Creating a Community

I promise…

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

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

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

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

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

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

Leading your tribe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Single Word

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Granola Recipe

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

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

What is possible…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Giving Thanks

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

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

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

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

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

#Classroom Community, PLC

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Education, Self Care

Trusting your gut

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Filling the Space

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Remembering your Purpose

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

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

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

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

Zucchini Bread

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

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

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

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

A link in a chain

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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