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.
There is a wide open road. Take a spin, and all around me is a high-plains desert with Yucca plants, tumbleweeds, and red colored clay dirt. It’s so hot, my shoes start to stick to the black tar. Off in the distance, I can see the heat rising off of the pavement in sizzling waves. Something catches my eye. There is a small speck. It looks like a person walking toward me, friend or foe, I am not sure. I walk toward her. As we approach one another, she becomes familiar. It is a friend. I start running toward her. I am so hot, so thirsty, in need of relief from the heat. Running, running, all I can think about is the comfort the familiar face will bring. My gaze shifts to the ground in front of me, watching the yellow lines pass in the middle of the road. I hear her voice, look up and BAM!
The bus hits me without warning. No horn, no squealing of tires or burning smell of rubber. There I lie, under the bus.
That’s what it felt like when a close colleague, whom I believed was a confidant, used my vulnerability for personal gain and threw me under the bus. That feeling of helplessness, surprise, and being dumbfounded is one that I never wish to experience ever again.
Choose your people wisely.
Being young, new in the EDU-world, I was very willing to trust any and everyone, willing to share ALL of me, and clearly unaware of the wolf in sheep’s clothing. Since this particular situation, I have learned a lot. Choose your people wisely. It is more than appropriate to be friendly with your colleagues, but you do not and should not feel that you have to be friends with your colleagues. My circle of confidants is small now -- seriously four people and only one of them works in the same district as me. These amazing people have proven time and time again that they are trustworthy and support me. They offer advice, are a sounding board, and are, well, my people; I am theirs in return.
So next time I am on that deserted road, I may take a look around. I may start to run toward that speck down the road, but I will be aware if a bus is heading my direction.
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.
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.
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.
I recently completed an eight week screenwriting class at our local arts center. I was super intimidated as I have never embarked on such a journey - ever! I actually wanted to take a different creative writing class but of course it did not work with my personal schedule so I signed up for the only one that worked. Throughout this whole experience I was challenged to think differently. I had to write a synopsis for my original screenplay, build character descriptions, and learn formatting - oh, the formatting.
Here’s the deal, once I started, I could not stop. My creative juices were flowing like lava. I was in the writing zone, my characters were coming to life, and I LOVED every stinkin’ minute! The feedback I received was so positive and constructive that it built my confidence and kept the fire alive to continue working, meeting my writing goals for the following week.
The biggest challenge I faced was for a group project. My classmates and I, ten of us total, were tasked to create a choose your adventure screenplay. I had five pages to write the ending to a story, adding on to the work of two of my classmates - AMAZING! It was such a blast and I felt alive! I felt like what I was doing was so different and it was ALL mine! The collaboration, the creativity, and the innovation was electrifying! The whole experience was so good for my soul.
Just imagine the experiences we can be a part of as educators. The sky's the limit when it comes to opportunities for our students to be creative, innovative learners. And the plus side is that we can still experience it LONG after we leave the classroom!
Here is an excerpt from my original screenplay group project Valentine’s Day:
INT. ABANDONED RESTAURANT - DAY
Restaurant empty, dirty except for a few old tables and chairs. Light seeps in through boarded windows. Joey and Cece sit in wooden folding chairs, hands bound with old cloth napkins.
Camera and guns sit on a table in front of them. Chris points his gun back and forth at Joey and Cece as he talks.
Chris: Really thought you two were clever, huh? Were you working together? I knew you had your secrets, Joe, but Cece...that's a surprise.
JOEY: I've know this was your shtick for a while now.
CECE: The surprise is that you thought you were clever. I knew what you were doing before you even saw me coming.
Chris paces between the two of them. Ruffles his hair. Points his gun at them both. Cece works on loosening her hands as Chris monologues.
CHRIS: You both have some nerve. You don't even know what Sebastian is capable of. You're just another bug to squash on his way to greatness.
An arrogant SEBASTIAN enters from the back room in an almost too-tight suit and tie. Unfortunate combover indicates his desire to stay young. He is the big boss, the only boss.
SEBASTIAN: I see Christopher that you have yet again created a mess I have to clean up. Julie and Pete...two of my most reliable allies. All you had to do was to make the deal with Russia... What a mess.
CHRIS: I am dealing with this. I told you the meeting with the Russians was a go tonight. I've got this.
(Thanks for reading my creation!)
Have you ever taken a trip to the ocean? It is one of my most favorite places to be. The sights, sounds, and smells of the world are right at your fingertips. Standing at the water’s edge, you see waves and waves of warm, salty water moving like a mother rocking her baby in her arms. Looking straight ahead, you see rocks from the land that dip into the ocean water and beyond that, nothing but blue and the unknown. The smell of salt awakens your brain as you breathe deeply. Inhale, exhale. Decisions lie before you, should you take a step forward or stay put? You go.
You step further and further into the water and begin to swim, taking in all of the beautiful scenery. Soon you are not able to have the comfortable sand squish in between your toes. Your heart races. Coral of a variety of colors grow full of life under the blue water. Schools of fish swim back and forth, reminding you of synchronized swimmers whose water dance makes your heart happy. Swimming onward, the bottom of the ocean seems to get further and further away from the surface. And then all of the sudden, it is just you. You and the water, rocking back and forth. It is somewhat comforting and also terrifying being in the water, alone. Here you are surrounded in the beauty of the ocean, but you are swimming in the deep end of life and you are feeling isolated.
How often do students or staff feel this way? How do we reach those students in the deep end and bring them back to shore?
You float and move with the waves. Do you let the waves carry you away? Do you reach out for help? BUT you are not alone. Out from the depths floats the most beautiful, most chill sea turtle. He looks at you and almost seems to motion, “Hey, man. It’s all good. Come with me.”
Over the course of almost ten years in education, I have seen many teachers and students who put on a good show. Some look like that brave swimmer, but beneath it all, when no one is looking, they are terrified of what is out there, terrified of failure, disappointment, you name it. We are tasked to take notice. By building relationships with our colleagues and nurturing our students, we will find that we can help those who might be stuck. Teachers, we can reach in and pull others out of the depths with teamwork, collaboration, love, and care. But also through those relationships, we may find that when we need to be pulled out of the deep end, we have a strong support team, a family waiting to jump right in. The wise words of one of my fifth graders really brings this home, “Sometimes life can come in like a wave and get you, but together we can make a change.” We can make a difference together.
What will you do to reach out to your students and colleagues in the deep end?
Picture this: you are walking down a long hallway. Dark mahogany wood floors and white walls make the hallway almost seem like a tunnel that lead to an open room. This room is large. High vaulted ceilings are lined with exposed wooden beams. There is a beautiful Persian rug on the floor, in the center of the room where an L-shaped couch is posted. It looks comfortable and inviting. Burnt-orange and teal colored pillows accent the couch. The space is just right for an afternoon of reading that may lead to a nap. It has two large French doors standing opposite of one another. The doors are open allowing beautiful sheer curtains to flow in the gentle breeze. You listen and find a tiny, magical wind chime making music and bringing a calming feeling to the space.
Why is this space so inviting? Why do you want to stay there?
Let’s apply this to the classroom environment. Teachers try to create a space that is full of comfort, functionality, and happiness. We all want our students to feel comfortable as they spend the majority of their day at school – their home away from home. The space should be a place to work as well as a comfortable space to learn and grow heads and hearts. We want students to want to come to school. We want them to get a fire in their bellies that burns with a desire to learn, an excitement about their education.
Of course the classroom is not limited to that room. No, in fact, it is the very beginning. Think back to those beautiful French doors. They are open with the breeze coming into the room. If the radio were on, music would go out beyond the walls. The mindset of the classroom is quite literal. Yes, learning happens within the four walls, but there is so much more beyond those walls. Teachers, we are called to let the breeze in and send the music out. We get the privilege of embarking on a school year that can involve the community, the whole district, the world.
Let me ask you one last question.
What do you hope to happen inside your room? What might happen if we open those doors?
Mena T. Hill
Educator, Wife, Mother, Colorado Native