A Sign to Welcome Them All

I have been in my current classroom for three years, about to begin year number four.  Never have I stayed in one classroom for so long and so my room, well, it is looking like I have been there a while.  Everything has its place, everything is where it feels comfortable, but comfort doesn’t equal excitement, so in order to show off the excitement I have for this new batch of students, I want to change it up a little bit.  As much as I can anyway with all of our book shelves, with all of our tables and chairs. And where does the change begin?  Right as they enter the door.

One of the biggest components of our classrooms is the need for students to feel like they belong so I knew I wanted something to signal how glad I am that they, the very child they are, showed up.  I also wanted something to communicate that all children are welcome, no matter their identity, no matter how they view themselves or are viewed by others.  I kept coming back to a blog post I wrote in the aftermath of some of the hateful acts here in the USA and realized that I knew exactly what the sign should say.  So here it is, I am so excited with how it looks, feel free to use the saying but please give credit.  I used Jenna Sue Design on Etsy because I have used her before and love her style.

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Change starts with us and so does safety and feeling like you belong.  I am glad this sign will be the first thing students see when they come through the door of our classroom.

If you like what you read here, consider reading my newest book, Passionate Readers – The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child, out August 2017.  This book focuses on the five keys we can implement into any reading community to strengthen student reading experiences, even within the 45 minute English block.  If you are looking for solutions and ideas for how to re-engage all of your students consider reading my very first book  Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.      Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.

 

 

 

 

On the First Day

On the first day of school, how will the students be greeted by you?  Will you stand by the door, saying hello, welcoming them in, or will you be busy with last minute preparations for the kids who already showed up?

On the first day of school will the kids be told where to sit or will they be given choice right away?

On the first day of school will the rules already be posted?  The expectations already made?  Or will you have that discussion with the kids so they can be involved in how they want to feel?

On the first day of school will the whole year have been planned out already or will you wait to see who these kids are and what they need?  Will their voices be used to shape the curriculum or has that been done for them already?

On the first day of school will you be excited to start another year?  Will you be honored to be a teacher?  Will you be aware of the immense responsibility and opportunity that comes with what we get to call a job?

On the first day of school will you worry more about all of the information that you have to share and the things you have to get done, rather than how the students feel as they leave your classroom?

On the first day of school will you plant the seeds of the future learning that will take place?  Will your students’ voices be heard already or will the day be dominated by yours?  Will the work you do be meaningful or something just to get through?

Will you be honored to meet each child?  Will you welcome each one, no matter their past, no matter their needs?  Will you face your own fears and teach courageously so we can begin to right the wrongs in this world?  Will you find your own voice to start courageous conversations?

On the first day of school will you be glad you showed up, perhaps exhausted at the end, yet happy or will you dread the year that has just started, unsure of why you chose to come back?  Will the students leave thinking that perhaps this year will be amazing, that perhaps they will be interested, that perhaps they will be challenged, that perhaps you will care about them?  Or will they drag their feet and answer “fine…” when their parents ask them how the first day was.

On the first day of school will you know that this year will be worth it?  That this will be an opportunity to grow?  That yes, there may be hard days, but there will also be so many great ones?  Will you tell the kids thank you when they leave and mean it?

On the first day of school, we set the tone for the learning that will happen the rest of the year.  For how kids will feel when they enter our learning spaces.  For how we will be viewed as a new adult in their life.  Let’s do it right this year.

If you like what you read here, consider reading my newest book, Passionate Readers – The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child, out August 2017.  This book focuses on the five keys we can implement into any reading community to strengthen student reading experiences, even within the 45 minute English block.  If you are looking for solutions and ideas for how to re-engage all of your students consider reading my very first book  Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.      Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.

 

 

 

 

On In-Service and Back to School Training

For many of us, it has been a summer of learning.

For many of us, it has been a summer of renewal.

Of finding new ideas

Of tweaking the old ones.

Of refocusing, re-thinking, and perhaps even re-committing.

We eagerly await the arrival of those kids, we hope will become our kids, and we dream of the year to come.

But before the first day of school there is bound to be training.  There is bound to be new programs, new initiatives, new things added on to our already heavy shoulders in order to make this year the possibly best year we have ever had.  And I try to be excited and I try to be ready and I try to be open-minded, but I realize now that while the program may be amazing.  While the research may be compelling.  While the intentions may be the best, it doesn’t really matter.

You could bring us the very best program in the world, but it may never be enough.

Because school is not really about implementing programs.  School is not really about the lesson plan.  Or the curriculum.  Or even about the research.  It is about the kids, of course.  We say it all the time.  And yet, where is the time spent in our back-to-school days?  What are our discussions centered on?  What do we walk away from our in-service days knowing more about?  The program or the kids?

I for one hope it is the kids, but often see them left to the end, brought up as data points and survey results.  Brought up in lofty dreams and grand ambitions.  Why not make in-service about the very kids we teach and invite a few in?  Why not interview them to ask about their hopes for the school year?  Why not have them craft questions or areas they would like us to get better at.  Why do so many of our decisions that center around kids never involve the kids?

So if you are in charge, if you are the one making the agenda, bring in the kids.  Add their voice.  Add their presence.  Let us focus not on the training of more curriculum implementation, on all the new initiatives, at least not the entire time, but instead on the problems the students challenge us to solve.  Let us focus on what we say we are really there for; the kids and let them guide us into making this the best year yet.

If you like what you read here, consider reading my newest book, Passionate Readers – The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child, out August 2017.  This book focuses on the five keys we can implement into any reading community to strengthen student reading experiences, even within the 45 minute English block.  If you are looking for solutions and ideas for how to re-engage all of your students consider reading my very first book  Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.      Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.

 

 

Essentialism for the Overworked Teacher

I have been sick for the past two months.  Not just cold sick, but several attempts with antibiotics, various diagnoses, including pneumonia, and an ever persistent exhaustion no matter the sleep I got, kind of sick.  What started as a virus has become something I can’t fight.  And I am well aware I have done this to myself.  Between teaching full-time, speaking, writing, being a mother and a wife, and selling our house, I have forgotten what it means to do nothing.  Forgotten what it means to relax and not feel so guilty about it.  Even reading has become a chore and so I realized last Thursday, that in my attempt to make the world better I have forgotten about myself.

Why share this?  It is not for sympathy, but instead to highlight something so common in education; the overworked teacher.  We have all been there, in fact, many of us exist constantly at this stage it seems, where we get so absorbed into our classrooms that we forget about our own mental health and then wonder why we feel burnt out.   We know we should do less but worry about the consequences and so we push on and dream of vacation and doing little, yet never make the time for it.  I have been reading the book Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown in an effort to make sense of my own decisions, of this exhaustion I am working through, and as I read I cannot help but transfer this knowledge into the classroom.  How much of the discipline of Essentialism can help us, as overworked teachers, and steer us away from burn out before it even begins?

One of the central tenets of the book is the idea of doing less better.  We seem to forget that in education as we constantly pursue new ideas to add into our classroom in order to create more authentic experiences for our students.  We plan, we teach, we juggle one hundred things and add in extra whenever we see a need, and then come back and do the same the next day.  Yet, we know this is not sustainable, so what can we do?

Discover your essentials.

What do you hold most sacred within your teaching?  You can decide either in your subject area or in your whole educational philosophy.  List the three most essential goals for your year and then plan lessons according to these, eliminating things that do not tie in with your goals.

So for example, one of my essential goals for the year is to help my 7th graders become better human beings.  While a lofty goal, it steers me when I plan lessons as I ask; is there a bigger purpose to this learning or is it just a small assignment to “get through?”  If I want my students to become better human beings we must work within learning that matters and that gives them a chance to interact with others.

Say no more.

We tend to volunteer ourselves whenever an opportunity arises.  But as Greg McKeown discusses, saying “Yes” is the easy way out, we don’t have to deal with the guilt that comes with saying no or not volunteering.  However, when we live in a cycle of yes, we take on more than we can truly handle.  Therefore, evaluate what is most essential to you and to your classroom.  If something is not in line with your goals, and you are not excited at the prospect of doing the work, then politely decline. Others will almost certainly take the spot meant for you or the work will be approached in a different way.

Eliminate the clutter.

Just like we need to say no, we also need to stop creating extra work for ourselves.  I find myself distracted when my classroom or especially my workspace is cluttered and using the extra time to find something or put something away becomes one more thing to do in our busy teaching days.  While I don’t mean, “Get rid of everything,” look at the piles that you constantly move.  Why do they not have a home?  Do they need a home?  If everything has a specific place in your classroom, then you know where to return something to once you have used it.  That method will help you eliminate all of the extra time spent simply shuffling things around.

Plan for no plans.

We tend to plan every minute of our day so that we can get the most use out of our precious time, yet we know that throughout the day, extra items will get added and all of a sudden we did not get to the things we meant to get to.  So leave gaps in your prep time or in your before or after school routine for the extra things that have popped up or the major item that still needs to get done.  That way you are not trying to squeeze extra things in when you really have accounted for how every minute will be spent already.

 

Slow down your decisions

So often, in order to be efficient, we make a snap decision without really thinking the decision through.  This can lead to more stress, more thing to get done, and also less happiness.  In the past year, I have learned to hit pause before I reply to that request and really consider whether this is something I want to dedicate myself to and whether I will enjoy it.  If I cannot answer emphatically yes to those two things then I politely decline, however, I cannot answer those two questions if I do not take the time to think about it first.  If a request comes up in conversation, it is okay to tell someone that you will get back to them with an answer as soon as you can.

Choose your yes’

My 2017 word of the year has been “Enjoy.”  I chose this word as a reminder to myself that when I do say yes to something, I need to enjoy what I am doing.  That doesn’t mean that my life is filled with fun and exciting things at all times, but it does mean that when I choose to do something I try to be mindful of the fact that I chose to do it.  This has been a great reminder of why choosing my yes’ with care is so important.  If I am in, then I want to be all in.

Remember you have a choice.

Greg McKeown wrote, “When we forget our ability to choose, we learn to be helpless.” How often is this the case not just for our students when they come to us believing school is just something to get through, but also when we forget about our own power of choice?  While being educators means that there are many things we do not have power over, there are many things we do, and so remembering that we do have a choice is important for us all.

 

Create your own priority.

I was really struck by the discussion of how the plural version of the word “Priority” was not invented until the 1900’s when mass production and multitasking became the thing to strive for.  How many priorities do we juggle in a day as educators?  Look no further than the vision statements of our schools; I have yet to find one that lists one single thing, rather than many.  Yet, when we have multiple priorities we are, in essence, not working on any of them by spreading ourselves too thin.  So much like you should discover your essentials, discover your one priority.  What is the one thing that you want to focus on?  It can be a larger goal that encompasses many small things, however, limit yourself to one and then dedicate yourself to it.  This goes for the work our students do as well.

Plan for play.

Much like I have embraced doing nothing the last few days, I have also tried to join in the play with my children.  I have been more at peace, had more fun, and also had an incredible surge in brainpower while pretending to be a stealthy ninja or trying to beat them all at Sorry.  Play often feels like an indulgence and something that we, as adults, should grow out of, yet reintroducing the concept of play, and also of boredom, has been incredibly revitalizing.  So plan for play next year, whether by creating challenges for your students, taking the time to draw, playing jokes on colleagues, or doing something else that seems off topic and even frivolous.  Plan for play before strenuous tasks or when stress levels seem high.  I cannot wait to see what our brains will do after.

Stop the guilt.

We are awfully good at feeling guilty as educators.  Whether it is guilt from feeling like we didn’t do enough, like we didn’t teach well, or because we didn’t volunteer, didn’t go the extra mile, didn’t write enough feedback, or insert whatever teacher related item here; guilt seems to be our constant companion.  But think of the weight of guilt and how it consumes our subconscious.  Why do we let it?  In the past six months, I have started saying no more and I can tell you, I feel guilty every time, but as it has become more of a habit, the guilt has lessened and the weight I feel lifted is palpable.  So turn the guilt around; rather than feel guilty for saying no, congratulate yourself.  Celebrate the fact that you know when to protect yourself and your energy.  Celebrate the extra time you just gave yourself and then don’t plan extra work for that time.

Dedicate yourself to yourself.

We spend so much time thinking of our students, their needs, and their goals, that we forget about ourselves.  So as you plan lessons for your students, plan lessons for yourself as well.  How will you grow as a human being or as a practitioner today?  How do you want to feel at the end of the day?  There is nothing selfish about focusing some of our energy on ourselves as we go through the day trying to create great learning experiences for our students.

As I slowly gain my health back, as I slowly feel less exhausted, as I slowly start to clear my mind, I start to remember what it feels like to not work all of the time.  To have vacation.  To take the time to step away so that when we come back, we feel so excited.  The truth is; work is not the only thing I want to consume me.  I want my family to consume me.  My love for my husband.  I want to find joy in reading books with a cup of tea next to me.  To play stupid computer games.  In baking.  In laughing with my kids rather than telling them to hurry up.  I want my legacy to be more than being a good teacher.  And I cannot do that if I don’t change my life a bit.  The first step was to realize that things had to change, that came courtesy of my exhausted body, now it is up to me to continue on this journey.   Reading Essentialism has provided me with a path.

In the Small Details

“When will I die, Mom?”

Oskar, our four-year-old son, asks it so abruptly that I am not sure I heard him right.  He looks at me, clearly waiting for an answer, after all, I am the adult in the room, I should have an answer for everything.  And yet the answer I give is weak, I know it, he knows it.

“We all die some day…” he takes it in and then starts to tell me a story about school.  As if I had not just dropped a huge amount of truth into his four-year-old lap that could give him nightmares for weeks to come.  But to him it doesn’t.  He asked a question, I provided an answer and now he has more pressing things to share.  His sense of the world as a child never fails to amaze me.  How can you so casually skip over the inevitability of death and go back to what is comparatively mundane; school and what you played with?

Yet, here is the lesson that my children keep teaching me.  Here is the thing I wish I could be so much better at.  Here is the thing that I think bears repeating; life is lived in the small stories.  In the small details.  Not in our worries.  Not in the inevitability of time, of death.  Of heartache and loss.  But of searching for the small moments of joy.  Of finding the moments we can enjoy so that we may sustain ourselves through the hard that we know will surround us and overwhelm us at points in our lives.

And we do this in the classroom as well.  We search for the BIG moments, for the defining characteristics, we internalize our worries about the students and their perceived struggles and then forget to see them in the small increments that they present themselves at. We speak of a child in terms of their struggles and goals rather than their successes and accomplishments.  We spend so much time worrying that we forget to enjoy the small.  That we make big deals out of everything, and then wonder why we are exhausted.

So perhaps we all need to be more like Oskar?  To recognize the large, the hard, the inevitable but then get on with life.  To not harbor, to not dwell, to not let this color everything we do, but instead to find comfort in the fact that it all of these things are part of their journey.  Of our journey.  To know that while a child may have had a difficult day, month, or even year with us, that this is not the only thing defining them.  That there will be good.  That life will continue to turn sometimes despite of what is happening.

If you like what you read here, consider reading any of my books; the newest called Reimagining Literacy Through Global Collaboration, a how-to guide for those who would like to infuse global collaboration into their curriculum, was just released.  I am currently working on a new literacy book, called Passionate Readers and it will be published in the summer of 2017 by Routledge.If you are looking for solutions and ideas for how to re-engage all of your students consider reading my very first book  Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.      Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.

 

 

 

 

What I Have to Tell Them

I watch them come in, hands clenched, eyes downcast, not quite sure what to think.  I tell them to take a deep breath, tell your story, there is nothing to be worried about.

Our students lead their conferences and while it is not perfect, it is incredible to watch their story unfold.  To see them decide what deserves their attention, to see what they find valuable.  To see those that come from home ask them questions and see them truly realize what we have known for quite a while; they have grown, they have changed, and yes, they are almost ready to leave us.

And so I smile and share the good.  Tell them how proud I am of them.  How I have seen them come in not quite sure what to think or how to speak up.  Not quite sure what this 7th-grade thing really is to this…these kids that have conquered almost all that we have challenged them with.  And I remind myself to tell them that I will miss them.  Because I will; these kids with their stories, these kids with their dreams, their kids with their hopes that this year would be different and for many of them it has been.  They marched right into my heart, threw down the door, and settled right in.

So before I forget I remind myself to tell them that they matter.

Before I forget I remind myself to tell them that I was the lucky one.

That they made me smile.

That they made me laugh.

That they made me cry too, sometimes out of frustration, but mostly out of pride.

That they pushed me harder than I thought I could take but that I am still standing.

Before I forget I remind myself to tell them that their stories deserve to be heard, that their work matters and that they, too, have changed the world.

That they can be more than they see themselves.

That they make people better.

That there is a place in the world for them, no matter the thorns they sometimes unfurl.

I came into this year not knowing if 7th grade was for me.  Haunted by the perpetual doubt of whether I was enough.  Whether I could handle the challenge of another year of second-guessing, of feeling lonely, of not quite fitting in.  Whether I was meant to teach this age, to teach just English, to be at this school.  It turns out I could because this year I was never quite alone.  The kids were right there, believing in me, believing in us.  Perhaps not every moment, but those that mattered.  And so in the end, after watching these kids with their hearts, their hopes, their dreams, and even their fears tell their stories and own what they are, I feel it is time for me to tell mine; I am a 7-th grade teacher, for better, for worse.  It turns out I just forgot to remind myself of that.

If you like what you read here, consider reading any of my books; the newest called Reimagining Literacy Through Global Collaboration, a how-to guide for those who would like to infuse global collaboration into their curriculum, was just released.  I am currently working on a new literacy book, called Passionate Readers and it will be published in the summer of 2017 by Routledge.If you are looking for solutions and ideas for how to re-engage all of your students consider reading my very first book  Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.      Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.