Distance Learning, Education, Recipes, Self Care, Wellness

Weird…I feel weird…

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

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

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

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

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

Champagne Bread –

3 c. All purpose Flour

4 1/2 tsp. baking powder

1/2 tsp. salt

3 Tbsp. sugar

3 Tbsp. butter, melted

12 oz. champagne, room temperature

2 Tbsp. butter melted

1 tsp. cinnamon and 2 tsp. sugar for topping

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

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

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

The Worth of a Teacher

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Circle of Control

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

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

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

No rest for the weary….

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

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

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

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

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

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

These are a few of my favorite things….

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

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

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

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

Joy and Pain

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#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!