Saturday, February 25, 2017

Let Them Shine!

I was asked this week by a parent what my secret was?
What tool did I use to get their child to listen to me?
What did their child fear if they did not do what I asked of them?
Why did they look into my eyes so intentionally when I spoke?
How did I capture their attention?

The parent asked me this so sincerely. So I gave them my most sincere answer.

I notice.
I see your child for who they are and I see the things that they love. I notice when their eyes light up. I also notice when they shy away. I keep these things in mind to make sure I bring more of what they love into the room. I also work hard to find the things that make them fearful. We work through these fears together. We remove fears of failure by replacing it with activities that build confidence. In our classroom we now say failure is feedback. (Thank you Joe Young for this beautiful mantra) We remove fears of being unwanted by getting the rest of the students to see their best. I purposely make these things happen, so the kids believe in their classmate.We remove their fear of self doubt by letting them hold power and choice in their day.

I name.
I name your child's specific talents. As the year progresses I make it a point to observe and see what makes them shine. These talents are not just academic, but also activities they enjoy. If they are often running I make sure I race them outside. If a child loves to hop around, we grab a jump rope. If they have trouble with shouting out, we hand them the mic during class songs. Mike Rutherford from Rutherford Learning Group explains that we can grow our talents exponentially, but we can only grow our weaknesses so much. If we focus on a child's inner talents and name the specific things they do well, they will start to see themselves the way we do, an important piece of the classroom.

I love.
I truly love all of my students. I find what makes them beautiful and I hold onto that. If a child is a challenge, then I make it my challenge to find their inner shine. Once I fine it, it is easy to love them because they light up when you see it. I hug my students, I tell them I love them, I laugh with them, I ask them questions, and I make sure they know I am their champion. Rita Pierson once said be a champion for all students.When a child knows you truly love them and have their best interest at heart they will follow you to the moon and back. Then they realize how wonderfully unique they are and important to their classroom.

You might ask how did I become this way?

 For me it was growing up in a school system where I had many champions. I knew at school my teachers would notice me. My teachers always named things I did that I did not see in myself. My teachers loved me. They made me feel like I mattered.

As a young child I grew up in a household where I did not always feel this way.
Many of times I walked on glass. Heard words that broke my spirit. Experienced the feeling of dislike. I knew there was a place I could go where I was believed in. I knew there was a place that saw me as a joy. They saw me.

Many of times it is the brokenness we had in our own lives that allows us to help others shine in the dark.

I was made to be an educator.

So if I am ever asked again what trick I use to make my kids listen or what my secret is to get them to adore school. I will let them know I notice, I name, and I love. Because if you do these three things I promise you your students will shine bright. They will see themselves as you see them. They will see that they matter. And there is no stopping a child when they finally discover this!

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Being Intentional

This year I have put into practice helping my students notice others around them. We have learned that there is a world outside ourselves and in order to be a part of that world we must always be looking for opportunities to see where we’re needed. It might be a smile, a word of encouragement, a note, or the gift of time that help others know they matter. My students have learned this year that they matter, but now know it’s time to show others they matter too.
This talk of being intentional started this year with simple discussions at morning meeting and has become part of our lessons by implementing words of the week such as joy, perseverance, compassion, and empathy. We use songs from Flocabulary to teach us the meaning of these words and showcase the vocabulary with hands on lessons, which make these words real.
This year I have seen the impact this class has had by simply being intentional. It is through this ONE story (there are many) that I will always remember to teach my students to be intentional in noticing others.

The Story of Charlie:
In the beginning of this year my students noticed a yellow walker in the hallway. Every time we would go to lunch they had to walk around the walker. My students were curious about this walker and wanted to know everything about it. Then one day they saw the child behind it. At our school we have a special needs Pre-K program. The child walking behind the walker was a 3-year-old boy who I will call Charlie for privacy purposes.
My students saw Charlie outside on our Wonder Walk and asked all about him. In the past I would have quickly answered them, but my goal this year has been to be intentional in noticing others, so I made a decision to do just that. I told those students to come with me and we asked his teacher and Charlie about his walker. The teacher beautifully explained why Charlie was in a walker and what strengths he had to use it. Charlie was not able to talk to us, but he was able do use sign language to say hello.

This conversation stirred something in my students. From that moment on they always greeted Charlie in the hallways, outside, and when they would see him at early car riders. The students would spend time to say hello, ask Charlie questions, or pat him on the back. Charlie usually gave them a hello in sign language, but he always gave them his most beautiful smile.
I saw Charlie’s mother early in the fall at a Chick-Fil-A. I walked over to her and told her how proud I was of her son. I explained that he made our kindergarten classroom filled with joy. She asked me if I was the teacher of the sweet class who always cheered for Charlie at early car riders. I told her I was and she smiled as she said, “We love that class.”

One day in early winter Charlie walked by our classroom...WALKED.
All of us just stopped working and broke out in cheers. Some of my students ran to the door cheering because we had never seen Charlie walk. The teacher told us he just started walking. We then headed to lunch when all of a sudden we heard loud crying behind us. It was Charlie being carried over his teacher’s shoulder. They were both headed to the clinic because he had fallen and hit his head. My class was heartbroken. I quickly had them huddle together in the hallway and take a knee. We first put our hands over a heart. This is a practice we do whenever someone we know is hurting. I then explained to my students that the word perseverance came with challenging practice. Charlie was walking, but it would be awhile until he would be strong enough to do it alone, without the fall. It was through his falls and getting back up that he would become a great walker. Right then and there we discussed how we had to work through our challenges to become successful. What a discussion to be held in kindergarten…and in the hallway, but it needed to be talked about right then and there.
Right after the hallway talk my class wanted to make Charlie cards. They all wanted him to have words of encouragement to help him work through this challenging time. After lunch we quickly headed back to class to make him cards, but we decided to create a book of encouragement. After the book was finished we put the book in front of Charlie’s door hoping it would give him extra strength through a class cheering him on.

Later we would see him walking, getting stronger and stronger. The students noticed no longer he fell or needed as much assistance. This made the students excited to know they were witnessing a child’s perseverance and will to never give up. They had become a part of Charlie’s life. He mattered to them and they mattered to him.

Later that month Charlie’s mother was outside at car riders with Charlie’s grandmother. As soon as my class saw Charlie they talked to him and asked him how he was doing. The mother told us the class book had made their family smile because they knew he had champions at school. With tears in her eyes she explained they wanted to frame the book because of the encouragement it gave them.
The next week Charlie had a birthday. At lunch she found our class and presented us with cupcakes. Charlie and his family wanted to include us in his celebration. She explained to me at the beginning of this year she had purchased a wheelchair and a walker. They did not know that he would make such great progress and in such short time. They did not know he would walk. They have been filled with gratitude to see him walking. She explained she was thankful to know while he was at school there was a class who cheered for him. A class who took the time to notice his efforts.
As we ate our cupcakes I cannot explain the feeling I had in that moment. I am sure you can imagine.

The feeling of humility.
 The feeling of gratitude.
The feeling of love for Charlie and my students.
The knowledge that we played a part in something bigger than ourselves.

When we got back to the classroom we had a discussion about how amazing our students are as a class and as people. How they had given encouragement to others. Their faces showed me they didn’t understand why I was praising them. I realized to them it was no big deal to notice someone else or to love another outside our class. To them they were just being normal kids.

This made me realize I still have a long way to go to become just like them.

This story of Charlie all started with the goal to be intentional in looking outside our classroom.
What if we had not made that choice? What if the day my students asked questions I just quickly answered them and moved on with the lesson? What if we just focused on us and what we were doing in OUR classroom? Would the story change for Charlie? Maybe not, but maybe just maybe we had a small piece in playing a positive part in Charlie’s life. 

As teachers it is not just our job to be a class teacher, it is also our job to be a school teacher. A teacher who is for all students in their school. A teacher who takes the time to notice others. In doing this we can make an impact on our students who then can make an impact on the world.

Let’s be more intentional this year on looking outside of ourselves. Let’s take the time to notice what could perhaps easily go unnoticed.

The next time I am in a rush I will remember this quote by author, Lysa Terkeurst:
“We have to slow the rhythm of rush in our lives so the best of who we are can emerge.”-author of, The Best Yes

It is in this noticing that we truly become the best version of ourselves and push our students to be their personal best. 

It all begins with being intentional.

Thank you to the following people who have inspired me to write. They have empowered me to use my voice:
Mike Stanton @micronmike, Teresa Gross @teresagross625, Oskar Cymerman @focus2achieve, Greg Smedley @kindersmorgie, Jon Harper @jonharper70bd, Melissa Chouinard @chouinardjahant, Blair Smith @mrsmiths56class, Sean Farnum @magicpantsjones, Dave Burgess @burgessdave, Sean Thom @seanathom, and Chris Quinn @chrisquinn64, Marilyn McAlister @runnergirl13_1

Saturday, February 4, 2017


What an honor it is to be called an educator.

Each day I walk into my school filled with joy because I know today is the day I build a deeper relationship with my students. Today is the day my students teach me how to be a better person. It starts with the teacher, but over time the students take over.

In my classroom each year I build a family. I put relationships first because I know if a child does not feel loved and appreciated in the classroom, I can teach little. My students know they matter.This all starts with the building of relationships.

Each day I walk in the classroom I work hard to create lessons that are impactful, hands on, meaningful, and fun. But more importantly I walk in my classroom with the thought, "How am I going to build relationships with my students today?"

It is up to me each day to make sure each one of my students feels noticed, heard, and loved. I thought about a few simple things I do specifically each day with my students to make this happen.

Each day I greet my students at the door with a hug, a hand shake, or a high five. I make sure as they come into the room I greet them by using their name. I want them to feel noticed from the moment they walk into the door or even down the hall. I know by using their name, looking them in the eyes, and saying good morning that I can show they matter. 

Throughout the day I make sure to use their names as often as possible. Our own names are magical to our ears, everyone wants to hear their name, so I make sure to use their names often. I use them when I call on the students or when I pull them to the side. I use them during our daily morning greeting, and I use their names before they leave the room. It takes time to do this,but it's worth it.

The question I ask myself is, How can I make sure my students are seen in my classroom?

It's so important that we take the time to listen to our students. As our students walk through our doors they have so much to say. It is easy to tell them to go unpack and do their morning work, but listening to them is a part of our morning work. 

I make sure that our morning work is extremely light (journals or technology), so I can take the time to listen to them each morning. This light morning work also allows time for the students to communicate with each other. I try to think about my own professional development, it always starts with some time for fellowship.

During the morning we take time to have a morning meeting each day. One of the parts of our meeting is a share time. I call on 3-5 students a day to share. They share anything they want from their heart. They then call on students to ask questions. By having a share time in the class the students see they have a voice and their voice matters. We learn so much about each other by hearing their stories. 

It was through this share time that my students found out about a student's cousin in the hospital. The students created bracelets that we tied on the kids book bags. We made a pact to not remove them until the cousin was out of the hospital. The day she got out we had a huge celebration. We cut the bracelets off the book bags and tied them together to make one big necklace. We then sent it home for a keepsake for the family. It was through this share time that this happened. This has forever changed our classroom's share time.

It is important no matter what age we teach that we take some time in our busy day to hear from each one of our students.

 I have found over my 12 years of teaching that eating lunch with my students as often as possible is another way to the heart of the child. The bond that happens during lunch is priceless. Students are more comfortable to talk to you about anything during this time because it is not academic. We as adults know everything is better with food. It is the same for our students. My goal is to eat lunch with my students 3-4 times a week. I take time each week to eat with the whole class, but my students can also earn tickets to eat lunch with me and a friend at the parent table.

Lunch is when I find out the most vital information from my students, things I needed to know, but would not have found out had I not taken the time to sit and break bread with them.

The question I ask myself is, How can I take time in the day to hear my student's voices?

As I get to know my students and their interests. I make sure to include this through the academics. As children tell me about their love of Minecraft or Angry Birds I find ways to include their interests in our lessons. When I teach patterns we use Minecraft to create games boards and make pattern towers that Angry Birds knock down. If my students love a certain character I print them off and hand them out when they are working hard. I use their interests to help me create my lessons.

I tell the whole class who inspired these lessons, so they know they have a voice in the ways our standards are taught. I want my students to know I listen to them. They make changes happen in our classroom because of their voice. We can empower our kids each day by helping them feel included in our lessons.Over time they will become more confident, motivated, and joyful as they work. 
The question I ask myself is, How can I include my student's interests in my lessons?

Over the years I have seen what has been taught academically is important, but I have seen that it is the relationship piece that must come first in order to empower our students to be their best.

We must come into each day with the mind frame that it is More Than A Lesson. If we put relationships first the growth that is achieved is unbelievable. But isn't that why we went into this profession? Helping kids believe that anything is possible!

Thank you to the following people who have inspired me to write my first blog post. They have empowered me to use my voice:
Mike Stanton @micronmike, Teresa Gross @teresagross625, Oskar Cymerman @focus2achieve, Greg Smedley @kindersmorgie, Jon Harper @jonharper70bd, Melissa Chouinard @chouinardjahant, Blair Smith @mrsmiths56class, Sean Farnum @magicpantsjones, Dave Burgess @burgessdave, Sean Thom @seanathom, and Chris Quinn @chrisquinn64