Saturday, September 23, 2017

Be Patient with Yourself

Last year I would describe myself as on fire. Every day I just wanted to be better and better. I wanted to be a better person, a better mother, and a better educator. I was captivated by what I was learning on social media. Each day I loved reading new blogs, quotes, watching Ted Talks, and reading different books such as Teach like A Pirate, Ditch that Textbook, and Teach Like Finland. My favorite thing was to try to live out the new things I learned. With each new blog I read I had this yearning to be the best educator I could be.  

Now let’s talk about this year. This year has been a challenge for me. I adored my summer. I loved being with my husband each day and my two girls. Waking up to their giggles each morning (at 9am may I say) was almost like having a daily cup of coffee. Getting to read one to two books a week and take a walk outside whenever I wanted was infectious. For the first time in my career I didn’t go up to the school in June to set up and I barley went in more than 4 hours total to set up before preplanning. I just knew I needed each moment this summer to enjoy with my loved ones.

Walking into this year has been different for me. I was in my first trimester of being pregnant with bad nausea, my grade level changed, and my dear friend left the school. Last year our school witnessed one of our beloved staff member’s children and former student fight for his life with cancer. Our precious 6th grader lost that fight on September 2nd, 2017 to AML Leukemia a few weeks before his 13th birthday. This created a loss in our school which will always leave a scar on all of us. We are healing, but it will never go away nor should it.  Even though we are a strong community with a strong faith, our hearts are broken.

This year I have had to push myself to be the educator I have been for 12 years prior. I have felt that even though no one notices the changes in my spirit, I notice that my heart has not been fully in each day. I have never enjoyed so much hearing the sound of my end of the day alarm to pick up our girls from school.  I have found myself running to get my girls who are literally in full sprint and screaming “Mommy, Daddy, Mommy, Daddy” over and over as they run across the big playground to get to us. They give us both the biggest hugs. These are the kind of moments you know you have to appreciate because one day they will be too grown to run for us.

I cannot explain the feeling of gratefulness that my husband shares the same school with me. My heart had always told me year 5 at this school would be the year I felt most at home. Having him at this school to lean on or be someone he can lean on has been the biggest gift.

To be honest, I miss my old class. I miss that we went through so many amazing things together and we experienced heartache together too. I truly poured my heart into that group. I am so proud of last year. I know I will look back on this year and be proud too. I know I will do it again. I will bounce back to my energetic self who is always seeking her best.  I already see my heart opening up more and more to this group, but it is happening slower than normal for me.

I have to believe that is okay. I am human. I am not a super hero, yet I am often guilty of referring to every educator as one. I am a woman who is a wife, a mother, and a person just trying to be there for others as best as I know how.

And I have realized something this week. This feeling I have right now is okay. I am learning right now I cannot be everything all the time to everyone. I am going to go through seasons of change in my life and in my career. It’s up to me to make sure I’m doing what is best for kids, but it is also my job to be patient with myself and allow myself to adjust to my new class, new grade level, and new emotions. Some of these emotions are joy, but I am also feeling grief, sadness, and a sense of loss not only for our community, but for my coworker who I respect and love dearly.

I wanted to write this piece to be honest. I also wanted to write it because maybe someone out there feels a similar way. If you are having any feelings like me this year, please know you’re not alone. Please know that it’s okay to have your heart hold back for a while, and that fire will come again, but please also know that YOU come first. That your family comes first and to know that is okay!

I cannot wait to write that blog soon to tell you my heart is just captivated by this year, but if it isn’t written I know that is fine too because I know what I have to give this year will be enough. My family might be the ones in need of my heart most this year. 

And for the first time in 12 years I’m proud to say I am trying to truly put them first, I know that will not go unnoticed.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Pizza in the Park

At the end of the school year I usually hug my students good bye knowing I will not see them again until the start of the next school year. But this ending was different. As I hugged my students and parents good bye I was able to say, “We can’t wait to see you in July for Pizza in the Park.”

My husband Mike and I decided that we wanted a chance to celebrate our student’s accomplishments over the school year. We also wanted the chance to enjoy our students and their families, so we both invited our kindergarten and fourth grade classes to Little Mulberry Park to have a celebration as a class family one last time.

I planned the event, so my friend Teresa Gross our class Twitter buddy could attend. My students were so excited to get a chance to meet the person who had spent so much time reaching out to our class by reading to us, answering questions about New York, and sending pictures of a snowy winter.

Throughout the summer I would see our students, talk with them, and each time I walked away I would say, “See you in July.” It felt wonderful knowing we would get to spend quality time together before rushing into a new school year. We knew not everyone would get the chance to attend, but we were hoping a third of our students came out . When we sent out the Evite, we were thrilled to see more than half from each class would be attending.

At Pizza in the Park Mike and I got there a little early to set up thinking the kids would arrive soon, but we were surprised to already have a fourth grade student, Aidan waiting for us. We found out that this was a very special day for him because he was moving in a week. The family did not know they were making these changes at the end of the school year. His mom told us that he couldn't wait for Pizza in the Park to get a chance to say goodbye to his classmates.

Many fourth grade students arrived at Pizza in the Park, we came out to greet them all, but of course I caught myself many times looking for my own students. The first student I saw running down the track, was Shari. She was as fast as ever. I ran down to meet her, “Shari I knew you would be the first one!” She didn’t know it, but little tears were in my eyes. Hugging her made me realize how much I missed my students and how special this event was going to be for all of us. Shari and I gave each other a big hug and talked about her summer. She had so much to tell me. The beautiful thing was I could really take it all in and listen intently because there was no lesson coming up, just time to spend with my students. I then introduced Shari to Teresa. Shari had a huge smile on her face since she had usually been the student taking class pictures to send to Ms. Gross.  Her family and Teresa were able to connect by talking about New York and their visit to Paris, France.

As each child from my class showed up I felt blessed to know each child and their family. We told families we had dinner covered and not to worry about food for others, but almost every parent brought something to share with the classes whether it was slices of watermelon, bags of chips, juice boxes, or cookies. We even got to celebrate Michelle’s 6th birthday with both classes. Singing happy birthday to this sweet, strong, and humble child (no longer afraid of bees) was a highlight. Her brother who I  taught years ago was standing beside, proud to be there by her side. Seeing those two pass out cupcakes to all the students there including their siblings amazed me.

One of my students, Jackson let me know that his family was in Canada. His dad had stayed with him, so that he could attend Pizza in the Park. This touched my heart to think mom, sister, and brother had gone to visit family, but Jackson wanted to stay to spend time with our class one last time. It let me reflect on the importance of the relationships we build with our students and the relationships they build with each other,

It was truly magical for Mike and I as we looked around seeing parents talking to each other sitting on camp chairs, fourth graders playing football, kindergartners swinging together, and even my own children keeping up with the big kids. Our girls looked independent and happy to hang out with their soon to be Mulberry family.

Mike and I at one time thought maybe we should let the event go. Thinking would many of our students be able to come out, would we be able to pull it off, and wondering if the park would even work as a location. I am so thankful Mike and I pushed through with this event! It was amazing to talk to the families not about academics or the school year, but just to hear about their lives as a family. Hearing amazing stories of students who visited Norway, Paris, Virginia Beach, New York, New Jersey, The Smokey Mountains, and Atlanta were priceless.

Mike and I will keep this day in our hearts for years to come, remembering each year it’s a gift we can give to our students, but also a gift we receive right back by seeing all our students celebrate their year as a class family. We are so grateful to be in this wonderful community serving so many families.

Mike and I are thankful each year we get to be called educators. I am personally thankful I get to share this career with my best friend and husband, Mike Stanton who reminds me daily of the impact great educators have on their communities. May we always remember the impact of Pizza in the Park and may it remind us that hard work needs celebrated and love is always received.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Newborn Twins: My Summer Professional Development by Guest Writer Sheldon Soper

Newborn Twins: My Summer Professional Development

By Guest Writer Sheldon Soper @SoperWritings

For as long as I can remember, my response to the age-old question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” never really changed. The answer always came back to fulfilling two dreams: I wanted to be a teacher and I wanted to be a dad.

A decade ago, I realized the former. I landed a job teaching in an amazingly diverse, supportive, and forward-thinking district. Over the course of my tenure there, I have had the privilege to teach classes of third, fifth, sixth, and seventh graders and have loved the experiences.

As a teacher, I have been given the chance to pilot new classroom technologies, try new innovative best practices, take creative risks pushing rigorous content, and even lead professional development sessions for my colleagues. This is not always the case for educators in most districts; to say I have been lucky is an understatement. Dream 1? Check!

Last fall, my wife and I got the surprise of a lifetime when we found out we were having twins. After a long, unforgiving pregnancy (it turns out my wife is, in fact, a superhero), we were blessed with our two amazing kids, Francesca and Henry. We walked out of the hospital together five days later as a family – everyone healthy, everyone beautiful. Dream 2? Nailed it!

I’m in my mid-thirties and have achieved the two major milestone goals I have been working towards for a third of century. So now what? Anyone who is either an educator or a parent knows how loaded that question really is.

A Different Kind of “Working Vacation”

Whether it is teaching or parenthood, you have to hone a craft to be effective at it.

This summer I have found myself in a unique position. Typically, my “months off” in July and August are spent attending and leading professional development opportunities at my school. This summer is different. I feel the undeniable pull to be home spending time doing whatever I can to both support and enjoy my family. So this year, while I am heading in a for a few professional development sessions here and there, I’ve cut way back.

My heart and my calendar both know this summer is all about clearing my plate and working to be the best father I can be (Full disclosure: it has been an amazing journey so far and I would not trade it for anything!). However, part of my summer brain will always be in “How can I make this upcoming school year even better?”-mode.

In my quest to satiate that nagging craving to improve my teaching practice, I came to one conclusion that instantly erased that pull towards the school: the majority of the lessons I’m learning to best serve my newborn twins will also be lessons I can apply to my seventh graders in the fall.

For instance, here are some of the things my twins have already taught me this summer:

Not all cries are the same

Babies cry. Anyone expecting a child has to know this going in.

As parents of twins, my wife and I were prepared for a life perpetually without silence. Luckily, we were blessed with two fairly even-keeled babies that have been quite kind to our ears. Now don’t get me wrong, these babies cry; but when they do, there’s usually a solid reason.

At first, sorting out why we had an upset child meant running a checklist of potential causes. We would look for the usual suspects: signs of illness, hunger, a loaded diaper, gas, clothing issues… After some detective work, the problem would be discovered, solved, and we would be a few cuddles away from having content babies again. Things started to change once my wife and I started honing in on the actual sounds Henry and Francesca were making.

Just telling the difference between the babies’ voices was tough enough at the start. Over time, though, it has gotten easier. My wife and I have not only gotten better at identifying which baby is crying, but also what the actual cries themselves are telling us.

Is Henry in a full-blown huff? Time to fill the tank!

Is Francesca starting to whimper and squirm? She’s gotten a limb free from her swaddle.

Is Francesca hitting notes only the dogs can hear? Call the EPA; her diaper is probably an ecological disaster.

For me, these experiences have reinforced the notion that so much of vocal communication comes down to the voice’s musical qualities like rhythm, pitch, and intonation. When your ear starts to latch onto to those aspects as effectively as it can actual words, you end up with a clearer picture of what someone is really saying. Without really trying, caring for babies has definitely helped hone my ability to hear.

I already know this will make a big difference on my capacity to manage and support a classroom full of students. As it stands, I am pretty good at picking up on student remarks so that I can swoop in for a teachable moment or redirect students slipping off task. Not to pat myself on the back too hard, but I can still pick out a strong whisper from across the room (despite a youth spent blasting my eardrums with a Walkman and 90s rock).

This year, I am going to make it a point to focus on what my students’ voices are saying beyond just the words they are forming. Henry and Francesca have shown me that dialing into the wordless aspects of students’ vocalizations can be just as important as catching every word they say. I know that at times I have failed to consider tone when hearing what a student is trying to communicate. Thanks to my babies, I am confident I will be better attuned this year.

Boundaries are Adjustable

One of the most challenging responsibilities that comes with being either a teacher or a parent is setting boundaries for kids. Teachers create limits to help students focus and keep their learning environment productive. In a classroom, this means creating a management plan including things like behavior expectations, seating arrangements, and daily routines.

With newborns, there are really only so many limits to set. So far, it seems like the most important set of boundaries for our twins has been when to let them stretch and flail their little limbs and when to swaddle them up like little snuggly burritos.

In both cases, too much freedom can mean an onrush of overstimulation and distractibility. For students, a lack of boundaries can increase the likelihood of getting off task or making poor decisions. For our babies, not having the security of a tight cuddle can mean certain daily routines (like sleep) are harder to accomplish.

However, knowing when to loosen boundaries can be just as important as establishing them in the first place. When students feel things like tight regimentation or overly prescriptive tasks are boxing them in, they can become frustrated and disengaged. Similarly, if you leave a baby swaddled when they don’t want to be, they’ll let you know!

Knowing how to finely tune the balance between limits and freedoms is a tricky proposition. Good parents and teachers have to be zeroed-in on where the ever-changing thresholds need to be at any given moment.

When things are running smoothly, you can afford to offer up more freedoms to help kids gain a greater sense of autonomy and responsibility. On the other hand, when it seems like freedom is starting to teeter over towards anarchy, there is nothing wrong with tightening the reins to get things back on track.

Regardless of their ages, kids need boundaries. The key for adults is staying dialed in to be able to keep those boundaries flexible enough to promote a balance of growth and accountability. I feel like this is something I have always known, but my new dynamic duo has really cinched it in for me.

Never Underestimate a Healthy Grain of Salt

From the moment my wife and I shared the news that our little bundles of joy were on the way, we were bombarded with advice from all sides. Everyone seemed to know exactly how to survive the pregnancy, what we needed to register for, how we should set up our nursery, and what we would need to do to be great parents.

Don’t get me wrong, I will listen to any advice that anyone is willing to offer. However, there was a glaring issue with most of the advice we received: it came from people with the same total lack of twin experience as we had.

Having twins is totally different than raising one newborn at a time. It just is.

To start with, a twin pregnancy is immediately considered high-risk; that means more unpredictable symptoms, a bunch of extra trips to the doctor, and a whole lot more uncertainty and nervousness about what could go wrong.

Then, once the twins arrive, everything takes twice as long as with a single baby. Each day has twice as many potential issues to go along with double the daily routines (i.e. twice the mouths to feed and diapers to change). Making things even more interesting, the things that work for one baby don’t necessarily work for the other. It’s a loving ball of constant chaos.
I could go on, but If you have never experienced twin parenting, there’s really no way to do it justice in words.

As such, my wife and I learned (very quickly) to take unsolicited advice with a big grain of salt. We knew people were just trying to help. While some words of wisdom were useful, some were not so much. Regardless, we listened and were, at the very least, grateful that people cared enough to offer.

Teachers face this same conundrum, too. We are inundated with advice and “new” best practices (sometimes solicited, sometimes not) from colleagues, professional development sessions, and administrators. Sometimes the advice is super helpful. Other times, the advice is truly great, but it comes at a point where it is not immediately useful. At its worst, you receive suggestions that seem completely ignorant to what actually is going on in your classroom with your students.

Nevertheless, whether you are a parent or a teacher, the advice will continue to pour in. In the end, teachers know their students, their own pedagogical strengths, and what just works. Parents know their children and find ways to make the right decisions for their families. The key is having a nice shaker of salt handy to help shrug off what is not relevant and continue doing your best for the sake of your kids.

With all the things parenthood would bring to the table, I never though professional development would be one of them. It amazes me how the needs of my 12-year-old students really are not that different from those of my 6-week-old children.

All middle school immaturity jokes aside, by spending the summer working hard to hone in on the needs of my newborns, I’m serving both my family and my future students. Ultimately, this connection has finally allowed me to sleep more soundly this summer: it turns out sometimes the best professional development is personal development.

…Just kidding! I’m the father of twin babies. I don’t sleep…

Sheldon Soper is a content writer for The Knowledge Roundtable. He is also a New Jersey middle school teacher with over a decade of classroom experience teaching students to read, write, and problem-solve across multiple grade levels. You can follow Sheldon on Twitter @SoperWritings and on his blog.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

A Gift

My 4-year-old daughter Claire always announces to everyone she meets that when she grows up she will be an artist and a scientist. Since Claire was a baby she loved anything to do with colors and nature. She has loved learning about the tints and shades of colors since she could pick up her first crayon. As a little scientist she loves learning about the world around her, doing experiments, and discovering how the world works. My little girl just finds our world fascinating!

Last week on Twitter I happened to see an author tweet about his newest book release. This author writes books for children who want to learn about scientists. I loved how he made science come to life for young readers by portraying the scientist characters as children whose adventures help them make scientific discoveries.

I knew Claire who be thrilled to have one of these books, so I decided to contact the author with a simple message telling him my daughter always says, “When I grow up I’m going to be a scientist who paints art.” I asked him how I could get a hold of one of his books, planning on purchasing one for her this summer.

The author (out of respect, I will have him remain anonymous) sent a message back telling me he would love to just send Claire a book. So we exchanged information, I thanked him for his time, and told Claire there was an amazing author who wrote about science that would be sending her something in the mail soon.

Claire was ecstatic. This is a child who not long ago begged me to tell her everything I learned in a science professional development, so she could add it to her science book. Claire was so excited to hear an author would be reaching out to her who also loved science.

The next week a big white package came in the mail for Claire!

It is not often she gets mail, so the package itself was a great surprise. Her reaction was one I wish I could record. She jumped up and down, giggled, and held the precious package to her chest.
We all quickly went inside the house into our living room, we couldn't to see what was inside, especially her 3-year-old sister Audrey.

Claire opened the package and pulled out its contents one by one. Inside was the author’s book he promised to send with an inscription to her! It read, “To Claire: Be A Thinker! One Great Adventure Can Change the World!” Along with the author’s signature. She looked through the book and discovered it was about a scientist who went on adventures outside learning about the many adaptions in nature.

Along with the book, the author sent her a full page, hand written letter! One of my favorite parts of the letter reads:
“I hope that you love this book as much as I have loved writing it. I also hope that you make some wondrous adventures of your own. Maybe you will be the next scientist to discover something great and share it with the world! Be Curious! Ask Questions! Look for answers!”

When Claire finished reading the letter, she discovered one more thing inside the package, inside was a beautiful artist satchel. Inside the satchel was an art set containing water colors, acrylics, paint brushes, sketch pencil, sketch book, and painting canvases.

I had to hide my teary eyes watching my daughter’s face look through this delivery. It was such a gift to her, but also to us as parents. How someone who did not know our family could reach out to a child just because he wanted to inspire a heart. Inspiring a child to know that their love of science is a big deal, not to be taken lightly!

Claire immediately put all the art contents back into the brief case. She strapped it around herself and said, “Mommy I think it's time for me to paint.” We decided to go outside like the scientist in the book. We took chairs outside, put bug spray on, and Claire looked around the yard to get inspired. She found so much joy painting outside with her new watercolors and sketch book.

Claire walked around the house the rest of that day with a confidence that was just beautiful. She knew someone other than her Mommy and Daddy believed in her and an author believed in her dream of discovering the world through a love of science and art.

Since last week Claire’s world has slightly changed. She has wanted to draw daily, paint, sketch, go on more nature walks, do experiments, and she has asked more questions about the world. She seems more confident in herself and just empowered. It amazed me that today she was observing/sketching a daddy long leg into her sketch book, which days ago terrified her. Now she tells me scientists might be scared, but they work on their art anyway.

Here is that sketch below:

 I can tell my daughter all the time she IS a scientist, but at times I can tell she is skeptical. But when an author reached out to her and told her she was, she knew it was true. She has stopped saying I will be a scientist, now saying I AM a scientist.

My heart wanted to say thank you to this author, so I reached out to him. Instead of offering the links for more books he just said please remind him in the winter, so he can send Claire his latest book. He explained his goal was to inspire the love of science in children, so they can make their own impact on the world.

As a parent I sometimes worry about what life will bring our children. We want them to be strong, curious, and loved as much as we love them. We want them to be seen and heard. We want no one to take away the confidence they have or their unique spirit.

This moment made me see that Claire will do great things with the gifts she has been given and it encouraged my spirit in this world. Seeing this author reach out showed me that there are some amazing people out there, who just want to inspire. She IS and WILL be one of these people.

 I believe it.

She will have those who throw brokenness her way, but she will also have moments like this that affirm the gifts she was born with. People who believe in her and push her to be her best.
We are so blessed to have had this magical moment. We are blessed to have had someone open their heart to our daughter all because he just wanted to do some good in the world, with no strings attached.

It has been a gift to see my daughter proud of who she is and know that she will gift the world back with her joy of art and science.

To the author of the books, YOU know who you are. You are making scientists for our world, one reader at a time. Our family will forever be grateful for the affirmation and passion you have inspired in our little girl who will one day rise to do great things in this world.

“Play outside and make adventures of your own, catching bugs, making mud pies, picking flowers, and jumping in puddles is doing science so long as you learn something while doing it.”
-Anonymous Children’s Author

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

The Unexpected Yes

Friday night my husband Mike walked into the room and said he had something to talk to me about. Our family had been thinking about doing a beach trip in a few weeks, but he had discovered that the weather would be rainy the week planned. He had just found a great deal for the beach, but it would mean we needed to leave early in the morning.

Now in the past hearing this news I would have thought of every single possible issue with leaving right away such as the doctor appointments, the activities planned, and things I was in charge of for that week at church, but my immediate response was, YES.

I knew this was an opportunity that came knocking and the door needed to be opened right away. So we quickly packed and got the car ready. At 5AM we put the girls in their car seats. We then took off to St. Simons beach and by 10:30 am we had our feet in the sand.

During this trip I witnessed our girls overcome their fear of water, jumping in and splashing with joy. I saw my husband’s playful spirit, making sandcastles with our little ones. I was overjoyed to be a part of many giggles which will remain in my heart for years to come.

What would have happened if I did not say, Yes.

I know. The experience would have been lost.

In the classroom we are taught to be planned for everything. We do lesson plans each week, we plan for ways to improve our students learning, and we plan and attend meetings. At times this becomes who we are, planned.

This year I discovered that saying Yes helped me not only become a better teacher, but a better person.

My students this year had many passions that they brought into the classroom. I had one student, Willow who loves kites. Each day we have a time called Team Build where students can build and play. Willow made a kite during Team Build and brought it outside with her to fly. As we were on the sidewalk together, one of the students, said “I wish we could make kites.”
I thought about it…why not? We were doing measurement. I thought couldn’t they make kites and add runners to learn the difference between short and long, couldn’t we make kites and measure our longest strand with difference objects and rulers? Couldn’t we go fly the kites and see whose kite goes the highest?

So we did!

I scratched the measurement lesson I had previously planned. I had Willow share her kite and how she made it. I played a video clip from YouTube (Thank You YouTube for existing!), and the students made kites. This ended up being a two-day lesson because the kids were so motivated to make their kite their personal best. The kids loved learning about kites, making them, measuring them, and of course flying them! One fourth grade classroom even used the kite lesson to study about angles. It was my husband’s class, but hey it was a class.

Watching my students fly those kites made a Yes, stamp on my heart. I started thinking about other ways I could say Yes to my students. Then I came across a book, Instant Relevance by Denis Sheeran @MathDenisNJ. This book tells about how educators can make learning more relevant to their students and how we can bring student interest into our lessons. This book gave me the affirmation I needed to continue to look for ways to make learning come alive in my classroom.
In order to be the best version of ourselves we have to take those opportunities that come up in our classrooms and say, “Yes!” Even when they don’t fit the plan we made for that day. Those spur of the moment lessons can make the biggest impact on our students and sometimes the biggest impact on our own hearts.

In my life and in my classroom I am going to continue to look for ways to say Yes. I am going to continue to plan, but I am also going to be ready to scratch that plan at any time to go with something unexpected. I have found it is often in the unexpected that learning truly unfolds. It is where we receive so many gifts we would not have received if we spent too much time asking How.

Let’s look inside ourselves and see where we can say Yes, so we can create experiences for our students that will stay with them for many years to come. 

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Our Greatest Purpose

One of the most important things I have found as an educator is purpose. This year I wrote a mission statement and a vision for my classroom. I posted it clearly in the room, so each day I could review my true purpose.

Each morning when I wake up I think about my purpose for the day.
 I have this intentional feeling I cannot fully explain. It is the feeling that today I will make an impact in the world whether it be small or large.I know I'm here for a reason and that my purpose is greater than any challenges I may face.

My purpose is to be the most impactful teacher I can be, to show all students they matter, and to help my students shine. My goal is to be a school teacher, not just a class teacher (George Couros).
Knowing this purpose has helped me break through all the distractions that come in a school day, a week, or even a school year.

My purpose has also given me the courage to be different. In the past it bothered me greatly to break the status quo. I wanted to be comfortable in every setting, but especially with the staff around me. It was important to me what others thought of me and it was very important to not stand out. I didn’t want others to think I was too far out of the box or trying to outshine them.

I had witnessed firsthand teachers who went against the grain. Teachers who were fully in for students. These teachers had an air of confidence that I had deep respect for, but they also seemed to walk down a narrow road that most would not dare take.

The road that leads to great change over time.

I now realize through the push of my purpose that no matter what anyone thinks of me, my main focus HAS to be on what is best for my students. This year I have truly learned that in order to be the best version of myself and help my students reach their highest potential I have to let go of the feelings of self-doubt, fear, and self-consciousness.

My purpose will always be to be an impactful educator who makes a difference every day in the lives of students.

I am ready to face this new year letting go of what others think, letting go of any distractions that may come my way, and facing each day with a hope that I will show a child that they matter. That they matter to our classroom, that they matter to this world, and that they matter to me.

I know there will be days that I am challenged and many days I have to reset my focus, but I will continue to review my purpose each morning, letting go of what does not matter, but holding on to what matters most, My students. 

Always…my students.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

A Thank You To My Students

    On the last day of school I held my student's hands as we walked out together to the buses. One little girl kissed my hand as I walked her to her bus. Before I could first tell her, she beat me to it and said, "I love you Mrs. Stanton." I told her I loved her and gave her a kiss on the top of her head. I gave all my students one last hug and told them I would see them very soon. Along with the other teachers including my husband we walked out to the road to wave goodbye to all the students as they left for the year. As the last bus drove past I could feel my heart sink. My husband and I walked back into the school together both holding the same feeling. We knew that the summer would bring much fun and love with our own family, but we both struggled to let go of THIS family. A family that was created at school with a beautiful team behind them.

    This year was an unbelievable year of growth, love, and learning. The last week of school was bitter sweet as my class and I enjoyed each other through many games, songs, and quality time. There are so many people I am thankful for this year for helping me make it such a memorable one, but one group I must not forget to thank is my students. 

    Our students work so hard each year to strive to be the best version of themselves. I have been given a gift of watching them grow in just 180 schools days. All my students have come out of this year being more empathetic, curious, joyful, confident, and more uniquely themselves. They know in our class we embrace the treasure of each person's true personality.

    Each year I write a personal letter to my class to thank them for being who they are....the best students I could ever ask for. Here is my letter to my class this year. This class will always hold a special place in my heart. 

To My Kindergarten Class,                                                       May 24, 2017

I first want to thank all of you for giving me such a wonderful year in kindergarten. I loved every minute of teaching you and learning from you. You are the kindest and most empathetic class I have EVER had in my 12 years of teaching.

I just wanted to thank you all for being such an outstanding group of students! You filled this year with so much joy and every day felt like the best day of the year. You’ve made each day fun and it was always exciting to come to work to see you. In fact, you made this year feel like it wasn’t even a job.

I appreciate how caring and kind you always were especially to the other kindergarten students, the cafeteria staff, Dorina our custodian, Mr. Day and his family, and Charlie. You truly have hearts of gold. 

Each day you have made me want to be a better person. You have made me reflect daily on how I can have big hearts just like you. You make everyone feel that they matter. You make everyone around you smile. And you make Mulberry a better place just by being you.

Please stay in touch with me over the years and let me know if there is ever anything you need. I will ALWAYS be there to listen, I will ALWAYS be there for a hug, and I will ALWAYS be one of your champions.

I will miss each and every one of you over the summer, but I know that I will get to see your smiling faces at Pizza in the Park, registration day, and the first day of school. Oh, how proud I will be to see you as a first grader. You are all ready for first grade and you will do wonderful! Remember to be YOU and shine out that light for all to see! It is that light inside you that brings so much joy to others. 

You will ALWAYS be the class that has a special place in my heart. I love you dearly and it has been an honor to be called your teacher.

Love You Forever,
Mrs. Stanton

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Sweeter Than the Beginning

“Make the end sweeter than the beginning.” These are the words a colleague said to me many years ago. These words have always resounded with me and I have never gotten them out of my mind.

To make the end sweeter than the beginning of the year.

What a thought!

This year has been quite a year. It is the first year I implemented full flexible seating, a circle meeting place, morning meeting, and a class Twitter account. It has also been a year of hands on learning, experiments, PBL, and making true connections with my students and educators around the world.
This HAS truly been my favorite year of all my 12 years. Watching my students grow throughout this year has brought me so much joy. My students have become problem solvers, explorers, they question the world, and are empathetic students who care deeply about others. 

They look for the good in everyone and they make me want to be a better person every day.

Do we have problems that arise in our class? Yes, but they don’t define us. We work through them together. Many of times it is my students now who tell me, “It’s okay Mrs. Stanton, we will figure it out.” Or “Mrs. Stanton we all make mistakes, it just gives us feedback.”

To make the year sweeter than the beginning I use May as a way to end the year on the sweetest note. I tend to get teary throughout each day, but the students never know nor do my colleagues. I get teary because I finally get to see all the soul pouring work we do each day pouring out of the students and into others. They just seem ready to fly right now and it will be my honor to let them go on that last day (May 24th).

In order to make this the sweetest ending I do a few special things to let them know they are loved.
I always do Minute to Win It with my class and we end with a paired competition at the end of the day.

I make lessons that involve their interests such as making slime, making and competing with fidget spinners, and using their favorite characters to spot light our lessons. I don’t fight these things at the end of the year instead I ask myself how I can embrace them to help my students embrace their learning.

We have a red carpet awards show to celebrate each student’s two biggest achievements both academically and socially. Watching them walk down that red carpet and make their speeches is the most special moment at the end of each year.

I create a memory book where I interview the students about their favorite memories and connections. They get to read their own answers along with their classmate’s heartfelt responses.  I add class pictures and things they loved, so they can remember their year.
As a class we sing our class song one last time at our school picnic on the lawn. Right before the parents whisk them away I pull them in a class huddle and we sing together. This year it will be, Count On Me by Bruno Mars. It reminds us that we will always be together in our hearts. As we sing the students have the biggest smiles on their faces.

At the end of the huddle I always give them an individual hug with words of encouragement. Many quickly run off to go on a date with their parents for the remainder of the day. But the longer I have been teaching, the more students choose to stay the rest of the school day.

They choose to stay with me and their class family just a little longer.
Lastly at the end of the year I remind the students AND their families that they are always welcome to our room at any time and that I am only a text/call/email away. Many of times it is an honor to see them walk back into the classroom door with their other children ready for a new kindergarten year. But the huge honor lies in the families and prior students that come through those doors to just say hello or give a hug.

I have learned that my heart is a place that is NEVER full, but always has room for one more student to love. Oh how blessed I will be next year when I get one more class to place in my heart. One more class to pray for each day, to joyfully grow with.

It is in these last days that we must truly enjoy our students. Put down the boxes to pack up and enjoy our kids. 

Yes, I repeat put down the boxes.

Go swing with your kids on the swings like they have asked of us all year, spend time eating with them at lunch to hear their summer plans, race with them down the sidewalks to hear their cheers, and just laugh with them.

This is a time when you can just enjoy being with them. It makes the ending to the year so memorable for the students, but also for us.We have worked hard all year to help them grow. This is the time we can enjoy them and see who they have become over these 10 months.

So many times at the end of the year we rush and work on the check list that is oh so long, but make sure you add on the list some time to spend with your students. Actually put it at the top of your list and throughout the list because that is why you are here in the first place, to make relationships with your students that will last a lifetime.

At the end of the year don’t be surprised when some of your students who have made the biggest gains socially or academically tend to act up. Don’t be surprised when they act different that last few weeks or even the last day. That is the child who needed you the most this year and needs you the most right now.

Spend some time giving them the extra hug, the air high five, or better yet make a hand shake with that child that no one else has! Throughout the years they can come back and do that hand shake with you. And only you and them will know it. It is this child who might be having their world rocked right now because YOU will be out of it for a few months.

Remember that.

I have to tell myself this each day during May. I have to remind myself that we have built such strong connections and that they know (even though I don’t tell them until the last week) that though those connections will always be there, they are about to change since we won’t be in the same setting each day.

Don’t be afraid to make summer plans with your students. I will be having Pizza in the Park with my students this summer. We will meet at the park to play soccer, use hula hoops, bubbles, and just play. This will be a time we will be able to talk about the great things they are doing over the summer enjoying a slice of pizza with their families. I plan this event and accept invitations for other activities with individual students in the summer because my students truly become my class family. A second family that I love.

I hope you have a beautiful end to your school year this year! In the end it is always our choice how the end of the school year goes, may your end be sweeter than the beginning. And may your summer be a refreshment that brings you to a beautiful new beginning! 

A beginning with a new class that will grow because of an impactful educator like you.
How amazing it is we get to be called educators.

Our stories are always, More Than A Lesson.  #MoreEdu

Saturday, April 22, 2017

It Takes A Team

As an educator this year has been one of my biggest years of growth. I have fallen in love with this year and the class that has given it their all. I'd love to take credit for what this year has brought, but then I would not be telling the truth. You see I am a puzzle.

A puzzle with many pieces. Each piece is from an educator that has inspired me, lifted me up, believed in me, and given me a piece of their time. These pieces have allowed my students to shine.

This year I have seen many posts on Twitter naming educators to follow. Whenever I pull these lists up, I always look for the same names. I look for 12 people who have helped make my classroom a place where I call a second home.

I wanted to list these educators who are inspiring every day.

Here are the 12 educators who are a must follow and why:

Mike Stanton @micronmike 
Mike is the real deal. He puts students first and has a growth mindset. Mike is an innovative teacher who breathes Project Based Learning. He has a student centered classroom that changes based on his student's needs. He' s a master with Google Apps for Education (GAFE), which helps his students showcase their work. I have found that I am always two steps behind Mike, but he always gives everyone a hand to get them ahead of the game.
*Mike is co moderator for the chat, More Than A Lesson  #MoreEdu

Teresa Gross @teresagross625 
Teresa is what I call the angel of Twitter. She is one of the kindest people I know. I have seen others have hardships in their lives and she is right there to pull them back up! She is extremely encouraging. She always reminds me to have courage and try. That there is no real failure because it is in the fail that we learn. Teresa has a love for reading that is contagious! She will inspire you with her passion for literacy. Her beautifully written blog is called, Loving Literacy and every post makes me smile. Each one is written from the heart.
*Teresa moderates different book study chats throughout the year.

Oskar Cymerman @focus2achieve
Oskar is an amazing writer who has a heart of gold. He blogs for Bam!Radio
His blog, Focus 2 Achieve tells how educators can best teach their students. His posts are always an amazing read! He is real, transparent, and knows his stuff. He is the author of the book, Crush School! It is a great guide in learning how to master the classroom! What I love about Oskar is his support. Reading his blog over time made me feel I had to give back. He encouraged me to write. Many of times we feel that we have nothing new to say. He reminded me that if it is from our point of view, then it has not been heard before. Oskar is a trail blazer.

Jon Harper @Jonharper70bd
Jon Harper writes for BAM!Radio. He truly writes from the heart. Every time I read his blog, Bailey & Derek's Daddy I strive to be a better person because his post are so impactful. Jon is one who fights for other educators. He wants us all to see we're in it together. He is the host of My Bad on Bam! Radio Network This program highlights great educators and one mistake that helped them grow. Listening to Jon’s program has made me become a risk taker. I have learned that it is in the journey and not the destination that makes teaching great.

Chris Quinn @ChrisQuinn64 
Chris is an amazing educator with a huge heart. He encourages those around him and gives much wisdom. He is always growing and changing in the educational field. His blog, Taking Flight by Being Grounded always calls for deep refection. He has taught for 27 years. He's been an educator, administrator, and is now back in the classroom. His journey is one you will not want to miss. 

*Chris is the moderator for the new chat, #EduMoves

Sean Farnum @MagicPantsJones
Sean is a progressive educator who lets his students shine through student podcast. Sean’s class is known as the #BestClassPodcast. Their podcast is so inspiring. Sean has helped many educators and myself set up their own student podcast. He inspired my school to reopen our sound room and green screen room. What I appreciate with Sean is the love he has for his PLN. He tells his PLN all the time that he loves them...and he means it. You can feel the love in his chat, #2pencilchat. He truly cares about others and their students. 
*Sean is the moderator for the chat #2pencilchat 

Melissa Chouinard Jahant  @ChouinardJahant 
Melissa is a creative and innovative teacher. She sees her position as vocational. Melissa has gone almost paperless in her middle school classroom. Her students are constantly challenged with her real world lessons. Melissa is a master with the maker space and creating student centered lessons. She has one minute check ins with her students to build relationships. Her blog, I Teacher I Mother has a post for every day of the year. 365 posts! It is truly inspiring. 
*Melissa is the moderator for #teachmindful

Blair Smith @mrsmiths56class
Blair is an outstanding educator with the most sharing heart. Blair has an amazing classroom that he allows his students to create. His classroom has flexible seating, white board tables (he created), and amazing IPad recording booths. Blair is willing to share everything with his students and educators around the world. He is a Skype Master Teacher and a MIE Expert. If you need someone to Skype with Blair is your educator. His class is even willing to spend the night at school to have Skype Nights! His blog, Blair Smith Teaching gives you an amazing window to his classroom and his windows are one of the coolest!

Amy Storer @techamys
Amy is the teacher who believes in every child. She builds relationships with students by listening to them, spending time with them, and showing them they matter. Amy is in the know about all the new educational tools out there and HOW to use them to help students learn to their fullest potential. She not only uses these apps for students, but has transformed the way educators use them for professional development. She is an expert with FlipGrid, Flocabulary, and Buncee.

Amy’s blog Converse in the Classroom is a must read!

Marilyn McAlister @RunnerGirl13_1 
Marilyn is the queen of Hyperdocs. I had a presentation for Teachers As Leaders this year and was having a mental block. I needed help. Who came to my rescue? Marilyn! I would call her the superwoman of Twitter. I have seen it many times in chats when someone needs help, she comes right in to give them information, lessons, or even google slides right then and there. Marilyn is also extremely encouraging. It is almost as if she sees you through the screen. She knows the heart of education is the educator and she treats each educator like gold.
Marilyn’s blog, Sunsational Sixth Graders gives all educators an idea of how to be the teacher all students need.

Holly King @hollysking
Holly King is an educator with courage! This educator is humble, innovative, kind, and sharing. She pushes for everyone around her to shine, yet she shines in every way. Holly started a book chat on Voxer. But with a HUGE twist, Holly was able to get the authors to come into the book chat to listen and share. She has hosted Ditch that Textbook, Learn Like a Pirate, and now Innovator’s Mindset. Holly lit a fire under 12 educators to read, learn, reflect, and move! She is changing the way her school looks at education and the lives of many students/educators in our country. I am forever grateful to Holly who has helped me become a stronger leader. She is what you call a school teacher instead of a class teacher.

Robert Ward @RewardingEdu
Robert is a fantastic educator. He is someone who uplifts and encourages others.Whenever I read Robert's post or his latest book I am always reflecting on my best practices in the classroom. He believes in the whole child and the growth mindset. He write articles for many different groups including Edutopia and Education Week. I am always thrilled to read his newest post or article because I know I will learn a practical strategy I can use in the classroom to inspire my students.
One of Robert's latest books, A Teacher's Inside Advice to Parents empowers both teachers and parents to help children reach their fullest potential.
His blog, Rewarding Education is well written and meaningful in the classroom. 

In education you cannot do it alone. You truly need a team behind you. In the beginning of my educational career I thought going alone meant I was innovative and daring. I now know that I set myself up for a fixed mindset. Over the years I have realized it takes a team to become your best. It takes many different people who will push you, care for you, and give it to you straight, so you can continue to grow. A team is what gives you a true growth mindset. 

I am so thankful for my team! Thank you for who you are each and every day. Thank you for making us all a little better than we were the day before. Thank you for the impact you've made in this world. We are all better because of you!

Saturday, April 15, 2017

OUR Classroom

When I first started teaching I used the words MY in the classroom. 
I was concerned where MY desk would go, about the use of MY time, and about MY classroom set up.

At the time I never thought that the classroom was a collaborative effort that the students could take part in.

As I’ve listened to Jon Harper’s, My Bad Program on Bam! Radio Network I realized that I had a major mistake my first years of teaching: The belief that it was all about me.  

In the past I would be embarrassed to state this, but I have learned it is through great mistakes that we can become the people we’ve always wanted to be. It is in sharing this mistake that I am kept accountable. I have always and will always be on a journey of growth.  It is in the journey and not the destination that I have found joy.

The past two years I have become overwhelmed by the feeling that it is not about me, but about the needs of my students. My new mantra has become OUR Classroom. I use the word OUR instead of THEIR because I am a part of our class family too, but I am only one piece.

Two years ago my school became a Project Based Learning model for our county. Teachers around the county visit Mulberry Elementary, to see what PBL looks and sounds like. I attended The Buck Institute when we started PBL to learn how to implement this into the classroom. Learning about PBL naturally helped me find interest in flexible seating.

This is where my mind and heart really began to change.

The past two years I have noticed that I have become uncomfortable to make sure my students are comfortable. One question I continue to ask myself is, “How can I make OUR classroom a place where students have ownership?” Ownership in their learning, in their behavior, and in class responsibilities.

Through the mantra OUR Classroom, I reflected on how I could take the backseat and allow my students to have ownership of the entire room.

The set up in my classroom this year is flexible seating, but with a twist. The entire classroom is theirs to use. This includes the cabinets, the shelving, the filing cabinets, and the learning spaces. I have no desk in the classroom, but at the end of the day when the students have left I do choose a learning space to finish any work.

My students help set up the classroom. Each 9 weeks or whenever needed the students rethink the room. We decide what needs to be moved, what needs to be added, what needs to be taken out, and where everything is placed. My friend Blair Smith @mrsmiths56class taught me that students can be a part of these decisions. I have realized it is the students who need to make the learning environment. This helps them feel empowered, which helps them take ownership in all that they do.

After reading the book, The Gift of Failure by Jessica Lahey @jesslahey I also discovered my students need to own the responsibilities of the classroom. I used to spend 20 minutes after school preparing the classroom for the next day, now the students have that responsibility. The students clean up the room, write the board information, make any updates, set up the sections, and make the room a second home. Every student picks and owns a section of the room for 2 weeks. At the end of the day we play fun music and clean our sections together. I say together because I also have a section. This helps my students see I am also taking responsibility for our room.

The students have loved this new change. They are truly owning the classroom. Throughout the day I now find students checking their sections. I even had one child this week let two students know that this was his section. He asked them to please make sure they cleaned up after themselves before they left. My students love their classmates and always go out of their way to take care of each other. After hearing this child say this, those students made sure they cleaned up!

As I end my 12th year teaching I use the words OUR in the classroom.  I think about OUR responsibilities, OUR activities, and OUR classroom set up. Again I use the word OUR instead of THEIR because the educator is not out of the picture in the classroom instead it is a collaborative effort we participate in together.

It is an honor to be a part of OUR classroom each day. As I have gradually released the many responsibilities I had, I have found that my students are more confident and responsible.

I hear many educators discuss the idea of student ownership. In order for ownership to happen in the classroom, we as educators have to change our mindset from MY to OUR. In this thinking our classrooms can become a place where students truly become leaders who own their actions and their learning.

As I continue to teach I will continue to question how I can make OUR classroom a better fit for my students. I cannot wait for this journey to continue.

And if you are reading this right now, I personally want to thank you. You have pushed me to be better and helped me grow my students. And for that…I am grateful. Thank you!