It’s Not About the Shoes…

Recently I had a conversation with a high school teacher. We were talking about being relational with our learners. We were dissecting the notion that no matter the age group of the learner, the importance of connecting and establishing a relationship, in order to be relevant to them–is crucial.

She shared a stark example of how out of touch teachers can be. On a particular day, the school had their scheduled fire drill practice. This day was the morning after a heavy rain. The clouds were still low in the sky and there was a light drizzle in the air. (You might be asking why anyone would schedule a fire drill on this day, but alas…that’s a different conversation!)

As the fire alarms sounded, the kids were shuffled out of their various classrooms into the hallway arteries. Some of the nearest exits were down some stairs and there was an evident bottle necking followed by a complete traffic jam.

These kids were being herded out into large puddles of mud, water, residue–and they didn’t want their white Adidas, their Jordans…their shoes…to get muddy. While this particular teacher took notice and tried to usher them along with compassion in her voice and a, “We will clean them up, don’t worry…” another teacher repetitively shouted orders and said, “Keep moving, hurry up…do not worry about your shoes!”

I thought about this.

Is it really about the shoes?


It’s about a sense of ownership, a sense of status, a sense of belonging, a sense of  P R I D E. And this teacher just took all of that away from these kids. This same teacher while prompting the kids back in the building would not allow her students to go clean their shoes, while my friend said she got stacks of paper towels and wet them and they had a shoe cleaning station in her classroom.

Those kids would not have learned anything that morning for the preoccupation with muddy shoes. For some of those children? Those shoes are a special present. For some, they are an indication of really hard work. For others, they represent sacrifice. For some, it’s all of those things. But for all, they are so much more than just shoes.

We have to look beyond contexts like this to understand our learners and to connect with our learners. I guarantee the amount of respect that my friend earned that day by hosting a shoe cleaning station and actually rolling up her sleeves and helping get the mud off of the shoes went so much further than just that moment.

What are your learners’ muddy shoe moments?

For mine? At the moment? It’s cutting in line. It drives me crazy when my Littles start complaining, “He cutted…” “I was here first…” Then I asked one recently, “Does it really matter if you are first in line or second in line? I mean, there are 23 of us. We are all going to get to our destination within about 23 seconds of each other.”

And this is what he said, “Well. It’s not really about being first. I was ready. When you said line up, I was ready. I walked to my spot. She ran.”

Ah. So it’s not about being first. Just like it’s not about the shoes. The way kids express themselves make us think it’s about the shoes or the place in line.

It’s typically more than that. They just don’t know how to say it.

It’s not about the shoes. It’s not about cutting in line. We can trick ourselves into saying things like, “Well it teaches resilience, it teaches not to let little things matter…” but, really? These are not little things to our learners. They are often big things when you look beyond the obvious.

So this week? Take a look at the muddy shoe moments your kids might be experiencing and lean in a little bit. Break down those “little moments” and recognize the magnitude of those things in your learners’ lives and how we can embrace them and learn from them ourselves.


Who do You Notice?

Have you ever had that one student who could go unnoticed? You know that one student who is softly compliant? Maybe he walks around the playground alone. Or maybe she walks to class gripping the binding on her book just a little too tightly. You know that student who has challenges getting what’s in his brain out in words?

As educators? We look for these kids. We try to engage them either through a conversation with us or an encouraging nudge to collaborate or communicate with someone. We don’t let these kids suffer their idiosyncracies, their innovations, their social anxieties, their misfittedness, their “ish” if you will.

But what about our teachers in our building?

  • The teacher who is quietly listening in a staff meeting.
  • The teacher who barely curls a smile on her lips as she walks by you in the hallway.
  • The teacher who leaves right when the end of the day arrives.
  • The teacher who never eats in the staff lounge.
  • The teacher who seems to have it all together all the time.

Maybe it’s a veteran teacher. Or maybe it’s a new teacher. OR? Maybe? Maybe it’s you.

Teacher isolation is nearly epidemic. Nearly half of us are leaving our beloved profession within the first five years.

In a truly humanistic profession where educators are surrounded by people of all ages all day long, we are feeling alone and we are lonely.

I know this, because I am this. I have been this. That is probably why I notice it in my teachers more often.

Recently, I came out of the teacher’s lounge and walked by a classroom. There was trash strewn, the bins were one in and one out the door, a student was shirtless screaming at his teacher. There was another supporting educator in the doorway, but my eyes locked with the teacher of this child. There was a deep sadness in her eyes. I had a sharp feeling I may not see this teacher again the next day.

Later that evening, this teacher was still in my heart. She isn’t a teacher I know well; in fact, she isn’t a teacher that even comes across as approachable. But, there was something in her eyes that stayed with me. So, I texted her.

I said,“Hi, I know you likely had a really rough day today. I want you to know that you can always ask for help. I may not be able to help you directly, but I will get the help for you if need be. Do not be ashamed to ask. We have all been there. Keep moving forward one step in front of the other. Hang in there.”

It was simple, but the response I got? It made me cry. In a short text response, this teacher said she had spent the last two days crying. That she wanted to give up and that she appreciated my text so much and how she is so relieved that someone will stand with her and wants to help and doesn’t judge her.


She’s likely not the only one in my building. It might be a different teacher or a different day or a different circumstance. Or even a different hour.
Teachers all over the profession are lonely. They are lonely in their decision making. They are lonely in their implementation. They are lonely in their pedagogy.

It’s not just new, learning teachers either, although sometimes I feel this is where it starts. We throw these new, spirited, capable people to the wolves and because “we have all been there” we are happy to give glib commentary like, “Don’t worry it will get better…” or “Oh yeah, I remember those days…” Instead we need to support these new teachers and really step outside of our “been there done that” attitude.

Nor is it just veteran teachers who can’t keep up with the continual changes; or don’t want to.

It’s innovative teachers. Teachers who continually have an idea and are told no, we don’t do things that way. It’s also teachers who can’t say “no” and keep being asked to do more, to the point of being on a perpetual hamster wheel and only coming off when the spin is too fast.

It’s all of us.

We wouldn’t let children suffer this sort of seclusion. Why do we allow teachers to?

There are some things we can focus on when it comes to tapping into these feelings of separation.

Of course one idea…Twitter–. I just spent what seemed like a lifetime writing a dissertation about the experiences of Twitter and how using it combats the feeling of isolation. While educators are using Twitter, a context where they feel encouraged, accepted and a part of positive change, it doesn’t seem to be transferring into the personal connections inside our schools. In fact, I have had educators share with me, “I would rather be on a Twitter chat collaborating, than with teachers in my own building.” So while I suggest that Twitter won’t change your life; the people you interact with on Twitter, certainly can.

What about the  teachers that don’t use social media—Y E T?  We need to be keen to address isolation, or at the least, be aware of it possibly lurking in our buildings.

I feel like it goes beyond shout-outs and recognition. Those are great touches and when shared consistently, can build a positive, collegial climate. But for your teachers that are truly isolated, they likely aren’t doing the things that are getting the shout-outs or recognition. Similarly, the teachers that are continually the ones who step up, aren’t getting shout-outs or recognition because, “they always seem to get the applause.”

I truly think teacher isolation is the elephant in the room that no one wants to discuss. I mean, it’s so weird to say, “I am lonely…” Perhaps because it might only be ONE teacher and not a cadre of teachers. Maybe it’s not a problem if it’s just one. But if one child is enough,  isn’t one teacher?

Here are some things to think about as you reflect on your own context.

Listen with your eyes and your heart. Most teachers that are struggling? Aren’t going to say anything. We have to be watching and sensing problems.

Teachers don’t always know what we don’t know. We have to build a sense of interdependence in our schools. Create an expert wall where teachers share their expertise from crafting those difficult emails to writing lesson plans to managing a classroom. Post this expert wall where it can be seen. Teachers then have a repository of people to lean on.

We all have challenges. We tend to celebrate the successes and keep hush (or just simply gripe!) about the challenges. It’s not how we fail or how we mess up. It’s how we get back up. If we start to open up about our challenges we may just start to see that common thread and realize…we are not alone.

Think about a blooper reel. Most of the time the bloopers make us laugh! Even if we wince or double over in pain, we laugh. Teachers have their own blooper reel. If we share our bloopers with a sense of humor—it may release some of the angst about really feeling like we’ve messed it up and our career ending.

Tell your story. Think about the teachers you work with. How much do you really know about them? When I revealed some of the major life changes that have gone on in my personal world over the last eighteen months, my colleagues were gobsmacked. Teachers tend to hide their world away instead of telling their stories. Storytelling in this manner builds compassion. Compassion is a conduit to understanding and acceptance and often a willingness to H E L P.

Engage in intellectual discourse. Walk the walk. Talk the talk. Find the JOY. You might have to find your tribe in your building to do this, but do it. I recently had a tenured teacher say to me, “You’re lighting something in me to want to DO, again.” I said, “Do?” She said, “Yes. I sort of did my thing and now think younger teachers should step up and DO. But I watch you. You DO. It makes me want to do.” I walk the walk. I bore people to tears about new books and new articles and, “Hey guess what this Tweet said.”

Do NOT lose your voice. I know. I know. It’s intimidating. But we must find our voice and sustain that voice throughout. Keep your focus on the kids and make sure your voice supports what supports them. It won’t isolate you. I promise. They’ll be talking about you for days when you leave the room. (Ahem.)

Take a reflective look—at yourself—at the others in your building. What are the parts of your educational context that make you feel isolated. What can you do to lessen that sense for yourself and model that behavior for others?

Have a conversation. When you start to discuss teacher isolation with other teachers? You will hear story upon story or instance upon instance of moments where teachers felt alone. Just breaking that seal on the issue creates a camaraderie that can be the first step in teachers feeling more connected and attached to their profession and the people around them.

The value we as educators deserve can be more than just a glimpse if we recognize, understand and reduce isolation.

We don’t let our kids suffer this epidemic in schools. It’s time we don’t let teachers suffer it either.

Lather, Rinse, Repeat

I had my hair done today.

That’s nothing out of the ordinary. About every four weeks, the grey starts to show, or I get this sort of thickness that just won’t calm down–so I go to the hairdresser.

I’ve been going to the same salon for 17 years. It’s not a Steel Magnolias style salon. In fact, before moving to this area, I was always clipping pictures from hair magazines, styled by THIS salon. But, I digress. So, for 17 years, I’ve been going to the same salon.

I never ever look or feel the same when I leave. After 17 years.

Isn’t that an interesting phenomenon?

I thought about that while I sat watching the before and afters walk in and out of the salon. I even craned my neck to see the drastic changes one client was going through. (I always find drastic changes exciting–at least in other people! But, I have been carrot top red and platinum blonde before; so there is part of me that seeks drastic changes in myself, too!)

My mind drifted to teaching. I’ve been teaching for longer than I’ve been going to this salon. What if my learners came in each day and left unchanged. Or WORSE–what if they spent all year with me and left–UNCHANGED. 

Sometimes as teachers, I think we fall into the trap of “lather, rinse, repeat.” Day in and day out. Nothing changes for our learners. We lather up the lesson, we wash it over them–each hour of the day, only to have them return the next day and we repeat the same process.  The lessons are predictable. Every day is scheduled exactly like the day before and the day before that and the day before that and the day before that.

After seventeen years, my stylist, still, EVERY time I go to the salon, sits me in a consult chair (the one with the lights that always make me look so fantastic!) and asks me EVERY time…”what do you like? what don’t you like? what are we doing today?” She asks ME. I am obviously not the expert, but she relies on me to tell her what we are doing.

Aha! What if we asked our learners. Every day, or, okay, more realistic–every unit–or even every semester, but surely every day there is something we can give to our learners...

What do you like?

What don’t you like?

Which could translate to what are you doing well? What are you not doing so well?

And the coolest of all questions, “What do you want to do today?” 

What if we hand the expertise over to our learners?

It just seems that we gain relevancy with our kids when we ask them what they want to do. Immediately we see what is important to them. We have a lens into what is significant to their lives at that very moment. As the expert, then, we can weave these things into our standards, into our teachable moments, into our lather, rinse, repeat lessons.

Every time my stylist styles my hair? I love it. But every time she styles it–she does something a little bit different. Whether it’s beach waves, or a flipped side, less hairspray or more…she changes things, so I always have this feeling of expectancy and no matter what…I leave the salon CHANGED.

Shouldn’t our classrooms be like that? Shouldn’t our schools be like that?

Just for this week, why don’t you ask your learners, “What do you want to do today?” then do that. Make sure you are giving your learners opportunities to wear a new style of learning, answer a new question, find a new place to sit..something besides lather, rinse, repeat… in order that they leave your classroom changed.

Lessons from a Fox

A few months ago I met Gaspard the Fox, the most handsomest fox in London. I also connected with Gaspard’s human, Zeb.

If you’re not familiar with this story, it is a magical tale of friendship between man and creature. It has captured me. In fact, it was such a beautiful story, that I’ve introduced my Littles to Gaspard and Zeb, too.

As I’ve observed this friendship, that for me has really unfurled over 140 character and image combinations on Twitter, I realized that Gaspard has been teaching me things about teaching.

Ask for help. Gaspard was injured and found Zeb’s front stoop. She knew she needed help. I’m not sure she knew she was asking a human for help, but in her own way, she reached out. We need to ask for help. We might not be sure who to ask, either–but we need to ask someone. Whether it’s someone in our building, district or Twitter PLN. Even if we don’t know what we are asking for? We need to ask. Often we don’t know what we don’t know–we just know we feel weary or overwhelmed or spent. Just ask.

Be Loyal. Gaspard is a celebrity now. Yet she remains loyal to Zeb, even to the point of introducing two of her pups to Zeb. Be loyal to your school’s mission and vision. If you can’t be loyal to it? It’s probably time to find somewhere else that fits better. Or? It’s time to be a voice to help change the trajectory of your school. But, be loyal. Don’t be a naysayer; don’t undo the hard work and effort that everyone is a part of each day. Wear your school with pride, even on the days where you’re frustrated. In fact, especially on those days.

Trust. Gaspard trusts Zeb. He hand feeds her aged Parmesan. She waits for him to return after work listening for the click of his bicycle wheels on the pavement. We need to trust each other in our schools. We need to relax our grip to make room for another pair of hands. We have to be willing to share our vulnerabilities in order that trust be established and maintained.

Keep the wonder. I check my Twitter feed daily to see if Gaspard has been seen. You see, she doesn’t visit Zeb daily. There’s a constant expectancy. That’s what we need to build for our learners. Each day we need to captivate them with wondering what is next. Learning moments  need to be connective and relevant and filled with wonder.

Be true to yourself. After all, Gaspard is still a fox. She is independent and sly and nimble. She hasn’t changed who she is, but has invited Zeb into her world. We can’t lose who we are as educators. We can’t be buried by the bureaucracy. We need to be who we are to get the most out of our learners. We can’t compromise our philosophies.

REST! One of the last images Zeb has shared of Gaspard is this one.

She is weary. She is flat out on her belly, on the pavement. We all feel like this at various times in our school year. We have to stop what we are doing on occasion and simply rest. Rest our minds, rest our hearts and rest our souls.

There are lessons all around. I feel blessed to be an observer of this uncanny animal friendship and even more so for what it’s teaching me!

Salut, Gaspard! (& Zeb for letting me share in your story!)

P.S. To learn more about Gaspard and Zeb, take a peek on Twitter @gaspardthefox and @zebsoanes

Think Like a Pirate!

We are Teaching like Pirates…We Gotta Get ‘Em Thinking like Pirates!

I’ve noticed a trend with my Littles. You may have noticed the same thing with some of your learners. Each year, a new group of eager learners come into my classroom. They have these expectant eyes and ears and brains.

I create an engaging Dave and Shelley Burgess Teach Like a Pirate #tlap approved experience for my learners. You know, like creating the exact frame size of the Mona Lisa on the ground through measurement and creating Mona Lisa selfies from a bird’s eye view, to tie in map skills and vocabulary. Or hiding various props in boxes where learners have to discover the hint to the next experience. (I can’t even tell you who it might be, in case they are reading this!)

Here’s the thing. MOST of my learners are engaged. They are willing. They are excited. The hook gets them. However, I’ve noticed that SOME of my learners? They really do not know what to do with the process of lessons like these. Perhaps they come from a prior learning context where things were more compliant than innovative. Perhaps they are too timid to take a risk with their thinking. Perhaps they just don’t know where to begin when their teacher jumps up on a desk to share the “breaking news” and says, “I need each and every one of you to quickly get out your microphones and notepads because someone amazing is getting ready to walk through our door to give his first ever press conference…”

These are the lessons we as teachers passion for, and while many of our learners ride our coattails into these experiences, some just don’t know how to process the open endedness, the high energy the choice—that we offer them.

You see, we can continue to create these lessons, but at some point, our facilitation of these lessons, may only tip the iceberg. We really need to understand the kind of thinking as a LEARNER that is necessary for these lessons to reach their full impact.

I had a recent conversation with a colleague about modeling these lessons. I sort of feel that if we model these lessons, they lose their “oomph”–part of teaching like a pirate is the element of surprise. But, the comment wasn’t lost on me and it’s something I’ve started to address in my classroom.

Here’s what I have started to teach to my Littles. Maybe you can find some Resonance (you’ll appreciate what I just did there in a few more lines….) with these ideas and help create a culture of kids that can Think Like a Pirate.

6 Arrrrrh’s to Thinking Like a Pirate

R elax  We have to teach our learners to relax. When an unknown context is presented to them, we need to help them tap into a comfort zone for their thinking. Sometimes all it takes is a framed suggestion, “Y’all. I know this is new for everyone. I know this is challenging—but we are going to get through this. Take a deep breath. How do you eat an elephant?” …I learned that analogy didn’t work so well with the littlest of my learners, but you get the point. We have to show learners that learning is a process. Some learners are so focused on the product that they miss out on the fun of learning. Just look at how some of your students grip their pencils!

R esilient This is a challenging one. It encompasses things like grit and patience and perseverance—but it’s also much easier than that. “How can you be a super ball instead of an egg?” I share a video of me, their crazy teacher, purchasing fifty cent super balls from those massive gumball machines in the entry of most grocery stores. I COULD order them in bulk from Amazon or Oriental Trading—but trust me, they love seeing me buy these things (or at least one or two –and then I bulk order them…shhhh.) I then bring out the container of superballs and we explore them. They bounce high, they bounce off the walls, they don’t always come back to their original starting point…after a few harried minutes, we collect all the balls. I simply ask, “How can you be like a super ball with your thinking?” After the chorus of perfect answers, I share this, “Sometimes it’s hard to be a super ball thinker. Sometimes I’m an egg.” Of course they laugh and don’t quite get where I am going, until they watch me toss an egg into the air and it cracks and oozes on the ground. It’s interesting because they don’t even giggle, they just look wide-eyed and you can see the analogy start to manifest in their minds. “What happens when I’m an egg thinker?” Of course they verbalize that you only get one shot, you make a mess, other people get annoyed, it’s a waste…etc…etc. Being a superball thinker becomes an easy mantra in my classroom. When things are going pear shaped for a Little, I can simply say, “Don’t forget? You’re a super ball!”

R esourceful Teachers are no longer holders of knowledge. Our kiddoes can access basic knowledge pieces, and then some—at the push of a button or a swipe of a finger. We have to teach learners how to use these resources and many other resources without “giving it away.” Limit what learners have to solve a problem. Focus on flexible thinking. What are the many uses for a pencil? A spoon? A piece of paper? Change the need of a lesson. “Today you are going to share your thinking on….(blank)…but you can’t write it down or tell me using words. Go!” Of course we have to be ready for any and all of their solutions. When learners are limited with what we give them, they innately have to be resourceful. We just don’t limit them enough. Try removing 2 chairs in your classroom. Just hide them away. Can your learners be resourceful enough to figure out a seating situation for the lesson? Or will they immediately come to you and say, “I don’t have a chair…”

R ecruit We have to teach our learners to recruit others to support their learning. We do that as teachers, right? In our classrooms, we need to encourage and develop interdependency. I use an expert wall. Natural talents evolve in the classroom. Maybe Evan is great at technology. Maybe Sarah is very good at organizing things. When things start to break down for you in the classroom? Check out the expert wall—who can you recruit to help you? It’s okay to ask for help, but you need to know who to ask. The really amazing thing is as we recruit others to help us on our learning journey? We are learning how to advocate for ourselves, how to recognize strengths and weaknesses in ourselves and others, too!

R eason Reasoning is just a fancy word for THINKING. It’s a cause, an explanation or a justification. We don’t want our learners to just work on the very basic knowledge level of learning. We want them to be able to make connections, see threads of one thing connecting to another and explain it. For little learners? It is as easy as exposing them to analogies, categorizing—making inferences. Anything that nudges your learners to come up with an idea, a supposition, a thought—and then justify it. I recently did a quick lesson on reasoning with Mo Willems, “Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus” and wanted my littles to REASON why we shouldn’t let the pigeon drive a bus. I didn’t even want text evidence, I just wanted reasons. You would be amazed at how long it took for one Little to say, “Uhm..he’s a pigeon and pigeon’s can’t drive.” So, reasoning is something our learners have to practice. It’s uncomfortable for them to have their own opinions and thoughts.

R eflect While this doesn’t sound very challenging, it’s the part we tend to miss out on with our learners. (Speaking from myself.) Really we want to know is what you did, how you did it and what it means to you. This isn’t getting learners to regurgitate “Standard 4.2” or saying, “I’m doing science.” It really is asking learners to explain the following:

  1. Tell me what you did.
  2. Tell me how you did it.
  3. Now tell me what you’re going to do with it.

So really we want our learners to reconcile their learning. We want them to be able to verbalize what they learned and see if it matches what we wanted them to learn.

I’m curious as to how these thinking skills will translate in action in the classroom. Some of them are easier to grasp, but I feel that they are important if we want our learners to meet us on the journey. They are apt to miss out on the good stuff for being so preoccupied with the thinking required to get to the good stuff.


So many images and words from yesterday. And here I sit thinking, how on earth do I walk into my school tomorrow–my classroom, tomorrow–pretending it is all okay.

Because you know what? It’s NOT okay. This is not okay.

I keep reading, “We are better than this.”

But are we? I mean “we” obviously are NOT better than this–because..

it. keeps.happening.

Teach Peace.

Teach(ers). Peace.

This is the unwritten curriculum. This, really, is what we are here for Teach(ers).


We exemplify this in our classrooms.

We do not tolerate meanness.

We have to continue to be the ones who are better than this to create others who are better than this.

It’s a precarious place, right, teachers?

But y’all. This? This is not political. This is not ethical. This is not religious. This is KINDNESS.


Character education has sort of gone the way of the wagon at least in the schools where I interact. I mean they may highlight a word or two here and there, but what are we doing to build the affective needs of our learners?

Obviously something is wrong for human beings, who in the macro are just like you and me, to feel that their only way to have their beliefs, their words, their ideals heard–is to mow someone down with a vehicle.

Teaching peace is teaching resilience.

It’s being a DUCK. Ever watch a duck in water? The water beads right off of them. Even though they may be paddling like the dickens underneath.

Teaching peace starts with teaching peace of self within our own learners. Accepting themselves. Loving themselves. Listening to themselves. Being patient with themselves.

Helping them see things like:

  • the world is bigger than just Y-O-U
  • little things don’t matter, really–be a duck, remember?
  • everything doesn’t have to be perfect
  • opinions need to be thoughtful
  • shouting gets you nowhere
  • when you do for others you do for you

Teaching Peace is teaching perspective. It’s teaching listening. It’s teaching respect. It’s teaching embracing differences. It’s teaching understanding. It’s teaching love. It’s teaching patience.

The unwritten curriculum.

Teaching is a humanistic profession.

We teach them. All. We love them. All. 

Teachers must have different eyes.  Teachers must have different hearts. We have to use these differences–so this cannot keep happening.

Please. Teach Peace.


…and we will Rise!


It’s been almost seven months since I shared my thoughts via a blog post. I was immersed in leading Littles’ through projects and there’s another little thing called a DISSERTATION that I’m trying to focus on. My summer? I really disengaged from all that I could to rejuvenate myself. (I don’t..WE don’t…ever do that enough.)

So. What’s on my mind?

Teacher Isolation. I’ve been talking to teachers a lot. Through my doctoral work, but just through my livelihood work. (And my own daughter has started her final semester of student I’m reflecting on a lot. Like, how EXCITED I was to become a teacher and how EXCITED she is to join the ranks of the greatest calling…and gosh, as her Momma and a veteran teacher,  I want her to avoid some of the pitfalls that make “us” leave this beloved context!)

I’ve also been reading transcript after transcript of interviews and case study after case study of research.

Teacher Isolation is a THING. It was a thing for me too. And? If I’m completely transparent? It’s still a THING for me, I’m just too busy to recognize it or be as bothered by it. (See above!)

“There isn’t anyone like me.”

“I feel completely alone.”

“I’m an outsider.”

Those are REAL statements. I mean y’all. If that doesn’t make you SAD? As educators, we are thrust into an autonomous role. Most hours of the day we are making decision after decision, alone. We are left to our own devices. It’s a weird juxtaposition–this autonomy, because–we are surrounded by others within a profession that centers around human interaction, yet we feel ALONE.

So what can we do, those of us who are leaders in our buildings, what can we do to LIFT those around us so this feeling of isolation is not man (or woman)–let’s say TEACHER made. It really can’t be that difficult.

L LOOK with your eyes and your heart. Both. Be aware of the teachers in your building. It’s trendy to say, “Everyone has a story,” but really? EVERYONE HAS A STORY. We discuss building relationships with your learners? Build relationships with your colleagues. Notice them. Sometimes a simple “How are you doing?” will mean more than the effort it takes to ask it. Notice where someone might be struggling and offer your assistance. What you can’t see with your eyes? Lean in with your heart. We have all been through “that parent,” “that child,” “that failed lesson,” “that surprise observation,” “that cold,” “that…whatever it is that changes our disposition, or our ability.” Teachers are actors and actresses, aren’t we? We shield the learners in our charge from everything going on in our lives professionally and personally.

I INVEST Invest in the people around you. I get it. We don’t have a lot of extra time at school to invest in the adults in our building. We have to do it. Whether it’s during your weekly faculty meeting or just a purposeful walk to someone else’s room. Maybe it’s “Shout Out” cards you place in mailboxes that simply say, “I saw you doing _______ today and I am so glad to be a teacher among you!” In order to invest? We have to know who we are investing in. Last year, I wrote hand written notes to some of my colleagues. Not a lot. Not every week. But, the response I received was immeasurable. Sometimes we need to ask ourselves, “How would I want someone to invest in me?” and then DO THAT.

F FACILITATE I know facilitate is such a buzzword in education. Facilitate means “to make easier.” There are so many things we can make easier for teachers that feel isolated. Planning, classroom management, parent communication, curriculum knowledge–. Sometimes teachers don’t know what they don’t know, so they aren’t apt to approach anyone for help. How can you make something easier for your colleagues? Get this..maybe it’s just HOLDING the door with a smile when they are lumbering in with a million Ikea bags slung over their shoulder filled with classroom supplies. (Yes. True story. I didn’t feel isolated as I reached for my badge to swipe the entrance thingy to get into the building. I was annoyed!…but imagine how making that little task easier would have helped the start to my morning? Sheesh.)

T THANK Thank those around you that get up every day and stand shoulder to shoulder with you. I mean let’s face it, we are all doing virtually the same thing as the person across the hall, around the corner, in the office. We are educating! So who knows better what that person across the hall, around the corner, in the office is experiencing, but ourselves. I’m not sure why we forget that. We feel we exist in a bubble–but really our experiences and feelings and doubts and annoyments AND celebrations–are similar. So take the time to thank those around you. It could be a simple verbal exchange or something grander like a “Take What You Need Wall” (Cool, right?)

Simple gratitude for just arriving and standing up for kids each and every day.

We rise by lifting others. So what can you do tomorrow to uplift? To LOOK, INVEST, FACILITATE and THANK those around you?

Learning Through Teaching

We are always asking our learners, “What did you learn? ” In fact, the best teachers continually question learners throughout their learning. The process means more than the product and we have to nudge our learners along the way.

Recently, I led my Littles (7-year-olds) through the design cycle as detailed by A.J. Juliani and John Spencer in their book LAUNCH: Using Design Thinking to Boost Creativity and Bring Out the Maker in Every Student

The project centered around a national competition wherein learners needed to use recycled milk cartons to create an invention. It sounds simple, but my fascination with Juliani and Spencer’s book provoked me to follow through with fidelity and really let my Littles go through the process without any objections, interjections, decisions, ideas (you get the picture) from me.

As I journeyed with my learners? I started to recognize what I was learning. Thus, this soliloquy is really more about what my children taught me through the process–instead of what they learned. (However, they learned a lot, too! AND won $1000 for their invention!)

(The Little General. 1, 120 milk cartons and a whole lotta love!)

Voices of my Littles….

“I learned that you always need to be willing to change the design even when you think you’re doing what you want.”

“It might be better with changes or what you’re doing doesn’t really work so you need to change it.”

“I learned that you need to do a little bit of the building and then take a step back and see if what you’ve done looks like you want it to, or else it might be too late.”

“Sometimes when you work with people, you need to listen and not just talk because they might have good ideas.”

Reading these written reflections, it was evident that the lengthy process of the design cycle paid off in both cognitive and affective ways. But what about me? What did I learn as the teacher–the facilitator?

I wish I had the very first text I sent my best teacher friend about this project. I think it said something like, “What was I thinking? There is crap everywhere in my classroom. Their ideas are endless. Their drawings are unintelligible. I don’t know if they can do this. I don’t know if I can do this.” (I ate my words tenfold and she is still reminding me!)

I also thought I didn’t want to invest ALL this learning time and have nothing at the end of it. I mean, I get process learning–and that the product is not the purpose. But, if you’re going to commit to weeks of learning, you want something at the end of it. Right?

So. Here’s what I learned and I hope each of us can apply some of these principles to our own repertoire when we give the process learning to our learners.

  1. Kids can do WAY more than we think. We know this intuitively, but we don’t allow them to do it. We cannot steal the experience from our learners. (My Littles used glue guns and spray paint! The comments I absorbed from my colleagues gave me a chance to say, “Why would I do this for them if they can do it themselves?”)
  2. The process still needs planning. Too often we dabble with process tasks. We pose an issue, a challenge—and we say go for it. If we don’t have a plan, a direction we want to go, within the parameters of student choice, the process will stall. It’s a fine line between planning the process and dictating the steps–but seeing the end at the beginning and creating a roadmap (with obvious forks in the road and rest stops!) is helpful.
  3. Kids need TIME to play and think and explore. In other words, we rush learning. We demand answers. We have to be impeccable with our wait time. The next time you pose a question, time yourself for one minute–without accepting a response or offering a follow-up question. It’s HARD. Why? Because we feel we do not have enough time ourselves to teach “everything we need to teach.” It’s one of those things that pays off tenfold if we give our learners the time they need, the process is evident and typically promotes a worthy project.
  4. Questioning leads learners to greater thinking and true ownership. I had parents come in to help with engineering for this project. Oddly enough, three parents came for one morning. Only. (I think they realized the children had it under control!) However, during the visit, one parent was unhappy with the engineered project one group was working on. (It was the steam engine part of a locomotive.) She lamented to me, “I think they need to do this differently. There is a much easier way.” I asked her to explain her thinking to me. She did and then asked, “What are the rules for this contest?” I said, “Well. I assume it should be kid created. But my rule is it WILL be entirely kid created.” She was frustrated, so I joined the group. I simply said, “Ah. I see what you’re trying to do here. Is there a way you could create this same idea–faster?” Voila! They all suggested various things and combined a couple of the suggestions, adjusted the design–independently–all with a simple question. Yep. It would have been easier to say, “Hey guys, why don’t you use one piece of cardboard instead of these strips.” But there is no learning in that. (For anyone!)
  5. Don’t let the perfect get in the way of the good. We must stress to learners that the process does not need to be perfect. In fact, if it’s perfect, there’s no learning in the process. We have to revise. We have to evaluate. We have to let go of the fear of doing it wrong. We have to grow comfortable with the discomfort of not being perfect. How do we do this with kids? We get them to move on. We get them to sketch ideas instead of draw with keen detail, especially on a brainstorm draft. We teach them how to think flexibly. We show them Piccaso! We don’t expect perfection. We stress process over product. We also share our own mistakes.
  6. Learning is MESSY. I don’t mean just the “stuff.” But that’s messy, too. The thinking. The doing. It’s not always consistent. It’s not always even coherent (especially with 7-year-olds). But you have to see the opportunity in the mess. And, not just the opportunity to clean it up, but the opportunity to get messier. To dissect. To investigate. To dive deeper. Neat and tidy learning breeds compliance. We need to create frameworks for messy learning. (Stuff, included!)
  7. Celebrate along the way. When we are stressing process, we have to stop and smell the roses along the way. Celebrate! Maybe it’s group dynamics, or a new idea, or someone answering his or her own question. (That’s my favorite celebration. A learner comes up and asks a round about lengthy, take a breath and think first, question..and you just smile blankly until he has no choice but to decide for himself.) Cheer!

So you see, reflecting on what we are learning in the process of teaching–is transformative. You can take those little nuggets of inspiration and translate them across everything you do with your learners.

Back to my initial text to my colleague.

I proved myself wrong. Sometimes we just need to keep moving forward with an idea. We need to practice what we preach to our learners in how we shape their learning for them.

Idle Chatter is Something to Talk About!

There’s much being said about student voice.

Dr. Russ Quaglia invests heavily in the research about this exact topic. His book, Student Voice: The Instrument of Change is really a mandate necessary for positive school reform. However, to really allow student voice to change our schools and change the individual experiences of our children? We have to give that voice a starting place. We have to LISTEN.

Teachers typically aren’t very good listeners. We find ourselves clipping conversations short. Especially conversations that “have nothing to do with the curriculum.” (Consider this: I think every conversation in the classroom, even ones teachers perceive as unproductive, are nurturing our children to sharing a powerful possibility.)

Idle chatter. There’s something to it.

Recently, this is a conversation that unfolded in my classroom. It was unprompted–meaning I didn’t ask a question, and the task my learners were completing–had nothing to do with the transcript you’re going to read below.

“My mom is not voting for Trump.”

(I hear this and have that split second thought that many teachers have: Wait. What? Do I let this flow–or do I shush it.) 

Well my brother wants Trump to win.”

“If Hillary wins, she will be the first girl president.”

“What? (pointing dramatically) What did you just say? You said SHE will be a president?”

“Yeah. There has never been a girl president. Ever.”

“I read a book Grace for president. Grace is a girl.”

“Well that’s a book. It’s not real. This is for real. If Hillary wins she will be the first girl president.”

“I don’t think that’s fair. Why do boys always win?”

“Because most people like voting for boys more than girls.”

“Just because they are boys.”

“Boys aren’t better just because they are boys.”

“I’m a boy and I think it’s not fair that girls don’t get picked like boys get picked.”

“Yeh,  boys lie too.”

“Guys. You know what Hillary did? She got in trouble with the police and when they were getting mad at her. She ran from the police.”

“I still don’t think it’s fair that girls don’t get voted for.”

“I have dance class on Saturday.”

Seriously. That was the entire conversation.

There were multiple opportunities for me to interject. To share my knowledge or (worse) my opinion. Chances to question. However, during their little, but mighty social and ethical discussion?

It was better for me to just listen.

Children’s conversations–even older children’s conversations–will run a natural course if you let it.

So what do teachers gain from letting chat happen?

We learn to listen. We can stand back as if we are a fly on the wall and simply listen. We can listen with our eyes and our hearts–not just our ears and empathize with the issues and our ideas our learners carry with them.

Allowing children to talk forces teachers to be reflectively relevant. If our learners are talking about it? You better believe it’s important to them. We need to reflect on the personal and social conversations occurring in the classroom and how we can connect these ideas to deeper learning.

When teachers stop talking and merely listen to children you are presented with a more authentic, unbiased dialogue. You are allowing children to think critically.  They evaluate, judge, establish criteria, and draw conclusions. They empathize, they disagree, they are exposed to other points of view.

Children become better listeners if you allow them to be talkers. They take turns. They wait to be heard. In fact, children are using social norms without them ever being taught explicitly.

Letting chat happen creates a safe environment for our children to be expressive. It provokes natural debate, and challenges. It prompts children to advocate for their beliefs. Children know a lot more about the world than we most people think they do. What begins as seemingly idle conversation can be the root of a powerful idea that leads to an immeasurable learning experience.

The next time the chatter begins in your classroom, refrain from halting the “off topic”discourse. Listen with purpose. Use your learners’ voices to establish relevancy for their learning. Marvel at the power behind little and young voices.





A Pebble in Your Shoe


Have you ever had a pebble in your shoe?

You know that feeling, right? Annoying. Troublesome. Yet, we are too impatient to take our shoe off and remove the crippling pebble.

Instead, we move our foot around awkwardly (sometimes to a grand balancing act!) We try to place that pebble between our toes—or in that slim space between the side of our foot and the side of our shoe.

And, just when we think we have won over the pebble—OUCH—that once smooth annoyance becomes a sharp pain on the most impossible part of our foot and we have no choice but to sit down, remove the shoe and remove the pebble.

I feel like some of the conversations we should be having about education are pebbles in our shoes. We simply (awkwardly) move them around so it feels better—until it doesn’t.

My pebble in my shoe (one of many, I might add) is courageous conversations. When I see something that goes against my educational or even my humanistic philosophy. I admit. Sometimes it feels like a boulder, not a pebble. But I tend to roll them around and pretend it’s not there–even when I can feel it.

Recently? I watched a teacher sit her entire class down outside during recess for a timed 8 minute “watch the other children play while you sit and think about…” (My kiddoes were the only other children playing.)

I know for a fact thinking about … (insert whatever they were told to think about) was the furthest thing from their little minds.

And y’all.

I felt BAD.

The pebble became a huge concrete slab being dropped on my big toe.

I wanted to walk over and say, “Go play. Go run. Be a kid” regardless of the fallout. I wanted to rescue these little people from something I so vehemently oppose.

But I couldn’t. And I didn’t. (But I should have and realistically I could have.)

So the pebble remained. And for a few days it rolled over my toes. Struck my heel. Irritated my steps.

I asked myself, realizing that there are SO many pebbles in our shoes when it comes to education, how do we subtly remove a pebble from our shoe like the conversation that needs to be had with this teacher?

For me, it starts with framing the issue. I have to ask myself is this affecting kids? Some would argue (most, in fact) that if it’s not bothering MY job, MY tasks, MY responsibilities—why do I get worked up about it, why do I make it my business?

Simple. Kids are OUR kids. My kids. Your kids. OUR KIDS. 

So. If something happens that affects kids, our kids, I have no choice but to act. These are the things for me, no matter the pebble that I am polishing.

First? Take a deep breath. It’s hard. Especially in a role such as mine. I am not the administrator. I am not the ultimate authority. I am “one of us” and take my role as teacher to be one of camaraderie and support and positivity.

Second? Write it down. I do not send the conversation in an e-mail. But for me? If I write it down, I tend to temper the emotion. I can process through what I am going to say. Even if it doesn’t go exactly like the blueprint, writing it down allows me to clarify what I want to say.

Third? Be empathetic. I tend to be an empathetic person. It goes out the window when I witness something that distresses me. But in order to have these conversations, we have to be empathetic. We have to come from a place of love and understanding (even when we are thinking what in the world is going on?!?!)

Ninety-nine percent of the time (hopefully) I think teachers (all of us) are well-meaning. I don’t think we are doing anything with poor intentions. I think, instead, we don’t even know the message we are sending out because we are not reflective. It’s not even that we are ill-equipped. We simply don’t take ourselves out of a situation and ask, “What is the perception here? How is this impacting kids beyond this eight minutes? Why is this even an issue for me? What can I do differently?”

You see. Some people don’t have pebbles in their shoes. So we have to be empathetic to those that simply don’t know the feeling.

My conversation went a little like this:

“Hey, have you ever had a pebble in your shoe? You know…no one put it there on purpose. It just sort of appears?”

“Yeh. It’s so annoying.”

“Well. I get them too and sometimes I bring them on myself, but sometimes they just appear on their own. I noticed last week your entire class was sitting out for recess.”

“Oh yeh. Well let me tell you what they were doing…”

“Before you tell me, I want you to know that I’m only talking to you as a friend. I know kids can get annoying at times. They are kids after all. But I think you have such talents as a teacher and it would make me really sad for you if people’s impression of you was what I saw on the playground. Even more importantly? I want your kids to love you and see all of the joy and passion you have for teaching. I am certain they did something that frustrated you. But can I suggest that the next time you feel inclined to sit every last child out for recess—instead—you write it down on a pebble, at least in your head…and figure out a different way to handle it? I am happy to brainstorm with you—but I really believe if you let kids play—it will come back in positive heaps to you!”

And I gave her a pebble.

I haven’t been back outside with this teacher to see if the pebble analogy had the magic I wanted it to have. But the circumstance allowed me to grow a little bit. Certainly the more we approach things with clarity of thought, empathy, a deep breath and a mindset of “for the kids” these pebbles get easier to remove.

I’ve started keeping real pebbles—with things written on them–on my desk. Sometimes it’s a child’s name—to remind me to try something new or have more patience. Sometimes it’s some action or “policy” that I want to see change or other times it’s an idea that just needs some time to ruminate. And sometimes, it’s something that nags at me to complete (blog entries—grants—lesson plans.)

I haven’t quite solved how to remove all the pebbles in my shoe at one time. And sometimes the removal of them is an awkward process or just when you think you’ve gotten rid of it—it makes itself known again.

However, I feel if we look at obstacles in education whether it’s that “one” learner, that “one” parent, the policy, or even a courageous conversation, as merely a pebble, we begin to change our posture, change our stance and ultimately get rid of the pebbles to make things better for everyone.

What pebbles do you have in your shoe? Are you working to remove them or just move them around until they become more of a problem?