Monday, May 7, 2018

Many Doors

At a women’s event I got the chance to be a greeter, which gave me the chance to meet many different women from all walks of life. At the doors, I got the chance to hear the lives and stories of many women. One group of women told me they stayed at home with their young children. They shared the joys and woes of being a stay at home parent. It certainly sounded wonderful and challenging at the same time. I had much admiration for them and their love of what they did each day.

Then they asked me about myself and I shared. I shared about my husband, my girls, and about being an educator. One of the women told me about her time as an elementary teacher. After sharing her story, I asked her if she ever missed teaching. Before she could respond, her friend, quickly cut in, touched her friend gently on the shoulder and said, “No, she was meant to be a mother.”
The feeling I felt is what I call the heart drop. I was taken back and thought…

”Wait, I’m meant to be a mother. I am a mother. I am a mother of two children and a third to come in a few months. Just because I am a working parent does not mean I am not the best mother I can be for my own children.”

I wanted to say, “I work hard to stay present with my children, playing with them, loving them, and sharing their hearts the moment I get in the door.”

I wanted to say, “I prayed for years, 3 to be exact, for the privilege to hear those very words from my children’s mouths, mommy.“

But something I also hoped to hear one day was the students in my classroom saying the words, Mrs. Stanton.

I spent many days imagining my very own classroom.
In college, I would walk up the stairs to my classes daily thinking and sometimes saying out loud, “Give it your all today and you’ll have your own class soon.” I made a point to say this because I had to work hard especially in my math classes, prompting a professor to tell me after class, “Don’t let this one class stop you from being who you are supposed to be, if you want to teach, make it happen.”
I imagined I would one day make an impact by making education a better place for children. And now that I have this job I feel grateful, grateful to have the chance to be called an educator, and to have my own classroom.

However, I am also grateful to be called a mother. Staying home on maternity leave this last 9 weeks with my third child has been an amazing gift, time I will never get back, so I have enjoyed every moment of it.  

But my heart also misses teaching my students. Going back to teaching will also be a gift. I ‘m supposed to teach, I am supposed to be in the school system, It’s something I feel in my bones, something I just know I am meant to do.

I didn’t tell these things to any of these women that day, to be honest I remained silent, but as we parted ways, I reflected and I questioned. 

I reflected that maybe by asking her if she ever missed teaching, I had stirred up some emotions in her just like her comment stirred up emotions in me. Maybe I made her own heart drop by asking, “Do you ever miss it?” and if so I deeply regret asking her that question because it certainly was not my intent. Maybe at times she does miss working outside the home and maybe she does not miss it at all. No matter what she may feel the joys of staying at home for her is worth any missing, as she is empowered by making the choice to be a stay at home parent.

I questioned why does the working parent and the home parent feel at times the need to compete with each other. I have heard it from mothers and I have heard it from fathers. I have heard the argument from both sides, asking which is best, staying at home or working?

Many of times, these questions seem to knock at us:
Who does it best? Who’s doing it right? Who gets the gold star?

And it makes me ask why do we feel we must prove ourselves to each other in the first place, when only we know what is best for our families.

So many parents feel guilty for either door they choose, the choosing to work door or the choosing to stay at home door. I know at times I feel guilty for working and especially for liking going to work each day instead of staying home, but I must learn to leave the guilt at the door I choose.
I can be a mother and an educator, but the important thing I must remember is not to put my work before my family and to make sure my own children get my full attention when I get home, which they deserve.

I believe what needs to happen between the home parent and the working parent is support. We need to listen, embrace, help each other, and most of all give each other Grace. When we give each other support, it helps us know that we are not alone and can do much more than we thought possible.
No matter what door we choose, we can choose to be present in either situation, making the people around us feel noticed and most of all loved. It should always be our end goal to make our loved ones know they matter in our lives whether we are staying at home with them or picking them up after work.

Discovering that there is more than one door in this journey called life is relieving.
So what are we meant to be?
We are meant to be… our best.

Whatever door you choose to go through, make it your very best.

In choosing to be our best, our lives will be more impactful, making a world of difference in the lives of others.

Friday, April 27, 2018

Get Out The China

In my home I have been working on being Present, it is actually my One Word this year.
Last year I watched a Ted Talk on the power of play.

Ted Talk-My Year of Saying Yes

Since then I decided that when my children asked me to play I would always say, Yes.
Today my girls were excited to play imaginary games. They asked me, “Mommy can you play?” I said, “Yes.”

We first played ballet wearing our most colorful socks, next on the list was a birthday party, and last was a fancy tea party using only the fanciest of everything. The fanciest clothes, the fanciest words like extraordinary, and the fanciest cups. The fanciest cups meant they had to go into our china cabinet and get their great grandmother's teacups and plates. Hearing the girls talk in British accents as they drank chamomile tea was extremely heartwarming.

During this time of play my husband went to pick up Chick Fil A. When he got back the girls went to put up the teacups that's when they saw the wedding china. I refer to this china as the wedding china because we received it at our wedding in 2005. We have probably used this china a handful of times. We rarely use it because it is considered special. We save it for special events and mostly holidays, okay mostly Christmas because it takes awhile to clean up china.

As the girls put away the teacups, they started getting out the wedding china plates and saucers, it was at this moment I could feel my heart pounding. The girls hearts were also pounding, but from excitement. “Oh these are so fancy, we should use them for our fancy dinner! Mommy can we use them?”

Did they not realize these plates weren't ordinary, that this dinner was not fancy, and that we were about to have fast food…fast food on China. (Gasp!)

I wanted to tell the girls No and explain to them that these plates were our wedding china reserved for only special dinners, dinners with guests, and dinners on holidays.

Then it dawned on me that this was a special dinner, it was filled with guests who I most love, my husband and children. This dinner was not a holiday, but I believe each day is a gift, one to be cherished and if I believe that I need to live it.

So I explained to my children that these plates and cups are very special and if they wanted to use them we must continue to be super fancy, so Mike poured the unsweet tea into our china cups and put our fast food on our china plates. As we ate in our dining room table, a room also rarely used because it is usually reserved for guests, we pretended to be fancy, but mostly we just giggled and acted silly.

I am learning this year, I have to let go of the love of stuff and let in the love of people, that our lives are worth living when we learn to truly live. We must not value our things over the people we love, instead use what we have and enjoy it. In doing this we can enjoy each moment of the day and get more value out of what we own.

These plates and spontaneous play of two little girls and two adults willing to play along absolutely sparked joy tonight and it was so unexpected. 

Now the cleanup, well that’s another story, one told at 9pm when those sweet little girls were sound asleep, but cleaning those plates with my husband and laughing about the night was a joy in itself. One I will make sure I do more often. Letting go of the value of stuff and letting in the value of people has made a world of difference in my home and in my heart.

So I throw out a challenge today, go into your home and find something rarely used that might bring you and your family some joy, trust me it will be worth it.

“Love people. Use things. The opposite never works.”
-The Minimalists Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Chase the Right Bells

As a child, the sound of the ice cream man made an alarm in my head. My home was at a dead end, so the ice cream man never came down that far, making it only possible to get to the truck by sprinting down the street, up a great big hill, and running my little heart out. I was fast, but I can’t even count on one hand how many times I actually caught up to him. Each time I ran for that truck I was so disappointment sometimes even seeing his tail lights just off in the near distance.

Let’s fast forward to today. Today the sound of the ice cream truck, you all know the sound, blared in our neighborhood. Our neighborhood has never had a truck gone by in the 12 years we’ve lived here and this spring has been the first time we have ever had one visit.

Well, when I heard that truck and I told my girls who was making all that noise, they lit up and I mean lights in the eyes like Christmas. 

We got our coins and ran outside in about 30 seconds flat. We were ready to get that ice cream, but just like me when I was little, we didn’t make it. We could hear the bells off in the distance, but the longer we waited the further the sound went.

How disappointing.

But then I had an idea. I said girls get in the car. I ran inside, grabbed my keys, and we buckled up fast.

As I started to drive, every prayer I could muster was said.
We went through our neighborhood, no ice cream truck.
We went through the back neighborhood, no, not there.
We went to the end of the street toward the main road, no ice cream man in sight and then…

THERE! It passes right by us. The girls said, oh no, no ice cream!

However, by this time this mom was bound and determined to get to that ice cream truck, so I continued to follow him.  

Were we ever going to catch him? Would we be going home empty handed?

Nevertheless, just when we were about to lose hope that this chase was finished, the truck finally came to a halt. We all burst into cheers as the truck's stop sign flipped out; we quickly unbuckled and ran as if our life depended on it.

There my little ones were able to look at the ice cream panel, picking slowly and carefully, choosing an ice cream worthy of the chase.Their little squeals of delight and laughter made it all worthwhile. Worth the run, worth the drive, worth the feeling of crazy.

Normally I would not do this but something in me said, DO IT! Just get in that car and go! Find that truck!

This behavior is usually reserved for my husband Mike, who is more spontaneous than I am, always bringing such excitement to our family, but today the spontaneous one was me. And I’m so glad I was!

This story isn’t about the ice cream, but it is about my children seeing their mommy do something out of the ordinary to help them get something special. I want my girls to see that sometimes you have to chase things, sometimes you have to go that extra mile, and sometimes you have to make a decision to be a little crazy to get what you want.

Stepping outside our comfort zone to experience all life has to offer, makes our life more full. We have to chase the right bells and make it happen. Make it happen for our children, our students, and even ourselves.

I don’t think my girls will remember the exact ice cream they had today, but I do know they’ll remember this experience, an experience they had with me.

May we all step outside ourselves sometimes to build crazy, silly experiences for our children and our students by chasing the right bells.

Friday, April 20, 2018

What I Learned From A Montessori Classroom

Today I had the privilege of observing my two children at their Montessori School. Claire who is 5 ½ and Audrey who just turned 4 have both thrived in this school environment. Over the years, I have watched them grow and discovered some of the reasons for their growth and joy of learning.
As I walked into the girls classrooms, I took in all the sights and sounds of their classroom environment. A peaceful, clean, joyful, and busy place, where students took pride and ownership of their work. A place where students persisted at challenging tasks and did their best just because they knew a job worth doing is worth doing well.

As I sat in the observers chair to watch the work going on in the classroom, I reflected on what I had captured over the years from the Montessori classroom and put in place in my own classroom.

1)      Giving Choice

Montessori allows choice.                                                                                                                  

      I give my students control over their day by adding choice in their seating, work spaces, work materials, station work, and cafeteria seating.Giving them some choice in the day helps them own their learning and become learners that are more independent. It also creates an inner drive in my students, which motivates them to continue their learning outside the classroom. Giving choice is something that all children should experience to help them practice making decisions and get to know themselves as learners.

2)      Welcoming Mistakes

Montessori looks at mistakes as part of the learning experience.                                                  
We discuss how learners make mistakes, which give us the opportunity to try something different, making our work better. There is a sense of peace knowing that if I didn’t get it right today, I can continue to work on it until I feel proud of my work, but I can also be proud of myself right now for trying my best and sticking with a challenging task.

3)      Spills Happen
Montessori teaches practical life using every day tools.              
      It is extremely important to me that my students know how to handle spills and other clean up situations in and out of the classroom. I let my students know from day one that taking care of the classroom is a family responsibility and by taking care of the classroom, we take care of each other.

I can always tell when a student has truly bought into this idea when I come over to the café table and find out a big spill just happened, yet is already gone because the kids helped each other clean it up. This seems simple, but this is a proud moment for me because my students have learned they are capable yet also willing to tackle problems with their classmates.

4)      Letting Parents Observe

  Montessori offers observation.                                                                             

I sat in a seat today called the observing seat. When I left the school today, I could not put into words the feelings I had, but I can say I felt grateful for every single educator in that school, just by sitting and watching.

As an educator, I know there is so much that takes place in any given day. If I were to explain to a parent their child’s full day from bell to bell I would overwhelm them. I have found that observation allows a parent to see the windows into your classroom and into their child’s world, allowing much conversation to take place in the child’s home.

If you open your class up for parents to observe not only will they connect more with their child’s learning, but they will also be more willing to connect with you, so don’t just show parents pictures of their child and the classroom, but let parents come in, seeing the action first hand.

5)      Teaching Letter Sounds First 

Montessori focuses on letter sounds, not names  
 I have learned with my own children and my past kindergarten classes that to help a child to read, they need to focus on the letter sounds.  With my own children, I started teaching letter sounds by 16 months old. Many thought this was too early, but playing games with language from an early age has  helped my own children become early readers and improved their speech. In my kindergarten classroom, we name a letter by its letter sound. We do learn, it is also called letter A, but the focus is always on the sounds. By the end of the year most if not all students are reading in the classroom. Once they master the sounds, they can master reading.

6)      Modeling

Montessori schools use intentional and specific language.                                                            I am an encourager, so I tend to want to praise students for great work, and that’s okay, but I have to be careful not to have students rely on verbal praise to do a task. Instead, I want them to be proud of their work. I work on this daily by recognizing task persistence.

Language I am practicing using with my students:
-I noticed (stating what they did)
-Is this work you are proud of, What makes you proud of it?
-How did you feel when you accomplished this?
-Is there anything you will do differently next time?

We can learn so much from all walks of education. 
I am thankful I have witnessed the Montessori approach with my own children, allowing me to use their ideas in my own classroom.
I won’t be turning my classroom into a Montessori one, after all I work at a public school and not all their approaches work for my students and our classroom, but I AM grateful I have learned some amazing strategies to carry with me to my own classroom. Many of these have made me a better teacher and a better mother.

It is my hope that by adding these details found in Montessori schools, I can add more light to my own public school classroom. Making our class a better place where all my students grow to become lifelong learners.

Extra Resources:
Here is an awesome video about the founders of Google and their Montessori experience:

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

The Power of Simplifying

I have learned that there is power in simplifying, especially in the classroom. Less really does equal more. The past three years I have been working hard to make my classroom a place where my students can focus, work together, and enjoy a joyful work space.

These are a few ways I have simplified the classroom:

Each season I go back over my classroom and make decisions about what stays and goes. If my students are not using something or I have not touched it in that year, it goes. This helps me focus on what is most useful in running a smooth classroom. When I clean out, I either donate to another teacher, give to Goodwill, or let it go to the trashcan. I have found by letting go of the things my students and I don’t use on a regular basis has helped my classroom look bigger, cleaner, and be a place where the students are proud to work.

This purging has included my classroom desk. I now put my computer on top of a bookshelf so I have it for my Mimio and projector each day.  Getting rid of my teacher desk gave my students so much more space and has given me the opportunity to reflect on what is most important in the classroom. When I need to work, I just move my computer to one of the work spaces in the room. This helps push me to stay focused on the students, my real purpose.

This seasonal purging was very challenging at first, but the more I have practiced, the better I have become at letting things go and focusing on what matters most in teaching. It has also helped me with thinking about upcoming purchases. My spending has become reasonable and I don’t feel guilty when buying something I know I truly need for my students.

There is a sense of peace that comes with letting go.

Community Supplies
In my classroom, I have a shelf where all the daily supplies are laid out in baskets or bins. The students use these supplies whenever needed. My students all have a book bin where they keep their reading books and anything special to them such as their own scissors, school store pencils, etc. but for the most part, we all use the community supplies. I also have a tub on each main table with pencils, crayons, and markers. I have found using community supplies has been a huge time saver in students working and in clean up. Since everything we use is shared, students seem more careful in putting everything away. In our room, everything is accessible to the students. This includes cabinets, shelves, and drawers. My theory is that if I make everything in the room accessible to them that they will become more independent.  Each year this has become more true, by January my students know the room like the back of their hand and they love getting everything out themselves and they really do clean up with a sense of pride.

 In the beginning of the year community supplies is a challenge for many of my students and at times students argue, take things from each other, and even take more than they need, but after a few weeks of modeling, teaching, and role play the students take turns, share, use please and thank you, and even get supplies out for other students. The community supplies have been a huge help in empowering my students to take more ownership in their classroom and being a better community member.

Work Spaces
When I set up the room each year, I think of our classroom in work spaces. Changing how I set up the room has benefited my students greatly. They now have work spaces all over the room where they can choose to work throughout the day. These spaces include different types of tables floor & standing, working on the class stage, working outside in the hall, using different seats, and using our floor mats with clipboards. Allowing my students to choose anywhere to work instead of a designated area has helped my students become extremely motivated. They know that if an area is not working or someone is distracting them they can to move. They also know at any time I have the right to move them, but this is a rare occurrence especially after the first month of school. 

Having my students choose their place to work has helped my students focus, therefore getting more work done. Looking at my class during work time, I see happy kids who are happily working.

Experiences over Things
In the past, I felt it was very important to have all the latest and greatest, whether this was a new book, gadget, game, or even a new holiday decor. I spent much of my thinking, time, and money looking for whatever item would make my class a little better or brighter. As I have seen myself purge many of these items I have realized that it is not things our students need as much as experiences. I have become more thoughtful with my lesson planning to make sure my students have experiences to build lasting memories, which I have found also helps in providing motivation in attending school, not wanting to miss out on anything. 

The past few years I have added things to my weekly lessons such as science demonstrations/experiments, PBL projects, STEM activities, art projects, food lessons, and creating things like memory books. Many of these lessons are free or very inexpensive.  I have also found many parents are willing to help and teachers are willing to go into these lessons together. I feel like my students are happier than they have been in the past, even though years ago I would have thought getting them EVERYTHING was what was best for our classroom.

Learning that experiences over things is what really matters has helped me value our time together.  I know besides how I treat my students each day, experiences is what they’ll remember most about each year.

I have learned over the years, (Yes, unfortunately this took me awhile) that it is not about me in the classroom, but all about my students and THEIR voices. My story is not as important as the one they tell and I must listen carefully putting in much effort to know who they are.

One thing I have been practicing is listening to my students daily. Each day our class has a share time where only the speaker talks. We then get the opportunity to ask the speaker questions. We learn so much from each other during this time. I am often able to refer back to their stories throughout the year, building better relationships with my students.

We also have share times during our many workshops. We take the time at the end of each lesson to share our own work. The person sharing or speaker says, “I’m ready for questions and comments.” The students then get the opportunity to ask questions or give specific feedback on what they noticed about the students work in reading, writing, or math. The speaker loves the chance to answer questions about their work and see that their work is valued. They learn through this sharing process that their work matters and they work harder the next lesson to make their work audience ready.

I have found that listening to our students during times out of class is also vital to the relationship. If a student comes up to me during lunch, recess, or during our brain breaks even if an adult is talking to me, I finish that sentence with the adult and then talk to my student.  I believe that my job is to put students first, so if my student needs me or even wants to talk to me about something important to them, it’s my job to create the atmosphere that they are always important enough for me to stop and listen. I make sure I give them full eye contact and many times I put my hand on their shoulder as we are talking. I want them to know they have my full attention, I also want them to know this is how we should treat others we are listening too. This is something that sounds so simple, but it has taken me years of practice to be successful.

The more I have let go of stuff, the need to be fulfilled with more, and let go of self,  the more I have gained as a person and as an educator. 

I have found that the world loves to tell you to buy more, be more, and focus more on ourselves, but this has not worked for me, instead it seemed to create unrest, discontentment, envy, and the feeling I wasn’t enough.  The past 3 years in becoming simpler, I have found that my classroom has become a joyful place full of peace. It is a place I love coming to each day and so do my students. In our world, which at times can be so over whelming, our classroom must be a place where students feel safe, motivated to work, and empowered to be their best.

If I could go back to my younger educator self, I would say to her simplify your class, create a community, use work spaces, build experiences, and listen more than you speak. I think if I had done these things earlier, I would have focused more on what mattered most, teaching my students.

Here's to a New Year filled with love, laughter, hard work, and experiences! May you be blessed this year in all that you do!

Saturday, December 23, 2017

For Blair, A PLN Tribute

During the summer of 2016, a group of educators found each other on Twitter and what came of that connection became the very first PLN (professional learning network) I have ever had the privilege of being a part of.  We came from different places around the US and world, and connected on things such as faith, flexible seating, social media in the classroom, and so much more.  Shortly after meeting on Twitter, we created a Voxer group, and named it “Our PLN”.  No matter the time or day, we always knew we could depend on one another within that group.  Sometimes we shared professional ideas and thoughts, and other times we shared things that were personal and very dear to our hearts. I have never met Alana, Mike, Blair, Todd, or Marilyn in person, but they felt like family regardless. -Amy

Through this amazing group we all learned that love has no boundaries and that you can become connected to one another over time by opening up to each other, appreciating each other’s strengths, and caring about each other through good times and bad. We hope that by sharing memories of our friend, Blair, that we will honor his heart and his memory. -Alana

Amy Storer:
One of my best memories of Blair is when I was able to connect with his class in Australia to show his students how to use Buncee.  Shortly before that, he participated in EdChange Global, and virtually attended my session on Buncee.  He ended up winning a subscription to Buncee, and I was so excited about showing him and his students the power of this creation tool.  We scheduled a time for us to virtually meet, and because we both lived in different countries, we got creative.  That is one of the many reasons why I respected him so much! He always found a way for his kids.  He even had Skype Nights at his school where the students could stay the night so they could connect with classrooms in the United States.  He knew how important it was to connect his students with the outside world.  I loved being a part of his class on that day, and was so excited about them starting their Buncee journey!  

Each and every time that I visited with Blair, he inspired me to do more as an educator.  His positivity was contagious, and his eagerness to grow as a lead learner was something to be admired.  You will never be forgotten, my friend. “Our PLN” will honor you always.  Thank you for coming into our lives the summer of 2016.  We are truly the lucky ones!

Never take for granted this gift that we have been given-the gift of global connections. So many of my PLN are people that I know I can count on, but have never met in real life. That is huge. If you haven’t gotten connected as an educator, I encourage you to do so.  You will not regret it!
-Amy Storer
Montgomery, TX, USA

Alana Stanton:                                                                                                                     
Two years ago I got on Twitter with the hope to be inspired to be a better educator. I never realized that the people I would meet would become such dear friends who would inspire me to be a better person in all that I do. One of the first educators that truly amazed me was Blair Smith. I was first amazed at his classroom, which was made for students and had flexible seating. I was also impressed with how he used simple things to innovate his classroom such as whiteboard tables and table projections.

 My husband and I both connected with this educator turning our rooms into flexible seating classrooms with whiteboard tables, in turn this inspired many of the teachers around us to change their rooms to fit the needs of their students. We were so encouraged by Blair who always took the time to answer our questions and give us encouragement. This was much needed for Mike and I because we were taking a huge leap to change our classrooms, but Blair reassured us it would turn out great and we had his support at any time.

Last year Blair was highly involved in my classroom even though he lived in another continent, Australia. He taught my students about The Great Barrier Reef, the outback, and the amazing animals that lived there. He even took pictures of kangaroos on his drive to work, so my students could see them in the wild instead of in the Atlanta Zoo. Blair always took time to answer my student’s questions on Voxer and Twitter even though he was extremely busy living life as a basketball coach, educator, administrator for his school, and being an involved family man. He even took time out of his week to help my own children with their Australian Day. He taught them a special song that only Australians would know for patriotic events. The girls learned the song and sang it for their school making it a very special day.

Over time Blair, my husband Mike, and I got into our first Voxer group with three other educators Todd, Amy, and Marilyn. We loved hearing Blair’s encouraging voice. Through this group I found out Blair was a Christian educator. We both read the book, Jesus Calling by Sarah Young. We were able to share these encouraging messages with each other on challenging days. This is when I started to realize that I was a Christian educator and I should be open to share this through my posts, blog, and in my classroom. Blair knew that being an educator was soul pouring and he showed me the importance of starting each day with prayer. He specifically taught me how to pray for my students. I now pray daily for my students knowing there’s a power higher than me that can help them succeed.

Blair will forever remain in my heart and in my classroom. I will always remember the impact he had on me as an educator and as a person. He was and will remain one of my most favorite educational heros. My hope became a reality when I got on Twitter two years ago and I’m grateful I got the chance to know this inspiring man. 
(Psalm 34:18-19)

-Alana Stanton,
Dacula, Georgia, USA

Chris Quinn:
It was a blessing for me to get to know Blair through a number of different Twitter chats, over the past few years. I have not been part of the PLN Voxer group, but I have come to know many of its members. Blair was a dedicated family man, teacher, athlete and Twitter friend to many! He brought life, passion and goodness to so many of our conversations. He put kids first, as evidenced by the way he approached teaching, always welcoming change, global connectivity, innovation and flexible responses, based on the needs of his students. He truly was (and remains) an edu hero for me and for so many!  He inspired many of us to continue to grow as educators, in collaboration with each other!

His passing is a tremendous loss for our education community, for his dear family and for his friends.  His life is the gift that will keep on giving for many years to come.  May we find some comfort and solace in knowing that he left an indelible mark, through his ‘giving from the heart’, on the many lives he touched, and in the hope that he now rests in peace with our Creator.
-Chris Quinn
London, Ontario, Canada

Mike Stanton:
The summer of 2016 was a great summer of friendship. The friends I made I never met face to face, however I knew I could count of all of them. Blair, Todd, Amy, and Marilyn were new friends that my wife Alana and I connected to through Twitter. We enjoyed growing together and sharing ways to change our thoughts, ideas, and teaching practices. We pushed each other to try new things.

As friends do, we began to share our lives through connecting on Voxer. We would not only learn about our classrooms, but also about our families. We shared our hopes and dreams with one another and opened up to each other in the process. We shared stories that were close to our hearts and dreams we had for our future students and our families. We also shared our fears, challenges, and heartaches.

Our group came together and were truly lead by Blair Smith. He was strong enough to push us to our limits but gentle enough to help guide us along the way. He was innovative yet down to earth. He was most importantly a friend we could call on for laughter, support, and advice. Blair became part of our thoughts, ideas, and classrooms. We will forever hold onto those pieces he shaped in us and transformed in our classrooms. His legacy lives on through the children he has influenced across the world.
-Mike Stanton
Dacula, Georgia, USA

Marilyn McAlister:
Our precious, Blair. Through time, space, Twitter, and Voxer, we are better people and educators because of you. The sound of your voice, the smile on your face, your words of encouragement, and your sharing of best practices will forever be reminders of your goodness.

At one point in life, I could never grasp that relationships could be built through a virtual space. But then our PLN came together. Amy’s fun and feisty Texas accent, her passion for Buncee and global connectedness, and her precious niece on #PassTheScope kept us on our toes. Alana and her love for her girls, her husband, her Kinders, and her school kept our hearts open. Mike, although the quietest of bunch, always had words of wisdom just at the right time. Todd was always ready with a relevant quote, a story about his high school leadership students, and words of affirmation. Chris is our encourager that helps me see the big picture.

And Blair. Our precious, Blair. He would tell stories of his drive to work. Although I’ve never been to Australia, my mind conjured up a scene of him driving and laughing through the winding road to school. But his classroom, now that we could envision. There’s much talk of being an innovator. Blair is the epitome of an innovative educator. At the beginning of each year, he would put all of the furniture in the middle of the room. Literally!!! Students would design layouts and the room would take shape. It was a delight for him to give his students autonomy from the very first day. No desks, but couches, a variety of tables, both high and low, chairs, bean bags, rugs, and the like. Each student had their own tub of supplies. The tubs were carried and moved around the room, then stored nicely at the end of the day. Blair created a room where learning and relationships went hand in hand.

Innovation did not exist only in his classroom. He reached out far and wide. For two years in a row I watched, read, and heard about his international Skype nights. He was the master of global collaboration. I loved the pictures he would post of his students skyping with other classes, educators, authors, and scientists. Read more about his Skype nights here. I picked his brain on numerous occasions about Skyping. He kept prompting me, but I was scared. I’m not sure why, but I was. Now I have to Skype with a class. What a gift Blair gave his students. The gift of diversity, connectedness, and authentic learning.

It is with tears that I end this reflection. Blair left a legacy. His humility and kindness were apparent to all that crossed his path. His family, his students, and his PLN are better because of him. Let us all live our lives in a way that will bring honor to those that love us. Blair lived his life with zest, compassion, and humility. Let that be our example.

Our precious, Blair. Forever in our hearts.

-Marilyn McAlister
Imperial, California, USA

Everyone in this PLN has been touched deeply by Blair Smith and grown as an educator whether it was by his ideas, his innovation, his passion, his humbleness, or his heart. We will never forget him because in some way he is found in each of our classrooms and even in our teaching philosophies. We all know that it is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all. We will continue to reflect on who we are as people and educators hoping we can carry on a little bit of his spirit with our flexible seating, connecting our classrooms, or by staying present in the moment like Blair choose to do with each and every person he connected with. We were all blessed to know him and hope this post shares a little bit of why he made the world a better place for students, staff, and a world full of educators.

Blair you will forever remain in our hearts. We know we will get the chance to meet you in person one day and when we do we know you will have that beautiful smile waiting for us as you greet us at the door. -Alana

                                                                Blair Smith

Sunday, December 10, 2017

If It Snows, We Go!

I remember a certain day during my third year of teaching as if it was yesterday. That was ten years ago, but I remember it clearly. It was such an exciting day. My first graders were learning about fractions, so we made pizzas at school. We used fractions to help us with toppings and after baking our pizzas, we reviewed fractions by slicing each pizza into equal pieces.

That day we also had a writing celebration, called Poetry Coffee House. The students made the room look like a hip coffee house, we wore all black with fun hats, and listened to jazz music in the background. We enjoyed hot chocolate with our families as we snapped along as each student read their poem at the mic.

As the parents, left Poetry Coffee House that day our class was sitting by the window reading a story, when we saw snow falling outside. Outside our window was the most beautiful scene of falling snow. Snow perfect to play in, so what did I do to celebrate this amazing moment in Georgia...

I had them watch the snow from the window and write snow poems. Yes, that’s it.

Why didn’t I let them go outside and play in the fresh fallen snow you might ask because of FEAR.

I had too much fear to take them outside in the snow. What if my principal didn’t want us outside, what if we are the only class out there, what if the parents didn't want their child playing in the snow, what if the kids didn’t have a warm enough jacket?

Sadly, enough I let the fear of what ifs take over such an important moment. A moment that could have been worked into so many lessons, a moment that could have allowed our class to experience an event together, a moment that they would have remembered over pizza and poems.

Later that day my husband who also worked at the same school at the time told me all about his class’ adventure in the snow. They played together, had a snowball fight, raced in the snow, and came in with complete joy.

My first question for him was, “Did you get in trouble?” I remember asking this like this was of the utmost importance. “Of course I did” he told me. After being outside for ten minutes, the principal herself came outside and asked him what he was doing. His response was, “I am giving the kids an experience in the snow. An experience many of our students have never had.”

It was at that moment that I decided I would never let fear hold me back from doing what's best for my students. My new motto became, If It Snows, We Go!

This Friday (12/09) I got the experience to live this motto out with my kindergarten class and my very own two children. The weather Friday predicted a light snow in the morning. My students came into the classroom with a skip in their step to get the chance to witness snow. I had one of my students’ pull the blinds all the way up to keep an eye on the window throughout the morning. We called her the Snow Watcher.

We were reading the story during Literacy when all of a sudden our snow watcher yelled, “It’s SNOWING!” Many of our students rushed over to the window. Their excitement all a glow in the room. As I looked outside my own excitement grew, It was SNOWING!

I told them, “When It Snows, We Go!” They quickly got their jackets and gloves on and we headed outside or should I say we practically ran outside.

Once out the doors my class ran down the sidewalks, jumped up and down, caught the snow in their hands, and just played. They watched the snow fall on the bushes, they wondered why the snow disappeared when it hit the pavement, and they gazed up into the sky to watch it fall down so quickly, falling right on their joyful faces.

My class got the chance to experience real snow, something our part of Georgia does not get very often. I teach a unit in January about winter and snow, but this was not a lesson, this was the real experience. An experience that my students all needed and deserved.

When my husband and I got home, we took our two girls back to the school to go and play on the big playground and the next day we took them to Mulberry park to sled on the biggest hills. 

It was so much fun watching my own children play in the snow and to get to play with them. It was especially fun to watch my husband play with the girls. He is such a great daddy and I feel blessed to witness his journey as a dad. He just has this magic touch with them. He allows them to be children, but he also goes right into their world becoming a child himself, it is just beautiful to witness.

What has been surprising to me the past few years of our light snow is that there are not many people out in the snow or playing outside. Usually we are one of the few people playing in our neighborhood, school, or local parks.

Last year there was only one other family at the park and a Gwinnett Daily Post Journalist went to three parks looking for people playing for the newspaper. Our family and the other family were the only ones he could find for the paper.

The strangest thing is when I let people know this year we were heading out to play in the snow I got the responses from multiple people: “Be careful!”,“Stay safe!”, “Are you sure you want to go out there?” or “Wow, you guys are so brave!”

I have learned from my own experience that third year of teaching when I chose to keep my students safe and warm by that snowy window that we cannot let fear or those what if questions guide our lives.

We will always have fears, it is a natural part of life, but we have to push through them, so we can actually live our lives, helping our students and our own children make memories, make experiences, and live. We have to take every opportunity we can to challenge ourselves, therefore helping the future generations become brave, daring, young at heart, and full of life.

I am so thankful years ago, I learned such a valuable lesson, to seize the moment even when you think there might be back lash or even when you are fearful.

Those who know me well know I do my best to follow rules and things expected of me, but they also know I have a rebellious spirit for doing what is best for kids. I pray I always keep that little rebel spirit. I believe it has been created in me to make sure I live a life that's full and to remind me that sometimes doing what is best for kids requires a little bit of rebel in all of us.