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Domain 2: Classroom Environment, Domain 3: Instruction, Personal Learning

Creating Impact: Take A Walk in My Shoes

When it comes to understanding others and developing true relationships, there is never a time table that is fit for all. While some open up quickly, others need extra nurturing that builds trust and strengthens a bond over time. The relationships I build with my students are no different. The one thing that is for certain is that the bonds are not limited to 186 school days and continuously create impact for years to come. While many schools are looking to close out their year, my class is opening up to new conversations, as well as reflections of our journey together. As empathy and understanding are such a large part of our T.R.U.E. G.R.I.T. experience, there is always a special vulnerability that is tied into my lesson called “Take A Walk In My Shoes.”

Days before I plan on embracing this heartfelt lesson, I ask the students if they could please bring in an extra pair of shoes to school that they can leave for a week or two. A pair that they have possibly grown out of, maybe a pair from a different season that is no longer needed, or even from an off-season sport. I remind them that if they are unable to bring a pair in, that I will have extra pairs in the classroom for them to borrow.

When the day comes, I start by reading a special book written by Dr. Seuss called “My Many Colored Days.” This book is so simple in so many ways, yet the impact it creates by gifting an opportunity to relate and generate their own version, gives way to a complexity that allows you to see inside their little souls.

With each page, I pause. Maybe it is the color yellow that allows some to feel free to imagine the unimaginable. For others it is the color blue that speaks to them and gives way to sadness. Whatever the color means to them, they simply take in the moment while I read.

Next, I hand out an index card. Just one… one that they use to design their own “colored days”. At this point, I reread the book to them and they embrace the time to add their artistic touch to their card. Once their card is complete, I pass out another.

The first 3 cards are specific colors. I always want to know what their day looks like when it is yellow, black and a rainbow of mixed up colors. I put on music and give them unlimited time to just draw. When they are finished, they then flip the card over and tell me two things:

  1. What this color day is like for them or a story of a specific day that they want to share.
  2. What they need from others on a day like this in their little world.

Once they are done, I put a stack of cards out and allow them unlimited access to add any color days they wish. Most often they take 3-4 more cards, but there is always a handful of students that take ten or more. After completing them, I ask them to bring their cards and their shoes to meet me for a little time together.

During this time, they pick out a special color pipe-cleaner to attach their cards to their shoes and then they are encouraged to pick just one they would like to share with me. After they share with me, I allow the to share with others if they would like. We then gather around and talk about our walk in life… our journey. I prompt them with questions and we take time to listen to how others feel. After many prompts, such as “Do you think others understand what you need on your black day?” or “How can you make someone else feel if you share your yellow day with them?”, I take suggestions on how we can lead others in empathy. There is always a student that suggests placing our shoes in the hallway and that is a moment for me. A moment of trust, love, and leadership. I make sure that they have the option of leaving theirs in the room, but one by one they always take their shoes to the hallway. Such vulnerability, strength, and courage found right there that moment. Come along, take a walk in our shoes.

Domain 1: Planning and Preparation, Domain 2: Classroom Environment, Domain 3: Instruction

Kindness Kudos

February brings such joy to little ones and big ones alike. This year my dear friend Tamara Letter brought more joy into my world as she published her first book on the most incredible topic ever… KINDNESS! Tamara, author of “A Passion for Kindness“, has been sharing her heart with others for years, and now we have the opportunity to embrace a piece of it through her eyes… a world that makes each day brighter with a simple act of kindness. Kudos to Tamara for reminding each of us it is truly the simple things that create incredible impact! #PassionForKindness


Empathy, compassion, and connection can be found in everyone if we simply listen to the quiet whisper of our hearts

Tamara Letter, author of A Passion for Kindness

As I anxiously await my copy of the book, I continue to embrace each and every moment that I can create a connection to and between others. It started with a quick stop to my go to spot… Amazon Prime!

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is kind_jpg_large.jpg

It was there that I found a simple, yet brilliant t-shirt that had “BE KIND” written across the front. It immediately reminded me of Tamara. I tossed one into the cart and then went back and added more… my crew needed them too!

Next up… a walk down memory lane with friendship pins! Oh yes, in the 80s my friends and I would create these very inexpensive, tiny tokens of kindness for one another. We would add them to our backpacks, our clothes, and the favorite go to spot… our shoes! Each one was made with love and care, while embracing the uniqueness of each bead and friend that we had in mind. As pins were created, they were passed on with a smile and a little extra hug along the way. This was exactly what my little makers needed in class this month. All it was going to take was a quick trip to the craft store and the imagination of a 3rd grader… I had this one in the bag!

Friendship Pins for the WIN!

My students know how much I love them. They also know how much they are loved at home. Yet, in many ways they keep that love separate… like it has its own identity or entity that is isolated to the environment that they are interacting in… hmmmmm! Then it hit me… an idea that I had to put into action ASAP! I messaged the parents immediately: ” The month of February celebrates KINDNESS! I would love for every parent to create a poster celebrating their child. One that shines the spotlight on their kindness and special ways that fill you with joy! Your VOICE Your CHOICE… YOUR CREATION!” This idea did not come without reservation or concern. What if… they didn’t want to participate? What if… they didn’t have the time or resources? What if… they didn’t see the connection to the curriculum and therefore shut this idea down? But the biggest “what if” I could think of was…. WHAT IF I DIDN’T TRY this and never knew the impact it could have?

The response was overwhelming! As the drop off date came closer (last night), I could feel the excitement build up inside me. What were the posters going to be like? What were the parents going to tell me about this experience? I sat in the lobby of the school waiting with anticipation. The joy of watching each car pull up was priceless!

Well, they are almost all accounted for… all 24 posters. A snow day today has pushed back our special moment, but let me leave you with a heart filled with joy as I share the comments that a few parents made as they dropped off their Kindness Posters for their child:

Thank you for reminding me of the joy he brings to our world.

This project was the biggest gift to our family.

We all need these simple reminders, thank you.

And as one grandmother shared with me as she dropped off her granddaughter’s poster…

Thank you for reminding my daughter of all the things I see in my granddaughter. We need more moments like this one.

As this secret is kept under wraps for the children, I smile knowing that kindness is coming their way. Kudos to my parents for embracing the day. Kudos to each family for creating impact. Kudos for Kindness… and to my dear friend Tamara as she sows the seeds of kindness throughout the world! #PassionForKindness

SNEAK PEAK of Kindness Posters… Shhhhhhh still a secret! ha!

To be continued…

Domain 1: Planning and Preparation, Domain 3: Instruction, Domain 4: Professional Responsibilities

Lights-Camera-Storytelling

Storytelling has taken on new meaning in the educational world. What was once thought of as a way to engage young children has evolved into a craftsmanship for adults to connect with one another. Storytelling is used to share an educator’s passion, purpose, and “why” by leaving a lasting impact on their audiences that goes beyond the classroom through presentations, keynotes and Ted Talks alike. Storytelling has become our own movie and we are the stars ready for action!

Throughout history you can find storytelling examples such as Egyptian writings on walls and Native American folktales that helped children “understand” how stars were placed in the sky. As educators we have used slates, felt boards, and imagery, but the one thing that I found to have the most impact was more in the deliverer that ignites the delivery. I have taken tours with animated, interesting, and knowledgeable tour guides that had me hanging on every word. Passionate tour guides that threw out a fact or question that built curiosity within my mind. Not to mention the moment they pull out an artifact that we each scramble quickly to catch a small glimpse. Like the time that I was on a Just Ducky Tour in my hometown of Pittsburgh, PA… as we cruised by PNC Park, he didn’t just talk about the players of all time, he took out a trading card with Roberto Clemente on it just as we were approaching his very statue. Those are the tours I would pay 10-fold for… such an experience! I also have had tour guides that were monotone, scripted, and did not make me feel worthy of their knowledge to which I could get up and leave without hesitation. To me, one understood how to make the connection through storytelling, while the other simply did not.

The connection between gestures, expressions, and rich history amplifies storytelling to allow for others to be engaged, empathize, learn and walk away with a sense of wonder. This is still true for education, and quite frankly for many other areas such as commercials, movies, tours, and other platforms that are trying to connect with the human spirit to “sell their why.” The science behind it is quite interesting. For educators, a TedTalk is no different, nor is a Keynote (Speaking from an audience member’s point of view that is). The key elements must be there.

KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE

Keep in mind that your audience is filled with your customers. Who is in your audience? Are they “experienced” beyond your years, millennial, urban or rural, teachers or admin? Believe it or not it matters. And when you care to know them, it hits them right in the heart. And when you don’t, you leave them walking away from what could have been a game changing moment for every child in education. What level of learners are they? How I prepare for elementary students is most definitely different than secondary. The same can be said for a conference specifically connected to technology verses one that is referencing philosophy, ESL, ADHD, ODD, or an overarching view on innovative practices and forward thinking methods. Is it a district with rich history, built on the “steel mill” mindset that would be offended if you come in on your pedestal pushing points on social media that just shuts them down before you ever get to your second point? Give them relevance. Find a way to relate this to the betterment they are so passionate about… remember they too have passions. Don’t assume anything and don’t put yourself above them in any way. Make them important in your world. Aren’t we all in this together? Check your ego at the door and remember… we all put our pants on the same way, right?

CREATE A CONNECTION-TRUST

You must give them a reason to care! This is your chance to share your vulnerability. No one wants to be talked down to, nor do they want to hear something that simply does not pertain to the betterment of their practice. Know your “why” and create a connection between it and your audience. If you truly want to engage them, give them a part of your world. When I think of the speakers that bring me in, they are willing to trust me with their experiences, both good and bad.

KNOW YOUR CONTENT

The nature of storytelling comes from repeated telling of the same story. Be sure to know what it is you want to say and “rehearse” it repeatedly. Know the ins and outs of your content and be able to push yourself to question your own why. Research other approaches and allow for questioning… it is then that you will be able to clearly gain the confidence of your audience through the understanding you have of your content. Gather up your friends and share your presentation with them, allowing them to time you and take notes on ways for you to improve.

BE FEARLESS

Don’t be afraid to take the path less traveled. Laugh. Live in the moment. Allow yourself the joy of the experience. When I was in the “Storyteller Club” at Slippery Rock University, it was an eye opening experience that I have carried with me to this day. Taking 5 key props and retelling a story to 6 year olds was magical as you pulled out the next tangible connection to the imagery they created in their own minds. The suspense was priceless and the WOW factor of the real life moment left them in awe! This same method can hold true with adults as you talk about a pivotal point in your story… one that you spotlight by taking out that small token from your pocket and the audience feel as if they can touch it themselves. Then it pops up on the screen for the entire room to see. The suspense was there… the connection to your story became real AND then you brought them one step closer when you shared it out with the entire group front and center.

CREATE WONDER

Inspire your audience! Give them the fuel they need to relight their fire. Give them moments, but allow for them to finish the story… their story. Give them the sense of renewal needed to reinvent themselves. Create the opportunity for each of them to visualize their own impact through your very own story. Pull them up, dust them off, and send them back into the world a little more curious and filled with wonder!


“The purpose of a storyteller is not to tell you how to think, but to give you questions to think upon.” —Brandon Sanderson

OWN IT

This is your moment so OWN IT! Carry yourself with confidence and allow yourself to feel every word. This is YOUR STORY/YOUR WHY… they will only know you messed up if you “tell them” through words or body language. Know your “rest stops” and the amount of time it takes to get there. This is your time… Now get out there and CRUSH IT! #OwnIt365EDU

Personal Learning

Countless Words of Impact

“You must keep writing,” she said. “You have to share your heart with the world,” she would impress upon me. “I’ve never known anyone quite like you Kristen,” she would say after I bounced back from another hit, personally or professionally. “You must write a book… you were meant to,” she insisted in her final weeks. And her “go to” phrase… “This too shall pass, you will see.” The countless words of impact. These are just a few of the words I replay in my mind and my heart each day. These are the words my beautiful mother in law, mother, friend, and confidante spoke to me while she was still here on this earth walking by my side. She spoke these words to me… because she could. Today marks one year that I had to let her go. I wasn’t ready, but I’m not sure I ever would have been. To know Sandy Nan was a joy, and to be loved by her was a gift of immense impact.

Her love had no conditions, ever.

Her love never judged me. Her love always understood me. I never had to find the perfect words or restate the ones I said. She never counted up the moments I gave her, that didn’t compare to the ones I received. She never asked me to give her another minute, nor did she expect it, ever. She never questioned my intent, as she knew my heart guided all my actions. She never needed an explanation, nor did she need me to speak one word, as she always knew what I was thinking. She was my biggest fan and my number one supporter. She spoke words of wisdom and listened with an empathetic ear. She never tried to fix me or the situation, but listened and guided. She held my hand both figuratively and literally, as I stumbled through this thing called life. Oh, how I miss her hand in mine.

You can’t go around it, you have to go through it.

I never quite cared for this phrase, as I have chosen plenty of things to bypass in life… the things that were within my control. But grief knows no bounds. It is a one way lane that you cannot pass on. It is blinded and cannot see… not race, color, religion, ethnicity, social status or bloodlines. You simply cannot go around it, you must go through to find a better tomorrow… the one that brings you joy to know she is with Him. In many ways it reminds me a lot of love. For each day that I have had to go through the grief and loss of my beautiful mother in law, is a day to remind me of the love that we shared… a love so very precious to me. Going through grief has looked differently for me than I had imagined. The loss I felt so great was also my dear husband’s mother, my precious children’s nana, my beautiful father in law’s love for over 50 years, along with sister and aunt, cousin and friend. So many hurt hearts that needed attention. Where did my loss fit into this big picture? I never needed to think about this before… I would’ve just talked to mom and we would have seen it through together, all while holding up our beautiful family. How was I going to do this for them and for her? The one person that held my hand was no longer there to go through it with me and for once I had to be the strength for my family that she had always been… a role I wasn’t prepared for, or at least I didn’t think I was. Faith.

Beyond 365 days of firsts…

I cannot say that time has healed anything for me as this was a year of firsts. The first 365 days without her, not to mention the hours and minutes. Some may think of holidays as the “tough firsts”, but those were oddly okay. For me it was Sunday in church, with too much room in the pew and no one to plan and cook Sunday dinner with me. It was a Monday, when I couldn’t call her for advice. A Tuesday, when the phone would ring and she would start every conversation with a little chuckle after she would say, “Kristen”. A Wednesday, when I just needed to hear her voice. A Thursday, when we would talk about weekend plans. A Friday, when we would just take a deep breath and recap the week. Saturdays, when we jetted down to the Strip District in Pittsburgh for just a few hours and wound up strolling in at 7-8:00 at night. When we would go to Marshalls, grab lunch, a massage, or just run errands together then drive home to tackle the mounds of laundry hand in hand. It was every piece of furniture I sat on that she helped me pick out, the drapes she stitched for me, the pictures full of memories that adorned the walls of our home, the bedding we found for a great price so we bought four sets instead of one, cooking meals she loved or ones we created together. It was setting the table for 5 and not for 6 (I remember the first time I set the table without her and I literally had to put her plate on the table and then take it away before anyone saw it… somehow to acknowledge to myself as it was my first of many moments to endure). The pies that were no longer being baked. The laughter and tears that were no longer there. Each time I hugged my precious boys, I would hug them a little longer just for her. It was Trent turning 16 and not having his Nana there to celebrate with him and tell him how proud she is of the man he is becoming. Jack struggling for the first time with anxiety and she wasn’t here to tell him he was going to be okay. Eric having to grasp a life without his beautiful mother. All while witnessing my father in law gracefully lean into his faith, a place I yearned to be.

Two simple words… “Thank you”

As we gathered around the table on New Year’s Day, we bowed our heads for grace. The table wasn’t full as Jack and pap had been under the weather, so Eric and I sat with Trent ready to bring in the new start that awaited. To hear Trent pray is like witnessing God himself, as he speaks from his heart and always embraces the moment. He went on to say, “Thank you God for this past year.” I could hear the deep breath taken by Eric as I was holding my own in. He continued, “I know it may not seem right to others for me to thank you for the year you took our Nana away, but you also gave us so much. Thank you for being there for us and for helping us through”… and the prayer went on and on. Tears ran down our faces and Trent said, “I am sorry, I don’t want this year to start off sad for us, but I felt that we needed to thank God for all he has done for us.” The countless words of impact. Without hesitation we both thanked him. We both spoke words of humility, love, and grace for this beautiful gift we call our son. This past year has had many firsts. My world revolved around mom in ways that meant I didn’t need anyone else. She filled every role she possibly could and I gratefully embraced every one of them. I suppose in many ways she was a continuous reminder of what joy can bring and that I need to be open to ways I can continue to find it in my life. Time has not healed me, nor did I expect it to. Time has not lessened my pain. What time has given me is opportunity… a chance to refocus, for friendships to blossom, for journeys to begin, to see hands to hold beyond the one that I lost and to thank you for walking by my side through all of it.

Thank you to those who held my heart with the deepest of care.

Thank you to those who had grace on me even when I felt I wasn’t deserving.

Thank you to those that allowed me to feel my own loss.

Thank you to those who placed opportunity in my path and then encouraged me to grab a hold.

Thank you to those who helped to create my new normal.

Thank you to those who didn’t assume or place judgement on me.

Thank you to those who pushed me when I couldn’t push myself.

Thank you God for placing each of these people in my life. Faith

Domain 2: Classroom Environment, Domain 3: Instruction

Polar Vortex Leveled Up

When I challenged students to guest blog about the impact of the Polar Vortex, I never imagined receiving this one #LeveledUp. The steps were simple… write a blog or create a vlog about your experience and send it my way via email. When I saw that a message was waiting for me in my inbox, I was ready to toss in another guest post. Oh no… that wasn’t this student’s plan. Hailey decided to level up the challenge and CREATE her OWN BLOG on WordPress! Yes, you heard me… talk about empowerment at its best! Please join me in reading 9 year old Hailey’s blog (on her own website). Click on her name below…

Hailey’s Blog

Domain 2: Classroom Environment, Personal Learning

Guest Blog: Khloe’s Snow Day

So far, I had a great morning with my mom. We made slime, bath bombs, and had a dance party. Right now I am practicing my roller-blading in the basement. Oh, I can’t forget about Reflex and Lexia. I did that this morning. I can’t wait to see you on Monday. Have a great weekend! Miss You! -Khloe, age 9

Domain 2: Classroom Environment, Domain 4: Professional Responsibilities, Personal Learning

Getting Close to the “Fire Within”

Did you ever get so close to the “fire” that you had to move back or turn and walk away? There is no doubt it has happened to many within their own personal lives and in education. I can’t help but challenge every educator to move closer to the uncomfortable flame that Mandy Froehlich ignites with her book “The Fire Within”. This very book is a small glimpse into those we are interacting with every single day. A world with people who have a story… one that is part of them, but doesn’t define them. One that every educator needs to know to create a culture of empathy and understanding for those around us in order to spark that passion for learning. How can we possibly teach with and for those that we do not know? Is there an elephant in the room where you are standing? This very book not only affirmed my philosophy of knowing another’s story, but it has opened my eyes to the passion for learning that can be ignited from defeat!

The Girl & Her Little Red Suitcase…

Being a part of Mandy’s story by allowing myself to feel that sense of fear and pain that she as a 5 year old may have felt was ultimately my choice. She wasn’t asking me to feel that pain and it is quite possible that she had a completely different intent, but that is what I felt. A lump was in my throat while reading that she was coming up with the words she knew she needed to bring herself back into a world she was conflicted to live in, the one she knew as her home. I pushed myself to read on. I knew I may have a girl or a boy with a “little red backpack” that would need me to understand. I pushed myself because I knew that I was sitting at lunch every day with colleagues who may be carrying a “little red suitcase” themselves. Whether it was a “suitcase”, anxiety, depression or an unknown… Maybe, just maybe I could find a way to help others by understanding that adversity does not mean destiny and that a story is never completely written without edits… maybe I could help in someway with the next draft of their life. Just by being aware.

Victim to Advocate: Jennifer Johnson’s Story…

I was curious as to how Jennifer’s story resembled Mandy’s or possibly differed altogether. As I read on, I found myself taking a break after I read about her abuse. It was more than I could open my mind to on that particular day. I stopped and prayed for Jennifer… not because she asked me to and not because I thought she needed me to, but to thank her for finding the courage to share. A week went by before I found myself back in Chapter Four exposing myself to an anxiety I didn’t know I had… I was so completely uncomfortable. It was then that I realized I could be working with a “Jennifer” or teaching a “Jennifer” and I owed it to myself to open my eyes, my ears, and my heart to her story. One may think I owed it to Jennifer, and that may very well be, but on that day I knew I was the one in need of the exposure and through Jennifer I leaned in to the uncomfortable feeling I had tried to run from. I am now more aware.

Out of the Darkness…

This may seem so crazy to say, but when I reached Jennifer Casa-Todd‘s story I felt defeat come over me. It was a moment that I didn’t understand at first, but now I do. You see, while building my PLN, I started to follow Jennifer on Twitter and just like with Mandy I had this vision of what they were like and what I oddly enough wanted them to be… I know, crazy of me, right? You see, I thrive on go-getters, high-achievers, goodness and positivity and for some odd reason I had envisioned them as having it all put together with a beautifully wrapped bow on top of complete perfection. Would their story change that? Absolutely NOT! So why did I stop and take that deep breath? The thing is, I don’t know if I was ready for another person in “my world” to not be okay. But I read on… and oh did Jennifer’s story speak to me. I too had a concussion. To really understand the connection to my fear… I remember people in my life not handling my imperfect world of a drug-induced coma, loss of language and overall agitation that I had not displayed before. This made me so uncomfortable, yet reminded me of how I felt so burdened by other’s expectations of me looking like I had it all together. Oh, did that hit home! Listening to Jennifer recall her first attempt at being herself again and eventually an acceptance that she is different now opened me up to an acceptance that I too am different now. Yes, we smile. Yes, we are positive. Yes, we have hurdles. Yes, we are imperfect. Just be aware.

My choice… my takeaway…

Expert vs Experience was one of the most powerful conversations we had during our book study of “The Fire Within”. The experienced are not the expert… it is simply not their hat to wear. However, they can draw you in to understanding and help you build empathy based on feelings and emotions only the experienced can describe from their own personal journey. No one is claiming that by experiencing or listening to the experienced, levels us up as an “expert”, nor would we want to take on the very large responsibility. But we must recognize that we are a human connection to betterment and we must be willing to reach out and extend our hand. We must open doors to those in need and lift them up with support and strength.

Some people walk through life turning the cheek. Some look at life straight on. Some don’t pretend to know it all, but empathize for the person walking along side them. Some listen. Some talk. Some don’t want to be bothered. My take away from this incredibly profound book is…

How can we be a part of the lives of others if we choose to silo the experience? One’s story is their own to tell and through that story we can be aware. We can be aware of …

  1. assumptions we make.
  2. judgement we cast.
  3. the walk we take.
  4. the words we speak.
  5. the example we are.
  6. the strength found in one’s story.
  7. the impact we have.
  8. the inspiration we can give
  9. the support we must give.
  10. and the superpowers we can discover!

Are you able to “read a room” like Mandy so passionately describes her superpower? Open the door and come a little closer to the fire within… you will be surprised at how close you can get to the flame without ever getting burnt!