I did. My philosophy was always about building relationships and letting kids have choice and voice, so when my boss walked into my classroom, it was too noisy and I was labeled too nice. I was told to work on my classroom management, in a way that felt foreign to me, and within two years, I quit and didn’t think I’d ever return to the classroom.
When I returned to the classroom about four years later, and as a mother of four young children, I wasn’t the same person who walked out. Older and wiser, I realized that what I offered young people was exactly what they needed. The relationships I still had with many former students and their parents was proof. When I joined Twitter that first year of going back, it was validating and incredible to find many educators who were like-minded and like-hearted: relationships first, student-centered, and fun!
But, I had to work through a mindset that said I was lacking if I wasn’t entirely in control. I had to hope that my principal would see the beauty in, what times seemed, chaotic. She did. The more I learn from my amazing professional learning network (PLN), the more I learned what giving the reins to students, for the deepest form of learning, really looks like. But they didn’t teach us this in college. For many of us, it really is a mindset change from what school used to look like to what it could be if we would just let go of the control.
The current pandemic has educators teaching from their computers and finding as many ways as possible to connect with their students and families. It’s to be expected that we are learning more than we can actually teach.
One huge lesson to take from this season is that we can’t expect to replicate school routines in students’ homes. We can’t have ridiculous expectations of being the center of a student’s world. There’s a pandemic going on! The lessons we give need to be more about flexibility than control. It’s extremely hard to get into this mindset when, for years, we’ve been evaluated on being the boss of our classrooms, but we are no longer the boss of our classrooms. We are no longer in our classrooms.
A message many parents need to hear from Educators and Leaders is that the well-being of students and families are top priority, not lessons, not virtual meetings, not assignments, and definitely not grades. Life is priority right now, and maintaining the best health in all areas is what we need to focus on. Now is not the time to exert control and consequences. It is the time to exert flexibility and compassion.
Parents, I’m writing on behalf of so many educators who feel this way, and we know you work hard to meet every expectation, and we thank you for that. If you are feeling overwhelmed, cut back. You don’t need our permission, but you have it. You have our support. Take care of you and your children. If that means that not all assignments are complete, we understand. Lessons are not priority. Life is.
There will be so many gems we will learn in this season…if we let go of the control.
Thank You for seeing us through another day. We come before You with humble hearts.
We lift up all the doctors, nurses, and all people working in healthcare and their protection. We lift up their families. We pray they will be reunited soon. We pray for Your supernatural wisdom and strength to guide them as they face this virus and all the challenges it brings.
We lift up all the farmers and migrant workers who are making sure we still have food on our tables. We lift up all those working in grocery stores, for city sanitation services, truckers, railroad workers, and all those making sure our country still functions in its basic and most important needs. Please protect them and send them safely back to their families.
We lift up the forgotten and lonely. We lift up those who are losing their lives in this moment and for the ones who wish they could be with them. We pray they feel Your peace and presence. We pray the mourning will find ways to honor those they have loved and lost in this time of distancing.
We lift up those who are scared and uncertain, especially our children. Especially parents. We lift up the most vulnerable, the ones who desperately depend on all of us to stay home.
We ask You, Jesus, to heal our sick. We ask for wisdom for our local, state, and federal leaders. Please infuse them with empathy.
Lord, we especially lift up children and adults who are trapped in abusive households. We pray they are rescued, even in this pandemic. We pray we see them as You see them.
Even though we see so much vanishing, give us eyes to see new and better days ahead, Father. Help us to anchor our hope and thoughts on You in this storm. May we never forget how You held us through it all.
Thank you that we have our families and resources. Show us how to help others in meaningful ways. Help us to remain open hearted even while our hearts are breaking.
Thank You for this day. Thank You for our lives. Thank You for our freedom. Thank You for giving us a way to see all of it more clearly. Help us, Lord, to stay focused, strong, and together even while we are apart. Bring an end to coronavirus, please!
Forgive us, Lord, for hoarding and for wasting time. Forgive us for our blindness.
For all these things, we ask in Your Name, Jesus, Amen.
This is my follow up piece to a January blog post titled Its Okay To Change.
I hope you find it helpful and it was such a pleasure to guest blog for Parent Square Learning Network!
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.
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!
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!