Educator Therapy: Avoiding the Snow Drifts

If you’re expecting this to be a therapeutic post, then I hope you find it meets your expectations. If you are hoping it takes the place of actual therapy, then this likely isn’t the post you need.  I will, however, structure it loosely like a typical television show therapy session.  I always look at basic therapy as essentially a problem-solving session where the patient describes the current situation, and his/her feelings about it, and then the therapist provides expertise to assist in trying to resolve that problem so the patient can move closer to being a positive contribution to society instead of a negative one. (Or the therapist just repeats a lot of what the character says but does so in the form of questions.) That’s my idea of therapy. Now let’s apply it to the stress of educational situations that are not emergencies and do not require the services of an actual therapist or doctor. (One final precaution before we start this climb is that my outlook is heavily tainted by my own annoying optimism and the book Escaping The School Leader’s Dunk Tank: How To Prevail When Others Want To See You Drown by Rick Jetter and Rebecca Coda.  You’ve been warned. Let’s go.

The Current Situation

If we always had perfect days in our world of education, there would not be such a teacher shortage.  I personally have more perfect moments than actual perfect days, though I cherish every day I’m given to work with students in the educational field. It’s my calling. But there are always days or moments that bring me down, make me want to look for greener pastures or find a new profession all together.  The situation that brings me down each time changes and fluctuates, but how I handle the adversity is what needs to remain the same, or at least maybe the process does.  To refer back to a previous post, Got a Mountain to Climb? Baby Steps. Are You Ready? We Got This., the situations are like the problems faced by my daughter and her companions. Every part of the climb up the mountain has different challenges and pitfalls: thin air, weather changes, temperature changes, snow drifts, inclines, wildlife, and more.  Every day spent in education is also an uphill climb with different challenges and pitfalls. Whatever your current situation is, you need to refine the process that helps you deal with it so that you can keep climbing up the mountain.

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The Feelings About the Current Situation

Feelings. They sometimes get in the way of productivity and learning, and while I don’t like to indulge those who want to spew negative ones, I do make a point of listening to people when they need a sympathetic ear. I listen, but I don’t encourage negativity. I don’t. I do, however, understand that we all need an outlet for it. We need to let it out so that it doesn’t taint us, but we need to be very particular about how we do this.  I generally call my sister who isn’t in education, doesn’t live in the same town, and won’t be talking to the people involved, and vent my frustration of the moment. She understands I’m just letting the negativity out so that I can move forward with solutions and a positive attitude. She just lets me vent, gives me her support, sometimes plays devil’s advocate, and then I’m able to get back to business.

A similar discussion recently happened within one of my Voxer groups.  My friend Erin Giblin (@ebgtech) said that she allows herself to be upset and have that emotion, but she internalizes it and doesn’t share the negativity out there with her coworkers or district because it doesn’t help anyone. It doesn’t benefit anyone. I agree, so I don’t share mine either, unless it is with my husband. As the tech director for my district (yes, I know I’m blessed), he is aware of the parties involved if I need to vent to him, but he also doesn’t share anything I say with others. We are the safe place (Vegas) for each other. What we say or vent to each other stays with us. We let the negativity loose and then replace it with problem solving ideas or solutions.
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Erin says that getting the emotion out so that she isn’t holding on to it is how she is proactive.  That resonated with me in our discussion because I feel we as educators need to release the negativity into a safe atmosphere so that others aren’t adversely affected. We need to be proactive not reactive. Make the choice to be angry, cry, or scream but not in your own district. Don’t bring others down with your negative emotions. They have no place in the professional setting. Is this easy to do? No. Do we need to try? Yes. Instead of spewing the negative feelings all around your hall, building, or district, ask yourself what you can do to fix things. Ask for advice and help from colleagues and administrators. (Please note that asking for advice or help is not the same thing as passive aggressive complaining. Complaining is complaining no matter how you dress it up, and it does not benefit anyone. It is part of the problem. Be part of the solution.) Allow others to guide you toward a solution if you aren’t able to come up with one on your own.

Melissa Chouinard-Jahant (@collidingwithscience) commented in the same Voxer discussion that we teachers can’t plan for every contingency. If we could, that would rob us of our spontaneity, freedom, and creativity.  She believes we should respond instead of react. Reacting to stress and the situations around us is part of being human. Find a safe way to deal with these negative emotions that won’t affect your work or the people you work with, and then look for ways to solve the problem instead of adding to it. This is why we have #PLNs. Look outside your district if need be, but find your #PLN so that you have the support you need. Be an ally to your #PLN in return. Be Vegas.

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Provide Expertise

One of the best things we can do when coworkers are experiencing negative situations and emotions is to find every way possible to assist them in turning negatives into positives.  If you personally can’t provide the assistance they need, direct them toward someone who can. When hiking up a mountain, good but light weight hiking shoes are ideal. Sure, you can wear tennis shoes, but they don’t provide the traction support you’ll need when you are headed back down. It’s easy to loose your footing and slip, or fall. The last thing anyone wants to do is face-plant into a cold wet snow drift. It’s embarrassing, cold, wet, and could be painful. If you’re the expert leading a colleague down their mountain, your expertise is like a great pair of hiking shoes. If they still lose their footing, stand in the way of their personal or professional.downward spiral.  You do this by checking on them, caring, and pulling, nudging, pushing, dragging them along the positive proactive paths with you. Care. Listen. Advise your friends or coworkers on ways to implement solutions to whatever it is they are facing.  If it is you who is facing adverse situations, challenges, or problems, then be proactive. Release the negative emotions and replace them with positives. Look for solutions. Compliment the students or coworkers who cause the most problems for you. Think of positive things you can say, and eventually with practice, you can become adept at looking at adversity or challenging / frustrating situations with positive lenses. Find things to be grateful for each day. Be grateful for the sandwich your ally packed for your climb. Thank the PLN member who pulls you up out of the snow drift. Show your appreciation for the one who stands in your way as you fall, halting your downward descent or slowing it enough to allow you to regain your footing.  Baby steps. Are you ready? You’ve got this because we’ve got this. Don’t hike alone. Find your tribe.

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Be Oppositional Defiant: Status Quo Has Got to Go!

For many of us, the new school year is gearing up, just around the corner, or recently begun.  While there are many things we do that should remain in our lessons or classroom, there are plenty that need to go.  If you follow other educators on Twitter, then you may have noticed this as a reoccurring theme for the last month or so.  I am not entirely sure where I developed my own sense of oppositional defiance, but I have quite the aversion to doing things like everyone else.  In fact, I have a hard time even considering it.  I’m constantly on the lookout for how to do things better. To that end, let’s evaluate some of these that I’ve structured around my three class rules, adopted from those of my late father, David Ingalls, educator extraordinaire. We can all do better during this school year without learning a new method or tech, though we will likely have to become uncomfortable.  Are you ready? Here we go!

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Be Polite

Politeness never goes out of style. As teachers, we need to cultivate politeness in our students and in ourselves. We do not have to personally like every single person we work with or every student we teach, but everyone should believe that we like them.  I understand that this is easier said than done on some days and with some people, but we need to be the grown up and sell it to every student that they are treasured, valued, and important in our classrooms this year. Sell it.  By the same token, I challenge us all to sell it to every adult we work with that they are treasured, valued, and important to the work we all do. Take the high road when others don’t. Smile when you don’t feel like it. Stop and listen, truly listen, when a student wants to tell you about the new game they discovered, the new level they conquered on an old game, how cute their cat is, (Yes, I love the Oxford comma) or how their ballgame ended the previous night. If a staff member needs a safe place to vent, be that. Let them vent, calmly remind him or her of the positives, and redirect the focus to solutions not problems, and under no circumstances repeat the rantings of their bad moment. Be Vegas for them. I understand that it may seem impossible because the teacher down the hall is almost exclusively focused on negatives, and little Sally lies to her parents and is impossible in class, but we can do this. We’re at the foot of the mountain. Let’s climb.

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Be Prompt

To help in our plan to spread our own politeness, we need to be quick to encourage others. We should promptly provide feedback when students are doing well, doing the right thing, and trying hard to achieve mastery of manners and of content.  The feedback should be prompt when students fall short of the mark as well. The faculty and staff we work with deserve our prompt thanks, praise, and appreciation. Let’s continue to brainstorm ways to pat others on the back and let them know we appreciate their efforts, the attempts and the failures, and then let’s tweet out and share how we succeeded and how we failed. My friend, Krista Penrod, (@ItsMrsPenrod) wrote a blog post about failures and tweeting them out in July called Would You Tweet a #Fail? What better way to be learning from each other than modeling what we preach to students? We are no longer teaching on an educational metaphorical island. No longer teaching in isolation. We are most definitely #BetterTogether.  Baby steps.

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Be Prepared

Throughout the warm days, cool days, and the brutally hot and cold days of this school year, we all need to be prepared to try new things. We need to experiment, to challenge ourselves, find a hobby we enjoy, and indulge our passions. We can’t expect students to learn and be curious if we teachers do not model it or have an interest in learning new things. How can we expect students to challenge themselves, to develop a passion for learning, and to experiment with new ideas, methods, and technologies if we refuse to do so ourselves?  Be prepared this year to fail in front of your students. Let them watch how you handle it. Be prepared to establish a safe environment for risk taking. There are plenty of educators on Twitter talking about this in chats, blogs, and in daily tweets. It’s not a novel concept in general, but the teacher as a failure is not something most of us are comfortable with as a general rule, if we are that teacher. But then, that’s the point isn’t it? This is a status quo that really must go. Students can lead and teach, and teachers can learn and discover.  Technology, love it or hate it, has opened the world up for all of us, not just our students. We can watch webinars and attend conferences from the comfort of our living room (THANKS, Matt Miller!-Ditch Summit and Ditch That Conference). We can bring professionals into our classrooms to speak to our students without the need for travel.  We can be social without leaving our homes. It’s a new and changing world, and we need to grow and change with it. Keep climbing.

Be Defiant (not one of my dad’s class rules…)

It’s a new school year, so let’s change the status quo. It starts with us. Let’s make positive noise, learn new things, and dare to try and fail. It’s hard to climb mountains alone, so it’s a really good thing we don’t have to anymore.  Grow your PLN so that regardless of what mountain you choose to climb this year, you have someone to pack the right sandwiches, encourage every agonizing step up the trail you take, and help you up when you fall face first into a snow drift.  Sure those drifts look scary, and they are cold and wet, but you can do this. You’ve found your tribe. Now let’s climb together. We got this!

 

 

For Those About To Rock…

My guest post on Denis Sheeran’s Instant Relevance blog has arrived!  Here’s the intro by Denis, and by clicking his link, you’ll go to my post for today.

I’m excited to have Laura share her experience of running with an idea, taking it to new levels, and truly modeling the #MakeItReal message. Read her post below and share your comments with us here and on twitter with the #MakeItReal hashtag. And in case you’re looking for more from Laura, her blog can be appropriately found here: Rocking The Boat

His link to my post is: Denis Sheeran’s Instant Relevance

From #BookSnaps to Creating Poetry!

Introducing #MyPoetrySnaps

Many of us have been enjoying  #BookSnaps, created by Tara M. Martin (@TaraMartinEDU) as something we create as we read professional books, something we just like to view, or something we use in class with students as Tara intended.  Talk about engagement. Take one of the most popular social media apps for teenagers and preteens, combine it with your learning objectives, and voilà ! Instant engagement and classwork or homework that doesn’t suck and doesn’t take up much of their time. A win win.

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One of my #BookSnaps from Escaping the School Leader’s Dunk Tank by Rick Jetter and Rebecca Coda.

A cousin to #BookSnaps and #PoetrySnaps, #MyPoetrySnaps, however, is the first to take the leap into creating the content AND the “snap”. The hashtag, #MyPoetrySnaps, will be where we host examples of student poems using Snapchat or other programs to create the poems combined with unique visuals of photos mixed with clipart and Bitmojis. The limited text of Snapchat will force students to be very selective in their word choice. Word choice is often challenging to teach, since students aren’t physically forced to stick with the limit you, the teacher, may set. Snapchat, however, absolutely won’t allow you to type another word once the limit is reached. This will help students be purposeful in selecting the words that will be in their poems. The most fun homework or classwork around! #BookSnaps and all it’s cousins are ramping up engagement in classroom across the nation.

#MyPoetrySnaps finds an educational use for the very popular app, Snapchat, but other other apps can be used as well. If you are a Google school, then using Google Drawings or Slides are a great alternative for creating these visual and text poem creations.  I recommend that, initially at least, you allow students to be in control of the content (school appropriate of course) and style/type of poems they create. Let the students find the beauty in everyday things, their lives, their worlds. Any tool can be awesome or a flop in our classrooms, so carefully consider how you use them. When we take all of the creativity choices away, and we make students create but fit rigid parameters, we lose something in the translation (former Spanish teacher here).

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My first #MyPoetrySnaps. Saw a commercial, got inspired. Bam. Simple yet yummy.

With #MyPoetrySnaps, we have an opportunity to allow students to find their voice and express their creativity using the app of their choice if at home, or the app of your choice at school.  As Denis Sheeran, (@MathDenisNJ) author of Instant Relevance, points out as often as possible, that we can give our classes instant relevance in the eyes of our students when we find ways to bring things into our lessons that they are interested in personally. Students are interested in Snapchat. Students love taking pictures with their phones. Why not combine those two things and add in a poem? Their poems, their musings, their voices.

My plan, since I teach high school students, is to use Snapchat for the times I make their #MyPoetrySnaps a homework assignment, and when creating them in class, we will use Google Drawings, Slides, or Canva. I use these products in class when we create #BookSnaps because they integrate well with the Bitmoji chrome extension. If you are new to #BookSnaps, then I highly recommend you check out Tara’s blog and instructions on how to create them. She has instructions you can read and also instructions on YouTube for those visual learners out there.

What are we waiting for? Okay, we’re waiting for school to start, but let’s get a jump on this and be thinking of creating our own #MyPoetrySnaps.  I created a simple one that involves one of life’s simple pleasures, Oreo cookies. Create one of your own and share on our hashtag, #MyPoetrySnaps on Twitter. Then let’s rock this school year with #BookSnaps, #MathSnaps, #ScienceSnaps, #HistorySnaps, #FoodSnaps, #PoetrySnaps, and the newest arrival, #MyPoetrySnaps. How about using one as a back to school opener? What a fun way to demonstrate “what you did this summer” in a more contemporary way.  The new school year is right around the corner. Let’s go do amazing things!

Got A Mountain to Climb? Part 3: Baby Steps. Are You Ready? We Got this.

As I listened to Daisy and my daughter, Shalyn, tell about the climb up Handies Peak, my mind immediately went to real life and educational applications, once the proud mommy glow had it’s moment.  Feeling very inspired, I decided to go with the real life application in my first post of this series, Got A Mountain to Climb? Baby Steps. Are You Ready? We got this.  As I pondered the educational side of this story, I realized that there is more than one area in education where we can apply this.  My second post in this series, Got An EDU Mountain to Climb? Baby Steps. Are You Ready? We Got This! focused on the power of PLN’s (professional learning networks) and how we teachers sometimes ignore the power they provide and try to go it alone. But that isn’t the only educational application here.  Some teachers may have sore toes by the end of this blog, and at times in my career, my toes would be among those trod upon here, though I’m ready to trudge ahead anyway. Are you ready? THIS post is dedicated to my husband, Cayl, (@caylst) and all those technology directors out there. I feel your pain. This is for you. Let’s grab our gear and get started. Baby steps. We got this. Centennial Jr. High Tech Visit 15

As I enter my 22nd year of teaching, I can remember times where I wasn’t sure I could do something with my students because I didn’t have the right tools. I was given a new class or subject without training.  A new position was thrust upon me suddenly with no time to prepare.  Sound familiar? Well don’t stop now. The truck is still in sight, even though our legs are straining with the effort. Lungs are screaming.  Baby steps. Let’s go a few more feet. Are you ready? We got this. 

I know several of my PLN on Twitter and Voxer are heading up new trails this year. They have new titles, positions, buildings, school districts, and some have new places to call home. Some, like me, just have a new class or new grade level to teach.  If none of those fit you right now, keep in mind that this is the nature of education, and things will change for you sooner or later.  At some point in our careers, we all work our way down from the top and move on to climb different peaks, or we take new trails (willingly or not) on the way up to the summit. Sometimes we are Daisy, prepared and ready to go with experience behind us and determination propelling us forward. At other times, we’re Shalyn.  We suddenly find ourselves paralyzed the night before, looking for the proper things to throw in our pack, laying out what we need to wear, and realizing quickly that we don’t actually have everything that we need, and we don’t know what we’re doing. Breathe.Slide1

The night before Shalyn hiked up her very first mountain, I visited Daisy’s cabin to help her make the lunches and see what all she was packing for the hike.  Austin, Kiana, and Daisy were all busy packing when I arrived.  Daisy explained that she had rain ponchos for all of them, her own warm waterproof gloves, hiking socks to wear, a pair for Shalyn and Kiana, and another pair in her pack, 3 bottles of water, snacks, layers to wear in the cold, and other essential items. Each item going into their packs had to be considered carefully, because every step taken the next day up the mountain would make the pack feel heavier and heavier.

Now Shalyn didn’t enjoy packing her bag the night before the hike.  I found myself a bit frustrated with her, as she kept realizing all of the things she would need that she didn’t have, and the task grew larger and larger and perhaps seemed impossible.  The negatives outweighed the positives. She was to carry the first aid kit for the group, her own snacks, three bottles of water, gloves, extra layers, extra socks, pocket knife, sunscreen, bug spray, Germ X, etc. We realized first that her gloves weren’t waterproof. They were cute and had the smartphone fingertips, but that wouldn’t be helpful in higher elevations that are snow covered. She borrowed hiking socks from Daisy, and we packed her meager supplies. Most of what went into Shalyn’s pack were the things she typically carried in her backpack when riding trails with her dad, brother, and the rest of our crew.  While some of those items were helpful, they weren’t quite what she would need on this climb. Shalyn’s anxiety was growing, so I reminded her that she didn’t HAVE to climb the mountain. She had the opportunity, but she wasn’t being forced. She took a deep breath and steeled her determination. Despite not having the right stuff or training, Shalyn was going to climb the mountain. We did the best we could with what we had and loaded up her pack. I then set my alarm for five in the morning, and we called it a night.learning out of necessity

Daisy and the three young adults got off the next morning and headed up the mountain roads to the trail head for the hike. As noted in the first part of this story, Shalyn realized that while her hiking boots helped her keep her footing and prevented slipping and falling, they were extremely heavy and required more energy when lifting her legs for each baby step up the mountain.  Her cute gloves didn’t keep her hands dry and warm as she maneuvered through snow to find good handholds for steady hiking.  While Shalyn’s backpack works well for riding mountain trails on her four-wheeler, it was not designed for this type of hiking. She needed one that was lighter and has the support around the waist.  She had no training. This was a sudden decision. Don’t panic.  Breathe. Baby steps. Are you ready? We got this.

If you read part one, then you know that Shalyn made it up and down the mountain on the hike despite the fact she had no training and did not have all of the right equipment. Would the training and the right stuff have helped improve her experience? Sure, but there’s also something to be said for the tenacity she found within herself, aided by Daisy’s motivational encouragement, that can really only be learned the hard way, through necessity.  Shalyn now knows that she can accomplish incredible things, even when she isn’t fully trained or equipped.  Even when it is tough. Hard. Demanding. You can put down your pack now and rest a bit. Here’s where I step on your toes and mine. IMG_6678-1

Our profession seems to be filled with several paradoxes. I was fortunate enough to listen to George Couros ( @gcouros ) recently thanks to  who used Periscope to broadcast on Twitter George’s keynote address for #iChampion in Texas.  He pointed out several things that fit with my message here.  Our classrooms and lessons are for the students, not us. We don’t have to be comfortable with everything, but we should make the students comfortable with their learning and learning process, their environment, with innovation, effort, creating and teaching. We want students to be independent thinkers, but we tell them to read the chapter and answer the questions. We teachers also have been known to only accept answers that are from the textbook or agree with it. We don’t always encourage inquiry or foster it. We get so focused on rules that we don’t let their creativity take it’s natural form, which is messy, and sometimes loud.

We don’t always have the right equipment. How many of us think our day is ruined and no lessons can be taught if our SMART Board isn’t functioning properly, or the projector isn’t working? We can’t always see how we could possibly teach if a website we planned to use goes down unexpectedly. How do we react if a student doesn’t have paper or a pencil? Do we model problem solving or do we demand everything get fixed right then, by someone else? Do we feel like second class citizens if we aren’t 1:1 with (insert your device of choice here) in our classroom? Do we cause problems or do we help solve them? What are we actually modelling for our students?IMG_1060

In the above quote, George is referring to how we tend to let a few negative responses or incidences ruin experiences for the rest of our students. If we try a new technology and one or more students is inappropriate, we tend to ditch the whole thing.  I can tell you that there are always and will always be students who are inappropriate with whatever you are using in your lesson.  A few years ago, I had to remove one of my Lord of the Flies novels from class use because of inaccurately drawn male anatomy on one page.  I did not, however, stop using my paperback copies of Lord of the Flies or stop teaching the novel. If that were a technology, though, would I have stopped using it altogether because a student was inappropriate? Maybe then, but now I wouldn’t. As George points out, we need to find ways for those students who are flourishing in the new initiative or technology to overwhelm those abusing it. Drown them out with the positives. And fellow teachers, we need to do the same thing for the handful of teachers in our districts that negatively react to change, progress, and innovation. Find ways for you and others who are flourishing in the new initiative or technology to overwhelm those who are resisting. Drown them out with positives and enthusiasm. Encourage them. Be their Daisy. Baby steps. Are you ready? We got this. Let’s go a few more feet.

We all have some negative moments, but we need to keep the summit in view. Don’t panic. We can still make the hike, learn things along the way, and prevail with our group if we listen to Daisy. Baby steps. Are you ready? We got this. So grab the gear you have, remember to breathe, take those small steps and climb. The first day of school is right around the corner, and we have amazing things to do this year. Every year. Let’s go!

Got an EDU Mountain to Climb? Tap Your PLN! Baby Steps. Are You Ready? We Got This!

Part 2

When I originally listened to my daughter and Daisy tell about their experience with hiking Handies Peak in Part 1, Got A Mountain To Climb: Baby Steps. Are You Ready? We Got This.,  I thought I knew which direction my posts would take, and then I didn’t.  I immediately saw an amazing teachable moment about motivation, failing forward with students, and the guide on the side (Dave Burgess, Teach Like A Pirate) applications. Then I realized it had general life applications, so that’s the direction my first post ended up, real life.  As I considered which educational applications to write about in Part 2, I was again struck with the multitude of possibilities even by narrowing it down to education.  As a result, there will be at least one more post in this series.mRHand_102

For Part 2, let’s examine and reflect on ourselves as educators when we try new things for our lessons (either in pedagogy and/or technology), or are faced with problems that seem like mountains to climb.  We will do this in the structure of Daisy, Shalyn, Austin, and Kiana climbing Handies Peak, so grab your gear. Here we go.mRHand_105

There are at least two different mindsets of teachers when it comes to trying new things in the classroom. We have the go slow, research, get prepared, then go approach, and we also have the Speedy Gonzales crowd. If you had to click the link to understand the allusion there, then you now know I’m old, but let’s examine Speedy first.mRHand_107

In our Part 1 story, Shalyn (my 19 year old daughter) stayed with Daisy, her guide and mentor, listened to her, followed her lead, and more.  Kiana (Austin’s 23 year old girlfriend), on the other hand, decided that even though she had never climbed a mountain before, much less a 14’er, she should follow her own strategy.  For those of you who read the first post, the answer to a question you may now be pondering is no, her strategy was not to vomit up and down the mountain.  That just happened to be an unfortunate by product of her strategy.  The reason Kiana took off at the beginning of the hike, continually pushed herself to go faster than her guide and crew, is that she believed that would enable her to have more rest when she stopped to wait for the group to catch up to her.  Hiking in high elevations, even up the side of a mountain along established trails, will push your body to limits you weren’t aware of previously.  It burns calories. A lot of calories.  In order to keep your body going, you have to provide it with calories to replace those you are burning.  Energy is a necessity to hiking a mountain.  Energy is essential for life. For creativity. For Teaching. For us all.mRHand_109

Kiana didn’t like the bread Daisy choose for their sandwiches (though the groundhogs she fed it to certainly did!).  It was a thicker sturdier grain that would hold up to being hauled in backpacks.  Even though her sandwiches were made to her specifications (turkey and mayo only, no cheese), the fact that the bread was unfamiliar and of a different texture than usual prevented her from eating the sandwiches.  She only ate the granola bars and nuts Daisy had included in their backpacks in order to supplement the sandwiches.  Kiana’s body burned calories and didn’t get replenished. Her energy waned, she vomited what she did eat and drink, and her body objected to the abuse.mRHand_113

The “go as fast as you can so you can rest longer” approach reminds me of how educators approach trying new things sometimes. It’s almost like the experience of taking unpleasant medicine.  Or ripping off a band-aid.  If I hurry, I will get through the hard parts quickly and can then coast through the easier sections of this mountain. Sure. And yes, Kiana did make it up the mountain and back down. However, she did experience physical ailments that the others did not.  She made the trip much more difficult and unpleasant than it needed to be. She did not do much to fuel herself with the energy needed to perform well.  She had a support system ready to go, already in place, but she chose not only to not use it, but to risk her own health by not taking advantage of the support, experience, and assistance offered by Daisy and Austin.  Sound familiar? I’ve been that way in education before, and I hope I’ve learned from my mistake. Let’s put down our packs and rest a second. Have a cool drink of water.

Austin too had climbed 14ers before with his mom, Daisy.  He also ran cross country in high school and in college before switching to the college track team.  He is no stranger to the value of pacing, teamwork, and experience.  And though he worried about her and alternated between Kiana and his mom and Shalyn, Kiana didn’t take advantage of the assistance he could have given her. She received his sympathy, but rejected his help. She got further and further behind as the group worked their way back down the mountain. Her plan backfired. She ran out of gas. Her battery died. As a result, she (Kiana) has no intention of ever climbing a mountain again. Ring a bell? Have you ditched a tech tool or new strategy because it didn’t go well, was too hard, or you blazed right through it without seeking a guide?mRHand_115

Shalyn, on the other hand, knew that she didn’t know everything she needed to climb the mountain.  Shalyn didn’t particularly care for the bread either, but she trusted Daisy. She understood that Daisy HAD done this before. Shalyn knew that Daisy found out the hard way about altitude sickness, stress, lack of preparation and training, etc. How did Shalyn know this? Daisy shared it with her, each baby step up that mountain. Daisy let Shalyn know that she wasn’t alone, others had gone before (yes, a Star Trek allusion), and that she, Daisy, had failed but still prevailed.  Daisy isn’t an expert climber; she just likes to climb one mountain a year.  She doesn’t claim to know everything, but she is not afraid to climb the mountain. Daisy’s not afraid to try, and her enthusiasm and cheerleading, each step of the way, were what helped Shalyn up the mountain. Baby steps.  Are you ready? We got this.mRHand_116

The key phrase that Daisy used repeatedly with Shalyn that day was: We got this.  Shalyn knew as she stepped out of the truck that she wasn’t climbing the mountain by herself. She had help. She had support. She had a guide with experience.  Isn’t that what a PLN (Professional Learning Network) is or does?  If you are standing at the foot of a mountain, or even most of the way up but have a few thousand feet left to climb, don’t you want to tap into the power provided by your PLN? Whether it be a personal problem, professional problem, or a new technology you want to try in class, ask that teacher, coach, administrator or counselor who has climbed the mountain before to help you. Ask for support. Put their experience to work for you. Let members of your PLN choose the bread for your sandwiches that you need on the climb. Let someone from your PLN tell you about the times they lost their footing when climbing up or down their own mountain.  They can share the mistakes they made and help you avoid them.  If a thunderstorm rolls in as you reach the summit, let a member of your PLN provide you with rain poncho.  Don’t get wet just to prove you don’t need help. Life is too short, and we have AMAZING things to do. This isn’t a race..We ALL need help. Baby steps. Are you ready? We got this!

Got A Mountain to Climb? Baby Steps. Are you Ready? We Got This.

Part 1:

I love the mountains out west. I really do.  My favorites press upward past the tree line and have snow draped around their summits year round, or nearly year round.  During our recent vacation in Colorado, my cousin’s wife, Daisy, had a day picked out to climb Handies Peak near Lake City, Colorado (my new favorite place), and she talked my nineteen year-old daughter, Shalyn, who was home from college for the summer, into hiking to the summit with her.  To round out the group, Daisy’s 24 year-old son, Austin, and his 23 year-old girlfriend, Kiana, were also planning to hike.  Austin and Daisy had hiked Pike’s Peak (another 14ner) twice previously, but Kiana and Shalyn had never done anything like this before. Ever. Though Shalyn had played basketball and softball in high school, she was not in “mountain climbing” shape. Shalyn also did not have waterproof winter gloves, a proper hiking backpack, and her hiking boots were much to heavy, being made for fashion and not actually for hiking.  To be clear, if you’ve never hiked a 14ner, the distance isn’t really how you gauge the level of difficulty.  The hike Daisy planned for the group is Class 1 or Exposure 1, 5.7 miles total.  That doesn’t make it an easy hike, since you start at 11,600 feet and must hike to the summit of 14,048 feet in elevation. There are all kinds of weather you must prepare for, physical conditions, and wildlife (bears), all while keeping your pack light enough that you can carry it up the mountain, all the way to the summit. Then you have to carry it back down, which can be just as challenging, though in different ways.

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To see all seventeen of the photos that go with this one, click here.

Now, Shalyn could have made excuses not to go on the hike. She wasn’t prepared. She hadn’t trained for it . She didn’t have all the right equipment (sound like any educators you know? Yourself? Myself?). She didn’t know what to expect, so she was a bit scared of the unknown. Shalyn has some health issues and cannot tolerate heat, which has been known to trigger a panic attack. She has anxiety. While not diabetic, she has low blood sugar issues.  The list could go on, because it did while we packed her bag the night before the hike.  Daisy and crew were heading out at six the following morning. My husband and I told Shalyn that she didn’t have to go. She could hang out at the cabin with me in the morning then go riding trails on her 4-wheeler with her dad, eleven year-old brother, my cousin Randy (Daisy’s husband) and his two younger sons (ages 13 and 11), all of whom would be on dirt bikes.  Now Shalyn loves riding mountain trails, but the problem was, that is something she does every year. We load up the bikes and 4 wheeler and head out to Colorado. That wasn’t a new experience, and it wasn’t a challenge. During the whole trip out to Colorado from Missouri, I kept thinking of the challenge to try new experiences set by Denis Sheeran, author of Instant Relevance (a favorite book of mine) in his guest blog for Dave Burgess. To read that great post, click here. I sat there watching my daughter struggle with the decision to go on the hike or not.  I wanted to switch places with her and try hiking a mountain, but my recent surgery prevented that. It would be physically demanding. It would be mentally demanding. It would NOT be easy. It would be new. It would be exhilarating to reach the summit. It would be amazing. I was concerned about her health if she went, but I would not stop her or tell her not to go. I’m not that kind of mom. She can make her own decisions, and she did. Shalyn went.

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Loading up for the ride on the day before the big hike up Handies Peak.

I helped Daisy pack the food for the hike, since their bodies would be burning through calories faster than they could replace them. We had been in the mountains (8,500 elevation or higher) for nearly a week by this time, so their bodies were already acclimated to the higher elevation. I woke up at the crack of dawn to make sure Shalyn had what she needed and saw her out the door.  I then said a quiet prayer for her that all moms can relate to, and went back to bed, but I couldn’t go back to sleep.

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Once they returned, Daisy filled me in on how their hike went.  They showed up at Daisy’s cabin starving and exhausted, and I was amazed at how much food they consumed.  Then later I got Daisy alone and she filled me in, which in turn, sparked this blog post.  You see, Daisy was the guide on the side, and the three with her, mainly Shalyn and Kiana, were her students.  Daisy and Austin had split the majority of things all four would need between them in their packs, while Shalyn and Kiana carried packs with stuff they would personally need. Daisy instructed the group to stay together, take it slow and steady, and that they could take as many breaks as they needed.  To add to the stress of the hike for Shalyn, the area was flooded with people, since apparently a race up to the summit was taking place, and people and cameras were everywhere.  While this reduced the chance of interrupting a bear’s daily routine, it did not lesson the anxiety my introverted daughter was feeling, but she listened carefully to Daisy as they prepared to leave the trailhead. Kiana, however, took off running.  Daisy was baffled but just reminded Shalyn that this wasn’t a race (for them anyway, but it was a race for the people in the actual race) . They could go as slow as needed. After maybe one hundred yards, my out of breath daughter declared, “I’m dead. I can still see the truck, and I’m already dead.” Calm and reassuringly, Daisy explained to Shalyn how she managed to climb Pike’s Peak for the first time without knowing anything but what she’d manage to research on the internet.  However, as with most experiences in life, there are certain intangibles that you can’t always discover online. Daisy was unprepared for the realities of hiking in higher elevations that first time, even though she had the right gear and knew the route and the destination. She made it to the top by simply placing one foot slowly in front of the other. Baby steps. She gave Shalyn the same advice. “Just take baby steps. Put one foot in front of the other.” Off they trudged.

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Shalyn thought and verbalized on multiple occasions up the mountain that she was “dead,” or that she “died,” but she kept putting one foot in front of the other. Baby steps. Daisy stayed with her the whole time. Kiana, who took off running from the trailhead, threw up several times, but she kept running ahead every time the rest of the group approached, didn’t stay with the group much, and wouldn’t eat to replenish the calories that they were all quickly burning as they trudged up Handies Peak. Shalyn, on the other hand, ate when she felt she needed to eat or when Daisy told her to eat. When she thought she couldn’t go any further, Daisy would say, “Let’s just go a few more feet.”  And Shalyn did. A few more feet, a few more baby steps, and Shalyn climbed the mountain. At one point, Shalyn exclaimed breathlessly, “I think I died and lived to tell the story!” Daisy laughed and replied, “Let’s go a few more feet.Baby steps.

Instead of the cold that the group had expected, they encountered heat. The weather stayed somewhat mild while they hiked, so Shalyn had to combat the heat that her hardworking body was generating. Her body doesn’t handle heat well, remember, so this added a layer of struggle to her efforts.  When she struggled, Daisy was at her side saying, “Are you ready? We got this!” Once, when Shalyn kept repeating that she was dying, Daisy said, “Well, you can’t go back now!” My daughter replied, “Oh, I never said I was going back.” And she didn’t go back. She kept putting one foot in front of the other. Baby steps. Slow and steady.

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The snow they trudged through was wet and cold, the air was thin, and the hours mounted. Her muscles screamed, her boots were too heavy, and the backpack was killing her shoulders. Just a few more feet. We got this. Baby steps. And then they reached the summit. They rested there a bit, took a bunch of pictures with their cell phones (which I’m using in this post), and then had to begin their descent. Going back down would be every bit the challenge that going up had been, only the problems would be different. Their toes would hit the end of their shoes repeatedly. Painfully. Keeping their footing and balance was often hazardous. A thunderstorm moved in, complete with lightning. Kiana threw up some more, and kept running ahead. Daisy and Shalyn headed back down the mountain, with Austin somewhere between his mom and his running then stopping then running girlfriend. Slow and steady. Are you ready? We got this. Baby steps.

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Handies Peak selfie! Front: Austin, Kiana, and Shalyn. Back: Daisy, the guide on the side.

To break up the tension of physical distress with comic relief, Daisy fell down a lot. Okay, so she didn’t fall on purpose, but going down a mountain in snow, rain, and treacherous terrain is not easy to do without falling. Daisy fell, even though she was the guide, the experienced one. She fell, she laughed, she got up again and kept going. Shalyn, in her heavy Dr. Martens hiking boots, did not fall. Those heavy boots may have been killing her tired legs, but their tread kept her upright. She was the only one who didn’t fall, but each member of the group who fell got right back up again and kept going. Come on, Shalyn. Slow and steady. Are you ready? We got this. Baby steps.

The group made it up to the summit and back down the mountain, the measly but excruciating 5.7 miles, in approximately five and a half hours. They made it, even Kiana, who pushed her body too hard, too fast, and without replenishing enough of the calories. Daisy and Shalyn made it to the truck before Kiana, who had to stop repeatedly as her body reached it’s limit, but they all made it. Upon arriving at the cabin and eating macaroni and cheese, hamburgers, and more, they told me about their experience. Kiana flatly stated that she’d never do it again. Shalyn said she probably wouldn’t do it again. Not without better equipment, like water proof winter gloves. No way she’d do it again. Well, not without getting lighter hiking boots. She absolutely wouldn’t do it again. At least not without training first.

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My tired happy daughter, Shalyn, resting at the summit of Handies Peak.

Why am I blogging about this? I dare say many of you will have already seen the connection to education that I saw as this story unfolded, and I’ll focus on that in Part 2, my next post.  However, this doesn’t just relate to education. This story applies to life.  Your life, my life, everyone’s life.  We all have mountains in front of us at one time or another. We all see the mountain of work or trouble that keeps piling up, making us think it is impossible to manage, escape, survive, or conquer. While my kiddo struggled up and down her mountain and prevailed, I was reading Escaping the School Leader’s Dunk Tank, by Rick Jetter and Rebecca Coda  back at the cabin (and if you are facing mountains in your educational or professional field, get this book. It has strategies, advice, and will help prepare you to navigate the trail to the summit of your mountain). I was only in chapter two at the time, but the real stories of educators in the book who were facing serious mountains of their own, and my worry for Shalyn climbing her mountain, had me thinking that both situations were actually similar in some ways. Neither are easy, both may seem impossible to do or survive at first, and all of us want to turn around at some point, or at least think about it briefly. But what if we can’t turn around or leave the mountain, and instead we have to face it? How do we manage the mountain?  Listen to your own personal Daisy. Your guide on the side, whoever it may be. You don’t have to go it alone. Find a we. Don’t have one yet? Then listen to my Daisy: Slow and steady. Let’s just go a few more feet. Put one foot in front of the other. Baby steps. Are you ready? We got this! 

 

 

Work-Life Balance or Unbalance?

Everyone wants a magic formula to create the perfect lifestyle and to know they are doing things right.  If we just had this formula, then happiness and success would invade and take over our lives. Sure. That would be great. But there’s a good reason that no such magic formula exists.  The things in my life that fulfill me might terrify, bore, exhaust, or disgust others, and vice versa. The trick here is to find what works for you, your spouse, your family.  Why is this an important topic for those in education? Who we are, how we are, and what we do affects our ability to be our best for the students and staff we work with every day. And since I brought it up, keep in mind that my best, your best, and (insert your colleague’s name here)’s best will not look the same any more than our work and life dynamic does.  We aren’t the same, so we need to stop comparing and start finding what works for us as individuals, couples, and families.

Building off of my last post about finding your own joy, happiness, and fun in order to bring those elements to your classroom, take a few minutes to examine your lifestyle and habits.  Are you merely existing, make it day by day, just barely? Are you finding yourself content, miserable, overwhelmed, satisfied, bursting with joy and energy? (Time to self-reflect, folks.) Have you built something into your morning routine that ensures you’ll be angry, upset, fired up, pumped up, joyful when you get your students (for you elementarians–shut up, spell check, it’s a word…now) or first students of the day (for us high school and some middle school peeps)?  Yes, how you start each day matters. Figure out what triggers your negative emotions or attitudes and change anything in your daily morning routine that may feed those negatives.

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Unbalanced life.  Sounds wrong, doesn’t it? But maybe it’s the right way of thinking. I’ve seen a lot of blog posts and other articles surfacing recently about the power of failing in education and learning, the need to share failures instead of hiding them, and yesterday I watched a powerful TED Talk by Brené Brown where she weaves the story of her discovery that vulnerability in life was the key to courage, creativity, and more. Taking risks in education will involve vulnerability. It involves getting out of our comfort zones. I’m not going to hit you all (y’all) over the head with this concept, but if we as educators want to challenge your students, then we need to be willing to challenge ourselves. Every so often, I think of an area in my life where I’m clearly in my comfort zone, and I get out of it. I start small. If I see that I am constantly choosing to wear tennis shoes with jeans, (hazard of coaching), then I take a break from that zone and choose a different style of shoe for a set time (more than a day or week in length).  If I don’t like getting up in front of people and speaking, singing, presenting, praying, participating, debating, whatever, I make myself do it.  If you start rocking things in your own life, that will help you grow as a person and educator.

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My husband, son Ryan, and daughter Shalyn at one of our favorite spots to ride dirt bikes and 4-wheelers in Colorado at Taylor Park.

I don’t think of my life or lifestyle in terms of balance. I like the thoughts posed by Kelly Christopherson in his recent blog that challenged educators on this subject. He quotes Chris Brogan from his post on this subject (told you it was popular right now) in that balance is not what we should seek, but instead, we should seek to THRIVE.  As I read and pondered this, I realize that although my life is crazy and busy, it is how I thrive. I am now considering my life in terms of unbalance. My husband (tech director for my district) and I could beat some of you in a “how busy are you” contest, but I’m also sure others would beat us at this game. For us, busy is part of how we thrive. It keeps us challenged and unbalanced. We attend every school event we possibly can (EVERY school event we can, not just band, or just art, or just sports.), sing (me) and play lead guitar (him) in a local contemporary (rockin’) Christian band, hold leadership roles at school, follow our 11 year old son around on his travel basketball and baseball teams, currently assistant coach for two sports (me, but that means he has to attend softball and volleyball games and act as admin or field maintenance crew as needed),  sing (me) and play guitar (him) for our church praise team, and the list actually goes on. We are seldom home, but we enjoy this. We challenge ourselves. We put ourselves out there.

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Setting up for our first set at Silver Dollar City’s Young Christians Weekend, 2017. Clearly I’m talking. Par for the course.

The first few concerts (gigs) we did as a band were terrifying and exhilarating.  That probably pushes me the most out of my zone, the singing. It’s much easier in the car, singing with the radio. I’ve sung for crowds of a hundred or more, and sometimes that is less scary than singing for a small church crowd on a Sunday morning. But I’m glad I do it, each and every time, despite the fear, nerves, and mistakes.  There are and will always be mistakes. Vulnerability. It’s there too, and that’s okay.  Not fun, but it is necessary. For all of us. Take some time this summer to discover what pushes your comfort zone boundaries the most, then do it. See if you can create a lifestyle that helps you thrive as a human, then turn that energy toward your classroom, and turn up the heat. Let’s grow things: ourselves, our students, our colleagues. When you get comfortable with that, turn your energy toward the world. Turn up the heat. Rather, rinse, repeat.

Joy, Happiness, & Fun: Elusive or Inclusive in Your Classroom?

I have a very bright, quick-witted, downright funny 11 year old son, Ryan, who absolutely hates school, most of the time.  From kindergarten through second grade, he would wake up angrily every morning for school, complain loudly about it being a complete waste of his time, and trudge through his morning routine.  I’m an educational nerd (#EduNerd), have always been, so this situation was not in my wheelhouse.  I knew my son wasn’t unique in his distaste for school, but for him to feel this way every single morning was disheartening.  I knew why he felt that way, why thousands of kids everywhere feel this way.  Then in the third grade, he connected with a teacher who helped him like school. Now, every teacher who follows her has a shot.

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Unfortunately for many teachers out there today, the answer to the question posed by Dave Burgess,  bestselling author and speaker in the picture above, is yes.  I’ve taught in five districts and 2 different states since my husband’s job for 20 years required some relocating.  So, I have seen students bail out of high school classes at the end of the first semester, leaving the teacher with an empty room. There are teachers out there who seem to forget that elective classes are just that, “elected to be taken” by students. I’ve heard some teachers blame their students for dropping the class, saying that those students just didn’t want to work hard. Sure, we can blame them, but a little self reflection in this situation never hurts. If all of your students drop your class, or would if they had the option, maybe your class is lacking in joy, happiness, and/or fun.  Now, I need you to actually do some deep self-reflection here, because the joy, happiness, and fun I am talking about ultimately starts with you, with me, the teacher. One other thing to think about is that the class is about our students. It’s not about us, the teachers.

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Now the world famous Pike Place Fish Market in Seattle, Washington has taught the world a lot about how to be successful while working hard. Their secret? HAVE FUN.  They didn’t start out as world famous, but they decided that would be the goal, and then they set about accomplishing it.  The ways they do that each and every day are the same things we teachers can do. It starts with us.  Folks, if you don’t cultivate joy within yourself for your students and the work you do FOR them, then you will always struggle to have a classroom full of joy, happiness, and fun. Do not sit back and say, “Well it isn’t all fun and games. It’s hard work in my subject/class.” If for one second you think that working in a fish market is all fun and games, then you have never been to a fish market. It is extremely hard, smelly, cold, exhausting work. If you have never worked in customer service (other than as teachers with students as customers), then listen to me–It is HARD work.  The work, in this case, is actually irrelevant (stay with me-I’ll get there).  Pike Place employees have to agree when they are hired that they will find ways to have fun doing their hard work. That part is up to them. They make the fun happen.   The employees must agree to try to make their customers’ day. Every day. The work stays the same daily, so they all agree to find ways to make what they do fun each day AND to support each other when they find those ways to make it fun. They are committed to giving customers a fun experience and meet their customers’ needs at the same time, while working with cold, smelly, dead fish. Hundreds of dead fish. Think about it. Do you think those employees, who make significantly less money than teachers (I assume), wake up every single day in great moods ready to go work with fish and customers? Nope. They are humans, just like us, but while at work, they go all out for the customers or they aren’t working there long. They fake it until they make it.  They act happy until they are happy.  The work is hard every day, but this fish market has proven to the world that fun can be had anywhere while doing anything (See? I got there…the type of work is irrelevant).

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So what’s the secret? The MAGIC answer? The COOL tech tool that will automatically give my classroom the fun, joy, and happiness that can grow thriving students? Quite simply, it’s you, me, the teacher.  Find the joy in yourself, in your work, your students, then find as many ways as you can to share it. All of the ways I do it work for me, but may not work for you. Actually, they work because I have refined my strategies with each year I teach (going on year 22). There are failures. Learn from them. Every teacher must find the joy they have for what they do and share it. Here are my tips:

  1. Watch how you react, talk to, and treat your students every second of every day. Sure, you are busy between classes or at times when a student wants to tell you something they are interested in but you are not. Stop and LISTEN. Be engaged in that moment with that student.
  2. Smile. You can show true or fake enjoyment. It’s okay. Try it.
  3. Give creative fun titles to hard work to make it seem more fun that it is (this works with my high school students so it will work for your students).  The goofier you title an activity and the happier you act about getting to teach it (like seriously over act if it’s really hard work), the more your students will find fun in it too. You can even change up the seating or routine in some way to do really hard work, add the fun title, act super excited about it, and the students will start having fun with it too. Don’t quit if you try it once and they don’t go “ga-ga” over it. Keep it up. This is WORK, so don’t give up. Find your FUN.
  4. Be honest with your students. Let them help you refine lessons so that they work.
  5. Laugh at their stories or jokes. Tell your own. Stories are a great way to engage students, adults, humans, and some pets (but not hermit crabs).
  6. Act like you care. That last one may sound harsh, because of course you care for your students. Well, to refer to my previous post, Thought It Was A Weed, keep in mind that those difficult students need to know you care for them too, even if you don’t like them. They are not weeds. They are flowers. Say it. Mean it. There should not be a student in your classroom at any time that is convinced you don’t like them. They need to think you like them, even if that is a student you have trouble getting along with personally. They are kids. Be the adult.
  7. Find nice things to say to those students you have to correct constantly or find yourself correcting several times during class. Even if you can’t find much say, try. Things like “I like your jacket,” or “Hey, that’s a cool shirt,” are good places to start. Find something. Maybe ask how they did in whatever activity/event they are involved in, and if you don’t know what they do outside your room, start there. Ask. Discover. Use it.

Finally, I teach by the philosophy that if I am bored, then my students will be bored. Some of my subject matter is completely snoozeville for a lot folks. What I nerd out about doesn’t always translate to things my students will also enjoy. Not every story we read appeals to me , much less to my students, but I can make the journey through it seem more like an adventure than a trip to prison. Want your students to grow and thrive as much as possible while they are with you? Me too! So, I work hard to add fun without compromising the work.  Look for ways to add more engagement, and always remember to act like a teacher having fun until you are one. You’ll be surprised at the growth of your flowers when the soil of your classroom, rooted in you, me, the teacher, is deep, rich, nutrient-filled top soil.  Find your joy and happiness and the fun will follow. No more fill dirt. Be the top soil.

Thought It Was A Weed

I came home this afternoon after a rewarding but long day of summer professional development, and I noticed that my flowers were in great need of a long cool drink of water. I may have been in air conditioning all day, but they had been in the warm June Missouri humid heat.  I may not be fluent in “flower,” but I can read body language. Droopy sad flowers are not as pleasing as full bloom happy little flowers, so I mentioned to my husband that I was headed outside to water them. He declared his intention of coming with me, so outside the house we went.  He had purchased several sacks of cypress mulch to put down in my flower beds the night before, so we set about clearing stray weeds and grass from both flower beds and adding the mulch so that I could then water the flowers.

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Yes, these are my actual flowers. I took the pictures this very evening while the idea for this post grew and developed. As I plucked the occasional grass from the first flower bed, I mulled over the content from the sessions I had attended today while also discussing  recent personnel changes in my own school district with my husband who is the Technology Director (yes, I know that makes me spoiled as an educator). We lost a great coach and teacher to another district recently,  hired several new teachers and a new elementary principal, and I am really excited about the functionality and power of Google Keep. These were my thoughts and the snippets of my conversation with my husband as he worked in the cypress mulch, and I picked weeds and grass.  And then he says it.  “Is this a weed?” Pluck. Snap. Toss. I look up, and one of my flowers is now deceased. “Nope, that wasn’t a weed,” I reply.  My husband glances at it where he tossed it up on the porch. “Well, it looked like a weed.”

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I know what you’re thinking (well, what someone somewhere reading this may be thinking). What does this have to do with education? I’m so glad you asked. It occurred to me as I contemplated the flower my husband had just plucked and tossed aside that some students were like this flower.  There are students who don’t fit the typical mold. These are the students whose brain doesn’t function or process information like the “normal” students. The student who has no idea what personal space is. The student whose parents have no social skills and therefore have condemned their offspring to the same fate. The student who is poorer than most in your district. The student who doesn’t believe in showers or deodorant.  The student who believes in showers and deodorant but can’t take on or apply some, for whatever reason. The student who is mad at the world, every single day. The student who won’t talk or participate. I could do this all night, but I think you get my point.

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Not every flower is tall. Not every flower is perky. Not every flower is perfect and without blemish, and some even have thorns. That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t belong in our flower beds. As you cultivate the flower bed of your classroom, keep in mind that you students can’t help where they come from, they don’t get to choose their parents, and they are kids. Their brains are not fully developed. There are a lot of things in their lives that are not in their control. Read their body language. Figure out what they need. Some need mulch. Others need water. All of them want to live in a weed free flower bed. All of them want us to notice that they are not a weed. They are flowers.