Sunday, April 29, 2018

Relationships, relationships, relationships

     Relationships are key in being a successful teacher. And not just our relationships with students. Just as important are our relationships with colleagues and other staff who work in the district. The longer I'm a teacher, the more I realize how vital all staff are to smooth operations. Here are just a few examples.
     I'm not sure how many times DAILY I turn to the administrative assistant for answers to some question or help figuring out the new copier or aid in figuring out where to find something or...well the list is pretty much endless as to what I look to her for help. In her patient way, she nods, smiles and helps. ALWAYS. Lu has answers to questions I don't have...yet...but probably will at some point. And you know what? She'll answer them in the same patient manner. She is vital to my success as a teacher.
     Recently I received a grant for a lunch time book club offered at my school. Without the aid of the support staff who didn't just walk me through the process but completed the ordering process for me, I'd still be sitting in my room with a goofy look wondering what I'm supposed to do to get these books. Yet here was Shirley, helpful as always, telling my book club partner and me that this is how she makes a difference in kids' lives--by helping teachers. Wow. Just wow!
     And then there's the administrative assistant to our assistant superintendent. She is always ready to answer a question, give help in getting stuff arranged for our WAR conference and give access to our assistant superintendent by helping me schedule meetings in a timely manner. Taunya is so helpful and patient. I think that is a per-requisite for this type of job. Have patience with uneducated teachers and lead them patiently down the paths they need to navigate.
    The list goes on but two relationships I've fostered that have really impacted me has been with our director of technology and the director of the foundation.The director of technology challenges me, almost daily, to look at things from a different perspective. He has also been amazing in helping meet technological needs in my classroom. Joel is a steady force in the lives of teachers, leading in a quiet but strong manner, making his presence known and his help available.
    The other relationship I've found essential to my career as a teacher is with the director of our education foundation. Emilia has helped me find grants to apply for, held my hand through the process, answered my dumb questions about the mini-grants the foundation offers, and been the fiscal agent for the WAR conference. Another steady force who excels at her job and works to help teachers be successful in the classroom.
     Relationships are key in the lives of teachers and not just the relationships we establish with students. The relationships we have with colleagues in our district are just as vital for us to be successful as teachers. My only problem with these relationships? I don't thank the people enough for their work and support in my role as a teacher. And that's on me. The list merely begins with these people. There are many more whose support is vital to my success in the classroom. Because of their help, we can make a difference.  All of us together, none of us apart.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Finish Strong

     In my world of education, we start our last block on Monday. That means I only have six weeks left to make a difference. The countdown is on in our classroom but it's not to see how we can endure until the end, but it's to see how much my students can learn in that time.
      This has been a terrific school year. It hasn't been the kids that have changed. It's been me. My attitude. In January I blogged about defeating Negative Nellie. I purposed to do that for the remainder of the year. Why? Because my students deserved to have someone who saw them in a positive light. To have a teacher who wasn't weighed down by negativity but one who had an optimistic view.
     Since becoming more cognizant of this propensity toward pessimism, I've been watching myself. I've been more intentional than ever in being positive. Guess what? The more I've practiced  this, the easier it's become.
      My  year hasn't been perfect. I still slip into negativity, but it's few and far between.I'm happier in the classroom and my students are happier too. So ]go out strong in May. Don't count down the days, be positive and look at how many days you have to impact their lives. How much time do they have left to learn? Finish strong. It could make all the difference.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Transparent Failure

     I was with colleagues the other day planning for a PD day coming up. The questions swirled as we tried to hone in on what we thought our curricular area English teachers needed or wanted to learn about. One idea that popped up was bringing in an assignment or unit that didn't work the way it was conceived to have worked so others could give you feedback on it. I nodded my assent but internally was wondering how transparent we would be with each other? Could we admit failure and ask for help? Could I?
     Everyone has heard about failure--it's the latest buzzword. When things don't work out, they are viewed as a learning opportunity rather than a failure. Everyone fails at some point in life. Why not teach kids to embrace it as a chance to learn and grow rather than as failure? As I thought about my colleague's suggestion, I thought of my own failures in the classroom. Then I reminded myself that failures are only failures if I don't revise and learn something from them. Transparent failures--when I'm not afraid for all to see what I'm doing, how I'm doing it and where the failure is.
     The more I thought about this, the more self-conscious I became. Was I brave enough to show my shortcomings to colleagues I barely new, had no relationship with, and who may judge it harshly? Would they criticize what I was doing or look at it in disdain, commenting on how much rigor the lesson lacked or how light the work-load was in the class? All these thoughts took me by surprise. And it wasn't a good surprise.
     Transparency is good. Failure is good. If we learn from it. So how will I handle the PD day? Very carefully, knowing that exposing myself to critiques is a good thing. If we want to become better teachers, we need to accept and learn from failure as well be transparent in our teaching with both students and teachers alike.This transparency could make a world of difference to us as teachers and it could model lessons for our students to learn from. Transparent failure, it does a body good.

Friday, April 6, 2018

What Happened?

     A foster girl changed my life. Really, she did. I'll call her Sandy. She came to live with us when she was 14, a girl other families had shied away from because of what she'd done. Sandy had been charged with five counts of attempted murder. When my husband and I read her file, we asked, "Why?" Why would a kid do something like that? What had happened to drive her to this? It was the most important question we could have asked.
     Sandy changed a lot during her time with us and so did I. I saw her life experiences as the major reason behind her choices. I came to understand that the question to ask isn't "What's wrong with the kid?" but rather "What happened to her?" This understanding has served me well as a teacher.
      There's a reason kids act the way they do. Most of the time it's a defense mechanism to keep them feeling safe or in control when they feel neither in their home environment. Our district has done Trauma Sensitive Schools (TSS) training and learned about Acute Childhood Experiences (ACEs).  This training brings to the forefront the question of "What happened?"
      Recently my principal had us watch a 60 minutes segment reported on by Oprah about kids and trauma. Honestly, it was a segment I think every educator needs to view. It can help teachers see their kids in a different light and ask the "What happened?" question rather than the "What's wrong with him/her?" question. The first looks for the reason behind the behavior. If we can figure that out, we can deal with the root of the issue rather than just be punitive in our reaction.
     When we see kids acting out, let's look for the why they are acting that way--the what happened to them. Kids want to feel safe, secure and loved. When those are threatened, they act out.
      Sandy was the best foster child we ever had. We still keep in touch with her. Today she's married with three kids of her own. As a young teen, there was a reason why she did what she did. We just had to learn to ask the right questions. It truly did make all the difference.