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!