Sunday, August 30, 2015

Dear Hailey...

Dear Hailey,
It's been 10 years since I've seen your sweet face, but it is one that I will never forget.  We met under tragic circumstances.  Hurricane Katrina had wreaked havoc in New Orleans and Baton Rouge was in chaos.  I was a 3rd grade teacher who would be forever changed by my interaction with you.

About 2 weeks after Katrina left her mark, my principal opened the door and introduced me to you.  You were a precious little 3rd grader with fear in her eyes.  I didn't know the circumstances around your move into the area, other than you had been uprooted because of the storm.  I knelt down to look you in the eye and took your hand to welcome you into my classroom.  A classroom that didn't have a desk, books, or supplies for you.  But it was a classroom that had a room full of kids who had opened their door to family members and friends who had also been uprooted.  Zachary had 10 extra people living in his house, so we didn't question whether you would stay or find another room with more space.

You were quiet.  I don't think you said very much in the short time that you were with us.  That first day was a blur.  I don't remember much other than your arrival.  After school, I was told your story.  You lived in Slidell and your home had been destroyed, as well as your school.  You were living in a shelter in the area and your mom wanted you to start school to keep some sort of normalcy in your life.  You had lost it all and were trying to make sense of the world again.  You were wearing clothes that were donated to you at the shelter, eating meals with people you didn't know, clinging to your momma at night because you were terrified.

The next day, as school began, I was called to the office.  You didn't want to come inside for the day.  You were clinging to your momma.  You were both crying and I started shortly after.  With help from the secretary, we peeled you off of your momma, assured her I would take extra good care of you, and brought you inside with you clinging to my side.

That day, I had a substitute teacher in the room so I could do reading assessments down the hall in the empty classroom.  I had everything set up for the class and let the sub know that I was just a short distance away in case she needed me.  It didn't take long for an SOS to come with the next student I needed to read to me.  I walked down the hallway and heard you sobbing.  As soon as I entered the room, you left your seat and attached yourself to me.  You spent the rest of the day with me reading quietly.

The rest of your time with me was similar.  You began to quietly talk to some of the other girls, but you didn't say much.  At recess, you played within my sight.  Each morning, I met you on the sidewalk and we did the same peel and hug maneuver.

After a week, you came in late one morning with flowers and a gift for me.  It was your last day.  Inside the wrapped present was a beautiful silver heart and a handwritten note thanking me for taking care of you.  The thoughtful words brought me to tears.  You gave me one of the fiercest hugs I've ever received.  It still sticks with me.  And with that, you walked out of my classroom 10 years ago.

I don't know where you are or what path your life has taken, but here I am 10 years later still thinking about you and the impact you made on me.  In a world that had been turned upside down, you taught me an important lesson that I still haven't forgotten.  That lesson was simple, students need to feel loved and cared for first.

There was no way that I could have taught you anything other than feeling safe that week.  You weren't ready and that was okay.

Thank you for trusting me while you were a guest.  I hope that you have found your place and you are changing your world.

Mrs. Looper

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Assess Me Linky Week 2

I've broken the number one rule of blogging - one post a day, but...

Rachel over at The Tattooed Teacher is hosting week 2 of the Assess Me Linky.  I had to think about this one!

Let me admit something right off, I can't figure out how to change the color of a shape outline in Keynote.  So, if someone can help me out, I'd love you forever!

I am a casual girl.  All summer long I've worn came shorts, tank tops, and Birkenstocks - EVERY DAY!  Yes, I washed them, but that has been the uniform of choice.  My husband is spontaneous - not unrealistic for us to go to a wedding and then end up in the woods driving around looking for deer.  I told him yesterday I need to keep a bag of possibilities in the car at all times just in case I need to change shoes, wear long pants, etc.  But, if given the choice, jeans, shirt, and Birkenstocks are my choice. That goes for jewelry too.  Nothing too fussy!  Earrings are the most important accessory, but if the necklace is too fussy, I get frustrated. I've tried, honestly.

Rachel, I had no clue what Big Pimpin' was, so I had to watch both.  Unfortunately, I'm not a fan of either.  Boo!  But, you did introduce me to Thriftshop years ago and I loved it. So, there's that.

I'm a country girl now.  I was raised in the suburbs, but my husband has transformed me to the country life.  I like the quiet, the solitude, and the animals.  Give me a porch rocker and a sunset and I'm good.

Coffee is a necessity - all day!  This summer I've been known to drink a pot by myself.  I leave my house extremely early for school - 5:30 am and drink a cup before the hour commute, during the commute, and a cup at school.

I'm a night owl.  Give me school that starts at 11:00 am and goes until 5 or 6 and I'm good.  I get a 2nd wind and love to stay up late.  I get my best work done in the wee hours of the morning.

When Cheney and I got married we took a honeymoon on Amtrak across the country.  I loved it.  We had a sleeping car and turn down service, all of our meals in the dining car.  Loved every minute.  Would love to do it again, but in Europe.  I'm a nervous flyer, but appreciate the technology and use that as my go to for travel.

I love Central Air, but love Central Park!

Head on over to Rachel's to get the 4-1-1 on everyone else!

It's August!!!

Oh my!  It is already August!  Hard to believe that summer is pretty much gone.  Short post today as I link up with Farley over at Oh Boy! 4th Grade!  I love that she hosts this link up every month.  It's one of my faves!

I had a hard time finding things to binge watch on Netflix this summer - hard to believe right?  But, I landed on Freaks and Geeks this week - 2 weeks before school starts.  So far so good.

My dear husband knows the way to my heart is shoes.  Every year that we have been married, he has purchased me shoes for my birthday.  This year he hit it out of the park with my new Birkenstocks.  Hippie shoes, yes.  But, oh my word they are comfortable.  I've worn them every single day this summer.  My poor feet will not know what to do when school starts.  I always hate that adjustment.

I am taking a new position this year and so I don't have a classroom to get ready for students.  Honestly, I don't know what my space will look like because I am a coach.  So, I'm getting my office ready at home.  With that is a huge list of things to purchase - shelves, paint, rug, you know the drill.

I've taught summer school ALL summer, so there has been no vacation for me.  We are taking a quick day trip down to Charleston next week for a blogger meet up and then a flying run up the coast to Myrtle Beach to meet our great nephew for a few hours.  That is a lot of driving for a day trip.  Hopefully, when we have a few days in October we will be able to get away for a few days.

As a coach this year, I know it will be important to praise teachers for the amazingness I see in their classrooms.  So, I plan on making that a focus this year.  I know I'd appreciate it.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Assess Me! A Link Up with Tattooed Teacher

Linking up with my friend, Rachel, over at the Tattooed Teacher today for her Assess Me!  Hoping to hang out with her in real life at our Carolina bloggers meet up soon!

So, a few I have to be honest with before I close out this post.

Showering - Sunday is my LAZY day, I'll be honest.  If you stopped by my house on a Sunday, I'll have been in pajamas most of the day, sitting on the couch watching Netflix.  More than likely I will not even have my hair combed until my husband decides to go get something to eat.   It's what we do.

Glasses - I have a beautiful pair of Dolce & Gabbana glasses that I got a few years ago.  I still love them, but I don't wear them often.  However, I've hit 40 and have noticed a change in my eyesight, so I'm sure they will be getting used frequently this year.

Rachel, thanks for this great Assessment!  I love it! Head on over to see what others have said on this week's assessment!

Sunday, July 19, 2015

What'cha Reading?

This summer has definitely been the summer of reading for me.  I've read 25 adult fiction/nonfiction books, 3 professional books, and I'm working my way through a box of 55 Scholastic chapter books for the upcoming school year.

So, I've read a lot of must-reads and a lot of not-so-great reads.  I've learned over 16 years of teaching that sometimes the books that I choose for my kids that I absolutely love, may not have the reaction I was hoping for.  Hope at Elementary Shenanigans did a great Periscope about this on Saturday.  I jumped on the Wonder train at the beginning of the school year and thought it would be an amazing book for my 5th graders.  While some thoroughly enjoyed it and couldn't wait to tackle the text, most were very indifferent.  So, I went back to the drawing board.  I want my kids excited about reading just as much as I am.

Here are some of my TOP reads from the year.

We started the year with this book and my students fell in love with it.  It is told by 6 different narrators and was a little complex, but after getting used to the format, my students loved it.  The story focuses on the relationship of teacher and students.  Previously, the group of characters proved to be quite the handful, but Mr. Terupt has a way of impacting their lives forever.

Most appropriate for 4th-5th grades.

My class chose this one as their all time favorite of the year.  We used it as a mentor text during our unit on Social Justice.  My kids connected to Ivan and shed tears over his confinement in a local carnival display.  It lead to great discussion about the treatment of animals and allowed us to stage classroom debates.

Most appropriate for grades 3rd-5th.

My top reading group loved this one.  Anything with a little mystery got their goat.  This was a group of all boys and they couldn't wait until reading group time so they could devour the book.  This is book one in a series, so throughout the year, I saw multiple kiddos finishing up the set.

Most appropriate for grades 4th-6th.

I've read a few this summer that were amazing!  It was nice to see Elementary Shenanigans include some of them on her list as well.

All I can say is WOW!  This book was amazing!  It gave a great perspective of life from a child with cerebral palsy who was unable to talk.  I read it very quickly and added it immediately to my must read aloud to my students.  I'm always looking for books that help to build empathy.

This has always been one of my favorite movies, but I didn't sit down and read the book until this summer. I loved it!  It was light, positive, and comical.  I can't wait to share it with my kiddos.

Now, this book, this is my book of the summer.  Jacqueline Woodson did a bang up job of sharing her family history.  I had a special connection with this text.  It is set in the city that I teach - Greenville, SC.  The book is set during the civil rights movement and Woodson uses free verse poetry to tell her story.  It's powerful and moving.  I plan to pair it with our civil rights non-fiction texts,  The Watson's Go to Birmingham,  and Bud, Not Buddy.

I would love for you to share your top reads for your class below.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Are You Scopin'?

While I was living vicariously through my teacher blog friends in Vegas, I somehow became a part of a huge teacher takeover in the social media world.  I don't think Twitter's Periscope knew what was coming when teachers took over their live streaming app.

Periscope is an amazing tool that has endless possibilities in the educational world.  I'm brand, I don't know everything there is to know yet, but here's the basics that I've discovered so far.

1.  Periscope is live time.  That means you can interact with an audience immediately.  When you begin your stream, your "followers" can log into your stream and see what is happening in your world.

2.  Immediate feedback is given!  Viewers can interact and post questions, comments, anything while you are streaming.  **This is really interesting and very tempting to comment on during your stream, but don't forget, your followers are trying to listen and if you are distracted, your content is compromised.

3.  Streams can be viewed for 24 hours.  If your viewers miss it, they can still access it on the app for 24 hours.

You can save your broadcasts to your camera roll on your phone for access later.

Right now, teachers are experimenting with the uses of Periscope.  So far, I've seen short snippets of book talks, professional development, introductions, classroom set up, etc.  Many teachers are using it to somewhat replace a blog.  Instead of writing about a post, how cool is it that you can just talk to people.

Is it scary?  Yes, I jumped in with both feet and was a nervous wreck.  But, here's my first introduction scope as a part of the #periscopeteacherchallenge and the #sundayscopinchallenge

Well, I didn't know you couldn't access it from the servers.  Broadcasts are only stored for 24 hours.

How do I plan to use it?

1.  Showcase my student presentations.  I want to provide real audiences this year with my students.  So, if you follow me, look for our presentations.

2. Book Talks - I'll be sharing a book talk about my new finds for 5th grade this week.  I plan to continue to do this all year.

I'm sure there are ENDLESS opportunities and I can't wait to discover them all with you.  Here's my details, follow me and let's learn together.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Tech Thursday: FlipGrid

I spent this week at the Upstate Technology Conference and walked away with some fabulous new tools and a few tricks to  help me be more efficient with my favorites.

One that I learned about last year and I dropped the ball with using was FlipGrid.  It is AMAZING!

A strategy that I use quite often is the traditional Exit Ticket.  Students reflect at the end of a lesson on a post-it note, index card, etc.  Then they stick it up on the wall or the door and I read responses.  Well, FlipGrid will transform your Exit Tickets.

It is VIDEO!  Kind of like a confessional booth.  Students record short videos in response to a question.

Your role is to create a grid of questions, share the link, and students respond.  The fun part is watching the videos.  How much easier would it be to watch your exit tickets instead of gathering all of those sticky notes that inevitably get stuck where they shouldn't?

Here's the creator of FlipGrid sharing his thoughts.

Just a few FYI...

1.  You are not limited on the amount of questions or responses.
2. It does cost, but the educator rate is only $65 per year.  You get 10 grids.
3. No accounts are needed to record responses.  You just send out a link.

Head over to Teaching Trio to see the other entries in the Tech Thursday linky!

Monday, July 6, 2015

Monday Made It: July 6

Warning...I wasn't very productive this week. But, I'm still linking up what I was able to accomplish. I'm linking up with 4th Grade Frolics again this week.  I'm in the process of a major classroom redo. It's all centered on the decor, but some of it is time intensive.

Our district requires all elementary teachers to have a word wall posted in the classroom that is easily visible.  This year I created new letter headings using the Cricut.  My theme is a Superhero theme, but I wanted longevity for my headings that would allow me to use them for several more years.  So, this is what I came up with so far.  For the last 4 years I've bought the exact same pad of scrapbook paper and used it for various ideas.  I'm loving my new letter headings.

In addition to new word wall headings, I redid my group signs.  This was done on the Cricut as well.  My thoughts were to make these look somewhat like a bat signal.  I'll hang these over each group.  This helps me stay organized with materials each day.  I sort papers by groups and have stacks ready at the beginning of the day.  It also helps me send groups to bathrooms, library, etc.  

Not a whole lot accomplished, but I'm getting there.  I start summer school next week and will work right up until the start of school.  Here's to hoping that I am more motivated. 

Head on over to 4th Grade Frolics

Thursday, July 2, 2015

July Currently

Say it isn't so!!!  There's no way that it can be July already!  That means that I only have one week before I begin teaching summer school and that lasts until the week before school starts!  I'm not ready!!

The start of a new month means Farley is back with Currently!  I don't know about you all, but the daily and monthly link ups are a way to keep me accountable to this little space.  I'm forever grateful to the creative geniuses that thought up all of these great little things.  Now, if I could just think of one too!

Anyway, without further adieu...

Listening:  Hubs and I stayed up all night last night reading and watching movies.  I know, wild and crazy right!  That's the best thing about summer.  Well, it's noon and he and the puppin are still sound asleep.  No television is on and the A/C just kicked on for the day.  Thankfully we have had mild temps around these parts and it has been quite pleasant.  

Loving: I am a voracious reader!  I mean it!  It's nothing for me to crank out 100 or more books a year.  This year I challenged myself to read 100 in the summer.  Well, I'm on about 20 I believe, so I probably won't hit that goal.  If I was reading books for my classroom, then I could, but these are adult fiction.  Best one so far, Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd.  Seriously, go get it now!

Thinking I turned 40 this week and all of a sudden all of those doctor appointments and conversations start - mammogram, weight gain, etc.  Not liking it one little bit!

Needing:  I need more time!  Summer school starts in 2 weeks and then I start school after that.  I've spent the summer working, which I've enjoyed, but I still need more lazy days. Better tackle that to do list soon.

All-Star: I could have gone with the easy answer - using technology, but I dug deep for this one.  I love to create a snowball effect in conversations.  For example, a few weeks ago, I was writing curriculum for our engineering units for the upcoming school year with a group of teachers.  One teacher was stuck on an idea so we just starting ping-ponging ideas and the conversation led to an amazing unit for our 4th graders.  A few years back I was introduced to Design Thinking and we had to use "and" instead of "but" when we were brainstorming ideas for a birthday party.  That one little exercise blew me away and I've tried to do that when planning anything or trying to think of alternative solutions.  It's amazing.  Try it - with your students!

Go to Farley's and check out all of the other Currently posts!  It's my favorite time of the month!

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Crash Course: Chapter 2 Creating Magic

If you have never had the opportunity to visit the Ron Clark Academy in Atlanta, Georgia, you truly are missing out on a magical experience.  Every where you look, you experience truly sensational and stimulating experiences that engage all of your senses.  From the Red Button in Ron's math class to the full size Volkswagen Beetle in Kim's Language Arts room to Alice's legs hanging out of the ceiling in Hope's room - there's is always something interesting to rest your eyes upon.  But, the teachers at RCA not only have rooms that are magical, they create magical experiences for their students.

Students never know what is coming so they are always sitting in great anticipation of what is behind the door - kind of like Let's Make a Deal! Walking into Kim's class one day, it could be set up like a Chinese restaurant or Hope's could be a spy lab.

In Crash Course, Kim shares how important it is to create magical experiences for our students.  Magical can be over the top and require hours redecorating your room or it could be turning a boring worksheet into an interactive game that addresses the content, but requires students to move, dance, sing, and get out of their seats.

Over the last 6-7 years of my career, I've been blessed to work with partners who believed in creating the magic.  From costumes to simulations to souvenirs, we worked to make the learning memorable and rigorous for our students.  There were a few ways that we did that below that I hope are helpful to you.

1.  Start with your content - Regardless of your magical experience, content should be the driving force behind what you are doing.  Don't compromise rigor for experience.  They go hand in hand.  When we were planning our Ellis Island Immigration Day, we started with the standards students needed to know and then planned around them.  For example, each teacher took a role and addressed a piece of the standards through a character.  I became Addie, a young lady immigrating from Ireland due to famine.  I researched her story, created a dialogue, and then embraced her as myself for the entire day.  Everything I did was through Addie's eyes.

2.  Give Students a Role - When students are engaged in the experience, the learning becomes more concrete.  It's one thing to become a character and give a monologue in your class, but it's a completely different level to have your students put your character in the Hot Seat and ask questions that were developed in a previous lesson with the expectation that there would be a real special guest.    For our Hooverville simulation, students dressed in hobo costumes and brought a vegetable to contribute to the community soup pot.  Each student created a back story to share with partners as they hopped trains to the city :)

3. Build in Assessments - They don't have to be traditional!  Really listen to student conversations, use stop and jots, have students tweet a reflection, take a selfie and caption it based on the lesson, create a video reflection.

4. Reflect! - Have students reflect on their learning through the experience. I like to use a summary journal for this piece, especially if I am in costume and character.  I usually have my students write me a letter about the special guest since I wasn't there.  The day following the experience, I completely play dumb about the "guest in the classroom. My kids get a kick out of it and so do I.

I modified a lesson I did with 2nd grade after visiting the Ron Clark Academy and we conducted surgery on passages based on skills we had learned previously.

When studying the Roaring 20s, I was a visiting flapper, Claire.  We learned the Charleston, redesigned women's fashions, and created poetry based on jazz music rhythms.

Susan B. Anthony came to teach for the day and taught about the Women's Suffrage Movement.  My students said she was mean :)

Rosie the Riveter stopped in for a few days and encouraged everyone to work.  Groups created war propaganda posters to encourage different groups to become involved in the war effort.

When studying the Space Race, a NASA astronaut joined us and taught about space engineering on satellites.  Students were then tasked to design a better satellite.

When your classroom becomes a magical place, there's no way students can keep from learning.  Even the most difficult students get involved.  When I was conducting the Emergency Room simulation, I had one student who wanted to become a behavior problem.  But, in character, an isolation operating room was created so he could practice his skills independently before joining a team of surgeons.  He mastered them very quickly :)

What magic are you bringing into your classroom this year?

Monday, June 29, 2015

Camp Go Noodle!

When I taught in Tennessee, I stumbled across my favorite teacher lifesaver!  Go Noodle!  If you've dreaded indoor recess since you began teaching, then GoNoodle is definitely for you! It provides the perfect activity and physical movement for your kiddos - and even yourself at times.

My 5th graders LOVED it and often begged for it after a test or a difficult assignment.  Of course, I honored that.

With students spending more time on technology at home than outside, it was an easy way to get my kids up and moving.

Well, this summer, Camp GoNoodle has started!  You can now join this summer and be active at home.  Even I need motivation to get off of the sofa in the summer.  If you are a teacher and use your school account at home, you need to go to the Camp Go Noodle link to get notifications for Camp.

The best part about Go Noodle, it is FREE!  It is a wonderful resource that I know you will get a lot of use out of, especially when your weather calls for a week of rain :)

Kindergarten Connections is hosting a Go Noodle link this week to kick off camp.  Head over to her blog to check things out!

Monday Made It: June 29

Our last day of school was in early June, but I only started enjoying myself last week.  I spent the week after school started writing curriculum for my district and trying to decompress from a taxing year.  My favorite linky in the summer is the Monday Made It series over at Fourth Grade Frolics.  It keeps me motivated to get a little bit of work done for the upcoming school year, but not too much.  Much of what I've been doing this summer is the necessary things - long range plans, unit plans, etc., but I have managed to do a few things that didn't require too much thinking. So, without further adieu, here's what I've accomplished so far.

Each teacher in my building is required to have a class website.  Last year, we moved over to Google Sites and it was soo much easier than anything else we had done in the past.  However, the most difficult thing to do is remember how to change headers and other things that pretty much stay the same all year.  It took a minute, but I got it.  Can you guess my new classroom theme by this picture?  
I used Power Point to create a background image and then was able to upload it easily to my site.  Look for a tutorial this week.

Along the same lines as #1, I made a desktop background for my school computer using the Fourth Grade Frenzy tutorial.  Again, I used Power Point to create this and saved as an image.  Fourth Grade Frenzy has an excellent tutorial for Mac users.  Aren't those little superheroes precious?  The ClipArt Queen did an amazing job!

Both of the above projects were done easily while my hubs and I were watching late night television.  Multitasking at its best!

Thanks to my dear blog friend Amanda, from Teaching Maddeness, I got a jumpstart on my planning for the new year.  Check out her planning series - it will make the start of your year so much smoother.  Planning is the bane of my existence, but because I sometimes get off pace due to excitement from myself, I am married to my Long Range Plans.  Amanda has made it so easy to adapt what you are teaching this year into her templates.

I started with the new 2015 standards.  Amanda shared this great template to use to organize standards.

Then I laid out my timeline for the entire year. Again, Amanda's templates!

 My favorite part was the calendar templates!  I plan on keeping these babies close!

  I then organized my units and combined all of the lesson plans.  Crazy amounts of work here!

The last thing I did was write a new engineering unit for my 5th graders that was embedded heavily with out social studies curriculum.

Part of my goal this year is to teach my students to be more intentional in their conversation.  I created job cards for our engineering units that include guiding questions for each role.  Hopefully, this will help my students understand how a conversation runs when working with others :)

Head on over to Fourth Grade Frolics to join in on the fun!

Saturday, June 27, 2015

The Eve of 40

I'm taking a weekend break from writing about all things teaching for now.  Today is Saturday and I am on the weekend eve of my 40th birthday.  For the record, I feel much younger than 40 and don't know how I arrived here so quickly.  It seems like just yesterday that I was the baby of my grade level and now I am the most senior member.  I'm the old one - one of the oldest in my building.  So, I thought it only fitting to do a tribute to the year 1975!  It was a good one!


In 1975, Space Mountain opened in Walt Disney World for the very first time.  I think it fitting that I was able to ride Space Mountain for the very first time myself on its 40th birthday.

Bic introduced the very first disposable razor!


And aren't we all glad things have improved since this little guy?

Bill Gates and Paul Allen founded Microsoft!


Some days I'm thankful and others I'm not.

In 1975, this gem made its debut....


Jaws was released and soared to the number one spot!


And, The Captain and Tenille released this little baby!

I'd say that 1975 was a pretty good year!  So to all my fellow 40 year olds, here's to us!

Monday, June 22, 2015

Attention Special Needs Teachers!

If you are a special needs teacher and have devices in your classroom, this post is specifically for you!  If not, tell your Special Ed Teacher friends!

Gumdrop Cases is donating 10,000 protective cases to teachers who teach special needs. Gumdrop will donate up to 20 cases per classroom and 60 cases per district. The program is open now for applications and will fulfill on a first come, first served basis.

Follow this link to secure yours now!

Devices covered through this program range from Apple iPads, Dell Venues, Kindle Fires, Lenovos, Nexus, and Samsung Tablets.

Take advantage of this program ASAP!

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Tragedy in the Classroom

Written on Thursday, June 18

Waking to the news of tragedy in Charleston this morning had me flummoxed to say the least.  I’m still processing what happened and to be honest, it would be easier to compartmentalize it and remove it from my daily vernacular, but I can’t.

As a teacher, I have a huge responsibility to the students in my care - a responsibility that calls me to be a model of how to deal with tragedies of this level. My students look to me to learn how to process big events that cause us all to question.  They voice their questions and want to know my opinions and concerns.  It’s a responsibility that is not taken lightly.

Over 15 years, I’ve experienced my share of tragedy in the classroom.  Some have tiptoed into the lives of my students quietly and were delicately placed in my care while others busted in through the door and affected families and communities -  The World Trade Center attacks, Hurricane Katrina, students who have been abandoned, as well as, violence among families, local communities, and world wide.

I’ve taught students from all walks of life – affluent, middle-class, impoverished; on both sides of every issue; from Democrat and Republican families; liberal, moderate, and conservative; all races; American, Russian, Korean, Filipino, Asian, black, white; quiet, charismatic, magnetic; below average, average, and advanced, and more. 


There have been times where it hasn’t been easy to find common ground when dealing with complex issues in our society. 

When September 11th occurred, I was teaching in a school with a strong military presence.  Many of our parents were called to action and deployed to fight the war on terrorism.  My classroom was a mix of families who supported that effort and those who didn’t, but it didn’t change the fact that my students and I had to coexist in the same classroom despite the opinions that were shared over dinner tables.

When Hurricane Katrina caused the heart of New Orleans to pour into my rural school district and my town, the teachers in my school had to help pick up the pieces of brokenness – lost homes, lost lives, failed systems – without pointing fingers of blame.  We had to help students process what had happened.  I remember Haley who I had to physically pry away from her mother each morning as she yelled and screamed and cried.  By the end of the experience all of us were in tears.  Haley did not speak for the two weeks she was with me.  She had lost her home, her school, and didn’t know where her friends were.  During her time with me, she wouldn’t leave my side.  If I had to be out of the room, she needed to come with me because she would meltdown.  She experienced so much loss in such a short time she couldn’t bear to have me out of her sight.

The events across our nation over the last year have sparked anger, hurt, and fear among many and have trickled down to dining room tables and carpools around the world.  Students across our nation pick up every nuance, every word, every opinion that is shared within ear shot – right, wrong, justified, or ridiculous – and they bring it onto playgrounds, into cafeterias, onto the football field, and on the school bus – all creating a firestorm of emotion that students often don’t know how to navigate, but are expected to handle.
Over the years, I’ve tried a few things that helped not only my students process events, but me as well.

1.  Build Relationships:  I don’t know if there is a more critical thing to do with my students than this.  Be the go to for your students and create a relationship that will allow each one to come to you when life gets too big to handle on their own or they are experiencing emotions they don’t understand.  Stand in the gap for your students.  When one does come to you – LISTEN FIRST before you try to offer solutions.  I wonder if some of the kids and adults who have created the violence had someone who did that for them.

2. Provide an opportunity to express emotions: This can be tricky, but it can be done and it can be powerful.  When 9/11 occurred, I gave my students an index card to write what they were feeling anonymously.  Questions were asked, frustrations were expressed, hurt was exposed.  I then took each index card and filtered through the words.  The next day, we created a circle and I read some of the comments and questions that were gleaned from the class.  I did it again this year when our class experienced some events that rocked the world of some of my students.  This time I took the comments and created a wordle to display what my students were feeling.  This activity was probably one of the most powerful things we did this year.  It was silent and it was tense to begin with, but then a dialogue began to occur between two groups of students who had misunderstandings of one another.

3. Don’t go it alone: Tap into resources outside of your classroom.  Ask your media specialist for books to read with your kids that mirror the issues that are being faced.  Utilize the guidance counselor or other staff to help you teach students how to process emotions.  Keep in contact with parents.  Let them know what their child is experiencing so the dialogue can continue at home.

4.  Love: It sounds so simple, but it is so hard some days.  As a teacher, I may be the only example of loving without judgment.  There are days that I fail, but my students know that I love first.  I need to be the visual of what love looks like.  Be intentional with your students and celebrate the differences that make each unique.  Find the good in each one, every day.   Love through the hurt, the anger, the fear, and the tears.

How do you deal with tragedy in your classroom?  Share your ideas in the comments below.  We can all benefit from multiple tools in our toolbox for situations that require a delicate touch.