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.

Alana Stanton is a kindergarten and technology specials teacher at Mulberry Elementary in Gwinnett County, Georgia. She has taught several grades over her 14 year career including K-3 literacy special, first grade, second grade, and kindergarten. Alana believes that relationships always come first in the classroom and the classroom should be a place where students thrive academically, socially, and emotionally. She currently writes for her blog, More Than A Lesson where she shares the stories of her classroom and her heart.