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! šŸ™‚ 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:

ā€œWhen 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 recountedā€¦the person is symbolically and literally welcomed back into the tribeā€¦Perhaps this overwhelming positive bombardment not only strengthens his positive self-image, but also helps him choose to live up to the ā€˜expectationsā€™ of his tribeā€ (Zunin 207-208).

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

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

A Single Word

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Granola Recipe

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

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

What is possible…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Giving Thanks

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

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

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

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

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

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

Filling the Space

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Turn the Kaleidoscope

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

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

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

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

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

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

Beneath the Iceberg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yin and Yang

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

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

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

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

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

Creamy dip – YIN

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

Yummiest Brownie recipe – YANG

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

https://youtu.be/9TkFCCvSF9Q

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

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

A cup of kindness

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

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

The Pancreas Cup by my woods…

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

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

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

Peanut Butter Coca Cola Cake

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

For the icing:

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