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

Stepping Into the Light: OCD/Mental Health Awareness

the serious one… the humorous one

the focused… the squirrel chaser

the rule follower… the teenager

the brave 15 year old, who stepped into the light, leaving the elephant in his shadow

the one who has added awareness to Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, is now 17

my incredible son, Trent

At the age of 15, Trent was just beginning to see life differently… the life he was gifted, not burdened by. The one that he shared responsibility in. The one he was able to take charge of, given the right tools. In 2017, he asked me to talk about “The Elephant in the Room.” He wanted me to share his story. The thing is, he didn’t want me to share it so that I had something to blog about. He didn’t want me to share it so that he could obtain likes and shares within social media. As a matter of fact, not once has he ever even asked me if it was even read.

He simply wanted others to know they were not alone.

Leading up to this point, he had been consumed with thoughts for so long that he had almost forgotten what life was like when he himself could turn it around. The time when he felt a sense of control. As an 8-year-old child, he was in need of skills. The kind of skills that we weren’t prepared to teach him. The kind of skills that would take years of practice. There was no “quick fix.” My teaching background urged me to dial the phone for help, while my husband’s hand wanted to hang it up. Not because he didn’t want to help, but because he only knew how to keep personal worries and concerns to himself. He knew how to push forward with a tough mindset and resiliency. He knew how to break within the privacy of his own space and forge ahead projecting strength, even when he didn’t have it. He thought that it would be the same way for Trent. He thought Trent would grow and be the man we were wanting to raise him to be or more like how we wanted to raise him. Trent would do just that, but in order to get there he needed a different upbringing, different supports.

The elephant was sitting right there, staring at us in full control. He had us running around making everything perfect so Trent wouldn’t hurt. He had us walking on eggshells, just trying to get through a dinner out with family and friends. He had us working overtime to create the “perfect scenario” in hope that Trent would survive the moment, whatever moment that was on that day. He was in charge… not us, not Trent, but the elephant in the room.

Then the day came that my husband knew it was bigger than us and my hand freely reached for the phone once again.

As Trent has aged, he has grown stronger than ever. That is not to say that his life is easy, or without the whack-a-mole effect of OCD, but “the elephant” is no longer his best friend. It is actually not even a friend at all. It is more like an acquaintance. One that passes through, but does not dictate his world. Impacts it, yes. Challenges it, most definitely. Creates walls in place of bridges, yes… but the difference is he knocks them down over and over again. He now takes full advantage of the strength within his OCD, as he knows it will always be a part of his world. Now he finds positive use for it. Obsessing over his grades so that he can maintain high scholastic standing. Obsessing over the next big catch, as fishing eases his mind. Knowing how to distract when OCD wants to gain attention. If you ask him how he got this strong, he will tell you that his family loved him like no other, but that without therapy he would not be able to answer that question to it’s entirety. Therapy has given him a new lease on life, one with conviction and strength. Reaching out to the experts was the best decision we had ever made.

Some ask me, how I handled it as a mom.  How did I “handle” watching my son painfully navigate his world of anxiety.   My reply… the best that I could. That is where I myself took pause. “The best I could!” Was my best enough?  The answer was no. My best could never have brought Trent to where he is today. Yes, I had a background that was very supportive of Trent’s needs, but to truly be the best mom I could be, I needed to see beyond my strengths and value the ones that were one phone call away.  One call away to make an appointment for therapy.  My role as his mom was to give him the opportunity.

As we talked to others about this, we felt the cringe. The secret society that we just entered. The judgement being made in place of support. I’m not sure how or when the term “therapy” became such a cringe-maker in society, but to me it was a gift that I was ready to open.

So I ask you, are you going to be the one that tries to break him by cringing over the topic of therapy? Are you going to be the one spotlighting your “perfections” so that he questions why he is incapable of such a high non-existing standard? Are you going to judge him for being brave enough to share in this very conversation?

Or are YOU going to be the one driven for a better tomorrow by walking alongside my son as he ventures into this world contributing to the society that you helped to create?

Let me ask you something. As an educator do you find yourself opening doors of possibility for others? Do you try to link passion to purpose? Do you try to teach the whole child and then tell others to do it too? Do you speak at conferences about Project Based Learning, Universal Design for Learning, Building Character, Creating Leaders and Making Changes for the Betterment of Education? Do you sit on your own thoughts to stop and listen to others speak so that you can learn more about their WHY, their purpose? Do you take time to network because relationships matter to you? Do you want to be better?

If you said yes to any one of these questions, I ask you then… do you have conversations about the gift of therapy? Do you engage in tough conversations? Do you open yourself up to vulnerability, either to allow your story out or to let someone else’s in?

As long as we lead others to believe that this is a taboo topic, a private conversation, something that we attach shame and guilt to, what good is the rest? What are we really trying to say or not say? Are we truly equipped to function in the society we have helped to build without the supports of those passionate about the whole person, the mind, the balance, the brain, mental illness, social emotional learning and so much more?

In education we do not get a free pass on our impact. We will create an impact and it is up to us if it will be positive or negative. Where do you stand on this? Are you having conversations about self-care, mindfulness, and balance? I am asking you to amplify those conversations… to be courageous. I am asking you to open your heart and mind, and use your ability to make change by having conversations about the importance of therapy. For educators looking to prepare kids for their future role in society, you must do your part to remove the judgement cast. Then and only then can we build up human growth and potential by walking in one’s shoes.

While attending #TeachBetter19 this past weekend, I continued to build my professional growth portfolio, but even more I made incredible friendships. I witnessed a truth and vulnerability like never before among educators. You could feel the sense of comfort, acceptance and care in every room that you walked through. Towards the end, I started to get pulled into private conversations revolving around this topic, the elephant, OCD, mental illness, therapy, and Trent’s bravery. Each conversation came with pain, emotion, emptiness, questioning, and a whisper. Yes, our personal lives are private and we hold these conversations close to our heart, but I am left wondering if we can turn up the volume just a little bit. How has my son found the strength to tell his friends, family, and acquaintances and we are left with a whisper?

As I left the conference I heard my name being called one last time. It was then that I knew my purpose was clearly being conveyed. It was then that I knew I was being seen for the imperfect human I am… and it filled my soul. That’s when they said, “Thank you for being vulnerable, you will never know how much I needed to hear this today.” They went on to say, “you are always smiling and so positive that I would have never known if you wouldn’t have shared. You give me hope.”

I challenge you to follow my 17-year-old son’s lead. I challenge you to share vulnerability. I challenge you to better yourself and others by spotlighting the whole child.

Let’s give HOPE

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

Creating A Culture of Impact

Most recently, I returned from a cruise that was not only refreshing for my mind, body, and soul, but it also reaffirmed how the simple things mean the most. Don’t get me wrong, I was pampered beyond belief and never wanted for anything, yet it was the small gestures that truly created the largest impact on me. It wasn’t an isolated occurrence, it was a culture. That my friends cost absolutely nothing and left me with the affirmation that we make choices every day that will impact… it is up to us whether it is positive or negative.

A Smile Speaks A Thousand Words

If ever there was a truer image of happiness I don’t seem to recall one that impacts greater than a smile. It is like picking out a new pair of glasses when you know that they will be your statement piece. You search and search for the perfect look so that when people see you coming they get the exact impression that you are trying to project. Search no further, as your smile is free and yet it gives to others something that is absolutely priceless and easy to obtain.

The minute I walked out of my stateroom each day, I was greeted with a smile at every turn. The smiles that I was seeing were not limited to the guest relations desk, it was the mantra for all that worked and inhabited the ship. Whether I was heading to the staircase or the elevator, someone was right there smiling and saying hello. Whether I was passing through the sun-filled pool area or sliding into quiet space for shade, there was someone’s smile greeting me that said, “all is good in the world today”.

You can just imagine, my thoughts connected with every child that we are privileged to create this same environment for… one of impact. See, that is the key… those working on the ship never underestimated their impact and the privilege of creating an opportunity of happiness for every single person aboard. As educators, we have that very same privilege. One that extends more than 7 hours every day of a child’s life. Beyond anything else, the one thing that we can single handily do without permission, without connecting to a standard, without hesitation, and with incredible impact is SMILE! It is a welcoming gesture that invites others in. It speaks a universal language of love. It exudes tenderness. It cares. It says, “YOU are important!”

It really is that simple.

Called By Name Makes the Invisible Visible

I don’t know how they do it, but if they can we all can! Yes, I was visible. Yes, I was important. Yes, I was cared for in abundance. How did I feel that every single moment of the day? It all came down to my name. Whether it was the cruise director, a deckhand, a fitness instructor (yes, I found the gym for the first time on my vacation), the stateroom steward, gift shop attendant, iLounge representative, shore excursion staff, youth counselor, photographer, or entertainer, the head of a department or the assistance’s assistant (and I could go on and on), they valued me enough to learn my name.

Miss Kristen, may I help you?

Hello, Miss Kristen, have a beautiful day!

Good morning, Miss Kristen!

When was the last time you heard your name being called out in abundance and it wasn’t because someone needed you, but because they cared for you? When was the last time a child felt that type of acceptance and belonging the minute they walked into your school? Your hallway? The lunchroom? Recess?

Do we make the invisible, visible?

Do we make every child feel important?

Do we smile

Do we call every single one of them by name?

“Impact” is what that creates and it all happens with a smile and a name. That is what we as educators get to do every single day… create impact. The question is, do we create the right one?

A culture of impact is what our children need!

Domain 2: Classroom Environment, Domain 4: Professional Responsibilities, ISTE Standard for Educators, Personal Learning

ISTE19 BE BOLD BE YOU BE CONNECTED

#ISTE19 was no doubt one for the eduRecordBooks! Oh yes, it was the conference for every global #edtech inspired educator, but for me it was far more than that… it all goes back to relationships and the bold way of becoming a connected educator! Here is why ISTE got it so right with me… their BOLD mission statement empowered me to reach beyond my walls of learning and connect with countless educators of impact.

BE BOLD

The International Society for Technology in Education’s mission is very clear: “ISTE inspires educators worldwide to use technology to innovate teaching and learning, accelerate good practice and solve tough problems in education by providing community, knowledge and the ISTE Standards, a framework for rethinking education and empowering learners.”

That in itself is a mic drop… what a BOLD statement, right? That very mission captured my attention about 4 years ago. I knew at that point I was destined to be transformed as an educator. I immediately wanted to get to that year’s summer conference, but it just wasn’t in the cards for me. However, the wait was well worth it in the long run. The thought of going one day ignited a passion and love for technology that would powerhouse my own learning in the BOLDest way possible! Who wouldn’t be intrigued by ISTE’s statement of, “BE BOLD WITH US. Dreaming big. Transforming teaching. Empowering learners”? In a 4 year period I collaborated with educators across the globe, grew as a learner, stretched myself as an educator, and was about to attend a conference that would place the foundation to this transformation all under one roof! Priceless!

BE YOU

BE YOU… I got this! Being me meant heading to this conference with an endless amount of hugs packed tightly in my suitcase. I was ready to meet the incredible people within my network face to face in place of our typical virtual connection. BE YOU… meant collaborating with my PLN and signing up for sessions, dinners, after dinner get-togethers, along with random happenings that we just had to embrace while in Philly! BE YOU… meant buying 80s gear to wear for the Go Guardian/Class Link night to remember, starring the The Spazmatics. This very night was one to remember… laughing, smiling and dancing the night away! BE YOU… meant leaning into my passions, my voice, my creative outlets, my joys and my people! Note: It takes most people a moment before they realize I am describing fabulous friends that I had just met face to face for the very first time. BE YOU… meant embracing my friends and acquiring new ones as the connections ran rapid throughout the conference. BE YOU… meant that I was able to embrace all things that resonated with me and the common thread would go back to the BOLD way that ISTE empowers learning with technology.

BE CONNECTED

To think that ISTE was my first face to face interaction with the majority of my PLN (yet I talk about them around the dinner table to the point that my entire family knows them, their spouses, and children by name) is mind-blowing! To be a connected educator has brought about a powerhouse of ideas, resources, support, innovation, empathy, understanding, goal-setting, and love that I personally could never imagine my life without ever again. And the crazy “ISTE connection” to this entire experience is technology! My invaluable relationships have formed through many platforms, and without technology most of them would not have transpired. Being connected as an educator has changed my world and that of my students on a daily basis.

There is no turning back now… it is more than infusing technology into my practice, it is using the technology as a vehicle to steer learning towards the future of education!

Kristen Nan #ISTE19

Don’t wait… get connected! Don’t overthink it, don’t belabor the task. Simply choose what works best for you and create your own opportunity to collaborate with others. Here are my top 15 go to ways to collaborate and connect with my PLN globally:

  1. Google Hangouts
  2. Skype
  3. Facetime
  4. Twitter
  5. Twitter Chats
  6. Hashtags
  7. Snapchat
  8. Instagram
  9. Facebook
  10. Voxer
  11. Texting/Calling
  12. Podcasts
  13. FlipGrid
  14. YouTube
  15. email (true story… we actually still use it! ha!)

Thank you, #ISTE19 for the opportunity to present to and with others, for the powerful learning, the memories made, connections fostered and the possibilities yet to come!

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 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!