I just finished the 4th proposal I submitted to the #NCCE conference! 4!
Last year I applied to perform present two proposals and was not accepted. But I am not one to give up! I come from a long line of tenacious women who don't take no for an answer (is that good or bad?). And lately I must admit some "no's" have been dragging me down. But after reading a chapter in, "Girl, Wash Your Wash" by Rachel Hollis I am back to saying, "Nope, I won't stop. I have places to be, goals to achieve, dreams to accomplish."
So I won't give up! I'll dig in and I'll try again because dog-gone-it I am good at what I do, I like to share, and I have information to help others.
I have spent 8 years as a kindergarten teacher, seems like it's been much longer then that actually, kindergarteners do that to you, but alas the door is closing.
Honestly, I never pictured myself teaching K...I originally planned to be a high school English teacher. My sister talked me into primary (thank the Lord). I then thought I would teach 5th, but, again, my sister said I would like littles. I taught my very first year in second and loved it. Then was dropped by the roadside like garbage ( I was teaching a bubble class) when they hired someone else to move up the next year rather than keeping the person who worked so hard all year (I didn't even get an interview!).
Then a spot came open in kindergarten. I thought of my subbing days and the constant whining and help needed with coats in k and thought, for sure, that this wouldn't be for me. But I was proven wrong. I loved those kids and kindergarten!! I loved the rock star status in the lunch room. I loved their hand drawn love notes. I loved the glitter and the toilet paper roll crafts. I didn't love the gray hair it gave me, but I loved it nonetheless. It was amazing to have a student come in, barely able to write their name, and watch them leave in the spring reading. This grade is like no other. It truly is the most important work as we lay the foundation for what their beliefs and emotions concerning school will become.
But as we know, if we stay the same for long periods of time, we become stuck in a rut. That coupled with team struggles, and an unsettling year to come, encouraged my heart to apply for a first grade position that came open this year. I was stoked. I was so excited to bring everything I did up a notch, yet still stay in a grade where students still openly love their teachers. And yet regardless of my technology implementation for math and reading, my use of Makerspace in K, my desire to better myself with numerous trainings, my willingness to pilot science, my fellowship as a Neural Educator, my use of GLAD strategies, my collaboration with educators across the country and world via Hangouts, my willingness to teach others how to use Seesaw portfolios, and my ability to use ASL (American Sign Language) in the classroom, I was not chosen.
My heart hurt...a lot. It hurt the most that I had bared my personal trauma and feelings concerning my ex's upcoming release from prison and my several year feeling that I needed to be inside, rather than a portable, and yet that made no difference. #kindness
Then an opening came for fourth grade and honestly, I didn't even think about taking it at first because it was so far removed from the littles I loved. But I thought about my concern for safety, my love of the Titanic and history (both 4th grade topics) and decided to give it a try.
The ensuing mess of cleaning, sorting, and packing my room has made me wonder if I made the right choice. But the smile of former students eager to have me again has me hopeful. Maybe I can survive fourth grade. Stay tuned to see.
I am gazing out of my window at the beautiful city of Seattle, my Chromebook resting on the remodeled windowsill of the Sheraton Hotel, which is the perfect spot to park my CB and still enjoy the lights... I am a big fan of neon at night. I am curled on a new chaise lounge...it could be described as hard as a rock, and yet it is still comfy, maybe firm would describe it best. My roommate is quietly snoring away as I type...an end to the exhausting day that started at 4 am.
I have already learned from 3 amazing teachers today: Jeff Utecht, Conn McQuinn, and Sylvia Duckworth during 5 awesome sessions. I have come away with amazing learning already (on just the first day!) and ran into some fantastic members of my PLN. We met for dinner tonight and talked about the ability of Twitter to bring us all together, to form a group of former strangers, now friends, who can collaborate and help one another. We talked about our joys and pains in education, including the inability to reach other teachers on the importance of Twitter.
Those of us here at NCCE, those of us in the trenches know the benefits of Twitter and how important the camaraderie is to our typical silos. But many do not. They see it as one more hoop.
I am excited for tomorrow. I am also excited about the carrot cake at the Cheesecake Factory sitting opposite my window. And the ability to create more memories with fellow learners.
I only wish more had the opportunity to enjoy this...the conference, the connections, the 30 escalator rides a day. If I do bring them in the future I will advise them...bring your computer, as it is a TECH conference, and also your magnifying glass. The program is damn near microscopic!
It was late November as I started to hang up my Random Acts of Kindness (RAOK) bags on clothespins in front of my classroom window. Each year we use these bags to not only count down until Winter break, but to bring attention to ways to be kind, through prompts and activities. I explain to my students that during the holiday season we are all a little kinder, a little more considerate, and little more loving to one another.
Afterward, I draped my string of Christmas lights along the wall surrounding our morning meeting area. The lights added to the festive nature, reminding me of good things in the world, like fairs, summer nights, and neon lights. I told my students that our lights reminded us to be kind to others; a symbol of goodness we should remember.
But soon the time was up. As the break approached and I prepared to take down my decorations I had a thought: why is kindness only once a year? Why take down my lights as if "kind time" is over and it's time to head back to the hustle and bustle, the pushing and shoving?
And so they stayed; through winter, spring, summer and fall. And the story of kindness no longer began in December with the hanging of lights, but in September with the reason why the lights are still hanging.
You see, lights are not just lights, they are symbols to which we attach constructs of our behavior. They are the meat, that prompts us to ring the bell, which in this case is the bell of kindness to all.
The next time you see lights in a classroom stop to reflect on their significance and ask the teacher why. Because it's not what it seems...it's not a light string with an expiration date, but a reminder of a year long practice cemented to our schema through visually cues and memories.
I've always been that "odd" kid. Growing up I was so anxiety ridden I worried when other kids' names were written on the board (true story). So I get it when my kindergartners, or any students, suffer from extreme shyness, anxiety, worry, or difficulty with attention span. To me these kids are not odd, but just like me. We are all unique. Which is why students do not need a factory model of education: where everyone gets the same thing at the same time, in lockstep, until graduation. They need a personalized model: as individuals they deserve to learn at their level, at their pace, with curiosity and creativity in play.
This, of course, means change for many. Change is hard. It makes us uncomfortable, but with it comes growth and all that is good. And to put it in the words of Adam Welcome & Todd Nesloney, "Kids Deserve it." We didn't become teachers to listen to ourselves talk, rather, we became teachers to inspire learning.
During the Neural Ed Summit (last week) at PLU we learned about Dandelions and Orchids: Kids that are unfazed by stress and those that are highly sensitive. Not knowing research had been done in this area I had been milling along, attempting to find ways to connect with my sensitive students. I even garnered a small trampoline at the end of this last school year, not positive where I would be using it, but knowing it felt right.
But it all fell together during a presentation by Mary Snyder where she discussed ways her school was approaching the Orchids, who are many times seen as the "trouble" kids, by building a greenhouse for them (in school supports). My heart kept yelling "YES!" every time she spoke of a way to help, rather than punish, the child. What's Happening at Mary's School:
The school provides a place for kids to go to diffuse and regain calmness; A place that has tools for students to use to reenter their Pre-Frontal Cortex (PFC) and leave the fight/ flight/ freeze response set in motion by the amygdala when they hit stress in the classroom.
Tools like a lava lamp, fish tank, plants to water, jigsaw puzzles, and drawing/coloring can allow overstimulated kids to relax. While kids in fight/flight can play ping pong (with a student or teacher, to build empathy/ relationships, *3Ft size), balls to bounce/catch (to get back in the PFC by focusing on a skill), use a stationary bike, bounce on a yoga ball, shoot hoops, or use a personal size trampoline. And get this: the students have the right to walk several laps around the school to regain a ready to learn mindset, without being interrupted by teachers asking where they are going and why. Because movement, in itself, is the most effective way to change mindset.
As our leader, trainer, "Yoda," Kieran O'Mahoney pointed out, there is a need for the students, not the teachers, to be in control of their situation. For students to go from a point of resistance to a point of resilience when allowed to make choices based on what they know about their brain. Therefore, students should not be questioned in the hallway by other teachers as that only escalates the current emotional state, rather than negate it. It makes me think about how allowing some of my Orchids to walk to the office and retrieve my mail (I'm in a portable) is fabulous for me AND them. It allows movement, time to refocus on a task, help others, and be in control. However, if teachers think students shouldn't be in the hallway without a teacher, and interrupts the student to ask why, it ruins the purpose of the exercise.
As a parent of an Orchid I was hoping this type of mindset space would come into fruition at my school, however, time and space are both issues. Yet when placed in comparison to the number of hours admin deal with student problems, wouldn't it be worth it? Students would spend more time learning, and teachers would spend more time teaching, instead of managing behaviors. 2 Strong Takeaways:
Train students on how to understand their brain.
Train teachers on what students need.
On Monday I hiked on over, 2.5 hours, to head to a Neural Education Summit at Pacific Lutheran College. I gotta admit, I was excited, but hesitant...did I really want to drive that long, be away from my daughter, and, let's admit it, leave my comfort zone for the unknown *Introvert Alert*.
But I have always been overly FASCINATED with the brain. It all began when my grandmother gave me a model of the brain in 3rd grade. It was a model that was in her husbands office (he was a doctor, she a nurse). I toted that brain model to school for sharing, so proud of it. So intrigued.
What I have learned has been phenomenal, amazing, life altering and I want to share some of it with you.
5 Amazing Takeaways
1. The brain learns best through use of SENSES. Want to cement something to memory? Associate a scent to it. This would explain why the smell of grape stickers transports me back to second grade (my award for excellence contained a grape scratch and sniff sticker).
2. If you want kids to retain info, you need to make sure the pre-frontal cortex is ENGAGED. Engagement occurs when you care about your learning, are actively involved, and experiencing dopamine through the happiness or elevated mood present.
3. Brain breaks need to involve activity AND fun AND occur frequently: this will result in higher dopamine/higher levels of engagement. Think you are an adult and subsequently don't need a brain break? Think again. Everyone needs brain breaks in order to stay engaged. Think of those long college classes where you would zone out after an hour...
4. Dandelions and Orchids are two types of students we see in the classroom. Think about dandelions: they are hardy, nothing bothers them, they float with the breeze. Now imagine an orchid: it is amazingly beautiful yet fragile, needy, and can barely be kept alive. Consequently, Dandelions in our class will be able to roll with the ups and down, while our Orchids need greenhouses to ensure success. Greenhouses are the stable adults that help them to continue to grow. Johnny doesn't care what happens in class, he adapts to what is presented. Joseph shuts down when faced with a challenge, or change, he is reactive & ends up in his amygdala thinking about flight, fight, or freeze. He needs a place/activity to refocus and get back to his pre-frontal cortex.
5. Everyone's brain continues to form neurons: new neuroscience shows that as adults we still take in information and grow neurons. That said, the best way to learn is through novelty (something new is added), movement (your pre-frontal cortex/working memory is engaged), scent (orange and peppermint are 2 great choices), and music (we all know why--just play Journey and listen to everyone sing along).
I am so excited I will be continuing to share great epiphanies in the upcoming days. Be sure and check out the website in the meantime: http://neuraleducation.com/
I wasn't planning on going. Honestly, I didn't remember there was a meeting until I saw a familiar parental face setting up in the cafeteria as I finally left school at 5. I checked my email and sure enough there was a Lincoln Parent Council (LPC) meeting.
There is a parent group meeting tonight, I told Sierra. I tend to think aloud and really didn't expect a response. We should go, she said. We have to go home and let the dogs out, I said.
And so home we went. Sierra brought it up a couple more times in the car, but I was sure she would forget about it after we got home.
I have many good intentions that do not come to fruition. So many times "I'd love to do that" becomes "I don't want to get back up off the couch." Teaching is tiring in a way non-teachers cannot even comprehend. I giggle each day as I see my student teacher say things like, "I can't even talk anymore" or "Why was I over here again?" I giggle and tell her she is indeed a real teacher now, not just a student teacher, and that her funny notations let me know I am normal, which is not always apparent to me.
Yet, as I sat, lethargically on the couch, at 5:25, Sierra showed up saying, Please Mommy, can we go?I promise to do my job while you are learning. You know learning is important. Who is this kid? And where did mine go? Okay, but you'll be with the child care group, I lamented.
As we approached the school I "ugh"d, as in UGH I forgot my phone! Not missing a step Sierra replied, That's okay, you won't get distracted while learning. Again, my chin fell to the floor in shock. Pod people? Alien invasion? Sierra maturing? Pod people seemed most likely.
Upon entering I was perplexed: there were 4 board members present and 5 others. The 5 others included me and our vice principal. So really, there were 3 people present. 3 (even with free childcare). Did you hear me say 3 parents to represent the 500+ students in our school????
Now, I'm not shaming anyone, as previously noted I have a hard time getting off the couch, however, there should be some folks, out of 500-1000 parents (depending on the 1-2 parent household ratio) that ARE available to attend at least once in a while. Ones that are younger, in better shape, and can get off the couch easier than I. I'm seriously still in shock...and that takes a lot.
It reminds me of
“The Responsibility Poem”
There was a most important job that needed to be done,
And no reason not to do it, there was absolutely none.
But in vital matters such as this, the thing you have to ask
Is who exactly will it be who’ll carry out the task?
Anybody could have told you that Everybody knew
That this was something Somebody would surely have to do.
Nobody was unwilling; Anybody had the ability.
But Nobody believed that it was their responsibility.
It seemed to be a job that Anybody could have done,
If Anybody thought he was supposed to be the one.
But since Everybody recognized that Anybody could,
Everybody took for granted that Somebody would.
But Nobody told Anybody that we are aware of,
That he would be in charge of seeing it was taken care of.
And Nobody took it on himself to follow through,
And do what Everybody thought that Somebody would do.
When what Everybody needed so did not get done at all,
Everybody was complaining that Somebody dropped the ball.
Anybody then could see it was an awful crying shame,
And Everybody looked around for Somebody to blame.
Somebody should have done the job
And Everybody should have,
But in the end Nobody did
What Anybody could have.
Who is responsible for our children, our school, and therefore, our parent council? The village: we all have a part. Whether you are able to show up, or just volunteer for an at home job (like coordinating an event) step up. Our village desperately needs you...