Tuesday, December 22, 2015

One Word 2016 #Yes

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For the past three years, because of a book I have documented my year's goal into one word. Not my school year, that is way to easy. In fact, it was not just about work, it was and is about life.

As October ended and November came closer, I tried to listen to my heart and feel the pulse of my own life. Then I would end up by my birthday in December wondering if my heart is listening closely enough. I would seek inspiration. Inspiration which comes from many places, from friends, Twitter, my church, books, conferences, things that went well and then the epic fails throughout the year. Sometimes it is hard to wait for what the One Word will be, but waiting is what you are supposed to do.

  • Twiddle thumbs
  • Look at clouds 
  • Daydream in cars
  • Stare at coffee
  • Sing songs
  • Read books
  • Laugh
  • Pray

Just when you think that you are not listening to your heart, the word that is going to shape your next year is whispered. With a strain, you ask for it to be repeated, perhaps just a bit louder this time but it is not louder. It is whispered with a power so strongly that you know that this is your word. Now, what does it mean?

Back tracking to 2014 my One Word was #bebrave. (I know, it is two words but I used a hashtag right?) If I think about it, what was I brave doing? Going back for my masters finally. Stepping into the wide world of social media, reading books just for fun and learning for the sake of learning! Jumping to 2015, my One Word was #Northstar (again, I know it is two and again, thank you hashtag system). To me that meant becoming more aware of the three bandits: too many activities, CAVE (Complain About Virtually Everything) people and materialism that  try to take me away from my true purpose, and trading it in for important chances, big dreams, direction, discernment, peace, joy, love and hope. I  focused on knowing what things, people or situations to pick up and what things to put down and to rid myself of things that do not matter. I backed off from over extending my time on social media and I do miss the crazy Twitter chats and Voxer groups that seemed to consume me, sometimes. I dabble, but don't participate nearly as much. I stopped doing activities and allowing energy zappers and CAVE people to have any power to make or break my day. I moved from a nice big house and consolidated it to one half the size and gave away so many things that I knew could bless others, but I no longer needed. I focused so well this year that I graduated with my masters from Bethel University in July and walked in December 2015.

In my season of waiting for some type of bolt of lightening, clouds to part and angels to descend to tap me on the shoulder I went to #ties15. Before I went, I knew that Brad Waid was going to be there for presentations as well as George Couros  and I was excited. Who wouldn't be.

Now, I am not saying that Brad and George are angels sent to Earth in human form to speak supernaturally to human hearts, but they are close and that is good enough. As George spoke, I felt a flutter. In my last session with Brad, I heard the whisper. Really, it is like a whisper. A nudge, a flutter of angel wings, a sudden gasp in your lungs when you know that you know and that is all that you know.

The whisper said YES and that is all I know. So that is my One Word 2016 #Yes (oh look, one word!). What will I say yes to? Adventure? Love? Life? Cheesecake? Presenting more at education conferences? Maybe I don't need to know my YES right now..I just enjoy life, love, laughter, trust God and find out. So from the breath in me to the breath in you, what is your One Word?

Whatever it is, may it be your foundation for this year ahead with all the joys, pain, highs and lows that come with it.



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One Word 365

One Word

Sunday, December 6, 2015

For the LOVE of Our Village

If you have heard the saying once, you have heard the saying twice: "It takes a village to raise a child." Maybe you have brushed it off, because some may think it is really an overused saying. It is not.

Community partnerships are ESSENTIAL for the success of any school. Not for the school or the students to survive school, but for them to thrive.

I came across a book about three years ago now that Joe Mazza introduced me to. It fascinated me and if there is one book that should be in the hands of all administrators in a district, the PTO team as well as teachers is Beyond the Bake Sale.

There are two  arching themes from this book:

  1. Families are  the key stakeholders and should be treated as such for any school improvement to happen. 
  2. To leave out the community and others who care about children from school involvement is a sure fire way to kill school improvement.

Many people have within them, a passion for partnership. It is that passion and that partnership that elevates a school and changes lives.

For the LOVE of Our Village

I teach in a rural school in Central Minnesota.  I strive everyday to help students take ownership over their learning, believe in themselves, dream and grow as members of the community and the world...all coming back to creative, curious and diverse learners. That's all I want them to be and and I do my best to facilitate that by creating authentic learning situations through providing personalized learning as well as through books and items for our Makerspace.

Though most days, I am in the classroom alone, I want to tell you that I did not do this alone.

I want to take time to honor those who have stood with me in in the classroom, either by physical presence or financial contributions.

  • We have variety of angels in the form of parents who are a team of supporters who have provided for our classroom their TIME as well as resources like items for our classroom Makerspace and books for our bookshelves. 
  • We have Grandma Mary who comes in twice a week for a long, long time and sits with the students and listens to them read, plays games with them as well as takes the time to hear the heartbeat that the students want to share with her. She is magnificently loved by us.
  • We have a community friend who has gone above and beyond what many people do and supported our classroom with silent gifts and last year with a pizza party. 
  • There are astounding people from Donor's Choose who have surprised our classroom with gifts.
  • Random people who attended the Minnesota Twins game the day that Adopt-A-Classroom was there and donated to our classroom which I used for Christmas gifts this year for the students.
  • We had two separate families from church that supplied our class with winter hats as well as two drones.
  • The school PTO donated two sets of LEGO robotics that had the students buzzing.
  • I wrote a grant for our district and was given a gift to design and create a school wide Makerspace filled with many wonderful things to create and do!
  • I have a superintendent and a principal who are supportive of the learners in our classroom and encouraging and I can't tell you what a difference that makes in my classroom.

I am not telling the story of giving in my classroom to be boastful. I am telling the story because this changed my students lives in our classroom and I am so humbled and grateful. I must give thanks.

I am a single mom with two kids of my own and on a teacher's income striving to make our classroom learning journey exceptional and memorable. I have a small classroom stipend and I spend my own money as well. I also spend a great deal of time reaching out to people and telling them how absolutely fabulous the learners in my classroom are. I share the joy of them I tell the story of their learning and experiences on Instagram and on Twitter. I shout from the roof tops: MY STUDENTS ROCK. I reach out to others because I know that others want to help. I provide ways that they can help by making lists and talking bravely about classroom needs. People want to help. People want to invest in the future, and as Whitney Houston sings, I too believe that the children are the future!

Huffington Post
Fred Rogers often told this story about when he was a boy and would see scary things on the news: "My mother would say to me, 'Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.' To this day, especially in times of disaster, I remember my mother's words, and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers — so many caring people in this world."

This is our story, it is a story of supernatural occurrences in my classroom and a story of many human angels reaching out to help. Turn on the TV or read the news on the internet, it is filled with the saddest of stories that tear apart our souls and cause our eyes to well in tears and our hearts to break. It is filled with stories that enrage our spirit. You will see bad things if you look for bad things. 

I look for the good in humanity and in situations and this is what showcase to the students, looking for the good. These have been our helpers and this has been our good. Some might think that what people are providing for my class is just toys, however, that could not be further from the truth. We received through their giving, non tangible gifts.

These are the lasting gifts the helpers in my classroom have given to my students:

  • Relationship building
  • Collaboration
  • Imagination
  • Creativity
  • Traveling to places and through time travel by reading books
  • Mattering

To those who have given in tangible ways through gifts and time in our classroom, thank you. You are stepping into a child's life and speaking life into them and making an impact that lasts a lifetime. To those who give in a variety of ways in classrooms around the world, it matters...that is all. 

It does take LOVE in many kinds to do this, thank you for loving our village, our classroom. It takes a village who together take the time to stop the chaos and the noise of life to hear the heartbeat of a child in magnificent ways. You matter. 

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Quality: The Heartbeat of Education

His name was Tom and this was his guide. He talked about it ALL.THE.TIME. 

If there is anything left of goodness in the world, it is this memory of him. I believe it was me, a novice and green teacher working with him for a few years that shaped me the most as a co-worker to become who I am today. I learned to stop and look at the situation from the student's perspective first. I learned to not care if the desks were in rows, as long as the students were learning. I learned to laugh a lot, I learned not to teach from the front of the room. I learned to take things in stride.  

Maybe it has been a while since you opened up the pages to this book. Perhaps you are looking for a book that will change the culture of learning at your school. 

If you have not read this book, here are the key points:

Students’ Needs Come First
  • Students sense belonging when they receive positive attention from the teacher and others and participate actively in class concerns
  • School environment is kept safe and free from personal threat
  • Students participate in making decisions about topics to be studied and procedure for working in class or assigns them responsibility for class duties
  • Students experience fun by working and talking with others
  • Students sense freedom when the teacher allows them to make responsible choices concerning what they will study, how they will do so, and how they will demonstrate their accomplishments
Quality Curriculum

  • Schools must be places where students learn useful information and learn it well
  • If students are old enough you may ask them to identify what they would like to explore deeper (Geniushour)
  • Depth of understanding combined with a good grasp of value
  • Ask students regularly to assess the quality of their own efforts
Quality Teaching
  • Provide a warm, supportive classroom climate
  • Use lead teaching rather than boss teaching
  • Ask students only to do work that is useful 
  • Always ask students to do the best they can
  • Help students learn to use reflection
  • Help students recognize that doing quality work makes them feel good

Whew! Looking at this list, it would be hard to achieve this without a cost: sweat, blood and tears. The cost is deciding that school is all about the students and their families. It is a school where student voice thrives. It is a school where as my friend Angela Maiers so eloquently and simply states, "Mattering IS the agenda!"

In many schools stakeholders are competing for who has the control or the power and often its a misinterpretation of power. Case in point: Grading. Does a teacher GIVE grades or does a student EARN grades? Grading is not supposed to be a power play. 

Glasser would say that we can navigate this by looking at what we are doing in our school culture to nurture caring habits or to bring about bad habits. 

Seven Caring Habits
  • Supporting
  • Encouraging
  • Listening
  • Accepting
  • Trusting
  • Respecting
  • Negotiating differences

Seven Deadly Habits
  • Criticizing
  • Blaming
  • Complaining
  • Nagging
  • Threatening
  • Punishing
  • Bribing or rewarding to control
The end point is that leadership is not supposed to be from top down. I like how Deborah Walker described it in the Constructivist Leader

"Leader Among Leaders Leaders: They recognize their limitations and who is in the best position to lead and work to establish organizational processes to encourage others to lead and learn together." 

The #vachat (7PM CST) was all about this on Monday night, growing leaders, but it is hard to grow leaders when the lead learner of the school is not leading. A friend of mine faces a everyday and real struggle with this and deals with leadership manipulation, coercion, bullying and lies. It is a battle of the mind to get to work, but my friend goes because of who they are serving, the students are the WHY.

I want to tip my hat to my friends who set the bar high, from whom I love learning, laughing and sometimes breaking bread with. They are excellent lead learners. They are risk takers, they continue in the trailblazing path that Glasser forged. They are putting students first. They are making learning relevant. They are people who I would call as Walker did, a "Leader Among Leaders."

You become like the people you hang around with:

Andre Meadows, Brookport Elementary, Illinois

If it had not been for Tom and at the time, our fantastic lead learner, Mr. James Fennick, I am sure I would not be who I am today. They set me on the right path, they modeled excellence in education for me from the get-go. Thank you for helping me daily remember that the heartbeat of education is a quality school and a quality classroom.

(Tom is still working as a education coach in his school in Anoka-Hennepin, but not active on social media. )