Personal Learning

Who or What Are You Following?

Conversations buzz around who to follow on Social Media. For educators, that can mean one thing and for other professions, it means another. For those simply socializing, an entirely different perspective is taken. For teenagers, yet another. But the more I think about it, if there is anything in life worth following, it is happiness.

Happiness

Happiness is “the state of being happy.” To be content, pleased, and satisfied. So how is it that so many of us struggle at times to find it? Are we searching for what others have by comparison? Are we searching for an unknown? Have we forgotten what makes us tick? Did we lose ourselves among our responsibilities and obligations? Did we forget what simple joys look and feel like? To know, and appreciate this state of mind, I myself lean into 4 Rs… I must Reflect, Reset, Restore, and Recreate.

Reflect

Reflection is the key foundation to my success in happiness. It is the time that I take to look at where I have been, where I have “traveled” so to speak, what worked, what didn’t, where I went wrong, and hopefully what I got right. It helps me to stop and create meaning around my choices. Let’s face it, they were my choices for the most part. Whether it was an idea, initiative, or my reaction to someone else’s, it was my choice. Note: for some reflecting may not happen until the very end. Some may need to plan backwards to finally reflect for meaning.

Reset

We may think that the logical meaning to reset is to “set again”, but the gift of resetting is that we can do it differently the next time around, which ultimately can lead us to happiness. If that reset button means that I can say no with confidence and without a follow up reason/excuse than I get to make that choice and change. If by hitting that reset button I remind myself that my growth is dependent on the value of how I am saying yes, than that too becomes a major factor in the difference I am looking at for my next chance and opportunity. I am in control of my happiness and resetting my mindset by following up with different choices becomes clearer.

Restore

Restoration is key to the longevity of one’s self. We are not made to take on the world without time to restore our physical and mental well-being. Might I add, this should be done without apology. If we think otherwise, we are failing ourselves and the lives we impact. To restore, we must each find what works for us. Some may simply need a little escape from the pressures that come with life. Others may need to rethink their outside commitments and even pull back on some to restore their commitment to themselves. The important thing to remember is that if we want to accelerate, to truly push ourselves forward into betterment, restoration must exist. The question is, how might that happen for you?

Five Steps to Restoration

  1. Try being alone. For some, that is difficult and for others it is die-hard me time. Alone time is your time. Your choice. Your voice. Make time for you!
  2. Open your eyes to what is around you. Find the good. Something that speaks to you. Find that sense of joy right there in the midst of your chaos. It is there… look!
  3. Not to overdue the obvious, but exercise. I can’t jog anymore due to surgery years ago on my leg, but I can take a bike ride, a power walk, even a little skip counting with a jump rope. Figure out what you can do and match that up with what you love to do and the power of restoration is moving ahead. Note: I love to dance and last weekend when I was at a wedding, it reminded me of just how much. The joy, the freedom and the smile that engulfed my face reminded everyone around me of how happiness was right there within my reach.
  4. Never underestimate the power of therapy. We were not made imperfect by mistake or accident. Think about that for a minute. In addition, we each made a choice to venture into our own expertise. So why not embrace the expert? The one that has devoted time and attention to their field. Friends are fabulous soundboards and closely coveted experts on our own lives, but therapist are unique to their profession of human understanding. Did you know they are required by law to have their own therapist due to the impact of their profession? So why is it we as educators, spouses, friends, parents, think that we have to navigate life all on our own? My betterment is dependent on knowing when I am maxed out. Part of restoring that balance in myself is by seeing a therapist that in turn helps me to reset what doesn’t always happen through an isolated perspective of my own.
  5. Grace is a gift and one that we must have on others and ourselves. Do not take it lightly, but hold on to it and feel the immense impact of it. Then, when you see that others are in need, give it away. Have grace.

Recreate

Time to set a goal! Now, write it down… in PEN or even permanent marker! Commit yourself to YOU! In order to achieve this goal you will need a plan. Part of that plan will be to practice, just like anything else we do to be better… we must form better habits. “Readjust.” “Swing the bat differently.” YOU ARE WORTH IT! Now, find your people or person. The one that will rally around you and remind you that you actually should come first in order to be your best for others. Reality check… do you really think that you are your best for others when you are spent to the core? Come on, now! Let’s get real! It’s the whole oxygen ask moment… put yours on first in order to help others! Last, print out a 2 week calendar or put a remind in your phone, but you need to check in and cross off when you have accomplished a step in your recreation.

You Got This! I Believe In You! I am Your Fan In the Stand! Follow YOUR Happiness!

“Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”

Maya Angelou

Personal Learning

Gumdrops and Lollipops

I can’t help but giggle a bit every time that I hear gumdrops and lollipops. Each time they cross my mind, I think of years ago when I was riding in the car with my family and something cynical came on the radio station. I immediately turned it off. My boys were younger and I just didn’t want them to be any more jaded by the world than they already were, especially by things that were out of our control. As soon as I turned it off, my son Trent reacted with “Come on, MOM!” I was sitting in a moment of silence when he followed up with, “You know mom, life isn’t all gumdrops and lollipops like you think.” Wow, was he right and that in itself hit me in the heart!

Here I was just trying to raise my boys in a positive light, when the world was a bit dark at times. My motive wasn’t to wear rose colored glasses and pretend the “bad” didn’t happen, but more-so to see what good could come of most situations. Pushing through some painful experiences in my life, I have grown to be the faithful… the optimist… and a nightmare to the devil’s advocate. Although some may think I was born to be positive, I want to make something very clear… maybe I was gifted a positive personality, but when life becomes a struggle and feels heavier than I can handle, it comes down to choice for me and a support system that is unbreakable. I must push through those moments that at times turn into days and even weeks. Yes, that has happened to me, times when gumdrops and lollipops were so out of reach.

Years ago I had a therapist tell me that when we hold on to hurt and pain that it is like making a little dark mark on our hearts. When we let it go, we wash it off and let our heart do the job that it was meant to, which is to beat strongly and hold love. With each dark mark I would wash it off with a lollipop thought, allowing the love to come in and go out with each word and choice. This is all I wanted for my children. I wanted them to see the lighter side. I wanted them to find a way to roll with the punches and not let others weigh them down. One would think that by being so positive that my children would likely follow suit. However, life gives way to pain and with pain we all find a way to navigate on our own journey, some with gumdrops and others not so much.

Which way do you navigate through life when dark is looming? When it feels like the cynical are making their way in to your head space? How do you react in the toughest of times? Do you allow others to weigh in on your heart so that a dark mark turns into two, then three, then what?

Gumdrop Reminder

It takes courage to…

be YOU

advocate for others

fulfill your purpose

be optimistic

see the good in the bad

forgive so that you can live

Let Me Hand You a Lollipop

Let me hand you a lollipop, the kind that takes 200 licks to get to the center. The next time that someone reminds you of anything less than the joy you want to feel and give, think of the moments that fill your heart. The moments that are full of gumdrops and lollipops… oh, so good!

Share the Goodness

Smile

Ask others how they are

Don’t dwell on the negative

Find the good

Step aside and let others shine

Find your purpose and create opportunity for yourself

Speak up for others who are still trying to find their voice

Find the sweet spot, even among the sour!

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

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