As December winds down, I love to reflect on the year as a whole. I often find myself in my thinking quadrant, but this time of year I look at my life, beliefs, feelings, and actions from a 10,000 foot view. January is on the horizon. It’s a new year. It’s a fresh start.
Every year there is an undercurrent of excitement as New Year’s Eve approaches. There are hopes, dreams, tomorrow. Then it happens -- midnight. It’s a new year and time for bed. The next morning begins and we all go back to the exact same habits, the exact same routines that we had the day before.
I don’t know about you, but I have all of these plans to make changes in my life that inevitably fall short. Why? Maybe I’m not fully committed. Maybe I am not intentional with my goals. Maybe these choices were just a fleeting thought. Well, not this year. 2018 will be different. While I would like to workout more, drink less coffee (Okay, that is NOT going to happen!), learn how to play an instrument, jump-start writing my book, spend less cash …. The list goes on and on. I realize that best use of my talents, passions, and most important investment that I can make in 2018 is in my relationships with others.
Goals for 2018
It is imperative for us as humans to be present with people. Put your phone down and turn off your iPad (I know right!?!). When others share their story, stop and truly listen to them. Validate their thoughts and feeling. Being present is essential to cultivating strong human-to-human relationships.
So often we are quick to judge and impose our thoughts on others. Being gentle means we all must invite people into a conversation where we can be honest, kind, and real. Curb your agenda and practice gentleness so that when it’s your turn, you may also receive gentleness.
Reduce Negative Investments
Yes, there are those who are “fun-suckers”. Those who no matter what will never be happy or satisfied with you, your actions, or the shell of a relationship that exists. So, reduce the investment. This is a wonderful opportunity to practice kindness, while not caring what that Negative Nancy thinks or says about you. It’s quite freeing -- give it a try.
Surround Yourself with Your Peeps
Your peeps are your “Fortress of Solitude”. These people get the real you and are the number one support system for you. Choose your people wisely. These carefully selected people, can and should build you up. They should offer sound advice. They should make you laugh. The should not stress you out, too often. They should encourage you to follow your dreams. They should challenge your thinking to help guide you to a new and better self. Your people frame and shape you. Find your people and in return, be that person for someone else.
So here’s the challenge: What might your investment be for 2018?
The sun rises, casting a purple shadow on the mountains. The cool air reminds teachers and students fall is in full swing. Crisp leaves crunch under students’ feet as they walk past the community garden that is ready for harvesting. Rows of pumpkins, squash, and other veggies wait to be picked and prepared for fresh daily lunches and snacks.
Friendly faces greet those who cross through the threshold of the school grounds. Outside of the classrooms, there lies fresh green grass, lingering flowers, and tall shady trees where frequent outdoor lesson convene. Teachers stand outside in the fresh morning air, waiting to high-five, hug, and tell each child, “I am glad you’re here today. We are going to have an amazing day.” All are welcome.
Learning is a must. Kindness is key. Innovation -- you bet. Technology to enhance instruction. Community is essential. Flexibility in our schedule -- for SURE! Teachers, students, administrators, and all support staff take moment at the beginning and end of the day to reflect, set goals, and express gratitude for the opportunity to become better humans.
“You may say I’m a dreamer. But I’m not only one. I hope some day you'll join us. And the world will be as one.” - John Lennon
It is a place where learning, creating, and becoming world-changers is expected. All have an opportunity to learn in a different way. Students work in groups that interest them, not bound by grade-levels. There is student choice, a personalized learning experience, and an old “one-room schoolhouse” feel that allows a student to move fluidly throughout the building and classrooms. It is a place where “old” and “new” collide, where getting our hands dirty is the name of the game, and thinking outside of the box is expected and encouraged.
Maybe I’m a little “hippie-dippie” and maybe this would never work, but wouldn’t it be nice?
I remember once when I was a little girl, I had a terrible dream. This was one of those dreams that wakes you in the middle of the night feeling all icky. The type of dream that borders on a hazy reality. In this dream, I was trying to get somewhere and was late. Little did my young mind know that being late would be a habitual problem in my adulthood. (If you know me, I am either late or early, never on time.)
But I digress. I am late getting somewhere, the place in which I need to get is never really defined. I distinctly remember a schoolyard. This schoolyard is filled with many people, young and old. It is interesting because of the schoolyard, which resides on the side of a hill, looks down toward the rest of the town. It’s night time, just dark where you see the lights from inside homes and on street lamps. As I walk up the hill in the yard, I weave in and out of the crowd like a snake looking for shelter. Then I come upon a slab of cement. It reminds me of a four-square area but there are no lines, no ball, and only one child. This child sits alone in the middle of the area, knees curled up, arms wrapped around his legs, and head tucked down. What’s interesting about this dream is that no one is stopping to help the child. People move here and there, focused only on getting across the yard, paying no attention to the child.
The thing that strikes me in remembering this dream from ages ago, is the child. There he sits. Alone.
How many times have we put our heads down and walked past the child or even adult in need? How many of us see others put on the brave face but deep down, there is a scared, isolated child? How many of us are that child?
I honestly don’t remember much more of the dream. But if I could rewrite it, I would stop and sit with the child. I would offer help, a shoulder to lean on, just be present with him.
Slow down. Look around. Spot the child in your space and pull up a chair. “You are safe. I’m here for you. I’m glad you’re here.”
The first day of school is quickly approaching. One thing that I have heard over and over again is the importance of building relationships with staff and students immediately. So often we are faced with getting into the curriculum, teaching the standards, and meeting district goals so much so that we often blow past the relationship building piece. If my ten years of teaching experience has taught me anything, it's that relationships, relationships, relationships are the key to a successful year.
How might you cultivate strong teacher-to-student and student-to-student relationships?
Let's think about your own learning experience. Who was the most influential teacher you've had? More than likely the response goes to the teacher who took the time to be consistent, caring and built a relationship. Then we were able to feel successful as students socially, emotionally, and academically.
In what ways can you build students up socially and emotionally so that they can be successful academically?
Building Trust is like putting a deposit in the bank. We want to fill that bank account with each student, so that when things get difficult they know we will be there, no matter what.
This summer, my family and I have been watching a nightly movie. We take a moment to write our choices down, put them in a bowl, and… drum roll! We pick! Our movies have ranged from Red Dawn and Descendants to Get Smart and Gladiator to name a few. Most recently, we watched The Breakfast Club. Yes, you can bet that was my choice! This iconic movie really rocked my world as a kid. I loved how all of the characters began as acquaintances and eight hours later, we find they have bonded so deeply that nothing can break it. This was my parental duty to give my kids a move-i-facation.
While watching, I could not help but look at all of the kids in the story and think about our modern-day students and how they are still dealing with the SAME old stuff as the characters from the 1980s hit. All of the characters have problems. They feel downtrodden because of a variety of circumstances. They need to be heard but never want to break their social constructs. They are all committed to the roles that they are playing because it's all they know. They hide behind … you name it.
One of the most poignant quotations comes from a gal in the film. She says, "We're all pretty bizarre. Some of us are just better at hiding it."
How might you be able to reach ALL students in your classroom? Even those who are good at hiding?
For many students staying in the comfort zone is easier than putting themselves out there for further judgment. It is far easier to be miserable; at least being miserable is familiar. What really caught my attention was that each student represented a different social demographic. When forced to interact, they all could relate to problems and pressures from parents, friends, etc. The main thing that got to me was they are all yearning for new experiences and acceptance, to not be ignored; to be seen and heard.
What will you do to ensure that all students will be seen AND heard in your classroom this year?
So in a good Breakfast Club ending I will leave you with one last quotation, “It just happens... when you grow up, your heart dies.”
Why does it have to? What can we do as EDU-leaders to ensure that kids DO turn into adults with thriving and passionate hearts?
What’s up with reality talent shows? I know I like them. In fact, I will watch pretty frequently. Now, I love theatre and the arts so I have to ask myself, what’s the draw? Just recently, I was watching America’s Got Talent. I like watching the amazing talent, hearing the heartwarming stories, and feeling and seeing the unexpected - being wowed! A grown man doing the splits, yes, please. Kids on ukuleles, um, YEAH! Magic acts that make my head say, “OMtotheG!” sign me up! I love waiting for the unimaginable.
What motivates others to get up, lay it all out there, and share their talent?
I wonder is it the validation from strangers? Is money or fifteen minutes of fame the motivation? Maybe it’s hope for the unexpected and the chance to inspire others. Heck, no! It’s all about being willing to be the risk-takers! When watching those shows we’ve got a front row seat to watch these risk-takers do something amazing or completely crash and burn. No matter the results, one thing sticks with me, the fact that they tried. Good, bad, or otherwise all of these people are willing to get up, put themselves out there, and try while we stand by waiting for something epic.
Either way, after watching I feel motivated and reevaluate my goals asking myself what I really want to try, what I want to experience, and what I want to share with the world. So wouldn’t it do us right by our students to set the stage and give them that front row opportunity to see something amazing? If you could teach anything in the world, one lesson to change your life and the lives of students, what would that be?
Taking the biggest risk you can think of, what is your “Golden Buzzer” lesson or moment be that will change the EDU-world?
When you model risk-taking for your students, they will be more likely to create those "Golden Buzzer" moments on their own. And guess what, we get a front row seat to that show too.
Teaching and parenting are two similar worlds. Both are filled with children whom you care for deeply and want to see grow into wonderful humans. You hope the kids learn life and academic lessons, avoid too much trouble, and leave with new skills to use in the future to go out and change the world. Now that summer is here, it is a great time to sit back, relax, and take a moment (or many moments) to reflect.
I was recently chatting with one of my Twitter PLN EDU-Heroes when I had one of those reflective “mom” moments. I felt, and to some degree still feel, like I have failed my students. I have been asking myself all of those questions: What could I have done differently? How could I change that lesson? What would I change at the beginning of the year to build stronger relationships? The list in my head goes on and on. And you know what, I feel awful. SO many moments were missed because of my lack of knowledge, because of my old “habits,” because of...
I was implementing what I was comfortable using. My students still learned and grew; so did I. Does it do me any good to “beat myself up” about last year? No. But it is important to be aware, taking new ideas and skills and making a point to implement them. Okay, so I must be aware of when social/emotional situations pop up - How will I respond instead of react? Be aware of an opportunity for A-MAZ-ING learning opportunities - How might I implement one idea at a time and create fun and meaning learning opportunities for students? Be aware of building up and empowering others - How can I encourage students and teachers to grow and reach new heights?
Time for action. Time to take these “failures” and move forward. Time to plan, prepare, and approach the new school year with a humble and responsive heart and a creative and innovative mindset. So here I am, failing forward for the win.
This blog is not only dedicated to Mr. Hooker, but to all of my amazing PLN peeps from iPadpalooza 2017. I thought long and hard what to name this blog and I had to go with my gut. After a long, 13-hour road trip down to Austin, I thought there really was only one option to reference though it is definitely not as well know. So I’ve adapted the title of this blog from an old Patrick Swayze movie, I couldn’t resist; no, not Roadhouse...
Having just returned from the welcoming state of Texas and now that the dust has settled, I can reflect back on my experience at iPadPalooza. If I had to describe it in three words they would be: Oh-My-Gosh! In all of my years of education, I have never experienced professional development like this before. It was like being a kid in a candy store, but instead of candy, there were fabulous, innovative educational ideas to be sampled.
There were three HUGE takeaways from my experience at iPadPalooza.
I have always experienced a great sense of community at my local schools and districts where I have worked. Often there are pockets of educators who I call friends and even become family. When I joined Twitter this last summer, I found many people who were passionate about education. Their tiny little pictures were barely visible, but their ideas were unforgettable. This conference gave me the opportunity to meet some of the most amazing educators face-to-face. The common question was, “Are we following each other on Twitter?” Most often followed by a, “Yes!” My brothers and sisters in arms are some of the kindest, innovative, and REAL people I have ever met in the EDU-sphere. The friendships that were gained in one week, across continents and time-zones, will last a lifetime. I can now call my Twitter colleagues or PLN, my friends, and EDU-family!
Talk about mind blown! The keynote speakers every day were amazing, including Jason Silva. Every single session had passionate educators from around the globe who shared their knowledge and joy of learning. I learned about different Apps to use in the classroom that takes learning to a whole new level. I learned how to implement fun and interactive professional development ideas. The creative ideas for students to share a Six-Word Story in Six Unique Shots, by Don Goble, was another level of storytelling that is near and dear to my heart. Not to mention tapping into #Sketchnotes and combining it with #BookSnaps has been taking my own learning to a whole new level. This much out of the box thinking was and continues to be invigorating. I tried to pick just three new ideas to share with my district staff and honestly this fall, there are so many ideas that I will have to keep sharing. Innovation is contagious!
3. “Go Change the World”
The last night, I was fortunate enough to join my EDU-family on the most EPIC boat trip on Lake Austin. We were able to chat and become even more connected if that was possible. We shared pictures. I was razzed for having an Android. I know, right? Don’t worry, I’m working on an upgrade. We really just had fun; an EDU-family reunion with stories, laughs, and dancing; “I’m on a BOAT!” At the end of the evening we all wished each other well, hugged, said goodbye, planned when we would meet again, and so on. The icing on the cake came from our “Godfather,” Carl Hooker. After a hug and high five, Carl tells me, “Now, go change the world.” A simple phrase, but weighted with responsibility and possibility - the sky's the limit! So will all of us heed this advice? Will we go and change the world? The answer should be, “YES!” How we go and change the world is up to us, but the point is to do it. We must do it for teachers, educators, and most of all, students.
Pictured: The Godfather himself, @MrHooker
This whole experience would not have been possible if not for my colleague and friend, Tara Martin. Without her invitation, I would just be sitting at home trolling all of the #iplza17 Tweets. Being there to experience the “Learning on the Go” first hand is unforgettable! It was a true model of what the learning experience should be like for any learner, young or old. If you have never been to an iPadPalooza conference, you NEED to go! Find one near you as soon as possible, save your pennies, get a group together - DO It! It has been life changing!
So this blog or letter really is meant for all of you at iPadPalooza who are truly a part of my EDU-fam, but I must say: To Carl Hooker, Thanks for everything! ~ Mena Hill
Twenty-five. That is a very important number. There are only twenty-five days left in the school year, give or take depending on your school calendar. In my world, that equals 200 hours. Just 200 hours. My mind races with my teacher checklist. How much have my students grown? What do they still need to learn? Have they had enough time to explore their own passions and enjoy wonderment? If you are like me, your head is reeling with a little anxiety. Maybe those twenty-five days just cannot go by fast enough. But before you start to panic or create a countdown paper chain, let’s take a moment to just be.
Focus on your student success stories.
Over the course of the year students have been reading, solving math problems, navigating technology, participating in design thinking projects, etc. They have explored new concepts, failed forward, understood information quickly, and have learned so much academically AND socially. When my students came into my room they were “big fourth graders” who were already so knowledgeable. There has also been so many goals accomplished this year. I am constantly blown away by their maturity, poise, and ability to practice empathy daily. I am also so proud of the great strides they have made in their writing, math, and speaking and listening skills. They are almost, not quite yet, but almost middle school ready.
What has been your favorite moment with your students individually or as a group?
Celebrate your professional growth and success.
Every single school year there are oodles of professional development opportunities. I love being able to choose strategies or ideas that will positively impact my classroom. Learning for teachers can happen by watching other teachers, participating in social media, reading educational books, and through district opportunities. Personally, I started blogging and participating in the edu-Twitter sphere - WOW! What I have gleaned from participating feels like more than a school-year’s worth of ideas and innovation. Not only do I get to personally learn and absorb so much awesomeness, but my students also get to experience new ideas implemented in the classroom.
What impact has your professional growth had on you and your classroom?
Preparing for the next school year.
Having one foot in this year and one in the next can sometimes make it hard to finish strong. Often teachers will start thinking about tweaking lesson plans, making lists of supplies, start searching for new ideas to make the school experience better and more exciting for next year’s lot. Improvement for the classroom and students is necessary. Maybe pick up a book. There are more than a few that may blow your mind. Try joining a Twitter chat; so fun, fast, and rewarding. There are a lot of opportunities at your fingertips, so start exploring.
What goals do you want to accomplish over the summer?
Keep going! You are almost to the finish line.
There is so much that has been accomplished this year. Way to go! Know in your heart-of-hearts that you are doing great things. BUT don’t forget that the next twenty-five days need just as much focus, energy, and passion as the other days in the school year. Do not be weary. Trust me, I am running this race too. Be invigorated at the sight of the finish line and finish strong. Finish strong for yourself and especially for your students.
Words have power. They have power to build up a person and the the power to tear them down. Think of the game Jenga. Each time a piece of the tower is removed the structure becomes weakened, only to eventually crumble. Words also have a similar effect on others. After a while, our internal structures start to crumble.
So be mindful. Make a point to think before you speak.
Speak truth, beauty, and kindness. Speak hope, joy, and encouragement. Speak life.
Mena T. Hill
Educator, Wife, Mother, Colorado Native