Don’t Take It Personal

We have been in full swing of crazy here.  Anyone else feel like that?  These are the months that are full of activities, long days, early mornings, and busy weekends.  However, somehow we make it through.  I think the exciting holiday talk, decorations, days off with family and friends, and overall spirit takes over and gives us the strength.

This isn’t a lengthy blog, but me simply getting my feelings out about something on my mind right now.  There is one thing I always try to keep in mind when these months arrive each year, but I will admit that it is much easier said than done. Especially when we are extra tired and sensitive.

This quote right here:

In a recent tweet by an inspiring educator, David Geurin, he said “Reminder: A student’s behavior usually says far more about what they are going through than what they are trying to put you through.”

 I appreciated this little tweet more than he knew that day.  I believe this to my very core and I’m grateful for quotes to remind me to check in with myself.  Sometimes I take a behavior personally before pausing and asking myself if I am calming them or joining their chaos.  We are all human, right?Chances are, this has nothing to do with me and everything to do with what is going on in their little world – and in most teenager’s worlds at the moment the littlest thing is HUGE!  I get it. We were all there.
During these next few weeks (and every week) I plan to pause and check in with the things they are NOT saying that speak loudly.  Check in with the behaviors that are crying out in the not so obvious way.  I hope to do this not only with my students but with my family as well.  I hope to bring calm and not join in the chaos.

Checking In With Feelings Using Emojis

You hear teachers say all the time that they think of things spur of the moment or their best reflections and lesson ideas come while in the shower or driving in the car.  It’s true!  One morning I was sitting at the breakfast table thinking about how to integrate lessons about character and the social-emotional aspect into my lessons. This is when the comment a student made echoed in my head.

He asked, “Can we talk about our feelings again?”

I guess I was unintentionally checking in with their feelings before we started each lesson.  I know that if children come in hungry, sad, nervous, tired… not much learning will happen.  This is not much different with teenage children!  They want to share their feelings of heartbreak, feeling sick, frustration, who they are crushing on (you would be surprised!), nervous about a test, how tired they are, and so much more.  It made me think about what we had been doing. So like I try to do with everything, I asked them if they liked that. Overwhelmingly, the response was YES!

This is how the Emoji Check In was born in room 217.

It is nothing fancy, but they love it!  They sign in the attendance folder and then check in, using an expo marker, with how they are feeling at that moment.  While I pull up Skyward to log in and take the attendance we have a quick class discussion about how we are feeling.

They appreciate that I want to know if they are nervous or if they are not feeling well.  I told them that if I know these things then I can have a better understanding why they are not acting like they normally do.  I understand life is hard sometimes and I want to empathize, as well as celebrate when great things happen!  The kids LOVE celebrating each other’s celebrations in life, school, or just fun things that happen.  Not only does this model empathy, but it has built class community and trust amongst each other where each week more and more kids are comfortable sharing.  I continue to ask them if we need to change things, but so far this is not one of those things!  I have discovered they want to share all the happy, scary, and funny things that go on.  Getting these off our chests before we begin learning has made a big difference in our classroom.  They want to share.  We just need to ask and listen.

Student Voice: A series focused on Social Emotional needs in the classroom

There is something about Saturday mornings that gets me so giddy.  I think it is the opportunity to sit down with my coffee, refreshed on sleep so that I have the ability to think clearly and reflect.

I have been engaged in a sort of “passion project” of my own these days.  It started as just doing what I do in my classroom, and that is getting to know my students.  As a huge advocate of Student Voice, I ask input on a consistent basis regarding lessons, methods, efficiency in workflow, choice of lesson design, seating choices, music for background, etc.  As I began doing this with my seventh-graders this year, I noticed that much of what I was needing to know was centered on the social and emotional wellbeing of the child.  The Whole Child.  The Adolescent Whole Child, which is another whole ballgame.

I thought, hmmm…I might look into this further.  The reason is simple.  Academics are important.  We know students learn more and best when they feel like they have a relationship with the teacher.  We know relationships are built intentionally and take time and effort. We also know that even if you spend the time and effort, building relationships will not happen if we are not super aware of the social and emotional needs of our children that directly affect behavior.  So, in my opinion, this is where it all starts.

If I am going to reflect and go through this journey of really digging into the behavioral aspect of Student Voice in the classroom, I want to reflect about it through writing a series of posts. Hopefully, this will spark conversations about the social and emotional behaviors and how important they are to teaching and modeling these for our children.  If we all share what we know is best, we learn more and we all benefit!  Hope you will share your thoughts with me.

Listening Well To Youth Is A Mindset

I read this quote on the Learning Forward website awhile back and it continues to stick in my mind.

Student Voice is something more and more people are talking about now.

What does it look like?

Do you really just let the students decide?

What if they say something that is not nice?

Just like many teachers, I know that I began doing this years ago, we just never gave it a title.  We thought it was just great teaching because you wanted to do whatever you could to engage your students and let them know you care about them.  I guess this is why the quote sticks with me. Asking my students how I can make a lesson better or seeking input for my own growth has always just been my mindset.  The only difference is it increases and stretches with each year that passes.

This past week after a long, exhausting day full of nonstop activities on my feet, I sat down and thought to myself, “I am so completely exhausted! I just want to cry, lay in bed and sleep until the weekend. I just don’t know how I can finish this work I have and get up early.” (It was one of those hard days where you are too tired to even eat dinner!)  Then it hit me.  These kids are in my same boat, except they have so many new things being fired at them academically, new rules, new social circles, and lots of extra-curricular activities.  I want to know how many of them get up before 6:00am for athletics practice.  I want to know if they eat breakfast.  This will give me a glimpse as to why certain behaviors (positive and negative) are showing up.

I battled with how to ask them because I know that a Google survey is what they see most often and I am trying so hard not to use it, but in this instance, with 150 students and info that I wanted to look at by class, it was the most efficient.

Let me tell y’all, what I got back was more than I could have ever imagined and I was blown away at their honesty and feedback to help me guide instruction and management.  It was interesting how completely different each class period was! I could not make this stuff up, friends.

Not only did I ask when they got home from activities at night, when they normally went to sleep, and things like that which effect their academic learning.  I asked them to tell me how they would like to be rewarded, how they want to move forward with this next unit, and where they want to sit so they can learn best. I wanted them to know I understand sometimes we like to work alone. Sometimes we like groups and sometimes we like partners.  I was going to let them do it whatever way they chose because what is important is the learning, not forcing people to work together. It definitely made a bunch of shy, type A students smile! 🙂

Below is a visual of a few things asked.  Without even knowing I gained insight into their Love Language (if you are familiar with that) by the responses I got! Bonus!

What I love from this is that the next day I showed them the visuals and talked through what the class chose.  I said, “The people have spoken.”  I did not show any info that was sensitive so they will continue to trust me when I ask.  They were in awe of the pie charts and data.  We all loved it! (I might be a little nerdy over data!)

As I read through their responses as to how they know I care, they revealed clearly what is important: “You ask us and listen, like this survey. You want to make us own our learning.  You care and want to give us the best so we can learn by asking us to tell you. You ask us how we are doing, and about our day. You check on us to see if we need help. You smile at us. You let us choose our seats and have a snack.”

So yes, there was great data revealed around their learning needs from this survey that was extremely helpful.  However, the sparkling, bright light shined completely on RELATIONSHIPS!!  ASKING them and DOING it!

That is key when you think about Student Voice.  There is not a certain way it must be done because each class needs different options, but there is one rule.  If you ASK them and they take the time to respond, you MUST act on it, one way or another.  Even if that means saying, “You know, I heard your idea, but here is why we cannot do this. Is there another way?”

When we stop to listen to our students, their words speak so loudly and give us such a deeper look into their little lives and what they crave. It almost always gives me a new perspective about my students.  I seek to understand first before I even try to be understood.  For the teens I teach, I could not spend enough time asking their input because it is soo important to them to feel like they matter!  So this survey provided me with so many incredible things to take and put into action for each class period.  It makes my heart overflow when I see them smile because I honor their individuality or hear them say, “She said she would do it and she did.” You cannot pay enough money to hear that being said, because that means you have their trust.  When trust is there, you can move mountains!

I continue to try to push myself to ask for my students’ input, even if what I am asking may have an answer I do not want to hear or it is out of my comfort zone.  I know this is the time when we will all grow the most!

Learning To Honor the Space Between

What a thought!  This spoke so loudly to me this week.  Going back into the classroom to teach 7th-grade Pre-AP English, Language Acquisition, and Literacy Achievement might be the hardest thing I have done in awhile! Behind every reason that I asked for and wanted this challenge, is every fear and emotion that do not always feel so good.

You see, I am a Learner.  My top strength on the strengths finder assessment was Learner.  It is in my nature to soak everything up and try anything new.  I love finding different ways to meet the needs of my students and I am always looking for new things to learn.  This is why when my heart felt led to middle school I said to myself, let’s do this!

One thing I was not expecting was how much the move from elementary to middle school would change my comfort level I had based on experience and knowledge. So, I will honor the space between no longer having the luxury of feeling ahead of the game and at ease with where I am headed because I have done it before.  NOT YET!  It is taking me time and extra effort to learn the content, learn how I want to share it and make it my own, and to large groups of 12 and 13-year olds who will receive it with excitement. 🙂

So, like the quote above states, “Between No Longer and Not Yet” because soon it will come. Soon I will feel that comfort, but the growth I sought from this change is my WHY!

I wanted to grow.  I am growing like I never imagined.  Each day I learn so many new things about how middle school systems function, all about the social and emotional needs of teenagers, and why I have absolutely fallen in love with this position!  It is uncomfortable not understanding everything easily and knowing right off the bat.  It is sometimes awkward trying to find my place of comfort in each day and squeeze in those important moments to build relationships with the 150 teens that whirl in and out of my classroom. But, I could not be happier doing this and alongside the most supportive administration and staff around!

My words to anyone who is thinking of completely changing up what they are doing but they are scared…..take the leap!  Make the jump!  I have never grown more than I have in just the last month. And I LOVE IT!

How Middle School Cheer Camp Empowered Me

August is always like January for teachers.  It is a fresh start.  I like to set new goals, organize my new planner, and really gear up for the best school year ever!  I am always ready and excited and for a few reasons:

  • This is my calling.
  • I have done it awhile.
  • I know my WHY and see the benefits.
  • I am successful.
  • I enjoy everything about it.

So, this year I did what anyone who has taught 17 years would do, completely change it up!!  I jumped head first into the “secondary world” and I will be teaching 7th-grade PreAP English and coaching 7th-grade cheer!

My first new learning began last week as I spent four days with my cheerleaders at cheer camp.  Not only was this the most AMAZING thing ever because it allowed me to start building great relationships (the most important thing to me), but it helped ME ease into feeling comfortable with this age.  This first-grade teacher was a little nervous, but you know what……it was awesome!  12 & 13-year-olds are really just bigger 6-year-olds!  They all want to be loved and accepted!  It warmed my heart to spend time with these young ladies seeing all the great things that lie ahead for us.  But I have to say, it was the scariest thing I have done in awhile.  Baptism by fire they say, right?  I did not know the lingo, vocab, expectations, routines, and the why behind any of this as I headed out Friday.  By Monday afternoon, with a HUGE thanks to Pav, Chapa and these girls, I felt confident in this new fun and was even sad to say goodbye for a few weeks!  They coached me, were patient with me, guided me, loved on me, and trusted me.  They had patience with me as I was learning and were incredible!!!  THAT is why I did not shut down and developed the confidence in myself, something our kids need to experience. (I will share my motto once again….if you just love them and show you care, anything is possible!)

The precious 7th & 8th CMS Colt Cheerleaders!

The second new learning came at the two-day Springboard training this week.  I have taught reading and ELA for 17 years to grades K-6.  I have a master’s degree as a reading specialist.  I have done this and taught so many children how to grow as a reader, but y’all….teaching PreAP English is NOTHING like this.  I felt like a first-year teacher sitting through this training and learning the art of my content area.  This post isn’t to talk about the new “challenge” and learning that I will be taking on this year. I cannot describe my excitement about this.  I feel like every time I talk to someone about it I am smiling ear to ear.

I want to address the feeling I had the past two weeks while learning new things in a new environment.   I was overwhelmed.  I teared up at times.  I had to walk away because I was afraid I couldn’t hold it together in front of everyone.  I was scared. I was asked a question that I did not know the answer to.  I had to say out loud, “I have no idea.”  While I am someone who asks a million questions and rarely gets embarrassed about this, it still was a little embarrassing. I was shy.  Y’all, this is not me!  (Well, the me in her comfort zone!)

All that ran through my mind was – oh my goodness, these kids!  THIS is what new and scary feels like.  While so extremely exciting on one hand, it is so foreign to someone who has been in her comfort zone and is reaching outside of it.

Don’t we have kids that come to us new to the environment?  New to the state?  Country?  Maybe they have so many things going on in their minds from home that they are unable to focus on the writing lesson we ask of them.  They may not have someone who tells them WHY they are learning things, so they do not connect or see the meaning.  While in the deepest parts of our sweet hearts we think we are conscious of this, we sometimes get caught up in only thinking of what we need to teach these academically in order for them to be successful.  While it is true we do, it is also true that the greatest lessons we can teach them are life lessons. How to be patient.  How to be kind.  How to love one another.  How to trust and be trusted.  How to be responsible. How to be a good person.  They are looking to us to model this for them.  How else will they learn how to help someone who is learning something new or cheer someone on when they are learning something new?

I am grateful I learned these lessons from my parents, my teachers, my coaches, my friends, and that I can continue learning these lessons from my colleagues and students.

As we start this new school year, my new fresh start and focus will be to really observe what cannot be seen.  Having felt this feeling so strongly the past week has given me heightened empathy.  I am so grateful for this chosen new journey and hope my students learn from me how to show empathy and compassion.  The 2017-2018 school year is going to be a GREAT ONE!!

My Heart Can Hold Them ALL!

April came and went…no blog.  May is almost over….what have I been doing for the past few months!?  Let me tell you.

It is no secret that the end of the school year is full of responsibilities, meetings, events, awards, planning, and everything else.  So, here I am tonight writing about something heavy on my heart because writing helps me work through things.   I have been struggling through something that I know many teachers who have left the classroom feel constantly.  It is a normal thing when you start having students and parents express their gratitude at the end of the year.  Every year I cry like a baby at the end of the year because I can’t imagine my kids leaving me.  They are MY kids.  Always.  
This past month has been an emotional one, but especially the past few weeks because of the different situations in my life.
The first one: I attended the high school graduation of a student I had in first grade and then looped up to second grade with.  Spending two years with your students makes for a tough release. 🙂  I was thrilled when I was invited to drive to Oklahoma for this graduation and see him graduate Valedictorian and all the honors he received.  We were able to talk about fun times in my class and he told me things he remembered about me and my class.
The second one: I switched schools this year and so all of my babies are not here at this school. However, just the other day the Dove Dynamic Drummers came to my new school to perform.  It was a reunion of kids and families I had!  When I saw my kids and parents with tears in their eyes, I knew it was going to kill me…but I kept it together.  I hugged them so tightly and we caught up on things going on.  I held it together pretty well, until they walked out the door. I walked back to my room and broke down.

The third one: I drove back up to Oklahoma to attend two more graduations of students of honors and Valedictorians from that same 1st/2nd grade loop class. (You know, it would be too easy to have them all graduate from the same HS!)  Not only did I attend the graduations, but I was able to attend their family functions and parties to be able to have face time catching up.  Like the first trip, we all laughed about things and they retold stories about what they remembered about my class and how much I meant to them.  I felt incredibly old sitting there with these little adults now!  These kiddos are my babies (still) and their families are family to me.  I wouldn’t have it any other way.

All of that makes this an extremely emotional end of year!!  I don’t even want to go into the fact MY own child is completing another school year, making her grow up even faster.  She’s my baby.  The only one.

So with all that being said, I try to think about the blessings through all these tears – tears of happiness, tears of sadness, and tears of pride and joy!  I remind myself that THIS is why my heart and decisions are always centered around relationships.

Building RELATIONSHIPS.
Nurturing RELATIONSHIPS.
Growing RELATIONSHIPS.
Keeping RELATIONSHIPS.
This is my number one focus.  When all of my students tell me what they remember are things like: how I loved them, how I told them everyday I loved them and we are family, how we hugged every morning when they came in and afternoon before leaving, how we cried when I told them I was not teaching them in 3rd, how they had fun in my class, how it was always fair in my class (funny, given we know life isn’t always fair!), how we danced and sang and it made them feel better…..I know I am focusing on the right things and glad I have made that impact!  I know they learned and it was BECAUSE we had that relationship first.  
I am so proud of all of my babies….past, present, and future!  I hope they know they will always hold a special place in my heart.  There truly is room for them all!! 🙂
Cherish these last days with your babies!

#TCEA16 – It’s About the People

Day 2 complete for this TCEA first-timer….WOW, what an experience!  I was so excited about all the learning I would be tweeting to my campus and PLN back home.  I even prepared them for nonstop tweets of learning.  Well…let’s just say, I couldn’t even begin to tweet my learning because I needed serious time to reflect on it all first. 🙂

Getting to meet people I have conversed with across Twitter for awhile now was the best way to kick off the week!  I have participated in chats with @VealHeidi for awhile now.  She always has such a positive message to share.  Getting to meet, hang out, and learn with/from her was even better. She is so super sweet!!

At the end of the very last session from today’s Leadership Academy Heidi asked me, “How was your day? What was your favorite session?”  I am pretty sure I did not hesitate to say that the absolute BEST part of my day and best learning came from sitting down and talking with @matthew_arend between sessions. My list-making self had scribbled some questions down during his presentation that I wanted to ask him.  The thing about being around passionate, like-minded educators is that they are always willing to share!  I walked up to him and said, “Hey, I need to chat you up about some things.”  He was like, “Okay.”

Later that day, I thought about it and yes, the sessions and academies were really fantastic!  Awesome people sharing great things-some of which I knew, some of which I did not know.  However, getting that face to face connecting time with people, questioning, sharing ideas of how it works at their campus, and just plain getting to know one another better was where my best learning came from!!

THAT is what it is all about! The people.  That is what it always comes down to with me when I reflect on many of my learning situations.  Relationships. Connect – which just so happens to be my #oneword2016 🙂

So, these pictures represent the WHY I love TCEA so far!  I was blessed with time to get to know these AMAZING educators even more! I mean, seriously, can it get any better than that?! What I have learned from them is what has made these first few days incredible! Looking forward to the rest of the week.  Can’t wait to see what else I learn that I can share with my campus!

Top Row:  @VealHeidi  @lackeymartha  @shareski  
Middle Row: @matthew_arrend   @tinaberumen
Bottom Row:  @R_H_Steele  @techwnancy  @Tom_Kilgore @E_Sheninger

One Might Call It Luck – I Call It Hard Work

As January 1st came and went, for some reason, I suddenly realized I just didn’t understand the southern black eyed pea tradition. I wanted to know more about this tradition of eating black eyed peas on New Year’s Day for good luck. You see, I have grown up in Texas my entire life with parents “from the north,” and this was just not something we did. But ALL my friends did.

When I googled “the meaning of eating black eyed peas on New Year’s Day for good luck,” I got a LONG list of how this southern tradition originated.  Very interesting, actually.  If you have time, go read about it.  Basically, the idea is to eat these things for good luck – black eyed peas represent coins, greens represent money, and cornbread represents gold.

The crazy thing is that I have never eaten black eyed peas on New Year’s Day and I do not plan to start now.  Here is why:

I might be a little crazy, but I always seem to find a way that education ties to everything!  I know it seems silly to connect this with the black eyed peas tradition, but sometimes life’s daily things make a deeper connection than we expect!

When I look a little deeper I find that luck really is one of two things: destiny and when our hard work meets opportunity.

**It’s when we work hard to prepare the best differentiated lessons for our students in hopes to inspire the love of learning in one hard to reach child, and we see that one little child thrive from this.  The opportunity was right and we were prepared.

**It’s when we work hard to be a positive, supportive leader.  We are the listener all the time, and it pays off when you gain the trust and respect from your fellow coworkers.

**It’s when we work hard to be courageous and try something new in our classrooms.  When we see a child who struggles to learn a concept one way, completely master the concept in another way because we tried something new….that’s opportunity meeting hard work!

**It’s when we work hard to communicate with parents and keep positive intent to strengthen the home to school relationships.  It’s seeing all the hours of emails, phone calls, and meetings pay off with happy, strong parent-teacher-student relationships!

Call it luck or whatever you will.  I believe we are destined to do awesome things if we work hard.  My faith and hard work is what I hold tight to in 2016 – in every area of my life.

I do not think black eyed peas will give me good luck and financial success for the rest of the year.  I KNOW my hard work will push me to reach my goals, whatever they may be!

Happy 2016! May you be blessed with dedication and determination to reach your goals!
(And if you happened to have eaten black eyed peas for good luck…it’s okay, you can still work hard to reach your goals!)  🙂

I Will Truly CONNECT – My #OneWord2016

One can really smile when they experience those few moments in life when that feeling of everything syncing in perfect harmony happens.  I slept peacefully last night because of this Zen moment. 🙂

When Jon Gordon sent a tweet about finding your One Word instead of New Year’s resolutions I thought, I can do that!  I love January 1st.  I love the new, fresh start feeling I get every year. Side note: I also get this feeling in August when school starts. 🙂 I will completely support setting ourselves up for success for once, right!?

And so began the contemplating about what my one word will be. I ran through a million of them: Patience, Intentional, Focused, Peace, Positivity, Loving, Listen, Supportive…..and then it hit me! (Well, really it was more like three nudges within a day’s time!)

I participated in a chat awhile back where people were talking about LaVonna Roth’s Ignite Your S.H.I.N.E. bracelets.  I LOVE the amazing meaning behind them.  I went online yesterday morning and purchased two, one for my daughter and one for myself.  What really stuck with me was the idea that the spoke represents

Later that afternoon I was talking with my mom and she asked about a childhood friend that lives in my area. I gave her a brief, “She is good.  We haven’t really seen each other in forever.”  Then I thought…Really, we haven’t talked in months, but according to FB she seems good.  My mom said, “That’s okay, honey.  That is how life goes.  It doesn’t mean that your friendship is not there still, it just means life gets in the way sometimes.”  So true. But there was this nagging question inside me wondering, does it really have to be like this? Have I really done my part in making time and taking that extra step?  As I began thinking about this on the way home from yoga I said to myself, “I really want to connect more with her this year.”

(One might think it would have hit me by these two things, but it took one more nudge!)

As we sat down for our family D.E.A.R. that night, I picked up a new book called The Zen Teacher by Dan Tricarico.  The first two chapters discussed being in that Zen moment, that “zone” that we all have had and we feel awesome when we find it! He tells us we can intentionally create that Zen moment for ourselves. I have highlighted many parts in this book so far, but the big one that stuck last night was this:

That’s when I felt it!  CONNECT.  Everything goes back to Connecting.  I already know relationships are the heart of everything!  I focus so much of my energy on building relationships with my students and their families because it is important to me.  I strongly feel THIS is what makes my classroom community so special!

The deciding nudge to name my word came from the next question I asked myself,  “Have I focused this much energy on continuing to develop new friendships and connect with ones I already have?
Maybe friends I have lost touch with? My own family members? My coworkers? 

The scary truth and answer that hit me hard was, No.  I think sometimes we work so hard to make those connections with new situations (students, families, communities, coworkers, etc.) that we do not realize the importance of continuing to truly connect with the ones we already have.

To truly CONNECT with someone you must be present, mindful, intentional, deliberate, and all of those other words that were in the front running for my #OneWord2016.  There are many ways this can happen, and they differ for each person.

A few of my ways will be:
1. Stop what I am doing to make eye contact every time someone is speaking to me.
    (That’s a hard one for this multi-task queen.)
2. Reach out and make the extra effort – because it matters.
3. Make someone smile everyday.

Go CONNECT and continue to build those relationships!