More Than Strawberries

If you are in a “What’s Next? Season”, this blog is for you.

Simply Me

As I dragged myself into work this morning, cutting the crates and crates of freezing strawberries was pretty much torture. My mornings at Pressed are usually mundane and slow and my thoughts can become so over bearing, especially right there over that cold steal sink with a tiny green knife and what seemed like thousands of ripe red strawberries.

The strawberry cutting part of my day sort of becomes my time of prayer when I’m here at work. I was praying for my family, my friends, my relationships, my hopes and my dreams and all the while kept getting more and more discouraged.

Maybe it was the fact that I had finished cutting four tins in under 10 minuets, making me an expert at dicing up pointless berries. I stopped and said to Jesus, “I don’t want to cut strawberries my whole life.”

He didn’t answer.

I kept cutting and…

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Lost in the Forest

Maybe it is just me, but I doubt it.  I have been told I have this tendency in the past, and despite knowing better, I find myself “lost in the forest for the trees”.  I know it is a weakness, and I am choosing from here on out, to be more deliberate in overcoming it.  It is a joy thief, a success thief, and certainly a waste of time. I was graciously rescued this week, having sent out flares unwittingly. I have a student whose journey in school has caused me many sleepless nights and on whom I have spent much physical and emotional energy and time.  We all have those, right?  However, I was so caught up in trying to get him to a destination, that I had lost focus on where we actually were.

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Having backpacked and hiked as a young girl in scouts, I can tell you right now that this is a sure plan for getting lost.  It is important to stop, assess your surroundings, look at things from other perspectives and glimps the trail from where you stand, looking back.  That way, if for some reason you find yourself off the trail or uncertain of the trail, you won’t truly be lost.  You can always backtrack if you know what the path back looks like or enjoy the feelings of having come as far as you have.  On the other hand, if you only look forward the entire time and find yourself heading the wrong way or uncertain of the trail, when you turn around and see nothing familiar, you will feel fear and despair – perhaps even panic.

All I could see in my exhaustion was forward, and I was spinning. So there I was, panicked that I had not gone anywhere for months, only having traveled in circles and uncertain as to how I could carry him forward without knowing for sure which way forward was. The second SST meeting was imminent, and I could not see behind me.  Luckily, I have remembered to never hike alone.  When the specialists on the team came to observe and debrief, they were amazed at the progress of our journey.  They were excited and celebratory. They brought out the map that reminded me where we started. Despite having looked at it myself, I had not been able revel in our success because I was using one distance scale to measure our progress and another to measure how far we still have to go. They rescued us.

What broke my heart about this was that because I had been so focused on the distance ahead, I hadn’t celebrated how far we’d come. I had NO IDEA how far we had come. Sadly, what that translates to is that I hadn’t shared joy with my student or his concerned family.  I hadn’t been a good leader. I got us lost. Luckily, we had the meeting which provided me an opportunity to be honest about the mistake I had made and give his mother a chance to turn around and see how beautiful the forest looked from this new vantage point. I could point out rivers we’d crossed, steep climbs we had made and sit with her, sipping water from the cool creek running past to quench our thirst.

We do have many miles to go, but we are not travelling alone.  And going forward, I am going to remember to keep looking back and celebrating our journey along the way instead of waiting until we get to the peak to raise our arms in triumph. My little guy deserves as much, and if I am going to stay in this profession, so do I.

Modulating My Voice

Moving back to kindergarten after two years in fourth grade has created a lot of change in how I see myself, what my strengths and weaknesses are and how I can impact my site.  In the past week the term “Sphere of Influence” has popped up too many times to be coincidental.  It is clearly where I need to focus my attention right now.

I previously believed that I had a large sphere of influence on my campus and even reaching outward.  Slowly, over the course of this school year, I have felt that diminish and am now forced to look at why.  What part of that is the practcal logistics of my placement , what is the wider culture and what part is mine to own and alter?

There are many factors to consider, but what is playing in my head the loudest is how I use my voice and energy.  Am I being as effective as I can be? I feel a sense of urgency for change, a passion to teach and reach students as deeply as possible, to shift how we view school and education.  I am on fire about these things.  The problem is that I haven’t been able to recognize that not everyone reacts to data and trends the same way I do. I haven’t acknowledged that people react to change the same way I do.  I haven’t responded to my colleagues in the same manner I would react to my students by meeting them where they are.  It was a mistake.

I come out excited, voice pitch elevated, adrenaline pumping and that either gets others to jump in or to run the other way.  I was confused by those running away from me.  I was perhaps even judgmental about it while I was simultaneously hurt by not being “taken in” by many colleagues as part of their team.  What I am learning, reluctantly at first, is that the problem has never been them. It has been me all along.  I need to modulate my voice to fit my audience when talking to my peers in the same way I do with students.

No one is going to jump on my bandwagon if I don’t learn to adjust my approach. In Michael Fullan and Joanne Quinn’s book Coherence , they outline how effective leaders foster a moral imperative like this:

  • Build relationships with everyone, including those who disagree, are skeptical or even cynical.
  • Listen and understand the perspective of others.
  • Demonstrate respect for all.
  • Create conditions to connect others around that purpose.
  • Examine with staff, evidence of progress

I had a meaningful conversation with my superintendent earlier this week about how I perceived my sphere of influence and what I was going to do about it.  He reiterated to me that maintaining my passion while working to find the right balance between push and pull, another concept in Fullan and Quinn’s book, takes time and intention.  Leaders who don’t recognize when to step back and build capacity face push-back – some outright and some passive.

I have never intended to be too “pushy” and move people further away than closer in. I never intended to appear as though I was not being respectful or considering the perspective of others.  But what I do know is that perception trumps intention every time.  It is time to take a deep breath, listen openly and meet people where they are, not where I want them to be.  Only then I can I increase my sphere of influence and be the leader I want to be.

Children Are Not Pinks and Blues

It was one of those mornings when I am awoken from a dream by my own tears. it is a sign that once agIn, I am carrying my students not just in my heart but in my head and psyche. The student who brought me to tears is not “mine” any longer. Its been two years since that was officially true. We know, however, that they are always ours.

This is the student who asked me why I was breaking up our “family” at the end of the year.  I didn’t know why then, and I am even more uncertain now. She lives on the precipice, this young woman. She is twelve and looks sixteen. Her parents were deported four years ago, along with most of her siblings who were not born here. She lives with an aunt and uncle and one sister.  She is brilliant. She is inspiring. She is at risk of failing, of becoming a statistic on the wrong side of the equation. And I feel helpless.

I catch only glimpses of her now. When I saw her briefly yesterday and had a moment to look her squarely in the face, I asked her the usual, innocuous-sounding question, “How are you?” She knew better than to give me a trite reply. She knew I was asking for real. “Mostly good,” was her reply.  I knew better than to be satisfied with that. “What is good and was the bad?” was my follow-up.  She answered as I suspected she might, “Grades still good, but I am getting in a lot of trouble.” I looked harder at her, my eyes asking the next question. “My friends.” So I ask, “Are these friends who will support you and encourage you on your path to law school or try to keep you from your goals?”  “They will keep me from my goals.”  At that moment our time for catching up was over. I hugged her tight and told her, “I am coming for you.”  She smiled at me and replied, “Okay, Mrs. Gyore.” I had promised her I would be relentless, and I have not been as constant in her life as I know I should be. It’s that thing that dogs teachers – time.

So I go back to her question, which was specifically “Why did you turn us into a family if you were only going to break us apart?” It was a punch in the gut at the moment, and now it just haunts me.  Why DO we do that? Does every school do that – mix students up year after year instead of building on the community that has been established? What is the pedagogy behind that? What would happen if we kept students together as much as possible, and their teachers worked as team from Kindergarten throughout elementary school? What could we affect if we were accountable to these students througout their time with us?

This would be especially challenging where I teach. Our transiency rate is very high, but has lowered over the past two years. However, I would argue that re-thinking how we view articultion is even more important, not less, in this scenario.  I just wonder, if there were six or seven teachers working as a team to ensure the success of our students and they had the stability of this tight community, what could we do? What if classes were created to meet the needs of students instead of teachers? I think its time for a “pinks and blues” burning party. What do you think?

On Shame

These are the reflections of a young woman I have had the privilege and pleasure to watch grow up. She is an empathetic and vompassionate person.

Amusing Musings with Andrea

This past Saturday, my grandfather arrived in Heaven at the age of 82, able to rest in the home that had been planned for him since long before his birth. And it has had me think a lot about how we view ourselves and how God views us.

When I think of Norman Davis, I see the grandpa who took me to the San Diego Zoo and watched baseball and basketball and any and every other sport that was televised. I think about the copious amounts of Hostess products he ate, and how he would take all the vegetables out of his food, even if they were lathered in sauce.

Every time I saw him he would ask me, ?So Andrea, you got a boy?? and every time I would have to say ?Nah Gramps, not right now? and he was tell me that it was ok because none of…

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Living Kindness, Empathy and Compassion is Better than “Teaching It”

Every morning, long before the sun is rising in Southern California, my first Tweet of the day comes in from @PaulONeill1972 and #pln365.  Just as the hashtag implies, this Professional Learning Network checks in every day as Paul poses a question.  This morning’s question is “What are the benefits of service-based learning?” And as happens often, I thought to myself, “You’re kidding me right? 140 characters? No way.”

Here’s the thing: we want to build relationships, have a positive culture, model and inspire empathy.  There is no better way than service-based learning. I didn’t know that until I didn’t do some form of it this past year and then scratched my head for months trying to figure out why there was a missing peice in my classroom culture.  My students were not learning in a cold, heartless space by any means, but something was different.

I am not going to say that I have inspired my students to rally to change the world through innovating a tool that will heal a village. I have yet to be that awesome.  I am going to say that my fourth grade students in the 2015-2016 school year were different because they cared about someone they never met and developed a passion for a cause they didn’t know existed because of a poster that was hanging in the front of the room. It was the second year I had it up. (The first year was in my TK/K classroom.)  It was risky. I had talked to my principal about it before I hung it, and there were days I wish I never had. But in retrospect, it was the best teaching I have ever done and possibly ever will. This is the billboard version of the poster:

Madison Peach Steiner Values.com

 

The poster is about my friend, Madison “Peach” Steiner, but for my students it was about Delaney. When they first encountered the poster on the first day of school, they were taken aback by this bald girl. My littles the year before were also. I wanted them to be. Then I could give her a name and tell her story, make her human – and anyone other child in they come across whose appearance takes them aback. That was my first goal. My second goal was to let kindness and the powerful effects of it be illustrated through Peach. My worry was that childhood cancer is horrifying, Delaney’s journey would be always be uncertain, and was it okay to talk about these things? (Not a single parent objected, no matter what happened.)

Delaney was in remission when my students heard her story. They were hungry for every tidbit they could learn about her. We watched videos about Peach’s Neet Feet and of Delaney dancing in her attempt to attract the attention of Taylor Swift, which she did.

Unfortunately, Delaney’s cancer came back. My students cried. I cried with them. But they didn’t shy away. They marched forward. They wrote to her, especially excited about the Christmas Card campaign, and they sent her a video.  Along with that, they participated in Make a Wish Foundation’s Believe campaign.  They all wrote letters to Santa Claus, many of them knowing that Santa, for some reason, doesn’t visit their house on Christmas Eve.  It didn’t matter. Their letter were filled with wishes for a cure for cancer, for children celebrating Christmas in the hospital to have fun, and one girl asked for Santa (who must be very close friends with Jesus) to plead for Delaney’s life on her behalf.

Christmas cards for Delaney

Our wishes were not granted for Delaney, and she passed from this life on March 21, 2016. We were on Spring Break. I was wreck knowing one of the first questions on the Monday of our return would be about Delaney. “Have you heard from Madison, Mrs. G.? How is Delaney?” They always asked me that. It would be no different that Monday. However, because of how much Delaney meant to them and how much a part of their daily lives she had become, many of my students had already heard about Delaney’s passing before we returned to school. They came to class that morning, having spread the word amongst themselves, in mourning.

I did hear from a couple parents who wanted to let me know their child was sad and needed some extra love and care. No one was upset that I subjected their child to this “needless” sorrow. I think it is because they could see their child experience empathy and compassion for another person and feel driven to reach out beyond their own lives to make a difference in someone else’s.  How students saw themselves and the visions they were creating for their future were changed.

None of this was my intention. I NEVER would have chose this path for my students, but we found ourselves on it together. We bonded so tightly and understood the value of kindness more profoundly than I could ever have imagined. I came across this folder left on a desktop one afternoon. It affirmed that our painful journey left a positive mark instead of a negative one.

Folder

In no way am I suggesting that teachers should find some painful journey to teach their students about kindness, compassion and empathy. Any service project will do – IF IT IS STUDENT DRIVEN, like this truly was.  It was “just a kindness poster featuring my friend”, until it wasn’t.

I didn’t seek out a way for my students to serve this past year. I should have. I should have gleaned their passions from their Genius Hour projects and launched a 20% Time project. They deserved to be difference-makers. They had it in them, which was displayed many times, such as this.  Your students deserve it too, and so does the world they will change a corner of.

The Gifts of Being a Sensory Momma

There was a series of unfortunate events that led me to Providence – literally, Providence Speech and Hearing Center in Santa Ana, California. How it all came about would take too long to explain. It was supposed to be a three month job teaching preschool in their program that served children who received services in the center as well as typically developing children whose parents worked in the center or across the driveway at Children’s Hospital Orange County.  I stayed for five years, changing my major from Child Development to Communicative Disorders. My dream at the time was to get my SPED credential and teach in a Commun49239381-E6BC-43A9-97F9-2451BCE1FEE8icatively Handicapped, as they used to call it, classroom.  Well, God has this funny way of giving you exactly what you need and not always what you thought you wanted, right?

It panned out like this: while there I met and was able to collaborate with amazing professionals in the fields of Occupational Therapy, Physical Therapy, Child Psychology, Audiology and Speech Pathology.  Generous with their knowledge, incredibly patient and devoted professionals who inspired me every day. And then there were the children and their families. My heart. They were and are the best teachers of my life. They taught me how to be the mother of my daughter, my non-neurotypical daughter. My gratitude is so profound that I cannot type this without crying.

My daughter has severe Sensory Processing Disorder. I knew when she was 8 months old that she was not developing in a typical way or responding to sensory (8 senses) information appropriately. I knew she wasn’t just a “late bloomer” or “fussy”. I agreed to give her until her birthday to “panic”. On her first birthday, her pediatrician gifted her with a referral to a specialist whom I had contact with through my students: Certified Brazelton Examiner, Physical Therapist, researcher with the most incredible knowledge about neurology and the vestibular system.  His name was Tim Healey.  We began our journey through PT, OT and speech/language therapies and the Battle of the Bureaucracies (which continues to this day).

That was over 20 years ago. What are the gifts? Knowledge for sure, a keen eye for students who are sensory-sensitive or sensory-seeking, but mostly deep compassion and empathy.  It gave me focus and made me look closely at my why.

Nothing is black and white. Paths are not linear but meandering journeys with treasures hidden in the darkest places.