Monday, February 19, 2018

I Don't Have the Answers...

It's taken me all weekend to begin to process what happened in Parkland, Florida.  I put it aside and compartmentalized it until I was ready to deal with it.  I still don't think I'm ready.  On and off all weekend when I have been by myself,  I've shed tears over the precious lives that were taken.  I've shed tears over the tragedy that struck 17 families.  I've shed tears over the teachers, coaches, custodians, and more who chose to put their lives in harm's way.

My tears have been over the loss.  They have been over the pain.  But more than anything, they have been shed over this as a reality for educators and students.

20 years ago when I made the decision to become an educator, school shootings were not the norm.  No one was asking if I would be willing to stand in front of my students and die to protect them.

I remember where I was when Columbine happened.  We were living in Juneau, Alaska and I was subbing in a kindergarten class for the week.  The day after Columbine, our elementary school had a fire drill.  I never thought I would have to tell students that it wasn't a shooting, just a fire drill.

When I taught in Louisiana, we had an active shooter drill that required law enforcement to come into the school as intruders.  Gunfire is not a sound that should be heard in a school.  Even knowing it was a drill, I was terrified.

Even writing about it causes me anxiety.

After every school shooting in recent years, I've returned to my classroom,  but I find myself thinking about exit strategies, ways to hide students, ways to stay safe.  It's not natural.

There is no way to hide 28 5th graders in a room with no closets or bathroom.

Would I sacrifice my life for one of a student.  Yes.

I can't imagine the educators who are moms and dads.  The struggle they have knowing that one day they may have to choose between their own children and those of another.

Would they sacrifice their life for a student. Yes.

But, when did it become okay to expect this of educators?  I'm asking myself this question as much as anyone else.  When did it become okay to accept school shootings as the norm and to train people for this situation?

I don't know what the answers are.  I know it's a complex issue.  I know there are many different sides and opinions...some we may share and some we may not.

But, kids are being killed.  Kids with a future that won't be lived.  Kids with dreams and with plans.  Teachers are being killed.  Teachers with families.

I don't know what the next steps are, but I know that I can't be silent about what school should be.

School should be a place of learning.
School should be where kids learn to engage socially with friends.
School should be a space where we learn to treat one another.
School should be a place where everyone is respected.
School should be a space where teachers encourage and inspire.
School should be a place where we come together to challenge and empower.

School should be safe.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

The Greatest Showman's Greatest Lessons

Over the last couple of weeks, we have had extreme winter weather - well, extreme for South Carolina. Temps in the single digits in the morning and not rising too far above freezing for the remainder of the day.  All I have wanted to do is eat cinnamon rolls and nap.  Not a good combination.

Sunday, I decided it was high time that I get out of the house and do something - even if it wasn't necessarily productive.  For the last week, I've heard lots of friends talking about how great "The Greatest Showman" is.  Hugh Jackman devoted 7 years of preparation and his earnings from the Wolverine movies to commit to this project.  That alone told me that it must be worth it.  I've always been a fan of Hugh.  I knew that it was not something Cheney would go and see - he's not a fan of musicals - but, that it also needed to be seen in a theater to get the full experience. In my winter hibernation, I had see clips and videos of powerful songs that spoke to me, even without the costuming and sets.  I knew it was something that I had to see soon.

So, I got out of my flannel pajamas and made myself public worthy for a movie.  

From the opening notes, I was hooked.  I watched the movie with chill bumps on my arms from the amazing talent that was displayed.  It was a movie that made me want to jump up and clap and sing.  The message that was portrayed through the elaborate costumes, set designs, and more made it captivating.  As I left the theater, I couldn't help but to reflect on some of the lessons that stood out among the story.  

1.  Leaders have a vision or dream that is birthed from deep within them.  PT Barnum knew long before the circus was successful that he was destined for greatness and that he wanted to do something big.  

2.  Leaders take responsibility for their actions whether there are good or bad consequences.  When PT Barnum made Claire laugh during her finishing lessons, he owned that and accepted the consequences of his actions.  He did the same thing later in the movie (no spoilers here).

3.  Leaders surround themselves with likeminded people.  PT had a spouse who supported him 100%.  He looked for partners who were also risk takers and dreamers.  

4.  Leaders have a responsibility to empower those around them.  When PT gathered his crew of acts, he empowered them and brought them out of the shadows. He saw something in them and spoke to it.

5.  Leaders make no apologies for chasing their dreams. Unapologetically, PT pursued his dream, despite what the critics said or the setbacks that he endured.

This movie is probably in my top 5 now.  I walked away with so much more than entertainment.  Each song spoke to dream chasing, being me, and pursuing greatness no matter what others say.  

If you haven't, go see it!  It is well worth the price.  I'll just be over here downloading the soundtrack!

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

One Word 2018

I gave up on making resolutions years ago.  Partly because I quit them by the end of January and partly because I was making the same ones year after year with the same result.  I think it was 5 years ago or so that I ran across a blog post about choosing one word to focus on for the year.  That idea seemed less daunting to me and decided to embrace that change. 

Over the years I've chosen words like Intentional, Health, and Balance.  I've placed a reminder somewhere - a planner, a chalkboard, an email signature - that kept  it in front of me consistently.  I like the idea of focusing.  Having a resolution list always seemed to send the message that I had done the previous year incorrectly.  Some may think I have, but for me, I felt like resolutions were setting me up for failure.  So, the one word came to be.

This year, I struggled with a word.  If truth were told, I probably could have used Intentional again.  I was more intentional in 2017, but I could have been more.  I could have been more intentional in the way I spent my down time at home.  Instead of getting sucked into the hole that is Facebook, I could have been more intentional in cleaning my home, or cooking supper, or even in my relationship with my husband, family, and friends.  But, that word did not speak to me for 2018.

This year, my word is MOVE.

This covers all areas of my life from my profession to my health. 

I want to MOVE more in my pursuit of being physically healthy.  That means that during the day, I will need to make sure I'm getting away from my desk to walk the halls.  I need to move my body to build strength.  Yes, I'll be signing up for a group fitness class to help me do that.

I want to MOVE professionally.  This is my 18th year in education.  It's been a beautiful journey.  There have been bumps, valleys, and mountains.  Some of those valleys were long and  hurtful.  But, I wouldn't trade them for the world.  They taught me about myself and about others.  I need to MOVE outward in my profession from my small world of influence to a greater one.  I need to claim new territory.  I aspire to MOVE into administration.  This was a long time coming and something I fought against for years - and I'm paying the price for that now - but I have something to offer students and teachers.  That means moving out of my comfort zone into the uncomfortable, but that is where the magic happens.

I want to MOVE in my business.  My side gig is producing, but I want to move forward each day by consistently completing activities that will move the needle forward. 

But, lastly, I want to MOVE others to greatness.  One of my favorite things is to watch  students succeed and to celebrate each milestone whether it is small or large.  I want the same thing for teachers, business partners, family members, and friends.  I want to help  them find their path to success and dreams.  I want to move them to reach further and achieve more.

So, this year, my plan is to MOVE.

Friday, December 15, 2017

5 years

it's been 5 years since Sandy Hook...I wrote the blogpost below after trying to wrap my mind around what had happened.

these words still ring true...

No Words

It's been awhile since I've been here.  Labor Day to be exact.  Throughout my life I've used words to express my feelings in times of victory, disappointment, surprise, and the mundane every day life.  But, I often feel more compelled to write when tragedy strikes.  In honor of the recent tragedy in Newton, Connecticut, my teacher blog will be silent for the next few days.  But, I feel like I could not go any longer without putting pen to paper, or fingerstrokes to keys. 

I've taught for 13 years now and my job has become increasingly more difficult each year.  The number of tasks that the typical teacher completes in any given day is astounding. From receipting field trip money, recording attendence, cleaning up vomit, calling the nurse, making sure a child has clean clothes, lunch money in a student account, one on one instruction, reteaching simple concepts until you can't teach them any longer, drying the tears of a child who has been physically hurt on the playground, or wrapping your arms around the ones who have been emotionally hurt by those they love.

There are many days where the thought of going to the bathroom doesn't even occur until after school and I sit for the very first time of the day.  Once my children arrive in the morning, it is almost like we have entered a time warp and the outside world disappears.  Our classroom becomes our world.  

Each year, I am BLESSED with a new crop in my classroom.  With that comes a new crop of parents, a new crop of personalities, challenges, victories, and love.   I haven't been blessed with children of my own, but I have been chosen to care for those of others.

Each morning, parents drop their children off at school thinking they are safe and will remain that way until those little faces return to the warmth of the car or the arms of a parent/grandparent/caretaker. Those children are given to me to nurture, care for, love, and educate.  A pretty tall order.

There are days where life isn't easy in our classroom.  Days where we need to a new start.  And then there are days that are beautiful symphonies of learning.  

I spend countless hours planning for learning in my classroom, but more than that, I spend countless hours investing in the future of my students.  I invest in their lives by attending sporting events, sharing their interests, writing them notes - pouring positivity into their little minds in the hopes that when life doesn't work out the way that they had planned in their future, they will remember that there was someone else in their lives who believed in them and LOVED them as if they were her own.

The teachers and staff of Sandy Hook Elementary did the very same thing.

When I stop to think of the innocent children that were hurt yesterday, I cannot help but to think of the 22 beautiful children that I see every day.  The 312 children that I have taught over the last 13 years.  The smiles, the dreams, the excitement of life, the opportunities that are waiting for each of them.  That was all stolen from those at Sandy Hook Elementary.  

I've tried to wrap my mind around what happened in Newton, but it is impossible.  I've experienced lockdown drills and mock shootings to "train" me for a reality that I hope I never face.  I hope I'm never faced with a situation where I am unable to protect the children in my care.  I hope I never have to find hiding places or calm students who are very aware of the nightmarish reality that is occurring.  

But, I would.  If it meant sacrificing my life for those of my students, there would be no decision to make.  I would make that decision for the children who have parents who love me.  I would make it for the children whose parents disagree with me.  I would make it for those children who misbehave and disrespect and love me.  I would make that decision for each child I've had the opportunity to teach this year and every year before - those in my classroom or outside of it.

There were heroes in yesterday's tragedy.  Those heroes were teachers.  The teachers who read Christmas stories to keep their students calm.  The teachers who held each child's hand.  The teachers who muffled the cries of those huddled in their midst.  The teachers who hid students and then lost their own lives.  

When you enter your child's school this week, remember there were heroes in each classroom of Sandy Hook and there are heroes in classrooms today.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

How do I create Responsive Readers

Image result for disrupting thinking

If you are friends with  me on Facebook, you have seen several posts over the last few weeks about reading and are aware that I'm pretty passionate about helping kids to love reading.  I'm an avid reader, but I haven't always been, so  I  know for some students, they  just aren't there YET.  As I've been reading Disruptive Thinking by Beers and Probst,  I've been stepping up on that soapbox frequently.  It's a place that I've shied away professionally in my past because I didn't want to burn any bridges, but now, 18 years in, there are some bridges that need to be burned, and one of them is killing the love of reading for our students.

I've been fortunate to teach students from 2nd grade to middle school and one thing I have personally witnessed is the disconnect that occurs between students and reading the older they get.  It has often caused me to question what do we as educators do to perpetuate this disparity.  

Sometimes the love of reading gets lost in the skills of reading.  I started thinking about my own practice and asked myself the following questions in reflection:
  1. How many opportunities do/did I offer students to read without completing a task?
  2. How many opportunities do/did I offer students to choose their own books?
  3. How do/did I foster a love of reading in my students?
  4. How do/did I help students choose books that were for them, instead of ones I wanted them to read?
If all I was asking students to do was paraphrase, summarize, write about what they had read, or more, than I wasn't really helping to create a love for reading.  

The moments I let go and let my kids read for enjoyment and talk about what moved them, challenged them, made them angry, made them sad, etc. those were the moments that reading became authentic and my students saw it as more than a task, but something that was important.  

In the words of Beers and Probst, "The text won't matter to them unless it touches them emotionally or intellectually."  And that is my goal....connecting every student to a text that makes them angry or makes them cry.  A text that challenges  what they know and makes them question the world around them.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Am I Extracting or Transacting?

Image result for disrupting thinking

I began reading Kylene Beers and Bob Probst's text Disrupting Thinking this afternoon as a part of our district's department chair book study.  As an avid reader, I was excited to get my hands on this text to see what it may confirm or challenge in my own reading instruction.  I hope that I am a teacher that teaches students to fall in love with reading, but I know  there were many times where the love of the book was secondary to that state assessment that was looming over my head.  I struggled with maintaining the balance of skill instruction in preparation for assessments and closing the door and allowing my students to become immersed in a text that would truly change them as readers.

In chapter 1 of the text, Beers and Probst listed out a list of typical  assignments that had been observed while visiting classrooms...there were many listed that I kept in my toolbox of instruction.

  • write a summary
  • retell the story
  • compare and contrast two characters
  • list the steps
  • create a timeline
  • draw the parts of a cell
  • outline the chapter
  • cite the evidence
  • explain the main idea and supporting details
  • answer the questions
  • complete the plot structure template
  • define the vocabulary words
  • discuss the causes and effects
Beers, G. Kylene, and Robert E. Probst. Disrupting Thinking: Why How We Read Matters. Scholastic Inc., 2017.

When I look at the list above, I don't think there is anything necessarily wrong with giving these types of assignments, but I wonder what harm is done to developing readers if this is ALL we do. Are we only teaching students to EXTRACT something from the text each time they read? Do my students only know to EXTRACT evidence to support their answer when we read in class? Is the focus on EXTRACTION activities killing the love of reading with students?

I'm looking carefully at my own practice to see how much of my conversation with teachers is spent discussing EXTRACTING vs. TRANSACTING. Transacting with a text is more than pulling information. It is about interacting with a text in a meaningful way, finding out how books change us and move us. I'm curious to know how we can make reading more about TRANSACTING than EXTRACTING?

Needless to say, my brain is working through all of this and I'm being challenged to reflect.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Why do you stay?

This is year 18 for me.  15 years of classrooms and 2 of coaching teachers.  Every May or June I was excited to leave for summer vacation, but July 1st always found me preparing for the next year...not because I had to, but because I wanted to do so.  I loved every single thing about getting a new classroom ready for a new group of families.

Inevitably, as the year progressed, there were days where I was 100% confident that I had chosen the right path.  Then there were days I left in tears questioning why I was a teacher in the first place.  If you are an educator, those days could happen in the same week, sometimes in the same 8 hours.  I have been successful, and I've been a failure. You know exactly how I felt.

I've seen programs and initiatives come and go and come around again.  I've watched districts change focus time after time after time.  I've watched the latest and greatest strategies, gurus, methods, and more be shared with educators.  I've watched recess time shrink, lunch time become silent, and the pile of paperwork on my desk grow to unattainable heights.  I've been a part of schools that had effective evaluation systems, schools that didn't have evaluation systems, and schools that "tweaked" evaluation to make it say what they wanted it to say.  I've witnessed the increase of testing and the decrease of authentic learning experiences (depending on where I've been over the last 18 years).  I've been in schools with curriculum, with suggestions, and nothing.  I've taught in schools where teachers were driven by the textbooks and schools where teachers were driven by the standards.

To say the least, I've seen a lot in my career.  But, I've always come back every single fall.

That isn't the case for some.  For some, all of the "stuff" gets to them and they choose to leave the profession, sometimes for good.

Tomorrow I have the opportunity to be a part of an important conversation in the state of South Carolina.  I'm joining a group of public school advocates, state superintendents, college professors, and others to talk about how can South Carolina attract quality teachers, but also, how can we retain them.  I'm excited to be a part of this conversation as we brainstorm solutions to a growing teacher shortage problem.  It's not unique to my state.  If you look around the country, teachers are leaving the field at an alarming pace.  If a teacher makes it past year 5, the likelihood of staying for the long haul is good.  But, somewhere in that 3-5 year mark, teachers are fleeing.

It got me thinking about my own path...why do I stay when the job becomes impossible.

I thought it was a simple answer...but it isn't, and honestly, I can't craft it into words that will make sense to anyone.  But, when I think about leaving, it physically hurts.  I can't imagine not being a teacher.  It is so much a part of who I am.  I don't do it for the pay, or the perks.  I don't do it for the recognition or the accolades.

But there is a multitude of faces over my 18 years that flash in my memory.  Faces of students over the years...the Kaeli's, Kacey's, Jesse's, and Christian's of that first year (there are so many more), the Hunter's, Caleb's, and Trevor's, the Tanner's, Tony's, Skye's, and Peyton's, the Stefani's, Will's, and Avery's, the Nathan's, Corey's, and Chloe's, the Elliott's, Emily's, Maceon's, Andy's, Nate's, Mary Grace's, Zach's, and Charlie's....(I know I forgot a ton).  

I plan to spend the next few weeks really reflecting on why I do stay...something that I can share with others, that may inspire them to join the education world or inspire them to stay.

But, I really want to know why you stay...what is it that keeps you in the classroom year after year.  I'll be sharing them with a real audience of people who genuinely want  to know why teachers remain.  I'll keep you posted on what becomes of this conversation...I can't wait to see for myself!

I Don't Have the Answers...

It's taken me all weekend to begin to process what happened in Parkland, Florida.  I put it aside and compartmentalized it until I...