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.

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.

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

# 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!

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!