Someone To Count On When the Days Are Being Counted

Holy smokes, just like that, it’s the end of the year!  The first day of school flashes before my eyes, I was pregnant, had my son, came back, and now it’s the end of the year…just like that (said more slowly while exhaling).  Seems like Career Day was just two days ago. I remember posing with my school-aged children on the first day… it truly is hard for me to wrap my mind around this end of the year.

On Twitter Land, I see countdowns until the last day of school (I’ve even wished for that last day), I’ve seen countdowns for the first day of the NEXT YEAR (won’t even touch that one), and I suppose that too much counting either way will keep me from being present in the here and the right now.

Yesterday, I left school and I was ready to say goodbye to my students.  I was sleep-deprived, malnourished, and just, plain tired. Probably a little old in there, too. Old.  I had some hard conversations with students and parents, and I left school yesterday feeling old. Frustrated. Prayerful. Mindful. All of those things. Heavy.  

Thankfully, last night, errr, this morning, I was only woken up once from the baby and was able to get some more sleep than has been my usual of late. And well, today I made a difference.  I prayed the entire way to school, which is only a two mile commute, but I prayed that I would have God’s wisdom, that I could make headway. I prayed for eyes to be opened, and especially mine if there was something I wasn’t seeing.  I can tell you, now, those prayers weren’t in vain.

We started today with a meeting.  Some people in the South like to call it a “come to Jesus meeting” and well, we didn’t pray and I didn’t perform any miracles, but I admitted to my twenty plus students how sad it made me feel that after teaching kindness for a whole year, we were still saying awful things to one another.  I asked them to please be more aware of what they said and how they were treating each other. I asked them to talk about what was bothering them and if they weren’t okay with telling the whole group, to write it down for me so we could work on it.

Three minutes later, I had my first customer.  Long-held resentment towards another student.  We talked it through and student was ready to share with other student.  They talked, I mediated, some forgiveness happened and two lighter students were in my classroom.  Then there was the quiet girl with sad eyes. According to her, there was “nothing” wrong, but I had to persist.  I didn’t really know how I was going to persist, but I just did. I used stuffed animals as puppets, waited, listened, and two more students were lighter through mediation.  But wait, something still is wrong with the quiet girl. She’s looking at me with anger in her eyes and I can’t fathom what I did. Turns out she hates school? Hmmm……more persistence, more listening, and a letter she writes to a family member explaining why she’s so angry.  She didn’t want me to read it so I didn’t. She didn’t want me to call her mom, so I didn’t. We’ll talk tomorrow, but quiet girl, she dealt with some demons today and left school feeling lighter.

And there’s more of course. One belligerent student demanded why we were still learning! They had taken their tests, so why?!  I thought about writing him up for the ugly way he was talking to me, but then I decided to just listen to the frustration. Student didn’t think making board games about American History was much fun, but came up with another assignment that inspired him that he was willing to share with rest of class. After making an agreement and setting up expectations, he left a little bit lighter today, too.

One student was full of nervous energy.  She was about to sing the song she had written to the entire grade level for the talent show tryouts.  I listened to her and was amazed and a bit teary-eyed. She asked me if she sang well, “Well?,” I asked, “You sound beautiful.” She said that was all she needed to give her the bit of confidence she needed to perform.

And I made a difference today. I’m still praying for my quiet one, praying she gets the guts to read her letter out loud and that it’s received with open arms because I know this could make or break trust from here on out, so I’m praying she is seen by the one she loves most. Praying she is heard.

I’m going to keep on praying I hear them, too.  It’s easy to plan a year around kindness, but finding the fruit is a challenge.  We don’t live in a kind world. It’s all sorts of messy. As most of the year is behind us with just a smattering of days left, these are my thoughts.  It’s kindness to see the eyes filled with pain and refusing to go further until it is acknowledged. It’s kindness to see through the frustrated child and make a plan that fits their mold instead of the other way around.  It’s kindness to keep giving new chances for success and help students deal with the hurts they just don’t know how to let go of on their own. It’s kindness to listen- to stop and listen, and give a genuine compliment to a student looking for support.

My prayers were answered.  It was my eyes that were opened today.

So…I’m not counting down anymore.  For the few days left that I have with these precious young people, I’m going to keep being someone they can count on.

UnSung Hero: Our Music Teacher

For years I’ve known my friend, Carrie.  We were part of a staff that opened our school ten years ago.  She was the first person, besides our boss, that I met, and I greatly admire her.  She is our elementary school music teacher. She offers an Honor Choir for our fourth and fifth graders, and she puts on multiple grade level performances throughout the year.  She is a teacher of high standards, as her Honor Choir receives highest ranks every spring, and even when she is tired, she never stops giving her best to our school community.  To say I admire her is an understatement. I think she is an amazing teacher, colleague, friend, and person!

Carrie always has a laugh and smile. She smiles even when life is painful.  And that smile isn’t phony. She knows pain, and as a breast cancer survivor, she knows perseverance and grit. As a wife and mother herself, she knows what is truly important in life.  She knows how to find the joy, even when it’s hiding in a corner. She counts the good even when life throws her curves anyone would rather take a pass on….

Carrie is super creative.  I’ve watched her hang decorations by herself from a tall ladder to the top of our stage.  She uses her minutes wisely and gets things done. When we attend our children or student performances, we might not realize there was a lone teacher doing work behind the scenes to make it perfect.  I don’t know if I could do all of that multiple times a year! She really amazes me!

Carrie is a supportive teammate.  She pulls her weight, more than her fair share, and she will help you carry yours if you need a hand.  She’s not afraid to get her hands dirty, and her actions follow her convictions. She believes in loving her neighbor, caring for others, and lifting up the downtrodden.  Every year around Thanksgiving, her Honor Choir has a service learning project of gathering canned food items to help a local pantry! This has become an annual tradition and helps all of us in our school community to give back.  The Honor Choir also puts on a holiday show for the elderly in nursing homes every winter. What a legacy she is creating!

Carrie uses music as a way to help our students become advocates.  One incredible way she does this is by honoring our Veterans every November.  Every year, she turns one of our walls into a Hall of Fame for the Veterans in our lives.  She carefully posts the pictures given to her and makes sure the ranks and duties are listed.  She invites Vets to come and be honored in the evening performance, and this is a real way she is teaching our students to value those who have sacrificed their lives for ours. There are always tears of gratitude flowing during her Veterans Day program.  

Carrie is a phenomenal music teacher.  She has given our students opportunities they might not otherwise have, like visiting nursing homes and giving our elderly a reason to smile and remember that people in their community still care for them.  She brings joy to our campus with the annual talent show. She teaches students to take pride in their performances as they compete every year against other schools. She has set standards that must be met to participate in Honor Choir, like having good citizenship and making sure to come to every practice. She does all this while juggling life as a wife and mom who also dedicates her life to serving her family. She is an important piece of our school community, and she is so truly serving a purpose in our students’ lives. She lifts up our school in the way she cares for her students and peers.  

Carrie, thank you for all you do!  You make our school a better place for students, and if you have ever felt unnoticed, I hope you will remember that we see all the love and dedication you pour into everyone around you.    

I love my crazy life!

When I was thinking about what I was going to write about tonight, there wasn’t anything inspirational that came to mind. I worked a long day, came home to five children, did all that adulting, and I’m just tired.  I started thinking about some backup ideas I’ve already written rough drafts for…the new cool things we’re doing in our classroom…my teacher evaluation meeting tomorrow and what I’ll contribute…there’s plenty of things on my mind, but there’s just one thing that keeps going on repeat:  I love my crazy life.

How did this even happen??? Two school years ago, I was only working because we were so broke!  I was hoping we’d be able to get out of the debt hole, and then I could go back to being a stay at home mom and homeschool.  Six years ago, when I resigned my teaching position, it was for good! So going back because of dire straits wasn’t the most encouraging welcome back, if you know what I mean?

We’ve heard the saying, “If you look for the negative, you’ll find it.” That’s so true. The reverse is also true.  I’ve often wondered if I’d still be working if my husband hadn’t been laid off two years ago and we had zero debt? Last year, I would have said, “NO!”  But crazily enough, after having my fifth child and even missing him everyday when I leave for work, I know one hundred percent I am exactly where God has me to be.

Some of the challenges I’ve had this year were personal in a way I’ve never experienced. I lost my Dad a month after having my son, Whit.  I knew it was coming, but death is death, he may be in Heaven, but here on earth, I miss him. I hate that he never got to hold my sweet baby.  Another challenge was leaving my precious baby to go back to work. I knew in my soul I could never quit mid-year on those innocent lives that were truly waiting for my return, but how could I live this new life?  I had gone back to work with my first child, but I had no balance and I never want my own children and husband to feel like I’m not fully committed to them. Teacher life is truly unbalanced. There were also professional challenges I’ve faced that I hadn’t ever dreamed I’d go through, before and after maternity leave.  So how can I truly love this crazy, unbalanced life?

Here are some things that are helping me:

  1. Spending more time in prayer every morning.  I miss sometimes, but I want to meditate on Scripture and pray before everyone else wakes up. Sometimes even after prayer, the hectic morning looks like me screaming at my children or husband to hurry up and all yelled with a few choice words. But I always pray that God will redeem those times, and through the power of forgiveness coupled with humility, they are turned around.
  2. Looking for the good in everything:  in people, in lessons, in my students, and in my challenges. My faith tells me that everything I experience can build me up if I walk in faith that God has every detail already worked out.  I cling to this instead of my old friend, Worry.  
  3. Finding ways to make life more exciting!  In the month I’ve been back work, my classroom was transformed into a campground, a baseball diamond, and a party for the stars!  (I’m still nursing my infant son, so none of this would have happened without my husband helping me and my faithful family and friends.)  I’m hoping my students are just as excited and may even wonder what their crazy teacher is up to today!
  4. I thoroughly enjoy teaching children.  It’s exhausting. It’s challenging. But it’s also  profound, enlightening, and so fulfilling. I’ve seen my 24 students grow, GROW!!! Regardless of being gone for two and a half months, my students are still growing, and I’m still learning about them and loving them more everyday.  
  5. And the biggest reason I love my crazy life is because I love my family with every breath I have.  I am privileged to serve them. I am privileged to wake up every new day with these beautiful beings.  My husband supports me even when I exasperate him. My kids continuously forgive me when my patience wears thin.  We go together like macncheese. Seven of us. We’re a big bunch. We’re learning about this life and all it’s ups and downs together.  I want my children to grow up knowing that working hard is something to be proud of, and I want my husband to have a partner who supports him 100% in return.  

I know I’m fulfilling God’s path for my life because it’s hard.  It’s so challenging, it gets me up out of bed every morning. How am I going to be a better mom? A better wife? A better teacher? I no longer have thoughts about my Plan B or resenting my present condition of being a working mom. In fact, I respect working moms and stay at home moms in many more, new ways because I know what it’s like to be both!  Regardless of life events, I want to be better in every role I have been blessed to hold. I want to please the Savior of Whom I truly serve above anyone and anything else, Who makes all this possible under the sun.

Life isn’t perfect, our washing machine is broken, and I’m not getting much sleep these days…but don’t you know, I’m living on the mountain top!

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire,you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. Isaiah 43:2 NIV

Wake UP With a Positive Attitude!

It’s not that my young friend, Dan Mason, coined this phrase himself.  I’m sure he’s heard it from someone, possibly a Zig Ziglar quote, like many of us have, but…and I mean a BIG BUT, when he said it, it grabbed our attention.  When I say “our” I mean, my students and myself.  Let me back up and tell you the story….

A couple of weeks ago, I texted my Sparklett’s water guy, I like to call him “Dan the Water Man” and asked him if he would come and speak to my class.  See, he’s been delivering water to me for over a year and when my students see him, all they see is coolness. I asked him if he’d come and speak, maybe give a treat, and help be part of the “All STAAR Treatment” to help pump up my students for their first round of state testing.  He was quick to commit and very enthusiastic!  When I told my students he was coming, they were just as excited.

When Dan came, I could tell he was nervous and probably hadn’t spoken to many classes of fifth graders.  He gave them some goodies and then he delivered a quick but meaningful message.  He shared with them that everyday he wakes up with a positive attitude.  He talked about how there were many people in his life growing up who didn’t think he’d do much with his life, called him out because he was short, and so on, but none of that mattered to him.  He always knew that he was going to do something with his life.  He shared that the route he is taking may not look like what others consider the path of success i.e. he didn’t get his degree, first, but that he is working hard, proud of his work, and he’s actually about to start up his own company with the knowledge he’s learned along the way.  When he was telling us his story, we were all ears. This group of fifth graders were NOT talking over him!  And it didn’t hurt that he also told them to listen to me, the teacher that will help them get to where they’re going!  When he finished, he promised to come back and check in on them and their progress.

There’s so much about this that I love.  I love how Dan is a walking illustration of his words.  He is a positive, young, and successful man.  He may not be an experienced speaker, yet, but when I was listening to him, I could see that he definitely will go on to do greater things, all while giving back to his community, too.  I don’t know if my students saw all of this, but I do know they felt his sincerity.  His positive attitude was contagious.  At the end of the day, one of my student’s asked, “Is it weird that I’m actually excited about tomorrow?!”  And I asked if there were others who felt like her, and half the class raised their hands.  Excited for state testing?!  Wow!  And when they came in this morning, I can tell you, that many of them were excited.

So thank you, Dan the Water Man, even though you are moving on to greater things and won’t be my “water guy” for much longer.  You have made an impression on all of us, and I look forward to seeing how you will give of yourself to our community as you climb the ladder of success.  I believe that you will see your dreams to fruition, and I predict you will go even further in life than you dream of now!

Teachers, parents, and anyone who is reading this, when we partner with people in our community who sincerely care about our students, it’s a perfect recipe for social emotional learning, don’t you think?  Dan told his story about turning negative feedback around with the confidence he’s always had in himself.  We need more of this!  This whole event taught me that I need to be doing more of this! Every time I’ve asked someone to come and speak to my kids, it’s been a wonderful experience, so why am I not making more time for it?  Why am I not inviting more people?  I have decided that this is something I will make a priority as a real way of showing our kids the growth mindset and the reality of success through perseverance.

So tomorrow is another exhausting day of state testing, but I am going to be like Dan, and wake up with a positive attitude!  Won’t you join me?

The Cost of Encouragement

As the Easter holiday has passed, my heart is full, and I’m amazed how my faith in God has kept me going in a time that is truly very rigorous.  My son was born this past December, my fifth child, and the joy he brings to my life is what gave me hope after losing my Dad a month later. Dealing with these changes in my life, caring for my family, and then returning to my full-time teaching position has made life very hectic!  But it’s a good life and I love it. The encouragement, support, and empathy I have received, from close friends and colleagues, has proved to be invaluable as my family and I put a new life routine into practice.

It all has me wondering in this fast-paced life, how often do we encourage each other?There are times I walk the halls of my school, and I try repeatedly to say, “Hi” to my passing colleague, only to be ignored.  I wonder if they are consumed in their thoughts or if they don’t like me? I brush it off, but it worries me. We have too much at stake to go through our day as teachers, stakeholders, and ignore one another.  You’d think that looking up and saying hello to someone passing by is basic etiquette, but maybe we are so consumed inside our own stressed out brains, we forget to see who is right in front of us?

One of the first books I read after going full time in the classroom again, in the fall of 2015, was  Kim Bearden’s book, Crash Course: The Life Lessons My Students Taught Me, and it has so much wisdom I’ve taken to heart! Chapter Nine, titled “Generosity” is one of my favorites.  The course description says, In this course, you will learn how lifting others will help you lift yourself. This chapter is about how some of the service learning projects her students have done have taught them how serving others can pull them out of their own despair in life.  She recounts how their school cheers for each other with genuine love and enthusiasm. The last line of this chapter, the one that has stuck in my head for almost three years now, reads, The more we elevate one another, the stronger we all become.  She also autographed my book, with the words that I matter.  She may write this in all her fans’ books, but it still meant something to me because I saw love radiating from her throughout the days I spent at her school, The Ron Clark Academy (RCA).

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Meeting Kim Bearden in December 2015, at RCA, really inspired me!

Lifting each other up and telling each other we matter is so relevant in our education system today.  Just look at the headlines of the states with teachers, schools, and parents protesting to their state governments that they want better for their students and families.  They deserve to have a salary that can support a family, and the students they teach deserve to have everything from new textbooks to enough chairs for a whole class! There is such a teacher shortage in these states, such as Oklahoma, because teachers can’t support themselves or their families on inequitable pay, so they leave and teach in other states! It’s been great to see my teacher friends and mom friends support these educators demanding more, even while politicians, elected officials, deride them as tantrum throwers.  We must encourage these brave educators because we are in this together. Their victories are our victories, and their losses will affect us all in powerful ways.

So when a teacher in your school receives an award, congratulate her.  Lift her up! Maybe you are more qualified and there is a bit of resentment because you have gone unrecognized (this is a natural human feeling), but the more positive words we share with one another, the more we lift ourselves out of these pity party ruts!  Your day will come when someone elevates you for the unique abilities you have, too! I’ve been around professionals who are afraid if they congratulate another coworker, it’s like admitting they aren’t as good as that person. Don’t give into that! Lift your peer up!  It might be their party right now, but joining in their celebration will lift your spirits too. You will be part of their victory. Giving into resentment will not help you or anyone else around you, especially your students and children who look up to you.

We are living in a time when we need to be lifting each other up, celebrating each other’s’ gifts, awards, and even joining in our teacher friends’ fight for equitable pay! If you need a good place to start, think of a person who has really impacted your life and reach out to them–today!  That person probably really needs some encouragement right about now. I bet after your phone call or meeting, you’ll feel even lighter, too. I ENCOURAGE you to do it NOW. Speaking life to someone doesn’t cost you a dime, but that doesn’t mean it’s cheap…it’s priceless.

We Play To Win!

As the school year starts winding down, so too can our spirits plummet with the ever-growing deadlines and the unavoidable, state testing! If you feel burdened right now, you are in good company–insert bummed out face emoji. There is so much pressure for you to perform, for your students to test well and show growth, and for you, TEACHER, to maintain high-interest level, engaging teaching.  And if we are feeling pressure, chances are high our students are, too.

So what do you love that is G rated?  How can you use it in the classroom to keep everyone energized, especially you, TEACHER? 

I love baseball! More than baseball, I love the KC Royals!  I grew up watching George Brett play at Kauffman Stadium, and now I watch my team on my MLB package (it’s always my favorite Mother’s Day gift)!  Spring Training, Opening Day, practice drills, coaching, All Stars; these themes go perfectly with gearing up for state tests, setting goals, reviewing weak areas, gaining confidence, and building team spirit.  It blows the doors wide open for academic and social emotional learning in an environment full of fun! Yes, FUN! Just because it’s the most serious part of the year does not mean we should all be walking around with slumped shoulders! We need to combat this with FUN!  

 

Don’t get me wrong, fun doesn’t mean fluff, but creating a new little world inside of your regular classroom can help make the challenges feel less challenging and more…joyous? Yes! Joyous! I turned my classroom into a baseball diamond.  I borrowed bases from my colleague in Physical Education, and turned the tables around in more of a baseball diamond shape.  I modified the rules of baseball so that none of my students would be sitting without practice.  I call my games “Decimal Baseball” when reviewing decimal place value, multiplication, and division.  I am calling my language arts session “Comprehension Catch!” I made up a chant! I yell, “We play” and the students yell back, “To Win!” Then I yell, “We win!” and they respond, “When we grow!” We practice till it’s perfect! Students who have mastered the skills we are practicing become the pitchers & base coaches. I have a student who is the umpire, making sure everyone is “safe” or “out!” Another student leads cheers!  Every batter gets three chances, and I’m there to help the struggling students.  Even my most shy students are excited for their turn to bat. We have a space reserved for players “on deck” so the game keeps going.  Students have a practice page or dry erase board to show work.  The energy is high, and I’m losing my voice from cheering!

The students are divided into two teams, the Unicorns and Ninjas–they made up the names.  I wear my Bo Jackson KC Royals jersey, my KC Royals hat and a whistle.  I know I’m in Texas Rangers territory (the other teachers always remind me of this), but my love for the Royals can’t be squelched because I no longer live in Missouri.  Students now call me “Coach Mac” and when they try to quit or sass me, they drop and give me 20! This creates laughter! While a batter is working on a problem, or the pitcher is thinking of a question, we do the wave, special claps, or cheers.  All the things I learned as a kid playing softball.  I’m not especially creative or rich, but these moments are priceless.  Oh, there is a scoreboard, and there is a roster!    

Everyone has a number and nickname. Some parents dropped off concession items in the way of chips and water bottles. My students are out of their seats!  They’re cheering for each other! They’re asking for help. And many times, I’m just the facilitator aka “Coach”.

It’s been a fun first week with my “All STAARS” (in Texas, the state test is called “STAAR”), and I’m looking forward to next week, too.  We even call our state test the “All STAAR Championship” and our goal is to show growth! We don’t talk about passing or failing. Our competition is our last year’s selves and we want to show how much we’ve grown this past year.  I’m teaching my kids to learn to change their mindset so they don’t dread what’s coming next.

How can you make this last stretch of school the greatest yet? Doesn’t that sound better than just surviving the last two to three months?  If we feel energized and positive, we give our students a hope that they can be confident and happy even while facing the testing giant. I didn’t spend any money on changing my environment. Everything I’m using I already had, so don’t let a paycheck hold you back!!  And I’ve never been super artsy/creative, so that’s why it’s my passion that leads the way for the magic.  I’m more in tune with my students.  Through written reflections this past month, I learned what they were hoping to have these last eleven weeks of school, and I’m doing my best to make as many of those things happen.  

I would love to hear how other educators are thriving in the hardest part of the home stretch!  Please share your ideas because we can really help each other!

Hope Creator: Service Learning is for Every Learner

 

It’s not just about volunteering and it’s not just community service, but Service learning has a place for both of these concepts and more.  Service learning has a place in all classrooms, and the best part is service learning is for every level of learner, every learning style, and for any dream imaginable. Today at a We Day celebration, for the first time in North Texas, I was reminded of how powerful service learning is for our youth.  

When I was a younger teacher, I used service learning as a way to draw in even the toughest student, as it makes learning relevant for everyone, but as testing has become a dominant, driving force in the public school classroom, I have put it on the back-burner.  I have been a slave to a curriculum that doesn’t have a heart for my students, but today, a renewed promise to put service learning into practice took over!

Service learning is a natural way to let students take what they are learning and use it in a real world way to help the community for the greater good. Its message is for any age, and you don’t have to wait until you grow up to be a leader, or inventor, or innovator, or advocate! Teachers become facilitators as a student or student group takes their knowledge and develops a plan.  Teachers help as students research and put their plan into action, retrieve data/information, and then reflect on their mission. How can they improve? The teacher helps her students reflect on all the areas of success, failure, and needed improvement. Didn’t work like they thought it would? That’s fine, what did they learn along the way? After this in depth reflection, the students decide how they will demonstrate their learning to the public.  They can make a youtube video, tweet it out, write a report,create a presentation of pictures using Google Slides, or do a live showing. It’s all up to them! These are the steps to service learning and it may sound a lot like Project Based Learning (PBL) plus a heart for the community. The absolute best part is that students become teachers and true learning takes place!

Can you see all the ways that students can utilize this type of learning? Can you see how someone who thinks school sucks might actually want to get involved if it was something they were passionate about? Students won’t feel like they aren’t learning anything useful, on the contrary, they are learning something that will help them, and others, for the rest of their lives! The We Day program displayed all sorts of service learning, from girls who made a product to raise money to help an African village have a clean water well, a boy who wanted everyone to have affordable hearing aides, a girl who was bullied online as the “ugliest woman alive” and is now an anti-cyber bully advocate, to a young man who was born with a disease that took his legs, but not his spirit as he demonstrated to the whole world what a person can do even when the doctors labeled him as a human with no quality of life.  These young people defied limitations and have made the world a better place. That’s service learning, ya’ll.

So why can’t that be our mission, Educators? Why not put the information drilling away and let our learners take the lead?  They know what needs to be done. They need our wisdom to guide them, and I know it sounds cheesy, but I truly believe together we can make our village a better one.  And maybe not just our village, but our world…the limitations are gone with service learning.

The best part of being an educator is being able to equip our youth with opportunities to put their knowledge into practice in a way that helps others.  I’m a fifth grade teacher and I’ve seen kids put together a program to help new students fit in, a program to help students with hot tempers cool off in a safe place, brochures about Halloween, Fire, and Tornado safety be taught to younger students, and I’m pretty sure there’s so much more these young people can do.  And if my fifth graders can do awesome things, think about what all levels of learners can do with what they are learning! Isn’t this why we became teachers? I know it certainly wasn’t my goal to teach to a test year after year.

If you feel like service learning is something you want to implement, like creating hope for your students to share is even more important than book knowledge, I hope you’ll start on this journey.  It all falls in line with the Growth Mindset of social emotional learning, so don’t let the mistakes along the way stop you from your mission. Learn from them! Go for it! Your students will love you for it.  We’re getting down to the last few months of school, so help your students put their knowledge into practice in a way that helps their own community. I promise that the impact they make for others, and the impact that in turn has on their lives, is priceless.

 

Are you already a service learning facilitator? What tips would you share?  What projects have your students created?

 

Thinking this sounds like something you want to dive into? What are your fears? How could we support you?

 

Being a teacher means we have the power to be Hope Creators for this present generation, the We Generation, or Gen We. Let’s join together to help our World Changers!

Teaching Self-Reflection

The early 2000s were good to me as I began my teaching career.  It was a service-learning or gifted program training, or probably both, that taught me the importance of teaching our students to be reflective about their own learning.  Teaching our students to self-reflect, and giving them time during class to practice this skill, helps them examine their learning experiences and internalize them. There are many people who naturally self-reflect, I am one of them, and so the idea of teaching our students to do this, opened my eyes to the fact that some people need to be introduced to this concept.  Just because I naturally self-reflect doesn’t mean that I am better than someone who doesn’t come by it like me. In fact, it’s like other areas of learning, for instance math concepts, that some people are naturally more inclined to be successful in than others. It’s our duty to share our strengths so others can learn and let it help them, too. Otherwise, we’d have few people in this world who knew Algebra…can I get an “Amen!”

As a professional, self-reflection helps me identify the strengths and weaknesses of my lessons.  It gives me a healthy way to examine my lesson delivery and improve or dump, as needed. It helps me examine others’ way of teaching and if I learn something from them, I can add it to my repertoire.  When I meet with my administrator, I find it empowering to look at areas of needed growth as a learning experience, I can accept critical feedback so much better and put it into practice as necessary. In fact, examining your own practices shows your employer you are coachable…and none of us is perfect, but having coachable people on your team goes such a long way!  

Teaching children to self-reflect can be a little difficult at first.  When we think about it from our adult minds and have a picture of what it should look like, we are often disappointed.  This is a natural reaction at the beginning of this reflective journey. As we teach our children to examine their thoughts, both positive and negative, we need to keep in mind that this kind of honesty is not as natural for them when they’ve been in trouble for voicing their thoughts in previous grades.  Some have never been asked what their thoughts are and have no idea where to even begin in this journey. They may know their multiplication and division facts, but do they know, have they learned, that the thoughts in their minds are just as valuable? Maybe even more valuable? Most have not, until they meet us, those educators who are trying to show our students that their minds are amazing and they are worthy humans.  

Here are some ideas that can help you help your students to self-reflect, and it’s never too late to start this journey!  Remember that we adults are learning and growing in our teaching practices, too!

  1. Model what you expect.  You can use an academic response frame with a word bank, and you can even use discussion about an experience to develop your bank, together.  
  2. Socratic Seminars are a great way to start reflecting.  Reflect on something that isn’t personal, so they can get used to the process of examining without feeling afraid of what others might think. Teach them that everyone has something valuable to share, and that listening to others is as important as sharing their own perspectives.  
  3. Disagree amicably, and if you are an AVID school, they have wonderful resources on this subject!  Teaching students it’s okay and natural to have disagreements, but to respond with respect, is a skill that gets us ready for our college and career paths, and helps us learn from others (which is even more important).  
  4. Switch up the types of reflections.  I use discussion and written work to reflect, and many times both.  After discussion, students can reflect using a quick write on a post-it note (an AVID skill that helps even our budding writers as non-threatening).  I also like to use a four-square method, where students divide their whole paper into four squares. Top two squares are dedicated to title and illustration of subject matter being reflected upon, and bottom two squares address learning prior to event and what they learned after said event. Questions they now have can also be part of their written reflections.
  5. Acknowledge your students’ thoughts!  Praise them for their honesty and growth!  Address questionable areas of confusion and bask in their social emotional learning as well as academic progress.  Our students have so much to say, and listening to them encourages them to keep sharing and teaches us how to grow in our profession, too.

Most of us teachers make it a priority to have high expectations, as we should.  But keep in mind that our students will grow in this area, and self-reflection is a higher order skill.  If we are too critical of our students at the beginning, we could lose them for the rest of the year because our influence is great in their lives.  It was a colleague outside of my class who was amazed at the honesty being shared by my students that helped me see this and get past initial disappointment. In my experience, the growth in the area of self-reflection, is something that takes time and will flourish when done regularly.  

Do you self-reflect naturally? Do you regularly use reflection as a tool in your class? What are your questions or things you’ve learned along the way?  Please share with all of us

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Ready, Set, STAAR!

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Following a recipe can build confidence! 

In Texas, the state assessment is called STAAR.  What is it called in your state? I bet even though the names are different, the acronyms mean something similar!  You know, something about readiness and skills and such…. In this post, I want to give some advice to parents who want to help their kids do well on state testing.

  1. Relax!  You chill and help your kids chill.  Reassure them they will be your wonderful child no matter the outcome of one test.  All you hope for them is to do their best and hopefully it will show all the growth they have made in one year!  That’s it! Their brains and hearts are so much more valuable than one test could ever measure.
  2. Play Yahtzee!  Teach problem solving naturally!  Yahtzee is a fun way to help your child practice and reinforce addition skills, ratios, and problem solving. If you don’t already have a game night at home, watch what happens when you suggest one.  Your children will be ready to put down their screens and play with the person they love most!
  3. Read books and watch movies together!  Talk about themes, plots, and lessons the characters learned. Compare to other books or movies.  Analyze how many points out of ten you’d rate it! Write a review together and post it on Facebook or Twitter and start a conversation.
  4. Cook up a meal! Follow a recipe!  Take a picture and enjoy helping your child to trust their instincts, follow instructions, and build confidence.  Help them learn that even if the cookies were burnt, the dough still tasted heavenly and then start over. That’s what life is really all about; enjoying the ride and finding the sweet spot.

After more than a decade of proctoring these tests, I believe that exposure, experience, and conversation is the best thing we can do and give to help our children succeed in life and kick these state tests’ butts!  The beauty is that this kind of “studying” has the potential to grow the relationship between you and your child along the way, and when challenging times come, they are more than prepared to face them with you on their side!