Personal Learning

Digging Deep, Finding Hope

During this historic time, each of us have been tested. We have been pushed, pulled, poked, and prodded in ways that I do not think any of us could have ever imagined. Those who know me, know that I truly believe that everything happens for a reason. As I referenced in a recent post, there are always good things that come out of hard times. For me, this has been a time of tremendous reflection, questioning, and pursuit of deeper understanding. I am grateful for my #PLN and especially #BlogginThruIt. They have given me the space to express my thoughts, analyze my thinking, and dig deep. 

As I navigate through this time, I have been grappling with my role as a leader and what relationships should and could look like. Vulnerability requires trust. Trust requires vulnerability. Healthy relationships require trust AND vulnerability!  -Sari

As soon as I heard Sari say she was “grappling with her role as a leader,” I knew our friendship would be lifelong.  It is the grapple that we feel inside that leads us to a better way.  Through self-reflection we question and when we question we face honest answers that may be tough to hear at times. It is the grapple that makes me thrive, not only within, but with others!  -Kristen

The Beginning of a Powerful and Healthy Relationship

Kristen and I connected through Twitter over a few tweets about George Couros’ inspiring book Innovate Inside the Box. Little did I know that when we connected, Kristen was wrapping up her own powerful book with Jacie Maslyk, All In: Taking a Gamble in Education A few short months later I was honored to join the first #AllInEDU book study, facilitated by #2MenAndABook. Chapter 2 of All In, or as Kristen and Jacie call it, Bet 2, is titled Poker Face. This chapter dives into the misguided belief that many of us have heard over the years: Don’t smile until Christmas; don’t let your guard down or you will lose control. As I started this chapter, I thought, I don’t have a poker face! I am open and transparent. I pride myself on the value of relationships. I continued to read in agreement. This is not a time to put up walls and create barriers; it’s time to break them down and make connections. Exactly. 

Jacie and Kristen’s words spoke to me in a very dynamic, meaningful way. Integrating both perspectives, teacher and administer, resonated with me on so many levels. Understanding perspectives is key to developing empathy. As I reflect on who I am as a leader and consider the type of leader I strive to be, Kristen shared a courageous statement that profoundly impacted her district, and now me. -Sari

-Kristen Nan

Through Sari’s reflection, I just felt this in my core all over again… this was such a bold and vulnerable statement I made that turned my entire life upside down in the blink of an eye! To know it resonated with Sari, and brought us to this blog together, speaks to me in the most profound way possible! -Kristen

Seize Vulnerability

Simultaneously, at work, we were having some very serious conversations that I needed to process. The discussions were truly weighing on me. I bottled up my emotions on the inside, placed a smile on the outside, and considered what I was feeling. Then it hit me…I was NOT being open. I was NOT being transparent. I was NOT being vulnerable. I was wearing a poker face. -Sari

This right here is such an awesome moment! This new perspective on something that I wrote with such conviction resonates with me. The idea that something could be perceived so differently.  It is “push back” or questioning that gains perspective, and it is that space of vulnerability that affords for this to happen!  Although my questioning has been viewed differently by others throughout my career, I believe that push back to one’s view should never equate disrespect (and that is how the admin felt that day with my bold statement).  There are times that I feel when someone is invested in their own perspective they cannot stop and feel, or see someone else’s view. What then? How do we possibly serve and move forward if we cannot see what is right in front of us? -Kristen 

Was I pushing back? Do I have walls? And even worse, do I have walls that I don’t see? Am I living a belief that mirrors “not smiling until Christmas?” Am I missing what is right in front of me? I struggled with this…I began to consider that perhaps I don’t lead by example. I felt a flash of discomfort. 

I pushed my thoughts and questions into our Voxer book study and an incredible discussion ensued. Is it ever okay to have a poker face? Can a poker face protect others? Be vulnerable, but be strong….what does that really look like? Does a poker face mean dishonesty? How do you support others when you are still struggling yourself?

For our students, it is important that they receive information in a developmentally appropriate way. Or perhaps there is information that our little people should not hear at all. Does that mean that I am lying by omission? 

“You don’t seem concerned, so I’m not concerned.” That phrase was said to me just last year by a staff member. It served as a reminder that our emotions can be contagious, both positive and negative emotions. If I choose to process my emotions before sharing with my staff is that dishonesty? -Sari

OM to the G! This right here is full gains! Another perspective… Maybe this perspective states that it is beyond appropriateness for just children… is it possible that there is information that adults should not hear/share just yet or at all… it all takes on a different view when restated with different intent. -Kristen

INTENTION! When I read Kristen’s words I realized that our WHY behind the poker face is most important. It is not about power or losing control of our classroom, building, or district. It is about putting others first. As educators, we have a responsibility to ensure we discuss important topics with students in a way that is developmentally appropriate but also provides opportunities to hear all stories, practice empathy, and build understanding. 

We are navigating a precarious time. There are so many unknowns. School districts are facing significant state budget cuts. School districts are making decisions that no one ever wants to have to make; their impacts will be felt far and deep. Many districts will come out of this looking very different. What is the best way to handle this? There is already so much tension in the system. -Sari

Building Trust

How will it look?  At first glance, it may appear that it is possibly not for the better… for now! Is it possible that these moments, when we have fewer options,  will help us to appreciate the ones that are given? Think about the budget cuts and the shifting in one’s practice… will we still find opportunity in this change or will we snub it because it does not mirror the vision we once had. MakerSpaces… gone, but why? Is this a blame game? Do we trust those that have these very difficult decisions to make? Options to learn a foreign language… will they exist? Will they be plentiful? What about flexible seating… something that students love and are now embracing with ownership over their choices and actions?  Will it be gone?  Will it come back?  Will we find voice and choice in this most radical time of change OR will we do what has already been done before and REVOLT? Is it the emotional attachment to what could have been? Is it the reality that our dreams are no longer our own to shape? Is it the vulnerability that we feel to be within a space of less control? What is it that scares you the most? Is it trust? What is it about education that children fear will change? Will we ask them? And if we do, how will we receive their answers. Will we cut them off and hand them the reason or excuse? Will we steer them to be more empathetic in their response so that it hurts us a little less? Will we even ask? And what will we do? Is it possible that the solution or vision of change lies with them and not us at all? Are we willing to let children reshape what we have created for hundreds of years… all while doing it within the constraints that our reality lies in.  

Reality check… can we afford it?  Have we given enough voice to our students to open their eyes and minds to an opportunity that does not look like their initial vision?  Do we trust? Can they innovate inside the box, as George Couros has pushed us to question and rethink our philosophy and our practice?  This right here will be very telling of what was before and what will be! -Kristen 

One lesson I have learned during this time is the power of “I don’t know.” Kristen poses so many thoughtful questions. My answer to some of those questions has been…”I don’t know.” As a person, let alone as a central office administrator, it goes against the fabric of my being to just hang within a space of…”I don’t know.” I am not implying that I believe that I have all of the answers. However, I know how to seek out the answers. David Weinberger said it best, “The smartest person in the room is the room.” In order to get the best answers, we have to bring all perspectives into a room and hash it out. During this historic time, even that strategy has not worked. Throughout this pandemic, we have only been able to answer questions that focused on the here and now. All along we have been missing critical data to answer questions about our future…When will schools open their doors again? What will graduation look like? What is the best way to support students when we return to brick and mortar? How do we create a warm, welcoming learning environment while following CDC guidelines? How much more funding will the state cut? Will there be another wave of the virus? If so, when?

My experiences these past few months have reinforced that responding “I don’t know” is not bad. Saying nothing at all, avoiding the conversation, wearing a poker face, or faking it, breaks down the relationships and shows a lack of respect. Being vulnerable, discussing the facts of the situation, rather than silence, avoiding the question, or guessing, has proven to be invaluable. -Sari

Embracing Hope

The one thing known right now is the unknown. I have the utmost respect for the response “I don’t know.” Would I like to have a more detailed answer… of course! But in the end, the upfront honesty is what I need the most as an educator and parent. My friend, Tara Martin, shared with me that if I don’t tell my story someone else will, and in many ways, I feel that the same idea applies to this situation as well. If I am led to believe that administration has all of the answers, but are not divulging them, I may assume that they are withholding valuable information when in all actually they simply do not know. Assumptions can lead to inaccurate thoughts and unwarranted worry. That assumption is driven by a similar fear that holds leaders of all roles back in simply answering, “I don’t know.” Assumptions can be the detriment to most everything, with one being relationships. It is our relationships that will see us through… with them, we have trust and with trust we have hope. – Kristen

Each of us has a choice. In the absence of the answers, I am present and intentional. I choose transparency. I choose vulnerability. I choose to trust. I choose relationships. I choose HOPE! What do you choose? -Sari 

Sari Goldberg McKeown has served as an educator in an array of K-12 roles for over fifteen years, including classroom teacher, literacy specialist, supervisor, and coordinator. Currently, she serves as a central office administrator on Long Island, New York. Sari is a lifelong learner. She is pursuing her doctoral degree at St. John’s University and is honored to be a part of the #EdCampLI planning team. Sari believes education is about who we teach, not just about what we teach. She is passionate about culture, relationships, and learning from each other. Sari believes in the power of being a connected educator. As educators, we are all in this together!

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 me be looking to close out their year, my class is continuously open 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 4: Professional Responsibilities, Personal Learning

The EDURelevance In Social Media

Two, maybe three years ago now, I opened my first social media account.  Not because I wanted to, but because I was challenged to do it by my then new assistant superintendent Jacie Maslyk.  She had a reason.  A purpose.  Relevance!  Behind her challenge was… GET CONNECTED!  Connect to other educators.  See what the world is doing WITHOUT you!  The relevance behind that one simple challenge gifted me a new life in education.  A new life for me.  A new life for my students.

Opening my Twitter account was not an easy task for me.  I seriously had no clue what I was doing.  However, my teenage son did and after chuckling a few times that his mom was about to “connect” with the world he was living in, he gave me a hand.  From that point forward, Trent and I had a new connection too.  My purpose may have been slightly different than his, but we had common ground to share in conversation.  This one platform led to every single opportunity that has unfolded for me to date.

Every part of my PLN.

Every conference I have attended.

Most every idea that I have taken into my classroom.

Every single book I have read, starting with my first… Innovator’s Mindset by George Couros.  That one book has led to over 30.  That one book has led me to connect with educators all over the world through IMMOOC.  That one book set me on fire and gave me purpose to find conferences connected to this network of incredible educators.  That one connection pushed me to…

be a better me.

offer a first ever book study in my district for fellow teachers.

build relationships and value their importance.

take risks.

reflect.

Yet, the naysayers still pushed back on teachers putting themselves out there on social media.  So, I felt as long as I stayed on Twitter and journeyed as an educator, I could at least defend myself.

What to the what?  Defend myself?  Defend relevance to my growth?

My family kept asking when I would jump on Facebook so I plunged right in… relevance.  Family ties, enough said.

Then I started to blog.  Oh wow, was this relevant to my world.  I have always loved to write, but lost the time to do so when juggling mom, wife, and teacher.  Not to mention all the other relationships I attempted to hold on to… but in order to share my blog I needed social media connections.  Perfect, I got this!  I was already on Twitter with other educators.  Facebook connected me with family, but why not educators too?  So I went on the search for my global network of #eduawesomeness.   Wow, another moment forward for me.

You are not on Instagram?  Friends asked me this often, but I felt I had enough to juggle and already had great connections so I was okay without.  Then came George’s newest adventure… A Book Study on Instagram!  What?  Come on George… I’ve been in the last 3 with you on Twitter and Facebook… can’t we just use those platforms?  Ummmmm… NO!

Risks

Relationships (L.E.G.I.T. Relationships)

Relevance

Triple Threat… jump in or be left behind!

Time to GROW AGAIN!

I logged onto Instagram 2 days ago.  Created an account.  Asked my son Trent AGAIN, to give me a hand.  This time he didn’t chuckle.  He smiled.  Then he said mom, that’s cool… now follow me!

#relevance #growth #gift

 

Personal Learning

Because I Can

Did you ever say the words “I wish I would have”?  Like many others, I have too.  Today though, I won’t.  No regrets.  I will say what is on my heart because I can.

I have a very special person in my life.  One that God blessed me with, even when I wasn’t most deserving.  He brought her in my life at the age of 18.  I was so vulnerable to the world.  I had ridden the roller coaster of divorce.  I had been stripped of trust in ways unimaginable.  I had felt defeat.  I had a skewed vision of normal.  I was at the mercy of my own decisions.  I had chosen to take on the world in spite of the statistics that said I would not succeed.  Then the unimaginable happened… I had fallen in love with her son.

I remember meeting her for the first time.  I was in awe of her grace.  She had a way of making me feel comfortable in my unsettling skin.  She struck up conversation, bringing me into her world, and making me feel important… visible.  This woman I would one day call mom because mother in law didn’t come close to the relationship we were about to build together.

God knew I needed her then as much as I do now, but for different reasons.  At 18, I needed someone to believe in me and she did.  I needed a gentle soul to encourage me… and she did.  I needed God to shine his light on me… and so he gave me her eyes to look in.  The ones that brought me closer to Him.  The eyes that told me I would be okay.  The eyes that shaped my heart so that I could love her son… and myself.

Have you ever felt unconditional love?  The kind that supports you through thick and thin.  The kind that holds judgement knowing it will do more harm than good.  The kind that never ever leaves your side no matter how undeserving you may be.  The kind that gives endlessly as if you are all that matters in the world.  The kind that wants “better” for you in every way.  The kind that would go to the ends of the earth to find it for you.  I have… and today I want to say thank you because I can.

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Mom, Dad, and Trent in Myrtle Beach, NC.  2005

Dear Mom,

“Thank you” will never seem like enough… those words are supposed to be so much bigger than they sound, then they look.  They are supposed to tell you that you saved me.  You saved me from being less than what your son deserves.  Less than who I was meant to be.  You gave me an example to strive for as a wife and mother.  You helped me look through the lens of others in place of the selfish view I had come to rely on.  Those words, “thank you”, are supposed to tell you that you showed me how to love with my heart and not my mind.  Thank you for the man you raised to be my husband.  The one who has lived by your example.  Thank you for being you.  You taught me that the word BUT negates everything beautiful one can say in a split moment.  You mom, taught me how to be in the moment and be grateful for what I have.  You showed me that good exists in the world and I can be a part of it if I choose.  You held me when I needed held and pushed me back on my feet when I couldn’t stand on my own.  You have shown me faith.  You have been an example of respect.  You have led me.  You have walked behind and pushed me forward.  You have walked next to me, holding my hand.

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Mom, Trent, Jack, and me on Easter 2009

You have been my friend.  My confidant.  My go to shopping diva.  Our time together has always been chosen.  The kind that can’t be lived without.  How often do you hear that about a mother in law and daughter in law? Oh we know, right… everyone tells us how lucky we are to have one another.  Our time has been filled with endless talks, 12 hour shopping days (using up a personal day for the grand opening of The Mall at Robinson.. who does that?), women’s retreats, babies being born and raised, countless vacations, Sunday football games, beautiful dinners, Broadway Shows galore, sitting poolside, spas, holidays, baking, cooking (remember that time we decided to pull off our best Julia Child’s recipe of beef bourguignon? OH MY!), our trips to Bedford Springs, and the list goes on and on…

Here we are 27 years later.  We have witnessed so much together… sadness and sorrow, disappointments, hurt, happiness, love, and the kind of joy we always have known how to celebrate.  Your love defines all goodness.  Your smile.  Your touch.  Your words of wisdom.  Your uncanny way of saying it how it is… and the ultimate Sandy Nan phrase of “this too shall pass”.  Through it all, when I look into your eyes I still see God.  You are joy mom… the kind to celebrate.

Despite all my imperfections,  I hope I have made you proud.  I hope I have shown you faith.  With each day, I will strive to be an example of respect.  I will lead.  I will walk behind and push others forward.  I will love.

But for now, I am here right next to you mom, holding your hand because I can.

All My Love,

Kristen

 

Domain 4: Professional Responsibilities

To TAG or NOT To TAG… that is the question!

Do you tag your “PLN” when you post?  Why?  Please share with me!

I recently was given a challenge by someone whom I consider an incredible mentor in this crazy EDUawesome life of mine.  The challenge was to make my writing so good that I wouldn’t need to tag anyone to my blog posts.  I was floored!  What about my relationships… my people?  The ones that give me feedback, direction, and…

well enough said… challenge accepted.  I cannot say no to a challenge!  BRING IT!

It is so interesting to see how this unfolded for me…

My life as a blogger was born on September 27, 2017 during Round 3 #IMMOOC created by George Couros, author of Innovator’s Mindset.  It was a natural path for me as I have been a lover of writing from the young age of eight.   I wrote a lot as a child…

scraps of paper ( a LOT of scraps folded up as small as possible)

the back of composition notebooks

in my head… my safe place.

My first “legit” journal came in 1988 from a close friend.  It was a birthday gift for my Sweet 16 (Thank you Amy).  Whether it was intentional or simply a coincidence it was a priceless gift that I needed in my life.  It was absolutely perfect… and it was for ME!  MY EYES ONLY!  This is where my darkest secrets were kept.  Ones that I felt the world could not handle.  This is where my break ups went down… my friendships were built… my dreams were first committed to a pencil mark.  See, I never used pen… that was too final for me.  I had to have the chance to let it all out and then tweak and code what I didn’t want others to really know if they stumbled across it.  Yes, I still have it!

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This became my personal portfolio of emotions… my paper footprint.

Fast Forward to 2017… the worst timing possible for me to give up MORE precious family time.  I was just pulling myself back together from the loss of a dear friend, my beautiful extended family was living with me during a military transition in their life, my amazing mother in law had been ill with countless diagnoses including lung cancer, my dearest friend diagnosed with breast cancer, a commitment to book studies, a mentor, a Virtual Co-op, my sons need me, my husband needs me, and the list goes on and on.

So why sign up for IMMOOC?   Best said by Tara Martin, the BookSnap Queen herself,

#IMMOOC Family Reunion

I like to describe #IMMOOC as a book study on steroids (aka huge muscles). This multifaceted learning EDventure is beyond mind-blowing due to the diverse talents, viewpoints, and experiences of each participant.

However, it’s so much more!

It really is about the connections; it’s ALL about the people. Every round, new members join the course, and together we become an EDU-family–spanning the globe. We encourage and challenge one another, and in many instances become face-to-face friends.

Round 3=#IMMOOC Family Reunion with new family members!

Including YOU!!

No” simply wasn’t an option!  See, I was a lurker Season 1 and 2.  Why?  Well, I didn’t know how to share my writing publicly.  The only time I wrote I wrote for me… MY EYES ONLY!

Then came the first video… Alice Keeler!  What a hoot!  I couldn’t stop smiling, laughing, and learning!  Wow, was this fun!  I was nodding my head, talking to the computer, carrying on as if Alice was talking to just me… preaching the gospel of EDUtruth!  The hour flew by and I was empowered to start my first blog.

What do I write? (That was my first question of course)  That was when I knew I had to simply write from my heart… my experience… my belief.  As one of my incredible mentors would say, write from “MY WHY!”  This wasn’t about being right, or politically correct… it was about sharing… letting others into my world!

This was the day T.R.U.E. G.R.I.T. finally went down on paper.  Prior to this moment, it was solely mine.  In my head.  My conversation.  Mine to use in my classroom because it was my foundation for learning and so it became my philosophy for education.  It was mine… and now it needed to be EVERYONE’S… at least an EDUspin for others!

Since that first blog, my writing and reflections have grown stronger, deeper, and more powerful for me.  My thoughts need to come out.  Just like the child in class that I pull to the side… where a journal is born… where we create a special cover for that “personal space” to write.  Where we take a digital approach to this paper masterpiece and start blogging to connect… to build relationships in our isolated universe of thoughts! 

So what about that challenge?  To Tag or NOT to Tag?  Here is how it went down:

Dec. 29th The Silence is Deafening no tags 175 views in 3 days

Dec. 30th The Elephant in the Room~ connecting with mental illness 142 views in 2 days with 6 educators tagged that are EDUconnected to this post

Jan. 1st #OneWord2018 pure “Goodness” no tags  36 views in 2 hours

Where does this leave me?  I want to hear your thoughts.  I know I need to follow my heart… because that is where others will “read” my writings.  I love to blog, but it isn’t just about me.  It revolves around my Why… and that in itself has changed.  My Why is connected to people… my tags are different every time.  They are personal.  No doubt, there are a few that are tagged more often than others, but it is a connection.  A relationship I have built.  One that happened through #IMMOOC  #tlap  #DitchSummit and more!

Relationships within my #PLN have transformed my way of teaching.

EDURelationship Facts:

  • I had 240ish connections in September 2017 (one year of being on twitter)
  • After IMMOOC I had 700ish
  • Before my SAS Conference in Hershey (December) I had 800ish connections
  • During the conference I went over 1,000
  • Today I have an amazing 1,244 connections to incredible educators on #Twitter alone!
  • I have 400 TIMES the connections from #Twitter than I personally had in my own district from the start of the 2017 school year

I now have published 24 blogs in just over 3 months.  A sense of pride has emerged, a desire for more, a need to grow.  Yet I am left wondering…

To Tag or Not to Tag… that is the question!

Please share your thoughts with me

 

 

 

Domain 2: Classroom Environment, Domain 4: Professional Responsibilities

The Elephant in the Room~ connecting with mental illness

the quiet one… the loud one

the picker… the tapper

the distracted… the focused

the respectful… the belligerent

the rule follower… rule breaker

the meticulous risk taker!

There are so many ways I have heard this elephant described.  I could probably add 100 more terms and phrases to this list without hesitation.  It is usually followed up with…

he doesn’t look like anything is bothering him 

he just checks out

he wouldn’t have to ask so many questions if he just paid attention

he just won’t let it go

and my favorite… how does he continue to earn poor grades when he is so bright?  Twice Exceptional?  But if I’m being honest the statement is more like…  this is what gifted looks like? #truth

How do you describe mental illness?  How do you view the elephant in the room?  I know an elephant.  I have raised an elephant who is best friend’s with my incredible son.  My son met his elephant at the age of 8.  Prior to this friendship, my son was a compliant rule follower… a straight A student… a role model for others.  Yes, they are separate… their own.  My son.  Mental Illness.

Then the day came.  The meeting.  The joint kinship.  The one that introduced my son to distractions, rule breaking, meticulousness ways, perfection, and repeated behaviors to sooth and calm his new friend the elephant.

I saw the changes.

I saw the elephant!

My gut knew from an early age that the tendencies were there… the kinship… the illness.  They were one with their own identities.  Our family walked on eggshells of anxiety… we reassured to the point of exhaustion, we centered our lives around the elephant in the room without saying a word.  We started to speak it’s language.  We fed it.  We calmed it and tucked it in at night.  We were literally raising an elephant alongside our beautiful son…

the elephant in our room…

OBSESSIVE COMPULSIVE DISORDER

We faced it head on.  Therapy 5-7 days a week.  We exposed ourselves and our son to his anxiety.  Yet, the whack-a-mole effect of OCD did not go away.  It simply became a part of our existence.  Yes, our existence.

This is what we as educators need to understand… the elephant is NOT GOING AWAY!

Need I mention that I have a background in Special Education.  An emphasis in Emotional Support.  A Masters Degree in MOM… yet listening to fellow colleagues struggle with the elephant in the room leaves me… speechless.  

So where do we go from here?

Let’s start by acknowledging that mental illness is a part of OUR lives.  NOT just a child’s life… OUR LIVES!  We are in this together.  We must educate ourselves.  We must find a way to understand a child’s way… their being in order to educate them to the best of THEIR ability! To bring out their best… to let their light shine so bright that it puts their elephant in their shadow (in place of just the opposite.)  They deserve it!

Have you ever tried to walk in their shoes?

My son is now 15.  He battles mental illness better than many adults I have come into contact with in my lifetime.  He has strength. He has courage. He has empathy.  He has GRIT.

He said to me, “Mom, tell my story… it will help other kids.”

Yes, Trent, I will.

 

 

 

 

 

Domain 2: Classroom Environment

Guaranteed Impact: make it POSITIVE!

When a child walks into your life, what thoughts race through your head?  Are they thoughts of…

excitement? Excitement for the opportunity to have someone’s precious child in your life.  A chance to make a difference.  A gift of time to impact their life… to open doors and encourage them to walk through!

wonder? Wonder of who they are under that smile… frown… or look of fear.  Wonder of how you will connect and build a relationship that will set sail the journey of learning together.

worry? Worried that you may not be able to connect.  Worry that they may be the most challenging student you have had to date.  Worried that their own life may hold them back from trusting you.  Worry that you don’t have enough time in a day to make a difference.

judgement? Judgement of who they are…

When you walk into a child’s life, are their thoughts the same?  Are you setting the stage for a relationship with EVERY child…

Do you make school exciting?  Do you give them a reason to be there?

Do you create a connection to every child or do they wonder why they don’t fit in your world like others do?

Do you foster a caring environment?  One that eliminates worry from their life… possibly the only stretch of time in their day to let their shoulders down.

Do your students feel judged?  Or do you give every child a “Planet Fitness: Judgement Free Zone”?

This Christmas I received a very special gift from a very quiet and reserved child.  A child that walked into my room withdrawn, with limited social interaction, lack of engagement, and little interest in school.  None of this due to home life… as a matter of fact he comes from a beautiful loving family that builds him up and sets him off each day to conquer the world trusting that his teacher will bring out his best.  

This precious child handed me a special gift.  Then he did something that caught me off guard… he insisted on opening it for me, which warmed my heart to the core because he was so invested in the moment.  He unwrapped a snow globe that took my breath away.  It had a 3 dimensional silver snowflake with the words WISH*LOVE*HOPE that sparkled while music played and snow floated effortlessly within the globe.    He said, “Oh Mrs. Nan, I know the snow globe is nice, but look what it says to you.”  To which I looked at the inscription that read:

“Students may forget what you said, but never how you made them feel.” 

Tears of joy streamed down my face.  Not the first time my students have seen my emotions.  Why?  Because they impact my life!

Over the months we connected.  We found his passion of art and embedded it into his learning through sketch-noting (THANK YOU Carrie Baughcum @HeckAwesome in my EDUAwesome @Twitter PLF)  This child is now engaged.  He is building relationships stemming from the one that we created together.  He is happy to be in school and moving his bright mind forward with each given day.  He is a #LeadLearner with Sketchnoting, #MakeyMakey and #Osmo in class.  He has found relevance in learning and a purpose for being a part of a learning community.  He is empowered! 

I start my Christmas vacation with heart full… of love and joy for I know that I have lived by my own advice…

You WILL have impact on EVERY child… it is up to you whether it is POSITIVE or negative!  

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So with that I leave us with my favorite George Couros quote from one of my favorite books, Innovator’s Mindset:

Merry Christmas!  May your holiday be as bright and beautiful as YOU! 

Domain 2: Classroom Environment

Our Students Are Our Customers: Service Counts!

As I was checking into my room for a recent conference, I found my customer service to be over the top fabulous.  I was greeted with a smile, my questions were answered with ease, and to top it off I was given an opportunity to upgrade at the same cost.  What more could I possibly ask for?  Well within minutes, I needed directions to my room to which the concierge was pleasant and more than willing to help.  This amazing customer service left me smiling… I was delighted to be there!  The atmosphere was pleasant, everyone greeted me with kindness, and I was left with the feeling of importance.

As I checked out days later, I overheard an irritated woman share her disgust over the refrigerator outage that occurred in her room.  Immediately, the manager stepped in and offered reimbursement for any loss that she may have had in food.  Within minutes she was calm, appreciative, and relieved to hear that her concern was taken seriously.  What could have lasted minutes, dwindled to a moment based on the incredible customer service she received.

I then went to have breakfast.  My waitress noticed me sitting down and welcomed me at once.  Her prompt attention to me, delivered with a friendly smile, gave me the feeling that this simply was a place where people enjoyed working.  She buzzed around working effortlessly and making my time worth hers.

Then it happened… she noticed a line of jewelry that I was wearing.  One that is not common within the states and not easy to come by without being close to a rather large city.  She complimented the pieces that I was wearing and asked me if I liked them.  I raved about each piece as I love the uniqueness they deliver.  She then told me she owns 3 pieces that have each broken in some way.  Right then I knew what was coming next.  See, this company is unique to its customer service or lack there of.  Unless you order and return to the main store they are unable to fix or replace any of their pieces.  I have never known the downside to this service as I haven’t needed it, but this woman can tell a different story.  It was then that she said as much as she loves the look, she will no longer purchase their work.  She elaborated on her dissatisfaction in their service.  She simply felt that her needs were not met and in turn cannot trust the product or the makers.

This left me thinking about my customers… my students. 

Do I make them feel important? 

Do I answer their questions? 

Do I listen to their needs? 

What do you think great customer service look like in the classroom? 

Here are 6 Key Rules I have created within my classroom to deliver the service I feel my students deserve.  How do I know if it works?  I survey them!

  1.  Patience!  Without this we lose them from the very start.  We must walk the walk like a grandparent does with their grandchild… slow and steady.  As if the entire universe just stopped and we have nothing but time.  The minute you speed up, become agitated or frustrated, you have now left that child’s needs behind and made this about you.  Be patient… their time is valuable too!
  2. Attentiveness: BE PRESENT!  Look them in the eyes.  Do not allow others to distract you… their words are your teacher!  If you want to know what they need or what bothers them you need to listen attentively!
  3. Knowledge of Product:  Whatever it is that they are in need of you must be able to deliver a knowledgeable response.  That doesn’t mean you need to have all the answers, but you need to be able to be open and honest with them that if you don’t you will be putting this concern to the top of your list and yes, you will be getting back to them in a timely manner.
  4. Positive Vibes: If you cannot be positive when working with children PLEASE take your business elsewhere!  They don’t sign up for negativity and if they come packaged with it, YOU should be the one that puts positive vibes in their world!  Bottom line is YOU will have an impact on every child… it is up to you if it is POSITIVE or negative.  Choose wisely… every child depends on it!
  5. Handle the Unknown: Teachers can write books on the things that children say… so be prepared.  There is not a blueprint to the day in the life of a teacher with 27 different little people with 27 different backgrounds, let alone “starts” to their day.  BUT there is ONE constant… YOU!  BE PREPARED to handle the unknown with kindness and grace.  You will pay it forward without a doubt!
  6. Willingness to Learn: PLEASE acknowledge that you do not know everything… open your mind and your students’ minds to growing and learning together!  Be willing to learn something new and never underestimate the power of learning from your students.  They are a force to reckon with as long as you force yourself to recognize they may know something you don’t!

6+ I cant help but think there should be just one more take away to customer service in a classroom… DON’T TAKE IT PERSONAL!  The minute you think it is about you, you have lost the battle.  There will always be a child hurting, worried, frightened, (or worse) that ends up letting it out with their behavior.  That behavior is not about you!  It is about the child.  Go back to #2 and learn about the child!

In the end customer service is about one thing… the customer!    What are we doing to maintain customer satisfaction in our classrooms? Are our customers “delighted to be there”?

Do we greet them with a smile?

Do they get up”grades” to their learning?

Do we leave them smiling?

Are they left feeling important?

If we don’t know, we need to survey them!

What if your students made a video that reflected your customer service?

Would it look like this? #NoSoupForYou

or this? #positive

Domain 4: Professional Responsibilities

The Power of a Keynote: an investment in our future!

Why does one go to a conference?  What draws a person in?  The conference mailings arrive weekly in my mailbox at school.  For some I open, but for most I toss them straight into the garbage.  In order for it to grab my attention it needs to provide me with more than my daily growth within my PLN and twitter.  (Twitter alone nurtures my love for teaching and can be done from the comforts of my home.)  It cannot just be a buzz word.  It must be legit.  So for me it is the keynote.  The person chosen must be relevant to teaching and learning… not only for my students, but for me.

So how did #SASInstitute2017 get it right?  For starters, they sought out one of the most powerful influences in education today… George Couros, author of Innovator’s Mindset!

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George is key to my attendance.  It really is that simple.  I am an educator making positive change in the classroom.  I am pushing myself forward every day without a conference, so for one to grab my attention, be worth my financial investment, and hold value to my students and to me, it must have impact!

IMPACT: the kind that pulls on every emotion possible! The kind that changes me for the better!

Truths that were spoken by George… hard core truth:

Truth:   “Learning is your job so stop whining and settle down.”  (I about jumped up and gave him a standing ovation!)

Truth: “If you do not have a twitter account you are no longer relevant to teaching!”

Truth: “If you still have a computer lab, the question is do you have a pencil lab too?”

Truth: “Isolation is now a CHOICE that educators make!”

Truth: “Do kids do it because of school or in spite of it?”

Truth: “Data driven is the stupidest term in education!”

Truth: “Stop making excuses!”

Truth: “What serves kids the best?”

Truth: “Make the positive so loud that the negative becomes almost impossible to hear!”

Truth: “CHANGE IS AN OPPORTUNITY TO DO SOMETHING AMAZING!”

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The energy in itself… the mere magnitude of educators buzzing with enthusiasm has drawn me in to conversation.  Conversation that I don’t normally engage in.  (Don’t laugh too hard… I have the gift of gab, but I’m talking about the choice to put myself in conversation.)  The truth is, I don’t like the downers… the fun suckers… closed mindsets.  Most groups I have encountered at school conferences have always included closed mindsets.  One that sucks the positive life right from my soul.  But this conference is different… the buzz is about George.  His truths.  His innovative practices.  His doors he opened… for us!  His relationships he nurtured… with us.  In turn, I have engaged beyond the keynote… into small groups… lunches… dinners… downtime.  I came with an amazing group of educators, connected with my twitter family, and am growing each day with incredible educators!  The power of a keynote has created an opportunity for me to do amazing things!

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Game Changer: George Couros and yours truly!

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Fabulous colleague and goal driven friend, Donna Steff

 

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

The Day I Was So Grateful I Asked

“I didn’t realize how much I didn’t know until I started collaborating with others.”

-current student

I was so grateful I asked!  

A moment is all it took.

An opportunity.

A lifetime of learning took place for me as his teacher.

It all started the day before when I was asked to teach a lesson for The Beaver County Innovation & Learning Consortium.  The BCILC is a group of teachers made of three school districts in my county.   The districts are collaborating to bring STEAM learning and Maker Education to children.  We are currently working on an area of lesson study and I was about to teach a math lesson for my team.

Let me bring you in the loop… My team consists of a gifted educator, a learning support teacher, a superintendent, and myself, a 3rd grade teacher.  We chose to have a full inclusion math lesson which included learners from the 9th percentile up to the 97th in the subject area of math.

This in itself created doubt in my head.

I have watched the dynamics of this vast ability range come as a detriment more than a benefit during my years as a full inclusion learning support teacher.  I was worried that the lower ability level students would frustrate easily and the higher ones would check out.

I doubted my own impact on their learning up to this point.

THIS IS NOT TYPICAL OF ME!

I was trying to close the door on the experience and “protect” my children… all 27 of them!  But the mere suggestion of having them all together pressed in my gut and I knew what was best… include all students!

I needed to stay focused on the goal.  To observe students using the 4Cs (Collaboration, Communication, Creativity, and Critical Thinking) with their groups.  There was no doubt this would be observed!

Typically my students have voice and choice when collaborating.  They are incredible at choosing people they can thrive with and in turn push themselves to conquer the goal set.  But on this day, the groups were picked for them.  I was so nervous.  I didn’t want them deflated before the lesson even began, but I went with it mainly because it made me nervous and I thrive outside my comfort zone.

I started the lesson with a hook first thing in the morning.  A pirate bucket covered up with a sign reading DO NOT OPEN UNTIL MATH! Oh I had them, right where I wanted them.  Then I started the lesson with a typical Mrs. Nan moment of craziness because my kiddos know crazy and fun go hand in hand with learning.  There I was…putting my sweat band on with a jump rope ready to roll!

The chosen math problem was a poem about jumping rope that tied in fractions.  Simple?  Well, considering we are smack dab in the middle of a VOICE PBL and my students just wrote “Odes”, but have never learned fractions this was definitely a SMASH MIX UP of learning!  Literally one student asked if this was math or reading class.  I WAS LOVING THAT MOMENT TO THE CORE!

Groups were formed and off they went.  This is when my keen observation skills went into hyper-mode!  I just took it in.  Some literally did not know where to begin, but were not giving up.  My students are “raised” on T.R.U.E. G.R.I.T. in my class and this was a time for that to shine!

But here I was noticing what I felt was different.  I noticed:

  • Sketch noting… in math? What? Why?
  • Numbers that weren’t even in the problem.
  • Confusion for a higher level learner.
  • Full engagement for most, but most is not enough for me!
  • I was stuck… stuck on the learner that I though would get it, but “appears” to have checked out.  He never checks out.  What is going on?
  • Jump ropes out.  String being cut.  Rulers being taped to the ground.  Pure madness.
  • One higher level learner “checked out”

The lesson came to an end.  We debriefed and gained great insight to what they knew, what they felt they needed to know to complete the problem, and yes the 4Cs were fired up and easily noted.

The next day came.  I questioned it all… Did this have impact?  Did this opportunity pay forward?  I couldn’t help but think about that one student who appeared “disengaged”.

SO I ASKED!

Me: So tell me about yesterday’s lesson… what did you think?

Student #1: It was cool.  I liked it

M: What did you like?

S: I really liked how “Student #2” was sketchnoting

M: I saw that!  I didn’t expect that in math… what are your thoughts?

S: I didn’t expect it either, but I was so happy he did it.  It really helped me make sense out of the problem.  I’m used to just looking at the numbers and figuring it out, but I couldn’t figure it out until I saw him sketch-noting.  It distracted me at first because I’m not used to that way of thinking, but then it really helped me.

M: WOW!  That is amazing!  Was there anything that you didn’t like?  Anything you would change?

S: No, not really.  It was a great mix of people and ideas.  I would definitely want to work with “Student #2” again because he thinks so different than me.  The problem pushed me.  I couldn’t figure it out. I am really happy that I have people to work with this year. 

“I didn’t realize how much I didn’t know until I started collaborating with others.”

M: THANK YOU! THANK YOU! THANK YOU! Thank you for taking the time to talk with me and sharing your feedback.  I thought you were checked out.  Bored.  I had no idea that was what unfolded for your group.

S: S-M-I-L-E

Note:

  • Student #1 is 97th percentile in Math
  • Student #2 is 9th percentile in Math

This teacher just learned another great lesson!

I was so grateful I asked!  

A moment is all it took.

An opportunity.

A lifetime of learning took place for me as their teacher.

#collaboration