Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Children should be seen AND heard...

In my short teaching career, (almost 11 years is short, right?) I have changed my strategies, philosophies and practices on many aspects of my craft. I have taught science, 4th grade and 2nd grade, all of which provided me with unique learning experiences, challenges, and perspective. There are a great number of things that I would go back and tell my former, newly-minted, teacher-self about teaching, if such a nerdtastic time-traveling opportunity presented itself. With that opportunity, I could save myself a lot of sleepless nights, bombed lessons and rooms full of crickets (chirp...silence..chirp). Grit-touters, be not offended. I promise, if given the aforementioned time-travel capability, I'd find some other fun aspect of the space-time continuum to disrupt, as I am well aware that the most painful and awkward moments of my teaching career thus far, have surely led me to deeper understandings of my profession, my students and myself. No short-cuts. Onward and upward, to infinity and beyond!

Perhaps the greatest lesson I have learned in my career though, is also one of the greatest lessons I have learned in my life, and it's a favorite of sorts, because this understanding is cemented in me, and ingrained in my philosophy as a teacher (and mother, wife, sister, daughter, friend, neighbor, writer, human, etc) in the most beautiful and soul-nurturing way. The lesson is simply this: Children need to be seen and heard to feel safe and loved enough to learn and question, grow and thrive. You can replace the word "Children" in the above statement with "people" and I believe the same rings true. The "seeing" part can be the most tricky part of that equation. I'm not talking about seeing with your eyes, I'm talking about seeing what is beneath the exterior, I'm talking about investing your time and energy, intuition and empathy into getting to really know each one of the 15-50 people in front of you each day. What makes them tick, laugh, shrink and glow. What interests and motivates them? What frightens and stifles them? In the current educational climate of "rigor" (a word I'm contemplating a lot in my best-practice reflections lately) testing, and achievement measures, we're still compelled to find out more about the people behind the numbers on the page (or we ought to be). One of the greatest extensions of this lesson though, has been the importance of not only really listening to and seeing each of my students but helping them learn to see and be seen by one another (#empathy).
The most powerful example of this began with a Christmas project I started in my 4th grade classroom 6 years ago. You can read that story here. This year, I brought that project back with a makeover in my 2nd grade classroom, and once again this idea that children thrive on being seen and known, loved and understood by not just me but by their peers as well, brought Christmas to life in my heart and my classroom once again.

Early on the last week before break, my students selected the name of one of their classmates. To tie in with our descriptive, opinion and informative writing lessons (CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.2.1) the students generated a collective list of positive attributes and we listed them on our front board for inspiration. Then the students wrote (on paper shaped like a Christmas bulb, because this is 2nd grade and #cutematters) to the prompt "How is this person a light in this world, our world?"
Decorating each other with affirmations and evidences of being seen.

On "tribute day" each student came up front with the person they wrote about. The recipient stood on a small pedestal and the reader read their tribute to that person and the rest of the class. The rest of the class had post-it notes on their desk and were permitted to write other descriptors or affirmations for the student being honored. At the end of the reading, the students came up and stuck their post-it praise to the individual (or handed them to them if they'd rather- but the silliness factor was more fun for most to be "decorated like a Christmas Tree" by kind words and evidences of being seen and appreciated by their peers.)
As their teacher, I feel proud in these moments of the way they honor one another with words on paper, and speak their words out with confidence for the class to hear (remember, these are 7 year olds). I feel the sense of accomplishment that students who have just learned to read and write are now stringing words together into sentences, working those sentences into paragraphs and making expressive meaning in written and oral communication. Progress, Goals, Common Core, education! But as someone who loves them, who sees them, who knows their individual struggles and successes, their victories and failures, their longing to grow and matter and belong, it lights me up like a Christmas tree to see them show care to one another. It makes my heart swell to see their faces change from awkward, and trying to look cool, to humbled and honored and seen and loved.

My students live on our campus. They go home to their families on breaks and holidays and I know that coming back isn't always easy after time at home with loved ones. Another hope of mine, with this project was that I was sending my students home loved-up and seen, and appreciated and that through this project they would remember that they have a community and family here at school to return to when the break was over.

I don't usually hear from my elementary students over the breaks, but 2 of my students and their families did reach out to me over this break with positive and grateful feedback as a result of this project. Since I moved on from 4th grade, this project has remained there living on through other teachers and classrooms in that grade level and I've heard similar stories of 4th graders lifting one another up and strengthening their community through affirmation and acknowledgement. We all want to be seen and recognized for who we are, and what we bring to our corners of the world. I wish each of you, dear readers, the gift of a community that knows and loves and sees you so that you too can feel safe to learn and lead and grow where you are! More than this, I wish you the bravery to share yourself and be seen, and the whole-heartedness to really see and appreciate the "children" of all ages around you.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Loyalty, Humanity , and walking each other home.

There’s this idea, this notion that I’ve had for a long time. You know the kind; The thought that starts like a tiny seed stemming off from a quote you read or a fleeting feeling that struck you one day on the subway or your favorite coffee shop, or beneath the stained glass windows of a cathedral.

The tiny idea-seed plants itself inside of you and is nourished over time by other quotes, feelings, and experiences until that seed has grown so BIG that it coils around your heart, pushes up against your rib cage and seems to pulse against your soul reminding you of its existence. With increasing frequency situations are forcing you to decide what to do with this idea, compelling you to choose how it will influence you, informing you that this idea is now a part of who you are and to ignore it, is to reject a piece of your own truth…How can you do that? You can’t! So this idea starts influencing the way you see your world, and you feel compelled to talk about it, to provide accountability for yourself by sharing the idea with others, and then, because its still pulsing inside you and you need to do something else with it, you write it down, or post it in a blog :)

The seed: Ram Das says, “We’re all just walking each other home.”

Think about that for a moment. Let it roll around and see if it takes root in your soul like it does in mine. It strikes me as a beautiful and compelling truth. Here we are, making our way through this life full of wonder and joy and heartache and disaster, but we’re not walking it alone. Every day we come across other travelers to share in our stroll, trek, climb, schlepp, jaunt, or parade (depending on the day). Do you feel the complexity of that? It strikes me that we needn’t be lonely or isolated when there are so many of us sharing in the journey. It strikes me that we bear some responsibility for the kind of company we are when we are walking alongside one another (the people we do life with) or when our paths cross with strangers also traveling on the road. Oughtn’t we acknowledge one another? See one another? Respect and care for one another along the way? Shouldn’t we pay attention when something inside of us leaps at the sight of or plight of a fellow traveler? Are we obligated to each other in some cosmic way, and if so what to do with that obligation?

I am convinced that we are obligated to each other in big ways and in small. I have noticed that since this awareness was birthed in me, I have been coming across more and more opportunities to decide how to live out this truth. I think what stifles us in this quest though, is worrying about things we can not control. How will our choices be perceived by others? What if I am kind and the the kindness was not deserved? What if in bearing the burden of a friend and in walking alongside them in a time of hurt, I am weighed down and my own journey is is compromised in some way? I am disappointed to admit that there are certainly times when it’s in my nature to let these questions dissuade me from what I am sure I am meant to do: to be my best self, my most caring, helpful, genuine, loving, empathetic, resourceful, generous self. I almost always regret the missed opportunity as soon as it has passed. Other times, I am compelled to do better at walking someone home. Recently, I was reminded of how our nature can dissuade us. I was having a marvelous Saturday with my niece of shopping and girliness. On our way home (literally AND metaphorically), we were stuck in traffic and I noticed up ahead a man standing on the median. The sign he held said “I am a homeless Veteran, and any little bit you can spare helps.” Amidst our conversation I was distracted by the man. His demeanor was humble, he didn’t stare into the cars passing him by but rather at his shoes. Of course I’ve passed by similar situations without stopping in the past, I don’t tell those stories in blog posts because they are short and boring, but it happens. I wish it didn’t.

As we got closer and countless cars drove by him without stopping, the need in me to do something only grew. I reached for my purse and my niece started in with the cautions that we all think and say in these situations. “Aunt Christine, it’s nice you want to help him but what if his sign is not true? What if he uses the money to buy drugs or what if he isn’t even a Vet?” All I could do was tell her the truth, that I didn’t want to be just one more person passing him by or pretending not to see him. It is true that I have absolutely no control over how he spends my measly twelve dollars and partially used restaurant gift card, but that’s not on me, is it? I could only control how I would respond to the urging in my own spirit. I could only respond to, or ignore that call. And this time, I was going to give what I had. 

I rolled down my window as we approached him and I had to call out to get his attention. He hardly looked at me as I handed him what I’d scrounged up, “Thank you so much for your service, and I’m really sorry I don’t have more” I said, and then he DID look up and straight into my (would you think me dramatic if I said soul?) eyes, and said emphatically, “Don’t you dare apologize to me Miss. I thank you very very much for stopping. God bless you” and he did…bless me…right there in that moment, because I allowed him to, because I opened up my window to make someone else’s walk home the tiniest bit warmer. 

If you believe that your soul is traveling through this world but bound for elsewhere, if you believe that maybe, just maybe we are all called to be more than strangers fighting for our own survival, if you believe that just as others have mattered to you, YOU might in turn matter to others, then don’t ignore the call when you hear it, and soon you’ll hear it all of the time, and your soul may just delight in singing the call back with love and kindness until it echoes and multiplies and we are at HOME.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

#KindnessMatters In The Classroom

Teaching kindness and empathy in the classroom is not a new idea, although recently the idea of "empathy" as an important element to be taught is getting its day in the sun and has come to the forefront of the edusphere once more. For most of my short (so far) ten-year career, I taught kindness and empathy through modeling it. I thought for sure that would be enough. I held community meetings where we discussed issues in our classroom community and naturally mini-lessons about kindness, grace, sympathy and empathy came up. In general, I was one of those teachers who had a good streak going where it seemed that building a strong classroom community came easily to me. I took pride in the mutual respect and general goodwill that was apparent in my classroom. Building strong classroom community and relationships was yearly listed as a strength on my observations. Things were just peachy. Then suddenly, things changed for me. It started at home. My own oldest child was struggling in peer relationships, and I was noticing a significant lack of empathy in her behavior and thinking. She struggled to put herself in someone else's shoes, and could not seem to see herself or the world through the eyes of others. Sibling conflict at home was at an all time high as well, and I quickly realized that I would have to become really intentional when it came to teaching kindness and empathy to my children. We embarked that summer on what we called "Operation Kindness Matters" and kindness became a more intentional way of life in our home. We started our summer days brainstorming people and situations that might benefit from acts of kindness. We kept a journal of our ideas, our successes, our failures, and our feelings all along the way. We inferred how we thought our acts of kindness were making other people feel, we talked about the benefits of kindness consistently and marveled together at how easily we could find ways to be kind, even without much planning. Many of our projects were "big deal" projects. We handed out "bags of sunshine" to strangers in our town, shared meals with the homeless, left affirmations in items we donated, and left care packages for new moms. I knew the idea was catching on though, when showing kindness became a carrot that I could dangle. I'd say "if you can't show kindness to each other here at home, I'm not planning anymore RAOK's (Random Acts Of Kindness) for us out there in the community, and they would quickly exchange wide-eyed apologies to one another and find amicable resolution. One day when we were out for lunch, I complimented our server on her lipstick color (simply because it was fabulous) and as she walked away my daughter leaned across the table and whispered "Mom, did you see how she just lit up and smiled so much bigger when you said that to her? I think we should compliment everyone we see all day today!" And we did. Another day we were in a store behind a frazzled mother and screaming baby. Without prompting, my kids jumped to action playing "peek-a-boo" with the little one until her wails turned to shy giggles, and then complimenting the mother on her beautiful baby girl and her skill at holding her baby and paying the cashier at the same time. I'll never forget the grateful, hopeful look on that mother's face as she thanked them for keeping her baby happy and then smiled up at me as if I were doing something right. I was so humbled. I wanted to tell her that as that wailing baby grew, she would cause many more frazzled, harried, stressful moments, but that there would be moments like this one too, where her mother-heart would swell with such pride and admiration that all the wailing in the world would feel worth it.

As the summer ended and I excitedly embarked on a new school year with my 4th graders, it was quickly clear to me that the positive classroom community that came effortlessly in years past was not going to just "happen" with this particular group. Like my daughter, many of them struggled with empathy. There was constant bickering, relational bullying and I knew that teaching kindness was going to have to take precedence in my classroom the way it had in my home. We started #KindnessMatters journals much like the one I kept with my children. We did several affirmation projects within our community and then focussed a few bigger RAOK's outside of our classroom. Just like I observed at home, over time, my students started to buy-in to the notion of #KindnessMatters and soon, they were taking the reigns in showing kindness without my input or prompting.

Three years later, and we're still going strong with the classroom version of "Operation Kindness Matters".
Here's what it looks like in my second year in a 2nd grade classroom:
Early in the school year, I let the students know that kindness is an expectation in our classroom. We read the story "Each Kindness" by Jacqueline Woodson and discuss the effects of Kindnesses shown and Kindnesses withheld. This is a powerful discussion every year, and we revisit the book and the resolutions it first birthed in us, throughout the course of the school year.

As the year progresses, we choose role models who inspire us to be intentionally KIND. These role models are people in history, characters in books and celebrities like Kid President at first, but soon we start looking to find inspiration in each other!

This year, we are proud to be participating in the #ChooseKind movement as well. Our twist on the movement was to create a community #ChooseKind board. As students witness kindesses, they write them down on the board. Once a week, we gather as a community to highlight the different acts of kindness that have been recorded. The students volunteer to come up and read something that they wrote down. They then talk about the kindness they witnessed and interview the students involved about what prompted the kindness and how it made the recipient and the student who showed kindness feel. This is a powerful and meaningful time for our community as we celebrate the many times throughout the day where we were able to choose kindness as our reaction or strategy in any given situation. The students beam as they are called out by their peers for helping pick up pencils, making room at a lunch table, or paying a compliment. We are shining a spotlight of affirmation and appreciation on one another for being kind, courteous and generous. We are making a statement as a community that in this classroom, Kindness is seen, it is celebrated and it matters.

Recently, I was "caught" by a couple of my students while trying to be stealthy in performing an RAOK for another member of our school community. The kids were astonished by the idea that I would do something meaningful and kind for someone else without wanting to be recognized or even to have the kindness traced back to me. I explained to them that sometimes, it feels good to me to show kindness to someone anonymously, I don't want the other person to know it was me because they may feel obligated to repay me in some way. I read them the quote:
"A true measure of a person is how they treat someone who can do them absolutely no good." 
I didn't expect my students to really grab on to the idea of Random, Anonymous acts of kindness, and so my heart swelled in my chest when the next week there were two cryptic additions to our #ChooseKind Board. One said "Someone put Syd's workbook on her desk so she wouldn't forget to bring it home and do her homework again" and "Someone made sure Landon got his favorite snack on Friday" Syd got up and talked about how she thought she had left her workbook out herself but either way she was really glad it was out because she just keeps forgetting to pack it this week and needed the extra reminder. As we talked about it, we all decided it was a really big deal that someone in our classroom cared enough about Syd to help her in this way. Landon, on the other hand, was absolutely elated that his favorite snack was on his desk on Friday. On Fridays our snack is a hodge-podge of whatever is left from the week of packaged snacks, and since he was out of the room at snack time, he was sure that when he got back he would be left with something he didn't care for. He said it made his whole day to find the package of his favorite Lorna Doone's (a coveted choice) sitting on his chair when he returned. Nobody claimed either act of kindness, but they all smiled and looked around at each other suspiciously, in the most delightful way!
After we discuss an item on the board (we don't get to them all each week), we highlight the ones we discussed and place a representative puff ball in our kindness jar. When the jar is full, the reward is that we get to decide together on an act of kindness to carry out outside of our classroom walls, and in this way, we are learning that kindness is it's own reward.

We are viewing the world through a lens of #KindnessMatters. When we discuss social injustice, we talk about how being kind and being brave work hand in hand to change the world. When we read a fictional story, we discuss ways that choosing kindness could have altered the plot or the course of the main characters. Slowly, I am seeing my students consider kindness at the forefront of their decision-making and opinion-forming. When I recently asked them a question posed by FLOCABULARY about what they would 3D print if they could choose anything, they wanted to know what people needed that could be 3D printed, and a really cool STEAM project was born.
At home and at school, there will always be a need for intentionality when it comes to modeling and teaching kindness and empathy, but as much as I am working to teach these critical skills, I am delighted to find myself inspired and learning as well when the children in my life discover their own capacity to effect their world with Kindness.

Friday, August 7, 2015

10 Picture Books I Can't Wait to Read With My New Class! #pb10for10

I love stories! I collect them the way some people collect coins or seashells. I am wonderstruck by the fact that there are stories EVERYWHERE and that EVERYONE has a story to tell. In fact, we all have heaps of stories to tell. I also love the fact that stories beget stories. You tell a story and it prompts everyone listening to recollect a similar or connected story of their own. There is so much power in that connectedness! Those connections build trust, commonality, empathy and community in the classroom and in life. I try to bring this passion for stories, for storytelling, storymaking and story-collecting into my classroom and I relish the opportunity to learn the unique and diverse stories of my students, to help them uncover their own beautiful hiSTORIES, to discover their unique voice and the courage to share their story, and to develop a passion for authoring a life story that they are proud to own. I especially love being a supporting role in the inspiring and exciting stories they are living. Stories matter. Our lives are our stories unfolding at every moment!

Every school year, I try to expose my students to as many stories as I can. I often find myself hoping that my students love our story sharing times as much as I do. Our classroom is teeming with books of every size, genre, style and reading level. I especially love when students read a book on their own, and love it so much that they are asking me to share it during our read aloud time! Those moments make my teacher-heart soar! Until they start making requests though, I have an arsenal of stories ready for those magical moments when we all gather together and explore a new story, and all the stories that one will ignite in our own memories and imaginations! Picture books are a great way to share stories with your students! Here is my #10for10 list in no particular order! (Each title links to the Amazon purchase page for the book, but if you have a local bookstore you love-I'm all about #shoplocal first!)

YOU AND ME by Susan Verde (Illustrated by Peter H Reynolds)
This year at ISTE, I was gifted a copy of this book autographed by Peter H. Reynolds and it has become a prized possession of mine because of the beautiful tribute to friendship that the story is, the fact that it's autographed by one of my favorite Authors, and the fact that it holds in it's pages the memories I have of meeting Mr. Reynolds, my new instant friend and #DotDay originator Terry Shay, and the beginnings of my partnership with FableVision as an ambassador. This book is a tribute to friendship and fate and the moments that bring us together with people we can't imagine life without! I can not wait to share this book with my students and see what stories of friendship it inspires in them! After last year's Global Read Aloud author study of Peter Reynolds, and celebration of International Dot Day, I will of course be bringing ALL of Peter's works back this year to inspire curiosity, creativity, & individuality in my students! (A separate blog on that to come!)

FIREBIRD by Misty Copeland
I absolutely love the way the words of this book dance and move as I read them. The book is written so poetically and my students love having a real life story of Grit and determination to inspire. I love the story but I especially love the way it leads into conversations about the "spaces between" who we are now and who we hope to be, where we have come from and where we want to go!

This is a fan favorite in my home and my classroom. Its a fun read aloud if you don't mind changing between two voices :) I love the fun illustrations, the giggle-inducing dialogue, and especially the message that we all have something important to contribute! I had to buy a new copy this year as last year's classroom copy was LOVED harder than the Velveteen Rabbit!

STAR STUFF by Stepanie Roth Sisson
I'm a self-professed space geek and I adore Carl Sagan. We all love sharing our passions in the classroom, and this is one way I do that! I absolutely LOVE the way Ms. Sisson captured Carl's story and personality and made his life and work so relatable and accessible to children of all ages. The week I shared this story last year, prompted many Wonderopolis and Google searches from my students during their center rotations, and I loved how the ideas and themes of the story sparked so much curiosity from all of my budding scientists!


I have loved this book for years! When I taught fourth grade I used to use it as an intro to our Friendly Letter Writing unit. This is the story (written in letter correspondence between a girl and her teacher) of a girl who befriends a whale in her backyard pond. With each letter my students giggle and infer and exclaim about whether or not a whale in a pond is possible or even plausible, and the entire reading experience is a whimsical delight.

EACH KINDNESS by Jacqeline Woodson
I have a #KindnessMatters initiative in my classroom- we work together to show kindness to each other and others in our corner of the world. I love this powerful story about how many opportunities we have to show kindness. I honestly read this story several times to myself, and then my own children to let the impact sink in and to be able to get through it without crying. This is a tremendous and moving story to open up dialogue about kindness, inclusion, choices regret and empathy. There are so many things I have swirling in my head to do with this book to extend the lessons, but I'm most excited to share it with my class and see what they think of it and where they want to go with it! "Each kindness makes the whole world a little bit better."

SIDEWALK FLOWERS by Jon Arno Lawson & Sydney Smith
Another wordless picture book to capture the imaginations of my world-explorers! I loved the black and white images and the artists use of color to add impact on certain elements of the story. I have paged through this one about a hundred times this summer and am excited to hear how my students will interpret it!

JOURNEY (& QUEST) by Aaron Becker

I have to credit Aaron Becker with reigniting my passion for wordless picture books. His books are so visually stunning, imaginative and intricate. I had students who would pour over the pages for hours, looking for hidden images that we missed on the first read, and inferring the reasons for different objects in each one. My class had the amazing opportunity to Skype with the author of these books last year and we were all thrilled to learn that Mr. Becker weaves stories within the story just like we did. He had back stories and side stories to accompany many of the details of his picture books, and once my students learned this, they were insatiable in finding and inventing even more!

SPOON (& all the rest) by Amy Krouse Rosenthal
In my classroom (and at home), we are BIG fans of the GLOBAL READ ALOUD! I loved last year's Peter Reynolds study so much that I am bringing it back! This year, the #GRA15 choice is Amy Krouse Rosenthal and I can not wait to share ALL of her books with my class! I love the way this author weaves meaning into her stories and how easily her books lead in to talks about metaphors, personification, and character traits to emulate! Excited to see how this year's GRA author will impact my students and our learning!


I was actually JUST gifted this book by a dear friend and it immediately jumps to the top of my list of books I'm excited to share this year! I literally laughed out loud on just about every page, and loved how each crayon has a unique and distinctive voice! I hope sharing this story sparks creativity and laughter in my students, but I'm also hoping that it opens up some age-appropriate conversations about prejudgment, stereo-types and boxing people in.

Final Note: After an awesome experience sharing "Poem in Pocket Day" with my students last year, I've been collecting more POETRY picture books for my library this year as well! Blog to come on how we will work with poetry more this year in 2nd grade!

Friday, July 31, 2015

Go Make Art and Be Moved By the Artistry Around You!

It mystifies me, all the ways that we have found in this world to express ourselves, all the avenues that technology provides for us to share our expressions. Its occurred to me recently, that I’m surrounded by artists. Although many of them don’t embrace or recognize that they are such, I’m convinced. Some of us feel compelled to make, create, and share some form of our craft, and others just do it naturally like breathing out, and only realize they’ve made something beautiful when those of us who are walking behind them, scoop up their exhale and tell them how it moves us. Most of us vacillate between both forms, at times creating art intentionally, other times spilling it out without design.

We’re also all art enthusiasts. In our own way, we revere the expressions of formal and informal art that speak to us, that move us, that call to something inside of us, that resounds a gentle hum somewhere between our hearts and the bones that cage it in. We love and venerate the art, poetry, music, dance, movies, books, fashion, architecture, that speak to us and make us feel something.

When I feel the ache to make something beautiful, at times it frustrates me. I feel incapable of actually giving life to the ideas that swim in my head. I don’t have the talent, the resources, the fortitude to bring my wildest musings to life in some vivid and tangible way that would appeal to the masses. I’m no artist, I tell myself. I’m a thinker, an amatuer philsopher and so instead of taking a paintbrush to canvas (again) just to be excruciatingly disappointed by how vastly incapable my hands are at translating the art in my head, I ponder the why. I explore the call. I find myself thinking of the many art forms that move me.

I consider the books I’ve read that swallow me into the pages and spit me out changed. The films I’ve seen that take me somewhere I’ve been, somewhere I’ve longed to go and make me feel emotions that aren’t mine but are… somehow. The photographs I’ve seen that etch themselves on the inside of my eyelids so that I can still see the way the light dances on the image when I close my eyes hours later. The music I’ve heard that makes my bones ache or heart catch in the opening of my throat, or that makes my shoulders sway and shimmy until the ripples of them wash a smile over my whole face. Art.

Following this line of thinking, I start to see those artists all around me again. The way she wears her clothes and puts herself together, the way he throws out metaphors that so perfectly fit each situation, the way she tells a story with perfectly timed pauses and passion causing an audience of friends to lean into the words to be closer to the action, the way he crafts a perfect cup of coffee each morning. Bedtime story-tellers, Sunday dinner-makers, good-deed-doers, Artists.

I realize then, that what calls and compels me isn’t calling me to create something new. Originality is a broad burden to bear. The call is in me to capture something real, something beautiful, something familiar, something here and somehow make it mine. We all do this in different ways, all of them art. I try to capture the things in this life that leave me wonderstruck, with words. When words fail me I grab my camera and look at my world through a lens of gratitude and awe, hoping my trigger-finger can keep up, relying on chance not craft to help me hold on to the moment somehow.

I wouldn’t want anyone to appraise my work as art. I doubt I could ever be a traditional artist by trade. I don’t need someone to look at what I’ve made and affirm that it’s good. What is good? I create because I was created to do so. I create because I recognize the allure and resplendence of the art that is every moment of this life, every person, every sunbeam and every shadow; It inspires me and it is in my nature to want to hold a piece of beauty in my hand, to translate it, capture it, or explain it in a way that shows how it moves me and then share it in the hopes that it moves you too, and that we keep the art movement flowing together!

~Christine C. Halliday

Original Post:

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Insecurity Is The Root of All Oppression (?)

I once had a blog called "Having it all SOME of the time" I say once had, even though it's still in existence because I don't write anything over there anymore. Why? Because I don't have time. These days I don't blog about the deep questions of life, the aha moments of my day or the parables swimming around in my subconscious unless I'm surrounded by elementary school kids and modeling some part the writing process. Why not? I just don't. I could make time for that again, but I make time for other things instead, because all of life is a series of moments and all of living is deciding (intentionally or unintentionally) which moments you're going to invest yourself in.
I'm prompted to write today thanks to another stirring blog post by a teacher-kindred Pernille Ripp. Pernille wonders, as many of us in Education do, "Where Are All of the Female Leaders?" and reading her words this morning has me stopping (intentionally) to reflect. I have to start by saying, that when I paused to think of it, although I am inspired by a very diverse group of leaders, I could definitely spotlight MANY who are women. Hooray! When I looked closer though, I realized that among that diverse group of leaders I admire, the women were more likely to be leading digitally (through blogging, vlogging etc) than the men, and when I looked even closer, the ones from that subgroup who were in established leadership positions (verses the ones that I view as "leaders" because they are leading, inspiring, and instituting change from their teaching positions) were, more often, men. This is not necessarily an accurate study of leadership, of course my random group of leaders in my PLN doesn't necessarily speak to our culture as a whole, and yet, I'm compelled this morning to consider the questions that come up when I read Pernille's post and consider my own limited experience. I should also say, that in my school, there are more women than men in administrative roles- I have no aspirations of being an administrator, but if I was interested and qualified that would be an option for me. I don't think looking and finding women-leaders really gets at the heart of what's being asked here though, and again this is my own take, based on my own experience and observation, but in reading about the guilt and questions that women in leadership face, I'm coming to this conclusion:

We are our own worst enemy.
We are our own worst oppressors.
We sort of know it, and sort of don't mean to be.

In my adult-life, I get asked the "how do you do it all?" question ALL the time. Not quite daily, but often. At EVERY birthday party I throw or attend or help plan, at school events where I work or where I attend as a parent, on Facebook (Curse you facebook for making it look like we're having it all!) at conferences, and on and on. Do you know what I realized this morning though? I have NEVER been asked this question by a man. Not once. Not ever. Why? I've also noticed that women seldom measure themselves against men, even men in their same stage of life or career path. Are we conditioned to believe that we can not compete with men or do we just feel more comfortable pitting ourselves against one another? Speaking from my own experience, I've never once had a man tell me that I couldn't do something because I had a husband and children to attend to or because I was a woman, but I've had quite a few women try to.

Back to the "How do you do it all?" question: I've asked the question of friends and mentors too. I know I have. In examining my motivation, I'm looking for the glittery unicorn that they must be hiding. The magic answer that once I know it, will give ME more time and less guilt to pursue my own fancies and ambitions. I never get it, just like I've never been able to give it to anyone else. The truth is always about balance and support and something else that has to give. I try to follow the question up with praise because I know from being on the other side, that what felt like an accolade can start to feel like condemnation in a split second. When "How DO you do it all?" gets followed up by "Doesn't your husband get upset?" or "I just couldn't bear to attend a conference and not be home to tuck my kids in for 3 nights in a row! (gasp!)" Often a comment like that one would be followed up by the commenter adding (soothingly) "But I'm just too sentimental!" which of course has me walking away wondering if they think that I am not.

For years I'd heard and read about how teachers struggle to trust one another, to share with one another, struggle to trade ideas, build each other up, promote one another in school. "Why?" I asked. "Female-dominated profession and women don't trust each other" was an actual answer I received. I read that the answer to this quandary was in finding a PLN through social media of like-minded educators who aren't threatened by one another but care so deeply about the profession that they are willing to share it all, and bear it all to further the cause! Hooray! I joined twitter and found this to be so! Hooray again..but...then I started reading about how so many of the women I admired via the interwebs were not well received in their OWN districts, their OWN schools where they actually had the power and dare-I-say-it RESPONSIBILITY to effect the most influence and change. How could this be? How could someone who seems so delightful and open on the internet be struggling to "make friends and influence people" where they actually live and work and share? Why is it easier to share ideas with the twitterverse than the woman next door? Why is it easier to follow a stranger than a friend?

Women, have you ever been in a group of other women who are praising one woman in particular on all the ways she seemingly "has it all" and follows it up by chiding (jokingly, of course) I just HATE her! I have NEVER understood this. How is it acceptable to substitute the word HATE for the word admire? It makes me wonder if we as women are so uncomfortable admiring one another that we've developed some crippling habits to our own success. Have we forgotten that we NEED each other or do we know it, and it terrifies us?

My conclusion is insecurity. None of us want to admit that we are insecure, but all of us are. Even the most confident Men or Women have their insecurities and wrestle with some notion that they should be or could be more. The danger as I see it though is when we stack our insecurities up against the strengths of the people we should be admiring and learning from. When we measure ourselves against and compare ourselves to others it can make us feel small. When we feel small, we do small things. These small things are beneath us, thinking or saying things that make us feel better about ourselves by assuming flaws in the woman we know who appears to be kicking butt and taking names in work and life.
I'm not enough of an Anthropologist (I only dabble in Anthropology & when there's a sale Anthropologie)to know if this is a "woman thing" or a "human thing" but I do believe it's oppressive, counter-productive and it's the wrong thing.

In recent years I have come to terms with my own insecurities (PLEASE DO NOT READ THIS AS OWNED AND CONQUERED, just acknowledged and faced) and made it my personal mission to not allow those demons to get in the way of anyone's pursuits. Mine or anyone else's. If you're in my building and doing amazing things for kids I'm going to tell you and I'm going to toot your horn to the masses, because I've come to realize that affirmation matters, that kindness is a boomerang and that a win for education, kids, or women is something that I"m always going to be proud to be a part of. I was also raised in a family and community of strong women who stuck together, built one another up, and were not threatened by but were inspired and motivated by the women beside them. I want to build that for my daughter. I want her to grow up learning to rejoice with those who rejoice, mourn with those who mourn and LEARN FROM those who soar!

If we want to see more women in leadership, we have to allow ourselves to be lead by our peers. We have to be honest with one another which means we have to trust one another. We have to allow ourselves to admire each other's strengths without the need to uncover each other's weaknesses. We have to stop ourselves from trying to place our own guilt and insecurities on others and instead to rally behind one another, support and affirm one another, celebrate, embrace, respect and grow in our differences.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

KindnessInspiresKindness #ThankATeacher

In honor of upcoming Teacher Appreciation Day, here is a glimpse back at my first ever official Project #ThankATeacher ! This year's #ThankATeacher project is already in the works! #TeachersMatter #TeachersRock #TeacherAppreciation

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Getting Started As A Connected Classroom

There are three main reasons I believe in the power of becoming a connected classroom:

1. To connect my students (who live at our school and away from their families) with their families back home. It is so important for me to give the parents and sponsors a window into their child's learning, experiences, growth and exciting moments! My goal is for my students' families to feel that my twitter and Instagram accounts give them access to our classroom community and to their child. At any given moment of the school day, a parent can check in, catch up, and be reassured by the updates we have posted. I have had parents tell me that this accessibility has helped them to keep their student enrolled in our school, and so for me, this is reason enough to keep tweeting & posting from our classroom!

2. To make experts, and other learners accessible to my students. The beauty of social media is the way it breaks down walls and brings us all together. Through social media we have engaged with artists, authors, politicians, organizations, celebrities, athletes, and other students and teachers around the globe! These are opportunities for connectivity that none of us would have otherwise had and they provide unique insights, answers, and learning experiences for my second graders!

3. To share what we are doing with the educational community. As someone who believes that inspiration is cyclical, I have been motivated, encouraged, and inspired by the glimpses that social media has given me into other classrooms. It's only right that I should share in turn, and hope to motivate, encourage or inspire others!

So how to get started? I started my Connected Classroom Journey on twitter. At the onset, I was just a consumer, reading and following and taking it all in. Once I realized the power that connection could provide to my teaching and classroom, I made a goal to "tweet" something we were doing once a week. Soon the goal became once a day, and now on most days we tweet semi-consistently, providing a pretty clear picture of what's happening in room 36! Here are my top tips for you if you're just getting started:

1. Open a twitter account. If you don't know how, this will help.

2. Limit your consumerism to prevent overload! The number one reason I've heard from people who don't like twitter is that it is overwhelming! I get this. I have actually taken to limiting how often I allow myself to scan my Home Feed. I suggest doing the same, and limiting who you follow at first, to tweeters whose content you find really interesting and inspiring. Once you've watched some other educators doing the twitter thing, you'll feel more ready to jump in yourself! Remember that "comparison is the thief of joy" and try not to compare your social media presence or your classroom to anyone else's. You're only getting and giving a glimpse, try to keep that in perspective! :)

3. Set a goal. Will you tweet once a week? Once a day? Every other? Set a goal and make it happen. Make it fun!

4. Interact with some other people. Reply to articles, tweets or pictures that interest you or your students. Give kudos, tweet to authors when you're reading their books, celebrities when your students mention them in class, policy makers when there is a cause you believe in. Many times you won't hear back, but when you do, it's very exciting for you AND your students!

5. My number one tip is to get your students involved in the process! Every student in my class knows how to take a photo, video, hyperlapse, and form a tweet. They earn "photog of the moment" status through good behavior and hard work throughout the day, and if they have the device in their possession, they are free to play photo journalists to their hearts content. This provides me with plenty of material to use in our posts, and takes the pressure off me to teach AND capture the moments! My students don't post without me over their shoulder, but they have become experts at capturing moments in our classroom for us to share via social media (or just laugh about at home later). Warning: Enabling student photographers will result in endless supply of unflattering, mouth-open pictures of the teacher, but that's what the delete button is for! ;)

Which platform?

I utilize Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook for different reasons. I've found that Twitter is best for connecting, and providing a window into our classroom. Facebook has its place for massive picture uploads, closed groups and secure sharing, but Instagram is quickly becoming my favorite spot for finding visual inspiration, creative ideas, and a newsfeed that can't be hijacked by people who I don't follow tagging themselves in things with people who I do follow. (A blog on how I use Instagram instructionally to come!)

A final thought:
In my humble opinion, it seems for some educators, this whole "Connected Educator" movement is getting out of hand. I recently received a PM from a teacher in another state that said "Thank you for following me on Twitter and Instagram even though you have a combined following of almost 1,000 people and my combined following is 24."
She was intending to be funny, but the sentiment beneath the statement is one I've heard before and find a bit disheartening and even silly. If you're a "teacher rockstar" I hope your biggest fans are the students you serve, their parents, and the professionals you teach alongside every day. If the rest of the world doesn't discover you and embrace your "rockstar" status via social media, it's probably because you spent more of your time being an amazing teacher than on promoting yourself, and that makes you a real rockstar in my book. I absolutely believe in connecting with other educators, sharing my learning and learning from others around the country and the globe. I have learned a ton from my Professional Learning Network on Twitter & Instagram especially, but I am mindful to invest the most of my "networking" energy to connect with the educators who I can get the real picture of, and the most consistent inspiration from, the ones in my own school building who pour into me and allow me to pour back. Connection matters, and there are no shortage of inspiring presences on all social media platforms. However, I'd offer this thought: If you're only connecting with "teacher rockstars" with huge followings from other schools, and neglecting the ones busting their butts down the hall, you're missing out! Do both if you can, but when you have to choose, I urge you to choose real live teachers who are pouring into the same population of students that you are. Those relationships are real and tangible and vulnerable and valuable too! *end of social media rant.