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?
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?
“If we are going to empower our students, we must help them find what they love and create learning experiences that encourage them to develop their strengths.” ~ George Couros, The Innovator’s Mindset
When I was a kid, I loved watching The Wizard of Oz. One of my favorite parts of the movie is when Dorothy lands in Oz and the screen magically transforms from black and white to a sea of vivid colors. Over the course of Dorothy’s journey she encounters many characters who feel they are lacking or missing something in their lives. They all seek the Wizard’s great help to further develop their “weaknesses.” After many wild and challenging experiences the main characters had the those strengths all along.
I have an amazing mentor who has challenged me to “play to my strengths” and do what I do best. I have found that while I may be doing what I do well, I am also developing other areas that I might have considered a weakness. For example, I have never been challenged to use technology to share my ideas or developed my own website/digital portfolio.
I have background experience in journalism and layout from when I was in college, so the tech piece was a “next step.” After launching my website, I have shared my knowledge with colleagues and now feel that the opportunity to advance my journalism and layout knowledge has empowered me to add digital portfolios as a new strength. WooHoo!
Not only do I want to challenge my own thinking, but also the thinking of colleagues and my students. If a person is successful in a certain area and wants to explore more, why not? Isn’t that the point of learning and growing? “Bringing people’s strengths to life” challenges us all to engage in a conversation. Throughout The Wizard of Oz Dorothy asks questions of her friends to not only find out “what” makes them tick, but also “why” they want to grow. When the main characters discovered their true strengths, they are filled with confidence. So start with asking yourself what are your strengths and do your colleagues and students a favor, ask them too.
Dreams… we all have them. They are unique, different, unknown, scary, the list goes on and on. Those dreams are uniquely individual and personal. They are constantly evolving based on personal experiences and future outlooks. Just recently I embarked on my own journey. I have a desire to learn more about creative writing and decided to take a leap of faith and try something new. The local fine arts center offers several different classes which tapped into my desire to reach my dream.
Fast forward to my first class. I walk in the room. It is a large room that is a multi-functional space used for a shop class of some sort. Large tools are everywhere. But in the center is a large boardroom table suited for meetings of different nature to take place there. The light-blonde, wooden table is almost out of place, echoing the initial feeling I have. My stomach is in knots. I have ideas. Are they good enough? Will my classmates “get it?” Where do I even start? I am jumping off the diving board into the deep end of the pool and I am pumping with adrenaline. How did I ever get to this point? As I look around the room, I see I am surrounded by men and women, young and old, all with the same goal – to be creative, to have an outlet, to make something. Like-minded people, all gathering together to grow writing skills and build camaraderie, offering advice, guidance, and thoughtful criticism. 100% exciting!
Here is the question: What are the dreams of our students and how can we tap into those dreams early on?
I am sure everyone can reflect back on teachers who have inspired us, gave us that “push” needed to travel down roads unknown towards our own dreams. The single teacher or group of educators who said, “You can do it. You will do it.” Those teachers stopped for a hot second and got to know us. They made a point to find out what made us tick and genuinely take a personal interest in what we did, how we felt, what we experienced inside and outside of school.
We teach work ethic. We teach drive. We teach the basic building blocks needed so that ALL dreams can be achieved if our students just dream. How can we ask our students to take a chance on themselves if we are not willing to dive into something new too? We can and will encourage our students to dream because if we play our cards right as educators, we can model what taking a risk looks like – we are still making our dreams come true.
So what will you do to find out your students’ dreams? How can you encourage your students to dream and believe in themselves?
Please feel free to share your ideas and comments below!
Most of our students ride the bus into school. They have a fifteen-ish minute drive in where they can get caught up with friends, play Pokemon with their pals, sit quietly, or just enjoy the ride. Students hop off the bus, are greeted by staff, and walk into a building where they spend more time than they do at home each day. But they come with a lot of “home” piled into their backpacks; baggage that student and teacher sort through together. When a student enters the classroom, they cross the threshold with a variety of expectations, attitudes, feelings… you name it. They come to school, leaving the joy of the weekend in the rearview mirror. School can serve as a refuge from the expectations of the street. Sometimes kids come to school just to see their friends. Often they can’t wait to see the staff and teachers.
The students have to enter your room knowing that it is a SAFE space. They have to know that regardless of their ethnicity, socio-economic background, their sexual identity, political points of view, the list goes on and on, they have to know that they are valued. They are special. Their thoughts and ideas are validated. They can share highs, lows, and everything in-between. They can dream. They can cry. They can grow. They can dance. They can fall. They can come to a place to give and receive compassion. All along the way you, you the teacher, mother, father, friend, honorary grown-up, will be there to cheer them on. You will be there to encourage them. You will be there to hold them accountable. You will be there to teach them. You will walk the walk, talk the talk, and get moving with them every day.
Create a space where dialogue can happen, where it is okay to get off topic and “bunny trail” when the kids NEED the space to be curious. When a safe space is created and honored, kids learn how to communicate, how to be respectful, how to be inquisitive, how to process life… So create a safe space. School is a second home. Build this “house” on a rock of peace, compassion, grace, and kindness.
I just love Fall. I love the crisp air, the beautiful changing leaves, and the newness that comes with the season. I love the smell of pumpkin spice anything and I especially love the seasonal coffee flavors. This time of year is all about transformation and if you have not figured it out, I am a fan of Fall and the changes it brings.
With this season, people are relieved to have an adjustment in the weather. Trust me, once the humidity has started to decrease and you no longer start dripping the minute you’re outside, you can hear the “Hallelujah Chorus.” Different seasonal sports begin to invade homes and weekend schedules. I get to bust out my favorite jeans and scarves - yay, time for layers! The list goes on and on.
Fall also means teachers and students have been in session for about two and a half months. The honeymoon phase is over, sometimes it ended more quickly than you may have expected, and it is time for some changes to be made. What are some changes you ask? Well, I have made adjustments to some team dynamics in my classroom. Rearranging students’ seats is important. It keeps the classroom vibe fresh while students are kept on their toes. When seats are changed, I make sure to do some team building exercises. The kids, while they have been classmates for a number of years, need to build trust with one another and prove they can work as a team. Some of my favorite team building activities include “What would you do if…” questions that challenge students’ opinions and allow them an opportunity to share what they think with their peers while gaining new perspectives. Learning to speak and listen is an essential skill that is valuable as students progress in school and life. I have also enjoyed hearing stories of teachers who have used “Minute to Win It” as a class building activity. These activities get kids out of their seats and provide an opportunity to play, encourage one another, cheering each other on, all the while learning about perseverance in a fun and safe setting.
During this season, it is also important to take care of yourself. Maybe a personal schedule adjustment is long overdue? Hours of lessons planning, grading papers, perusing data, committee commitments, and more can take a toll on teachers. If you have not experienced a sore throat yet, yay for you! There are so many ways to take care of yourself - all it takes is a little planning to enjoy your personal time. Pick one day a week, just to start, and try committing yourself to leaving at the end of the day. Take some time for just you. If that means going to the library to read in a quiet space, do it! If that means you go and dance at Jazzercise, do it! If that means spending time at home with your family, do it! Whatever it is that you choose to do for your mental and physical well-being, do it! If you are not on the top of your game, your students won’t be on the top of theirs.
I don’t know about you, but I also like to take time during the season to examine my professional goals that I set at the beginning of the year. Enough time has passed since outlining my hopes and dreams for the school year to see if I am still on track. Goals could include furthering your education and professionalization, trying a new design thinking process like Launch Design Thinking in the classroom, or implementing a new classroom management tool; there are SO many goals you could choose from. Maybe your goals have changed or need to be modified based on student and classroom needs, professional development opportunities, etc. Great! Now is the time to make adjustments. Heck, maybe you already achieved one of your goals. If that’s the case, please Tweet it out with all of your wisdom so that we can all learn from you and celebrate your accomplishments! If you haven’t set goals with specific, measurable outcomes (I know, make a SMART goal, right?), then now is the time!
The point is, that Fall is a time for new opportunities. New weather, new activities, new ideas, and more. If you see something or someone out there embracing change, jump on board! Those movers and shakers are the ones whose innovation help encourage and inspire change. Follow them on Twitter (@burgessdave, @TaraMartinEDU, and @gcouros are just a few AMAZING innovators out there) and begin interacting with colleagues in your building or district or even around the world, and SHARE your amazing ideas. All of us have the ability to embrace this beautiful season and model it for teachers and students. Fall means that the possibilities are endless. Let’s do this!
I recently attended a professional development session where teachers were asked to draw a picture of what a quality educator looks like. I sat in the quieted room, completely brain-fried from a day of teaching and having a hard time thinking what that looks like. After a minute or two, thoughts began to flood my mind of teachers with exceptional traits needed order to make an impact inside and out of the classroom.
There have been many teachers of whom I reflect upon fondly. Many have challenged me, supported me, and have taught me many lessons. There are two teachers who rise above the rest when considering who made the largest impact on my life as a student.
One was my high school choir director. I had been encouraged by a fellow classmate to audition for choir. Having zero experience, I was pretty nervous. My teacher had high expectations for excellence challenged me to strive to do my best. I was exposed to a variety of music, culture, and talent that I would never had experienced if it had not been inside (and out) of that classroom. Through his encouragement and guidance, I gained confidence, learned how to prioritize my needs vs. desires, and try new things. Never once did I believe in myself or see myself in the manner in which he saw me. I sang, participated in choral events, auditioned and was cast in musicals, and more importantly, I found a passion within myself that would have remained untapped if it were not for this teacher in my life.
The second was one of my college professors. At good ol’ Adams State University, I entered a classroom as a freshman filled with excitement, apprehension, and fear of the unknown. When I walked into my Interrelations of the Arts class, my professor greeted me with a handshake, smile, and promptly addressed me by my last name, “Good afternoon, Miss Patrone.” He addressed everyone by their last names and did so in a manner that made me feel like an adult; I felt respected as a college student, leaving the old high school years behind. In his class, we explored the cross relation of art through music, plays, literature, etc. It was one of the most invigorating experiences of my undergraduate career. In that class I was able to be engaged in the conversation, share my ideas, and feel validated for thinking, sharing, and experiencing.
If I could bottle up the essence of these two teachers, I would. I would give it away to all teachers at the beginning of the year and include the note, “Use wisely.” The essence of these two teachers has impacted me so that I feel indebted to them for taking a chance on me, supporting me, and rooting for me. The best cheerleaders in my life, aside from my family, have been these two teachers. I would say that is an essential part of who I am now as an educator.
I strive to be a cheerleader for my students, to guide them, encourage them, and expose them to a variety of learning opportunities. I hope that my students will one day look upon me fondly. I hope that I will have not just done enough, but done more than enough. The reality is that I may not be that teacher for every student, but I sure can hope, I sure can try, and I sure can look upon my past educators who have that essence, quality and keep dreaming, keep trying, keep learning, and keep sharing my passion with my students and colleagues.
Humility. Patience. Kindness.
These are all words that I think of when I am walking into my classroom. These are life goals, personal goals, and professional goals that I try to meet every single day. As I drive to work each day, I try to not just think of the work that my students need to complete, copies that need to be made, an email to a parent that needs to go out first thing, etc. Of course all of those things are thought of and a mental list is created for the morning before kids walk into my room. But I honestly, try to remember my three goals. Humility. Patience. Kindness.
What does that even mean? Well, it means to have the heart of a learner. I tell my students to “trust the process.” If I am not willing to do just that, to try new teaching techniques or be willing to receive feedback from a colleague or administrator, then I have not achieved humility. To be humble means to be willing to learn, willing to have a conversation, and willing to ask for support when needed. The power of “YET” is a big thing in my classroom. If we don’t know it now, it just means we don’t know it YET! But I know I will at some point. Model this mindset for your students. They will appreciate to see that you, the amazing teacher that you are, are still trusting the process and learning along the way. It is a small, but great step on the path toward being better at being you.
This one's a doozy! I have heard from an amazing wise man, that we will always have an opportunity to practice the area in which we need to grow the most. Well, you’ve guessed it. Patience is mine. For as long as I can remember, I have been one of those people who has always want “it” right now!!! :) I laugh to myself right now because, I can see how exhausting it is to live a life of “right now.” Isn’t it better to “just be?” It is better to be in the moment of your life that is good, bad, or mediocre (insert voice snippet from Mad Max: Fury Road). To be patient means to enjoy the classroom conversation, yes being mindful of the clock, but not rushing the learning and creative process. How often do we rush to get through the lesson/curriculum? Too often the expectation is to see how fast we can get to the end of the trip rather than stopping along the way to take pictures of the beautiful scenery. Patience… just be. Enjoy the ride.
This past Friday, I shared the video, Imagine by John Lennon with my students. So often people are judged by the way they look, where they live, the clothes they wear, how they learn, etc. These personal biases are sometimes passed down generation-to-generation. But think… I enter my classroom with a perspective and so does each one of my students. I wanted to show the Unicef version of the video because it has people from all over the world singing the beautiful and inspiring lyrics of John Lennon. My kids could not only hear but see diversity. We live in world that is filled with so much hate, judgement, closed mindedness that in order to create a growth mindset, in order to create a better tomorrow, we MUST start with kindness. If I do only one thing, teach my students one lesson, let it be that of kindness. I hope that they will learn to be kind to one-another, tolerant of one-another, to seriously treat others the way they want to be treated. On a side note, yes, I cry every time I hear that song because it is an honest hope of mine - that we may live in peace. Kindness is the first step.
I may not achieve these goals on a daily basis, but by golly, I sure will try. I commit myself to striving toward these life goals. Your life goals may look differently. But they are your goals. That is amazing! Strive to be your best self and you will teach your students, and all you encounter, what it means to be a good human. That is my life goal. What’s yours?
Education is and will continue to be filled with a multitude of personal and professional lessons that I have learned both inside and out of the classroom. I have learned a great deal about who I want to be as a human and as an educator. I guess the purpose of this blog is to share some of my insights from the past nine years and put it out there for the world to read. You may glean from it what you will, but I hope, as I hope for my all of my students, that you will learn an important little nugget to apply to your life so that you may have a positive impact on those around you.
When I think of the beginning of a school year, I think of a wheel. Not just any wheel, but a ferris wheel. This ferris wheel is huge, sitting on the top of a mountain that has trees, snow, rocks, and a very narrow road. There is a long line to get onto this ride. In fact, the line curves back and forth down the side of the mountain. People have to stand close to the side of the mountain for fear of slipping down. But there you are safely perched at the top of the rock. You’re next, awaiting your turn on the ferris wheel. You are scared. This is the highest you have ever been. Yes, you have been on a ferris wheel before, but those other wheels were smaller; closer to safety and the comforts of your personal limits. Even though the ride is free, it requires that you must make a choice as to how you enjoy your experience. You can sit and hold on for dear life. You can keep track how long this ride will last before you can finally get off and move on with your day. Or you can embrace the beauty of the ride and try to enjoy every moment.
Ideally, I would hope you apply this metaphor to your classroom experiences. The ferris wheel represents a brand new school year and classroom filled with students. Each student waits in line to get into your classroom and has an idea of what to expect, but bases that on previous experiences. Maybe your student experienced motion sickness the last time he was on the ride. Maybe he had so much fun that his expectations are super high. Maybe he had a mediocre experience and now he is not pumped about learning. The point being that our job is to make learning engaging, exciting, and fun. Our job is to also protect, guide, and hold students accountable. The reality is that the ride will be scary, it will have boring times, it will have moments of sheer beauty. To say that the ride will be all sunshines and rainbows is just unrealistic. A student will probably experience all of those moments over the course of the year. Guess what, that is okay. But the ultimate hope as educators is that our students walk away from ride having something positive to remember. Something that was learned, accomplished, and gleaned from a year of growth.
My hope is that you enjoy the ride too. One glance to right or left can completely change the perspective of the viewer… Enjoy the ride and have a great year.
Mena T. Hill
Educator, Wife, Mother, Colorado Native