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 2: Classroom Environment, Personal Learning

The Writing ISN’T on the Wall

The writing isn’t on the wall from the day that you were born. Your life, circumstances, privileges, hurdles, triumphant and tribulations are factors, but not the product. In my eyes, we are all born into a “role”, but the person you become is truly up to you! That role may be influenced by our family and it is likely impacted by the experiences surrounding it, but that does not become our defining role in life and we must be fully aware of that in order to take our best step forward at being ourselves. I not only believe this and live by it in my adult life, but I instill it in my students to teach them that life can be what you make of it… you must take your part and own it. T.R.U.E. G.R.I.T. is what I taught myself at young age, and continue to empower my family, friends, students, and PLN with it so that they can write their own story in life because it isn’t written on the wall.

My Person

Have you ever heard someone call you their person? Or maybe you have said it yourself. It’s that person that just gets you. Maybe they are a great listener or maybe they share a life experience that makes you feel just a bit less isolated. No matter what the situation may be, “my person” doesn’t just get thrown around with ease. As my phone rang, I listened in. A dear friend was talking about their day and how they felt they simply could not shake off a time period in their life that seemed to “reoccur as often as it wanted to”, making the situation out of their control completely. I listened. My person. They continued to feel as if their past was defining them and that it was inevitable that they would have to be attached to this situation the rest of their life. I listened. My person. Empathy, Understanding, Empowerment , ran through my mind.

Shape NOT Definition

There was a time in my life when I would look back and wanted to place blame, erase experiences, cut ties, or even run at sprint speed. Why? Because I truly felt those poor experiences defined me… what a helpless, restricted, almost imprisoned way of thinking that I had created for myself. I didn’t even realize that I walked around feeling so vulnerable… as if it was written all over me, defining me, my actions, my future.

Then there was a point where others did not see what I saw. They saw my smile, not my pain. They saw my strong will, not my defeating moments. They saw my grit, not my adversities. They saw me. Yes, that was it… my experiences had shaped me and I needed to embrace and own the person I was choosing to be because of and in-spite of my journey in life.

Only YOU Can Be YOU

I suppose in many ways we compare ourselves out of simple human nature. At times that may be in our role as a parent, child, friend, sibling, or professional. Comparison can bring awareness. It can light a fire under us. It can open a door to something that we had not considered. It can also be damaging. It can hold us back from our own purpose. It can weigh on us like judgement. It can defeat us if we allow it. In the end, only you can be you! You choose. Just remember, experiences will shape you, but never define you. Grab a marker and go write on your wall!

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 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!