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!!

Through The Eyes Of A Child

Yesterday was World Read Aloud Day. I am sure that like me, you saw Social Media loaded up with tons of pictures of kids, authors, teachers, grandparents, principals (Thank you, Mr. Kinney), and even superintendents reading to children! 🙂 (Thanks, Dr. Ryan!) What an amazing day it was! We owe it to our children to read them stories that interest them, use the funny voices, and make it exciting.

My principal friend, Matthew Arend, reached out on Twitter for people to connect with his school and discuss The Most Magnificent Thing. You can read about this awesome experience here.  We were able to connect 7 classes from O.C. Taylor and a few more even have plans to do so this Friday!!  So many very cool things happened.

Here are some of the things we learned:
1. Plano is NOT in another country.
2. They like to read and we do too!
3. We read the same exact book and got to talk about it!
4. We brainstormed Magnificent Adjectives for a richer vocabulary.
5. Both schools had kids who want to be professional soccer players!
6. Both schools set goals!
7. Both schools reflected on their learning!
8. We HAVE to do this again!!
9. We, as teachers, felt like we made new friends. Instant connections with like-minded people. (Just think, we are only down the road from each other and all it took was reaching out to say, “Hey, want to talk about a book?”)

As wonderful as it was seeing all the people read aloud, discuss books, and knowing that our children are blessed with this every single day, what stood out to me was something else.

It was the look of absolute amazement on the faces of the children simply from connecting with other kids less than hour away!  This small thing amazed them! Do you know how much time that took on the teacher’s part?  Not very much.  Do you know how much meaningful learning happened in the short amount of time?  A bunch!

I was lucky to guide a 3rd grade class, and be part of a 1st grade class during their Google Hangout.  During the hangout with the 1st graders, they had a group of “tweeters” who were responding to Q1/A1 format questions. FIRST GRADERS, friends!  This can happen.  They had clearly been guided and practiced with their amazing teacher, Mrs. Tiffani Griffard!

On the side screen I had Tweetdeck open with our school hashtag, WRAD hashtag, and the other school’s hashtag where the responses were going. I thought I would sit by them while they typed and just be there to help, if needed.  Well, let me tell you….was not needed, nor did they want my help!  Then, I showed them the screen when their tweet went live.  Oh. My. Goodness.  The smiles spread across their faces like they had just met a superhero!  They were so proud and so amazed!  THAT….was my favorite part. THAT is why I love what I do. Seeing children get so excited about learning and the possibilities.

It really shows that something we may not think twice about (connecting w/Google Hangout, blogging with other classes, tweeting responses) can excite these kids and make learning more meaningful for them!  They need to be connected learners, just like we do!

I am most excited about the fact that my special friends who reached out and did this with their classes, whether or not they had done this before in some way, have ALL expressed interest in continuing this.  Some even have teammates who didn’t get to do it, but have said they want a class as well!! For me, that makes my heart scream with happiness because that means more kids will engage in meaningful learning!  More kids will CONNECT to inspire and be inspired!

Connecting kids, Building Relationships, Creating Friendships….one day at a time.

Put yourself out there. Take the risk.  Try it. You won’t want to stop, I promise!

Learning to the Point of Exhaustion

As I sit here tonight trying to put together a way to share what I learned at TCEA this past week, I cannot.  I feel pure exhaustion.  Let me add this is the kind of exhaustion, like I know every woman can relate to, that brings you to tears! 🙂

To be quite honest, I have so many things swirling in my head and not the first clue as to how to organize all of this into something coherent, but I will figure it out soon.  I have to.  It is causing me to feel a little anxious because I want to do so many things!

**I want to share all these awesome resources.
**I am charged up and want to empower my students and fellow teachers.
**I want every educator I know that didn’t get to attend TCEA to learn about all the amazing resources that I did and use them in their classrooms!
**I have more determination to make an even bigger difference than I did the day I arrived at TCEA. (If that is even possible!)

I know, I know…I hear my veteran TCEA going friends and people in the education world that have been doing this for years thinking, “Amateur.  We have all done this and felt like this…years ago. It will not be as overwhelming each year.”

This is where I have to disagree. Whether this is your first TCEA experience or your fifth TCEA experience, you have to agree with me that attending a large conference of passionate, forward-thinking, like-minded educators leaves you feeling completely changed as an educator.  Talking with many of these veterans, they say this is why they come back every year. And isn’t that something we all crave? We need a place to recharge and find inspiration in others.  This is why building a PLN is so important. (This is a completely different blog coming soon!)  I cannot tell you enough what spending a week with positive, inspiring educators that challenge my thinking and push me has done for my professional and personal growth!!  

So…I will sign off tonight with this apology.  I apologize for not being able to write this amazing blog about many of the tools I learned.  I apologize for not giving any cool apps to use.  I apologize for not giving links to the sites that help make your Google use so efficient. Don’t worry, I will share things out little by little as I go back through them!

What I will not apologize for is continuing to talk about the importance of relationships and being a connected educator!!  I will leave you with this: You MUST use Twitter for Professional Learning and attend a conference like this!!  I know I will not miss one from here on out. It is where I find and connect with my people.  It is where I am inspired. It is where I am challenged.  It is where I question deeply and wonder just how much I can push myself.  And to think….it all started with Twitter. 🙂

#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!