People need others who can help them find passions and motivation to achieve goals.
Passion and Motivation. Guess what, these two characteristics go together. Teaching children how to be passionate about something is not as easy as it sounds. I think of my own two children -- if they are not into “it” they will not put forth the effort needed to be successful. However, on this blustery Sunday afternoon, I pulled out my ukulele and played with my daughter. I am no expert, in fact I am a novice at best. But strumming, laughing, and watching a couple YouTube tutorials together and the next thing I know, she is playing cords, singing songs, and her heart BEAMS -- she’s teaching ME! The joy, energy, and motivation that has been captured today is incredible.
By tapping into her passion, I have seen an increase in her motivation to become more than a novice in mere hours. Guess what, I have known my own kid for thirteen years. I have given her opportunities to try art, musical theater, science, and more through formal and informal moments together. Throughout all of this, there are two things that stand true -- we have to invest in time and opportunities. If we are not willing to do this with any human with whom we interact, then we have missed the boat.
My heart truly beams with joy. It overflows because my daughter is sending positive vibes into this world that are beyond her understanding. I have always told my children, students, and adults that I coach that in life there is input and output. You cannot go through life only taking, you have to also be willing to give.
While the cords are strummed, her sweet voice makes its way down the stairs, and joy radiates throughout my home, I know that I have done my part today. Today there has been an even exchange of input and output. So I tell both of my kids and I’ll tell you the same: Do your part. Make sure if you take, you give in return. Keep the balance of input and output. Tap into passion and motivation for yourself and for those with whom you work. We all deserve to live in a place where we are fulfilled and striving to make the world a better place.
On a cold, blustery day, I sit by my fireplace catching up on emails while Netflix plays in the background. The freezing rain pelts the side of my house making little, knocking noises against the siding. My wind-chimes are quickly singing a song as the wind swirls and blows outside. All is well… or is it?
I am tired.
I am tired of being worried about my own two children every time I send them off to school.
I am tired of playing scenarios in my head of where I might hide, how might I help students, what would I do if…
Something has got to change.
I have noticed that people, both adults and children, suffer from this lack of being heard; a lack of validation. It seems the only way to be heard is by lashing out verbally, physically, emotionally. People have to be the loudest, most disruptive force in a room. If you don’t hear me, if you don’t agree with me, if you don’t see me, then I will be the loudest one here and by that, “I win.”
How do we counter that? I don’t know. Maybe we need to have more conversations with each other, spend more time together, lower the pressures and expectations of our society, and change the mindset of, “the more stuff I enroll my kid in, the better they will be.”
People are not just data points, statistics, or a series of checkmarks on a long list of college entrance expectations. We truly seem to lack this investment in humanity. How has this gotten so out of control?
We need to invest in all students and people -- even the ones how are hard to reach! Guess what, they need us more than ever. We, as a global community, need a mindset reset! We need to change our mindset and investment in humanity. We need to focus on the growth and cultivation of exceptional people. We HAVE to change our expectations for ourselves and for the people with whom we interact. We need to celebrate differences and learn from each other. If I don’t do try… if you don’t try… then what are we truly to do?
*This blog has been inspired by current events in the U.S. and our local community. A huge shout out to my people who jump-started this conversational blog with our icy morning texts, @PK5Cramer, @CaraMcNorton, and @SunnyHalsted = I heart you!
She sits on the floor of of her bedroom, back against the bed. Her head is in her hands, tears stream down her face. All of the weight of the world is on her shoulders. She gives and gives and gives. She gives to her family, her friends. She gives to her colleagues. She gives to her students. She gives so much with nothing in return. All she has are her emotions.
She is now at the point where she has moved out further from shore. Then another wave comes and crashes on her head; she struggles to catch her breath. This is that pivotal moment that comes in a person’s life where they get to choose to let the waves win or to reach out for help, support, and safety -- for a lifeline.
The importance of self-care is essential. I have met and worked with many people over the course of ten years in education and that statement is more true than ever. We live and work in a time where schedules are full, expectations in the workplace are high, and we rarely have a moment to ourselves. It is always GO, GO, GO! You know those feelings and thoughts that sit in the back of your mind: If you don’t outwork others, you will be left behind. If you don’t always look like you have “it” together, you will be deemed basic.
What if you take time to do the things you love, that recharge your soul. Read a book. Listen to a podcast. Go do some yoga. Watch Netflix. For the love, most importantly of all, surround yourself with people who are truly investing in YOU and building you up. When those moments of being overwhelmed come and consume us, it is imperative to have a lifeline who will serve as that rock and anchor. These lifeliners keep us from drifting away into open waters. They help pull us back to shore.
If you find that you are in a good space, make sure to check-in on your people. Offer to be that rock and anchor. Be available to be a lifeline that brings them home. And when your moment comes, because you know it will, you can call upon those people to be yours.
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?
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
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.
Last night, I had a very vivid dream. I was down in the basement level of some sort of museum. The museum felt cold, uninviting, and industrial in style. The flooring was some sort of glossed concrete that added to the motif. Only art hung from the walls, the one splash of color in the space. There were a variety of benches scattered here and there for museum-goers to sit upon and carefully admire the art.
In the corner of the room was this tall staircase. The staircase was wide, erected with large slabs of concrete. It wrapped around a corner so that you could not see where it led. About two steps up onto the staircase, an older gentleman stood and faced me. He then said something very profound, “These stairs represent your struggle. Each one of you will climb the stairs, but it may take one person longer or shorter to get to the top of the staircase.”
What challenges have you faced this year?
I am sure you have experienced many challenges this school year. Maybe some of them have been personal. Maybe you have a conflict with a colleague that needs to be resolved. A possible parent with whom you have struggled connecting and communicating with. What about that student who needs your help but refuses to be helped?
The reality is that climb up the staircase can truly depend on every single one of those situations. There can even be a staircase for each one of those scenarios. Sometimes we fly to the top without any problem, without even breaking a sweat. But there are other times when the climb goes on for-ev-er! Often we want to climb to the top, find resolution and results, and live in a space where everything is easy.
The climb may be hard.
Surrounding yourself with people who are willing to climb with you is important. Finding others who will push you up is helpful too. Sometimes you need that pal who is willing to drag you up the stairs when you have nothing left to give.
Do you have those people in your life? If you think you don’t have supports in place, I challenge you to take a look around. You may find that your people, your cheerleaders, are everywhere. Cast a wide net! Your supports may be in your building, on Twitter, in another country, a family member, or even a former teacher.
What will you do if you are still on the stairs?
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.
Mena T. Hill
Educator, Wife, Mother, Colorado Native