Finding Inspiration…

Find your flame and keep it lit! ~ Michelle Obama

As we venture into the second semester, many of us are fatigued because of the months of heavy lifting we’ve done to get our little ones to this point.  The heavy lifting is not yet over, but we will begin to reap the benefits of all of our hard work in due time! This is the most exciting and essential part of our journey as educators.

When I read the quote, I immediately thought about our jobs as educators and the various ways that we inspire our students.  We encourage them to read books that interest them, join clubs that seem exciting or even explore professional aspirations that inspire them.  That is their flame.  We continuously light their flames, but what inspires you as educators?

As you walk into the final month of the year and the last few weeks of the semester, I encourage you to “find your flame” as well!  Whatever you have to do, work really hard to “keep it lit”.  You deserve it, and so do your students!

Work Your Effort…

“The Only thing in your control is effort”

As we walk into the third season of the year, many of our students are settling into their routines.  While the teachers work to normalize student behaviors and classroom expectations in the halls and across the building, it is necessary to do a “self-wellness check” as well.
When we begin the school year, our excitement and anticipation dominate mundane tasks like lesson planning, grading homework and tests as well as working with colleagues.  As the summer months morph into fall months, staff excitement wanes as much, if not more than the students.
It is always imperative to remember that “effort” is the only aspect of our job that’s under our control.  Educators have the difficult task of balancing many object, several of which are not foreseeable.  However, most times these tasks are handled with grace and persistence.  We must not allow the task nor the necessity for completion, to damage our “wellbeing”. 
Remember, the “only thing in your control is effort”.  While many may argue that this quote is directly associated with teacher performance, I will argue it’s directed at teacher enhancement and wellness.  Take a moment and breathe.  The school year is underway and you’ve survived the beginning, but it’s the middle that counts.  Keep pushing and work your effort!

180 Chances...

      Many of the risks associated with teaching outweigh the results.  However, the process is unlike any other project.  Each year educators venture out on uncharted terrain, hoping to reach the masses, but settling for reaching the students within their voice or within their grasp.  As we work towards the goals established by administration, both in and outside of the building, there are a few things that we can be certain of. 
      One of those certainties lies in our opportunities to change the tide.  We have roughly 180 chances to make an impact and it is so important to capitalize on each one.  Every day isn’t a stellar day.  That loss may be by way of a coworker, parent or sadly a student, but we have an opportunity the next day to recover. 
      Our task this season is a great one, but it lends way to so much potential.  In each instance, we must realize that we have 180 days to make an impact and if we wake up each day vowing that it will be better than the one before it, we will win. 
      Take advantage of your 180 chances and watch your kids grow this year!

Uproot what needs to be Changed…

Recently I heard a story about a landscape overhaul.  The narrator suggested that before he could plant something new, he had to assess the current conditions of the yard.  More specifically, he said, “You can’t plant a house on a foundation without uprooting and toiling old soil.”

This was a powerful quote for so many reasons.  I thought about the students that we work with on a daily basis.  As educators we are trying to build a solid foundation in various disciplines, but we haven’t quite uprooted all of the “old soil” that exists.  “Old soil” is essentially the baggage that comes along with learning something new. 

Many times, as we begin to lay the foundation for a new way of learning, there is quite a bit of baggage associated with previous knowledge.  We need to know and understand the baggage and unpack or uproot it.  Similar to unpacking “standards” or creating objectives, we must uproot common misconceptions and begin there. 

Learning doesn’t exist in a vacuum.  The students don’t just magically fall from heaven, they are coming to us with various ideas and thoughts about learning.  It is our job to take what they have and create something new while at the same time uprooting what needs to be weeded out.

You Can’t Correct if you Don’t Connect…

We are nearing the end of the first few weeks of school for many educators.  As we begin to understand the data attached to the students that we have on our various class lists and rosters, we must keep a few things in mind.  Bad teaching cannot be erased, but it can be corrected.  In order to correct the varied misconceptions, we must connect with our students.  A part of this connection is through knowing our students’ data.
In order to assess student knowledge, we must know the “whole” student by walking through their data.  Data tells a story like no other.  We hasten to call any teaching bad teaching, but many times students are not introduced to the best or most efficient ways to approach a topic or problem.  These strategies must be retaught and in every case, relearned by the student.  As we connect with students it is essential to observe the ways in which they approach problems, not as a punitive measure, but in an effort to assess whether or not we can enhance their ability in that area and thus, improve their data.
We are just meeting the babies that we will interact with and they come with experiences, some good and some bad.  Our job as educators is to help them process these experience and create a sense of synergy so that they may in essence begin to learn from us as well.
Students trust the process when they understand the process.  Let’s work through the misconceptions that exist to help our students grow in the most productive ways possible.  Although our students may encounter a bump in the road, it cannot and should not derail their entire learning process.  Let’s work to connect with our students through their previous data so we can be a positive change in next year’s data.    

Advice Is Always Free…

This month’s blog is not created with words of wisdom from me, but from educators that have been in the field for quite some time.  I have compiled a list of the 50 most important things that a new teacher should remember as he/she enters the field.  Over the course of time, we confront many obstacles, but in some cases we don’t have the tools to handle them. This list is in part, a master list of advice for how to cope or keep pushing through the rough patches.  Enjoy the first month….

1. Choose 2 days out the week to take work home.
2. Just say no!
3. Be their teacher not their friend
4.Well the first piece of advice is to be honest with your students. If you make a mistake, admit it. Let them know it's ok to mess up and you never stop learning.
5. Communication with parents (grades, take home folders) is essential.
6. Discipline plans are important for classroom management.
7. Use a timer to stay on task with teaching schedule.
8. Set up your classroom before pre-planning.
9. Befriend the janitor.
10. The first year is the hardest.
11. Collaborate with your peers. The worst thing you can do is try to be on your own island. This is a tough takes the help of others. Work with your team....try to get to know them both on a professional level as well as a personal level. Being new has its advantages, you are refreshing and full of ideas. Share them....some will be resistant and that’s ok. Don’t change who you are or what you bring to the team. People will notice and appreciate your efforts.

12. Take pictures of your work! You never know when you may have to show evidence of teaching and learning practices. Take pictures of the kids being engaged, your anchor charts, record yourself. I wish I could go back and see how far I have grown. It’s a great way to reflect!

13. Get to know your students. We get caught up in data...but really take the time to know what their strengths and interests are outside of the classroom and use that as your benefit. You never know what gifts and talents they have.

14.Maintain a continuous to do list perhaps on stickies or construction paper that’s visible daily (I keep mine on my laptop).

15.Communicate with every parent the 1st couple days of school with something positive.

16.Stay out of the teachers lounge the first month then sparingly after.
17.CYA!!! Lol.

18.For new teachers and the TKES I think the most important have to include the expectation for each area on understanding what a 3 looks like, a 4 looks like for each standard. It is overwhelming to new teachers I think not fully understanding what the true expectations when being observed.
19.I joked about CYA, but keeping records of EVERYTHING pertaining to any sst, emails, etc is a hard lesson I think most teachers learn from getting burned

20.....its ok...its gonna be overwhelming...its gonna be stressful...dont try to be an island, create a community where you share resources and ask for help.
21. Flexibility is important
22. Routines are a must
23. Teach to the standards
24. You'll have a better and less stressful weekend if you do your lesson plans before you leave on Friday. Don't wait until Sunday evening
25. Work as a team...don't think you can do it all by yourself.
26. Communicate with your parents.
27.Learn to love
️ that's the truth, but not sure you should include it.

28.Don’t listen to others who may have heard of or know your new student. Especially those students that may have had behavior issues. Come to your own conclusions based on your experiences with the child. Don't go in with preconceived notions based on someone else's opinion. It's hard but holds true.
29.Get to know your students’ "stories". That goes a long way in you understanding their emotional / academic needs.
30. Look beyond their exterior, push through to that place within that makes them tick. If you show you care, children will respond to that.
31.Ask for help, collaborate to give and receive support.
32. Set daily/weekly expectations and chart a path as to how you plan to meet those expectations. The goals do not have to be lofty....they must however be realistic.
33. A must... use a keep you organized.
34.It's ok to stop a lesson that doesn't seem to be working, no matter how much you planned for it. Sometimes you " just have to fix your ponytail and try again".

35. Collaborate with your colleagues. Together anything is possible.
36. Study your lesson plans thoroughly and look for other resources to help understand the lessons. (YouTube, Teacher Tube, etc.) Trainings doesn't mean you got it you have to practice, practice, practice and you will get it.
37. Flow in your lane of teaching and don't try and adopt everyone's materials. Try and use PowerPoints w/differentiated slides, reviews, practices, etc.

38. Self-reflect frequently and track your glows and grows then create a check off list to correct areas that need improvements. Watch other veterans teach and ask All kinds of questions.
39. Know and become familiar with the services that are available for students at the school.

40. Establish and maintain discipline in your classroom.
41.Routines and procedures are key.
42.Do not be afraid to make mistakes and seek help from your peers, students and parents.
43.Stay ahead of paperwork and prioritize it.
44.Contact parents for good and bad, celebrate the little things, ASK QUESTIONS even if you think you know.
45.Documentation through email is important.
46.Know who you are and know your worth.
47.Connect with seasoned teacher(s) that will groom you professionally.
48.Love all of your students.
49.Do a 2x10. Spend 2 mins. a day for 10 days getting to know that “hard to reach” kid. Ask them about life outside of school (their family, soccer game, favorite show). Get to know their likes/dislikes. This helps to build a relationship with the child. And this helps you to get to know the child on another level.

50.Always start a difficult conversation with a parent with positive attributes about the child. This helps to lower their defenses. And there’s positives in every child.
51.Don’t forget we are also responsible for the social/emotional well-being of our students. Take the time to teach life lessons and communication skills. Teach the “total” child.

The Journey of a Student…

I was listening to the radio a few weeks ago and the DJ said something at the end of his segment that sat with me.  It was more thought provoking than inspirational, but it was really a lesson, something to ponder.  He suggested that, “the most important tire was the spare.”
I thought about the purpose of a spare and how instrumental it is to the overall security of my journey and then I thought about the students in my small groups and classes.  The students that I worked with on enrichment, or my high students, could very well be considered my spares. But, instead of considering them the most “important” as all of my students are important, I would remix the message a bit.  I would argue that, “the spare tire helps create a smoother journey.”
As a classroom teacher, the students that are on grade level or above grade level aren’t considered “high maintenance” they are the students that “just get it.”  However, in this climate, when test scores are returning and the indicators Beginning, Developing, Proficient and Distinguished learners are used to brand or describe students, it’s imperative that mindsets be revisited.
In a traditional classroom, your lowest learners receive a tremendous amount of attention and support, while you develop your learners that are proficient in hopes that that development and enrichment is enough to garner those learners the title of distinguished.  Growth and movement in students is always celebrated, but when our lowest learners show tremendous amounts of growth, that celebration is different.  It’s a celebration that embraces both the history and the struggle of the student.
In essence, our lowest performer’s growth is celebrated in a way that links teaching and learning.  I’m pondering if I see my highest performer’s growth in the same way?  My highest performing students just get it.  So, when I see their growth, do I take credit for this growth in the same way that I do those students that struggled?
Because I considered them my “spare” or the students that would smoothly take the journey, when they grow, it’s both expected and celebrated.  However, do I celebrate it as a win for both myself and the student?  I’m not sure that I have in the past because of the expectation of excellence from those students.
The quote was more than a message for me; it served as a reminder!

Growth Talk...

Dont Confuse Pace with Place”… Unknown

Summer is fast approaching for most school districts.  Many of the students are walking out of the building as stronger, more knowledgeable students.  As educators, our goal is to make sure that growth occurs, but how and when that growth happens is something that we have very little control over.  Throughout the course of the year, we confuse two words that are similar, but have very different meanings. 
It is tempting to confuse the pace of our teaching with the place where our students should end up.  Our pace is the rate at which we teach, but that measure is subjective at best.  We are presented pacing guides and expectations of mastery, but often times this gets in the way of the growth our students are actually experiencing. 
At this point, educators have to rest on the idea that pace and place are not one in the same.  Our students dont learn at the same pace, but we expect, that in the same time frame, they will ultimately complete their journey, arriving at the same place. 
This goal is an unrealistic one for so many reasons.  We are not building a culture of widgets or educating a generation of robots.  Students have different developmental levels and these must be addressed and understood.
The journey that our students take must be celebrated, based on growth and not the speed at which it happens.  Im not suggesting that we devoid ourselves of pacing guides and timelines, but I am encouraging the celebration of growth over the course of the year.  AS we receive the scores on the standardized tests, every student may not exceed the standard, but their journey of growth is certainly worth mentioning. 
As we reflect on each individual student, we must remember that a students pace may not be as swift.  We are in the business of celebrating growth and that is not determined by pace, but by the place each individual student ultimately ends up.   

Just Teach....?

Last week I had the opportunity to people watch while waiting for friends.  I overheard a conversation between two upcoming college graduates.  One asked the other what he was going to do when he graduated.  While this conversation doesn’t’ seem interesting to the average person, to me it was quite entertaining because he ran down all of his prospective opportunities first and then he said something that struck me as, well, odd.
He said, “If I’m not offered anything I like, I’ll just teach until I figure out what my next move will be.”
This was stunning to me as an educator because I was curious of what “just teaching” looked like.
I wanted to ask, but I thought that would be both odd and transparent at the same time.
One can’t just teach! Similar to other professions, there is a standard of excellence and that standard must be met in order to be considered a quality educator.
In essence, anyone can walk into a classroom and begin transferring information, but only a select few can command the attention of students, create connections, manage a classroom, engage parents, constantly interact with teammates, write lesson plans that hold students’ attention for more than five minutes, dry tears, encourage laughter, listen for meaningful conversations critical to learning, all while operating on a few hours of sleep and less than thirty minutes of lunch and down time.
In order to “just teach” you have to have the capacity to devoid yourself of concern for your students and empathy for your parents.
I wanted to jump in and suggest alternatives such as “try teaching” or “attempt to teach “instead of “just teach”.  However, no suggestion seemed quite right for this profession or his cavalier conversation.  Teaching is a calling, a profession that requires a bit more than want; it requires grit and staying power.  I’m sure he’ll learn that if he chooses teaching, but it’s my hope that he listens closely and if teaching doesn’t call, he shouldn’t answer.  You can   “just” when it comes to many things, but in my experience, you can’t “just teach”! 

The Sum Total of Our Experiences...

The child who is not embraced by the village will burn it down to feel its warmth.
~ African Proverb

The aforementioned quote speaks to a few of our more difficult students.  Many of the students that come to us during the year are the product of various teachers and even more teaching and learning styles.  These are the students that are apprehensive about learning and leading in the classroom environment. As an educator of over 14 years, I have seen this many times.  Students that don’t trust their teacher won’t trust the process.  If they don’t trust the process, then their ability to learn will be compromised.
Our village of educators must embrace these students in an effort to change the trajectory of their experiences.  As we learn our students, we grow to understand that their life experiences are the sum total of what they have encountered.  This statement simply means that as you learn your students and their stories, you see that their story contributes to the little person in front of you. 
In essence, as the proverb states, “a child who is not embraced by the village will burn it down to feel its warmth”.  Students seek attention as they yearn to be embraced by their village.  As an educator, we are the village that must embrace them. The amount of attention they seek varies, but if given, it will make for a much smoother transition.  Many times a little “warmth” goes a long way.  

Success and Survival...

Enter to Learn, Depart to ServeMary McLeod Bethune

In honor of the final day of Black History Month, my blog is dedicated to the most selfless educator that I know:  Mary McLeod Bethune.  I was introduced to her early on, and began to understand why she risked her life to educate children, specifically children of color.  She is most notably the woman known for erecting the college built on prayer, vowing to rebuild each time it was torn down. 

Bethune, like many early educators understood that learning was tied to survival.  Once a child learned how to read, the world could not contain them.  For as much as this is true, Bethune also coined the phrase, enter to learn, depart to serve.  As we break apart what Bethune is asking of students, we realize that she is requiring them to serve others with the same tenacity as she served them.  This tenacity is an unyielding one; one that is found in many educators.

Bethune understood the level of service required to educate children.  She took the responsibility of arming her students with the tools necessary for survival very seriously.  I am compelled this evening to ask myself and encourage you to ask yourself what tools you are arming your students with.
When they depart or leave your classroom to serve others in whatever capacity they desire, are they prepared?  On the eve of Read Across America and the heels of Black History Month, Im pondering that very question.  Have I armed my students with the tools they need to be successful this year?  Am I preparing them for success and survival?