I saw this beautiful writing on facebook this week and I was completely struck by the idea of taking people as they are. First, I love trees, and so considering their beauty WITH all their flaws was like slightly turning my head and seeing something for the first time. Second, it truly hit me the importance of not only accepting the flaws that life has created for each person, but celebrating the beauty in them.
Each post, I take a picture of my coffee cup somewhere in my backyard (other than my family – my 2 favorite things). This week, as I thought about this revolutionary idea of truly seeing our differences and quirks as what makes us shine, I thought of the best gift I have ever received from a student. In my early teaching career, I was at a Title 1, high poverty school deep in the country of Union County, NC. It was Christmas time and my kids wanted to bring me presents. Some had parents who could afford the traditional gift card or tshotshkes. Others brought me items from the dollar store or homemade cards. All were appreciated and cherished. But one little girl, who was a struggling student and consistently unkempt, had really shown growth in my class. Quiet, focused, and hard working; she was drinking the Barberio Kool-aid of the growth mindset (way before I knew what that was). The last morning before break, she brought me an unwrapped box with ripped off labels and thrust it at me. She said loudly “DO NOT OPEN THIS UNTIL AFTER I GO HOME TODAY”. I was surprised by her volume since she was such a soft-spoken student normally. So I asked, “You don’t want me to open it with you?” Again, she said loudly “DO NOT OPEN THIS UNTIL AFTER I LEAVE..” So, I put my curiosity aside and taught for the last day before break (fun for everybody!!). When all the students had gone home and I was packing up my gifts, dirty coffee cups, and food containers to go home for the holiday break, I saw the box and immediately opened it. Inside, was a coffee mug shaped like a happy, little PANCREAS. The card inside made it clear this was a gift from the hospital to someone who had their pancreas operated on (I truly wonder what hospital staff thought that was a great parting gift!). I realized that someone in her family had received this and it had not been given away or sold. It was something odd that was probably shoved into the back of a cupboard where nobody cared about it. This sweet child, with nothing to give, desperately wanted to give ME a gift and took the one thing she had. I cried realizing my power to impact a child and vowed to keep my mind on this in the hard times as a teacher. It sits at the top of my coffee cup cupboard to remind me every time I run across it to treasure my students however they arrive. She saw me for all my flaws and loved me regardless and I hope she felt truly seen and loved by me.
This is a concept we have talked a lot about in our posts on Authentic Teaching. But, I want to change our focus from our students, to our teams of co-workers (PLC,PLT, Learning Community, whatever the popular name given to it is). Many of us get the idea of taking our students how they come and helping them grow. But, sometimes we do not give our co-workers that same grace. As I discussed in Banana Bread Bribery, you will not only need your team, but will be successful or not based on the tribe you create. I have been so fortunate to be on many amazing teams who have become life-long friends. However, I have also been on teams that required me to come to the table seeing the forest and CELEBRATING ALL OF OUR FLAWS. Here are the ways my teams have formed a true tribe of teachers willing to work as one to impact every child and each other.
- Be a Grown-Up – All of us have seen or been a part of grown people talking about people behind their back, gossiping, being jealous, being manipulative, or just being mean. Every time I find myself doing any of these things, I work to get myself back to being a grown up. You are a grown-up. You have a responsibility to model grown-up behavior for your students. So, treat your team mates – ALL OF THEM- with respect and kindness because you are a grown up. Forgive their mistakes and flaws because you are a grown up. Work with them not against them because you are a grown up. Let people run their own classroom because you are a grown up. Just commit to being a grown up as often as you can.
- Have the tough conversations – On the teams I have been on where we just did not all click or there was true conflict, we had tough conversations as a group to fix it. This is part of being a grown up. Tough Conversations involve getting everybody in the room, most likely without an administrator, and respectfully discussing the issues with everyone. Be willing to hear what you have done wrong and be open to apologizing and asking for forgiveness. Then, the group should make real rules for the team, that everyone agrees to. (I am NOT talking about norms!!)) For example, your group may decide rules like – We will discuss our frustrations ONLY with the person we are frustrated with or We will always back each other up with parents or We will agree to follow whatever the group decision is or agree to not make a group decision. Setting clear rules that everybody agrees to follow and then holding each other accountable to follow, can turn a tough team dynamic into a functioning one.
- Become the amoeba – My current team refers to ourselves as “The amoeba” (we have a true science lover on our team!!). I realized this name has fit every highly successful team I have been on. The amoeba concept is simple – every single kid on our grade level is “our kid”. We all work together to support the most challenging students, discipline students, and to hold grade level behavior expectations. This means anybody can talk to anybody’s students or class at anytime. It means we think outside the box on challenging kids to serve them together. Second, problems are solved as a unified front. We meet with parents with at least one other member of the team, we solve problems with schedules, administrative assignments, or intervention needs as a team. We cover for each other when times are tough. We basically move as one body to serve our students AND EACH OTHER.
- Learn the flaws, See the cause, and Love the beauty of the flaws – My team jokingly refers to me as needing extra support from other team members. I never have a pencil or paper, I am frequently running my mouth when I should stay quiet, and basically have a bazillion flaws. But I am absolutely and unequivocally loved and supported FOR this, because I have other real strengths that I bring to the table. The same goes for every member of my team. We truly care about each other and work to balance each other out. Sure, we get on each other’s nerves and have to apologize for overstepping our bounds or failing each other in some way, but we are committed to each other and to building each other up.
- Keep it in the family – Like the mafia, we keep it all in the family. This means, that when times are tough for somebody on our team or there is juicy gossip to be shared, we keep it quiet and within our group until that person wants it shared. A team I was on several years ago, went through an absolutely horrific time. Everybody wanted to “get in on that gossip”. We were like a bank vault for each other. We did not allow our team’s heartache, heartbreak, or sorrow to be fodder for the gossip mill. This concept helps create a safety zone in your team and build trust.
- Break Bread together – One of my favorite historical stories of the integration of schools in Charlotte in the late 1960’s was found at the Levine Museum of the New South, which has an unbelievable educator program that explains the segregation, integration, and re-segregation of Charlotte schools. There was a casserole dish hanging on the wall and the information plate explained that one year prior to integrating Charlotte schools, the heads of the PTA for both the African-American and White schools, got together and decided to set up dinners for both sets of families so people could get to know each other. The theory was, that people who break bread with each other, have a much more difficult time disliking each other. These women were credited with being a significant part of integration working in Charlotte. If this concept can work in a time of true trauma like the civil rights era, it can definitely work with your team. When you have a new team member, meet them for a meal first. Find times to get together for drinks, dinner, backyard BBQ’s, whatever floats your boat. Getting to know people as PEOPLE, makes it much easier to work with them and love them for their flaws. In that spirit, invite everybody to a potluck at your house, and make my very favorite cake – a Peanut Butter Chocolate Coca Cola Cake! Recipe below.
Bent, curved, a few holes in you, a section that has died off, whatever your flaws are….when you are truly SEEN as being amazing and beautiful both by others and by yourself…life becomes much more authentic and meaningful. Take the time to see the trees in the forest for what they are….beautiful and valuable in all their flawed grace.
Peanut Butter Coca Cola Cake
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 cups sugar
- 1 tsp. baking soda
- 1/2 tsp. cinnamon, ground
- 1 tsp. salt
- 1 can(s)coca-cola
- 1 cup butter,
- 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
- 2 eggs
- 1/2 cup buttermilk
- 1 Tbsp vanilla extract
- 1 cup mini marshmallows (optional)
- 1 cup chocolate and/or peanut butter chips (optional)
For the icing:
- 4 cups powdered sugar
- 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa
- 1/4 cup unsalted butter
- 1/4 cup peanut butter
- 1/2 to 3/4 can of coca cola
- 1/2 cup pecans, optional
- Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.
- In your stand mixer or in a large bowl place first 5 dry ingredients (flour, sugar, baking soda, cinnamon, salt) lightly stir these together with either a fork (my favorite mixing tool) or a few turns of the paddle on the stand mixer
- Get a good pot and place it on the stove. Take your butter and melt it in the pan. When butter is melted, stir in cocoa powder, can of coke (I use coke zero because that is what my husband drinks, but I have used regular coke and diet coke. DO NOT USE PEPSI BECAUSE THAT IS JUST YUCK…Okay, if you like pepsi… use it but I personally think it is against the laws of man and nature.) Whisk in the can of coke and cocoa powder. Bring this to a boil.
- Pour the hot mixture over your dry mixture and begin mixing slowly. Seriously….sloooowwwwwlllly…..hot butter/coke mixture is painful…or so I have heard.
- Take 2 eggs and lightly beat them in a small bowl or if you are lazy like me just dump them in and mix…
- Add in buttermilk and vanilla and mix
- Now – you have decisions to make. First, among coca cola cake connoisseurs this is grounds for war – mini-marshmallows or no mini-marshmallows. Mini-marshmallows make your cake extra, tooth hurting sweet – delicious. They also crisp up at the top of the cake giving a slightly “toasted marshmallow” flavor. Sometimes, I am in the mood for this…sometimes I am not. Decide what you like. Second, chocolate chips or peanut butter chips or both inside the batter? I generally choose chips OR mini-marshmallows. I like a 50/50 balance of chocolate and peanut butter chips if I have them…If not, just chocolate chips.
- Pour the batter (Don’t panic…this is a very liquidy batter) into a greased 13×9 inch rectangle pan and bake for 15 – 25 minutes until a toothpick comes out clean.
- Now for that icing…..Melt your butter and peanut butter in the same pan you used to melt the other ingredients for the cake. Why mess up 2 pans when that leftover will just make your icing tastier? Once they are melted, add in your coca cola, and cocoa powder and bring to a boil. Pour this over the 4 cups of powdered sugar (again – I use the same bowl or stand mixer bowl I used for the cake batter) and begin lightly mixing.
- Again – you have a decision to make…pecans IN the frosting or pecans ON TOP of the frosting? I do pecans ON TOP because my picky kids “Don’t like nuts in their dessert”. So, I only put nuts on half the cake…booooo…..You can also leave the pecans off all together. Another option is to put chocolate and/or peanut butter chips on top with or without the nuts. Really, the possibilities are endless!
- Finally, let that cake cool for around 45 minutes – 1 hour. It should still be slightly warm. Take the icing that has also cooled for that same amount of time and pour on top. Put any toppings on top of the icing. This is a very loose icing and is meant to drip down when you cut the warm cake…mmmmmmm NOT a buttercream frosting that stays in place.
- Now – don’t forget – you have invited everyone to your house for a potluck or you have convinced the co-worker whose kids are in college and not destroying their house daily to invite everyone over. Pull out that literally spectacular coca cola cake and make everyone love you a little more – because chocolate, peanut butter, caffeine – it’s like the angels are singing!