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

Self Awareness-Mastering One’s Self

It started off as a typical day. I was ready to take on the world and create moments for every child along the way. Groups were being made. Goals were being set. Then came the hesitation. I started to question if they were “ready” for the experience with a new app, a class challenge, or the choice to delve into a passion project of their own. Were they ready to level up their learning and open the class restaurant on a weekly basis? Were they ready? Was I ready? My hesitation was my answer, but I just couldn’t leave it at that. Why weren’t they ready? Was it me? Was it them? What was it that stuck in my gut as a red flag, if you will. That was when it hit me… their lack of self-awareness was invading our learning space and I needed to shed light on a topic foreign to the list of 3rd grade standards written out in my daily lesson plan.

We set daily goals, but are my students clear on their strengths and weaknesses? Are they sensitive to how they project themselves on others or take away from one’s focus and ability to learn? Are they aware of how their actions and choices are pieces to their very own puzzle? If I had to answer that honestly, my answer would be no. It was then that I thought of a method that I used to use with my son, Trent when his OCD would rear its ugly head and trigger rituals that needed his awareness to help fight for himself. We would have him use a post-it-note to track each time he gave in to the ritual by making tallies. After adding several tallies to the note, it would create an awareness of the issue at hand and help him recognize that change was needed to forge ahead. Somehow this simple method built a foundation of self-awareness that in turn opened doors of opportunity to build confidence and pride in one’s own actions. This is what my students were in need of… starting today!

Post-it-notes were handed out and a line was drawn through the middle of each. We were ready to begin. “Today we are going to take the time to give ourselves credit for all the things we must hold ourselves accountable for to be empowered and productive learners,” I said with an upbeat tone. Ears were open and eyes were wide. I went on to ask simple questions like…

Has anyone ever felt a step behind because they were having a sidebar conversation or may have even drifted into thought? many hands were raised

Has anyone ever felt like there should be more time in their day or simply wonder where the moments went? many hands were raised

Has anyone ever wondered what their parents would think of the decisions that were made without them to guide or instruct? many hands were raised

Have any of you ever had your parents get frustrated because you didn’t “hear” them or acknowledge them the first time spoken to? eyes shifted to friends sitting nearby and hands went up at a rapid pace

Has anyone visualized their future self? What are you willing to do to make that vision a reality? Was that a light-bulb moment I just witnessed?

I then said, “With each directive that I give over the course of the next 40 minutes, I want you to give yourself a tally above the line if you follow the directive without redirection or restating. If I redirect or restate, place a tally below. Remember, this is not what is good vs bad, but what we are honing in on as our strengths vs what we are in need of making stronger. “

“But what if someone sees our tallies?,” one asked. “That is a fabulous question, I replied. I speak of respect every day and how we show that by keeping conversations between us, but I must tell you that your peers already see your tallies each and every day through your own choices and actions that you so freely give.” a quizzical look settled over their faces

Let’s begin!

I watched their eyes go straight for me as I began to speak. I watched their pencils go down when I gave directions. Tallies were being placed above the line and the momentum of goodness was on fire inside each one of them. Moments were rolling by, and I watched as many of them responded with a tally below the line when they found themselves off task or not engaged in their own learning. It was working. Self-awareness was coming to life right in front of my eyes.

As we headed to special, I told them that this new “thing” we are working on is our own little tool and we were about to test it out without the post-it nearby to give us our visual reminder. The beauty was in their faces when I picked them up and heard the raving of goodness shared on their behalf.

“This is amazing,” one said.

“This is showing me a lot about myself,” said another.

“I have so much choice,” stated with such conviction from yet another.

Yes, boys and girls. With each moment of self-awareness, we build confidence.

We build PRIDE!

We continued on with our tallies towards a new and better self. The kind we visualize for our future!

We are ready… bring on the next challenge!

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

Small Town Vibe

You know the small-town vibe that you get when you are passing through… if you blink you will miss it.

One restaurant

One traffic light… no, make that one stop sign

One grocery store

One way

I am currently in a book study hosted by #2menandabook on “Relentless: Changing Lives by Disrupting the Educational Norm” by Hamish Brewer. Recently, my dear friend Jennifer Ledford shared her small town experience in her reflection regarding her purpose. For as many positives as she has experienced, she went on to say,

The problem with living in a small town, especially when you don’t have the best childhood experience, is that everyone knows. My purpose was a little clouded because of what was going on with my family.

Jennifer Ledford

WOW! This reflection truly resonated with me. It made me think of how small our classrooms can be if we don’t recognize the whole child and how lost they may feel in finding their purpose. We may not be able to control outside factors for every child like Jennifer or my own childhood self, but we have full control over ourselves and the way we help to build a positive experience each day for each student that we are privileged to work with.

Big City Impact With A Small Town Vibe

If we really want to create impact, the big city kind with choices around every bend, we must allow room for life experiences that come packaged in the size of a child. Imagine if our room felt like that small town, where everyone knows you and your story… not the kind that builds relationships, but rather the judgmental kind that adds roadblocks in place of detours. There is a simple way to shine the spotlight on every child so that their small town classroom experience is loving, supportive, and full of understanding that allows for a new day and a new choice around every bend.

Building the Right Reputation

As the adult in charge, helping a child build a reputation is not only a privilege but a professional responsibility. This is a deal-breaker on how a child views themselves, reacts and lives up to their potential by thriving on their purpose that they are most likely still searching for in their world. The question is, how do we handle behavior so that we can cultivate a positive reputation for each child with their peers, staff members, and for themselves? A positive reputation builds confidence and helps a child recognize that poor choices are lessons in life, not defining. Have we forgotten that is how we too have learned (and still do). These very lessons help to build resilience and the potential for goal setting that leads to growth.

We need to ask ourselves how we handle this very delicate matter. Do we treat it like a coat that can be switched out in a minute’s notice or a layer of skin that becomes a part of who they are? A child’s behavior should be personal… a one to one conversation wrapped up in care, love, and respect. The behavior itself is their story… a road map if you will, to what that child needs. It is a way for them to express themselves and often times it comes out poorly when they do not feel valued and invested in with a strong relationship that will love them through unconditionally. In the end, we share in the responsibility of how that child’s reputation builds up from day one, as we are the adult in charge with an opportunity at hand. Let’s not forget, a child’s reputation is not the only one being shaped when we choose how to respond. Let’s create a big city impact with a small, positive vibe!

Let me leave you with my childhood hero’s words. Mr. Rogers, a Pittsburgh native and role model for all parents, always invited me into his small town neighborhood where he created a big city impact on my world. This was my safe place, where he reminded me that he loved me “just the way I was”.

Our job in life is to help people realize how rare and valuable EACH ONE OF US REALLY IS, that each of us has something that no one else has – or ever will have – something inside that is unique to all time. It’s our job to encourage each other to discover that uniqueness and to provide ways of developing its expression.

MISTER Rogers
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, 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

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