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!!

Who Will You Empower Today?

I was discussing “education things” today with someone and found myself telling the WHY behind what fuels the passion behind my mission.  The WHY behind WHAT drives me.  You can’t tell that I just finished reading Start With Why by Simon Sinek, can you!? 🙂

Before the word empower even left my mouth, I felt the need to explain what I meant.  I felt like it was so cliche.  I felt like it is a word that is being thrown around so much lately, and with that people can take it many different ways to mean different things.  Yet, this is genuinely how I feel so I wanted to be really clear.  I want to empower others – at all levels.

So I began thinking what does the word empower really mean and did what anyone else would do.  I Googled it!

EMPOWER:
1. to give power or authority to; authorize, especially by legal or official means
2. to enable or permit

I look at this and think it sounds more like a “boss” giving someone permission.  This is not how I view empowering others.  My thoughts align with George Couros’s thoughts in Chapter 6 of The Innovator’s Mindset.  I created an acrostic, using the fabulous resource Buncee, to show what empower means to me.

There are so many empowering leaders out there! Teachers empowering students, students empowering other students, and teachers empowering other teachers!  When we do this, amazing things happen in education.

I want to give a big shout out to 3 people who have empowered me educationally in some way this year.  If you don’t already follow them and learn from them on Twitter, you need to now! 🙂

George Couros

David Kinney

Matt Arend

Whether they see potential in me and give me confidence to see it in myself, give encouragement and inspire me, challenge me to continue learning and growing, or ask me the hard questions to keep the why in focus – I THANK THEM for making me better.   I thank them for pushing me to the edge of my comfort zone so that I can be a better educator.

Everyone needs someone to empower them to be better!

Who will you empower today?