Things I Love About School

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This week I (again) realized I have so very much to appreciate about my life. After reading a blog post that was very negative and critical, I realized it left me feeling icky – and a little negative – myself. That’s not a feeling I like to hang on to, so I decided a remedy was to focus on and talk about some of the great things going on in education and particularly in our classroom.

As this perspective burrowed its way into my thinking, it occurred to me there are some very important things that happen in our district, our building, and in my classroom I truly love. They are those things I believe, if fostered, will make a significant difference in peoples’ lives. There are, of course, endless things I could list, but here’s my top-of-the-list things I love about my life at school.


I love it when kids are excited to learn something new.

     I can still hear and picture the students who were totally and completely stoked with a concept we were practicing in math. Some kids have worked on these skills for quite some time, and did not give up. As a result, lights were coming on, kids were finding success through hard work, and it was amazing. These kids were proud, confident and ready – so ready – for their next challenge. I am incredibly proud of my students for hanging in there when sometimes reaching a learning target seemed almost impossible.


I love it when people praise others behind their back.

     This past week I had the opportunity to hear some of my colleagues praising the efforts of several other staff members in our building. These deeds were not necessarily huge (some of them were), but they all added something positive and beneficial to at least one student and/or colleague. When I hear comments like these, I not only admire the person who was given the praise, but also the person who gave it. When we praise someone behind their back the effects can be amazing.

I love it when kids get the love and support they need from their parents.

     Over the past month or so, several parents who have been rather quiet and uninvolved have stepped up and helped their children accomplish an educational goal. Each kiddo was excited about his or her learning and potential, and the parent seemed to have a new breath of life as well. Those parents are seeing some great things happen, and hopefully will have a closer relationship with their child as a result.

I love it when educators work together to help kids rather than complain.

     Most of us are probably aware that we’ve complained about one thing or another that is totally out of our control. We also know this is a useless (and often draining) endeavor. Yet it happens all too frequently. It is incredibly powerful when educators come together and make a choice to align and speak words that add life and vitality to our students’ lives rather than complain about situations that are out of our control.

I love it when kids feel totally accepted and loved.

     There are kids in all of our classrooms who have horrific baggage weighing them down when entering our classrooms every day. Sometimes those kids are easily identified but sometimes they go undetected. It wrenches at my heart to hear some of my kids’ stories. It also reinforces how much they need educators who truly accept and love their students. One of my primary goals with my students is that each one will feel known, accepted, and loved by me; that each will know that no matter how old he or she is, each one will always be “my kid.”

I love that we have the freedom to be agents of change.

     Change is sometimes very hard. Our world is changing so quickly it’s often mind-boggling. Technology natives have a reality far different than the reality I experienced as a youngster. However, as a life-long learner, I’ve made a commitment to learn – all of my life. That means learning what I need to know in order to foster that same love for learning in my students. That means being okay with being uncomfortable. That means I need others to help me in my journey. When we are committed to being learners that also means being a positive agent of change in the lives of people around us. When we model taking risks in our classroom in order to create a better learning environment, we are showing our kids it is okay to be a risk-taker and that change can be a very good thing.

Our world needs champion encouragers. It needs people who will do far more than badger kids into submission. Our world needs teachers who will seek out the strengths in our students and assist each one in the development of individual interests, even when the interest doesn’t match up with our own.

What do you think??

 

Best Day Ever

Tonight I took my teen-aged daughter to the mall to pick up some items we had ordered. As we approached the service desk the sales person recognized me, gave us a huge smile, and proceeded to tell me how her daughter came home from school today, proclaiming it to be “the best day ever!” The daughter went on to let her mom know that she now loves social studies!

 

It just so happens that I have her daughter for social studies.  During our time together, we had a class chat on how they might want to approach our next topic of learning. We’ve been working diligently on close reading non-fiction text so many can do this effectively and independently. Many, if not most, are ready to dive in and be independent learners, using these close reading skills, with some coaching from me. So today I asked the kids to think hard about how they can best learn this next topic. They were given several ideas and then we brainstormed together. Some wanted to team up with another classmate, some wanted to work independently, and some wanted to work with me. I challenged them to be honest with themselves and told them that truthfully I think some of them still need quite a bit of support from me, but that many could work on their own learning quite effectively.

 

To watch their faces as they realized they had a choice in how to learn was priceless. Listening to them brainstorm resources and formats for demonstrating their learning was even cooler. They are thinking of themselves as researchers. They are asking questions and thinking about what is important to learn and know. They are truly embracing their own learning.

 

Little did I know when we had our chat today that I would hear such positive news about it from a mom the very same day. Nor did I dream that a girl’s view of her learning would be so drastically altered. Hearing how enthusiastic and excited she is gives me incredible joy.

 

 

Tonight, I’m thankful I was able to release the reins in my classroom a bit. I’m even more thankful for the life it breathed into my kiddos. I hope today will spark more ideas of ways I can allow my students to have more ownership and flexibility in their approaches to learning and demonstrating their learning.

 

I’ll wager there are many of you who have found ways to open the floodgates of learning for your kids. What do you do? How do you do it? Would you be willing to share? I would love to hear any ideas you have!

Okay for Now?

I just finished reading Gary Schmidt’s book Okay For Now. It was amazing. Truly. The main character, Doug, is a kid who has an incredibly awful home life, with a dad who’s a total jerk. Dad’s abusive and hangs out with another jerk, which only makes matters worse. Most of Doug’s teachers think he’s a trouble-maker and give him nothing but negativity and judgement.

The way Gary gives Doug a voice (using first-person narrative) is stunning, and he allowed me to deeply engage with Doug’s struggles, fears, anger, and doubts. Doug’s story resonated so much with me, I think, because although many of my students have homes with stability, love, support and encouragement, I also have those who are hanging on by a thread. Kids who, like Doug, come to school with so many other issues pressing on them that survival is what is their highest concern.

 

This year, it seems more of my kids are finding themselves in that awful position. As our relationships have developed, my heart aches for them. One student has repeatedly told me this year that she never wants to leave my classroom. She loves being at school. Apparently her mom has had multiple boyfriends in their home and a former husband who is in and out of the picture. It’s her first year at our school, but she missed the last three days before break. Word on the street is that her family is moving. They’ve been evicted. This girl is smart; she’s connected with another student in my classroom who is on the spectrum and that’s given her purpose. It’s helped her to connect and feel needed. She has grown in every area of the curriculum and as a person, too – by leaps and bounds! She qualified for our district’s spelling bee, but no one brought her.

 

I so wish I could write the rest of this girl’s story and control the ending. Her family would see the light and embrace her unique qualities. They would learn to love and appreciate each other. They would celebrate the good in every member of the family and reach goals together. Mom would be an advocate for her kids in their learning and in their interests. She would get her daughter involved in healthy relationships and never miss an opportunity to allow her to shine.

 

What makes this even more disheartening is that there are way too many in my classroom who are in similar circumstances. The time in our classroom is precious because it gives those kids hope. Shows them they are important. And capable. Gives them opportunities to face and overcome challenges in order to grow, knowing they have a community of encouragers believing in them.

 

It is especially for those kids that we create classrooms where acceptance, understanding, encouragement, teamwork, and learning opportunities are constants. We expect kids to be challenged and we believe in their abilities to be their best. I want every single one of my kids to always know and remember that no matter how old he or she is I will always be his or her advocate and cheerleader.

 

Gary’s story of Doug’s journey may be fictional, but my hope is that for my kids, whether parents come around or not, they will know their worth and abilities. They will enjoy learning because they will know someone truly cares and believes in them.

 

An article worth reading:

Parents Aren’t Necessary For Students to Learn by Ben Johnson

Ted Talk by Rita Pierson

Rita Pierson – Ted Talk

 

Catch Up?!

Today is not the day I will catch up with myself. As a matter of fact, I’m not sure that event will ever take place. Unless, of course I live past my death. Then, and only then,  I might have time to get things squared away. Fully organized. Completely put together. But not today.

Questions and retracing the day are all that come to mind  as I sit for the first time since 7 a.m.  (it’s 10:46 p.m.) – unless you count the time spent sitting in my car driving from one place to the next. Are there things that could be delegated to others? (Not if they’re going to be done correctly!) Is there anything I could take out of my schedule? (Yes, of course there is, you goof-ball!) Ah, but there is the dilemma. I simply don’t want to take anything out. I love the things I do. I love spending time with those people.

Maybe I’m doing some of these things because I feel a need for recognition;   possibly because there is a part of me that wants to simply express myself; life long learning is a huge value in my life so certainly that’s part of it; and of course there are the things I do for the income. There are  countless, multi-layered reasons. But maybe, just maybe, deep down I truly want to be busy, pushed, committed to people and to things that are bigger and last longer than me. I want to be remembered for what I’ve invested in others.

So as long as there are people who need someone to invest in them, I suppose I’ll always be racing to catch up to myself. I’m okay with that for now.

Tickets

I’ve missed the last two days of SOL, but seriously, my life has been crazy! It’s not that I don’t want to write, it’s that my schedule this month is non-stop! Today’s a snow day, though, and I have a little bit of time…

Yesterday morning I took off for my seven o’clock appointment. I have three of these every week. It takes  about 20 minutes to get there, ten minutes for the treatment, and then another 20 minutes to drive back home or to school. It’s one of those annoying non-negotiables that must be squeezed into an already over-taxed schedule. Plus that, I was running late and in my sprint to the car I realized several necessary things I had forgotten to do. That meant rather than going straight to school, I’d have to swing back by the house and get those things wrapped up before going in to my classroom. Arggh!

Fortunately, traffic was calm so my drive in and back were uneventful and efficient. I had the radio on, too, to help my frame of mind and hopefully calm down before the day really kicked into gear. As I pulled back into my garage, the announcers on the radio station declared they were giving away two tickets to see “The Sing-Off” on tour. Being a singer myself, it’s one of my favorite shows on television these days and I truly appreciate the work it takes to even make it on to the show. It’s totally up my alley! They discussed how they would decide on a winner. Initially the directions were to sing a cappella to them. Cool, I thought! I can do that easily! Then they did the old switcheroo and proclaimed whoever called needed to “beat box.” NOT my thing. I decided I’d still give it a try, but since I rarely win anything, the chances of me getting those tickets were pretty slim. It just so happened, though, that I was able to pull into the garage, put my car in park and ready my phone for when they announced the  number. I dialed. I heard the ring tone at the other end. It rang and rang.

Just as I was about to give up on anyone answering my call, I heard, “Hi! Who’s this?” My heart skipped a beat or two. I began my own rendition of beat boxing. When I finished, the announcers compared my attempt to the sounds of laser tag! Hmm, don’t think that’s a good thing. I shot back that I would have been super happy if they’d stuck to their original task of singing a cappella, so they suggested I do that. Making something up off the top of my head, my song was to the tune of “If I Only Had a Brain” from “Wizard of Oz.” The lyrics were something like, “Oh, I’d love to see the Sing-Off, it would be a total pleasure, if I only had a ticket.”

Both announcers laughed and one even recognized the tune. They proclaimed me the happy recipient of those two tickets! I truly can’t imagine winning a better prize (other than maybe a trip to a tropical island.) Even better, my husband is a fan of the show, of music, theater, performances, and all that, so both of us will thoroughly enjoy our date together!

Think of us on Wednesday evening as we make our way over to the Royal Oak Music Theater and enjoy and evening of incredible music!! Thank you, Home.FM!

Lily’s Crossing

What an incredible story this is, written by Patricia Reilly Giff. I hesitated to write about it, because it’s really a book review, but since this is how I spent part of each day this past week, that would be okay, right? Plus, I LOVED the book, so it would be pretty difficult for me to not share it with you!

 

We get to know Lily in this Newbery Honor winning book initially as a spunky girl who is not afraid to disobey and sneak around, although her grandmother diligently attempts to keep her in line.  She’s precocious, yet she loves spending her summers at her grandmother’s house on the ocean. She is especially adept at anything having to do with water (swimming and boating, especially) and lying – about anything. Much of her life she has spent those summer days with Margaret, but because of World War II, Margaret’s family must move to Detroit where her father will go to work for a company that builds equipment for the war.

Patricia Reilly Giff tells this story beautifully, weaving in details about how families had to make adjustments due to the wartime situation in such a way that the reader is pulled in completely. I found myself empathizing easily with that generation and appreciating the sacrifices they  made in order to make a stand for world peace.

I loved the way Lily grew throughout the story, especially through the losses of old relationships and new ones that came to be, naturally unfolding much like they do in our own lives. Patricia created genuine people with real problems and answers that were not always black and white. And although the ending was satisfying, I found myself wishing for a sequel. I want to keep up with Lily.

If you have not yet read this wonderful story, please do so as soon as you can! You will be enriched by it!

 

Special Assignment

I just got home and immediately put on my flannel pjs. The couch feels great, especially with the snuggly fleece throw over me and only my hands sticking out. The day was full, my tummy is full, and I’m feeling relaxed.

Today was spent shopping in one of my favorite malls at some of my favorite stores with the person I love shopping with most in the world. She’s getting ready to go on a pretty amazing trip, so it was my duty to help make sure she had the appropriate clothing. She needed traveling clothes, clothes for warm weather, clothes for a day in the rain forest, clothes for sailing,  clothes for layering, and, of course, a purse! Shoes were pretty much the only thing not on our list. We were up for the challenge and by noon we had several full shopping bags on our shoulders. The sushi lunch gave us the energy we needed to complete this rigorous expedition. It was only when we were making our way to the car that we realized it was dinner time.

It was sweet to be able to assist my pal and help her get ready for her trip. It was even better to simply spend the day together.

Heaven

After a long week, my head needed a break. Truly. It has been a looooooong week. Fortunately, though, we  already had plans for a weekend that exactly fit the bill.

We drove a little over an hour to meet with our financial planner, who also happens to be my best friend’s husband. Hope had also wanted some help with picking some new paint colors for her house, so we stopped by to pick up some paint samples. That was followed by a very fun dinner in an excellent Mexican restaurant, complete with an entertaining and talented Mariachi band. We had great food, we got to sing “Margaritaville”, and enjoyed plenty of laughs.

Upon our return to their house, we experimented with the paint colors and stuck them to the walls. It was fun to collaborate together and come up with some beautiful combinations. Tomorrow, we’re going shopping for the day to unwind and be together. To be human and find some rejuvenation.

I am so thankful for this amazing friendship that’s really more of a sisterhood. The tension headache and upset tummy I had earlier is gone. I’m completely relaxed, thankful for this 24 hours of escape!

New Printer Cartridges

My ancient school-issued desk-jet printer ran out of ink – again. There were several things that needed high-quality and/or color printing for my kiddos, but I had no time to actually go get the cartridges. No, they’re not supplied (or paid for) by the school system.

Tonight, though, after piano lessons were done, and my hubby was still at his middle-school conferences, it seemed like the perfect time to run that annoying errand. I bribed Hannah into going with me, glad for an opportunity to spend time with her in the car, which is when she usually does the most talking. We hopped in the car to retrieve the expensive but necessary supplies.

For no apparent reason, after I found the needed cartridges, I took a little gander down the printer aisle. (I’ll admit, I was a bit curious about the price of a new printer.) Shock took over when I realized it would cost me approximately ten dollars more to buy a brand spankin’ new wireless printer (with cartridges installed) than it would be to replace the cartridges for my dilapidated one that had to be tethered to my laptop to work. Ten dollars, for cryin’ out loud!! And the one sitting on the shelf was wireless, could scan, and  even print documents from my phone (not that I even know why I would ever want to do that). It took me all of one minute to make my final decision. That pretty baby is now in the back of my car, waiting for installation tomorrow after our staff PD.

We followed up our short-but-sweet shopping spree with a low-key dinner at a local sandwich shop. My daughter chatted about random things. We laughed together. Then we made our way home, where she gloated about not having to go to school while I’ll be involved in a professional development all day. 

She may be relaxing all day tomorrow, but I’m happy as a clam to know I’ll be printing wirelessly with full ink cartridges.

One and Only Dad

Just as we were sitting down for dinner, my phone rang. It was one of my brothers. We typically talk at least several times a week. I answered, made a smart-aleck remark, and then he asked (in a serious tone) if I had a minute to talk. From the tone in his voice, I hated having to say that I didn’t, but let him know I’d call back right after supper.

My imagination was getting the best of me when I returned his call after an expedited meal. We started with small talk and I was beginning to think the concern was unwarranted. That thought was short-lived.

The news was that our Dad had a pretty bad day on Monday. You see, my 83-year-old father lives in a constant state of cardiac arrest. He’s had this since he had rheumatic fever as a young teen. Every time he sees a new physician the nurse who checks his vitals practically has a heart attack because he doesn’t ever have a steady heart beat. Ever. Despite this, he’s lived through brain surgery and other health issues. But on Monday, he could hardly breathe and had to stop his wood chopping (which I hate him doing, anyway), go inside and lay down.  He spent most of the day in bed, was weak, and had chest pains for hours.

Of course, as soon as my brother and I ended our conversation I called my dad and he brought me up to date in his own words. As his words soaked in I felt almost panic that he could be gone forever any day.

Life ends sometimes without warning, and that jolted me. Tonight I realized again how much I love my dad and  how absolutely horrible it will be when he passes on.  I so hope it’s a long time from now.