Saturday, October 8, 2016

Unicorn Sightings

I've not even been in my newest role for 6 months yet, and I already know that there are parts that I adore and parts that I abide. Actually, I mostly adore all the parts, so maybe it is more like an adoration scale. One of the absolute best parts is meeting new unicorns, an 11 on the dial that goes to 10.

My role takes me to many different campuses and allows me to interact with many different people. I've found that the folks who call on us to offer them learnings opportunities are usually the types of teachers and administrators that are change makers. They aren't happy with the status quo, and they are searching for a way to make education better. Maybe they don't have a vision yet, but they have a gut feeling, and that prompts them to want to learn more and do something differently. I adore working with these people. I always leave meetings energized and ready to tackle the world.

There is a second grade teacher who wants to integrate technology to help her students collaborate more effectively. A third grade teacher who wants to go blended to meet the needs of all of her learners. A third grade teacher across the district who wants to flip her lessons to help make the most of every minute she has with her learners. High school teachers who want to find a way to effectively communicate with and reach their students to help them dive deeper into their subjects. Teachers searching for ways to empower their students to own their own learning, to question their knowledge, to be aware of their thinking and where it can take them.

Sometimes I get to bring these amazing teachers together and watch the magic that happens. Sometimes small scale, like at a happy hour where baby unicorns frolic while grown up unicorns share ideas and learning. Or larger scale, like at #EdcampSB, where the energy was a physical part of the space.

Sometimes I happen upon a unicorn in the wild, and I wonder how to capture it so I can bring it into the herd. We are always looking for more unicorns.

Education is a hot mess. Honestly though, what isn't? Yes, there are some spaces that are dark and scary, much like Xena and I witnessed, but there are glitter and rainbows too. I'm thrilled to be a person that gets to help others learn to spread their glitter and rainbows. I love helping others capitalize on their ideas. I always get credit from these folks, like I'm the magic, but I know better. I know they are the magic, and I just happen to be a conduit to make the magic a little more fruitful.

Keep making magic unicorns!



Thursday, October 6, 2016

Game Changer

I like to think of myself as a life-long learner.  I'm constantly trying to better my craft, I collaborate with my colleagues, I subscribe and read education briefs, and I generally try to stay on top of my game.  Naively, I believe that most teachers feel the same way about their own work, and I hope that they are giving their students the very best they have to offer.  
Today, I was given the opportunity to see the classroom through the eyes of a student.  The way I view everything has completely changed.  Things I thought I was passionate about before, I've become a fire-breathing, unicorn prancing, hothead about now.  We have got to change the classroom experience for children! We are losing them dammit, and we can't afford that. I hate to sound like a cheesy Whitney Houston song, but Children Our Are Future....we need to treat them better.
Sorry for the rant, I digress.  
Picture it, I've gone back to junior high school (GASP) to shadow a former student.  A little background on this student: she was a lovely student, although quiet, but I did my best to bring her out of her shell.  She excelled in all subjects, gradually became more confident, and she participated in class discussions.  She loved science most of all, and she loved the opportunity to be a hands-on learner.  When she went on to 5th grade, I missed her terribly, but she continued to do well, and I was able to check on her from time to time.  When I was given the opportunity to shadow a student, she's the one that came to mind.  I called her mother, explained my task, and voila...I was off to become a junior high student again.  
I arrive at the school in time to visit her social studies class.  I'm a history major, and I adore a good history class. In fact, I always thought, when I went back to college to become a teacher, I would become a junior high history teacher.  I was in my element in a classroom where communism, totalitarianism, and dictatorships were the subject of the day. My inner history nerd swelled with excitement when I saw PERSIA anchor charts in the back of the room.  Curtains had been crafted for the picture windows. Soft music was playing in the background..the kind you hum to, not the kind that puts you to sleep.  Students were excitedly discussing the differences between each type of leadership in small groups and they were happy to be doing it!! The teacher was walking around and chatting with each group. She offered sage advice, and I even heard another of my former students say, "No, we can't use Wikipedia!" Music to my ears, and I thought to myself, "This day will be amazing!"  Sadly, the bell rang, and we were off to math - 6th grade Pre-Ap to be precise. 
To be truthful, I've never been a huge fan of math.  I've thrown my heart in to making sure my students enjoy math since I never did.  Math always left a taste in my mouth reminiscent of a large belch from eating greasy cheeseburgers with extra onions.  I aim to make sure that my pubescent feelings about the subject were never transferred to my pre-pubescent students.  Already nervous to enter the math room, I paste on my "Oh, I'm so excited about math smile," pull up my big girl panties and go! The first thing I notice is that the walls are GRAY! There is nothing on them. It is a classroom DEVOID of life and personality. The desks are in rows and the warm up is waiting.  There is no collaboration here. There is nothing but independent warm ups and the impending doom of worksheets.  I feel my armpits start to sweat...I should have started checking for pimples.  It was exactly like 1990 in there.  I WAS the student. Unlike my own junior high math teacher, this one was young.  I expected amazing things to come out of her apparition of water in the desert boring subject of math. I was wrong. She was like all the rest, and we were trapped like prisoners in math jail.  No one was allowed to talk, no one was allowed to ask questions, they used hand motions to let the teacher know if they didn't understand a concept..although she didn't acknowledge any one of the students who held their thumbs down or sideways. Just like my own junior high days, there was the "know it all" and just like then, this teacher beamed and called on this student constantly.  My own sweet former student didn't say a word, didn't get an acknowledgement of her side-ways turned thumb, and the smile that had just been on her lips from social studies was well and truly gone.  I was so angry it was hard to hold back my frustrations...but I did. I left that classroom thinking, no wonder we are in the bottom tier of math education.  We make it boring and lifeless.  It truly sucks to be a math student. We have to give our students the opportunity to collaborate.  I don't care how gifted a teacher you are, students will ALWAYS learn better from each other. Face it, they speak a language we don't. 
Since my former student had lunch and gym (cringe) next, I was able to take a bit of a break and get rid of my excess anger and reflect on what I needed to change in my own teaching.  I was excited to return an hour later for science and a redemption of the day. I'm a complete science lover, so I was on cloud nine at the opportunity to feed my inner science nerd. 
I would love to be able to say that I ended the day as a happy junior high student, but I would be lying.  Science was much like math.  The classroom was old and dank, there were posters from 1977 on the wall...pretty sure Nuclear Fission is NOT a 6th grade TEK. Computer boxes were used as a makeshift place for students to place their science journals.  There was absolutely no care taken in that room.  How can students take pride in their work when they know they will turn it in to a plain cardboard box? The lab the students did was the same lab my sweet K had done in my class two years prior.  This wasn't the learning that our students need to be successful in the future. This was the same old same old that the kids had already done.  You didn't have to make a prediction because you already knew what was going to happen! This wasn't an exploration...this was "I'm going to spoon feed you everything you need to know...feel free to add a teddy bear to my collection" situation. I left the class early and I felt completely dejected as I got in my vehicle and headed back to my own campus.  
I'm so thankful that I had the opportunity to do this.  I know it doesn't sound like it, but today is going to make me a better teacher to my current students...and I'm going to make sure that I check on my sweet K a little more often.  I may send home sweet confidence building notes and maybe get her a kitten poster that says, "hang in there." Perhaps I should make her a mix tape with all the classic songs...Hanging Tough? Eye of the Tiger? 

Peace Out,

Monday, September 5, 2016

When to step on the gas...

Every once in a while I like to play country girl while visiting my dad's place. He lives in East Texas, and the family has some acreage that we all love to go 4-wheeling on. The Lollipop especially loves 4-wheeling, which is a great outlet for a timid girl who worries about everything. Except, that she still usually worries about everything, and this weekend it got me thinking about being a coach and education in general. 

Saturday evening the family all loaded up on the 4-wheelers and headed out to a friend's house who lives deeper into the country - down a long dirt road, not winding, but still. On the way out the Lollipop, driving with me behind, stayed a respectable distance behind the leader. She gets nervous about braking (after bumping into a few things), and she gets nervous about getting lost (she's never been truly lost, but this is always a fear), so I poked her a few times to get her to catch up, but I let her do her thing. I knew that she needed to be comfortable and that if I fussed too much she would end up miserable. It was difficult though, because I wanted to GO! This is where I see myself a lot with teachers. I want to give them enough room to explore and feel safe, but I am not a "take time to explore" person. Unlike the Lollipop, I just like to rev the engine and go. If I fail, fine, I'll fix it or try again. So it is difficult for me to hang back, but I know that hanging back is sometimes the thing to do. Sometimes, as in this case, I didn't know where I was going either, so hanging back was good because I couldn't get us "unlost" if we ended up separated from the parade. I feel this in coaching sometimes too, I need to get a good feel for where teachers want to go before I forge ahead. 

Taken by Lollipop as we raced down the trail.
However, on the way home, I was done being patient. The trail, while dusty, was a straight shot back to the house. The sun was setting, fireflies were lining both sides of the path, and it was time to GO! So I reached over her and gunned it. Lollipop screamed, as she does, but then she felt the thrill. We flew down the road, past the Peach riding along dancing and singing, and yelled "Firefly!" to one another each time one flashed. We took pictures of the sunset and the moon, and enjoyed the ride. 

This is the best part of coaching (and parenting) I think. I could have sit back and let her keep leisurely putting along, but she wouldn't have learned anything about herself. She wouldn't have learned anything about taking a leap just to see where she lands. She wouldn't have learned anything about driving and braking and getting unlost. That's what I think life is all about, and education is life. There is no way to have all of the answers, but if we don't try, how will we learn? Teachers get stuck putting around sometimes. They know that if they putt down the road, they will reach the end with satisfactory results. Stepping on the gas might cause them to get lost or to fail. Xena spoke of FAIL - First Attempt in Learning. I've heard it also as First Attempt, Iterate, Learn. Taking the first step is great, but when that fails, what happens? Do we stop? Do we slow down? Do we stay behind everyone else so we don't fail again? I hope not!
If we know where we are going, we can take some chances on how we get there. In education, we have to take some chances on how we get there, because we have to teach our children about failure and taking chances and paving their own way. I'm a little bored with hearing, "we don't know what the future will be, so we have to prepare our kids for the unexpected." No one has ever known what the future will be - hello, it's the future! Every single generation has said the same thing. But, I actually I do know where I want my kids to end up - happy. I believe that being problem-solvers, risk-takers, question-askers, collaborators and loving people will make them happy because they will be better prepared for the ambiguity of life. 

We need to start stepping on the gas. Give yourself a little time to explore, but then GO! Feel the wind in your hair, enjoy the scenery, and learn!

Selfie on the go (taken during the slow ride)  :)


Sunday, August 28, 2016

I've got to remember FAIL really does mean First Attempt In Learning

So this week has been fantastic as far as first weeks go.  My students are lovely, and I know this is going to be a year full of enrichment and challenge.  As I mentioned in my last post, I went whole hog on the concept of flexible seating.  It was marvelous with the exception of a few tweeks I had to make.

I'm an Arkansas girl, so I love me some Walmart, but only in Arkansas.  When you are a teacher on a budget though, sometimes you just have to swallow that bitter pill and make your way to the local neighborhood Walmart.  Lucky for me, I found these amazing backrest pillows in the perfect shade of teal.  I quickly snapped up three of them along with two Big Joe bean bag chairs, and I knew I was ready for the first day of school.

Fast forward three days, and I'm lugging my three perfect teal backrest pillows and two Big Joe bean bag chairs back to my local Walmart with a screaming six year old in tow.  The backrest pillows all busted and the bean bag chairs had deflated.  Was this a foreshadowing of how my year is going to be? No, no way. It was simply a FAIL.  Receipts in pocket, cart overflowing with returned flexible seating, and the search for better seating began again.  EUREKA - Teal and gray fluffy butterfly chairs!

Fast forward to Friday, and the new Butterfly chairs are up with reinforced cross bars and no stuffing or beans in sight, I'm ready for the kids again.  Lucky for me, the new chairs were a hit, and our flexible seating utopia was again in balance.

For all the would be flexers out there....try anything and everything and don't be afraid to FAIL. Remember, you aren't a're just on a learning curve.

Peace and Flexible Seats,

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Unicorn Spotting: Kudos to Back to School Heroes

Friday was meet the teacher day for both the Lollipop and the Peach. How these two girls anticipated meet the teacher was totally opposite, almost comically so. Each experience gave me the chance to notice fantastic teachers in action.

Lollipop, entering fifth grade, fretted and worried. When we entered her classroom, she wouldn't say hi to her friends, and she wouldn't say hi to her teacher. She's terribly shy and always anxious, so this situation was overwhelming for her. I think that her new teacher could have dismissed her behavior as rude - certainly it would look that way since society says make eye contact and respond when someone speaks to you. That is really hard to do when you are shy. Instead, her new teacher recognized that she was anxious and started asking questions and shared her own story of having back to school jitters. Lollipop didn't shake off the shy immediately, it will still be a little bit before she gets good and warmed up, but I could see her shoulders relax a little. Her teacher turned this into a chance to build a bond with her, and I couldn't have been more thankful. 

Peach, entering Kindergarten, bounced into her new classroom like she owned it. The Peach has confidence like nothing I have ever seen, and believes that everyone in the world already adores her. She shook her teacher's hand and then ran off to play with all of her new best friends. While filling out some paperwork, I noticed a little guy sobbing. He had big fat crocodile tears running down his face, and when he mom introduced him to the teacher, the tears came faster. This didn't phase the teacher at all. She got right down with him and started talking to him. Telling him about the fun things they would do and learn, asking him questions about his interests, and forming a bond with him. The tears stopped, and even though he said that he was still nervous, we all could tell that Monday was going to be a little bit easier because his teacher took the time to show him some love.

Teaching is certainly changing. From keeper of knowledge to facilitator of learning, some teachers might find themselves wondering exactly what their job description is these days. One thing will never change though, and that is that students need and want a positive relationship with their teachers. Students need to be lead through the changing landscape of education, and while each and everyone one of them might not be the picture perfect image that we might have in our head of a student, everyone deserves love and respect. I appreciate these teachers, and all of the teachers out there drying tears and allaying fears on the first day and beyond. 

Have a great year this year!



Wednesday, August 17, 2016

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

For me it's not Christmas season (although that is a wonderful time). For me, it's right now. Back to school. It means high stress, empty pockets, possible tears, and a ridiculous amount of emotions that only teachers can understand. It's still the most wonderful time of the year because the anticipation is insurmountable. With every little name tag, perfect box of crayons, new idea I'm going to try this year, there is a tiny tear building up in the back of my eye. I'm stoked! I'm about to meet my new babies for one year! They're going to come in a little excited, a little nervous, and maybe a little out of control. They're going to give me big hugs and we're going to start our journey together. They may not be able to write their name, write  a story, or read but at the end of this journey, they will be authors, illustrators, readers, explorers, engineers, and more! We will jump hurdles and climb mountains together. We will laugh and cry together. We will make magic and memories right in this classroom and I can NOT wait! Every single bit of prep and every sleepless night is worth it each time one their little light bulbs lights up. They are AMAZING little beings and those smiles though!!!!! 

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

The Magic of The Book and Good Friends

I'm a reader.  I've always been a reader, and I read everything.  Fiction. Non-Fiction. You name it, and I read it.  This summer I was tasked to read Creating Cultures of Thinking by Ron Ritchhart.  I will admit I was a bit apprehensive, but CurlyUni assured me I'd love it and it would change my world view.  She was right, as she is most of the time, and my mind was blown.  

The book gave me purpose and inclination to think outside the box of what a classroom should look like.  We have advanced from the Industrial Revolution, so why do our classroom still look like a throwback to the 1840s? Desks in lines with the black/whiteboards the center of the classroom.  Why do we feel we must label where children sit and where they get their materials? What is the need to structure every inch of a classroom that is supposed to belong to students.  We are no longer preparing our children to work in factories, so why do our classrooms still look like it? We are preparing our students for jobs that don't yet exist, and our classrooms need to be innovative places.  Along with The Book, I looked to the most innovated companies to see what their workspaces looked like.  Google offices became my new go-to on the redesign of my room.  

All summer, with The Book in hand and my Unis on text message, I contemplated leaping outside of my 1940s-era classroom and wondered what I could do to change it.  CurlyUni loves innovation in every way, shape, and form.  YellowHairUni loves interior design.  My relationships with these amazing women sealed the deal.  I was abandoning my desks in favor of flexible seating, and my mission had begun.  Goodbye cabinets with peeling paint.  Hello cabinets with chalkboard paint! 

Trips to Ikea yielded a couch on SUPER sale, (74.99 from 299.99), and outings to Goodwill, MAM, Target, Walmart, DollarTree, Hobby Lobby, Home Depot and Five Below with MyUnis resulted in an empty wallet but a classroom full of stools in varying sizes, new tables, body pillows, back rests, lap desks, chalkboard paint, lamps and braided rugs.  I'm scared for my sanity, but my room now looks more like a coffeehouse or a hangout than a classroom.  The Book assures me that my kids will love it and be more likely to work hard in a place that is comfortable and chill.  Only time and anti-anxiety meds will tell. 

Wish me luck!