#Classroom Community, Creating a Community, Distance Learning, Education, Self Care, Wellness

Make your own headline

Stressed, overwhelmed, frustrated, scared, disillusioned, divided…I have seen or heard so many people share these emotions since school began. There is no doubt that the start of this school year has put educators, students, and parents in a situation that offers no easy answers. There is argument about the school model (full time, hybrid, distance learning), the amount of work assigned (too much, too little), the way teachers present the material, the live on-line learning model and platform, the parent’s role in supporting their child’s learning at home, and on and on and on.

All of this has made too many of us turn on each other. Every group is critical of the intentions, performance, expectations, and style of the other. It is enough to make all of us throw up our hands and admit defeat. This is simply not working.

Then, you look up from your frustration to see a nation in utter chaos and it seems hopeless.

Each one of us has a choice in this moment. A choice to be part of the solution instead of adding to the problem. Each one of us has a choice to make our own headlines.

(original article link from Aleteia https://www.google.com/amp/s/aleteia.org/2020/06/29/87-year-old-man-rewrites-news-headlines-for-2020-and-inspires-us-all/amp/ )

I read this on social media a few weeks ago and the thought has been swirling around my brain – we ALL need to make our own headlines – every day, in every way that we can. Here are the headlines I want all of us to see right now!

  • September is for learning how we learn together – give it time… we will all get there.
  • Teachers give their best and learn from their challenges – be their biggest supporters.
  • Parents give their kids tools to be successful and overcome challenges.
  • School is teachers teaching and students learning – not a physical place or a specific format.
  • Be your best, give yourself grace, and make it work.
  • School becomes fun when we build a community together.
  • Everybody is going through a struggle you know nothing about…be KIND always.

What headlines have you been making over the last week? Negative, destructive, and divisive ones or positive, supportive, and encouraging ones? It is the time for all of us to choose our own daily headlines and stay focused on making the 2020/2021 school year great. Yes, we can make this year work, if we get out of our negative, divisive, way of thinking and move forward with making it the best it can be….wherever, however, and whatever happens. Choose to write daily headlines that make your life better and the lives of the people around you better. That is the real power each one of us has to make this year a good school year for our children, our educators, and ourselves….no matter what.

# Professional Development, Creating a Community, Distance Learning, Education, Self Care, Wellness

Being a Teachrent…

All of us in the world juggle many different hats. Educators are no different…we juggle our job, our relationships, our responsibilities, our interests and joys, and if we are parents, our own children. During this time of Distance or Hybrid Learning, so full of fears, questions, challenges, and joys (yes there are joys); educators are stuck in this challenging space between being Teachers and Parents. So, I made up a new word – Teachrent…sounded better than Pareacher to me…feel free to comment.

A teachrent is an educator who has two sets of “children”, their school kids and their own children. This dual role is so challenging to manage. Now, all working parents feel this push between their own job responsibilities and their children. But, for an educator it is especially hard. There is a constant ebb and flow of feeling like you are giving one group of your “kids” more of your time and energy than the other. During remote learning, it is even more challenging feeling like you have your own children at home with you who need you AND your school kids at their homes who need you. This can feel utterly overwhelming. Then, you add on the abject fear of bringing home a deadly disease and add those onto your many responsibilities, and you have the Teachrent…. which often feels like an utterly impossible role.

So – what is a Teachrent to do?? Here are some helpful suggestions from my own successes AND failures.

  1. TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF FIRST – I know…I can hear many of you laughing (or crying) right now at the absurdity of that statement. But, without a doubt, self-care is your best weapon. Sleep, rest, eating well, exercising, taking care of your mental and physical health needs…essential. Check out this post from last year that addresses this: https://authenticteaching.blog/2019/08/25/preaching-and-trying-to-practice/
  2. Ask for and use the help around you – We are so blessed to have a tribe of people willing to support our children. My secret weapon in distance learning – the grandparents! If you don’t have seniors in your life able to support, connect with a local seniors home, church members, retired teachers, etc. Seniors are often “stuck” at home during this time and with the magic of about a dozen different live video chat options, they can support your children with their schoolwork. Regardless of their physical location, they can check in daily with your personal children to support. We share our emails from the teacher, give access to the student platforms, and let them work directly with helping our kids. What a gift! Beyond this, we have long term close family friends willing to help with check ins and support. This is easier if we all work together.
  3. Play to your strengths – The biggest mistake I see educators making PERIOD during distance learning is to try to do things to match a specific district or admin. direction or expectation. The BEST thing you can do for yourself is make your on line and in person (if your district is in a hybrid model) work for YOU! If your students and parents are happy and engaged, that is success for everyone. Really take some time to reflect on what would a successful classroom look like in THIS weird time and make that classroom happen. You have to give up any preconceived ideas of what your kids “should” be doing and/or how you have always done it…but it you visualize what is authentic to you in THIS kind of school you will make it happen.
  4. Set some boundaries – Distance Learning is just too easy to be “live” as a teacher 24 hours a day. Make rules for yourself of when you are going to work and when you are going to be a parent (or spouse, daughter, etc.). The work is NOT going anywhere, but your children are growing every day. The GIFT of distance learning for a parent is unprecedented time with your children. Treasure and honor that gift by setting boundaries and accepting what you CAN do in the time you have set aside to work (even if it isn’t perfect).
  5. Foster a positive mindset – This is so unbelievably hard in this time. Watch the news, read social media, listen to the comments people are making about teachers – that is enough to shake the strongest of faith. So, purposefully and intentionally look for the good AND be the good. https://authenticteaching.blog/2020/07/09/angels-among-us/
  6. Work as a team – What teacher do you know who is not a control freak? It is just too easy to want it “your” way and not work as a unit. YOUR LIFE WILL BE BETTER IF YOU WORK AS A TEAM AND FOSTER RELATIONSHIPS. https://authenticteaching.blog/2019/08/06/banana-bread-bribery/
  7. Have Fun! – I just heard the gasps…how in the world can this? this…be fun? Well – like anything else, fun is something we CHOOSE. EVEN if this insane time, choose to have fun with your colleagues, your students, your children, your families…because FUN makes this all better. Here are some great ideas: https://www.hollyclark.org/2020/04/21/virtual-learning-ideas/ https://jakemiller.net/ways-to-keep-remote-learning-fun-for-students/
  8. Release control and take control – Ultimately, everything in our life is on some level out of our control…except our response to it. Give yourself the gift of letting go of trying to control it all and take control of your response.
  9. Allow yourself and both sets of your kids to REST – Sometimes, life can be simplified, by just accepting that what IS possible may not meet our expectations or vision. REST is essential for all of us, so allow some down time, lessen the load, or just give yourself a break so that you can do what is possible. https://authenticteaching.blog/2020/03/09/no-rest-for-the-weary/
  10. Use the tools available – We are living in an unprecedented time of ACCESS via technology tools. USE THEM! Feel unsure – go find that teacher in your school who gets how to use these, watch some videos, and/or experiment with them.
  • EdPuzzle – recording your lessons…kids not watching them? Create an EdPuzzle that puts in questions they have to answer before continuing in the video. This FREE program aligns with almost every platform (Google Classroom, Microsoft TEAMS, CANVAS, etc.)
  • Nearpod – A spectacular way to have kids in a live distance class sharing their thoughts. They have FREE Nearpods premade or you can make your own easily on so many topics. Now with new features including an “EdPuzzle” like feature, collaborations with Flocabulary, and so much more.
  • Flipgrid – Wonderful for younger students especially to share their hand written work and explain their thinking. This tool allows video responses of up to 10 minutes with an easy click of a button.
  • Actively Learn – fantastic high interest and timely reading passages in every genre, structure by genre, unit, grade level, and/or lexile level.
  • What are your favorites? Comment below to add on to the list.

YOU…are a TEACHRENT. That is a wonderful gift and tremendous responsibility. Allow yourself the grace to do this job…with the best you have at that time. All you are capable of being, is what you know how to do right now…and THAT, that is enough. You are enough!

Character Education, Distance Learning, Education, Self Care, Wellness

Angels among us

In my lifetime, if ever there was a time that seemed hopeless, we are living in it. Pandemic, facing the ugly reality of systemic racism in our nation, economic crisis, corrupt leadership, people turning on other people over big and small issues, uncertainty for our children, ourselves, our future…these and the regular every day struggles we all face contribute to a time where hopelessness can run rampant. How do we look at a time like this and find hope that there can and will be something better?

I have realized recently through a string of “angel meetings” that we need to look for the angels among us and BECOME the angels among us.

You see, while this time we are in seems so dark, America and our world has faced darkness much greater than this before. We have seen the worst of humanity and risen from the ashes. In each of these dark times, HOPE comes through us…through angels known and unknown who provide the light. Elie Wiesel, Holocaust survivor, author, and leader, is an example of the power of angels. He describes in Night how people made a difference in his darkest hour and he found hope. Watch this video that speaks to light right now in our world. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=keLT6bp7wok

Recently, I had someone who I have never met in person, advocate for me. This person went above and beyond to tell me that I had value and importance and he DOESN’T EVEN KNOW ME. I realized that he was an angel in my life…a bringer of hope…and he may never even know it.

On social media recently, a post was shared by a woman in deep despair over the state of our nation. She asked how she could keep hope up in the face of the tidal wave negativity, arguing, and lack of basic human values. I responded and in the course of answering, a story of my grandmother emerged surprising me with its lesson.

My grandmother, Grace, was the most remarkable human I have ever met. Kind, hilarious, smart, and someone who rose beyond her times with no explanation as to why. Born the daughter of a wealthy rice farmer on the bayous of Louisiana in turn of the century America, she was a product of a segregated and highly racist time. Over and over, Grace, defied this upbringing to reach out to others and treat each person as a child of God. In the early 1970’s, in rural Arkansas, Grace was the local Methodist minister’s wife. She discovered that a family from Vietnam, refugees of the war, had moved into their tiny town. They were not welcomed. Except by Grace…who in her country folk, no nonsense way, took them in as her “family” and did all she knew how to do to help them survive and thrive. Our family knows this story and Lam’s family knows this story…but this tale is not in any history book or known and YET…she was an angel for that family and an example for her own. The world was BETTER because of her actions and kindness.

This is the embodiment of hope in times of darkness. Can you imagine the fear and isolation this family felt fleeing their home in danger of death to land in a foreign world where they were not wanted? My grandmother must have seemed like a little bright spot of hope in the darkest night.

So now the question becomes, are you willing to be an angel for someone else?

Years ago, I became obsessed with an author, Robert Fulghum, who had written a bestseller called All I ever needed to know I learned in Kindergarten (which is still a phenomenal book and would be a powerful read in these times). In one of his other books, It was on fire when I lay down on it he wrote a story about the meaning of life that forever altered the course of my life. Here is an excerpt from http://hackingchristianity.net/2013/07/the-meaning-of-life.html

A story is told by Robert Fulghum, a Unitarian minister, about a seminar he once attended in Greece.

On the last day of the conference, the discussion leader walked over to the bright light of an open window and looked out. Then he asked if there were any questions.

Fulghum laughingly asked him what was the meaning of life. Everyone in attendance laughed and stirred to leave. However, the leader held up his hand to ask for silence and then responded “I will answer your question.”

He took his wallet out of his pocket and removed a small round mirror about the size of a quarter. Then he explained:

When I was a small child during World War II, we were very poor and we lived in a remote village. One day on the road, I found the broken pieces of a mirror. A German motorcycle had been wrecked in that place. I tried to find all the pieces and put them together, but it was not possible, so I kept the largest piece. This one. And by scratching it on a stone, I made it round.

I began to play with it as a toy and became fascinated by the fact that I could reflect light into dark places where the sun could never shine. It became a game for me to get light into the most inaccessible places that I could find. I kept the little mirror, and as I grew up, I would take it out at idle moments and continue the challenge of the game.

As I became a man, I grew to understand that this was not just a child’s game, but a metaphor of what I could do with my life. I came to understand that I am not the light or the source of the light. But light – be it truth or understanding or knowledge – is there, and it will only shine in many dark places if I reflect it.

I am a fragment of a mirror whose whole design and shape I do not know. Nevertheless, with what I have, I can reflect light into the dark places of this world – into the dark places of human hearts – and change some things in some people. Perhaps others seeing it happen will do likewise. This is what I am about. This is the meaning of my life.

Right now…we must reflect the light. We must do our part to reflect that light into the darkest corners of our world. So, I leave you with 3 thoughts:

1. Are your actions reflecting light and bringing hope?

2. Are you looking for the angels around you with the same focus as you look for the darkness?

3. Are you being an angel in your world?

All of us…all of us…need to make this time about spreading light. You’ve got a job to do…so strap on your wings.

Character Education, Self Care, Wellness

The price of goodness

A friend of mine just tried acupuncture and it led to a group conversation about the practice. Acupuncture and eastern medicine is based on the concept of balance – balancing hot and cold, yin and yang, strong and weak. We discussed the science behind this concept and my friend said “Science is all about balance.” You know Newton’s law number….ummmm….anyways…for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.

In these tumultuous times and in LIFE, there is always a result or consequence to our actions. This is a message I seek to teach my own children and my students while desperately trying to remember it for myself. You know, the whole do as I say not as I always do concept!

Sometimes is seems that in spite of our goal to put goodness into the world, evil/negativity/bad wins. It seems that our leaders, people without good intent, selfishness rules the day. That can be disheartening and demoralizing. It can lead us to want to give up and not pay the price of goodness. You see, goodness, doing what is right… costs us. How junky is that?

What is the cost of goodness? Well it depends on the act of goodness. We wear a mask in public – it can embarrass us, frustrate us, make us feel trapped, make us feel like we can’t breathe, or that we just don’t want to breathe our own stinky coffee breath. Not a huge price to pay particularly. Click here for more details on the importance of wearing masks. We can stand up to injustice – it can cost us friends, family, jobs, and more. A much heavier price to pay. On the flip side, not demonstrating goodness has a cost. We refuse to learn from somebody else’s perspective and stick to our own point of view – it can cause friendship/family loss, anger, resentment, and isolation. So – it can seem like there isn’t any way to win. Why is there a cost to goodness that can be equivalent to the cost of not doing what is kind, admirable, loving, selfless, thoughtful, or noble?

Why? Because everything in nature, science, faith – seeks balance. Newton was right…for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. But Newton didn’t take that concept far enough with this one principle. You see each time there is an action – it MOVES the opposite and equal reaction somewhere. If I am moving a rock up a mountain – every time I push…gravity pushes back. But as I keep PUSHING – I inch my way up the mountain…defeating gravity ultimately by reaching the top.

Goodness is like this – there is always a force pushing against our attempts at goodness in the world. Those forces can wear us down if we do not acknowledge the cost, accept the cost, and continue to promote goodness IN SPITE OF THE COST. The only way you get to the top of the mountain, is by continuing uphill AGAINST the pull. Against the cost…

So, what does this have to do with educators? With us as people? Well – I think it comes down to the willingness to pay the price of goodness to move ourselves, our students, our families, and our world forward. Educators have this pivotal role in teaching children, tomorrow’s leaders, about the COST of goodness. It is naive to think telling a child “Be good!” solves the problems in their world. Well – what happens when I am nice to the unpopular kid and then I become unpopular (cost)? What happens when I tell the truth about doing the wrong thing and get a consequence for that (cost)? What happens when I give it 100% and still fail the test (cost)?

We must educate our youth on the price of goodness so that they might be willing to PAY THE COST. That they might have the will, the desire, the motivation, the perseverance, to KEEP GOING in the face of adversity based on their innate desire to do good in the world. Some kids enter our rooms already defeated by the harsh worlds they live in and we have to teach them goodness is worth the price. Some kids enter our rooms unsure of what it looks like to find their innate goodness and we must educate them on the cost and rewards of living up to their goodness potential. Some kids enter our rooms aware of the cost and ready, willing, and able to pay it and we must foster a community that celebrates that spirit.

The only way we can do that is by choosing to inject goodness into every action small and large in our world. To make goodness our guiding principle in every action we take. To use goodness to counteract or fix our own human flaws and foibles. To wield goodness as the weapon that can help move us to a better place.

Here are some guiding principles that may help us on our journey:

  1. Seek to understand and to learn.
  2. Think of others before ourselves.
  3. Be resilient and courageous.
  4. Use your words intentionally and thoughtfully.
  5. Stay curious.

I get so tired of paying the price for the times I purposefully seek to do what is right. It hurts, wears me down, and makes me want to stop. I get it…that price…too high at times. I am reminding myself and all of us as educators, parents, teachers, and members of the human family to find a little more change in your pockets to pay the price of goodness. Because ultimately, the reward is looking out from the top of the mountain at the beauty we have helped create with our efforts.

written with contribution from Alexandra Keilen, @aktechteacher

Character Education, Child Development, diverse learning, Education

Let’s Keep Talking

My last post was about my struggle to know what to say in the tumultuous times our nation is going through. As I worked through that issue and found ways to spread kindness, respect, and empathy…I realized the power of talking. There are some really tough conversations going on in America today…AND THEY ARE ESSENTIAL. We have spent a long time struggling to discuss tough issues and it has made us separate to our corners, pointing fingers, and refusing to compromise. As we look at our children and the world we want them to inherit (in not very long), THAT is not my dream for them. Let’s find ways to keep talking to create a better world for our kids and students to move into.

I have been a part of a couple of conversations this last week that highlight the need for these conversations. The first is with a group of friends who are always in each other’s corners. This group has held each other up through personal, work, and a variety of other struggles. We are super diverse and different but always supportive. As we discussed the protests, I saw the unique perspective of the police officers and their spouses. These conversations allowed us to all learn from each other the challenges, fears, and commonalities that exist in a world altering issue like systemic racism. We listened to each other, learned from each other, and still loved each other even if our viewpoints were not exactly alike.

The next conversation took me utterly by surprise. I was at Target the day after our big 5th grade end of year all day event. I was end of year teacher tired…which means utterly exhausted. I was at the register with a relatively new employee that I think is super nice and fast (always a plus)…who also happened to be an African American young man. I began asking him how his day was, how busy it was…babbling his ear off like usual. Then, I moved into discussing masks and how it seemed more people had them on this week which surprised me as so many people are refusing to follow social distancing state guidelines. Out of this, and I am not sure how, we began discussing the protests. He said he felt like these protests felt different and hoped it would bring real change. I told him (while crying just to amp up the embarrassment level) that for me the difference was when George Floyd called out for his mother. I felt like that moment crossed all boundaries and made EVERY mother who heard it understand our common humanity. It made me want to reach out and be there for him. I explained that I thought many mamas had felt the same way. I then apologized both for crying and going on and on, told him I was an exhausted teacher, and he looked at me and smiled. He said his mom is a teacher and he totally understood. As I went to leave, I turned and said “I hope you have a great day and sorry again…” He looked at me and quietly said “This conversation has been the highlight of my day.” Sobbing…I said “mine, too.”

Both of these examples made me feel uncomfortable, scared, worried of offending others, unsure of what was right to say, and left me feeling that I was both helping to spread and gaining understanding. I am sure the other people in these conversations felt some of the same feelings. But discomfort aside, we decided to keep talking. I have seen many articles that discuss the absolute REQUIREMENT that educators lead the way in opening these challenging conversations and begin helping our students change the world and learn from our mistakes. As a parent, there is the same requirement, to educate your kids on the tough issues…the ones without a simple solution. As educators, let us lead the way in fostering conversations that encourage the development of disagreeing without arguing and compromising without criticizing. The whole wide world may just depend on our ability to keep talking.

Here is a great set of steps from https://www.google.com/amp/s/brandyouinc.org/2013/06/01/5-steps-to-prepare-for-a-crucial-conversation/amp/

Here are some resources and examples of some powerful tools to use for yourself, with your students, and/or with your own family. Please add some of your own in the comment area:

For adults:

Resources to support children as an educator and/or parent:

Books, Character Education, Creating a Community, Distance Learning, Education, Leadership, Reading, Self Care, Teamwork, Wellness

I don’t know what to say…

Anybody who knows me personally, knows this is an extremely rare phrase to come out of my mouth. Generally, I always know what to say, or think I do, or just say something regardless… I am a talker!

Right now though, I find myself not knowing what to say. I don’t know what to say to my own children, my family, my students, my friends and co-workers, my friends on social media, and to myself. We are in such unprecedented times. Right now – we are experiencing a global health pandemic on a scale I have never seen in my lifetime. Right now – America is the most divided, bitter, and angry nation I have ever known. Right now – the legacy of racism in America continues to rear its ugly head forcing all of us to determine what we will do to change this crisis. Right now – we see corruption, dishonesty, and plain unkindness as the norm…just another day at the office.

I don’t know what to say in response to all of this. So, I try to share my thoughts with meaningful social media posts that focus on spreading honesty and goodness. I try to teach my children and my students the value of each and every human being regardless of color, creed, background, or any other unique attribute. I try to live a life where my actions match my faith and values. But…sometimes it all seems woefully inadequate, like I am a tiny pebble in a giant pond.

Then, I remember… I AM a tiny pebble in a giant pond. That is what I need to say… Let me explain.

One of my favorite read aloud books is Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson. The book is about how every thing we do creates ripples out into the world. Unkindness, denial, participation in the bitterness they spread like ripples in a pond. But kindness, love, care, empathy, courage, and hope spread too. Here is a video of the book: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WlNgYno4W14

At the start of every year, I read this book to my class and we discuss the way we treat each other. They are always horrified that the story doesn’t have a happy ending…that it doesn’t end well. I explain that too often, our unkindness, simply can’t be taken back. Words said cannot be unsaid. Mean actions cannot be taken back. But, we can learn from them…we can do better.

So, here is what I want to say that I hope will ripple out into the world. Our actions matter. We are part of a global community of humans. We are part of a fabric woven together and our responsibility is to each other.

As educators, we have a pivotal role in dropping little pebbles and trying to get our students to keep spreading the ripples. Whether we are in distance learning, in a classroom, or some other version of school we are unable to imagine right now, we have to spread what is good. So focus your teaching beyond your subject onto these things:

  • Being good human beings.
  • Creating curious and open minded students of life
  • Fostering a sense of Ubuntu (I am because you are).
  • Teaching history – where we have come from, the mistakes that have been made, and the lessons that can be learned.
  • Your role in your family, community, nation, and world – they must be active participants in making the world better.
  • The values of disagreeing and challenging each other with RESPECT while continuing to learn from each other.

So, in these times that seem overwhelming, and you just don’t know what to say that could make any of it better… remember the ripple you can make by your actions both positive and negative. I wish I had better words to say to people about these horrible situations we find our nation in. I wish I knew the right thing to say, but I don’t. So, I am going to focus on saying things and THINKing. This poster is in many classrooms, but really needs to be said right now in today’s world. Before I speak… is what I am saying true, helpful, inspiring, necessary, and kind. If we all THINK – we will send out some pretty powerful ripples. That is the best thing we can say when we don’t know what to say.

Character Education, Distance Learning, Education, Self Care, Teamwork, Wellness

The Kindness Battle

I just keep hearing a voice inside my head saying “It’s all about the kindness.” Now, this may be a sign I’ve been in quarantine too long since I am hearing voices! OR, it may be the voice of something higher than me reminding me there is a battle happening right now and kindness is the weapon. That is an odd way to refer to kindness, as a weapon. It is the antithesis of the very meaning of the word. Let me explain.

On the news right now we are bombarded by images and sounds of really unkind and frankly, scary people in leadership, in our communities, in our world.

Americans turning on each other because one man fans the flames of hate and discord hiding behind a mask of righteousness while serving only himself.

On social media, it is too easy to participate in the behind the screen bravery that allows us to be unkind.

With our education leaders, administrators, parents, co-workers, and even students, we are hearing negative, critical voices saying that what we are doing is not enough, not correct, can’t continue, not effective.

Within our own families and the families of our students, we know there is negativity that comes from the endless cycle of “togetherness” where siblings, couples, parents are all tired of each other.

It is simply too easy to be unkind and to allow the unkindness to cover us like a dark blanket.

Then…I see tiny points of light..of kindness poking through.

The greatest basketball player in the world weeping when shown an image of his teammates saying he was not kind, although effective. Kindness made a difference and broke the heart of a champion. https://twitter.com/i/status/1259664534471614466

A bored actor creates a simple, homemade fake news program to highlight Some Good News, and it becomes an international symbol of all that is right in the world. https://www.facebook.com/SomeGoodNewsSGN/

A child writes a letter to a teacher years down the road and says I am here..graduating…because of you. Thank you.

A dad builds his daughter a graduation stage, or takes her to prom, or to the daddy/daughter dance. https://abcn.ws/2Tje6ip

A mom dances a tiktok with her teenage son, or allows her kids to cover her in makeup, or laughs hysterically at the absurdity of life. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ygdB-ZE0daY

When we look for them, the images of kindness battling darkness are literally everywhere. When we add to the light, as a community of HUMANS, the light ALWAYS WINS.

As an educator, I have one fundamental task. To prepare the children in front of me to become the leaders, thinkers, innovators, and workers of the future.

Whether I am behind a computer screen, face to face, or in some other, not yet thought of way, in my role as a teacher, I MUST teach my students to wield kindness as a weapon.

I must model kindness as a weapon in the way I treat my family, my co-workers, my administrators, the parents, my community, and my world.

I must face each daunting what if of this time with the answer of “What if…I offer kindness in response?”

I don’t know about you, but wielding kindness as a weapon is exhausting.

My administrators don’t value me….respond with kindness.

A parent bashes me…respond with kindness.

A student mistreats me or his peers…respond with kindness.

A person on social media rants against me…respond with kindness.

I don’t know whether to wear a mask or return to work or stay home…respond with kindness.

I am scared for my future and want to fight for only myself and my family…respond with kindness.

Can you see how challenging kindness as a weapon is? Can you see the cost it takes to put away our fear, resentment, greed, guilt, anger, and hatred to find a way to make kindness my weapon in every moment and in every situation?

So – I call upon us, the educators, to step into the light and be the leaders. If we are to have a role in changing the world from the darkness, negativity, and anger…it will literally depend on us teaching OUR STUDENTS, so that they can teach others…Kindness is your weapon. Now – go and use it!

Here are some resources on kindness if you need a boost on where, how, or why to begin. Let’s start a kindness revolution!

Creating a Community, Distance Learning, Education, Intervention, Self Care, Wellness

Just for Today

I had a really bad couple of days and hit the wall yesterday. Being a teacher, parent, wife, daughter, person..is sometimes just hard. Now, more than ever in this new world of distance learning, it can feel utterly overwhelming. But, after several important things happened, I woke up today ready to start again. I have often described myself as one of those old time punching bags (the blow up kind with the weight in the bottom). You can knock me down, but I will always get back up. This is called RESILIENCE. Resilience has been studied by many people and consistently is found as the game changer for children living in trauma. Resilience can be an innate quality (that survivor instinct) or developed with the support of at least one loving adult. This skill is the most essential one in many settings. Here is a great article from heysigmund.com https://www.heysigmund.com/building-resilience-children/

In times of trauma, overcoming childhood challenges and difficulty, struggles as an educator in a system and with leaders who do not value you, and in a time like this; resilience is a required quality. It is especially needed in this time of global trauma where humans are not always showing their best qualities, particularly here in our divided nation.

Before distance learning, I always felt the hardest months for a teacher were December and May. May is living up to its reputation. I think that administrators are stressed trying to keep things moving forward when they don’t know how. Teachers and support staff are worried about what is next and how to make it work. Parents and Students are trying to come to terms with what an end of a school year looks like without the traditions, events, classroom clean up, and parties. There is a lot to knock us down and our resilience is what matters most. There are two things that have recently been shared on my social media, that to me are the essence of resilience. I have put one at the top and one at the bottom. The basic concept is simple the “Just keep swimming” motto of Dory or the “Put one foot in front of the other” line of the song. Resilience happens in that magical moment when you just can’t keep going on. It is too much. Then, you find the strength to stand back up and take one step. We watched “The Princess Bride” that is now on Disney+ and is one of the best movies ever made (I will take no arguments on this!) This moment is embodied in this scene: https://youtu.be/I73sP93-0xA

Here we are and now more than ever we need to find our own resilience, help each other find resilience, and as educators and parents face the monumental task of providing our children with one loving adult that can be the voice that tells them to just keep swimming. So, once again, how do we find and support resilience?

  1. Be kind – I keep saying it, but kindness is like a magical cure all. Check out this video on the science of kindness. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gOy_FRMprfo
  2. Foster friendships and relationships – Loneliness and isolation are the ultimate destruction of our resilience. My friends and family stepped into the gap during my recent bad days and whispered in my ear “you got this”. We need to all provide each other in big and small ways with that voice that encourages resilience. With our students, we need to be SO intentional in reaching out to our most vulnerable and providing a rock for them to cling to. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tXAg5XdK8ac&list=PLvzOwE5lWqhQWsPsW5PQQ5gj5OBewwgUw&index=5
  3. Allow yourself to wallow – My country grandmother used to say “Sometimes, you just need a good wallow.” Now – for you non-country folks – wallowing is what pigs do in the mud. Just roll around in it and let it cover them in the mess. We MUST acknowledge our fears, pain, sadnesses, and negative feelings in order to release them. This can involve crying, journaling, eating brownies…whatever lets you FEEL the negative so you can let it go. So, occasionally, when it all gets to much, have a good wallow…then pick yourself back up.
  4. The 5 year rule – My mom often says to me “Will this still matter to you in 5 years?” Taking problems that seem to be mountains and deciding if they really are mountains or just little hills that I can get over, fosters resilience. MOST things…end up being hills (or sometimes nothing at all – just my imagined mountains)…so in 5 years, if this will not make a difference in my life, release it and move forward.
  5. Serve others – At the end of the day, there is no greater way to spark your own resilience than by lending a hand to another. Stepping outside of our own struggles and helping another can remind us of all we have to be grateful for.

So – read the prayer at the top out loud to yourself daily. Follow the steps on the quote at the bottom and foster resilience in yourself, your friends and family, and your students.

Distance Learning, Education, Self Care, Wellness

One Big Rock

Now that most states in the U.S. have moved to distance learning for the remainder of the school year, there is a weariness that has settled in for all involved. I noticed it in my own children, my students, and myself. The initial rush of newness and excitement is gone, replaced by the drudgery of this new system. I feel a little like the stage of friendship after camp. You leave camp ready to be friends forever. The first months are full of letters, texts, emails, and I miss you moments. As time goes on, things begin to fade away, memories become hazy, and the best of intentions do not always keep you connected the way face to face time did.

I found myself really going inward this past week and trying to determine what should this world look like for me as a parent, as an educator, for my children, and for my students. I spent a few days “shut off” and not really doing much except thinking. (okay – in this house with 2 dogs, 1 cat, 1 hamster, 2 teenage boys, one 8 year old girl, 1 husband, my parents and in-laws, 40 students, my friends…I was as shut off as I could manage.) During this time of reflection and soul searching, I saw this video. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SqGRnlXplx0 Suddenly, it clicked that right now HAS to be about the big rocks. Big Rocks are the metaphor for the most important components of our lives. The ones that our energy, attention, and care should be directed towards. The pebbles, the sand, and even the Cerveza’s of this metaphor MUST fade away to an extent during this time of unprecedented crisis and trauma. The shock I found as I sat down to reflect on what the big rocks were for me is that, right now, there is only ONE big rock as an educator, mother, wife, daughter, and friend. Just one big rock that DEMANDS our attention – here is how I am facing this rock.

THE ONE BIG ROCK Health – Physical, Mental, and Spiritual Health of myself, my family, my friends, AND my students has to be the first priority.

It is Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs in living color.

If we are not physiologically safe and feel emotionally secure – learning and teaching will NOT happen regardless of efforts. So – what are you doing to ensure this health and well being?

  1. Take care of your physiological needs – Financial needs, food, shelter, health needs, etc. have to be addressed. You will not be able to help anyone else before you ensure that you have that bottom layer of Maslow’s hierarchy met for yourself. So – take the time to file paperwork, order food, pay your bills, do a medical visit virtually with your doctor, keep your prescriptions refilled, etc.
  2. Building in time to ensure your own well being. Recent discussion among mental health professionals is that this time will be an ACE (Adverse Childhood Experience) for all of our kids to some extent. It is the same for us as adults. This IS, by its nature, a traumatic event. You must take care of yourself with nature, exercise, diet, meditation/prayer, joy and fun filled activities, spending time electronically or in person with those you love who support you, and giving yourself TIME!
  3. Be aware of your own children and family and put their needs ABOVE your students! I realized that so much of my early attention was put towards my students, particularly those most as risk. My own children NEED a present, loving parent to help them through these challenging times – THE WAY OUR STUDENTS NEED ONE. I am putting on my “teacher” hat with my own children, my “co-worker” hat with my husband, my parents and in-laws to find ways to listen and look for how their emotional needs are being met just like I do at school.
  4. Cognitive Re-framing – this big fancy phrase means changing your thinking. It is so important right now to reflect on what IS good, what IS right, what IS possible vs. staying in the negative. One week, I watched a little too much of the news and briefings and read too much on twitter for a few days until my husband and friend intervened and said ENOUGH. There is a fine line between being educated and informed and stressing yourself out. So – every day, choose explicitly to focus on gratitude, positive aspects of this terrible time, and ways you can solve problems. I like to keep my energy on WHAT I CAN DO NOT WHAT I CAN’T!
  5. Nearpod – Nearpod is my favorite educator tool particularly for distance learning. Set up a free account TODAY! You can have a zoom AND get feedback from all of your students. They have an entire set of FREE nearpods focusing on SEL for all age levels tied to Covid 19. Here is one I just did with my students that I thought was a great discussion starter. https://share.nearpod.com/lHAm7NQD15
  6. Weekly Reflections – This tool, that I have always used, is ideal in distance learning because every week, I can get feedback from my students on what is happening for them and how I can support. This information has become even more critical in distance learning. https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Weekly-Reflection-4750316
  7. Thinking Creatively for the hardest to reach – We all have students who are really struggling during this time. Start to look for ways to keep connection. Individual or small group zoom sessions, phone sessions, using google classroom or microsoft teams “chat” features to send private messages, notes or letters sent to their mailbox, using volunteers to help tutor or connect, a “care” package of school supplies and materials delivered to their doorstep, using a simple video app like flipgrid to send messages back and forth (You can set up a flipgrid code for you and one student. Videos can be left there by both you and the student. Any device (even a cellphone) that has a way to connect to the internet can have the student press one button to send/receive a video.) Think about the tools that the student has access to that you can use to make connection.

The biggest shock of this time for me is realizing how essential the ONE BIG ROCK is. We want to make sure students are learning, our families are happy, we keep up some semblance of “normal”, we get some big projects done at home, and so many other things that we think are important. The reality is right now, in this time of trauma, we have just one big rock that requires our undivided attention – keeping ourselves, our families, our students, and our world healthy and safe. Everything else will happen in the best way it can given the circumstances if we make this our priority. So, give yourself permission to put your energy to this one big rock and stop worrying about the pebbles and sand. You might even find you have a little time left for a beer!

Creating a Community, Distance Learning, Education, Recipes, Self Care, Wellness

Spring Break STAYcation!

As educators AND parents, we are well aware of how Spring Break seems to be so exciting for everyone.  However, in these unprecedented times, we have cancelled trips, lots of down time, and LOTS of family time affecting Spring Break 2020.  So – join in the 2020 Spring Break STAYCATION plan! 7 days of fun to look forward to – do all of it, some of it, or none of it! Just know – we can make this FUN! 

Day 1 – Virtual Easter Block Party – Today, gather rocks of all sizes and paint.  Paint rocks to look like Easter Eggs. Notify your neighborhood via text, email, or an app like NextDoor of the plan.  Every family places one Easter Egg for each member of the family around the neighborhood on a walk. Families can seek out as many Easter Egg rocks as possible and take pictures of them.  You can share these on the app, social media, or via text/email. Check out a fun “EGG” menu for the day: https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1K30CXd1UGj8pbi_OBx8KeOO_BXRsm3A7chzSWFvfEgY/edit?usp=sharing

Supplies Needed – Rocks, paint, paintbrushes, water, smocks/old shirts, newspaper to paint on, device that takes pictures.  Some neighborhoods are decorating large paper eggs as an alternative. Each family decorates 1-2 eggs with crayons/markers, then displays them on their house to be found and counted. You can make some fancy paper Easter Eggs using this resource: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1Xel6JHxpBalJLEkK-DaU_7dtRNsvg4eo/view

Day 2 – Camp Out and Stargazing- Plan a family camping adventure.  Several ways to do this:

Option 1 – Pitch your tent in the backyard, get a fire pit going (here is a safe way to create one https://achievingadventure.com/blogs/2017/11/06/building-fire-no-injuries/), Get out the flashlights, sleeping bags, lanterns, bug spray, etc.  Set up some chairs, roast some marshmallows, sing songs, play games (cornhole, checkers, horseshoes, bocce ball, etc.) and enjoy the night sky.  Use a telescope if you have one or an app on your phone to help you find constellations. (https://www.hongkiat.com/blog/stargazing-apps/   ) Check out the menu you can use: https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1K30CXd1UGj8pbi_OBx8KeOO_BXRsm3A7chzSWFvfEgY/edit?usp=sharing

Option 2 – Pitch your tent or make a fort in your living room.  Watch this great stargazing video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h-hAc3n5ROw or https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8UU61eAUzxE , this sing along camp songs video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P_BMzqwSdW8&list=PLzbFVd2WNPybpfMKM1d9t3wUuWik_V79D , make toaster s’mores https://www.myfoodandfamily.com/recipe/125674/smores-your-way , and eat on a blanket on the floor picnic style. 

Day 3- Community Service Day – Today, focus on how you can help other people.  Take sidewalk chalk on your daily walk and write inspirational messages for neighbors, create a happy, fun video and share it with family/friends/neighbors who might be alone and lonely, or find a way to virtually support an organization.  Here is a list of great ideas:

  1. Create thank you letters to essential workers in your area. Don’t forget the grocery store workers who are on the front lines!
  2. Create masks for others and donate.
  3. Create a fun obstacle course for neighborhood kids on the sidewalk or street for families to enjoy: Option 1 and Option 2 
  4. Create a Kindness Poster and post on Social Media and in your neighborhood: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1Tr3KV6UW2iff-UyA6bBaUqFnjhQungxD/view

Here are even more great ideas- https://www.goodmorningamerica.com/living/story/virtual-volunteering-ways-volunteer-home-time-coronavirus-69741410 and https://www.goodmorningamerica.com/news/video/ways-virtual-volunteer-fight-covid-19-69747040 

Day 4 – Creativity Lab Day – Ask every member of your family to take a set amount of time (we suggest a minimum of 2 hours).  They must separate to a room in the house or place in the house BY THEMSELVES. If you have young children, plan this during nap time to allow for older family members to participate.  Every person must create something that they will share with the rest of the family. It can be music, art, dance, STEM activities, Legos, Maker’s Space type items, or basically anything you can think of.  Here are some websites with inspiration: http://www.arvindguptatoys.com/toys.html  and  https://www.brilliantlabs.ca/makerfun There are 2 goals to this day – ONE…give everybody some alone time.  TWO…allow for creativity. At the end, you have a great opportunity to share your creations.  Take pictures and/or videos and share them with family and friends to share in the joy OR have family in different houses all do the creativity lab simultaneously.  Then, you can video chat and share the projects across houses (a great way to include older family members). 

Day 5 – Specials / Field Day – Most public schools have students take “special area” classes.  These include Music, P.E., Art, STEAM, Technology, Language classes, Band, or Drama. Many public schools have sent out information from these special area teachers that you can use throughout the day.  Create a schedule and have everybody rotate through activities! Here are 2 great sources of activities for different Specials Area Classes: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1Q6XX0ehjq72C-aiOq49Yn1hqNdxBvDBhVyf-iIpoHxM/edit?usp=sharing

or https://drive.google.com/file/d/1gWI6At1txRa_A6YBxFoA-2aVpB5dJCdv/view?usp=sharing

For a variation try At-Home Field Day Ideas: https://www.ptotoday.com/pto-today-articles/article/8129-11-favorite-field-day-games

or here are some “Field Day” Digital Breakouts: 

1) https://platform.breakoutedu.com/game/play/field-day-funnanigans-136

2) https://platform.breakoutedu.com/game/play/field-day-fun-78

Day 6 – Scavenger Hunt Day – Make up your own scavenger hunt or use one of these various ideas and make a day full of scavenger hunts.  You can offer prizes like candy, money, or other small items to make the competition fun! You could include family members and friends with video chatting.  You could make videos of the scavenger hunt or take photos of each item found.  https://www.goodhousekeeping.com/life/parenting/g32050844/scavenger-hunt-ideas-for-kids/ or https://lezgetreal.com/scavenger-hunt-ideas/

If you want some digital versions to challenge your brain, try some Digital Escape Rooms like this Mindfulness and Gratitude Free Digital Breakout: https://platform.breakoutedu.com/game/play/mindfulness-344039

Day 7 – Hawaiian Water Vacation – It’s time to rest up!  Head to Hawaii and bust out the water toys. Here are Hawaiian crafts https://www.artistshelpingchildren.org/hawaiincraftsideasactivitieskids.html, games https://www.thespruce.com/kids-hawaiian-luau-party-games-2104661, decorations https://hoosierhomemade.com/luau-party-ideas/ , music https://www.polynesia.com/what-to-play, and food https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1K30CXd1UGj8pbi_OBx8KeOO_BXRsm3A7chzSWFvfEgY/edit?usp=sharing you can do.  Bring out the sprinkler, pool, splash pad, sponges and buckets, hose, water balloons, whatever you can find to splash around.  Set up an outdoor relaxing water play time complete with any Hawaiian components from above! Relax and enjoy the sunshine! 

We hope these ideas have helped you plan the ultimate fun filled STAYCATION!  We know that it can be hard to stay at home without the routine of distance learning, so find a way to make this Spring Break memorable right from your living room!  We hope you will share your videos and pictures on Whatever is Admirable as we post our events each day!

co-written by Alexandria Keilen @aktechteacher

Distance Learning, Education, Recipes, Self Care, Wellness

Weird…I feel weird…

As I sit here on my back porch listening to the birds chirp, in the early morning light…I feel utterly content. Then…it all rushes in: what is happening to our world, our schools, and in our lives. I realize that this dichotomy makes me feel weird, strange, unsettled, and discombobulated. I watch my children who approach each day with their teenage attitude and little girl enthusiasm have moments where I can see how weird they feel right now. The world has become unfamiliar to all of us and yet utterly recognizable all at the same time.

Educators and parents face the most challenging of this global sense of off kilter because we feel the responsibility to step into the discomfort and make sure our children feel as safe and comfortable as possible during these unprecedented times. I wrote of my pride in my fellow teachers as we all gave 200% to making school happen wherever a child is. But now, that systems are in place and kinks are mostly worked out, the weirdness has settled in.

Here we are with the weight of this weirdness on our shoulders trying desperately to make sense of the madness for ourselves, our families, and out students. How can we do this effectively? Well…I don’t really know! But, I know what has worked, so far, for me. Here is my list – share a comment of what has helped you through the strangeness

  1. Routine and Schedule – Everybody is different when it comes to how structured they want to be. My husband despises a schedule and wants to just do it at his own pace, in his own time, in his own way (much to my annoyance). For me, having a routine and schedule makes everything more manageable.
  2. Focus on what I can do, not what I can’t – I have always felt that anytime my focus is on what is wrong, what I am unable to fix, what is out of my control…I don’t do well. So instead, I am getting creative – Zoom Cocktail and birthday parties, Virtual Spring Break activities, projects that I can complete, etc. As an educator, what can I do to teach my kiddos effectively using the tools I have.
  3. Stay Healthy – I am trying to exercise daily, get outside regularly, eat reasonably healthy, meditate and pray, journal, regulate my working hours, and focus on having enjoyable/fun things to do each day.
  4. Reach out to people – I actually think I am talking to my family and friends MORE than I did before this all began. Use the really amazing tools available today to make sure I keep in contact with people and connect.
  5. Think of others – For me, it is much less challenging to go through this if I focus on people who have much less than I do, are working harder or with more danger, or lonely populations. I loved watching things like Matthew McConnaghey play virtual zoom bingo with a local nursing home https://twitter.com/i/events/1247277604656369667?fbclid=IwAR05Ibw8jnJBdgTM9xg1T63q-0bAwup33-7WEJWC2qNsykY8tk4kvMGMr2Y and John Krasinski using his celebrity to share “Some Good News” while making good news happen for people. https://www.facebook.com/SomeGoodNewsSGN/ Consciously, find ways to help others and you will feel better.
  6. Be Kind – If you are on any social media or watching the daily news, we have a lot of really angry people who are lashing out via social media. I have always told my students it is much easier to be mean from behind a screen where you don’t have to look someone in the eye. Counter unkindness with kindness. Do not engage in bashing and negativity. Yes, there are parents out there saying horrible things about teachers right now. Yes, there are people with differing political views screaming horrible things at each other. Yes, there is a mean person who will say something no matter what the situation. But each one of us has the power to respond to this with love, kindness, or simply refusing to participate. My husband always says “Your character shines through.” So, to the teacher bashers out there – let them see your character shine through and THAT will be the best response you can give.

NOW – speaking of weird…. I had a virtual cocktail party (so fun!) and drank a glass of champagne from a full bottle left over from some holiday. Well…now I had an opened, mostly full bottle of champagne. I couldn’t bear to just dump it out the next morning…so I thought? Can you make bread out of this? Weirdly, you can! Here’s my recipe:

Champagne Bread –

3 c. All purpose Flour

4 1/2 tsp. baking powder

1/2 tsp. salt

3 Tbsp. sugar

3 Tbsp. butter, melted

12 oz. champagne, room temperature

2 Tbsp. butter melted

1 tsp. cinnamon and 2 tsp. sugar for topping

  1. Put the flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar in a stand mixer or a mixing bowl and lightly mix together.
  2. Add in the melted butter and champagne and mix together until a solid ball that pulls away from the side of the mixer.
  3. Put the batter into a loaf pan and shape to the pan.
  4. Brush the top of the loaf with melted butter.
  5. Sprinkle cinnamon sugar onto top. (An alternate would be garlic, everything bagel spice mix, etc.)

This makes a dense loaf of bread that has a slightly sour flavor. You can use this for toast, french toast, or to make into croutons. Enjoy this weird recipe!

Distance Learning, Education, Leadership, Self Care, Teamwork, Wellness

The Worth of a Teacher

In these unprecedented times, there are moments over and over that make me unbelievably proud to be part of the tribe of teachers. I have watched my friends and colleagues wholeheartedly finding ways to reach our students, comfort them, encourage them, and yes, still continue to educate them. I have seen my daughter’s face as her teacher drove through on a “We miss you car parade” and when she dropped off a goodie bag in our mailbox of activities for the week. (fully sanitized). I have seen my teenage sons leave a zoom conference with their teachers with a big smile on their face. Teachers are part of this ESSENTIAL group of caregivers that while the world shuts down continue to do their job against all odds.

I have also watched as educators around my state and the country suffer under the unreasonable, confusing, and often out of touch demands from administrators, districts, and state level school boards and education officials. I have listened while friends cry trying to manage a whole new world of teaching, while helping their own families and children. I have seen where debates from parents on social media erupt into a “the way this teacher is doing this is so wrong…” type of conversation. I have watched as politicians decide how I will teach, when I will teach, and when I will have to “make up” the time lost. I am sharing some sage advice from Brad Johnson, author of Putting Teachers First.

Ask any educator that you know personally and he/she will tell you that the workload right now is much higher. Teachers are used to the routine of being in the building and are able to pull out their “tried and true” lesson plans crafted previously.  There are no “tried and true” lessons already created in case school is out for over a month. So teachers are creating all of their lessons from scratch and handing them over to a “substitute teacher.” Administrators are requiring online PD, frequent online staff/grade level meetings, some are requiring online tools that the teachers have never used before and must teach themselves. During all this, teachers are being asked questions by their students and parents. Within a classroom, these quick exchanges are effortless to clarify an assignment. By being virtual questions via email, it becomes more complicated and time-consuming to respond. Don’t get me wrong, we want to stay in touch, clarify our instructions, and create the best lessons possible. Giving our best to everything is part of most teachers, so we are not on an early summer break. We are truly working harder than we ever have. 

It all leads me to ask the question “What is the worth of teachers?”. What value do we have, bring, and offer to our administrators, schools, districts, communities and states? What are our administrators, schools, districts, communities and states willing to do to support OUR needs? So here are some questions we need to consider when we look at the worth of our educators.

  1. What should we expect of our teachers while they serve their own families and children during this time?
  2. How can we ask our educators what they need to be successful in this difficult time and then provide it to them remotely?
  3. What can a parent do to support what their child’s teacher needs to continue educating their children?
  4. What demands should be made of teachers to “make up” lost instructional time? Our state is considering extending the school year in the summer or returning early. Most teachers will tell you they are working harder in distance learning than they ever have. Educators should have this worked counted and valued – not be expected to “make it up”.
  5. What can administrators and school districts do to say to teachers what do you need to be successful right now? What can I take off your plate? What boundaries or expectations can I help you put into place to make this work?

I think about the post I wrote about the promises I made to parents. https://authenticteaching.blog/2020/01/27/i-promise/ I want you to know those promises are all still true and even more so. I wake up worrying about my “kids”, spend all day trying to support them, and go to bed worrying about them. I am spending more time supporting, encouraging, and helping my co-workers and friends than ever before and they are doing the same for me. As there is a lot of noise from lots of people outside the teacher tribe discussing my worth, I want to stand up and loudly proclaim

“TEACHERS ARE WORTH AS MUCH AS ANY OTHER ESSENTIAL WORKER”. We do not want more, but we are tired of accepting less. Value us as the loving, dedicated, and committed professionals we are. We want you – administrators, schools, districts, communities, and state officials – to wake up worrying a little about us, spend the day trying to support us, and go to bed worrying about us and all of the other essential workers keeping America going through this crisis. We value you….please value us. co-written by Alexandra Keilen @aktechteacher

# Professional Development, #Classroom Community, Creating a Community, Distance Learning, Education, Self Care, Teamwork

Circle of Control

WOW! These are historic and unprecedented times. My friends and I joked we felt like we were in the beginning scenes of a major Hollywood pandemic blockbuster. Sadly, we are not in a movie. This can bring feelings of stress, worry, anxiety, and fear. As educators, we worry about our own families AND our kids that we have just sent home for an undisclosed amount of time if your school has closed. So – I go back to a lesson learned from the Leader in Me, 7 Habits of Highly Successful People by Franklin Covey. This concept is the idea that some things are in our control and that is where our power is. Our energy spent worrying about the things outside of our control ultimately harm us rather than help us. So – here are some tips to helping you take control for yourself, your family, and your students in distance learning as we go through these uncharted waters together.

  • Alexandra Keilen, Technology Facilitator and Super Friend, helped me create this one stop shopping resource for all of the supports in place for educators, families, and students during this time. Click here to get information which we will continue to update as we find information. bit.ly/remotelearn
  • Make a schedule – Endless days of rest, relaxation, and hanging out sound great in theory…but after a short patch these become tedious and boring. Set some work hours, play hours, rest hours, etc. Here is a great sample schedule: undefined
  • Zoom to keep in contact – My daughter had an amazing playdate yesterday with a friend and they were in TWO DIFFERENT HOUSES! Zoom is a free video conferencing app that you can download from the play store or the apple store.  To create an account, all you need is a working email. You can set up a sign up genius and do individual zoom teaching or conferences with students or parents. (This would be great for students with IEP, 504 Plans, or LEP Plans) You can do whole class daily live lessons at a scheduled time. You can meet remotely with your PLC or team of educators to figure out next ideas or steps. You can use it to set up times with your family and friends to “hang out”. Here is a great starter video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-ik5o6WptX0 
  • Use tools like Google Classroom or Microsoft Teams to provide students with assignments, materials, or resources – We are so fortunate to live in a world with these technology resources. For our students without internet access or appropriate devices – Spectrum and Comcast are both providing free internet service for families simply by calling their number. Encourage families to consider using an old cell phone that can attach to the wi-fi, tablets, etc. to have students work. For our most at-risk/needy students, look for ways to mail information or drop it off if there is little chance they will get any kind of internet support.
  • Finally, take care of yourself, your family, and your community. We have all heard and seen the stories of people ripping toilet paper out of each other’s hands or mistreating each other as fear sets in. What has NOT been as widely shared is the community of people everywhere that are reaching out to each other, providing services for the community, helping a neighbor, and so much more. If we lead as educators in modeling kindness, respect, and treating our fellow humans with love…we will all come out of this time with a renewed sense of who we are as part of the human family!

Behavior Management, Child Development, Creating a Community, Education, Self Care, Wellness

No rest for the weary….

I am the child of true work horses. Both of my parents, by example, showed the value of working exceptionally hard and consistently giving effort. This is a valuable and important skill set. As a teacher, I am known for my high expectations for working hard, pushing beyond what you think you are capable of, and the value of constantly having a next assignment, activity, etc. I am not a fan of down time, games, hanging out….which is highly ironic given that these were my skill set as a student.

I am however being gently nudged to rethink this concept. Here is how the nudging has happened… First, I get tired and worn out more as I get older, teach longer, and face the challenges all teachers face. Second, this year my students have required me to keep moving in new directions to meet them where they are. I have realized that the stamina required to work hard all day with our extra long day may just not be there…yet (growth mindset)! Third, I watched a fascinating news story on the increasing research that supports the power of a daily nap or rest time. As I watched in awe, the CEO of a major tech firm, WRITES IN HIS CALENDAR DAILY A 30 MINUTE NAP!!!!! My first thought was, I want to work there…I last truly slept around 15 years ago pre-kids….and that I was mesmerized to hear him discuss that his most effective and highest resulting ideas came as he was drifting off to sleep or waking up from sleep. Here is the news story if you are interested: https://www.cbsnews.com/video/the-benefits-of-napping-on-the-job/

So – I would like us to discuss the power of rest. The news story today had lots of medical, mental health, and other experts discussing rest. They also shared that historically some of the world’s greatest minds and leaders (Aristotle, Leonardo DaVinci, Roosevelt, Truman, etc.) spoke of regular naps in their journals and other historical documents. It is clear, that the American idea of “pull yourself up by your bootstraps and make anything out of yourself by hard work” is just not aligned with the concept of rest. As Americans, we view rest for the lazy, uninspired, and somehow damaged people. The challenge now is to alter our thinking enough to see the value of rest in an educational environment. So, I got to thinking…what could rest look like in the classroom? Here are some ideas I have either used in the past without knowing what I was doing or even better, have learned about someone else using this with great success.

  1. Brain Breaks, Yoga, Mindfulness, Movement in the classroom: This is a growing trend in education for a reason. Teaching children the value and importance of the mind, spirit, body connection is literally life saving. Check out this amazing article from Mindful.org https://www.mindful.org/mindfulness-in-education/ and my favorite calming video by Julie Bayer Salzman & Josh Salzman (Wavecrest Films) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RVA2N6tX2cg
  2. Outdoor Education: My first career was in the non-profit world running large resident and day camps (along with many other programs). I love nature and KNOW its value. Yet – I have become stagnant with gritting it out in my classroom…some days never seeing the sun. Taking your class outside for a lesson, activity, or even a 5 min. refresh and regroup walk can center and refocus the mind.
  3. Genius Hour: Genius hour is a new, trendy academic concept of giving students time to spend learning about whatever they want, however they want. It is based on the idea that Google has in their company of giving daily “down time” for people to play and create. I just learned about this at a conference and am toying with the idea of when, where, why, and how to integrate. Here is a great starter site I found: https://geniushour.com/what-is-genius-hour/
  4. Maker’s Space – Every year after Spring Break, I have opened a “Maker’s Space” in my classroom. It is designed to help make the final push to standardized testing more balanced with this highly engaging and out of the norm concept. Every year, I vow I will never do it again and every year, I see the value of this program. Here is a link to Authentic Teaching’s Maker’s Space packet that helps align this concept with standards https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Makers-Space-Package-4777241
  5. Explicit instruction in work pacing, study, and standardized testing stamina and focus skills: For most of us around the U.S., we are entering the time of final preparation for standardized testing. In our state, students starting in 3rd grade (8 years old), are expected to sit for up to 4 hours, completely silently, no movement, while the teacher paces the classroom, and take a test. This is something most of us adults could not do. So, until this kind of rigorous testing changes (advocate and vote, my friends!), we must teach our students healthy ways to pace their class work, studying, and during standardized tests. I use this resource every year as a way to encourage students to realize stamina and focus are HARD, but skills they can learn. http://staff.katyisd.org/sites/raefourth/PublishingImages/Pages/default/Test%20Anxiety%20-%20Taming%20the%20Test%20Monsters.pptx

My new goal for remainder of this school year, is to shift my paradigm ever so slightly, to see the value of rest. I get the idea that students must learn balance in order to achieve. I tend to be so driven, that I forget that balance for myself and for my students sometimes. Take a moment and reflect for yourself, with your team, and/or with your students on ways to add a little rest into the school day and beyond! Maybe, the best idea, will come when we rest!

Behavior Management, Behavior Plan, Classroom Organization, Education, Higher Level Thinking

These are a few of my favorite things….

I can hear Julie Andrews singing now! Sometimes it is just fun to take a moment and list some of our favorite tools, gadgets, or tricks to use as a teacher. I have listed my TOP 10 List here (David Letterman here I go). I just realized both of these references may be waaaayyyy too old for many teachers (I forget I am now the elder stateswoman of the bunch). Anyways, here are things I absolutely LOVE as a teacher. After I am done – share a comment on the site or social media of YOUR favorite things.

  1. Nearpod – This is an interactive powerpoint website which allows you to either use existing presentations or create your own. These are aligned with Google Slides if you want. The students log in and during any type of direct instruction ALL students can provide their feedback keeping engagement high. It has a free teacher account that gives you access to lots of free pre-made nearpods on pretty much ANYTHING and allows you to upload slide presentations to create your own.
  2. Storyworks by Scholastic – Hands down the BEST 3-5 reading resource for the price. This monthly magazine comes with an online version of all resources INCLUDING THE ENTIRE BACK ISSUE CATALOG. The magazine covers multiple genres of reading every month AND gives a ton of lesson plans, discussion questions, close reading, and activities for students on great skills, strategies, and covering a lot of social studies, science, and current event issues. The magazine aligns with Google Classroom and with a single click of a button it will upload your classes and/or post to your classes. Ask your school to cover the cost, do a donor’s choose, ask parents to donate, or use any classroom funds given (PTO, annual budget, etc.) to access this resource.
  3. Actively Learn – This online reading website has a TON of reading materials for every grade level, lexile level, and subject. The site aligns with Google Classroom and with a single click of a button it will upload your classes and/or post to your classes. You can search for items by subject, skill, lexile level, strategy, etc. They offer a free teacher version that has really innovative resources complete with teacher’s guide and additional resources for every article.
  4. Readworks – This FREE reading website allows you to create classes and assign students reading passages with quizzes, vocabulary, read aloud, and ESL support. It has a wide range of resources in multiple genres. You can individualize assignments based on student’s needs or assign whole class. It automatically grades all multiple choice, tracks students scores over a quarter (great for intervention data), and makes grading open ended responses super easy. It has a newer feature called “Article A Day” which has a note taking component for students. It also has content on almost every science and social studies standard.
  5. Read Write Think – If you are looking for really high level, well designed lessons on reading and writing standards, this website has a ton of super easy to follow lesson plans complete with resources. It is challenging and encourages higher level thinking in innovative ways.
  6. Document Camera for Read Aloud – It is great to bring students to the carpet for read aloud. However, in older elementary (3-5) it can be challenging to get them to the carpet and to sit comfortably during a longer read aloud. It also is hard to have students do work WHILE you read (note taking, close reading marking the text, plot arcs, etc.) from the carpet. I discovered that reading aloud while showing the book/text on the document camera (if it is not an online resource obviously), is super effective to allow every student to fully see both text and illustrations, stay comfortable, and do interactive work while I read.
  7. Easy Grader – As previously stated…I am a dinosaur now! STILL, there is NO tool better to have sitting next to you while grading a stack of work than the easy grader. I know there are a million online calculators, score keepers, whatchamacalits, but every new teacher that I have lent my good ol’ easy grader to LOVES IT!
  8. Behavior Plan and Tracking Tool – This item has been tweaked, modified, and used in many different ways over the last several years. However, when used correctly, this consistently yields results that make real changes in student behavior, parent support and involvement, and helps to move students in a new direction. https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Student-Behavior-Motivation-Educator-Plan-4800920 https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Student-Behavior-Intervention-Plan-4800875
  9. Glitter Focus Jar – I like to have a plan in place for students who may need to learn calming or cooling down skills. I have a color picture, step by step plan I use frequently (in the plan above). I will often have a cool down corner if I have a higher need student with a variety of items designed to allow for calming. BUT, the one must have is the glitter focus jar. I first saw this used in a self-contained classroom with some of the finest educators I had ever seen. With profoundly challenged students, the glitter jar was a sure fire way to cool, calm, and relax. For myself, my teacher friends, and even the occasional parent in a meeting – this jar calms you down. I challenge anybody to look at the jar and not feel themselves relaxing! There are tons of “recipes” to make them on the internet. Check out this great article with 6 ways to make them from Preschool Inspirations. I highly recommend a plastic bottle, not glass for the obvious reasons. https://preschoolinspirations.com/6-ways-to-make-a-calm-down-jar/
  10. Coffee, Soda, and Food – I have shared many recipes here, lots of pictures of coffee cups, and expressed my love of sharing food with my team. https://authenticteaching.blog/2019/08/06/banana-bread-bribery/ I just don’t think we could make it through the day without coffee, sodas, and some delicious, sometimes nutritious food item!

Your turn! What is on your top 10 list? Post here in the comments or on any of our social media sites!

#Classroom Community, Behavior Management, Behavior Plan, Character Education, Child Development, Class Meeting, Education, Intervention, MTSS

Joy and Pain

Life is a series of moments….some are ordinary, some are joy filled, and some are full of pain. As an educator, you experience your own moments both at work and in your personal life. This is challenging enough. Then, you look at a room full of people, little developing people and you have to manage their response to life’s moments. It can be overwhelming, but for most of us that love teaching, it is our humanity with our students in moments of joy and pain that stay with us and make our job worthwhile.

Joy and Pain are a part of all things in life. As an educator, you are challenged with educating kids in whatever subjects you are asked to teach them in. This is a huge challenge in and of itself. One of my core philosophical beliefs is that students will not take academic risks (the foundation of learning) when they do not feel safe. Emotionally safe, physically safe, and socially safe are requirements for a student to be willing to take the risk that true learning requires. So, facing and managing your students joys and pains must happen to create learning.

This week, I experienced some amazing joys and some terrible pain. It was a roller coaster. I saw people at their very best – generous, thoughtful, kind and at their very worst – angry, irrational, and out of control. These extremes made me recognize the essential role a teacher can play in creating a classroom community that acknowledges and addresses these joys and pains. Here are a few ideas how you can do this:

JOY – Celebrations and traditions are a part of every culture and community around the globe. The reasons for this is that celebrating our human connections (birthdays, holidays, honoring tragedy) is the link that binds us. A strong classroom teacher focuses on creating moments of joy in their classroom both intentional and organic. Here are a few ways to foster joy:

  • Classroom Compliments – Fill your bucket, Leader in Me, Character Counts, and a host of other programs all highlight the importance of teaching children to compliment other children. Create a regular way for students to compliment each other. I use our school’s core values to have students pick one student each week at our class meeting to write and verbally present a compliment to. This is undeniably powerful.
  • Celebrations – It is a commonly held joke among my students and friends that I am not the most festive of teachers. We work…really hard…pretty much most of the time. That being said, I do make time for celebrations. Setting up class goals and then picking a whole class reward or picking a specific event to really celebrate with your students create a time for students to build community.
  • Content that focuses on life’s triumphs – Kids want to learn about people who have overcome adversity, heartwarming stories, or those fabulous silly moments in life (Mo Willems books anybody?). Read great books, study current events, history, or the magnificence of science and help kids see the joy in life.
  • Informal moments of joy – laugh, giggle, smile, take a moment to let joy into your classroom. Relationships based on genuine joy and care in each other will foster learning AND create a life long impact.

PAIN – It is hard to live through or watch those painful times in life. Teaching is filled with moments that can be agonizing, hurtful, and challenge you to decide again if you really want to be a teacher. Watching students struggle with pain from trauma, social pressure or isolation, or self doubt to name a few can be a very helpless feeling. A teacher has the power to provide a child with tools to address their pain and offer a soft place to land. However, a teacher must acknowledge and address their own pain with honesty and courage to do the work that must be done. You know, take the oxygen mask for yourself first philosophy! Here are some ways to address pain with our students:

  • Manage Anger – Anger is an emotion that is always masking some other feeling (anxiety, fear, stress, hopelessness, etc.). Angry kids in our classrooms don’t know effective coping skills to deal with their anger. Managing anger through a specific plan of learned skills is a gift to the angry child and your classroom. Check out Authentic Teaching TPT for great resources for managing student behavior full of tips. https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Student-Behavior-Motivation-Educator-Plan-4800920 https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Student-Behavior-Intervention-Plan-4800875
  • Create a tool to check in with students regularly – Weekly reflections, class meetings, a “concern” box, or daily individual check-ins with students can foster a way for you to key into a student’s pain. Once you know what is hurting them, you can be their advocate and guide through the pain allowing them to function better in your class and life. Check our Authentic Teaching TPT for my weekly reflection: https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Weekly-Reflection-4750316
  • Build relationships – Your students will learn from what you say and what you do. They will watch the way you care for them, your colleagues, and yourself. Build an authentic relationship with your students that allows them to see you work through painful moments for you at school and gives them the freedom to face their painful moments.

Watching some really angry people this weekend and feeling their overwhelming pain masked by anger, I realized that educators in today’s world are more essential than ever. We could be the only person who will look a child in the eye and say “Amazing, this is wonderful, you are wonderful, let’s celebrate!” We may also be the only person who says to a child “your pain is allowed here and let me help you find a way through it”. Creating a community of caring people who honor each other’s highs and lows may the most important teaching we will ever do. This will not be measured by any standardized test or score. This may be a tiny seed a teacher plants without ever seeing it grow. In today’s world that seems full of anger and pain, we must consciously and intentionally be the voice that calls out – I am here and I care!

Creating a Community

I promise…

I am an educator, but I am also a parent of 3 kids in the public school system. I live on both sides of the fence, so to speak. As a parent, I know that my heart is full of worry, excitement, expectations, and a million other emotions as I send my kids to school. I hope that they will find teachers who make a difference in their lives. I hope that they will be students that their teacher parents can be proud of. I hope that I am giving my kids the tools to be successful not only in school, but in life.

As a teacher, I have seen every imaginable situation my students come from. I have seen students in situations ranging from heartbreaking to amazing. I have seen students that are the product of the adults in their lives for the better and for the worse. I see your students in a setting that you will never have the opportunity to witness them in. EVERY DAY, I strive to help every child be their best.

In spite of this, one of the growing challenges for teachers is the lack of respect from some parents. Our society has even named these parents: helicopter, lawnmower, etc. But even the most well meaning parents in today’s school culture, often have a viewpoint of the teacher as their “employee” rather than a highly trained and capable professional. Too many parents feel they are within their rights to question and challenge anything the teacher says or does. There is an old teacher joke that holds quite a bit of truth…”Dear parents/guardians, I promise to believe half of what they tell me about you…if you promise to believe half of what they tell you about me!” So, I want to make all of the parents out there (including me) a few promises on behalf of teachers:

  • I promise to set high expectations for your child that are within their reach. We are consistently trying to prepare your child for where they are currently, where they need to go, and truly, for life. This may cause some growing pains for your child. Remember trying to teach your kid to tie their shoes? Stressful, frustrating, exhausting, huh? Yep – that is what we do every day. So, if your child shows any of these or other challenging emotions…help me, help them through it!
  • I promise to be fair. That being said – fair does NOT mean equal. If your child enters my room with a significant reading deficit, I would never just “expect” them to be where a peer on grade level in reading would be. I will provide support, intervention, and tools to help get them there. It is the same with behavior, social, or emotional needs. I promise I am being fair…even if your child, or you have a difficult time seeing it. Because fair does not always mean the same.
  • I promise to tell you the truth. I will do my best to always be lovingly honest with you and your child. I may mess up and accuse your child of something they did not do or botch a grade, but it is NEVER because I am intentionally being dishonest. It is because I made a mistake. Did you know that teachers make more decisions per hour than neurosurgeons? That is a LOT of opportunity for mistakes. So please know, I am doing everything within my power to give you the truth in every situation.
  • I promise that your child’s “side of the story” is rarely the full picture. Man, we love our kids! We love them so much that sometimes we hesitate to see their flaws and responsibilities in the classroom community they inhabit. It is the teacher’s job to make sure that they are holding ALL students accountable for their role in any situation. But, I am only able to discuss YOUR child with YOU. You should ONLY want to discuss YOUR child with me. But, more importantly, you should discuss your child’s choices with YOUR CHILD. In 99.9% of situations, the child needs to fix their actions and the best gift we can give them is learning to see their responsibility for their part. So – before you listen to your child in place of the teacher, challenge your child to see their role in any situation.
  • I promise to be your partner. There are 3 parts to this school community – the teacher, the student, and the parents/guardians. We are ALL ON THE SAME TEAM. I want you to know I am your partner in helping your child grow and be successful. If you want to hurt your child, work against me. The minute you work against the teacher in support of your child, the child instantly knows that they are no longer responsible for their choices or actions. They will suffer for this knowledge in my room and in the future.
  • I promise that if you let me know what is happening, I will stand right beside your child and your family. All families go through challenging times. Your child will either tell me or show me or both that your family is struggling with something. Often, during our most difficult moments, small things can make us explode in anger. As a teacher, my worst moments with a parent over the years, have ALWAYS been followed by learning there was a crisis in that home. I know that in those moments, it is easier to be angry sometimes rather than feel whatever you are feeling. But, if you will take a moment to tell me that there are some hard times, I will be right there to support in whatever way I can. I don’t need to know the details, but I do need to still be your partner. Your child needs their teacher in these times more than ever – so let us be there.
  • I promise if I am not your child’s “cup of tea”, that I will be a good learning experience. Not every child clicks with every teacher and vice versa. The teacher is still going to keep their promises, but it may not be the best year ever. Remember, your child has many more teachers, professors, and educators to experience. Learning to make the most of a situation that is not ideal is GOOD for your child. They will need this resilience in life and in the remainder of the educational career. Rather than making me the “bad guy”, help your child develop the tools to work with someone they don’t love completely.
  • I promise it is okay to advocate for your child when you have to. I think this is where these promises can seem confusing. You are thinking to yourself – if I don’t stand up for my kid then who will? Here’s the thing – MOST of the time, give your child the tools to stand up and speak up for themselves. That is the BEST gift you can give them. Of course, there are a times a parent has to intercede (legal or ethical issues). But, if you remember that I am your partner… we will advocate WITH your child, together, as a team.
  • I promise to give you grace and hope you will give me the same. Think of your worst moment as a parent…oh I have so many to pick from! 🙂 Now, envision day in, day out managing 20-30 humans from every walk of life and never having a bad moment as a teacher? With just my 3 kids, I have plenty of bad moments. Teachers have a really challenging job, with pressures that I am not sure anyone fully understands who is not in education. Allow us to have a bad day, an irritated tone, a poorly worded statement, etc. Teach your child to offer me grace by showing me grace yourself. This lesson will serve your child FOREVER! So, when your child comes home upset by something I said or did…say “What could you do to make things better for your teacher?”
  • I promise to love your child. I spend more time with your children as a teacher than I spend with my own during the week. I see your child. I see all the good and all the bad. I love them. We will develop a relationship that will change both of us by the end of the school year. Allow me the privilege to LOVE your child by remembering my promises. Remember love…is not always pretty, easy, or neat. Love requires the building of trust and the development of acceptance for each other. Your support of the teacher and your child, will help this love to grow and flourish.

I spend one important year with your child in their development. I promise to make that year in school the best it can be. I promise to help your child in every way I have in my expertise, knowledge, and experience. I promise to do my job and I hope you will honor my promises with your partnership! To all of the teachers who have loved my children in their education so far, thank you. Thank you for keeping your promises. I hope I kept mine.

#Classroom Community, Creating a Community, Education, Leadership, Teamwork

Leading your tribe

All of us in education are leaders of a tribe. For some of us, it is a general education classroom of students, an EC classroom, a special area class, a department, or as an administrator, a team of educators. This group is our tribe. Ubuntu is an African concept that focuses on the power of a tribe. Translated it means “I am because you are.”. Creating a tribe that is effective, inclusive, authentic, and fosters individual member’s well being is the highest art form in education. But when a tribe is created and led with greatness….the possibilities are endless.

So, how do you create a tribe in your classroom, with your team/department, or as an administrator? Here are some great tips:

  1. Lead by example – Children will not always do what we say, but very often they will do what they see us do. Staff at a school are a reflection of their administration and leadership team for better or for worse. What example are you setting in the way you talk to others, about others, treat others, and problem solve? How do you show the core values of your school, personal faith or belief system, or what you expect of your tribe? How do you care for others? I just had a parent contact me to tell me about a conversation she had with her son this week. I taught this student several years ago. His mom was discussing gossiping and he said “It is important not to stir the pot” (meaning spreading gossip and sharing what unkind things have been said). She asked where he had heard this concept and he said “From Mrs. B” I had no idea that years later this idea I try to demonstrate (sometimes not so successfully) stayed with him. Lead by example and your tribe will follow.
  2. Take responsibility – I saw a post on a social media educator group I belong to this week where a teacher asked of the group how to overcome making a mistake in front of her class. She said she did not know how to get over the humiliation of getting something wrong in front of everyone. She asked for advice from the group. My advice – openly and proudly admit YOU WERE WRONG. If we want students, our team/department, or our staff to learn from their mistakes…we have to show them how. I make so many mistakes while talking (I feel it is because of how fast my brain works, my mouth can’t keep up…but probably it is just because I am a mess..) that several years ago I had a student who was spending the day with me due to some behavior concerns from another 5th grade classroom notice this issue. I told the students to take out their science notebooks, but of course, I actually meant their reading notebooks. Every kid in my homeroom pulled out their reading notebook. I heard the kid whisper to the student I had paired him with for the day “Why are you guys getting out your reading notebooks, she said science?” My student calmly looked at him and whispered back, ” She speaks Barbenglish (my last name is Barberio). It is a different language – you just have to translate what she really means.” Since that day, I have informed all of my students they will become fluent in another language “Barbenglish” because I so frequently mess up when speaking. The growth mindset tell us to teach our students how to use failure and defeat as feedback (FADAF) and that every mistake is an opportunity to learn from. If you are unwilling to take responsibility for your mistakes as a leader, how can you expect anybody else to? You will foster a culture of “It’s not my fault because….” rather than “I messed up…how can I fix it?”
  3. Listen – I am often guilty of being a know it all. A common problem among educators and administrators is believing that they have all the answers. People want to be heard. They want to have their ideas valued and their concerns addressed. Too often, we don’t want to hear the complaining so we shut down any negative talk or become defensive. What always happens when we shut down people’s concerns? Their concerns grow and their hurt and frustration explode. Your job as the leader of the tribe is to find intentional ways to LISTEN to your tribe and allow them to determine how to move forward (within the parameters you set). My favorite tools as a classroom teacher – my weekly reflection and class meeting. https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Weekly-Class-Meeting-Lesson-Plan-Template-4837084 https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Weekly-Reflection-4750316 These two tools allow me to have a built in system to listen to students (not one of my natural strengths) and to allow them to find ways to make our tribe function better. Every time I implement a suggestion from a student our tribe gets stronger and better.
  4. Allow for different ways to make things work – In addition to my fabulous quality of being a know it all, I am a teensy tiny control freak! Okay, a really huge control freak…but I have learned over and over again that there are dozens of ways to get things done. One of my greatest frustrations in modern American education is the concept that “Research says this is the only way to teach/do…xyz) First, the research based practices wave is based on flawed thinking. Who does the research? Someone who generally wants to sell a curriculum or a training model. The research is designed to yield results that support why their curriculum, idea, training model is the best. As a friend says “You can find research to support anything.” Too many times in education, we are told that the way we were teaching with success for many years, is research proven not to work. Huh?? I was teaching that way…with success…but your research says it doesn’t work anymore? We get in our way with this idea that there is only one way to do anything. Listening to your tribe, reflecting on their needs, and ensuring that whatever you are doing meets the needs or culture of your group makes things work. I got stuck on having my seats arranged in a very specific pattern. This year, I was unable to make it work no matter how hard I tried. A friend of mine said “You are getting in your own way – think about it differently based on what THIS group needs”…and it worked. My most influential educational theory comes from the Research for Better Teaching. https://www.rbteach.com/ This organization did a long term study on what made great teachers. They found that great teachers had “drawers” in a variety of categories (management, organization, instruction, etc.) and they had a large repertoire of skills in each drawer. They would match the skill to the students in front of them to achieve success. So – leading a tribe successfully…well…it depends on the tribe and your skills.
  5. Be a servant leader – The most effective principal I ever had, started at a new school the same year I did. He spent the first month of his new principalship DOING EVERY JOB IN THE BUILDING FOR A DAY. I mean, every job, all day! He spent a full day serving food in the cafeteria, cleaning the campus, in a classroom in each grade level (without the real teacher there), in the front office, etc. He said that his role was to serve us and empower us with all the tools we needed to do our jobs. If he did not not know what we needed to do our jobs, how would he serve us going forward? WOW! Too many times, we do not take into consideration what our tribe NEEDS to be successful. We come from a place of “This is my tribe…I have all the answers…they need to do what I tell them.” Stop and think – do you even know what your tribe would say they need to be more successful? Have you asked? Listened? Responded? Leaders are not forcing people to do it their way…they are backing up their people with what THEY need to get the job done themselves. Leaders serve the tribe and grow more leaders.
  6. Communicate – How many times have people had the best of intentions with the worst of results from a failure to communicate effectively? Email is such a challenging tool because as my husband says “You can’t interpret somebody’s tone from an email.” How many times have you assumed everybody in your room, group, or team understood what you wanted…only to find out there was a barrier you never took the time to discover. A true leader IS RESPONSIBLE FOR EFFECTIVE COMMUNICATION. It is not the responsibility of the tribe to foster effective communication…it is the JOB of the leader to create effective communication tools. Communication involves listening (already covered), gathering input BEFORE you move forward, notifying people of changes or the plan, explaining your thinking/rationale, accepting feedback and rethinking, and/or apologizing when your communication was ineffective (also discussed). Communication involves authenticity and sharing who you are with your tribe. Being authentic in your communication allows for others to do the same.
  7. Grace – This was my grandmother’s name and my daughter’s middle name…it is one of my all time favorite words. Grace is this concept that you allow people to mess up, be human, be flawed, and you forgive them for it. Grace is the concept that we can be accepted and loved – even if we don’t deserve it. Grace is the most powerful tool in a tribe. Are you allowing for, modeling, and expecting your tribe to show grace to each other? There is a story that has made it way around social media. It seems like such a powerful concept of grace:

This story was recorded by Leonard Zunin in his book Contact: The First Four Minutes. Here is an excerpt:

“When a person acts irresponsibly or unjustly, he is placed in the center of the village, alone and unfettered. All work ceases, and every man, woman and child in the village gathers in a large circle around the accused individual. Then each person in the tribe, regardless of age, begins to talk aloud to the accused, one at a time, about all the good things the person in the center of the circle has done in his lifetime. Every incident, every experience that can be recalled with any detail and accuracy is recounted…the person is symbolically and literally welcomed back into the tribe…Perhaps this overwhelming positive bombardment not only strengthens his positive self-image, but also helps him choose to live up to the ‘expectations’ of his tribe” (Zunin 207-208).

Leading your tribe will be the most important thing you do to achieve success. Go and Ubuntu… I am because you are!

Creating a Community, Education, PLC, Recipes, Self Care, Wellness

A Single Word

It is the beginning of a new year, new decade and for many of us a new era in teaching. We are seeing a rising up of educators asking to be treated with the respect and dignity their experience, education, and passion deserves. We are seeing a renewed focus on the whole child and how we can meet their real needs not just meet standardized testing scores. Trauma based education, multiple techniques of teaching, and a more comprehensive approach to intervention are all slowly working their way into education.

However, we continue to be impacted by people who do not truly understand the work teachers do. Politicians, parents, administrators, the community…we are often viewed through a lens that does not represent the complex and highly challenging skill set we bring to work every day. This can leave us not feeling the “newness” that is all around us or recognizing our power to do the job we are highly trained and highly capable of performing. So, what do we do? Go back to a single word…POSSIBLE. What is possible for us individually, collectively, and as a movement to make a difference in the lives of our students while maintaining a healthy balance and joy for ourselves?

Often this time of year, people are asked to pick a word to be their goal for the upcoming year. I was asked to do this at school and puzzled over words that embodied the way I feel at times …persevere, survive, or maintain. Finally, I realized for my next decade, I wanted my word to be more bold and a true goal – success. I want to achieve success in several areas of my life that are either struggles for me or dreams I have long held. So – I am focusing on success and the work that needs to happen to achieve success in these areas. While you are reflecting on what your word will be, remind yourself of the article before the holiday break “What is possible?” and think about what those fresh, new goals will be on that blank piece of paper. If you have no idea what I am talking about, it’s not too late to do that activity now – check out my last blog post. https://authenticteaching.blog/2019/12/09/what-is-possible/

But these big goals don’t stop the pressure, stress, and frustrations that come with teaching. So – for my shorter term, more specific goal of the next year – I am choosing GRANOLA. That’s right…granola. You see, I am a little bit granola/hippie/treehugger. But, I also LOVE making and eating granola. I promise this is going somewhere! So, while I made granola I started thinking about what that word granola could mean for the rest of the 2019/2020 school year in my life:

  1. SIMPLIFY – Part of the joy of making, eating, or being granola is the delicious simplicity of it. So, like granola, I want to simplify what I am doing as a teacher for the rest of the year. Keep my focus on my purpose. https://authenticteaching.blog/2019/10/27/remembering-your-purpose/
  2. PATIENCE – My biggest “growth area”. When I make granola, I have to stop and carefully turn the granola every 15 minutes for over an hour. Am I showing the patience I should to work with my students, my co-workers, my administration, my parents, etc?
  3. THE MIX – The best part of granola is the mix and the possibilities are endless. Am I embracing the unique things each student, each co-worker, each person I interact with brings to the table?
  4. HEALTHY – Granola for all of its delicious sweetness is very healthy. What am I doing to maintain my physical, mental, and spiritual health?
  5. WHIMSY – Granola just has some fun stuff in it – raisins, nuts, coconut, you name it. Am I remembering that whimsy and joy should be a part of EVERY DAY! We just get too serious as teachers sometimes…have a little fun!

So – one little word. Our reality often follows our intent. What do I envision for myself and how will make it happen? As you go into the new decade, new year, and new time in education focus on what one little word can do to help you set and follow a specific intent of possibility. Maybe the one little word is a big goal like success or a more daily goal like granola…but whatever the word is: remember the power of a single word…followed by a single intent… followed by specific plans to change things for the better.

Now – here is my favorite recipe for granola! Enjoy – generally I eat it two ways. First, I use greek yogurt, fruit, and granola to make a parfait or I fill a bowl with granola, add fruit and almond milk and enjoy as cereal. BUT, there are plenty of other great things to do with granola!

Granola Recipe

Preheat your oven to 250 degrees. Get out 2 sheet pans and a really big bowl!

  • 3 cups of old fashioned oats (DO NOT USE THE PACKETS OF INSTANT OATMEAL – TRUST ME IT DOES NOT WORK!)
  • 1.5 cups of sweetened coconut flakes
  • 2 cups of some sort of nuts
  • 1/3 c. of brown sugar
  • 1/3 c. of maple syrup (real maple syrup is best but I actually discovered when I ran out that sugar free syrup makes a pretty great granola)
  • 1/3 c. of vegetable oil
  • 1 t. of salt
  • 2-4 different kinds of dried fruit that you like (raisins (golden or regular), apricots, mango, banana chips, kiwi, apple, etc.)
  1. In a REALLY large bowl, get a big coffee cup and measure out 3 full cups of old fashioned oats. I use a coffee cup for all my measuring because it is really more about proportions than precise measurement)
  2. Add in 1.5 cups of sweetened coconut flakes (If you do not like coconut replace this with either more nuts or more oatmeal. But, trust me, you hardly taste the coconut and it makes it delish!)
  3. Add in 2 cups of some kind of nut (I generally use 2 different types of nuts – pecans, walnuts, hazelnuts, peanuts, almonds, etc.) This is a GREAT way to use up old mixed nut blends, trail mixes, etc.
  4. Lightly mix all these ingredients together with your hands or a big spoon.
  5. Now – in the coffee cup – mix 1/3 cup of brown sugar, 1/3 cup of maple syrup, 1/3 cup of vegetable oil and 1 t. of salt. Stir it over the bowl of granola (this way you won’t make a mess all over the counter) with a fork until it looks like a pretty thick paste. Take the mixture and pour over the top of the oat mixture in the bowl.
  6. You can use your hands (messy but effective) or a big spoon (better) or the fork you stirred with (even better – less dishes) and stir in the mixture with the syrup/sugar/oil mixture until evenly coated.
  7. Now – spread the mixture on to two UNGREASED sheet pans. Get it as flat as possible – one layer is the goal.
  8. Now – the patience part – ugh…the most challenging part of the granola cooking. So – I multi-task while doing something else within hearing distance of my timer. Set the timer for 15 minutes and go watch some Real Housewives…. When the timer goes off, CAREULLY use a spatula to turn over the granola mixture and rotate your pans in the oven (top to bottom, front to back). Close the oven door and reset the timer for 15 more minutes. Repeat. Do this for 1.5 hours (six 15 minute timers).
  9. Pull out the granola – THE BEST PART IS THE SMELL. JUST TAKE A MOMENT!
  10. Let the granola cool for about 10-15 minutes. Cut up your dried fruit into small bite size pieces and sprinkle over the top of the warm granola.
  11. Let the granola fully cool on the counter (make sure to eat some at this stage to test…because seriously, it is delicious)
  12. Get a sealed container and carefully pour in your granola mixture. It lasts for up to a month in a well sealed container. Eat and enjoy!
#Classroom Community, Child Development, Creating a Community, Education, Self Care, Wellness

What is possible…

Oh, mylanta…as one of my good friends often says! The holiday season as a teacher is like riding a tornado, while holding an egg, and trying to still educate somebody! This short time between Thanksgiving and the winter break can be really challenging with special events, holiday festivities and crafts, and endless other things. All of this while we are trying to be merry, keep the order, and keep up with our own hectic holiday hustle and bustle outside of school.

Today, we managed to get our house ready for the holidays and my daughter is over the moon waiting for the return of our elf on the shelf. In our house, he does not make an appearance until the tree is up. So, tree is up…lights are on…and here comes Kelf. (My boys named him when they were little…enough said!) One tradition we have is after the tree is finished, we turn off every light we can find and sit for a minute to wonder at the beauty of the tree lighting the dark. In that moment, you can feel every one of us holding our breath and waiting for what is possible.

As a teacher in this season it is easy to lose sight of what is possible in our classrooms, with our teams, or in our schools. It is so easy to just be counting down the days with no objective but survival. So – I want to challenge us all to commit to determining what is possible. Here is the plan:

  1. Get a blank piece of paper and write “WHAT IS POSSIBLE” across the top. (If you are creative and color coordinated have at it…if you are like me…wipe the coffee stains off a piece of paper and find whatever writing utensil that will write closest to you and scribble it out.)
  2. Take that paper and seal it up in an envelope and address it to yourself.
  3. Choose one of two options: (1) Place this in your mailbox at school or on your desk when you have cleaned it off before break or (2) Actually place it in a mailbox (don’t forget a stamp) and mail it to yourself.

You see…when you return from this chaotic time and you are rested up…it is time to imagine and plan for what is possible. Do you have students who are struggling academically, emotionally, socially, or behaviorally? Are you struggling with the pacing for the remainder of the year – too much to teach, not enough time? Are you worrying about how to intervene with students not showing enough growth? Need to reset your classroom community and expectations? Whatever it is – open that envelope to find a blank paper where you can now write what is possible. New year, new possibilities, new opportunities to make a difference. It is an actual CLEAN SLATE – where you can imagine the possibilities.

For some reason, I have had several powerful reminders of what is possible when I am a teacher that doesn’t lose myself to the chaos. I have had students share strong emotions and feelings that need me to be my best. I keep running into former students these last few weeks who look at me and make me realize that for our time together, I made a difference. I have been unable to get one of these students off my mind…new mom to a 2 month old at 17, working at fast food, and seems better…much better than the last time I saw her in full trauma and crisis. I keep thinking about my time with her and how I never imagined this possibility for her. I hope that someone, something, and possibly in some small way my time with her has led her to a possibility that I hope will lead her to more possibilities.

You see…the holiday season for all of its extra work, craziness, and stress is really about what is possible. Regardless of your belief system, look around you at the faces waiting for something, some possibility. Every culture, faith, and people somehow view this time of year as the time of newness. What will you do to help make things possible? What will you do to move into the fresh new year with a focus on what is possible? It is a big job to be a teacher – but oh, the possibilities!

#Classroom Community, Behavior Management, Books, Creating a Community, Education, PLC, Reading, Self Care, Teamwork, Wellness

Giving Thanks

We are just a few school days away from Thanksgiving and every teacher and student is counting down the days. For some of us the countdown is all about “the break”…getting ready for sleeping in, using the bathroom whenever we want, drinking HOT coffee out of a regular coffee mug, eating food at a table at our own pace and other basic joys of the teacher at home. We may be excited about family, friends, and a big feast. Our students may be ready for no homework, video games, travel to distant relatives, or long days spent doing what they want.

For some children (and some teachers), the break is not a break they are looking forward to. 5 days is a long time to go without consistent food, experience domestic violence, addiction, or family fighting. For some it is 5 days to survive until the safety of school returns. Many children will escalate their negative behavior at school to prepare for the transition to this tumultuous environment. Studies have been done that show that our most challenging students must create chaos at school to mentally prepare for the chaos they may experience at home. So, as teachers we must pay attention to these needy children and help them these last few days before break with a little extra kindness and patience.

This year, our team of teachers, has started a “wellness plan”. Each month, we set up 2 – 3 wellness based activities a week to keep us as healthy as possible. We share food, take a power walk together, practice the calm app in PLC, schedule nights out, and every Friday after school meet for Gratitude Friday. This has rapidly become the most important part of the week for me. We share some candy, cry, vent, laugh, and then we each take a moment to write things we are grateful for. We read them aloud and then pass our books around to write for each person present what we appreciate about them. I enter the room miserable many Friday afternoons and leave the room ready to go home and be mom. So, let’s give some thanks and gratitude for all we have. Here is my list of things I am grateful for:

  1. My family and its good health.
  2. The students in my class are growing in many areas.
  3. I have made a difference in people’s lives – a true gift to me.
  4. I have friends who I can laugh or cry with.
  5. Teachers have a voice growing with unity across our state and nation.
  6. I have food on my table, a warm house, and all I need to live a comfortable life.
  7. I am constantly learning new things because I am teaching new things.
  8. There are endless books to read that give my life meaning.
  9. I have health care… which is a surprisingly important thing that almost wasn’t… here in NC.
  10. I saw 2 former students working at fast food restaurants in the last 2 days…their joy, excitement, and enthusiasm when they saw me made every hard day worthwhile.

What are you grateful for this Thanksgiving season? Share your list here or on our social media sites! Let’s start a gratitude chain! Wait and see how powerful it can be!

#Classroom Community, PLC

Nobody told me I was going to have to say that…

For years, I have been planning 2 books. One for parents and one for teachers on all the stuff that nobody told me I was going to have to say. When my boys were little, I read all the “What to expect” and Parenting 101 books full of great advice. But NONE of the books managed to convey the absolute unpredictable reality of being a parent or a teacher. The idea came to me when I actually had to say to my boys “No, you can NOT wrestle in the dark , on the front lawn, with bags on your head.” THAT is an actual sentence…I said…out loud…and meant it!

So, this week’s post is a little different! I want us to have some fun with things we have to say as teachers that we never imagined saying. I was inspired by this hilarious instagram site from Live from Snack time who are the authors of ” I did my homework in my head!” https://instagram.com/livefromsnacktime?igshid=kh9jlt0sru8w Check these out and prepare to belly laugh and maybe even cry a little.

Here are my top 5 things I never imagined I would be saying as a teacher:

  • Number 5 – Please stop swinging your lunchbox like a ninja.
  • Number 4 – It is not okay to lick your hands while I am giving instruction.
  • Number 3 – If you ever see a snake at my feet during instruction again, you are allowed to speak without raising your hand.
  • Number 2 – People do not like it when you stand that close to them without speaking.
  • Number 1 – For the last time, you may not use your food or food trash as toys. No more frito bag puppets or fruit roll up ninja headbands.

Now – these gems are real statements I have made. But, the list is way longer and way wilder. Kids are an unpredictable, wild, and sometimes shocking ride. Teaching involves saying things you never imagined you would say that are hilarious and some that are heartbreaking. A friend of mine had a student in his class pass away due to a tragic accident. He made the decision to be the one to tell his class. He felt his commitment to being a classroom “family” required him to share the news and help this group through it. It was the hardest words he ever had to say. Words he never imagined he would have to say.

So, as you take a moment to laugh about all the things you have had to say to students over the years, I want you to do a couple of things:

  1. Share any funny statements you have made in the comments below or on the Authentic Teaching social media pages. It’s great to laugh.
  2. Reflect on the hard words you have had to say. The unimaginable words you have had to say and know that you said them for a really important reason.
  3. Know that your words have POWER. Use them carefully!

Education, Self Care

Trusting your gut

Intuition…it is this magical force that can lead you in a direction you need to go. Depending on your belief system, you may credit a higher power for these gentle nudges. Whatever you believe causes you to have the intuition to move in a specific direction, intuition can be our best guide as a teacher.

In today’s teaching world, it is easy to lose sight of that small, quiet voice that tells us which way to go. Schedules, parents, paperwork, daily grind, school initiatives, and so much more can cause us to turn off our voice and follow somebody else’s expectations for our students or ourselves. Generally, I find that when I do this, I am the least successful as a teacher. An earlier blog post discussed the art vs. the science of teaching: https://authenticteaching.blog/2019/08/03/the-art-and-science-of-teaching/ This concept is easy to lose sight of at this point in the year.

I taught for many years in high poverty Title 1 schools. There were so many families just like mine, struggling to do the best for their children they could. For some parents, their own personal demons and issues prevented them from being the kind of parents they needed to be. One year, I had a student who was a strong, smart, capable student. She could have an attitude, but I quickly helped her see the benefit of treating people with respect and care. She became one of my proudest success stories of that year in the fall. Then, in February, it was like she became a different person. Angry, volatile, unwilling to try, and worst of all treating me like I was the enemy. In spite of my desire to be the best teacher I could be for her, it all came to a head one day when I could not tolerate her disrespect another minute. I marched her to the office and brought her to my principal explaining the decline in her behavior and attitude. He took her and I went to class feeling frustrated with myself for not staying as calm, cool, and collected as I wanted to be. So that night, I woke up in the middle of the night thinking about her. Wondering, what could have caused the change and what could I do to help her? Then, my tiny voice (which is annoyingly loud at 3 am) told me to just be there and be consistent. Whatever was wrong, she needed me to just stay consistently in her corner and keep trying. So, I talked with her the next day and told her just that. I was in her corner and on her side. She cried, I cried, we apologized, and slowly over the next several weeks and months, she started to go back to her old self. On the last day of school after the promotion ceremony, we were saying goodbye as a class in my room. We were taking a group picture and her mom came in. Her mom was loud, wild, and clearly not fully with us when she entered the room. She ran up and slid across a table to lay on her side in the picture. My student was mortified. As the kids were leaving the classroom, her mom came to me and loudly said “Thanks so much for helping her when I went to jail in February. She was all alone taking care of the little ones and she said you helped her every day.” It hit me like a freight train….she had been a terrified little girl thrust into a situation beyond her years and she was mad. She had to know that I would take that anger and still keep trying (because ultimately I am that stubborn). So – that voice, that intuition, led me in the right direction. Be consistent and keep trying it had said. Because I listened, I made a terrible time for her a little bit better. Throughout our day as educators we can listen to our intuition for both big and small situations and we can move in the direction that can make a real difference. Here are some ideas to help you “trust your gut” and move in the right direction.

  • STOP – just stop and give yourself some time rest, rejuvenate, and relax. This may only be one planning period where you quietly sit and reflect in your room or stopping at a coffee shop for one hour before you head home or on the weekend locking yourself in a room you like for a few hours. Generally, we are unable to hear that tiny voice if we are going full speed. So, just stop.
  • Make a list – I love a good list. Often, when I am the most overwhelmed, I make a list of things I need to do. Just making the list makes me feel better. Make a list of the issues as a teacher that you need to focus on.
  • Now – look at that list and listen… As you look over the items on the list think to yourself “What would I do to fix a concern with a student, my schedule, a co-worker, a parent, my instruction, my test scores, etc??? What would I do if there was nothing standing in my way to solve the concern?” Listen…what is your intuition telling you?
  • As you listen to your inner voice, you will often see a pathway open up that you simply did not know was there. Now – purposefully and intentionally take that pathway.

There is a classic story about starfish that reminds me of why we should trust our gut. Hundreds of starfish had washed up onto a beach. An old man was walking down the beach, when a saw a young girl picking up starfish one by one and throwing them back out to sea. He came up and asked what she was doing. She replied “I am saving these starfish”. He said “There are too many, you will never make a difference for all these starfish.” The girl smiled, picked up another starfish and tossed it back to sea. She looked at the old man and said “I made a difference to that one.” Your gut will help you make a difference one small step at a time. Trust your gut, intuition, small voice, higher power….whatever you name it…it will help you make a difference for yourself and for others.

 

#Classroom Community, Classroom Organization, Creating a Community, Education

Filling the Space

Many of us spend more time at school with our students than with our own families during the school year. My classroom acts as a kitchen, therapist couch, cool teacher hangout, and of course, a learning environment. I keep all kinds of “stuff” in my classroom that makes the day work easier, that reminds me of past students and their gifts to me, and supports our day of learning. My classroom is often full of broken pencils, abandoned on the floor when my students “drop the mic” on learning at the end of the school day. (At least that is what I think happens…seriously how many students can just drop a pencil and not pick it up???) It has notes, lost papers, leftover sweatshirts or jackets, and a few odds and ends.

Every teacher creates their learning space. For some, it is gorgeous and color coded and super organized. For others, it is sparse, lean, and to the point. For me, it is homey, colorful, and a place for students to feel comfortable (which often means super messy). My focus is on learning and growing – so cleaning rarely makes my top 10 list of activities to accomplish in a day. But, this year, we were moved into a new building and our new classrooms have been a struggle. It has made me realize how essential your learning environment is and what message it sends to your students about learning. So, I have decided to “Marie Kondo” my classroom.

For those of you unfamiliar, Marie Kondo is a household organizer and decorator who has shared a very specific way of viewing our “stuff” and the role it plays in our lives. Here is an overview from her website: https://shop.konmari.com/pages/about She has a great article about cleaning with kids that I thought was super relevant: https://konmari.com/marie-kondos-tips-for-tidying-with-children/

So, as we enter the dark days of late fall/early winter (literally DARK with daylight savings time), I want to challenge all of us to fill our space specifically and purposefully to create the learning environment that fosters our classroom community. Here is my plan:

(1) Consider the seating arrangement – NOTHING and I mean, nothing, affects how your class runs more than your seating plan. Flexible seating, lecture style rows, collaborative grouping, partners, or any other style tell your students what you expect of them for whole group instruction, guided practice, or partner work. It sets the tone for community and how you expect them to interact. Here are some ideas I found online to spark your thinking!

(2) Focus on YOUR stuff and what role it plays in the classroom – I am sadly a teacher “hoarder”. I keep every picture, card, gift, little item given to me by a student. I store old magazines and even a couple of overhead transparencies of former lessons (you never know when they will make a comeback). I have worked hard over the years to get rid of a TON, but I can tell it is time for another intervention on my stuff. I am going to box some things, throw some things away, give some things away, and decided what I NEED for my classroom to run well.

(3) Look at your SYSTEMS for “stuff” – Where do your papers get turned in? Where do the kids keep their materials? Are there classroom materials available to people and how do they access them? Where do extra supplies go? Where do your papers and materials stay? What jobs do students have to maintain their desks, supplies, classroom cleanliness, etc.?

(4) Focus on the environment itself – What is on your walls? What is the decor, information, or ambiance of your classroom? Does it match your teaching goals and style? Take some time to look at your classroom from the student’s perspective and find out what message you are sending.

The physical environment of your classroom can define so much about your classroom community and how kids learn. In spite of the million things on our to-do list, this essential component should not be overlooked. I know when my house is organized and neat, I feel better, work better, and relax better. Now, it is time to get out the trash bags and cleaning supplies to reorganize my room into the learning environment I am always trying to create! Find some joy in your environment because an organized, clean space can be the boost we all need this time of year!

#Classroom Community, Character Education, PLC, Recipes, Self Care

Remembering your Purpose

Being a teacher comes with wearing many different hats. Today’s educators are instructors, counselors, social workers, behavioral specialists, special educators, nurses, and much more. These different roles can cause a teacher to feel overwhelmed or to struggle. So, it is time, in the late days of October when the weather causes inside recess more often; to reflect on your PURPOSE as an educator.

I watched two contestants on a singing competition who had both overcome great tragedy in their childhood and early adult life and were now on national TV. As they entered their first coaching session with superstars one of them looked at the other and said “There is a reason I am here so that some little girl can see someone like them who made it here and there is a reason you are here so that some little boy can see someone like them who made it here. Let’s go fulfill our purpose.” WOW…it was emotional and inspiring to watch people overcoming adversity, recognizing their power, and seeking to give back. So, we teachers need to take a breath and remind ourselves of our purpose. Here are a few words for thought:

  1. There is a child in your class who needs you. You…specifically you…to show them the way. Most likely they are your biggest challenge. So, remember your purpose!
  2. Take time to self-correct. I shared this amazing clip from the Ellen show when teaching a character lesson on helpfulness. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QntBkDFkiuY&disable_polymer=true In it, the boys were noted for having the presence of mind to “self correct”. What are you doing that needs some self correcting? Complaining too much, overworking yourself, staying mired in the “admin says I have to” mindset….whatever it is self correct and remember your purpose.
  3. Be kind. Everybody is going through a struggle you know nothing about – be kind always. This quote is so important in our world today. Be intentionally kind to kids, parents, teammates, yourself – whether or not they deserve it or ask for it. Remember your purpose.
  4. Focus on your world inside your classroom. Never forget that there is ALWAYS more work than you can do in a day. You can always get caught up in the million issues outside your doors. So, re-focus on your classroom and remember your purpose.
  5. Remember to laugh. Sometimes you have to laugh so you don’t cry. That is absolutely true and sometimes you really do need to just have a good laugh (or a good cry) and remember your purpose.

Now – a vegetable with several purposes is the Zucchini. You may want to ask me “Why are you talking about zucchini all of the sudden?” That was an odd jump, I know! I am talking about zucchini because of my new obsession – zucchini bread. Zucchini can be savory or sweet. Zucchini has many purposes in the kitchen – just like a teacher does at school. So, here is my favorite recipe for zucchini bread – seriously delish! Enjoy!

Zucchini Bread

Preheat your oven to 325 degrees. Decide on your pan (traditional loaf or mini-loaf pans). Then, get your zucchini ready. I think the easiest way is to put it into your food processor until it is in little tiny bits. You can also grate it – but that takes forever…so go with the food processor.

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 t. salt
  • 1 t. baking soda
  • 1 t. baking powder
  • 1 Tablespoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 – 1 t. fresh ground nutmeg
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 c. vegetable oil (not olive oil)
  • 2 1/4 c. white granulated sugar
  • 3 t. vanilla extract (real not imitation)
  • 2 c. grated (see directions above) zucchini
  • OPTIONAL – 1 c. nuts (walnuts or pecans are best) and/or 1/2 c. of raisins
  1. After you have grated your zucchini – set it to the side.
  2. Into a stand mixer or large mixing bowl (with a hand mixer) put your eggs, oil, and granulated sugar. Mix these for a good 2 – 3 minutes until light and fluffy.
  3. Add in flour with salt, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, and nutmeg. NOW – I am not a sifter – but in theory – you should sift these together. What I do is measure out 1 c. of the flour and put the salt, baking soda, and baking powder on top. Then I mix that in fully. I then add in one more cup of flour with the cinnamon on top and mix that in fully. Finally, I add in the third cup of flour with the ground nutmeg on top (which I grate myself with a microplane) and mix that in fully.
  4. Add in your vanilla and zucchini – the batter will seem super thick and weird until you add in the zucchini. Magically, it will loosen up and form this sticky, amazing batter.
  5. Finally, if your kids are not picky like mine are – fold in the nuts and/or raisins. If your kids are picky – make one loaf pan WITH and one loaf pan without. (I pour out the batter without the good stuff in it first into a pan I have sprayed with cooking spray). Then, I add in my nuts/raisins to the leftover batter in my mixing bowl and pour that into the other loaf pan. The beauty of this is you get one whole loaf pan basically to yourself…since the kids will only eat when desperate.
  6. Bake for 40-60 min. until the center comes out clean. This bread is NOT great undercooked (like I suggested with banana bread). So, make sure it is cooked all the way. The top gets super crunchy, toasty brown, and delicious.
  7. NOW – if you are going for the “Be Kind” step up top – take it to work and share with your friends. If you are going for the “Remember to laugh”, then hide it in your kitchen and laugh while nobody else gets any! 🙂

We all have a purpose in the world. Zucchini has MANY purposes – which is why it is a delicious choice! What is your purpose in the world and how do you remind yourself of it? While you eat your zucchini bread – take some time to figure out your purpose right now, right here, in this place in your life and education career.

#Classroom Community, Child Development, Education, Guided Reading, Higher Level Thinking, MTSS, Reading, Small Group Novel Study

A link in a chain

Being a teacher is truly one of the most essential roles in a child’s development. As they move from childhood to adulthood, a series of significant and necessary changes must happen for them to become healthy, functioning adults. Our job is to be a link in the chain towards this development of higher level thinking and functioning. Parents, siblings, family members, community members, and other caring adults have a role to play in this chain but teachers must recognize their role and act on it.

The human brain is a pretty amazing thing. As we develop and learn, the brain changes, grows, and alters with us. I love to tell my students about “growing synapses”. First, because it makes me sound really smart, but more importantly it encourages them to understand the growth mindset causes ACTUAL GROWTH. In the human brain, small neural pathways form as we learn new things. These pathways carry the electrical impulses throughout the brain that give the world around us meaning. When we learn something new, new synapses are formed connecting new information to existing in our brains. This is why if you learn a new word, suddenly you see it everywhere. The word was always all around you – but you literally had no pathway for the word to connect to meaning. Once you learn it, “POP”, a synapse is born causing a link between new information and what you already knew. Try it…the word canoodling is a verb that means hugging and kissing with someone. Bet you see the word canoodling now in lots of places! 🙂

So, how can you be a link in the chain of development for a child? Here are some important things to keep in mind as you work towards this:

  1. Recognize the importance of words – A pivotal study was done that examined the number of words between poverty, middle class, and upper middle class homes spoken to children by the age of 5. The gap between children living in poverty and upper middle class homes was nearly 30 million words. This article links this study to the growth mindset. It is a must read! https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2010/03/the-32-million-word-gap/36856/ In your classroom, value words. Read to them all the time, talk to them all the time, expose them to words all the time! Make the development of language essential in your classroom. Here is Authentic Teaching’s vocabulary contract on Teachers Pay Teachers which supports the use of vocabulary in context. https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Vocabulary-Contract-4956632
  2. Don’t let fluency stop you from developing thinking skills – Fluency in reading and writing is an essential step in developing the foundation skills kids need. However, we must explicitly teach our kids to develop their thinking WHILE teaching fluency.
  • I love guided reading groups for this purpose. Guided reading allows students to talk about their thinking in a safe place where there are no right or wrong answers. Check out Authentic Teaching TPT for details. https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Small-Group-Novel-Study-Guided-Reading-4836948
  • I also find ways around the fluency by using read aloud for non-assessment activities allowing students to access text and demonstrate their THINKING without fluency in the way. Readworks, Storyworks, ActivelyLearn, RAZ kids, and Newsela all have read aloud features to support students.
  • Voice typing which is free on most platforms allows students to demonstrate their written thinking skills without their writing fluency stopping them.
  • I sometimes have really low and reluctant writers record themselves in a video of their story (Flipgrid is an amazing tool to support this) to get their ideas out. Then, we work to move the story from the video to the page by listening, pausing, and writing each sentence.

3. Explicitly teach higher level thinking – Inferencing and Drawing Conclusion reading skills are the most challenging and essential skills in developing great readers. However, we rarely teach these skills explicitly. Both need to be taught the way we teach a math skill like adding fractions with uncommon denominators – in steps that build on each other. However, we rarely teach the steps to students. Check out these resources on Authentic Teaching TPT on both skills broken down: https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Drawing-Conclusions-Flow-chart-4956576 https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Introduction-to-Inferencing-4956564

4. Be aware of the impact of childhood trauma on learning – Brain development is altered by adverse childhood experiences (ACE). It literally CHANGES a child’s brain. Our students that have experienced this childhood trauma learn differently, need different supports, and literally REQUIRE US TO PROVIDE SAFETY, STABILITY, AND FOSTER RESILIENCE. This is an incredibly challenging prospect, but can literally save a child’s life. I was absolutely floored by this article and corresponding study from the CDC/Kaiser Permanente. I encourage you to carefully read this article and study to impact your students who experience trauma. It happens in all socioeconomic groups, in all commmunities, and we must be aware of its devastating impacts on brain development. https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2015/03/02/387007941/take-the-ace-quiz-and-learn-what-it-does-and-doesnt-mean

5. Develop the social skills and behaviors required for their age – Understanding social cues and having the skills to navigate appropriately in the age group they are in is ESSENTIAL for a child. As a teacher, we must create a classroom that has high expectations of behavior in all areas: academic behaviors, emotional behaviors, social behaviors, and personal behaviors. Some students require explicit instruction on these skills to help them develop the self control to demonstrate these behaviors. If we do not teach the appropriate skills and behaviors to our children, we stop them from being able to function in the world. Stop and consider what the student who demonstrates the most appropriate age level behaviors in your classroom does in all areas. Now, start intentionally teaching ALL students in your class how to achieve these behaviors. Just like our academic instruction, we have to differentiate for some students and find alternate ways to help them on this growth.

Being a link in a chain of development is a daunting task. As a teacher, we can often lose sight of the pivotal role we have in our student’s lives. A friend of mine worked for years in high poverty schools. Each year at the end of the year, he would write a letter to each student in his class telling them what he hoped for them, admired in them, and what he celebrated in their growth during the year. He would frame these and give them to his students. Over the years, many students have found him on social media and shared the letters that they kept. They thanked him for being an essential link in the chain of their lives, helping them build resilience to overcome adversity, and for linking the broken parts of their lives with his teaching. We can all strive towards this kind of impact in a child’s life….THAT IS THE REASON WE SHOULD TEACH! Be a link in a chain for every child in your class…somebody’s development depends on it!

#Classroom Community, Behavior Management, Character Education, Creating a Community, Education, PLC, Self Care

Turn the Kaleidoscope

Sometimes in education, we have to take a step back, breathe, and look at things in a different light. We have to turn the kaleidoscope to see things uniquely. This can be what we need to do with a specific student we are struggling with, a class we are navigating, a team we work on, or our school at large. Shifting the kaleidoscope helps us take fragmented pieces and see them “lit up”. This light shining through the fragments often gives us our biggest breakthroughs.

Feeling like you are having trouble finding the next step forward with a problem at school? Here is my list of easy suggestions designed to help you move forward with a problem that you are unable to fix right now. Shift that kaleidoscope on the issue and see if you can find a new point of view.

  1. Identify your actual issue – Sometimes the work gets so overwhelming that you can simply feel like everything is awful. The first step is to identify the actual issue that is causing you the highest level of frustration and stress. For example, is it a specific student that you simply are unable to make a difference with? Or, is it a scheduling issue making you frustrated? Or, are you not getting enough time and energy to focus on the things that matter because you have too much paperwork? Dialing down to the actual issue helps to make it more manageable. Of course, often there are multiple issues – but take them one at a time starting with the biggest drain to your energy.
  2. Figure out what you are feeling – Now that you know what the specific issue is…take some time to identify what you feel about it. Sometimes our anger with a specific kid, team mate, or issue is masking a different feeling. Inadequacy, fear of failure, exhaustion, jealousy, or helplessness often come out as anger. Taking time to figure out what you are feeling in more detail helps to identify how you can begin problem solving. Often, I am frustrated because I feel helpless to fix a situation. Simply saying to myself “It is okay that you are not in control” will often shift me out of anger and into problem solving.
  3. Visualize what you want it to look like – Things happen so fast to us as teachers, it is hard to even know what you want. That kid who is out of control….I just want him to stop it. Lunch time with no time to sit and eat…I just want to sit quietly. But, visualizing the exact goal can help us achieve it. For example, that out of control student, what exactly would it look like FOR THEM to be in your class positively? Some students will never be a fully compliant, perfect little student. So, what would it look like for them to be in your class and for you to feel good about it? Visualizing more precisely can help you see the ways to make it happen.
  4. Think outside the box – Teachers by nature tend to be people pleasers and rule followers (not all of us….). We like our schedules precise, our bulletin boards neat, and everything to run smoothly. (not all of us…) But, we struggle to look for non traditional solutions to problems. My team has a reputation for finding a way to “make things work”. This is because we are willing to find solutions that nobody else thought of. Rather than struggling away with something that isn’t working, try something new and innovative to help you find a new solution.
  5. Determine the steps you need to take to make it happen – Now that you have a plan and vision for your problem, what has to happen to make it work? The old saying “Rome wasn’t built in a day” is true for any big challenge. Setting specific, clear steps towards the goal keeps you focused on getting there rather than frustrated if you don’t solve the problem instantly.
  6. If at first you don’t succeed, try, and try again – The most frequent complaint about changing a student’s behavior from teachers that I hear is “I tried a behavior plan and it didn’t work…they didn’t care…the behavior was still happening.” Well – OF COURSE IT WAS! Changing a behavior, a class, a struggling team, a school-wide issue, takes time and effort to get better. Even more than this is requires PERSISTENCE!!! Ever tried to get a toddler to stop doing a dangerous behavior? Think about how many times you had to repeat the instructions, consequences, and praise to get them to stop that behavior. I bet it wasn’t a couple of times…and yet, we expected things at school to change with a snap of our fingers. Be persistent and keep trying to find solutions.
  7. Accept what you are unable to control – All this being said, sometimes you have to admit what you simply are unable to control. There are things with a challenging student that you will NEVER be able to fix or change. Love and help them anyways. There are challenges with a class of students that will remain all year. Love and help them anyways. There are difficulties with people you work with that you will not be able to alter. Love and help them anyways. There are issues and concerns at the school level that are out of your hands. Do your best anyways. Accepting what you are NOT in control of can help you stay focused on what you are in control of.
  8. Remember why you are there – My husband, who is also a teacher, often reminds me that I have a job to do. The job is inside my classroom shaping the lives of the people in front of me. Sometimes, I get so caught up in everything OUTSIDE my classroom that I forget why I am there. Taking the time to step out of the chaos and intentionally and purposefully refocusing yourself on your life altering JOB; can often simply remove the problems. Most of us got into teaching, because we love to TEACH! Take some time and consider how much of your time and energy is addressing problems with your TEACHING. If the balance is lopsided towards addressing problems that don’t impact your TEACHING, even it out.

I love the concept of a kaleidoscope and the way that there is beauty IN the brokenness and distortion. That kaleidoscopes require you to point this brokenness and distortion towards the light to see the beauty. Problems at school are no different. Take the problem with a student, class, teammate, or issue and point it at the light to see them differently. If you are feeling overwhelmed and angry you will never make good decisions that make things better. So, turn the kaleidoscope…

Here is one of my favorite videos to share with yourself, students, teammates that helps you to breathe and calm down! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RVA2N6tX2cg

# Professional Development, #Classroom Community, Behavior Management, Class Meeting, Creating a Community, Education, Intervention, Teamwork

Beneath the Iceberg

One of my friends said this week “The honeymoon period is over”. Like all groups – a classroom, a teaching team or a school will move from a phase of endless possibility to the true work of creating a community. When the “honeymoon” ends…the real work begins. One of the best descriptions I have ever heard of about groups uses this concept developed by psychologist Bruce Tuckman of the stages of a group achieving success.

We have left the forming stage for most of our classrooms, grade level teams, or schools and are making the tough transition into the “storming” phase of group formation. This is where a group must find the ability to effectively work through their differences, problems, and concerns so they can transition into “norming” which ultimately leads to “performing”. This storming phase requires so much effort, heartache, stress, dedication, and attention that it is often the stage that zaps teachers of their energy and focus.

Like the iceberg concept of success, what happens during these darker times, is literally the most essential part of moving the group forward towards a successful team of people that are driven towards one goal. This time requires all of the growth mindset goals we see here to achieve that magical place where our class, team, or school is performing like a well oiled machine.

So – is the honeymoon over for you? Are you storming right now? Here are some ways to find your way out of the storm, set some norms, so your class, team, or school can perform!

  1. Stop to assess what the issues are so you can plan for how to address things positively. You might want to use the 5 How’s worksheet on Authentic Teaching TPT if this is happening in your class. https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/How-To-Planning-Sheet-4750755
  2. Isolate out whole group issues vs. individual issues. You can then make a plan for whole group issues you need to solve and work on individual plans for those who need them. Here is a tool to help you evaluate what is happening with a specific student from Authentic Teaching TPT https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Student-Behavior-Motivation-Educator-Plan-4800920
  3. Think about what is happening under the surface for a particular student or teammate that you may not be aware of. Just like the iceberg shows us only the tip of what it takes to achieve success, we only see the tip of a person’s life. Take the time to learn more and figure out what is under the surface.
  4. Think about new norms that need to be set for the group that can move you out of the storming phase. Sometimes having a tough conversation with students, parents, teammate that is said with love and care can solve many concerns and help create new expectations for everyone involved. I loved this article on all the steps of having a tough conversation https://www.judyringer.com/resources/articles/we-have-to-talk-a-stepbystep-checklist-for-difficult-conversations.php .
  5. Make sure you have a clear idea of what “performing” for the class, team or school looks like so you can create a shared goal that everyone is working towards. Sometimes we assume (and you know what that makes us) that our class, our team, or our school has the same goal we have for what it means for this group to be performing. I really like the simple, straightforward steps of this article on how to develop a shared goal https://magazine.vunela.com/4-steps-to-creating-a-shared-vision-that-will-energize-your-team-82b801e742ed .

Never forget that success is like an iceberg. People rarely see the work and effort put in to achieve it. So, if you are having one of those times where it seems to be too much – remind yourself that all this under the surface work leads to success. Hang in there and give others grace so that your class, team, or school can achieve success together by moving through storming and norming to performing.

Behavior Management, Character Education, Creating a Community, PLC, Recipes, Teamwork

Yin and Yang

I had the opportunity this week to attend a symposium for students with Down Syndrome. One of the presenters did an activity with us that I thought was profound in its simplicity. It made me realize the yin and the yang of so many things. So much of what frustrates us can be dialed down to how we see it. How do we see our teammates, administration, students, our families, etc? Our attitude towards anything shapes our reaction. Take a moment and complete this activity using the directions below. Then apply this concept to a challenging student, a difficult co-worker, or a family member you are struggling with. How can you see things differently and flip your perspective to react BETTER? See below for some yin and yang recipes (salty and sweet) to add to your week of looking at things from both sides!

FIRST – read through this list of character traits for yourself and pick between 5 – 10 that describe you. (I tried to remove my words that I circled – but if you know me…the smudges give me away!) Record the numbers on a sheet of paper. Don’t agonize over it, just pick the best words to describe your strengths. If you are not sure what a word means – look it up!

NOW – take that list of numbers and write the word from THIS list that matches it next to each number.

FINALLY – reflect on how our greatest strengths can be our biggest weaknesses. Think if you have a student with a specific challenge area – what strength could you build on in them BASED on that weakness? If you are struggling with a teammate – what weakness could you look at from the corresponding strength they probably have? If you are having difficulty with a family member – what negative character trait could you flip your thinking and see from the positive side? This activity is so fun and powerful when you begin thinking of the yin and yang in all of us. Seek to balance strengths and weaknesses by CELEBRATING strengths and weaknesses. Now – on to the yin and yang of food…

I am frequently put in charge of “appetizers” when I go to my friend’s lake house! We have moved to skipping dinner and just eating appetizers (really my favorite concept). Anyways – here is my sure fire favorite dip recipe with lots of possibilities. Below is my favorite brownie recipe! Salty and Sweet – the yin and yang of food! Have fun!

Creamy dip – YIN

  1. Begin with the “holy trinity” of dips – diced onion, peppers, and garlic. Use whatever amount, portion, size, etc. you want. Lightly saute these in a pan with olive oil or cooking spray until they are soft.
  2. Decide on the “main star” – today I am using Kale. I have made this with Spinach/Artichoke, shredded zucchini or yellow squash, roasted tomatoes, roasted eggplant, corn or any other hearty vegetable combo you like. You can definitely add in meats (sausage, pepperoni, hamburger, chicken) but for some reason I generally stick with veggies. I am counting my calories!!! Yep – that is it!
  3. Add the main star (in this case Kale – that I have taken off the stems and ripped into smaller pieces) to the pan with your holy trinity and cook until it is totally wilted down to pretty much nothing. (Amazing how much it shrinks).
  4. Take this off the heat and add in salt, pepper, whatever spicing you like beyond what you have (I have added some lemon juice to the mixture in the pan – dark greens LOVE lemon juice).
  5. In this large saucepan (or transfer to a big bowl) put in 1 block of cream cheese, 1/2 – 1 cup of sour cream, greek yogurt, or buttermilk, 1 cup of parmesan cheese (or whatever cheese you like best). Mix this up until it is all smooth and evenly mixed.
  6. Put this into a oven baking dish (I generally use a 9×9 square pan). Put 1/2 – 1 cup of fresh mozzarella cheese (or whatever you cheese you like) on top. Other great toppings include cracker or bread crumbs mixed with parmesan cheese, bacon bits, fresh herbs, chopped chives or green onions, etc. Some of this go on before baking, some after…you choose….
  7. Bake at 375 – 400 degrees until the top is golden brown and the pan is bubbling.
  8. Try to hold off as LONG as you can before burning your mouth completely…not something I am skilled at and then serve with bread (crostini – where you cut it thin and toast with olive oil or butter is fab), crackers of some type, pita chips, pita bread, corn chips (blue corn is my favorite). Sometimes adding a side of salsa makes this super rich creamy dip even better. ENJOY!

Yummiest Brownie recipe – YANG

  • 10 Tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 3/4 cup light brown sugar
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 cup of chips, chopped candy, or chocolate
  • 1/2 cup of nuts (optional)
  1. Get a big saucepan (that’s right for the stove…) and melt your butter.
  2. Once the butter is melted add in the brown sugar and cocoa powder – stir it up until it makes this thick paste of chocolatey goodness. Pull that off the heat and let it cool slightly.
  3. Get your flour, baking powder, and salt measure and add that into the super thick paste. Extra benefit of this recipe – super buff arms!
  4. Lightly beat the 4 eggs and add in the vanilla. Add this mixture to the now super dry mixture in your saucepan. AHHHHH…there it is brownie batter.
  5. Now – decide on what kind of chip, chocolate, or candy you want inside. You can use any bite size pieces that suits your fancy. Generally, I go with straightforward semi-sweet chocolate chips…but it works with anything. I even made it once with leftover halloween candy assortment…
  6. Think about nuts…who like ’em and who doesn’t…my kids don’t like nuts in their brownies – so I either skip them, put them on top (1/2 only) after they are out of the oven, or make them with nuts so my kids won’t eat them and they are ALL MINE!!!!!
  7. Bake at 375 degrees for 20-25 minutes. Now – here is the weird thing about this recipe – this is a really jiggly brownie recipe – almost like fudge. So – when you take it out, the sides should be set and the middle should be jiggly. Remember – under cooked brownies are just better – but be careful they are not fully liquid. Delicious – but much harder to eat!
  8. Today, I added a delicious peanut butter chocolate icing to the top – just for fun. (see peanut butter coca cola cake recipe).

https://youtu.be/9TkFCCvSF9Q

If you are not sure how to get kale or collard greens off the stalk….I made this fun little video….

Data Driven Instruction, Intervention, MTSS, Student Data Analysis

I do it self!

When my sister was very young, my mom said her first consistent sentence was “I do it self!” She had a strong internal desire to do things for herself and be independent. This desire to be independent and capable is in all of our students. Unfortunately, we have shifted in education to a culture of it being the teacher’s responsibility to ensure student’s success vs. it being the student’s responsibility to ensure their OWN success. The helicopter, lawnmower, snowplow parent plays a role. The cultural ease of technology doing things for us and instant gratification plays a role. We, as teachers, play a role when we do not expect and empower our students to be independent learners capable of overcoming adversity, growing, and changing.

The growth mindset is a big concept right now and one that I think is essential in the classroom today. Here is a great starter link if you are new to this concept: https://www.mindsetworks.com/science/ and an excellent video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KUWn_TJTrnU My opinion is most life-changing educators have always had the growth mindset before it had a trendy name. The growth mindset creates students who have these qualities of independence and grit. I often think of my daughter when I think of this mindset, who is the youngest of 2 much older brothers. We, like most families today, have an insane schedule of school, sports, family, homework, etc. Partially because she genetically inherited the “I do it self” mentality and partially because of these factors, she is incredibly independent. Last year, when she was in 1st grade, I started telling her when she problem solved something on her own (because I think I am waaayyy funnier than I am) that she would survive the zombie apocalypse. She then went to school and wrote a fantasy story about zombies. As she excitedly told me about it, I was mortified and told her to immediately go to school the next day and tell her amazing teacher that I did not and had not ever let her watch zombie movies. It was just a joke I liked to say. She smiled angelically and said “Yes you did, mama. Remember, we watched Zombies vs. Cheerleaders on Disney?” Sigh…never mind. Funny story aside, I am proud of her independence and problem solving ability that allows her to do some amazing things at such a young age.

As a teacher, I have always been known for high expectations and developing a strong internal motivation and work ethic. As a 5th grade teacher, I feel this charge to prepare my students for the transition to middle school and life. I am not always successful in this, but it is a major goal for me each year. Here is a short list of things I think all teachers should do to create the “I do it self” mentality.

  1. Use communication tools to make sure students, parents, and other staff are crystal clear about tasks, due dates, directions, and expectations. Agendas, emails, weekly newsletters, google classroom/microsoft teams announcements, whatever combination works for your classroom – use it consistently!
  2. Accept no excuses. This sounds harsh, but if you use the clearly communicated systems in place with no excuses allowed they will rise to the occasion. Use failures as an opportunity for the growth mindset to be practiced.
  3. Accommodate and Modify with explicit instruction. Wait a minute, didn’t I just say accept no excuses? Yep – but not every student is there YET. Students with special needs, in intervention processes, with significant behavioral/emotional needs, or massive organization issues may need modified expectations at the BEGINNING of the year. Again, communicate explicitly with parents and other staff, but set their bar where they can reach it WITH EFFORT, explicitly teach them what to do, and keep raising the bar. (Example of this: I had a student a couple of years ago who was on the autism spectrum and had never been able to log into his own school computer. I knew this child regularly accessed the internet on his mom’s phone. I thought if he can do that, he can log in. So, we wrote his log in information in large font on an index card, taped it to his desk, and had his special education teacher, classmates, and myself repeatedly direct him on how to log in. This took less than 2 days and he could log in to every computer and program needed.)
  4. Create a system for how students independently monitor their work for completion according to directions, how/where/when they turn it in, and what happens if it is late or missing. Once you set these systems in place and communicate them explicitly. Go back to #2 and #3, but hold the kids to the systems you create. My son’s middle school math teacher has this amazing system where students turn their work into one of 3 bins “Totally have it, I need some help, or I am lost”. This allows the teacher to know who needs them but EXPECTS the students to know and ask for assistance on their own.
  5. Don’t chase after students but expect them to do their part. My husband is huge on kids asking questions. I believe that taking academic risks is essential. So, set up students to do their part rather than you chasing them. Cooperative learning, asking good questions, answer banks to self-check work, help stations, whatever works for you – put it into place so students do their part to work independently.
  6. Know the difference between guided practice, independent work, and assessment. Guided practice happens right after my instruction. Together, with me moving around, I am helping students who need it. This might be a small group at my table that I invite or students ask to be a part of or me roaming the room. I am fully accessible to students at this time. Independent work time requires students to be INDEPENDENT! Each year, I do a system called “Try 3 and then try Mrs. B” where we brainstorm how students will problem solve during independent time. They must tell me the 3 things they have tried to do to solve their own problem BEFORE they come and ask me for help. This is when I expect and create a community of cooperative learning. Students can and should be helping each other during independent practice. Finally, assessment…totally alone. During assessments, I will NOT read a child the directions, answer a question about the actual assessment, or give any other assistance (of course, this does not apply with IEP’s or 504’s require specific testing modifications). I tell them this up front. We practice specific strategies for test taking. However, they have to have the stamina and problem solving to make it through the panic or confusing times in an assessment or I simply will not know what they have mastered and what they have not. We also do student data analysis consistently in class so this growth mindset allows them to learn from their mistakes. Test corrections are an excellent tool for students to earn back points AND practice the growth mindset. Here is a new package from Authentic Teaching Teachers Pay Teachers. https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Test-Corrections-and-Assessment-Data-Review-4885164

Colleges and Universities today are reporting a generation of incoming students without basic tools to overcome adversity in life or their learning. While it may seem that stopping our kids from experiencing hardship, pain, and difficulty is our goal; it in fact may cause them significant, life long damage. We need to foster the “I do it self” mentality so that every child feels proud of who they are and what they can do…maybe to survive the zombie apocalypse…or maybe to be successful students and people!

Books, Character Education, Guided Reading, Reading, Small Group Novel Study

A teacher’s most powerful tool

I am, basically, a one trick pony. I am a reading teacher! I also teach writing, vocabulary, social studies, character education, current events….but all through the lens of reading. I have, in my career, taught math and science…shivers. I will leave that to my expert educator friends. I teach reading because I LOVE READING!

I love reading because it is every teacher’s most powerful tool to inspire, educate, broaden horizons, and teach tolerance. Reading can change the world. I do not say that lightly or as a platitude. Reading is the cheapest, most effective way to make a difference in the lives of your students so they can make a difference in the world.

So, how? How do you get kids to read? How do you teach reading when you don’t love it yourself? How do you inspire reluctant readers? How do you help students with reading disabilities? I want to preface this article by saying the tips are focused on improving reading comprehension NOT reading fluency to emerging readers. Although these ideas DO work to develop a love of reading in your beginner readers in K-2. Here are my best tips for teaching reading and changing the world as you do it!

  1. Read great books! This is a simple concept…if you want kids to love reading, read great books. There are so many books available today from every culture, tradition, genre, you name it. I make it my mission to only have my kids read books that make them feel something (joy, sorrow, inspired, an uncontrollable urge to laugh). I also strive to read really diverse books that appeal to all different kinds of students in my class who may be moved by different things. Common Sense Media https://www.commonsensemedia.org/book-reviews is an excellent website to not only find books for each age group, but if you select the book it will give you a detailed summary AND tell you what content you may find inside. Then for each category, it will give you specifics (a super important tool as a teacher and parent). Side note – you can also use this site for movies, video games, etc. to do the same. Find great books that YOU love, to allow you to share this love with your students.
  2. Talk about what you read! I am a huge fan of small group novel study or guided reading to allow students to really explore their higher level thinking and build skills as a reader. Check out Authentic Teaching Teacher Pay Teachers for materials to support this in your classroom: https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Small-Group-Novel-Study-Guided-Reading-4836948 (This includes a book list of some excellent 3rd – 7th grade novels that I love). There are lots of ways to talk about what you read – whole group discussions, Socratic seminars, online class discussion groups, and individual conferences. Kids who talk about their reading and thinking are more excited to read. They develop higher level thinking skills. You will be amazed, if you have never had discussions on books, just how powerful, exciting, and influential this can be with your students.
  3. Read Out Loud! I believe that every PERSON (not just children) innately craves oral storytelling. It is in our DNA to sit around a campfire and listen to stories. Reading out loud to your students AT ANY AGE fosters a love of reading that is impossible to replicate. I teach 5th grade and regularly use picture books to teach concepts and my students LOVE it. Kids from homes where they may not hear books read out loud, soak in a book read aloud. Kids who hate reading are often infatuated with a book read aloud. Many online reading programs have read aloud components (Storyworks magazine (my favorite reading resource), ReadWorks, Activelylearn, Newsela). I believe that if you are focusing on comprehension, allowing a student to hear the text read aloud in every setting except assessment will begin to build BOTH their fluency and comprehension. This will build both at a much faster pace than fluency drills alone while also allowing them to access the joy of reading without the fluency in the way.
  4. Have kids read for a purpose NOT A LEVEL! In my 17 years in education, the most significant damage I have seen done to reading instruction was the introduction of Reading Levels as the marker for what books a kid should read. Please read this blog post from Fountas and Pinnell (the tool that I have seen most closely associated with this practice) and their belief that a reading level is a teacher’s tool not a student’s reading label. https://fpblog.fountasandpinnell.com/a-level-is-a-teacher-s-tool-not-a-child-s-label I have had parents and students cry at the first conference in the Fall when they learned that their child could read any book they chose for free reading. They recounted the damage it had done to their child to hear “they were not able” to read a book of their choosing. Teachers had been taught to NOT allow a child to read a book above or below their assigned level and had misguidedly passed this information on to students and parents. Lexiles, F&P levels, etc. are meant to help you as a teacher select INSTRUCTIONAL materials that are appropriate for a student. If you have been told to have your classroom library set up by lettered bins of books at each level or to limit what books kids can read based on this – go and speak with your administration about the blog I shared above. If you want kids to love reading, it is counter intuitive to tell them NOT to read a book they want to try because they are simply not “good enough” level wise to read it. Let a kid try any book, give them tools to know when to abandon it and when to use supports (like read aloud) to read it.
  5. Get ready to gasp – The second most damaging impact I have seen on reading instruction is this phrase “The only effective way to teach reading according to research is….” There are HUNDREDS of curriculum models, methods, and tools to teach reading. Maybe thousands…. Children for HUNDREDS of years have learned to read using all of these tools and more. Years ago, I had a group of 5th grade students (4 boys to be precise), who were Kindergarten and 1st grade level readers in 5th grade. I had developed a weekly method to help them improve ( Monday we watched videos, looked at websites and discussed our passage topic to build background knowledge , Tuesday we discussed the tough vocabulary and used multi-media tools to understand the words, Wednesday and Thursday – get ready for it….WE READ ROUND ROBIN, and Friday we took the assessment to practice comprehension questions). Yep – you heard me right – we read round robin. These boys needed practice reading aloud, prompting each other through tough sections of the passage, and smoothing out their fluency. Round robin reading made that happen. It was a taboo, bad word, dirty concept when I did it. I know without a doubt, that my students grew to the level they did (2 passed our end of grade standardized test and 2 came within the standard deviation of passing) because of this rejected practice. Great reading teachers pull from a variety of resources, tools, and models and MATCH them to needs of the students in front of them. Remember, most reading curriculum is being actively promoted and sold to school districts with the intent of MAKING MONEY. So, if I convince people it is the ONLY effective method, I make more money. It is a shocking concept to consider reading can be taught in a variety of ways, but it is the truth.
  6. The best way to get better at reading…is to read! This is a quote from my husband about teaching reading. It is also a fact. If you want kids to get better at reading, they need to read. At home, kids can and should read ANYTHING that is interesting to them. Comic books, articles on video games, makeup tutorials, etc. all help to develop a love of reading. All of us read in our down time for pleasure IN OUR INTEREST AREAS and many times we read in snippets, not full novels. This is still good reading and helpful. At school, kids should be reading in every subject area as much as possible. Reading should be woven in to every possible corner of the day (books, passages, magazines, online articles, etc.) Now – here is another shocking concept for most reading teachers – I believe that NIGHTLY READING LOGS DO NOT ACHIEVE THE GOALS DESIRED. It is my firm belief that simply telling a child to read each night for a set number of minutes does 2 things (1) causes stress for parents and students that ultimately leads many people to simply “falsify”, for lack of a better word, the reading log and (2) causes reading to be a timed, miserable experience. Find a tool that uses how and what you are teaching in class in authentic reading practice at home. I use Storyworks magazine as my homework and it has consistently fostered some great reading homework. Message me if you would like the details. However, here is an excellent blog post with details on how to move away from nightly time based reading logs: http://www.giftedguru.com/the-problem-with-reading-logs/
  7. Read to teach, reinforce, or change a child’s world view. Our world today is in desperate need of tolerance. We need to explicitly teach our students that there is a big, beautiful world out there full of every shape, size, color, creed, or group of people. Having trouble in your class with unkind talk? There is a book for that. Need to expose a sheltered population to the experiences of people in a different community? There is a book for that. Want to develop empathy? There is a book for that. Get the point??? There is a book, article, passage, or online resource that can help you accomplish any character, community, or world issue you want to address with your students. I simply google the topic I want to discuss and the phrase “children’s books” (ex. empathy children’s books). We need our students to develop tolerance and understanding of those who are different from them, so that they can change the world one person at a time.

Reading has been the one of the most powerful tools throughout history. People risked their lives so that they themselves and/or their children could be taught to learn to read. Reading has been against the law because oppressive governments knew that knowledge was a weapon. Reading truly changes the world because reading provides you with the world. Foster a love of reading with your students by any means necessary….because our world depends on it.

# Professional Development, Creating a Community, Education, PLC, Recipes, Teamwork

A cup of kindness

I saw this beautiful writing on facebook this week and I was completely struck by the idea of taking people as they are. First, I love trees, and so considering their beauty WITH all their flaws was like slightly turning my head and seeing something for the first time. Second, it truly hit me the importance of not only accepting the flaws that life has created for each person, but celebrating the beauty in them.

Each post, I take a picture of my coffee cup somewhere in my backyard (other than my family – my 2 favorite things). This week, as I thought about this revolutionary idea of truly seeing our differences and quirks as what makes us shine, I thought of the best gift I have ever received from a student. In my early teaching career, I was at a Title 1, high poverty school deep in the country of Union County, NC. It was Christmas time and my kids wanted to bring me presents. Some had parents who could afford the traditional gift card or tshotshkes. Others brought me items from the dollar store or homemade cards. All were appreciated and cherished. But one little girl, who was a struggling student and consistently unkempt, had really shown growth in my class. Quiet, focused, and hard working; she was drinking the Barberio Kool-aid of the growth mindset (way before I knew what that was). The last morning before break, she brought me an unwrapped box with ripped off labels and thrust it at me. She said loudly “DO NOT OPEN THIS UNTIL AFTER I GO HOME TODAY”. I was surprised by her volume since she was such a soft-spoken student normally. So I asked, “You don’t want me to open it with you?” Again, she said loudly “DO NOT OPEN THIS UNTIL AFTER I LEAVE..” So, I put my curiosity aside and taught for the last day before break (fun for everybody!!). When all the students had gone home and I was packing up my gifts, dirty coffee cups, and food containers to go home for the holiday break, I saw the box and immediately opened it. Inside, was a coffee mug shaped like a happy, little PANCREAS. The card inside made it clear this was a gift from the hospital to someone who had their pancreas operated on (I truly wonder what hospital staff thought that was a great parting gift!). I realized that someone in her family had received this and it had not been given away or sold. It was something odd that was probably shoved into the back of a cupboard where nobody cared about it. This sweet child, with nothing to give, desperately wanted to give ME a gift and took the one thing she had. I cried realizing my power to impact a child and vowed to keep my mind on this in the hard times as a teacher. It sits at the top of my coffee cup cupboard to remind me every time I run across it to treasure my students however they arrive. She saw me for all my flaws and loved me regardless and I hope she felt truly seen and loved by me.

The Pancreas Cup by my woods…

This is a concept we have talked a lot about in our posts on Authentic Teaching. But, I want to change our focus from our students, to our teams of co-workers (PLC,PLT, Learning Community, whatever the popular name given to it is). Many of us get the idea of taking our students how they come and helping them grow. But, sometimes we do not give our co-workers that same grace. As I discussed in Banana Bread Bribery, you will not only need your team, but will be successful or not based on the tribe you create. I have been so fortunate to be on many amazing teams who have become life-long friends. However, I have also been on teams that required me to come to the table seeing the forest and CELEBRATING ALL OF OUR FLAWS. Here are the ways my teams have formed a true tribe of teachers willing to work as one to impact every child and each other.

  1. Be a Grown-Up – All of us have seen or been a part of grown people talking about people behind their back, gossiping, being jealous, being manipulative, or just being mean. Every time I find myself doing any of these things, I work to get myself back to being a grown up.  You are a grown-up. You have a responsibility to model grown-up behavior for your students. So, treat your team mates – ALL OF THEM- with respect and kindness because you are a grown up. Forgive their mistakes and flaws because you are a grown up. Work with them not against them because you are a grown up. Let people run their own classroom because you are a grown up. Just commit to being a grown up as often as you can.
  2. Have the tough conversations – On the teams I have been on where we just did not all click or there was true conflict, we had tough conversations as a group to fix it. This is part of being a grown up. Tough Conversations involve getting everybody in the room, most likely without an administrator, and respectfully discussing the issues with everyone. Be willing to hear what you have done wrong and be open to apologizing and asking for forgiveness. Then, the group should make real rules for the team, that everyone agrees to. (I am NOT talking about norms!!)) For example, your group may decide rules like – We will discuss our frustrations ONLY with the person we are frustrated with or We will always back each other up with parents or We will agree to follow whatever the group decision is or agree to not make a group decision. Setting clear rules that everybody agrees to follow and then holding each other accountable to follow, can turn a tough team dynamic into a functioning one.
  3. Become the amoeba – My current team refers to ourselves as “The amoeba” (we have a true science lover on our team!!). I realized this name has fit every highly successful team I have been on. The amoeba concept is simple – every single kid on our grade level is “our kid”. We all work together to support the most challenging students, discipline students, and to hold grade level behavior expectations. This means anybody can talk to anybody’s students or class at anytime. It means we think outside the box on challenging kids to serve them together. Second, problems are solved as a unified front. We meet with parents with at least one other member of the team, we solve problems with schedules, administrative assignments, or intervention needs as a team. We cover for each other when times are tough. We basically move as one body to serve our students AND EACH OTHER.
  4. Learn the flaws, See the cause, and Love the beauty of the flaws – My team jokingly refers to me as needing extra support from other team members. I never have a pencil or paper, I am frequently running my mouth when I should stay quiet, and basically have a bazillion flaws. But I am absolutely and unequivocally loved and supported FOR this, because I have other real strengths that I bring to the table. The same goes for every member of my team. We truly care about each other and work to balance each other out. Sure, we get on each other’s nerves and have to apologize for overstepping our bounds or failing each other in some way, but we are committed to each other and to building each other up.
  5. Keep it in the family – Like the mafia, we keep it all in the family. This means, that when times are tough for somebody on our team or there is juicy gossip to be shared, we keep it quiet and within our group until that person wants it shared. A team I was on several years ago, went through an absolutely horrific time. Everybody wanted to “get in on that gossip”. We were like a bank vault for each other. We did not allow our team’s heartache, heartbreak, or sorrow to be fodder for the gossip mill. This concept helps create a safety zone in your team and build trust.
  6. Break Bread together – One of my favorite historical stories of the integration of schools in Charlotte in the late 1960’s was found at the Levine Museum of the New South, which has an unbelievable educator program that explains the segregation, integration, and re-segregation of Charlotte schools. There was a casserole dish hanging on the wall and the information plate explained that one year prior to integrating Charlotte schools, the heads of the PTA for both the African-American and White schools, got together and decided to set up dinners for both sets of families so people could get to know each other. The theory was, that people who break bread with each other, have a much more difficult time disliking each other. These women were credited with being a significant part of integration working in Charlotte. If this concept can work in a time of true trauma like the civil rights era, it can definitely work with your team. When you have a new team member, meet them for a meal first. Find times to get together for drinks, dinner, backyard BBQ’s, whatever floats your boat. Getting to know people as PEOPLE, makes it much easier to work with them and love them for their flaws. In that spirit, invite everybody to a potluck at your house, and make my very favorite cake – a Peanut Butter Chocolate Coca Cola Cake! Recipe below.

Bent, curved, a few holes in you, a section that has died off, whatever your flaws are….when you are truly SEEN as being amazing and beautiful both by others and by yourself…life becomes much more authentic and meaningful. Take the time to see the trees in the forest for what they are….beautiful and valuable in all their flawed grace.

Peanut Butter Coca Cola Cake

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp. cinnamon, ground
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 can(s)coca-cola
  • 1 cup butter,
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk
  • 1 Tbsp vanilla extract
  • 1 cup mini marshmallows (optional)
  • 1 cup chocolate and/or peanut butter chips (optional)

For the icing:

  • 4 cups powdered sugar
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa
  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup peanut butter
  • 1/2 to 3/4 can of coca cola
  • 1/2 cup pecans, optional
  1. Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. In your stand mixer or in a large bowl place first 5 dry ingredients (flour, sugar, baking soda, cinnamon, salt) lightly stir these together with either a fork (my favorite mixing tool) or a few turns of the paddle on the stand mixer
  3. Get a good pot and place it on the stove. Take your butter and melt it in the pan. When butter is melted, stir in cocoa powder, can of coke (I use coke zero because that is what my husband drinks, but I have used regular coke and diet coke. DO NOT USE PEPSI BECAUSE THAT IS JUST YUCK…Okay, if you like pepsi… use it but I personally think it is against the laws of man and nature.) Whisk in the can of coke and cocoa powder. Bring this to a boil.
  4. Pour the hot mixture over your dry mixture and begin mixing slowly. Seriously….sloooowwwwwlllly…..hot butter/coke mixture is painful…or so I have heard.
  5. Take 2 eggs and lightly beat them in a small bowl or if you are lazy like me just dump them in and mix…
  6. Add in buttermilk and vanilla and mix
  7. Now – you have decisions to make. First, among coca cola cake connoisseurs this is grounds for war – mini-marshmallows or no mini-marshmallows. Mini-marshmallows make your cake extra, tooth hurting sweet – delicious. They also crisp up at the top of the cake giving a slightly “toasted marshmallow” flavor. Sometimes, I am in the mood for this…sometimes I am not. Decide what you like. Second, chocolate chips or peanut butter chips or both inside the batter? I generally choose chips OR mini-marshmallows. I like a 50/50 balance of chocolate and peanut butter chips if I have them…If not, just chocolate chips.
  8. Pour the batter (Don’t panic…this is a very liquidy batter) into a greased 13×9 inch rectangle pan and bake for 15 – 25 minutes until a toothpick comes out clean.
  9. Now for that icing…..Melt your butter and peanut butter in the same pan you used to melt the other ingredients for the cake. Why mess up 2 pans when that leftover will just make your icing tastier? Once they are melted, add in your coca cola, and cocoa powder and bring to a boil. Pour this over the 4 cups of powdered sugar (again – I use the same bowl or stand mixer bowl I used for the cake batter) and begin lightly mixing.
  10. Again – you have a decision to make…pecans IN the frosting or pecans ON TOP of the frosting? I do pecans ON TOP because my picky kids “Don’t like nuts in their dessert”. So, I only put nuts on half the cake…booooo…..You can also leave the pecans off all together. Another option is to put chocolate and/or peanut butter chips on top with or without the nuts. Really, the possibilities are endless!
  11. Finally, let that cake cool for around 45 minutes – 1 hour. It should still be slightly warm. Take the icing that has also cooled for that same amount of time and pour on top. Put any toppings on top of the icing. This is a very loose icing and is meant to drip down when you cut the warm cake…mmmmmmm NOT a buttercream frosting that stays in place.
  12. Now – don’t forget – you have invited everyone to your house for a potluck or you have convinced the co-worker whose kids are in college and not destroying their house daily to invite everyone over. Pull out that literally spectacular coca cola cake and make everyone love you a little more – because chocolate, peanut butter, caffeine – it’s like the angels are singing!
#Classroom Community, Behavior Management, Behavior Plan, Character Education, Class Meeting, Creating a Community, Education, Intervention, MTSS

A Fear Free Classroom

In today’s world, it is easy to feel fear. This first week of school, with all of its excitement and challenges, was colored by events in our local community and in the nation that fostered fear. As an educator AND mother, the events happening make me fearful for other people’s children I have been entrusted to keep safe and for my own babies in the care of another teacher. We have much to do as a nation to begin creating a safer world for the next generation. However, as teachers, we have the ability to create a fear free classroom which fosters learning.

Why is a fear free classroom essential? Children will not learn when they are afraid. It is that simple. I have over the years done an exercise with my students at our class meetings where I put up Maslow’s hierarchy and ask them to rate which level they are operating on most of the time. When a student is at the bottom, attempting to get their most basic safety needs met, you have a true barrier in the way of their learning. When a child is on the next level, seeking the approval of peers and not receiving it, learning will not happen. Only when a student reaches emotional, physical, and social safety will they be open and willing to learn. This is the true secret of why schools are “performing” or not according to whatever standardized scale used. FEAR – the biggest roadblock to learning and the underlying cause of the most significant behavioral, social, and emotional needs. So, how can you foster a fear free classroom? Read on to see some of the most common types of student fears and how you can address them. My favorite communication tools for students to share their concerns and fears is my weekly class meeting and my weekly reflection both of which are available on Authentic Teaching TPT. https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Weekly-Reflection-4750316 https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Weekly-Class-Meeting-Lesson-Plan-Template-4837084

Children whose fear is based on missing basic needs – These children often enter our classrooms with the most challenges. There is much research being done today on creating a trauma sensitive classroom. If I am not sure where my next meal is coming from, where I might sleep, or experience violence regularly…how can I focus on learning? This child needs a teacher who first seeks out ways to support the child using every resource at their disposal. They reach out to the school counselor, psychologist, social worker, other teachers, cafeteria staff, community organizations, etc. They need a teacher who is advocating on behalf of them loudly and consistently. Even with this, a teacher may not be able to change the child’s circumstances. This is where a classroom should become a safe haven with consistency, routine, whatever basic needs the teacher or school can provide available, and where the child is explicitly taught ways to cope and overcome adversity. Here is an excellent starter article about ways to help as a trauma informed teacher. https://www.edutopia.org/article/how-and-why-trauma-informed-teaching

Children whose fear is based on a history of academic failure – These children come in all forms… quietly detached, outwardly obnoxious, or openly uninterested in learning. I have seen dozens of students enter my room with the weight of being a “bad reader”, “dumb student”, “in the low group” on their shoulders. My goal is to foster a new sense of purpose in their learning by 3 specific actions. (1) Openly discussing the growth mindset and how I believe anybody can learn anything. (2) Teaching passionately about subjects that kids will be interested in (3) Looking for ways for that child to shine beyond the traditional modes of learning (check out guided reading on Authentic Teaching TPT for the way this model fosters this excitement in learning). https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Small-Group-Novel-Study-Guided-Reading-4836948 If you consistently and authentically do these 3 things, even the most reluctant learner can overcome their fear of failure and that is why we should all teach…for those moments.

Children whose fear is based on socialization issues – Kids who do not receive the support of their peers, only seek the praise of their peers, and/or are mistreated by their peers will not learn. Why? Because if I am at risk of being mocked, laughed at, made fun of, or ostracized, what are the chances I am going to take an academic risk? The truth is, the learning will not happen at all or will happen to a very limited amount. This is where your classroom community, procedures, and expectations are essential. Take a look at an earlier post “You won’t get the WOW’s if you don’t know the HOW’s” to address these issues. https://authenticteaching.blog/2019/08/02/you-wont-get-the-wows-if-you-dont-know-the-hows/

Children whose fear is based on a special need – As a 5th grade teacher, I have seen several students make it through all of elementary school with a special need that is not diagnosed, misdiagnosed, or not addressed. Frequently these students are labeled as “serious behavior problems” who enter your classroom with a reputation of concern. If you have a child with a special need (anything that would qualify for an IEP or 504 Plan – Anxiety, ADHD, ODD, Autism Spectrum disorders, Sensory needs, etc.) and you do not actively create and implement ways to address their unique needs, you are fostering a climate of fear for that child and because of that child in your classroom. Simple things that meet that child’s needs can often stop many of the most serious fear based behaviors (like written, visual schedules or verbal cues before changes/escalation). Children with special needs frequently have the highest levels of fears THAT DO NOT LOOK LIKE FEAR. Their fear often looks like anger, tantrums, withdrawal, or disruption. Here is a great resource from Authentic Teaching TPT that can help you identify, address, and implement systems to minimize the fears of these students. https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Student-Behavior-Motivation-Educator-Plan-4800920

Fear…it is an essential emotion that is genetically designed to keep us safe. Flight or fight – the response that stopped our neanderthal ancestors from being eaten by a saber tooth tiger. In today’s modern world, we often forget that fear is still consistently a part of our lives. We like to act as though we are impervious or oblivious to fear. As teachers, helping students face their fears and learn to use fear for positive outcomes, is our most essential and underlying goal. Seek out a fear free classroom so that in today’s world your room becomes the calm in the storm for every child!

Recipes, Self Care, Teamwork

Preaching and trying to Practice

I may or may not be a bit of a know it all! I knew it had probably gone too far when I was called by a co-worker in my classroom to request orthopedic advice! That being said, I try to be a resource for my friends and family about experiences I have had that I hope might help them. One of my friends suggested I write about #ASKBARBERIO…which made me laugh out loud. Then, I decided to once again take the suggestion and write some advice.

By now, most educators have gone back to school. We have endured setting up our rooms, endless professional development, those calls to parents to welcome their child to your room, open house, the first day with students, and much more. The excitement of seeing your colleagues and starting a fresh year may have worn off. Many of us have hit the phase of overwhelmed, overworked, and overtired. So, I want to offer some ideas of my favorite things to relax, rest, indulge, unwind, and hopefully rejuvenate myself for the long year ahead.

As educators, we are in a marathon not a sprint. Today’s teaching world expects more than any one person could accomplish in the regular work day. It is so essential that we keep ourselves balanced to allow for us to do the truly pivotal work with our students. Many teachers are Type A overachievers and this can lead to burnout. So, as we start the year, I want all of us to practice what I am going to preach below regarding my Top 10 favorite ways to take care of myself as an educator, mom, wife, friend, daughter, and several other hats I wear. I am going to preach and try to practice! Hope you will do the same!

  1. Be one thing at a time. I decided when I first had kids while teaching that when I was at school I was going to be 100% teacher and when I was at home I was going to be 100% mom as much as I could. So, I rarely take work home (unless grades are due). I participate in my kids school as a volunteer by taking a day off here and there. I leave work at a reasonable hour to be with my family. I try to keep answering emails to a minimum after school hours. It will all still be there when you get back and believe me you will get it done! Basically, whenever I can, I try to be present in the place I am at. It makes me a better teacher and hopefully, a better mom.
  2. Find your mental escape. I need something that takes me totally away from all my “hats”. So, every day, I look for an opportunity to escape with something I love. For me, it is a ridiculous fantasy novel series, Real Housewives of any city, or a binge worthy show on your streaming service or TV. (Stranger Things and Outlander were my summer binges. I began speaking in a Scottish accent for awhile…I was in that deep. ) The reality is that we are all capable of thinking, talking, breathing education at every minute of every day. You will bring more to the table, solve more problems, and just generally be happier if you intentionally give yourself a mental escape every day.
  3. Sleep enough and well. Teachers are early birds by necessity or design. Many of us continue to wear our “hats” well into the after-school and evening hours. This can make shutting off our brain and truly resting really hard. We care too much and it can impact our sleep. Every adult needs 8 solid hours of sleep daily….which sounds semi-impossible. I am working consciously to get as close to 8 hours of sleep nightly (which almost never happens – preaching not practicing yet). I have a consistent bedtime routine that involves prayer, meditation, gratitude, and reading to allow my brain to get the message to shut it all down. My electronic devices are plugged in for the night in another room. Work with your doctors if insomnia is an issue to ensure that you get true rest. Remember when you had a newborn baby, new puppy, or thought you were invincible in college? Exhausted people are more emotional, make less sound decisions, and have a host of physical repercussions. So, get some sleep!
  4. Ice Cream Yep, for me ice cream is a true piece of joy. Obviously, you are not able to eat it every day, but whenever I need a little gift to myself it is ice cream (or brownies, or salty chips, or the entire back the truck up appetizer menu at the local tavern…ok…focus….it is ice cream!) So, here are my favorite ice cream options – Ben and Jerry’s Chocolate Brownie, Market Pantry (Target brand) Peanut Butter Fudge, McDonald’s Oreo Mcflurry snack size, Shake Shack’s Pie oh my (they work with a local bakery and change up a specific pie flavor every month or so…they mush up the pie into the most luscious vanilla custard ice cream), and if you live, specifically, in Union County, NC Dollar Cone (a mom and pop ice cream shop IN THE MIDDLE OF A CORNFIELD with the best soft serve ice cream cones they dip in the chocolate shell that hardens and you can have a variety of toppings FOR A DOLLAR!!!!)
  5. Monitor and address your physical and mental health early! Educators are one the largest groups of people on anxiety and depression medication. We need to make mental health without stigma – it is just another chronic, chemically based health concern. This is because teaching is one of the most challenging jobs in the world – more decisions per minute than most other careers. If you are going to be a great teacher, you have to be physically well and mentally well. Plus, is there ANYTHING worse than making sub plans? Teachers are notorious for waiting too long to address a physical need or a mental health need. It is time for us to bravely and confidently take care of ourselves first so we can take care of others. You know…put on your oxygen mask first….
  6. Purposefully have gratitude every day. Due to some ongoing health issues, I decided a year ago to start a nightly health journal that covered everything (sleep, diet, stress, physical, reactions, etc.) It has helped me find all kinds of trends in my physical and mental well being. But, the last thing I do every night is list 3 things I am grateful for from that day. I have heard this suggestion for years, but until I faithfully did it I was unaware of its benefits. Literally, the last thing I think of every night is what I am thankful and happy for. It has changed my focus completely! I now can take any day ranging from horrible to amazing and remind myself of how lucky I am. That is a gift!
  7. Get back to nature. Did you know in Japan a prescribed treatment for depression is go sit in a forest for an hour daily? WHY? We are inter-connected with our world and on some primitive level we all crave nature. Now, I have a few friends who like nature to be the well-groomed shrubs they pass on the way into Nordstrom’s…and some who literally “go off the grid” for a week. Regardless of where you fall on the back to nature spectrum, find a way to connect with the natural world. Plants in your classroom, walks in the park/greenway, go sit by a body of water that makes your happy (pool, lake, ocean, etc.), find a local park that has a great gazebo to grade papers at, whatever works to get you back to nature. It is a big world out there and there are days I literally never walk outside my building. Being in the big world keeps my focus on more than the little world I inhabit and create each day.
  8. Keep your friendships strong. Banana Bread Bribery discussed the importance of developing relationships with your colleagues. I am so lucky to have friends from all phases of my life (some for over 25 years….yep…I am that old). I make it a conscious goal to be a good friend. I seek my friends out and foster time to be with people who make me laugh, hold my hand when I cry, and listen when needed. Your friends will make every aspect of your life better – so keep your friendships strong.
  9. Laugh. Period…just laugh! Life is absolutely absurd at times. There are times as a teacher or parent if you don’t laugh, you will cry. Teachers can get waaaayyyyy too serious about everything. My husband, who is an elementary teacher surrounded by women every where he goes, is often amazed by the things that I get worked up about at school. He regularly encourages me to keep my focus on what I need to do for the people in my classroom and to stop worrying about the other stuff. He also makes me laugh. My friends make me laugh uncontrollably. I watch TV shows and movies that make me laugh. I diffuse so many situations in my classroom and with my kids with humor and laughter. Remember, we should find joy in what we do and who we are with…so laugh!
  10. Bake something delicious that makes your house smell fantastic! Banana Bread Bribery was a popular column, so I am going to give you my second favorite, foolproof recipe below for scones. Did you know that smell is the strongest of all the senses in impacting memory and emotion? I promise these scones will make your house smell fantastic and if you don’t want to eat them yourself consider them “Sucking up Scones” and give them to your co-workers!

Basic Scone Recipe

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Get on a good apron or old clothes because it tends to get messy. Now – look in your fridge for some fruit that appears to be closing in on not that great. You can also make chocolate or cinnamon if you are not a fruit fan.

  • 2 cups of Bisquick OR 2 cups of AP flour with 1 Tablespoon of baking powder and 1/2 teaspoon of salt
  • 2 Tablespoons of sugar
  • 5 Tablespoons of unsalted butter
  • 1 – 1.5 cups of something (fruit, chocolate chips, nuts, some combo of something)
  • 1 cup of some kind of milk (buttermilk is my favorite, but I have made it with everything from almond milk to heavy cream)
  • Spices or zest that match your “something” above (apples and cinnamon, blueberry and lemon zest, strawberries and nutmeg, etc.)
  • For the glaze – 1 cup of powdered sugar, 2 – 4 Tablespoons of some liquid (depending on how thick/thin you want it – fruit juice, milk, syrup, etc.), real vanilla extract, 1/2 teaspoon or so of zest or spices that match above, and a Tablespoon of butter.
  1. Look inside your fridge for that fruit (if you are going the fruit route). I have made this with apples, peaches, blueberries, strawberries, blackberries, mixed berries, you name it. Cut up the fruit into small, bite sized pieces. I like them about the size of your thumbnail. Get about a cup to a cup and half of this fruit. Now set it to the side. Skip this step if you are going with chocolate or some other flavor of chips. You will just measure those out and pour in. No chopping required. Side note – If I am using apple, I put sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, and lemon juice/zest on the apples and toss before I set aside (like an apple pie filling).
  2. Put the 2 cups of bisquick or flour mixture into a bowl. With a fork (my favorite mixing tool) add in the sugar and briefly stir together. Now, I am NOT a sifter….I know…things are lighter and fluffier….so if you would rather sift them together it will probably make it better. Ain’t nobody got time for that….
  3. Your 5 Tablespoons of butter should be in the fridge or freezer so they are rock hard COLD. Take your trusty, regular sized cheese grater and grate the cold butter into the flour mixture. Use that fabulous fork and stir that around. Again, you can use a fancy pastry cutter tool and get the butter in chunks – but I promise the grating trick is AMAZING!
  4. Now decide what zest or spices or both goes well with what you plan to put in. My favorite combinations are apples with cinnamon, lemon, and nutmeg; blueberry and lemon zest; strawberry and nutmeg; or mixed berries with lemon zest. Stir this zest (use a microplane – buy one if you don’t have one…best tool ever!) or spices (again buy whole nutmeg and use the microplane – seriously, your life will be forever changed by grating in fresh, whole nutmeg…but if you don’t have it no worries!) Stir this in….
  5. Now take the fruit you cut up or measure out chocolate or other chips or nuts or do some combo… (apple, pecan, and chocolate would be delicious or peach and pecan) and make a well in your flour mixture (dig a hole like in the sand). Pour in the fruit/chip/nut and gently toss it around with your fork until each piece is coated with flour and spread throughout the mix.
  6. Next…even more gently to not smush up the fruit…dig another well. Pour in your 1 cup of milk product and stir until it forms a pretty dry ball of dough. If your batter is really wet and sticky – add in more bisquick or flour. If your dough is too dry and not coming together (lots of bits everywhere) add in more milk.
  7. Word of advice – I always skip this step and remember AFTER I do step 8. Believe me… you will get flour and dough EVERYWHERE! I know this from experience. So…get out 2 cookie sheets and line them with parchment paper, spray them with cooking spray, or the old fashioned butter and flour method. Have them RIGHT NEXT TO WHERE YOU PLAN TO ROLL OUT THE DOUGH!!! Seriously….
  8. Okay…at this point…MAKE SURE YOU ARE WEARING AN APRON OR OLD CLOTHES…put flour/bisquick all over your counter (clean it first) or a cutting board or your kitchen table. Somewhere you can spread out basically! Dump the bowl over onto the floured surface, put some flour on your hands, and lightly smush/form/pat the dough into a rectangle shaped, 1/2 inch thick even layer. Cut the dough down the middle like a hamburger fold (all the teachers know what I am talking about – if you are reading this and not a teacher…ask a teacher you know, what that is). Then, on each half begin cutting triangles. Take each triangle and place it onto that baking sheet you remembered to prepare and put next to you.
  9. Once you have cut them all out and they are on the baking sheet, I take cooking spray and spray the tops of each one. You could make an egg wash (one egg with some water or milk) or use milk or melted butter and brush it on – but I love the cooking spray method. Then I take some sort of sugar (regular old granulated, a coarser kind, etc.) and sprinkle with a spoon on top of each scone. This will give them a lovely, crunchy, sugary top!
  10. Watch until the scones are brown on the top and bottom and seem pretty firm (not hard). Start checking them around 10 minutes. They usually take 10 – 15 minutes. Take them out and let them cool as long as you can stand it. I generally leave them on the pan to cool, but you can put them on a cooling rack. Now, for our Step 10 of this article above remember to smell….isn’t it lovely????
  11. While they are cooling (this will stop you from eating them right away), make the glaze. Put 1 cup of powdered sugar in a microwave safe bowl. Pour in the 2 – 4 Tablespoons of liquid that matches the flavor of the scone. Try apple with maple syrup glaze…unbelievable. If you are going to add in zest or spices, put those in now. Pop this in the microwave for 30 seconds. Take it out and stir until it is smooth. If it is like water, add more powdered sugar. If it is a rock, add more liquid until you get it the way you want it. Once you like the texture pour in 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract and add in a softened or slightly melted tablespoon of butter. Stir until smooth and glossy. NOW HERE IS MY BEST ADVICE…. POUR THAT FABULOUS GLAZE IN A MASON JAR OR OTHER AIRTIGHT CONTAINER. Once you glaze those scones, their shelf life is going fast! They will be mushy and gross by the evening. Keep the glaze in the fridge and pull it out each time you plan to eat a scone or share a scone. You might have to shake it up if it has separated. Unglazed scones will last up to a week in the fridge. You can pop them in the toaster oven or regular oven – put on a little glaze and it is delicious. You can also freeze the scones once they have cooled and pull out individually to re-heat.
  12. Now…your house smells fabulous and is probably covered in flour. You are happy and calm. Decide if these are all for you scones, my secret treat in the freezer scones, my family can have a few scones, or if they are “Sucking up scones” and you are headed to school with them. Bring the scones in one container and that mason jar of glaze in the other and make some new friends or keep your old ones!
#Classroom Community, Behavior Management, Behavior Plan, Creating a Community, Education, Intervention, MTSS

Beans in my Pocket

Teaching in today’s world requires a variety of skills my educator grandmother most likely never faced. Our students enter our classroom as they are and we must become experienced in how to positively affect children who may have childhood trauma, abuse, neglect, poor parenting, or a host of other issues. This can seem like an overwhelming task when we are there to teach, right?

Today’s educators have the ability to shape and change the next generation for better or for worse. What may have been up to the family, the neighborhood, the community in the past often rests on the shoulders of educators in today’s world. Because WE are human beings with our own challenges, issues, and biases; this makes our job seem monumental at times.

Every educator has one or two “types” of kids that they just are not their best with. All educators struggle with the behaviorally, emotionally, or socially challenged student. I had a student many years ago, that despite my true desire to love him and welcome him, I simply did not like him at first. Worse, he knew it! So, one day, I read an article that described how a teacher had put beans in her pocket. Every day, she made it her goal to compliment the student she was struggling with one time for each bean in her pocket. Once she gave the compliment, she moved it to her other pocket. Desperate, because I am normally a “I love ’em all” kind of teacher…I put 5 beans in my pocket. I found that at the beginning, I struggled profoundly to find anything to compliment this student with. The first few days…I would realize shortly before dismissal I still had 4 beans to go. Gradually, my compliments became more authentic and my dislike of this student began to be replaced by a true care for him and what he walked in my door with.

You see, I had forgotten, that every kid walks in your door carrying some stuff. For many kids, their load is pretty light. But for others, the most challenging ones usually, they are weighed down by so much “stuff” that they simply are unable to be a productive member of your classroom community because of it.

As an educator, I have watched colleagues who struggle with taking kids AS THEY ARE when they enter their classroom. There is frustration and anger that the parents have not done their job or the kid must love upsetting everyone or worse yet, is doing it ON PURPOSE! All of those things are probably true to some extent and NONE OF THEM MATTER IN WHAT YOU MUST DO.

You have 2 choices with a challenging kid that are really simple. (1) Keep the beans in your pocket, dislike them, battle them, and every single time YOU, THAT CHILD, and YOUR CLASS will lose. OR (2) Work the steps below to move those beans to the other pocket and find a way to love that kid AS THEY ARE while you help them learn WHAT THEY CAN BE!

The Steps –

  1. Before you even begin to think about an individual student’s needs and concerns – you need to make sure your classroom community, expectations, and procedures are working for everyone! I suggest you take a quick look back at the article here on the blog “You won’t get the WOW’s if you don’t know the HOW’s” to help with this. Challenging students more than any other need consistency, routine, kindness, and calm in order to begin learning new skills in your room. So make sure, you are truly reflective with yourself about the culture you have in your room before you try to impact a tough student.
  2. Let them know you care! It is without a doubt, the most important and essential part of making a difference with a challenging student. If they believe you care about them, you have already won half the battle.
  3. Look at the whole child! What do you know about this kid? Start building a picture in your mind of what you know about them and what things they are carrying into your classroom every day. Here is a great thinking sheet to help you start building a picture of the challenging student beyond their behavior. https://docs.google.com/document/d/1eesN5yavnKMJPB4LzWfnoXyq0C-3K3ZKITIHW12NBs8/edit?usp=sharing
  4. Identify their needs and growth areas! Once you have taken some time to really reflect on this, you will be able to plan your strategy of attack to help this student change and grow. Academic Learning for the challenging child will take a backseat until you begin systematically replacing poor behaviors that stop everyone from learning with positive behaviors. Here is a great thinking sheet to help you start determining where to begin. https://docs.google.com/document/d/1eesN5yavnKMJPB4LzWfnoXyq0C-3K3ZKITIHW12NBs8/edit?usp=sharing
  5. REPLACE, REPEAT, AND REWARD! Once you have identified the most significant behaviors in that student’s way, you need to pick a couple to start with and purposefully REPLACE that behavior with a better one. You need to explicitly teach this child the replacement behavior when they are NOT IN TROUBLE! Then, you need to REPEAT, repeat, repeat, repeat, repeat, repeat (get the point) the replacement behavior with cues, re-teaching, conversations, and consistency. Generally after the “newness” of a replacement behavior wears off, the challenging student may exhibit worse behavior. This is when the repeating of the new behavior calmly and consistently is the most essential. This is typically the point most teachers give up and say “it’s not working”. No – its working really well and the kid is beginning to realize they are going to have to change which scares them. They need you to not give up. Finally, you need to reward when it is working and provide consequences when it is not. I DO NOT MEAN A PHYSICAL REWARD OR BRIBE (like candy, pencils, etc.) I mean reward them every single time they do they right thing with praise, an increased role/job, a positive mark on a behavior plan, or simply with a quick smile that lets them know you care. Be prepared to have a solid consequence that the student KNOWS in advance when it is not working. Here is a link to my favorite book for finding quality replacement behaviors/interventions you can use. https://www.amazon.com/Pre-Referral-Intervention-Manual-Stephen-McCarney/dp/B001NOHFD2/ref=pd_lpo_sbs_14_t_0?_encoding=UTF8&psc=1&refRID=52PTJ7NV7CYVHMFZTZCJ Literally ANYTHING a child could do/not do in your classroom is in this book with anywhere from 20-150 possible ideas. Pick an idea that matches you, the child, and the way your classroom runs. Feel free to comment below for ideas from our Authentic Teaching community on replacement behaviors. Check out this link on my TPT page for a behavior intervention plan that can make a real difference! https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Student-Behavior-Intervention-Plan-4800875
  6. Go back to Step 4 and now that your student is improving – pick the next set of behaviors or skills you want to work on. Generally, this is the point at which things begin snowballing and you will start to see things falling into place.
  7. The last few tips….
  • Make sure you are consistently, positively, and honestly communicating with the parents/guardians even if you are unsure of their response or do not get a response.
  • Be prepared for setbacks – kids who live in trauma filled situations will have times that life throws them another curveball and their behavior will regress.
  • Use the whole team! When I start a new “plan” with a student – I send an email to special area teachers, my team, admin, etc. Everybody should be aware and utilizing the same system as you!
  • NEVER battle a student for control – because you are ALWAYS in control. Just because a student is exhibiting behaviors that disrupt and impact your classroom, does not mean you are not in control. Control your reaction while working your plan.

I hope these steps will help you on your journey to dealing with all students, not just the challenging ones. Look for upcoming information on a podcast series on different concerns with a student and ways you might handle it!

In the meantime, remember how pivotal your impact can be on a student that challenges you the most. You never know what seeds you are planting and when they will grow.

Creating a Community, Education, PLC, Recipes, Teamwork

Banana Bread Bribery

Teaching is not a solitary sport…it is without a doubt a team effort! Great teachers know that the people around them are ESSENTIAL to their success. One of the 5 C’s of Authentic Teaching (check out “The Basics” tab on menu) is focusing on real collaboration with the people around you.

Another one of the 5 C’s is caring for yourself as an educator. Did you know educators make more decisions per minute than most professions? Teaching is exhausting on its best days. Those of us who feel passionately about teaching are willing to give it our all. BUT, we must take time for self-care. That leads me to Stress Baking. I, am a stress baker, and since I am frequently stressed…I frequently bake!

This is great news for my friends at school, because I like to share my baking with others (predominantly so I don’t eat it all myself). So, I am sharing some of my all time favorite recipes on this blog with easy step by step directions. Hopefully, if you like to bake, you might add this into your kitchen classics! Enjoy! Check out this video on my banana bread bribery thoughts….

THE RECIPE

Imagine the best smell EVER!!!
  • 1 stick of unsalted butter (1/2 cup)
  • 1 c. sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 4 really ripe bananas
  • 1 T of vanilla (not imitation)
  • 2 c. Bisquick
  • 1 c. of chips (chocolate, white chocolate, butterscotch, the new espresso chocolate…wow have to try that)
  • 1/2 c. nuts (pecan, walnut, or almond slivers) (OPTIONAL)

Banana Bread is delicious! I wish you could smell what homemade banana bread smells like…I am pretty sure it is unconditional love! A little dramatic – but seriously amazing. Here are the steps to get this delicious banana bread! Start by pre-heating your oven to 350 degrees.

Eggs, sugar, butter…the start to all great things!
  1. Get your softened stick of butter. You can leave it out for a while – or if you are like me and always forget – pop it in the microwave for 20 seconds. Start mixing that with your stand mixer, hand mixer, or if you are really old school a nice strong wooden spoon. Mix for 1 minute or so…
  2. Pour in 1 c. of sugar and cream the sugar and butter together until light and fluffy. This means mix for a long time (around 2 – 3 minutes)!
  3. Add in 2 eggs and keep mixing. Sometimes, I will stop after I add the eggs and scrape down the side and bottom of the mixer if the sugar/butter mix is stuck to the sides. Then, I turn it on high for another 2 – 3 minutes until it is light, fluffy, and a golden yellow color.
  4. Now…this is where you really have to trust me…take a leap… You need 4 VERY RIPE bananas. I have taken a picture of the MINIMUM level of ripeness. Often, when my bananas start to look like this and people are only eating donuts around here – I will put them in the freezer. They turn dark brown/black and look rotten. Thaw these out in the microwave or on the counter and they make the BEST bread. But, if that grosses you out – use bananas that look like this. However, don’t EVER use green, super yellow, beautiful bananas. It messes the bread all up!
  5. While the mixer is running ON HIGH (stand mixer) drop in chunks of the bananas, or stop, put in a banana piece and turn on high, repeat (hand mixer), or with your now extremely strong arms – just keep mixing in the banana pieces in chunks. Do NOT mash your bananas before putting them in. If you use those amazing, frozen, rotten looking bananas, the whole thing will just slide in. Mmmmm….. The goal is to mix the bananas into the mix where it is in tiny pieces and all the good banana juices are in your batter!
Butter yellow…

5. Add in 1 Tablespoon of real vanilla (not imitation).

6. Now, you should have a shiny, smooth (except for banana chunks) batter. Slowly add in 2 c. of bisquick. Stir on high for a short time (1 min. or so) until the bisquick is totally combined with your wet ingredients.

The secret ingredient…

7. Take the bowl and decide on your chip of choice. The all time favorite is, surprisingly, white chocolate chips! But, any kind of chip will do. Put 1 c. of chips into a measuring cup and put about a T of bisquick or flour on top. OVER the bowl of your batter, mix the flour with the chips. Chips and flour will start falling over into your bowl. Once most have mixed – dump the rest out into your bowl. This way the chips will not all fall to the bottom. Fold them in with a rubber scraper/spatula/wooden spoon.

8. Now, you get to choose a pan and for me this is generally based on how much time I have. You can go with the traditional bread loaf pan, a square 9×9 pan, a smaller loaf pan, or the individual loaf pans. Any of these will work fine! The large loaf pans take between 30 – 50 minutes to cook (I know that is a huge range…I’ll explain in a minute), the small loaf pans take between 25-40 min., the 9×9 square pans take 20-30 min., and the mini pans take 15 – 30 min.

9. Once you have selected the perfect pan, spray generously with cooking spray or go old-school and butter/flour the pan. Pour the batter in no more than 3/4 of the pan (trust me…any higher and you are asking for trouble!) Put into the oven ON A SHEET TRAY! I do this because (1) I might occasionally overfill and then have batter spilling all over the oven and (2) you can put in as one group and take out as one group.

10. THIS IS WITHOUT A DOUBT THE MOST IMPORTANT STEP! Set your timer for the lowest amount of minutes I mentioned above. Then, when that timer goes off…start your babying/checking of that bread. ALWAYS UNDERCOOK YOUR BANANA BREAD! Again – like the rotten looking bananas…trust me! Undercooked banana bread is WAAAAAYYYY better than cooked to full term banana bread. So, once the minimum timer goes off, I start checking every 3-5 minutes (don’t forget to reset the timer). Each time I check I am looking for 3 things (1) that beautiful toasty brown color (2) I can touch the bread and not leave a finger indent and of course it is not jiggly and (3) I can put in a toothpick or knife and it comes out SLIGHTLY CRUMBLY – NOT CLEAN!!!

11. Allow the bread to cool on the counter for as long as you can wait (in our house it is rarely more than 5 min.) Don’t panic if the middle sinks a little – in undercooked, super delicious banana bread this is an occupational hazard. Then, you are ready for BANANA BREAD BRIBERY! Take that absolutely delicious banana bread to school. Share it with your colleagues. Use it to never forget that it takes everybody giving, sharing, and being their best with each other to make the amazing moments happen at school and in the lives of our students. Here is the banana bread on a table full of food…my very favorite thing in the world…at a lunch to welcome our newest team member before the school year started! Have fun sharing your stress reliever with your co-workers and bribing people to like you just a little bit more than they might have without it!

Final Note – This recipe is amazing because you can basically make any kind of bread with it. Replace the 4 ripe bananas with about 2 cups of any mushy/liquidy fruit combo. (Ex. peach bread, blueberry/lemon, sweet potato, one time I even made an acorn squash version, etc.) You can add in spices/flavorings. Each time your batter should end at the same basic consistency as the banana bread version. If it is too thick – I add in buttermilk or milk. If it is too thin, I add in more Bisquick.

# Professional Development, Creating a Community, Education

The Art and Science of Teaching

Need a mid year reminder about what kind of teacher you are….check out this post! I have developed a theory that teaching is 50% art and 50% science. (For my math teacher friends – check out that math reference!!). Art is the instinctive, reflective, and creative side of teaching. Science is the skill based, organized, and experienced side of teaching. All teachers are some combination of these two elements. Some teachers are almost 100% art or 100% science while others may be various combinations of art and science. Great teachers are an authentic combination of art and science that yields results. This can look differently for each teacher depending on what is true to them. Ultimately, teachers of all types should strive to find the closest 50/50 balance they can between art and science in their teaching.

Explaining the Art and Science of Teaching

I thought it would be helpful to use my two dogs to show the difference between the art and science sides of teaching. Yes, my two dogs. Hopefully, this will make it abundantly clear what qualities each side of teaching possesses.

The face says it all!

Maui and the ART of teaching –

Maui is ALL art! Maui lives every day to the fullest, is utterly impulsive, and frequently runs head first into chaos. Maui does not like rules or constraints of any kind. He is free with his love, enthusiasm, and affection. He is equally giving with his destruction, irritation, and leaving messes for others to clean up. When we are using our ART side in teaching we can be:

  • Funny
  • Creative
  • Inspiring
  • Out of the Box thinker
  • Loving
  • Passionate
  • Sees the big picture

But, like all things, there is a downside to the teacher who is primarily ART. When teachers operate from this side predominantly these qualities can show up:

  • Unplanned
  • Chaotic
  • Unprepared
  • impacts others plans
  • overly emotional
  • Misses details

Always worrying!

Maisie and SCIENCE of teaching –

Maisie is ALL Science! She is routine based, single minded, and only wants to do what is expected. She is absolutely baffled when a routine changes or a new person arrives. She wants to stay right in line with her leaders and aims to please consistently. However, when she gets overwhelmed, she loses it completely. Often, she simply lacks the tools to pivot! Literally, will run into a wall if her leader moves too quick in a new direction. An actual wall! When we are using our science side in teaching we can be:

  • Organized
  • Structured
  • Clearly focused
  • Solid routines
  • Lots of knowledge
  • Hard Worker
  • Detail oriented

Again, just like the primarily art teacher, the predominantly SCIENCE teacher struggles with these qualities:

  • rigid and inflexible
  • unsure of changes
  • Worried
  • Angry easily
  • Unable to quickly alter course
  • gets lost in the details, missing the purpose

So, which one sounds more familiar to you? How can you determine which way you lean towards and then purposefully balance better? Read on to see what type of teacher you are and how you can balance your art and your science more evenly!

What type of teacher are you?

Check out this link to see the original document of the types of teachers and access links:

https://docs.google.com/document/d/12tTSa4BIuuDIc7Ct7wPt8SKQmxpTD3774IQNh39he6Q/edit?usp=sharing

Behavior Management, Behavior Plan, Creating a Community, Education, Intervention

You won’t get the WOW’s if you don’t know the HOW’s!

Here is an updated version of this post that I launched my blog with. I thought mid-year…on the long haul to Spring Break…it would be a great time to remind all of us the importance of procedures, classroom expectations, and building a community. I would love to hear your WOW success stories or a video detailing a challenge you are asking for support with. I will answer your concerns with advice that may help YOU and ME! All of this will use an amazing program called flipgrid. You simply have to click on this link: https://flipgrid.com/af6a49a4 Password is Athowsandwows You will be prompted to add flipgrid to your computer, phone, or tablet. Once you have added it – you will submit a video that will be part of our community link. Others can see your post and celebrate or provide support. I will approve all video posts before they go live on the site. I hope this will be a great chance to share some wow’s and remind ourselves of some how’s.

Each year, teachers start full of excitement for the amazing year they plan to have. Everything is fresh and new. The possibilities for WOW moments and results seem endless. Unfortunately, no teacher feels this way all year long. Teaching has highs and lows that great teachers learn to manage by self-reflection, student self-reflection, and using data in every area to drive their decisions. Teachers that do this – get those WOW’s! WOW moments are the ones that make it all worthwhile. It’s the moment you realize a reluctant reader loves their first book or a child who entered your room with pain as their companion has found a safe place to be authentic each day. It’s the moment your kids come together to support each other or the test results that show that every kid has grown. Teachers get paid in WOW’s (way more than their check) and get rejuvenated by WOW’s. They make a kid leave your classroom at the end of the year feeling like they had the BEST YEAR EVER!

For new teachers, burned out teachers, stuck in a rut teachers, or just your standard doing their thing teachers; creating a classroom community that fosters a love of learning and a sense of inclusion can be the most challenging part of their jobs. However, this is the absolute, most essential part of great, authentic teaching. Some teachers think classroom community is not their job because they teach a subject (math, reading, science,etc.). Some teachers have no idea how to do it, so they avoid it until the classroom implodes. Some teachers are furious they are being asked to meet their student’s emotional and social needs when there are trained counselors to do that. Some teachers feel all this mumbo jumbo takes away from their instructional time. Whatever the reason teachers avoid crafting this community…. IT IS THE SINGLE MOST IMPORTANT THING THEY CAN DO TO ACHIEVE SUCCESS ACADEMICALLY.

I have seen time and again that students must take ACADEMIC RISKS to learn. This means a student must feel safe enough (emotionally, socially, physically) to raise their hand, ask for help, admit they don’t understand a concept, or even work with their peers. If a student thinks they will be made fun of, criticized, mocked, pushed, or any other unsafe behavior; they will not take an academic risk. Without an academic risk, students simply will not grow academically to their full potential.

That leads us to the 5 HOW’s! So, you want to get those WOW moments in your classroom to increase, expand, and just generally happen as often as possible? You need to intentionally create a classroom community that fosters learning by creating a safe atmosphere where students take academic risks. Taking the time BEFORE you start the year to reflect on your day and the procedures and expectations you need to create and teach will be the best gift you can give yourself as a teacher. So, watch each video where I explain the HOW’s and then think through the guiding questions below. On Teachers Pay Teachers, you can download a planning sheet for free to use while you read this article and watch the videos. https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Sellers-Im-Following/Add/Authentic-Teaching-By-Kristine-Barberio Please comment on the blog with ideas, suggestions, or questions! Teachers get all their best ideas from watching someone else do it better!

GUIDING QUESTIONS – HOW DO STUDENTS ENTER/START?

  • What is your vision for your morning check-in time with your students?
  • What do you want your students to accomplish during morning check-in time?
  • How do you want students to enter your classroom?
  • What do students do while they are waiting for class to start?
  • What do students do once you started whole class guided practice?
  • How do students enter into workshop groups or start a workshop time?
  • What do students do when they enter the cafeteria?
  • What do students do when they enter special area/elective classes?
  • What do students do at the beginning of a test or assessment?
  • What do students do at the start of an assembly or special program?
  • How do students get their materials/supplies/work when class is starting?
  • Where are you during morning check-in?

GUIDING QUESTIONS – HOW DO STUDENTS EXIT/LEAVE?

  • What do students do when you announce class is done?
  • How do students line up or leave your room?
  • What do students do when you end one subject and start another in your classroom?
  • How do students behave in hallway?
  • Where do students wait or go for next class?
  • What do students do with their materials/supplies/work when class has ended?
  • How do students leave their workshop group and return to whole group?
  • How do students clean up and leave the cafeteria?
  • What do students do at the end of a test/assessment?
  • What do students do at the end of an assembly or special program?
  • How should students be waiting at the end of a special area/elective class?
  • How do students leave your classroom and go to dismissal?
  • Where are you during dismissal?

GUIDING QUESTIONS – HOW DO STUDENTS MOVE?

  • How do students move around your classroom?
  • How do students get supplies/materials in your classroom that are not with them?
  • How do students get in line?
  • How do students walk/behave when they are in the hallways or public spaces?
  • How do students play at recess?
  • How do students behave in P.E. or Sports settings?
  • When can students get out of their seat in your room?
  • How does a student go to the restroom, to get water, or to the nurse?
  • If you need something delivered, how do students go without the teacher? (ex. in pairs to office, groups of 3 to nurse, etc.)
  • How do students move in a fire/tornado/earthquake/lockdown drill?
  • How do students come to the rug/carpet?
  • When/how can a student sharpen a pencil?

GUIDING QUESTIONS – HOW DO STUDENTS WORK?

  • When you are giving direct instruction, what should students be doing?
  • How are you going to teach group work expectations?
  • What system will you use for putting students into groups?
  • How do you teach partner work expectations?
  • What are your expectations during a workshop time? Where will you sit to maintain supervision?
  • Where do students have to sit during work time? What are the expectations for where they sit?
  • Can students work with other students on assignments other than individual assessments?
  • What happens if someone is not working effectively on their own? in a partnership? in a group?
  • Where do students who need extra support sit? Who gives the extra support? How often?
  • Are you going to have a help or answer station for students?
  • How do you help students problem solve first before asking for your help? What systems and/or explicit instruction can you give them to increase their independent learning?
  • What do students do when they are done? (This is a trick question – they should never be done! A classroom rule for me is “If you are doing nothing – you are doing something wrong!” One of my concepts is called 3 OUT. You should always have 3 activities a student will be able to complete if they are done early. These can be pre-made centers, online extension activities, reading with response cards pre-made, etc.)
  • Where do students place their work when done? What are your expectations for how it looks? What is on it?
  • What are students doing their work in or on?
  • What is your procedure for giving students feedback on their work and how can they fix work?
  • Do you give extra credit work?
  • What is your policy on late work?

GUIDING QUESTIONS – HOW DO STUDENTS TREAT/SPEAK TO EACH OTHER?

  • What are your expectations for the ways students talk to each other?
  • What happens if a student teases, name calls, or makes fun of another student?
  • What happens if a student speaks in a rude or unkind tone of voice?
  • How do students solve problems with each other? Peer mediation? Teacher problem box? Classroom Meetings? Morning meetings?
  • What happens if students are horseplaying?
  • What happens if students are doing minor physical actions – pushing, tapping each other, kicking, tripping, pinching, the latest “slap” game, etc?
  • What happens if a student does a major physical action (like hitting, starting a fight, etc.)?
  • What is your system if a student needs a cool down time or space?
  • How does a student let you know of a problem? Can it be in front of the class? Can it be loudly in anger?
  • What is the procedure for tattling vs. reporting a concern?
  • What is your policy for problems that arise from social media activities outside of school hours or jurisdiction?
  • What system do you use in your classroom for management? Is it school-wide? Do you need something additional?
  • How do students learn to intentionally praise each other? (ex. morning meeting or class meeting with compliments, “Fill your bucket” program, etc.)
  • How are students expected to behave with a student who has a behavioral/emotional need? (Sadly, some students with significant behavior or emotional concerns are mistreated by their class often with the unintentional “blessing” of the teacher who feels that they child “deserves” it because of the way they behave in the classroom.)
  • What happens if a student makes fun of another student after they have been redirected/reprimanded by you?
  • Do you have a whole class system for addressing whole class concerns that allows students to generate their own solutions?

# Professional Development, Distance Learning, Education, Self Care, Uncategorized, Wellness

Our Greatest Fear

Fear…the silent force lurking underneath so many of our choices, actions, and reactions. Right now, is a time of tremendous fear as we watch our nation grapple with so many issues. As we begin the 2020/2021 school year, I don’t think I have EVER seen a time of such tremendous fear regarding the return to school. Fear that we will go back, won’t go back, will go back part time, will make educators return, on and on and on….

Personally, it is so easy to be demoralized as an educator. In the Spring, educators were hailed as heroes worth million of dollars for educating kids. Now, they are perceived as whiners unwilling to return to work. The message has been sent at every level that educators are expendable. Schools place the blame squarely on the shoulders of educators for why they are moving to remote learning.

Some educators feel total frustration with trying to educate in a distance learning model. Some educators are terrified to be in person instruction. Some know that they will not be able to maintain the safety environment expected and that they will be held accountable for a system that is impossible to maintain without resources, support, and frankly, perfect children (which don’t exist).

We educators begin to wonder why I am doing this? Am I making any difference? Why do people refuse to treat me as a skilled professional deserving of respect for my expertise? Why are we expendable? What about my own family?

I was listening to the Michelle Obama podcast on Spotify (highly recommended) and I had an epiphany to my own fears that made me reframe my thinking and get ready to wade back into battle for myself, my family, my students, and the educational process as a whole. Here are the truths I discovered:

(1) YOU – educator, bus driver, assistant, cafeteria – you probably have been directly responsible for changing and possibly saving the life of a child. I often discount the impact I have made on the lives of my students. I brush off the compliments out of habit of downplaying myself. But, this impact is a gift! A gift that I need to marvel at for its wonder. Me…in all my messiness…has made a difference. You have made a difference and that matters.

(2) We not only have the right to speak up…we have the obligation to speak up for what is right. As a group, educators are capable of changing the conversation of return to school, safety measures, funding for schools, lessons we can learn from distance learning about what is broken in schools and what we want to see happen.

(3) Each of us has the power to decide what is true, what is right for ourselves. Being a teacher can often feel like we are on a hamster wheel running in circles with no change. We have choices…even when we don’t see them. Many teachers have left the profession rather than put their families at risk and are tutoring, moving into other fields, or allow themselves to put their focus back on their family. Whatever we choose, we have the RIGHT to choose it. Fears…financial, emotional, or peer pressure can make us feel like there is not a choice. But there is ALWAYS a choice we can make to be authentically true to ourselves if we just take a step forward out of fear.

As we enter this time in education that is wrought with fear…take a breath and remind yourself that YOU are powerful beyond measure. YOU are capable of anything you set your mind to. After all, you wrangle a group of 20, 30 kids into sitting still and learning on a regular basis. You’ve GOT this!

So – if you are not sure you have the courage to face your fear…here are some pretty inspirational stories of facing fear to get you motivated.

An educator advocates for a district to move to remote learning with a board unwilling to even listen to concerns. Her emotional response lights a fire for others – video at the bottom of notes from the chalkboard blog post. http://notesfromthechalkboard.com/2020/08/05/covid-fears-of-union-county-educators-fall-on-deaf-ears-at-board-meeting/

Inspirational Nike commercial – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WA4dDs0T7sM

Facing Fear video – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HnrogLw6SOQ