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!

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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 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!

Domain 1: Planning and Preparation, Domain 2: Classroom Environment, Domain 3: Instruction, Domain 4: Professional Responsibilities, Personal Learning

Book Study Game Changer: STOP. RIGHT. NOW.

Did you ever read a book that continuously stops you in your tracks? I have been blessed to read many like this over the last couple of years, and once again I feel that I have hit the mother-load with my newest adventure “STOP. RIGHT. NOW. The 39 STOPS to Making Schools Better” by Jimmy Casas and Jeffrey Zoul. This book has left me in complete AWE, smothered in embarrassment, and standing on a soapbox all within a few short STOPS! Oh yes, I am uncomfortable… and crazy enough I thrive on on that feeling because it equates growth in my world and that of the entire educational community!

Oh to the AWE…

I have never really thought about it as much as I should have, but so often we as educators take the immense amount of pressure placed on us to get our students ready for the next grade and we literally create a culture that is developmentally set up for failure. In place of focusing on the now, we feel we are always needing to prepare them for the next level. In STOP 8 Jeff and Jimmy remind us that in order to find balance for every child socially, emotionally, and behaviorally, we must “focus relentlessly on the moments-and the students-before them today.” They are not saying that we ignore yearly goals or refrain from looking to the future to work back to the point we are at, but “if students learn precisely what they need to at each step of their journey, they will ultimately acquire all of the knowledge and skills teachers expect them to possess upon high school graduation.” I too have heard the words come out of my mouth like… “in the real world you will need to OR come next year you will need” and what I really want to be saying is… today we are focusing on ____________ to build a stronger tomorrow for every child!

Eeeek to the Embarrassment…

STOP 1: Assumptions! BOOM! This is my STOP… the one that I have felt on both sides. The one that embarrassed me most because I have been guilty of judging/assuming and let down by being judged. The vulnerability that Jeff showed in sharing his own “humbling- if not humiliating- moment” definitely encouraged readers like me to take a long look on the inside. I have always taken pride in knowing a child’s story and not assuming anything good, bad or indifferent. I have always felt my bonds were so strong because they did not feel judged and that I was always looking to know more to help them grow and be a part of their world. I have felt that so often others come to me and share heartfelt moments that can be challenging to even get the words out, because they know I will listen and won’t judge or assume. However, the one area that I have assumed more than my share has been with my administration. Often, I have passed judgement on decisions based solely on my perspective and the reactionary thought of “have you forgotten so quickly what it is like to be in the classroom or is this really the best for kids?” I have assumed decisions were based on their needs and not of the staff or children. I have assumed their intentions were skewed from what I deemed “good”. I am not excusing myself in any way for making these assumptions, but it wasn’t until I took a risk and started having tough conversations with administrators that I could see their perspective. I am not just referring to my district, but the network of principals, superintendents, tech integration specialists,curriculum directors, assistants at all levels and more that I have brought into my life through my global PLN (Professional Learning Network). This open conversation that gets rather sticky at times and doesn’t always end with agreement. At times we must agree to disagree to be quite honest. However, it nurtures a culture of trust, respect, understanding, appreciation, and a well-rounded balance for the betterment of our community through relationships that do matter. We can try and convince ourselves that there are sides and levels and that crossing them takes you to a “dark side”, but what I see is light… the kind that shines brightly on relationships being built around conversations that need to happen if we want a culture that thrives and not just exists.

Standing on My Soapbox…

When I am really hooked on a book, my students always know because it will be the same one in hand each time we stamina read. I am always with book in hand when they are, but for the same book to be in and out of the classroom for a stretch of time means one and only one thing… Mrs. Nan is in a book study again and can’t get enough! What I love most is when my students’ curiosity peeks and they just have to find out what it is all about. This time, I didn’t share right away. I told them the full title of the book and spun around the question to ask them what they thought we should STOP in education. You could have heard a pin drop… literally. NO ONE spoke and trust me this is RARE! I was actually sad at first because I pride myself on the relationship I have with them and the vulnerability that they normally embrace. This was different. To them, this was crossing a line… and there is no doubt other educators would feel the same. Not me, I need to know. I must take that risk in order to move forward. I reassured them of my love and that in no way would I be offended by their response. I reminded them that I trust them to share their STOP for the betterment of children and their learning. In turn, their hearts shared countless changes they feel would make a difference for all children. These 2 STOPS hit me hard (the lasting impact that they have had on these children for them to talk about it when it isn’t occurring for them this school year is profound.)

“Kids have so much energy, STOP doing NO RECESS!”

I had to know more so I asked. What do you mean by this? I have never known you to lose your recess. To this she replied, “I don’t lose my recess, but the ones who do distract me in class because they need it to get rid of their energy.” BOOM! OH MY WORD! I took pause and thanked her for sharing. Next up…

“STOP Right Now moving bees, clips and more.”

This one came from a child that had grown so much this year. He was learning to value his own voice, behaviors, reactions, and ability. He himself chose “cooperate” for his #OneWord2019 because it can be hard for him and he has realized that when he does do this he really likes himself and school. Once again I needed to know more… Can you tell me what you mean by this? He went on to say that it was really hard for him to sit still and focus and that this happened to him a lot before 3rd grade. He went on to say that it was hard to make friends because of it and it just built up anger and sadness. Sigh…

After these tough conversations, I felt I owed it to their parents to share this unexpected journey with them. I sent out a message that explained the book and how the children shared their viewpoints. I wanted to make sure that they knew it was discussed with respect and that if the topic came home in their daily “table talk” to embrace it and share with me. Not only did the parents appreciate the opportunity, but several of them asked how to purchase the book. This to me was one of the best unplanned lessons I could have ever experienced. This takes me to STOP 39…

STOP #39: Doing What You’ve Always Done… if I were the teacher that I was when I graduated in the spring of 1995, I would be coming up short at every turn. Computers were just arriving on campus and emails were being passed out to many of us who only owned a typewriter. I would have a classroom built on the Industrial Revolution factory/mill mindset in place of the 21st Century. I am the teacher today that my students need me to be. It can be uncomfortable and at times down right messy, but isn’t that what learning and growing really looks like? I cannot guarantee every parent that what I am trying to do in education is the perfect choice with 100% accuracy, but I couldn’t do that 22 years ago when I was hired either. What I can guarantee them is…

  1. I am not doing what I am doing because it has always been done that way, but instead I am doing what I feel is best for their child.
  2. I am willing to take any risk that will help their child.
  3. I am willing to learn with them and from them and alongside them, as I am not and never will be the expert on every topic or idea.
  4. I will always choose learning that is in their child’s best interest. That will involve state standards, passions, uncomfortable ideas of the unknown, empathy, compassion, respect, confidence, and anything that may bring growth academically, emotionally, behaviorally, and socially.
  5. I will always advocate for their child.
  6. I will give second chances because at the age of 46 I still need them.
  7. I will never take for granted the amount of impact that I have on their child.
  8. I will create boundaries and discipline their child, and they will know it is because I love them.
  9. I will empower every child to create opportunity for themselves.
  10. I will always believe I can be better and in turn they can be too!

We cannot START creating a culture of betterment if we do not STOP doing just because it has always been done. Thank you to Jeff and Jimmy for sparking the conversation that is desperately needed in education today.

Domain 1: Planning and Preparation, Domain 2: Classroom Environment, Domain 3: Instruction, ISTE Standard for Educators

Global Impact Blog Challenge

When my students heard “The world is waiting to hear from you” they knew that they were destined to OWN their moment.

So I asked one question… “If you could pick one word that you feel would be a challenge, yet help to better you in a magical way, what word would you pick?” Now is the time to OWN your #OneWord2019

Without hesitation, this is what they wrote…

My one word for 2019 is LEADER! I picked this word to help me become a better person. This word is now my own personal goal. I can lead ME! I can lead with my actions. I can make good choices in the way I act even when an adult isn’t with me. I can lead with my emotions. I can lead with my words. A good leader is not bossy. A good leader helps someone when they don’t get it. I can lead with my friendships. Being kind is very important. These are all the reasons I picked leader for my one word this year. -Karsten, age 9

My one word for 2019 is BALANCE! I choose balance to help me be become better. I will not play the Wii U for 5 hours a day and instead I will play the Wii for 5 minutes and then with my dog for 5 minutes. I will also stop playing alone for 10 minutes and instead I will play with my sister for those 10 minutes. -Emma, age 9

My one word for 2019 is BREATHE! I picked this word to help me when I am worried. This is now going to be a goal for me. I am going to breathe when I have a hard test. I am going to breathe when I lose something so that I don’t get upset. I am going to breathe when I am building Legos and they break. When I worry I am going to breathe. I picked this word because I am not that strong at it and I never tried it before. If I can stop and breathe instead of getting upset I will be so proud of myself.-Madeline, age 8

My one word for 2019 is HELPING! I picked this word so that I can become better at it. I want to help people out instead of watching them struggle. I’m going to help raise money for the hospital instead of letting someone else do it. I am going to donate to the poor instead of watching them stand and wait for a donation. I know I will feel better if I do this all year. -Thomas, age 9

My one word for 2019 is BE to make ME a better person! I need to BE kind so that other people are kind. I picked BE because I want to BE the person that is different. A lot of people don’t think about it. I picked BE because I think that it is an awesome word. You need to BE yourself because everyone else is already taken! This is my one word for 2019. -Jayde, 8

My one word this year is FRIENDSHIP! I picked this word to help me become a better friend. Friends can motivate you. They can help you. They can help me when I am down. -Bobby, age 9

My one word for 2019 is SMILE! I picked this word to help me crush more goals. I want to smile at people instead of frowning so people won’t think that I am miserable. I want to smile and most of all be happy. I want to smile at people because if I do they will smile back! That is why I want to smile! -Grace, age 8

Help me by sharing this opportunity across the globe with others to spotlight their voice! I am looking for voices of all ages to share their thoughts over the next 12 months… a moment in time for us to journey together! Let’s start sharing! Anyone can guest blog… no age limit or title! Pre-Service teacher… YES! Teacher… YES! Admin.. YES! Professor… YES! STUDENT… YES! Parent… YES! Your own personal child… YES! If you are invested one way or another into the betterment of education, I want to share your perspective! For details…

CLICK HERE