Sunday, December 31, 2017

Anticipation...It's Almost Here!

Winter break is a great time to rejuvenate and reflect. This year, I had an extra long break because of shifting to B track in a year-round school. I have to admit that I spent a little too much time in my PJs and my favorite blanket curled up reading. It was awesome! Part of my time was spent planning for the next chunk of time with my kids at school. 

While most people will be groaning and dreading going back to school in a couple of days, I'm completely excited! The anticipation is almost more than I can stand! I haven't seen my kiddos for over a month and I miss them! 

Tuesday morning, I'm going to take my kids on a field trip to ancient Greece. Earlier, I sent out invitations to them to come prepared to wear their chiton/toga for the next couple of weeks. I'm sure that they're wondering, "What is Ms. King doing now?" I only had a little over an hour to decorate the hallway and classroom. I don't have everything set up yet, but I'll get there! (A disadvantage of year-round schools is moving classrooms. It's a lot of work!) Things don't look exactly how I'd envisioned them, but it'll be enough for the kids to get the idea.

Here's my plan:

There will temporarily be an empty room next to mine. I'm going to take my kids in there for attendance, lunch count, morning announcements, etc. When everyone is dressed and ready, we'll go next door into our classroom where we'll be on Mount Olympus complete with fog and music in the background. Kids are divided up into city-states. They will work with their polis to complete the QR hunt to build background knowledge of ancient Greece.

When I taught sixth grade, the study of ancient Greece was a five-week simulation. But since I teach fifth grade, I only want the kids to have a little bit of background knowledge. I'm tying ancient Greece in with our study of government, Latin-Greek roots, speaking/debate, Olympics, and science. Of course, reading and writing skills are embedded into all of our learning.

After the QR hunt, we'll play a game to test their newfound knowledge. Our next activity is the one I'm most looking forward to. While sitting on the floor in a circle, eating olives and fish crackers, we'll discuss their off-track activities and the books that they read. It's downtime to some, but I see it as an opportunity to build relationships and get to know my students a little bit better. The day will continue with hands-on activities centered around our science unit of magnetism and electricity. I hope it'll be a fun day. I hope to create a MOMENT to be remembered.

I haven't done this before in fifth grade. I don't know exactly how things will go, but that's the fun part. We'll see!

Friday, December 29, 2017

One Word 2018: Arete!

     The ancient Greeks examined their life and set goals to achieve. They called this quest arete (air-ah-tay) which roughly translated means the pursuit of excellence.

     During 2018, my one word and focus will be Arete.

     Although there is no direct English translation, arete to me is an all-encompassing word that includes many of my values, goals, and aspirations. It is climbing the mountain before me with courage, focus, and grit. Arete is about learning, growing, and improving. This is my quest.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

It's Not Always About Fear...

unsplash-logoDan Roizer 
The speed of change in how we teach our kids has changed dramatically during the last decade! Technology makes it possible for students to learn and create in ways never before imagined.  There is a myriad of tech tools for teachers to use to engage their students. However, it can be overwhelming for teachers to learn and implement everything that's "out there." Each app or web-based program comes with its own learning curve. The learning doesn't stop once the basics are learned because each tool is continuously being updated and changed- sometimes to the point of not being recognizable. And then there's always the issue of investing the time to learn something only to have it disappear. Along with the many pedagogical shifts of the last decade, the age of testing and accountability, and the many school and district initiatives, the plate gets pretty full! Losing focus is easy if the attention is on all of the shiny new tools. Teachers need to keep experimenting and learning new ways of engaging students to avoid becoming stagnant and irrelevant. But, they also should remain focused on student learning outcomes as they plan their lessons.  Just using technology is not the same thing as integrating technology to enhance a learning experience. Great teachers engage students in creating, communicating, collaboration, and critical thinking. Yes, there are many tools to use. It's not always about a fear to not try them. It's more about taking the TIME to augment great Tier 1 instruction with technology. Administrators can be supportive by recognizing the effort that teachers take to learn and implement even a few tools well.

My Favorite Things

Seesaw and Flipgrid
Promote student voices.
All things with Google give people more choices.
Edmodo, Class Dojo, Kahoot and Buncee
There are many web tools for teachers to see.

Remind to get updates and Classcraft gold pieces
Creating with Touchcast the fun never ceases
Newsela and Reflex Animoto and more
Tech tools for teachers- so much to explore!

Plickers, Socrative
Assessment that’s quick
Nearpod, GoNoodle, for learning to stick
Improving our reading with Lyrics2Learn
Hundreds of tech tools wherever you turn.

When the time’s short
When my plate’s full
When I need to plan
I simply remember a few focused things.
And then I don’t feel so bad!

Edpuzzle and Thinglink
Plus apps that are free
QR codes and Augmented reality
Kidblog and Tynker
Powtoon IXL
Using these tech tools
Help kids to excel.

GoFormative, Quizziz,
Whiteboards to write on
Learnzillion for flipping
Math lessons from Al Khan
Storybird, Quizlet to name a few more
Extensions for Chromebooks you just can’t ignore.

Singing with Flocab, writing with Quill
StoryboardThat and 100’s more still!
Smore for newsletters- There’s no end in sight!
SAMR helps teachers use all the tech right!

When the time’s short,
When my plate’s full,
When I need to plan,
I simply remember a few focused things.
And then I don’t feel so bad!

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Evidence of Neglecting to Blog

I just spent the last 30 + minutes trying to figure out how to log into the account associated with this blog. I couldn't remember the gmail account information nor the password. Sigh.....

It's not that I haven't been thinking and writing down ideas. I have. I'm just having a hard time blogging and even being on any social media at all. I don't know why.

Thursday, August 24, 2017


I haven’t posted a blog post since last April. Even the few blog posts I published back then didn't make me happy. I’m struggling as a writer. It’s not that I don’t have plenty of topics to write about because I do. I’ve reflected and thought quite a bit about a whole host of subjects. But, when I’ve sat down to write, the words haven’t come. Sometimes I’ve written some thoughts and deleted them. I shouldn’t do that. I should keep them to revisit them later. Sometimes I've composed thoughts in my head with just the right words, but my critical voice rebelled and pushed them out of my mind quickly so that I couldn't recall and write them down.

I’m rusty now. I’m out of practice. I’ve worried about things that I shouldn’t worry about like who will read my posts and what will they think. I know better. Blogging is about reflecting and growing as a person. It’s a place to jot down thoughts about where I am in this space and time. Opinions change. My views have changed considerably about a lot of things since I’ve become a connected educator. It’s good to ask, “Why?” It’s good to have my ideas and practices challenged. It’s good to go back to read about where I was and where I am now. This journey is an "edventure, " and I need to share my story.

This blog post is bland and unimportant. But, I’m posting it. It doesn’t matter to me if anyone reads it. I need to take this step to help me get back in the routine of reflecting and writing down my thoughts.

I don't feel like I'm living true to my one word. Maybe that's been a roadblock too.

Sunday, April 23, 2017


I nearly drowned as a second grader! A couple of the other kids had their arms around our coach as she walked closer to the deep end of the pool. I followed closely behind her. But before I knew it, I could no longer bob up and down and touch the bottom of the pool with my toes. I panicked and tried desperately to keep my head above water. At the moment before I knew my life was about to end, I looked up into the stands and saw my mom motioning to me to put my head down and swim. “Swim, Sandy!” she yelled. I looked to the side of the pool, and my coach was doing the same thing. No one was running to save me! “Swim, Sandy!” their blended voices hollered. It wasn’t the most graceful American crawl, I’m sure. But, I did make it to the side of the pool and am still alive to tell the story.
I’ve often thought about this experience when I’ve faced changes and challenges throughout my career. When I start to feel a little self-doubt, I hear the voices in my head saying, “Swim, Sandy!” I know then that I need to FOCUS and swim! It isn’t always pretty getting to the side for a breather, but I make it. My coaches don’t jump in and rescue me, but I know they’re on the side cheering me on because they believe that I’ll be successful. As a result, I have a stronger sense of self-efficacy. There is a need for some basic knowledge, but the application of what I’ve learned is up to me.
“Jumping into the deep end of the pool” can be a little scary, but it’s also where we’ll experience the most growth. Being in the deep end of the pool forces us to leave our comfort zones and apply our new learning. While many educators heed the advice of starting small when it comes to change, I’ve always jumped in and have swum for my life. I’ve grown very accustomed to being comfortable with being uncomfortable. Making mistakes and learning from those mistakes is part of who I am. It’s part of my creative spirit. Although I can envision where I need to go and want to be, I don’t always know the “how-to’s, ” and that’s where there’s risk-taking. It’s often through play, experimentation, and collaborating with others that the best ideas come about and benefit kids.
Regardless of whether educators jump in the deep end of the pool or start at the shallow end, the point is to move forward and start making the changes that our kids deserve. It seems that our profession is the only one where those who remain stagnant are allowed to keep their jobs. We would never go to a doctor or dentist who was not current with the most updated medical practices. We would never board a plane of an untrained pilot and seek advice from a lawyer who did not know the current laws. Businesses that don't continually change and adapt go out of business. Yet, educators who have children's lives on the line, continue to hold onto old mindsets and traditions.
There are times when initiating change where it’s better to start small and gradually build momentum. But there are other times when we need to just jump in and start somewhere. It most assuredly won’t be perfect. It’s inevitable that we’ll make mistakes, but we won’t drown. Focusing on our “WHY” will help us “swim to the side” so that we can catch our breath and reflect on what is working and what needs tweaking. Over time, the little tweaks will lead to transformational change. Our ability to “swim” will get easier.
We have a great work to do! We have a lot of work to do! We’re not going to benefit our kids much by splashing around in the kiddie pool. We cannot keep educating our kids in old tired traditional ways. Our kids deserve better and more opportunities that will prepare them for their future. 

Friday, April 14, 2017

Transitioning from Teacher Leader to School Leader: What I Learned From My Intern Experience

This month, my compelled blogger tribe is writing about Spring Break. Officially, our Spring Break came much later than other schools and was much shorter. But I'm in a year-round school, and I've had a couple of weeks off. The past few weeks have been a time for a lot of self-reflection.

What I've Learned From Being An Intern

Everything about school leadership, for me, comes down to one thing and that is the relationship that you build with the people you serve. Most of my intern hours were completed when I was off-track. It was a blessing and a curse. It was a blessing because I was officially able to complete my required hours. It was a curse because I had very little time to build trusting relationships with the people that I worked with every day at my assigned schools. To their credit, I was able to quickly build positive relationships with the staff, students, parents, teachers, and other community members easily. I feel like a family member at both schools and am so grateful for such a positive experience! I genuinely love the people at both schools!

I learned the importance of listening and leading by asking questions. I'm naturally a pretty good listener, and I treasure the 1:1 conversations that I have with people. But as an intern with a different role to play, I caught myself several times wanting to give answers rather than helping the teachers discover their own answers. Thankfully, I hear daily from my PLN the importance of leading by asking questions. It's something that I've worked hard to improve in my classroom and something that I was very conscious of as I observed teachers and gave them feedback.

Communication is always important, and you can never seem to communicate enough! Email is a common way to communicate but for me, one of the least effective ways to share a message. But I learned to meet people where they are at and communicate the same message repeatedly and in multiple ways. I'm grateful that I already had worked on building better lines of communication and had experience with using social media, tech tools, and other traditional forms of communication. Communication is much more than an email or newsletter. I learned more about the importance of clearly articulating your values and beliefs as a leader. It really came back to listening and clarifying what was shared with me. I think that communication can always be improved!

Another leadership lesson that was reinforced was the importance of being visible. It would be easy to be trapped in an office all day. There's always plenty to do! But my favorite thing as an intern was to visit and observe classrooms! I loved watching and interacting with the students, having them tell me about their learning, and why it was important. I enjoyed watching the different styles of teaching and talking to teachers about their instructional choices. I gained a lot of insight and tons of ideas! One of my favorite times of the day was being outside greeting kids and parents in the morning and then wishing them a goodnight at the end of the day. Lunchtime was also a time when I had a chance to get to know the students and engaged in some fun conversations. To my surprise, I actually enjoyed going to school board meetings and other meetings with various community members. I learned a lot and built a larger network. I enjoyed conversations as I worked with support staff members. It was a pleasure, and I sure laughed a lot! It was clearly evident throughout my intern experience the amazing people working for the benefit of kids!

It was an odd sensation at first, but I was acutely aware of people watching me all of the time- of how I acted, talked, interacted with students and others. I was myself but aware that I was wearing a different mantle of stewardship on my shoulder even as an intern. Intentionally or unintentionally, I was modeling behavior for students, staff, parents, others in the school community. I felt a need to be "professional" but personal. I also learned, even more, the importance of walking the talk. If I encouraged a teacher to take a risk, I also had to be willing to do the same. It was new to me to be so vulnerable in such a public way. I take risks every day in my classroom with my students and give it very little thought. But to risk in front of colleagues was a little scary.

Thankfully, I had great mentor principals and vice principals, and I learned a lot about management. I feel very comfortable being an instructional leader and working with students and teachers. But, I'm less comfortable working on the management side of being a leader in a school setting. I'm grateful to my mentors for taking the time to show me the "paperwork side" of school leadership. There is a lot for me to learn!

Another lesson that I learned is the importance of confidence and self-efficacy. Although a lot of the intern experience was new to me, I did have a calm confidence that I could do the job and be successful. Although, I will admit that going to the middle school was a complete culture shock and I was a deer in the headlights for a couple of days. I can laugh about it now, but at the time I was stressed! Did I make mistakes during my internship? Yes! My mentors were very kind and patient as I learned. And I have so much more to learn! But, I know that I can be a successful administrator. I know I'm ready for a new challenge. I know that I'm ready to transition from a classroom teacher to a school leader when the opportunity comes. Being in the classroom for as long as I have has helped me to develop a certain skill set that most administrators don't have. I have classroom experience, but I've also had to adapt to the many changes that have happened in education- especially during the last seven years or so. I've adapted to the Common Core, more testing, and accountability, integrating technology, PLCs, and many other changes. I have a degree of credibility and instant rapport with teachers, and I know that I can leverage that to improve student learning in a school. It's always much harder to implement new initiatives in a classroom than it is to just read and learn about something from a book or conference. An opportunity for me to be a school leader for the next school year likely won't happen- which truthfully hurts my heart. But, I will remain positive and take advantage of the time to continue learning and growing.

Sunday, April 9, 2017


Renewal. It means to make like new. Synonyms include words like restore implying returning to an original state after depletion, renovate as in repairing or rebuilding, and rejuvenate suggesting a restoration of youthful vigor, powers, or appearance. We renew library books, licenses, acquaintances, and vows. Holiday breaks renew our spirits; exercise renews our energy. Spring is the renewal of life after a long spell of winter. Our world is in a constant state of change and adaptation. Change comes in cycles of birth, growth, death, and renewal. Renewal is the acceptance of change.

John Goodlad said, “Most of us generally don’t pull up stakes and move simply because the paint on the windowsill starts to peel. And we don’t destroy our old garden and start over from scratch each time the blooms begin to fade. We do better when we exercise patience, ongoing care and while monitoring the effectiveness of that care, make adjustments where necessary. Such an approach, when applied to schooling, is what we call educational renewal.” In the words of John Goodlad, educational renewal is primarily designed for two purposes. First, renewal is to prevent current conditions from deteriorating and to address problems that arise. Secondly, school renewal aims to effect and sustain the changes that are desirable.

Educational renewal is never on a checklist as something that can be “done.” It is not a program, mandate, or initiative. It is not a mass produced package with instructions on how to fix problems by replacing what is currently happening in a school. Renewal is a way of being. School renewal includes all stakeholders- teachers, parents, secretaries, administration, custodians, librarians, students, bus drivers, etc. that collectively look at the school experience and inquire about what is working and what is not working. Everyone has a voice and ideas are shared on a regular basis. Alternatives to the status quo are examined, put into practice, and assessed to determine their impact. The responsibility for change lies with those who can and must make the changes and who will also be affected by the changes. In a school setting, renewal may look something like providing more support and training for literacy instruction rather than replacing a whole reading program. It is different than a reform. School renewal is more about the continuous tweaking of behaviors that over time lead to a greater transformation much like a gardener prunes, weeds, and tends to other tasks that nurture the plants within a garden. And just as the soil must be primed and ready for a fruitful garden, a school’s culture must be primed and ready for risk-taking, open discussion, and change.

Unfortunately, developing a school culture that fosters school renewal doesn’t happen quickly and easily. It takes a courageous leader to clearly articulate and communicate a shared vision. Leaders must model and embody the values that they want to instill in others. They must be resourceful and understand how resources and budgets can be used to influence change strategies. Strong leaders must develop leadership skills in others by identifying strengths and finding opportunities for their staff members to lead. They must examine data, determine next steps, and evaluate the impact of those next steps. Leadership for school renewal can’t just be positional if long-term changes are expected to take root. Teacher leaders can influence the thoughts and actions of their colleagues to improve their practices. A culture where renewal thrives is created when engaging in inquiry, and reflective behaviors is a norm.

       One of the greatest responsibilities of leaders is to foster a strong sense of self-efficacy in teachers and the belief that their purposeful actions can make meaningful changes in the lives of their students. Leaders must trust their teachers and communicate the belief that collectively, SMART goals can be achieved. They instill hope despite the obstacles and empower their stakeholders to create the conditions that will make educators more successful. The optimism, confidence, and determination of great leaders to persevere are infectious. Strong visionary leaders passionately inspire their staff to focus on what students are to learn and be able to do. Feedback about each student’s progress is timely and ongoing so that teachers can use the embedded structures to give students more support. Professional learning communities provide timely feedback to each teacher regarding student learning in comparison to other students so that teachers can identify their strengths and weaknesses with instruction. A PLC becomes more than just another educational acronym. The school becomes a place focused on learning. The school and the people within the school improve simultaneously. The message of “We’re all growing, learning, and improving our ability to ensure that every student is learning” is loud and it’s celebrated!

       An ancient Greek philosopher, Heraclitus, said: “There is nothing permanent except change.” As educators embrace the concept of renewal in their school, changes won’t seem so daunting. Those things that work and are valuable to a school community can be retained while at the same time promote the changes that will improve educators and their practices. Small consistent changes for improvement over time lead to a level of transformation and lasting effective change. Perhaps the most common metaphor for transformation is the metamorphosis of a caterpillar. Maya Angelou said, "We delight in the beauty of the butterfly, but rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty." Simultaneous educational renewal is a transformation that benefits all stakeholders as they change and grow together.
         Successful leaders in educational renewal efforts must rise above the common standard. As Goodlad stated, "Our schools today desperately need innovative leaders who can dust off the narrative that implores creation of a thoughtful public, as proposed by Thomas Jefferson, Horace Mann, John Dewey, and many other distinguished scholars. We need innovative leaders who are ready and willing to challenge the status quo, leaders who can influence others in pursuit of schools that engage all students in meaningful learning toward the ultimate purpose of creating a thoughtful public willing and prepared to work toward a healthy and just democracy."

Monday, March 20, 2017

The Calling, the Work, and the Miracles

Educators everywhere immerse themselves into the work of impacting young lives because they love kids! Teaching is no ordinary job, and it takes an extraordinary teacher to overcome the many obstacles that children face. It takes an exceptional school leader to create a culture where children and adults have high expectations and can learn in a positive, safe, environment. I believe, like many others, that teaching and working with kids is a calling. We are called to serve the youngest population, to provide an education where young people are taught to rise above mediocrity and to think for themselves, to collaboratively problem solve and make the world better. We are called upon to teach students how to be leaders, readers, learners for a lifetime and changers of the status quo. The challenge is great, and the responsibility is immense, but educators everywhere accept the challenge and in the words of Marva Collins, “Make the poor student good and the good student great with no excuses in between.” Teaching is not for the faint of heart. It requires hard work, dedication, and unceasingly love.
It is not uncommon for school administrators and teachers to work long hours, weekends, and holidays preparing their lessons and learning how to improve their practice. It’s not uncommon for teachers to have sleepless nights worrying about students, to purchase granola bars so kids can have something on their stomach, or to spend extra hours away from their own families to attend extracurricular activities. It’s not uncommon because those who enter the teaching field know that “the pay” is knowing they can have a positive impact. Administrators and teachers know the negative public perception of schools, and yet they dig in and serve their students and communities day in and day out. They know that their talents are gifts to be shared with their students. Educators not only believe but know that they can make a difference!
Great educators refuse to let students fail! They teach children that difficult doesn’t mean impossible. Mistakes are opportunities to learn and stepping stones to success. Children learn about having a growth mindset and how to overcome challenges. Teachers give students hope and a belief in themselves. Michelangelo said, “Inside is an angel trying to get out” about a piece of marble. Teachers know that every child has something wonderful and special inside. They know that every child can learn. And they know that they cannot meet every child’s needs alone. The challenge is too great! Great educators know that it takes collaboration and a commitment to action that will ensure that every child succeeds. Their focus is the learning of each student. They roll up their sleeves and delve into the work!
In those rare moments of disappointment and despair, great educators are inspired to further the work. They know that just one more time, one more attempt might make a connection and difference for a child. First, it’s the work and then the inspiration. Thomas Edison did not give up on his vision. He learned hundreds of ways not to make a lightbulb. It was only after hours of focused work that his team was inspired and found a way. And the “miracle” was light.
There is a light in every child! Educators dedicated to the collaborative effort of ensuring a quality education for all, who immerse themselves in the right work, who love unceasingly, are called and inspired to make a difference in children's lives. They are Miracle Helpers! (a post by @bethhill2829) Courageous educators everywhere are #inspiringthelight by acknowledging a higher calling, loving the work that they do, and making miracles happen every day.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Second Chances

I walked into PetsMart with the intention of adopting a dog that I’d seen online, but then I saw a different dog, and we had an instant connection. She was beautiful! She was considered as “unadoptable” because she was shy, withdrawn, and had emotional scars from being abused. Being at PetsMart that day was her last chance which makes me a little emotional just thinking about it. All she needed was a little love! I named her Kyra which means “sunshine.” (Earlier that day, I’d adopted a Siamese cat that I named, Sachi, which means “joy.” The names were from my initials- S & K. Sachi and Kyra also had an instant bond and took care of each other from the moment they met. My “fur babies” became my joy and sunshine.) It took only a very short time before Kyra exhibited all of the characteristics of a happy dog- full of life and love!
I’ve reflected a lot about second chances. I teach my students about having a growth mindset and the value of learning from our mistakes. I’ve abandoned many traditional grading practices such as giving zeroes. My students have learned so much more since I started to focus on better feedback during the learning process versus end of unit quizzes and tests. The classroom culture is more about learning!
In life, adults are given many second chances without penalty. Any major test for a professional career can be retaken multiple times. Teachers are often strict about due dates for student assignments but have various excuses for not meeting a deadline for submitting information that they’re required to enter. Students have negative consequences for being tardy, but adults sneak into meetings late without an apology. There seems to be a double standard.
Although I understand about wanting to teach kids “responsibility,” because I too was one of those inflexible teachers, I’ve seen so much more growth in my students since making some changes to traditional practices. During the last decade, my students have been much more focused on their growth as a learner rather than a letter grade. In turn, I’ve also focused on seeing their growth over time, and it’s improved my practice.
I can’t help but think about how I would like an opportunity to have a second chance sometimes, especially when the stakes are higher. Opportunities and second chances don’t always come. Mistakes can replay in my head enough to drive me crazy! I feel embarrassed and disappointed in myself. I don’t always meet my own standard of excellence and let myself down. I could list some excuses, but I’m not an excuse kind of person. There’s still an opportunity to learn and to keep moving forward if a second chance doesn’t come. It’s just not always easy.
Students feel the same way. A little more empathy and understanding goes a long way. Students want to do their best both academically and behaviorally. Sometimes they need a second chance and maybe even a third and fourth chance.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Sometimes You Won't Feel Like Singing the Song in Your Heart

Just when the caterpillar thought the world was over, it became a butterfly!

You are the most positive person I know! Day in and day out, you fill other people’s buckets with sincere compliments, words of encouragement, hugs and high fives. Regardless of how jam-packed your schedule becomes, you take the time to listen to people and offer a helping hand. You inspire and lift others up. Positivity radiates from you, and it’s contagious! Everyone is happier because of your devotion to serving others.

But underneath that huge smile of yours, I know your heart is hurting right now. Others can’t tell, but I know you. Someone needs to fill your bucket! First of all, know that sometimes you won’t feel like singing the song in your heart. Sometimes life throws a curve ball when we least expect it. The door of opportunity seems to close just as we anticipate our dreams coming true. Circumstances don’t always seem fair. Our cries of  “Just give me a chance!” fall on deaf ears. It’s hard to understand “the why” behind all that happens. But I believe this: everything happens for a reason, and when one door closes, another door opens. This challenge that you’re facing now will make you stronger! Don't lose faith.

I wish I could take away some of the hurt that you're feeling. I wish I could see into your future and assure you that your dreams will come true. I wish I could comfort you with words of encouragement. But using words is not my strength. Just remember the old proverb: "Just when the caterpillar thought the world was over, it became a butterfly."

And so my friend, keep singing! Take care of yourself so that you can renew your spirit and have more of you to give away. Read a book, listen to music, take a long walk in the park, and do something for you. You always do so much for others.

The world needs your contribution! Let the music swell! We all need to hear your song!

Friday, March 3, 2017

Building Relationships

Tribe_Post_Relationships1 (2).jpg

It all goes back to relationships!

Relationships are the essential element in our schools. The old adage, “Kids don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care,” is true especially in today’s society when kids are used to so much choice in their world. Also, in today’s busy world, it’s important for teachers and school staff to make positive connections with students. We must be intentional and taking time with these relationships must be purposeful.

Members of the Compelled Tribe have teamed up to share practical ways for educators to build relationships with students. As connected educators we also embrace the notion that it is the power of the team that drives much of what we do. How do you build relationships with those that you serve? See the list below for ideas to add to what you may be already doing in the buildings and districts in which you work.

  1. Greet students at the door. Smile and call them by name. Tell them you are glad to see them.
  2. Ask your students to share three things about themselves. Let them choose what they share. Keep them on index cards to help make connections throughout the year.
  3. Know your students families. As important as it is to know the students, make the connection to home. Great relationships with your kids starts where they kick off their day. As the year continues and both the good and bad arise, having that connection will be crucial to getting the results you are seeking.
  4. Journal writing is an activity to get to know your students well and give students a voice in the classroom.
  5. Make positive phone calls home especially within the first two weeks of the school year.
  6. Genius Hour/Passion Projects really give teachers an opportunity to learn about student passions.
  7. Have kids make something that represents them out of Play-dough and share.
  8. In the first couple of days of school, learn the first name of every student in your first class of the day, and something personal and unique about them that has nothing to do with your first class of the day.
  9. Be vulnerable!  Let your guard down and show your students that you are a learner, you make mistakes, and persevere.  They will see you as a person, opening the door for a relationship built on trust. Share stories about yourself as a learner or challenges you’ve faced when you were there age and help them see what it took to overcome it. It’s easy to forget how much a simple connection can make the difference.
  10. Eat together.  Have breakfast with a small group of kids or join them at the lunch table.  Gathering around meal time provides an informal way to have conversations and get to know your students.
  11. Hold Monday morning meetings (We call them “Weekend News Updates”).  Ask each student to share about their weekend - good or bad.  Ask questions.  Be sure to share about your weekend too!  Occasionally bring in breakfast or make hot chocolate.
  12. Laugh with them. Frequently. Show them that school, and your class, is just not about learning stuff. It is about sharing an experience. Tell them you missed them if they were out.
  13. Keep in touch with past students.  Show past students that you do not have a 1 year contract with them.  The ongoing relationship will also model to your current students the value of a positive classroom community.
  14. At the elementary level -- hold morning meeting everyday as a class and stick to the routine of greeting, sharing, team building activity, and morning message.  This is a sacred time to build and maintain a culture of risk tasking and building relationships.
  15. Send positive postcards home to every child. Have them address it on the first day of the quarter, keep them and challenge yourself to find at least one thing each quarter to celebrate about your students, let them and their parents know.
  16. Find their interests and what motivates them! Sometimes it may take a bit to break down barriers and build trust, but through being genuine and authentic with them this will happen in no time.
  17. Make personal phone calls to parents. Find one good thing to say about the children in your class.  It can be how they contributed to a class discussion or how well mannered they are in class or in the halls. For older students it can be how diligent a student is at learning challenging content.
  18. Share something about yourself that they will find relevant or interesting to extend your relationships with students.
  19. Tell a story from a time you were their age. This approach allows students to see teachers as they once were and make connections easier to establish and maintain.
  20. Create a unique handshake or symbol for each of your students.  Use it when you greet them at the door or say goodbye.
  21. Eat lunch with a group of kids throughout the week. They will enjoy a time dedicated just to them. (And you will enjoy a peaceful lunch!)
  22. As a school, hold monthly celebrations to recognize students and educators their accomplishments.
  23. Take pictures with students. Print. Write a special note on the back to the student.
  24. At the end of a term or year, write a thank you to students telling them what you have learned from them. Be specific and honest - authenticity goes a long way. Try to make the note handwritten if possible, but email works well too.
  25. Each day write two students a personal  note about something that you have noticed about them.  Go into some detail and be specific. Keep track of who you reach out to over the year and try and reach as many students as you can. The time you spend doing this will deepen connections and pay off 10 fold.
  26. Have dance parties! It is so fun to let loose and get down with students. Students love seeing you have fun with them, and the saying goes, “The class that dances together, stays together”.
  27. Play with students at recess or during a free time. Climb the monkey bars, play kickball, or tag. Students will never forget you connecting with them on the playground.
  28. Hang out in the hall to give high fives or to have quick conversations with students. Relationship-building can be squeezed into any time of the day.
  29. Notice students having a bad day. Ask questions without prying. Show that you care. Follow up the next day, week, etc.
  30. When a student is having a rough day, ask if he/she has eaten. We are all more unreasonable when we are hungry. Keep a supply of snacks on hand (ex: breakfast bars, crackers, etc).
  31. Go see students at their events: sports, theater, dance, volunteering. Meet parents and families.
  32. When a student stops to say “Hello” and has a friend in tow, introduce yourself and be sure that the guest feels important.
  33. Stop class from time to time with a comment such as, “Hey, everyone, Katie just asked me a great question. I think you’ll all benefit from this. Katie, could you repeat that for everyone?”
  34. Sing “Happy Birthday” to students; send birthday emails (I use “Boomerang” to schedule my birthday emails each month).
  35. Say “I missed you yesterday” when a student has been absent. Be sincere.
  36. We have to make time to grow relationships with our students. This time can not always be in a planner or a calendar. Sometimes, this simply means just being there for your students.
  37. Mail them a postcard for their birthday. They are always amazed to receive personal mail!
  38. In a leadership position, learn as many names as you can. Greet students by their name as often as you are able.
  39. Music! Bond with your students over music. Play soft classical music while they are working. Incorporate music/songs into special events or lessons.
  40. Classroom: Start a compliment jar. Share comments at the end of class or randomly throughout the day. School: Do shout-outs during morning (or afternoon) announcements/news show.
  41. Smile and make eye contact.  “Good morning”, “Good afternoon”.  Something as simple as a greeting in the hall with smile and eye contact conveys both warmth & safety.  Try it tomorrow.  
  42. First day of math class have them choose 10 numbers that are significant to them (3 for number of cats, 1 for brothers, 20 for number of hours they work, etc.).  Everyone shares out.  You will learn lots about all your students in one day.  
  43. Cut them some slack every now and then.  “What were you doing?  What should you have been doing?  Can you do that for me next time?”  We all make mistakes.  
  44. Hold class celebrations and have students develop unique cheers for various accomplishments...these can be anything from a sports team victory, to being selected for something, to earning a grade, and they need not be school related.
  45. Allen Mendler’s 2x10 strategy for challenging students. Spend 2 minutes per day for 10 consecutive days talking to a student about something not academic.
  46. Share your own goals, successes/failures. Don’t be a mystery to your students.
  47. After morning announcements have students participate in a daily discussion question.  Have a student read the question and set a timer for two and a half minutes.  Each person turns to a partner and answers the question then volunteers share with the whole class.  Each question, in some way, will help you get to know your students.
  48. Halfway through the year, have your parents and students fill out a feedback form.  In my classroom, these forms look different.  Allow them to evaluate you so you can keep what works and change things that aren’t working.
  49. In your summer introduction letter, include a letter asking parents to write about their children in 1,000,000 words or less.  Keep the assignment voluntary and open so they tell you what is most important to them.
  50. Don’t be too busy to truly listen.  Listen to understand, not to respond.  Are you starting a lesson when a student interrupts and tells you they are moving?  Take the minute to hear them out.  That time will mean more to the student than the first minute of the lesson ever will.
  51. When students get stuck in class, teach the other students to cheer them on.  We do a simple, “Come on, [Name], you can do it,” followed by three seconds of clapping.
  52. Teach students call and responses to uplift each other.  When a student responds with something profound and someone loves it, that student gets to start the cheer.
  53. When you check in with groups to give them feedback or see how it’s going, make sure you are seeing them eye-to-eye.  If they’re sitting, don’t stand.  Pull up a chair next to them.  If they’re sitting on the floor, sit down on the floor next to them to avoid standing over them.
  54. Give honest feedback even when it may not be positive.  Your students will appreciate that you expect more out of them than they’re showing.
  55. Create a “You Matter” wall.  Take fun pictures of each of your students.  Print each photo and put each student’s photo in an 8x10 frame.  Hang them all on your wall under a “You Matter” heading.  At the end of the year, send the photos home with students.
  56. Tell them what was hard for you when you went through school and how you worked to overcome the challenges.  It shows they aren’t the only ones who struggle.
  57. Defend your students in front of other people.
  58. Take risks so students feel comfortable doing the same.  Don’t ask them to do anything you wouldn’t do.
  59. Create something that is unique to your class.  For us, it’s a house competition.  It’s something that connects my past students and current students.  It’s also a family bond that only the students who have been in my class understand.
  60. Apologize when you make a mistake.
  61. Cook together and then you can eat family style in the classroom. Some fun and easy crockpot meals: applesauce, vegetable soup, chicken and dumplings. Then, make cupcakes for dessert!
  62. Every so often, take the pulse of your building according to students. Convene a volunteer roundtable with student reps from various groups (athletes, scholars, quiet, loud) and ask them for critical feedback about topics you are working on. Some ideas I’ve seen discussed in this format include schoolwide incentives (assemblies, sledding event, etc.), dress code, and discussing recess options for winter.
  63. During your informal walk throughs, saddle up right next to students and ask them the purpose of the lesson they are involved in. Why do you think the teacher is asking you to work on this? You’ll be more than surprised with the honest feedback.
  64. Bring board games back! Add a few games like Checkers, Uno or Chess to your lunch table options. See if any students are willing to play a game or two with you and others.
  65. Use sidewalk chalk to decorate the entry of your building with positive messages to students. Have teachers help you write and draw the notes!
  66. Leave nice notes on post-its for students on the outside of their lockers. Recruit other students to help spread the kindness throughout many lockers!
  67. Forgive them when they make mistakes. Remind them that mistakes are opportunities for learning. Don’t hold grudges against misbehavior and don’t allow other adults to hold them either.
  68. Make time for dismissal. Tell them you can’t wait to see them tomorrow and share high fives on the way out!
  69. Notice which students still don’t have money to pay for lunch. Help them out when you can. Treat them to a snack they don’t usually get to purchase at lunch time.
  70. Find special projects that need to be done around school and recruit the most unlikely helpers.
  71. Remind your students you and your staff were all kids once too. Have your team bring in pictures of themselves as children (at the ages you have in your school). Post them and have a contest allowing students to guess which teacher is which. Those 80s pictures are the most popular!
  72. My favorite question to ask my students or any student I come in contact with is what are you into lately? This opens communication with your students and let's them know you are interested.
  73. Allow students to do a job shadow. Give them a peek into what you do and how you make daily decisions.
  74. Host an ice cream social for students that meet certain goals.

The list will grow as our experiences and our connections grow. Feel free to reach out to any of the Tribe members listed below to learn more about the power of our team and how our tribe constantly supports each other in our teaching, leading and learning.

Compelled Tribe Contributors:

Jennifer Hogan, The Compelled Educator  @Jennifer_Hogan
Jonathon Wennstrom, Spark of Learning  @jon_wennstrom
Craig Vroom, Fueling Education, @Vroom6
Allyson Apsey, Serendipity in Education, @allysonapsey
Sandy King Inspiring The Light @sandeeteach
Jacie Maslyk    @DrJacieMaslyk
Jodie Pierpoint  Journey In Learning @jodiepierpoint  
Jim Cordery   Mr. Cordery’s Blog  @jcordery
Allie Bond   The Positive Teacher @Abond013
Angie Murphy ConnectED to Learning @RoyalMurph_RRMS
Karen Wood @karenwoodedu
Lindsey Bohler @Lindsey_Bohler
Debbie Campbell The Curious Educator @DebraLCamp
Michael McDonough M Squared at the Microphone @m_squaredBHS
Barbara Kurtz @BJKURTZ
Stephanie Jacobs @MsClassNSession
Michael Todd Clinton Motivated teacher blog  @MotivatedThe
Cathy Jacobs @cathyjacobs5
Reed Gillespie Mr. Gillespie’s Office @rggillespie
Molly Babcock Sweet Tea and a Live Oak Tree @MollyBabcock
Lisa Meade Reflections @LisaMeade23