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 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.
My husband and some of his colleagues thought it would be fun to attempt a breakout room one Friday night. I have to tell you, I have looked at many people posting on social media and talking about the great fun they all had, so I figured, “Why not?” I must tell you, that the events that unfolded that night were ones that have skewed my perspective for future breakout events.
I hate to admit it, but I am super competitive. I love to play games, but ask my family and friends how a friendly game could quickly take a turn for the worse. I am also what some would call a “Nervous Nelly.” I often like to ask a lot of questions regarding new situations in order to prepare myself and ready my mindset to accomplish any task. In this case, the six of us attempting the Y2K breakout room had never gone before. So with no one available to share some insights, all I could pull upon was my own gumption and sassy nature to solve the clues in the room. Not to mention that the breakout soundtrack included many of my favorite high school jams; don’t judge me for my love of NSYNC. But even the music could not ease the uncertainty of it all.
Approach new situations with a positive attitude.
Clearly, an attitude or mindset helps when facing unknown situations. Often it can make or break the experience for the participant. Whether you are teaching, learning, running, etc. your attitude will influence your outcome.
Our situation started looked bleak. Here we have a six people, all with advanced degrees, clearly, we are book smart. The question was, are we “street smart?” We entered into the room where there were a ton of combination locks all hiding future clues behind a variety of cabinet doors. Immediately, our alpha leader took the bull by the horns and started delegating tasks to the rest of us. To be honest, it was one of those situations where I did not know where to begin, where to look, and even how I was going to contribute to solving the puzzle in our small, tiny breakout space.
Assess the situation and find your role on the team.
Sometimes finding your role on the team may take time. It might even change depending on the team, scenario, or your personal goals. Remember, you don’t have to stay in that role. You have choice and voice over your contribution to the team, classroom, school, and community.
The clues started to come, but honestly, I did not see anything beyond what was right in front of me. My breakout-mates were making connections, using inference, and, quite honestly, rockin’ it. We were on our path toward getting the final code to break on out. At one point a secret passage opened up for us. This is great but then we were seriously stuck. We had the option to ask for three clues, but no one really wanted to use them up in case we needed them later and honestly, we all wanted to solve this bad boy on our own (thanks, pride). Frustration started to set in. I could sense that the team was starting to lose communication. We were now functioning in pairs of two at best.
What do you do when you hit a roadblock?
When a roadblock pops up, it could be a person, student, parent - you name it, what is your first reaction? Often with each year of experience, we gain new strategies and engage with colleagues who have a myriad of answers or support to help us overcome the roadblock. But what happens when you don’t have time to consult and you have to come up with an immediate, “shoot from the hip” solution? Best said in the movie Speed, “Pop quiz hotshot … What do you do? What do you do?”
Well, I hate to admit it, but we were not successful in our breakout. We were trapped. Once the employee released us from our Y2K prison, my husband and his friends walked out of the room trying to process the hour that had just happened. I, however, walked out feeling like I let my team down. Here this was supposed to be a fun, problem-solving evening, but all I could do was analyze how I did do enough, find clues fast enough, blah, blah blah. Now that I have been removed from the breakout room long enough, I realize that I started that whole night with the wrong approach and mindset. I was not ready to “fail forward.” I was not ready to give it a go. I wanted to win. I was so focused on the winning, I lost sight of the process and definitely lost out on an opportunity for fun.
Stop, drop, and don’t take it all so seriously.
When we encounter new people, teaching dilemmas, personal setbacks, the list keeps going, we have two options. One, we can flip out, internalize the problem, and cause personal strife. Or two, we can step back and look at the big picture. Sometimes a change of perspective and mindset is all that is needed to solve problems and move forward.
So if I ever decide to go into a breakout room again, I have some new goals for myself. But more importantly, I definitely learned some valuable lessons that night that are applicable in my edu-sphere. These lessons are quickly added to my survival kit that I carry with me each day as I enter the breakout room that is education.
What will YOU add to your survival kit?
The end of the school year is an excellent time for educators to take a moment to peruse their supplies and other teaching materials. I have been going through all of my teaching supplies this week. Supplies that I have collected over the course of my nine years in education. Supplies that I have held onto dearly for those “just in case” moments. Let me be the first to say I have officially joined the “Teacher Supply Hoarders Group.”
All kidding aside I have to ask myself, “Why are you holding on to all of that baggage, all of that stuff?” I have toted my supplies with me to various schools and even across state lines. I have kept what I felt was valuable and essential to being a good teacher. The fact is that those cute borders, motivational posters, and oodles of Sharpies are helpful, BUT not essential.
Purging all of these supplies has helped me to realize that what IS essential are soft skills: organization, creativity, respect, integrity, etc. Those go with me as well, but in a much smaller package that does not require a moving truck. Soft skills are what make up a person. It is their character, their being, their personhood. Soft skills can make or break relationships. They are a MUST for building relationships.
Take a moment to evaluate what is in need of purging or donation and what needs to be acquired to make you the best educator possible. Remember, those soft skill “supplies” cannot be bought in a store. Rather they can be found within. They can be cultivated and molded every single day you walk into a classroom. They can evolve when you take a moment to reflect and set goals. Through your interactions with others you can and will further develop your soft skills and continue to make an impact on those whom you serve.
Have fun shopping for those soft skills. I bet you’ll find a great deal.
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.
Bam! It hits you all of the sudden… an idea! Should you keep it to yourself or share? What good does it do us as educators to keep ideas, inspiration, and even struggles to ourselves. By having an open culture of collaboration, our ideas can be validated, challenged, and even become an inspiration for someone else to take the idea and run with it for the greater good, right?
I (Mena) have had the pleasure of being a classroom teacher for nine years. During that time I have been in many schools where collaboration is expected but it is limited to the grade level and sometimes the whole school. The things I have learned during those time are great, but often limited. Since I have joined Twitter, #IMMOOC, #tlap, and #satchatwc chats, I have learned SO much. The culture of sharing amazing! Just the fact that two educators from different countries can collaborate because of technology is like nothing I have ever done before.
The open ideas of collaboration is for sure a great one. The world is now flat and gives us the chance to chat with other educators from around the world for the greater good of education around the world. I do believe that while sharing, our impact and knowledge accelerates up to a point that you cannot even imagine.
I (Francois) have had the pleasure of being a classroom teacher for more than nine years along with 4 years on the international level and 4 years as an public school administrator. During that time, collaboration has changed greatly. At the beginning of my career, everyone stayed into their own classroom, even pro-d was not something in which people had a lot of interest in. Mid-way to my career things have change to the new paradigm of thinking. I went as far as China and New-York to stay in touch with innovative ideas in education. I have learned lots with coursera, twitter and facebook in which I have created more than 20 pages of collaboration. I have more than 300 followers in Australia on a site that I have created just to share some ideas on 21st century learning. I created a Pinterest site in which I should reach my 1K pretty soon, I put teaching ideas and share mine with the world. I am greatly interested in Open collaboration around the world. I am a lifelong learner and I have great interest in the field of education.
What an amazing opportunity we have as educators to share, learn, and grow in a professional learning network with amazing educators and students from around the world. Open culture and collaboration can mean chatting with a teacher in another grade level. It can mean sharing ideas at a school meeting. Open culture means that your ideas are good enough and essential to community and global growth of students and teachers. Without collaboration and sharing we make a smaller impact, but once we share, our impact is bigger, stronger, and better!
It is the beginning of March and in balmy Kansas it is starting to feel like spring is upon us. The days are getting longer, there is definitely more sun, and I am loving the opportunity to enjoy more porch time to just soak it all in. I don’t know about you, but I love the fact that I can start whipping out my favorite spring wardrobe and feel as if I have an extra hop in my step.
These changes that happen every year are a welcomed change from the monotony of winter; the constant cold, blustery days filled with clouds, rain, sleet, and snow are almost a distant memory. People come out in force on those beautiful days. Bike riders line the streets. All of the sudden running clubs emerge from their winter slumber. We humans need the change. In this case the changing of the seasons is something we either look forward to or merely adapt to every year. But, I ask you, what is stopping fellow educators from pulling our bikes out of the garage and going on adventure?
As a teacher I have seen first hand how many handle change in education. There are a couple options when it comes to change: “Oh, no you didn’t!” or “Go on and get it!” mentalities. Change can be a scary thing. Educators are often get set in their ways. They like things they way they are. Students are doing well, so why change it, right? Those with that mindset are not ready to embrace a new challenge and often fight the process. They will stick to what they know and not venture outside of the box.
Meanwhile, there are those educators who just love to meet the challenge head on. They hear or see something that sounds like it could be great for kids and give it a whirl. Often times those new ideas don’t work well the first time. But those teachers pick up their bootstraps, strap on their big boy belts and try it again.
We can all have that Innovator’s Mindset. Sometimes those who resist change just need to see it in action. They need a brave soul to go out there, try it, and like we heard in last night’s podcast, have that teacher invite others into the classroom of innovation to say, “Hey, what do you think?”
Innovation is having the freedom to do something incredible. George Couros describes innovation “as a way of thinking that creates something new and better.” I don’t know about you, but I want it. I just gotta have it! An Innovator’s Mindset is what has been missing from my teaching career. By embracing the mindset, I feel as though I have a new fire burning in my belly. This fire that just can’t be contained. I have a need to learn, try, and share, repeat.
So, why not embrace the Innovator’s Mindset? Innovation starts with one spark. Be the spark.
Mena T. Hill
Educator, Wife, Mother, Colorado Native