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!

Are We Hindering or Developing Resiliency?

Persistence, Resilience, and Grit…Oh My!

These words are talked about in education.  We continue to teach our students the importance of not giving up. Are you hearing these words in your head?

  • Keep going. You got this.  
  • Don’t let one hard thing stop you.  
  • It’s okay to fail, just try something else.
  • When things get hard, you can’t just stop and give up.
Guilty.  I have said these to my daughter in hopes of making her understand persistence and how hard work pays off.  But now that I think more about this, are we actually giving our students the chance to work through difficult problems on their own so that they develop these characteristics?
Providing our students with opportunities to work through difficult problems, struggle, and overcome them sometimes is hard for us as teachers.  I think that we, as teachers, need to model more examples ourselves of struggling through something and our ability to overcome the unexpected.  We need to talk about personal situations where this has happened to us.  Or can we recall these times?  
When I think about this personally, I began playing any sport I could at age four and continued through my freshman year at college.  I thrive on working hard and seeing this pay off at game time.  I have played the violin since I was ten years old. Music is a passion and part of me.   I have always loved being a student, learning, and getting As. (I can feel all the Standards Based Grading people cringing! I understand this now.)  
So, when I honestly ask myself, “Did I ever really put myself in a situation where it was difficult and I had to struggle to succeed?”  I think the answer is clear.  “Did I ever put myself in a position where I had to get back up after failing in front of my peers and try a different route to succeed?”   Not so much.  
Don’t get me wrong, I obviously had this happen at some point in my life or I wouldn’t be the resilient, persistent person I am today. I am just saying, I didn’t put myself in these situations.  We ask this of our students all too often.  We must think it is something they are born knowing how to do, yet if we really think about it….did WE take risks when we were young? If you did, what encouraged you to do so?  I imagine it was someone modeling for you.   We must show them how through examples.  As each year passes, I feel more comfortable doing this with my students because I see that this vulnerability empowers students to do the same.
I had one of those parent moments where your heart feels like it will burst and tears are in your eyes this past weekend when my daughter and I did the Monster Dash 5K together. Right before the race started rain began to come down, and we were in costumes! Not exactly my idea of fun, but you gotta make the most of it, right?!  She was visibly irritated with this and the amount of people crowded in.  It was her first race and she obviously had some expectations that I was unaware of.  I asked her if she wanted to go to the party barn and wait for the others, but no.  We started out, more rain came and it was so bunched up we couldn’t really run at first, so I continued to check in with her and by the third time I asked she looked at me and her answer says it all: 
“Mom, I came here to do this.  I did not get this number to just give up and not do it.” 
I was quite proud at that moment because it was another example of her persistence paying off.  Here I was trying to protect her from a difficult situation, when this is what she needed to develop her persistence, resilience, and grit!  I didn’t even realize I was doing this until reflecting later!!
The highlight of this moment was at the end, of course.  After awhile, an eight-year-old can get tired of running (AKA sprinting!), tired of being wet in the rain, and not want to do it anymore.  Being there beside her, constantly encouraging her one little step at a time, got us to the end and we met OUR GOAL time. It all was worth it seeing the HUGE smile on her face and when she turned to me and said, 
“Mom, I am so proud of myself I could burst!  I have never done anything like this before! I finished the whole thing.  I am so happy.”  

Just another moment to show me that allowing our children the chance to experience challenging situations really does build their confidence to succeed in life.
Here are a few pics I got by lagging behind just a little. 🙂
Capturing the moment.
Crossing the finish line and looking back.

So proud of the medal she received!

Holding Tight to the Things that Matter?

I am writing this for two reasons:
1.  My own purpose of expressing gratitude to my sweet families who have sent me texts, tweets, facebook posts, emails, called, pictures, and awesome notes of gratitude for being their child’s favorite teacher they will always remember and sharing why.
2.  Holding us accountable to hanging tight to those important things!

I write this not boastfully, but in humble appreciation.  These words/pics of kindness meant more to me these past 3 weeks than anyone will ever know.  (I actually wondered, did they conspire to do this because I literally got one every single day from someone different over the past 5 years!! I even got an email from a parent from 10 years ago! Little did they know the perfect timing!)

I think they knew this would be a tough start for me not seeing these babies.  I think they knew that my heart was thinking of their babies and hoping they had a great first few weeks of school. We all know once they are yours…they are yours!  I think they knew, just like I do, that when we take the time to express words of kindness it makes the world a better place.

It is just more evidence that teachers may never know how much they influence the life of a child, but if they are gifted the blessing to hear it years later….it still brings tears to their eyes and makes their day brighter!

Thank you, my loving families, for being so kind and showering me with love all the time. My job is to pay that forward. 🙂

I want to share a few pictures of these precious, loving kids that show what is important in my heart every year as I think about the gifts from above that I have been trusted with to keep safe and love all year!

3 Important Things:

1. Develop a safe, loving environment where my kids bond and feel safe taking risks.

Our 2 classes after Tug of War Truck Pull. No one argued or cried! They had fun and won/lost together. There was authentic encouragement, help, and good sportsmanship!
Just hanging out playing a simple hand-clap game.  They enjoy being together because they trust each other to be a friend and use our only rule – The Golden Rule.
This sweet bunch kicked off my first year digitally teaching years back!  Wow…was there ever safety and risk taking involved with them.  🙂 There are some special kids in my heart in this picture!

2. Develop relationships with my students and parents! Let them know and see my heart and for me to know and see theirs.

At Fall Festival hanging out with my babies, and finding them TOGETHER because they WANTED to be!

Found my precious Joker, whom I hold so dear in my heart, still and forever will! 🙂

3.  Develop a true love of learning in each student and have it carry on beyond my walls.

After studying ladybugs, my plan was to take it no further. However, my precious littles organized a ladybug burial (on their own), and even prepared speeches so that our little friends could have a proper ceremony.  Above and Beyond….but the lessons really stuck.
One of my families so close to me, because I had 3 of their 4 kids, saw this at a family trip and had to stand by it and send to me.  It melted my heart!  It’s those moments!  🙂

Then there are the moments of the MANY sweet notes, cards, pictures, etc. you get as a teacher – which we all know mean more to us than any monetary gift you can think of!!  This one, on a simple sticky note, is the one that says it all to me.  It says how important teachers are and how we need to be the voice for our kids.  Be the one who believes in them, so they can believe in themselves.

I mean come on, if she doesn’t get to be the Notre Dame Women’s Basketball Coach after this….then, I don’t know what!  I’m not quite sure what being like me means.  Hope she gets that coaching job!  🙂  Honestly, I can bank on it now.  This child WILL be that coach and I will have GREAT seats to a game that I love!!

So, as I reflect after 3 weeks of school on those 3 things that are key in my heart…I ask you to see if you are holding strong to the things that matter?  Are you taking the time to build the relationships with not only your kids, but their parents?  Are you taking the time to make sure each child has a friend and feels safe?  All of that must come first before any learning begins.  Now that I have expressed all my gratitude…..let’s go and Be THE champion in the lives of these children!

Important Lessons From A Coach

Are we raising our kids to win at all costs?  Or are we teaching them to value the importance of teamwork? Do we realize how our words and actions influence our kids way beyond right now?

Photos courtesy of Tony DeBellis.

As I watched my daughter play her first soccer game of the season on Saturday, I was able to see this clearly.  As always, my mind connects it to education. 
To give you a brief background, my daughter decided one day she was going to play soccer.  Please know, I have played every single sport growing up, except soccer!  Not my thing.  She began playing a year ago, and we soon fell in love.  Not so much with the sport, but I realized it was the coach and team.  My not-so-fond-of soccer attitude stemmed from a few things.  For one, I didn’t have a clue about the rules. The bigger issue I had with soccer was that I completely disagreed with the offsides rule! In my opinion, as a basketball player, you need to hustle back to protect your goal. I know, I could be missing the point completely, but my daughter loved this game so I needed to get past that.   
My sweet girl running to me after the game so happy. You see, she LOVES the game!
Her coach, Coach Doug, is one of those incredible people who values teaching kids the important things in life.  The importance of sportsmanship, respect, fun, compassion, confidence in trying things, and how hard work will pay off.  After watching the first practice, I told my husband, “This guy is a great teacher!”  
He is patient.  He pushes them to be their best.  He values their input.  He asks the kids to tell him when they feel like they have a strength in a position and want to give it a try.  He instills his energy and passion into these young girls.  Most importantly, I have seen him intentionally put them in positions to see their hard work pay off.  Even if it meant they ended up losing the game.  Don’t get me wrong, he never intended or wanted to lose.  (No one wants that!)  He made this intentional decision knowing it was important that they saw their hard work from practice pay off!  This is what would drive them forward as a team.  Why?  Trust.  They trusted Coach Doug.  
You can guarantee it paid off.  Maybe not by winning that game, but as they continued on they took those opportunities to have faith in what they knew was right.  I can promise you, THIS is what keeps my daughter coming back each season!  He is a man of admirable character and it is influencing these young girls more than they know!  Someday they will, and they will go back to thank him.  
This is our group of happy girls before the game.  Can you see how much they love each other and playing?
On Saturday, we were amazed at how much the girls had grown since last season. We were amazed at how awesome their new uniform colors looked.  I mean, come on, fashion still matters. 🙂  However, the most amazing thing we saw was something that took looking a little deeper to see.  It was the way these girls performed on the field like a team that knew the importance of teamwork.  No one wanted to be “the star.”  They wanted to pass to their teammates when it made sense.  They celebrated each other’s successes.  They had FUN! They showed compassion for the other team.  They were allowed to try different positions on the field, as Coach doesn’t want to run up the score on any team.  This team wanted to win, but, win together as a TEAM. And they did.
Celebrating each other!
The “teacher” watching the “students” drive their own learning. 🙂
So, as I sat there once again thinking, Wow, what a great coach!  He is such an incredible teacher of many things for these girls – my mind connected this to education.
Isn’t this what we desire in our classrooms?  
  • Kids that collaborate and work together so all kids are successful.  
  • Kids that sacrifice being the star, so that as a group they all contribute to the win.  
  • Kids that encourage and build each other up.  
  • Kids that have input in the learning.  
  • Kids that have a voice and can tell you their strengths and can also identify their weaknesses
  • Kids that understand how to use their weaknesses and are able to work with others to set goals to develop them.  
  • Mindsets from both kids and teachers that allow for success and positivity in the classroom!

You better believe it is! Coach Doug shows this as the Teacher to his soccer students in every way that I strive to show as the Teacher in my classroom with my Students.
My mother repeatedly tells me that teachers and coaches have an incredible impact on the lives of every child they encounter.  She is right.  Children look up to their teachers and coaches.  Every word that is spoken to a child will forever be etched in their hearts.  I feel so blessed that my daughter has Coach Doug as the coach in her life etching positive words into her heart and building up her self-confidence.  
One of my favorite pictures from the day!  Read the caption to see why. 🙂
This mama wearing the “Soccer Mom” hat her daughter picked out for her!
Guess this shows that I am starting to love the game. 🙂